It’s been quite a few years since I saw the sunrise in Paris.

            What a pleasure to see Jean-Pierre’s handsome face pop up out of the DS as he sees us exiting the terminal at Le Bourget. The sun has yet to break over the horizon. It is l’heure bleu in reverse. Sunrise, though, is always faster than sunset, which I think tends to linger. Bill has kept Jean-Pierre as a surprise, a very pleasant one. Has he been keeping in touch with him all along? I suppose when he ordered the plane, though, he texted Jean-Pierre. And he was ready, willing, and able – my brain is groggy from barely six hours of sleep – to meet us at, literally, the crack of dawn. I’d like to think he didn’t get up but was out partying and has now swung around to pick us up. Could be. We won’t be going anywhere today, at least, I won’t.

            Still, I know it’s best not to go to bed, go to sleep upon arrival, flying from the US to Paris, but: to hell with jetlag cures.

            And then as we’re driving into Paris, the sun searing up into a nearly cloudless sky, I revise my plan. I’m feeling energized. I look over and see René snoozing against Bill’s shoulder. Bill is reading something on his smartphone and looks over at me, feeling my eyes on him. “What?” I ask him what his plans for the day are. “I thought, a leisurely breakfast, not in the suite, but downstairs in the Restaurant Le Meurice, so we know where we are.” Not that we wouldn’t know where we were upstairs in his suite? I don’t care. It sounds perfect. The fresh sparkling of the sun into my eyes has me ready for both. You’re right, I say to him; if we’re upstairs in the suite, we’ll be tempted to take a little snooze.

            René sits up. “Bill, what are we going to do today?”

            “We’re going to get you an iPhone. And then we’ll see.” René chuckles at that and gives the side of Bill’s neck a kiss.

            Well, this is a change! Open signs of affection well beyond the traumatic night in Bushwick?

Bill walks to the concierge desk to announce that we’re back. “Leave your bags here,” Bill commands us. The luggage will be transported to our suite as we leisurely walk toward the restaurant. It’s a little after eight. Here and there sits a single businessman at a table studying his smartphone with an array of pastries, croissants, a half-full juice glass sometimes, but all of them drinking pots of coffee. These are not tea-drinkers. I wonder if Brexit has scared the Brits away from Le Meurice. We are escorted to a table near the window overlooking the Tuileries. It is already a spectacular autumn day. The leaves have turned golden for the most part. How long were we gone? What day of the week is it?

            Bill orders the full continental for all of us, including a soft-boiled egg. I would never have thought of the egg, but it sounds suddenly very good. I’m starving.

            Bérénice woke us and gave us all espressos and glasses of water. Well, she woke the boys up first, I assume, because they appeared fully dressed while I had slept in my clothes. I couldn’t be bothered with undressing. I don’t know about the others, but I definitely went to bed fairly drunk. I woke up once to pee and found that Bérénice had left a big glass of water next to my reclining seat. I gulped down half the glass and went out like the proverbial light. I like that expression, old-fashioned as it is, and it was an apt description. I think she may have had trouble waking me. No splitting headache, however.

            We are asked about juice after the waiter clearly tells us the choices. We all order passion fruit. After the waiter leaves, we laugh at that. “The Apple Store at Opéra opens at 10. It’s an easy walk from here.” René makes his eyes dance for us, and we all laugh. I’m thinking this is the nicest jetlag I’ve ever experience. New York had made us comrades, Three Musketeers.

            I look around. Such a beautiful room. I think: I’m home. Of course, I’m not literally, but there is an ease I feel here that I wasn’t feeling in New York.

            Reality check. It’s not Philippe Starck all over the place. I think it’s the simple but delicious pains au chocolat, that mysterious something else that sets these tastes concocted in France apart from their imitators elsewhere, even in billionaire New York. I did live decades in Paris, but never came even close to this level of opulence, and yet… Because these tastes are available here everywhere at your corner boulanger.

            I remember how to tap open the top of my soft-boiled egg with the edge of a spoon. I delve into the yolk, and dip a bit of croissant into it afterwards. Oops! Forgot to salt-and-pepper it, but it’s still tasty. Unctuous. I know this is part of a fairly typical Dutch breakfast, this egg, but I never do it at home. Something new to try then?

            Home. I can’t stay here in Le Meurice forever with Bill. I need to get back to Rotterdam. I won’t tell Bill that I am entitled to a sabbatical year.

            “You know, in New York they would charge an arm and a leg if they could produce a croissant that tasted like this. New York has such Paris-envy.” Bill chuckles, because I know he’s referring to penis envy. I know this old Bill; little has basically changed but his bank account. He really is no fit for the New York billionaire crowd. And then I remember Qatar. Will they, him, or her actually live in that triplex? I’ve read that these needles of futuristic wealth are sold but not lived in: empty. The world’s oligarchs bank on New York as a safe investment just as they do or did London. They think Wall Street hegemony is inviolate. Maybe.

            I don’t want to think about any of that. I kept all that kind of thinking at bay while we were there showing Manhattan to René. But now, aren’t those restraints off? They are, and already at takeoff I’d cited poverty statistics for New York City. It seemed like an appropriate farewell caption for the city.

            I don’t think Monsieur Haussmann would have been very pleased at what Apple has done to the inside of rue Halévy, but he would have acknowledged that the refurbishment of the outside was impeccable. He would pardon the two luminous apples on the façade.

            The interior is minimalist and could be any Apple Store on the planet. Bill and René head toward the iPhones. I hold back. I’m not interested. I’m happy with my smartphone, and, anyway, my smartphone comes with my phone subscription. What is René going to do about that? I’ll be curious to find out. He’s not going to take out a French subscription. And then I remember his thumbing away on Bill’s phone, clearing up any future problems with his Belgian credit cards. Such stuff is part of his DNA as it is for all the kids his age: They learned as they learned to talk; there was never any learning curve.

            I google Halévy. Right: famous for the opera La Juive. But the date? A surprise for me: 1835. Politics in France? Ah, the July Monarchy. Louis-Philippe. Ah, the advent of James de Rothschild in the monarchy’s finances. I’m thinking that, the affaire Dreyfus notwithstanding, there will be no persecution of Jews in France until the Nazi Occupation. Proust writes about literary salons of Jewish heiresses in the same tone, almost, as that of the ancient nobility. And look: just the title of the opera alone and in your face, The Jewess. What’s the plot? Medieval persecution of Jews in Constance. Constance? Medieval city on the lake of the same name. Is that Swabian, as in the Burgundian style of German cuisine? Rothschilds came from the Frankfurt ghetto, says Google. Would James have liked Halévy’s opera?

            I’m hanging back on the edges of the iPhone counter. “What do you think of this one?” It’s René. He’s holding up a modest-sized smartphone. I step forward.

            “It’s an iPhone 14 Pro. René doesn’t like the large size like the one I have.”

            “My hands are smaller than yours.” I look at René’s hands. I don’t see much difference. And then they’re giggling.

            I see the price. Okay, Bill, you are a show-off. And are you setting René up for phone theft? I say nothing.

            Off they go to la caisse. I move toward the entrance. I notice the time on my phone: eleven-thirty. Lunchtime approaches. I’m hungry again. If I think further, I’m ravenous. This must be due to the rush I’ve been feeling from jetlag.

            And then I have an idea.

            I check: It will only be a fifteen-minute walk at most. The Bouillon Chartier on the rue du Faubourg Montmartre.

I haven’t walked along the Boulevard Montmartre in years. I used to work not far from here. Much traffic as ever, buildings Haussmannian but a bit shabby, lots of cheap shops, tall plane trees, relatively broad sidewalks, lots of pedestrians, and no tourists. Wrong: There approaching us is a young couple with the backpacks and water bottles. It truly is one world: I last saw this on Fifth Avenue.

