Guest Writer: Jennifer Arin

 

FLAMENCO  AND THE  DIFFICULT ART OF LOVE

Jennifer Arin

Essay

 

              In our whitewashed room in Sevilla, Francisco and I made love all through the night. Now, he lay face down among the rumpled sheets, unable to get out of bed. The day before, when he’d arrived at the pensión where I was staying, he’d knocked at the door of what would become our, rather than my, room – our first vacation together. We’d been dating for a few months, thanks to a mutual friend who’d urged me to give Francisco a chance:

“Look, he’s Latino, like every other guy you’ve dated. But this one,” he laughed, “is in the country legally and has a good job!” I couldn’t argue. Last year, I’d dated Rafael, a hotel bellboy whose lifelong dream was to be an aerobics instructor, and Rogelio who, when I asked what his ambitions were, paused, paused some more, then finally said, “Can I get back to you tomorrow?”

So Francisco, a professor with a green card, was looking pretty good.  Three months into the relationship, when I told him I’d be going to France and Spain in the summer, he suggested we visit France together. He’d been to Paris some years back, had fallen in love with it, and was eager for our romance to blossom in that most romantic of cities. For both of us, returning to Paris would be a joy; I’d lived there for four years, and returned every summer since, so it was a second home to me. But Spain, the home of flamenco, was a must.

“We can go to Paris after,” I told him. “How can you not want to see Spain?”

Though now we both lived in San Francisco, he had grown up in Mexico, with a father of Spanish descent who’d played flamenco records every night. While the family dined, flamenco notes hovered above the evening meal. Yet Francisco had never been toSpain– didn’t even seem interested, in fact.

“Come on,” I urged him, “you should welcome the chance to immerse yourself in your roots.” Not only that, but it would be a pleasure to introduce Francisco to Sevilla – he would love it! And while he looked forward to going to Paris with a French speaker this time, I’d appreciate having a native Spanish speaker along. My own Spanish was fairly good, but sometimes the language still was slippery for me – especially in Andalucía. During a visit there last year, I inquired, at the Sevilla airport, which bus to catch to the city center. A burly fellow at the information desk told me, in raspy Spanish, “El thedo.”

   “¿El qué?

  “El thedo. ¡Thedo!” he repeated loudly. A stooped woman in line behind me tried to help: “El thedo” she said, pointing outside – as if I didn’t know that outside was where you catch a bus. I walked out to the depot. A moment later, when the C2 bus pulled in, I understood – at last. The “C Dos” had become, in local parlance, the “thedo.”

So I was glad that Francisco could steer us through the language, even if I was the one who would guide us through the city’s streets.

We agreed to meet in Sevilla after I’d had a week there first, to take daily flamenco lessons while Francisco finished up a summer class. For years I’d been studying the dance, enamored with the music’s compelling rhythms, the singer’s gutsy wail, and the beautiful, strong movements of the dancers, who somehow balance sharp gestures like those swift, sudden turns with passages of smooth fluidity.

That first glorious week, I studied dance in the largely gypsy district of Triana. The grey-haired teacher challenged the class – nine Spaniards and me – with complex routines that paired quick circles of the arms with counterpoint footwork. For those of us who come late to the art, it’s comforting that flamenco dancers can perform beautifully well into their fifties and beyond. On the other end of the age spectrum, neighborhood children on a stoop near the studio would sing flamenco songs while casually dancing a few steps, all with incredible ease. Oh, to have been born here!

As the days went on, the routines in class grew faster and more intense, leaving me drained by the hour’s end. Come nighttime, though, the flamenco scene would call again – inevitably, in a city so rich with flamenco clubs. Among the best of these, if you could find the unmarked building, was La Carbonería: a former coal factory that featured nightly shows popular among locals, visiting flamenco performers and aficionados, all crowding around the stage for the lively, late-night scene. No matter which flamencos were performing that night, the dancers had exquisite technique and grace, and an internal fire that would begin as a sort of low flame, then grow into a searing heat that could burn right through you.

            Outside, the temperature had its own intensity. At the start of July, the heat was still tolerable, if barely. A week later, though, the sun was pounding down as hard as any flamenco dancer has ever pounded out footwork. I couldn’t help wondering how much hotter it might get.

“Cuarenta graos, fácil,” a sevillano in the class told me, dropping the “d” in “grados,” and leaving me to figure out both the word and the Fahrenheit equivalent of 40 degrees Celsius. Well, even if the temperature did climb to over 100 degrees, Francisco would probably fare better than I would, given the warm climate he’d grown up in.

