This story details explicit gay sex between men, teens and boys. If you find this kind of thing distasteful, or if you are underage wherever you live, then stop reading this now, and delete this file. The story is completely fictional; the author does not condone or encourage any of the acts contained herein.




Chapter 82

By: Tim Keppler (nemoami@yahoo.com)

 Edited by: Bob Leahy


"You are kidding me!" I say, speaking into the receiver. Well, it's not really a receiver. I don't do land lines anymore. Only salesmen do land lines, and I don't do salesmen. Well...I might do a salesman, but he'd have to be really cute, and how would I know that? I can't see him. "Where?" I ask. "No, really? Paris? And Hong Kong? When is this? Wow! That's pretty short notice, Evan. Oh, I see. And, how is Joaquin feeling about this? Yeah, I'll bet he's nearly frantic with excitement. He hasn't really been anywhere, has he, except here. Well, let me poll the troopes and see what I can set up. I know I'm free, but I don't know what everyone else is doing. Lemme check and get back to you tomorrow. Great! Talk to you then. I love you."

Joaquin and Evan have a two-city concert tour coming up in two weeks. That's not quite right. Joaquin has a two-city tour coming up, and Evan is tagging along. They're going to...drum roll, please...Paris! They're going to fucking Paris! I love Paris. I've been trying to convince the guys to go to Paris for...years. "Nah," they've said more than once. "New York is more exciting," or "Florida is warmer," or "Kansas City has all those sweet-smelling stockyards." The guys just have no idea what they're missing. It's not known as `the most beautiful city in the world' for nothing. It's known as the most beautiful city in the world because it is! And the Parisians know how to appreciate it. They live at a leisurely pace, which is not to say that they're lazy, they're just not as frenetic as we are.

Oh, and by the way, the second city on Joaquin's tour is Hong Kong.

I'll bet you sensed a sigh right there. It isn't justified. Hong Kong, too, is very nice. Like Paris, it hosts one of the most complex and delicious cuisines in the world. But, that's about where the similarities end. Where Paris runs at a comfortable pace, Hong Kong is frenetic. Where Paris is all about art and culture, Hong Kong is all about money. And ultimately, what do you do in Hong Kong? Either you shop, which has never been big on my list of fun things, or you search for lunch, which I've always enjoyed. I can't tell you how many hours I've spent in Hong Kong wandering back streets, looking for the perfect little dumpling. But, once you find it, you'll never find it again in the labyrinth of streets and alleys that is Hong Kong. And, you'll need to take money, because you will get lost trying to find that dumpling again, and will ultimately have to take a cab to get home. So, while I look forward to seeing Hong Kong again, I am nearly frantic to see Paris.

So, at dinner tonight, I present Evan's proposal to the family. "Umm...Evan's going to be twenty-one soon, and he's going to come of age in...Paris. Joaquin is going to be there for three nights of concerts. He's going to be playing pieces by Rodrigo, Albeniz, and Granados with L'Orchestre de Paris. Christoph Eschenbach, their musical director, came up with the program a year or so ago, I understand, and then went looking for a lead guitarist. Joaquin is who he chose. From there, Joaquin will go to Hong Kong to do a similar program with the Hong Kong Philharmonic."

Jason has been chewing all this time. When he hears me mention the HKPO, he suddenly swallows, and looks up. "Do you know who the Artistic Director of the HKPO is?"

"Some Chinese guy, I think...umm...Wong?"

Jason smiles while shaking his head. "No," he says. "That was the last guy. Now it's Edo de Waart."

Fuck me! Edo de Waart! Oh, Jesus! Suddenly my interest in Hong Kong is rekindled. I should explain.

The San Francisco Symphony has had an exceptional history of artistic leadership: Pierre Monteux, Joseph Krips, Seiji Ozawa, and a host of others. In the 1970s and 1980s, the artistic director was Edo de Waart, and he was very, very good. Let me tell you, following Ozawa was no mean feat. Ozawa was magfuckingnificent! I can't tell you how many recordings I have of Ozawa conducting Stravinsky, Mahler, Ravel, Saint-Saëns, and even Shönberg. He loved the modernists, and so did de Waart, frankly. So, why did the blue-haired, tone-deaf ladies who make up the Symphony's endowment, and who loved Ozawa, hate de Waart? I've no idea, but hate him they did, and the second his contract was up, they fired him, hiring instead a toothache of a man -- one Herbert Blomstedt -- on whose random snorts they doted. De Waart returned to the Netherlands, his native country, and became the artistic director of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, which flourished under his direction. San Francisco, on the other hand, languished for the next ten years, producing lackluster recordings of Brahms (predictably Blomstedt's specialty), and horrific recordings of Mahler. It wasn't until Blomstedt returned to Sweden that the San Francisco Symphony returned to prominence. Tilson Thomas saved the Symphony from its last gasp.

It's impossible to resist the opportunity to see de Waart conduct again with Joaquin as the featured soloist. I cannot wait!

"So, here's the thing. Evan would like to share his birthday...with us. He'd like us to meet him in Paris. He misses us. He'd like to turn twenty-one `in the bosom of his family' so to speak. I don't think he's particular about the size of that bosom, thankfully, because none of us is particularly well endowed...up there. But, you get the idea. Who can go?"

"So, how much time are we talking about?" Kenny asks.

"Umm...well, I guess it'd be three days in Paris, two days in Hong Kong, and three days of travel. If we `supersize' it, and include weekends, it's nine days."

"And when is it?"

"Week of the tenth."

"I can go," Jason says. "I have concerts that week, but I haven't been giving Nadia much to do recently. I think she'd relish the opportunity to do the Mozart herself."

"I can't go," Leslie says, "I have a conference that week."

"I'm out, too," Ian chimes in. "That falls right in the middle of mid-terms. I can't miss that week."

"Me, too." Shawn says. "I have...commitments in L.A."

Dinh and Kenny have been whispering together through all this. Finally, Kenny looks up. "I think Dinh and I can pull this off. Obviously, we have classes to teach, but we have mostly single-session classes this quarter, classes that meet only once a week. I think we'll be okay if we build some assignments around the fact that we're not going to be here for the week."

Ian gives me a pleading look from across the table. "Umm...Tim...would you be...umm...willing to...."

"Yes, Ian," I say, wearily, "we can take the boys."

He smiles.

I probably should digress for just a minute. I don't think Ian, Leslie or Shawn find parenthood all they thought it would be. Do they love their kids? Yes...but.... This will sound meaner than I intend it to, but I think it's reality. I think they love their kids when it's convenient. Mostly, I think they find them...what?...not a burden, exactly. I think they find them an impediment. If they had the adoption to do again, would they? I'm not sure they would. Leslie is largely an absent father. As his career has begun to accelerate, he has begun to vanish. Ian is in more or less the same condition. As a would-be psychologist, he's not only still taking courses, but is working on his doctoral dissertation, and doing clinical work on the side. And Shawn? He is rarely around. More often than not he's in L.A. What's he do there? Umm...porn. Shawn is the most worrying of all. Effectively, he seems to have broken off from the family. He spends most of his time down south, coming "home" infrequently. I don't know that we're going to be seeing him much longer. "Wassup with Shawn?" I asked Dinh one day. "Is he ever here anymore?"

He shrugged. "Dunno. He's got no new script suggestions for future videos. I think he may be...preoccupied."

