A Romantic Week-endBy Delphine DE VIGAN Sofitel Marseille Vieux Port
Mad entered the hotel lobby, holding her head high, pretending not to notice the sharp hiss and squeak of her suitcase which rattled about on its plastic wheels. Several clients, sitting in the white leather armchairs around the lounge area, turned around. Mad blushed. Pierre kept walking beside her as if nothing had happened. Mad promised herself, should they miraculously survive the test of this romantic week-end, that she would buy another piece of luggage as soon as they got back home – preferably not from some dime-store, this time. Mad looked around her. Through the bay windows, in the last light of the day, the view on the harbor was stunning. They went to the reception, where they were greeted with courtesy. A young woman explained to them where they could find the spa, the exterior pool, or the gourmet restaurant, then handed Pierre the magnetic card that would open the door to their room. A porter grabbed Mad’s suitcase, which let out a final whine, and escorted them to the room. The dark wall-to-wall carpet; the heavy curtains; the designer’s furniture; the huge bed – everything inside betrayed how exceptional the place was. Mad let herself fall arm-splayed onto the bed, while Pierre settled down like a regular. She closed her eyes. She had always been intimidated by luxury. Soon enough, Pierre joined her on the bed, and proceeded to undress her. Mad felt his hands on her breasts, and forgot everything else.
They had met a few weeks earlier. The script unfolded without any major surprise: first drink, first dinner, first night. Yet she liked Pierre more than any other man; she liked him enormously. And surely he must have liked her, for quite early on he suggested they spend some time together – a week-end with you alone, just the two of us. The choice of destination was left up to her; she had chosen without a hint of hesitation: Marseilles, rather than Malta, Marrakech, or Marbella. Marseilles, because she had never been there. Marseilles, she thought, was out of the beaten tracks. She knew that it was a diverse and contrasted city, sweet and violent at once, and that it was unlike any other. And she felt, somehow, that Marseilles would be her ally. Pierre had booked the tickets and a room with a terrace in the Sofitel Vieux Port, as a tribute to Izzo, he explained, who had once said that it was the only vantage point from which you could see Marseilles in the face. Pierre never did anything halfway. In the preceding week, Mad had tried all kinds of shining, regenerating, refreshing, hydrating, dandelion or blackwood honey face masks, as well as perfumed baths and hair treatments. On the eve of their trip, she had spent the night selecting her best outfits and a dozen pair of shoes. Now there they were, in that spacious room with aquatic lightings, together for a whole week-end. They had just made love, and Mad was about to take a multiple-jet shower, lather her body with the green orange water lotion she had spotted in the bathroom products, and then they would go to the restaurant, and then they would make love again, and then they would take a walk by the seaside… A whole two-day long week-end; a long week-end during which she would have to prove herself to be up to it all – Pierre, the hotel, and Marseilles.
Mad – short for Marie-Adeline de Clérel d’Héronville – had just turned thirty. Though not a beautiful woman, properly speaking, there was something quite distinctive that emanated from her and caught the attention. A tall and slender brunette, she certainly had what is called allure . As incredible as it may have seemed, in these early years of the 21st century, her aristocratic and convoluted name gave her an aura of prestige. Nobility always triggered all kinds of fantasies, as Mad had been lucky enough – or unlucky enough, sometimes – to verify first hand on more than one occasion. Indeed, at first glance, she represented the ideal wife for all good family boys: well-read, well-bred, and unassuming when in company. Yet Mad had serious flaws, to be sure. She had educated herself in growing cannabis more than learning good manners. Mad hadn’t reached her second birthday when her father, after recognizing her legally, left her mother and moved to Argentina, from where he sent decent monthly checks until she came of legal age. Mad never saw him again. A few weeks later, Mad’s mother, after having emptied a whole box of tissues and a carton of antidepressants, went and joined one of the last hippie communities, in the south of France, where she met James, a former fashion photographer who had reinvented himself as a macrobiotic fanatic. Children, being considered autonomous and responsible persons, were left to roam and play as they pleased within the community. So Mad would paint on the walls, eat whenever she was hungry, and go to school whenever she felt like it. She grew up surrounded by chickens and sheep, except during the holidays, when her mother and James, together with the most implausible wild bunch of people, relocated to a nudist camp near Montalivet. Mad grew up like the weed grows: tangled-haired, bare-assed, and free of all constraints. She was almost eighteen when James left the community
overnight to open a bar-tabac with his brother-in-law. Soon after that, Mad’s mother threw herself from the Pont du Gard. How on earth did Mad graduate from high school, no one knows.
