The way I had it figured, I figured it to be a snap. Easy as p-i-e, pie. I started figuring it in November, setting up the web site, that being the critical part of the p-l-a-n, plan. Not that I actually set it up myself. No w-a-y, way. What do I know about web sites? Nothing, nil, zero, n-a-d-a, nada. And I don’t need to know, not with the fourteen year old living downstairs, who, always needing another tattoo, one more piercing, will work like a virtual slave in the service of his self-decoration.
So three hundred and fifty bucks shorter and a day later, I have my web site, and the fourteen year old has more metal poking in and out of orifices than Christ had followers and we’re both happy. I know how to click and doubleclick so I’m in business, o-n-l-i-n-e, online, and the fourteen year old is setting off metal detectors right and left.
Armed, so to speak, with my web site, I can pretend to a certain legitimacy. And pretending makes it so, or almost so. I am virtual so I’m almost real, so I’m close enough. I get the site up and running six months before the Cannes Film Festival opens, dedicated to the proposition that there are far too many color films. The web site can be accessed at htttp://www.antiTNT.com.
The home page is titled “Color Me Gone,” a nod in the direction of my youth spent in Detroit, a youth of funny days spent with funny cars, MoPar, ramchargers, slicks, Hurst shifters, etc., etc. I know just a little about cars, but that’s a whole lot more than I know about web sites, or film for that matter.
For six months, I feature reviews and lists of movies filmed in black and white, and drum campaigns attacking Ted Turner, Disney/Capital Cities-ABC, Westinghouse/CBS, GE/NBC, Murdoch/Fox/20th Century Fox, Viacom/MTV/Blockbuster, Touchstone, Castlerock, Miramax, for their wasted and wasteful use of color. Believe me, that part was a s-n-a-p, snap. What’s not to attack in that group?
For six months, I work diligently, too, at my day/night job, self-employed as I am, trading derivatives. No surprise that, I’m sure. Sometimes I think derivatives are all there are in this life.
My home page is my passport. My trading profits will be my ticket, my hotel room, my wardrobe, my breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I plan to spend every derivative derived dollar/franc/euro on the good life, or a representation thereof, and secure in my credentials, identifying me as a professional at w-o-r-k, I will film the young women present at this celebration of the posing life, in that greatest of contributions to world peace and happiness, in their miniskirts. I am a man with a plan, even if it is just a collection of ones and zeros. And I ask you isn’t everything just a sequence of ones and zeros, ons and offs, here and theres, now and thens? Is the representation of this life more alive than the life it represents? We do what we do as a representation of what we do in order to receive the sanction to do it again. No matter how far we roam, we’re never far from home where we first learned to be spectators in the spectacle of life and of course, that home only exists on TV or a web page. Excuse me for being philosophical.
So I contact the film festival, via their web site, of course, and request accreditation as a member of the electronic media, because that’s what I am, aren’t we all? Like I predicted, it was easy as p-i-e. First the email, in French, easily translated, and then the package via international courier, a package containing my laminated press credential attached to a blue and white lanyard, a schedule of events, a map, a list of pavillions and exhibitors and an invitation to a reception hosted by the selection committee and this year’s chairperson, Sigourney Weaver. Sigourney Weaver! Who will always be Ripley to me. Sigourney Weaver, who always looks like she just stepped out of a hologram of herself. I was in celebrity heaven, virtually.
And if I was the sort of person easily impressed with myself I might have been captivated by the charm of my plan. Posing for posers. In Cannes. Charm barely describes it. Pretending to be real where pretending is real. Charm. Charmed. Enchante. And what is charm but the ability to divert one’s attention from your hand in their pocket. You know that. They know that. Who could know that more than the entertainment industry? Besides real estate?. Or the securities industry? Or the legal profession? Or defense contractors? Only religion.
I was halfway there without taking a step outside my apartment, with barely moving a muscle, and still three months to go to my departure, via Delta Airlines, business elite class of course, from Kennedy to Cote d’Azur.