"With what?" I ask.

Dinh rolls his eyes, and I understand.

The result of these busy careers is that Feng, Quan and Tan spend most of their time with us, so much so that we add bunks to the boys' room, and increase the size of Kevin's bed from a queen to a king. Mostly the boys still like to sleep together, so we try to facilitate what they're going to do anyway. Their presence isn't especially burdensome, although it did ultimately cause me to turn down Barry's offer of a job directing his foundation to return same-sex marriage to the California constitution. It was too big a task for a father of two and a surrogate father of three more. Do I regret that? Sort of. But given the choice of becoming a largely-absent father as I work to change the world, or of nurturing these five little souls, I decided that fatherhood was more important...to me. I don't think I'm ever going to regret that decision.

So, what we're left with is a full house for this trip. It'll be me, Jason, Kenny, Dinh, and five little boys. Nine of us. And we have two weeks to plan it. Oye vay es mir!

The last time I vacationed in Paris, I was able to find a flat in the fifteenth Arrondissement. It was one bedroom, and rather new -- and very comfortable. I still have contact information for the owner. That flat will not be sufficient for our needs this time, but I'm thinking that the owner may know someone who has something a bit bigger, maybe two bedrooms. I email him, and get a response less than two hours later. He remembers me, probably because I left his place spotless. He has a neighbor in the building I stayed in last time who has a three-bedroom flat she's renting out for vacations. He sends her contact information, and wishes me well. This is a start. I email her next, and she's back to me within 45 minutes. The dates I specified are available and the daily rate is US$145, which, if you think about it, is a steal. It has queen-sized beds in two bedrooms, and a king-sized bed in the master bedroom. It has a kitchen, washer and dryer, and a living room / dining room combo. It sounds perfect. I confirm with her via email, and PayPal her the full amount of the rent. She lives in L.A., apparently. She's a part-time expat.

Before I try to put together the Hong Kong leg of this trip, I decide to see what airline issues we have. I call American Airlines and describe what I want to do. The agent who takes my call is a little taken aback by the number of people flying, but manages to get us to France on two flights, and she manages to get us to Hong Kong, again on two flights. Getting us home is the problem. She can't find any available direct frequent-flyer-eligible seats from Hong Kong to San Jose or San Francisco on or around the date we need to come home. She does find, though, that if she routes us through Hawaii, she can get us home from there. It's a long layover, though, about seven hours. That's the bad news. The good news is that we get into the Honolulu airport at 10:15pm, well past the boys' bed time. They'll either be asleep by then, or so close that it won't matter. We'll stay inside the security zone, and just lay the boys out on the floor somewhere, and take turns standing guard while the rest of us sleep. This should work. The cost of all this is 855,000 frequent-flyer miles -- 95,000 miles each. It seems a little steep to me, but I have the mileage, and some of that mileage is ripe for expiration. I agree, and she finalizes the reservations. We're set for travel.

Leslie gave me the name of a hotel he stayed in when he went to Hong Kong to adopt their sons. "It's nothing fancy," he tells me, "but it's cheap -- and adequate, frankly." I'm going to let Jason arrange for these lodgings because he speaks the language. So, when he gets home, I have him call Hong Kong and reserve two rooms with king-sized beds for the two nights we'll be there. They're able to accommodate us, they say, and in adjoining rooms. Perfect!

So, to my utter and complete astonishment, we've managed to arrange for this trip in the course of only about three hours. I expected the frequent-flyer miles to foil us, but they didn't, and the housing turned out to be cheap. The whole trip for the nine of us will cost us $1100, not counting food or entertainment. That's pretty damned good! I just can't wait! With each trip, whether it's a day trip or a major vacation, there's always one or two of us who are the antsiest. For Guernville, it was Kevin. He'd never been camping, and was nearly frantic by the time we left. For the Carmel beach trip, it was Kai and Feng who could hardly contain themselves. And for this trip to Paris and Hong Kong...it's me. I am so jazzed. Think what it's going to be like to take the boys up to the top of the Eiffel Tower, and on an evening cruise on the Seine. Jason wants to go to the Musée d'Orsay, and to the gardens outside the Pompidou Art Center. Kenny wants to actually get inside L'Opera, and Dinh wants to go in search of good Vietnamese food. We know a lot of people immigrated from Vietnam to France during the war years, but none of us knows their story. He wants to find out. He wants to find some of these people and "interview" them. Me? I want to go to the Louvre, but more than that, I want to live the life of a Parisian. I want to take the RER (metro) into the heart of the city, and wander around. I want to talk to the people over a cup of coffee and find out how they feel. How do they feel Monsieur Sarkozy is doing as president? What do they think of Bertrand Delanoë, the gay mayor of Paris? Do they think the racial unrest of a couple of years ago is over? I have so many questions -- beaucoup de questions! And I want to get the boys a hot chocolate at this one little chocolate shop whose name escapes me. The hot chocolate is so thick you almost have to chew it. I want to go to the square just outside of Notre Dame because it's a Mecca for performance artists. And, one evening, I want to leave the boys with Evan, and sneak out to the Marais, the gay district of Paris, to dance. (This reminds me that I need to head down to Keppler's in Menlo Park for a copy of Têtu, the gay Parisian monthly, so I can research which clubs we're likely to find most comfortable.) I am really, really excited!

And, I guess that excitement is contagious. Before I know it, Jason is carrying a copy of Time Out Paris to and from work, presumably reading it on the train. "Where'd you get that?" I ask. But, I know exactly where he got it. He hopped off the train at the Menlo Park station one evening on the way home from the Symphony, ran into Keppler's, and then caught the next train the rest of the way home. And...and...he and Dinh have started speaking French, or trying to. Jason is fairly proficient. Dinh is fairly abysmal. Kevin is pretty good, though, because I've occasionally shifted into French with him, and Kevin is a very good linguist by now. He's a linguistic sponge. He doesn't always know what he's speaking, but he knows how. That's the important thing. So, if everyone's trying to improve his French, it means that a dinner with our friend Christophe is in order. I call him. "Mais, certainement! I would love to join you for dinner, but Vijay is...."

"Don't worry about Vijay," I say. "We all love Vijay, but this is a French evening. We're going to Paris in a week and a half, and Jason and Dinh need some emersion. So do I, frankly. Come to dinner, but come to speak only French."

Christophe laughs. "Mais, ouis, Monsieur Jensen. Qui fait cuire?" (Who's cooking?)

"Monsieur Leong."

"Ah, ouis. Certainement!" he giggles. "I would not miss a Jason meal. À quelle heure?" (What time?)

We arrange a date and time, and spend that evening speaking only French, to the utter consternation of Kenny, Kai and Ian's kids, who have no idea what we're talking about. By the time the evening is over, Jason and I are back to fluency, sort of, and Dinh is holding his own. Kevin, too, is really good! "Magnifique, Monsieur Kevin," Christophe avers. "Tu es courament en Français." (You're fluent in French.)

"Probablement pas," Kevin replies, giggling, "mais merci beaucoup!" (Probably not, but thanks anyway.) Kevin has become more self-aware over the last year or so. He knows what he's good at and what he's not so good at. French is a `not so good at,' but he clearly appreciates the compliment, and he can clearly get by with what he has, a testament to my tutelage, meager as it's been.

