Authors: Peter Mayle
Peter Mayle spent fifteen years in the advertising business, first as a copywriter and then as a reluctant executive, before escaping Madison Avenue to write books. He is the author of
A Year in Provence
, as well as the novels
A Dog's Life
. He and his wife and two dogs divide their time between the South of France and Long Island.
A Dog's Life
A Year in Provence
FIRST VINTAGE BOOKS EDITION, MAY 1998
1997 by Escargot Productions, Ltd.
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in hardcover in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1997.
Chasing CÃ©zanne / Peter Mayle.
p.Â Â Â Â cm.
1. Art theftsâFrance, SouthernâFiction. I. Title.
[PR6063.A8875C48Â Â Â Â 1998]
823â².914âdc21Â Â Â Â Â 98-11055
Author photograph courtesy of Jennie Mayle
Random House Web address:
Cover design by Chip Kidd
Cover paintings by CÃ©zanne / Art Resource, NY
About the Author
Other Books by This Author
THE receptionist echoed the decor, a human accessory precisely in tune with the restrained, almost severe chic of her surroundings. Glossy and cool in beige and black, she murmured into the phone, ignoring the rumpled young man standing in front of her. A slight frown threatened the smooth mask of her makeup as she glanced at the scarred leather shoulder bag that the young man had put on her otherwise immaculately bare desk of polished sycamore. She put down the phone, pushing back a wing of blonde hair to replace the gold earring that had been removed to facilitate conversation. Her eyebrows, plucked to perfection, rose in two questioning arcs.
The young man smiled. “Good morning. I have an appointment with Camilla.”
The eyebrows stayed up. “You are?”
“Andre Kelly. Are you new here?”
The receptionist declined to answer, as she unhitched her earring and took up the phone. Andre wondered why Camilla kept on hiring girls like this. They rarely lasted more than a couple of months before being replaced by
another polished cloneâdecorative, faintly unwelcoming, relentlessly blasÃ©. And where did they go once they had left? The cosmetics department at Barney's? The front office of a smart funeral home? Or were they swept off their feet by one of Camilla's many friends in the lower levels of European aristocracy?
“Her meeting's running late.” A finger flicked toward the far corner of the reception area. “You can wait over there.”
Andre smiled at her again as he picked up his bag. “Were you always this unpleasant, or did you have to take classes?”
But it was wasted. The phone was already tucked beneath the burnished wing of hair, the murmuring already resumed. Andre settled into a chair and prepared himself for an extended wait.
Camilla was knownâand, by some, admiredâfor her deliberate unpunctuality, for double-booking appointments, for manufacturing situations that emphasized her editorial charisma and her social importance. It was she who had broken new ground in the world of power lunches by booking two tables at the Royalton on the same day, shuttling from one table to the otherâa nibble of arugula and endive here, a sip of Evian thereâwhile she simultaneously entertained an important advertiser and a promising South American architect. It was a tribute to her reputation that neither of them was offended, and the two-table lunch then became an occasional part of Camilla's sociocorporate repertoire.
In the end, of course, she was allowed to get away
with such displays because she had achieved success, for which, in New York, all manner of bad behavior is forgiven. She had rescued an elderly magazine from its lingering death and modernized it, changing its name, retiring its venerable contributors, instituting a zippy but socially concerned “Letter from the Editor,” updating its covers, its typography, its photography, and, indeed, its receptionist and reception area. The circulation had tripled, advertising pages were increasing steadily, and the magazine's owners, while still losing money, were bathed in the reflected glow coming from a suddenly hot property. The magazine was being talked about, and Camilla Jameson Porter, for the moment, could do no wrong.
The magazine's rapid rise, while certainly helped by the cosmetic changes in its appearance, was in fact due almost entirely to something more fundamental: Camilla's editorial philosophy.
