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Hershey Bars & Nylons.  The Art of Baron Donald von Wiedenmen

Close Personal Friends
Donald von Wiedenman

Venetia

We drove from London to Dover, where we took the car ferry to Calais.  Despite my overwhelming anxiety at being alone with Venetia, I was never the less elated over the prospect of going to Paris with her.   I was a very adaptable young man.  Having decided to go, I was going to make the most of it.  I was going to look at this adventure as yet another chapter in the book I would someday write.

The crossing from Dover to Calais was rough and the wind was icy.  Venetia’s cure for le mal de mer - my first French phrase to be put to use - was the same as her cure for everything - a drink.  We ordered brandy and ginger and sat huddled on the worn, wooden benches that ran outside along the length of the upper deck.  Students with long hair and knapsacks were sprawled everywhere, the smell of marijuana on their clothes.

The fresh air and the freedom I always feel at sea suddenly and unexpectedly blew fresh life into my desire for the woman next to me.  We said little.  I held her small, fragile hand.  The electricity between us kept me warm even in the bitter wind that swept across the channel.

We went below.  Venetia ordered oysters and champagne from the dark, handsome cabin steward who paid more attention to me than he did to her.  As soon as he left, Venetia turned down the light and began to get undressed.  I looked at her in the dim light, and all I could think of was the movie we had seen the night before.  Venetia, reading my thoughts, began to hum “Hello, Mrs. Robinson.”

The steward returned with the champagne and oysters.  Venetia took control, opened the door, tipped the young man, and returned to the bed with the tray.  I could barely make out the smile on her face.

Without any real reason, I was angry with her.  I think what bothered me most was that she was making the overtures, being the aggressor, the doer.  What moments before had been erotic innuendoes had suddenly given way to blatant lust.  It seemed like such a damned silly game, and I felt I was being exploited and manipulated.  The emotion was not that clear, the thought not that refined.  But I did know that I wanted no part of a game I did not invent.

I put my jacket back on and went up onto the deck.  A few minutes later Venetia joined me, two glasses of champagne in her hand, the neck of the champagne bottle jutting from the pocket of her oversized fur coat.

She was smiling.  Her cheeks were stained with tears.  “I think you need more time,” she said.

“Time for what?”

“I think you need more time before you’re ready to live in your own fantasy.”

“This is not my fantasy.  This is yours.”

“Oh no, darling,” she said with a laugh.  “This fantasy is just as much yours as it is mine.”

“I’m not so sure.”

She put her hand in the pocket of my slacks.  I shivered at her touch.  “If this were not your fantasy,” she said, tossing her long brown hair in the wind and looking positively gorgeous, “then you would not constantly have an erection.”

She moved her hand against me.  She was Mrs. Robinson on the ship to Calais, and I was overwhelmed.

“If either one of us is going to enjoy this fantasy,” I said firmly, catching her hand and stopping it, “then you must let me lead.”

“You talk like this is a dance.”

“I guess it is a dance, and right now I don’t want to dance unless I’m the one to lead.”

She thought for a moment.  “In other words, you mean that in this fantasy you want to play the man.”

“Exactly.”

“And you want me to play the demure, helpless woman?”

“Do you think that can be arranged?”

She pulled her hand from my pocket and looked at me from behind lowered lids.  “Will you call me Mrs. Robinson?”

“You know that is precisely what I do not want to call you.”

The lights of Calais were coming into view.  Even if she had tried, it would have been difficult for Venetia to let me lead.  She spoke French; I did not.  She knew her way through the bleak countryside of Brittany; I did not.  We were going to Paris, a city she loved and knew; there I would be a stranger.

The road from Calais to Paris is long and straight.  We drove for miles without seeing any sign of life, only small villages that appeared deserted so early in the morning and the occasional black Citroen roaring past us the other way, escaping from Paris.

In the car Venetia snuggled up to me and fell asleep.  This new land was an excitement, a puzzle.  Even though I saw no people, I knew everyone around me spoke a language I did not understand.  Being away from London, the only city I had ever called home, brought a new and very physical isolation, yet I realized that I had nothing to fear.  There was no one around that I knew, no one to judge me, no one to know if I failed or succeeded at whatever I might try.  And I realized as she stirred beside me in her sleep, a ball of white-hot femininity in a black fur coat, that I had nothing to fear from Venetia.  She wanted only the best of me, only the maleness of me.  True, she catered to my youth and inexperience at the same time, and I had been resenting it, punishing her and myself for being afraid of getting so close to something this wonderful.

Or was that really it at all?  I gave up thinking about it.  I only know that as I drove and she slept, London and my other life seemed further and further away.  I was a new man.  The thought echoed over and over in my mind until it washed away everything else.

