Jean-Pierre has left his cap in the car. Dressed in his chauffeur’s uniform, he could actually be taken for someone off a catwalk, sporting the newest twist of fashion. And the maître d’hôtel doesn’t bat an eyelash, except that I think he does, sort of. He’s stunned by Jean-Pierre’s good looks.

         Maybe Jean-Pierre will go on French TV with his doctorate in tow, charming housewives on morning shows with his takes on the various meanings of life. Jean-Pierre has a future. I can see that now in the reaction of the maître d’hôtel who could be no stranger to glamor.

         The restaurant seems austere compared to the rococo exterior of the Sun King’s palace. It’s furniture is spare design, modern. The interior is beige and minimalist. As we are shown to our table, I can understand that this is the best solution. There’s no fooling around with Louis’s love of bling, the original bling, I realize. Towering windows give us view of the courtyard and the buildings outside. We know where we are.

         Seated, I realize I’m starving.

         The waiter hands us our menus. “I reserved for lunch with three courses. Was I right?” Janine smiles first at me and then at Jean-Pierre, who smiles deferentially. Oh, he will go far. I blurt out, in English, that I’m starving. That gets her laughing and him grinning at me. So, of course, Jean-Pierre understands English. As chauffeur to the rich and famous, he would have to. I decide to let Janine set the language. She has invited us, after all, although I think we will be splitting the bill. That’s only fair. I look at the menu. Three courses are forty-two euros. A bargain especially compared to what Bill paid last night. I check the wine list. Ah, this is where the house makes a profit. What else is new? This is such a cliché, a miserable, nasty one these days, that I don’t feel a second’s fulmination. Glasses for nine, ten, twenty euros? Absurd, but…

         I suggest to Janine that we get a bottle of wine. I’m speaking English. She glances at the wine list. I see her calculating. She grins and nods at me. “Rouge ou blanc?

         Jean-Pierre smiles and makes a little wave of the right finger of his right hand. “Je prends un petit verre, seulement.” A small glass, of course, I’m tempted to add that he doesn’t want to become as infamous as the chauffeur of Lady Di, but I don’t do that.

         “So, what looks good on the menu?” says Janine. She smiles this at Jean-Pierre and then turns to me. Jean-Pierre has understood and is studying the possibilities.

         I do the same. I remember being trained in Paris a good forty years ago to first decide on the main course and then pick a starter that compliments it in some way. I do as learned. Fish, two versions of poultry, and steak tartare. There’s a veggie course; I bet that’s mostly for foreign tourists, but I could be wrong. It’s hard to believe that in a country so in love with food that many people chose to limit their choices. But these are crazy days. I bet Brigitte Bardot is a vegetarian if not a vegan; she’s a big, loud mouth for animals and their rights. Has she remarried? I don’t know much about the present-day Brigitte, really.

         Back to the menu. Poultry, it is. Suprême de volaille farci, laitue braisée, sucs de cuisson. I like the idea, somehow, of stuffed chicken breast, but more so, I’m fascinated with what braised lettuce will taste like with this. Sauce from cooking juices is what I always do myself. Starter? The foie gras is tempting. Five-euro supplement. Hmm. Pâté? Soup? Egg? Smoked salmon? What the hell: foie gras it is. I check the wine list, by the glass, for something a bit sweet. No, and then I see that there’s a muscat as apéritif. I’ll get that for my foie gras.

         I look to Janine. “I’m in the mood for cabillaud, cod. And I’ll start with the velouté.” Starting with soup: That surprises me and yet why? I associate tea-drinking with soup-eating now. She had tea to start this morning. I know my associations are a bit crazy, but I rarely go for soup, and I almost never drink tea, although I like tea. I ask her if that means a white wine? “No, how can we compete with Bill’s Meursault? Let’s get a light red. You chose. I think you know your wines.” I feel myself blushing. And then go straight to the reds. No bargains. I see she is also looking at the wine list. The first third of the list is about as much as I can stomach price-wise. I’m not Bill, I say to myself; I hope she doesn’t think I’m cheap. Not that we won’t be splitting the bill, right? Did we establish that? I see the price of Moulin-à-Vent, a Beaujolais. My mind says, yikes, but this is the year 2023. I remember… I remember. Oh, shut up. I remember that it would cost, like, ten francs a bottle, max. I’m remembering six francs. Stop!

         I suggest the Beaujolais. Janine turns to me, “Just what I would have chosen. Perfect, don’t you think?” she looks to Jean-Pierre.

