Earlier in the week, Abe texted me: “Are you in Paris yet?”
I emailed him a few days into Cannes stating I couldn’t respond to international text messages anymore. Once, already, I had used my unemployment funds to amp up my minutes and text a few times earlier in my visit. He never responded to email, but did change his GChat status to: “I am without [StarFire]!!!!”
I knew he missed me. He didn’t do anything when I wasn’t harassing him to take me out. It’s sad, but I wasn’t about to spend more money to contact him because he didn’t bother to check his email.
And, after spending two years trying to get his attention, it all seemed ridiculous now that I had men every which way giving me all the attention I could ever want. You need people around you to remind you of your own worth. Once I experienced European men and was treated so well, I couldn’t be bothered with Abe’s bullshit anymore. Didn’t he know I was a European Princess now?
The afternoon before, I had followed my boss and a few other of my peers to the French Pavilion. It was a gorgeous afternoon and I had my pink, heart-shaped glasses on.
I met a female, American producer who had a baby blue rotary phone head and cord sticking out of her pocket. She said, “My phone matches your glasses!”
I said, “It does. What is that?”
She said, “Believe it or not, it amplifies my cell phone signal out here. It works. It looks ridiculous but it works.”
We exchanged basics. She was from New York, and asked where I was from.
I said, “Well, I am from Los Angeles, but at the moment I am homeless, so I am from Cannes. Next week, I will be a Parisian.”
She said, “I wish I could do that, but I’m not in my twenties anymore.”
I said, “Neither am I.”
An older gentleman came over to me and asked me a few questions about myself in a thick French accent. I answered them, as Ralph handed me a tall glass of champagne, with those blue eyes full of, “Another suitor?”
He asked how I liked the festival and I told him I thought French films were better than American films. We seem to live in a time where the arthouse cinema is all but completely dead. I asked how France preserved its artistic integrity.
He said, “Well, when you go pay for your ticket at the cinema, a portion of the ticket sale is put in a film fund. That fund helps produce films and so on and so forth.”
I thought about how some of the greatest art in history was commissioned, and American art is slouching because we are solely fueled on commercial money and the occasional trust fund baby who decides to become a painter, a writer or a filmmaker. You can’t trust the masses to invest in the best work out there, because Capitalism will always shove it off a platform to promote something more marketable. In the end, it’s about selling- not creating. And that’s why France, and Europe for that matter, own most of the greatest pieces of Western art, also once commissioned and now preserved. We will have a slew of American Pie sequels and “He’s Just Not That Into You”. It’s frustrating.
Even Spike Lee said, “I think it is a different climate today. I do not think Oliver Stone gets JFK made today. Unless they can make JFK fly. If they can’t make Malcolm X fly, with tights and a cape, it’s not happening. It is a whole different ball game . . . They are just paying for high stakes, and if it is not for high stakes, they figure it is not worth their while.”
I am not suggesting we can’t have commercial entertainment, but I long for a balance, and right now we just don’t have it and our nation is starving for it. (At least we have “Breaking Bad”!)
A gorgeous, French waiter came by with a tray of desserts. I said, “I can’t have those, I don’t usually eat dairy.”
Someone translated, and the waiter said, “Then you need to try them. Have two of everything!”
Now how could I resist a beautiful man suggesting I indulge myself? So I grabbed a raspberry in a small shot of creme. I ate the raspberry which exploded in my mouth and then I let my tongue ever so slowly dip into the creme.
Ralph laughed, “The vegans! They are falling left and right!”
I said, “This is the best thing I have ever tasted.”
Lifting the small glass, I let the cream pour down my throat in light sugar. It almost tasted like liquid marshmallow, but was softer, more delicate. I let it sit in my mouth as my eyes dilated.
A co-worker said, “You have cream on your nose.”
The waiter handed me more, strawberries and what was it in? A mousse, maybe. Then a crème brûlée, tiramisu and back to the raspberries. I went back so often, I molested the tray when the waiter left to restock it. He came back laughing, “Good, eh? You need more.”
With my mouth full, I swallowed and said, “Ok.”
The textures, the balance of taste, the cream, the tart, the chocolate, the absolute beauty of those desserts plucked at my tongue and throat like a musician. It was art, and with a sip of dry champagne to clear my palate for the next mouthful, I surrendered to all that was France.
