It has always amazed me how satisfying a crepe flambé can be. The thing is only enough flour to hold together the egg and butter that are its main components. It is only a dollop of that flimsy concoction, poured on a very hot round grill and transformed into a sort of very thin ephemeral pancake. It is only that thing with a slather of melted butter and a little beaker of hot liquor poured on it and then set afire. But the first bite of that thing, as described, once the fire has gone out and the thing has cooled enough to allow forkfuls to be taken in bites, is – for me at least – a portal to some sort of food heaven.
So it was with the one I had at Le Départ.
I had violated a great deal of what is good and holy by ordering another glass of wine to accompany the flambé. And that glass of wine, and the additional jolt of alcohol that is always left over after the fairly large beaker of liquor that flames the thing has burned itself out had taken me to an edge of intoxication that I don’t like to experience.
So I ordered a double express, finished my crepe very slowly and savored the coffee at length.
By the time all of that had been done and by the time I had called for the check and by the time I had paid the check, leaving an extra three Euros to top off the already levied 15% - service compris – it was after 2000 hours. I had been there for almost three hours.
As I left Le Départ I had to stop in the midst of the swirling crowd there in the square and watch the play of light on the cascades of water from the fountain and the blend that bluish yellow spray made with the yellow of the stores of Gibert Jeune. I continued to stare aimlessly at the array of people and things that always make the Place a special experience.
That third factor – the one endorsed by the mouse – was still on my mind. And it was still as amorphous as previously, but it was, nonetheless, still there. For no apparent reason I decided that it would be good to take an indirect route to return to the apartment.
So I crossed Boulevard Saint-Michel and turned right in the direction of the river and Pont Saint-Michel. But my plan was to go left once I got to the quais and go down to Pont du Carrousel, across, through the Louvre forecourt and out the other side to Rue de Rivoli. I could go down Rue de Rivoli to the right bank side of Pont Saint-Michel and cross there to the island, and, ultimately, the apartment.
I had hopes that the additional time out of the apartment and away from the journal and walking and being out in the normal world would buck me up for whatever additional unknowns were going to be brought forth from the pages of that journal.
I had already realized that I had to continue reading it.
As I approached Pont du Carrousel things began to fade. I had been coming abreast of a young couple in the process of taking their picture with the downstream prow of Ile de la Cité in their background. They were backed up against the stone guardrail of the bridge and were laughing and having the typically young tourist great time in Paris. The young woman was holding the camera aloft pointed at their ruddy, smiling young faces.
They were gone. Also gone were the bridge and any other vestige of the time and place I had been occupying a moment before.
Instead I found myself in a place that I had been before. I had been there twice. This time was different, though. The tendril of smoke was gone. The hut was torn to the ground, its contents scattered and shattered around the clearing that the hut had occupied. The loom had been reduced to sticks here and there haphazardly strewn. Some of them occupied the center of the still smoldering fire pit. They smoldered too.
The woman was gone.
And the day was not the relatively pleasant mid day of my previous encounters. The sun was nearly gone. The air was already becoming a cold. That cold fairly shouted that bitter cold was soon to follow.
I stood there trying to draw some conclusion of what I should do next. The thought of standing like a statue until I somehow faded out of where I thought that I was back to where I knew that I should be flashed across my mind.
Instead I started to run. I ran diagonally out of the clearing and toward the other side of the island. I had no idea why I was doing that; I was just doing that.
The ground rose slightly and the underbrush that had bedeviled me on my first walk from the beach to the clearing did not recur on that other side. The way was covered with small ankle high plants in various stages of dropping into winter time dormancy or death. I reached a point from which I could see the river again. I could see the swath of sand that occupied that side in a manner similar to the beach I had traversed previously. And I could see a large dugout, already occupied as it was being pushed to the water by men who were straining with the task. I could see the sinews of their backs gather to ropes just below their skin’s surface as they pushed.
There were four of them, two on each side of the large dugout as they pushed it down into the water. There were four smaller dugouts pulled slightly onto the beach, but still enough in the water to give them the ability of quick departure.
And there was another dugout, even larger than the one in the process of being launched, already halfway to the other side. In the waning light I could make out six figures wielding paddles. I could see a large man seated at the rear. I had a flash of recognition, of having seen him somewhere before.
And there was another person. She was in the middle of the craft securely bound by straps of indeterminate material. She was horizontally held in place lying on a slightly raised platform that occupied a position what would have to be called amidships. Even at that distance and in the increasing dimness I could see a large dog draped over the woman’s feet. He was stretched flat with his head down on his forepaws. It was an attitude of abject defeat.
He looked up. The look was in my direction. I saw huge, orange, sorrow laden eyes. And then he dropped his head to the woman’s feet.
A mournful howl invaded my thoughts.
“Monsieur, Monsieur! Prendriez-vous notre image? “
The young couple had apparently not been pleased with the picture they had taken.
I took the camera and put myself only slightly farther back from them than had been the camera when held at arm’s length by the young man. I knew they must want as close up a documentation of their togetherness as possible. I took several pictures. As I was standing next to them showing them the results on the display I could clearly sense, and almost see, the large dugout and its captive as it slid to shore immediately upriver from the stanchions of Pont du Carrousel.
“I must be” I thought, “in a strange hybrid place in time”.
As that thought faded, a feeling of overwhelming malevolence settled upon me. I sensed the presence of bottomless evil.
“Merci Monsieur! Elles sont très, très bonnes images!”
“You are welcome.”