When we arrive, there is a short line. I thought so. Tourists tend not to do a typical three-course French lunch when in Paris. You see them everywhere munching on baguette sandwiches and drinking from their bottles of water, usually seated on some public perch. I bet most of the people in this line are French, tourists but French.

            Bill says: “Lead the way,” and I do. Table for three. A short entry, a jungle of Art Nouveau tendrils and flowers, and we emerge into a great yellow dining hall, replete with long and short tables covered in red checkerboard with sheets of paper on top of that. I follow the hostess. Bill and René are behind me, but I feel they are gawking. And so am I. I haven’t been in this establishment for a couple of decades. The Chartier in Montparnasse felt long, narrow, and more intimate. This was indeed a dining-hall for the workingman and perhaps his family. Not that it wasn’t ornately decorated: cornices, pilasters, gilded escutcheons, huge mirrors as if windows, all framed in deep-brown wooden frames, and wainscotting supporting brass racks, and curvaceous separators topped with réverbères, supporting glowing globes that illuminated the great space of this hall. Tables are fast filling up. There is a buzz of chatter that will grow louder, I’m sure, as we eat our lunch.

            We’re seated against one wall, as intimate as it could get. A man in black with a huge white apron down to the cuffs of his trousers hands us three menus. Bill holds the menu unopened as he cranes his neck. I remind him that we must have eaten here before at least once. “Yes. I’m having my petite madeleine moment. I’d completely forgotten about this place. Wasn’t your office Place de la Bourse, not too far from here? Could we have met for lunch, since I was doing my research at the Bibliothèque Nationale? I think, yes, so more than once. I tell him to open the menu. He obeys. “Oh, they’re joking. But then you showed me your pic of the Montparnasse one. Still, seeing these numbers comes as a shock, especially after New York. And look at what’s on offer.” Bill has stumbled into an Anglicism. He now despises London so much, does he realize how much of his speech has gone Brit? I answer: all the old classics. “Oh, my gawd, céleri rémoulade! I so loved that back then. You learned to make it. I learned to make it from you. I haven’t eaten it in decades.” He will order that.

            “I’ll have that too. We have a Flemish version that’s a bit sweeter.” Bill looks at him in surprise and then betrays his disgust at the idea of “sweeter.” I keep my mouth shut. I know what René means. It’s different, that’s all. I’ve bought tons of it and eaten it with meaty sandwiches. I state that I know René’s Flemish version and like it. Bill buries himself in his menu.

            “And look, tête de veau sauce Gribiche.” I note that there’s a lot more fat there than he’s used to. “I don’t have amnesia. I know that. You know, we need to pop down to Lyon to one of those – what are they called?” Bouchon, I answer. So, here we are in a bouillon talking about bouchons, I add. René rewards me with a chuckle.

            “I could afford to treat us all,” perks up René and then reality steps in, “except all my credit cards are gone still.” He freezes. And then he turns almost as pale as when I saw him thumbing on Bill’s smartphone to block those very cards. “I need to get home to pick up new ones. I need to activate this fantastic new iPhone. Wait, can I have your phone again, Bill?” I think: it’s like we’re back at the Lotte Hotel.

            “Of course, but let’s have some lunch.” I’ve never heard this voice from Bill: It’s almost an octave lower and very soothing. It works. René grins.

            “I’m fucking panicking.”

            “I know. All will be well.” And then I see in Bill’s eyes that this is not the case for him: He’s realized that René will need to go home to Antwerp. “You call them later. They’ll mail them to you. You can pick them up anytime. Meantime…” Bill gives René a peck on the cheek. There he is, my old friend Bill, displaying male-to-male affection in a brightly lit and crowded restaurant. Brave, Bill.

            The waiter arrives.

            Bill orders the céleri rémoulade. René orders the céleri rémoulade. Stop, I think. Museau de porc vinaigrette. “Ah, that looked tempting,” says Bill. I can’t get museau de porc in Rotterdam; it’s that simple. It’s a kind of pâté or jellied meat made with bits of the head of a pig. With vinaigrette, it’s delicious. An old-time standby in France, available in any deli. I’m thinking: I bet Bill can make céleri rémoulade at home. I can. But maybe he was pairing up with René. Except that he ordered it first. You just need knob celery or celery root or celeriac, all names for the same thing. Maybe you can’t find it easily in London? It’s a staple in the Netherlands just as it is in France. I bet it would cost a fortune in New York.

I feel myself gloating. Yes, I’m glad to be home. So much that is ultra-expensive in New York is a great longing for things that cost next to nothing in Europe. If you want these things, I say: Move! This rambles out of me, after we’ve ordered our main course (oddly, we all want boudin noir, blood sausage. Bill orders a bottle of Côtes du Rhône: Will it be any good at this price?), and the waiter has scribbled it all down on the paper which covers the surface of the checkered tablecloth. I see Bill see him do this with a smile of surprise. “I haven’t seen anyone do that in decades.” Yes, guys, this place is a blast from the past in every way, including the cheap prices, and that’s what it’s all about. Time travel. “Funny, nothing in New York triggered that for you,” Bill says to me. No. Because I don’t think there’s anything left? “What about your burger?” I hesitate. No, it was far too fancy. Bill grins. He agrees with me. “It was weird being in a city you used to live in, where buildings and streets are all known and recognizable, but to have all of that fundamentally changed? The zombies arrived and replaced the former inhabitants.” I laugh. René is listening to us. Of course, he has no point of comparison.

            “I think maybe the drugs and, you know, crime are the same?” He’s got us. And he knows something about the history of New York from the seventies onward. Because, of course, he knows his gay history. European kids do. Stonewall. Christopher Street. These names are iconic, even if they really have little to do with European gay lib, I’ve always thought. The Brits especially had their own peculiar and vicious struggle. After the near-death experience of his jail sentence, Oscar Wilde took refuge in Paris, where he was succored by high-society and literary figures. Did Proust meet Wilde? Yes, if I remember the story, young Proust invited Wilde to dinner in the family apartment, which Wilde found so ugly that he turned around and left. If the story is true, Wilde seems to have recovered from Reading Gaol.

            The restaurant now hums with a pleasant, low roar of conversation. The place is full. We arrived at the right time.

            Our long-aproned waiter returns. Where do these kinds of waiters come from? He has receding gray hair, which makes him older, but how old could he be? The French retire around sixty, still. He could be the same waiter that served us decades ago, which is a wildly pleasant thought. He pops the Côte du Rhône open for Bill to taste. I’m nervous. Hasn’t Bill turned into this Rhône-wine connoisseur? Saint Joseph on the flight to New York?

            Bill looks puzzled. He nods to the waiter, and we are all served. The waiter is off, joining the swarm of similar older men in black with long white aprons, moving among the tables balancing plates on their right arm. Bill looks at me. “Try it.” I move the glass to my lips: nice nose, fruity. Sip: a bit tannic but time will alter that. “I’m in shock.” Bill takes another sip following mine. “How do they get something like this at this price?” I do my Gallic shrug. Bill chuckles. René is drinking his wine, another kind of look on his face that has nothing to do with anything he’s tasting. Half his glass is already empty.

            We could have walked, but when we passed a taxi stand, there was a taxi waiting. “Let’s do this,” said Bill. Again, where had he gotten this Gen X biz? And then I decided he’s trying to dovetail with René in some way, except that René speaks standard TV English.

            I’m afraid to actually sleep. I’m stretched out on the bed. I’ve scrolled through Facebook. I can barely keep my eyes open.