This had evolved in a curious way. During her earlier years, as an ambitious but unknown journalist working on the R and L (rumors and libel) page of a London tabloid with social pretensions, she had managed to acquire a wealthy upper-class husbandâthe tall, dark, and inconsequential Jeremy Jameson Porter. Camilla had embraced his name (which sounded
much smarter than the one she'd been born with, which was Camilla Boot) and also his well-connected friends. Alas, she had embraced one of them too enthusiastically and had been caught doing it. Divorce had followed, but by then Camilla had mingled with the wealthy long enough to learn the lesson that was to serve her so well in New York.
It was very simple. The rich are acquisitive, and with a few notable exceptions, they like other people to know about their acquisitions. After all, half the satisfaction of a privileged life is the envy it engenders; and what is the point of having rare and costly possessions unless others know you have them?
This fairly obvious insight kept returning to Camilla's thoughts as she pondered her future as an unattached woman in need of a job. And then one day she found the catalyst that turned her insight into a career.
She was in her dentist's waiting room and had picked up a copy of a brightly colored gossip magazine, intrigued by the cover photograph. It showed an aristocratic and internationally known art collector, posing in front of his latest Titian with his latest wife. Why, Camilla wondered, would such a couple agree to appear in such a magazine? Her question was answered by the story inside. It had been written on bended knee, shameless in its flattering descriptions of the collector, his pneumatic young bride, and their art-filled, fifty-seven-room love nest perched on the most select hillside overlooking Lake Como. Many photographsâartfully lit and equally flatteringâaccompanied the gush of prose. Every word, every image, attested to the fact that this was an absolutely wonderful couple living a wonderful life in a wonderful home. It was a seven-page massage.
Camilla looked through the rest of the magazine, an illustrated chronicle of the doings of the underemployed section of European societyâcharity balls, perfume
launches, gallery openings, the frothy distractions that provide excuses for the same group of people to keep bumping into each otherâ
âin Paris and London and Geneva and Rome. Page after page of smiling faces, vapid captions, bogus events. Nevertheless, as Camilla left the dentist she took the magazine with her, and she spent that evening brooding over the cover story. Gradually, an idea began to take shape.
Success is rarely achieved without a little luck, and in Camilla's case this came in the form of a phone call from a journalist friend in New York. All of media Manhattan, it seemed, was talking about the Garabedian brothers and their unexpected move into publishing. Having made several fortunes in nursing homes, invoice factoring, and waste disposal, they had recently acquired a group of companies that included a minor book publisher, a Long Island newspaper, and several specialist magazines in varying stages of decrepitude or collapse. The assumption was that the Garabedians had taken over the group for its main asset, which was a building on Madison Avenue, but there were rumors that one or two of the magazines might be kept alive and, in the words of Garabedian the younger, “goosed.” Financial analysts interpreted this as an indication of significant injections of capital. And one of the magazines considered suitable for goosing was
It was the kind of publication you might expect to find, its pages curled and yellowing, in the salon of a long-deserted Newport mansion. It was staid in tone, dowdy in
appearance. The advertisements, few and far between, were mostly devoted to curtain fabrics and faux-baronial lighting fixtures. Articles discussed the joys of ormolu and the proper care of eighteenth-century porcelain. The magazine kept its editorial face firmly turned away from anything remotely contemporary. And yet it had managed to retain a core of readers as it limped along making a marginal, shrinking profit.
Garabedian the elder looked at the numbers and was all for killing the magazine. But his brother was married to a young woman who described herself as a homemaker and who had read thrilling things about Philippe Starck. She persuaded her husband to consider a rescue operation, and the demise of
was postponed. If the right editorial formula could be found, it might even have a future.
The word went out; the grapevine throbbed. Camilla, briefed by her friend, came over to New York with a detailed proposal, which she presented, in her shortest skirt, to Garabedian the younger. The presentation lasted from ten until four, with a two-hour break for a mildly flirtatious lunch. Garabedian, it has to be said, was impressed as much by her ideas as by her legs, and Camilla was hired. As her first editorial act, she announced a change in the magazine's name: henceforth,
would be known as
. New York watched and waited.
