The brown stain on his moustache confirmed the fact to Michael, sitting on the other side of the desk, that he was a heavy smoker. Michael thought his interviewer probably felt that a pipe made him look more grave, and gave him an air of authority. He almost certainly was not as old as he looked.
A rather boring series of standard questions were gone through and answered, then eventually the administrator came out with his final question. “How do you see your future in the corporation?” he asked with a half smile, leaning forward in his chair.
“Well, I’d rather like to become a director,” Michael suggested, seeking encouragement, but reluctant to reveal just how ambitious he really was.
“Oohr! Don’t you think you’re aiming a bit too high?” The bureaucrat’s expression became more serious. ”Our directors are rather special. We like to get them from Oxford or Cambridge. Perhaps you should content yourself with working up some grades in the engineering department.”
Michael did not answer. He knew what idiots came out of the universities who thought it would be “rather fun” to do something in television. He had frequently helped some of them to get out of a fix; those that could not get their studios sorted out, and the programme on the air on time. He shook hands and left the interview with a feeling of disdain.
The next morning he wrote out his resignation and handed it to George Collins, his crew manager.
“What! You’ve got one of the best jobs in the country. Most people would give their right arm for your job.”
“Well, I’m not most people.”
“It’s a good clean job and very well paid. What brought this on?”
“I can’t stand Auntie BBC any longer with its class prejudice. It’s riddled from top to bottom with class distinctions. Look how we have to use the middle canteen, because by their criteria they think we’re middle class. What other organisations would have set up three canteens, one at the top for the managers and stars, one in the middle that we can go to as technicians, along with lesser actors, and one in the basement for the workers, the doormen and the extras?”
“More organisations than you think. The war has only superficially changed things.”
“It’s disgusting, now, in the mid 1950s.”
“Always the radical! I thought our little discussions would have tamed your Marxist tendencies by now.”
“I’m not a Marxist. I just believe this whole country is held back by the class system. There must be a better way. I think we chose the wrong side in 1789.”
“You forget I’ve seen communism at work, “came back George, “When I was a radio officer on cargo ships, going to Russia in the 20s, just after the revolution. I saw how the people suffered.”
“That was not real socialism. It might have been different if the Mensheviks had won.” Michael paused. “Or Trotsky”
Oh! The impetuosity of youth, George thinks, I was like that once. It’s nice to see idealism still exists.
“Stalin was the problem.” Michael continued, “He was just like any other dictator. Russia had had no real experience of freedom and democracy. What could you expect? It took us nearly five hundred years to get anything like democracy here.”
“Perhaps.” George nodded, “Well I’m not going to pass your resignation on just yet. I think you should go away and think about it. I’ll talk to you in a couple of day’s time.”
A week later Michael was sitting drinking his coffee in the canteen. George joined him.
“Have you considered your decision?”
“I’m going through with it. It’s nothing personal. I like my workmates, and I have no complaints about how the crew is run,” He smiled at George, “but I want to do more in life. Other people can have my well paid comfortable job. I have always believed in living dangerously.”
“Well what are you going to do?”
“I’m going to Paris to paint. That’s where it’s all happening these days.”
“Peter told me you were a painter. He says you’re rather good.”
“That’s nice of him.”
“There’s not much money in painting, unless you are very lucky.”
“I know, but I have to try. Here I work on programmes promoting other people’s work. I want to be one of those people. They are doing their own thing; creating art, or directing films, while I am just showing other people’s creations. I want to be the person who “does”; the creator, not the enabler. I want to express myself, and evolve my own creations.”
George thought for a moment and then said, “Listen, I have some friends in Paris that may be able to help you find a job, or get some money if the painting isn’t keeping you.” He’s crazy, but he has to have his head. Youth is so ephemeral. We should all try and keep our ideals of youth and encourage others. Youth should never be discouraged.
George carefully drew out his diary and copied an address onto a piece of paper.
“Thank you. I appreciate that,” said Michael, as he put the paper in his pocket. “We have argued a lot about politics, I know, but I have always enjoyed your company, even if you are a bit right-wing,” he grinned.
George took the remark as it was meant and grinned inside. Before he could say anything Michael continued, “One doesn’t expect to enjoy talking politics with one’s boss, but I have found it very enlightening.”
“You see. Authority is not always forbidding. “You should try co-operation more often. Learn patience. The frontal approach is not always the best way to achieve what you seek.”
It was a week later that Michael emerged from the Gare du Nord into a sunny afternoon in Paris. Once before he had visited it, and he immediately recognised its distinctive smell. It was difficult to place. Perhaps it was the conglomerated aromas of cooking; the whiff of perfume from the sophisticated women passing by, Gauloises and stale wine, or the sweat of the odd horse that still plied the streets, and the leaking petrol from decrepit Citroen cars that were slipping into old age. Puffs of black smoke coughed out of ancient single-decker buses that were moving off in all directions from the front of the station’s facade; their engines roaring and rattling like the bones of a grumpy old man.