I was approaching a small farming village and realized that I was lost.  In the last town there had been a sign that said Centre Ville 5 Kilometers.  The last thing Venetia had said before she fell asleep was to follow that sign.  Now here it was an hour later, and although I couldn’t remember turning off the main road, I must have somehow got turned around, because right in front of me in the traffic circle was another sign that said Centre Ville 3 Kilometers.

I shook Venetia awake.  “I’ve been driving for an hour and we’ve gone less than two kilometers.  Look.”  I pointed to the sign.

She raised her head sleepily, then smiled.

“What’s so funny?”

Rein, mon petite cheri,” she said, laughing.

“Tell me.”

Centre Ville is not the name of a town.”

“Yes it is,” I said, seeing another sign just ahead.  “Look!”

Centre Ville means town center. Every village has a centre ville. We’re only a few miles from Paris. You’re not lost at all.”

She laughed again. I joined her now. “I’m not laughing at you,” she said. “I’m just finding out how much fun it is to let you lead.”

She felt warm and sexy next to me.  I couldn’t wait to get her alone in that little hotel on the Left Bank.

It was early in the morning when we arrived in Paris.  The city was asleep and peaceful.  Following Venetia’s directions, we made our way along the outer edge of the city until we ended up on the Left Bank.  I could see the Eiffel Tower across the Seine.

We checked into the small, intimate old hotel that held Venetia’s memories.  It was five stories high and perched right on the edge of the narrow, cobblestone street.  It was exactly as Venetia had described it, seductively charming and smelling of lilacs.  There were fresh roses on the registration desk and almost-good oil paintings of pastel flowers on every wall.

We were both in a merry mood.  When the concierge, a tiny grey man with a tiny grey moustache,  finally appeared, I took a deep breath and asked, “Avez-vous une chambre double?”

It was the French phrase Venetia had taught me.  Do you have a room or two?

Oui,” replied the concierge, eying the two of us warily.

Avec salle de bain?

With a bathroom?  And that was that.

Oui, avec salle de bain.”

Bon!” I replied triumphantly, handing him our passports for identification.

He said something I did not understand.  “You have to pay him now,” Venetia whispered.  “We must look like we’d skip if we didn’t.”

I felt as if I were on a tremendous adventure, a spy on a secret mission.  It was dangerously romantic.

We carried our bags up three flights of stairs, past a wrought iron fire escape, until we arrived at the back of the hotel in a room overlooking a small park.

I opened the faded, painted wooden shutters and stood on the wrought-iron balcony, looking back into our tiny room.  There was a double bed covered with a chintz flowered spread that matched the faded floral print of the wallpaper.  A small table was beside the bed, and on it rested a chipped cut-glass vase with bright yellow roses in it.  By the window was a small desk with a pitcher and porcelain basin.  The room was a riot of subdued colors, not unlike a Cezanne painting.  In the bathroom, where pale yellow tiles went all the way to the ceiling, there was a bidet.

“A bidet,” Venetia purred to me.  “Now I know we are in France.  It’s such a civilized invention.”

“I had a friend,” she continued, “who lived in the house next to me in Provence.  He and his boyfriend used to come down every summer.  We became very close, in a neighborly kind of way.  Three kindred spirits from London, that kind of thing.

“They had the most marvelous dinner parties.  They went all out, with the fine china and the crystal, and Jack was a fabulous cook.  He used to specialize in giant, organically grown salads.  They were delicious.  I always looked forward to Jack’s salads.

“Then one day, on the afternoon of one of their biggest dinner parties, I went to their house to borrow something.  I can’t remember what it was, but they hadn’t expected to see anyone, and honestly, they were so busy preparing for the dinner party they scarcely had time to chat with me at all.  On the way out, I looked in the bathroom, and do you know, Jack was washing the lettuce in the bidet!

“I didn’t know what to think. I was in a shock! Jack looked up and saw me. He got red-faced very quickly.  He said not to worry, with two men in the house, no one ever used the bidet for anything but washing the lettuce.”

She was clutching my arm as she told the story.  “Well, it does sound logical.  Actually, it’s probably very hygienic.  But, darling,” she shrieked, “I always used their bidet when I was a guest at their house.  And I imagine the other women did too.  Oh, what an absolutely grim thought!  And of course that night, I never touched the salad.  I told them I had a delicate stomach.  It was months before I could eat a salad again.  Even now, I often think of Jack washing his lettuce in the bidet when I eat salad.”

Our room was above the hotel kitchen, and we could hear the clanging of pots and the rustle of dishes beneath us.  It was a comforting, human sound.

