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Cross Country / A Memoir of France
5: The Return of the Girl in the Green Dress

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2011 Paul Ben-Itzak

Chez moi chez Baudelaire & Yeats

If I wasn't already set on moving to France, seeing the five films of Truffaut's Antoine Doinel cycle (beginning with "The 400 Blows") all in one weekend at New York's Anthology FIlm Archives in 2000 did it. As if right on cue, then, the girl in the light green dress who greeted me and my three cats, Sonia, Mesha, and Hopey at 33 rue Lamartine -- one-time demeure of Baudelaire, which I'd be subletting while the girl was off to produce in the Off festival at Avignon -- on July 2, 2001 had the same name as the heroine of "L'amour en fuite" (Love on the Run), the last chapter of the cycle, in which Antoine, finally, maybe, finds his true love: Sabine. Movies are clearer than life, though (with the casting sometimes adding other layers; 'my' Sabine would later inform me that the the Sabine of my dreams, Truffaut's, was played by the lady of a whole generation of French kids' nightmares, Dorothee, better known to them as the insipid host of the kids' show that dominated the after-school air-waves in the 1980s); our story, that of Sabine and I, would rarely be simple over the next decade. Sometimes I think I never loved anyone as much as I loved Sabine. More than that, I loved who I was with her -- not the moments, too frequent, where I had to lean on her, which must have made her feel less like a woman and more like a mother -- but the moments where we would fall into a comic interplay, often each playing roles, for Sabine was a clown, by profession, and my saving grace, not availed of as often as it could be, was to be one by vocation.

How much did culture clash play a role in our fission? Sabine would later recount in company -- she was warm and welcoming at the time and showed no sign of perturbation -- what an impression I made when I arrived with my three cats: Doc Martens, green denim Carhardt shorts, sleeveless plaid button-down shirt, bandana, Indian Jones fedora. But there was also my invisible wardrobe, the chips I carried on my shoulder, which would also weigh heavily on our relationship. Once early on, in the midst of a heated argument over whether Judaism was a religion (her point of view) or a culture/race (mine), I took advantage of her momentary absence from the car (she'd gone into a store to fetch props for a kids' birthday party her clown-self was hosting, part of her trade) to flee into the vast urban generic boulevards of the desert of the 19eme arrondissement, my ultimately infertile manner of ending and 'winning' an argument. (Later I would come to understand that the French's way of atoning for what they had done to their Jews -- recording them as Jews for the Nazis so that they could be deported, in effect defining Judaism as a race -- was to teach their children that Judaism was just a religion -- and not a race.) We didn't speak for at least two years. It would not be my first over-reaction, and it would not be the first time Sabine forgave me, for, above and beyond all women except one that I have ever known, Sabine fulfilled Yeats's definition of 'wise love':

"In wise love each defines the secret self of the other, and refusing to believe in the mere daily self, creates a mirror where the lover or the beloved sees an image to copy in daily life for love also creates the Mask."

There were never any masks between Sabine and I, although there were at times 'guises' to overcome, such as mother and child, right up to the moment that I would call her nine years later from a police station at the Gare du Nord -- a problem of papers, resolved in my favor -- and ask if she would put me up for the night in her apartment in Montreuil. She put me up that evening, as she had put up with me for the previous 3,705 days, a saint of the quotidian.

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