He caught a bus to the bottom of the Boulevard St-Michel. Standing on the balcony at the back, his arms overhanging the battered tin advert for San Raphael, (The particular one on his bus had bullet holes in it left over from the war), as Paris sped past, he breathed in the air with excitement, rejoicing in his new freedom. Paris had a visual harmony with the soft pastel grey and ochre of most of the buildings, clothed in peeling paint, and the predominant blue of the workmen’s clothes. The women’s clothes were more colourful, but only just. The austerity of the war years had hardly receded, and anyway the smarter upper set always understated colour in preference for line and good taste. The colour, when it came was at the neck or the cuffs, where a splash of red or gold, from under a navy coloured suit, might suggest a wilder character than the cool outer appearance. The traffic was sparse compared to London. Apart from the buses and Citroen taxis, it mostly consisted of 2CVs bouncing along the boulevards, a lot of which were still cobbled, or scooters, often driven by a young man with an attractive girl on the back, pop-popping their way round the corners. The sound was similar to any big city, but with a higher level of motor horns than London, and the odd shouting of men selling wares, or telling the punch line of a joke, rather loudly. The speed of the traffic was noticeably faster than London, but the driving was very skilful. They managed not to hit each other.
He went to a hotel that he knew; that he had stayed in before, but it was full. Other hotels he tried were also full up. It was the tourist season, which had just got underway after the war. He was getting a bit concerned. Eventually he found himself behind the church of St-Germain-des-Prés, in Rue Jacob. Here he got a room in l’Hotel d’Isli. He was lucky.
It was not a large room but adequate, and clean. Apart from the bed there was a small table and a chair, and a washbasin in the corner. On one side there was a wardrobe and a chest of drawers. He unpacked and sat on the bed. What have I done?, he thought to himself. Perhaps George was right. I was a fool to give up a good job. He got up andwalked to the window. No! You only have one life and you have to live it to the best of your ability. I don’t want to end up in my old age regretting the experiences I had missed.
The window looked out onto the street and a window opposite that was not much more than three or four meters away, as the road narrowed at that point. He wondered who lived in that room. Was it used as a tourist’s room, or was it where someone like him lived; who had more permanent intentions, who was looking to expand their horizons?
How permanent am I going to be? I have a healthy bank balance, but I will have to find somewhere to paint. I can’t paint in such a small room. Also the hotel does not serve food. That will make life more expensive. For a moment he again wondered if he had been rash, but the doubt did not last long. I have to make the most of my time on earth. I have to take risks.
He went to the toilet at the end of the corridor, and turning the corner he nearly bumped into a fellow resident. He stepped back and realised he was looking into a large, full length mirror and he was confronting himself. For the moment he was taken aback, but he quickly recovered his equilibrium He saw a young man in his early twenties, of average height, of average build, of average looks, but exuding excessive ambition. The experience engendered a self examination; school, national service, short-term jobs, and one good permanent job at the BBC had all been experienced, endured, and digested. Now he was now going to build on those experiences.
He had been bored at school, which had made him a bad pupil but he knew, comparing himself with his fellow pupils, that he was reasonably intelligent. He reflected on his school career. Most of the teachers were not very good. They kept repeating things to help goody-goody girls to keep up. During the war they had been recruited to replace the men who had gone off to fight. The eagerness to get out and sample life had sapped his diligence. He had been a bit of a loaner. He played truant a lot. There had been a few scrapes he in the school playground. He was slow to anger but he had to admit once roused, he had a temper and a powerful aggressive streak. I will have to watch that. People tended to be frightened of him. Yes! He could look after himself. It gave him self-confidence. Women seemed to like that, but he had formed no romantic liaisons. Perhaps he was too fussy. Perhaps he had a superiority complex, or perhaps he just had a tendency to look for perfection; not always a good characteristic, and certainly not one that endeared him to a lot of others, – or himself. It made him a bit arrogant.
He stared at his image for some time. Whatever had gone before, he was now going to start living, and he was going to live dangerously.
That evening he went out and walked around to get the atmosphere of the district. It was full of small businesses, which gave it a feeling of local cohesion in contrast to the road at its edge, the Boulevard, St Michel. A small restaurant in one of the backstreets displayed an appetising menu on a chalk board outside. It looked a good price, so he went in. As he had not eaten all day, he ordered the set menu, thinking it would be quickest, and he was so hungry. The food occupied his attention to start with. There was rillettes d’oie, followed by ragoût de boeuf and tarte tatin with cream. Why is England still in a state of austerity? He asked himself.