The waiting was the hardest part. For time is the enemy of all schemers, posers, plotters. Time wears away at the beauty of simplicity, the boldness of fabrication. Time also becomes expensive. Excuse me for not being philosophical here, but even the simplest of enterprises becomes complicated as the days and nights stretch on. Plans accrete layers of new plans, poses strike up thousands of new poses. Every breath becomes part of a fantasy where all breathlessly await the unfolding of your grand drama.
And it all costs money. I deal in derivatives and rarely see anything that looks like the amounts of money pretending to move in these machinations, conjurings. The amounts of real money I do actually see are so modest that I might as well be working for a living. In this I guess I am not alone.
I electronically deposit ones and zeros in a bank account, held at a bank I’ve never been inside, utilizing only the machines provided in a teller free environment for those rare occassions when I actually use currency rather than hedge currencies. I make trades that register as book entries in a brokerage account, statements mailed monthly, updated daily on the web, the value of my portfolio appearing as nothing so much as bandwidth.
I busied myself keeping my story simple, admiring my video camera, the new lightweight laptop from Sony in mauve magnesium that I would take with me, counting days down to zeros, I’m off, and dollars by the ones and zeros, I’m on my way. Off and on, zero and one, nothing and everything.
I worked my digits to the digital bone trading derivatives, currency futures, options, puts, call, spdrs, buying and selling enough to keep me in credit cards. And was I ever in credit cards. Where the emerging capitalists of the mercantile sort measured the virtue, the glory, the power of their wealth with accumulation of gold, I measured my dissipation of somebody else’s wealth with the accumulation of gold cards. I had gold Visa cards, platinum Visa cards, Mastercards, Discover Cards, branded, co-branded, off-branded, with and without miles, with and without hotel upgrades. My favorite was the U.S. Army’s Desert Storm depleted uranium Visa card, embossed with the hologram of the Bradley fighting vehicle, and no fee.. Be all you can be, indeed.
No matter what I did, I charged it. Charged it all, discharging it more often than not by transferring it to another credit card. In the business, we call that rolling it over.
I was a debtor nation all unto myself, and thereby sought out, wooed, pursued to consume ever more of the next best thing to wealth, the image of wealth, its positive negation, debt. I owed, therefore I was worth something. I had more credit with more banks than Indonesia, and on better terms.
I was not reckless. No, reckless might have destroyed all I was working for. The trip, the parties, the cocktails in the sun, the girl with more than bare legs and less than micro miniskirts. I am not a reckless sort. At any given moment I knew exactly how overextended I was which is a sign, more than less, of financial responsibility and economic maturity. Or so I’m told.
I am not a reckless person. I calculate therefore I risk. I figured I could float $180,000 in credit card debt, principal and interest, for eight years and eight months before the banks might weary of the musical chairs of debt rotation I had them playing, by which time I might be rich, famous, dead, or all of the above. Not much dread in those 3160 days of reckoning. Rather, just the opposite. I was exhilirated, feeling as though I were fashioning myself anew everyday. I felt that with each purchase I was breathing life into a pioneer me, striding across ocean and plain to...no, into the cosmic ether.
Credit, credit cards, accreditation, credentials I had it all. And the barcode on my passport, and the E ticket I wasn’t worried about losing, proved it. Charm, fraud, credit...a man in full.
Pressure? From what? Pretending to have money to pretend to pay for what I pretended to need? From keeping the digital me afloat in the modulated/demodulated sea? Please. Pressure? Nobody was shooting at me and I got to sleep in my own bed. What pressure?
So, you ask, could I tell where the real me ended and the representational me began, and vice versa? And I answer, of course not. And what’s more, I didn’t want to. What great leader, fool, charlatan, swindler, visionary, salesman, ever knows, accepts, imposed limits? Thus spake Zarathustra, right? And Dale Carnegie.
Years ago, when I didn’t get to sleep in my own bed, or any bed for that matter and among other things, I learned the virtue of travelling light. I travel light. I hold this truth to be self-evident: everything you need should fit in one bag and that bag should fit over one shoulder. Of course it’s a flexible truth. I did not count my laptop and video camera, travelling in their own bags inside a second handheld bag, as luggage. Neither did the airline.