            Bill laughed when I insisted on paying for our lunch. I’m still not sure what the laugh meant. I felt like it. And I could afford it. And it was my idea to eat at Bouillon Chartier.

            René drank a lot of the wine, maybe half the bottle. I’d asked the waiter for a carafe d’eau. Tap water. I thought maybe René would stagger on the way out of the place, but, no. He had barely talked through lunch. As we walked along the narrow sidewalk of the rue du Faubourg Montmartre, the way he was looking around at everything in this fairly shabby street, pointing at a Turkish kebab place and smirking, and then grinning, wordless saying, I love it, Bill drew closer to him, as close as he could, because René at one point looked like he was dancing down the street on his own. I followed: There was not enough room on the sidewalk to walk three abreast. And then voilà: the taxi.

            I wake up. There are voices coming from the living room. I check my smartphone lying beside me where I’d let it slide. Relief: I barely napped for an hour. My mind wants to jump up, but my body reminds me that it’s better to take it more slowly. I stand and stretch. Bill sounds like he’s pontificating. Am I ready for this?

            I open the door. Bill is seated on one end of the sofa and René the other. “There you are!” I just give him a smirk. Am I late for something? “I’ve gotten René a first-class seat on the six-twenty Thalys.” Bill has this jolly expression on his face. I go and sit down in an armchair. “Premium. He’ll get something to eat.” I look at René. He is smiling politely. “I thought of doing it all in style and calling Jean-Pierre, but I figure he’s busy or napping. It was an early-morning stint for him. Respect.” Respect? I don’t know what kind of arrangements Bill has with Jean-Pierre. “When I get back, I’ll expect that you’ve made some great dinner reservations for us. I’m paying. You’ve got to stop that nonsense.” He’s referring to lunch. He bursts out laughing. I smile back.

            René jumps up. “I need to check my bag.”

            The late afternoon sun adds to the silence in the room. It’s a beautiful room meant, before Dalí, for the deposed king of Spain: no surrealist jokes. I can imagine Dalí and Gala sitting together in silence in this room. “René needs to go to his branch bank to pick up his new credit cards and sign papers. You know: theft stuff. Paperwork.” Bill doesn’t need to tell me that. I figured.

            As I sit there, I realize that Bill expects some reaction from me. He’s waiting. His eyes are scouring me. “You look tired.” Thanks, I think. “Make those reservations for eight. Do you have a place in mind already?” I shake my head, no. “You know Paris better than I do.” I nod in agreement. My body is surfeited. I may look tired, but I’m more numb right now than tired. René is leaving. What does that mean for me? Bill is giving me this madcap look. I don’t get it. Do I want a lavish dinner? No. Okay, we’ll be hungry by eight. I decide to say just that. “We will. I certainly will.” Bill sounds raring to go.

            René enters the living room pulling along his suitcase. It’s non-descript, some kind of black plastic thing. I never noticed it before. Bill jumps up.

            René gives me the French double bisous, not the Flemish and Dutch three-time version. He states how glad he is to have met me. It’s as if he’s slapped me.

            After they leave, I go back into the room this grand salon and just stretch out on the sofa. I begin examining the carvings on the marble of the fireplace. How am I going to escape, myself? René has.

            Escape, I say to myself, is a bit overdramatic. I take a deep breath. I laugh out loud in this room. I bet Dalí would laugh out loud in this room.

            Right! I jump up.

            I’m sitting now on a bench behind the Orangerie. I remember again how many hours I spent cruising here. I can’t see it from here, but I imagine the sun setting somewhere out beyond the Arc de Triomphe. It’s chillier than I expected. I should have put something on under my jacket. I zip up, close under my chin.

            Funny, there’s no one cruising here anymore. Where do they go these days? To their smartphones: Grindr.

            It’s gorgeous here under the trees. This is such a royal esplanade. Did I bother to note that back then? No. This was serious business: There was no Grindr, and the bars were full of guys my age for hire. Even here. Gigolos. I’m sure Proust used that term. And the song: Just a Gigolo? I pull out my smartphone and google: 1929, Berlin. Is it Italian? No. It’s purely French, starting around 1850. It’s derived from jig.

            I’m grinning as I slip my phone back in my pocket. I never knew that.

            That fact – learning something new – has me elated. I get up and start walking. I lean over the parapet and feast my eyes on the Seine. Traffic is wheezing along, bumper-to-bumper, below. I sniff. Years ago, the fumes would have made me cough. Now, I’m sure there are noxious fumes, but they are more subtle. I imagine them more cleverly entering the body and killing quietly: no coughing.

            Think of the lead I must have imbibed back then. There was no such thing as unleaded gas.

            I step back and continue my stroll along the parapet toward the Louvre. I remember when I first noticed the fumes of rush hour traffic on the Boulevard Saint Germain. On a warm day, you could cough and gag even. People began talking about pollution.

            I stop at the edge of the parapet stairs down. Now it’s climate change.

            I decide against taking the steps down. I want to retrace my steps and then descend the grand gravel slope to the garden proper. And then I’ll slip out along the rue de Rivoli and back to the Meurice. Where are we going to have dinner? I know that’s the first thing Bill will say when he gets back. And I want to be there when he gets back. He’ll need me there.

            Something we can walk to. I think it’ll be good to get him walking, a bridge over the Seine from where the city is always its most seductively beautiful? Something classic. Brasserie Lipp? Saint Germain-des-Prés?

            I sit down on a bench. A breeze has come up, rustling the trees so that an occasional golden rain of almond-shaped leaves gyres its way down around me. I pulled my smartphone out of my pocket before sitting. I zip my jacket up closer around my neck again. This is a moment just to sit and savor, forget about what I’m planning, smell the air, crisp but sweetened with the decomposition of the end of summer that would lead to the stark limbs: lines of blackness that meant winter and its cold drizzle.

            Lipp. Is that a good idea? I’ve never eaten there. I don’t think Bill has either. In his student days, there was no money for the likes of Brasserie Lipp. We could afford a beer on the terrace of the Café de Flore, then a gay haunt. But that beer in its great ceramic stein? We would nurse it, as this one and that one came by, distributed handshakes to the crowd we were on the edge of but not part of. Sometimes we would be included by those guys who didn’t know who was who. I suppose it really was an outdoor gay bar back then. Sartre had long ago decamped along with Simone and Greco. The Existentialists had passed into history already. We had replaced them, or, in a way, were left in their wake, because literary Paris had paved our way. Gide must have been dead by then. Who reads Gide now? And yet he led the revolution that ensured our place on the terrace of the Café de Flore.

            Ah, then it’s high time for Brasserie Lipp.

            Bonjour, Monsieur. Une table pour deux pour ce soir… I hesitate: What time? But there’s no choice. We can have a table at eight. That sounds good, right? He wants my phone number. I warn that it’s a Dutch number and give it to him. A ce soir, Monsieur.

            Done. What’s this eight o’clock? Nine has become the standard time. So, maybe they hope we’ll be out of there by ten? We’re being squeezed in. What day of the week is this?

            I have to check my phone. I learn that it’s Thursday.

            Weekends begin on Thursday already these days. I know that. I bet they don’t in workaholic USA.

            It’s a good thing I called.

            I sit, my hand clasping my smartphone against my leg towards the knee, poised to get up but not getting up. I just sit in this moment. Jetlagged. And love the fact that I didn’t know what day of the week it was.

            Unlike the Lotte, I had a key card to the hotel, to the Dalí Suite. Bill had given me one on arrival. It made me feel like the rooms were mine too. That was the idea. I knew that. Largesse that compels, I thought then. I still do.

            I glance at my watch. It will be seven in a few minutes. Fuck! We have an hour to get to Brasserie Lipp? What was I thinking? And he’s not back yet.