After eating he looked around. It was obviously a very local restaurant. On the cream-painted walls hung some paintings of various quality. I could do better than that, he thought, but then he admonished himself for being arrogant again. Blue plastic cloths covered about a dozen tables, some of which were pulled together to allow for larger groups. The clientele appeared to be mostly regulars, as most seemed to know each other.
One of the men on the next table, with a cheerful smile, addressed him, “You sound English. There’s no way you can disguise that accent. What are you doing here? Tourists don’t get into this part of town very often.”
Michael drummed up his creaky French. “You’re right. I am English but not a tourist. I hope to settle here for I while. I intend to paint.”
“Oh, so you’re a painter?”The man grinned, “Monique over there is a painter.”
At the sound of her name Monique looked up, breaking off her conversation with the rest of those at her table.
“This chap here is a painter”
Monique rattled out French questions like a machine gun.
Michael held up his hand. “Slowly! I have not got my French into gear yet.”
She broke into surprisingly good English, but with a mixture of a French and an upper-class English accent.
“I’m sorry. So you’re a painter. Where’s your studio?”
“I’ve not got one yet. I only arrived today. Look you can talk French to me, but slowly. I have to improve my French.”
She reverted to her own language with considered precision.
“Studios are a bit difficult to find. You might have trouble, but there just happens to be a couple that have been vacated recently in the block where I have mine. It’s a bit far from here, in the 14th district, but it is a great place. You should try for one.”
“That would be wonderful. How would I go about that?”
“If you come round tomorrow morning, not too early, I will introduce you to the concierge.”
She called the waiter over, cadged one of the bills from his pad, and wrote down the address of her studio on the back. She came across to Michael’s table and handed it to him.
He’s cute, she thought
“Thank you. I’ll be there.”
Michael looked at his beneficiary. She was an attractive girl, in probably the first half of her twenties, slightly shorter than him, with a slim but curvaceous figure, an oval face and strawberry blond hair, pulled back in a fashionable ponytail. She moved towards Michael with precision, forming smooth curves with her arms, and giving her a slightly undulating gait as she walked.
She had obviously been in the sun somewhere, perhaps on a recent holiday, but it had not burnt her brown, only given her a honey-coloured complexion. She wore a smock that looked like a dress, but beneath the hem showed the legs of her jeans. It was unusual for a French girl to be wearing jeans. She was obviously not someone that pandered to fashion.
She returned to her table and continued her conversation with a crowd that looked mostly a bit older than her.
She’s attractive, Michael thought. I hope I see her again.
The next morning Michael found his way to the address she had given him. His mind raced. That had been a lucky break; meeting that girl yesterday. Fancy getting the possibility of a studio so quickly. She is a very striking; very attractive. It would be nice to get to know her.
He went through a large archway, past the concierge’s cubby-hole and into a ramshackle courtyard. She probably has a boyfriend. All the best-looking girls do have. He looked around at the numerous glass walls. Where could my beautiful beneficiary be? It could have been just talk. There are probably no free studios. She just wanted to impress. But she did seem very sincere. He was just wondering where to start looking, when a head popped out from behind the door in the corner. It was Monique. She waved.
“You made it.”
“Of course. I couldn’t miss such an opportunity, or ignore your kindness.”
“Let’s go and see the concierge then.”
They went back to the entrance and rattled on the concierge’s shutter. A woman opened it.
“This Englishman is interested in taking one of the empty studios.”
“I’ll get my husband. He is just having his morning coffee.”
A short, heavily built middle-aged man emerged.
“So hallo! You want a studio? I’ll just get my jacket and show you. English are you?” He spoke with a guttural accent. He probably came from Marseille.
“And you’re a friend of Monique?
Michael looked at Monique for permission, “Yes.”
“Nice girl!”the concierge mumbled in an undertone as he gave an appreciative glance at her.
Then louder, “There used to be a lot Englishmen here just after the liberation, but there don’t seem to be so many these days. It’s all Americans.”
Then he shuffled his way in front of Monique and Michael, across the flag-stoned courtyard, into a corridor, and then into the first empty studio. Michael gave a good look around. A possibility he thought. They then carried on to the second. Michael immediately felt at home It was larger and even in its untidy state he felt comfortable. Monique gave him a conspiratorial smile, and his pulse jumped a beat.
It would be nice if she hasn’t got a boyfriend, he thought.
