“Bonjour, mon grand!” Janine has a hearty, full voice, the kind that demands attention.
Bill is first up the five stairs and he kisses her on both cheeks. “Bonjour, ma belle.” I follow a bit hesitantly. Bill turns, “You recognize this guy?” Janine smiles broadly at me but shakes her head. I don’t recognize her either. Thirty years ago? Well, who knows. I certainly did know Anna. I don’t mention Anna. I follow up the stairs. Her hand is out; I shake it. “I have decided that you are too late for tea, so we shall have champagne. Ça vous va?” Bill bursts out laughing. I think, he’s going to say “is the pope Catholic”? He just continues laughing, though. She makes a face, somewhere between amusement and “you naughty boy.” I see she knows him quite well. Strange that he’s never mentioned her to me before this.
The door is still open. She goes inside, and we follow. Oh, what a beautiful big room. White marble fireplace in a graceful festoon shape. Architecture is simplifying design at this point in time, the time the house was built. It may not be the voluptuous curves of Art Nouveau, but it is not the rococo gaudiness of the Third Empire. The windows are tall, to the ceiling, but not to the floor. There are radiators under them. Did they already have central heating in 1900? She has three gray velvet couches placed around a square coffee table of some kind of nice fruit wood, I would guess. I’m no expert. It’s set with champagne in a silver bucket and three flûtes. There’s a bowl of what looks like nuts. The room speaks entertainment. Janine entertains. Oh, the husband: Where is the Russian? Janine goes and sits down. Bill sits on the same couch with her. I set on the adjacent couch, the middle one, facing the fireplace. “Where’s Sergei?”
“Serges? He’s visiting his elderly aunt in Saint Petersburg.” She moves to take the champagne from the bucket. “Oh, Bill, you do the honors. You’re good at popping corks.” She throws me a glance and smiles. I smile back. Bill gets to his feet. He is good at it. Pop, and he has the three glasses perfectly filled, not a drop spilled, sets the bottle back in the ice bucket, and hand, first, a glass to Janine, and then to me, and, still standing, takes the last for himself. “À nos amours.” I’m startled. Whose loves? And then I remember he said the same thing on the Witte de Whitstraat.
“That’s gracious of you. And speaking of which, are you seeing someone? No. I think you aren’t or I would know.”
“It’s my toast du jour. It’s what I say these days, Janine. You’ll get used to it.”
“I hope I do.” She pats the seat beside her. Bill sits back down. This is a beautiful house, I say to Janine. “Thank you. I think so, too. It’s really too big for two people, but I couldn’t bear to live anywhere else at this point. I love the garden. If we had more time… Oh, Bill, what about your driver? I suppose we can’t offer him champagne, but he’s out there…”
“Oh, I’m sure he’s busy with his smartphone. Don’t worry about him.” Bill glances at his watch. We have a good thirty minutes. Oh, Janine, this is your best champagne.” She smiles and takes another sip. Bill is right: The champagne is round, lightly fruity, biscuité, as they say. Not burningly dry as is often so popular these days. I didn’t see the label.
“You don’t recognize Perrier Jouet? I thought it was your favorite.”
“It is my favorite. But tonight we’ll have Krug.”
“Oh my,” Janine turns to me. “He’s out to impress us. Can we stand it?” She winks at me; her laughter is surprisingly light, a step from crystalline, but not harsh, quite warm, in fact. She’s seducing me into being her sidekick. I like it. Together we can tease Bill. He loves being teased, the center of attention.
“Who better to drink Krug with than two of my oldest and dearest friends.”
“Did you expect that when your parents passed away that…? You are a spoiled only child, I know, just like me.” She pouts for him.
“Yes.” Bill is staring her down. “Yes. My name was on everything. My mother had me as co-signer of everything, including the horrible condo. You know in America they have this time-consuming thing called probate? Well, I skipped that.”
I start laughing. I know about that. What a wily woman his mother was, a good Republican always out to cheat the taxman.
