Pardonnez-moi, monsieur. Oe est la lune? Alors, mon ancien, la lune est ici, ouvre la Seine, enorme, rouge, et humide. Merci, mon ami, I see it now. Et actualment, name of a dog, it is a night for the moon, a night made just for the sharp pleasures of the moonlight, the dance macabre between Dexter of the Dark and some special friend.
But merde alors! The moon is over la Seine? Dexter is in Paris! Quelle tragedie! The Dance is not possible, not in Paris! Here there is no way to find the special friend, no sheltering Miami night, no gentle welcoming ocean waters for the leftovers. Here there is only the taxis, the tourists, and that huge and lonely moon.
And Rita, of course. Rita everywhere, fumbling with her phrase book and folding and unfolding dozens of maps and guidebooks and pamphlets, all promising perfect happiness and, miraculously, delivering it--to her. Only to her. Because her newly wedded Parisian bliss is strictly a solo act, and her newly acquired husband, former high priest of lunar levity, Dexter the Drastically Deferred, can only marvel at the moon and hold tightly to the impatiently twitching Dark Passenger and hope that all this happy insanity will end soon and send us back to the well-ordered normal life of catching and carving the other monsters.
For Dexter is used to carving freely, with a neat and happy hand that now must merely clutch at Rita's while he marvels at the moon, savoring the irony of being on a Honeymoon, wherein all that is sweet and lunar is forbidden.
And so, Paris. Dexter trudges meekly along in the wake of the Good Ship Rita, staring and nodding where these things are required and occasionally offering a sharp and witty comment, like, "Wow," and "Uh-huh," as Rita trammels through the pent-up lust for Paris that has surged in her all these many years and now, at last, has found consummation.
But surely even Dexter is not immune to the legendary charms of the City of Light? Surely even he must behold the glory and feel some small synthetic twitch stirring in response, somewhere in the dark and empty pit where a soul should go? Can Dexter truly come to Paris and feel absolutely nothing?
Of course not. Dexter feels plenty; Dexter feels tired, and bored. And Dexter feels slightly anxious to find someone to play with sometime soon. The sooner the better, to be perfectly honest, since for some reason Being Married seems to sharpen the appetites somewhat.
But this is all part of the bargain, all part of what Dexter must do in order to do what Dexter does. In Paris, just like at home, Dexter must maintenez le disguisement. Even the worldly-wise French might pause and frown at the thought of a monster in their midst, an inhuman fiend who lives only to tumble the other monsters off the edge and into well-earned death. And Rita, in her new incarnation as blushing bride, is the perfect disguisement for all I truly am. No one could possibly imagine that a cold and empty killer would stumble meekly along behind such a perfect avatar of American tourism. Surely, not, mon frere. C'est impossible.
For the moment, alas, tres impossible. There is no hope of slipping quietly away for a few hours of much-deserved recreation. Not here, where Dexter is not known and does not know the ways of the police. Never in a strange and foreign place, where the strict rules of the Harry Code do not apply. Harry was a Miami cop, and in Miami all that he spake was just as he ordained it to be. But Harry spake no French, and so the risk is far too high here, no matter how strongly the pulse of darkness may throb in the shadowy backseat.
A shame, really, because the streets of Paris are made for lurking with sinister intent. They are narrow, dark, and possess no logical order that a reasonable person can detect. It's far too easy to imagine Dexter, wrapped in a cape and clutching a gleaming blade, sliding through these shadowed alleys with an urgent appointment somewhere nearby in one of these same old buildings that seem to lean down at you and demand that you misbehave.
And the streets themselves are so perfect for mayhem, made as they are out of large blocks of stone that, in Miami, would long ago have been pried out and flung through the windshield of passing cars, or sold to a building contractor to make new roads.
But this is not Miami, alas. This is Paris. And so I bide my time, solidifying this vital new phase of Dexter's disguise, hoping to live through only one week more of Rita's dream honeymoon. I drink the French coffee--weak by Miami standards--and the vin de table--disturbingly, reminiscently, red as blood--and marvel at my new wife's capacity for soaking up all that is French. She has learned to blush very nicely as she says table pour deux, s'il vous pla"t, and the French waiters instantly understand that this is a brand-new two and, almost as if they all got together ahead of time and agreed to feed Rita's romantic fantasies, they smile fondly, bow us to a table, and all but break into a chorus of "La Vie en rose."
Ah, Paris. Ah, l'amour.
We spend the days trudging through the streets and stopping at terribly important map references. We spend the nights in small and quaint eating spots, many of them with the added bonus of some form of French music playing. We even attend a performance of The Imaginary Invalid at the Comedie Franeaise. It is performed entirely in French for some reason, but Rita seems to enjoy it.
Two nights later she seems to enjoy the show at the Moulin Rouge just as much. She seems, in fact, to enjoy nearly everything about Paris, even riding a boat up and down the river. I do not point out to her that much nicer boat rides are available at home in Miami, boat rides that she has never shown any interest in, but I do begin to wonder what, if anything, she might be thinking.
