Making Sense of the Journey

Photo on 2010-05-14 at 14.43It was early on an early June day, the sky a weighty sea of impenetrable blue, when I disappeared without a trace.

The  Year I Disappeared

 

I began my writing odyssey three weeks ago today. It ends* tonight, and I go back to work tomorrow.

Because I’m a geek (or an obsessed nut job), I kept track of my word/page count:

  • Total words written: 50,098
  • Total pages produced: 252
  • WIP #1 – The Big Cheesy Novel – 34 pages, 6,950 words
  • Brand new WIP #2 – The Year I Disappeared – 218 pages, 43,148 words

Guess which WIP I found more inspiring? I started The Year I Disappeared the first day of my trip. I had hoped to pump out a solid 50 pages on WIP #2, and more than met my goal. I completely stopped writing The Big Cheesy Novel after the first three days.

I brought along three non-fiction books related to The Big Cheesy Novel that I didn’t touch.

I bought six novels (from two fine San Francisco book stores, City Lights and Green Apple Books), read three (Milan Kundera’s Ignorance and Identity and Kjersti A. Skomsvold’s The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am ), and found many connections with WIP #2 which is a story about identity and belonging, themes of Kundera’s and Skomsvold’s novels. I don’t think I would have found any of these novels had I not stepped inside the bookstores and browsed through two wonderful, carefully selected collections.

Does this mean The Big Cheesy Novel is dead? Hardly. I’m very invested in the two main characters and will get back to it. The Year I Disappeared offered me the experimental opportunity I wanted, and I took it.

The majority of the pages were produced during my two weeks in San Francisco. Once I returned home, the volume dropped off quite a bit, which you’d expect. Life began to intervene with its many tasks and obligations, and fun events too, such as a few days at the cabin, dinner with friends, and so on.

What I learned in San Francisco was that the isolation from my “real life” made it possible to get the work done, get most of a first draft of a new novel pumped out (and the rest planned).

*But I think I can carry through with the rest of it at home now. It will be slower going, but it’s now onto the fun part of writing — revising, revisioning, polishing. I want to do some of that before I write the ending, which I think I can clearly see, but is not quite there. Endings bring all the themes together, and themes often arrive by surprise as I write and revise.

I want to make it my best work ever, and that takes a good deal of time for the pages to rest and for me to come back refreshed as well.

Thank you for indulging me, world. It’s been a nice break, though it honestly got a bit lonely out in the country’s second most densely populated city. Nice to be home again.

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Who Wouldn’t want Cheese, “Art”, and an $800 Offer?

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Just joining our story?  It starts here . Or you can begin with this installment. Or just enjoy the pictures and move on.

Bonnie led Tom through the labyrinth of the Louvre, occasionally referring to the map of the English-language guidebook she had bought at the museum entrance. Since she’d planned her must-see list months before, she was quickly able to plot a course that would get them exactly where she wanted to go. They had a lot of territory to cover in a few hours, and Bonnie intended to cover all of it.

After a quick glimpse of the Venus de Milo and the Mona Lisa, they circled around the Winged Victory of Samothrace before surveying —briefly — French, Italian and Spanish paintings. Hundreds of years of artistic creation, millions of hours of artistic effort, and they buzzed by in a blink of the eye. She knew she’d have to skip most of the antiquities, the Asian, Pacific and Islamic art, and all of the decorative arts: the furniture and ceramics and jewelry would simply take up too much time.

She’d see as many of the European paintings as she could, having memorized the Louvre’s holdings in Professor Arndt’s art survey class. She’d even independently studied more of his vast collection of slides and art history books, coming to campus the previous summer to be well prepared for her planned Louvre trip. She could hear guides busily explaining, in several languages, the content of Arndt’s lectures as well.

