Last week, I sent The Pandemic Year in Paris. A Coming-of-Retirement-Age Memoir to the several generous authors who have kindly consented to read, and perhaps endorse, it in advance of its September publication. Here’s a flashback excerpt from Chapter 1:
Trocadéro Man was professionally accomplished, loved music and nature, and was proud of his children. The evening we met, he invited me to the Russian Cultural Center for what turned out to be more an adult talent show than a music and dance cabaret. We rendezvoused on the Rive Gauche side of the nearby Pont de l’Alma. I arrived first and identified him at a distance, strolling with carefree confidence from the Rive Droite. He wore a navy cashmere coat and a brown fedora that he wore pretty much year-round, except in the most oppressive heat of summer.
Trocadéro Man smelled like springtime and fresh laundry, spoke English, German, Italian, Japanese, and Russian, was easy to talk to, and seemed to find my snide remarks about the entertainment amusing. We dined afterwards at a café across Avenue Rapp, sharing a salad, and each ordering a fragrant steaming bowl of pumpkin soup and a cosmopolitan. When he asked me what I wanted to drink, I, always erring on the side of modesty, declared that water was fine, but he ordered a cosmo, and I said I would like one, too. Since cosmos were the drink of choice for the Sex and the City ladies and perhaps also because they’re pink, I had always pegged them as a chick drink. So, I was surprised this charming and accomplished businessman/engineer/mathematician/pilot/philanthropist ordered it. I would have expected a smoky scotch or a glass of Viognier or a Cab. But I liked that he did as he pleased.
I admired his untroubled, child-like impulsivity, but in retrospect, I’m pretty sure it was more a manifestation of rank having its privileges. He impressed me as intelligent, perceptive, and spiritual. I accepted his invitation to go horseback riding in Rambouillet Forest on Sunday, desperately hoping the year of refresher English seat riding lessons I had recently taken back in Purgatory, Indiana, prepared me adequately.
On the following, dismal, misty Sunday, Trocadéro Man picked me up on rue Mouffetard, where I stayed in Spring 2018, a meandering street dating back to Roman times now lined with food shops, crepe stands, and boutiques. I climbed behind him onto his moto, a familiar experience I had missed since my divorce two years earlier – motorcycle adventures had been one of our great pleasures. I clenched the passenger handles below my thighs as he whisked us to his mother’s gardien-protected property south of Paris to borrow her car so we would not be drenched before our riding adventure began.
A petite, welcoming, raven-haired woman with enormous, kindly blue eyes, Mother had prepared lunch for us. This was a first – meeting prospective boyfriend’s mom on the second date! Afterwards, I borrowed her oiled cotton jacket and we headed to the stable in her shabby Renault. There, I mounted a petite Landais appropriately named Rodin. I had never heard of a horse named after an artist and I doubted either the stable owners or Trocadéro Man knew that in the mid-1980s I had curated an Auguste Rodin exhibition at The Brooklyn Museum. An expert equestrian, Trocadéro Man took off ahead of me, but soon slowed so we could ride side by side. He transferred his reins to his outside hand, removed his glove and reached out to me and I, understanding the intent behind the gesture, did the same. First physical contact. We held hands as our horses sauntered through the forest, sheltered from the light rain by a canopy of trees.
“Isn’t this romantic?” he asked.
“Yes,” I cooed.
After an hour, we dismounted at a crossing by a centuries-old stone marker, and he drew me toward him. His firm, gentle embrace warmed me inside and out. We stood there for a timeless, silent moment, feeling the contours of each other’s backs for the first time and our rapidly beating hearts through our thick clothing. My head nestled against his chest. It was one of those perfect instants when time stands still.