We ate a late dinner with friends last night of foie gras and champagne at La Marine down on the Canal. It was a lovely, wintry night and cosy inside the pretty French restaurant with all its candles and fairy lights. Our waitress was grumpy but I did a spectacular order of raviolis aux truffes, which was clearly the order of the evening. That is rare for me. I’m usually known to be a Bad Orderer, the one who looks around the table jealous and upset because they just couldn’t identify exactly what it was they wanted. Until they saw it on your plate.
Our friends were in town from NYC and didn’t know the area so afterwards we walked up the canal and pointed out the Bridge of Atmosphere, where I proposed to The Love all those years ago (two and three quarters, to be exact).
We decided to walk up. And as we did, every detail of that night came back to me.
I had chosen the spot - The Bridge of Atmosphère. It's not called that. We named it that because it was opposite the little bar called ‘L’Atmosphere.’ In the Marcel Carné film ‘Hotel du Nord’, Arletty stands on one of these old bridges and cries "Atmosphère! Atmosphère! Est-ce que je n'ai pas une gueule d'atmsophère!" which I never really quite understood. How can one have a Face of Atmosphere? Anyway, we both loved that little bridge, often choosing to walk over it instead of the easier option of crossing at the Rue de Lancry. It was nothing special. Just lovely.
It certainly had a Face of Atmosphere, whatever that could be.
So I had decided to do it there, and by coincidence he had suggested we eat that night at a little bistrot he had discovered across the canal. Perfect. He would never suspect my cunning plan.
As we reached the end of our street he said innocently, "Should we cross the Bridge of Atmosphère?" and I said "Yes" though as we mounted the rickety steps my knees got all knocky and I wondered if perhaps I should wait until after dinner. But then I realised I couldn't possibly eat with this knot in my stomach and that would surely give it away. So we mounted the steps and the sky was all wintry and that Paris not-quite-dark and silhouetted with the skeletons of knarled winter trees and a cool breeze was in our hair. It had been raining so the wood was slippery under our feet and I prayed I wouldn't slide off or fall on my derrière.
My hand fumbled in my pocket for the little green box and then I started to panic - did I knock the ring out of its little bed, was it crooked now, or still perfectly in place where I had so carefully nestled it hours before, still in the plane, the minutes seeming like days? I couldn't pull it out now and fidget - it would have to stay where it was. How was I supposed to present it? Images of fairytale princes whipping it out and bowing solemnly ran through my head... Was I supposed to pull it out first and then kneel? Was there a correct knee? How to create maximum impact? I wished I had rehearsed.
When we reached the top of the bridge I felt under my worn-down boots the upside-down V and knew I had arrived at the Very Top. This was the place. I turned and stopped him. He looked at me and smiled. His cheeks were all flushed from the breeze. He looked beautiful. And completely oblivious to what I was about to ask. I flashed back to Prague a few months earlier as we dined over a palatial Christmas lunch:
Rabbit (out of the blue) "Hey darling! Let's not get married!"
The Love (about to propose) "OK!"
I kissed him and he smiled again. Then I asked him the Thing and knelt down on one knee. The knee wobbled on the ridge of the upside-down V and I battled to stay upright. I took his slender musician's hand and pulled out the box and the silver shone in the lamplight and it was just dark enough for him not to see the imperfect presentation and my muscles were all mush and I could barely get up to see what his response was.
His eyes shone with surprise.
“Of course I will!” he said and he was laughing, the divine gap in his front teeth echoing the darkness of the water stretched out behind him. The ring fit like a bangle but it didn't matter as we swayed headily down the other side of the bridge and all the way along the moonlit streets to dinner with lots and lots of stops along the way.
The friends liked the story and up on the bridge we realised that when I proposed I had given myself the pretty view of the canal, and The Love the ugly view towards La Villette. We laughed about that and took some photos. And I turned The Love the other way around and got down on the knee to see if it would change The Memory. It did, completely. But I told him that if he’d seen the pretty view all the way down the beautiful tree-lined canal with it’s bridges disappearing one after the other from sight, perhaps he would have felt like he was marrying Paris. He might have been so taken with the Face of the Canal Atmosphere he may not have noticed my Face down there on bended knee. He concurred. The Atmosphere I was creating was far more important than the View from the Bridge.
I got up off my knee and we walked back down the steps and past The little Atmosphère bar and I thought to myself – what a great thing that was to do on the Bridge that night. I think it was the best thing I ever decided to do so far in my little pea-life.