            Clicking sounds. “There you are!” Yes, here I am. I stand up. Bill looks washed out, vague. He crosses the room and sprawls on the couch. I sit back down. “The train was packed. I walked all the way to the end to see him to his seat from the window. They’ll feed him. He grinned at me. He gave me this little wave from behind the window. I could have kissed the glass. I didn’t of course. And then the train pulled out. On the button.” He looked up at the ceiling. His eyes glistened.

            Right! I tell him about the reservation at Brasserie Lipp at eight.

            His glance bolts to me. “What time is it?” I announce that it’s now ten past seven. “We’ve got to go!” He jumps up.

            How long can it take to walk there? That was the plan. I pull my phone out. I google. I click on Directions. I announce that it’s a twenty-seven-minute walk.

            “As I said.” I get up on my feet to appease him and tell him to relax. I then command him to sit. He sits. I sit back down. “How are we going to get there?” Walk, I state. He looks at me confused. And then he smiles. “You think of everything.” He can see it; I grin at him. “I took the Métro. Much more efficient than when we lived here. Twenty minutes. Change at Chatelet.” Of course, I say. “Remember those old wooden Métro wagons?” I note that they had already been replaced by the time he moved to New York. “You’re right.” He smiles as if appeased. “I don’t have René’s new phone number.” The panic is back in Bill’s voice. “I have his WhatsApp,” he reminds himself.

            I stand up. We now need to get going.

            The room in this short space of time has grown mirky with shadows. The street lights from the rue de Rivoli are painting arcs of pale yellow on the ceiling. Bill stands there, immobile. I turn on the tall crystal-columned lamp on one end-table. The room snaps back to life, the shade a bright ivory glow. “That’s better.” Bill moves to the vestibule. Both of us have our jackets hung up there. I think we’ll be warm enough. We need to walk quickly.

            We leave the hotel and dart across the rue de Rivoli so we can walk alongside the spear fencing of the Jardin itself and avoid the tourist shops that tumbled their knickknacks and postcards out into the arcade. The pace is brisk. Neither of us speaks. We aren’t out of breath, exactly, but the breath we take is needed to keep up that pace.

            We take a right and dart down along the hedged path between the Carrousel du Louvre and the garden itself. The Pyramid is fully lit. “Look at that! They hated it when it was finished, but now they love it. It’s spectacular.” It’s a diamond gem glowing in the neoclassical arms of the Palace of the Louvre. I say, we’ve all gotten used to it. But, like Bill, I always liked it myself.

            We have to stop for the walk lights to cross the Voie Pompidou and take the Pont Royal across the river. “We used to laugh at the name Pompidou.” The Green Man, and we charge across. In the middle of the bridge, I glance at my watch: We have plenty of time. I go to the balustrade and lean on it; Bill does the same. “This is the view, the Paris we both fell in love with.” I say nothing. It’s the truth beyond words.

            The sharp point of the Isle de la Cité forces the Seine to break around it, bifurcate. We’d sit there on a nice day. The Marais apartment was within easy walking distance. How lucky we were, I’m thinking; kids the age we were then couldn’t have that privilege nowadays. Didn’t we, I, pay the equivalent of about a hundred dollars a month? And it was semi-furnished, enough to keep it under the jurisdiction of an appartement meublé where the owner could easily end our lease and take it back. Otherwise, maybe I’d still be living there. I remind Bill of that. He chuckles. “Who knows?”

            I pull away and start our slightly less brisk walk.

            The rue des Saints-Pères still has narrow sidewalks, and we are no longer alone walking. Often, we have to go single file to let others pass. It’s still a street of galleries and antique-dealers. I used to know a woman who had a gallery there. Anna would babysit her kids in the apartment in the back, and I’d join her and finish off a bottle of wine of a Saturday evening. And then, parents back home from some intellectual soirée, we’d head out to some boîte off Saint-Germain to dance until four in a cramped, sweaty cave. Anna: now living a bourgeois lesbian life in Fontainebleau? Makes me feel old.

            And then we are at the corner. Boulevard Saint-Germain. “Didn’t this used to be some Russian Orthodox church here?” I follow his glance to our left beyond the gated courtyard dark with tall trees. “Remember that movie Anastasia? Didn’t they film a scene here?” Maybe. I glance at my watch. It’s already eight. But it’s Paris; nobody is on time. I’m not worried. We only have to cross the Boulevard.

            The walls are covered in large mirrors separated by tiles painted with Art Nouveau vegetation. It is brilliantly lit. Candelabras with globes hang from the ceiling. Classic brasserie unchanged, no doubt, since redecorated in the 1920s. I’ve googled. But as I enter first, I’m startled by the brightness of the place. We’re led to a corner table. The waiters are in black – jackets and waistcoats and trousers and black bowties – but with long white aprons. Perfect. The place is filling up, and we already have close neighbors. I insist Bill take the banquette seat. He chuckles. Okay, the seat where one sits one’s mistress. But that illusion will be broken when the bill arrives; I know he will insist on paying, because lunch today was a grand exception to Bill’s rule.

            We are presented with a rather small printed menu, no big book-like thing. I’m sure the menu is pretty much invariable and classic, except for the specialty of the day. Presidents and prime-ministers and actors and writers and poets and artists have all eaten here. I remember once some politician was evidently dining here as we sat at the Café de Flore, because police stood guard outside, causing quite a stir among the gay men nursing their steins of beer. I ask Bill if he remembers this and knows who it was. “Probably Pompidou.” We chuckle together: How we still like how the name rolls off the lips.

            I can see in the mirror behind Bill. The place is really filling up now. I can’t believe I got a table; it was meant to be. And it’s perfect just because so well-lit and so classic; no chance for Bill to grow maudlin over candlelight. We know all these dishes. Every Frenchman would.

            “I love it. There’s are old friend, céleri rémoulade, at four times what we paid at lunch. I hope it’s four times better. I’m joking. What an incredible idea you had to pick this place. We would almost drool at the idea of dining here back in the day.” Oops! Out he comes with a Brit expression. Is he even aware? No, he’s not. “Are we going to have an apéro? Come on. We probably should have the Kir Maison out of curiosity, but I want a Suze. I haven’t had a Suze in…?” he grins. And I note that Emily in Paris has discovered Kir, so it’s out! He laughs at that. Has he seen it? No. “What is it, Netflix?” I nod. “That’s why. I haven’t bothered yet to opt for all that. You know: London. I’d go to the theater. People gave dinner parties.” Sounds jolly, I say, imitating his Britishisms. This goes over his head. With such a social life, why do you hate London so much? “I’m bored with London. And, although all my friends are Remainers, I hate the Brits for Brexit. Plus, the sex…” I wait for him to continue, but he instead looks down at his menu. He’s composing his dinner.

            Good. I know too much about his sex life already.

            Ah, there it is. Cervelas rémoulade. The ancient specialty of the house. It was with this entrée and then choucroute garni, Alsatian sauerkraut, plus big steins of good beer, that the place opened in full inexpensive glory at the start of the Belle Époque. Times have indeed changed. And yet I need to put things in perspective: This hangout of Parisians celebrities is no wallet-gouging Per Se. Far from it.

            I pause over the main courses. We had an ample lunch. Yes, but that was at noontime. Now, a good eight hours later, I’m, if not ravenous, quite hungry. Still. Fish. And there as the Thursday specialty is filet de bar, sea bass. Perfect! And with my favorite beurre blanc with a touch of anis, something I can try at home.

            “You look extraordinarily happy. What’s up?” I tell him it’s the filet de bar. He does his best to look cross-eyed at me. “You’re a walking stomach.” I start to deny this, but why bother? “I’ll have what you’re having. Now what’s for wine?”

