The other day after work, I didn't feel like going straight home. It was a pleasant warm evening, and I felt adventurous, so I got off the metro at Louvre Rivoli, thinking I would have a drink at Le Fumoir, and perhaps meet some interesting people. I had been there once by myself and met a really interesting older engineer who gave me the addresses of some good world music clubs. I lost the piece of paper, of course, but it was a pleasant way to pass the evening. It reminded me of Apres Diem in Atlanta where I was always sure to have a good time.
I looked into Le Fumoir, which was packed with people, so much so that I couldn't even reach the bar. I decided to take a stroll around the neighborhood and come back later. I had no particular destination in mind, and even if I did, I have zero sense of direction, so I wouldn't have been able to find it anyway. One of the other reasons I really like Le Fumoir is that it's right outside the exit of the Louvre Rivoli station, so even someone like me can find it easily.
I strolled along the banks of the Seine. The bouquinistes were shutting up their stands for the evening, the tourists having gone back to their hotels to take a nap before venturing out again for dinner. I passed a cafe, and as I turned the corner, the waiter standing outside said,
I laughed and muttered bonsoir, passing him to stop at the window of a perfume shop next door.
He suddenly appeared beside me and said,
"May I offer you a drink?"
I looked, up, surprised. "You want to buy me a drink?"
"It's on me," he said.
I am on a budget, I reasoned, so free drink = why not.
He led me to a table inside, and brought me a bowl of potato chips.
"What can I get you, Princesse?"
Cute the first time, the princess thing was getting old quickly.
"A kir, please," I replied, and opened my book. He hurried away. Through the window, I watched him serving an American couple on the terrace, reciting the desserts in English with a smile, charming them into a chocolate cake and ice cream.
Back at my table, he set down my glass and said, "So, Princesse, do you like the spontaneous things in life?"
"Yes," I replied, "otherwise I wouldn't have accepted your offer." I smiled, but braced myself for what was surely coming next. The drink might have been free, but I was sure there was a price of some kind. Sometimes my curiosity gets the better of me.
"And are you coquine?" This is a word I have been called before, but I am not a hundred percent sure of its meaning.
"What does that mean, exactly?" He looked taken aback. I don't have an American accent in French, so it really throws people off when I do that. "I'm not French," I explained, "so I'm not sure I understand what you mean."
"Well," he said, looking around, "I'll be right back."
I chuckled to myself as he went to check on his tables outside. I read my book and snacked on the chips until he got back.
"So, Princesse, what do you do for a living?" he asked, standing back to look me over.
"I'm an administrative assistant," I answered.
"You really look like an administrative assistant," he said, his eyes traveling appreciatively up and down me.
"And you really look like a waiter," I replied with a smile. I quickly added, "I used to be a waitress, and I had the same uniform: bow tie, black vest, white apron. I learned a lot. Especially about people." I smiled up at him, waiting for him to get to the point.
"It's a nice career," he said, "you meet all kinds of people."
"Mmm hmm," I replied. I always forget this is not a noise the French people make. It sounds totally dismissive, as if to say, yeah, what-the-hell-ever, instead of being a way of agreeing or encouraging one to continue.
"So, you see, I take photographs," he said. Now we're getting somewhere, I thought. "Photographs of beautiful women like you. It's my private hobby - I'm married, you see - but I do it very discreetly. I especially like women in suits. Are you an exhibitionist?"
I took a large swallow of my kir, and looked up, feigning as if I had never thought about whether I was or not. "Noo," I said slowly, "that's not really my thing." It was absolutely true at that moment.
"Oh, that's too bad," he mused, pratically drooling, "I'm sure you'd be very good at it."
"Do you meet a lot of women who accept?" I asked.
"Oh yes," he said, "I pay 150 euros per photo, or take them to dinner."
"Expensive hobby," I said. "And what do you do with the photos? Do you keep them? Do you frame them? Do you put them on the web?"
"They are for me," he replied, "but I have to be discreet because I'm married. It's my little secret."
I nodded, in my pop psychologist way, but I didn't believe for a minute they just stayed in his camera.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Patrick," he said, extending his hand.
"I'm Penelope," I replied, shaking his hand. "Thank you for the drink, Patrick, but I need to be going now."
"I'm here every day except Monday," he said, "if you change your mind."
"I'll know where to find you if I do," I replied with a smile, secure in the knowledge that there is no way I would ever remember how to get back there.