When he arrived at the pensión I’d checked into a week earlier, he took me in his arms and whispered, “You’re a sight for sore eyes” – except that it came out as “You’re an eye for sore sights.” It didn’t matter: we took to the bed, leaving the room only hours later to set off in search of food. Along the way, we passed the city’s massive Gothic cathedral.

“It looks just like the one inPuebla,” Francisco said, excited about this newfound connection to the Mexican city of his adolescence.

“Really?”

“Yes, the same architecture, the same towers and spires. It’s incredible how much Puebla looks like Sevilla!” I took his word for it – and asked, while sweating beneath my skirt and tank top, “And the heat here? You don’t mind it?”

Está delicioso.” He was glad to escape the foggy San Francisco summer. So glad, in fact, that he was completely at ease as we sat in the late-afternoon sun, on the rim of a fountain by the cathedral, kissing. When we entered the cathedral, as other tourists were doing, and found Mass in progress, we took a seat. The priest was adorned in thick white robes and a purple-and-gold cape – a perfect match for the gold-laden alterpiece depicting scenes from the life of Christ. As the sermon proceeded, I couldn’t make out much more than the word “Jesucristo,” frequently uttered. Francisco could, and shook his head: “And they believe that?”

I laughed, and we exchanged a quick kiss. A couple of older church ladies, dressed in black and seated next to Francisco, began to chastise us:

¡Éso no es una fiesta!

I was embarrassed, but Francisco snapped back, “¡Es una fiesta! ¡Es!

Ah, the pleasures of dating a dissenter! That night we continued our fiesta, staying out late, as Spaniards do, and visiting tapas bars. How those mayonnaise-heavy dishes survive the heat, I don’t know; all the tapas sit on the counter until there simply aren’t any more of them. We took our chances and ate several. Returning to our pensión, we couldn’t resist stopping for churros con chocolate, savoring those fried pastries and the thick chocolate drink you dunk the churros into. Back in our room, we lay down together for another round of lovemaking.

The next morning, waking before Francisco, I lingered in bed for a moment, admiring the contrast of his dark hair and skin against the white sheets wrapped around his slender figure. Waiting for him to awaken, I showered and dressed. Francisco continued to sleep. I was ready to explore the city, though:

“Come on, babe.”

“…Can’t.”

“What do you mean, ‘can’t’?” I tugged his arm. He made a flimsy effort to get up, lifting only his head, then gave up. “Can’t.”

Was this a joke? The effort seemed so pathetic. Had something really affected him so? The heavy lovemaking? The greasy tapas? The fried pastries? Jet lag?  Something worse? I put a hand on his forehead; it didn’t feel feverish. When I touched his back, though, I felt his body radiating heat, the way a severe sunburn does. The temperature had soared to 106 degrees; our hotel, like most in Spain, had no air-conditioning; and his body seemed to have somehow absorbed all this heat, to the point that he could barely move except to take a cold shower. I brought him a strawberry popsicle from the lobby’s vending machine. Francisco sat on the edge of the bed, ate the popsicle, then flopped back down.

“Do you want me to call a doctor?”

“No, I just need to sleep.”

And he did – through that afternoon and night, and all of the next day, rising only for a couple of cold showers and a trip to the lobby for another popsicle. At six o’clock, as the sun began to melt toward the horizon, I opened the windows and shutters as wide as they would go, to let in the cooler air. Maybe that would revive him. Stepping out onto our room’s small balcony, I watched the street life below: parents pushing strollers, occasional motorbikes tearing by, and a group of young men cruising the streets. One of them noticed me standing on the balcony alone.

“¿Qué haces sola?” he called up. In southern Spain, women are almost always  escorted by friends or family members.

“Taking care of someone who’s sleeping!” I called down, leaking frustration at being cooped up. The tone wasn’t lost on them.

“¡Echa la llave!” another called: “Throw down the key!”

             I wished I had the guts to! These fellows, unlike the one behind me, seemed to have plenty of energy – and they were good-looking, too. I tried again to rouse Francisco.

“Don’t worry about me,” he said groggily. “Go out if you want to. I’ll be fine.”

Reassuringly close to our pensión was another dance studio I’d been curious about. Ten minutes later, I was in its foyer.