It was quickly becoming clear to her that the museum experience of in person viewing added little more to what she already ‘knew’ about each artwork — she had been required by Arndt to understand the scale of an artist’s work, so seeing the relatively tiny Mona Lisa portrait dwarfed by the large room where it was on display told her nothing. It had been easier to see the detail and understand the intimacy of the work from Arndt’s slides and books. Nothing was enhanced by her presence near the actual painting. In fact, standing too long in front of it only made her grow anxious. She was ready to move on far sooner than Tom, who actually seemed transfixed by the woman’s knowing smile, the translucent layering of oils.

Bonnie wanted to be closer, some how. Not physically exactly. That would have been impossible anyway as guards and a glass case prevented anyone from getting too close to the world’s most famous painting.

Bonnie reflected that tiny motes of dust caught on the edge of Mona Lisa’s frame or nestled in a lock of Venus de Milo’s marble hair — places that may well have felt the artist’s paint brush or the chisel — were better positioned than she was; but a dust speck couldn’t interpret or translate the experience Bonnie craved. Yet she felt inferior to the perspective of the clinging dust specks, inanimate though they were. They at least touched the artwork. Bonnie knew that what she was missing went beyond mere touch. She craved a kind of visceral union with the artist. Having made her own lame, fragmented attempts to capture the world around her and her memories in pencil, pastel, and sometimes in paint, she understood there was so much more to artistic creation that what could be seen hanging along the Louvre’s beautiful corridors. And there was so much more she wanted to learn than would ever be satisfied by reviewing Professor Arndt’s slide carousels and hearing his lectures.

“Are we going to whiz by everything here?” Tom complained. “We seem to be on pace to do that. I wouldn’t mind slowing down.”

His remark barely registered on her. She actually sped up the pace.

They came at last to a quiet, narrow room adjacent to the Italian paintings of the 17th and 18th century. There she spotted an almost insignificant-looking, smudged drawing. On a nearby bench, she set down her tote bag — one she herself had sewn from denim, embroidered with a phrase from a Beatles song (“and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make”) and decorated with peace-sign patches. She took off her coat, revealing a bright green patchwork smock top over a darker green turtleneck, one she’d brought along just for the purpose she had in mind. She thought it reminiscent of an artist’s smock with big pockets that were handy for holding her drawing supplies.

The moment she took off her hat, Tom laughed.

“What is that?” he said.

“A 16th century Italian drawing,” she said inspecting the framed drawing closely, “of a young man’s head.”

“No,” he said. “Your hair. All those crazy curls on top of that green get-up. You look like a piece of broccoli.”

The speedy tour past the Louvre’s centuries of treasures had made her forget all about her hair. And his insulting comment made her forget about all the paintings except for one they’d just seen:  a 15th century Bernardino Luini painting of Salome carrying the severed head of John the Baptist. She knew how inappropriate it was for a girl attending a Catholic college to imagine herself as an exotic dancer, with Tom’s head on the plate, but the anger and embarrassment made it hard not to.

“It’s actually the latest Parisian style,” she boasted loudly. “I just had it done this afternoon in a très chic salon.”

“I’ve seen a lot of Parisian women today, and none of them looked like that.” He slouched on the bench, apparently exhausted.

“It’s just catching on,” she said, turning away. She flipped open her sketchpad to a clean page, and began to translate the placard affixed near the drawing.

Tom walked to her and read over her shoulder:

About 1491. Initially attributed to Correggio, now considered a work of Michelangelo Anselmi. Anselmi’s early activity in Parma coincides with Correggio’s work in the church of S. Giovanni Evangelista.

Bonnie smiled and added another line, which Tom read aloud as well.

Correggio tried to take credit for another artist’s work. He was a big, fat cheater.

“Right,” he added, yawning and arranging his six-foot frame on the hard wooden bench. “Wake me up when you’re done copying this guy’s brilliant work.”

She frowned and said nothing more, opening up a small container of pencils, charcoal and chalk to begin her drawing.

Bonnie began by drawing a faint, charcoal outline of the face, marking lightly the subject’s eyes, nose and mouth. She then switched to red chalk, shaping and then deepening the shadows along and under the young man’s jaw. In moments she forgot everything around her, including Tom’s snores from the bench. She felt both calm and energized.

