Ria suggested in an email that Paris, in tandem with her city, Brussels, are like my part-time lover. Maybe, she added, that’s why you’re so in love. Ria is one of a Brussels circle of long-time special friends whose welcome charmed the city for me. The part-time lover idea appealed; after all, part-time is known to keep feelings potent, n’est-ce pas?
When I thanked Ria for the insight, she replied in an even deeper vein: In life, she wrote, rather than keep on missing — one feels better sustained by desire.* The better I get to know my friends’ handsome city, the more Brussels complements ethereal Paris. Two capitals after my own heart. And city missing may attack with no warning. . . .
On New York’s extreme east side — genteel but remote turf well north of midtown Manhattan — on a day when I’d skipped lunch, where could I go to fend off late-afternoon starvation? Just one more block east, said an informant, at a place named something like Pinocchio’s –? The array of sweets at first had my full attention in Beanocchio’s, but then as I waited by the cash register for my hot chocolate to be mixed and my muffin plated, I noted in the dusk towards the back of the shop, a table proportioned to welcome a collection of random guests.
Ah, that Paris bakery — Le Grenier à Pain! Literally, the “bread attic.” Instantly, I missed chatting with the proprietor who’d assured me that his big, vintage farmhouse table wasn’t only for atmosphere. I could indeed sit there and drink my coffee at my leisure. For a few weeks, I’d occupied a studio near le Grenier in the 15th arrondissement, while the studio’s owner enjoyed my apartment in Harlem, NYC. (Later, my apartment swaps began lasting a few months.)
Settling in at Beanocchio’s (named for a coffee bean) with my very New York cranberry muffin and instant hot chocolate, I became conscious of the tv screen to my right, filled with green, green soccer field. To my left at the end of the table, sat a school boy and his blond (natural blond) maman, both intently watching the players.
How Parisian! I blurted in French. Oui, replied Maman. She explained that the match was significant in playoff terms — even as she and her classic blond school kid complained that Argentina in the red uniforms and the Portugal (blue and white) were slow to warm up.
Ah, that Bordeaux soccer mecca — St. Aubin! — where my pal Laurent is a habitué. A pang of missing, this time for a Bordelais resto, actually Le Pub St. Aubin, where “le foot” (soccer) is king, but the menu is by no means beside the point. Laurent taught me the basics on July 4th, while we watched one of St. Aubin’s big screens as Les bleus (France) and Germany fought the World Cup quarter finals — until at last the Germans wrested from their opponents the lone point of the match.
Over the past few years, Laurent, a Bordeaux-based sergeant in the Police Nationale, has introduced me to the beauties of re-born Bordeaux. The UNESCO World Heritage city is an urban renewal triumph in the French southwest, thanks to — well, let’s keep politics in its GallicFever place, and out of this multi-city love story! Bordeaux, too, qualifies as part-time lover. I am fond of Lyon and of Lille, even fonder of Marseille — but they’re just good friends.
And then there’s Nice, where I’ve long wanted to visit. In fact, I seriously planned that visit for September 2014, but in a fluke, had to give up the plan. Ria proves right: desire for a new French city sustains me.
Nevertheless, a sneak attack of missing may strike, like a late afternoon hunger pang, at a moment when you should have felt it coming.
*Peut-etre Paris/Bruxelles, c’est comme un amant a temps partiel que t’aimes tellement. Dans la vie on se sent mieux quand on ne s’enferme pas dans le manque, mais qu’on se nourrit du désir.