ENTENTE CORDIALE


   By Chris Wilson

“Ladies and Gentlemen; we are now reaching the high point of our tour, We see before us the Mona Lisa, and  the worlds most famous smile”

Roberto Fabianoe, a senior museum guide at the Louvre in Paris, imperiously gazed at  his  lunchtime entourage . Then he swept a magisterial arm and his omnipotent gaze towards the painting of the Mona Lisa.

“We can clearly see the triangular centering of the subject, the surrounding geometry caught in the captured light around her. We also see the carefully chosen landscape so delicately portrayed behind her, but all this is nothing compared to her smile. Some art historians say that she is Lisa Gherardini, the wife of Francesco del Giocondo, a Florentine Silk Merchant, and close friend of the Artist, other sat that underneath the surface painting she is actually a man. So it is we have a puzzle.

Who do we think she is, and what is she thinking? What secrets lie within her eyes, if she could speak what would she say, and what message rests within her hands?”

Roberto looked at the group, and inwardly began to smile.

Like adoring acolytes they seemed to pay homage towards him. By their wide-eyed adulation he knew that he held them in the palm of his hands.

Roberto had no regard for the painting. The lady with the smile, if she was a lady, could have been no more than a box of dirty old cabbages; so long as it brought in the punters; but his position and reputation as an art and a museum expert, gave him a more than adequate remuneration. He also enjoyed his commanding position, as well as certain pleasures with the ladies in his charge, so he was loath to put such pleasures and privileges to one side.

He frowned slightly. Towards the back of the group a gentleman wearing a black beret was not paying attention. Was the gentleman part of the group he wondered, had he paid, or was he just a drifter. Roberto shrugged his shoulders, as he didn’t really care.

The money from one more tour ticket wasn’t of any concern to him. Roberto was making enough money to be indifferent to such a detail, and so long as he made enough money from both this job,  and from his family run business so, balancing the museum’s  books was of no interest to him.

Life was sweet, life was simple, and he stepped back quietly, so the group could engage with that boring if famous smile.

**************************************************************

Standing alone at the rear of the tour group, Arthur Rigby, aged forty two, genetically bows legged, and a life long if a reluctant bachelor, smiled quietly. He had been on such a tour many times in the past, and now thanked God that such days were now at an end. Shy by nature, to a point where some people called him nigh on reclusive, he’d been bullied at school, due to his lack of social awareness, and had built a shield round himself so as to avoid any more pain. Life had broken through though when he had turned twenty. He’d seen a picture of the Mona Lisa, he had tried a well aged grand Cru Burgundy, and such joys lead to Paris in the springtime, and the subtly lit banks of the Seine.

That he met a beautiful French student called Françoise, and within a week of their meeting she held him close to her side. Adjusting his soft black beret he began to remember, as he often remembered, a memorable spring and summer of so many years ago.

He had been looking across the river when she’d bumped into him.  She’d apologised, but he had barely heard her words.

He’d only seen her smile, her face, and her figure; while even if she had noticed him, he knew she would have seen a bow legged, shy, shabbily dressed Englishman with a rolled up umbrella; and a newspaper tucked underneath his arm. Yet she had come to love him, and from then on his life was never quite the same. She gave him the beret, a smart black beret, so he could dream of being a Frenchman, and for one glorious summer and early it had worked like a charm. Then came winter and she became restless. She wanted to move on; she wanted to explore new lands where the air was hotter. For one wild second he almost joined her, for she was young and her excitement was infectious, but he was older, cautious, and incurably English. Unlike Françoise, his beautiful firebird, he had no song, no wings, and little or no experience; so, sadly, she had left him, and had quietly flown away.

He thought their love would last forever, he was wrong.

Yet nobody could take away his memories, and as he looked back at the famous painting, the Mona Lisa smiled silently in return.

He grinned, and deferentially lifted his beret towards her. Trapped on a canvas within the layers of encrusted oil paint, and protected by high tech security she seemed to understand him.

Maybe she felt trapped, and maybe she felt as lonely as he did, but he could walk away and carry on living, while all should do as to stare blindly across the room as everybody looked at her; unable to tell her story, and unable to share her pleasures or her pains

He stepped back; tired of the group now; but a voice fell upon his ear, and he felt a tug on his arm

“Excuse, me Sir, can I ask you to move?