No cell phone, no pager, no alarm clock, no hair dryer. I was a minimalist traveler. Form and function. I felt almost Scandanavian. Six days, plus travel time. Seven sets of socks and underwear, four shirts, three pairs of silk slacks, two blue one black, one pair of jeans, five shirts, one swimsuit (pure affectation, designed to reassure any customs agent bored enough to look through my bag) extra glasses, extra sunglasses, one book, three thin notebooks, two pens, map, Rough Guide, tootbrush, deodorant, toothpaste, sewing kit, videocassettes. That was it.
One bag, and over one shoulder it went. Carry it on and carry it off. Believe me, I planned to carry it off.
And cash. Or rather, cash advances, deposited into my bank account so that upon my arrival in Cote D’Azur I might freely utilize local ATMs to access other peoples’ money. Think globally, act locally. I intended to spend freely during my brief stay, for nothing endears you to the heart of a festival, which of course, is nothing but a market pretending it has a purpose other than the separation of money and fools, like freely spending. If the founding fathers had really had vision, a vision of the future, they would have incorporated, perfect word that, freedom to spend, spending freely, into the bill, perfect word that too, of rights.
So there I was, in the towncar operated by a former muhjadeen now employed by former Israelis for the purpose of driving me to the former Idlewilde Airport, knowing that I was lip-synching my way through life and comfortable with that knowledge; feeling shallow and superficial and feeling that shallow and superficial were perfectly acceptable between consenting adults. And he, former guerrilla, mustached, asking me if this will be cash or credit card. I sighed.
Sunglasses, silk slacks, silk jacket, shirt open at the neck. I looked the part. And looking the part isn’t half the battle, looking the part is total victory.
I presented myself at the check-in counter, handing over my passport, flashing a second picture ID, a driver’s license with a digitized picture of myself, a picture that could be changed in sum or in part at will. I could scan myself, if I was so inclined, rearrange the 1s and 0s and, identify myself in any way I wished. I wrote a note to myself to send myself an email once onboard the plane to redo that picture, muting some of the red that was overcoloring my cheeks, a red that was the telltale sign of insufficient memory.
After answering the usual questions about my luggage, yes, I packed it myself, no, nobody gave me anything to carry, yes it has been in my sight continuously, no I’m not angry at the world in general or Delta Airlines in particular, after making it through the metal detector (wondering why the fillings in my teeth didn’t trigger the alarm), I boarded the aircraft, business elite class, extra legroom, extra wide seat, personal entertainment center, headphones, plug and jack for the laptop.
It was like home. Better than home, I didn’t have to get up to refill my drink.
I like to drink. It almost makes me social. At least, when drinking I think how I might be social, and it’s the thought that counts.
I drink a lot. Actually I drink like a trooper and sleep like a baby, neither of which, I’m happy to say, I will ever ever be again. Count on it.
So as soon as my rear end hit the sit, my front end, my hand went up and the cabin attendant, a young woman so enthusiastic about her job I thought it painful, brought me the first of many glasses of champagne. No, not sparkling wine. Champagne. Some things are better real. Human beings not being one of them, I might add.
Somewhere between the champagne and the cognac, both from Rheims, somewhere between sleep and waking, somewhere been Labrador and Ireland, my mind started to run down those paths that link to paths that link to paths that provide answers to questions not even imagined. Speech passes into sensation, thought into music, almost.
I thought, or dreamed, or breathed about the boundaries between presentation, representation, and fact, about blurring the boundaries between creation and forgery, deception and love, fashion and fashioning. Was the blurring art, or money? Was one possible without the other? What, after all, could make everyone believe in the simplest and greatest fraud? Art? Money? Television? What was the difference, anyway. Inspiration? Please, we’re not muhjadeen here, are we? Nothing inspires like money, except maybe a rifle shot, but these are happy times. I felt happy, practically, paralyzed with my own good fortune.
Money. I had something that looked, acted, worked like money. Now I could present myself as my own creation, my own fraud. I believed in that presentation, and I could put somebody else’s money where my mouth was, and who could or would disagree with me?
Not even communists could resist the power of money. Then I knew, in that state, cruising at 31,000 feet, air speed 562 miles per hour, globally positioned over the Atlantic, almost, not quite, snoring, not far from drooling, that god was very rich for all those billions to believe him.