While we're all very excited about France, Feng and Tan, I notice, become very pensive when we talk about going to Hong Kong. "Are you excited about going home?" I ask Feng one evening over dinner.

He looks rather depressed, then looks up at me. "Here is home," he says, simply.

I had thought to contact their father so he and the boys could reunite, but when I ask Feng if he'd like to visit his father, his response is resolute. "No," he says. "He not nice." He looks thoughtful for a moment or two, and then starts to cry. I'm not sure what I've tapped into, but I have the sense that these boys are afraid of their real father, that their early childhoods were not idyllic. I lift Feng up out of his chair, set him on my lap, and hug him. He leans into me and holds on for dear life. He stops crying pretty fast, but he won't let go, so we sit and hug for probably fifteen minutes. Finally, he sits up. "I stay here?"

"Where? On my lap?"

He nods.

"Sure," I say, ruffling his hair. I end up feeding him the rest of his dinner, much as we feed Quan. In these few short minutes, the memory of his father managed to regress the usually unflappable Feng. He went from being a confident, fun-loving five year old, to a nervous and teary three year old who did not want to get off my lap for close to an hour. I think maybe we won't take the boys to see their father after all.

In the week and a half we have before our trip, I pull together everything we'll need to pack and take with us. When you pack for a trip like this, you really have to concentrate on what you know you're going to be doing. We're going to be going to a lot of concerts, so we'll need suits, as will the boys. Ian's kids don't have suits, but I'm thinking that we'll take them to the concerts in something loose-fitting and comfy, because it'll be well past their bedtime, and they'll probably sleep through most of them. Other than the suits, all we'll need are jeans, t-shirts, a few dress shirts, and comfortable walking shoes. The Europeans tend to be more formal in terms of dress, but they're just going to have to put up with us this time, because I want to get us all poured into the two large suitcases that we own. Our carry-ons are going to be dedicated to immediate essentials -- laptop computers, diapers for Quan (who isn't quite reliably potty-trained yet), picture books and games for the boys, reading material for us, and snacks.

The flights into Paris are uneventful. Jason and I are on the first flight to depart. We have Feng, Tan and Quan with us. The question is always how to lay yourself out when you travel with children. This airplane is configured as a 2-3-2. That is, there are two aisle seats, three seats in the middle section, and another two seats on the opposite aisle. The agent I worked with was able to get us all into a single row, so we have the aisle seats on the right-hand side of the plane, and the middle section. We decide that Quan and I will sit together in the aisle seats, with Quan by the window so he can see out (and so I can barricade him in his seat), and Tan and Feng will sit in the middle with Jason. They can play together, and do until dinner is served. After dinner, Jason lifts the armrest that separates the boys, and they snuggle into each other and fall asleep. Quan does the same thing. Once I lift the arm rest, he spreads himself across my lap and falls asleep. Jason and I aren't far behind. I've had my double-scotch, and now am ready for a nap. When I awake, some eight hours later, we're about 45 minutes from landing.

I assumed we'd be the first to arrive because we were the first to leave San Jose, but that isn't the case. When we arrive at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Kenny, Dinh and the boys are already there...and so are Evan and Joaquin! When Evan sees us emerge from the plane, his eyes light up. We move to the side, into the seating area so I can set Quan in one of the seats, and then Evan attaches himself to me. "God, I've missed you so," he sniffs, on the verge of tears. "It's so good to see you." We hug for probably five minutes as I stroke his hair (which has gotten really long) and his back. Finally, we break the hug, kiss briefly, and change partners. Joaquin has been hugging Jason, and now comes to me. Joaquin, too, has grown his hair out. It's about shoulder length, and raven black. Joaquin is a very pretty boy. He's got a long face, full lips, and piercing brown eyes. He's slender, almost slight, and when I hug him I instinctively feel that I mustn't squeeze too tight for fear of breaking him. He has no such qualms, and squeezes me mightily. "I am so happy you have come. We have both missed your wisdom very much." I'm a little taken aback by that remark. I don't know that I've ever thought of myself as "wise". Wisdom has always struck me as a very left-brain thing. One is wise because one thinks carefully about the challenges life brings us and applies precepts one has derived from years of such careful analysis. I've tended, on the other hand, to swing from the hip, without a whole lot of preliminary thought. If something gets in the way, I try to push it aside. If someone hurts me, I hurt them back. I tend to be far more instinctual than wise, but maybe there's something to be said for a wisdom of instinct. I'll have to think about that. Yeah, right! Some day real soon.

Anyway, it feels really good to be standing here, holding Joaquin. He's warm, and soft, and he too is sniffling. I guess they both really have missed us. Finally, we break the hug. We kiss, and then I grab Quan's hand and swing him up and out of the chair, and we make our way slowly toward the baggage claim area to pick up our luggage. First, of course, we have to pass through Immigration, and this is typically nothing more than a formality -- unless you're travelling with three kids. I was hassled, believe it or not, by an immigration agent in Chicago for appearing at his desk with Jason. Husbands and wives appear together all the time. This guy looked at Jason, and then at me. "Who's this?" he asked, nodding toward Jason.

"He's my husband," I'd replied.

"Not in the eyes of the federal government," he responded, aggressively. "Go back!"

Jason moved back into line, and the agent checked and stamped my passport. I, or course, made sure that when I called him a prick, it was just loud enough that he could hear it. It didn't appear to faze him. The point is, I'm sensitive about what I present these Neanderthals with. So, what we do is split up. When I'm called to one of the desks, I'm carrying Quan, and Feng is holding onto my coat. I present the immigration guy with my passport, and with Quan and Feng's. "Bonjours, Monsieru. Comment allez-vous?"

"Très bien, merci."

"You are here for...."

"Pleasure. Vacation."

He nods, running my passport through the scanner. "And you will be here how long?"

"Three days."

"You are staying in Paris?"


"And, these little people. Who are they?"

"They're my...grandchildren."

"But...they are on Singaporean passports."

"Yes. They were naturalized by their father when they were adopted. Their father is Singaporean."

"Ah, oui."

I glance two aisles down, and see that Jason -- who's carrying Tan -- is having the same discussion with the immigration guy he's talking to. It turns out to be a non-issue. They just want to understand. Whereas in the U.S., we'd probably be in jail now for having the temerity to think that we could be married and raise kids, here in the civilized world, all they want to do is understand. The U.S. has so much more in common with Iran than we're willing to admit.

Once we're through immigration and customs with our bags in tow, we go downstairs to the RER (metro) station and buy tickets for the underground. I have to confess that the French underground confuses me. It's not always obvious to me how you get from here to there. I don't have this problem with the London underground. That system is just so completely intuitive to me that it's become second nature. In Paris, I have to work at it. But we finally work out a route, find the appropriate train, and climb on board. Feng is just so squirmy. He is so excited to be here, wherever `here' is, that he can scarcely contain himself. He is exuberant, and just can't figure out what to look at first. He's sitting in a seat next to a thirty-something-year-old woman who has been reading a book, but Feng's excitement is contagious, and she ends up watching him with an amused smile. Suddenly the train lurches forward, and Feng is propelled off his seat, hitting his head on the seat in front of him. He ends up on the floor, crying. The woman is surprised, but lifts him off the floor and sets him back in his seat. "Mon pauvre petit!" she says, hugging him. He leans into her, and she manages to get him quieted down.

