How did they know how to live like this, giving themselves to the moment, this murmur of voices, these reflections off glass, with no need for it to lead anywhere? Always I had this longing for plot, motivation, story — some shimmer to chase through the night. I wondered if this was the American in me, a compulsion to conquer. I did not understand simply being in the world.
The next three nights, Chantal took me down to the promenade, to the parties in tents along the beach. They were all the same: “Bad, loud music and bad, thin wine,” the diary reminds me. Sometimes we ran into Americans so drunk, their eyes were full of tears. They bragged about their expense accounts: “All the receipts say ‘Heineken!’” Everything they said, they shouted. I stayed with the Swiss.
At one party, the bouncer wouldn’t let me in because I didn’t have an invitation, so Mark slipped me his over the fence. When I made my way through the crowd to thank him, he was suddenly shy. I had dismissed him as a pretty boy, not fully given to any cause. But at 4 in the morning, the two of us were still there, talking about the French political scene (of which I knew nothing), mandatory military service and Switzerland’s policy of neutrality. Maybe, in that moment, I wished for a little less neutrality.
In the fall, I would meet the man who would become my husband. Not again would I be so adrift in a strange city, in the night’s smallest hours, when it’s no longer clear that time is running forward. Now as many years have passed as I had lived back then. I found the diary when I was cleaning out boxes this spring, and these people — whom I never thanked properly for their kindness, whom I never saw again — were returned to me.
I like to think I learned something from them. How to be at ease with the present; to drink wine just for its lightness on the tongue; to linger over an ordinary, unfussy meal; to not want, want, want without end.