Michael chose the second, the better of the two studios that were vacant. It was about seven metres square, and very tall. Windows stretched up from waist-height to a glass roof that sloped to the brick wall at the back of the studios. That formed part of the main building behind. Michael could see two or three flats above. Some old curtains hung from half way up the studios windows, to give privacy from the courtyard, and blinds, suspended on runners, hung from the glass roof that could be pulled down to give privacy from the flats. They all needed a wash. The floor was wooden, with exceptionally wide boards. In the corner was a large black wood-burning stove. A wide pipe, an exhaust flue, led from it up the wall, and diagonally across the upper part, where it joined other flues, presumably from other studios, and up again to the top of the building where it exhaled its fumes. Other peoples wood burners are going to help to heat my studio, he thought –useful. The place was very dusty. There was a sink in the corner, with a small table beside it, and two rather old-looking chairs. Someone had cleaned brushes on parts of the wall next to the sink. Michael was reminded of a Kandinsky abstract. He had never been very keen on Kandinsky’s paintings, and Serendipity obviously could do as well. Anyway it helped to break up the grimy cream walls that obviously had not been decorated for many years, and had fade marks where things had been leant against them.
He paid the first month’s rent, surveyed his new domain, and then, with Monique’s instructions, immediately set off for an artist’ suppliers, where he purchased canvas, stretchers, brushes, linseed oil, turpentine and pigments. It cost more than he had expected, but then, as George Collins had said, he had had a very well-paid job for two years, and could afford it. He did not smoke, was not a heavy drinker, and had refrained from getting a smart car, so he had saved quite a bit.
On his return to the studio, he sat on one of the chairs for a while. Looking around, he could not help but be excited. I have a studio of my own. This is the first step towards being a serious, or even a great painter. He was elated. He immediately set to work to stretch and prime a canvas with a diluted blue wash, and then, while it was drying, he started to clean the place, with the help of some rags he found in the corner, and a bucket that was under the table.
It was too big a task for one session, so he stopped and as the primed canvas was dry, started to paint.
It was late on that first afternoon that Monique came to his studio.
“I see you’ve settled in quickly.”
“Yes. I came here to paint, so I had better get on with it.”Michael had started to paint the view out of the studio’s largr window.
“You can’t paint with your canvas propped up on a chair like that. I’ll lend you an easel. I have a couple spare.” She paused. “You are much more diligent than I am. I should be getting on with painting as well, but I have a problem.
Michael knew, When one has a painting problem there is always a tendency to pause and do something else.
Monique continued,“I need to paint a man’s hand but it keeps looking very feminine.”
“It could be an effeminate man,” said Michael with an impish grin.
“No. He has to be strong and masculine.” She smiled, echoing his demeanour. Then her expression changed as though she had just had a bright idea, but then, changing again, with an air of reticence. “You wouldn’t pose your hand for me would you?”
“So you think my hands look strong and masculine?”
She gave him a sidelong look.
He ignored it and continued, “After you have got me this studio, how could I refuse?”
“I have just put some water on for coffee. Come and have a cup, and we can take it from there.”
They went to Monique’s studio which was only two doors away. It was bigger than his, also with a high ceiling, but as it was a corner studio, it had windows on two sides, curtained off until half way up, like his. There was a sloping glass roof, again like his. In the corner, by the wood-burning stove like the one in Michael’s, was a pile of logs. There was a couch, a table, and paintings stacked against the wall with their faces turned in. The only picture visible was on one of the two easels. Her studio, not surprisingly, looked cleaner and more lived-in than his.
“Where would you like me to put my hand?”
“Let’s have some coffee first. How do you like it?”
“However it comes.”
“I like mine strong but with plenty of milk.”
“That sounds alright for me.”
She poured the coffee and came and sat on the seat opposite him.
“Well what do you think of Paris?”
“I love it.”
“Is this your first time here?”
“No. I have been here once before, but as a tourist. I spent most of my time going to museums and art galleries.”
“That’s only part of Paris. There’s more; – the cafes, the back streets, the ordinary shops where you can buy groceries and hardwear.”
“I noticed some of that before, from a distance; down side streets. That’s what interested me enough to want to come back and explore properly” He adjusted his chair, “that and the reputation that Paris has for the art being created here.”
She sugared her coffee, “That’s the Paris I love. Shops where you can get sugar, bread, cotton, and buckets,. You only saw half of Paris, the grand part, with galleries and boulevards.”
“I was very impressed by the galleries, and the monumental buildings.” protested Michael.
“Quite probably,” said Monique thoughtfully, then more decisively, “Paris has two types of beauty; the formal grandeur of the theatres, fountains and monuments, which you saw on your first visit, and the intimate beauty of the small streets and alleyways, where life goes on at a pace, and the real people live. Once you get into that, you will realise that that is where its heart beats. However it’s these two things in close proximity that inspires the art.”