I handed the camera back to them and turned toward the right bank. I had been roughly halfway across when I had so recently and briefly departed.
The five Roman arches that allow access and egress to the Tuilleries and the Louvre forecourt are spectacular at night. The entire mansard roofed structure is bathed in light and the gold leaf background for the bronze – or copper – circularly enclosed sculptural relief bestriding the center arch glows with magnificence.
I crossed to the downriver side of the bridge as I approached this beautiful sight. I narrowly avoided being hit by several cars, but something drove me to that side. As I got closer I remembered the odd experience that I had had, or thought that I had had, after my encounter with Gargantua the pigeon dropper. So I decided to see what that circular room that I had been in before might look like at night.
The traffic light was red and traffic was heavy and fast as I got to the crossing for Quai Francois Mitterrand. As I stood there waiting for a green I scanned the entire structure that houses the five portals. Clearly visible in the light that bathed the thing I saw that the small arch into the circular room that I was going to enter had a name above it. I had to look and focus for a moment but I could see that the portal was named, in letters of bronze set in a rectangle of dark, probably also bronze, Pavillon de la Trémoille.
“So the place has a name” I said to no one in particular.
The light turned green. I crossed. I entered the arch under the name Pavillon de la Trémoille.
The moment I entered I felt that rush of the thing we call déjà vu. But unlike the classic manifestation of the phenomenon, which involves an intense feeling of having “seen it before but I can’t remember where or when” this rush was as clear to me as my own name.
I knew clearly the where and when.
What I was experiencing had certainty as to where it was. I remembered it with intensity and clarity. It was something that I had forgotten altogether since the day that I had gone through this arch a few days before.
“As I stepped on the egg at the center of the saucer I was beset by a chill. And I saw what appeared to be a pool of some sort of liquid. That liquid, or the illusion of it hadn’t been there before I was stepping on it and it wasn’t there as my next step had taken me one trapezoid closer to the light of the exiting portal. Something told me to keep going. I did so and didn’t look or step back and I have no idea if the chill and the liquid had any basis in reality.”
The geometry of the room was exactly as I had perceived it on that recent afternoon.
“The floor of the place is made up of trapezoids of stone of varying size, their two parallel sides becoming increasingly curved the closer they come to the center of the enclosure. And at the center, the final stone is egg shaped. There is also a curvature to the floor itself dipping slightly inward from the walls to the egg in the center. This configuration yields a geometry such that the entire floor of the place is a sort of shallow dish, similar to a saucer.”
I was experiencing that perception all over again. This time the room was lit by artificial light, not the oblique rays of a deeply westering sun, but it was the same place. And the feeling was becoming the same feeling. But I had not yet stepped into the egg. I had not yet, in fact, stepped beyond the immediate entrance to the place. I was still on the outermost trapezoid of stone looking inward.
But I was slipping - not physically, but in some mental or psychological manner. The slippage had a feeling that was almost physically tangible nonetheless. It was like standing on one side of a door in a known place and starting to go through it and be thrown into an unknown place on the other side.
It did have a certain level of warmth to it. It did feel as if it were something that might be good. There was no dread to it. But the fact that all of these anticipatory feelings were in existence at all was remarkable. What I was doing ought to have been a simple and everyday act: transiting one side of the Seine to the other. Entering the forecourt to the Louvre shouldn’t make the activity any more remarkable or induce feelings of significant anticipation. Although seeing the little pink arch honoring napoleon always causes a surge of feeling about – something.
So I inhaled deeply and moved forward into the pavillon which I guessed must be what the room was properly called.
I paused as my feet settled in the egg shaped center of the place. As had occurred at the end of the day of my altercation with Gargantua, I felt a chill. Unlike that day, this chill was not to be considered an illusion. This one had a nearly visible component. It was as if I could see the cold invade the deepest areas of my physical being while I could simultaneously feel a parallel cold that seemed to be trying to exit from within me taking with it my most inner viable warmth.
And I was standing in a pool of liquid that had run to the egg shaped lowest point in the pavillon. In the subdued lighting of the place the liquid appeared to be of a dark color, but of a color that could not be readily distinguished. Although the color interpretation allowed by the low level of lighting indicated the color to be a muddy brown, a companion feeling said that it was of another hue.
And then the pavillon was gone.
And then I was standing in an open field. And it was still night, but it was a night without the lights of Paris.
The intensely cold wind gave emphasis to the stars. That wind made the glittering of the spray of pricks of light populating the blue-black canopy of sky seem to be reasonable. It seemed as if the stars’ glittering intensity must be caused by that wind engulfing them and cooling their outer edges to such a condition that those edges could be engaged by the wind and those stars could be slowly spun and turned to glittering brilliantly in the process.
I hadn’t moved from the egg. But there was no egg. It was gone. The pool was still there. I was still standing in it. The color would have been even less identifiable in the sparks from the glittering stars. But there was a supplemental light source. I was standing at the center of a circle of fires. There were perhaps six of them, all appearing to be equidistant from me – at least that was the flash of impression that I had of them. That put me in a puddle in the center of a ring of bonfires.
Shadowy shapes surrounded the fires.
“Too late again” I heard in my mind.
I gritted my teeth and shut my eyes to a level of tightness on the threshold of pain and made a sound somewhere between a scream and a roar and stepped forward three steps
.”Monsieur, Monsieur! Est vous OK?”
To my left, as I stood facing the Rue de Rivoli side of the forecourt I could see the pink granite of Napoleon’s arch beautifully bathed in light. In the distance the blue jewel of the Ferris wheel slowly turned in the night sky.