Tenderness/Tendresse in Paris

We were in a restaurant in Paris years ago, enjoying dinner. It was an up-market place with table cloths and waiters wearing bow-ties. Our table was in a booth lined with velvet, the booths forming a circle around a small fountain. We could clearly see the people in the booths on the other side of the fountain and wondered about them.

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There was an obviously rich old elegant couple, fawned over by attentive waiters. There was a family of two parents with two teenagers, and there was a beautiful young lady sitting all by herself, looking at her watch.

It was just after 8 o-clock and I commented that someone was running late. As the minutes ticked past, we became concerned for the young woman who was agitated and upset. At about 8.30 p.m. a tear rolled down her reddened cheek. The waiters could see that something was wrong and brought her a glass of water and a menu.

The rest of the restaurant was oblivious to the drama: there were peals of laughter and loud conversation coming from the other booths. The waiters were very busy and no one had time to comfort the now distressed mademoiselle. It was almost 9 o’clock and we were becoming distressed too. What should we do? Should we go over to comfort her, or would that make matters worse?

Suddenly the door opened and in rushed a rather harassed young man who looked around, spotted his date and ran over to her. There were hugs and floods of tears from both. It was such a tender moment that the much-relieved head waiter brought over two glasses of champagne. We continued to watch as the young man explained what had kept him so long. Without them ordering, food and wine started to arrive under the supervision of the headwaiter who had witnessed the drama.

We can remember that particular tender moment as if it was yesterday. It confirms to me that Paris is indeed “the city of love.”

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March 2021

Pandemic style invades Paris

I saw it with my own eyes. Heard it with my own ears.

There on the French news, was an item about sloppy at-home attire taking over the streets of Paris. The Covid effect, they called it.

Pandemic style.

It’s summer there of course. Even so, do you expect to see the kind of daggy shorts men wear to Bondi Junction being sported on the Champs Elysees?

There was worse to come. French women have been abandoning their bras. A French bra is a thing of substance, a “soutien-gorge”, or breast-upholder, but French women discarded them while working at home. Now they are in no hurry to struggle back into them.

As for feet. The camera panned downwards. Yes, it was true. Sneakers, trainers, sports shoes of every colour. In French these are called “baskets”, pronounced bass-‘ketts, but whatever you call them, they are not the chic leather slip-ons or lace-ups of the formally attired. They are rubber-soled canvas footwear, pumped out in their millions by Asian franchisees.

Les baskets, the latest thing in Paris

Formal wear for men has vanished, for the summer of 2020 at least. A boutique owner reported that the sales of suits were down more than 25%.

Women were wearing skimpy sundresses or cut-off trousers.

Paris Fashion Week had to go virtual this year, but its fashion leadership is over.

We are the leaders now. Australian summer style has finally taken over the world.

Les Murray wrote a great poem, “The Dream of Wearing Shorts Forever,” of which one stanza reads:

Scunge, which is real negligee

housework in a swimsuit, pyjamas worn all day,

is holiday, is freedom from ambition.

Scunge makes you invisible

to the world and to yourself.

Free at last! Liberty, Equality, Sisterhood.

Paris is taking fashion tips from Parramatta.



Only a week into my fellowship at the Cite Internationale des Arts and we’re in lockdown. Just my luck. Who would’ve thought this mean virus could attack Paris, of all places? The City of Love, where people entwined in the streets, or in the Metro, are common sights? Now the streets are almost empty, and hardly anyone dares board the Metro. From my tiny balcony I can just see the Place Pont Marie, usually swarming with commuters, is deserted.

It is said this new virus acts a little like Puck’s magic potion in A Midsummer Night’s Dream: those infected will feel the pangs of love for whoever they lock eyes with. There are strict boundaries drawn on every promenade. Cafes and bars along the boulevards are closed, and cabarets such as the Moulin Rouge are memories.

I’ve been given the Nancy Keesing Studio to write in, as befitting a woman author from Australia. Across the courtyard is another writer’s studio. He’s the well-known Portuguese poet I’ve long admired. I was so looking forward to meeting him, discussing our work together. But it’s not to be. I must content myself with a glimpse through his window of his black curly head bent over his desk. He glances up and returns my gaze. I feel like a voyeur and quickly look away.

Next door to his studio is another with a tiny balcony just like mine. A woman steps on to it, dressed only in a negligee. Even from this distance I can see she’s wearing nothing underneath it. I recognise her with a jolt of excitement and some embarrassment: it’s our own great poet and essayist, the controversial Emily Von Grun. Wait! She’s leaning over her balcony towards the Portuguese poet’s window. She throws a small pebble, expertly aimed , so that it hits the edge of the pane. He looks up and smiles. A moment later his window is empty.

The virus, named Eros 20, impels the victim to make love to any man or woman, youth or elder, who they set eyes on, indiscriminate of race or creed. The inevitable outcome of this overwhelming passion is death.

Through the window opposite I can see Emily, apparently naked, lying limply over her desk. Her greying auburn hair flows over the keys of her computer. I reach for my phone, horror creeping up my spine. As I do so there’s a knock on my door.

It’s the Portuguese poet. His beautiful green eyes are alight with lust. I back away as he advances. He is too strong for me, and in spite of, or perhaps because of, my terror, my body responds. In the midst of overwhelming passion my only thought is: what a wonderful way to die.

Paris is still the City of Love, especially in the time of Eros20.


For more fiction by Dina Davis, see her recent novel: