Meet France: Vegan Food, Karisma, and Nazi Sex


I had an 8 hour layover in Amsterdam. My sister said 8 hours was too narrow a window of time to travel out to the city and back in time for my flight, so I followed signs in the airport to the meditation room, which was too well lit for my traveling eyes, and found long black lounge chairs in a dimly lit section behind it.

There, in the airport, with other strange travelers, we laid out on the long chairs with our cell phones on our chests, set little alarms according to local time on a large clock across the wall, and fell asleep to a (somewhat avant garde) video projection on the wall of images tying together driving, time and distance.

I slept better than on the Delta flight.

Behind me on the flight out of Portland was an old couple that constantly used the back of my seat to steady themselves on frequent trips to the bathroom. In front of me was an attractive, very tall young man with dark red hair.

The stewardess said, “Hey, you are attractive. Are you single?”

He ignored her and shut down into his personal travel mode, taking media intravenously through the seat screen in front of him.  We all zoned out to extraordinarily bad food, no leg room and infinite time on that flight.

I thought about catching an earlier flight to Nice out of Amsterdam, but then I would have to wait for my baggage. The cost of taking a cheap flight last minute (relatively cheap), is waiting. And I rather enjoy having time to reflect, read and maybe write, because I can’t do anything else.

I arrived in Nice late Friday night. My co-workers were meeting at a French/Cuban restaurant near our residence and I was self-conscious that I would be late. I was having major anxiety about that, in particular, before I left. I don’t want to call attention to myself too early on. I knew my personality would call me out soon enough.


I took the shuttle into Cannes, and a taxi into La Boca- where our residence was. By residence, I guess I should be specific, we were living in condos across from the Mediterranean Sea. I was disoriented, and could only taste the sea after dark, so I met my escort, dropped off my bags and joined my peers for dinner.

The French woman who interviewed me greeted me with a hug. She is very petite, so I had to bend down to greet her in front of everyone, like a bending pine. She introduced me to a group of faces I couldn’t distinguish one from another. It was about 10 people total.

Then she found a seat for me to squeeze into. I was afraid to order and kept studying the drink menu, wondering a) will drinks be covered by the company b) would there be vegan food.

Everyone was already finishing their elaborate cocktail drinks in large cups, sculpted into wild animals. One person had a cobra, another a turtle.

I thought it best to stick to water.


I mentioned I was vegetarian, usually vegan, but was told I would have to give up my diet for the trip. A man across from me said he was also vegan and ordered in French for me. He looked a lot like my ex-husband.

Someone asked me another question, our table was only lit by the stars and red/yellow Cuban lights from the bar. “Where are you from?”

Do I say Los Angeles or Washington?

I said, “Typically I work out of Los Angeles, but I flew out of Portland because I had to drop my dogs off at my parents house.” I was studying the bread. Damn, I was hungry.

The tall young man next to me said, “I’m sorry, did you say you had to drop off your dogs?”

Shit. I was calling attention to myself already.

I looked up to put a comic punctuation on the moment, “Yes, that’s exactly what I said.”

My end of the table broke into chatter and laughter about their dogs, pictures were circulated from all ends as everyone celebrated their dogs as if they were children. This was working out nicely. I liked them.

When my salad came, and it was quite possibly the best salad of my life, I fell into a conversation with the woman next to me. She relayed a rather heartbreaking story about how she discovered, optioned and produced an idea for a cable TV series and had to sacrifice her title on the project to get it made- despite being the mastermind behind it.

She also knew my ex-bosses, and talked about them after reading my bio on the employee hand-out. She spoke fondly of them and smiled at me like we had friends in common. I smiled back, and kept my mouth sealed shut. They are not my friends, they never were, but I could see she adored them and she had a heart.

On the other side of me, the tall, young man I was trying hard not to look at ,asked where I flew out of.

I said, “Portland.”

He said, “I think I was on your flight.”

I said, “Right . . . the stewardess said, ‘Hey, you’re attractive. Are you single?’ And you didn’t respond.”

He laughed, “I am picky.”

Well, that is fate. I am not ready for fate right now. I need to settle in and take look at this place in daylight.

Ethnic music was playing behind me and only a handful of women were dancing.


Don’t dance.

Dear God, don’t dance yet!

My leg bounced to the drum beat.

I could feel men’s attention on me, just a little. We were all getting to know each other, and the possibility of Cannes was ahead of us all. Who would we fall in love with? Who might we make love to? Who would be the ones we take home in our phones and rib cage.

***

That night, it was three women to one condo. The next night we would all be assigned our own condo.

I quietly showered and deducted the time from my phone so I could have an alarm for orientation in the morning. My droid was completely useless. I couldn’t manually change the time or access wi-fi. The only thing I could use it for was a camera.

