Thursday, September 21, 2006

Love in the Afternoon

So here's what got me so mad.

We're all gathered together in a beautiful living room in a beautiful flat on a beautiful square in the 16th arrondissement: several dozen well-dressed ladies drinking delicious iced tea, and the piano concert is about to begin. I'm relaxing on a beautiful upholstered brocade settee, next to an open window, sun shining on my face and a gentle September breeze lilting through the room.

The concert is, unexpectedly, a sublime little jazz/blues recital with William B gliding over the Steinway with tunes such as "Autumn Leaves" and something from the Blue Note. He's so young and talented, only 24 and a true musical artist. I feel as though we should be coolly snapping our fingers instead of simply applauding elegantly.

In my seat next to the balcony, I am on the cusp between indoors and out, so the concert I hear is a blend of children's happy shouts from the park below woven into the mellow, swinging piano music. I am delirious. This is Paris at its finest.

Then, for a finale William plays Nat King Cole's "When I Fall in Love". To look around the room, nothing has changed. The sunlight is still brilliant, the atmosphere is luxuriant. But somehow my afternoon is shifting to darkness and sadness as I listen to the melody. Sad, because I used to really believe in love songs. I am wistful for the naive days of innocent believing. Then he begins to sing, in a soulful but muted voice:

"When I fall in love,
It will be forever
Or I'll never fall in love.
In a restless world like this is,
Love is ended before it's begun
And too many moonlight kisses
Seem to cool in the warmth of the sun.

When I give my heart,
It will be completely
Or I'll never give my heart.
And the moment I can feel that
You feel that way, too,
Is when I fall in love with you."

So that's when darkness turns to bleakness and blackness and I get boiling mad. Damn YOU, Nat King Cole! "Forever"? "Completely"? Who are you kidding? It's just not true.

After the concert, I make the smiling rounds and say my polite goodbyes and thank yous and air kisses, get on the metro and go home and cry.

The Pollyanna in me used to adore the romantic lyrics of Nat King Cole. Now I need to exorcise this song from my brain. Maybe the whole repertoire.

Not in my life. And not in most French lives, from what I can gather.


Polly said...

Lots of friends have responded to this by email, with replies varying from "what's wrong with all the mecs in France?" to "why not change the words to the song". Which got me thinking that Dorothy Parker had it just about right:

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong,
And I am Marie of Roumania.

I think that France is actually better at letting me see the notion of love clearly and NOT through rose-colored glasses. Less idealization, more reality. So Nat King Cole goes on the same shelf as Grimm and Perrault -- a lovely fairy tale. My afternoon tale was about that awareness.

Anyway, I better not give up my day job, because I clearly didn't get that point across in my writing!

Chouteau said...

Yes, it seems to me it isn't true, too. Even if nothing horrible happens, love goes from can't get enough straight to enough is too much. Nothing beats the passion of being in love. So why does something that good devolve and devolve some more? Why, in the words of Paul Simon, does it go from I will feel like this forever to: "What? You don't like the way I CHEW?!?" Why does part of us insist on believing that love can last? Is that because it can, with the right person? CAN last forever, and when it changes, it changes beautifully not horridly? Does anybody know a couple that has been together for a long time and is still blissful? No. We just know that some couples are exceptionally good at putting on the public face, even though they, too, live in a domestic prisonhouse. In the gulag of coupledom. Read the book Against Love for a funny polemic to help you vent! And as for love songs? The latest Bob Dylan album, Modern Times, has a love song that is so long and sweet and forever-oriented and then, somehow, as you listen, you gradually ... suspect ... and then become certain .. that it is ... only ... satire.

Good luck to all of us!

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