Janine turns to me. “I shared this house with my parents. It was too big for them. Serges and I moved in. We still occupy the top floor. Nothing changed too much, except that now we have the run of the house, and I redid the living room. My mother passed away first: breast cancer. Awful. It was good that we were already sharing the house with them. My father lived a year longer. He was so bored without my mother. We tried to get him to travel, but he refused. Not so great for us. We did get away, but never for more than five or six days at a time. I was afraid to leave him alone in this house. I suppose I could have arranged for someone to look in on him, in the pretense of cooking him his meals, but he wouldn’t have it. He would drive to the Picard store and buy frozen meals. And then he had a magnificent cave, so what might have been lacking in the eating was made up for in the drinking. We inherited that cave, lucky us. You used to live in Paris, Bill tells me.”
As if called, Bill says, “We looped around and had a look at our old address. Can’t go in anymore. Did I ever show you?”
Janine smiles brightly: “Yes. I looked the building up later. There are pictures. Shame we couldn’t have gone inside and seen the courtyard. I’m sure that would have triggered memories.”
“It was his apartment,” Bill nods toward me, “not mine.” I explain that soon after Bill went to New York, the landlord took back the place. But I was fortunate to get my hands on a big apartment in a nineteenth-century pierre-de-tailles building not far away in Les Halles. I rented it for a year, and then the elderly woman who owned it sold it to me.
Janine’s eyebrows rose: “Do you still own it? I do hope so.” Yes, I know. It would be worth a fortune now, but I sold it when I bought the apartment in Rotterdam. She makes a face; she is not pleased at this news.
“His apartment is fantastic, Janine. You should see it. Have you ever been to Rotterdam?” She shakes her head brightly, trying not to look scornful. I know the attitude only too well: Not just very French but typical of her generation who would wax enthusiastic over the canals of Amsterdam, but for whom Rotterdam was ugly industrial territory, existing in the world of commerce and economics only. Like Detroit: Anyone hot for a weekend in Detroit? “It’s quite the amazing city nowadays.” He nods towards me. I am happy to hear that, but I hope he doesn’t find it too amazing. Again, that quandary, that mix of feelings, is back. I don’t want Bill to move to Rotterdam, and I don’t know why. It’s the gut-feeling thing. On the other hand, should he move to Rotterdam, I’d get used to it. Yes, I’m sure.
I lean forward to take some nuts: a mix of cashews and smoked almonds. I realize then that I’m hungry, very hungry. And the champagne is going to my head. So what! I take a nice long sip. Delicious! I see Bill aping me. Janine reaches forward and takes one cashew. “There are lots of places I haven’t seen yet. I’m sure Rotterdam is very exciting. I’ve read articles in Le Monde. I’m not such a great fan of modern architecture, but I do appreciate that La Défense exists. Actually, maybe Rotterdam would change my mind.” Nice that she identifies Rotterdam with the ultra-modern La Défense in a line of perspective with the Arc de Triomphe, out beyond Neuilly and the north loop of the Seine, so not officially part of Paris; I’ve only been out there once, for lunch with an American I met in the baths in Amsterdam. It’s a major financial hub; I guess people also live out there. It’s really not like Rotterdam at all, but anyway… She is smiling sweetly at me. “I think it’s exciting that Bill is interested in decamping to Biarritz. I do love Biarritz. We try to go either in late spring or early autumn. Not much of a beach person these days. Every other year, if possible. That will all change, Bill, because you’ll buy a huge mansion with ten bedrooms, and we’ll all come down at will or move in.” I watch Bill’s reaction. His eyes are sparkling, I guess, either because he finds the idea funny or maybe he likes the idea. Janine is plainly exaggerating for effect, teasing him. I see now that this is a major aspect of their relationship. Janine’s age is difficult to figure. She’s probably eight years older than us, ten years older than me. She is what you would call in French une jolie laide, a woman who is not beautiful but who has distinctive features, long nose and cheekbones in Janine’s case, that make her attractive. “Bill, will you hire a cook? You are a great cook yourself, but so much work.” He finally breaks into a laugh, toasts her, and empties his flûte.
“I think we better think of getting going. It’s going to be rush hour, although our direction should be a reverse commute.” He stands and leaves the room. I figure he’s going to pee. Both of Bill and I learned long ago not to do the American thing of announcing, gotta pee. I remember the first time in Paris when, in a group, someone just got up and left. What’s wrong? I’d said. Everyone laughed at me.