In the way of new editors making their mark, Camilla promptly invested a considerable amount of Garabedian's money in self-promotion. She was seenâappropriately
and expensively dressed, of courseâat all the right occasions, beaming at all the right people, the magic moments being photographed by her personal
. Well before her first issue of
appeared, she had managed to establish a certain level of celebrity based on nothing more substantial than social stamina.
But those countless evenings of seeing and being seen and cultivating, those dozens of follow-up lunches, were to pay off. Camilla quickly came to know everybody she needed to knowâthat is, the rich and the bored, the social mountaineers and, perhaps most important, their decorators. Camilla paid particularly close attention to the decorators, knowing that their influence over clients often extended far beyond advice about fabrics and furniture; knowing also the fondness that decorators have for publicity.
And so, on those rare occasions when one of the magazine's chosen victims showed any reluctance to have her home invaded by photographers, writers, florists, stylists, and numerous black-clad attendants with cellular phones, Camilla called the decorator. The decorator twisted his client's arm. The doors were opened.
In this way, Camilla managed to go where no other glossy magazine had gone before. In fact, her very first issue contained a scoop, a double triumphâthe Park Avenue triplex (an Impressionist in every bathroom) and the Mustique cottage (three servants per guest) belonging to Richard Clement of the Wall Street Clements. A normally private, almost reclusive bachelor, he had surrendered
to a pincers movement mounted by his young Italian companion (a neophyte decorator himself) and Camilla. The resulting article, twenty pages of honeyed description and luscious photography, had been widely noticed and much admired.
was off to a fine start.
Three years had passed, and by keeping rigidly to its credoâ“Never,
, a nasty word about anybody”âthe magazine had flourished. Next year, even allowing for Camilla's expenses, it would make a noticeable amount of money.
Andre picked up the latest issue and turned to the pages featuring the photographs he had taken of Buonaguidi's apartment in Milan. He smiled at the memory of the little industrialist and his bodyguard being directed by Camilla to rehang the Canaletto in a more photogenic spot. As it happened, she'd been right. He enjoyed working with her. She was amusing, she had a good eye, and she was generous with Garabedian's money. Another year of regular assignments from her, and he would have enough to get away and do his book.
He wondered what she had for him today and hoped it would take him to the sun. The New York winter had been so cold that when the city's sanitation department had gone on one of its strikes, very few people had noticed. The whiff of rotting garbage, usually a potent negotiating tool, had been neutralized by ice. Union men were counting the days until spring, and a pungent thaw.
The sound of high heels on the polished slate floor made Andre look up in time to see Camilla clicking by, her hand tucked under the elbow of a young, bearded man
who appeared to be dressed in a black tent. As they stopped in front of the elevator, Andre recognized Olivier Tourrenc, a fashionable Parisian designer renowned for his minimalist furniture and currently at work transforming a SoHo meat-packing plant into a boutique hotel.
The elevator arrived. A flurry of air kissesâone for each cheek and one for luckâwas exchanged. As the elevator doors slid shut, Camilla turned to Andre.
you? How boring of me to keep you waiting.” She took him firmly by the elbow and started to propel him past the receptionist's desk. “You've met Dominique, of course.”
The receptionist looked up and offered a token rictus, which barely stretched her lipstick.
“Yes,” said Andre. “I'm afraid so.”
Camilla sighed as she steered Andre down the corridor. “Staff are
difficult. She's a bit po-faced, I know, but she does have a rather useful father.” Camilla looked at Andre over the top of her dark glasses. “Sotheby's.”
They were followed into Camilla's office by the senior secretary, a willowy middle-aged man armed with a notepad and wearing a deep, out-of-season tan. He smiled at Andre. “Still taking those heavenly snaps, are we?”
