Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Licking the Windows with Père Noël*
Contrary to what my extraverted mother always tried to tell her introverted daughter...apparently men do come knocking at my door without my putting myself out into the world!
On an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon, I was sitting at home reading cookbooks when the sonnerie (doorbell) startled me back into the moment. "Who is it?**" I asked...in my firm "I'm-not-expecting-anyone-so-don't-expect-to-be-invited-in" tone of voice.
The reply took my quite by surprise: "Père Noël."
There was a moment of silence while I gathered my wits about me and buzzed him in. (You gotta let Santa in when he's ringing your doorbell!)
I opened the door to just what I would have expected: a right jolly old elf...well, a bit more than an elf, to tell you the truth. A good head taller than I, with that unmistakable white beard and rosy red cheeks (not sure if that was due to the cold or the fine wines we have in these parts!) he extended a red-mittened hand for an introductory greeting, sensitive to my American sensibilities and my occasional hesitation to exchange kisses upon the first meeting.
He had received my letter...he knew it was me because I still confuse the masculine and feminine aspects of this new language sometimes...and had decided to show up to make sure he had understood it correctly. I was quick to confirm, "Yup! That's it...that's all I'm asking for this year: Peace on Earth."
He stood there a moment and then took my hand. "Let's see if we can't find something to add to that list, shall we?" And with a wink, we were out the door and into the winter wonderland that is Aix en Provence at holiday time.
"Surely we can come up with a few things that you'd like to find under your tree on Christmas morning," he prodded.
Pourquoi pas? It couldn't hurt to take him up on his invitation and add to my list. I had a feeling that a bit of my life was about to unfold "out of my little kitchen in the south of France" So I started...tentatively.
"Actually, I guess I could use a new agenda...you know, to keep track of the 'places to go, people to meet' kinds of things."
He pulled out a little leather black book with a red ribbon page marker and began a list. "Okay...and then...?" he nudged.
"Well, honestly, I've recently kicked the coffee habit...again...and could use a bit of inspiration to make that tea even tastier in the morning," I offered.
"If it's inspiration you need, it's inspiration you'll get!" he quipped as he made an additional note on his list.
"And how about a little something to brighten up the winter-weary courtyard?" I was starting to get the hang of this exercise.
"You see, I just knew we could come up with something!" He was clearly quite pleased with himself.
"And how about a little something for the house...?"
"...and the kitchen, to be sure!"
"Oh! And there is that lip gloss...oh! and hand creme at L'Occitane that I like so much!" I was beginning to feel a bit giddy.
"Annnnnd?" he said with his head cocked to one side.
"Oh, c'mon...let's have some fun!" he said. And with that he grabbed my hand and took off. When we came to a stop and the flurry of passing images stopped spinning, I think he offered me a challenge: "Let's take this to the next level, shall we?!"
Could he be suggesting clothes...in Aix?! On second thought, I could be talked into this.
"Something in black?" he suggested coyly.
I was beginning to think that he might be one of those guys that really pays attention! "Yes! That works!" I said, warming up to the direction we were taking.
"How about something in fur?" he teased.
"No! No fur! Puh-leeeze! Do I look like the 'fur-type'?!" I leaned into him playfully as we walked past the windows. This was starting to be fun.
"Ooooh...but how about a Little Black Dress?" I cooed. (Oh dear...had I actually just flirted with Père Noël?!) That dress on the left had caught my eye.
"A little black dress?! Do you want to try that again?!" he said with a smile in his voice.
Rats! Caught "multi-black dressed" by The Man! "Errrr...make that 'another' Little Black Dress." (What?!? Was this guy checking closets between checking to see who's naughty and nice?!)
"Hmmmmm...what about this?" he pointed as we passed a window, adding, "and it's 'faux fur' at that!"
"Welll..." I started. "...it's lovely...and I'm sure it would look really nice...on someone else." (I always thought this was the most polite way to wiggle out of one of my mother's suggestions back when she was my stylist. I think it's always a good idea to be polite to your stylist!) "But check out these black jeans!" (Distraction...another good idea to remember in these awkward situations.)
