You miss the girl with chestnut hair in the crowd at the end of the concert as she slips inevitably away to board the waiting coach. You manage a word, then, not with her, but an unintimidating-looking boy; your coincidence is lost on him. As you linger, hoping she will come back, the bearded man, who turned out to have been the choir master, stops to ask you if you enjoyed the concert. Absurdly you wish that he could find you a spare seat on the coach, knowing then that this fading chance was never a chance at all, just more salt in your wounds.
Next day you continue to wear the paving of the streets thin with your insistent, circuitous, dissatisfied and disconsolate tramping, crossing the Seine from old Rouen to new, where, eating chips in a busy street, a woman stops to ask, why you don’t eat them at the friterie counter? But on discovering you are English gives up the point with a ‘to be expected’ wave of her hand. You will keep catching people’s eyes, and for your trouble get all that lies, glistens and lurks there. You feel worse than if you had not looked. You stop to drink at a bar that has become a favourite; sitting at a terrasse gives legitimacy to your looking. A man passes with a woman. Underneath his open and flapping jacket, a t-shirt bears the words: UN HOMME SEUL est toujours en mauvaise compagnie. You think you catch the t-shirt attributing this to Paul Valéry, but you cannot be sure. You rise and move off in the other direction, remembering the sign on the Pentonville Road that you photographed. Stuck out of the wall, well above head height, on an approach to King’s Cross, seemingly bearing no relation to the building to which it was attached: Alone in London.
Finally, past midnight, you end up in the square bounded on one side by the cathedral falsely attributed to Monet, who after all only painted rather than imagined, designed or died in the building of it. Much of the façade is dressed in scaffolding while the stone is cleaned up to the tourism-friendly colours of the original paintings. You sit down on a stone slab of bench to listen to a flautist, who you have seen and heard before. She has an Alsatian for late night company lying beneath her music stand. After a few minutes there is a power cut, which is greeted with applause, not so much ironic as merry, by groups of friends crossing the square. It leaves the cathedral and its usually floodlit steeple unlit. A cat dashes from nowhere around the corner of the façade. Illuminated by the violet emergency light of the babywear store behind her, the flautist continues to play, the melodies echoing gently over the stones in what is a third night of music for you.
A member of Rouen’s street population comes to sit down next to you. He has a face as likeably ravaged as Delacroix in the film you saw, and it’s clear he wants to talk to you, in French or in English, no matter. This is where chance and possibility lead, not into the arms of a girl with chestnut curls, but into sharing a bench with a down-and-out, a captive audience for his bilingual comedy. He asks you if you have a franc, then simply puts it down on the stone between you and plays with it, cockle doodle-dooing in French: cocorico rococo, bon soir Mr. Brown, qu’est-ce qu’il se passe? Il fait nuit, c’est qu’est-ce qu’il se passe. Yes, what is money, what is one, is two one? The Prince of Piccallili Circus. What is the name of the statue in Piccallili Circus? Eros, yes, Eros…
God cracks eggs and hurls them at the surface of the earth.