“We're doing our best, Noel. Where have you been?”
“Palm Beach. Don't even
of asking who I was staying with.”
“I wouldn't dream of it.”
Noel looked disappointed and turned to Camilla. “Mr. G. would like a word with you. All the other calls can wait.”
Camilla paced to and fro behind her desk, the phone
cradled on her shoulder, her voice a low and intimate purr. Andre recognized it as her Garabedian voice, and he wondered, not for the first time, if their relationship was confined to business. Camilla was a little too overpowering for his taste, too much like a corporate missile, but she was undoubtedly an attractive woman, successfully resisting the passage of time with every available artifice. She was slender, just the acceptable side of skinny, her neck still smooth and unwattled, the backs of her arms, her thighs, and her buttocks lean and taut as a result of her daily six a.m. workouts. Only one part of Camilla was remotely thickset: her hair. Camilla's hair, dark brown, helmet-cut, so straight, so clean, so shiny, so fabulously bouncy, was a legend at Bergdorf's, where it was serviced three times a week. Andre watched it fall across her cheek as she leaned forward, cooing goodbye to Garabedian before hanging up.
She looked at Andre and made a face. “God, the things I have to do. He's giving an Armenian dinner party. Can you imagine?”
“You'll love it. Give you a chance to wear the national costume.”
“Ask Noel. He'll probably lend you his.”
“Not funny, sweetie. Not funny at all.” Camilla made a note on her pad and looked at the oversized Rolex nugget on her wrist. “God, I must fly.”
“Camilla? You asked me to come in and see you. Remember?”
“I'm late for lunch. It's Gianni. I daren't keep him waiting. Not again.” She stood up. “Listenâit's icons, sweetie. Icons on the Riviera, maybe a little FabergÃ© as well. You'll have to root around. The owner's an old Russian dowager. Noel has all the details.” Camilla scooped her bag off the desk. “Noel! Is the car down there? Where's my coat? Call Gianni at the Royalton and tell him I'm stuck in traffic. Say I'm on my way back from a deeply upsetting funeral.”
Camilla blew Andre a kiss before clicking off to the elevator, her hair performing its fabulous bounce, the junior secretary trotting alongside with her coat and a fistful of messages. Andre shook his head and went over to perch on the edge of Noel's desk.
“Well,” Andre said, “it's icons, sweetie. On the Riviera. That's all I know.”
“Aren't you the lucky one.” Noel referred to his notepad. “Let's see, now. The house is about twenty miles from Nice, just below Saint-Paul-de-Vence. Ospaloff is the old dear's name, and she says she's a princess.” Noel looked up and winked. “But don't we all these days? Anyway, you're booked in for three nights at the Colombe d'Or. Camilla's coming through to do the interview on her way to Paris. She'll be staying the night, so the two of you will be able to have a cozy little dinner. Just don't do anything I wouldn't do.”
“Don't worry about it, Noel. I'll say I have a headache.”
“You do that. Here.” Noel pushed a folder across the desk. “Tickets, car and hotel confirmations, and Mother
Russia's address and phone number. Don't miss the plane. She's expecting you the day after tomorrow.”
Andre slipped the folder in his bag and stood up. “Anything I can bring back for you? Espadrilles? Cellulite cream?”
Noel raised his eyes to the ceiling and shuddered. “Since you ask, a little lavender essence would be very nice.” The phone rang. Noel picked it up, waggling his fingers in farewell as Andre turned to leave.
. Andre wrapped the thought around himself like a blanket before going out to face the frozen grime of Madison Avenue. A bitter wind, cold enough to split skin, made pedestrians flinch and lower their heads. The nicotine fraternityâthose huddled masses yearning to inhale who gather in small, guilty groups outside the entrance doors of Manhattan's office buildingsâlooked more furtive and uncomfortable than ever, their faces pinched in a vise of frigid air, sucking on their cigarettes and shivering. Andre always thought it was ironic that smokers were denied equal-opportunity privileges and banished to the street, while their colleagues with a weakness for cocaine could indulge themselves in the warmth and relative comfort of the office rest rooms.