            The waiter approaches. I order two Suze and tell him that we’ll order our dinner when he returns with the Suze. “Bien, Monsieur.” I reward him with a nice smile. I can imagine. The place is now half tourists. We hear English everywhere we turn. Bill has looked up while I order our aperitifs.

            “Your French is better than mine.” He almost whispers this so no one can hear his English. “On doit parler français entre nous.” Speak French together? I raise my eyebrows. He rolls his eyes. I know, but we’re not going to do that. “Okay, then I’ll just keep my voice down, and you do the talking to the waiter. This place might just be a tourist trap.” Bill doesn’t seem to realize what’s happened to “our” Saint Germain-des-Prés. Ralph Lauren is down the street. I guess he doesn’t know that. I tell him. “Oh fuck!” He says that in his lowered voice, which makes it sound all the more funny. Still, I’m glad we’re here. It’s bright, cheery, and, so far, it’s kept Bill upbeat.

            He’s back to checking out the wine list. “You know, I think we should have their Brouilly en carafe. What do you think?” I think that’s fine. “I could order one of the grander bottles. But we’ve had a great Saint-Joseph. I was tempted by the Gevrey-Chambertin.” He frowns. “You know what? Let’s have that. It’s a full bottle. The carafe is only a half liter. I’m thirsty.” His look goes hard. I look away. How can I say no, I answer.

            The waiter arrives with our Suze. I order our dinner. I need to check the menu to find the Gevrey-Chambertin and then order that. “Très bien, Monsieur.” And off he goes. The waiter has upgraded my score from “bien” to “très bien.” I quip that off to Bill.

            “Did you see the price? I know you must have. Can you believe it? There’s hardly any mark-up. Maybe twenty euros at most. That’s not even double what I pay in London. I need to get out of London. We could fly to Biarritz tomorrow. They have an airport.” I hear the sound of a smartphone buzzing close by. It’s not me. Bill fiddles into his pocket and pulls his phone out. “A WhatsApp?” A huge smile appears on his face. René already? Couldn’t be. He needs to take his phone to his provider and get a SIM installed. Bill’s smile goes but not entirely. “It’s Janine. She wonders if I’m still alive.” Cute, I say. “Were we gone that long?”

            This is a question I ask myself. I’m not sure. New York was very intense. I say this. His smile drains from his face. I take a sip of my Suze, toast him, and take another sip. This distracts him.

            “I like this. I haven’t had Suze in donkey’s years.” I try not to smile at another of his Brit expressions. I don’t think he’s aware of how assimilated he became. It infected his intonation, but fortunately he stayed clear of the full accent, although that is easy for a New Englander. Bill never spoke with a hard American “r.” And he never said “ant” for “aunt.” Anyway, I jump at this chance to delve into the world of cocktails. Did he know that Suze was now a secret ingredient in the most intriguing cocktails. “I can well imagine.” He takes another sip and then finishes it, leaving the one ice cube almost unmelted. I do the same.

            The waiter returns with the bottle of Gevrey-Chambertin and nonchalantly uncorks it, smells the cork himself, and then gives me a taste. Bill looks shocked at that. But of course, it was me who ordered dinner and the wine. I take a sip. Oh, Bill is going to love this. All the Burgundian fruits but just light enough not to destroy our fish course. I nod to the waiter and utter “superbe.” Bill gets to taste. I see his eyes light up. He echoes my “superbe.” The waiter is surprised to hear Bill’s French. It’s only one word, but everything about it is like a native. The waiter then blesses us both with a smile of pride that includes us in the gloire de la France. And then he leaves only to return with our cervelas rémoulade. It’s two smallish sausages entirely blanketed in a white sauce. It looks beautiful. I had expected the usual sliced up cervelas pieces in the sauce. It is a classic. I’ve had it many times over the years but never like this. There’re a few leaves of mâche and a wedge of tomato.

            Bill takes a long, deep sip of the wine. And then another. Half his glass is now empty. He’s not guzzling; he’s savoring; but he wants the alcohol. I’m suddenly picturing an evening where he insists on several cognacs after dinner and a staggering walk back to the hotel, or maybe we’ll need to get a taxi.

            I can only and have done my best. The evening is now going to be out of my control.

            Bill has already consumed one of the sausages and is attacking the other. I’m still nibbling on one of them. He pours himself another glass of the burgundy and tops up my glass. No talk. Okay. I realize I have to pay attention to my food. He’s devouring his cervelas, but I can’t eat it that fast. Still, I’ll sort of keep up. I’m on my second sausage when he’s finished, flashing me a smile of contentment, drains his glass, refills it, and then tops off mine. He’s left his smartphone on the white linen tablecloth and now picks it up. I guess he’s going to answer Janine.

            “I’ve invited Janine for lunch tomorrow. I’ve told her to bring Serges or Sergei or whatever his/her name is.” Bill looks up at me. He’s just pressed send. I note that it’s not very PC to go on and on about the sex of the Russian. “I know.” He chuckles. His glass is almost empty again. He refills it and tops up mine. I haven’t even had one full glass yet. The bottle is more than half empty. I finish my cervelas. He hasn’t mentioned René once, no maudlin rant. Instead, he’s getting hyper. I tell him to keep his voice down if he wants to pretend we’re speaking French. He pouts at me.

            Another, younger, waiter arrives to clear our plates. Bill is giving him the eye. The waiter ignores him and is gone. “Lots of handsome young men around these days.” As was always the case, I add. His phone beeps. Janine would seem to be answering. Bill looks up at me: “I don’t believe it. Serges will be coming. They’ll meet us at the hotel at noon. They’ll take the train. I was going to send Jean-Pierre for them. I need to keep Jean-Pierre busy or I’ll lose him. Well, don’t you think?” I shrug. How could I possibly know? “I need to buy a big apartment here. I need to hire him as my chauffeur. An apartment with some kind of chambre-de-bonne arrangement so he’s living upstairs?” I think you’re getting drunk, I say in a tone that is teasing. “No. But then we’ve got to check out Biarritz.”

            Our commanding older waiter arrives with our fish.

The Boulevard Saint-Germain is bowered in tall plane trees, cozy and not that well-lit except for the store windows, lots of high-end furniture and sample bathrooms and kitchens. Modern and gorgeous. “I need to find a place with a kitchen and bath like these. Not some monstrosity in a pinnacle overlooking Central Park.” I note he could play aristocrat and buy a hôtel particulier in the Septième. “One that has a courtyard big enough for my four horses and coach.”

Bill is staggering slightly, but we can walk home. I keep a bit of a distance from him so he stops bumping into me. We’re talking a longer route, down the Boulevard Saint Germain to where it reaches the Seine and the Assemblé National. I’m looking forward to seeing the partially pedestrianize Place de la Concorde lit up. Everyone loves this Paris.

I’m in “my” room. I’m on YouTube. I’ve seen this woman, Emanuelle, who does this fun French foodie series called C’est Meilleur Quand C’est Bon at home. There was this restaurant she ate at that was kind of hidden away, no tourist trap. Ah, Le Bon Georges.

By the time we got back to the hotel, Bill was walking almost normally. He insisted we have a nightcap. There was this Armagnac he’d had placed in our little bar, because he knew how much I liked Armagnac. He remembered what I served him back home. I couldn’t refuse. “It’s from the year of my birth!” Which would pretty much be the year of mine. It was truly amazing. I sipped on one. He had three and excused himself and went to bed.

Le Bon Georges. There’s a direct Métro from Concorde. Fifteen minutes. Walking would take us a good twenty-five minutes and, in parts, uphill. Not a good idea for the four of us. The time on the smartphone is 22:46. I bet I can call and reserve now. Not too late.