She quickly picked up her cup. “Oo! That’s hot.” Monique put her cup down immediately. She realised her excitement led to impatience and she had to control it. She must not let her current enjoyment carry her away, nor her desire to impress Michael cause her to make mistakes. The prospect of painting Michael’s hand must not hurry her. “I’ve got some biscuits here somewhere. Would you like one?”
Finding the biscuits allowed the coffee and her blood to cool, and she relaxed.
After coffee, Michael placed his hand on the table. Monique arranged it and quickly painted it into the canvas she was working on. Michael went round to have a look.
He was surprised. It was a figurative painting, a bit surrealist, obviously influenced by Dali, but it also had strange perspective, the result of probably having seen Escher. This shocked Michael, as he thought he was one of the few people who had seen any of Escher’s work. Escher appealed more to graphic designers or mathematicians than people interested in fine art. One of the engineers he had worked with at the BBC had brought back a poster of Escher from a trip to Amsterdam. Monique’s painting had the head of a young Moslem woman at the centre of interest, with dismembered parts of men around her. The colours were strong. The technique was more Renaissance than contemporary. Brush strokes were not shown, and the paint surface was smooth, not at all in the current fashion. But Michael immediately empathised with it. His own paintings were figurative, but did not have the immaculate finish of Monique’s.
“That’s a very vivid red.”he observed.
“Yes. I get it by under painting with Indian red and then glazing over it with Vermillion.”
“I must try that” I could learn from this girl. She has more than good looks. “I see you are not taken by abstract art.”
“No. I could not paint abstracts even if I wanted to, and what I want to say could not be said in abstracts.”
“Abstract expressionism is all the rage these days. Don’t you want to be successful?” said Michael, slightly provocatively.
“Fashion is the nose-ring of fools.” She put down her brush and continued. “Most young artists just follow fashion. Because one person becomes successful by painting abstracts, they think they will attain fame the same way. They are not encouraged to be original. Art colleges do them a disservice. They all end up painting like their tutors.” She had to be careful, and avoided being too critical of art education. She did not know Michael had never been to art school. “No, we have to think what we have to say, and then find the best way to say it, and a lot of my contemporaries are neglecting that.”
“Perhaps they have nothing to say.”
“That could be.” She felt she had a sympathetic receptive audience, so she continued, “There’s not much intellect, or ideas needed in painting organic abstract surfaces. You can get away with murder. That’s one reason they’re all doing it. They think it’s easy. They talk about it all the time, instead of expressing what they have to say through their paintings” She turned and looked him straight in the eye. She had developed her own strong views about art. “I think that paintings should be a balance between content and technique.”
“I’m so glad to hear you say that,” Michael said loudly, and then in a more subdued voice, “I have tried my hand at abstracts, but I find them limiting. I can’t say what I need to say”
Encouraged, she continued, “Abstracts are limiting, and figurative paintings are more difficult. You can’t hide any inability. If you are painting figuratively, you have to get things right. Even if you have a stylised version of an object, it has to be convincing. You can’t fake it. Everyone has eyes and knows what things look like. The abstract content of a person’s soul is a mystery to us all, so even if the painter got it wrong, and it is not what they were intending to say, we will never know.” then turning to Michael with a confident air, “I never tolerate anything on my canvases that aren’t convincing.”
While Michael inspected the painting up close, she had another great idea. “My current problem is that I cannot afford models. I would like to paint men but I like to get things right, and imagination cannot substitute for the real thing.” She had a captive appreciative audience so she continued, “Painting is looking at things intently, as much as standing in front of the easel and wielding a paint brush. It is only when you have absorbed the detail, and the meaning, that you can put it on canvas. I have no problem with inanimate objects. They are all around us. I absorb their form every day, but when painting the human figure I need a model to study, and that costs money. When I was at art school we had models, but they were always women, mostly students themselves earning extra cash, but we only ever had one man, and he was very old.”
I am not surprised, thought Michael, Young men have to retain their dignity. What could be less dignifying than standing in front of an array of young women who are inspecting your naked body?”
Monique continued. She could see Michael was impressed. “I have nothing against old people, but I have no idea how to paint a beautiful virile young man.”
She went and pulled a folder full of sketches from behind the couch. As she spread them out, Michael observed them carefully. They were mostly of young girls, but some drawings had later been gone over. She had tried to make the figures more masculine, to turn them into men. However her attempts had failed miserably. The waists were always too narrow and the hips too wide.
“I say, you wouldn’t pose for me would you?”
“But I’ve never posed before. I don’t know how to.”
“You just have to stand there.”
“Like the girls? With nothing on?”
“Of course. In the nude.”
“I’d be embarrassed.”
“Don’t be silly.”
“But I’m English.”