"Merci, madam," I say from across the aisle, still holding Quan.

She smiles, giving Feng a last hug before releasing him so he can stare out the windows.

It takes us 40 minutes and a transfer to a second train to get from the airport to our stop, and when we emerge from the subway, I am just enraptured. I remember this place so well from the last time I was here. There's the cheese shop, the wine merchant, the bakery, the green grocer with lettuces so huge and fluffy, so beautiful, that they make my mouth water. There's the butcher on the corner who has enormous lamb chops in the window, and around the corner is a fruit seller with luscious peaches and strawberries. The French are amazing, I think. They have made none of the compromises we've made to increase the profitability of their goods at the expense of their flavor. There are no megalithic agribusinesses in France. Farming still is done by hand using traditional methods. As a result, the food, the freshest I've ever tasted, has vibrant flavor. The tomatoes are explosively flavorful and sweet. They don't taste like library paste, as ours do. The lettuce has real crunch, and a flavor all it's own. And, oh, my god, the cheese. The last time I was here was a Rochefort month, and the ladies who own the shop had six different kinds of Rochefort cheese. I asked for a recommendation, and got a dissertation on the different flavors of Rochefort depending on the region in which it was made. I sampled all six, and selected the fourth one I'd tasted. The lady I'd been talking to beamed. "This is my favorite. So sharp. So tart!" She was right. It was absolutely divine. That purchase drove me to the bakery for a baguette, and to the wine merchant for a nice white Bordeaux. That was lunch! I can still taste it, these many years later. And guess what? All this pristine produce, the meats, and veggies, the fruit, the cheeses, the bread, are all probably 30% cheaper than the cardboard you buy at Safeway. Americans have no expectation of eating well, and have therefore come to regard McDonald's as food rather than excrement. France will instantly spoil you.

We round the corner, past the bakery, and find the address of our flat. I park the suitcase I've been wheeling, pass Quan to Kenny, and walk to the bank at the end of the block. I am to ask for a Monsieur Barthes. He's supposed to have the keys, and he does. He's very cordial, asks me to sign a receipt for the keys, and I'm on my way.

From the outside, this place looks like it was built in the sixteenth century. Inside, though, is a courtyard with a pond full of Koi fish. It looks very Japanese, and very comfortable. Our flat is on the fifth floor, and when we open the door, we all gasp. The room is a deep burgundy red and appears to be decorated in Chinese antiques. There's a large stone Buddha sitting on the hearth, looking serene. As we make our way inside and explore, I realize how spacious this place is. The three bedrooms, while not huge, are ample. Each has down-filled pillows, and a down duvet. There's also a small patio with a view overlooking the courtyard. This place is truly self-contained, enclosed against the outside world. It's luxurious, very private, and very comfortable. "Wow!" Evan says. "This is nice." He can say that again!

We wheel the suitcases into the bedrooms, and settle in a bit, and then flop down on the couches. Despite having slept well on the plane ride over from the states, Ian's kids are running on fumes. I tuck them into bed for a nap, and then return to the living room. "God, it's good to see you two," I say, leaning over and kissing Evan and smiling at Joaquin. "You both look so good. I love the hair. What made you want to grow it out?"

Evan giggles. "I've always liked longish hair, but when I was homeless I was afraid that it might make me look homeless. I tried to look as clean-cut and preppy as I could." I nod.

"And you?" I ask Joaquin.

"I could not let Evan be the only stylish one, could I?" he says, smiling broadly.

Evan cuffs him with a grin, and Joaquin laughs. They're still so playful with each other. Their love for each other is clear in everything they do, and in every interaction. I noticed that they were holding hands on the metro coming in from the airport, and every now and then, Joaquin will lean over and kiss Evan's hand. How sweet. They really do make an extraordinary couple. We chat for an hour and a half or so before the first bleary-eyed little boy wanders out of the bedroom. It's Feng. He's not quite fully awake, but he's getting there. He comes and hoists himself into my lap, and we hug. "We go out soon?" he asks.

"You want to explore?"

He looks confused.

"Look around. See things."

He nods, understanding. Of the three, Feng is the adventurer. He likes to see new things, eat new things, and talk to people he doesn't know. He likes to learn, to experience life. Tan lives on the other end of that spectrum. He's very sweet, but also very reticent. He's very introverted, living mostly in his own head. He's not especially curious, and likes to eat what he knows. He reminds me a lot of Jason. Quan is just a bundle of fun. He's sort of like Feng, but where Feng is driven by his curiosity, by his desire to try new things, Quan is driven by octane. He is just so bouncy. He has energy to burn, and loves to have fun. I've never seen a boy who likes to be tickled more than Quan. You tickle him, and he absolutely dissolves into laughter, squirms violently to escape, and as soon as he does, he's right back with you to go through it all again. Each of them is so different, so completely other, and I have to confess that I've fallen in love with all of them. If you had told my mother 15 years ago that soon I'd be besotted with small children, she'd have laughed in your face. "Not bloody likely," she'd have said. So would I. But, I am. I'm besotted with these kids and with my own -- all of them. I couldn't love them more. From Ian, to Evan, to Kev and Kai, to these little imps of Ian's, I am just awash in love, and it is...just...so...not me. Hmmmm. Well, I guess it is me, it's just not a me I'd have expected to meet. Weird. I guess life really is what happens when you're making other plans.

After about ten minutes, Tan and Quan emerge from the bedroom, also looking bleary eyed. They're holding hands, and looking shy. They come over to me, and Tan looks up into my eyes. "Him," he says, nodding at Quan, "him make boo-boo."

I giggle, and then look at Quan with mock sternness. "Did you piss yourself, Quan?" I ask.

He looks down, and his lower lip starts to quiver. He's right on the verge of tears. He knows what he's supposed to do, but he can't always hold it. He gets to a point where he has to go so bad that he just lets loose, and let's face it, that's a big part of the problem when you potty train kids. They have to learn to monitor what they're feeling and to go pee before it becomes urgent.

Quan nods, sadly, as a single tear streaks its way down his cheek. I wipe it away with my thumb, and then reach out, and tickle him. He giggles. "Let's go get changed." I take his hand and lead him to the bathroom where we change his diaper. Potty training is a long process. You have to have patience. He rarely shits himself these days. He almost always makes it to the toilet for poop. But pee still eludes him. Sigh....

Long about 6pm, we all go walkabout so everyone can familiarize themselves with the neighborhood. In terms of restaurants, there's a crêpe place within walking distance of our flat, and a seafood restaurant that's also very good. We all opt for the seafood place, and stop by to see if they can accommodate us. We are, after all, an eleven-person walk-in. We have no reservation. Remarkably, though, they seat us immediately, albeit in a back room, but a very cheery back room, and I think we have our waitress all to ourselves. The spécialité de la maison is Bouillabaisse, a fish stew made of onions, garlic, herbs, tomatoes, and fish. You have your choice of the fish -- cod, bream, pike, brill, and several others. My recollection of this place is that their broth is laced with saffron and leeks. I remember it being delicious. So, the adults all order the Bouillabaisse with one kind of fish or another, Kai orders grilled trout, one of his favorites. Kevin orders steamed mussels, and for Ian's kids we order a large platter of assorted fish fillets, a mixed grill. "No bones?" I ask the waitress. "Our youngest loves fish, but it must be carefully filleted."