He stood on the corner of Fifty-first and Fifth, hoping for a cab to take him downtown.
. By now the mimosa should be in bloom, and the more hardy inhabitants would be having lunch out of doors. The operators who ran the beaches would be adjusting their prices upward and wondering how little they could manage to pay
this summer's batch of
. Boats would be having their bottoms scraped, their paintwork touched up, their charter brochures printed. The owners of restaurants, boutiques, and nightclubs would be flexing their wallets at the prospect of the annual payout, the May-to-September grind that allowed them to spend the rest of the year in prosperous indolence.
Andre had always liked the Riviera, the effortless, usually charming way in which it plucked money from his pocket while somehow making him feel that he had been rendered a favor. He was quite happy to endure the over-populated beaches, the occasional rudeness, the frequently grotesque prices, the infamous summer trafficâall these and worse he could forgive in return for an injection of south of France magic. Ever since Lord Brougham reinvented Cannes in the 1830s, the coastal strip had been attracting aristocrats and artists, writers and billionaires, fortune hunters, merry widows, pretty girls on the make, and young men on the take. Decadent it might be, expensive and crowded it certainly was, but never dull. And, thought Andre, as the arrival of a cab saved him from frostbite, it would be warm.
He was still closing the door when the cab took off, cut across the nose of a bus, and ran a red light. Andre recognized that he was in the hands of a sportsman, a cut-and-thruster who saw the streets of Manhattan as a testing ground for man and machine. He braced his knees against the partition and prepared to assume the fetal position recommended by airlines in the event of a crash, as the driver
swooped down Fifth Avenue in a series of high-octane lunges and sudden-death swerves, cursing the traffic in a guttural, mysterious tongue.
At last the cab lurched into West Broadway, and the driver tried his hand at a form of English.
“OK. Where number?”
Andre, feeling his luck couldn't last forever, decided to travel the last two blocks on foot. “This will be fine.”
“Here. Right here.”
“You got it.” The brakes were applied with gusto, causing the car behind to lock its wheels and slide, very gently, into the back of the cab. The cabdriver jumped out, clutching his neck, and reverted to his mother tongue to deliver an agonized tirade in which the only two familiar words were “whiplash” and “sonofabitch.” Andre paid him and made a hasty escape.
The building he reached after a brisk two-minute walk had started life as a garment factory. Now, as with so much SoHo real estate, its humble origins had been thoroughly concealed by several coats of gentrification. The high-ceilinged, light rooms had been subdivided, partitioned, repainted, rewired, replumbed, rezoned, and, needless to say, repriced. The tenants were mostly small businesses in the fields of arts and communications, and it was here that Image Plus, the agency representing Andre's work, had its headquarters.
Image Plus had been founded by Stephen Moss, a young man with intelligence, taste, and a liking for warm weather. His clients were photographers and illustrators
who specialized in nonfashion subjectsâMoss, quite rightly, being wary of the temperaments and complications involved in anything to do with clothing and androgynous models. After the early years of struggle, he now had a tight, profitable little business, taking fifteen or twenty percent of his clients' income in return for representation, which covered everything from career counseling to tax advice and fee negotiation. He had extensive contacts, a doting girlfriend, perfect blood pressure, and a full head of hair. His only problem was the winter in New York, which he detested.
It was this fear of freezing, as much as a desire to expand his business, that had caused him to take on Lucy Walcott as a junior partner. Nine months later, he had felt sufficiently confident in his choice to leave the office in Lucy's hands during that first, suicidally unpleasant part of the year, from January to March. She was pleased to have the responsibility. He was pleased to have the sunshine in Key West. And Andre was pleased to be working with a pretty girl. As he came to know Lucy, he found himself looking for chances to extend the relationship, but he traveled too much, and she seemed to attract a new and dauntingly muscular young man every week. So far, they had yet to see each other outside the office.
