Monday, April 21, 2008


All right, fans, here's another smallish nugget of my novel-in-progress, Ginny Bates. This occurs after my last post yesterday. If you are already a familiar reader, begin below. If you need background, check the links in the sidebar on the right, fifth item down, to get caught up.

Early July 2010

Myra had changed their hotel reservations in Paris from a big, American-style place to a smaller, more Euro-friendly establishment which still had a pool and a weights room. It cost more, but she was determined to keep working out as she finished her prednisone course. Her health was on the mend.

Her "must" list for this city was Shakespeare & Co. plus all the different kinds of bread and cheese she could try. Ginny's was the Louvre, more Louvre, and a side meal of the Musée d'Orsay. Margie's interests centered on the Champs-Elysées, although she also said she wanted to see "where all that guillotine action happened." When Frances nudged her, she added "Oh, and the cemetery where Jim Morrison is buried."

"The Cimetière du Père Lachaise" said Frances, with a passable accent. "Edith Piaf is there, too." Myra raised an eyebrow at Ginny. New depths to this woman.

Gillam said "Well, I think we're nuts if we don't take a boat down the Seine, visit Versailles, and go up the Eiffel Tower. But I also want to see the new Holocaust Memorial. And -- that bread and cheese thing you mentioned, Mom, I'm down for that."

On day one, they began with the Louvre. Myra became overstimulated by mid-afternoon and retreated to the nearest cafe -- "They have frickin' five in this place" she said to Ginny, looking at the brochure as they agreed where to meet up later. She began ordering a la carte items and pulled a larger notebook from her pack. By closing time, she had written three poems, rewritten one of them to her satisfaction, composed a long letter to Chris, and decided she much preferred the English method of preparing tea. Or maybe it was the tea itself, strong and black in a way that addressed and obviated any craving she had for Coke.

Ginny was in a near-stupor when they reconnected. Gillam said he was ravenous and had picked out a restaurant which involved a long taxi ride with a daredevil driver who chain-smoked. Myra hung out the window, saying to Ginny "We're riding the Metro back", which got her a scowl from the driver though he claimed to not speak Anglais.

The restaurant made Myra feel instantly underdressed. It had a sweeping view of Notre Dame, and even without her currency converter, she could tell the prices were astronomical. The menu had only a limited number of items. Ginny immediately said she was having the "pike-perch dumplings" which sounded a little iffy to Myra. She joined Gillam in ordering the duck, while Margie went for something squiddish and Frances was excited about a crayfish recipe. They let Frances order wine for them, though neither Myra nor Ginny had more than a sip or two of each vintage.

The food turned out to be as good as anything Myra had ever eaten. They finished up with something called a "waltz of sorbets". Ginny paid with a card, and looking across the table, Myra realized the three younger folk were well on their way to being drunk. They walk through the night air was initially a little unsteady. By the time they reached the Metro stop, the giggling had slowed down. Frances helped Ginny decipher the route map, and they got back to the hotel without mishap.

The next day, they did the Eiffel Tower and Seine cruise as a group, though Myra's fear of heights surfaced at the top of the Tower and she had to leave quickly, waiting for them at the base. They found small eating places with country-style menus for their meals.

After that, Ginny began returning to one of her museums daily, with stops on the way back at various art supply stores where orders were shipped back to Seattle. Gillam went with Myra to Shakespeare and Co, she went with him to the Holocaust Memorial, but she told him he was on his own for Versailles, she could not take in any more ostentation. Instead, on day three, she found the back booth of a non-smoking cafe where the waiter assured her she could sit as long as she wanted. She set up her laptop, kept ordering brioche, fromage, and refills of her Coca-Cola. She kept the waiter sweet with a steady stream of Euros. At noon she ordered soup and vegetables whose flavor momentarily distracted from the spate of good writing flowing from her. When the place began filling up for dinner, she regretfully closed her computer, left a final tip, and walked two blocks back to their hotel.

This became her routine, with occasional forays out with Gillam to places he had discovered, or once with Frances and Margie to a cooks' outfitting shop where she let Frances advise her on an array of implements for her kitchen at home. They would eat dinner as a group, Ginny trying to convey to them the art she had consumed that day. After dinner, Ginny would sketch, Myra would swim with Gillam, and Margie went out with Frances to clubs.

The third day in Paris, they ordered room service for their evening meal so they could sit around the table in Myra and Ginny's room, Myra's laptop set up with her webcam, and have a conference call with Sima and Chris. Myra had printed out long e-mail attachments earlier from the Feminist Fund, and some decisions had to be made right away about allocating new funds. For several years, the Fund had been investing heavily in microcredit endeavors in Africa and Asia, as well as putting working-class women of color at heads of small businesses back in New Orleans. Chris now had leads on women's shelters and sustainable energy programs on various Native lands. Margie and Gillam were not official board members yet, but sat in on meetings when they could and their input was actively solicited.

Myra watched Frances taking in this new aspect to how her in-laws moved in the world. She liked the concentration she saw on Frances' face. When they were done, Myra said to Chris "I can fax our proxies to you in the morning, will that work?"

"Yeah. Send it to the tribal office, I'll be there most of the day."

"Have you been by our house, by any chance?" asked Ginny.

Sima answered "Yes, we spent last Saturday there. Your housesitter is doing a great job of harvesting your garden twice a week and delivering the produce to the soup kitchen, but it was in dire need of weeding. We did that as well having a long swim and soak. And before you ask, the geckos look fine." They drifted into personal conversation after that, and Margie pulled Frances back to their room.