I saw him scratching something off of his list (and I'm hoping it wasn't the black jeans!) and we continued on.
"Fur or no fur, I'll bet this California Girl could use something warm!" and he extended an arm out over a rather nice selection of choices.
"Oh my! Could she ever!" (He must know that I'm still adjusting to temperatures like "zero"....pffft! Like that's even a temperature!?)
"Shoes!" I blurted out. "I could use some shoes!" and I made a beeline to a window...that offered just my color!
As we passed one of the many jewelry stores in Aix, he asked if I needed a watch.
"No," I replied and I gently turned him around to face the opposite direction. "But I know where they keep the Armani in this part of town!"
We both laughed and I noticed that nothing went into that little black book. Guess I'm not getting Armani this year...make that again this year. (Rats!)
"Well, if you don't want a watch, how about some sort of shiny bauble?" and he turned to face a window full of the stuff.
"Not really me, is it?" I asked myself outloud. "But...around the corner...now that's another story altogether! This has my name all over it!" And I took him by the hand to show him exactly what I meant.
He smiled and scribbled something into his little book. (Yipppeeeee!)
We continued at a strolling speed from this point until I stopped in front of another window.
He pulled out that little black book, but stopped with his pen posed above the page. With a puzzled look and tone he mused aloud, "This isn't really you, is it?!"
"No, no...not at all...but check this out. Once you see the reflection of the old buildings in this window...can you not see it after that?!" We stood for a few moments admiring this phenomenon and shared a special appreciation wordlessly.
"Hey, I've got an idea!" I said, breaking the spell. As we arrived at the next window, I leaned in and whispered, ""What about a little someone that would fill out that outfit in the back...you see? The one with the black sport coat and gray scarf? What do you think?"
He smiled and pulled out that little book...something was noted...but I sure hope he saw the right one...there's a child's outfit in the front! Another reminder to be careful what you ask for. (Fingers crossed that language was not a barrier here.)
"And something for my newly developed sweet tooth! I know just the thing...errr...things!"
"Oh! Look at this! I could really use some sort of basket or bag rig on the back of my bicycle!"
(My bicycle is my "other" means of transportation since I've been here...the "other" means being "au pied" or "on foot", of course.) He rolled his eyes, but it went on the list.
I was feeling a twinge of concern that he was beginning to drift (and just as I was getting into it) so I quickly shifted gears thanks to the window we were approaching.
"How about a little something to go under that...errr...those little black dresses?"
Bingo! That little black book got whipped out and I'm pretty confident that I can count on some stockings to stuff!
"And how about a splash of this?! But..." I added, tugging at his beard to make sure he was writing this down, "...my number is 19."
"Well...heh, heh, heh...," he started... (which I took to be French for "ho, ho, ho"...) "...then shall I put a bit of bubbly on the list, too?"
"Ooooh! Santa Baby, now you're talkin'! Errrrr....I mean...Père Noël...what a lovely idea...oh, how I do love champagne! Yes, yes, yes...put that on the list, too! Puh-leeeze!"
The last item to go on the list was added as we passed by this window.
"I've been searching for this one song by Miles Davis that I heard in a café in San Francisco years ago...perhaps you could sort that out for me?"
He made a note and tucked that little black book into his sleeve.
Arm in arm we returned chez La Fourchette. We stopped at the entry and I asked one final question: "What about that 'Peace on Earth' thing?" realizing that I'd gotten a bit carried away with the initial invitation.
Under that entry, after he planted a whiskery kiss on each cheek, he winked and said, "I'm working on it."
And with a universal sign that transcends any language, he was off.
* The expression for "window shopping" in French is "lèche vitrine", which literally means to "lick the windows".
** As I always clarify to my sister or English speaking friends as I relate events to them: "This was all in French." But, of course!