And I knew also that all of Cannes would be glad to see me, carressing me, feeling that lump in my pants... “Are those your credit cards or are you just happy to see me?” Both!
When we landed, the officer at passport control, light blue shirt, navy blue pants barely glanced at my passport, sighting first on my film festival credentials, waving me through. “Another one,” I heard him think, “I hate this time of year.”
But I love May on the Cote d’Azur. The light, the most perfect light rains down in sheets thick enough to laminate water to earth to sky, filling in crevice, gorge, streets, and old wounds with a crystalline balm. The wind slaps at the water, palms flat, then draws it up into the sky, in talons fashioned over Africa, hurling a mist that shatters into the sound of a thousand bells ringing softly. The sun rises and sets like the master of a very unruly household, calling all to order. May on the Cote d’Azur is almost real enough to be artificial. It can’t be real I keep feeling which is just perfect.
Thirty minutes after landing I was in my rented Fiat, driving west along the N98 to Cannes.
If the truth is to be known, as if truth ever needs to be known, I would have preferred to stay in Nice. The light is even more perfect in Nice. There is so much more to do in Nice you feel fulfilled in practically doing nothing. The Promenade is the perfect place to feel doing nothing, save raising your glass to your lips, your face to the sun, and your thoughts to raising the skirts of the women promenading, styling, by , with thoughts of their own.
So near Cagnes-sur-Mer, I swung the Fiat around and headed back to the east. It was still morning. I wanted to go to Nice and who but me would ever care what the real me wanted, even if I wasn’t too sure any longer who the real me was. But something sitting very close to me in the rented Fiat wanted to go to Nice, to sit on the Promenade, sunlight washing, no, suckling me. And in the end, isn’t it all about the light? Wave or particle? On or off? Light and sand, silicon and optics, all the same.
Along the Promenade I drove, turning off and parking on Rue Meyerbeer, feeding the meter, placing the receipt on the dash, stretching, smiling at my good fortune.
On the promenade, just down from the interesection with Meyerbeer is a little snack bar/glacier called Pomm. The owner, a man of cautious smiles, unfailing courtesy, Algerian descent, often stares longingly across the water, tasting a bit of his Africa in the wind. His little space, four tables outside, two inside (in Spring and Summer) is perfectly placed for the maximum exposure to daylight. Location, location, location indeed.
When I first visited Nice, I took every meal at Pomm. We became friends, speaking of New York, Paris, Algiers, the demise of empire, and the costs of nationalism. Extraordinary conversations catalyzed by vin ordinaire, carried on under a sun that pushed itself, like a wind, into every crevice, every opening.
He, setting his tables out in this morning’s sun, betrayed no surprise at my sudden appearance, smiling, shaking my hand, hugging me, as we exchanged kisses. He pulled a chair away from the table and I sat, surrounded by the noise of the traffic, the people walking their dogs and the Mediterranean sweeping across the rocks and pebbles of Nice’s industrial strength non-beach.
B. brought out the cafe noir, the Badoit, the pichet of rose wine, the basket of bread and the olives. He sat across from me and poured the wine into two glasses. We toasted and drank and I explained the purpose, if you could call it that, of my visit, my date with destiny in Cannes.
He was amused. It was so foreign, so American, to him, to pretend to have some real business at a carnival of pretenders. He laughed and shook his head. Why not stay in Nice, at his place, he asked? I thanked him but declined. No, I am accredited, almost official. I had to stay in Cannes. When in Rome, and all that... I let the words dissipate in the wind, like smoke from an extinguished match.
We finished our coffee, our water, our wine, bread, and olives, exchanging information and the latest news from New York, Nice, and Algiers.
“My friend,” said B., “a bit of advice. If you carry your video camera with you, no young women will talk to you. They’ll think you’re Russian. The Russians film everything here. They film everyone walking along the sea. They film the waiters. They film the food. They film each other eating the food. They take the film home and show it to their friends during their long cold winters. I think they feel warm when they watch themselves on their VCRs. Remember how, sometimes, on a particularly dreary day, we would open a bottle of rose', and sort of warm our hands with the memory of sunlight coming from the bottle?”
“Or find the perfect bottle of olive oil and dip bread in it?”