The next morning, after the Cannes Film Club, I was high. High on the British boys, the dancing, the beautiful morning. Shortly after going back to our office, a few of us decided to go to a movie called “Paradise: Love”, an Austrian film about a middle-aged woman, divorced and lonely. She escapes to Kenya on vacation and is ushered into a lifestyle where her money can buy her a mate. She courts a Kenyan man, giving money to him whenever he asks, and soon after, is pressured into more and more money, until his disgust for her is completely unbearable; I mean for us the audience, not necessarily the main character.
She acquires another lover, and repeat. Around hour two, her friends throw her a birthday party with a gratuitous strip scene; basically five unattractive, overweight Austrian women degrading a poor, Kenyan man who is trying his best to please them with a bow around his penis and money in the air.
The protagonist goes through intense self-loathing, then perks up when she learns how to use men, only to plummet once again when her last acquired lover can’t get an erection.
Its fairly miserable, mostly because the performances are so good, but the film was long and after you got the point, you felt like you were being punished along with all the characters involved.
I sat there and took it in. It felt relevant that I was seeing this film now, after a debaucherous evening with the men of my choosing. No one had to tell me that I was having a unique and privileged experience. To be at Cannes was already a privilege, but to go four nights in a row, making love, nearly falling in love and starting all over again was a fantasy.
A friend from Canada warned me that Cannes would be the pinnacle of debauchery, which was shocking to hear at first since he knew how I partied, first hand, at Sundance. I wrote him, “Cannes better be ready for me.” He wrote, “You better be ready for Cannes.”
On screen, there was a woman who was overweight, unattractive and ten years older than me- but we were the same person. We were both desperate for love and validation. Science worked in my favor. I wonder who I would be if I had a thyroid problem and was overweight, if my eyes were uneven, if my skin had pockmarks or what if I was handicapped, or had one arm never grown to its full size, or I lost a finger in a woodshop class. Somehow I made it intact to this point of my life where I could live a fantasy.
If I was someone with any of the above inflictions, I would be a different in some way, but I am not sure my desires would be any different. I would still want to be told I was beautiful by strangers. I would want to get into all the parties and have my drinks paid for. I would still want to be whisked away to a flat in France in the middle of the night and pleasured by some of the best looking men in the world. Who wouldn’t want that? I got it, and this poor woman didn’t.
That morning, after my most lecherous evening yet, I wanted to embrace the message. When I tried explaining it to Karisma or even as I write it now, I want it to mean something profound, but perhaps it only means that there is a twist of fate; I was given the opportunity, and I took it. No one will ever know why they were given an experience by the hand of God or Ms. Destiny, and to try to make sense of it would be futile. You can only just enjoy it, share it and remember it. And that, my friends, I did!
After the movie, I received a text from Aldrich. He was frustrated we hadn’t been able to meet up yet. I promised him this particular night would be ours. It was my second to last night in Cannes and it was raining. The next night everyone would be gone, including Aldrich. I was hanging back an extra night to help send off any students and close out the condos at our residence.
The students and adults all collected for one last, mellow soirée. There was wine and cheese, everyone was dragging their feet but music was playing and everyone was friendly . . . everyone but Portland. For some reason, he hated me now. He couldn’t even stand to look at me, which was kind of phenomenal because I thought he was the one who more or less rejected me, and he was clearly in some kind of romance with a beautiful, blond student.
A couple of my female co-workers even said he might have a problem working the office with me. I never thought anything I said was that bad. He hated me. Whatever. It almost troubled me, then one of my bosses said to me, “I have never seen a woman more adored at Cannes.” My venom quickly faded. Karisma injected a, “Don’t feed the monster.”
The melancholy was sinking in, and I turned to the woman who ran the cash register there, she gave me hangover cures on the house in exchange for detailed stories about the night before, and I said, “How will things ever be this wonderful again?”
She said, “I think you make them wonderful. You will be fine.”
Aldrich showed up after I texted where I was, wearing his hat and suit, looking shy and irresistible. He was criticizing Americans for being so arrogant while nursing a wine in the corner. I loved how surly he was.
