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Hagiography Carcassonne, France, March 1995 For somebody lukewarm about France, Jimmy expressed surprise that Dennis was so eager to be back within two years of his last visit, when he’d met Isabelle on the train. Jimmy had wanted to go, too, one of their “last hurrah” voyages, even though Jimmy reminded them both that the term no longer applied. They’d had a shared interest in the South of France, and Dennis especially wanted to visit the ruins of the Cathar castles. “I would have made a great Catharist,” Dennis told Jimmy while handing him a history book about that twelfth-century heresy that held that every earthly thing was created by the devil, and any source of power was Satanic in origin. After reading the dust jacket of the book and showing that he’d seen enough, Jimmy handed it back and said, “Yes, you’d make great pope fodder.” For the church had felt threatened by Manichaeism and had Catharism wiped out, leaving behind nothing but the ghostly strongholds on the tops of volcanic pilings. 72 73 Jimmy wanted to go for the wine. He also wanted to meet Isabelle, in or out of underwear. Dennis had tried for days on this trip to dig into Saint Augustine—he’d been taking religious classes and this was his spring break—but he was starting to quarrel with the master, who kept exhorting him not to step outside of the self, a basic tirade about the sinfulness of travel and experience. This from a man who traveled and experienced widely before giving it all up, the annoying self-righteousness of the prodigal son turned ascetic who went around telling others not to do what he had done. Perhaps travel was a luxury Dennis was no longer entitled to, if you were a religious, but he would preach just the opposite to any disciple: go out and see the world, or you’ll end up coming to confession every week with the kinds of peccadillos muttered by little old ladies (“I failed to clean the kitchen”) and children (“I was mean to my sister”), and the greatest sin of all is boring the daylights out of those shut-up priests doomed to sit out life in little confessional booths. Dennis looked up Isabelle again. She’d slipped him her address when they’d arrived in Paris. Dennis and Jimmy went to the Languedoc and took rooms in Isabelle’s mother’s chateau, which was just perfect in its run-down state. The friendship between Jimmy and Dennis still felt strong. Dennis cared what Jimmy might think of the wild sassy French girl. But on her home turf, Isabelle was twenty-four, restless, and bored. The chateau, though it had room for at least six roomfuls of guests, they had to themselves. Isabelle’s mother, with dyed hair fixed to highlight her noble forehead, stuffed them with good bread and wine, tiny dark-green lentils, platters of fish and raclette, potatoes beaten with cheese until they were a ropey, gooey paste. All of it seemed to disprove Isabelle’s comment about her mother serving store-bought sorbet. They let the family dog, Jana, sit by them during dinner, and she loved to play fetch until everybody fled her to avoid yet another merry retrieval. Jimmy loved Jana. “Jana and I are een loav,” he told Dennis, “bot hair mothair disapproves, for I am poor, and alas, she eez a dog.” Jimmy amused Dennis during these years, though he chain-smoked for a while (this he gave up in the late nineties, apparently in exchange for uglier habits). The friendship between Jimmy and Dennis then was, well, real and nice, like that middle section of fifty or sixty pages of a big fat good novel you’re reading when the book stays open on the table without your having to hold it or weigh the spread down with a butter knife, and you could read it while eating dinner. Isabelle had nothing to do, she complained in her tiny English. She was bored, bored, bored. Jimmy asked her if she would like to join them on one of their sightseeing excursions from the house, and she nodded with pleasure. “I will take you to my favorite place, if you like?” They were more than happy to follow her, although they did not anticipate her driving them fifty miles, hardly even in Catalan country anymore, to a place 74 75 that neither...


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