One sunny morning in Paris, as my ex-husband Alan waited on the landing outside our apartment for the elevator, our neighbor, Mariele, joined him. He was dressed in a t-shirt, running shorts and running shoes, so she said the obvious. “You’re going running, aren’t you?”
He said, “Yes.” That was that.
A week later, they shared the elevator as he headed upstairs after his run, all
sweaty and stinky.
“You run a lot, don’t you?” she said.
“Almost every day,” he answered.
This was in the late 1980’s and we were spending 4 years living in the French
capitol, thanks to Alan’s employer.
The next week, out on the landing, she said, “My husband Gérard runs, too. Almost daily.”
The following week she said, “You and Gérard should run together. He doesn’t get as sweaty as you do. Maybe you could get him to work harder.”
A month later, she asked, “Has Gérard talked to you yet about running together?”
Alan answered, “No, not yet.”
The next day Gérard came out of his door as Alan waited for the elevator.
“About this running business, Alan,” he said. “We are men of the world, aren’t we? May I assume you are discrete?”
Alan said that yes, he was a man of the world, and yes, he could be discrete.
Gérard continued. “Mariele wants us to run together. The problem is, I don’t
run. That’s not what I do when I leave the apartment. You understand, don’t you?”
Alan said he understood.
“The next time she brings up the subject, could you come up with a graceful reason
not to run with me?”
Alan said he would.
“Merci beaucoup,” said Gérard as the elevator arrived.
I tested out exercise in France by joining Alan at Club Gymnase, a 20-minute walk from our apartment, right by the Place d’ Etoile. We’d meet at noon. I’d join an exercise class, he’d work out on machines.
This was when women wore leotards cut up high on their thighs and leg warmers scrunched around their calves and ankles. The French women in my class made this look far sexier than anything I’d seen back home.
Our exercise room was separated from the stationary bikes by a floor-to-ceiling window wall. One noon hour I was jammed against that wall when we tried a new exercise. This involved getting on our hands and knees and raising and lowering our hips. Since this was pretty easy, I idly glanced at the bikers in the next room. Then I looked at the women around me.
This is what I saw. Every single biker, each one a man, was staring at us. We women provocatively pumped our predominately bare asses up and down. Some of the men started pumping their bikes to the same rhythm that we pumped our posteriors. Some of the men, Alan included, slowed their pedaling almost to a complete stop. Some pushed their pedals furiously, their faces red and sweaty. All of them, every last one, had their faces turned in our direction.
I looked back into the exercise class at all those tight posteriors grinding away and thought, “It looks like a mass hallucination has gripped us all, inducing masturbatory fantasies featuring the gym floor.” I laughed out loud, lost my balance and fell flat on my face.
The next week I got yelled at. We were trying another new exercise when the instructor came to stand over me and yelled in French. Having no idea what he said, I kept up what I was doing. I thought if I ignored him he’d go away. He yelled again. I ignored him again.
Then he switched to English that dripped with scorn. “Keep that up and you’ll walk like a duck!” The implied, but unspoken, end to that exhortation was, “You stupid American woman!”
That was my last trip to the Club Gymnase.
(check out the video at the end of Solace for a Grieving Heart #2 for the first take on French exercise.)