She had been surprised by meditative state of mind she could only achieved when she was sketching, though the yoga instructor in her required phy-ed class had attempted to get her into a similar state. But Bonnie’s inflexible body could never form the lithe poses of Ms. Ryan, nor was she ever able to achieve alternate nostril breathing, or pranayama, which supposedly would help stamp out her always present anxiety and merge her left- and right-brain thinking. All she could concentrate on during yoga class was how painfully the crotch snaps of her leotard were digging into the delicate pelvic region tissue.

Through drawing she could achieve a relaxed but creative state of mind; her usual self-consciousness cancelled out by the intent, focused concentration on her drawing. The dissatisfaction she’d felt the moment they walked inside the Louvre vanished as she’d connected to Anselmi’s work in the most intimate way imaginable: by recreating it, with her own hands.

There was a moment when her self-confidence took a dip, and the judgmental world began to gnaw at her briefly, sounding a lot like Tom’s mumbled complaints in his sleep. Then she saw how her initial rough drawing didn’t bear much of a resemblance to the picture in front of her. Then she felt inadequate to the task. Like the long meditative period, this moment of self doubt occurred every time she drew, causing her to want to give up and throw the drawing away.

But she had learned not to give up. She pushed passed the brief setback, and her self-consciousness receded once again, along with her awareness of Tom’s snores. As her fingers became ever more smudged in red chalk and charcoal, she carefully placed a small clean cloth under hand to avoid marring the drawing while she modeled in cheekbones, eye sockets, and the soft waves of the young man’s hair.

Eventually she added the last touches – a few highlights in white chalk on the nose, forehead and cheekbones, where the planes of his face turned to the light. She propped her notebook along the wall and stood back to look at it from several feet away.

“Bravo,” a voice said. As she turned to see who spoke, she noticed a trio of high-school-aged French girls, all wearing matching school uniforms, watching the sleeping Tom with rapt attention. They whispered excitedly amongst themselves.

The man who had spoken had been observing both her and the quiet drama of young girls admiring a handsome young man. He walked up to Bonnie. “Nicely done. I’ll buy it from you since I can’t convince the Louvre to sell me the original. It’s one of my very favorites. How much would you like?”

“Buy it?” Bonnie’s right- and left-brain hadn’t quite disconnected themselves, allowing  a full return to reality. Who was this man? And why would he want to buy her drawing?

“I must apologize for not introducing myself first,” he said, holding out a hand. “William Oldenburg, III. I run the Oldenburg Gallery in New York City.”

Bonnie took his hand. She’d heard of the Oldenburg Gallery and had, in fact, checked out a book with photos of all the works it contained. It had one of the richest collections in the U.S. This Oldenburg must have been the grandson of the oil tycoon who’d made the family’s fortune early in the 20th century.

William Oldenburg, III, was a rail-thin, middle-aged man dressed in a herringbone-patterned shirt unbuttoned to his breastbone, a leather bomber jacket draped over his arm. His hair was platinum, and Bonnie wasn’t sure if it was because he was prematurely gray, or if he’d dyed it that color. His face even appeared to have make-up on it – mascara and a hint of eye shadow, touches of blush on his well-defined cheekbones.

“Bonnie Huber,” she said. “Of Saint Agnes College, in Minnesota.” She doubted he had ever heard of it.

“Bonnie Huber,” he said, smiling warmly. “Very lovely to meet you. Please call me Billy. And name your price, I meant it,” he said. “And I’ll be sure you don’t undersell yourself. I knew you were from the Midwest even before you mentioned Minnesota.”

How was it so obvious? Was it the hair? The earth shoes? “Um. Of course, I’d be happy to give it to you,” she said.

“I expected that. Nonsense. I won’t accept less than $800.”

800 dollars! Bonnie’s jaw dropped.

“And even that’s less than it’s worth. So I’ll throw in dinner, tonight. Your friend,” he said nodding at Tom, “is invited as well. At least I assume he’s your friend though in that pose he looks like the vision of one of Michelangelo’s slaves.”