I put my hand on the wall over his shoulder and leaned in to flirt with him. He would take breaks from his poisonous remarks to quickly look at me, gaze down, smile and brush a raindrop off his forehead.
A few female students came up to me, giggling, arm in arm, to tell me how much they liked me. It was hard to believe considering I felt like such a fuck-up of a role model up to that point. I knew I would give in to myself, and it kind of annoyed me because I really liked working with the students and genuinely wanted to have a future with the company.
It was also strange to hear young women say they actually liked me, after they went out of their way to make my life miserable growing up. Somehow, now, I was on the flip side of their favor and I made it by completely ignoring all their advice, all the pressure and all their standards and just doing whatever I wanted.
The harder we work for someone’s approval, the more they dish out disapproval. The less you give, the more they want. Social engagement seems to be a tug of war in order to keep the balance of the universe intact. I prefer to take people as they are, but for some reason, it doesn’t work that way out there. Out there they are at war, to find out the secret of your happiness or exploit your unhappiness.
I don’t hold it against my female students, I was thrilled they liked me and didn’t know what to do with the compliments, so I clung to my French wallflower and made jokes to keep the kids laughing.
Tired and slightly drunk, everyone started departing. The students were going to a club. Some of my co-workers were going back to the residence. The wine had me worn and Aldrich suggested we get some dinner.
I think back on that moment, when it was raining and getting cold. My friends of 2 intense weeks were lingering, and I made the decision to run off with a French boy instead of spending the rest of the night with them. I loved my friends, but I was in love with France and I wanted to end the affair properly.
The day before, I got lost in Cannes and took pictures.
I also bought myself a little music box so I could carry a piece of the city with me, wherever I go. I was worried about having enough money for Paris, so I only bought myself the one souvenir for the whole trip, skipped my credit card payments and cell phone bill just to make sure I could eat something in the coming week.
Aldrich and I walked down the abandoned city. The tents were being torn down and the people were all gone. It was depressing. The city and all its magic was now dismantled.
His suit was wet, and he walked with a slouch in the rain.
He said, “To McDonald’s?”
I said, “No, we aren’t going to McDonald’s.”
He said, “Wha wha-y?’
I said, “Because it sucks that’s why.”
At first he chuckled a little and then he said, “I can not . . . afford . . . I . . . uh- only have little money.”
I said, “That’s fine, we’ll find something else cheap.”
He got grouchy, “No.” He stopped in the middle of the street, wet. “McDonald’s.”
I said, “How can you hate America, and insist on eating that shit? It sucks. I hate it!” I was being dramatic in that way my friends know not to take seriously, though I was quite serious about not going to McDonalds. The only time I ever walk into that shithole is when I have to defecate. Its political.
Aldrich’s minor temper tantrum in the street and me lifting my knee with every syllable to drive the point home was amusing. There was no doubt, we were a pair. I laughed.
He grumbled, “I am not laughing.”
I said, “Come on. I will buy us dinner. I can never go to McDonald’s.”
We stopped outside a little cafe, and I said, “Let’s go here.”
He said, “This looks expensive.”
I said, “Its fine. I told you. Let’s just sit down. Do they take credit card?”
With his arms still around his jacket, he eyeballed the place skeptically. Four old, French men were sitting in the covered patio out front and said, “All he wants is love. Just give him love.”
I said, “I am trying!!!”
Aldrich shrugged and followed me in. We found a seat in back, behind the bar. The restaurant had a few patrons, the walls were a deep red. We sat across from each other; he ordered a burger and I ordered pasta and a glass of wine. It was the last real meal there, one glass of red to carry me out.
We sat across from each other in wet clothes, in silence.
He said, “I’m sad . . . the festival . . . the uh .. . uh-ambiance.”
I said, “Yes, I understand. The ambiance.”
He said, “Not just the film, the people, the um-atmosphere, uh uh the whole festival . . . and now its gone. I am very sad.”
I said, “I am sad, too.”
His eyes welled up and he held his head with both hands. His wet curls spilled out between his fingers. The silence felt heavy over us, and I started crying, too. Not that we were weeping, we just sat in silence, in each other’s company, and dropped some tears on a clean table cloth. We both fell in love.
