René is wearing a white terrycloth bathrobe at breakfast. I know where it’s from. There’s one hanging in my bathroom. At this level of hotel room, these bathrobes are complimentary. Do the ultra-rich take them with them when they go off to their next palace? I don’t know. I bet René will keep his. Bill of course sports his antique silk dressing-gown. I’m wearing my cheap facsimile.

         There’s no tea today. How did room service know? Does Bill contact them in the morning and order the day’s breakfast? I ask him. “Of course I do. The minute I wake up. With no Janine, who needs tea? Eventually I’ll have to go back to London to move, hopefully, move to Biarritz…” he fixes me with a look between a glare and a conspiratorial invitation, “and there it’ll be tea everywhere. I’m enjoying the break.” He’s ranting like this to amuse René. I see René grinning. So, yes.

         And then I think: I can’t wait to see the two of them off for the day. I wonder what René will make of the eye-popping Jean-Pierre. I’d love to see that play out, but not enough to repeat Versailles again. Bill invites me; I demur. He doesn’t press the point. It’s too obvious that I wouldn’t want to go back so soon.

         This time I have two croissants and two pain au chocolat. I’m oddly hungry. I think it’s because my body has been rebooted to expect more food. Also, I have no plans for lunch, no reservations. I have no plans for the day at all. Right now, I love that. Maybe later, I’ll be wondering what to do with myself. Not knowing what to do with oneself in a city like Paris? Are you crazy?

         Out of the shower and dressed, I wander into the Dalí salon and sit down on the sofa. I’m alone here. Bill and René are already gone. I take in the room. It is magnificent. There are fresh flowers, white peonies – aren’t they out of season? – in a cylindrical glass vase on the marble-topped coffee table. There are fresh flowers every day. I look up at the dripping crystal baubles of the chandelier. Someone must clean them between occupants. They sparkle, dazzle, even with the lights off. The floor-to-ceiling French doors out to the balcony are closed, silencing the room from the traffic on the Rue de Rivoli. The tops of the trees are beginning to change color. As a kid, I had mixed feelings about fall. It was the beginning of a new school year; I was always a bit anxious. But as an adult I’ve grown to love autumn, its colors, the leaves on the ground, the new freshness to the air after the torpor of late summer.

         But isn’t this Indian Summer? Why are the balcony doors closed? I think maybe Indian Summer is over. I get up and go to the doors and open them. The noise of traffic roars up at me, but, with it, coming from the trees of the Tuileries is a different breeze, a fresher movement of air. Today we would not sit outside on Janine’s terrace. I step outside. At my feet, the garden stretches to the Seine. To my right is the obelisk in the Place de la Concorde, its gilded pyramidal tip glinting in the late morning sun.

         I lived decades in Paris. I never knew Paris in this way.

         Is Bill feeling this incredible rush of the new, a Paris oriented toward vast wealth, nothing like the Paris where we shared an apartment? If he is, he’s not telling me. In Rotterdam, he was the Bill I’d known for years, really. Now, not so much.

         I shut the double doors behind me and head back to the couch. This time I choose the one facing the marble fireplace. I wonder if you can have a little cozy fire in it. Probably not.

         I sit. I take in the room like a camera. I could get up and examine each piece of antique furniture. I don’t do that in museums, so why would I do it here? I stand up, though. I move around the room, stopping to take the position in, as if I were taking a pic. Should I pull out my smartphone and take pics? No. And then I think better of that. I take out the phone and begin moving around the salon, taking shots from this angle and that, closeups of the furnishings, the mantelpiece.

         And then it’s enough.

         I go and sit in an armchair this time.

         What am I going to do with this free day of mine? First, there will be lunch. I pull out the phone again. An idea has struck. I remember that there are three “bouillons,” those Belle Époque dining-hall restaurants with Art Nouveau décor and cheap prices. I haven’t been to one, eaten in one, since those now very old days when I was first living in this city. Even then, these restaurants were a curiosity and crazy cheap. The choices were classics. Œuf dur mayonnaise? A hard-boiled egg with mayonnaise, which anyone can make themselves? Well, maybe not real, from-scratch mayonnaise. The one I knew back then was off the Grands Boulevards. Recently, I’d read about the one in Montparnasse.

         Voilà! I’m going to go to that one! I feel elated. And I burst out laughing, my voice echoing in these opulent confines, mocking their obscene cost per night. I love it! Somehow, I feel like a very bad boy.

         But first, I need to take a stroll in the Tuileries. I want to smell the air, feel the gravel under my feet and see the dust collect on my sneakers, go up on the promontory where the Orangerie is located, and where I spent countless hours of my youth walking up and down, cruising, waiting for love, of course, “in all the wrong places.” But back then, really, these were no wrong places; they were the only free places. Men had cruised here for centuries, so I was told, and I believe it. Proust subsidized a male brothel for his enjoyment and voyeurism. I cruised the Tuileries. Sixty or more years later.

         And then I’ll take the Métro at Concorde.

         I get up and go to “my” room and pull a jacket out of my suitcase. I haven’t unpacked. Why? I’m going to be here a while. I usually only stay a few days in a hotel room, but this is different. This is Bill’s residence in Paris.

         And then I remember that next day we’ll be on a private jet to New York. Is that for real? Evidently. So, no point in unpacking quite yet then.

         I put on the bomber jacket. I’ll be warm enough in it. I like the way it clashes with my surroundings. Shouldn’t I have a blazer? Shouldn’t I be wearing leather shoes and not sneakers?

         If we were here just last month, I’d be snickering about wearing shorts in the lobby of the Meurice. Ha!

         Tourists! I can’t see any cruising going on here behind the Orangerie. I do a nostalgic stroll from one end to the other. Could this place have been “cleaned up”? I grit my teeth. And then it dawns on me that it isn’t even noon yet. In ancient days, I would never have been here that early. Mid-afternoon and thereafter. I did use to hear stories of early-morning commuter mischief, men on their way to work. Never witnessed it myself. Oddly, then and even now it seems rather seedy. Seedy? No, sleazy.

         I head toward the Métro station still thinking of the word “sleazy.” I never thought of my cruising habit as being sleazy back then. It was normal. It was how you met. What was sleazy were the gay bars of the day: expensive and full of gigolos, as they were called.

         How the world has changed. And for the better! I need to bring this bit of positivity up with Bill when he goes on one of his rants.

         Montparnasse-Bienvenue. I just learned that it does not mean “welcome” but is the name of a Monsieur Bienvenue. The station was where impoverished and semi-literate Bretons used to arrive in Paris to seek their fortunes. I’d thought it was a jolly “welcome” to them. No.

         Unlike many another time, I have not gotten caught in the maize of this abominable Métro stop. I have taken the correct exit. I’m right at the start of the Boulevard du Montparnasse. Crowded sidewalks. It’s always been busy here. I don’t jaywalk. I march as I see the Green Man. I’ve never been to this Bouillon Chartier, but I know exactly where it is. Another thoroughfare to cross and there I am. Already there’s a line waiting. I knew that would be the case, but I wanted to have that bit of Orangerie nostalgia first. The line isn’t so long. What’s the hurry?

         It’s moving.

         Funny. I expected lots of foreign tourists, but no. Tourists, maybe, but French ones. Of course! The French know enough to have their main and good meal at noontime. The foreign tourists are probably at dinnertime.

         As I am led to my table through this Art Nouveau kaleidoscope, I say “holy mackerel” to myself. It is really over the top. Gorgeous stained glass of all kinds, painted figures of lithe odalisques, candelabras in the shape of caryatids. As a workingman’s palace, this must have been quite mind-blowing in its day.

         The young lady who led me to my lone table has handed me the menu and wished me “bon appétit.” I adjust myself for a second in the bentwood armchair and take a look. Ah! Time has stood still. I know everything on this menu. They are the old standbys. And not just oeuf mayonnaise. Céleri rémoulade. Poireaux vinaigrette. Escargots. Terrine de campagne. I could have ordered all these things decades ago, things you rarely see going out to eat now in Paris. Home cooking, I guess. Too basic. Too old-fashioned.

         And that’s just to start. Two kinds of fish, one quenelle de brochet. Lordy. If I were in Lyon, this would be a staple, but not in Paris anymore. And now the Plats. Oh, good god, sauté de veau Marengo, that bit of veal stew invented for and served up to Napoléon after the battle of the same name. He won that battle. It was celebration time. It’s been so long since I’ve seen it on a menu, let alone ordered it, that this is what I will have! And the six escargots to start. Haven’t had snails in decades either.

         I look up from the menu to see a ghost: a waiter in white shirt, black trousers, and a white apron down to his ankles. “Monsieur a choisi?” Yes, Monsieur knows exactly what he will have. I tell him. He scribbles it down on the white paper tablecloth. Yikes! Time has stood still. Before he has time to ask, I order a half bottle of Côtes du Rhône. I can’t believe the price. But the carafe is even cheaper.