Bonnie was sure she saw Billy lick his lips when he glanced at Tom. The three girls were still keeping watch over him, quietly chattering in rapid schoolgirl French.

“Let’s just say he’s an acquaintance I ran into,” Bonnie said, nudging Tom’s shin with her foot.

“You and your acquaintance are welcome to join me for dinner,” Billy replied. “No discussion on that point. We’ll negotiate your price over wine and whatever you like at one of Paris’ best restaurants. Here’s my card,” he said, handing her an expensive-looking business card bearing his and the gallery’s name.

“My driver is right outside the Rue de Rivoli entrance. You know where that is?”

She nodded.

“Just meet us there and we’ll head off to dinner.” Billy put his bomber jacket on and strolled off.

“What’s going on?” Tom said, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. The three girls scattered like startled pigeons, then settled on a bench across the room.

“We’re going to dinner with one of America’s richest men,” Bonnie said, “who happens to want to buy my drawing for $800.”

“What? You’re joking, right?”

“His car’s waiting outside,” she said, showing him the card Billy had just handed her. ”He’s prepared to wine and dine us right now.”

“This I gotta see,” Tom said, standing and stretching while Bonnie put her art supplies away. “800 dollars? What else do you have in that sketchbook?” he said, reaching for it.

She remembered that she did have several other drawings she had no intention of showing anyone. And one in particular she would rather die than have him see. She snatched her sketchbook away and tucked it in her tote bag. “Hands off,” she said. “You’re lucky to be getting dinner out of this deal. After tonight, your next stop is the embassy so you can be on your way.”

“Fine with me,” he said. “I’m starving. Let’s get what we can from this guy, before he moves on to his next find.” As they headed out of the drawings gallery, they passed by the three girls. She followed Tom’s eyes as he looked at the girls and dazzled them with his best King of Sunray High smile.

✭✩✩✩✩Stinky Yes, But Not From the Cheese

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Just joining our story?  It starts here . Or you can begin with this installment and hear what some readers think of the Big Cheesy Novel. Starting with this back cover blurb. You can always trust back cover blurbs, right? 

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Praise for the Big Cheesy Novel

Beautiful, lush, and a tour- de-force, the Big Cheesy Novel is the late 20th century’s Vanity Fair. Bonnie Huber is a modern Becky Sharp: a plucky, likeable heroine climbing the American social ladder of the late 1970’s. Rich, poignant, and at times hilarious, this novel sets the standard for THE American novel.

Bob Burdicker, best-selling and award-winning author of the Lucky Hands and Winning Streak.

First Online Review for the Big Cheesy Novel

✭✩✩✩✩Complete Waste of Time – The Big Cheesy Novel is a Big, Gooey Mess.

By Ann Amison-Reader

The Big Cheesy Novel is appalling, ludicrous, superficial, and a complete waste of the time it took to write this sentence. Still, I wanted to warn readers out there who might believe the false advertising on the book cover and attempt to read this thing. There are so many things wrong with this book I don’t even know where to begin.

First, do we really care about another college girl’s trip to Paris and its ripple effect through the rest of her boring life? That premise might have been okay if a more interesting character undertook the journey. But Bonnie Huber is as lame as the name sounds, with a lackluster physique to match her late-1970’s era fashion sense, though of course she’s perfect for THAT lamentable era of smock tops, bellbottoms, and earth shoes. She is as bland as stale toast on a cloudy, midwestern day.

Don’t believe what the book title advertises; it’s marketing drivel, but I guess that’s how they sell books. I was expecting delicious, gooey cheese, and lots of it, and while there is a lot of SOMETHING in this novel that stinks, it’s not cheese, not even flavorless, cellophane-wrapped American cheese which would have been at least SOMETHING.

I am insulted by the blurbs on the back cover, like the one from the so-called famous author Bob Burdicker. Never heard of Burdicker. Based on how this novel is going, I won’t be checking him out soon.

The fact is that a wimpy, unsexy girl with a bad haircut cannot sustain even a small, “serious” novel, and certainly not a big cheesy one. Take my advice, avoid reader’s indigestion, and walk away now from the Big Cheesy Novel.

