La Corniche d’Or By Michael Ampersant

It was three days ago that Josh and Jason arrived in Cannes. We had to pick them up at the train station—a semi-lit location with password-protected toilets tucked away under an ugly overpass that divides the town into two. The announcement screen goes dit-dit-duuh-dit (d#gg#d#), the TGV noses into the station, I wonder briefly what would happen if I lost my balance and hit the tracks, but Josh and Jason pour through the sliding train doors in front of us just in time, or before anything can go wrong.

Josh has aged well since his last visit nine years ago. His hair is gray now and cropped very short, but it is still in place—he didn’t go bald as some of his email pictures would suggest. His regular Dutch features hold up, including the boyish profile and a flat tummy (we know about his gym visits). Jason is a charming oriental guy with heavy-rimmed glasses that accent his jug-eared looks, he must have a sense of humor. We get chatty immediately, it feels like a conversation left dangling an hour ago. I’m glad he’s a bit camp.

I’m chatty myself since I’m excited—all day I have failed to find a pretext for buying condoms. Josh, a pure rice queen, had been Chang’s lover back in Amsterdam at one point, and us, bored up here in the wilderness of the Esterel between Cannes and St. Raphael, had exchanged views on Josh’s reputation as a “sucker”—as Chang would put it in his innocent English—not meaning a loser, but somebody good at blow jobs. I had never had the pleasure, but Chang also mentioned Jason’s dick, which was supposedly large. So we had been discussing the pair’s sex life that reportedly took a turn towards “clubbing” and “play” in recent years. I mentioned condoms repeatedly during the last couple of days but Chang wouldn’t listen, and my last hope, a sex shop (“sexy” shop, in French) opposite to the train station was closed. So we are condom-less when walking the pair to our vintage SUV parked on the ugly overpass that divides Cannes into two. The vehicle elicits a brief remark from Josh (“you still have that ‘thing’?”).

The sky is overcast and cold, they are exhausted from a trip through Taipei, Amsterdam, Paris, and Dijon, Chang will cook for us at home. But this is the Cote d’Azur, so we drive up and down the foliage-swept Croisette and exchange views on the Palais des Festivals (recently re-done in defeatist white, the building, previously painted in a dirty ochre possibly meant to hide the Concrete Brutalism of John Foster’s original design). We talk housing prices as if anyone of us would be able to buy an apartment here. I point across the bay where the Esterel looms on the horizon, a pretty panorama on a good day when the rusty ridge glows in the afternoon sun.

“You can almost see our house from here,” I point out, “it’s on the hill next to the hill with the antenna,” and miss the turn for the high street of Théoule-sur-mer, the last occasion to buy condoms.

We continue along the Corniche d’Or which begins here and leads to St. Raphael. It’s the raison d’être of Théoule, the corniche, since the road started as a private project of the touring club of Monaco which imported 65 Italian families to do the job. They had to live somewhere and erected goo-colored dwellings for themselves that still define the town center. The little houses give Théoule an Italianate flavor, and people who move here complain about vendettas between entrenched clans that poison the atmosphere as if this were somewhere in Calabria.

We arrive at the house, pre-dusk is descending. The salon is clogged by a tiny wood stove meant to go into the dysfunctional fire place, but the artisan who was meant to do the job has gone missing. We sit down anyhow. No, we spend a few minutes in the kitchen where I suggest that the tea could accommodate a bit of brandy. Chang says “no” but I prevail and pour myself an extra shot while they turn their back to watch a cruise ship sailing past in slow motion; cruise ships always slow down here before going into the bay of Cannes. They look at us (the passengers) and we look at them, they think we are happy, we think they are happy. Anyhow, I pour the extra shot while Josh and Jason admire the last cruise ship of the season.