I do. I can hear the clatter of plates – I think – and some celebratory shouts in the background. It sounds like a young woman taking my call. “Ah, je vais voir. Demain pour le déjeuner?” She sounds skeptical. “Vous avez une heure précise?” I suggest twelve-thirty. “Ah, ça c’est impossible, Monsieur. On est complet. Mais… je peux vous donner une table a une heure et demi. Ça vous ira?” She sounds skeptical again. One-thirty? A bit late. Janine and Serges are arriving at Le Meurice at noon. Fuck. We can entertain them here in the suite. What else is a suite for. I tell the woman that this is perfect. A table for four, I repeat. “À demain, Monsieur. Bonne soirée.” Bonne soirée? Are they up all night? I love the sound of the place. I remember the YouTube. Big fabulous beef. A gourmand’s wet dream.

I hear coughing. I check my watch. 8:30? I can barely make out the position of the hands in the darkened bedroom. I could roll over and get another half hour, but the coughing is Bill summoning me, or so I think.

“There you are!” I’m standing in the doorway into the living room. He could think of something more original to say. I great him with a hi. I hate saying good morning. Maybe it’s because it’s an office thing. “What did you find?” I tell him. “Oh, sounds great, but what will we do with them for an hour?” I point out that Janine is an old friend. Catching up? The last time he saw her was with René. Oops! I said the name. I wait for a dark cloud to descend over his face. It doesn’t happen. “You’re right. And we can have a little champagne! This grand salon needs champagne!” I can’t believe he can talk about alcoholic beverages at this hour. He should have a splitting hangover but doesn’t seem to. “I took two ibuprofens and drank a full glass of water before going to bed.” Uncanny: I’m still, what, annoyed at this ability to read my mind, but I’m sort of used to it. I grin at him.

He pulls his smartphone out of his dressing-gown pocket. “What’s the name of our restaurant?” I repeat it. Off he goes, googling. “Oh, nice. Nice choice. Beef! Look at that side of beef!” I have, I tell him. He laughs. “I’m dialing for room service. Same breakfast?” I nod.

I sit on the sofa opposite his. We’re two big pashas on two big divans. I look admiringly at his dressing gown. I feel shabby in my polyester. He speaks our breakfast request into the phone in French. Okay, his accent has suffered, but he sounds fluent enough. You don’t forget a language you learn in your twenties. Plus, he was doing research in French.

“That’s done. I bet they’ll be here in a jiffy. Shall we do dining room? Nah, let’s do coffee table. I need to lounge and nibble. But, come to think of it, we should be careful about crumbs. We’re going to be entertaining in this room.” I tell him that I’m sure the room service will tidy up anything messy. “Right.” He turns to look out the window. The sky is gray. “Depressing looking out there.” He turns away to me. These are more typical Parisian skies, I snap back at him. I won’t let him go maudlin. I don’t care if mentioning René sparked nothing. I know him well enough to be afraid that at any moment he will start ranting, like he did about London right off the Eurostar, and about New York. Except, maybe he’s embarrassed to do anything similar about René. Did he contract the Brit stiff-upper-lip disease?

We sit waiting in the same seating arrangement that we had for breakfast. Bill has gone all black from head to toe. I can smell his scent from where I sit: Givenchy Gentleman. He has doused himself with it. A shiny silver bucket sits on the coffee table, a bottle of his favorite Perrier-Jouët. His favorite before he ascended into Krug heaven. When he’d get his little stipend from his parsimonious parents to top up his Fulbright, he’d treat us to Perrier-Jouët. Funny he didn’t say anything about all that when Hany treated us to same. Hany must have picked it up from Bill. I bet he drank lots of Perrier-Jouët in New York. French champagne used to be cheaper in the US than in France, some sort of beefing-up-exports shenanigans on the part of the French government of the day. There is a crystal bowl of mixed nuts. I reach over and take one, a cashew. Ah, another truffled cashew? What is the world coming to, I announce to Bill. He lets out a guffaw. I don’t like that sound he makes.

His phone sounds. “Oui, merci. They’re on their way up.” I look at my watch. It’s not yet noon. “I know,” says Bill. “Janine has the annoying habit of being early.” Oh, that’s fine. And then we’ll have plenty of time for the Métro. “Oh, sorry. I forgot to tell you. I got a hold of Jean-Pierre. He’s picking us up.” I am surprised. What? “I know, I don’t have the hôtel particulier replete with chauffeur yet. But you’ve got to start sometime. Plus, we can’t disappoint Serges. I’m sure Janine has told her all about Jean-Pierre. He/she… I know, I’ll stop. She glanced at the car and driver as they saw us out. She didn’t say a word, expressionless, but I know she was intrigued.” We don’t need Jean-Pierre’s services, but I shut up. What is he going to do with the car while we’re in the restaurant? I suppose these are things chauffeurs know about. I suppose if we were a presidential party, cars could linger outside, but… I smile. “What are you smiling about?”

There is a knock on the door. Bill jumps ups. I stand, but I let Bill let them in. I hear Janine’s voice say, “I couldn’t find any doorbell.”

And then she’s in the living room. She strides across to me for four bisous, this time. I’ve become family. “Ça a été, New-York?” I just grin at first, but then I see she wants some info. I tell her we saw many billionaire apartments and ate Michelin American cuisine. “Where’s René?” Serges strides to her side and offers her hand. I almost feel I should kiss it, but I don’t. Her eyes sparkle to match her magenta hair. Janine is staring at me, waiting for an answer. I just say: Back in Antwerp. And then I add: You’ll have to ask Bill.

“Ah! Dalí!” Serges steps back and beholds the room with arms upraised. As before, she’s in black from head to toe. She’s in trousers. And so is Janine but all in a rusty yellow so that she appears gilded next to Serges. Combined, they are a Versace creation. Serges turns around in a circle in the room. I imagine a pirouette. “So beautiful. Such memories.” She sits herself abruptly down on the edge of one of the couches and then spots the champagne.

Bill is still standing, watching Serges, transfixed, immobile. “Un peu de champagne, les amis?” He unfreezes and walks toward the coffee table.

And then, we’re all sitting around that coffee table, our crystal glasses raised. “So glad to be back in Paris!” We toast that and take sips.

Janine puts her glass down on the table. “So, where is René? What happened in New York?”

“Okay. You know we flew to New York, because René had never been to New York. Almost immediately we hooked up with my old colleague Hany.” Janine’s eyes are questioning. “Egyptian. Old aristocracy. You know the story…” She smiles, but I don’t think she knows the story as much as Bill thinks. She is not going to interrupt. “He is now a real-estate salesman. He has made millions. He insisted on showing me these apartments in the sky starting at thirty million. That’s dollars.” Janine shows interest, but perhaps it’s more patience. “One thing led to another. Michelin lunches and dinners, paid for by Hany and his partner Maryse.”

“Maryse? Why have I assumed that Hany is gay?”

“I don’t know. I suppose he’s bisexual. It seems that for the sake of their families, they’ll be getting married. Maryse’s family has Ottoman roots.”

Serges perks up: “Ah, Constantinople. My grandfather had such stories.” Is this the one who ended up in the gulag?

Janine looks impatient finally. “So, where’s René?”

“I was getting to that. Hany and Maryse invited us out to this trendy club. In Brooklyn. We…” Bill nods toward me. “We left early and left René in the care of Hany and Maryse. René got to dancing with some guy his age. Drugs were involved. René left with the guy. Let’s call it an abduction.” Both Janine and Serges, in tandem, are one move from being open-mouthed. “René will tell you the details. One day.”

