A serial memoir by Jean Fogelberg


Dan planned every part of our European vacation, from our first day in France, on May 7th, to our last night in Italy, four weeks later. All winter long, he had excitedly shown me articles about the places we would visit and the things we would see. One day I looked up from a photo, into his shining eyes, and a little idea popped into my head, unbidden. I tried to shoo it away, but it persisted. 

    He’s going to propose in Europe.

    From the beginning of our relationship Dan had told me he would never marry again. He’d lost all faith in the “eternal” vows that had twice proven to be so fragile and fleeting. If the M-word did come up (“So, Dan, when are you going to make an honest woman of her?”) I would say I didn’t need a piece of paper to validate our love. 

    We’d been together for four years and we couldn’t have been happier, despite some stressful events, including Dan’s divorce, and three lawsuits brought by former collaborators that Dan had once considered friends. These consecutive lawsuits triggered old betrayal issues that went all the way back to when his first band, The Clan, sided against him. It was unrealistic to expect him to trust anyone after all he’d just been through, but that little idea persisted.


    Paris, it whispered, the city of love.


    We boarded the Air France flight and found our seats. I’d flown first class many times by now, on tour with Dan, but this was different: more elegant and roomy. Our in-flight dinner included caviar and champagne, and the food could have come straight from the kitchen of a fine French restaurant. Tired as I was, from two nights in a noisy hotel room, I wanted to stay awake - I intended to experience every second of this trip. The big comfy seats laid back into beds though, and the low hum of the plane lulled me to sleep, where no dream could compete with my waking reality.

    A town car met us at the airport and took us to the Four Season’s Georges V hotel, all sparkling chandeliers, towering flower arrangements and polished marble. Once our luggage was delivered to the room we freshened up and went out to do some exploring. From the hotel it was a forty-minute walk to the Louvre Museum and twenty minutes to the Eiffel Tower. I thought it would be cool to have my hair cut in Paris, and there was a salon just down the street.

    Patisseries, pashminas, and art; for a carb-loving, scarf-wearing artist, it was heaven. We ate flaky pastries, drank rich dark coffee, and window shopped. I saw a beautiful peach-colored pashmina but almost fainted when I saw the price. Dan bought it for me and I wore that scarf for the rest of the trip, washing my neck before putting it on each day, and taking it off when eating.

    That evening, while getting ready to go out, I fell asleep in the tub. Jet lag - another new experience. Dressed in our best, we went downstairs for a late dinner at the hotel’s brand new restaurant, Le Cinq. Dan looked handsome in his grey suit, and I wore a clingy grey dress and my new pashmina. Dan told the sommelier that we’d like to start with champagne, and a trolley with a huge silver bowl was wheeled to our table. The bowl was full of ice, and eight different bottles of fine French bubbly. It was 8:00 - not that late for Europeans, so there must have been many other diners in the fabulous new restaurant, but in my memory I see just the two of us, clinking champagne flutes in the soft golden light and smiling into each other’s eyes.

    Dan spoke a little French, but the only phrases I knew were from songs I’d performed, like The Beatles’ “Michelle,” and Labelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” none of which were very helpful when ordering food or asking for directions. 

    I’d always heard that the French weren’t fond of Americans, especially those who butchered their beautiful language, so I let Dan do the talking while I worked to perfect my Mercí. That would be the first surprise of our trip, though: almost without exception, the Parisians were warm and kind, patiently correcting our pronunciations and speaking to us in perfect English with their gorgeous French accents. 

    Dan was pleasantly surprised too, and he had a theory. “The French love romance,” he said. “They can see we’re in love.” One taste of the lobster bisque, and I was in love with the French as well.


    The next day we walked down to the hair salon and Dan waited outside while I went inside to make an appointment. Right away, the ultra-exclusive vibe of the place intimidated me. My mother had cut my hair until I was 15, when I started cutting it myself. Since then, most of my salon haircut experiences had been bad, with the stylist ignoring my requests, so I needed an environment where I would be comfortable enough to assert myself. That wasn’t going to happen here. As the receptionist checked the appointment book for openings in the next few days, I lost my nerve. When she did find an available slot, I said I wouldn’t be free then, and hightailed it out of there.

    After a brief rain shower, the air was fresh and the roses glistened as we visited  the Eiffel Tower then walked to the Louvre. I saw paintings I’d studied in books for years, and was astounded at the size of some of them - they were as big as billboards. We were ravenous, but we'd seen only a small portion of the art collections, so we left for lunch and made plans to come back the following day. 


    We had reservations right across the Seine river, in the Rive Gauche (Left Bank) district, at Le Voltaire. My Great-Aunt Ann (Grandma and Gussie’s sister) had given me a bottle of Rive Gauche perfume for my birthday when I was in high school, and, while I knew it was French, it had never occurred to me that it was named after a place. I loved the songs, “Pretty Ballerina,” and “Walk Away Rene,” and now I knew what the band, “Left Banke,” was named for. Amazing, the things we learn when we step outside our own cultural back yard.

    Leaving the Louvre, we crossed the river on the Pont Royal and turned left on Quai Voltaire. We were immediately enchanted with the Bouquinistes, the second-hand book sellers that have been setting up their stalls in Paris since the 16th century. Lining both sides of the Seine for almost two miles, they set out their green wooden boxes full of old books, journals, and magazines. With 240 bouquinistes and 900 boxes, the Seine is known as “the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves.”


With no time to linger, we tore ourselves away from the bookstalls and hurried down the street to make our reservation in time. Dan’s earmarked page in Bon Appétit’s May 2001 Special Collector’s Edition: Paris described Le Voltaire this way: “A casually elegant bistro named for the philosopher-writer who lived and died above it, Le Voltaire has a picture-perfect Paris location: just one block from the Musée d’Orsay looking across the Seine to the Louvre.” The dark wood paneling, white tablecloths and dusty rose cushions gave the crowded bistro a cozy, elegant feel and it was said that actor Jean-Paul Belmondo was a frequent guest, along with literary luminaries, politicians, and local residents of the chic district.

    Seated side by side on a settee that faced the front door, we were in the perfect  spot for people-watching. Dan perused the wine menu with an absorbed anticipation that put me in mind of the Sears’ Christmas catalogue when I was a kid. I tapped his leg when a tiny, white-haired lady in a sky-blue Chanel suit and thick-soled cross trainers entered. She greeted the waiter by name and chatted with him in French as he led her past us. It was obvious that she was a regular, as was the old white poodle in her arms, a sky-blue bow precariously clipped to the top of its scraggly head. 

    I can’t remember what Dan ordered; I was completely immersed in a delicate dover sole, sautéed in butter and herbs. In a booth kitty-corner to us, two dark-haired women in their late forties carried on a quiet, earnest conversation throughout their meal. The waiter set their check on the table and they continued their discussion while folding francs into origami birds, then perching them on the bill.

    After lunch we crossed the street and returned to the bouquiniste stalls. We’d both been collecting books since our early twenties, carting them from place to place each time life sent us to a new town. When I moved in with Dan, we merged our collections. Even beyond his love of history, and mine of mystery, our interests differed enough that it was usually pretty easy to tell who had bought which book.


    We’d each had a glass of wine with lunch, and we were having a fantastic time when one of us, Dan most likely, realized that buying books we would then have to lug around Europe for a month was probably a bad idea. We reluctantly set our fabulous finds back in their green boxes and continued on our way to Le Musée d’Orsay, the museum built in the former Orsay Railway Station.

    As with the Louvre, there was so much incredible art it was almost overwhelming. We reveled in paintings by our personal faves: Van Gogh, Gauguin, Rousseau, and Degas, and discovered French artists we weren't familiar with, like Ukrainian-French Marie Bashkirtseff, the brilliant female artist who died in 1884 at the tender young age of twenty five. We wandered happily until closing time, and when we left the museum it was dark outside.

    High on Paris, we strolled, arm in arm, toward our hotel. Crossing over the Seine on the Pont de l’Alma, we stopped to lean on the cement wall and gaze at the Eiffel Tower and its sparkling reflection in the dark river below us. Just then, bright white strobe lights lit up the entire tower and we shouted with delight. Dan pulled me to him and kissed me. The light show lasted for five minutes, and then we continued our walk back to the Georges V. Our heads and hearts were full, and our stomachs were ready for the next delectable meal.

    It took a couple of days for us to adjust to the new time zone, but by the third night I was sufficiently awake to surprise Dan with a little something I’d hidden in my suitcase: a lace catsuit I’d ordered from the Victoria’s Secret catalogue. It had been four and a half years since that first date, when we danced together as Catwoman and Sheriff, then drove through the American night. Since then, the attraction between us had only grown stronger. Our lovemaking was intense and playful, often ending with both of us collapsing on the bed and then bursting into laughter.


    The plan had been to shop for clothes in Paris, but it was a time in fashion when everything looked like boxes with sleeves. We didn’t see anything we would wear back home, but Dan did buy a soft grey cashmere scarf. Mostly, we spent our days binging on art and looking for the next amazing patisserie.

    Our time in Paris flew by. As we crossed the Pont de l’Alma on our ride to the airport, I thought back to that kiss on the bridge, and the Eiffel Tower lighting up the night. Surely, if someone were so inclined, that would have been the perfect time for a proposal. I scolded myself for listening to that little idea for even one second: Dan had been very clear about not wanting to get married again, and I was fine with that. I resolved to put it out of my head.

    He did say Venice was the most romantic city in the world…


Posted October 3rd. 2020 Copyright ©Jean Fogelberg 2020