"Oui," she assures us. "There will be no bones. I will check it myself."

When the food arrives, I look around the table. Everyone is rolling his eyes. The aroma of the broth is just amazing. Jason dishes up for Feng and Tan, and they begin to eat. I grab a forkful of what looks like cod and feed it to Quan. "Mmmmmmm!" he says. Quan does love his fish, but I don't know that he's ever had anything quite like this. It's poached, perfectly cooked, and lightly seasoned with what looks like chopped parsley. "Mmmmmmm!" he says again.

"Good?" I ask.

He nods enthusiastically. "Yum!"

I give him another bite, and then dive into my Bouillabaisse. The aroma of saffron is everywhere, and the flavors are just so subtle. I ordered the cod, and it is just so flakey, so delicious. "How's the trout?" I ask Kai.


"Can I have a bite?"

He cuts a piece and passes it to me on his fork. It is fabulous!

"Try this," Kev says, handing me a bit of bread that he's soaked in the cooking liquid for his mussels. I suck the bread out of his hand, and roll my eyes. The mussels have been steamed in a mixture of Pernod and water. I have no words for this. It is nonpareil. Never has anything tasted so good to me.

Between Jason and me, we manage to keep feeding fish to Quan until I think he's going to burst. Finally, as I come in with the next forkful, he refuses. "Stuff," he says. He's full. And that's a good thing, because between them, those three little boys managed to polish off what must have been at least a pound of fish. Glancing around the table, I realize that everyone is stuffed. The waitress comes to collect the dishes. "Was good?" she asks.

"Oh, yes!" says Jason.

"So good," says Kenny.

"The best," says Dinh.

"Unbelievable!" says Evan.

I look at her and smile. "I think you can assume that this meal was a success," I say.

She laughs. "Bon," she says. "Café? Dessert?"

"Non, madam, merci," I reply.

When we get back to the flat, Evan and Joaquin excuse themselves and leave for their hotel. They're staying at L'Hôtel Scribe. It's a four-start hotel over near the opera house. I've stayed there before. It's stunning, and the staff is really friendly. But, I only stay at the Scribe when someone else is paying the bill because the rooms are hundreds of dollars a night. That kind of luxury I don't need, or at least I don't need to pay for it. If someone else wants to pay for it, I won't refuse, but it's ridiculously extravagant for my budget.

Kenny and Dinh get the boys bathed and into their respective beds, and then we converge on the living room for tea. Jason has brought a bag of Jasmine Downey Pearl tea, one of the most fragrant and delicious teas in the world, and the aroma is everywhere in the flat. It permeates. "So, what shall we do tomorrow? Any ideas?" I ask. After about an hour's discussion, we have a plan. Now all we need is some sleep. We get Kevin and Kai bundled off to bed, and then drag ourselves off to the master bedroom. I don't think I'm going to have energy for any more than one orgasm tonight. I'm just exhausted. This is what I say to Jason, Dinh and Kenny. "And Kenny asked first," I say. Dinh sticks his lower lip out, the mock sadness of a six-year-old. Jason looks down and pouts. Kenny looks guilty. Then Jason giggles, and Dinh starts to laugh.

"It's okay, Kenny," Jason assures him. "I'm sure we can find something to do." Kenny cuffs Jason, and then rolls over on top of me. We're belly to belly as he looks into my eyes. "I've wanted you all day," he says. "I've been...longing. Sometimes I want you so much that I don't think I'll be able to stand it. That's how much I want you now. Please, Tim. Will you fuck me?"

"Hmmmm," I reply, as he leans in and kisses me. Is it the breath, or the taste of the mouth? Is it the pheromones or the softness, the puffiness of the lips? I'm not sure what it is, but I'm sure that I could tell you who I'm kissing if I were blindfolded. Tie my hands behind my back and line up twenty-five guys, among whom are Dinh, Jason and Kenny, and I will call them out by name. This is actually a party game popular at Chinese wedding banquets. The challenge is to identify your new husband or new wife on the basis of the kiss. I could do that instantly with probably 98% accuracy. If you want 100%, you have to let me lick their ass. The ass cannot lie. All the flavors and scents down there are the purest form of aphrodisiac.

"How do you want it, Kenny?"

"Actually, I think I'd like to do the work tonight. Why don't you just lie down on your back?" He kisses me again, a long and wonderful kiss, and then he lubes my dick with lotion, and slowly lowers himself onto it, impaling himself. He feels so warm, and so tight. Then, he moves back up, and abruptly drops back down. I can see the pleasure in his expression. He arches his back so that my dick hits him exactly where he wants it to as he's once again impaled. "Mmmmmm," he groans, sounding like Quan with a mouthful of good fish. Then he moves up again, and falls back down. He establishes the rhythm, and he just feels so good.

"Oh, fuck, Kenny, I want you so."

He reaches forward and kisses me while continuing to fuck my dick with his ass. Ten minutes, maybe fifteen is all it takes, and when I cum, I scream, still attached to his lips, his tongue and mine wrapped around each other. I've had Kenny how many hundreds of times? And each time seems like it's better than the last. He is just so...delicious. As I cum, I stroke him, and he fires as well. He cums in rope after rope of spunk that splashes all over my neck and chest. Just as he cums, the kiss intensifies. It's almost like he's sucking the breath out of me. Then we're done, spent, and panting. Kenny falls on top of me, and we watch Dinh and Jason sucking each other off. A few short minutes later, they, too, erupt. As I watch them wind down I start to cry. I've no idea why. Is this a hormonal thing, or an emotional thing, or what? It's happened to me before. I'm just so happy at this moment, so completely content and elated, that I can't suppress my emotions. I start to sob, and Kenny licks the tears away. Does it get any better than this?


The next morning, I wake up early. I shower, shave, and sneak out at about 6:15am. I stop at the dairy, and pick up three dozen eggs and a pound of butter. I stop at the cheese shop and pick up some chèvre, and I stop at the bakery and pick up some bread. "Bon Jour, madam. J'ai besoin de deux baguettes ce matin."

"Très bien," she responds, chirpy, handing me the two baguettes. The goddamned things are warm, fresh out of the oven. I feel them as she hands them to me, and it's almost as though my dick turns to blue steel.

"Pardon, madam. Trois baguette, s'il vous plais." She giggles and hands me another. I pay her, and make my way back to the flat where I find Feng the first to arise. "Bon jour, mon petit. Comment ça va?" He giggles. He knows what I've asked him, but has no idea how to respond.

"Would you like some eggies, sweetie?"

He nods.

I fry us each two eggs, and by the time ours are done, the aroma has awakened the rest of the house. I don't know what it is about eggs, but I'm absolutely crazy about them. The smell, the taste, and the texture. I get this from my mother. She loved eggs, and used to make fried eggs for breakfast, egg salad for lunch, and curried eggs for dinner. If I smell a cooked egg, I'm lost. When I met Jason, he introduced me to duck eggs, preserved eggs, and quail eggs. I suppose they're not good for your cholesterol, but that's not a problem I have and, frankly, life without eggs would not be worth living. So, my concession is that mostly I only eat the whites. Mostly I hard boil the eggs, throw out the yolks, and eat only the whites. This gives me the wherewithal to eat five of them a day. This morning, though, we're having our eggs in their most delicious form, fried in a little butter until the yolks are just a little oozy. These we lay out over the top of a section of toasted baguette. This and a glass of apple juice is breakfast. Luscious!

