A Paris Visit

Some of the story’s dialogue is in French. If you are not a French speaker, fear not. In each instance where French appears, there will be a translation for that phrase—excepting “Oui” which means “yes”. Access to the translation for desk/lap top is a simple “mouseover”, for mobile/touchscreen devices use a stylis or finger to touch the small bluish circle encasing a white "T" that looks like this T .

Page One

She felt an excitement when reading travel logs about Paris. Its history, the intimate cafes, the food, the museums. Each account—with no specific evidence—caused her to imagine that romance oozed from the cracks in ancient cobblestones. She first acknowledged these images were a significant part of her fantasy-life her freshman year at Smith College. It was her major in Romance Languages; the excuses she’d offer when challenged by friends about her fascination. It was, in fact, the mechanics, the way the words felt in her mouth; the sound of French—not the academics—that sparked her imagination, and a longing to experience things she’d only heard, read.

It was her left-brain approach to life that kept her from believing stories from actual travelers, visitors. It was this she’d given credit for a life full, if not rich, warm if not passionate; comfortable if not complete. That too, birthed an acknowledgement, she’d no meaningful complaints; and that it could be the source of her yearning to be moved. It was this battle accompanied her for nine hours, 7,940 kilometers from Dallas to Paris; so too, the wistful hope that tugged at her as the tires squealed against the tarmac on a Charles De Gaulle runway.

The seventeen years spent in a classroom had its own kind of reward. Her students were mostly there because they’d a belief that mastering French was a tool to enhance their lives, if not their fortunes. Sending each to graduation gave her vicarious satisfaction. It was this dedication also responsible for a love life more pun than romance. There’d been a summer’s fling—a post-doc fellow, a decade past—whose luster melted with his confession that she’d been a pawn to punish an unfaithful fiancé. He was clumsy in bed, which caused her to question her desirability, her skill. She’d bought a copy of The Joy of Sex. Her study and his declaration were more relief than injury. The dollar a used bookstore paid her for the book caused her to smile. The clerk and the universe both somehow knew the value of that entire summer. It caused her to swear off future affairs, no matter the student’s good looks, his brains, or her loneliness.

Her spare time, more functional than relaxing. She spent summers mostly on scholarly pursuits, researching, writing, publishing. There’d been a recent summer of duty. She’d returned home. The Rodriguez family emigrated from Mexico to the Texas hill country when her mother was just an infant. Bandera was small, and ninety-seven percent white. Its residence treatment of a mixed-race child tarnished its relative geographic beauty. Before college, it was her entire life. After college, she’d done everything possible to keep her life away from the Medina River and its cowboy

Page Two


It was a dying father who demanded the exception. Hospice care, and then a funeral, gave her time to perform her responsibilities as the estate’s executor. They were perfunctory. Her education had guzzled its value. Smith was expensive, so too, Harvard’s graduate school. Her mother’s belief in education and her father’s belief in their only child was why she’d agreed to her life-after-his-death duties.

This summer was to be a once-in-a-life-time experience. There’d been enough reading, listening, watching the Travel Channel. She’d come to Paris in search of the excitement others swore was here. That, and the desire to be moved to that place stored deep in her desires.

There was no way she could see all—let alone appreciate—the Louver, in the time she’d allotted when first she’d drafted her itinerary, the morning before making her reservations. On a professor’s salary, compromise was a way of life. She could spend her entire vacation examining the treasures of the place and never see another cobblestone. That was not an option. When she walked past the guard, through the ground floor turnstile, she told herself, three hours would have to do. She headed for the room with Greek Antiquities and Venus Di Milo. There was something about her proximity to a sculpture created in the 2nd century B.C. that made her feel enriched while utterly insignificant. Doing something that 2200 years later would merit its placement in The Louver was impossible. Being here wasn't what she’d hoped. Standing at its side, she felt like just one of seven billion earthly inhabitants whose contribution to humanity was so insignificant as to be meaningless. Then, she was relieved; her schedule allowed only a brief visit to this place that displayed treasures representative of the human spirit that only worked to crush hers.

