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Unexpected Pleasures




You can walk out into the world thinking you know what pleasures await you, and have no idea of the treasure in store.

I knew the dinner would be excellent.

I knew that editing a story would be satisfying.

But I'm startled by the acute pleasure of being out in the cold sharp night air after several weeks mostly indoors with the flu. The world is so… solid, so real! Feathers! Flowers! Carytids! The moon! 

The pleasure of crossing a narrow street at the crosswalk, three men talking and blocking my path, the one on the bicycle looking up with great sweetness, "Oh, pardon!" and backing up his bike to let me pass.


The sweetness of men! It moves me even more than their strength. That Celtic douceur that comes from centuries of the troubadour tradition of courtesy (and perhaps from centuries of its opposite, savage wars on one's own soil).

The pleasure of remembering that I have several books to pick up at Shakespeare and Company. I'm carrying a book bag with my laptop and printed-out stories.  Do I want the extra weight? Sure. Better than swinging by too late after they've closed.



I detour, pick up the books. The bookseller with whom I'd been exchanging messages says, "Oh, it's you. I know your face, but didn't know your name."

"Same with me. You have the slightest accent. What is it?"

"I'm French."

"But your English is perfect."

"I lived in the States for a while."

Out into the blue-black cold. The face of Notre Dame across the river makes me think of Rosamond Larmour Loomis. The cathedral reminds me of those four years of boarding school, of memorizing hymns, the strict regimen of classes, study hall, every hour mapped out.



Rosamond was the headmistress of the school. She died last week at the age of 102, several weeks after her boyfriend Henry.

I remember two conversations with her, one when I was 14, and had been called into her office with Miss Moran, the sadistic assistant headmistress. I’ve already mentioned this once on Paris Play, but it made a deep impression on me, hinted at my future. Miss Larmour sternly addressed a most unfortunate incident involving naked girls in high heels and pearls stampeding down the dorm singing an aria from La Traviata. She said, "We thought you were a leader when you arrived, but this is not what we had in mind."



And later at a school reunion, she was no longer the strict head of the school, but relaxed, warm, ageless. We discovered that we'd both been married for the first time later in life, at the same age, though years apart.

Rosamond died the way I would like to die, quickly, quickly, well past the age of 100, with my beloved and friends nearby. I imagine her on her journey, sailing into the mystery.

It is crowded at my writing café. But maybe, maybe that man is not sitting at my table.

The waiter asks.

No, he's just spread out his packages there from the adjacent table where he's talking with a woman. He graciously makes room for me.



I order salmon and scalloped potatoes, the way my mother used to make them.

I open my new James Salter novel, Light Years, and begin to read. Oh. my. god. Oh! Oh! This is music. I cannot help it, I begin to annotate the page with a pencil, making scansion marks above the words as if the lines were a prose poem.

The rhythm of his sentences, the sculptural quality. The weather, the sensory richness.

I know these characters, their lives rich with art, books, friendship, family, storytelling, animals, weather, beauty. (And later, carelessness, sad choices.)

The dinner arrives. The waiter says, “If you finish that book tonight, I’ll give you a free dessert.”

The couple next to me laugh. It's a joke Parisian waiters make only when it’s clear that you’ve just started a book.

The meal is fantastic.



The man at the next table gets up to use the bathroom. The woman strikes up a conversation with me. She lives for literature. She lives in a small town near Brittany. 

The man returns. He runs a poetry and fiction reading series near us in Paris.

She invites Richard and me to visit her in her small village. She offers to drive us around.

He invites us to come to his poetry series next weekend.

They have just met in the Jardin du Luxembourg.  We all exchange cards.

I am flooded with richness.

When they leave I order a glass of cider. The mild alcohol content won't interfere with my editing.

Oh yes it does. I'd forgotten the lingering effect of the flu, am instantly tipsy. Now, how to balance that out? A coffee would keep me up all night. But a hot chocolate wouldn't. That delicate balancing act we do with food, drink and energy.

The hot chocolate warms and awakens me. I edit the story with the music of Salter's sentences ringing in my ears.




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Reader Comments (8)

Wow. Wonderful piece! It has its own music. And the photos are perfect. Including the great sculpture by Carpeaux, once at the Opera, (where a copy now stands) that caused such a scandal, while it mirrored the hidden scandal back stage. Love the whole piece, You capture Paris so vividly.