It’s now just me and Janine alone. She half stands to reach for the bottle. She fills my glass and tops off hers, replaces the bottle, and sips back down. She’s quite agile. She’s as lean as Bill is, minus the paunch. “I ran into Anna a month ago.” She toasts towards me and takes a small sip. “She apologized for not staying more in touch. She was referring to me, but I think that would go for you, too. Life in Fontainebleau is idyllic, she says. She has grown to love the woods, the countryside. She rarely goes into Paris. I found this a bit odd, since I’d always thought of her as a very Parisian, very urban person, but whatever, I thought, and then she told me that her ‘friend’ was very jealous. You should have seen the look on her face as she said that. She just beamed. So, our Anna loves being so desired, and I would wager that she will not be part of our lives anymore, which is a pity. I found her such fun. You might not recognize her either. She’s put on a bit of weight.” Janine purses her lips. I must look surprised, because then she laughs. “I thought you might say, ‘typical lesbian.’” I almost did, but I’m not comfortable enough with Janine to blurt something like that out. Didn’t Bill think Janine herself might be lesbian? I don’t know what to say, so I just laugh. Janine takes a nice sip of her champagne. I reach forward for some nuts. “Tell me, do you think Bill is just a millionaire now or a billionaire?”
Bill of course comes back into the room at that point. “For you both to guess.”
“Moi, ça m’est égale.” Janine stands up. “Bon voyage à nous,” and she drains her glass. I do likewise, standing up. On a chair in the anteroom is a carpet bag, very colorful, birds and vines, Persian looking, but not Persian-carpet looking. Janine takes it as she follows Bill, who leads the way out. He’s first down the stairs. After me, Janine turns and locks up the house. Jean-Pierre jumps out of the car and opens the rear door. Bill stands aside and ushers Janine in first and then me. He shuts the door. Jean-Pierre hesitates and then smiles as Bill goes around to sit in the passenger seat next to Jean-Pierre. Of course, I haven’t thought of this, but the car is no limo, luxurious and roomy as it is. There is no glass partition between front and back, but there might as well be. The car is long enough so that conversation between the front seat and the back will be difficult. This trip will be interesting.
Janine has placed the carpet bag on the seat between the two of us. She is sitting where I sat on the way here. “Ça ne vous dérange pas trop?” I shake my head and smile back at her. I ask her where she got such an interesting bag. “Actually, I bought it in New York forty years ago now.” It looks almost brand new. “I rarely use it. Little overnight jaunts are rarely on my agenda.” She does that little pursing of the lips again. Ah, that’s the old-fashioned French mou. A favorite of Parisian women back in the… Of course, Janine is from that generation. It’s coy. It’s more than just a pout.
From the front seat comes, “I’ll hear everything you say about me. Otherwise, I’ll be talking to Jean-Pierre.” We all laugh, except of course Jean-Pierre, who probably understands the English but is playing… coy? The poor guy is trying to maintain his distance, but there is Bill up there right next to him, the mouse behind the wheel and the cat in the passenger seat doing who knows what, hopefully nothing embarrassing for Jean-Pierre. I may have been the big cruiser in our Paris days, but one trip to New York showed me that Bill had changed and was letting it rip. It’s amazing he didn’t contract HIV. He says so himself.
Janine is looking out the window as we leave her neighborhood. She seems pensive. No, she is pensive. I wonder what she’s thinking about? In fact, she grew up in this neighborhood, and now she’s back living here, probably until the end of her days. She turns, “So, I take it that unlike Bill you haven’t lived in the United States for almost fifty years.” It’s true, but it’s startling to hear it put that way. It’s not like she’s accusing me of lack of patriotism. I have been back many, many times, even for weeks at a time. One thing led to another, and I stayed on this side of the Atlantic. “Are you a Dutch citizen?” No, I’m not. I could be. I’ve lived there long enough. “And then you would be a European citizen.” She adds that as if she were talking about a marvelous pastry. I agree and am equally enthusiastic, though I’m surprised that she is. “I’m a great fan of the European Union. Is ‘fan’ the right word? Enthusiastic, much like Macron. You like Macron?” I nod; yes, I think I do. “The French don’t know how lucky they are.” She returns to looking out the window. This could be a very long ride.