Andre was buzzed through a steel door, which led into an airy open space. Apart from a couch and a low table in one corner, the only furniture was a large, square production desk built for four. Three of the chairs were empty. Lucy, head down over a computer keyboard, was in the fourth.
“Lulu, it's your lucky day.” Andre dropped his bag on the couch and went over to the desk. “Lunch, Lulu, a real lunchâChez Felix, Bouley, you name it. I've just picked up a job, and I feel an overpowering urge to celebrate. How about it?”
Lucy grinned as she pushed back her chair and stood up to stretch.
Slim and straight, with a mop of black, curly hair that made her seem taller than her official five feet six, she looked far too healthy for a New Yorker in winter. Her skin color was halfway between chocolate and honey, a glowing dark caramel that seemed to retain some of the sunlight from her native Barbados. When asked about her background, it sometimes amused her to describe herself as a purebred quadroon and to watch the polite nods of incomprehension that usually followed. She thought that getting to know Andre might be interesting, if he ever stayed in town long enough.
“Well?” He was looking at her, half smiling, hopeful.
She shrugged, waving a hand at the unattended desk. “Both the girls are out today. Mary's got the flu, Dana's got jury duty. I'm stuck here.” Even after her dozen years in New York, Lucy's voice retained the sweet lilt of the West Indies. “Another time?”
Lucy moved a stack of portfolios off the couch, making room for the two of them to sit. “Tell me about the job. It wouldn't involve my favorite editor, would it?”
A mutual antipathy had grown up between Lucy and Camilla. It had started when Camilla had been overheard
describing Lucy as “that quaint little girl with ruched hair,” and had grown steadily worse with further acquaintance. Camilla found Lucy distinctly lacking in respect and far too demanding on behalf of her clients. Lucy found Camilla arrogant and pretentious. For the sake of business, they managed to maintain a precarious, icy politeness.
Andre sat next to Lucy on the couch, close enough to catch the scent of her: warm, spiced with citrus. “Lulu, I cannot tell a lie. Camilla wants me to shoot some icons in the south of France. Two or three days. I'm leaving tomorrow.”
Lucy nodded. “And you didn't talk about money?” Two very large brown eyes looked at him intently.
Andre held up both hands, a look of horror on his face. “Me? Never. You're always telling me not to.”
“That's because you're lousy at it.” She made a note on her pad, sat back, and smiled. “Good. It's time you had a raise. They're paying you like a staff photographer, and they're using you on almost every issue.”
Andre shrugged. “Keeps me out of mischief.”
“I doubt it.”
There was a short, awkward silence. Lucy pushed back her hair, exposing the clean, delicate line of her jaw. She turned to smile at him. “I'll work something out with them. You concentrate on the shots. Is she going to be there?”
Andre nodded. “Dinner at the Colombe d'Or, sweetie. It's one of her officially approved restaurants.”
“Just you and Camilla and her hairdresser. How nice.”
Andre winced. Before he had a chance to reply, the
phone rang. Lucy picked it up, listened, frowned, and put her hand over the mouthpiece. “This is going to be a marathon.” She blew him a kiss. “Have a good trip.”
As the driver pulled away from the Royalton, Camilla reached for the phone, careful of her nails as she punched in the number. It had been a long but constructive lunch, and dear Gianni had been so helpful. She made a mental note to have a box of cigars sent to his hotel.
“Yes?” The voice on the other end of the phone sounded preoccupied.
“Sweetie, it's me. It's all set for Paris. Gianni's arranged everything. One of the servants is going to show me round the apartment. I can have all day if I want.”
The voice became more interested. “The paintings will be there? Nothing in storage for the winter? None of them out on loan?”
“Everything's there. Gianni checked before he left Paris.”
