Petit Palais

By an astounding occurrence of fate, when Lilian was born she was named after the 1900's silent screen actress Lilian Gish and grew up to look almost exactly like her. A part of her growing up had been countless elderly people telling her how much so, what with her fair-skinned pixie face, butterfly-like lips, large, round eyes and delicate small chin. She had the same brown hair also, long and luxurious, capable of being styled in the conspicuously ample upswept pompadour of the Victorian Era. Even as a teenager and encouraged by relatives, she had worn her hair in that fashion nearly every day, regardless of modern changes in mode and with no familiarity with hair cuts at salons. It made her look like more of a quaintly traditional feminine lady at her present age of 28 than most of what was considered ideal in a Paris fashion model no matter how old. It was all just as well, as she was to on a regular basis present the appearance of what she did for a living. She was a professional ballet dancer having had experience in her hometown in Maryland since she was a young schoolgirl. Like her friends in the modeling industry, she prided herself in both her physical skill and her dietary discipline. She had made those friends early on back in the States and it was no coincidence that they had been a part of her welcoming committee upon her arrival in Paris. The only difference was that they were immersed in the world of Paris fashion modeling and she was immersed in the world of classical ballet. Like many other Americans in the great city, her occupation and connections that came with it played a part in how it became possible for her to live in Paris and be there as more than merely a tourist or temporary business traveler.

For the time being, she was the only American in her ballet group. The others were either Russian or French, with one ballet dancer from Yugoslavia. Communication between them was all in French. Other Americans and a few British expatriates for her to speak English with were employed in the offices and others away from the site of the Petit Palais, which was the small version of the Grand Palais, the elegant concert hall. By a recommendation she had been given a job on the side teaching English to French children as a tutor at the school where she had become closely acquainted with a nun. Typical for Americans in Paris, it was a job notorious for its poor pay in relation to the expenses of normal Parisian daily living, and keeping the complaints about it to herself was an art. It was her hope that someday she would no longer need to keep tolerating it under the philosophy that any job in Paris is worth the struggle just because it's in Paris. She knew several intelligent and hard-working Americans obligated to settle for such positions as mopping floors after overcoming the infamous bureaucratic red tape and paperwork hassles of gaining a work visa, all for the well sought-after right to have a job and earn money for survival in France.

She had always enjoyed the children, however, and though much less glamorous than ballet dancing, being in the presence of children learning English language lessons from her was a reasonable change of atmosphere from the elaborate formalities of her ballet career. It gave her a sense of what it would be like to have children of her own.

Seated in one of the chairs in the orchestra pit, she had chosen the area to rest after an especially tedious time of ballet practice. Most of the other dancers usually rested in the more fancily decorated halls, where loved ones came to see them practice or arrive to provide them with transportation back to their places of residence. Outsiders were not allowed to come into the recital rooms to watch ballet practice, and it was the responsibility of the dancers to tell them so. The orchestra pit had only empty chairs for the musicians along with the music stands and anyone directly associated with the business of the Petit Palais was permitted to rest anywhere they wanted until the closing of the main entrance for the evening. The place was, of course, a very high-class type of premises and therefore not prone to vandalism or the stealing of material property by people invited inside.

"C'est dommage que les enfants ne sont pas permit a venir ici pour voir la pratique des danseuses." ("It's a shame that kids are not permitted here to see the practice of the dancers.")

A kindly male voice in French came from behind her.

"Je suis musicien." ("I am a musician.") He said. He introduced himself as Jean-Louis and added that he had come from the city of Tours, where he was obviously not satisfied with how his musical career was going in that city. He was a new addition to the orchestra hired to play for the ballet. Like what was expected of anyone relocating to Paris from other parts of France, he had moved to Paris to become more successful, and not just in terms of money.

She turned around and her heart suddenly pounded. He was well groomed, clean-shaven and was the most handsome man she had ever seen, with short brown hair, blue eyes, and full lips. He was wearing a dark brown suit and he definitely looked like the type who would be elegant and genteel enough to be involved in the performing of classical music. He said his instrument was the oboe.

