moments of illumination in the city of light

016 : Catherine Vreeland in Le Rostand near the Jardin du Luxembourg
Born in 20th century in Texas, Catherine Vreeland currently works as retired university professor (Japan) Why Paris? It’s my heart’s home. She digs the following Paris bits: 1. The Jardin du Luxembourg 2. The smell of the Metro 3. Sorbonne amphitheaters 4. Roller skaters at night 5. The terrasse at La Rotonde She is, however, a bit miffed by It's too far away from where she is now, hot movie theaters in July, steak tartare, closed shops mid-day, la crotte des chiens For more info on Catherine Vreeland you should send an email or visit her homepage.

image: Thomas Claveirole

“I didn't know what it was she had that I wanted.”

On a late afternoon in the Luxembourg Gardens I was relaxing in a metal armchair with a Cara Black mystery when I was distracted by a grubby girl, 20ish, who seemed to be looking for something to eat. She nimbly snatched the pain au chocolat[1] a little boy had set on his au pair’s[2] lap, and then plucked an apple resting at the top of an open backpack. She didn’t run away or fuss at all, so the au pair and the backpack boy did not realize their food had gone.

Graceful, secretive and stony-faced, the girl’s body language belied the message of her muckiness. I wanted to give her a dress and invite her to a party. She disappeared, I went back to my book, and then suddenly she was standing in front of me with her dirty, sticky hand out. I hesitated, but passed over a 20-euro note and watched her crumble it. She didn’t move. I read another couple of pages. She still didn’t move.

“Do you want a meal?” I asked in English.
“That’d be bang on,” she said, and I caught the irony of a possible design. An educated ragamuffin? And with the secret of solo survival? More than mystery, she seemed to have promise, to be living (or rehearsing a role?) at a very interesting way station, but I didn’t know what it was she had that I wanted.
“Let’s go across the street,” I said, getting up and walking toward the fountain, heading for Le Rostand.[3] She came along, silent.

In the big, noisy café, I was careful not to suggest she wash her hands. I looked over the menu, ordered first, and got several dishes, to be encouraging. The girl ordered lots of meat, and wine.

“Do you speak any French?” I asked offhandedly, as if continuing a conversation, hoping to get her story to flow.
“I just got here,” she tossed back, “and I’m sleeping rough. This is good rôti[4], but the wine is a little off.” She went back to eating, like a spy decoding a particularly difficult communiqué. I remembered my first days in Paris forty years earlier. I hadn’t had a shred of her élan. Could she show me what it felt like to be her?

Suddenly she stood up, bowed slightly with a sardonic grin on her face, said “Merci, Madame,” and scooted out of the restaurant. The garçon appeared instantly. I asked for l’addition[5], feeling oddly bereft.

referenced works

  1. Chocolate-filled pastry

  2. Live-in nanny

  3. Restaurant across from Luxembourg Gardens

  4. Roast meat dish

  5. The check

location information

  • Name: near the Jardin du Luxembourg
  • Address: 6, Place Edmond Rostand Paris 75006
  • Time of story: Afternoon
  • Latitude: 48.8479
  • Longitude: 2.34056
  • Map: Google Maps



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