October 1, 2014

Fiction: "Mimmi And Me In Paradise" by Peter Fraser

Peter Fraser lives in Newcastle, Australia. He has pursued many different careers, including English teaching and winemaking. At present he enjoys travel and writing. peterafraser@gmail.com

 Mimmi and Me in Paradise
I’d met Mimmi in Lyon. She was way so attractive, and for a while, I’m sure she found me engaging. That is not beyond understanding. I can be most persuasive at times. Well certainly until you get to know me. Mimmi was a citizen of that city.  She could speak French and English and had a part time job as a waitress. Which was fine, it gave me a lot of time to myself. We were nurturing a little romance and felt it needed to be tempered with a holiday in paradise.
Mimmi  bought the tickets.  If it had been left to me there would have been a lot more discussion and then probably disagreement.
Holidays are built into the human condition. Like, it is how we live. You have to take time off, you know. Then come back, say, refreshed, say ready to get back into your life. Prepared to resume it all again. Following?
I understood the concept. Did I need such a simple explanation? Why does she need to interpret things to me like that?  As if I was a child. It was the destination that wasn’t talking to me.
France is such a big place. You have to see as much as you can. Honestly. You can’t just stay here in Lyon. There is way more to this country than large cities, no matter how much you like the place. Understand?
But I liked Lyon, it was how France should be. It was how I wanted France to be. It was way better than Paris. There were real French people living here. Doing real French things. The Roman’s made it the capital of Gaul, the emperor Claudius was born here and they were even affluent enough to sacrifice Christians for entertainment. The city area was flat and easy to walk. There was an old town. If you wanted perspective, there was a large cathedral on the surrounding hills. You could take the whole thing in. And there is an exhilarating funicular for ease of access. The city has everything, particularly food, reasonably priced and inventive. I  shopped at a large supermarket for wine, their Bordeaux selection was most impressive and modestly priced. There were open air markets and a feeling that this was one great place to live. That everyone could enjoy the place.
I’m not an enthusiastic person. I like to think I don’t get carried away. I watch. I listen. I have the temperament of a spy. I like to think things over.
Ah. But Nice. That’s on the Mediterranean I assume. Nice the beautiful. The French Riviera. The Cote d’Azur. Provence. I read that Stone Age tools, over a million years old have been found in the area. Stone Age man also enjoyed the Cote d’Azur.
I could say the obvious as well.
Yeah baby. There’s a beach. You’ll like it. You know.  
You mean sand, sun, waves and sharks?
Ah. Come on. Relax. Stop with the non-sense. There are no sharks. Why you so negative? Come on baby. This is France. We love it. The world loves it.
How can you have a beach without sharks? It makes no sense. Surely you understand?
No, she was French, she did not comprehend what a beach was. Or that it is impossible to have a beach on the Mediterranean. A beach was a tourist destination. None of them grew up on a beach. We caught a fast train half way across the country and booked into an expensive boutique hotel. The room was cool and modern. I liked it, although there was no real view from the boutique balcony.
I’m going swimming to-morrow, you coming?
Ah. I’ll walk you down, it doesn’t seem hot enough to me. I’ll just have a    look around. You know, I can’t help being a tourist. I get more enjoyment just wandering their streets, trying to take it all in.
Suit yourself.
In the morning we descended the steep hill, my mind quick to point out we’d have to climb it on the way home. Everyone seemed to have a view of the beach, all the houses were built overlooking the thing, like the Roman amphitheatre in Lyon. There was a pleasant breeze rising up from the unsighted shore. Then we see the water, it actually is an improbable blue. I cannot understand the colour. It does not seem right. There is a mistake here.  Then there was no sand. Can you have a beach without sand? The answer is no. And of course, no waves. No waves?
So why do they call it a beach?
Mimmi ignores me.
Sand was the first thing you encountered on a beach. It was golden and sensual between your toes. We called the stuff on this counterfeit beach, road base. You would not put a new rubber thong on any of these industrial size pebbles. This was a quarry by a lake. It now seems obvious why Stone Age man lived here. But Mimmi was determined. This pretend beach was the only destination in town. There was nothing else to do. And there was no stopping her, she just had to lie on the fake sand.
I’ll walk along the promenade. You go laze in the sun.
She didn’t need direction, there was only one thing she was going to do. At least there was sun, but it was way too tepid for me. A bit of walking can’t be that bad. I set out at a casual pace along the gentle arc of a walkway, running parallel to the forged beach. Yet it seemed to go for miles. Promenade de Anglais, they called it. Bike riders, skaters, skate boarders, humans with dogs and humans without dogs, just walking. I laboured away. Giuseppe Garabaldi was born here, I wondered if he had walked the walk. He was from the Cote d’Azur and felt an urgent need to unite Italy and fight wars of liberation in South America. How is that possible? I make a note to research him.
No, it doesn’t matter. But this is a holiday. So I walked. It was pleasant, but my resolve weakened. Why was I doing this? There was no meaning. So I sat on one of their public benches and stared out onto the Mediterranean. It was like gazing at a colour, a most pretty blue. Azure, I suppose. The guidebook said there was a tsunami here in 1979, twenty-three people died. It didn’t seem hot enough to me. I went over to a restaurant and bought a beer. I wanted an English newspaper as well, but they shrugged their shoulders with incomprehension at such an outlandish request.
