Here’s one short scene from “At A Paris Café”, one of the stories in Brief Encounters with Solitary Souls.
Between puffs on her cigarette, she talked to me. “So, what do you study?”
“Philosophy. I’m starting a Master’s program.”
“Philosophy! Mon Dieu, a thinker! But what is a Masters? Is that after a licence?’
“I don’t know what a lee-sance is, but you get a Master’s after a Bachelor’s degree at a university.”
“Ah, oui, je comprends. I understand. Like in France. Here, Masters is also what you get after a licence, the diploma we get at university.”
We were interrupted for a short instant with the arrival of my “sanweech.” The waiter, who had another order balanced on his other hand, all but slammed it in front of me. “It is very hot, monsieur.”
As I hungrily chomped on my croque monsieur, she asked, “Are you going to another city after Paris?”
“No, I’ll be here for two weeks and I think even that isn’t going to be enough.”
“Yes. You must live here for years to really know Paris. You will always find something you did not know before.”
“Were you born here?”
“No, I come from La Rochelle. A little town on the Atlantic coast. We have great oysters there, you know—the best in the world—so if you like oysters you should go there next time you come to France. And you must come again because there is so much to see and do in France. It is not just Paris, you know.”
That amused smile again, this time, with gentle mockery. She thought me ignorant about her country. I nodded, not quite as mortified by her smile as I was by the waiter’s mockery of my American ways.
I didn’t know if I liked oysters, never having tasted them. The only shellfish I had ever had was shrimp, and it had been dry, tough, and coated in so much batter that I thought I should have ordered fried bread instead, except I didn’t know if anyone made those things.
“So,” I said, “why did you come to Paris?”
“Why, why?” She laughed.
Okay, dumb question.
She quickly recovered from her mirth. “If you want to make film and you are serious, Paris is where you go. This is where cinema started. If you want to paint, you can come here, too, but maybe for that, London or New York is better right now.”
She went on to talk about what was essentially a history of film, and then she gestured with her cigarette at her companion. “You know, he is an assistant director on François Truffaut films.”
I stared at the man sitting next to me, my curiosity piqued. He glanced quickly and distractedly at me—his eyes were a sexy, translucent blue. He smiled, but it was a distant smile. I doubted that he was aware Dream Girl had referred to him.
I gained a new respect for this distant, insouciant individual. Why, he had to be famous! Not like Truffaut, of course. I had probably seen his name up there on film credits. I admired creative people, and good filmmaking to me was at least as creative an art as making a picture or a sculpture.
Among film buffs at the university where I graduated, François Truffaut was respected and admired. He was a staple on campus films and I had seen a couple of his that were shown every year. Someone from the group sponsoring the showing of his films gave a short introduction, and said Truffaut was part of the Nouvelle Vague.
I had very vague ideas about the movement, but I wanted to impress Dream Girl, so I said, “Wasn’t he part of the Nouvelle Vague?”
“You know about Nouvelle Vague?”
Her eyes lit up and my ego swelled. Now, if she didn’t ask me anymore about it, I would think myself lucky.