So the islanders loved my goddamn story so much, the big kahuna said he would give me whatever I wanted. I could have had John Daiquiri put to death if I so desired, but I had enough blood on my hands for one lifetime. Instead, I asked for Daiquiri’s boat, the one he sailed to the island on. And all of the money he had in the world, which amounted to about four hundred English pounds. It would be enough to get a start when I arrived in France. I also demanded that Daiquiri tell me the story he told to get through the initiation.
“I told them the story of the Three Little Pigs.”
“And that worked?”
“Pigs are much beloved in the Aomans’ culture. But obviously they liked your story much more.”
There was a moment of silence. I knew what Daiquiri was going to say next, roughly speaking.
“Take care of her, won’t you?”
“Not a scratch, don’t worry.”
I could see how much he loved the boat in that instant. I regretted taking it off him, but I had no real choice. Besides, the Aomans allowed Daiquiri to live, but only I as the winner of the contest was allowed to leave. John was to stay forever. It’s a beautiful island, so there are worse fates to suffer.
The boat had all the relevant charts and a kick-ass motor. I made France in less than a week, landing on the Ile-De-Re ready for new adventures. I hung around the tourist island for a few days, seeing the sights, getting my pounds transferred into francs (which was a hassle in those days). Then I called daddy again. He wasn’t happy, of course, but he admitted defeat. I told him I had no money and then waited around for another week on the island, getting stoned, going to jazz bars, until daddy’s money arrived. I then got the train to Paris.
So that brings everyone up to date, up to me getting out of this cab and entering the Louvre. I head straight for the French paintings. I’ve always loved French paintings. When I was a little girl, daddy gave me a whole book full of them. And the guy I really liked was Jacques Louis David, particularly this one he did called “The Death of Marat”. It depicts this guy, Jean-Paul Marat, dead in a bath. He hasn’t killed himself; he’s been murdered, by someone, who knows who. It’s like a mystery. The irony of the whole scene is that during his life Marat suffered from a skin condition and baths were his one joy in life. Poor bastard. I feel as sorry for him as I did for John Daiquiri, as I sailed away from Aoman Island on his most precious commodity.
I’m examining the Jacques Louis David painting when I become very aware of a pair of eyes boring into me. I turn around to face a very young, very short Oriental man.
“Can I help you?” I ask him impudently.
“You are very beautiful. Much more beautiful than all of this decadent art that hangs on these walls.”
I didn’t mention in my opening description that the guy is also kind of ugly and more than a little bit creepy, but hey, I’m new in town and looking to make friends and not being all that fussy about it. His English is also impeccable; not a trait easy to discover in people in Paris back then.
“Thanks, pal. Put her here,” and as I say this I extend a hand for him to shake. He reluctantly takes it and gives me the weakest handshake I ever did shake.
“Nice to meet you. What is your name?” the little guy asks me.
Now this is the simplest question in the whole world to answer, I’m sure you’ll agree. But I decided right then and there to change my name. New town, new name.
“I’m Felice. Felice Lupine.”
“I am Saloth Sar. And this is my first day in Paris.”
“Really? This is my first day in Paris too!”
“That is extraordinary. You are American, I take it?”
“I am from a country you may know as Cambodia. But its true name is Kampuchea.”
“So if the place’s true name is Kampuchea, why do people call it Cambodia then?”
Saloth looks away and sneers at the tiled floor of the museum.
“Because of the imperialists. The French. They invaded our land and told us our new name. It was accept or die. So my people accepted. But that is not to worry. One day soon, with my help, my people will reclaim Kampuchea once again.”
Saloth and I wander through the Louvre together. We don’t talk much; when we do Saloth will invariably complain about the French. I kind of like him though. He has an intensity that reminds me of Hugh a little. I ask him if he wants to accompany me to the Left Bank for a drink. All my life I’ve dreamed of sitting in a café in Saint Germain, sipping a Citron Presse and watching the world go by. Again he sneers, looking away as he scoffs.
“The Left Bank. Filled with the French bourgeoisie, all moaning about the establishment but unwilling to do anything about it, lest their place at the Sorbonne gets taken away from them.”
“We can go somewhere else, if you want then.”
He softens a little, seeing how much it means to me.
“No, no, Felice. I am happy to go wherever you’d like.”
As you can probably already tell, Saloth is a bit of a contradictory character. One minute he’s bitterly complaining about some political thing or another, the next he is the perfect gentleman. But he is the only person I know in Paris at this point. As we cross the Seine, he confesses that he too has always secretly dreamed of having a drink in a café on the Left Bank. He says it with the utmost embarrassment, as if admitting to some form of sexual perversion. This sparks a return to his favourite topic.
“I can imagine there are those amongst the French who are sincere about change. I need to remind myself that I intended to come to Paris with an open mind.”
We sit outside an amazing little place on a backstreet. Just as we get settled in, a man wearing a black and white striped shirt and a black beret with an unlit French cigarette dangling from his mouth walks past on the opposite side of the road. He stops in front of a little art supply shop and then pivots dramatically, so that his right foot comes to rest on the windowsill outside the shop. He takes the Galois that was hanging from his lips into his right hand and waves it in the air. It’s so stereotypically Parisian, like something from a French movie, I just have to share my joy with my dining partner.