Napoleon’s first reward for military success brought him here. He was educated at the Ecole Royal Militaire in Paris, where modern strategy was taught, particularly the use of light artillery. He had distinguished himself as an artillery captain in the Siege of Toulon, was promoted in rank and made the Inspector of the Coast, which was based in Nice. He was still only twenty-five years old.  I returned to watching the ocean, everybody was doing it. We were all gaping into the mesmerising blue. I couldn’t imagine a chubby young Napoleon lying on those pebbles, his chest bare, letting the timid rays give him a touch of sunburn or even swimming in the curiously coloured water. No, that would never have happened. Or what about a subaltern serving some chilled champagne on the shores of this lake?  With Bonaparte bored and irritable, his mind conjuring future conquest, lying by the soft waters, sipping French champagne. No. It is just too ridiculous, even for an Inspector of the Coast.
I must stop this.
I find a taxi and go to the Chagall Museum. Why is it here? I enjoy the distraction, mainly religious works, none of his well known styles. I read that some of the exhibits have been given in lieu of paying tax. I can believe that bit. The tax inspectors clearly had no idea about the value of art and what works they should take as payment. But I suppose Chagall got rid of some unsaleable pieces. Then after a respectable amount of time, I went back and collected Mimmi.
Baby. This is so incredible. You see how beautiful that water is. Ah. I feel so relaxed. Let’s have some lunch. So many cute guys here. I think they like me. You notice how they’re looking at me? Hey, I’m young and hot and sexy.
You could cover yourself up.
But she had no intention of doing that.
We walked down towards the old part of the city, past a range of interesting grand hotels. But then there were only restaurants.  I have never seen so many restaurants next to each other. Streets and streets of them. Hunger stalked this town.  There would never be any starvation here. Or it was a city of unrestrained gluttony. But the food was ordinary, nothing like the serene bistros of Lyon. Then I began to worry about the sewerage system they had to have. It must be mammoth. Industrial. How did they dispose of such monstrous, endless waste?
Sweetie. Why can’t you enjoy yourself?
I can.
She was so unfair. But my mind never seemed to fully co-operate. It always assumed an independence.
The guidebook said Chagall and Matisse lived here. I could not understand why. Edvard Munch should have used this background instead of that fiord in Oslo. After lunch we walked around the point and looked down on the small harbour. The boats and yachts were as serious as you could get. They were huge packages of money and ego, floating idly. Their design was slick and impressive. What would Columbus or Magellan have made of all this?
It was a lot harder walking home, carrying wine and food. We stopped at a beaux arts museum. The building was excellent but housed a collection of municipal confusion, dull portraits and curious religious oils. Even the guards seemed indifferent. I’m sure they were perplexed about what they were supposed to be actually guarding. But it was free to enter.
The beaux arts museum in Lyon was on a different quality scale altogether. It had excellent exhibits from antiquity to the modern era, all of them worth the entry fee. Egyptian, Greek and Roman. Then a representation of just about every significant name you could think of. Rubens, Monet, Degas, Cezanne, Gauguin, Matisse, Picasso......
That night Mimmi sat in front of a desk and mirror and applied cream to her slightly red skin. She was quite beautiful and obsessed with herself. When I was young, I had lounged on the sand and let my skin burn. I belonged to the last generation before the realisation and scare of skin cancer occurred. In summer, my white flesh was burnt to a dark bronze. Everyone wanted a brown skin. It seems impossible to understand now.
You just gonna lie there and drink wine?
What the hell does she expect of me? This is a hotel room. It’s called a holiday. And the wine is serene, the French can really do wine, I simply refuse to quibble about the quality of French wine. It is all brilliant. The Vichy French enjoyed Nice until 1942 when the German and Italian’s turned on them. Then the Allies bombed the life out of the place prior to liberation, yet it all survived, it’s still here and prospering.
I turned the television on. Fifty-two channels. It took ages, but I flicked through all of them. Yet everyone was in French. Could that be right? There was plenty of time, I thought I might have made a mistake, so I did it again. Just to be sure. No, they were all in French. Fifty-fucking-two channels.
What do you want? The BBC? You want a bit of Shakespeare or Charles Dickens? Please don’t pester the manager, you’ll survive. You don’t need television. There’ll be a football channel, watch that if you have to.
With all that connection there should be at least one station I can comprehend. At least a CNN or Bloomberg or Sky.
I rang the manager. Just for clarification.
Please don’t do that. You are being so embarrassing.
Me. Embarrassing?
Monsieur. This is a French resort. It is the best in the world. Tourists have been coming here for centuries, we know exactly what you want.
I could sense hand movements at the other end of the telephone.
French air, French streets, French art, French shops, French food, French wine, French beaches, French hospitality. It is the most popular holiday destination in all of Europe.
I could sense escalating hand movements.
The whole world wants to come here.  We only speak French and we only have French television. That is why it is paradise monsieur.
~Peter Fraser

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