“Excellent. You've done very well, my dear. Very well. I'll see you later.”
In the richly furnished twilight gloom of his study, Rudolph Holtz replaced the phone carefully, took a sip of green tea from a Meissen cup, and went back to the article he had been reading. It was from the
, datelined London, and described the recovery by Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Squad of Norway's most famous painting:
, by Edvard Munch, valued at forty-five
million dollars. It had been stolen in 1994 and found two years later in a cellar in southern Norway, wrapped in a sheet. Holtz shook his head.
He read on. A “conservative” estimate of the value of stolen or missing art around the world was well in excess of three billion dollars, according to the journalist, a statistic that brought a contented smile to Holtz's face. How fortunate he had been to meet Camilla two years before.
Their relationship had begun socially, when they had met at one of the gallery shows Holtz routinely attended in his legitimate capacity of dealer in fine arts. While he had been bored by the paintings, Camilla had intrigued him. He sensed that they might have something in common, and this was confirmed during an exploratory lunch the following week. Beneath the banalities of polite conversation ran an undercurrent, the first signs of a meeting of minds and ambitions. Dinners had followed, the verbal fencing had given way to something approaching honesty, and by the time Camilla had taken to sharing Holtz's four-poster bed, surrounded by the splendors of Holtz's Park Avenue apartment, it was clear to both of them that they were made for each other, soul mates in greed.
Dear Camilla. Holtz finished his tea and stood up to look through the window at the sleet slanting down. It was past four o'clock, and in the icy murk of Park Avenue, fifteen stories below, people battled for cabs. On Lexington, they would be waiting in sodden lines for buses. How agreeable it was to be warm and rich.
“DID you pack these bags yourself?”
“Have they been out of your sight since you packed them?”
“Are you carrying any gifts or other items on behalf of someone else?”
The girl at Delta's business class desk flicked through the passport.
Name: Andre Kelly. Place of birth: Paris, France. Date of birth: June 14, 1965
. She glanced up for the first time, to check that flesh and blood resembled the photograph, and saw a pleasant, square-jawed face under cropped black hair, a face made striking by the green eyes that were looking back at her. She had never seen truly green eyes before and found herself staring into them, fascinated.
Andre grinned. “My father's Irish. Green eyes run in the family.”
The girl colored slightly. “That obvious, was it?
Sorry. I guess it happens a lot.” She busied herself with the ticket and luggage tags, while Andre looked around at his fellow passengers on the night flight to Nice. They were French businessmen for the most part, weariness on their faces after their having to deal with the New York weather, the New York noise and energy, the machine-gun rhythms of New York English, so different from the measured enunciations that Berlitz had taught them.
“You're all set, Mr. Kelly.” The girl returned his passport and ticket. “Can I ask you something? If you're Irish, how come you were born in Paris?”
“My mother was there at the time.” Andre stuck his boarding card in his top pocket. “She's French. I'm a mongrel.”
“Oh, really? Great. Well, have a nice flight.”
He joined the line shuffling onto the plane, hoping that he would have an empty seat next to him, or a pretty girl, or, a poor but acceptable third, an executive too exhausted to talk.
He had just settled into his seat when he felt a presence hovering over him; looking up, he saw the encumbered body and tense, thin face of a young woman dressed in the standard corporate uniform of dark power suit and attachÃ© case, a bulging black bag slung over one shoulder. Andre got up to let her through to the window seat.
The young woman stood her ground. “They promised me aisle. I always have aisle.”
Andre checked his boarding card against the seat number, and saw that he was sitting in his allotted seat. He showed the stub to the young woman.
“You don't understand,” she said. “I'm window sensitive.”
Andre had never encountered this particular affliction and certainly didn't want to hear about it for the next seven hours. For the sake of a peaceful flight, he offered his aisle seat to the young woman, whose mood brightened visibly. He moved across to the window seat, watching as she arranged documents and a laptop computer in front of her to create the necessary business environment. Not for the first time, the thought crossed his mind that modern travel was a vastly overrated pastime: crowded, tedious, often uncomfortable, and almost always irritating.