Again I nodded.
“I think it’s like that for the Russians. Keeping warm by the glow from their televisions.”
“I understand,” I said. Indeed I did. Sunlight on a magnetic strip.
“Yes, it’s understandable, but it scares the young women. You don’t need to carry the camera. Your credentials around your neck will make sure you never drink alone.”
Good advice. I thanked him. I paid the bill and as I rose to leave, he brought out a bottle of Bandol rose, pressing its chilled neck into my hand.
“Enjoy yourself,” he said in English.
I walked back to my Fiat swung around to the Rue du Congres and headed back to the Promenade, emerging in the westbound lanes. Ahead of me and to my right was the Hotel Negresco, looking like nothing so much as a Hollywood studio model of a home away from home for the last Czar and Czarina. A banner waved from the dome of the hotel, “Welcome Romanoffs,” I imagined it to say. Now here was a winter palace. Imagine the strategy sessions with the hotel publicist.
“We must advertise. ‘Playground of the British pseudo-aristocracy.’ ‘Innkeeper of choice to all ancien regimes.’ Lets find someone claiming to be the Dauphine and use him as a greeter.”
I took my time driving the thirty five kilometers to Cannes, savoring every bit of light and water that presented itself in inexhaustible supply, enjoying the brightly colored pink and blue dolphins at the Tex-Mex Cantina/Disco on the beach just outside Cros-de-Cagnes, slowly driving through, not around, Antibes and Juan-les-Pins, entering Cannes like a lost boy coming home.
I had selected the Hotel Cristal as my base of operations. The hotel is set back a long city block from the Promenade de la Croisette, and as I had expected the Promenade was almost unnavigable with bodies upon bodies undulating in place, straining to be somewhere else in the long chain of flesh. I knew I would actually have to spend more time than usual, than I liked, with actual people and so I chose a hotel, of unquestionable quality, that afforded some refuge from participating, some basis for observing.
On its sixth floor, the hotel offers an unobstructed view of the Croisette, the harbor, the big boats, the beaches, the sea of blue and white umbrellas planted like flags on the moon, if the moon had a beach. After, during, between a hard day’s/night’s taping, I could retreat, without my camera, with my credentials, and with one of my stars to the safety of the bar and watch the crowds below.
I checked in, presented my super-platinum platinum Visa, my passport, my credentials, and received my room key, seven pounds of press releases, party invitations, schedules of showings, maps, and a phrase book.
Once in the room, I showered, changed into my work silks, and took a minute to gather myself, which meant, of course, opening the bottle of Bandol, pouring a glass, placing the bottle next to the bottle of champagne thoughtfully provided by the hotel in a bucket of ice and congratulated myself. I had made it from New York to Cannes. I was here, there, an ocean away, and home almost free, all at the same time. I shared a toast with myself, savoring the wine, and then, gathered a pen and notebook and headed down and out into the crowds and to Palais des Festivals, to check in once again and get my photograph laminated to my credentials, proving that I was indeed the person I pretended to be.
And crowds there were. In the harbor, on the beaches, on the Promenade. A sea of flesh in various degrees of dress and undress rose and fell sympathetically with the little waves rolling onto the beach.
There were your film types of course, wearing, I think, contact lenses made from crystal to get the extra ounce of shine and sparkle in their eyes. There were your film type admirers of course, trying to look like film types. There were your abnormally good looking men and women who appeared to have nothing quite as important to do as to look exactly the way they looked.
There were your normally good looking 40-50 year olds. The women were wearing three inch high heeled sandals. The men were wearing skin the color of their belts but not quite as soft.
There were your abnormally rich people, slumming, so to speak, by moving in the midst of so many people of ordinary wealth or no wealth whatsoever, totally pleased by their discomfort, totally comfortable knowing at any moment they could cross the road and return to their yachts, their suites.
There were your normally rich people, easy to spot because they travelled as couples, the women dressing well and the men wearing pressed pre-faded jeans and loafers.
And then there were your legions of young people, girls and boys, young men and young women, from all over Europe and the Americas. The girls were dressed to show the wealth of their youth, a wealth the abnormally rich could never purchase, the girls wearing shorts, sandals, miniskirts, minidresses. I filmed them all in my mind. The boys wearing.... Well, boys don’t know anything about dressing do they?