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Bonnie considered Tom’s plea. It was going to be tough enough for him to survive in Paris without any knowledge of French, but no money and no passport could have some severe consequences. Sure, he might be able to eventually find his way to the American Embassy with help from some passerby, but here she was, capable, someone he knew, someone who already knew her way around Paris. How could she turn him down? It would be cruel.

Still, turning him down was her first thought. Her only thought.

He’d needed her before. He’d needed lots of people. But his needs were driven simply by an arrogant laziness; everyone knew that, including Tom. He was smart enough to know that the easiest, surest path to success was to have others lined up eager to do his bidding. And people seemed to fall all over themselves to do just that. Bonnie wasn’t one of those people, but it wasn’t because she’d always had the guts to say ‘no’ to him. He’d rarely asked her for anything. He didn’t have to. There were already plenty of people falling all over themselves to do whatever he wanted.

They guy had charisma, whether he was hung over or not. He lit up a room, and she could see that had not changed.

They were in the land of the Louis XIV, the 16th century monarch who’d ruled France at the height of its powers. Regarded as a miracle at his birth, he was also known as le Roi Soleil – the Sun King. The Louvre, now the world’s richest museum, had been his palace.

Tom was the Sun King of Sunray Lake High.

He had, however, been less than sunny the last time he’d asked something of her. They had been taking a calculus exam, one that counted for half of their final grade. Even though it was nearing eleven a.m., Tom was still wearing the rumpled overcoat of a hangover, and he leaned close enough for her to smell the alcohol on his breath. He nodded towards her nearly complete test paper, giving her what he probably thought was a charming look. She immediately dismissed him, shocked that he was actually insisting that she help him cheat. Bonnie had been willing to share a few homework answers here and there, but letting Tom copy an entire test was something else.

The flash of annoyance that crossed his face when it was clear she had rejected his request made it clear how he felt. No one turned down the Sun King of Sunray Lake High! For the rest of the year, whenever they passed in the hall — him with a half dozen friends, her alone —she could see that she didn’t seem to register in his face at all. He’d forgotten her the moment she turned him down and quickly moved on to more accommodating subjects.

And that was fine with her.

“So you will help me out?” he asked. “Right?”

“Sure,” she said. What else could she say? “After the Louvre.” She was not going to have him messing up her plans. She didn’t have a year to bum around Europe like he did, she had just two more weeks.

“The Louvre, huh. They serve wine there?”

She knew he knew exactly what the Louvre was. And how he would have preferred to spend the afternoon. The guy had lost everything, and still the only thing that mattered to him was where his next drink was. So she shrugged and gave the same response she’d given when he’d asked her to cheat on the final calculus exam.

“Suit yourself,” she said, turning away to and continuing on her way across the Tuilleries.

“Still a hard-ass,” he said, instantly at her shoulder again, “taking everything so seriously. Not everything’s a final exam.”

She kept walking, feeling the blood rush to her face. So he had remembered.

“Look, once I get things straightened out, I’ll take you to dinner. I’ll owe you,” he said.

Bonnie gave him another look and tried hard to detect even the smallest amount of sincerity. And while it was still the face of the Sun King that beamed back at her, she thought she might have seen the slightest dimming of his damnably blue eyes. Perhaps she had convinced him that dorky Bonnie Huber still had the guts to turn him down. But she would have to decide without knowing for sure, suspecting that she was seeing what she wanted to see in those blue eyes, and not the truth.

“I said I’d help you,” she snapped, “– after the Louvre.”

— Want more cheese? Head right this way —-

More from the Big Cheesy (a.k.a. “Sweeping Gooey”) Novel

frizzyWhen we left our heroine, she had just run into someone she didn’t expect to see in Paris. Remember, it’s January 1979. And she has just gotten a very bad haircut, which she is hiding under a stocking cap. Keep in mind this is  a gooey novel, though I’ve heard from a reader that ‘gooey’ may cheese off my male audience. So I’m considering making it a BIG CHEESY novel versus a SWEEPING GOOEY novel. My first concern is that it needs more cheese. So I’m working on that.