         I can believe that they can offer food at these bygone prices, transferred to euros and adjusted to the present day, vaguely. But the wine? Off he goes. And then he’s back, bottle and corkscrew in hand. Pop. He put a bit in my glass to taste. He has an amused look as, towering over me, he looks down as I sample. Oh no! It’s delicious. And I say so. He almost chuckles at my surprised tone. Off he goes.

         Well. And then I remember that I think it’s recommended by Gault et Millau. Hmm. Need to check on that.

         I look around. The place is packed. I hear not a word of English.

         I take another sip. It’s even a bit peppery, just as I like it, and which I usually have to fork over many euros for. I take a snapshot of the label. I know I’ll never find it back home, but I can hope. I bet Chartier buys up their entire supply. Hence the price.

         I sit back and look around. I love the buzz of diners, people eating, knives and forks on plates, people chatting. It’s just like… okay, those good old days except… there’s no smoke; no one is smoking. That’s the only real difference.

         No, can’t be.

         I wonder if I ever ate at the old Chartier with Bill. If so, he should come here one day with me, and we could compare notes.

         And then this seems so funny, if not absurd. A billionaire eating in Bouillon Chartier? Pigs flying?

         And yet his new wealth would not preclude him from eating here with me. It’s just unlikely that he would choose to do so on his own.

         But what do I know?

         When exactly did his parents die? How long has he had this money? I don’t really know. Was it a year ago that they died? He texted me the news direct from Florida; that I remember. But back then he never said anything about the money, and it never dawned on me that there would be a fortune involved. I never met his parents. Bill had told stories, anecdotes about Yankee behavior mostly, and of course had told bits and pieces about his own childhood. We shared this over the years as friends do. Bill had an extremely well-paying job with the UN; so, his access to money never came up, let alone family money.

         I check the menu. Dessert. I know immediately I want the mousse au chocolat. I mean… surely I ate this years ago. I catch the waiter’s eye as he is serving a table, a French family consisting of mother, father, and three adolescent kids, a girl and two boys. They boys had been excited at ordering the pavé de rumsteack grille, frites fraîches. Young guys like their steak and fries. Everywhere.

         The waiter after serving the steaks is at my table. I order. He gives me a conspiratorial smile, writes it down on the paper tablecloth, and is gone. As I’m finishing the wine, he’s back with it. I look down with a kind of amazement at the very dark brown substance in a shallow glass bowl. It’s like a childhood memory already. I take up a spoon.

         This is not my petite madeleine moment. The past does not rush in and take over my mind and lead to seven volumes. But it is very, very good. Excellent chocolate. It’s the price that is startling. And yet, it’s no doubt what one used to pay, translated to euros and inflation over time.

         Suddenly the waiter is hovering over me asking about coffee. Oh yes. And he’s off again.

         I sit back and soak in the splendor of the Art Nouveau. I haven’t seen anything like this “in the flesh” in ages. I know there must be many places like this in Paris. And Brussels. Brussels was a great center of Art Nouveau. A few years back I went to the house Horta lived in located in the old French neighborhood of Saint Gilles in Brussels. Horta was the big Belgian Art Nouveau guy. The neighborhood itself was a revelation. I’m nowhere old enough myself, but I felt among those buildings and streets a world when Belgium was as French as France. Nowadays, I speak French when there, but I’m very aware that I could just as well switch to Dutch. I wonder if I would see the city differently if I did that.

         Good to the last spoonful. I sit back and finish my espresso.

         Again, I look around. I pull out my smartphone and take a few pics. I wonder if they’d mind me getting up and exploring, taking more pics, and then I realize this would be rather ugly of me: The restaurant was now packed. I look out the front windows and see a very long dense line waiting to get in. It’s getting towards two. I’m being selfish.

         I look to find my waiter. It’s as if he’s been waiting for me. In seconds he’s there, and I ask for the bill. And then he does it. He pulls his pen out and does the addition write there on the paper tablecloth. I burst out laughing. I can’t help it. This really is a “blast from the past,” and I say so. He is adding everything up on paper. Who does this anymore, I say to him? I compliment him on his ability to add without a calculator. We bond for a second in a great chuckle. And then he pulls out the bankcard reading machine, and we’re back in the present day.

         Before I leave, I take a picture of his addition on the tablecloth. Bill will find this a hoot.

