Matters of the Heart: A fictionalized tale of a truly concerning romantic phenomenon.
By Cakey Hankerson
Chapter 2: Close Call with a Matt-a Hari?
When people introduce themselves and find out my name is Annie, they usually associate me directly with that cute little gingery orphan girl, sprinkled with freckles, who has never-ending pep and vim. Just in case you grew up under a rock and don’t know this story, Annie is basically the American dream, going from stubbornly optimistic orphan girl to billionaire tycoon’s adopted daughter during the Great Depression. While not ginger, not an orphan, not freckled, and living a life completely devoid of my own personal Daddy Warbucks, I guess I manage a decent representation of that plucky American spirit that so enchants foreigners. Which might be the reason why my travels abroad wound up liberally sprinkled with bizarre encounters with foreign men. Thankfully, I am a smart girl, most of the time. Situation upon situation, I managed to sneak through, side-stepping most awkwardness with ease. From Guillaume (who followed me around) to Étienne (who asked me to pretend to be his late night study partner, I’m still not sure exactly all that that entailed) to Paul (who had a bizarre obsession with trying to grab me by the waist), I managed to evade all advances without mishap. It really just figures that my one and only stupid-girl traveler moment involved the Matt-a Hari.
It seems like a long time ago that my much-relied-upon sources at Wikipedia taught me about the Mata Hari. After a vague reference from my (required attendance) College symposium speaker one fine day during my freshmen year, I did what any inquisitive college student would do, and I googled it. Which is why I am familiar with the violent story of the beautifully scandalous Dutch exotic dancer who was accused of being a spy in France during World War Two, and subsequently executed mercilessly by firing squad. Quite a brutal story, really. My own Matt-a Hari story didn’t end with a firing squad (Merci, Dieu), but the point is that it very nearly could have.
I was living in southern France, in a town called Thollon most of the year I studied abroad, but it was on a week’s excursion to Paris that Matt Deux came on the scene. Called Mathieu by fellow francophone friends, this forward garcon entered the scene of my life with all the panache of a courtesan and no small amount of suspect behavior either.
It was a perfect night, almost balmy, and most decidedly the best kind of night to be visiting Paris. It was the kind of night when you feel naturally beautiful, like you’ve been transformed into a well-groomed, raven-haired beauty and you’re the protagonist in a story that will someday become a popular romantic movie. (One with a happy ending and a decided lack of cancer or heartbreak.) It was a night when every color was more vivid, every light glimmered with magic, and the whole world had that happy feeling that makes you want to organize a flash-mob, just so you can dance your heart out in the streets. If you have ever been to Paris, you know precisely what I mean, and if you have not had the pleasure, well, you should probably find out first-hand. These are the best kind of nights, and they become even more perfect when flavored with a heady dose of nostalgia.
I felt untouchable, invincible; nothing could dim the sparkle of my magical French evening as I flitted from the hotel to a nearby restaurant in a lacey peach-pink sundress. A day of whirling between sculptures and monuments, browsing consignment shops and soaking in the beautiful cadence of native French speakers had left me a little too pink to be called sun-kissed, and ravenous. Thankfully, the restaurant was quite close! Audrey, an old friend of my parents, was in town on business for the day, and since she barely managed bonjour, she’d asked me along for moral and linguistic support.
Audrey is a quirky, daring, pipsqueak of a woman. That year she was 54 . . . going on 21, and it was her first trip to Paris, too. Like I said, Audrey barely knew a word in French, but tried to compensate by smiling liberally at everyone, which is decidedly un-French. Either the smiles were more flirtatious than we knew or we really had become raven-haired beauties, because we were greeted with a glass of champagne and a whole host of servers, delighted to see to our every need. As soon as we were seated, my would-be-courtesan arrived promptly beside me.
Matt Deux, our waiter, was tall, tan, blonde, and decidedly French. By “decidedly French” I mean unbelievably forward. Oh it started out innocent enough . . . but after plying us with wine and more free champagne for the next few hours, he realized that Audrey spoke no French, and before you knew it, this sultry French Matt-a Hari was watching me eat crème brûlée and murmuring that he wished he could have been my dessert. Quite scandalous, if you ask me. Unfortunately, the champagne (added to the fact that we were in Paris) transformed the entire situation into what felt like another scene in that romantic movie I mentioned earlier. I smiled shyly, but it must have come off as coy, because Matt Deux just amped up the effort. When I got up to find the toilettes, he swooped.
This was the part where things got sketchy and Annie should’ve gotten savvy . . . but didn’t. Matt Deux just whispered that he wanted to show me something, something special. I figured Hey; we’re in a public place, right? Nothing crazy’s going to happen. Then he pulled me out of the restaurant and over to the tall shadowy building next door.
To give me some credit, I must’ve pulled back and looked a little sketched out at this point, because he said something along the lines of “Don’t be afraid!” as he pocketed the key and tugged me through the now-open doorway and into the pitch-black entryway. For a moment, I felt exceptionally nervous . . . was my romantic classic turning into some kind of nightmare horror flick? As scenes from the movie Taken chased through my mind, we walked through what I can only assume was the lobby, since it was too dark to actually tell. A moment later, Matt Deux was crowding me into the world’s smallest elevator, where he solicitously (read: sketchily) left his hand on the small of my back, stroking it slowly, likely thinking something a lot like bow chicka wow wow!
As the elevator reached the 7th floor, it slowed. This was it, I was either about to get some serious moves put on me, or I was really in trouble. Thankfully, Matt Deux was no axe-murderer. He ushered me to the window where he pointed out the sparkling well-lit view of the Sacré-Coeur that glimmered white in the night. Then he put his arms around me and, judging by the way he was murmuring French-nothings and kissing my neck, Matt Deux thought he was about to get at least a little lucky. Lots of girls probably would have gone for it, but I am not one of those girls.
It’s funny, I actually thought about it. While he was trying to convince me that I should do “what felt right” (a.k.a. make out, at the very least), I had this moment of detached logical processing – like a cartoon where everything freezes for a second so the protagonist can monologue. My little conscience-angel and I had a speedy internal heart-to-heart and I decided that Matt Deux was not the mec for me. After a little evasive maneuvering (he had to kiss my forehead and cheek a lot), I told him I really had to get back to my friend. While definitely disappointed, Matt Deux had not given up all hope. He was doing a good impression of that espionage-driven courtesan I named him after – keeping his eyes on the prize . . . but instead of government information, the prize was me. Before we left the creepy building, he squeezed the promise of a date out of me for the next evening. I was to meet him at the restaurant at seven for a night out on the town.
In the light of the following day, as the sketch-factor ramped up, and the realization that attending this little soirée would probably constitute a second mistake with a man named matt, I did the only thing I could do. The date plans got the proverbial firing squad, and I stood the poor guy up. I almost felt bad, but then I remembered that he was either trying to kidnap me to sell on the sex-slave market, or he was just some horny sketch-ball who wanted some. So, I congratulated myself on my narrow escape and called it a day.
In the end, the whole silly interlude wound up feeling like an adventure, actually. But then, that’s probably because it was Paris, and my first trip to Paris was nothing if not cinematically ideal. It’s strange, there’s something about Paris where you can recall only perfection after you’ve left. Even my Matt-a Hari adventure has become just another anecdotal facet on the glittering face of Exploring Paris.