Flashing her badge at the reception desk, Babette went straight to the elevators and the conference room on the second floor. Most everyone attending was already seated, and Babette took the one empty chair next to her fellow candidates. After a momentary sigh, she concentrated her gaze at the Russian delegation, and her eyes fell on Commander Sokolov, a man with a striking physical appearance, unusually fair complexion, blond hair, and deep-blue eyes. Butterflies jumped in her stomach coupled with a general sense of intrigue.
When they broke for lunch, the cosmonauts were escorted to Au Chien Qui Fume, a little bar-restaurant directly across the street that served as the watering hole for the CNES staff. The Russians were amused by the restaurant’s wall painting of a springer spaniel with a pipe in his mouth and made comments about the French, their love of dogs, and the fact that dogs are accepted everywhere, including restaurants.
Infatuated with the commander, Babette made sure she sat next to him so that she could engage in conversation. Initially this was difficult since her Russian was not that good, and though the commander spoke French well, he wasn’t familiar with slang expressions that would have allowed for casual conversation. As such, they gravitated to English, which Babette spoke fluently. Commander Sokolov, who had a background in amateur radio, had developed an easy facility in English. They soon were on a first-name basis, and the course of the conversation gravitated to books, periodicals, newspapers, anything that could be read that was published in English. When the subject of popular American authors came up, Babette thought she had found her opening. While going to school at the Ecole Polytechnique, which was located on the left bank, she had become quite familiar with the iconic bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. At the time, it was probably the only English language bookshop in old Paris, located directly across from Notre Dame on the Quai de Montebello. A very beatnik place crammed with American and English books and periodicals, it was a hangout for local writers and writer wannabes, a minute island of America in Paris.
“Misha,” she said, “if you can break away after these meetings before you have to go back to Moscow, I would be happy to take you to a treasure of English writings, a bookstore close to where I live that has a wealth of things in English.”
Since Babette wasn’t interested in anyone else at the table overhearing her, she spoke these words rather softly, even though all the other conversation around the table was going on in very loud French. As she talked, she wrote on a napkin, “13 Rue de l’Ecole Polytechnique…app. 16, tel. 45 08 79 21.” Though she knew this was a bold, even outrageous, action, she felt justified.
What was a girl to do when meeting a famous and handsome Russian cosmonaut?
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