Bill stops. I feel out of the loop: Has Bill been in contact with René?

Bill drinks his champagne down, refills his glass, and seems only then to notice the rest of us. He tops us off. “He was robbed, essentially. Luckily, he had left his passport back at the hotel. He escaped. He found his way back to the hotel. He…” Bill stops. “He wanted to get back home to deal with his credit cards. I got him a new iPhone.”

Janine waited. There is silence. Bill almost finishes his second glass of champagne but seems to sense that he is drinking way too fast and stops, holding the glass in mid-air. “That’s quite something. Poor René!” Janine finishes her glass and holds it out for Bill to refill. “I take it you won’t be moving back to New York.” Janine’s voice clatters with irony.

“No.” Bill fills her glass. “Maybe I should buy a hôtel particulier in the Seventh.” He sees a flash in Janine’s eyes. “Just joking. What would I do with a whole house?”

“I don’t know, Bill. Serges and I live quite comfortable in a whole house.”

“You would have a jardin to keep you busy. You could take up gardening as I have.” Bill looks startled at this, coming from a woman with magenta hair, speaking out of the blue in a thick Russian accent. It does seem theatrical and unreal. I can’t picture Bill gardening, but then maybe he had a flat with a garden in London? He moved a few times. I think he may have. One I never saw.

“That’s an interesting point, Serges. But then it’s the two of you in that house. I’d be alone rambling around in, what, three stories? I’m not ready to devote my life to gardening.”

“You could give great parties, Bill.” It’s Janine’s turn. “You’ve read Proust.”

Bill bursts out laughing. “Are you going to introduce me to the haute noblesse, Janine?” There is a pause, silence. I look at Janine. Could she know such people? She bursts out laughing. Bill grins back at her. “I rest my case.”

I look at my watch. Bill catches me doing that. “I’ve asked Jean-Pierre to pick us up and take us to Le Bon Georges.”

Le Bon Georges? Oh, grand dieu, Janine, ça fait belle lurette, ça. Monsieur Bill, I have not been there in years and years. Quel plaisir!” Serges has erupted in an ecstasy that matches her hair. She looks like La Goulue.

I’m still digesting Bill’s scenario where he would be living alone in such a grand house. “You could have René move in with you in that fabulous hôtel particulier. It would be perfect, just like Serges and me.” I keep myself from staring at Bill to see his reaction.

“I think, Janine, that you’re presuming too much.”

Janine turns her attention to me. I know what she wants to say. We exchange looks: Mine is to not go there; she complies. Silence. A silence that gets me checking my watch again. After all, I made the reservation and under my name. I note the time. It floats in the silence of the room like a bit of Dalí drapery. And, as if on cue, Serges stands. “Monsieur Bill, dommage that Dalí’s lobster telephone has gone missing in this room.” Bill bursts out laughing. Relief, obviously. I almost remark that it’s in a museum in Rotterdam, but I don’t.

“I bet Jean-Pierre is waiting for us downstairs.”

I think it may just be the girl on the phone when I made the reservation who now shows us to our table.  Serges and Janine are seated on the banquette, Bill and myself in chairs facing them. Serges surveys all, neck craning: “Ah, les souvenirs, Janine!” Yes, Serges knows this place. Janine as well? I see her nodding. “Rien n’a changé.”

“Is that truly possible, Serges? You know how one can never step in the same stream twice.” It dawns on me that Bill is enjoying using the name Serges, which is male. Odd that they haven’t devised a female version. Which leads me to suspect that they are a truly kinky couple. I’m liking them more and more.

“And thank the gods for that, mon cher Bill. Quel ennui ce serait! I love change!” Bill breaks into a roar of laughter and Serges follows up. I look around. The place is packed and noisy with conversation, but the gales of laughter from these two is turning a few heads, albeit smiling. I’ve struck gold. I never imagined… Merci, Emmanuelle.

Bill grabs the waiter who’s brought our menus and orders a glass of champagne for all of us. The party must go on.

Bill is fiddling with the extensive book of the wine list, waiting for us to decide on our entrées. He has announced tuna tartare for himself. Gazpacho for myself, and Janine concurs with a conspiratorial smile at me. Serges announces triumphantly: “Poêlé de cèpes des Vosges!” Fresh French porcini mushrooms from the Vosges. It comes with croutons. It will be marvelous, I say.

“I agree. We’ll have that as a fifth plate so we can all taste! And we are all going to share the great side of beef, saignant bien sûr.” As we murmur agreement, our champagne arrives. We quickly toast this lunch event, making the waiter pause patiently. And then Bill orders for all of us. Perhaps it’s the champagne, but his French is now its old bombastic self. He has reassimilated overnight. The waiter is about to leave. “Mais non, Monsieur. Une bouteille de votre Echézeaux Grand Cru. Deux mille dix-sept, c’est bon?” The waiter confirms that it is superbe. “Alors, voilà!” Bill turns to us beaming. The waiter bows off.

I state that the place is famous for its wines. “I could sense that,” adds Bill. “I suddenly cannot get enough good Burgundy.”

“You are very généreux, Monsieur Bill.” Serges raises her glass to Bill.

C’est mon plaisir.” And of course, it is, because he can’t drink bottles of these legendary Burgundies on his own. Serges blesses Bill with a radiant smile to match her hair. Isn’t this the Serges who for years avoided meeting Bill? But this is not the only transformation I’m seeing. Bill seems to have decided to resume his Parisian self.

“You live in London, Monsieur Bill?”

“Not for long. I’m looking to move as I told you. That hôtel particulier is out, but maybe tomorrow I’ll have a look at apartments…” He smiles at me. I nod. If it’s anything like the luxury circuit, if not circus, that we experienced in Manhattan, I think it’ll be not only a revelation but fun. What has changed Bill’s mind? Only a few weeks ago in Rotterdam he was damning London, New York, and Paris as over, as dead ends. It was all about Biarritz, which I think he’s never visited. Has he given up on René? And then it hits me that I’m back in the crosshairs. He wants me to help him with a Paris apartment just like he wanted me to do the same in Biarritz.

The waiter uncorks the Echézeaux. Bill tastes. He looks startled and nods. The waiter looks a bit perturbed. The waiter serves us all and is gone, leaving the bottle within reach of Bill. “It’s gorgeous.” I tell him he should have said that to the waiter. “I was in shock.” Bill chuckles. I take a sip. For a treat, back in those Paris days of mine, I’d get a bottle of Nuits-Saint-Georges. This is a whole other level: all the expected fruit of pinot noir but with a complexity of body that maybe I’ve never experienced. But, no, I don’t want to spend the rest of my life with Bill. Janine is watching me. Reading this idea into my thoughts. I glance at her; she smiles benignly back. No, Janine, no.

An impressive side of beef arrives. The waiter is back and gives us a show of his carving skills. Fine beef and fine Burgundy. We cease talking. All attention is on the food and drink, savoring a moment à table that will surely become a cherished memory for all of us.

Totally unexpected. Bill suggested we all go over to the Musée Gustave Moreau. “It’s only a ten-minute walk from here,” he added. I’m sure we all looked surprised. And then we all thought it was a marvelous idea. Serges, who had given a running commentary on what she was eating from the standpoint of former chef-de-cuisine – she, as he, claimed to have been at Le Meurice in the time of Dalí – uttered her favorite epithet: “Ça fait belle lurette!” That it had been “donkey’s years” since she had visited the museum was taken as sealing the plan.

Bill had ordered a second bottle of the Echézeaux. The ten-minute walk cleared our heads a bit, and the sun had come out in the sense of occasionally piercing through the banks of clouds in the autumn sky. Bill and I walked side-by-side; the couple followed at enough of a distance that I couldn’t make out what was being said, but Janine was doing all the talking.