There were big men in yellow silk jackets, looking like misplaced traders from a commodities pit, yellow silk jackets and black silk tee shirts and bald spots.
There were crowds of people buying sweaters and denim jackets just so they could tie them around their waists.
There were men and women who composed their hair according to instructions accompanying magazine pictures of film stars and models.
There were men who thought they looked good, looked better, with their shirts open to fourth button and necklaces hanging down to the third.
And Cannes spoke to each and everyone of these people, whispered to them, crooned, lullabied, promised, each and all a chance to promenade, to drink, to dance, to really pretend.
Cannes said: Send more of those people who own big boats. Send more of those women in tight pants and men in cowboy boots. Send them from Britain, from Denmark, from Spain, from Italy, from the United States, from Argentina,we love to tango, from Canada, from Japan, from Israel, Lebanon, from Syria. Send them all.
This scene rolls by like a spool of thread unwinding with no end, hour after hour. So there I was, a poser cork floating in a poser sea. I thought, in a flash of paranoid recognition, that somewhere out there in space, light years away, there was a predator looking down at this endless stream of meat, looking down and drooling all over his telescope.
I crossed the Croisette to a strip of green clogged with white canvas pavillions, the structures advertising the studios, production companies, banks, telecommunications corporations, TV networks, cable TV networks, so essential to big money entertainment. At every one of these, my credentials secured me entrance to the private areas were the champagne flowed freely.
It was there making the smallest of small talk that I revealed my purpose, committing to videotape the importance of the miniskirt, to those others drinking big and talking small.
Stating that the miniskirt was an event of world-historical importance was probably not what Hegel had in mind when formulating the notion of world-historical. But Hegel was an idealist. I am not. Every heterosexual male knows what’s world-historical is his world. Was this project adolescent in origin and scope? No doubt about it. But lets be clear. Who uses the web? Who determines its content? Adolescent boys. Where was my tape going to wind up? Where does everything end up? The web. The logic was irrefutable.
Dressed in my silks, my sunglasses, my credentials, I walked around the old port and back to the Alles de la Liberte where I picked a seat in the sun in a cafe that served faux tropical drinks in plastic margarita glasses, tilted the sunglasses up on my head and waited, smiling at every woman who looked my way.
I didn’t have to wait long. They sought me out, or rather they sought out my credentials. They came in sandals and heels, and boots, and espadrilles, and after a few words and the exchange of phone numbers and addresses and agreement on time and place, they were off, to check their clothes and prepare for the next days filming.
I taped them. I taped them, over the course of the next couple of days, walking. I taped them sitting, crossing their legs, getting up from the table, smoothing their skirts. I taped them climbing uphill to the Musee de la Castre. I taped them walking cautiously downhill to the Boulevard Jean-Hibert.
They were twenty years old, thirty years old, forty years old, even fifty years old. They were brown, red-brown, yellow-brown, pink-brown, black-brown, white-brown. Africa really is mother to us all .
They walked into the water in their miniskirts and dresses and walked back out, the fabric clinging to their legs in a way that was as beautiful as exposed skin. And after filming, we always had a drink, a toast to the way women walk.
I did not, however, attempt to take advantage, or force myself on any one of them. Not one of them ever felt the need to sleep with me to conclude our arrangement. As a youth I had never wanted to be President of the United States, and I certainly wasn’t going to pretend I was one now.
Every woman was given my card, my phone number, my address and was promised a copy of the tape. A promise, by the way, which I have honored.
I was there to film them not sleep with them. That’s the way I wanted it. Until I met Danielle.
It was at a rooftop party held on a rooftop so perfectly situated on a night so laden with warmth that it made me think that if god was going to get married this is where he would have the reception. The night smelled like a baby’s breath. The wind gurgling, playing with its own fingers, taking you on its arm, leading you from conversation to conversation. The sky, painted in shades of slate blue, dropped down, draped itself around our shoulders and licked us with a tongue dipped in seawater. Marty was at the party. Dirk and Dick. Pedro, Pietro, Isabella, Luke, Luc, Sigourney.