“I won’t hold that against you.”
“I might not be able to control my reactions.”
“What do you mean?”
Michael did not quite know how to explain himself. He stuttered and was embarrassed.
“What if I get an erection?” He said with defiant confidence.
“What would cause that?”
She laughed. “Come on. I won’t be nude, and you’ve seen nude women before.”
“Not many. I never went to art school.”
“But you’ve seen and been seen by your lovers?”
“The light was always out.”
“So it is true what they say about the English.”
With this she doubled up with laughter. “Well, consider this your art university; your finishing school.”
“The trouble is it might finish me.”
“Come on. You pose for me, and I’ll pose for you.”
It was at this point that Michael regarded her body very carefully. So far he had been impressed by her friendliness, and her liveliness. That always seemed to attract him in women. He liked women’s company, but he had been brought up to think that lust was evil, and he had not yet cast off that conditioning. Nice women could not possibly be interested in sex. Consequently he had always concentrated on a girl’s face, where character is mostly expressed. He had been taught to regard it as rude to stare at a woman’s body. As one gets older, one becomes more interested in the beauty of the body, and more lustful. However, he had not started on that journey quite yet, and was not even aware that that journey existed. Nevertheless as he looked at her he started to imagine her with her clothes off.
“Think about it.” She said this with a smile that gave away her sudden self-confidence. She knew she had him hooked. “Will I see you at the café this evening?”
“Yes. Of course.”
With that she picked up a brush and continued her painting, so Michael left.
When Michael had gone she chuckled to herself. How sweet. I do believe he is shy. How English. I am going to have fun shocking him out of his conventions. I bet he has a lot of preconceived ideas about women. He is quite good-looking. I might have an enjoyable journey; enlightening him. Yes, he will be a great addition to the studios.
Michael had not intended to eat out every day. He had to watch his expenditure, especially so early in his stay, but he was already a bit smitten with Monique, and could not resist the temptation of her company, so after a quick clean up at his hotel, he went revealingly early to the restaurant. It was not long however before she turned up.
He thoroughly enjoyed the meal that evening. Monique came and sat with him, and introduced him to a lot of her friends. They were mostly painters or writers, a very intellectual bohemian crowd. It explained a lot of the paintings on the walls. There seemed to be no special man that Monique refereed to. Perhaps I have a chance, thought Michael.
The company announced that they were all going to see Georges Brassens, the singer, the next night at another café.
“Would you like to join us?”one of them asked.
He said yes, but he was beginning to wonder how long his funds would last if he lived life up at such a speedy level. Bohemians are supposed to be poor. How do they afford it?
Quite late Monique said she must go home.
“May I accompany you?”
“If you like.” She smiled, and not only on the outside.
They left together.
As they walked out of the restaurant Monique started singing “Le Banc Public”.
“So you can sing as well as paint.”
“That’s one of the songs we’ll probably hear tomorrow night. It’s one of my favourites.” They walked along discussing their tastes in music.
Very soon they arrived at the Metro station
“I’ll see you home. Where do you live?”
“Oh it doesn’t matter. I’m going by metro. I live near a metro station at the other end.”
Michael watched her walk down the steps and then walked back to his hotel. Perhaps I had better get in touch with those people whose address George has given me, he thought to himself, otherwise I am going to have to go back to England, just as the future looks so bright.
The next morning Michael was up early. He went for a bath at the end of the corridor, just in case Monique was serious about him posing for her. He also put on clean underwear. It was as his grandmother had advocated, in case one got hit by a bus. He felt as if he had been hit by a bus, albeit not in a literary manner. Why did I give her my word. I can’t go back on that now. He took a quick inspection of himself in the mirror at the bend in the corridor. Then he went to his studio.
Not long after his arrival Monique came in.
“Are you ready?”
“Are you sure you want me to pose?
“Certainly! You’re not funking it are you?”
“Of course not, but I am English after all. We don’t normally do this sort of thing.”
“Well now’s your chance to become a man of the world.”
They went into Monique’s studio. Michael got undressed and stood there feeling very silly.
What am I doing? he thought to himself. I came here to paint not to be painted. I do hope I will not get an erection. That would be unbearable. I must think of very unsexy things. I must not think of her. How can I do that with her right in front of me? What is she going to think of my body? Perhaps she will think I am a bit skinny. I have not got very big muscles. I might be spoiling my future chances by pandering to her whim. I have a bit of a hairy stomach. That must look terrible. I wonder what sort of men she likes. Oh dear she is coming towards me. He felt his blood pressure rise. I must concentrate on something else, mathematics or music. No. Music can be very sensual.