We move back to the Designer’s-Guild-appointed living room paid for in better days. The conversation slows down a bit, I fetch bubbly from the fridge. Josh and Jason tell about Australia, how they found each other. Their paths crossed in Sydney, eyes meet, Josh counts to three and executes the “gay turn” (Josh’s words). Eyes meet again. Jason reverses direction, crosses the street (makes it easier to keep tabs on each other). Josh enters a Starbucks, Jason follows. Josh sits down, Jason asks whether the other chair is taken. I ask what they ordered. Jason had Mocha, Josh an Americano.

They ask about us. I’m on my late-afternoon bike ride along the Amstel River when an oriental guy, also on a bike, turns onto the dike from the right. I slow down a bit, then turn into the Amstel Park entrance which is not far and guarded by a statue of Rembrandt van Rijn. I brake and put one foot on the ground. The oriental brakes and puts one foot on the ground. “What’s your name,” I open the conversation. “Jason,” he answers. “What’s your real name,” I ask. He procrastinates a bit, then says “Chang.”

“My real name is Ban,” Jason says. Josh affects an assertive clin d’oeil for his partner. Josh (the pure rice queen) must have met many Jasons in his life.

It’s past six o’ clock, Chang’s getting hungry and everything stops. He’ll cook filled cabbage, a recipe from my mother. The cabbage provides a pretext for the first bottle of red wine. Josh and Jason brought two expensive bottles, we need to taste them both.

The cabbage is a bit undercooked and my sauce isn’t saucy enough (I usually do the sauces, gravy from the pan, added to a roux). Josh and Jason don’t seem to mind. We had dinner parties with Marc and Paul, the other gays in the village, Marc (a black guy from Martinique) sat next to me and rubbed his thigh against mine (it never came to anything, Marc and Paul broke up and moved away). So Jason is seated to my left, but there are several inches between mine and Jason’s thighs and I fail to remember how I managed to cozy up to Marc in the first place. We chat along, desert is served, a rosé bottle opened. I had a rough week with the banking liaison who wanted to know why I stopped servicing my mortgage, so I drink faster to stay awake.

Jason tells good stories, Josh says. This one is disgusting, Jason warns, whether we mind. No, we don’t. Jason tells about the time he worked at this sauna and checks on “the room.” Room is apparently shop-talk for the row of cubicles where the patrons “relax.” The room needs to be checked at least once an hour and he steps onto something slimy on the ground. He ignites his torch and discovers a molehill of grapes, strangely bruised. Turns out some guy had them inserted bottom-wise and another guy sucked them out grape by grape. “Suhk, suhk,” Jason adds in conclusion. I forget to ask how Jason found out.

The bottle is empty again. I get up to fetch another one and discover that my sense of balance is gone. I fall back onto the chair. This is the moment, I will fall off the chair inside two minutes or crawl to bed now. I excuse myself and stagger away. Regrets are shared.

You drink too much and wake up too early. You really feel like shit and can’t go back to sleep. I stagger upstairs (“Aspirin, Aspirin”), and recover behind my desk (a slow process). You can see Corsica on a good winter day, like today, shortly before sunrise. I take pictures.

The sun comes up and Chang emerges. He’s coyly smiling. “You know what?” he says, “We had sex. They sucked my dick.” I tell him to relax and get a cup of coffee. He’s teasing me, I know. He returns from the kitchen and reiterates: they sucked his dick.

I answer emails and study the disappointing page view statistics of my blog. There really was something unusual to Chang’s smile. He’s now busy behind his new laptop-tablet parked among a graveyard of bottles on the dinner table (cadavre is French argot for an empty bottle). “You’re making this up,” I say to him. (This is the moment I decide to write this up.)

“No,” he replies. “Jason got up and made the move. Unzipped my zipper. I got up, both of them got on their knees and suck my cock, Jason from the left, Josh from the right, deliciously.” He grins; “deliciously” is his favorite adverb.

“At the same time?” I ask.

“At the same time.”

“It’s unfair.”

“You drank too much and went to bed.”

