Martin Firrell, cartwheel on the Pont des Arts in Paris, 4 April 1998, 35mm b/w disposable camera, photographed by Yekaterina Lebedeva.
You agree not to be friends. Laughing, keen-edged, you agree not to begin in that slow, defaulting way, but to set out from the start expecting more than is reasonable of one another. You make a pact to be unreasonably open, engaged, truthful, direct, concerned, demanding, committed. By the audacity of your expectations, you change once and for all what it is reasonable to expect. You expect the world in eight weeks and get it. And discover your never-intended friendshio to be an ironic fact - uncomplicated, mutual - plain and simple affection, deeply felt.
You order a bottle of beer, eggs benedict, toast. The eggs are very yellow, the hollandaise thick like putty. You feel the effects of the beer. You work a little and well. Or you find time in Soho at lunchtime. Or you walk up by the canal in a gale with the sun low over the water. Or you write letters out of the desire to say something clearly and directly. Or you read, a little and haphazardly. Or you can't settle, can't stumble beyond the first sentences. Or you light the fire and feel it burning against your back. Or you eat again in the cafe, alone this time, watching the rain fall into the canal. Or you meet full of hope, affection, willing the exchnage of ideas, ambitions. You hope for the exchange of something beyond the scope of sociability, something very clear, very clearly felt. A snatched cappuccino between one thing and anotehr. Good will, intensely felt good will, a kind of exhilaration.
You talk about writers in Paris, about walking in slow rain with the pavements slick, about the grey-roofed buildings on the banks of the river, about letters, uncertainty, disappointment, hope. Everything makes sense in the fever you caught in Paris. Hail outside. A storm outside and the heat and the dark, and your heated up understanding clear suddenly abut the acute part of you (the seeing, alive part); and its need not to feel alone in its acuteness.
Then you see how difficult it is to approach anyone, how the way is full of traps, misunderstandings, defences on both sides. You wonder if anything at all i possible or if you are confined to a series of brittle, falsely cheerful near misses and rare sightings - conversations you can't remember, glancing blows, missed opportunities.
You find a good table in the warm of the cafe looking out over the grey water. You watch the rain running against the glass. And you relish the food and the sampe heat of the cafe and your aloneness, against the rain outside and the heavy, enclosing, sopping sky. You give the glorious, dark afternoon to yourself to spend extravagantly - a little reading, some letter-writing, feeling your way around your aloneness, feeling the shape of your separation. You promise yourself life on the grand scale, immediacy, obstinacy, the spur-of-the-moment execution of an idea, a whim. Hiding from nothing. Deferring nothing - better to get it wrong than to defer it. In the little cafe by the canal, with the rain falling steadily outside and the light failing, you lecture yourself on the devastating importance of deffering nothing.
And the talk comes slowly, shyly at first, then more easily, until you're met by the quick, fierce, independent intelligence you admire. And the readiness of this intelligence to move on your behalf strikes you as a kind of care. You realise it's this you have been looking for. The great open space of desire you have so often felt but couldn't give a name to has been the desire for this care, for the companionship of intelligence, to that intelligence as the basis of your being together, moves behind and informs everything.
Noise and light and good brasserie food - oysters and champagne - the champagen diabolically cold, the oysters like the breath of the sea. The sudden bolting effect of the cold wine. The obligation to live well because of your simple good fortune. The need for thought, for some kind of provocation, the need to feel your own aliveness acutely, the need to shake yourself up.
You insist, you make your point known. YOu are clear, direct, adamant, present, nothing else if not present. You stand for a point of view, you stand for being something emphatic, for thought, for affection, for conspiracy, for your own answer, your own way of proceeding, for not settling for... and wash it all down with a blithe feigned, near-despairing, neatly wrapped up, fine de siecle frivolity.
Aimless afternoons, glasses of kir, early dusk, remembered sentences, telephone calls, cloakroom tickets, restaurant bills and train tickets, telephone messages, folded receipts. And the sudden victory, the sudden opening out of feeling.
You meet at lunctime, in a tiny basement choked with tables and chairs, with candles guttering on the tables, and reflected in the long, wide mirros that cover the basement walls. And in the dark and the warm after the cold outside, and after the ordering of food and wine, you turn to the mystery in front of you, the complete, wrapped mystery that faces you across the table. The cold, green cutting taste of the wine, the firm texture of the sea bass and the warm potatoes yellowed with saffron, and the conversation running on easily so that you begin to understand how much there is to be lraned in teh easy unravelling of the mystery, how much there is to be gained personally, how anything at all is only significant in relation to the breathing, straining, laughing mystery of that other world across the table.
Memory like an unsteady film of yourselves in Paris, smoke, laughter, drinking, selfconscious. Those pictures of yourselves outside the Palais Garnier - when it was raining and you were selfconscious, so obviously selfconscious.
Then you see that you are not the only one who feels the pain of parting. You see that you are not alone in the difficulty you feel at parting. You see suddenly your shared difficulty, the strength and weight of your shared feeling. You recognise this shared feeling in one another. A kind of desperation, exhaustion, dispiritedness. And all the earlier difficulty and uncertainty and confusion and reticence are swept away. You see that you have won against convention. You have proven yourselves stronger than convention. At a single stroke everything is made peripheral but the core of your afffection, the secure foundation of your affection.
After too much wine at lunchtime (or just enough), under a huge, cloud-run sky, you stagger a little, or that's how it seems. And just as you're about to apologise for yourself, for the wine, the afternoon, for your unsteadiness, your unreliability, you realise you didn't stagger at all, but met the shy desire to walk shoulder to shoulder.