“Oh I just love Paris. Don’t you, Saloth?”
But Monsieur Sar is back in grouchy mode.
“The French are so pretentious. They are all like parodies of themselves and they don’t even realise it.”
I ask our waiter for a Citron Presse but he shakes his head at me, firmly. I’m not sure quite what that means. Saloth asks the waiter something in French. After a brief conversation, the waiter leaves, looking a little non-plussed. I hit Saloth in the arm, taking him by surprise as I do.
“I didn’t know you speak French!”
“Of course. It was the language I was educated in. The language of the oppressors.”
He sinks into a funk and from that moment forward is a real drag the whole time we are sat in front of the café. He’s bringing my contact high down big style, but he did order us some amazing food with his francais skills, so I have to hand that to him. I don’t get my Citron Presse, but the waiter brings me instead a great glass of white wine.
At the end of the meal I figure it best to ditch the Cambodian. By this stage, I like him (like I say), but he was becoming a stone cold drag and his moods were just too much to stomach.
“What do I owe you, Sar?”
He looks a little hurt.
“It is my treat, Felice. A gift to you on your first day in Paris.”
“Oh thanks. Listen, I have to dash.”
I get up from the table and make to leave. But I stop as Saloth looks terrified all of a sudden.
“I would like the opportunity to see you again. May I have your telephone number?” he asks me.
“Don’t have one yet. But I’ll tell you this: if it was meant to be, we’ll meet again.”
And with that I walk away, leaving Saloth to stew in his own juices. Thinking about it further, I decide I never want to see Sar ever again. Like I say, when I was with him I kind of liked the guy. But having the chance to think about how deeply creepy he was I decide to try and avoid him in future.
So my time in Paris had got off to a bizarre start with the Cambodian. But looking around the place, up and over at the Eiffel Tower with a glass of white wine in me, I feel like the world is my oyster. In fact, I decide right then and there to walk across the Left Bank, westwards, all the way to the Tower. And that I do, stopping every once in a while to grab a drink in a passing café. It takes me several hours to reach the Eiffel Tower, but it’s all worth it in the end. As I stand under its steel legs, watching the tourists file onto the elevators taking them up, I start to cry. I can’t believe I’ve really made it here. At last.
The next few days are much the same. I remember them as one remembers a dream – I can barely believe that they happened at all. I swan around by myself, sometimes talking to strangers, mostly keeping to myself. I have no plans, no cares.
Then one day, about two weeks after I had arrived in Paris, I am approached out of the blue by a very well dressed older man in a café in Monteparnasse. I had my nose in Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer”. I wasn’t enjoying it all that much, but it seemed like the thing to do if you were young, American and alone in Paris in those days.
“Henry Miller,” the older man says with a strong French accent. “He is one of my favourites.”
“Really? I’m about half way through and I still don’t know what to make of him. Some of it is good, like the stuff about the Russians and all that, but then he just goes off on a tangent for like twenty pages and I find it hard to stay with.”
“You are an artist, young lady?”
“Of a kind,” I say, smiling.
“May I join you?”
“Of course. Take a load off.”
“Thank you, mademoiselle. Allow me to introduce myself. I am Count Boudesons of Belgium.”
He kisses my hand and I spring forward, towards the Count. For he has said the magic word.
“Did you just say you’re from Belgium?”
“Yes, from Belgium.”
“My daddy lives in Brussels!”
“You don’t say.”
I then start thinking about how this guy smells of money. I still had a nice little stash from both the money Daiquiri had given me (£400 was a tidy sum in those days) as well as the money from daddy, but I knew it was all going to run out someday. So I turned my thoughts towards how I could get to Brussels to see daddy on this cat’s dime.
“What like, a real honest to goodness Count?”
I bat my eyelashes a lot, perhaps playing the coquettish angle a little heavily.
“I’m Felice Lupine.”
“And you are American, no?”
“Ah, California. I have heard that it is like heaven there.”
“I guess it really depends on your idea of heaven, Count.”
“What brings you to Paris?”
“Nothing really, just wanted to see the place for myself. What about you? Why aren’t you in Belgium, enjoying all the pleasures the Belgian court has to offer, huh?”
He laughs a little at my intentional impudence, which I took a shot in the dark on thinking it was something he was really not used to from a woman. Turns out it kind of floats his boat to a huge degree. He blushes a lot.
“I came to Paris during the war, when Belgium was attacked by the Germans. I fell in love with the city on first sight. And so I have never left. It is my home now.”
“Don’t you ever miss Belgium?”
“I go back to Brussels very regularly, but I would not want to live anywhere but Paris.”
We sit and chat, The Count and I, just boring shit about our lives, most of which I make up (and I get the distinct sense it’s mostly B.S. on his end as well). He eventually splits, but not before inviting me to his palatial home for a soiree he’s holding that Friday approaching.
“Come alone,” he says in closing, just so I know what the score is. I’m fine with it; would be nice to have a sugar daddy for a while.