         No. This small football of an andouillette sausage that has just been set down on the table before me is not what I had expected. I expected maybe two long sausages, fat but lengthy. I pick up my knife and fork…

         I open my eyes. Talk about nostalgia! I was just dreaming of that meal in Lyon in a famous bouchon. That fat nearly oval sausage. I had been shocked. It was not the andouillette I expected.

         I sit up, pull a pillow up behind me, and lay back. How long have I napped? I explored Montparnasse, walking up the Boulevard to Denfert-Rochereau. And then I delved into the Croulebarbe district. I reached the Boulevard Saint Michel and walked down to the big fountain facing the Sénat, the Palais de Luxembourg, and I’d sat down for a while. There were kids playing with toy sailboats as they had for maybe centuries in the basin of the fountain. Gorgeous day. Perfect walking temperature. Sunny with the occasional puffy white cloud in the sky. Ideal. And then I’d gotten up after this pitstop and headed down to the Seine. In another half hour I was back at the Meurice. And then I indulged in this marvelous nap.

         What time is it? Six-thirty. 18:32, to be exact, says my phone. When will the boys be back? Did Bill make dinner reservations? I have no answer to either question. I never bothered to ask. I guess I was truly happy to have a day off to myself.

         I’m content to just lie here for a bit. That was quite a trek, but I enjoyed every minute of it. I haven’t walked through Paris like this in years. I’ve always been going somewhere, appointments, never time to just flâner, stroll, though Paris and look around me, see what’s changed and what hasn’t.

         Of course, everything has changed since I lived here, if not physically then sociologically. I remember loving Saint-Germain so much, being so excited by sitting in the cafés and watching people pass or meeting people. It was basically posh back then, of course, and expensive if you wanted to live there, but it still attracted intellectuals and the gay crowd. I noticed this time the crazy prices in, for instance, the Café de Flore. It looked like a tourist trap for rich Americans as I walked by. That’s okay, I guess. It never was meant to be a bohemian neighborhood anyway. There were always the great townhouses of the old nobility in the area. Would Jean-Paul Sartre weep? I don’t think so. He’d abandoned the area long before I moved to Paris. I saw him once in Montparnasse with, of course, Simone de Beauvoir. Where was it? La Coupole. Back then it still had its slightly dilapidated atmosphere, which was its charm, along with the art on the columns painted by “starving” artists in the twenties and thirties to pay their food and drink bills. I walked by this time and almost missed it. They had redone the front, the terrace, supposedly modernized it, a mess of glass and chrome; it was hideous. Now, that was sad. And so unnecessary. I noticed too on the Boulevard Saint-Germain they had done the same thing to that old Belle Époque restaurant, the Vagenende. I used to think of it as the Vagina. No one else did. I kept the joke to myself. But the dark wooden Art Nouveau front and terrace was its glory, along with the food. Gone. I suppose: food still there.

         But then, just think of the glorious Bouillon Chartier where I had lunch. Not only the same, pretty much, but beautifully kept up. You can’t have everything.

         Will Bill even care when I show him the pic of the bill added up on the paper tablecloth? But when I also tell him about the exterior “modernizations” of the Vagenende and La Coupole? He’ll jump. This was his rant when he got off the Eurostar. He made it as if he was running away from a death march, a horde of demons devastating past glories, and right on his heels.

         I sit bolt upright. They’re back. Bill is wondering to René where I am. I yell out: I’m here. And I get up.

         My day on my own is over.

         “There you are.” I’m standing in the doorway. He’s smiling, but then he’s not smiling. “You’re keeping secrets from me now?”

         What’s he talking about? I keep smiling and walk into the salon and sit down on one of the couches. The two of them are still standing. René looks like he wants to sit down, but he’s taking his cue from Bill. Bill is just standing there. The smile is gone. The look is accusatory. “You met the famous Sergei.”

         Okay, that’s it. I admit this.

         “You should have told me. And that he is a she? I mean…”

         I point out that this was for Janine to tell him, not me. I mean it. I’m not going to take this bullshit accusation. I see him flinching, but he just stands there. I think he may be reflecting, making the trip from umbrage in all its silliness to reality. What I said was true.  I add that I was being discreet. Should I have run “home” to tell him? Sergei is a transexual? Blah-blah?

         And then he breaks into a grin. “No. Of course not. You’re right. Why are you always so damn right?” He bursts out laughing. I can see René reacting, bouncing off Bill, and now grinning at me. I join in the general laughter. “Okay. It came as a shock. I mean. I think Sergei was originally a man. Of course, what do I know? Maybe not. You do think she’s transexual, right? I’m not great at this sort of thing.” I nod that I think she is. “I wonder if that means that Janine is now lesbian.” I shrug. What a silly thing for him to ask me. Why should I know anything. I only met Janine two days ago.