“I know you’re surprised. I’ve just changed my mind. Something about New York has made me realize that I should have a place in Paris. I’ll call Sotheby’s tomorrow and see what they have. No fucking house! A Haussmannian apartment with three bedrooms will do. And I want it within walking distance of Le Petit Georges. I want to be become a regular there.”

I was and still am surprised. In Rotterdam, he had such harsh words for the three capitals, London, Paris, and New York. “There is no Andy Warhol or Picasso operating anywhere in the world.” I noted that there’s still plenty of art, and shows, and artists. He shrugged, yet more Gallic, “I loved the gallery scene in Soho. That was the past. Things have changed.” He stopped. The couple caught up with us. “Paris has a history of great food. I need to be here.” Serges looked confused. Janine grinned.

As we move toward my favorite of Moreau’s paintings, Jupiter et Sémélé, having gone up carpeted wooden staircases to reach this third-floor atelier, I’m out of breath. Too much food? The wine? Bill seems fine. Janine looks fine. Serges looks as pained as I feel. But here we are. I declare this my favorite painting. “Me too,” echoes Bill. Janine echoes Bill and myself.

C’est un rêve hindou. Orientalisme. Je ne sais pas. Enfin, c’est un bijou somptueux.” She’s right, but who cares? I don’t think anyone feels that orientalism is such a bad thing, or do they? Let’s stick to the sumptuous jewel-box of a painting.

Bill turns to me: “Do you think there are any Moreau paintings like this on the market? I could buy one.” I have no idea. I like the idea. But I think and say: What about the security you’d need to have in place? “Good point. But, you know, people do still have private collections, right?” I ignore that question, which is not a question.

I’m rivetted to the painting. First, there is the gorgeous riot of color and detail, which is almost edible. I’m still hopelessly full from lunch, but I could eat, devour this painting. After impact, I dive into the details. Jupiter? Serges, is this Jupiter not a woman in drag, powerful sculpted body that seems more stone than flesh? I glance over at her. She is in fact transfixed by the details before her. And then the ivory white swooning body of Sémélé: The gesture is high melodrama, back of hand pressed against forehead. And then I retreat from detail to once again feast on the vast opulence of the painting.

“I don’t get what is Symbolist. I guess I’ve never understood Symbolism.” Bill is saying this into my ear. I don’t care. He pulls out his smartphone. He’s going to text. Of course, he’s summoning Jean-Pierre. Quick reply, evidently, because he then says, “We have twenty minutes.” He grimaces a grin at me, I smile back, and he goes off to a corner of the third-floor studio. The four of us are the only visitors. I can hear Bill’s voice, but I can’t make out what he’s saying, except that he is speaking French to whoever. I delve back into the painting for one last luscious trip. And then he’s by my side. “They have something!” He is whispering this into my ear, but obviously we can all hear it.

“What thing?” asks Janine.

Bill looks around to make sure we are still alone in the room. “They have a Haussmann, right on the Place Saint-Georges. Five bedrooms, one hundred eighty square meters. You’ll each have your own pied-à-terre.” I burst out laughing at that.

“Versailles is not that out of the way. Still, Serges, think opera…” I see that Serges does. Serges is an opera-lover? And then, I’m back thinking of myself. I am tantalized, thrilled. I can’t deny it. You can get to Paris in two and a half hours by train. I could resume some kind of Parisian life, if I wanted to. Do I?

“I can’t wait!” Bill sounds like a kid. He looks ecstatic.

The car pulls up to Le Meurice. Bill and I exchange bisous with Janine and Serges. And then we get out. Jean-Pierre is going to drive the couple home to Versailles.

“Let’s have a drink at the bar.” I tell him I won’t say no.

I realize this is the one public space in the hotel where we have not set foot. Le Bar 228. It has tall windows, but they look out onto the lobby. A room looking out onto an atrium. A den of dark wood paneling carved with pilasters, columns, etched in gilt, great sashays of velvet curtains at its great windowpanes. Ivory silk lampshades on tables and protruding from the panels, reminding me of Cocteau’s fairy-tale arms holding torches. A sparkling bar. But the room is feutré and mellow, though not empty. It is, after all, the cocktail hour. Bill directs us to a corner table with comfy, deep brown leather armchairs. He sinks into his with a sigh. “I’m exhausted.” I pull out my armchair and sink into it. “Life is exhausting.” I just smile. He takes a menu from a holder on the table. “What do we have here? I want a cocktail.” I also take a menu. Nice that there are several of them. There’s a framed list of “House crafted cocktails” in English, but their ingredients are noted in French. Two of the signature cocktails are with champagne. “What do you think? I don’t want a cocktail with champagne. But there are two with cucumber!” His eyes light up. Why? “I’m thirsty.” Okay. “Émeraude. Gin, cucumber, and ginger. Hopefully not ginger ale. Will it be green? I’m having that. What about you?” There’s another cucumber cocktail with green tomato called a Green Mary, so a vodka riff on a Bloody. I wonder if that green tomato is a tomatillo. That would be interesting. But I’m with Bill. I want something with gin. But Bill’s choice is the only one with gin. I could have a Martini, it’s listed, but that doesn’t seem very adventurous. Oh, let’s go for champagne. The cocktail named after the bar: Le 228. Champagne, poire, litchi, framboise. “That strikes me as a lady’s drink.” So be it. “I bet Serges would order that cocktail.” Enough, Bill. A waiter arrives; we order separately. Bill begins playing the piano on the edge of the table. I stare at that. He doesn’t stop. It’s obvious that I’m finding this annoying. “So, I bet you’re shocked that I’m going to buy an apartment in Paris.” He grins at me like an eel. His teeth are very small. Have I noticed this before?

I nod. Yes, I’m surprised.

“I’m famous for saying, never step in the same stream twice, but of course you can’t. That’s why I’m buying something here. Something totally different from what we knew. I mean. Dude, we were students.” I correct him: He was the student. “Okay, but living as… Not that this was at all bad back then. But. You know, I learned something in Manhattan. Embrace the money.” I tell him he already embraced it when he rented the suite upstairs. “True. And not true. I was playing. I was making old fantasies come true. Remember, I also tried out the Crillon.” What didn’t he like about the Crillon? “Oh, come on: It reeks of Saudi taste.” I remind him that I don’t know. “Trust me.” We share a dislike of things Saudi. It’s the horror of their women all in black with a slit so they can see out. It’s beheadings as an event after Friday prayers, although neither of us have actually seen this. “Do you think Hany will invite us to his mother’s little old palace in Garden City for Christmas?” Christmas? I start to laugh. “Serious people do plan ahead.” I’m not serious, I then say. I’m impromptu, which is why I’m here with him. “Ah, and I thank you for that. I had the guts wrenched out of me when I put René on that Thalys. You’ve saved me. First, that perfect choice of Lipp that we’d stared at all those years ago. And then, you know, Le Petit Georges, which is why I’m going to buy that apartment on the Place Saint-George tomorrow.” What if you hate it? “I won’t. It’s meant to be. One of the bedrooms could also be, like, a pied-à-terre for Jean-Pierre.” I point out that Neuilly is not Versailles; it’s just behind the Arc de Triomphe.

I look away. This is an amazing room. It is totally different from the two restaurants. Something about it makes me think that, aside from the Starck furniture, it has not been changed much. I know the restaurants were never so bright and airy in the old days. My vision of the old Meurice was that it was grand and a bit dark, definitely a grande dame. It gave you visions of the Ancien Régime. Candelabras and mirrors. That, at least, was my impression when I was much younger. Our cocktails arrive.