         “I love Beaujolais,” he says in clear English, with only a trace of French accent. Oh, gods, he’ll be an international star!

         That’s settled. I look up and around for a waiter, and he’s there. There in a flash. Janine orders first, and then I point to Jean-Pierre, and, lastly, I order. Oh, they want to know if we want the chocolate soufflé for dessert. Do we? I look at both of them, while I think it over myself.

         “Oh, quel plaisir. Ça fait belle lurette. Oui, et vous?” says Janine without a moments hesitation. She’s right. I haven’t had chocolate soufflé in decades.

Jean-Pierre is smiling like a kid and says to the waiter, “Oui, Monsieur; moi aussi.” I just smile and nod. And the waiter is off. Three chocolate soufflés to end our Versailles lunch. What could be more celebratory?

“So, Jean-Pierre, you must have quite a few stories to tell about the rich people you drive around. Who do you work for?” Janine attacks. I see Jean-Pierre tense up a bit; this is probably his fear about accepting our lunch invitation: the grilling. And then he relaxes and smiles broadly.

“Oh, it is my car. I arrange the jobs through Uber. I inherited the car from my uncle. It is a prestige car, n’est-ce pas? Big and comfortable.” I can see he wants to grin but is suppressing that. Still, he is glowing with pride. We both nod. I know nothing about cars. It’s a big, black, comfortable car, with plenty of room in the backseat for three, and lots of legroom. It’s very quiet; it may be electric or something. I haven’t even noticed what make it is. But I think he’s going to tell us. “C’est un DS7. C’est tout neuf. De 2017. Mon oncle a eu une crise cardiaque subite. Il a été célibataire. Un très charmant et généreux monsieur.” His expression freezes, mournful, sincerely so. I feel embarrassed. But I also can’t help thinking that maybe the “uncle” who died suddenly of a heart attack and left him the car is something other than a blood relative.

Mes condoléances, Jean-Pierre.” I’m surprised at how moved Janine looks. Has she also been recently bereaved? I don’t think it could be her parents. According to Bill, they died quite a while ago. Yet, often a death can so mark someone that they retain an instantaneous wormhole back to that moment in time. Wormhole: a space-time tunnel. Maybe nothing that erudite: A death witnessed and experienced as life changing is always a wound never healed, only covered up. Is that it? Are her eyes glassily moist? I can’t really tell from seeing her in profile.

“Merci, Madame.” For a second his eyes are locked on hers, and then it’s over. They have shared something. I feel excluded. And then someone who is undoubtedly the sommelier arrives with the bottle of Moulin-à-Vent. He pops the cork and then looks at me. I nod, yes, I ordered it. I get the first taste.

Whoa! My nose is filled with fruit. A sip: It could almost be a fine Burgundy. I nod to the sommelier. The others are served.

And then Janine’s velouté is placed before her, my foie gras arrives, and Jean-Pierre is served his Scottish smoked salmon. Bon appétit, I say.

And then silence falls among us as we savor and eat.

Janine has finished her velouté. Soup is quickly devoured. And she now holds up her glass to the light. “What a joyful color!” She brings it to her lips and sniffs. “Et quel parfum!” She takes a nice sip and smiles. No more words. Another sip, and she glances at the bottle. And then she throws me a look. “I think we may have gone too far…” nodding to the bottle which is still two-thirds full. And then she empties her glass. Before she can reach for the bottle, a waiter has come and filled her glass, looks at Jean-Pierre, who shakes his head, and then puts a splash in my glass. The waiter sets the bottle down next to me. I am now the rex bibendi, lord of the wine in a Roman banquet.

And I suppose she is right. I have been drinking my small glass of muscat with my foie gras. I haven’t really started in on the Beaujolais. With the last bit of foie gras and brioche, I finish the muscat. Am I feeling pressured? I take up the Beaujolais and take two nice sips, one after the other. The first was tainted by the muscat. And then, then, I feel it. It’s lunch. On a near empty stomach. I grin now at Janine. She’s been observing me. It’s too late now, I tell her. We both laugh, and Jean-Pierre gives us an amused smile. Well, he can enjoy us. We can be silly with him. He’s only our chauffeur for the day; we haven’t hired him; we’re not his boss.

Our plates are removed. I pick up my glass and toast Janine. “I hope you are not going to make a competition out of this,” she says. Is that what I’m about to do? She may be right. We don’t even have to finish the bottle. I smile and shake my head. And then our main courses arrive. This is smooth, but rapid service. Which makes sense. People have a château to visit. Lunch is but a prelude to the glories of the Sun King.