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Hearts and flowers, long stemmed red roses and chocolates; they’re ever so sweet but do they signify the essence of love or for that matter, adoration? When I was younger, I would have said yes. If I weren’t celebrating the holiday with someone near and dear, I’d feel terrible and very left out as others went on their way appearing to be smitten with one another.
For many years, I’d throw a Valentine’s Day party. It was an opportunity for people to get together and be (or pretend to be) festive. The women wore red dresses and looked their very best. Men rose to the occasion. They were simple theme parties to execute. Napkins with valentine designs, cakes and more, facilitate feigning romance.
But since moving to Paris (only 17+ years ago), I’ve started having different theories about love and demonstrating it on specific days. French people don’t need a Hallmark holiday to exhibit feelings, spoil one another and to say, “Je t’aime.” Pass by any flower store at 6ish in the evening and you’ll see men buying a single long-stemmed red rose that is wrapped in cellophane and is adorned with a trailing red satin ribbon. Are these flowers being bought for wives, mistresses or simply the date of the evening? One rarely knows, except perhaps the florist, if the client is a regular.
Liquor stores and/or grocery stores consistently have bottles of champagne already chilled for immediate consumption. Are they purchased for a last minute dinner party or a dinner a deux to celebrate an occasion?
It’s not unusual to see people holding one another with sweet caresses as they sit in adjacent chairs or on a park bench. When walking on sidewalks, hands are intertwined. At restaurants, couples tend to gaze into each other’s eyes. Even if they may not have seen one another since morning when they went their respective ways, they appear to have a lot to say to one another. The intensity of their looks and smiles radiates the impression they’re delighted to be reunited. Perhaps I’m simply being a romantic. Signs of caring aren’t less among older people – those who qualify as the troisieme age. They’re undoubtedly less visible when it comes to overt demonstrations. But there’s a sense of gentleness between them.
I have a confession to make. In my advanced years, I’ve become a voyeur. I used to call it journalistic curiosity but I’ve come to realize it’s more than that. Having lived in the same apartment for the past 15 years, I can’t help but notice what’s been going on in the building located two courtyards away from ours. Each floor has only one apartment. I refuse to buy binoculars since it wouldn’t be polite. And maybe a close-up view would burst my fantasy bubble. Sometimes, it’s better to have a veil camouflaging reality, much in the same way as a women wearing seductive clothes can be much more sexually provocative than ones who are totally nude.
Not only have I seen practically all of the apartments renovated from the vantage point of our kitchen window but there are new and younger occupants. This stands to reason since this building doesn’t have an elevator and walking up five flights of stairs requires more than a bit of stamina. On the top floor of the building where there’s the maximum line of vision, our kitty has found a feline friend to whom to say good morning. They stand and stare at each other as if they’re starting their mornings as a bonded couple.
The white puff ball of a cat has perfect looking parents and probably a comparable life.
They leave the apartment at 8:15 a.m. and return before 7:00 p.m. … I assume their cat is standing guard duty. Each weekend they close the shutters and take off for what I assume is their country home.
The women who live in the floor below have a definite lesbian and exhibitionist relationship. When they’re at their finest, I close our blinds since I’m not going to be an integral part of their fantasy. But come to think of it, I’ve only spotted one of the women lately. Has that romance ended? I’ll probably never know. And I know better to ask should I meet this woman on the street.
The apartment below shows few signs of life. Two of its three windows are draped with curtains, while the middle window has a planter box filled with evergreens. There’s a slight view of the apartment’s hallway. But it’s rare anyone is in residence. If I were on the hunt for real estate, I’d be making inquiries as to whether or not the apartment were slated to be sold. Its shutters are peeling from years of neglect.
The apartment below has been lovingly restored. But it’s hard to get a good vantage point from our abode. The one evident thing is there’s always a vase of fresh flowers in the rear window as if the placement is for our joint enjoyment. The arrangements gracefully cascade out of different vases, with flowers that change with the seasons. I can see a nicely stocked bar in the corner of the room but the occupants don’t appear to have a dining table. Perhaps they rely on take out gourmet goodies to eat while sitting on their brown living room sofa. Or they may be members of the out-to-dinner bunch. Many young (why do I think they’re young?) Parisian professionals are.
It’s the apartment on the first floor that’s the most intriguing. It changed residents when we were away and the new occupants are so predictable that you can set your clock according to their behavior. Each morning at 8:30 they have breakfast. They are seated across from one another, drinking coffee and reading a newspaper. They eat one croissant each.
Each night — 7:45 pm to the minute — the couple sits down to a three course dinner. They never drink wine and water is served from a carafe. The table is set with china and polished silver. They entertain each Friday by inviting two other couples who are perfectly behaved and drink only one bottle of wine between them. The guests leave by 11:00 p.m. La vie est comme ca.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I have zero way of knowing the truth. These people are strangers and I hope we never meet. Writing this makes me realize that part of me has become utterly French.
This Valentine’s Day, Victor and I will sit in our kitchen and drink champagne, eat smoked salmon and see how our neighbors celebrate the holiday. We’ll be saving a lot of money not eating at Les Ambassadeurs at the Crillon. The restaurant throws an incredibly elegant and expensive soiree … but we won’t care … much. And who knows. The people who I’ve been watching across the way, might be watching us, as they’ve been doing for the past fifteen years since we’ve lived here; wondering who we are, and making up a romantic story to go with what they see.