“Don't you love travel?” said the young woman, her good humor now fully restored by her having had her own way. “I mean, getting to go to the south of France. It's soÂ â¦”
She looked sideways at Andre, unsure of how to respond. He nodded at her and opened his book. She returned to the contents of her laptop.
The airline passenger seeking a few hours of undisturbed silence is most vulnerable during the serving of meals, when feigning sleep is out of the question and hiding behind a book while eating is physically impossible. As the trolley laden with gourmet-in-the-sky dinners approached, Andre was aware of occasional glances from his neighbor, who had abandoned her communion with the laptop and seemed poised for another attempt at conversation. And so, when the inevitable piece of frequent
flier chicken landed in front of him, he slipped on his headset, bent over his tray, and tried to distract himself from the cooking by reflecting on his future.
He had to stop traveling so much. His social life, his love life, and his digestion were all suffering. He camped, nothing more, in his studio in Manhattan; cartons of books and clothes were still unopened, eight months after he'd moved in. His New York friends, tired of speaking to a machine, had virtually given up calling him. His French friends from university days in Paris all seemed to be having children and settling down. Their wives accepted Andre, but with reservations and some suspicion. He was known to chase girls. He stayed up too late. He liked a drink. In other words, he was matrimonially threatening and was regarded as a bad influence on young husbands not yet completely come to terms with the pleasures and constraints of domesticity.
He might have been lonely, but he didn't have the time even for that. His life was work. Fortunately, he loved it; most of it, at any rate. Camilla, it was true, was becoming more eccentric and dictatorial with every issue of
. She had also developed a tiresome habit of insisting that Andre take close-ups of paintings, which, he had noticed, seldom appeared with the published article. But the money was good, and he was building a reputation for himself as one of the top interior photographers in the business. A couple of publishers had already approached him about doing a book. Next year, he promised himself, he'd do it: work at his own speed, pick his own subjects, be his own boss.
He gave up his halfhearted attempts to conquer the chicken, switched off his light, and leaned back. Tomorrow there would be real food. He closed his eyes and slept.
The familiar smell of France welcomed him as he passed through Immigration and into the main concourse of Nice airport, a smell whose components he had often tried to analyze. Part strong black coffee, part tobacco, a soupÃ§on of diesel fuel, a waft of eau de cologne, the golden scent of pastry made with butterâit was as distinctive as the national flag and, for Andre, the first pleasure of being back in the country where he had spent so much of his youth. Other airports smelled bland and international. Nice smelled French.
The girl in the power suit was standing in the baggage claim area, checking her watch and chewing her lip while the black rubber caterpillar of the carousel made its unhurried, unburdened loop through the passengers before returning to its hole in the wall. Her expression was straight out of New Yorkâfrowning, impatient, fraught. Andre wondered if she ever allowed herself to relax. He took pity on her.
She flinched as he tapped her on the shoulder. “You look as though you're late,” he said. “Anything I can do?”
“How long do these guys need to get the bags out of the plane?”
Andre shrugged. “This is the south of France. Nothing happens fast.”
The girl consulted her watch again. “I have a meeting in Sophia Antipolis. Do you know where that is? How long will the cab take?”
The business center of Sophia Antipolis, or the
Parc International d'ActivitÃ©s
, as the French had christened it, was back in the hills between Antibes and Cannes. “Depends on the traffic,” said Andre. “Forty-five minutes should do it.”
The girl looked relieved. “That's great. Thanks.” She almost smiled. “You know, on the plane? I thought you were a wiseass.”
Andre sighed. “Not me. My good nature gets in the way.” He saw his bag creeping toward him on the carousel. “Have your meeting and get out of that place as quick as you can.”