She assaults every landmark in the city, with Dexter as her unwilling shock troop, and nothing can stand before her. The Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Sacre-Coeur, the cathedral of Notre-Dame; they all fall to her fierce blond focus and savage guidebook.
It begins to seem like a somewhat high price to pay for disguisement, but Dexter is the perfect soldier. He plods on under his heavy burden of duty and water bottles. He does not complain about the heat, his sore feet, the large and unlovely crowds in their too-tight shorts, souvenir T-shirts, and flip-flops.
He does, however, make one small attempt to stay interested. During the Hop-on-Hop-off Bus Tour of Paris, as the taped program drones out the names of the different fascinating locations with massive historical significance in eight languages, a thought comes unasked for into Dexter's slowly suffocating brain. It seems only fair that here in the City of Eternal Accordion Music there is some small cultural pilgrimage available to a long-suffering monster, and I know now what it is. At the next stop, I pause at the door of the bus and ask the driver a simple and innocent question.
"Excuse me," I say. "Do we go anywhere near the Rue Morgue?"
The driver is listening to an iPod. He pulls one earbud out with an annoyed flourish, looks me over from head to toe, and raises an eyebrow.
"The Rue Morgue," I say again. "Do we go by the Rue Morgue?"
I find myself speaking in the too-loud tones of the American nonlinguist, and I stumble to a stop. The driver stares at me. I can hear tinny hip-hop music coming from the dangling earbud. Then he shrugs. He launches into a brief and passionate explanation of my complete ignorance in very rapid French, pops the earbud back in, and opens the door to the bus.
I follow Rita off the bus, meek, humble, and mildly disappointed. It had seemed like such a simple thing to make a solemn stop at the Rue Morgue, to pay my respects to an important cultural landmark in the world of Monsters, but it is not to be. I repeat the question later, to a taxi driver, and receive the same answer, and Rita interprets with a somewhat embarrassed smile.
"Dexter," she says. "Your pronunciation is terrible."
"I might do better in Spanish," I say.
"It wouldn't matter," she says. "There is no Rue Morgue."
"It's imaginary," she says. "Edgar Allan Poe made it up. There is no real Rue Morgue."
I feel like she has just said there is no Santa Claus. No Rue Morgue? No happy historical pile of Parisian corpses? How can this be? But it is certain to be true. There is no questioning Rita's knowledge of Paris. She has spent too many years with too many guidebooks for any possibility of a mistake.
And so I slide back into my shell of dumb compliance, the tiny flicker of interest killed as dead as Dexter's conscience.
With only three days left before we fly back home to the blessed malice and mayhem of Miami, we come to our Full Day at the Louvre. This is something that has raised mild interest even in me; after all, merely because I have no soul does not mean I don't appreciate art. Quite the opposite, in fact. Art is, after all, all about making patterns in order to create a meaningful impact on the senses. And isn't this just exactly what Dexter does? Of course, in my case "impact" is a little more literal, but still--I can appreciate other media.
So it was with at least a mild interest that I followed Rita across the huge courtyard of the Louvre and down the stairs into the glass pyramid. She had chosen to go this alone and forsake the tour groups--not out of any distaste for the grungy mobs of gaping, drooling, woefully ignorant sheep who seemed to coalesce around each tour guide, but because Rita was determined to prove that she was a match for any museum, even a French one.
She marched us right up to the ticket line, where we waited for several minutes before she finally bought our tickets, and then we were off into the wonders of the Louvre.
The first wonder was immediately obvious as we climbed out of the admissions area and into the actual museum. In one of the first galleries we came to, a huge crowd of perhaps five large tour groups was clustered around a perimeter marked by a red velvet rope. Rita made a noise that sounded something like "mrmph" and reached for my hand to drag me past. As we walked rapidly past the crowd I turned for a look; it was the Mona Lisa. "It's so tiny," I blurted out.
"And very overrated," Rita said primly.
I know that a honeymoon is meant to be a time for getting to know your new life partner, but this was a Rita I had never encountered before. The one I thought I knew did not, as far as I could tell, ever have strong opinions, especially opinions that were contrary to conventional wisdom. And yet, here she was calling the most famous painting in the world overrated. The mind boggled; at least, mine did.
"It's the Mona Lisa," I said. "How can it be overrated?"
She made another noise that was all consonants and pulled on my hand a little harder. "Come look at the Titians," she said. "They're much nicer."
The Titians were very nice. So were the Rubenses, although I did not see anything in them to explain why they should have a sandwich named for them. But that thought did make me realize I was hungry, and I managed to steer Rita through three more long rooms filled with very nice paintings and into a cafe on one of the upper levels.
After a snack that was more expensive than airport food and only a little tastier, we spent the rest of the day wandering through the museum looking at room after room of paintings and sculptures. There really were an awful lot of them, and by the time we finally stepped out into the twilit courtyard again my formerly magnificent brain had been pounded into submission.
