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Santa Claus

By Eric NEUHOFF Sofitel Golfe d’Ajaccio Thalassa Sea & Spa

He’d really liked the araucaria trees. There were two of them standing in the middle of the lawn, green branches swaying in the breeze, silhouetted against the sea. It could have been a painting.
Which artist could have produced this work? His knowledge of the subject was too flimsy for him to answer. At the bar, he sipped chestnut beer which didn’t really taste of chestnut. The triangular sail of a boat cast a shadow over the terrace. At the next table, a man who looked like the writer Bernard Frank was reading a Pléiade edition of Saint-Simon. He’s always been obsessed with checking out what people around him are reading. The difficulty lay in deciphering the title: you had to do it with the utmost discretion. Soon, iPads and the like will make this  kind of exercise impossible. It wasn’t yet high season and the hotel was half empty. It had been an awful winter, no question. The last few
months had seemed interminable. Rain and cold in Paris. He needed sun. But where to go at that time of year? He’d settled on Corsica. It was Raphaële’s idea. She’d never been to the island.
He’d been years ago, to a wedding in Propriano, further south.
The couple had since split up and he didn’t hear from them any more.

 

Raphaële had taken care of the reservations, the tickets, everything. She’d scoured the guide books, ticking off the best places to go in Ajaccio. She had prepared for this trip like a general organises a battle. They’d had a laugh on the plane. The flight was delayed, but on landing the air hostess had announced over the microphone: “It’s fourteen thirty.” He’d looked at his watch. It read almost four. When did people start mimicking stationmasters?

The taxi followed the coast. They saw parasols, inflatable beds, snack bars. The countryside was very green. The driver told them it had been chucking it down. A final turn and they were there.
The Peugeot stopped under a canopy. A porter grabbed their cases and they took the lift. The floor attendant pointed out a series of useless things. They pretended to listen, a bit like when you think about something else while the cabin crew gives you the safety demonstration before take-off. Raphaële threw herself onto the bed with such force that she bounced at least once. He turned the air conditioning on, low. He knew perfectly well that, as soon as she realised, she would turn it off. At first, it had been the only thing they disagreed on. The room looked out onto some rocks. That night, they heard the frogs singing. Where were they hiding?

He’d been attracted to her before he even met her, having heard mutual friends talk about her. Raphaële. Beautiful Raphaële. Last
year, someone decided to invite them both to dinner. They had been together ever since. Raphaële had talked about Venezuela.
He couldn’t remember exactly what he’d said, but he did tell her he found South American novelists dull. She hadn’t argued. Silver bracelets danced on her wrists. She had a distinctive way of running her hand through her hair. Suddenly she leaned towards
him and announced: “You’re talking rubbish.” He knew then that they would get on.

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