I break the silence by asking her what her impressions of Studio 54 were. “Ah, Bill told you that? I went with him twice. The first time was with another friend of his, a woman he worked with. I was thinking at the time whether it was discrete for UN personnel to be going to Studio 54. I included Bill in that thought. But neither of them seemed concerned. I never met the woman again, but I was glad she was there, because Bill pretty much disappeared. The second time I was alone with Bill, though actually you could say I was alone, period. He again vanished. After an hour of just sitting around…” She is pausing to decide something. “I was not going to head out onto the dance floor and dance alone.” I think: Her eyes are dancing for me now. I laugh. I know, though, that it was famous for people doing just that. Very old people. One even dropped dead on the dance floor, if I remember. I mention that. She purses her lips again: “I was much younger in those days. I often think back and wonder what would have happened if I had joined in dancing. I might have met someone. Someone. Someone other than a gay man?” Her eyes dance some more; she finds this funny. Well, I guess it is. She could also have found a celebrity lesbian. I think Fran Liebowitz used to go to Studio. I mention this. “Oh, that’s a thought.” She winks then and turns back to the view from the window.
I ask where Bill had gone; I added that it was a bit rude of him. I look to the front seat to see if he has heard me, but he’s busy nattering on to Jean-Pierre. I just hope he doesn’t put his hand on the chauffeur’s knee. Danger of a car crash; I channel Lady Di. Janine turns slowly back to me. “Oh, come now, I’m sure you know.” There was always a darkroom sex scene at Studio? “How would I know.” The lips purse again, and she laughs. “Maybe he was in the VIP lounge playing with Liza Minelli’s feet?” I burst out laughing. “Or Halston’s. Though Halston would have been in the darkroom, non? Seriously, I went those two times with Bill. We never were in the VIP area. I think I saw Andy Warhol up beside the deejay, the first time I went. At least, I think it was him, but since Bill was not there, I couldn’t ask. The woman from the UN was as clueless as I was.” Did you dance with her, I ask? “Yes.” Janine whipped back to the window. Women dancing together is no sign of lesbianism. I wonder why she’s reacted like this?
“Actually,” she glances back at me and then returns to the window, “when I went to Studio 54 that second time with Bill, l did meet a celebrity. He does not know.” She is speaking to the window as if to a priest in a confessional; I’m also having a hard time hearing her. “Growing up I knew Jacques de Bascher. You know the name?” She turns to me, finally. I can see she’s enjoying telling me all this. “I say growing up… I was a law student at Panthéon-Assas. He studied there for a few months. I knew he was gay – everyone knew – but he came from a good family and invited me to a social event in Neuilly. He was impossibly good looking. BCBG. You know this? Bonne Classe; Bon Goût? That second time I went to Studio 54 with Bill, he appeared out of nowhere. Bill had already disappeared. Jacques was with Yves Saint Laurent. He introduced me to Yves. The three of us danced together. And then they were off to the VIP area. I was not invited along. I immediately left and went home.” She makes a face. “Sad story, n’est-ce pas?” I must look startled. “What would I have seen if they’d taken me with them into the VIP area? I could make up stories,” she bursts out laughing again. Bill hears and turns, “Having a little party back there?” I’m about to say, no, but Janine is ignoring him, and Bill goes back to talking to Jean-Pierre.
“Bill does not know about Jacques or Yves.”
“What doesn’t Bill know about?” Bill turns again; he has heard his name.