"Well," I said as we sauntered across the flagstones, "that was certainly a full day."
"Oohhh," she said, and her eyes were still large and bright, as they had been for most of the day. "That was absolutely incredible!" And she put an arm around me and nestled close, as if I had been personally responsible for creating the entire museum. It made walking a bit more difficult, but it was, after all, the sort of thing one did on a honeymoon in Paris, so I let her cling and we staggered across the courtyard and through the gate into the street.
As we turned the corner a young woman with more facial piercings than I would have thought possible stepped in front of us and thrust a piece of paper into Rita's hands. "Now to see the real art," she said. "Tomorrow night, eh?"
"Merci," Rita said blankly, and the woman moved past, thrusting her papers at the rest of the evening crowd.
"I think she probably could have gotten a few more earrings on the left side," I said as Rita frowned at the paper. "And she missed a spot on her forehead."
"Oh," said Rita. "It's a performance piece."
Now it was my turn to stare blankly, and I did. "What is?"
"Oh, that's so exciting," she said. "And we don't have anything to do tomorrow night. We're going!"
"This is just perfect," she said.
And maybe Paris really is a magical place after all. Because Rita was right.
Perfection was in a small and shadowed street not too far from the Seine, in what Rita breathlessly informed me was the Rive Gauche, and it took the form of a storefront performance space called Realite. We had hurried through dinner--even skipping dessert!--in order to get there at seven-thirty, as the flyer had urged. There were about two dozen people inside when we got there, clustered together in small groups in front of a series of flat-screen TV monitors mounted on the walls. It all seemed very gallery-like, until I picked up one of the brochures. It was printed in French, English, and German. I skipped ahead to the English and began to read.
After only a few sentences I felt my eyebrows climbing up my forehead. It was a manifesto of sorts, written with a clunky passion that did not translate well, except possibly into German. It spoke of expanding the frontiers of art into new areas of perception, and destroying the arbitrary line between art and life drawn by the archaic and emasculated Academy. And even though some pioneering work had been done by Chris Burden, Rudolf Schwarzkogler, David Nebreda, and others, it was time to smash the wall and move forward into the twenty-first century. And tonight, with a new piece called Jennifer's Leg, we were going to do just that.
It was all extremely passionate and idealistic, which I have always found to be a very dangerous combination, and I would have found it a little funny--except that Someone Else was finding it so, more than a little; somewhere deep in the dungeons of Castle Dexter I heard a soft and sibilant chuckle from the Dark Passenger, and that amusement, as always, heightened my senses and brought me up on point. I mean, really; the Passenger was enjoying an art exhibit?
I looked around the gallery with a different sort of awareness. The muted whispering of the people clustered by the monitors no longer seemed to be the hush of respect toward art. Now I could see an edge of disbelief and even shock in their near silence.
I looked at Rita. She was frowning as she read, and shaking her head. "I've heard of Chris Burden, he was American," she said. "But this other one, Schwarzkogler?" She stumbled over the name--after all, she had been studying French all this time, not German. "Oh," she said, and she began to blush. "It says he... he cut off his own--" She looked up at the people around the room, staring silently at something or other on the screens. "Oh my God," she said.
"Maybe we should go," I suggested, as my inner friend's amusement climbed steadily up the scale.
But Rita had already moved to stand in front of the first screen, and as she saw what it showed her mouth dropped open and began to twitch slightly, as if she was trying and failing to pronounce a very long and difficult word. "That's... that's... that's--" she said.
And a quick look at the screen showed that Rita was right again: it really was.
On the monitor a video clip showed a young woman dressed in an archaic stripper's costume of bangles and feathers. But instead of the kind of sexually provocative pose the outfit might have called for, she stood with one leg up on the table and, in a short and soundless loop of about fifteen seconds, she brought a whirring table saw down on her leg and threw her head back, mouth wide open in anguish. Then the clip jumped back to the start and she did the whole thing again.
"Dear God," Rita said. Then she shook her head. "That's... that's some kind of trick photography. It HAS to be."
I was not so sure. In the first place, I had already been tipped off by the Passenger that something very interesting was going on here. And in the second place, the expression on the woman's face was quite familiar to me from my own artistic endeavors. It was genuine pain, I was quite sure, real and extreme agony--and yet, in all my extensive research I had never before encountered someone willing to inflict this much of it on themselves. No wonder the Passenger was having a fit of the giggles. Not that I found it funny: if this sort of thing took hold, I would have to find a new hobby.
Still, it was an interesting twist, and I might have been more than willing to look at the other video clips under ordinary circumstances. But it did seem to me that I had some kind of responsibility toward Rita, and this was clearly not the sort of thing she could see and still maintain a sunny outlook. "Come on," I said. "Let's go get some dessert."
But she just shook her head and repeated, "It HAS to be a trick," and she moved on to the next screen.