I said, “I am going to miss it, too. I love Cannes. And I have to go back to the shitty United States. You get to stay here. I feel right here. I feel like myself.”
He said, “Why not stay?”
I said, “I can’t. I want to.” I wiped the tears off my face and looked at them, to make sure they were real.
He said, “You love France, stay in France.”
I said, “I have dogs . . .”
He said, “You . . . uh . . . sell the dogs.”
I laughed at first, then cut my own voice with a, “No. They are my kids.”
The food came. I remember the black olives buried in the noodles. They filled my mouth. Even the olives became a hallowed experience.
We ate in silence, then Aldrich said, “You come home with me now.”
Without hesitation, I said, “Ok.”
It was dark when we paid the bill, and we took the bus out to a campground, where he and his friend were staying. On the bus, we sat across from each other and I took pictures of him. He said, “I know I told you I was 26, but I just say that so people do not . . .uh, think I am too . . . young.”
I said, “How old are you?”
He said, “23.”
Shit. Well. That is very young. Every man is different, but usually I like to keep above the 25 year mark. Abe had told me last year, at the age of 29, that he was “still a kid”.
Aldrich studied my face, the bus rattled us back and forth in our seats, then he pursed his lips in a kiss.
We arrived to a campground and I followed him to a little camper on its own lot. It stopped raining, but it was damp and I was still coughing into my coat. We crept inside, and the inside was not much warmer than the outside. I wrapped myself up a little more.
His roommate, the friend from the “Mud” screening, showed up with a bag of groceries and toiletries.
We each had a glass of wine, ate strawberries and talked into the night around the small table on the camper. It was very comfortable, even though I was leaning back onto some flat pillows along the curve of a plastic booth. It felt like I was with old friends.
Aldrich said, “I will be the . . . youngest to win de Palme.”
I said, “You might have some competition. The filmmaker that did ‘Laurence Anyways’ is your age, and that is his third film at Cannes.”
Aldrich looked shocked, “Wha . . . who is that?”
His friend said, “Xavier Dolan I think he name is.”
Aldrich buried his head in his phone, frantically searching for the filmmaker.
Aldrich, “Was it . . . good?”
I said, “It was long, it never wanted to end, but oui . . . trés bien.”
His friend said, “So, you like France?”
I said, “I LOVE France.”
He laughed and smiled, “Yeah?”
I said, “So much, the food, the films, the wine, the weather, everything is so wonderful. The language, I asked someone for a plastic cup the other day . . . “
(I was asking for a plastic cup so I could take my wine to go)
“ . . . and they didn’t know what I was asking for, so we exchanged the words. In French, it’s what?”
He said, “Uh . . . uh . . . tasse en plastique.”
Anytime I had someone translate for me, I put my hand out and massaged the words like they were coming out of my mouth, I close my eyes and said, “Mmmmm, beautiful.”
His friend then said, “Vos yeux sont la couleur de la rivière.”
Aldrich’s head pulled up slowly, and dryly said, “He said your eyes are the color of the river.”
I flickered my fingers again and said, “Mmmmm . . .”
Aldrich then said, with almost disdain, “He is lying.”
I opened my eyes and responded deadpan, “I know. They are brown. I don’t care.”
They both laughed.
His friend said, “You should come back with us to Toulouse.”
“Toulouse?” I asked.
Aldrich chimed in, “Yes, not too far from here. Very beautiful. You could come with us.”
His friend said, “They call it the Pink City.”
Aldrich smiled looking up, “Because when the sun sets, all the buildings turn pink.”
I said, “Sounds lovely, but I have school and dogs.”
His friend leaned in, “Dogs!?”
I replied, “That’s right. Dogs.”
He leaned back and laughed. I knew that if it wasn’t for Antioch or my dogs, I would have grabbed my things and hopped that camper in two seconds. I was a little resentful, but that part of mind is kept in check, I needed Antioch . . . and I love those dogs. There was more ahead of me.
Aldrich then poked his phone, “I think this Xavier Dolan will get email from me … a bet on uh . . . who win de Palme first.”
We were all fading.
His friend said, “Its all over now.”
I said, “Oui . . .”
We all sat to let this sit with us. Cannes was over. Who knows if we will ever get a chance to come back?