“Pas mal de choses, mon chéri.” That is a brush off, if I’ve ever heard one. Bill looks angry for a second and then returns to Jean-Pierre. Janine waits a minute before continuing, her voice low: “What would those two boys want with me? As I look back, it was quite charming and very polite of Jacques to invite me to dance with them. They were very good dancers, and everyone was looking at us. I suppose they recognized Yves. He was very famous by then. He was tall and very bookish-looking, I thought. I, of course, recognized him. Jacques just introduced him as mon copain Yves. After that, what was I supposed to do. I realized that there were no highlights waiting for me after that. I’d done it. I was mad at Bill. That’s why I never told him.” I am conscious that I’m just staring at her, mesmerized. She looks down and away for a second, and then back up at me. “You never went to the Club Sept?” Of course, I did, but I’m in no mood to exchange stories with her. I know Lagerfeld went there and Saint Laurent. I never was there when they were there. I never went that often. It was outrageously expensive for one drink. I didn’t like that. So, I tell her no, I didn’t. She looks at me skeptically. “Funny. I did. Not on my own, mind you, but I have this gay friend, an antique dealer.” I try to keep a straight face. One point for Bill. “We had gone to dinner at Le Grand Véfour. Have you eaten there?” I nod. I did. Once. That uncle again. “Then you know it’s not far to walk. Ghislain thought I would find it amusing. I did. It was quite modern and posh in its day.” I shake my head, still pretending I was never there. I repeat her friend’s name: Ghislain? “I know. It’s very Merovingian sounding. I called him Gill, which is both British and American, am I right?” Gill? Yes. But I wonder what it’s short for? I doubt that it’s short for Ghislain. I say: Add an “e” to his name, and he might be in jail. She gets it immediately and laughs. “Poor little fucked-up heiress.” I’m surprised hearing her use the “f” word. “Gill told me that later in the evening there were nice young men to be had. I think he meant purchasing. He was old and quite fat. You remember the food at Le Grand Véfour? Quite rich in those days. Well, he gobbled it down. He had cheese and dessert. I remember that distinctly. And then when we went to the Club Sept, he had a large Armagnac. I had a gin-and-tonic. I was the only woman there, but the boys made feel quite comfortable.” She smiles as she says that.
I think: fag hag, which is not very nice of me, I then think: Do I like Janine? Not sure. I do like the way she can tease Bill. “On the other hand, Bill did not make me feel that way when he took me to Studio 54 alone that time. Yes, it was very trendy. I was not ignorant, as ignorant as I said before; I did see Andy Warhol up with the deejay. I recognized all the famous faces. But Bill did not seem to know any of them; I said nothing. Pity. Maybe he met the famous, but it would have been in darkrooms, I’m sure, so he wouldn’t recognize them. And they wouldn’t want him to recognize them. What’s the point?” She glances towards Bill. Maybe she’s thinking he’s heard and will add something, but he is in one of his grand theatrical monologues with Jean-Pierre. She turns back to me, disappointed. “Bill seems to be busy.” I laugh and agree. I ask her how long she spent in New York. “A year and a half. It was very exciting. I loved the Soho art scene. Now there? I met them all. I even met Basquiat. And Basquiat did introduce me to Warhol. I bought a couple of his paintings.” Warhol’s? “No, Basquiat. Serges hates them. But he’s quite racist. He’s also jealous, because I told him that I slept with Basquiat. Once. It was a party in Soho, someone’s loft. We were stoned. I was stoned on le shit, kief. Basquiat? More than just that. It was very late. He invited me to his place. I found him very handsome and very exciting. He was a good lover.” Her expression was pure lust then. I was made to picture what she meant as if she said it: cunnilingus. The word sounds too biological. She would never use that word. “He had quite the magic tongue,” she adds. Okay, Janine.
I ask her what Warhol was like. “Taciturn. He said very little. But that’s his reputation, non? I think he was annoyed that Basquiat introduced me to him. I never saw either of them again after that. I still don’t know if Warhol had sex with him. There was nothing sexy about Andy. And he had all those scars by then, from when the woman shot him.” Suddenly I think: Everyone knows all this. Is she making it all up? But then this was all forty years ago. I try to imagine her younger but can’t. “But you know about that. Everyone does.” Yes. And there has been a Netflix series. I ask her if she has seen it. “No. Serges has, but I rarely watch television.” I wonder what they do together in that big house then. “I’m usually out playing bridge. Bridgez-vous?” I’ve heard that expression, but it still makes me laugh. She understands and laughs, too. “You don’t, I guess. Neither does Serges. And then there are dinner parties. I like to entertain.” I tell her that I had gathered that with her three couches. “You’re so observant. You’re dangerous.” Ah, she’s teasing me now. I make a dangerous face for her. “But you’re just a pussycat. I know. I know.” What does she know? Has Bill talked a lot about me to her? I ask her. “I won’t say no. He refers to you. His Paris days. You know. And so finally I get to meet you. How lovely!” She is looking into my eyes. I want to turn away, but of course I can’t. I mutter, likewise. “Oh, but does Bill talk about me? Did you even know I existed before today?” She gives me a pale smile and looks away again out the window. “I haven’t thought of Ghislain in years. I do miss him. He was lots of fun.” I wonder if he died of AIDS. “He died of AIDS. He was the only person I knew personally who died of AIDS. But I just heard about it from the antiquaire grapevine. He was not so young by then. Someone said, chapeau, as if it was a badge of honor at his age.
