You go to the cinema that night, indulging your need for images, dialogue, plot, and so vicariously for people, relationships. Determining against anything English or American, and from the opposite angle against a hit French comedy where the humour might be lost on you, the choice is narrowed down to La Note Bleu, which turns out not to be the tragic tale of a jazz great, but a semi-surreal interpretation of the last days of Chopin. Delacroix pops up off of his banknote, and dream sequences of dancing devils and figures swirling coloured sheets intimate death. There is the constant play of eyes across the colours of 19th-century kitchens, bedrooms and countryside, and there is the music that the sickening Chopin hammers out. Its intensity, though it may be enhanced by the emotional manipulation of which of all the art forms cinema is the most capable exponent, is immediately resonant, so that you can forgive the over-reliance on furrowed brows and caressed keys.
Emerging into that rare summer night light, half disoriented, half extra-receptive to the colour of the city, the music and the images chase you from bar to bar round the newly-cinematic streets. Down rue du Gros-Horloge you go for the first time, passing under the 14th century clock that spans the street, to sit with Joan of Arc in the old market square, where she was burnt alive 560 years ago. The new church dedicated to her looks more like Nemo’s Nautilus than the evocation of flames at the stake it is supposed to represent. Its roof descends in a long scaly tail, which comes down so low that thieving pilgrims have pinched the tiles to hand, to the extent that the roof begins to look more like a snake in the throes of shedding its skin than anything else. A concrete and metal cross marks the spot where Joan is thought to have been martyred, and you can’t help but touch it, and think of the flames that rose to her Roman nose.
Try as you may, the terrasses are alien to you (though the English-style pub bars are worse, because of their artificial air) especially in the cool of evening; you have not learnt how to feel at ease sitting alone. A book would help, or a wrist watch, to check on the time of the meeting for which you are not waiting. Your wrists are bare, so too your fingers, your ears. Jewelry implies a commitment you have never felt able to make, and a watch stands for the duties and small responsibilities from which you have escaped, or fled. Relegated to a pocket, your watch has done nothing but clock up the seconds and hours of a new routine, and in Rouen, where it should have speeded up or slowed down, time still beats unvaryingly. Restless, alone, you fiddle with the watch and try to stretch out your stay at this table until its face says quarter to.