Friday. The Count’s dinner party looks to be a grand affair as I enter the central hall of his large ass mansion. The silver cutlery, the fancy wine glasses, the embroidered plates. I’ve never seen anything so sophisticated in all my life. I feel like a princess and I’m prepared to have one of the best nights of my whole life. Until I find myself, suddenly, shockingly, in front of him.
“Felice, I’d like you to meet a dear friend of mine, Mr. Saloth Sar,” the Count says after complimenting me extravagantly on how beautiful I look in the dress he’s bought for me to wear. Sar smiles in that creepy way singular to him as he takes my hand. I don’t want to cause a scene with the Count so I simply smile and bow to the slimy Indo-Chinaman. No way I’m about to let this creepo going to ruin my big evening.
But I can’t shake Sar (he openly stalks me at the party) and soon enough we’re outside together, talking.
“I have learned much about the French since last I saw you, Felice.”
“Is that a fact?”
“It is. And you want to know something else?”
“They are going to be harder to defeat than I ever imagined they would be. Yes, they are as effeminate as I had always read about, but I had no idea of the strength of their idea of their Republic, their idea of their own nationhood. This, sadly, is something almost entirely lacking in Kampuchea. You see, we’ve never really had our own nation. It was something I didn’t realise fully before coming to this country.”
I just keep my trap shut as we stroll around the grounds together. If Sar wasn’t even going to bother asking about me at all and instead just drone on about how much he hates the French, I wasn’t about to try very hard with him.
“You’re probably wondering how I know the Count,” he says, finally saying something of interest.
“Yes, I was. I thought this was your first trip to Europe.”
“It is. However, The Count spent some time in Kampuchea.”
The Count, if you recall, had told me he’d been in Paris since the war. You may also recall I thought his story was pretty full of holes, so the fact that a rather glaring inconsistency had been brought to light didn’t really surprise me.
“Oh yeah. When?”
“About two years ago. He came to Phnom Penn, searching for real estate. He didn’t find anything that suited. We met when a cousin of mine who works in real estate told me there was a man from Europe that may interest me. I told the Count to not bother wasting his time in Kampuchea. Particularly after he had told me about all of his lands in the Belgian Congo. I asked him why he was even in French Indo-China if he had so much property in Africa. The Count was worried even then about the political situation in the Congo.”
“I thought you didn’t like Europeans.”
“No, you got the wrong impression then: I don’t like the French. The Belgians are much like us; persecuted through the ages by the French.”
At this point, the Count comes up to save me.
“I must speak to you at once, outside, Felice.”
Alone together, the Count got all serious on me.
“Felice, there is something very serious I have to ask you.”
“Felice, I know that we have not known each other very long. But I have already realised one thing: you are the person I have been searching for. I cannot go into detail but you must trust me on something: I must be wed in a fortnight’s time or else I will lose my fortune. A clause in my father’s will, that is all I can say about that. So what I am about to ask is rather sudden, but nonetheless: Felice, will you marry me?”
I think this over for a second before saying anything.
“I want to be an artist. Will you support me in that?”
“To the extent of all my means, contacts and fortune, Felice.”
“Then it’s a yes, Count.”
We are married less than two weeks later. Saloth Sar is (annoyingly) the Count’s best man. We have a huge reception, the cream of Paris society in attendance. I feel like a princess, at last. Imagine if I’d married Hugh. We would have got married at town hall and had the reception behind Hugh’s mother’s trailer van. I shudder at the thought of it.
The only negative thing about the whole day is that I can feel Saloth Sar’s eyes bore into me constantly. He never looks at anything or anyone else, through the ceremony and onto the reception. When it comes time for him to make his speech, I’m nervous as hell.
“I understand it is a tradition in your culture, Felice, for the best man, as you so put it, to make a speech. And so I shall,” Sar begins.
“I have come to Paris to learn the ways of the French and to understand better how and why your culture works as it does. I do so in the hopes that when I return to Kampuchea shortly I will be armed with enough knowledge to help dismantle French rule there and replace it with my own vision for my nation.”
Saloth cleared his throat to dead silence from the wedding guests.
“What I plan to do is root out the hypocrisy that has infected my people since the French took over. All remnants of Gallic influence will be flushed out. I will declare the day I take over as Day One, Year One. The past will be forgotten, swept away. The so called white collar workers – and in this category I include doctors, engineers and politicians – will be expelled from the cities and made to work for a living. They will be made to get their hands dirty, as their forefather’s hands were. And when this is achieved, utopia will reign and heaven on Earth shall finally be a reality.”
Everyone stayed silent as Sar sat back down again. You could cut the tension with a chainsaw. The Count tried to lighten the mood with a joke.
“An Algerian, a Frenchman and a Kampuchean all walk into bar. The Algerian says to the Frenchman, “European oppressor! Your time is soon at an end!” The Frenchman replies “Your rifles are terrible! You’ll never beat us!”
So the Kampuchean says to both of them, “Anyone want a ride on my rickshaw?”
Everyone in the whole room remained silent, like flesh coloured statues. The Count and I’s marriage had got off to a cracking start.