She goes silent and looks back out the window. I pull out my iPhone and google Jacques de… What was his last name again? But then the name comes up, de Bascher, I recognize it and click. Most of the articles are about Saint Laurent and Lagerfeld. I’m not particularly interested, and then there are the pics. Lots of them. I feel like I recognize him. I click on the Wikipedia entry. Ah, he was everywhere, on the both sides of the Atlantic. He had an apartment on the Rue de Dragon. I know the street very well. Did I have sex with him? I might well have. I did not literally go to bed with him; that, from the pics, would have been very memorable. He died of AIDS in 1989. I’m amazed to read that Lagerfeld slept on a cot in his hospital room. And then Lagerfeld claims he never had sex with him. I get it. Far too dangerous in so many ways. Don’t have sex with the devil. I’m smiling.
“What are you looking at?” I explain. “So, you think you had sex with Jacques? Did I tell you that I never did? But you? If you were a naughty boy in Paris, you probably did. Did I tell you that I went to the Mineshaft once? Bill didn’t tell you that?”
“I hear my name again.” He has turned and placed his right hand on the back of the seat, straining his seatbelt. Is he going to jump into the back? Or is he going to grab Janine?
“I’m about to recount my evening with you in the Mineshaft.”
“Ah. Then I’ll leave you to it. I told him you’d have New York stories.” He turns back to look forward out the window. I hear him say, is that the Bois de Boulogne again up ahead? And then Jean-Pierre says something, which I can’t make out.
We’re back in Paris. I feel again how empty my stomach is, but manage to stifle another growl.
“I didn’t think it would be possible,” Janine starts in, “but I was very curious. Everyone talked about the Mineshaft. You could say it was the cutting edge.” Janine had brushed my knee to bring my attention back to her. “Back in those days, Bill and I were almost the same size. I am still that size. Bill has put on a bit of weight around the middle. Anyway, he thought I could fit into one of his pair of leather pants. I could. I had quite the boyish figure. My hair was cut short. We pinned it up so that it fit under a motorcycle cap.” I can picture it. It would be fairly dark at the door to the Mineshaft. The jolie laide would translate to male. Her breasts, even now, were small. “You see it?” I nod. “First, we go up these stairs and there’s a bar. There is a naked man handcuffed to the bar. Before I can think of why, I see someone come and pee in his mouth.” Okay, that must have been a turn-off? I’ve heard this story from Bill. “I am very cool. I follow Bill into the backroom. And then later, on my own – Bill is very quickly busy and forgets me – I go down these stairs. That’s when I understand the name, because I feel like I’ve descended into a mine. It is pitch black. I feel hands on me. Not good, as you can imagine. They’ll look for a dick or feel my breasts. I turned around and got back up those stairs quickly. I saw that Bill was busy off in one corner. I watched three guys having sex with each other until I grew bored. This was not exciting me. What was exciting me was having gotten into this famous place. I decided to leave. On my own. I was not going to interrupt Bill. On my way out, the guy handcuffed to the bar was gone. I was suddenly very thirsty but decided not to press my luck by trying to order a beer. In the stairs down I passed Jacques… Jacques de Bascher? He didn’t recognize me of course. Saint Laurent was following him. I figure they were both stoned. I was not. Bill was. Me? I was not going to attempt all this without my wits around me. You see that?” Yes. “Not that I’m a puritaine. Serges and I often smoke a bit of hashish in a pipe. But none of this is strange to you, because you live in Holland.” True, I reply. I wonder what she and her husband do when they’re stoned. “You might think that Serges and I smoke and then have sex.” I smile. “You’d be a bit correct. But I’d hardly call it sex. We go to bed. We fall asleep. It’s not exciting, as I tell it to you, but it’s very pleasant.” I’m sure. I think that this may well be the glue that keeps their marriage going. I look down at my lap. The iPhone is displaying the photos of Jacques de Bascher. I’m thinking that looking at pictures of him is much more interesting, intriguing, than Janine’s foray into the Mineshaft. I visited Bill once, and he took me to the Mineshaft. When Bill told me that Janine would have stories about New York in the wild and woolly days, I didn’t think of this. It is amazing that she managed it. I bet it’s one of her stories for a select few. Bored bourgeois in Versailles of an evening after dinner?
