Paris Is Still Burning by Daniel Robinson

Paris Is Still Burning

Daniel Robinson

It was hot…stifling, in fact. Thirty-four degrees Celsius, to be exact, but to this wilted traveler, it felt more like a hundred and ten Fahrenheit. I’d slept fitfully the previous night, there being zero breeze and not even a handheld fan to offer scant relief within the borrowed Pigalle flat where I resided. This was France, after all—land of free health care, a #1 quality of life rating, Catherine Deneuve, and scores of elderly deaths each year due to heat stroke. I arose several times in the smothering darkness to splash cold water on my face and wipe away the dripping sweat that dribbled down my clammy torso to little or no avail.

Rising early and choosing to spend the entire day within the chilled confines of the Georges Pompidou art museum, I now stood on an airless Marais street corner attempting to decipher a dinner menu plastered in a cafe window. As far as I could translate, they offered a somewhat reasonable prix-fixe selection that fit within my budget. And the interior sure did look mighty nice. I tentatively stepped inside.

A tuxedoed maître de curtly greeted me with a polite bonsoir monsieur and escorted me to a prime central two-top table without giving my cargo shorts, Converse sneakers, and Coachella Music Festival T-shirt a second glance. I sat and then realized with ever-increasing awareness and dread that the temperature actually felt far more oppressive here in the ornate Belle Epoque dining room than it had on the sweltering Bastille Street! I considered rising and leaving, but no—too late—I had committed, and besides, there would be no cool refuge to be found anywhere in any simmering arrondissement on this hellish night.

I glanced up from my menu to view a small band of waiters standing at full attention nearby. They eyed me back, dapper in their snug buttoned-up vests, starched aprons, and long-sleeved white shirts with black ties. Surely they must be dying from the heat, just as I? Confoundedly, I could fathom no trace of discomfort, no single bead of sweat upon their handsome, staid faces. Damn their hearty French constitutions!

I placed my order—Foie gras with toast points, roast canard in a citrus/ wine glaze, and creme brûlée to finish—all to be washed down with some cold Belgian beer and a large bottle of sparkling water. This would be my last night in the City of Light, and in possession of too many Euros, this culinary splurge would be my final send-off.

While awaiting my first course, I retrieved from my backpack the novel I’d brought to occupy my time. As I sipped my beer, I also removed from my back pocket an already damp bandana, which would prove useful for sopping up any rivers of perspiration that were sure to crest. Two ancient gentlemen located next to me sat calmly conversing and fanning themselves with their menus, sending some slight welcome air in my direction. Austrian? German? I couldn’t quite place their accents, but definitely former Gestapo. Nonetheless, I was grateful.

Soon, a pudgy, pretty girl arrived and was seated directly across from me. Dining solo also herself, I delved deeper into my book, avoiding any eye contact at all costs. I was alone but not lonely and craved no company, save for my Hemingway.

The liver pate course arrived, and I savored the rich, creamy texture of the finely seasoned appetizer while wiping away gathering moisture from my soggy brow. Before long, a trio of young, savvy Brits entered and were situated nearby. The gregarious newcomers, ignoring all my attempts at solitude, quickly lured me into some friendly banter, our conversation consisting of the pros and cons of our respective homes in London and Manhattan, the marvelous Parisian architecture, and the insufferable heat wave in which we now found ourselves immersed. In town on fashion-related business, they had fearlessly ordered escargot, caviar, lobsters, and a magnum of Dom Perignon—surely on someone else’s generous expense account.

Thankfully, my duck was soon delivered, and I found myself alone once more. The fowl turned out to be a wise choice. Meaty and rare, in a sweet dark sauce on a bed of something undefinable, yet delicious. I ate and drank, all the while salty sweat continued to pour from my forehead, making my hair slick and flat like a poor man’s Charles Boyer. Downing my third beer and the last of my water to rehydrate, I finished my entree and returned to my literary ‘Moveable Feast.’ There would be no steaming cafe au lait, no hot Earl Grey on this torrid evening; that was a given.

Halfway through the chapter, I saw Jean Luc, my efficient waiter, weaving his way toward me, carrying my final course aloft. He ceremoniously placed a large dish of creamy goodness in front of me. Yet before I even had a chance to utter ‘tres bon” in tribute to its golden beauty, with darting sleight of hand, the good waiter struck a wooden match and set my creme brûlée ablaze. I sat in stunned horror as a sizable bonfire began to burn barely inches from my face. The heat generated was intense and refused to go out, rising high and orange above the table. Through the flickering flames, I observed my fellow diners, all staring at me, all wearing the same judgmental look in their eyes, all seeming to say, “Dear god…as if the poor fool isn’t hot enough!

After an eternal minute, the inferno gradually diminished, ultimately leaving behind a hard, crunchy confection that I greedily devoured. Wiping my now drenched face, scalp, and neck with my cloth napkin, I pointedly wrung it out onto my plate for all the gawking spectators to view. The bill was promptly brought, and after paying with the last of my cash, I generously left a few additional coins for my arsonist.

Exiting the restaurant, soaked yet sated, I felt my wet clothing clinging to me as if I’d been dropped in a carnival dunk tank. Feeling slightly tipsy from the beers and a bit delirious from the heat, I staggered down the Champs-Elysees, heading toward bed. Far off in the hazy distance, I spied the looming silhouette of an illuminated Eiffel Tower. From where I leaned, it appeared that even the massive monument resembling dark chocolate covered in fireflies had begun to melt and was now bending dangerously toward one side.

Mon Dieu! I exclaimed aloud, then shucked off my shoes and traipsed down to dangle my feet in the Seine.

About the Author

After being associated with both the Juilliard School and the Directors’ Guild of America for many years, Daniel Robinson now works solely as an actor in NYC, having appeared in numerous television and film projects. He has written and produced an Off-Bway production of monologues featuring gender role reversals. Some of his poetry has been published in the New York Times and local NYC periodicals. He is currently working on a book of memoirs entitled One Fell Swoop. This is his first published prose piece.