Surprised and slightly amused by  the quiet yet insistent voice behind him, he almost invited to her repeat her question, but he remained silent,  turned round, and moved to one side, quickly, not quite knowing who or what he would see. He looked, he smiled, and a woman of about his age smiled back towards him.

Who was she, he wondered? What was she doing here, and, in such a big room, why did she want him to move?

#

Emily Roberts sat on her well-worn portable Artists stool and surveyed a familiar scene before her.

Once she had been a student at the Sorbonne, and she had copied the Mona Lisa many times before as part of her artistic development but now, ten years on, she was a keen cartoonist, and the scene that she saw before her, gave her much joy.The painting was the focal point of her drawing, but she was more concerned about the characters of all those that looked on with such admiration. She positioned her paper carefully, picked up her pencils and began to draw.

It was all very easy to begin with, for the guide was talking, and all she could do was smile.

He was like some magnificently plumed bird of Paradise and he played his tour group beautifully, but beyond such attributes’ nature and life had been cruel. His extravagant rhetoric and theatrical gestures couldn’t hide his double chin, and spindly little legs groaned beneath his oversized belly. As he talked about the painting she drew faster, caught up in the thrill of the chase, but then he stopped talking so, shifting her focus of attention, she began to study and draw the tour group with almost loving care.

She had a wicked sense of humour though, plus a sharp eye, and an inquisitive mind. Through her artists’ eyes she viewed humanity with intense care yet profound irreverence. This had progressed to her developing a taste for the ridiculous, so she soon began to smile.

“You’ll never get married if you keep on laughing at people!” Her father, a proud Welsh Sheep Farmer, had often told her. “You might have a fine body, but with your knack of reading and getting right into them, you’ll be single up until you die!”

He was right, she wasn’t married yet, and sadly, she’d never had any children, but in her twenties there had always been suitors, and even in her early thirties there had often been a man by her side.  That was eight years ago, and such lovers were history, but she recalled one man who had nearly become her husband.

He was French, a passionate yet considerate lover, and all she wanted as life-long partner; but unbeknown to her, until the middle of their relationship, he had rich wife and two children on the side. He swore his love, he said that he would end his marriage, but the lure of money, a Châteaux in Burgundy, and an impressive family vineyard, on his wife’s side, had proved too strong for him in. The love of money was stronger than the love of his life, as she stood pleading for his affection, and soon he no longer lay by her side.

One of the tour group members sneezed abruptly.

Her daydreams shattered, Emily focused her attention back to the tour group before her, as the Mona Lisa entranced them. They were a sad sight, as she studied them, she remembered her father herding the sheep into the holding pens, and , in her eyes, such a herd was standing before her now.

Clearly they had been doing the cultural rounds, and half submerged in an incessant tide of culture and information too many facts and images were crammed into their minds.  They wanted to be there, as they were keen to see the Mona Lisa. They were desperate to see her smile, and to know of her history, but they were a tired herd of sheep and, as often happened in her experience, too much information now lay between their ears. With a sudden rush of sympathy, Emily wanted to herd them towards the nearest and quietest, sweet smelling, bed of hay.

She had a job to do though, and her rent was overdue; so pencil in hand so she carried on drawing.

There was one thing that puzzled her though. There was one gentleman standing at the back of the group who seemed to be separate from the group. She looked at the painting and at the gentleman again. From where she was sitting she could see him smile. A grin followed the smile, but then the grin faded, and somehow, pouring out from his body, a deep sadness wired up and over his shoulders, and then fell upon as if it were a shroud. One smile hung resolutely in the foreground, while another smile lay fading to the rear. Both smiles spoke to each other, both were quietly enigmatic, yet their message lay hidden from all those around them, as they were both in a world of their own

The guide and the tour group completed, she focused on the solitary gentleman. Her first two subjects had been easy, but the gentleman was different. He was to be the most important part of her picture. There was something interesting about him, but as yet it was indefinable. All she could see was a small, short, lightly built and slightly bow legged gentleman. An umbrella in one hand, and a folded newspaper in the other, he was round shouldered, and his coat, soft and battered over a long time affectionate usage, snuggled up to him like a much loved Labrador, before falling quietly below his knees.