Once everyone is fed, we make our way out into the day, and a beautiful day it is. The sky is absolutely clear, and the temperature probably 70° F. We walk to the metro, buy our tickets, and board a train heading for the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Pompidou Art Center. The Centre itself is pretty spectacular, and has periodic visiting exhibitions that always are very well thought out. They concentrate on modern art. Currently they appear to be hosting an exhibition of Kandinsky, a Russian painter much taken with simple geometric shapes. He's colorful and interesting, and as I stand gazing at the poster advertising this exhibition, I look up to see a tear coursing down Jason's cheek. He's staring at the other side of the poster I was looking at. I move around to him to see what might have caused that tear, and am caught completely off guard by what I see. The Pompidou is hosting a second exhibition this month, Joie et Douleur: La Peinture d'Alejandro Rodriguez (Joy and Pain: The Painting of Alejandro Rodriguez). The painting they've chosen for this poster is the painting I theorized was his last. It's a study in contrasts. It's the body of a man, ashen but peaceful, old but young, vibrant but brittle, happy but so...so sad. It's Alejandro's vision of himself...after death. It's a devastatingly-beautiful image. It's one of my paintings. I should explain. My collection of Alejandro's paintings has been on loan to the Guggenheim in New York for over two years. They mounted this exhibition, and have made it available to other museums. It's been to Berlin, to Japan, to the UK, and to Switzerland. Now, it's apparently made it to France. Suddenly, I realize that the whole family is here. Kenny is hugging me from behind just as I'm hugging Jason. We all stare at the image. "You wanna go?" I whisper to Jason.

"Uh hunh."

"Me, too," Kenny says.

"I...umm...don't," Dinh says. "I'll stay with the boys."

Kenny, Jason and I make our way inside, and I ask one of the docents to speak with the museum director. "But who should I tell him you are, Monsieur?"

"Tell him I'm Tim Jensen. Tell him that I own most of the paintings in his Alejandro Rodriguez exhibition." That's all it takes. He's with us almost instantly, and takes us on a tour of the exhibition himself. Now, I have to confess, I've never been inside the Pompidou before. It is a really-stunning space, making use of a lot of natural light rather than the hot halogen lighting of most museums. This means that the lighting is less controllable, but more naturalistic, and frankly, I've never seen Alejandro's paintings lit like this, not even at home. They seem to glow in a way they don't when you shine spotlights at them. They seem to collect every stray ray of light in the room and to reflect it back to you. Alejandro, as I know I've said, was much influenced by de la Tour, and Rembrandt, and Michelangelo. He was fascinated by chiaroscuro, and the effects one could achieve with lighting in a painting. But, for the greatest impact, those effects need to be highlighted with the lighting of the museum itself. This place has done that. I've never seen these paintings look so good, and that's what I tell the museum director. "They're stunning," I say. "The way they're lit is just spectacular." He beams.

We spend all of forty minutes inside the Pompidou. It's not the paintings we wanted to see. We know those by heart. It's their delivery, how they're displayed. I thank the museum director profusely, and we make our way to the gardens outside the Centre where we've arranged to meet Dinh and the boys. And that's where we find them. Dinh is sitting on a bench with Quan spread across his lap, napping. Kevin, Kai, Feng and Tan are frolicking, playing tag among the rows and rows of flowers. I don't know how long this garden has been here. I found it the last time I was here. At the time, it was as it is now -- in full bloom. There are flowers everywhere. There's a big patch of gladiolas, and there's lavender everywhere. There are roses, and several different species of geraniums. There are carnations, and fuchsias nestled under what looks like a big Yew tree. The garden seems to go on forever, with flowers everywhere, and bees, which really seem to fascinate Feng. And then, of course, there's the expanse of lawn, which is just perfect for five rambunctious little boys. We're here for another hour while Jason, Kenny and I tour the flowers, and the boys chase each other. Finally, we drag ourselves away from this beautiful place, and go foraging for lunch on the way to the Eiffel Tower.

Everyone's seen the Eiffel Tower either in images or in person. It's probably the most famous structure in the world, second only to the Statue of Liberty, which is also a French creation. How many of us have actually gone up to the top, though? I have, but it was years ago. I remember the sheer exhilaration of seeing Paris from that high up. There are other tall vantage points from which to view a city. There's the radio tower in East Berlin, the observation deck at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, the Empire State Building in New York. All of these afford you a bird's-eye view of the city that lies before you, but there is no other city in the world as beautiful as Paris, so the Eiffel Tower is unique. Today, the nine of us will see why. I have tickets to take us to the top, and I just can't wait to see the reaction of the boys as they gaze out over this beautiful place. I'm just hoping like hell that there are no restrictions to preclude little Quan from going up.

The line is long at the Eiffel Tower, and it doesn't matter whether you have tickets or not. You're still going to wait at least an hour. But, after that hour, the fun begins. "Bonjours, Messieurs," the docent says to us. "Please be careful to manage your children throughout the tour. We have tried to make the tower safe for children, but it is still very high up, and they are very small, non?" he says, smiling, ruffling Tan's hair. I nod. "And, how old is the little one?" he asks, looking at Quan.

Here it comes. Here's where we get bumped. "He's two and a half."

"Ah, oui. Technically, he is not allowed. But...if you will carry him, and not put him down, I will let him go up."

I smile. This is a good man. I hoist Quan into my arms, and Kenny lifts Tan onto his shoulders. No one needs to admonish us to protect our children, believe me! That's become second nature to us. He smiles, and we board the elevator.

There are four levels of the Eiffel Tower, and four elevators to take you there. The first level is 187 feet above ground, and gives you a pretty-spectacular view in and of itself. We spend maybe 20 minutes at this level, before boarding the next elevator to go to level two, some 377 feet above ground. From here the view is truly remarkable. You're high enough to get a really good sense of how the city is laid out, but not so high that the landmarks are indistinguishable. From here there's a lot of "oohing, and aahing" and Jason and Dinh take turns hoisting the boys -- Feng, Kevin and Kai -- up high enough so they can see over the railings. The third level is at 906 feet above ground, and the panoramic view is better. The structure of the city is clear. You have a very clear sense of just how geometrical Paris is, just how logically structured, but you can't really identify any landmarks. At the fourth level, you're at 984 feet above ground. This is a remarkable view. I don't really recognize much below, but there's a wonderful logic to the city below. It's understandable.

As we've gotten higher, Quan has gotten more restless. He wants me to put him down so he can run around, and I'm not willing to do that. I try to soothe him, to get him to calm down, but he is adamant. Finally, when reason runs dry, I swat him. He looks at me in shock, and then starts to cry. I move to a bench off to the side, and sit with Quan on my lap. I hug him, which is about all I have to offer. "You can't get down, Quan. You have to stay with me." He sobs, burying his face in my shirt. After a few minutes, I tickle him a bit, but he's still despondent. He continues to sob. Finally, he winds down. "You wanna go look at the view." He nods. I lift him up and carry him back to the railing where he's mesmerized. Does he understand how high up he is? Does he understand perspective? Does he know what he's looking at? I've no idea. All I know is that he's rapt, fascinated with what he's looking at.

"You okay now?" I ask.

