The price of admission should have tipped me off. However, ever the optimist, I thought I had just run into the best deal in town as far as entertainment goes and I was there in the second row to take it all in. What there was to “take in” in the end was not exactly what I had expected.

For months I had looked forward to hearing a presentation by a gifted and well-known writer with a sense of humor that coincides with my own–dare I call it ‘good?’ I had heard of his upcoming appearance even before the box office that would be responsible for selling the tickets did, so I was pretty much first in line once the tickets eventually went on sale. I was astounded to discover that they were only $7.00.The other astonishing-to-me detail was that it was open seating–no assigned seats. The last time I had attended a performance with such an arrangement to hear an author speak it had been necessary to get there almost two hours in advance of the doors opening just to be in as prime a position as possible for the start of the stampede-for-good-seats. Well, what else could I expect for $7.00? I considered the cattle call that would precede the proceedings as part of the price of admission. Fair enough.

So, I got there EARLY–and yet much to my dismay, the doors were already open–in advance of the time that had been announced and people were already being admitted. Horrors! I had lost my chance at a ‘good seat’–meaning one in the front row.

Well, first impressions are deceptive because much to my great relief, when I finally got inside the auditorium I saw very few other people (where were all of these people that had sneaked in ahead of me?)–and the front row was free and clear. So down front I trotted and once there decided for some reason that the front row in this case might be too close–and so I gave myself the option of sitting in the second row–and then took myself up on that.

There I was–well in advance of the program’s start and prepared with a book to read. Perfect. About 15 minutes after my arrival other people did begin to appear and among them two women who chose to position themselves in the front row directly in front of me. I had no idea at the time how fortunate a decision they had made in my behalf.

I found myself immediately fascinated by the attire of one of these women in front of me. She appeared to have been influenced by forces other than natural ones in her choice of dress and hairstyle–especially the hairstyle.

But to get back to the speaker. One of the things I like about this man’s work is that in recent years he has written with much humor about his experiences of living in Paris for fie years with his American wife and young son. Many of his stories appeared as essays in The New Yorker and now have been collected into a book full of the kinds of things that make me laugh and remember my own five years of living in France that actually overlapped with his.

So there I was anticipating an evening of amusing anecdotes and stories about France and the French by an American attempting to live among them. For reasons unknown to me, the person who had the honors of introducing the speaker was the director of the art museum. I didn’t question why. I should have. I thought I was having an auditory hallucination when I heard that this respected author was going to talk about–are you ready?–impressionism. Impressionism??

Now I know the impressionist movement originated in France and many of the impressionists were French, but they certainly lived before this man and so what could they have had to do with his experiences of living on France in the 1990s? Nothing, of course. And that’s the point–he wasn’t going to talk at all about his experiences in France, he was going to talk about painting–turns out he is an art historian as well. Wish someone had told me that before.

I nearly left before he started, but in the end I decided to stay and entertain myself with contemplation of the get-up of the woman in front of me. I told you it was fortunate that she had landed in my direct line of vision.

In keeping with the French theme, the hairdo alone made this woman appear as if she, or at least it, had been snatched from the court of Marie Antoinette. There were piles–make that mountains–of curls–all poofed, prodded, teased, coerced, and mounded to an incredible height, all to be topped off with a multi-level elaborate brocade “bow” that sat as a topknot to a multi-tiered wedding cake of a coiffure.

Below this woman’s head–it was hard to even see below her head because her hair took so much of my time and attention–but prior to her sitting down, I had caught a glimpse, and the fantasy–and the complications–continued.

She wore a puffed sleeve taupe leather jacket topped with a gold and brown intricately printed scarf that encircled the neck several times in convoluted twists and turns. Least complicated of the ensemble were brown pin-stripe pants that in and by themselves would have passed for this century.

Except for her hair, the woman was small–probably only about five feet tall. With the hair she approached six feet, so perhaps the oversized wrist watch and gargantuan rock of a ring–worn on the same hand that was attached to the wrist of the watch–were added to further enhance the illusion of great size and grandeur.

I found myself wondering how long it must have taken to concoct and then assemble this vision that was seated in front of me. And then I became fearful.

What if the speaker’s gaze happened to fall on this apparition? If he became as distracted as I had become, he might well fall right into the whole mess. He was, after all, standing above this apocalypse of complications and gazing into its convolutions could certainly make anyone dizzy. If this happened he might never be seen again–he was, actually, very small.

While I was pondering the possibilities in my head, suddenly the lights came on. The talk was over and so was my reverie. Both the speaker and I had survived–and against all odds. I wondered if he had been aware of the many that had been stacked against him.

For me $7.00 had been a small price to pay for all of the mental meandering my mind had engaged in. And I still continue to wonder what this woman does with her hair when she goes to sleep. That bit will keep me going for quite some time.

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