There is a corridor in Paris where the falafel flows freely. It exists in that strangely melancholic area near Le Marais, where Paris tries its best to exude the authenticity of charm that tourists are so desperately seeking after they go to Montmartre and happen upon the excess of humanity that makes it impossible to feel romantic. It is there that Rolfe took Susanne on her first trip to Paris. The trip she was so convinced would not actually happen because she assumed Rolfe would find a way to break up with her once he himself moved to Paris and realized that he had only loved Susanne in New York, where her aesthetic and jadedness fit in with his life period of the moment. He was, after all, always one for cultivating “periods.” Never content to stay in any one incarnation as it might mean he actually gave a shit about something or someone, but instead he chalked it up to the need for constant growth in the face of a perpetual fear of stagnation.
So yes, Susanne was indeed quite surprised to find that he was especially insistent that she see through her plans of traveling there in late October, when he would have a break from his studies at the Sorbonne. There was a time when she enjoyed these blinding facets of pretension about him, but now, it just seemed like one more great divide between them apart from the already very obvious Atlantic Ocean. She was worried that said pomposity might have only augmented tenfold in their short absence from one another, what with her decision to drop out of grad school before the second year began (they met during her first, that was also how she managed to reel him in–with her “brains”). She couldn’t handle the daily bombardment of self-importance and blowhardery. The utter lack of understanding of life that these willing entrants into a niche bubble were convinced they knew so much about. It sickened her just as much as it seemed to give Rolfe a hard-on. But she ignored this glaring discrepancy in their personalities for the sake of the fact that he could actually maintain a hard-on, whereas most other males of her generation appeared to be lacking in, among other qualities, stamina.
As she packed her bag in a room that increasingly looked like Ian Curtis’ wet dream–all unkempt and cold as it was (the heat was on, the landlord claimed)–she glanced up at the ceiling to notice that the crack in it had become markedly more visible, along with a yellowing stain around it for added ominousness. It was that crack that should have invited her to stay as opposed to further compel her to leave, for it would later symbolize, in her mind, the schism that was about to be made more real in reuniting with Rolfe, who could not meet her (simply because he did not feel like it) to help her with her oversized suitcase at the Gare de l’Est station near his apartment, where he chose to “slum it” for the sake of living the pure bohemian lifestyle–though there could be nothing pure about it when that “bohemianism” was being bankrolled by his father, who lived in Tangier, often prompting Rolfe to take trips there so as to “put in an appearance” that would show just how grateful he was for all that cold hard cash–which, as usual, is what the success or failure of a parent-child relationship is contingent upon (success meaning the parent still holds the child’s interest and failure meaning not so much–though someone might argue these points to their contrary). In fact, Rolfe was planning to leave the following week for a quick “pop in” while Susanne was still there, expected to roam the streets alone as part of “soaking up the true Parisian experience,” as Rolfe put it–part of his claim that he was doing her a favor in leaving her to her own devices. But before that time came, he wanted to show her the best of the city, the less looked upon or highly regarded parts, he explained. She didn’t mind. The Eiffel Tower could always be seen in an Audrey Hepburn movie. Or season six of Sex and the City.
So it was that he decided they would walk all the way to the places he hand-picked from his squalid abode (tellingly right near the haunted house that is Le Manoir de Paris), annoyingly peppered with texts from Simone de Beauvoir and Marguerite Duras–as though Rolfe really wanted anyone who came over to believe that he was some sort of feminist. It made her wonder who, exactly, he might have had over before she came to town, and who he would after. In truth, she probably should have gotten that IUD inserted before making the trip, but the thought of a slinky-like entity inside her was even more horrifying than the prospect of a fetus lurking in there.
Today’s journey, Rolfe informed her, would be to his favorite falafel place, unoriginally called King Falafel Palace. It reminded her of something that would exist in New York, and therefore instantly turned her off to the idea that it could be even remotely superior to an offering she could find at any given cart on the streets of Manhattan. But she kept this thought to herself, for Rolfe had already prattled on the other night over glasses of red wine that amounted to two bottles about how New York couldn’t possibly be more over–how it had nothing to offer “true artists” anymore, therefore its entire existence was null, both to him and to anyone who took the creation or consumption of art seriously. She nodded along, she found herself doing that quite frequently on this trip. What else could be done? People, men most of all, were very vehement in their beliefs these days. It was impossible to change minds unless one had a news media outlet to do so.
The line for the falafel was irritatingly long despite the intermittent rain and blistering cold. “It’s worth it, trust me.” Again, she nodded. There was no way out of this excursion. It’s not as though she could pass the time with someone else. He was her lone life raft in a city of the unknown. Yet by the same token, it was all too known to her. It’s easy to get a sense of how each city functions when you compare it to the innerworkings of New York–every neighborhood a mirror of something somewhere else: the “gay” area, the bourgeois area, the people with too many fucking kids area. Nothing is new in relationship to New York (which ironically stole from everywhere else), and it all becomes slightly more despairing when one looks at cities like Paris through this lens. Fazed out on these thoughts and yearnings for this trip to be over so that she could crawl back into her Ian Curtis-approved hovel, Rolfe exclaimed, “We’re almost up there, do you know what you want?”
She didn’t. But she knew it wasn’t this. “I’ll just have what you get.”
“Jesus, that’s so fucking boring. I’ll order for you, but I’m going to get you something different so that we can share more varied tastes.”
What a tool. One she had allowed to enter her time and time again. And honestly, she hated when someone said they wanted you to order something else so they could have a bite of what you didn’t want in the first place but somehow got cajoled into ordering for some fool notion of gustatorial solidarity through experimentation. Bitch, then order two items for your damn self. You’re certainly rich enough, she seethed inwardly. When the falafels were ready, he gingerly handed Susanne hers and led the way toward a nearby park, Square Charles-Victor Langlois. Miraculously, there were no children mucking about inside of it, making it an inviting space for two lovers trying their best to pretend to be in love to sit down and enjoy their manufactured poverty for the sake of making themselves feel genuine in their artistry. Susanne, however, was already starting to give up on these notions of “being a writer.” Quitting grad school was a part of that systematic dismantling of ideals. Although maybe it would be more accurate to say that quitting was the ultimate first step in actually trying to be a writer. Unfortunately, those in her “circle” had brainwashed her to believe otherwise.
Lost in these thoughts about what the fuck she was doing–in life or with Rolfe in any capacity, since she clearly hated him–she could feel his appraising eyes on her as she ate carelessly.
“You eat like a barbarian,” he said with a sneer, wiping a fleck of falafel intermixed with tahini from the corner of her mouth.
She turned to him and demanded, “Why did you ask me to come here?”
Shrugging, he said, as though it was the most generous thing in the world, “I thought it would be nice to put a coda on what we had in New York.”
They had nothing in New York. Just the city itself as a mask for the fakeness of their emotions. Paris couldn’t even offer that, she mused, taking another deliberately messy bite from the falafel and letting its contents spill onto her lap. And for a moment, she could have sworn she saw bits of her heart intermixed amid the falafel debris.