Bonnie shrank back, remembering clearly who it was she was talking to. Tom Iversen. The Tom Iversen. Graduated first in their high school graduating class — but just barely — after having slept his way through most of their senior year. Since he’d received a full-ride scholarship to Stanford University, he could let things go. And he did. He came to class hung-over, almost every morning, and tried to hide his bloodshot eyes behind cool, dark aviator glasses. His rare contributions to the classroom discussion – when he was awake — were in the form of crude commentary to anyone nearby, or cutting remarks about the teacher.

And Bonnie could hear it all. She was always placed nearby Tom, her Huber just ahead of his Iversen in the seating chart alphabet.

Even when he was at his worst, Tom was still every teacher’s pet – the golden boy who was going to make Sunray Lake, Minnesota, proud, ace his way through Stanford, become an aerospace engineer with NASA, who knew, maybe wind up piloting the Space Shuttle.  Bonnie was sure they already had the “Welcome Home, Tom!” banners printed up and ready to hang from the Sunray Lake water tower when he made his triumphal return from space in just a few years.

So he could afford to slack off.  People like Tom always could.

But Bonnie wasn’t like Tom. She couldn’t slack off.  She wasn’t sure she even would if she had half the chance. She was a bright, industrious student, and earned a few scholarships, but not enough to attend some pricey West Coast school. So she never bothered looking outside the Midwest. And why should she? Her path had never been as has clear as Tom’s always had been. And she had no one taking her on as a special project, ready to encourage her to try more lucrative, less traditional female professions. Shouldn’t she have been encouraged to think of being a rocket scientist too? Received some extra coaching to raise her college entrance test scores?

Bonnie wasn’t sure what she might have made of such encouragement. She’d never been the type of person to accept help easily, and never asked for it. She’d gotten her first job as soon as she could, working at 15 in a drugstore restaurant as cook, waitress and busboy, sometimes all in the same shift. She took the bus to and from her restaurant job, finishing her homework when the ride didn’t make her nauseous. Sometimes even when she was nauseous, she’d fake work on her homework so the local pothead on his way to the head-shop didn’t insist on carrying on his never-ending anti-government rant in the seat next to her, all the while steadily exhaling remnants of his long-held smoke at her as he spewed his nonsense. It always seemed best to stay under radar, keep your head down, avoid eye contact (especially with ranting potheads), and take care of your business by yourself.

And while she would have done better to save everything she earned for college, she had a hard time not spending all her meager wages and tips on small luxuries. Mostly art books and art supplies, which went to good use, but also the occasional cute angora sweater in pink, a color that she thought looked good against her pale, sometimes blotchy skin and didn’t make her hair look so bad. Oh and a pair of super wide bell bottom hip-hugger jeans. Or two. It wasn’t that her parents couldn’t afford to get these kinds of things for her. Bonnie didn’t want to ask.

And maybe that meant she was to blame for where she was after all. If you don’t ask for help or mentoring, you don’t get it. Instead you got angora sweaters that kick up so much static electricity that your limp hair goes even flatter against your neck and shoulders; hip-hugger jeans that quickly go out of style; and, just that day, an ugly curly, short haircut to fix the frisé frizzies. Instead you wound up at the nearest college that would take you, that your parents could mostly afford, with loans and part time jobs to pay the rest of the way.

So that’s where things stood for Bonnie Huber, visiting Paris, France in January 1979. In a few months, about when the perm grew out, she’d have to declare a major, and she still had no clue which direction she should take. And now she was standing right in front of a guy who had always had a clear sense of direction, and always seemed to have others for pushing him along when he needed to be pushed.

Bonnie shrugged off her feeling of inferiority. Tom Iversen was nobody, like all the other nobodies she’d had as high school classmates, who were all long gone from her life. This chance meeting was nothing.