She wanted him to be Welsh, as he reminded her of home, and of the village postmaster going to Sunday Chapel, but why was he was wearing a neat black beret, and why did he seem to be so rooted to the spot, and so totally alone?

She felt a sudden surge of nostalgia, never had she felt so far from home. In her mind the two of them were like two uprooted saplings They had turned into fully grown trees now, whose heavy boughs and extensive branches held many memories, yet their roots had dug into foreign soil.

She had her memories, some sad, some happy, and some tucked out of sight and mind forever. When alone in her Montmartre apartment , such memories, like ghostly figures from a distant lifetime, often drifted back to revisit her, as if almost wanting to chat with her, and share her bottle of wine.

Yet such ghosts were not here now, and she frowned. After careful assessment the gentleman was more interesting, but he had moved back towards her. She hadn’t finished, and suddenly he was blocking her view. She hesitated and thought for a moment. If only she could get him to move to one side.

She leant forward slightly and gently tugged his sleeve.  .

“Excuse me Sir, can I please ask you to move?”

#

She was lovely, and a welcoming sparkle danced within her eyes. This was a look and a smile worth returning, and he realised that they belonged to someone he wanted to know.

He stepped back, and stumbled slightly, so as to look at her drawing behind him, but he only saw her rich tumbling hair, soft grey eyes,  and her ever-broadening smile. She also had no rings on her fingers, and a very attractive petite frame.

She caught his gaze. He blushed; embarrassed at being caught staring at her, but she just laughed and turned her picture towards him. He looked, and saw his bandy-legged transformation, and he began laughing. He listened to, and enjoyed her laughter as she responded to him. Maybe, just maybe, in some corner of a foreign field that, might forever, be England, something might have just begun,

#

Who would have thought it? An old fashioned English gentleman; stuck in the Louvre; and then nearly falling over her easel and stool. It wasn’t the only thing he was falling for, that was obvious, and now it was up to her to dictate the next move. It was his job really, but he was different. Most men she knew would have grabbed such an opportunity, for she still had a good figure, but he was quiet, shy, and slightly awkward. Even so early in their friendship, or whatever else might follow, she knew she would have to handle him with care. So what if he wasn’t the tall dark handsome stranger that, as a kid, she had often dreamed of marrying. At least she wouldn’t have to jump up to kiss him, if she ever wanted to, and decent guys like him weren’t two-a-penny, she thought to herself grimly. This was the kind of guy she had been she had been seeking for years.

One step at a time, she thought to herself, as she listened to his laughter; and take it very gently. He had to think he was doing the wooing; he had to think that he was her master. Love might blossom beneath the cherry trees of Paris, but she would bring him up to her knowledge of life without him ever knowing it. She would have to control the pace of their relationship, but looking at him, she saw a very lonely, yet very excited child in a sweetshop, so she didn’t think that it would take any time.

Love might make fools of us all, she thought to herself, as they spoke to each other cautiously, but sometimes it was good to be foolish. All it needed was a little bit of education and polishing. Nature had to be kind to them, but Emily was sure that, with her assistance, nature would be kind to them. He was akin to a lost sheep, a lost sheep looking for a deep bed of hay, and affection. A lost sheep who’d soon come into her holding pen, and one that she’d soon hold close by her side!

#

Another day another dollar, and another stupid tour group thought Roberto. He yawned, scratched his nose, and contemptuously glanced at the tour group as they shuffled away. What a pathetic group of ruminants, he thought to himself, all lined to go into the slaughterhouse. A fine building, filled with many paintings and sculptures, but still a slaughterhouse. He glanced at his watch, it was midday. Technically he should have carried on working, but he had an hour before his next tour started. He was well practiced at slipping out unnoticed, so now, with his stomach rumbling, it was time for food. He crossed the square and sat down in his favourite café. He picked up the menu, but lifted his gaze as a young couple passed by his table. In doing so he casually thought about the man and the woman who he’d left standing and laughing by her easel. Paris in the springtime, he cynically thought to himself.

“Love is a temporary insanity curable by marriage.” He muttered to into his cappuccino, which the waiter had already placed in front of him. “What a pair of middle aged dreamers, what a pair of fools!” Then he swore. A bird had crapped into his coffee, and coffee and bird shit had spattered all over his nose. He should have carried on working a little longer, maybe the museum pair weren’t such fools after all!

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