         So, you made a visit to Janine uninvited?

         “How do you know I wasn’t invited?” He stares at me and then goes and sits down on the other couch. René follows, sitting down beside him. What is this, a courtroom drama? Opponents facing each other? He grins suddenly. “But you’re right. I just sort of barged in. I did call first to make sure she was home.”

         Time to change the subject. I ask René how he liked Versailles. “Awesome!” His face lights up. He means it. I smile and then I grin too. He’s right. I wouldn’t have phrased it quite like that but… Yeah, that was Louis’ intention. I say “bling” back to René; he bursts out laughing. How can I not like that? How can I not like René?

         It hits me that I’ve somehow been resenting René. Stupid. René serves a good purpose right now: He’s keeping Bill in a good mood.

         I’m thinking I should ask what we’re doing for dinner. My stomach feels empty. My last meal was a good five hours ago. Oh, really, poor dude? I have to laugh at myself.

         “By the way, I hope you’re hungry. Did I tell you that I made a reservation at the Alain Ducasse downstairs? I know what you’re thinking. Aren’t we overdoing it on Ducasse? Yes and no. I mean, what’s wrong with excess? Let’s see him in all his facets? And this one bears his name. We have to be in for a treat.”

         I nod and agree. In fact, I say: I can’t wait. We all laugh. I guess they’re a bit hungry too. I wonder what they ate at the Ducasse hotel? I don’t want to ask. We’re going to do Ducasse in…? I ask when the reservation is for?

         “Eight-thirty. So, we have time for some champagne. Or would we prefer harder cocktails?” I immediately pipe up that champagne would be best. Cocktails would be too harsh before this dinner to come. Bill nods. “Except, what about Dry Martinis?” He’s got me. But no. My first take was the right one. I explain further about keeping our heads clear. “You think champagne will do that?” Well, our palates, then. “No, you’re right. Then let it be Krug. And let’s have it here, right in this splendid room where Dalí thought up his next shenanigans. I mean, he didn’t paint here, right?” I think Bill is right. He has to be. You couldn’t paint in these rooms. Although maybe they’ve redone them? What do I know.

         As I’m think this, Bill has pulled out his smartphone. He orders a bottle of Krug. Once again, I hear his French. It’s still not bad. His accent was always a bit off. Didn’t he tell me years back that someone thought he was Swiss?

         And then I realize he has room service sort of on – what they used to call – speed-dial. There is a landline phone in the room sitting smartly on the console. If it were a copy of the lobster phone, I’m sure he would have jumped up to use it, but it isn’t. Shame.

         He slips the phone back in his pocket. He’s wearing fairly loose trousers, something he must recently have had done for him on Saville Row. Which reminds me to calculate how long he’s been a billionaire. Anyway, they fit him perfectly and are a nice dark-gray twill. You can’t buy that in H&M, not to mention the fit. René is wearing skinny jeans, of course. I wonder how he gets them on and off. I once made the mistake of buying a pair only because they had cargo-pants pockets. Wrong. I had to take them back. I panicked, because I wasn’t sure I could get them off me. I did. I know there must be a trick to it. Everyone but me and Bill wears them. Okay, I exaggerate, but many guys I would consider too old for them do wear them. They look fine; one gets used to them. In fact, now when they’re baggy is when you look again. Bill’s bespoke trousers are not baggy, but they’re not skinny legged either. I guess it’s what they call classic or timeless.

         “I won’t keep ordering Krug all the time. And certainly not Clos du Mesnil.” He states that to the room in general. René doesn’t seem to understand in that he registers no reaction. I’m a bit surprised. Does Bill suddenly care about how much he’s spending?

         I tell him about my lunch. “Oh, right! I’ve heard about that. I always thought these bouillons had disappeared.” I get up and sit down next to him so I can show him my pics. I reach the one of the bill on the paper tablecloth. He lets out a hoot. “Is that time travel or what?” I tell him the wine was as great as was the food. He gives me an odd look. “Don’t you think tonight’s dinner will be better?” I scramble: Of course, it will be better. It will be something else. He nods. Did he think I was putting him down for tonight’s plans? Now I’m thinking that somewhere in his brain, hidden in the gene pool, is his old Yankee parsimony. I hope I haven’t inadvertently set this off. A Billionaire Bill who practices thrift would be a nightmare.

         Now, that’s a revelation.