I was just standing there, drinking something that might have contained alcohol, eating something that definitely contained salmon when Sigourney came over to me and pulled me aside.
“I heard about your project,” she said.
I was flattered. Imagine, Ripley, third officer of the Nostromo, seeking me out.
“Are you interested?” I asked.
“What? Me? Oh no. But Danielle wants to meet you.”
“Great,” I said. “Who’s Danielle?”
Sigourney leaned across me and nodded toward a tall woman in simple blue summer dress, espadrilles and long dark hair. Sigourney waved. Danielle waved back and walked towards me. I don’t know why but I felt suddenly uneasy, almost dizzy. The feeling confused me.
“She’s a singer from Israel,” said Sigourney. “She won the Eurovision sing-off contest this year.”
I was impressed. “You mean,” I stammered, “the same Eurovision contest won in 1974 by ABBA singing their smash hit “Waterloo?”
Sigourney paused. “I don’t really know. I guess it’s the same one. Let’s ask her.”
By which time Danielle was standing directly in front of me with her hand extended. She was beautiful with legs that were sublime. Her skin was more brown than olive. Turkish ancestors, I thought. I took her hand in mine and felt something go through me that I had never felt before, well maybe once before when I had thought, mistakenly, that I had won the New York State Lottery but misplaced the ticket. Turned out, I had the ticket but not the numbers.
We stared at each other. She took my arm and said in English. “Let’s go for a walk.”
We walked to the harbor, gazing at nothing but each other. We hardly spoke. Our connection was immediate, direct, instantaneous. It was hard to believe. Actually it was impossible, like winning the lottery.
I know what it was about her that attracted me. Her long black hair, her almond shaped and colored eyes, her perfect legs. I was so consumed with her beauty that I didn’t ask myself what attracted her to me.
We spent that entire night together. Talking as little as possible. Touching much more and for much longer than I am usually comfortable. It had to be love. Total, immediate, ignorant. Only flesh could make itself so vulnerable.
The next morning we met after breakfast. The three of us, Danielle, me, and my camera.
We walked along the sand beaches of the Plage du Midi, she smiling with every step I filmed. We feasted on olives, tomatoes, bread, cheese that we purchased at a street market. For two days, we did everything that had nothing to do with the festival. And on the third night, in my hotel room, we made love. We made love like we were born to each other, like we had been sculpted, both inside and out, to fit each other exactly and nobody else. Tongue to tongue, hand in hand, leg around leg.
After breakfast, I walked Danielle back to the Carleton Intercontinental where she was staying. She had an appearance to make and we were to meet later in the day. I returned to my hotel and sat dreamily on the balcony, dulled to anything but the sense of my own well being.
The phone rang. The voice at the other end spoke Israel-accented English, and sounded like it was speaking it through a handkerchief. The voice belonged to Danielle’s brother, who, accompanied by Danielle’s other two brothers asked to come to my suite and speak with me. Family members? Family is one thing I never counted on. In this world of presentation and representation, of self and more self, I assume that everyone just leaves family out of it.
But then there was the knock at the door. I opened it to reveal three identical looking men. Height five feet ten inches. Weight about 187. Hair, black, curly. Eyes, brown, almond shaped. Skin, almond. Turkish ancestors, I thought.
The brothers dressed identically, white shirts open at the collar, sand colored slacks, navy blue jackets. They pushed against each other to be the first through the doorway and into my room, wrinkling their slacks and jackets in the effort. I stood back and waited. Finally after they, more than less, tumbled into my suite and lined themselves in one rank, 1,2,3 left to right, brother number one spoke.
“What are you doing with our brother?”
Then number two interjected, “Our sister?”
And number three chimed in, “Both?”
Brother? Sister? Both? “What are you talking about?”
“We want to know what your intentions are towards our brother.”
“Sister,” said number two.
“Whatever,” said number three.
“Don’t pretend you don’t know who we’re talking about,” said number one.
“Maybe he doesn’t know what we’re talking about,” said number two.
“How could he not know?”, said number three.
I wasn’t pretending. I had no idea what they were talking about. “Brother? Sister? Both? What are you talking about?”