“I’m studying French – and art — in Paris for the month,” she said casually, adding the “and art” part even though Mademoiselle was teaching only French. It really was a stretch to say she was studying art at all. Sure, she had a talent for portraiture and a few art history classes under her belt, but that was hardly “studying art.” She was, however, carrying a sketchpad and pencils with her, and planned to do some sketching at the Louvre. So at least she had some proof on her. Maybe someone would happen to notice her there, see that she had talent, and something special would happen in her life after all.

“How’s rocket science school?” she asked Tom casually, as if they had just run into each other at the Sunray Lake grocery store. But her voice rang out too loudly in the quiet, empty Jardin des Tuileries, echoing against the stone courtyards of the formal gardens and ricocheting back to her with false rings. It seemed like the wrong place for such an untrue tone of voice.

He shrugged. “I’m taking a break from aerospace engineering,” he said, using the more proper term for his course of study. “Taking a year off to travel.”

“Really,” she said, hoping she didn’t sound too sarcastic or envious. “How do you take a year off?” She thought that might sound rude, and again her voice was too loud, which confirmed it. She wondered whether the chemicals from the permanent had seeped into her brain, and changed her, permanently, maybe for the worse. She decided she didn’t care. “Exactly how do you do that?” she said, her voice ringing back to her a little less harshly.

“Well, let’s just say that everyone thought it was for the best,” he said.

“Everyone?”

He took a few moments to consider her question, and answered her. He was obviously taking his direction from the solemn atmosphere of the winter garden. “Mostly my advisor. My dad was against it, saying I’d hit my stride soon enough.”

Jim Iversen, Tom’s dad, was the long-time Sunray Lake high school principal. He’d seen enough kids to know whether one would hit his stride at some point, but had a huge blind spot, or so everyone thought, regarding his son.

“So here I am. In the middle of my European tour,” he said with a laugh. “And I’m completely, 100 percent lost in Paris. I just got into town and if I hadn’t run into you, I’m not sure what I would have done. I got scammed by some gypsies in a bump and run. My wallet’s missing, I lost my passport, and I’m down to my last franc. Think you can help me out?”

Interested in more cheese? Why click here,  s’il vous plaît.

Where to Open a Big Cheesy Novel? Why Paris, of Course!

imagesAnd so it begins.

Chapter 1

January 1979
Paris, France

The Jardin des Tuileries was deserted on a dull gray winter afternoon as the mousey, stick-thin American girl set out to cross it on her way to the Louvre. She observed that no one sat in the cold chairs by the fountains. No children ran along the paths that crisscrossed it. No one strolled slowly along, admiring its parterres. It would be several months before the famed Parisian spring was to arrive. Now all the flowerbeds were empty and colorless, except for the bright blooms of red lipstick on discarded Gauloises Bleues butts that had been planted casually here and there.

Bonnie Huber wasn’t wearing any lipstick or smoking French cigarettes, so she had nothing to add to that winter garden-scape. She also wasn’t wearing her warmest winter coat, the one that held up to Minnesota winters and kept her warm when she was crossing the tundra known as the St. Agnes campus. That coat had been left at home in St. Paul, since she figured she could handle a Paris winter in her plaid zipped-front jacket. She’d also left her very unfashionable lined Sorel snow-boots behind, figuring there wouldn’t be any snow and that her brown earth shoes could handle it. And there hadn’t been any snow.

Instead there had been rain. And many deep puddles that she’d had to traverse in her low-heeled earth shoes. But even soggy socks hadn’t dampened her enthusiasm for the January term in Paris.

She liked best the free afternoons, when students in her group could do as they wished. Today that meant a long afternoon exploring the Louvre museum. She planned to take in every bit of it, hoping to spend hours admiring the Mona Lisa and all of its treasures; she also hoped to have enough time to visit the nearby Orangerie, home to the famous Water Lilies paintings by Impressionist painter Claude Monet.

She knew she would not see a single one of her classmates at the Louvre. The rest of the girls—all sophomores in Mademoiselle Fliegel’s French class at the all-female College of Saint Agnes—were headed straight to the popular left bank, to the Rive Gauche restaurant that had authentic Italian pizza and authentic cute, young Italian waiters. Instead of practicing their French, they spent hours tasting the delicious stone-oven-fired pizza and the charming tongues of the Italian boys.

