It had been a long flight from Japan and, wanting to take advantage of the five-day stopover to introduce her Zen teacher Eikei to the delights of Paris before returning to New York, Fay hailed a taxi, and ordered the driver to the George V hotel.
"Now we're on my territory," she told Eikei, who sat grumpily staring ahead and smoking, having rolled down the window and let the cold March wind into the cab. The driver complained to her in French that it was spoiling his heating system, and Fay rolled up the window again.
In a loud voice, Eikei said: "French dirty people never take bath, only apply perfume. It stinks of sweat in here." Fortunately, the driver didn't understand him.
Fay couldn't tell whether Eikei was really bored or just pretending to be unimpressed by Paris. On the bateau mouche, as they were passing the Eiffel Tower, he sat smoking, looking in the opposite direction across the Seine. When she told him to turn around or he'd miss it, he said, "So what. We see all this before in Japan. Japan Eiffel Tower is nicer."
"You're just being chauvenistic," Fay said, noting that it was just the kind of sharp, grey Paris day when the outlines of the leaves on the plane trees were beginning to show, the kind of day that made her regret not being a student staying in a dump near the University with Ira a dozen years ago. The frumpy, bad-tempered girl who'd served them their brioche and coffee breakfasts had worn the same shrunken brown dress smelling of unwashed sex, and a brindled bulldog had sat under the table in the dining room as they ate, leaving a dried, cigar-shaped turd the color of the girl's sweater behind him before ambling out. Fay and Ira had made love every morning and every afternoon in that triangular-shaped hotel on the Rue Jacob, with the faucet dripping in the doorless toilet a few feet from the bed, and the floor-length windows barely hidden by the crepe de chine curtains with quarter-sized holes in them. That Paris trip was the first time she'd been moved to tears by a work of art, standing with bowed head in front of a Chinese Kwan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, at the foot of a winding staircase in the Musee Guimet.
Eikei wouldn't hear of going to a museum, he said, when she told him about it. He had seen—and cleaned—enough Buddha statues to last him a lifetime. Besides, he didn't like art; he liked "real life." As for architecture, "Paris not so beautiful," he said in the irritatingly high-pitched Japanese movie villain voice he used for showing his disdain.
"You don't know what's beautiful," Fay said angrily.
When they got off the boat they were no longer speaking to each other. She walked a few feet ahead of him in the direction of the hotel, fuming at him for downgrading Paris and her efforts to infuse him with everything worthwhile about Western culture.
A middle-aged Frenchman in a pin-striped suit came up to her and extended a pack of Gitanes. Fay smiled and said she didn't smoke. The Frenchman walked alongside her and, putting the cigarettes back in his pocket, asked if she would like to join him for a drink. "I'm married," she said; technically, at least, she thought.
"To him?" With a derisive laugh, the Frenchman pointed at Eikei shuffling along behind her.
"Of course not. That's my uncle on my mother's side. It was a marriage made during the war when my aunt was a nurse in Japan. My husband and I sponsored him in the States when my aunt died in Yokohama last year. I'm taking him on a tour of Paris." Having no idea where that came from and why she was rattling on to a perfect stranger, Fay shut herself up.
The Frenchman shook his head and fanned out his elegantly manicured fingers in front of his face. He had beautiful silver hair. Eikei was as bald as a toad under his absurd porkpie hat. She was tempted to take her "uncle" along for a drink with the Frenchman; play a joke on them both, the one in pinstripes for thinking himself so sexy and desirable, the other for his xenophobia. The Frenchman shrugged and walked away and Eikei caught up with her.
"I tired of sightseeing. I want to go back to hotel and shower."
"That man tried to pick me up."
"Why any man want to pick you up, Fay-san? No man like such strong woman."
Fay didn't know if he was giving her a Zen compliment or insulting her.