“I talk about condoms and you turn me down and now this?”

“Yes,” he says and his grin broadens, “it wasn’t my fault.”

“It’s unfair,” I repeat.

“Life isn’t fair,” he answers. He’s deadpan in a way that he isn’t when he is lying.

“No semen stains on the floor,” I say.

“Josh finished me off.”

“We must buy condoms today,” I say.

# # #

Josh and Jason slept well. They brought good winter weather, a light mistral with dry clear air and steely blue sky. We’ll go visit Saint Tropez. It would be me, today, who has to make the move, but it’s easier to talk about the corniche or the Forêt Domanial de l’Esterel, the natural park that surrounds Le Trayas and protects us from over-development, we’ve recently met a fox in the park. I point to a villa on the cliff which supposedly belonged to Greta Garbo (everything is a rumor here, and they are always false). We’ve reached St. Maxime when I finally muster the chutzpah to say: “Chang tells me you’ve sucked his dick last night.”

“Yes,” they say in unison, they must have been waiting for this.

“It’s unfair,” I say. They laugh.

“We wondered whether Chang would tell you,” Jason says.

We arrive in St. Tropez and walk along the quay where Brigitte Bardot lived in Dieu Créa la Femme. I point out that La Cage aux Folles, another French film, was located next to what was Bardot’s house in the film. Josh has seen “La cage” and reminds us of the remake, Birdcage. We alternate between taking pictures of us and the sea. I ask Jason to zoom in on the northern horizon with his Canon EOS 70D and point to the tip of Miramar, a stone throw away from our house in Le Trayas. “It’s unfair,” I say. “They can see us, but we can’t see them.” We laugh. Josh and Jason embrace for a kiss—they have to make an effort, thought, Josh’s sizable frame towers over the petit Vietnamese by one head at least. We take more pictures. They kiss again.

I want them to see a bit more of St. Tropez. It’s still authentic, in a sense, the town, it just looks too good, and the number of real estate agencies has tripled since my last visit. We climb the streets and reach the over-restored citadel built to protect the place against the piratical Sarrazins in centuries past. Up here we have another postcard view. More pictures are taken, Jason climbs onto a wall for a better angle. Josh holds him in place with a hand under Jason’s bottom. “Let me do it,” I say. Jason’s bottom changes hands. “You like it?” I ask him. “Sure,” he says. St. Maxime sparkles across the bay.

Chang is hungry, everything stops. November is the month of the fermeture annuelle, hélas. Le Quai, a patio orgy of red director chairs is not fermé, but hors du moyens (appetizers around forty Euro). Chang has us almost destined for the crèperie at the cheapo end of the harbor next to the public toilet but I manage to drag us into a sunlitter outfit around the corner with a plat du jour a bit dearer than a crèpe suzette—I always use the presence of outsiders to defeat Chang’s camping ground instincts, often to good effect.

Very French-nouveau, the joint, white leather seats, crystal tumblers, and—yes, folks, welcome home—a real beach on the floor. I ask. Yes, it takes three hours each day to clean the sand. I’m handed the wine list (why me?). There’s a Roederer Kristal Jeroboam @ 4,200, a Dom Pérignon Magnum @ 3,200, and a Chateau Pétrus (normal size) @ 4,900 currency units. The waiter is sweet, though, and helps us to a bottle of tasteless tipple for 30 €bucks. The food is a bit challenging, especially the quail-asparagus-artichoke appetizer. Jason asks for the bill. They’re going it to hand it to Josh, he predicts, they always do. We discuss racism in general and the creeping takeover of gay spas in Sydney by boys from Lebanon, especially on the mixed day when all sexual preferences are encouraged and the boys from Lebanon can get a blow job without having to taking sides in the culture wars. Josh and I agree that we don’t like pubic hair in our mouth. Jason is handed the bill.

I take the wheel and steer us back but turn right at the entrance of Fréjus. “What are you doing?” Chang asks. I point at the Géant hyper market and evoke the need for more bubbly. We have enough bubbly, Chang says. I park anyhow. “We need condoms,” I whisper into his ear and jump out to convey a sense of urgency. “They have condoms,” Chang’s voice echoes through the parking garage. We buy more bubbly.

Night falls, Jason cooks fried rice, we serve real Pommard bought in better days. Jason is seated too far away for thigh rubbing, but Chang has installed his laptop-tablet at the head of the table and dials porn FM. Tyler Johnson and Jonny Cruz (pseudonyms, we take it) appear, undress, and embrace. Tyler is black and “hunky, sexy, dedicated, electrifying.” All of us get overly interested. I refrain from my usual secondary cockiness and don’t mention the cerebro-resonant effects of porn on the brain, even on brains adverse to smut.

You, reader, are now expecting a finely-crafted buildup towards the first sex scene, but we fail you. Chang zips his zipper, that’s it. We chuck all pretensions and clothes and stand in the middle of the dining area, penises horizontal. “Maybe we should go downstairs,” I suggest, but they want to stay put.

Josh and Chang unfold on the Eames lounge chair—perhaps I should explain since the chair is the Brigitte Bardot, or rather the Jimmy Stewart of 20th century furniture, three palisander plywood shells fitted with in-form leather cushions, the main shell for your bottom and two additional ones for your back; there’s also a fitting ottoman. You only have to look at the thing and feel comfy in ways that even Jimmy Stewart can’t make you feel comfy, especially if you had the money to pay for the original version from Knoll.

Chang and Josh don’t seem to mind my cheapo imitation though, with Chang now supine on the Ottoman, his head supported by the bottom shell of the chair, and Josh on his knees with Chang’s dick in his mouth. He’s sucking—“deliciously”—and there are noises, suckling sounds from Josh and promising moans from Chang.

Jason and I look at each other. I go and fetch a garden chair cushion and put it on the ground. We lie down. “You want to fuck?” I ask. Jason and his dick are somewhat non-committal. I stroke his dick and caress his crane with my other hand. This goes on for a while, Jason still fairly non-committal. Josh and Chang are on to something, Chang now lying on the floor with his feet on the ottoman, Josh’s face buried in Chang’s pubes—if you can’t beat them, join them. I take Jason’s dick in my mouth and begin to suck. Jason is pleased. Chang, in his parallel world, is more than pleased, now producing grunts that hold the middle between oinks and one-liners. Man is a playful animal, there always was give-and-take between nature and nurture, so now it’s between sex and porn.

Chang, who is a quick cummer, cums (“uughh, uughh”). Jason and I have to watch this and interrupt our efforts. Josh is already caressing Jason’s midriff, and I’m thinking of a paragraph in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities where Sherman McCoy, the hero, is invited to this Park-Avenue-based party and finds himself talking to his own wife (the horror, the horror). Josh is already headed for his mate’s private parts, and Jason’s face tells the story as Josh’s head bobs up and down on his dick. Jason’s eyes are closed, his jaw slack, mouth open and mildly contorted, head drawn back, body reverberating to the rhythm of Josh’s thrusts. It’s real, it’s real, although Jason stay silent throughout, the sound track is all on Josh whose smacks build like a crescendo. The orgasm on Jason’s face meets expectations.

Jason sinks back.

Experienced Josh has remained aware of the doings around him turns now to me. We briefly lock eyes, he licks his sensual lips, is down on me already. While my senses rise I’m thinking of an internet gif-joke (I’m not making this up, this really happened), three pictures, a jeune homme de famille telling his mother (obviously his mother), that “I like dick” (first picture), “I wanna suck dick, I like sucking dick,” (second picture) “And I’m good at it, too!” (third picture, wistful smile on his face). I cum.