Hay una clase,” the frizzy-haired girl at the front desk said, “an intermediate class that’s just about to start.” Perfect! I paid, entered the studio, put on my flamenco shoes – red ones I’d bought in Sevilla last year – and took a place in one of the rows … only to be amazed by the fast footwork we were given. This was the warm-up? More astonishing, while students always work harder in class than the teacher, repeating strenuous moves over and over, this maestra, heavyset and grey-haired, simply sat in a chair – a chair! – striking a large black cane over and over against the floor, to set the rhythm and ensure we stuck to it.

“¡Planta! ¡Tacón! ¡Planta! ¡Tacón! Ball! Heel! Ball! Heel!”  she bellowed, speeding up the pace until we were pounding the floor at a horse’s gallop. Boom! boom! that cane went – and soon, the gallop seemed a leisurely pace. It didn’t help that the windowless adobe walls, rather than keeping the room cool, turned it into a kiln in this crazy heat. I was already sweating, desperate for a break that clearly wouldn’t come.

“¡Planta! ¡Planta! ¡Tacón! ¡Tacón!”  She plunged us into more and more complex patterns. One of her students broke the steps down for us – but even those demonstrations were lightning-quick. At the end of class, I dragged myself back to the pensión. Francisco was still sleeping. As if he was the one who should be tired!

“I’m back!”

He opened his eyes, and realized he was hungry:

Vamos a comer, ¿no?

I hugged him, relieved that he wanted to go out for a meal, and that I’d have a  companion again. We ventured out to one of the city’s few air-conditioned restaurants. In Sevilla, places that offer this “luxury” charge steeply for the privilege. Anything, though, to keep Francisco from another two-day siesta! Instead of tapas, for dinner we had fish and lots of fresh vegetables – more like the fare we were used to inSan Francisco – then took a stroll along the banks of the Guadalquivir River.

The night air had displaced the day’s perilous heat, the river’s slow current was beautiful and soothing, and the lamps along the banks cast a soft glow. No wonder couples on each waterfront bench were deep in embrace. We found our own bench and, like all new couples, took pleasure from gazing into each other’s eyes and doing our own embracing.

Francisco turned to look back toward our pensión – to continue the romance, I thought. But something else was on his mind:

“Maybe tomorrow, we should leave for Paris.”

“Why?” I was stunned.

“Pariswill be cooler.”

We’d only just started to enjoy Sevilla together, with so much more I wanted to show him – including the shows at La Carbonería. I’d also hoped to take another dance class or two. Once you leave Spain, the chance of finding skilled flamenco artists and teachers – cane-thwackers notwithstanding – decreases with every kilometer beyond the border. Still, having Francisco down for the count again would be awful – and in this ever-intensifying heat, who knew how many more flamenco lessons I could endure anyway?

Francisco suggested we travel by train, for a leisurely journey through the countryside. I had my doubts. Maybe the trip would be wonderful – or maybe the scenery would be one sun-scorched landscape after another, hardly what I’d had in mind for our time in Spain. Anyway, I wasn’t ready to leave. Francisco seemed so eager to go, though. At least if we left tomorrow, we would arrive in Paris for the Bastille Day festivities: fireworks and town-square dances that coincide with my birthday, as if the country were celebrating my history rather than its own. Everyone deserves a delusion of grandeur now and then.

“All right,” I agreed, “let’s go toParis.”

We checked out of our hotel the next morning, headed to the station, and soon boarded the Spanish bullet train – “just like the French TGV,” Francisco enthused. As the train began its long diagonal course from Spain’s southwest corner to the Spanish-French border, he delighted in the similarities between Spain’s villages and the ones in Mexico:

“The same towns with one hotel and a church and canteen, the same red-tiled roofs, the same balconies with those metal bars, the same porches with people sitting outside. It’s like Mexico without the Mexicans!”

But with flamenco, I thought, trying to figure out when I could return. As we drew close to the border, Francisco declared, “I need to practice my French. Merci beau-kwah.”

Merci beaucoup, I corrected him.

“But the other way sounds more French!”

No wonder he wanted an interpreter this time. Unlike Spanish, where every letter is pronounced, French has clusters of letters that conspire to form a single sound – as in beaucoup. English is a closer kin of French in that sense, with words steeped in silent letters, like aisle, through, foreign. At least between the two of us, we had three languages down.

This combined skill didn’t help with the announcement that came crackling over the train’s P.A. system ­– a message so garbled by static that we caught only the words frontera and frontière, spoken with urgency. We responded in kind, rushing to pull our luggage down from the overhead rack and hurry off the train. Normally, while passengers go through customs at the border, the train goes through its own custom: mechanics shift the axles to fit the wider French rails, then everyone boards again.

