By Ng Shing-Yi
There’s a phallus outside your window, I remarked to my friend, who was wrestling with a dead pigeon, drinking wine out of a glass, and re-playing a track on the CD all at the same time. “And o-o-oh, a-a-a-aah, what do you hear in these sounds,” Jules sang rather tunelessly, to Dar Williams, and said, “That’s the Bastille.”
“Who’s the tunic-wearing lady on top of it? Liberty? Victory? Doesn’t she get cold up there?”
“Very funny. Don’t watch me cook, I get self-conscious. Go, go. There’s a National Geographic guidebook on my shelf, I think.”
But somewhere on the way to the bookshelf I became waylaid by a large edition of black-and-white photography by Peter Brooks. There were twenty-one pictures of couples kissing amidst the one hundred and forty of Paris. A photograph fell out into my lap. It was a blown-up black-and-white piece Jules had taken, of all places, in London.
Everywhere you went in Paris, round the corner or in front of monuments, there were couples kissing. Some were photogenic, some less so. In the midst of the most visited city in the world, these people formed a little knot of privacy and passion, quite oblivious to the discreet snapshots taken of them by tourists.
I had eleven shots of kissing couples, some of them accidental, when I was trying to aim for something else, like the Louvre.
“Why are there so many couples kissing in Paris?” I asked Jules.
“It’s something in the air,” he replied. “How do you like Paris?”
“I like Venice better.”
“Venice is a village. Are you playing hard to get with Paris? You won’t resist long.”
Maybe it was just the surprise of finding Paris so alive with the expected images.
But it was time to clean up after dinner, and in the process we tripped over wires, dismantled and moved furniture, washed plates, and broke a wine glass into shards. Multi-tasking frightfully, Jules managed to re-play the track for the hundredth time, singing, “And o-o-oh, a-a-aaah, the stories that we never hear.”
“And love, it’s not the easy thing...” Not to be outdone, I counter-sang.
It is not easy at all, Jules said. The mornings were the hardest. He would wake up, paralyzed by an emptiness in his bed, struggle to the CD player, and put on repeated cycles the song that he and his ex-boyfriend had listened to before he had left for someone who spoke better French. Then a leap into bed once more, where he would linger, insensibly, till one. By then, he would have missed two film classes, a photography workshop, and Vincent’s voice in his ear.
Images surrounded him in Paris, the most photogenic of cities. His heavy camera had not left his room since the month started. The second chapter of his novel abandoned, its nascent, yet last lines written and re-written, like a repeatedly looping song.
On the radio, Dar Williams was singing, “I dreamt it was February, and you were not thinking of me.” It really boiled down to this, doesn’t it, Jules said. When someone isn’t thinking of you.
In his photograph of London, a couple is kissing, deeply. Her arms curled around his neck, his lashes dark against his cheek, her head cast back, his jaw pressed against her neck. She is white against his black coat, the urban background a grainy blur faded against their startling clarity.
QLRS Vol. 1 No. 4 Jul 2002