When she introduced herself and greeted him in French, it wasn't long before he gladly realized she was American, with an evidently American accent not hard for a European person to understand upon learning English. He said her being American was just adorable, and made it clear that he thought so.

"Tu es Americaine! Je pense que c'est adorable, ça!" ("You're an American woman! I think that's adorable!")

She noticed a look of surprise on his face all of a sudden. He had more to say.

"Je te reconnais! Je t'ai vu à Virginie!" ("I recognize you! I saw you in Virginia!")

He wasn't kidding. He switched his verbal expression to the English he had learned in college and told her that he had once seen her working as a lady historical interpreter in Colonial Williamsburg.

Confirming that he was right, she smiled, flirting with her head motions and shifting in her chair. She felt girlishly coy yet mature in her conduct.

"Ahhh, now I remember! I had volunteered there during the summer. I was demonstrating some kind of crafts. Needlework, I think. Yes! That was me you saw! Four years ago, that was. I was staying with relatives in Virginia at the time."

She then realized that at that time four years ago he had been one of those vacationers from France who chose America to visit. She was tremendously flattered that he remembered her out of every other woman he had laid eyes on throughout his travels. He told her he had never had an interest in any of the French women of Paris, or even those in his home region. Never married and never accompanied by family of his own, he added that he had come to Virginia alone to practice his English and personally discover more American things than what he had read books about. He had heard Virginia is the state that contains many important places that commemorate the birth of America and "l'esprit americain" ("The American spirit") as it best represented, including America's Founding Fathers. This was a Frenchman who had absolutely nothing against getting involved with anything American.

"I will play oboe during the next ballet. It will be for you. I will do my best playing."

He gently kissed her hand and promised to show up early enough so that she could get a chance to show herself with him to the others in the orchestra. Correctly, she figured it was to see to it that she was already "taken" by him and was not available for any other orchestra gentlemen for dating her. She assured him she had never been interested in any of the musicians who were already in the orchestra. He believed her wholeheartedly.

Nervous for asking, she asked him if there would be any lady companion with him to the occasion of hearing him play. She was enormously relieved that the answer was no. Officially, the only lady companion he would declare to have would be Lilian herself. He had treated her to dinner, however graciously mindful of her dietary restrictions as a ballet dancer. He even thought it intriguing that he was willing to forego the fatty delicious ingredients of purely French foods for the love of a woman who was simply not allowed to touch the stuff.

Ballet night had arrived, and it was the only time Lilian actually had trouble concentrating on her ballet steps. It was all because this charming new French musician had joined the mass in the orchestra pit and was there for her to see. To him she was his inspiration to do his best oboe playing. He didn't say it just to make her feel beautiful. He really meant it. Destiny had brought them together. Just knowing he was there threatened to interfere with Lilian's concentration, but not in an unpleasant, uncomfortable way. She was in love, which was something she had never experienced back home in the States. Ironically, the fact that Jean-Louis was there made her improve her ballet steps even better than expected, even though inside she was anxious that her excitement over his presence would cause her to miss a step or even trip on stage. It was unexplainable how she managed, as she never considered herself a perfect ballet dancer. She always thought the Russian dancers were the best. At the end of the performance, her ballet group had received the standing ovation it was hoping for. The tough practice had paid off. Her English-speaking friends, all dressed up in their finest clothing had come to see her dance but she barely had the time to thank them and accept the bouquet of roses they had brought for her. Much more significant to her was to step into the orchestra pit in front of everyone and be with Jean-Louis. To do it had all the grandeur of accepting congratulations from someone she had been waiting for since her debut into ballet.

Jean-Louis proposed to her with not only an engagement ring but also a pair of model brass ballet slippers, mostly as a way of expressing not only manly love to her but also as a way of showing that he admires what she does for a living. It wouldn't be long before he would rescue her out of having to continue working as an English tutor for such an unsatisfactory wage that she had told him about. After the decidedly unromantic necessary process of qualifications imposed by Paris City Hall and other administrative authorities, Jean-Louis and Lilian had become husband and wife.