But as soon as we got off the train, it left! We ran into the station.

Están en Portbou” the station agent explained, “the last stop on the Spanish side of the border. You shouldhave gone one more stop.”

“And the next train?”

“In an hour and a half,” the agent said casually, unperturbed by our panic. Francisco thought we could take a taxi to that next stop and catch up with the train.

“I don’t know …”

“Yes, it can work!”

So we dashed out to the street. No cabs in sight. We asked a man passing by where the taxi stand was.

“El chófer volvió a casa para almorzar.”

Had we heard right? The taxi driver had gone home for lunch? There was only one cab in all of Portbou? We sat down on the steps in front of the station.

“Now what?” I asked Francisco.

¡Qué mal! We never should have gotten off here.”

Yes, I thought, we’ve already determined that: “We might as well explore the town.”

Easier said than done, since Spain’s heat turned out to be just as intense in the North. We decided to seek refuge in a café – if we could find one. The main street by the station was devoted to small shops, all with similar wares. Forget about Spanish lace: everything we saw was made of sheepskin. Sheepskin slippers.  Sheepskin coats. Sheepskin bags.  Despite the hundred-degree weather, woolly wearables were everywhere. Clearly, this region had plenty of shepherds – and even more sheared sheep.

We finally came across a café, ate a couple of dull sandwiches, and half an hour later boarded the train that carried us into Cerbère, the first stop in France. Once we descended, the train was surrounded by mechanics for the gauge change. Approaching the customs official inside the station – a white-haired, stout-bellied fellow – I held out my blue U.S.passport. Francisco proffered his verde bandera one: “flag green” to match the green band of Mexico’s national banner. In the relaxed manner of southernFrance, influenced bySpain’s slow pace, the customs agent waved us forward without checking our documents:

Allez-y.”

Just go ahead? Wasn’t he even going to look at our passports?

“Allez-y,” he waved us on again, eager to be done with us.

“Mais …” I began –

“Ne vous inquietez pas.”

Being told not to worry worried me. In my experience, those words are always harbingers of disaster. We tried again to show our documents.

“Ç’est pas nécessaire.” Then the agent put a fermé sign on the counter, and left the station through its side door. Like the taxi driver of Portbou, he was probably heading home for lunch. So we got back on the train, both of us eager now to reachParis.

That evening, we checked into a little hotel by the Seine, with a beautiful view of the river and the back of Notre Dame, then went out for a walk. The balmy air wrapped pleasantly around us. From a cabine téléphonique I phoned Laurent, a dear friend, to let him know we had arrived. He answered right away:

C’est super!”  We chatted briefly before he asked where I wanted to celebrate my birthday.

Au Burro Blanco,” a Spanish restaurant that featured live flamenco music. We  ran down the list of friends to invite.

“After,” Laurent added, “we can go to one of the Bastille Day dances – though you’ll have to behave yourself with Francisco there!”

Last summer, at those dances sponsored by local firehouses, Laurent and I each had picked up a pompier, as a fireman is called: a term that leads to endless French jokes about “getting pumped.”  Laurent, tall and slender with dark hair and high cheekbones, had come out to me years earlier, was still fooling around plenty, and took pleasure in teasing me about those days being behind me now. I couldn’t resist:

“We’ll see! Francisco will be gone for a couple of days.” He was departing the next morning for a conference inLondon. For now, though, he and I cherished our first Parisian evening together, lingering along the Seine and enjoying the late sunset, which at ten o’clock left the sky still dripping with streaks of orange and pink. The following morning, Francisco assured me he would return in two days, for my birthday. Laurent and I used the time to roam around the city, chatting endlessly at favorite cafés and leafy neighborhood squares. Though I’d been sorry to leave Spain, being back in Paris was a joy.

On my birthday, I looked forward to introducing Francisco to everyone – but that afternoon, he still hadn’t turned up at the hotel. Surely, he would show up soon; there wasn’t much time left before the dinner. To prepare for the evening, and distract myself from worry, I unpacked the dress Laurent gave me for my birthday last year: a mid-thigh, low-cut garment of blue-dyed silk. He and another friend, Lise, had made it their duty to teach me how to be a woman, Parisian style. It started one winter evening when I still lived in Paris, and stopped by Lise’s apartment before we headed out to a dance club. Lise opened the door, and even as she gave me the French bises on each cheek, began scowling at the multicolor knit cap I wore.

“Ça, ça va pas!”

“You can’t be serious! It’s a great hat – and it’s what people wear in the States!” Not only that, but I’d paid a steep price for it at aBerkeleycrafts fair. I had every right to be defensive.

“Maintenant, tu es en France!” she scolded, clearly irritated by other aspects, too, of my appearance. She lost no time in applying make-up to my bare cheeks, lids and lips, putting gel in my hair, swapping my tights for fishnet stockings, and replacing my cap with a powder-blue pillbox hat. In the end, I didn’t mind; who could object to a French makeover? Anyway, I was already used to Laurent trying to “Parisian” me up.

 “I’ve often noticed,” he told me more than once, “that American women don’t wear perfume. Dommage.” When I didn’t take the hint, he finally put a bottle of Guerlaine in my hands. Soon after, he gave me the blue silk dress. There wasn’t much chance to wear it in chilly San Francisco, but now I smoothed it out, and was putting on perfume when Francisco called:

“I’m still inEngland.”

“What do you mean, you’re still inEngland?” Didn’t he realize how much I was looking forward to the evening? I couldn’t believe he was ruining the plan – again.

“The French border police sent me back toLondon! Apparently, Mexicans need a visa to enterFrance.”

Bit by bit, I got the story. When he landed at Charles de Gaulle airport, the police des frontières told him he couldn’t enter the country without that all-important stamp in his passport. Then they put him back on the Air France plane he’d just gotten off of; it was headed back toLondon.

 “It was like being a criminal! They escorted me right to my seat, and told the flight attendants to watch me. All the passengers were staring.”

“What a nightmare!” Collapsing fromSpain’s heat must have looked pretty good by comparison.

¡Pinches franceses!”he added, a phrase which essentially means “French bastards!”  I gathered he was losing his fondness for the City ofLight.

“If you come toLondon,” he pleaded, “I’ll pay for your ticket!”

I thought of all the trips I’d taken alone, all overEurope, and how trouble free they’d been. This trip, though, seemed like one problem heaped upon another. I’d had too little time inSpain– and now it didn’t look good for Paris, either. But how could I refuse his desperate plea to join him in London? What would it do to our relationship if I merely ran around Paris– much as I longed to – while he dealt alone with the complicated matter of trying to get back intoFrance?

I booked a train ticket for early the next morning, then went to the birthday dinner, though I couldn’t imagine enjoying the evening now. At the restaurant, a large table had been placed outside, my friends already seated around it: Laurent, Lise, Michelle, Mathieu, Alain, Odile, Jean-François, and Ali, an Iranian who’d fled toPariswith his family during the Revolution. They got up, kissed me on the cheeks, and praised the blue silk dress, to Laurent’s delight.

Où est Francisco?” he asked. I explained to everyone what had happened.

Ah,” the cry went up in unison, “c’est pas vrai!

But for the moment there was nothing to be done, so we dove into sharing what each of us had been up to, soon sharing, too, the paella, sangria, and music. When the flamenco guitarist began to play, I danced along for a round or two; and when the flamenco turned into the cha cha cha, all of us hit the floor. With Francisco absent, the conversation flowed as easily as the sangría, since I didn’t need to translate, nor worry whether my friends liked him. We never made it to the firemen’s ball, dancing at that restaurant until2:30in the morning.

A few hours later, the sky still dark, I boarded the Eurostar. Outside its tinted windows, the trees grew more and more dense as the train forged through northernFrance. After a long stretch in the Chunnel, the train emerged into the damp-green scenery of England. When the Eurostar pulled into the London station, Francisco was waiting on the platform. The dark circles under his eyes revealed that this time, he hadn’t slept much.

We lingered on the quay just long enough to kiss, and for him to whisper “Thank you for coming.” Then we hastened to the French Consulate before it closed for the day. The waiting room was crowded, mostly with Africans and Latin Americans all conversing noisily. Francisco and I took a number, bakery-style, and finally were called to window 8.  From behind a pane of glass, a large woman with blonde hair and black roots handed Francisco a stack of papers.  She instructed him, in French-inflected English, to come back the next morning with the papers filled out, and a copy of his passport attached.

“How long will it take to get the visa?” he asked.

“A week, maybe ten days.”

“A week to ten days?!”

“Come back tomorrow,” she said. “Next!”

