Last night over a few glasses of pinot noir, my best friend, Tracey, and I were reminiscing about the trip of our lives. The year was 1989 and my family lived in London. Tracey and I took advantage of this most fortunate situation and made plans to see Europe together – the whole euro-rail thing. I worked all summer waitressing at this hamburger place to save up the pounds (British sterling, not weight gain) for the trip. Our itinerary included: Paris, Nice, Geneva, Florence, and the Greek Islands.
But besides the sites, (and the beaches, and the shopping, and the food, and the dancing, and the drinking), our story would be remiss if we didn’t include young love and two smoking hot French guys. Our experience was, well, magical and one of my fondest memories. But there is guilt. And regret. Not because of something I did on the trip, but because of something I didn’t do when I returned home.
Aptly entitled Seven Letters our tale is a bit long, so it will be posted in parts – seven of them as a matter of fact. (And so as not to embarrass the hero in this story, I’m only including snippets of his letters).
“Even if you are just a shooting star who has crossed my life in such a marvelous way, I will keep our hours together as jewels.” ~ from letter five
It was the summer of 1989. We were nineteen.
And yes, my friends, Paris is the city of love.
Tracey and I were dining at Dame Tartine (a restaurant by the Centre Pompidou in Le Beaubourg) after struggling through a long day of touristy type excursions – The Louvre, Musée Picasso, and Musée L'Orangerie – to name a few. Our feet were blistered and raw, but that didn't stop us from going out on the town. Young, crazy, full of life, we were in Paris. And I'm fairly certain we wore heels.
Nothing could stop us.
We were enjoying a bottle of wine with some fine French cuisine when Tracey noticed them – the two very good-looking French men seated four tables down. We giggled, throwing surreptitious flirty glances at their table, and blushed when they caught our gazes. I asked Tracey to stop staring, but, captivated with the guy she was drooling over, she wouldn’t. And I’m glad she didn’t heed my advice. They made their approach, both carrying a confident swagger in their steps.
The air was electric.
Tracey and I had thought we looked the part, sophisticated and sexy, blended in. We didn’t. This was made clear when one of them asked, “American?”
Seriously, what had clued them off? With Tracey’s jet-black hair, brown eyes, and angular features, she could have easily passed for Spanish, Italian, Greek, maybe even French. Was it my blonde, or slightly orange-ish colored hair (blame Sun-In and a hairdryer) and blue eyes that gave us away?
Tracey finally managed to sigh out, “Yes, how’d you know?”
Took the words right out of my gaping mouth.
The darker haired of the two pointed to our bottle of wine, and they both laughed. “No self-respecting French woman would ever order a bottle of wine sans bouchon.”
Had they come over to our table to insult us? What the heck was a bouchon? Only one way to find out. “Bouchon?” I’d asked.
“Without a, ummm, cork,” came the answer.
“Oh, well then,” I said, my tone on the defense. “What should we have ordered?”
“A carafe would have been, um, more acceptable.”
American students, clueless as how to order wine, and on a budget, who better to point our crass error out than two young French men. And they were laughing. Laughing at us. Because of the screw top. (Were Tracey and I progressive, or what? Note: In France, it’s still un-ac-cep-table – put your best French accent on – to order wine with a screw top cap).
My face went red. Again.
After a minute or two of friendly banter, our new cultural ambassadors joined us at our table and ordered another “good” bottle of wine, the whole ordeal, clearly, a well-orchestrated pick up line.
And that’s how we met Jean-Luc and Patrick.
Pretty suave, those French.
At first Tracey and I didn’t know who was flirting with whom. They were both equally handsome, smart, and charming. For a while we played musical chairs, but then it became clear when Tracey called Patrick the “French Tom Cruise” and practically threw herself onto his lap.
I’m kidding. (That didn’t happen until much, much later).
Seriously, Jean-Luc and I hit it off – right out of the park – and Tracey and Patrick also connected. Things just took their natural course.
On my side, Jean-Luc was unlike anybody I’d ever met. Not the typical guy you’d come across doing beer bongs at Syracuse, at the age of twenty-six he worked at the French equivalent of NASA, and spoke four or five different languages. He was smarter than smart and I was hooked. Well, that, and I thought he was hot. What, with the slightly messy, dark brown hair, the square jaw, the perfect, bow-shaped (and very kissable) lips, plus a sexy cleft in his chin, Jean-Luc was more rock star than run-of-the-mill rocket scientist.
Quelle une surprise!
Naturally, I tried to impress Jean-Luc by speaking my mangled French, better known as Franglais, much to his amusement. Funny, he “insisted” on practicing his English, close to perfect. As for Tracey, who didn’t speak French, save a few words like bonjour or au revoir, and Patrick, who only spoke a little English, well you could say their conversation was a little more animated – like mimes, there were a lot of hand movements. Yes, there was a whole lot of blushing going on. And language mishaps. And laughing.
It was a beautiful night. Perfect.
(Except for the bottle of wine with the screw top).
The boys paid for our dinner– even though they didn’t dine with us – and then it was suggested we head over to the Champs-Elyssée for a nightcap, which, naturally, Tracey and I refused. We didn’t know these guys from Adam. They could be serial killers. Really cute serial killers. Really cute serial killers with sexy French accents. Really cute serial killers with sexy French accents that were dressed to the nines – a Bon Chic, Bon Genre style.
You got me.
We were so there.
That was the night I tried port for the first time. Sitting at an outdoor café watching Parisian life go by. Under the stars. Right by the Arch de Triomphe. With two charming French men. And my best friend. Laughing.
“I really don't know how to begin this first letter, not because of nothing to say, but rather, I’ve got so many things to lay on this paper I can’t find my thoughts. I have no dictionary here to write perfect Shakespearean English, so excuse the mistakes I have made and the ones I will certainly make." ~excerpt from letter one