Suddenly he moves back and looks into my eyes. "I sorry," he says.

I'm stunned. I stare at him for a long, long moment. You don't expect a two and a half year old to be self aware enough to be sorry. I just stare at him. "It's okay, honey. You just can't get down right now. You have to stay with me."

He nods. "Okay," he says, and hugs me really tight.

Small kids are strange animals. One minute they're simply beside themselves with grief, and the next minute they're chipper and happy. They run on pure emotion, which isn't surprising, I guess. They haven't yet learned to temper their emotions with reason. And, maybe that's why we love them so. When they learn to reason, they learn to censor themselves. They learn to hide, and we lose track of who they really are. At least, running on pure emotion, it's clear who's in there and what their relationship to you is at any given moment. Kevin is by now a reasoning animal, and there are some days when I miss him big time. Don't get me wrong. I adore Kevin. He's about the sweetest kid you could ever wish for, but...he's become self-conscious. He's concerned with not appearing foolish. He was never like that before. Now he is. As a result, his behavior is...measured. And, I guess that's what you want, right? You train them at some subliminal level to be methodical, logical, and...measured. You don't want them bursting into tears in the middle of the grocery when they're ten. But you have to pay for that. You have to pay with the loss of their exuberance, their whimsical and flighty sense of the ridiculous. Kevin doesn't streak through the house wet and naked anymore, having jumped out of the bath tub to chase the cat. I imagine to most parents that would be a relief. To me, it's a great loss. Still, Peter Pan isn't real, is he? Children grow up. Kevin is growing up...but...I...umm...miss the child he was.

It takes us nearly forty minutes to get back down to ground level, by which time it's time to go looking for something to eat for dinner. I want to check out of this conversation. What I want to eat is not...logical. What I want to eat you get in three places in the world, and this isn't one of them. I want to eat Phở, Vietnamese soup noodle, but you don't come to Paris for Phở. I tell the guys to figure it out. I'll go wherever they tell me to. Jason has been studying, reading his guide book, and Kenny and Dinh have been doing online research. I want someone else to make this very difficult decision, and someone does. And it's....Dinh. Dinh?

You need to remember that Dinh is Vietnamese, and that Vietnam was colonized by France in the 1930s, `40s and `50s. The cultural crossover was enormous. In what other Asian country, for example, will you find bread as an indigenous part of the cuisine? In what other Asian country will you find coffee served? The Vietnamese eat from plates with forks. Where else in Asia do you find that? Dinh knows the French impact on his country. What he doesn't understand is the Vietnamese impact on France. Nor do I, frankly. Dinh wants a Vietnamese meal. He wants to understand what that means in the middle of Paris. And, he has the name of a restaurant. He's been blogging with friends for the last week, and has the name of the restaurant that these friends feel delivers the best Vietnamese food in the city. That's where we're going tonight.

First, though, we're going home to get dressed. My initial thought was that we'd take Feng, Quan, and Tan to the symphony in their pajamas. Each of them would sleep on one of our laps. Ultimately I concluded that the French might not receive this well, and so I suggested that we go to the concert in shifts. Joaquin and the orchestra will be playing for three nights in a row. So, the first night, Jason, Kenny and I will go, and we'll take Kevin and Kai. Dinh will stay at the flat babysitting Feng, Quan, and Tan. The second night, Dinh, Jason and Kenny will go, and I'll stay with the children -- all of them. So, the first order of business is to get those of us going to the concert tonight dressed. I know I've probably gushed before about how cute the boys look in their suits, so I won't burden you with that again, except to observe that -- Jesus fucking Christ they are just the cutest goddamned boys on the face of the planet! There! I got that out of my system. I should probably just add that they know it. The boys know how good they look dressed up, and so they enjoy it.

Once we're dressed, we head out to dinner, and that turns out to be...interesting. It's interesting to me at least, but it isn't interesting to Dinh. The restaurant is called White Lotus (Le Lotus Blanc) and is really quite elegant, although watching Dinh, that might be the first mark against it. We're not used to Vietnamese restaurants with white tablecloths. White tablecloths suggest that the restaurateur is more interested in ambiance than in food. We order Spring Rolls as a starter, and are all surprised that the veggies inside have been parboiled. There's little or no crunch. The same is true of the Papaya Salad. You use green Papaya for this dish precisely because it's crunchy, but this papaya isn't. How they got it to be soft I have no idea. As we continue to eat, as the dishes continue to come, I realize what White Lotus has done. This is fusion cuisine. They've taken a Vietnamese menu and made it palatable to the French. If you think about French cuisine, what they try to do is avoid anything jarring. The textures are all very soft. They want you to concentrate on the subtlety of the flavors rather than on the texture of the food itself. How it feels in your mouth is irrelevant. How it tastes is everything. This is why I've never been particularly passionate about French cuisine. I don't have the capacity to appreciate the subtlety of flavors that French food presents to me. I actually prefer Vietnamese food because the flavors are stark rather than subtle, and because there are so many contrasting textures. Because I can't taste that well, I'm very passionate about how food "feels" in my mouth. And, that's what's missing here. At White Lotus they've made the food mooshie because that's what the French are used to. They concentrate instead, I imagine, on the subtlety of the flavors, which is not something I'm able to evaluate.

I like this meal, I have to admit, because in messing with something as essential as the texture of Vietnamese cuisine, they force me to better understand my tastes and preferences. Is the food great? I don't think it's really to my taste, but if you're looking for Vietnamese food in its purest form, why on earth would you come to Paris? You'd go to Saigon, or San Jose, or L.A. What we're looking for here is to divine the Vietnamese impact on French cuisine. I personally don't think that this fusion is a match made in heaven because it strips away too much of what makes Vietnamese cuisine what it is, but...the experience is eye-opening, and that's what I tell Dinh when he wrinkles his nose for the thirty-third time this evening. Not great, but certainly interesting.

Once we've had dinner, Dinh, Feng, Quan, and Tan get back on the metro heading back to the flat. Kenny, Jason, Kevin, Kai and I head for Salle Pleyel, the concert hall that hosts L'Orchestre de Paris. Located in the eighth arrondissement on the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré near the Place de l'Étoile, it's a stunning edifice built in 1927 by the Pleyel Piano Company. It was completely reconfigured in 2004 to provide better acoustics and more comfortable seating. I've honestly never been in the building, although I've seen it from the outside several times. It's a lovely venue, both inside and out, but it isn't until the concert begins that I realize just how lovely.

The first piece the Orchestra plays this evening is Joaquín Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez. Written in 1939, I believe, it was one of those pieces that suddenly catapulted the guitar into the realm of classical music. This is not to say that the guitar hadn't been a classical instrument before, but it wasn't really preceived that way outside of Spain. Aranjuez focused the concert-going public on the beauty of the sound of the guitar, and on the virtuosity of musicians like Andrés Segovia, Mario Escudero, and, later, Christopher Parkening. It a languid piece, initially, but picks up tempo as the guitar begins to interact with the orchestra. It doesn't take more than three or four notes from the guitar for me to realize just how difficult this is going to be for me. I mentioned that this concert hall was reconfigured in 2004. The owners hired a German architectural firm that specializes in concert halls. They architect for sound, using design and construction materials to
"optimize the listening experience." Pleyel has been "optimized" within an inch of its life. First, you can hear a pin drop here...literally. Second, the sound is just so "hot". You hear literally everything. You can hear Joaquin's fingers sliding down the strings as he moves to the next note. It's almost as if this is a recording and he's surrounded by a dozen microphones. The sound is absolutely crystalline. This is exactly the effect that sound engineers try to avoid because they don't feel that it's "naturalistic". But I love it. I like to hear every tiny sound inside the concert hall. That's why I like recordings from Archiv and Deutsche Grammaphon. The Germans seem as interested as I am in hearing the musicians breathe.