***

Over our orientation, before the students arrived, one of my male peers asked, “Have you ever been a cheerleader?’

I squinted. “No.”

Later, he asked, “Would you ever be in an action movie?”

The other women in the room listened as I measured my answer in front of audience, “First you ask if I was ever a cheerleader, now you ask if I would ever be in an action movie. Um, I guess, potentially. Depends . . . strange questions.”

He said, “And I noticed you don’t ask questions back.”

I tapped my finger on my nose.

He said, “What superpower would you have, if you could have any?”

This guy was hilarious.

He said, “I ask my students every Fall to get a sense of what personality types I am working with. The ones that want to fly or be invisible are more passive.”

Me, “So what would be an assertive superpower?”

He said, “I don’t know . . . reading minds?”

The woman from dinner agreed, as she studied her laptop on the far wall. The other woman was African-American, voluptuous, short hair and hilarious.

I have to come up with an alias for her, so let me say  . . . Karisma. I was listening to her talk to a couple other male peers and fell in love with her.

Karisma, “Mariah Carey is crazy. She is insane, but you know what, that’s why I love her. I will watch anything she does- because she is bat shit crazy. She’s my girl!”

Cue the violins.

When she laughed, tears came out her eyes. She wouldn’t look at me, though. She wouldn’t even toss me a glance if I tried to get in the conversation. I know . . . I am a skinny, white girl. I understand. More than the tall, good looking guy from Portland, more than the guy who looked like my ex-husband and ordered my vegan dinner in French, this girl was who I wanted to fall in love with me. I had to woo her.

So, back to the conversation, “Reading minds . . . “

I said, “I don’t think reading minds would be good. Its like Facebook. You are reading immediate and constantly changing thoughts and reactions which can mislead or confuse you. You need a foundation with someone before knowing what to do with each immediate, superficial and ever-changing thought. So . . . I don’t friend people I am dating.”

The producer with her laptop said, “I have never thought about that before but it makes a lot of sense.”

Karisma? No response.

Not yet.

I will get her.

I love her, so I will get her.

***

The next day, we took a tour of La Boca and then Cannes.

Our French/American liaison gave us a crash course tour on the Palais Theatre, the main theater at Cannes Film Festival. The theater is meant to hold up to eight events at the same time without traffic from each event colliding- so what you have is a maze of theaters and rooms, elevators and stairs, crossing in and out of each other in delightful confusion with only one saving grace, a blue walled staircase down the spinal cord of the building. That staircase, with its hidden doors, can take you anywhere.

I ended up hanging back from the tour in a theater running a film test. I saw the words Cannes 2012 pop up on the bottom of the screen as Juliette Binoche kissed cheeks after a premiere and thought, “How did this dream come true?”

We spilled out into the small streets of Cannes after our tour and a few of us bought French phones, since my Droid was useless on the most basic level, I needed a timekeeping device and an alarm clock. SFR (the phone company)  would give me free texts for 20 days anyway.

I purchased a real vintage gem for $20 Euroes.

Immediately, I programmed my cohorts numbers in, and got my first text from Portland:

“You are hot.”

I responded, “Hey, you are attractive, are you single?”

Eventually, I was given my own condo in the residence before students arrived. I can tell you, looking out at the French Riviera after a long, hot bath is fucking surreal after living in a room of dirt in Sylmar, CA.


I saw the lights along the coast, I saw the sea and heard the French words from the night fly up to blow on my earlobe.

How did I end up here?

I am one, lucky bitch.

That night, I drank Port wine with the Vegan, another co-worker who was a tall attractive man that looked like Ralph Fiennes, Portland and another woman on a veranda over our pool, while suspended in the Mediterranean night.

I was reluctant to try port wine after a dinner in Indiana 11 years ago, in which my friend’s mother served me a bad glass full of tart, sugar with my bland vegan meal. This wine was sweet, but burned the end of your tongue without trying to conquer your entire mouth.

We went around asking questions about movies. They were academics, and I was out of my league. They were used to talking about films from an intellectual standpoint. Their arguments  and rebuttals were rehearsed.

I was used to talking about films, drunk in daylight or early mornings, with artists, unemployed actors, and dreamers. Nothing is rehearsed with me.

“What film would you see for the first time, if you could relive it all over again?”

We went around:
Star Wars
Pulp Fiction

And I said, “Why look back to relive a moment when the future is ahead of you? Think of the films you have yet to see, not the film you have already seen and want to see again.”

I felt insecure and stupid saying it, but reliving the past, and as much as this blog helps me relive the past but in a more poetic method, can be a trap.