# # #

They would take the train to Monaco on the third day. Jason works as croupier in Sydney, he must have a look at the casino in Monte Carlo. I walk them down the hill to the local train station through the village center (chapel and post office). The train station is located in the Esterel park, outside our settlement. We walk past the Bellevedère, a cast-iron gazebo built on a rock above the tracks. The vista is a popular spot for midnight sex—at least that’s what I make of the freshly-used condoms on the ground I find here on many days. The thrill of public sex enhanced by splendid vistas, Josh muses.

“You come here yourself?” Jason asks.

“No, not to cum.”

“How do you know about midnight, then?”

Opinions appear divided as to the train station itself, I’m making the case for 19th century utilitarian design. “Trayas,” I say, pointing at the blue name plate on the building, “Trayas means ‘three’ in Sanskrit.”

“Perhaps it means threesome,” Jason observes. They are off.

I forgot what Chang or I did during the day. Not much, I guess. Anyhow, Josh and Jason are finally back. The casino is too small, the minimal glass of wine is 14€, but they’ve seen Naomi Campbell. Yes, an exceedingly elongated black girl with big sunglasses and a big Vuitton bag strapped over her shoulder. Really? Yes, it was her, she also wore a fur cape and stiletto-boots emblazoned with thousands of real crystals. Mesmerizing, the crystals, blinding. She cat-walked past on her boots, she actually knew how to walk in those boots. She got into a Rolls-Royce. And, she looked like Naomi Campbell.

Dinner is pork chops today. Jason is a few inches away, as usual. How did you get to Australia, I ask him. He was a boat refugee, on one of the last boats from Vietnam, in the late ‘80s. One hundred and eighty people on an aging shallop on their way to the Philippines, at a fare of $3,000 per pop. You’ve seen this funny picture of the Kim the third of North Korea, taking off with a lot of generals in a decrepit sloop? It’s on the internet, the photo, the planking on the hull is rotting and the beloved leader waves to the crowd.

“That was like us, the planking,” Jason says. “The sea gets rough, the first hurricane of the season. The boat sways and bobs. There’s no food but nobody’s hungry. Nobody goes to the toilet, things just happen. We are getting low on water, except in the engine room where they have a leak. The crew fights the rising water with a chain of buckets. It’s the seventh day out at sea, we are getting nowhere. A Japanese freighter sails by, binoculars peek at us. We have no proper distress material, can’t signal our trouble in ways the Japanese would like to understand. We are sinking, the captain says. We ram the Japanese, he says, they must pick us up if there’s a collision. People pray to various gods, embrace, huddle. The captain heads for the freighter’s stern and misses narrowly. The Japanese sail on. Another ship has seen this, fortunately, a freighter from Panama. They are returning from the Olympics in Seoul, we learn later. They are on holiday and in a good mood. Three power boats appear around us, we’re hauled onto the boats and ask to climb rope ladders reaching up to the main deck. People are lifted up one by one and hosed down for lice or whatever. I’m still hanging in the ladder, look back over my shoulder, and see our shallop sink. Everybody survives. We’re taken to a refugee camp in Singapore. I end up in Australia.”

Chang asks about Jason’s family. Yes, he escaped with his mother, other people stayed behind in Vietnam. He has a lot of siblings, his Chinese father took a second and third concubine. How about the people that stayed behind? They are all rich now, started their own businesses, all rich.

Chang doesn’t dial Porn FM tonight. Regrets are shared, we go to bed early.

# # #

We wake up late. The high wind is gone, the sky is still mistral-blue. We have breakfast. Jason’s iPhone does ping. “Scruff,” Jason says.

“Scruff?” Yes, better than Grindr and Jack’d, not to mention Craigslist or other dating sites. He answers the ping with his left thumb. Meetic is on line, the picture a bit blurred. Meetic is only 6.7 km away, in Mandelieu (this is as the crow flies, per car it would be twenty minutes). Meetic appears young and hale on the iPhone display.

“Hi,” Jason chats.

