Crossing the bridge over the train tracks with Pierre by her side, Julie thinks that today might nearly be perfect. It is a rare gorgeous day in that bland, dreary part of winter when everyone is starting to itch for spring; a little teaser to lift spirits and hold one over through the next batch of weather that calls for hot chocolate and staying indoors. A mother and her son are coming towards them from the opposite direction as the kid rides a training-wheel-clad bike a few feet ahead of his mother.
“Here, go ahead of me,” Pierre says to Julie, moving over to make room for the little boy, who rides along contently with his mother trailing shortly behind.
It is the first day of the week that it isn’t raining. Venturing further into the center of town one can notice more and more people outside enjoying the nice weather in the tiny suburb of Paris. The lethargic pace of the town has even picked up due to the burst of clear skies. People flock with their friends around the park or stroll down the cobblestone pedestrian street with shopping bags in tow.
The pair walk towards the town’s main street passing a group of teenage boys who are dressed in identical leather jackets congregating around their motorcycles. The adolescent punks look like they are posing for onlookers, lazily holding cigarettes in between their fingers as they pause between each drag of smoke. Occasionally, one of them revs up the motor on his bike, to remind the girls across the park of their presence as well as attract the brief stares of passerbys.
“You heard about the French president?” says Pierre as they are both faced to a blown-up magazine cover situated outside of the Tabac, featuring the face of the actress who is the president’s new girlfriend and the latest commotion of the media. Surrounding the aloof expression on her face, the cover dons teasers: An affair for two years! and late night visits by motorcycle in its cheap effort to heighten the shockingness of the affair.
“Poor guy,” Pierre says thoughtfully, as he opens the door for Julie.
“Poor him?” says Julie, furrowing her eyebrows, and then squinting as her eyes adjust to the darkened restaurant. She had recently read an article about his serious girlfriend, the first lady, who had checked herself into the hospital in “deep despair,” after news of the alleged affair broke. There were more tabloids sitting behind the caisse: one displaying the couple walking together and another of the girlfriend’s profile. Why was her face the one on the cover of the tabloids? But he, who was galavanting off on his motorcycle with his newfound romance, was truly the poor one. What brutal twists of fate life could throw to some.
“Yeah. I mean it’s his private life. Leave the man alone,” says Pierre. Julie says nothing at first, thinking that there is little sense in having this conversation with a French man.
“What about the first lady then?” she says, taking a different angle.
“They’re not married. And that’s not even the issue.”
“But she’s his partner. They’ve been together for years,” she says, “So what Is The iss-ue then?” she enunciates her last few words mockingly.
“The media doesn’t need to by prying through his personal life.”
“That’s what journalists do,” she says, as if explaining this concept to a small child, “And what they found was the truth. He went behind her back. She thought they were together and he lied.” She realizes they were arguing about two separate things. He empathized with Hollande because his romantic life was made a public matter, and despite this, she couldn’t feel sorry because of what he had done. It was like going through your significant others’ phone and finding incriminating messages: it didn’t matter so much how you found them after you found them.
“He found someone else,” he says simply, in a tone that invites no further debate or dissection and brings the conversation to an unsatisfying end.
“A lot of the French think like that,” says Claire in a knowing voice. Julie finishes recounting this tale to her. All ears, Claire is quick to give her opinion, and to even make Pierre’s response of “poor guy,” seem normal, although she still acts appalled herself.
“They said that Sarkozy was too American because he was up front about his personal life. And they don’t care to hear it.” Claire continues, “Europeans just aren’t interested in their politicians private lives the same way Americans are,” she says.
Who wasn’t curious about that kind of thing though? Julie thought it would take more energy to repress your interest than to just relish in the drama.
“But he’s their president. Isn’t he supposed to have good values or something?” she says to Claire. It was unfathomable to think of any U.S. presidential candidate being taken seriously without a wife and kids to show for his “family values” card. Julie explains this to Claire.
“You’re right,” she nods in agreement, “In the U.S. that’s important. Or people like to think that it is. They don’t care as much here though. Maybe half are intrigued by the scandal and the other half are like your friend; they say that his personal life isn’t anyone’s business.”
“But that’s so mean to the first lady,” she said, realizing how juvenile it sounded for adults to be “mean,” to one another, “ At least I think so.”
“Me too,” says Claire, in the spirit of female solidarity.
At a table in the dimly lit Tabac, Pierre orders them each an espresso. Julie sprinkles half a packet of sugar in hers and swirls the crystals around with her tiny spoon.
“How old are you again?” he says, “Twenty-three?”
“Twenty-two. And you?”
“Twenty-seven. Only three more years ‘til thirty. I’ll reflect on that on the train ride back.”
“Hmmm,” Julie sipped her coffee. What was so monumental about thirty? The mother with her toddler on training wheels didn’t seem that much older than them and she was surely at least thirty. On the other hand, the punk teenagers had not so long ago been Julie’s peers. If you took away the cigarettes and motorcycles and gave them each a lacrosse stick, they were just the type of “cool,” East coast boys who would strut around in groups acting like kings of the school.
“I sorta feel bad for people who stay in a town like this for their entire lives,” said Pierre.
“It’s a very sheltered existence,” Julie added in agreement, “It’s a bit like living in a bubble.” She wasn’t sure if this was actually true as the words came out of her mouth. At times, it seemed that there was more opportunity for honest interactions in a village such as this. There were few excuses for being in a hurry or being stressed and there weren’t many pressing concerns to tend to that would allow one to avoid people or brush them off.
“What’s that saying? To each his own” said Pierre, “Not really for me though.”