We walked away, Francisco muttering ¡pinches franceses!  I wasn’t too happy either. Our vacation would be over soon, and the prospect of spending the rest of it in London didn’t thrill me. I tried not to get mad at Francisco – he’d already suffered plenty at the hands of the French police – but why hadn’t he checked, before leaving the States, to see if he’d needed a visa?

Francisco tried hard to make this unexpected part of our trip romantic, booking us into a posh hotel, treating me to a fine candlelight dinner, then taking my arm as we strolled though Hyde Park. He was a pile of trouble – but also generous and sweet. I wasn’t sure if he was the man I’d spend my life with, but he was certainly loveable. Time will tell, I thought. He seemed to have a different timeline.

“Will you marry me?” he asked, as we lay in bed after making love that night.

The proposal caught me unprepared, and unready to make that permanent promise, so all I could do was give the least awful response I could think of:

“We’ll see … it’s just a little soon. We’ve been dating less than half a year,” I added awkwardly.

“I know,” he said. “It just came out.”

We laughed a little, unsure how to respond to the moment, then went to sleep, our bodies comfortingly entwined.

When morning broke, though, we were all business, returning to the Consulate at 9:00sharp. Francisco handed the completed paperwork to the same woman, same window. Barely glancing at us, she told us to check back in a week.

“S’il-vous-plaît,”  I began, explaining in French how it was my birthday and we had friends waiting for us in Paris, my companion simply not knowing about needing a visa. The woman looked at me hard.

“Revenez à 15 heures,” she said, and though we didn’t know what would be in store when we went back at 3:00, that afternoon we returned to window 8, the waiting room still buzzing – and got the visa.

Merci, Madame. Merci beaucoup!” I meant it.

Merci beaucoup!” Francisco chimed in, in perfect French.

When the Eurostar pulled into Paris, we eyed each other nervously. The police des frontières glanced at my passport, then stamped it. When the Mexican passport made its appearance, the officials pored over it, scrutinized Francisco just as carefully, then added their stamp. We were in! The hotel by the Seine still had a room available, and that night, from the same phone booth, I called Laurent: “Nous sommes de retour!

We still had time to enjoy the Marais art galleries open until midnight, an outdoor concert in the Jardin du Luxembourg, and the party Laurent threw so everyone could meet Francisco. They liked him, impressed by his knowledge of even their own country’s history, and by the fact that, as one friend put it, “He’s not macho like the Spaniards.”

Our last day, we visited the Jardin des Plantes, a botanical garden less crowded and less pruned than the Luxembourg. It was as verdant as ever. We meandered through its rose and alpine gardens, and the Mexican hothouse filled with tropical ferns and climbing plants. Exiting, we walked up a narrow hilly street to one of my favorite restaurants, Jardin des Pâtes: a pasta restaurant whose owners had named the place for the lush public garden close by.

Laurent met us there for dinner, then walked with us along the Seine. We wandered over to the Passerelle des Arts, the wood-and-steel bridge near the Louvre, in whose courtyard Laurent and I had spent so many evenings; then over to Ile de la Cité and the Pont au Change, where we lingered until the sky turned a deep blue-black.

Alors …” Laurent said, turning to face me.

“I’ll be back next summer.” I’d meant to sound cheerful, but the sentence had an unmistakably wistful tone.

“And Francisco?”
“We’ll see.”

When we returned to California, Francisco decided to name his backyard after what had become his favorite Parisian garden. He even decided to make a sign bearing its name: Jardin des Plantes.  He bought the wood for the sign, bought the wooden letters and wood glue, bought the eye screws and string to hang the sign, and set to work. A few days later, he proudly showed me the finished product.

“Here it is!  Jardin des Plants.”

“It’s missing the ‘e’ in Plantes,” I said, giggling at first, then laughing so hard I could barely stand up.

“There’s no ‘e’ in that word!” he protested, but his frown revealed a returning memory of that silent vowel.

Pinches franceses,” he muttered, picking up his car keys for one more trip to the store. “Are you coming?”

For a moment, I was as silent as that French vowel …

“Sorry, no.”

“No?”

“I don’t want to be late for my flamenco class.”

Jennifer Arin is author of a new book of poetry, Ways We Hold (Dos Madres Press), and a poetry chapbook, The Roots of Desire (Thicket Press). Her writings have been published in both the U.S. and Europe, and she has won awards from the National Endowment for the Humanities, PEN, and Poets & Writers, among others. She teaches literature and writing in the English Department at San Francisco State University.

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