“You seem fascinated by pictures of Jacques.” I nod. I can hardly deny it. “He was truly a devil. Perfectly made. Wore clothes like a charm. I’ve read about him there…” She points to my smartphone. “They use this silly word ‘dandy’… But that makes one think he was effeminate, n’est-ce pas? I can tell you that he was not.” I scroll down. I see the word used. “You see it?” I nod. “People who use that word don’t understand.” What don’t they understand? But she’s turned back to look out the window. “Ah, on est dans Paris.” She turns back to me. “On a faim, non?” And then she laughs as I nod and laugh with her. I’m starving.
We are bonding. I think that I should have eaten more nuts at her place. I say so. She laughs. “We are in for quite a treat. The chef is Japanese, I think. So trendy and so delicious this fusion of French and Japanese, n’est-ce pas? I think of the dinner in Rotterdam. I tell her about it. “Ah? So, Bill is right about Rotterdam.” I just smile for her.
And then I think to ask her if she thinks New York is dead. “New York? Dead? This is Bill’s new theory of civilization, am I right? He has a point. Paris is long dead. Some say it died when Piaf died.” I remember hearing that. Who said that? Cocteau? “Maybe. And then Cocteau is long dead. And Sartre. Who is there now? On the other hand, mon cher, where are the hot spots now?” I reply that this is a very good question. “Perhaps everywhere is a hot spot. The internet. Instagram. Someone the other day told me that I was deluded, that I was too old to be an Influencer.” She punctuates this with a rather crude laugh. I’m thinking it’s out of character, which is silly, since I barely know her. I realize I have invented a character who is Janine. I don’t know the woman. Back up: This very bourgeois woman with a legal education and from a privileged family also got into the Mineshaft and fucked with Basquiat. Who knows what else? And yet she outwardly has all the mannerisms of what you might call the haute bourgeoisie. “You look surprised, mon cher. Did you think I didn’t know what an influencer was?”
I decide quickly to fall back on that: Yes, I am surprised. I add: I barely know what they are myself. “Oh, it’s just part and parcel of the democratization of snobbery. Bill wants to avoid bling-bling people, now that he has bling-bling money. I can well understand. As long as capitalism survives, there will always be nouveau riche. Proust has a jolly time with them. They add spice and a delicious vulgarity. Otherwise, how boring would be his novels.” I nod. “You do read Proust, don’t you?” I confess to her that I have read a bit, not everything. She looks confused. “I’ve misread you then.” I thank her for her compliment. I guess it is a compliment, thinking that I’m more erudite than I am. “I still read a great deal, but I don’t think people do anymore. They have their Netflix.” She glances out the window. “It won’t be long now. Périphérique.” I look out; she’s right. My stomach growls; I hope she hasn’t heard that. “Oh dear, we’re slowing down. There is no reverse-commute on the Périphérique. Perhaps we should do our seatbelts.” But we’re slowing down, so why? Ah, but there could be a collision. I see her strap hers on; I do the same. Bill and Jean-Pierre, of course, have theirs on. I never think to put seatbelts on when I’m in a backseat. I say that to Janine. “I’m the same. I don’t know why I thought about doing it now. Maybe it’s because our driver is very good, but that now he’s no longer in control of the situation?” I nod. I tell her I thought the same. The stench of diesel begins to filter into the car.