What the owners of Pleyel have done is turn the concert hall itself into an instrument in its own right, an instrument that sounds like it's two feet away. Joaquin's guitar sounds like I'm playing it, with my head draped over the top of the instrument as Joaquin's head is draped over the top of his. So, my problem is that I have a beautiful piece of music, with unbelievable instrumentation, and one of the most amazing concert halls I've ever been in. For me, this combination can only lead to one thing -- tears. Concerts have gotten easier for me over the years, because I've given up wondering or caring what others think of my response to music. When I was younger, I was intensely self-conscious about my tendency to sob my way through a really-good musical performance. Now I don't really give a damn. I realized that my self-consciousness was getting in the way of my enjoyment, was actually causing me not to go to some concerts, and I gave it up. It's not like I'm especially noisy. I'm just...wet, and tonight I'm especially wet, because the Aranjuez Concerto is especially beautiful. Almost worse, though, is what follows. When you have a gifted soloist like Joaquin playing a spectacular instrument like the one he's playing, the orchestra...gets in the way. It becomes a muddle. So, after the Aranjuez, he begins to play a series of solo pieces, mostly transcriptions of Bach's Cello Sonatas. They're crisp, and complex, and achingly beautiful, beautiful in a way I never would have imagined they could be on a guitar. Maybe it's the nature of the instrument itself that makes the difference. A guitar is plucked, and a cello is bowed. There's something more "abrupt" about a guitar, less inherently...legato. It's sort of like the difference between a harpsichord and a piano. I don't know. I would never have expected to hear these pieces like this. They're simply spectacular!

The concert ends with a touch of flamenco, and a standing ovation that goes on for nearly five minutes. The concert was a triumph, an assertion echoed by both Le Monde, and Le Figaro, local daily newspapers. In the next day's newspaper, Françoise Garneau of Le Monde commented on "the precision and beauty of Señor Hernandez's interpretations," while I thought Justine Robert's assessment in Le Figaro was a bit more interesting. "Christoph Eschenbach has been very successful in selecting little-known guest soloists to play with his Orchestra. Joaquin Hernandez, last night's soloist, was no exception. What was remarkable, though, was the synergy between the soloist, the Orchestra and the hall itself. Never have I heard the Pleyel in better tune or been more struck by its ability to highlight the talent of a truly-remarkable artist. It was a very memorable concert, not to be missed." Joaquin never reads reviews, he tells me the next day. The ups and downs take an emotional toll that has the potential to impact his next performance. He is gratified to learn that what was written was universally positive. Like everyone else, he likes to be appreciated, and last night, he certainly was.

The second night's performance is no less satisfying, although I don't get to see it. La Croix and Le Parisien will rave about it tomorrow. But, I'm the designated babysitter tonight, which is fine. It gives me a chance play with the kids, and that's always so much fun that you realize later that you haven't missed anything. We lie around in the living room while Feng tells us stories, made up in an instant to match the photos in a book we find on one of the book shelves. Feng is actually very creative, very imaginative. His stories are interesting not only to his brothers, but also to me, revealing how his mind works, and maybe giving me some insights into his early childhood. His villains, I notice, are very vividly portrayed, and what interests me about them is not how evil they are, but how neglectful. They have responsibilities, which they ignore. They have people to care for, but don't. They seem selfish and self-absorbed. I really wonder if he's describing his father, and almost ask him this a couple of time. But, I honestly don't think he knows. Stories for kids are therapeutic. They burrow into the psyche without the child even knowing it. Art is the same way. I remember seeing an exhibit of children's drawings, children who had survived the holocaust. The drawings were horrific, but the interesting thing was that the children couldn't describe what they'd drawn. There was death and destruction, pain and anguish. It was clear to me what I was seeing. For the children, though, it was an exorcism. They didn't know what their pictures meant. That's what Feng's villains are to him, I think. They're an exorcism. We will definitely not be visiting his father in Hong Kong.

So, I'm at the flat with the kids, and Jason is at the second night of Joaquin's concert. As the only true musician among us, he deserves to go again. Kenny and Dinh have elected to do something else. They're going to crawl through the Marais district, the gay section of Paris, and hit some dance clubs, and by the descriptions they give me of their meanderings the next morning, they have quite a time of it, well Dinh does anyway. I find sexual attraction to be a fascinating subject. What is it that draws us to the people we're attracted to? I'm mostly attracted to Asian and Hispanic men. Sometimes I'm attracted to Black men. Once in a blue moon I'll be attracted to a Caucasian guy. In all cases, they have to be shorter than I am. Gary, my best friend for years, only liked Asian men, and Jason and Kenny, near as I can tell, are only attracted to Caucasians. Yeah, I realize that puts it all on a racial axis. But what's even more interesting is when you put it on a colonial axis. I can't tell you the number of Brits I know who are attracted exclusively to Indian guys, and I have lots of Dutch friends who are only attracted to Black guys. What Dinh found in the Marais were French guys attracted to Vietnamese guys -- to him. He had to beat them off with a stick, according to Kenny. Don't get me wrong, Dinh is really beautiful! But, so is Kenny. Dinh is younger than Kenny, and so more likely to get hit on, I guess. But still, the French tastes seem rather...precisely attuned. Dinh looks very Vietnamese. He's petit, fine-featured, and small-boned. And Kenny looks very Chinese. He's beefier. His nose is flat and wide. But, what were these Marais boys zeroing in on, I wonder? What feature do they see when they appraise someone? Is it Dinh's Vietnameseness that turns them on, and if so, why? Is it that colonial thing? Did they develop their taste for Vietnamese guys from their long years of domination? I realize that this is a very dangerous question for me to ask, but it just fascinates me. If both Dinh and Kenny had been hit on, I'd have had an easier time understanding the reaction. But it was just Dinh, and I don't find Dinh to be objectively cuter than Kenny. So, what is it these French guys were seeing?

"I'm just better looking than Kenny," Dinh tells me when I ask these questions. Then he starts to giggle. Kenny cuffs him, also giggling. Who knows? All answers seem unlikely, but the reality is that Dinh was a very popular guy last night, and Kenny wasn't. Dinh was the belle of the ball, and Kenny was chopped liver, and none of us has any idea why.

Our third day in Paris will be our last. In fact, we're scheduled to step onto a plane for Hong Kong this evening at around 5pm. And then I get the call on my mobile. It's Ian, and he asks me the most disturbing question I've been asked in a very long time, a question that I find intensely irritating, a question that makes me profoundly uneasy about my eldest son. He asks me something that is so disconcerting that I nearly decide to change my plans and fly home early, leaving the others to fly on to Hong Kong without me. I am very disturbed. But, then I remember that it's Edo de Waart conducting the Hong Kong Philharmonic, and only three more days before we're home. We can sort this all out then.

Published first at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Nemo-stories/