The shortest month of the year can be downright inspiring. It was February to be exact when I first knew I wanted to be a writer. Mrs. Richland’s second grade class at Mount Pleasant Elementary School. And the first oeuvre committed to pencil remained unpublished until now:
and Lincoln’s too
and Valentines’ Day
says I love you.
And the American eagle
stands so big and straight
to tell us that America’s great.
That was 1963 and just a few things have changed in the world. Looking at an American calendar that I recently bought in the United States I was quickly reminded just how sacred nothing is on the commercial front. Poor Lincoln and Washington’s birthdays, the 12th and 22nd respectively, of course were sacrificed some years back and converted into something oddly generic called Presidents’ Day so that the bank holiday could be celebrated each year on a Monday. This year it’s the 17th, to the delight of A&S (Abraham & Strauss), which organizes the annual New York white sale on that day.
Frankly, I don’t know where the patriotism in the poem comes from but it was ’63, Kennedy was president and I guess everyone was feeling good about being a Yank. Little did I know back then that I’d live beyond the borders of the Stars and Stripes one day.
Of the many February holidays, Groundhog Day (my favorite) included, only Valentine’s Day seems to transcend geographic and cultural barriers. Admittedly, many cynics attribute the day’s international success to that great American marketing Goliath, Hallmark, who tugs on our heartstrings to the tune of about $2.95 per card, and invents new commemorative days such as Secretaries’ Day. Cynics will be cynics, and for them we can recommend a full evening of 3615 CUM.
Valentine’s Day, being for lovers, soon-to-be lovers, those hoping to become the lover of someone else, existing couples of all types and ages, flirtatious creatures, social deviants, and other amorous-minded citizens of the world, fortunately straddles the Atlantic puddle with grace. For where would we be without love or the hope of it? Paris or Punxsutawnay, c’est la même chose.
Here in France, Valentine’s Day is no exception, although it’s hard to say what effect the popular Anglo-American commercialization of such fêtes as this one, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, Election Day and Thanksgiving has had on trendsetting Parisians. Just try counting the number of American or neo-American bars, pubs, restaurants, clubs, eateries, cafés and other joints that have burgeoned on the Paris scene in the last 10 years, each bringing with it its own slick understanding of how events, holidays, happenings and happy hours are good for business. It wasn’t always like this. Some of us remember sitting around Mother Earth for hours nursing 12F worth of rouge.
So, it’s Valentine’s Day in Paris and you feel like getting romantic, mushy even. You figure, what better place on earth for getting nooky in public than Parigi? So, go for it. It won’t make the papers back home. Gary Hart might have been president if he’d been in France. CNN is ubiquitous and courageous, but no one would dare film lovers sucking face on the Pont Neuf or the gilded Pont Alexandre III, would they? So, let’s get down.
Following an anonymous and unpublishable survey on the subject in which one American artist admitted to engaging in heavy petting on the grounds of Nôtre Dame, I am pleased to present ten impractical suggestions for audacious couples looking for amorous fun in the city that Henry Miller painted red, and then got treatment for. The author takes no responsibility for the outcome of this hot tour, but strongly suggests that both aging couples up for a facelift and new couples filled with gumption opt for at least two of the 10.
1. Take the RER Ligne de Seaux to the end of the line. Exit the station, turn right, and walk for about 10 minutes away from town. Bring a blanket and a bottle of Cointreau. Write the end of the script in body language.
2. Strut into the sublime little palace at 13, rue des Beaux-Arts called l’Hôtel, the one in which Oscar Wilde sinned and Borges wrote. Don’t check in (it’s way too expensive) but pretend you’re guests. Walk up the cylindrical inner tower, floor by floor. At the top, look down, get dizzy, and kiss like you were auditioning for “91/2 Weeks.”
3. Reserve a corner table at Le Train Bleu in the Gare de Lyon. Sit side by side at one of the white-linen-laid tables with a view of the TGVs and stare at the deco-ish frescoes on the ceiling. Dare each other in whispers to jump into a sleeping car on the night train to Nice. Don’t order dinner (the food is unmemorable), just Champagne, two bottles. Keep your hands active under the handsome table.
4. Track down the sexiest pairs of “partner-look”his and her (for example) pajamas on the third or fourth floor of your closest Galeries Lafayette (or Printemps). Jointly take them into the last fitting room at the end, and try them on (and off). Then switch. No purchase necessary.
5. Walk around the lake in the Bois de Vincennes with a chilled bottle of peppermint schnapps and a stereo Walkman with double headphones blaring The Best of Marvin Gaye. At “Let’s Get it On,” quickly find a parked canoe, climb in, and rock the boat.
6. Wear black. Get yourself onto the deserted island in the middle of the busy Place de la Nation. Climb the smooth black sculpture, nestle into the cold, deep pelvis, and blend into the art like anonymous liquid onyx, slowly pleasing your partner in turns at every honk or siren you hear. You’ll be able to observe everything and no one will see you.
7. Slyly traipse through the mouth watering aisles of Fauchon at the Place de la Madeleine and start feeding each other as much exotic fruit as you can stuff in your mouths without getting caught. Look serious and rich. Hint: the Brazilian red bananas are bitter. If apprehended, flash your American Express card and ask to speak with the manager.
8. Duck into the Arènes de Lutèce, the ancient Roman ruins hidden behind the apartment blocks on the rue Monge just above the rue du Cardinal Lemoine, and take turns reciting in dramatic tones “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell while the other throws plastic roses into the ring.
9. Have dinner at Roger la Grenouille on the rue Saint-Augustin. The bawdy waitresses will give you furtive kisses on the mouth, so be prepared. And then order for each other the “dessert spécial” and enjoy (without any utensils) the slender and sweet offering of more than highly suggestive shafts of sculpted ice cream. No photos please.
10. Make up your own Paris Valentine dream night, copyright it, test it first with an intimate, then a total stranger, and send me a copy of the recipe.