By the fourth day, as Myra entered "her cafe", as she'd come to think of it, the waiter would greet her with a Coke and a huge smile. When she left that evening, she stopped in at a narrow three-story hotel across the street and asked to look at one of their rooms with good light. At dinner, she told Ginny she'd found the place they could return to after the kids left for the States in two weeks, to spend another long stretch of painting and writing.

Gillam bought himself a collarless cream silk jacket and crisp slacks to match, a black cashmere turtleneck and shoes that made Margie whistle. He visited several photography establishments until he found a place to develop his pictures according to his standards, and he began going through several rolls of film a day, mostly black and white. He borrowed Myra's laptop every evening to write e-mails home, and the serene, confident look on his face reminded her of when he had been a baby.

Margie was clearly having a honeymoon with Frances, so Myra didn't have to worry about her, either. On day six, at Sunday breakfast in an outdoor cafe where cathedral bells made Myra wish she had a faith to match the depth of their sound, Myra said to Ginny "I suppose we'll have to buy two poodles and move to the countryside soon. You get to be Gertrude."

"Oh no I'm not" said Ginny. "You have to write my autobiography, remember?"

They had bought a New York Times which got greedily divided up between the five of them. Gillam had snagged the Review of Books section ahead of Myra, and he suddenly said "Holy crap." When the rest of them stared at him, he looked up with a dazzled expression and said "Allie's book -- it's made it to the top ten books in the country."

"Let me see" demanded Myra. There it was, number 8, leapfrogging ahead of 9 and 10. "My god, she's done it. She's started a prairie fire."

Ginny pulled out her cell and began dialing. "What time is it there?" said Myra, fumbling in her pack for her clock.

"I don't care" said Ginny.

"I think it's like one in the morning" Gillam whispered to Myra.

Once Allie was awake, she didn't care either. Ginny had long stretches of listening, a huge grin on her face with an occasional "I know, honey".

Margie said "And now all three of my mères are bona fide celebrities." Just as Ginny was saying "Well, Allie, I'll tell you" and had paused for breath, Margie said to Francis "You know, mon Françoise, this means you'll have to strike it big to live up to my family expectations."

Frances replied evenly but with emphasis, "Bite me, Bates." There was a sudden silence at the table, broken by Ginny saying "Yes, you did hear that right. That's Margie's sweetheart." Myra burst out laughing, and a second later Ginny did too, though she was clearly laughing with Allie. Frances turned red but did not apologize.

That night, once they were alone, Myra turned to Ginny and said "Bite me, Bates." They collapsed into hysterics.

Two days later, they boarded a train for the Netherlands. Margie and Frances claimed the pair of seats facing Ginny and Myra, leaving Gillam to slide into one of the empty four across the aisle from them. Before long, two young women around his age sat down opposite him, giggling often and speaking a language Myra couldn't place. They were both so blonde their hair reminded her of the platinum nylon locks on the Little Chatty Brother doll she'd been given as a child.

As it turned out, they were from Finland, a city named Espoo, whose repeated name made Myra choke back giggles of her own. Gillam had casually continued reading his magazine article when they sat down. When he was done and putting it away, he had introduced himself graciously as Guillermo Batiz-José, although he usually just went by the José. (Explaining the initials on his messenger bag.) No, he was not from España, he had been raised in Houston where his mother's family had settled from Venezuela. Perhaps they had heard of them, of José Oil in Caracas?

Yes, and his mother was Mira José, the novelist whose book Escena had been considered for a Pulitzer a decade ago. Ah, they had read it then? Oh, only studied it in in school. Yes, most critics did think it was an allegory about apartheid in South Africa but it was in fact based on the ancient Moche civilization of Peru. No, he was still completing his graduate studies in the classics at Harvard, although at the moment he was taking a year's break to do a photographic tour of Europe.

His father was not a writer, no, he was Genoa Batiz, a Neopolitan Jew who had migrated to the U.S. and brought with him the Batiz Method, a Montessori-like approach to teaching art in public school. The Batiz Method was a form of total immersion, almost a trance-like approach to creativity.

Listen, if he could buy them a refreshment at the restaurant car, they could continue conversation there. He only had his digital with him at the moment, his Leica was being safely shipped, but the light in the bar car was interesting, perhaps he could shoot a few candids of them?

As Guillermo glided after the young women down the aisle, Margie gave herself up to gleeful chortling, saying "Those two look sharp, they're gonna see through him like rice paper."

Myra said earnestly "I don't understand where my children developed such a talent for deception."

Margie said to Frances, "Let's go after them. I can be his predatory sapphic sister and we can move in on them."

As Frances stood up, she said "I'm a dissolute dogessa from Venezia."

"Medici or Borgia?"

"Unless they're really up on their history, Borgia will scare them off too much at the outset" said Frances as they moved out of earshot.

Myra sighed. Ginny said "If you find a comfortable place to lean against the side there, I could snuggle against you and we could get a little nap."

"Deal" said Myra.

© 2008 Maggie Jochild.


Jesse Wendel said...

"Medici or Borgia?"

Um... when did GB turn into a 50's screwball comedy?

*cracks up*

P.S. When are you putting shirt, mugs, and sweat-shirts for sale with "Bite me, Bates."

I LIKE this Francis girl. She's a good one.

kat said...

Myra will be happy to hear that as of January 2008, smoking was banned in French cafes.....which apparently just leaves a crowd of angry frenchmen smoking just outside the door, but at least it's safe to eat in France now.....

It's too bad they missed the Maison Rose in Montmartre. It's a cafe now, and a good, reasonably priced one, but it's where Picasso lived in Paris.

Also, you know what I heard recently? Writers can apply to live at Shakespeare & Co. Super cool, huh? You live there rent free and work on whatever it is you're working on.....I always wondered why there were beds in a bookstore.

letsdance said...

The children are all grow'd up!