We chuckled and compared movies. I was dull on names and movies, but they helped me fumble through conversation. They were sharp and on point, ready to carve out an argument and analyze any scene from any film.

I was relaxing for the first time in almost a year.

One person asked, “Where are you from?”

I said, “A few weeks ago I was living in a hole in Sylmar. No kitchen. No bathroom. And then it flooded. Now, I am living on the French Riviera. In two weeks, Paris. After that . . . who knows.”

Silence.

The train went by and I wondered what everyone thought about me.

***

We were working orientation for students at Cannes. They would be running off the shuttles from the airport soon, jet lagged, young and totally clueless that they were in for the opportunity of a lifetime.

It was the Asian Guy (Superpowers), Me, Karisma and the Producer.

One of the culinary staff came in and got to riffing ‘Silence of the Lambs’ with Karisma.

Karisma, “I always tell my students, the best example of following directions is ‘Put the Lotion in the Basket’. They don’t get what I am saying, they don’t get the reference at all . . .”

Culinary Chef, “Put the lotion in the basket.”

Me, “Put the lotion in the basket, or it gets the hose again.”

I chimed in my dorky cackle, though, once again, was kept on the outer orbit of the joke.

We checked in students, all kind of students, mostly of the “privileged” variety. A few male students worked some mild flirtation and my flag went up- the “BE FUCKING GOOD, YOUR CAREER IS ON THE LINE” flag.

One kid, with wild hair, dropped both his hands in front of me at the same time, so his hair fell in his face, and announced his name while staring into my eyes.

I looked down and blushed.

It’s too easy for me to flirt. I do it without even thinking. I have to work NOT to flirt.

The moment I got Karisma is when the program director’s children’s tutor walked in to check-in. (Our program director flew out a tutor for her kids) He was our age, skinny, and in a vintage 3-piece suit with a robin hood hat. I kid you not. He looked at me, and I looked at Karisma and we shared a moment.

A real moment.

And we laughed at his expense, which I am sorry for. But if it came to Robin Hood’s self esteem or winning the affection of this girl, Karisma . . . Karisma wins.

She and I riffed off each other for the next 4 or 5 days straight.

***

One of our attractive male co-workers, I mentioned, looked like Ralph Fiennes.

I told him, “You look like Ralph Fiennes in . . . “

Now I thought about this. I love Ralph Fiennes, but my favorite film of his “English Patient”. He was much more tan then. This guy was white.


So I said, “Schindler’s List.”

Everyone laughed.

Me, “No, he is attractive in Schindler’s List.”


This started a riff between Karisma and me.

Karisma, “He IS attractive in Schindler’s List.”

Me, “I know. I love those boots and that darkness.”

After Ralph, let’s call him Ralph, would talk to us and walk away, I would say, “My hands are cold.” And hold them up like his Jewish secretary in the movie.

Karisma would laugh and say, “I am the little girl in the red dress. Come and catch me.” She three stepped around in a little dance, using her shawl as the skirt of a dress.

We thought we were hilarious, and told everyone so.

Not everyone wants to admit that there is anything sexy about Nazis, and normally I would agree, but Ralph Fiennes playing a Nazi can be pretty damn sexy (out of the actual context of the movie). And there is always the “Night Porter” which I recommended to everyone after forcing them to endure my Schindler’s List Sex Jokes.

 

Ralph said, “I always remember the scene where he is in someone else’s home, now occupied by the Nazis, and he is just smoking a cigarette on the veranda, sets it down and (pow), starts shooting people randomly in the work yard. (pow).”

I hung my head, “That’s disturbing.”

Ralph looked up at me with ice, blue eyes and the kind of wrinkles around the eyes that make your knees part. “My hands are cold.”

Karisma and I closed the first party with our jokes.

She and I got so wrapped up in the joke and the reenactments, that people couldn’t even understand what we were saying anymore.

That first night, I couldn’t sleep because I was laughing into my pillow so much.

***

The next morning I told her that I must be in love with her, because I couldn’t sleep, thinking of her all night. If that’s not love, I don’t know what is.

The guy from Portland, we shall call him Portland, was smiling from a short distance.

He had his eye on me, and I had my eye on him. He was cute. He liked pit bulls, liked Ella Fitzgerald, lived in Portland and was funny. Tall. Almost too good to be true. It made me nervous.

Guys like that don’t exist in Los Angeles.

He sat next to me at breakfast, chatted with me a lot, and ended up by my side in the evening.

Portland.

When I tell you the story of Portland, I want you to remember that he is a great guy. He is, I believe, potentially the perfect guy. I knew that, but I was reckless. I was reckless because me and perfection have a little war going on and I want to win.

Usually the casualties on the war field include guys like Portland . . . and let’s not forget Abe.

***

The first night with the students, after a long day of orientation, Portland brought Heinekens into the headquarters and invited us all to drink.

The other vegan, who looked like my ex-husband, let’s call him . . . Sandals. My ex-husband used to always wear sandals.

Sandals, however, was little bit more sophisticated than my ex, a little more articulate. He performed in the same way, but it wasn’t used as a cover for intellect. He was a successful professor, I could see, because he performed for his students. He knew education and entertainment must marry to capture the minds of the next generation. In his small, passionate monologues, he bottled his passion and redelivered it for an audience. I liked that.

I was wary of him, though. He was married.

Sandals invited us up to his apartment to cook me a vegan dinner.

I feel like an asshole writing this. Men often cook for me  because I can’t cook and they can’t afford to keep taking me out to dinner. When Sandals and I got in the habit of home cooked meals, I knew it was intimate, but refused to make it special between us . . . for a few obvious reasons. He was married and we were co-workers. Though nothing can refute the fact that cooking for someone is an intimate act. You are satisfying them, nourishing them, more importantly than anything else, you are helping them survive with as much physical pleasure as possible. For that, I am eternally grateful.


Here I was, in a kitchen in Cannes, with Portland, with Sandals and now with the floppy haired kid with the dramatic introduction at Orientation.

I know I have to watch myself. How was I here and still exercising some kind of discipline and restraint?

I had to try harder.

So let me put you in the scene. Its night. The porch door is open to let the salt sea in, twining together with the night air. I had several Heineken in front of me and a young man, just out of high school, keeping my wine glass full.

Sandal makes a joke.

Portland jumps on in and makes another joke.

Sandal turned to the young men in the room, “That’s called doubling over another guy’s joke.”

Portland smiled and sipped, using his pinkie finger to point towards me, “But she is no slouch, either.”

I said, “That’s right. I do slouch, but I am no slouch.”

Polite chuckle.

The banter was good, better than I am used to. But I had to get out of that condo alive.

I was drunk and I was just a little in over my head.

We walked out and Portland escorted me to my floor. We waited for someone to pass and he doubled up the stairs towards me.

My heart started beating.

This wasn’t happening already. I just got here.

Portland, “I thought she would never leave.”

He got close to my face and I vomited a very generic “ooh” to cheapen the moment, right before he kissed me. I was scared.

Portland kissed me.

The tall man in front of my flight, next to me at my first dinner and now 6’3” in front of my face, was kissing me.

My stomach burst with the tips of a million feathers. He stopped and then kept kissing me.

The chemistry made me high, I was afraid of falling. His hand kept on the small of my back as I felt his beard brush against my cheek, and the warm tongue gracefully lick my lower lip. All the drugs in the world could not reproduce a moment like that. The perfect kiss.

And I was only in France the 2nd day.

I stumbled back.

He said, “Let’s pick up where we left off.”

I stupidly replied, “You mean later tonight or tomorrow?”

He looked around, slightly confused by my inquisition, “Let’s pick up where we left off . . . later.”

Gawd, am I stupid?

I get high on a moment, and I want it to last for the rest of the night. Duh, later! LATER!

I went to lay down on my clean bed, next to my own personal glass door to the sea and I tried to quiet my mind and convince myself not to do anything, because I knew, deep down inside, I was going to fuck this up before it could even take flight.

***

The next night, before the festival started, a bunch of my co-workers and I grouped together next to the swimming pool.

The Asian guy asked if I wanted a Cuban cigar. I said, “I guess I should try one since I have never had a Cuban cigar. Though, I don’t typically smoke cigars.”


He pulled out cognac and a glass.

I asked to move away from the entrance of our headquarters at the Residence, so no one would see.

Asian Guy, “Hey, you are in France. Relax. You can do whatever you want to do. Enjoy yourself.”

More dangerous words have never been spoken.

I smoked the cigar, and shared it with Portland.

We had had dinner earlier, and the pasta, my Mom would hate to hear this, was the best pasta I have ever tasted. It was spicy and electrocuted my mouth.

The wine with my meal . . . was the best I ever tasted.

After dinner, we all got sorbet, and after two mouthfuls, I belted over and saluted, “MMMMMMMs” to the girl behind the ice cream stand. Everyone, American and French, stopped and smiled.


I know I am dramatic, but I said, “This is the best sorbet I have ever tasted.”

Earlier, I bought Tea Leaf perfume and couldn’t stop smelling my own wrist. I hate perfume. But the perfume here sent my senses higher than rain clouds.

The basil.

The olive spread.

The port wine.

The cigar and cognac.

It all was the best of my life.

The festival hadn’t even started yet, and I knew, with Portland’s kiss still on my lips, I was in trouble.

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