Monique came and set him into a pose and he felt even sillier. She lifted his arm and put it to one side with his hand twisted in, and the knuckles resting on his hip. The other arm was placed slightly back with his torso twisted slightly. He could smell her body. She was so near. He felt an irresistible stirring. He hoped he was not going to embarrass himself. He forced himself to think of the cleaning he did the day before.
“Open your legs slightly and the pose will be easier to hold.”
He did as he was told, and he calmed down; luckily.
“Now raise your head slightly. Imagine you’re Alexander the Great or Napoleon. Look powerful.”
“Napoleon was short and stooped slightly.”
“None of us are perfect.” She smiled.
She then went to the other side of the easel and started to paint. She chuckled to herself.
He’s really quite sweet, she thought, He’s really shy. He’s like a caricature of an Englishman. Just as we French like to see them. Well we’ll soon change his ways and make him into a European.
She started to mix her skin tones on the palette; white, yellow ochre, fake vermillion and just a touch of French ultramarine to give it a cool feeling, varying the amount in different mixes to build up a transparent effect to the skin as she glazed one layer upon another, She held them up on her palette knife against her distant model. That’ll do, she thought. You know he is just as good-looking with his clothes off, as with them on. Mmm! I have a very presentable model. He is intelligent too. He is obviously not attached, or he would not have come to Paris. On the other hand he is very keen on painting, and as I know myself, that can far outweigh any but the strongest romantic attachments. She squeezed out some more Yellow Ochre onto her pallet. That was a lucky break in the café the other evening. I am sure we are going to have some interesting fun together.
Romantic and erotic visions came into her head, as she carefully observed his body, and transferred the form to her canvas. In her imagination she could feel his hands caressing her as they lay on a bed sinking into warm soft covers, and her blood tingled. Her upbringing then got the better of her, and she felt guilty. She was a modern woman, and demanded freedom, but education by her father, and that Swiss finishing school, had taught her to be modest, and as the Jesuits had understood, the power of early training is difficult to discard.
They broke for lunch, and Monique lent Michael her dressing gown. The warmth of his body drew out her scent from its soft feminine folds. She made coffee and a sandwich for them both.
“I have to adjust my skin tones when I paint a man’s body like yours. I must not add so much blue. Women’s flesh tones are much cooler. Their skin is more transparent.”
Something had been worrying Michael about Monique’s choice of pigments, “Tell me, aren’t you worried about using Vermillion? It’s very fugitive. If it comes into contact with Flake White, it turns green after a few years.”
“Oh, I use Zinc White, and there’s an ever more permanent white now, Titanium White, but I haven’t tried it yet. Zinc White is a bit transparent. They say that Titanium has more body.”
They finished their sandwiches, then back to work again.
At the end of the day Michael felt that it had not been as bad as he had expected. He dressed, went back to his studio to sort things out, lock up, and then, as it was too late to start anything else, they left the studios together, and went to get a breath of fresh air before dinner. They got a bus down to the Seine. This time they both hung out over the balcony at the back. Monique admitted that, like Michael, it was the way she liked to travel on buses, unless of course it was raining. It was mostly workmen on the back platform, but that did not worry her. She regarded old men with sympathy not fear. Anyway she liked living dangerously. Monique had developed the same tastes as Michael, and he was pleased she enjoyed the bus balcony like him. It is a shame to sit inside, and be isolated from the Parisian atmosphere.
On alighting they crossed the river, and instead of going straight to the restaurant, they walked along the bank for a while, talking all the time about what they liked and disliked. Michael asked her what she thought about the political situation in France.
“Oh I don’t want to know about that. All politicians are either incompetent or corrupt. Leave them alone or you’ll get corrupted yourself.”
“You must have some view about whether Algeria should get its independence. That seems currently to be the main talking point in French politics; indeed in French society.”
“What I think will not make any difference. They say that General Salan and General Massu have sided with the Pieds-Noirs and are going to bring their armies across from Algeria, and invade France. That will be a disaster, but there is nothing I can do to stop them. The Pieds-Noirs have always been trouble, and now they are involving us all in their silly squabbles.”
Michael noticed a clock. It was already seven. “We had better be getting back to meet your friends if we are going to see this singer this evening.”
They walked briskly back, met the rest of the group outside the usual restaurant, Mes Amis, and all together, went off to the café where the singer was to perform, Double Blue.
Michael liked the music. It was not the type that he usually listened to. He was mainly interested in classical music, although ‘classical’ was the wrong term. He tended to like modern orchestral music; Stravinsky, Holst, Britten, and Shostakovich, but he found the songs most enjoyable. Monique sat next to him, sometimes humming along with the singer, and he could not have been happier. He could feel her pleasure and excitement bubbling through her body, and it affected his. Afterwards he offered to see her home again, but she insisted that she was going home by metro, and he should go home and get his beauty sleep.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, and if you like I will pose for you.”
He walked home wondering why she did not want him to see her home, but with expectations and excitement about the prospect of painting her the next day, he put it to one side. How would he pose her? His had been a standing pose, but somehow, although that was appropriate for a man, a woman was better in a horizontal position. The thought of her naked was almost too much to bear.
He was at his studio before Monique the next morning, but she arrived soon after and came and offered her services. They had coffee and then she undressed. He could feel his blood pressure rising. He hoped it did not show.
“How do you want me?”
“I’ve put some cushions and a blanket on this bench. I am sorry I have not got a couch yet. I hope it is not too uncomfortable.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll manage.”
She lay down. “Where do you want my arms? Like this?”
“No, put them a bit lower.”
“No. The left arm more to the side.”
Michael went across and adjusted the arm. So close to her naked body, he felt overwhelmed. She was so attractive. She grinned. He hoped he was not blushing.
He returned to his safe position behind his easel and started to paint. With the purpose of painting to be concentrated on, he relaxed.
What a beautiful body. “I know one should not ask a woman, but how old are you?”
“Nothing. I just wondered. We had not discussed our ages.”
“How old are you?”
‘Perfect,’ she thought.
His thoughts were elsewhere.
I do wonder if she has a regular boyfriend hidden away. She won’t let me see her home. No! She can’t have, otherwise she would have mentioned him. Girls always mention even half-regular lovers, to keep prospective men at bay. It keeps the men in their place, until they have made up their mind whether to accept them as a friend or a lover. He squeezed out some Ultramarine onto his palate. It gives a girl freedom. A skilful girl can keep several men on a string at the same time. He picked up a broader brush. It is always the female of the species that decides the choice of partner, and the human species is no exception. The fact that she has mentioned nobody means I have a chance. I do find her very attractive and would really like to get to know her properly.
He then got down to serious work. He had to closely examine every detail of her body. Her loose strawberry blond hair framed a balanced oval face. She had sparkling eyes of cobalt blue, quite full lips and a pointed chin. The two dimples either side of her mouth made it look as though she was laughing, and a lot of the time indeed she was. She had a happy disposition. That was comforting, and stimulating. A slender neck attached her head to a straight collar bone, which gave her fairly broad shoulders. Her breasts were full but firm, with small nipples of a light pink colour. Her stomach was flat, although with a deeply indented belly button, brought about by firm shapely muscles either side, and she had a narrow waist. Her legs were long, which is why she was only slightly shorter than him. There was nothing remarkable about her feet and ankles. Some men have an obsession about feet, but I have never been able to understand that. Feet are feet. They are there to stand on. There are much more delicious parts of a woman’s body than her feet.
After an hour and a half, they had a break, and Michael made some coffee. Monique put on the dressing gown she had lent him the day before. She noticed his added smell. They chatted and then got back to work. She lay on the bench. The pose was not quite right. Michael went across and adjusted her back and arm. As he did so, she brought her hand round to the back of his head. She stretched up and kissed him. Surprise and excitement competed for his attention. However, passion overwhelmed all other emotions. They embraced. He stepped back, and very precisely removed his clothes, never taking his eyes off her. She could feel those eyes. They whipped up her passion even more. They made love.
Afterwards Monique felt warm and luscious inside. Her heart was still beating fast, and she knew she had found a glorious and exciting future. She should not get carried away. There were more things to be sought in a long-term partner than a good lover, but the lover would do for the foreseeable future.
They got back to work, and worked hard for the rest of the day. Monique was now definitely Michael’s muse. He felt it had been inevitable that they would end up making love. Never before had a woman affected him so quickly after meeting, and he had subconsciously known that they had to be a couple, as no other woman would ever capture his emotions in the same way.
It was late when they finished painting. The light was fading. He had the basis of a very presentable canvas. His feelings were poured into the picture for everyone to see. He had technique, he had tools, and now he had inspiration.
“Shall we go straight round to the restaurant?” he enquired.
“No, I have to go and see my parents tonight. I’m sorry. You will have to go alone.”
“Don’t you live with your parents?”
“No, I have my own apartment. — A small apartment,” she said as a hurried afterthought.
“Oh well, I’ll see you home then.”
“No, I’ll go by metro. You go off to the restaurant. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He walked her to the Metro, and then set off to his room. On the way he bought a couple of rolls and some Brie from a grocer that was still open. There would have to be some changes made to his expenditure, if he wanted to stay some time in Paris, and now he really did want to. As he walked home to his room, he wondered again why she never wanted to be escorted home. He also came to the conclusion that he would have to get into touch with those contacts of George very soon, and find a source of income.