Swept along by a herd of tourists, the odors of contradiction filled her senses. Cologne wafted on the swell of renaissance expectation, too there was the unwashed mixing with a hint of street vendor’s fare having hitched a ride past museum guards on shirttails and shoulder bags of what appeared delegates from the United Nations, so varied were skin colors, hair textures, costumes, and languages. Her head swiveled, trying to glimpse the masterpieces hanging on every wall. Maze-like room after room opened to her group.

In the sightlines that momentarily formed, then dissolved, allowing access to the edges of her herd, the walls, she noticed artists stationed along the several walls she passed. Each with canvas, easel, oils and brushes. Each positioned adjacent some masterpiece—most she didn’t recognize—each offering their interpretation of the work hanging adjacent them. Why, she wondered, would they copy these pieces instead of doing an original work? How was their forgery unlike a writer sitting at a keyboard typing the words of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis?

Page Three

As her herd stalled, waiting its turn to glance through bullet-proof Plexiglas shrouding Mona Lisa, she noticed one of these forgers. The wood end of his brush held cigarette-like by bright, white teeth, glancing in her direction. Beyond him, a woman stood, stretched, then repositioned a bright blue beret atop dark brown hair. When she caught the woman’s eye, she turned away, embarrassed that the couple might misinterpret her interest, find it offensive.

After seconds bumping against fellow travelers, craning her neck, manipulating the herd to open a sightline, an unobstructed view of the Mona Lisa held her attention for only an instant, when her eyes again drifted to where she’d seen the standing woman, her stool, her work resting on an easel. She was gone. It didn’t appear she’d completed the forgery, but the forger was no where to be seen. Thinking she might have been swallowed by a second herd moving past hers, she turned to the left—what was she wearing? Her hair was dark—but was it brown or black? Wasn’t she wearing a cap—or was it a scarf? Blue or green? In the milli-seconds these thoughts bounced through her brain; she searched the large corridor-like room while feeling an odd sensation born from the unexpected hope she might again see the forger.

There were too many people, too much to distract her eye. Crap, she thought, while simultaneously wondering why this would be so disappointing. She had comprehended the pain of Venus de Milo; but to feel again a loss by misplacing some student, some forger, confounded her. Her eyes rolled as she wondered if three hours visiting The Louver wasn’t two hours and twenty minutes too long.

Her inexplicable disappointment irritated and puzzled her. She turned for a few seconds more with Mona Lisa. Instead, it was her eyes inches away: The forger. Startled by the invasion, she jerked, moving away from the stranger, stumbling as she moved. The woman grabbed her elbow with firm fingers, their paint leaving a smudge some three inches up the professor’s arm, as a smile attached to a suddenly open mouth.

Her face flushed, the stumble mixed with a warm smile, caused blood to rush to the professor’s neck, cheeks, forehead.

""Est-ce que je t'ai fait peur? Je suis vraiment désolé. S'il te plaît, pardonne-moi T ," the forger said.

Page Four

The sound of these words—so French, so sensual—transfixed her; confident, but polite, so . . . moving. The forger suddenly realized that paint splotches cluttered her canvas-like hand. The professor’s attention still fixed on the woman’s mouth, neither saw nor felt the wet oil on her flesh. Her response, a smile, accompanying a slight nod.

“I’m so sorry, you are not French. Of course not! Are you Canadian? No, I think American. Oui?”

Still unable to form words, this nod was more obvious, more assertive.

“Ah oui. So sorry. I just asked if I caused you a fright. Asked that you forgive me this. This is only what I said.”

“Umm,” said the professor. “. "Oh oui, surpris. Un peu je suppose, mais tu n'as rien à t'excuser T ."Vous n’avez fait aucun mal.” T .

“Vous êtes Canadien! Canadien Franҫsis, oui?” T

“No, no, no. I'm an American. I teach French at Southern Methodist University in Texas. Dallas, Texas. I’m so sorry, I was just practic—”

The forger’s paint-spotted palm pushed toward the professor’s mouth. “No apology.” She giggled. “If we speak English, is better for me. For me to make better my English. If you don’t . . . um, make any matter. It’s okay?”

“Non, c’est bon. Si cela peut aider, je serai heureux” T  — the professor stopped speaking; a smile filled her face — “I’m sorry. A professor’s habit I’m afraid. Of course we can speak English.”

“Your accent is, um” — the artist rolled her head back, looked to the ceiling — “right at home. Have your studies been long?”

“I majored in romance languages in college, did graduate work in French at university, and I’ve been teaching for seventeen years.”

“You are to be better speaking French than me" — her lips forced a frown — "and I talk with it for all my twenty-eight years.” The forger’s fake frown disappeared. A smile in its place caused the professor a smile of her own. “Students to your class should learn very good to be French speaker, even if only half as good as you.”

“You are too kind,” said the professor.

Page Five

“For you to say this is to make me happy. But I have put some paint to your arm. We should wipe this away so skin so soft as this does not damage.” The artist’s eyes glanced at the paint smeared on the professor’s elbow. “Une belle femme T  . . . Oh, see? Now the turn is mine to talk first, without thinking, in French. We both make this habit. I might think we share other things. Such a lovely woman” — a seductive grin eased over the artist’s mouth — “should not to have the purple elbow.

“I’m about to . . . um how do you say” — her pleasant face turned toward the Mona Lisa — “ah oui, use the break. This is correct, eh?” She glanced at her empty station, then back again to widened eyes. “You would like accompangner T  me for refreshment?” Her question companion to a sensuous massage removing purple oil from the professor’s arm.

“Uh, oh I don’t think—”

“We don’t to leave The Louver!” She interrupted, a reassuring look replacing her smile. “Just this way” — her fingers released from the professor’s elbow, to point in the direction from which the herd had come — “there is le café. Do you like a wine? Or perhaps a water is fine? This is for . . . um, is my treat. The least I can do for causing such a fright for you.”

“Well, I guess it would be—”

“Wonderful. Please, this way.” The artist in the blue beret directed traffic, extending her left hand into the crowd, parting the tourists in a way that might have impressed Moses. Her right hand landed on the professor’s back, safely above her waist, but with a sensual effect the professor thought would only have accompanied a touching resting several inches lower.

As they moved through the crowd, a hundred questions jumped, nearly simultaneously, into her consciousness. Her hands shook, her stomach moved into her throat; she wanted to give voice to them all, but feared she would look silly. What did she know about French artists? What could she ask that wouldn’t sound naïve, or simple, or worse, an ugly American? She would later write in her journal she’d not a clue why the artist’s impression of her had become so immediate, so important. But there in The Louver, she’d the thought that Paris might have the potential to become exciting.

They stood at a small round table orphaned by chair thieves, now abandoned in a nearby corner. “You could take this one” — the artist pushed an empty chair toward the professor — “and I can arrange a second from there.” She pointed and stepped around a café patron, then skipped to an empty stool. A smile grew full on her face as she plundered the bounty.

Page Six

They waited only seconds for a waiter to approach. “Que puis-je vous apporter masdames?” T 

“Je vais prendre de l’eau s’il vous plait,” T said the professor.

“Petillant ou T  tranquille?”

“Petillant, Perrier si vous l’avez.” T .

“Et vous” T . — the waiter turned to the artist — “Juliette? Le régulier?” T .


“Juliette, I love that . . . your name, I mean. I’m um . . . my name is Isabella, but friends just call me Issy.”

“Then for me, you will be called just Issy.” Juliette’s smile filled with expectation.

“If you like, sure.”

Expectation turned relaxed.

“So you come here often. It must be a remarkable life. To spend so much of it surrounded by all the beauty housed here, in The Louver, I mean. But” — Issy closed, then opened her eyes — “that’s not to say there isn’t beauty everywhere one looks in Paris. I didn’t mean—“

“Yes, but is okay. I understand. I feel bad when times are here that I take this” — she waived her arm in a circle — “as . . . how do you call it? Prendre pour acquis?” T .

“Take for granted, I think.”

“Qui, for granted. It is always bad to be this. I try to stop but . . . well I guess we all have trespasses. No?”

“Qui.” The women smiled at one another, then at the waiter as he stepped to the table.

“Pour toi.” T  The waiter slid the bottled water and a glass of ice over the small table to Issy. “Et vous, Juliette.” T  Her regular was a small glass of red wine.

The professor cleared her throat and recounted stories—some accompanied by a nervous laugh—about her students, the flight— nervous morphed to excitment—to Paris, and her joy at being there. The artist sipped her wine and inquired about America, the duration of her stay, and whether she had plans for other travels. Their talk all very polite, very small. Somehow just the sound of Juliette’s voice was calming, making Issy question less the propriety of sharing a drink, while allowing her to wonder about the possibilities.