Aldrich and I retired to the bedroom, which was only big enough for a single bed. There was barely enough room to sit on the bed to take your shoes off.
We disrobed and kissed in the dark, as the rain started again, lightly tapping on the tin wall and window.
I rubbed his back, lightly. He said, “That feels . . . very good.”
I let my nails and fingertips linger and crawl over him. It was sensual, but also maternal in a way. He was just a boy, and he almost let himself doze off but then thought of me and touched me exactly as I was touching him. I was teaching him.
Rolling over each other, we touched until sex took shape.
I felt those large moles I found on Roberto, and held his hair in my hands. He grabbed a condom from a shelf over the bed and I thought it odd he was the only one of my lovers, with the exception of Frank (if you can even qualify him as a lover) to think responsibly enough to have a condom handy and actually use it. When we started making love, he tried quieting me despite muffling my own voice.
He turned me around and leaned into me as I buried my face into his pillow. I grabbed his balls as he drove into me, and heard a low, repetitious, “Oui . . . oui . . . oui”. It was hard not smiling, even as he came.
We fell asleep, but I woke up around 2am with phlegm in my lungs and congestion crushing my head. It wasn’t comfortable, we had a thin blanket between us, and I felt guilty trying to pull it out from under him when he was sleeping so soundly.
Laying there, the moonlight was so bright it felt like a streetlight outside the window. I tried to go back to sleep, but I was too miserable. My lungs needed to expel mass amounts of mucus, I needed to blow my nose and all of this couldn’t happen in a bed I was sharing with a gorgeous, French boy.
I woke him and told him I had to go back to my residence. He had trouble waking up and, face down, picked up his torso, while his knees and head still fell into the mattress. I rubbed his back some more, just to keep myself sane. I needed to run out of there, but it was the middle of the night and I had no way to get back.
He grumbled, “Stop do-ing that.”
I snapped, “Well, I have to do something. I am uncomfortable.”
He mumbled, “I know.”
I got up and left the camper and walked to the bathroom so I could blow everything out of my head.
When I got back, he was putting on his nice shoes and suit again. I wondered if those were the only clothes he brought. I also felt bad that he had to get up- thinking he could just call me a taxi.
He insisted on calling the taxi, walking me out to the road and waiting with me. He said the taxi would be 40Euroes. The blood drained out of me- that would leave me very little for Paris.
I asked about walking, and he said it would be about an hour. I groaned and squeezed my face between my hands.
Then he said something in French I didn’t understand, so he popped out on the road and stuck his thumb up at an oncoming vehicle.
He turned and put both hands up in the air. I said, “I don’t know who would pick me up.”
Then he said, “I will pay for half the taxi.”
I felt guilty taking his money, but I knew that I had to insure I was not stranded in Paris. I would need food, have to pay for my hostel and also make sure I had money for transport to the airport. Its complicated in Paris . . . or so I heard.
He waited with me, on the side of the road, in the middle of nowhere.
I said, “It’s very sweet for you to wait here with me.”
He said, “It’s normal.”
I said, “Not for American men. They are assholes.”
He said, “Sorry . . . about what I say back there . . . it is hard for me to wake up . . .”
I said, “Its ok.”
The taxi came and swept me up, he leaned in for a quick peck and studied my face to see if I was mad at him for snapping at me back in the camper. I really didn’t mind, Aldrich was grouchy and temperamental, it was all a part of the package.
So I grabbed his face and brought it in for one more kiss.
He put his hand up to his face like a phone and said, “Phone . . . me.”
I said I would and forced a smile. I was grouchy myself. It was cold and wet, and my condition was even worse then when I arrived to France. Whatever happened in my Sylmar studio after the flood did serious damage to my lungs.
The cab fare only ended up being half of what we thought, and I climbed up to my room for a quick nap before sending the students off first thing in the morning.
I set my alarm so I could make sure to say goodbye to Sandals and Karisma. In two hours, I woke up feeling terrible, put on my shoes and ran downstairs to hug them goodbye. Its hard when you are all half asleep and you don’t know if you will ever see someone you love again. How do you make that moment condense all your affection towards another person? All I could do was say, “See you on Facebook!”
It was going to be a beautiful day again, and tomorrow I would be in Paris.