by Michael E. Lloyd
Book III: Lost in Action
Chapter 1: Unfinished Business
part 2 of 2
‘So what are you proposing to do?’
It was two days later, and I had already grown very weary of Arthur’s strange new state of distraction.
‘I just don’t know, Julia.’
‘But that’s not good enough, babe! Everything was wonderful again until we went to dinner with that woman. And now ...’
‘What do you think I should do?’
‘You really want to know?’
‘Right. I think you need to get Emilie out of your hair once and for all. Or the opposite.’
‘Meaning you should go to Paris and try to find her. If you do, and you wake her from her poisoned slumber with a magic kiss, and you both then want to live happily ever after, so be it. But if you discover you’re not in love with each other any more, or you fail to find her after a reasonable effort, I want you to completely forget about her and come back here and be with me. For good.’
‘That’s very close to what I’ve been feeling I should do.’
‘Well you’d better get on with it, then.’
‘And I’ve also been wondering if I should ask Pureza to accompany me. She’s so good at researching things and making clever deductions and ...’
‘No! That’s not what I suggested, Arthur! And do you seriously think she can afford to shut down her business for goodness knows how long while she breezes off with you to Paris in the springtime ...?’
‘OK. And you’re probably right. She never hinted at wanting to spend any more time on this herself, did she?’
‘But I don’t want to go on my own, Julia. Will you come with me?’
‘Hah!! To help you find your old girlfriend and maybe propose marriage to her?’
‘Well ... yes.’
‘Now it’s my turn to need to sleep on it.’
* * *
‘We’re going to need a photograph.’
‘Yes. But she never gave me one, and I’ve never had a camera of my own.’
‘OK, how’s your sketching?’
‘Then put your thinking cap on.’
‘Hey Arthur, I’ve just remembered something! You said in your novel that when you went looking for information about Emilie at the Casa della Musica — well, the Happy Halliday now, right? — there was an old picture of her stuck high up on the back wall.’
‘Of course! You’re brilliant! As good as Pureza any day!’
‘That’s what I like to hear, chéri. So you’d better cross your fingers and hope it’s still there. And be willing to spend some good reward money on it.’
Arthur was back from the club within the hour, the proud owner of another little treasure: a framed black and white photo of Emilie Courbier in 1958, aged eighteen, complete with clarinet and gamine haircut.
‘They didn’t even want any money for it. Nobody remembers her, Julia.’
‘C’est la vie. And the good thing is that her name’s not written anywhere on it. So we can respect her wish to leave her old life completely behind her, can’t we?’
‘Yes. And I think we must make that one of our golden rules.’
‘So, it’s May Day and the sun is shining. En mai fais ce qu’il te plaît! Want to spend the rest of the day having a bit of fun outdoors and planning our little trip?’
* * *
‘OK, chéri, let’s take stock of what we know for certain. Emilie was living in Paris in October 1960. She was playing the guitar, and presumably still singing, but under a different name, which just might be one of those on Pureza’s second list.’
‘Exactly, Julia. But that’s all we know.’
‘And we also have a ten-year-old photograph of a teenage girl who had already made a hurried effort to change the way she looked even before she left Nice.’
‘It’s not going to be easy, is it?’
‘No. But if we assume she went by train, we should do the same. That will take us to the Gare de Lyon, and if we find ourselves a cheap hotel nearby, as she might well have done for her first night or two in Paris, we may get a sense of how she was feeling and what she might have done next.’
‘Excellent thinking, Julia. I knew it was a good idea to invite you along.’
‘Be careful, Arthur. Be very careful .......’
* * *
On the Thursday morning, we resolved to depart for Paris on Sunday the fifth of May, and we spent the rest of the day gently getting ourselves organised.
That evening a radio news bulletin made brief mention of the re-closure of the University buildings at Nanterre, out to the west of Paris, after what they called “further incidents” there following the student occupations of the previous weeks. But we thought little of it at the time.
The following evening, however, brought the news that the Sorbonne itself, in the heart of the Latin Quarter, had been declared closed and unceremoniously evacuated by the police. The university authorities were apparently determined to avoid, within their walls, a serious escalation of overnight clashes between certain extremist groups. But the Sorbonne students appeared to be in a very angry and unstable mood as a result, and later that evening we heard the first reports of violence and arrests on the streets of the Latin Quarter ...
On Saturday the fourth of May we learnt the full news of the awful riots that had taken place overnight, with nearly six hundred arrests and many injured. It did not take us long to put the next day’s travel plans on hold! And on the Monday evening we heard about the latest terrible battles between the students and the police, with reports of many hundreds of further injuries and arrests. We were very glad we had decided to stay in Nice.
Throughout that week, the radio and the papers were full of discussions of the still-volatile situation in the heart of Paris. The major trades union groups were becoming more and more vociferous, and the taxi drivers were already all on strike. And on Friday the tenth, the situation came to a head once again with another enormous afternoon demonstration around the Left Bank, followed by a huge stand-off with the police. We listened all through the evening to the live radio reports of the construction of dozens of barricades and the huge tensions that were building as the night wore on. And we awoke in the morning to news of an even greater toll of serious injuries and arrests!
No-one in their right mind would be visiting Paris voluntarily at this time, let alone venturing out onto any of its streets without very good reason.
That same Saturday, the students here in Nice came out in their thousands to support their comrades in Paris. And on Monday the thirteenth, a General Strike was called by the combined trades unions of France. We at once wondered if and when it would affect the railways. And sure enough, later in the week the SNCF workers walked out and the trains stopped running.
The following Monday, since there had been no reports of rioting that weekend, Arthur wondered out loud whether we should try to hitch-hike to Paris. But I laughed and said that could take us days and days, if we were unlucky, and anyway the city was still at a virtual standstill: the metro and bus workers had now come out on strike as well, and the rubbish was piling up and rotting in the streets.
And at the end of that week, just when we were hoping things might perhaps start to calm down and get back to normal, there were further ghastly riots on the night of the twenty-fourth, with more burning barricades and another huge toll of injuries and arrests.
So we stayed safely here, of course, as the strikes continued and even intensified. There was stalemate in the rail and bus sectors in particular. On the twenty-ninth there were further huge demonstrations throughout the country. Ten thousand people even came out onto the streets of genteel Nice!
And then President de Gaulle at last made his long-heralded appeal to the patriotism of the people, and the government was reshuffled, and negotiations with the unions immediately began to get moving again.
So as June began, the intensity of the nationwide strikes was finally starting to reduce. But the rail transport unions in particular were still not at all satisfied, and Paris was still in a real mess. Arthur and I agreed to wait a little longer.
On Tuesday the fourth, after hearing that agreements had finally been reached between the Ministry of Transport and the various trades unions, we were told by the Tourist Office that the national railways and the Paris metro and buses should be functioning again by the following Thursday, but probably not providing a very predictable service. So we made our decision. We would depart that day — and if there was no train service, enfin, we would definitely hitch-hike. It would be an extra little adventure for us, after all!!
Arthur had only telephoned Pureza twice during our month’s enforced wait in Nice, and had dropped in on her just once for a little chat. I don’t think she put him under any further pressure in those conversations.
He called her again now, of course, to tell her of our latest plans. And she, of course, wished us bon courage.
Copyright © 2012 by Michael E. Lloyd