She moved to Paris to study, and stayed in the posh 7th arrondissement with one of her father’s cousins, who was horrified by her manners and decided to get her through an accelerated course in civilization. After her masters in language and the several handiworks taught her by Aunt Odile, Mad had found a job and had become a young woman like any other – almost. Slowly, she had learned to keep her composure and good manners at the table for lunch or dinner.
Pierre, it seems, hadn’t noticed a thing. A senior partner in a consulting firm in strategy and organization, born in a great bourgeois family from the Berry, he probably saw Mad (whom he insisted to call Marie-Adeline) as the ideal young woman to introduce to his parents. Little did he know that Mad was prone to slip, in more than one way; and she always did, as soon as she was the object of any kind of attention – and even more so if she was in love. And Mad, at one point or another, and in the most spectacular and ridiculous way one could possibly imagine, always ended up slipping, tripping, or entangling her feet in the carpet.
On the last floor of the hotel, Mad and Pierre entered the Trois Forts restaurant. A few people craned their necks in their wake. Mad was wearing 4-inch high stilettos and a fluid dress over dark tights. All dressed up and made up like this, she didn’t go unnoticed. Beyond the bay windows, the horizon line stretched from the Estaque to Notre-Dame-de-la-Garde. Pierre, who already knew the city, explained to Mad the perspective and its vanishing points. A young waitress escorted them to their table, where they sat facing the harbor. Every time Mad went to a great restaurant, she felt slightly apprehensive. Every time, she was afraid she would make a mistake and her whole act would be uncovered. She let Pierre order for her. He chose a Bandol wine, for starters. Mad began to relax. They spoke of this and that, their bodies close and intimate like all lovers do, exchanging furtive smiles and tender glances, while Mad, engrossed by the conversation and tipsy from the wine, let herself go. What unfortunate gesture, what sudden lack of vigilance, suddenly propelled one of her eggplant cannelloni with pink sea bream tartare five feet away from her, she still has no idea today.
Mad saw her food land on the floor, not far from the nearest table; she literally turned into stone, and looked at Pierre, who didn’t budge. A waiter hurriedly came to pick up the recalcitrant cannelloni, with perfect ease, as if this were a quite frequent incident which the restaurant was used to dealing with. A storm was brewing in Mad’s mind, a wave of panic that she knew all too well and that she immediately had to put a stop to. So she excused herself and got up from the table, ostensibly to go and refresh herself. She locked herself in the bathroom and tried to pull herself together. She peed, put up her tights, washed her hands, took a deep breath, and got out. It was just a minor incident. She would get her bearings back and have a nice normal evening. She was walking through the restaurant, watching her feet so she would not trip, when she thought she heard faint noises of wonder or laughter. She was about to sit down next to Pierre, when one of the hostesses signaled to her; Mad stopped and it took her a few seconds to understand that the young woman suggested that she join her. Mad turned around and went to her; the hostess leaned toward her and whispered, “If I may, I think you’re having a bit of trouble with your dress.”
In the bathroom, Mad had hurriedly put her tights up above her dress, which was now packed inside on her behind like a diaper. The rest of the dinner was a disaster. Mad knocked over her glass, let her napkin fall to the floor half a dozen times, got the forks and knives order wrong, and, in the throes of mounting panic, almost sneezed into the table cloth. She also drank like a fish and blabbered without making any sense. During that whole time, Pierre remained impeccably calm, catching the falling objects or merely smiling, as ever. When they left the restaurant, Mad was adamantly set on giving up and running away the very next day, which is why she actually went to the reception desk first, under some false pretense, in order to ask for the train schedule. When she wanted to join Pierre, she was horrified to realize that, whether from the alcohol or from the shame, she had forgotten their room number.
One hour later, the concierge saw her sobbing in the hallway. Michel had seen worse. He helped her to her feet, led her to the right door, and stealthily went away as she timidly knocked three times on the door. Pierre immediately pulled her to the gigantic bed.