Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Is this the most perfect love story

The time was June 1975, and I was hitchhiking around Switzerland and France the summer before grad school in Chicago. I had ended up in Neuchâtel that day by chance; the ride I caught was going there. The youth hostel was somewhere up the hill, but I was hot and thirsty, so I plopped down on the terrace of Café Pam-Pam. Finally I spoke to her, asking as best I could in French if she’d like to play, pointing at the chessboard. She responded in French, “Pardon?” I tried to carefully repeat my question. She responded in English, “Perhaps we should speak English.”

Maïf, short for Marie-France, was 19 and had lived in Neuchâtel all her life. She was at the cafe, her regular after-school hangout, for a coffee, cigarette and game of pinball. She’d just finished a day of Baccalaureate exams to graduate from high school. Over the next two days, Maïf showed me her town. We walked along cobblestone streets up to the 12th-Century castle where she’d played as a young girl with her German shepherd, Kathy. We sprawled on the grass by the lake, the white Alps in the distance. We stayed out until dawn at a low-key club where she gave me a coin for the jukebox and asked me to punch in G5 for her favourite song by George Benson. We were joined for a while by a suave older guy she knew. He clearly disliked that she was with me.

During those two days together, we never even kissed. I was smitten, but she had a boyfriend in Canada, and would soon be joining him at university to study English. I was too shy to tell her how I felt. So I left. I stuck out my thumb again and caught rides to… somewhere that I’ve completely forgotten. Then, after a few days, I gave in and went back to Neuchâtel, back to Café Pam-Pam. Before long, here came Maïf on her little black scooter, putt-putting up the hill. After a coffee, she took me to her house around the corner, where her grandmother made us an omelette for lunch. I’d never had an omelette for lunch. We ate in the kitchen at a table that’s still there.

I stayed one more night in Neuchâtel. I still had more exploring to do before flying back to the US, and it was too painful to stay longer. We said goodbye in front of her house, and there we finally kissed, but just on each cheek as Europeans do with friends. As I turned and walked away, Maïf let out a low groaning sound. Any idiot would have turned around and gone back to her forever.

By September, I was living in Chicago, going to grad school, and Maïf was in Ontario at university. We wrote each other once. Her boyfriend had gotten otherwise involved. I called her and she said maybe she could come to Chicago soon. But when I called again a couple of weeks later, she told me she’d met someone. We lost contact. For 32 years... read more: