Think of a person from history who intrigues you. Napoleon? Cleopatra? Martin Luther King?
Write a two- to three-page description of that person eating a meal. What would s/he eat? How would s/he eat? What would s/he be thinking about as s/he ate? Would someone be sharing the meal with him or her? What would they talk about?
Remember: Bring Your Character to Life!
(The Fiction Class by Susan Breen, page 41)
I wonder if I could have two famous people eating together. Would they have to be from the same era? Yes. My little fantasy lunch could work. (Note: I know very little about the two characters in this little scene but am somewhat in the process of researching them both, especially the lady, given my ongoing fascination with things Parisian. The only information I confirmed was the possibility/accuracy of the date as it related to each character's life and career.)
The year is 1925.
Paris in the spring.
Ernest Hemingway is working on The Sun Also Rises. Most of the time he is hanging out on the Left Bank, but today he is taking a break and finds himself strolling through a more upscale part of town. His untucked shirt, open collar, rolled up sleeves and wrinkled trousers earn him a few sidelong glances, but the young writer is lost in thought and pays them no heed. He soaks up the warmth of the spring sunshine, letting it burn off his hangover.
As he passes a cafe, his attention is arrested by a striking woman sitting at a table, smoking a cigarette and sipping a cafe au lait. As he watches, a waiter brings her a plate of fruit, cheese and bread. She nods her thanks, a faint smile pulling at the corners of her mouth. Large sunglasses and an elegant hat hide the rest of her expression -- the rest of her face, in fact.
She sets down her coffee cup, puts out her cigarette, and as she turns her attention to the food in front of her, she says, "Would you care to join me, or do you prefer to just stand there and gape?"
Her English is accented but fluent, and her voice hints at velvety smolder underneath her elegant attire.
"Even a Frenchman would not be so rude ... or so sloppily dressed. You must be American."
Not easily discomfitted, our hero is startled into at least standing up a little straighter, but he smiles rakishly and accepts the invitation, accepting a seat across from his enchantress, glad to have permission as well as the opportunity to study her a little more closely. Beneath the hat and glasses is a delicately made up face, a single strand of pearls and a distinctive, square-cut but tailored jacket which is becoming the lady's trademark.
While the rude, sloppily dressed American is trying to determine the lady's age, the waiter appeared at his elbow.
"I don't suppose you have whiskey in this place."
"Non, monsieur." The waiter's disdain is evident.
"Fine. A bottle of wine and whatever the lady is having."
"Bien sur." The waiter bows slightly and disappeared.
The author turns back to his companion to see that smile again -- subtle, beautiful, mysterious.
"Only an American would be drinking so early in the day, right?"
"Only something so vile as whiskey, yes. But wine with lunch is perfectly French."
"Bien sur," he grins.
At that, she actually laughs -- a light, musical sound which only deepens his enchantment.
"Gabrielle Chanel," she introduces herself, extending a hand which he stares at for an instant before he decides to try to take it and graze the knuckles with a kiss as he had seen Frenchmen do when they were trying to seduce some innocent young thing traveling abroad. The clumsy gesture earns him another smile.
"Gabrielle ... that's a lovely name."
"Friends -- and some admirers -- call me Coco."
He thinks about that for a minute. "I prefer Gabrielle, if you don't mind. Or should it be Madame Chanel to this ill-mannered, sloppily dressed American?"
"Gabrielle suits me just fine, Monsieur Hemingway."
He smiles at the sound of his name translated into her accent -- Em-een-gway. "Ernest, please. Speaking of suits, that's a sharp one you're wearing."
"Merci. It is one of my favorite designs."
"Your design? You're a fashion designer?"
"Oui, monsieur. Indeed I am, although I wouldn't expect someone like you to take notice of such things."
He is almost offended until he sees her smiling again.
"Just because a man looks as if he can barely dress himself doesn't mean that he can't appreciate a beautiful woman, and I'd wager that is the entire point of your designs."
"One of the points, but certainly not the only one."
The waiter returns with the food and wine, as well as another cafe au lait. Hemingway downs half a glass of wine in one gulp and ignores the food.
"Not the only one?"
"Non. Of course not. A woman should dress first and foremost for herself. If she does that and knows what she likes and what flatters her body and her style -- perhaps even her mood -- then the appreciation of others will follow naturally. If she doesn't appreciate herself, there is no reason that anyone else should either. If she does, natural though it may be, the appreciation of others isn't even necessary."
As he listens, Hemingway takes a large bite of cheese and bread, washing it down with the rest of the wine in his glass.
"But," Chanel smiles again, a little mischievously this time, "a little appreciation ... stopping a man in his tracks, for example, never hurts."
Had she not been wearing the sunglasses she might have looked demure, even fluttered her eyelashes, but behind those dark lenses it was impossible to tell. Hemingway laughs.
"No, I suppose it doesn't, though I would think that a ragamuffin American like me would be easy prety. Are you telling me that this works on my more cultured, sophisticated French counterparts?"
"Bien sur! But be careful in assuming that all Frenchmen are sophisticated."
she selects a cigarette from a monogrammed silver case, and he lights it for her. They sit in companionable silence, and he drinks another glass of wine -- a little more slowly this time, clearly enjoying the taste and soaking up his surroundings.
Cigarette finished, his companion rises.
"It has been a pleasure, Monsieur Hemingway, but I must get to an appointment. I do hope we meet again."
He stands as she does. "The pleasure was mine, Madame Chanel."
He watches her walk away, as she no doubt intends him to do, and returns to his lunch to find that the waiter has so kindly left him the check to pay.