Once there were idle days that I whiled away sipping Pernod. In a previous incarnation unconcerned with tomorrow my sweetheart of that era draped around me, her cashmere sweater dangling from her shoulders, we together went lost on the backstreet sidewalk cafés in the South of France. We’d whisper and nibble into one another’s ears beneath the parasols. Not her or I were skinny enough to be mistaken for French, still there was this Old World aching sense of late afternoon unquenched desire. We’d pretend that we were lost (before the smartphone ruined this pleasure) on narrow alleys paved of cobblestone. Wandering until we found our hotel where we could make mischief before showering then once more departing to dine long into the late night.
Soft voices mix with chatter. From village to village exploring the Dordogne there is now at last time to study the French people’s way they express themselves with the fine art of the frown. The facial expression is comprehensive and quintessential. A skilled Frenchman often greets the deepest emotions and most noble philosophical possibilities with a frown of a thousand distinct discernably different meanings. It is the smoking of the cigarette, the sipping of an aperitif when a sparkle in their eye provides the answer to the proposition.
If there is good reason to teach a child to swim, then there is equally as important a reason to teach a man or woman how to love. Without instruction a swimmer may drown, and a lover may be stricken with a grief that they may never recover from.
In the café is where the French peruse and parade their libidinous fortune. From a distance and behind the veil of another kind of frown each with cunning skill steal a look here and there at what might have been if only the twisting fated world had turned another way some distant other day. Sipping Ricard Pastis de Marseille over ice with a splash of water whispering into each other’s ears, nudging nose to cheek, assuring fingers tapping lightly upon the top of the others hand.
Bistro chairs, languid ceiling fans, hatching plans, driving the countryside in a Citroën DS with plans to visit Josephine Bakers Château des Milandes. The next day a trip to a nearby two-thousand-year-old hamlet nestled into the side of a cliff. A cave guide, whose family has for countless centuries continuously resided there plunges us into the depths of a nearby opening along a cliff. We feast upon our ancestor’s inscrutable imagery. Only seventy-thousand years ago did prehistoric man first leave behind evidence of their thinking in the abstract, to draw images into rock that infer something more, the art on the cave walls suggests mankind had setoff upon a deeper investigation of consciousness.
Most of all it is the freedom to spend our afternoons seated in the outdoor café’s where we played make-believe. Best was to admire the still thin French couples, affectionate and sure of their skillful use of romance, fanning the moments in public with a tumultuous undercurrent of restrained passion, nursing an aperitif, smoking cigarettes, pursing their lips, simmering smiles, nodding, winking, this was all foreplay and prequel. Slipping away in the late part of the day, lazy jazzy hours spent with windows flung open, a breeze wafting through a dimming room, before supper, attending to the fine details of furthering a partner’s happiness.
In the South of France, this is how skillful love is served. There is no corollary to how the Japanese, Australians or North Americans approach the same task. Courtesans emerging from the French culture was not an accident. Like every other aspect of social life, a great deal of careful attention has been paid to how to heighten matters of the human experience. As for learning how to love I would recommend embarking upon a field trip, a café, then taking your cues and lessons from the French romantics lingering in your midst.