The brothers looked at each other.
“Are you sleeping with him?”, said number one.
“Her,” said number two.
“Either/or,”said number three.
They looked at each other again.
“He doesn’t know,” said number three.
“ Doesn’t know what?” I demanded.
The brothers looked at each other and at me. Then they spoke in unison. “Danielle was our brother, before she had the operation. Now she’s our sister. She’s transgender.”
I stared at them. “I don’t believe you. We’ve been together for days. I would have noticed something, scars, irregularities.” Indeed, I noticed something. I took it for perfection.
“Not at those prices, you wouldn’t,” said brother number one.
“It wasn’t cheap,” said number two.
“Which brings us to the business at hand,” said number three. “She is a pop star. She is here at the most famous festival of stars and she should be working. Instead she spends her time with an unknown Ejournalist! She’s wasting her hard earned self.”
“Right,” said number one. “She should be photographed in the company of Sylvester Stallone.”
“Sharon Stone,” said number two.
“Both,” said number three.
I was silent. Stunned. And awed. Danielle had done with her own flesh and blood what I had attempted to do with ones and zeros. And she had succeeded. What commitment to illusion, what authentic artifice, what synthetic realism, what balls! If I hadn’t been in love before, I certainly was now.
“So,” said number one, “what are your intentions.”
“Strictly honorable,” I said.
“I was afraid of that,” said number two.
“Would you marry him?”
“Her,” I corrected before numbers two and three could speak.
“If she’ll have me,” I said.
“And ruin her career?”, said number two. “You call that honorable?”
I didn’t know how to answer that.
“You Jewish?”, asked number three.
“Not exactly,” I said.
“What kind of answer is that?”, said number two. “How can you be ‘not exactly’ Jewish?”
“Well, I think one of my grandparents might have been Jewish, and my brother married a Jewish woman, but he’s dead now.”
“Figures,” said number one.
“Well, that settles it,” said number one. “You’re not Jewish. It would kill our parents if Danielle married a goy.”
I understood. Radical surgery and gender transformation are acceptable, but marrying outside the faith is a crime.
“If you love Danielle,” said number three, “you’ll leave her alone and let her make the name and money for herself he/she/both, whatever, deserves.”
“And if you attempt to see Danielle, we’ll have you arrested as a stalker.”
“Or maybe we’ll just take care of you ourselves,” said number three. “Israeli paratroopers,” he said, as if he were identifying himself to school children.
With no further words, they turned to leave, bumping into each other again at the doorway before spilling out into the corridor.
As soon as they left, I called Danielle. The phone rang. And rang. And rang some more.
I walked over to the Intercontinental and left a message. I called again. Nothing.
I saw Danielle the next day, at a press conference, surrounded by her brothers, answering questions about stories of her simultaneous affairs with David Bowie and Grace Jones. I knew her brothers had planted the stories. The whole scene was so dishonest I could have puked.
That’s when I realized I was in trouble. Since when did I require honesty in marketing? I had almost felt something that might have been real and it threatened my whole world.
As Danielle left the press conference, I called to her. She turned to look, but brothers one and two, on either side of her, took her arms and hustled her out the door. Brother three came over and punched me sharply in the gut. It might have hurt had I not been so distracted. Before he could punch me again, I stamped down hard on his foot. He began to crumple. On his way down I grabbed his ear, twisted sharply, pulled his head back and grabbed his trachea. “New York East Villager,” I said. “Fuck your airborne ass.”
I had to leave Cannes and I did. I wasn’t just going through the motions any longer, my heart had gotten into it, and that could have ruined me forever.
I drove back to Nice that next day, took a room at Hotel L’Oasis and explained the whole sorry story to B.
He shook his head. “What are you going to do?”
I shrugged. “I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll try to get out less often.”
“Is that possible?”
“It’s possible all right.”
“Life’s a funny thing,” he said. “There’s no explanation for the passions of the human heart.”
“Yes,” I agreed. “Very funny. A regular laugh riot. What’s that phrase? Best laid plans of....”
I finished my wine and walked across the Promenade to sit and stare at the coastline of an Africa far beyond my vision. Thinking of the best laid plans of... a man with a mouse.
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