“Veuve?” Meetic answers.

“Non,” says Jason—he knows a little French, Vietnam was once a French colony.

“Tu te polis le Chinois?”

“Je suis Vietnamien,” Jason texts. The chat dies down (we learn later from the internet that the Chinois-expression is French argot for masturbation).

“You use it a lot, Scruff?” I ask. Yeah, he likes it. Before you make an appointment, though, always make sure they’ll give you a valid cell-phone number, and check on the number. Sort of an insurance.

The sun radiates, we’ll take the pair for a walk up the Pic de l’Ours, the hill with the antenna. I explain a bit about the islands below in the bay, St. Marguerite and St. Honorat, named after fifth-century saints. Saints were rock stars in those days. Still are, Josh says, look at India. There’s a monastery on St. Honorat founded by the saint himself which has gone through many clerical hands and houses a silent order now, thirty monks that don’t speak but make fruits of the vine, rare and expensive stuff you can’t buy anywhere except on the internet. Monks, yes.

“Tell him the anecdote about your composer in Bangkok,” Chang suggests. World-famous composer travels to Thailand—this is back in the 50’s—and meets hot young monk in the streets of Bangkok. Monk takes him home (if that’s the word). Next morning, monk gets up and says: “Please stay, I’ll go out and beg rice for the two of us.”

The Pic de l’Ours is 500 meters high and offers views across the entire Cote d’Azur, from the point where the southern-most ridge of the Alps dips into the Mediterranean, along the curvature of the horizon, past St. Tropez and the Iles d’Hyeres to the west, 100 km in each direction. The earth is round up here and the sky is always blue, you won’t make the climb otherwise. Today is a bit hazy and not ideal for pictures, so we undress and take pictures of own naked torsos for the next edition of Scruff. I later delete mine.

Jason tells good stories, Josh reminds him, so Jason tells about a trip back to Vietnam where they meet this guy who has them chauffeured through the jungle to a party, in limousines. They end up in the place from Apocalypse Now, the lost village, and everybody is gay. Then he tells about their visit to Berlin and the Kitkat club and how this guy follows him into the men’s room and shows up in the mirror of the wash basin and wraps his arms around his shoulders. The guy is quite handsome, so they take him to the hotel. Now what. The guy wants to fist-fuck. What? Yes, fist-fuck, didn’t you see the red band around his left wrist, that’s code for fist-fucking. We didn’t know. Okay, no fists then, whether normal fucking is okay. Yes, sure. Guy fucks Jason (big dick), Josh holds Jason’s hand. So sweet.

I suggest the gay sauna in Nice, but Jason is not in the mood. Plus, we have to get up very early, they need to be at the airport at four in the morning. But we have a few minutes to look at their website, professional pictures of the pair taken in a Vietnamese studio, all black-and-white, skin, poses, embraces, formalized passion enhanced by light and shadow. They are very proud of it. They kiss. They kiss a lot, they celebrate each day.

We drink less tonight. Chang is pure bàli bàli, meaning he is very impatient in a Korean sort of way, meaning he’s always early. We reach the kiss-and-fly parking lot of the airport at three thirty in the morning. We kiss and fly. They’re off to Amsterdam, and it’s a bit too late to go back to bed. How about the gay night sauna, I ask. Chang is opposed but I’m adamant and steer us into the old town of Nice. This sauna is not the kind of place with an unmarked door in a dark side alley. No, bright neon lights shine, glass doors slide, an early Christmas tree enhances the lobby. Also enhancing the lobby is Tyler Johnson from Porn FM with his Jababa-lips and a cul de nègre attached the narrow-waisted perfection of his abs. And he’s smiling. At us. He’s had fun and is going home. The receptionist looks at us with sad eyes. The place is emptying, he warns, everybody is about to go home. You should come back tomorrow.

 

(Except for the last paragraph, this is a true-true story. Everything practically happened as told.)

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