Monday, March 11, 2013 at 20:32 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Griffin

What pleasures, indeed! I love how people find each other -- what a perfect day. I hope you and Richard are feeling much better after such a long bout with the flu. Rest easy and only exert yourself to write (although, I don't think you'd have to with the flow you have!). Thanks as always for sharing a beautiful experience through your senses, for letting us experience Paris through you and Richard. xo

Monday, March 11, 2013 at 20:43 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Genest

Dear Susan,

You are one of the few people I know who'd not only recognize the Carpeaux sculpture of the maenads dancing with Dionysus, but know ALL the stories behind the caperings at the Opera.

Something I grew to understand about Rosamond was her gift for mirroring others, her sharpness of seeing. She somehow foretold the maenadic stories that would unfold later in the Bay area. And of course, Richard had the photo!

You know why we love Paris so much, and we and Paris miss you here!

Thank you, and love,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Monday, March 11, 2013 at 21:05 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Dear Jennifer,

Isn't it strange how on one day you can go out and no one addresses you personally, not even the waiter, and on another day, everyone is as friendly as can be? A mystery.

We're just about over this flu. In the meantime, I'm learning (once again) that the secret to getting writing done is ritual. Just do it every day, with days off when it's inevitable.

It makes us very happy when people we love enjoy our posts.

And we love you,

Kaaren (& Richard)

Monday, March 11, 2013 at 21:10 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Dear Kaaren and Richard,

I echo Susan and Jennifer’s thoughts: what wonderful pleasures you exude in your writing here. It’s woven with music & joie de vivre which is being gleefully received.

This Unexpected Pleasure makes me feel like I’ve been savoring a perfect dark chocolate truffle; delicious, rich and smooth. (I’m still allowing it to melt in my mouth.) It stirs up longings; longing to be there, walking those narrow streets, pleasuring my eyes on mythology carved into walls and finding my Cafe where I can linger at leisure with “a work.”

There are those marvelous days when I’m in tune and everything resonates, people greet me like old friends and I’m at home in the world… I treasure them. Perhaps we have to “get a flu” once in a while to find the contrast and truly appreciate being full of life again. Presence.

It sounds like your Miss Rosamond Larmour Loomis was surely full of life. To live until 102 with her boyfriend at her side seems to indicate she may have finally embraced La Traviata and naked girls parading in pearls…I hope so. My plans exactly…

Avec Amour,

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 8:34 | Unregistered CommenterJoanne Warfield

Dear Joanne,

This is wonderful! You caught the state of mind (or soul) that this essay tried to capture: reveling in pleasure. It really was a dark chocolate kind of day.

And yes, Miss Larmour, as we used to call her, and later, Rosamond, was very much alive, with legions of friends, her "girls" who later became her "girls and boys", with many of them staying in touch, some becoming close friends. Her last birthday was February 14th, and that sums her up. She was a valentine, chocolates, a rose, much loved (as well as smart, well-educated, witty, humorous, warm). Maybe you have to be a bit of a cupid yourself to have a boyfriend at the age of 102.

I feel so fortunate to have had and still have older women in my life who inspire me in how to live. She was certainly one of them.


Kaaren (& Richard)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 15:43 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

Dear Kaaren and Richard,

What a treat!

I want those potatoes like your mother used to make! There's nothing so reassuring as potatoes.

I loved the bas reliefs. Such wit in stone. Such frivolity on all sides. The ladies dancing around Dionysus, the one in back eyeing his fabulous ass. And, my favorite, the one with the tambourines and the book. Yup.

Yes, writing is a job. Another word for ritual. Ya get up and do it every day. I enjoyed the dailiness of your entire outing that day. I mean, what does "flu" mean, anyhow. Influenza. Is the Italian for influence? The flowing in? So writing is the drawing out on paper of the river flowing in?

I love it.

I always love it.

What you two do for me.


Love ya both,


Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 19:27 | Unregistered CommenterBruce Moody


What a delightful message!

Yes, you would love those potatoes the way my mother used to make them, and everything else she made as well.

This statue captures so well the spirit of Dionysus and his maenads, doesn't it?

Yes, more and more, I feel that ritual is the secret for making progress in writing. And thank you for the re-imagining of the word influenza as flow. That is what we want, isn't it, flow.

Thank you for your appreciation, Bruce.


Kaaren (& Richard)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 19:38 | Registered CommenterKaaren Kitchell & Richard Beban

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