But not learning a word of Italian.

Bonnie thought they were wasting their time, particularly given that most of the girls had boyfriends who were attending the all-male College of St. Peter, just a few miles from St. Agnes. Bonnie didn’t have a St. Peter boyfriend, and even if she had she wouldn’t have bothered finding an Italian substitute to keep her entertained while in Paris. She spent her free-time elsewhere, exploring Paris on her own, eating French street food like crepes and dining on straight-from-the-oven baguettes.

Almost all of her classmates had been friends together in the Catholic High School near the college, and they all had learned many things that she hadn’t in her suburban public school. Like how to talk to foreign boys they didn’t know in a language they could understand. “The international language of LOVE,” her classmate Nancy had gushed, having scored a date with the cutest of the Italian waiters! Oh puke, Bonnie had thought.

Bonnie also hadn’t learned how to have the glossy, long hair they all seemed to have, hair that effortlessly could be swept into beautiful, wavy ponytails and fashionable chignons. Bonnie’s hair was limp dishwater blond that couldn’t hold a curl and quickly lost its grip on ponytail bands, turning into an ugly haystack mess in moments.

Or it had been that way the day before. Bonnie had marched into a salon the previous afternoon, one that was near the hotel where they were housed for the month. In her very best college-sophomore French, she’d asked for a perm.

Frisé, she’d said. She knew that meant ‘curly’. It wound up good old American frizzy, tightly crimped in a wavy mess that stuck out in all directions from her head. Her attempt to blow-dry the frisé out only made her hair look even fuzzier. She had not learned the true secret to hair care, that what looked effortless required much effort. Her roommate, a buxom girl named Carol Simon, had offered her the use of her rollers, explaining that all Bonnie needed to do was put her permed hair into the big rollers, while it was damp, and let it dry for several hours (or overnight), then carefully brush it all out in the morning aided by any of the numerous hair products Carol had hauled along. Her frizzies would be gone.

Well. What had been the point in getting curls put in if you had to spend hours getting them out, every day?

So Bonnie visited another salon on her way to the Louvre.

Une coupe courte, she said, s’il vous plaît.

And with that, the hairdresser cut the frizzy perm off, all of it except for the final few inches, which left Bonnie with her first-ever curly short haircut. It was still a shock to look in the mirror and see the thick nest of dishwater blond curls framing her heart-shaped face, curls that called attention to her big blue-gray eyes and her tiny, imperfect slash of a mouth. But at least she wouldn’t have to bother with curlers and hair products. She would just have to avoid looking in mirrors for the next several months until it had all gone away on its own.

But not one bit of her French salon experience could be seen under the stocking cap she’d pulled over it. She hated attracting attention and she was smart enough to know that a young woman on her own in a large city could attract the wrong type of attention.

“Are you, eh, Américaine?” a masculine voice said suddenly.

Out of nowhere, a stranger was suddenly at her elbow.

“Uh. Quoi?” Bonnie quickened her pace. Her best sophomore French deserted her as she struggled to say ‘what did you say’ in French even though he’d spoken clearly in a jumble of  English and French. Whatever he was asking her, she wanted him to go away— quickly and not stop bothering her.

Américaine?” he said again.

Clearly he was, given his accent. It suddenly struck her and she stopped in her tracks. Laughing. She looked at him.

“Tom? It’s you isn’t it?”

“No. Way,” the guy said. “Bonnie?”

“Why on earth did you just ask me,” she said, barely able to spit the words out between laughs. “Whether I was Américaine?”

“My French is, I guess, worse than yours. But you are clearly so American. In those earth shoes and that plaid coat. I guess it all came out in a jumble.”

“What on earth are you doing here. In Paris?” Bonnie asked.

“I guess I could ask you the same,” Tom said.

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Interested in where the story goes next? Why click here,  s’il vous plaît.