Page Seven

“So, may I ask you a personal question?” asked the professor.


“Why copy someone else’s work instead of doing your own?” Her forwardness shocked her, but a smile kept it hidden from the artist.

“It is—how to say—um . . . pour s’entrainer?” T 

“Practice? So, you do it for practice?”

“Qui, um . . . yes. I do this to make more good my paintings. My skills with the brush.”

Issy’s eyes fixed on Juliette’s lips, her mouth, to the point of almost missing what she said.

“So, do you no original works?” Issy sipped from her glass, its sweat moistening the tips of her fingers.

“Oh oui. But, one can’t measure her . . . um, to réalisé potentielle T  with doing just originals. Only by to arrive as master, you must copier T a masterpiece.”

“So you are a craftsman? I’ve always thought that would offend an artist.” Issy’s smile quick, trying to encourage Juliette to challenge her thesis.

“If artist . . . um, how to say ne voit pas in English? Oh, I remember” — she extended her left hand above the table, palm directed at Issy, stopping a translation — “she does not to see the craftsmanship c'est une snob pas une artiste. T 

“How is the brush stroke for the breast, different, or the same as for the eye? How will light refléter d'un l’ombre T  . . . um, a shade of the red competing to the second one? Is it natural for shadow to fall to here” — her hand lifted to just below her breast — “or all the way” — then lower still to below the table — “to there? This are questions of l’artisan—of craftsman. I think is right?”

“Yes, l’artisan translates to craftsman,” said the professor.

“Without doing this answer, I être—to be—a artist piteux T .” The tip of her index finger circled the rim of the wineglass while she looked at its contents. After several seconds, she snapped her finger. “I have one thought, magnifique T . I should paint you. It would légitimise . . . um for English, le-git-i-mize my compétence T for your eyes. No? And for me, I will to paint the most beautiful woman today in the Louver.”

Page Eight

The professor could feel herself recoil as words poured from sexy lips. “You have nothing to prove. Especially to me. I am as far from an expert as is possible.”

She picked up the glass and took an extended drink, hoping to buy time to excavate a suitable response. When the silence grew unbearable, she lowered the glass, took a deep breath, moved in her chair, and with a smile, said. “Is there a place here in The Louver where you can do that too?”

Juliette appreciated the dance and tried to regain the lead. “They reserve this place only for to painting le mort T . It is chanceux—I think to mean fortunate, no?— for me—and for you, um . . . également, no, no, no, aussi T —I think to be also—“

“They are interchangeable in this context.” Issy nodded and smiled.

“—you do not for this to qualify. No, no, painting a face so lovely, so lively as this face” — she extended her right arm and hand; her index finger touching a blushing chin — “requires a special place. I know this place.

“While it is not parfaiteT,—I mean the light, the ambiance, the mood are all very good—but only your presence would provide what it is without; the last piece to la perfection.” She lowered her hand, but kept her eyes fixed on Issy.

Again, silence extended.

“I’ve a busy schedule. Like I said, I’m only here for three days. I want to see as much as is practical . . . est pratique . . . in the short time I have.”

“Ah oui.” Her nod filled with rejection’s disappointment. “I’ve one idée—this is ide-a. Right?”

Issy nodded again.

Light filled Juliette’s eyes. A smile flashed over thick lips. “If only you allow me to do a photo and from this I can make my painting? I can do not a finished painting only in three days de toute faҫon T , so with this way, I can create a chef-d’oeuvre . . . um . . . masterpiece; to catch the beauty of the Louvre on this day.”

Issy’s mind drifted away from The Louver, away from Juliette’s proposal, back to the second century BC. She was an eavesdropper on a conversation between a model and a young, unknown sculpture. She heard the sculptor cajoling the cautious woman. Telling her she would become immortal if only she would trust him; if only she would lend her beauty to him just long enough for him to share it with the balance of humankind, for the balance of time.

Her acquiescence seemed as other-worldly as her first step off the jet at the airport, as once-in-a-lifetime as it did making her way down the hallway, and up to the armless goddess. She was not so naïve as to believe this artist could do something so timeless as had that anonymous sculpture twenty-two centuries past; but surely neither had his model.


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