Venetia darted into the bathroom, to christen the bidet I suppose, while I more or less unpacked our suitcases.  We were only staying in Paris for two or three days, but we had enough clothes to stay a month if we chose. Venetia told me to pack thoroughly.  One never knows what clothes one may need in France.

When Venetia returned, her face flushed, her eyes bright, I grabbed her hand and pulled her roughly to me.  I pressed into her making her feel how excited I was.  She turned away.

“Let’s go out,” she said.  “Let’s walk around the streets.  I’ll show you a perfectly lovely place for breakfast.”

I pulled her back to me, kissing her again.  She struggled free.

“Later,” she whispered to me.  “First, I want to show you my Paris.”

“And I want to show you something,” I answered, taking her hand and guiding it downward.

“My darling,” she whispered, still pulling away, “my darling.

The more she pulled away, the more excited I became.  The more excited I became, the more she pulled away.  The game had begun in earnest, and we both knew it.

She marched me to the window.

“It’s a beautiful day.  It’s May.  We’re in Paris.  What else could you ask for?”

“I want to make love to you.”

“And you will, darling, but first we are going out.”

So we went out.  The hotel was in the center of Montmarte, at that time a haven for struggling artists and students looking for a cafe in which to sit, drink cafe au lait and discuss the philosophy of life.  Most of the inhabitants were young, the men bearded in turtlenecks and berets, the women in short skirts and high heels.  I felt as if I were on the set of a film.  Everyone was in costume.  Everyone knew their part perfectly.  It was a street of outsiders and lovers, and Venetia and I, holding hands, entwined around each other, anticipating the best of a relationship that had not yet begun, fit in perfectly.

We ate breakfast at the Cafe Deux Maggot.  It was, Venetia told me, a favorite place for writers and painters.  Van Gogh had painted here.  Hemingway got drunk here.  Collette always stopped here on her way to St. Tropez.

We drank pernod, a white, licorice-flavored liquor that turns milky when mixed with water, and ate fresh croissants with sweet butter.   Everyone around us was speaking French, bringing us even closer together on our own private island.

We spent the rest of the morning strolling along the Left Bank.  I saw everything around me in vivid colors, all of it sharply etched into my mind, yet when we returned to the hotel, I could remember no details of what we had seen or where we had been.  I had been in a dream, and once wakened from that dream, the details dissipated with the end of sleep.

In the room, Venetia made a point of keeping her distance.  She stood by the window, watching me, waiting.

Gently, I pulled her toward me.  This time she did not resist.  We tumbled onto the bed, laughing and excited.  I unbuttoned her silk blouse, struggling, thinking all the while that here I am back in high school again, fumbling with straps and lace, groping my way towards my prize.

Venetia lay very still.  After I finished undressing her, I lie fully clothed on top of her, feeling her nakedness and vulnerability against my rough clothes.  I stood up and undressed.

“Close the shutters, darling,” she sighed.

Now we were both naked, and the laughter was gone.  I ran my hand over her body, trembling at the feel of her skin, exciting her.  She made a deep, rasping sound I had not heard before, yet she did not move, did not grab me, did not meet me.  She was no longer Mrs. Robinson.  She was letting me lead, but if she were playing a part, it was the performance of her career.

It was as if we had been waiting to make love to each other all our lives.  In addition to the pure physical pleasure which was intense and desperate, there was the excitement of finally satisfying her, the thrill of satisfying myself at the same time.  As long as I was leading, I was in control.  And once I grasped the fantasy, reality was elevated to a new high.

“Next time,” Venetia said, “We’ll make love, darling, with the shutters open, so I can see you.”

“Why don’t you open them now?”

“It’s too soon.”

But she stood up and opened the shutters just enough to let a ray of sunlight fall across the bed, cutting across the middle of my body like a knife.  “I’ve never made love with the lights on,” she said.  “My husband always used to do me in the dark.”

“Do you?  What a terrible expression.”

“Well, that describes it perfectly.  He did me in the dark.  I never felt anything very significant, darling.  Oh, maybe every three or four months I would climax, but I think it was more of a coincidence than anything else.”

“What did you think about?”  The sun was burning my skin.  I shifted my position.  Venetia stroked my thigh lightly as she talked.

“Of doing it with the lights on with you.”

“But you didn’t even know me then.”

“I wanted to make love to a handsome young man who could go all day and all night.  And that’s you.”

I laughed.  “Well, it’s taken long enough, hasn’t it?”

“Are you happy?”

“I’m very happy.  But I’m definitely not satisfied.”  I reached for her.

She arched her eyebrows.  “With the shutters open like this?  With sunlight streaming across your naked body?”

“In front of god and everyone.”

“My darling,” she said, falling across me, “you just don’t know how long I’ve waited.”