The Pulse: Paris

Probabilities

Martine said she would try to be at La Maison de Verlaine by noon. Kenneth neither believed nor disbelieved that he would see her there, let alone by noon. In trying to predict her behaviour he was a complete agnostic. It was as if every atom of her being followed Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty.

Yet now he had this inkling inside him, this intuition, this vibration of neurons. Was it the result of waves, particles, or some hidden subatomic structure acting deep inside his brain? Whatever it was, he felt that she would be on time. He felt that she was just exiting the Saint-Michel station, smiling at the prospect of surprising Kenneth by being on time.

Martine was in fact smirking as she stepped up onto Boulevard Sant-Michel. She was thinking that he was thinking that she would always be late.

He ordered a steak-frites and a glass of wine, and sat back to work out this business about the kyanite ring. Perhaps he could even work it into his lecture on probability this afternoon.

Until the kyanite ring, his reasoning had gone like this: If you believe in existentialist probability, then you believe in the immorality of chance. The hundredth time you get on a plane you have the same chance of crashing as the first time. It doesn't matter if you're good or evil, if you've flown a million times or never before: your chances of crashing are just the same as those of everyone else. If, however, you believe in essentialist probability — in a metaphysical system that gives justice or meaning to our actions on earth — you believe in the morality of chance. Your chances of being in a plane crash might even increase with every successful flight. It's only moral or fair (if one equates morality and fairness, which he considered a reasonable assumption) that you crash as often as everyone else. Even if one kept morality out of the equation, there would still be some bigger essentialist plan that either brought the plane down or kept it in the air. Probability becomes less a detached constant based on pure chance in a random universe than an involved inevitability based on a larger system of moral metaphysical justice. In such a case, probability lost what Kenneth called its mathematical purity.

Then along comes this damned ring. Martine's experience meant that we're influenced as much by erratic vibrations and by incalculable correspondences as by random chance or higher morality. The ring, which allowed some sort of mysterious communication, created a gap between the existential self and the physical world because the self could no longer count on a world of pure chance. It also created a gap between the essential self and the metaphysical world because—  

"Ken, you've started without me!"

Kenneth looked up. A bel visage floated toward him through the ether of an indeterminable arrival. X = X = Martine. He managed to fumble out, "I - I wasn’t sure you'd make it."

"But I told you — ah, qu'importe!  I can't stay long anyway. Antoine is taking me somewhere this afternoon. It's a bit mysterious, but I think he'll take me to meet Nakata. You know, the manga artist. Antoine hopes that together they can do a French Schoolgirl Thriller. Something like the Michael Jackson video with Vincent Price."

The waiter was hovering patiently above the table, with only the patience that a Parisian waiter will show for a beautiful woman. "Et pour Madame?”

"Juste un cafe. Merci."

"Oui Madame."

Martine sat back in the red cushions and took a deep breath, just deep enough to tighten the sheer fabric of her dress and make Kenneth wish he'd never heard of Vincent Price, Michael Jackson, Nakata, or the ever-talented master of all things shiny and new, Antoine Lacrotte.

Antoine's real surname was Lagrotte, but Kenneth preferred the nickname. It gave him pleasure to imagine him on his beaten-up mobylette picking up dog excrement, like Chirac’s infamous motocrotte gang that once kept the side-streets of Paris clean. Antoine the Pooper-Scooper, Kenneth wrote to his sister in the prairie city of Edmonton, where even in the month of April they scattered salt on the frozen sidewalks.

As Martine breathed out again, she asked, “So, what will you be lecturing the old ladies on this afternoon?”

The way she emphasized lecturing made it sound like boring them to death. OK, so it wasn’t a racy crowd. Claudia Cardinale wasn't sitting in the front row, waiting to answer a question about the meaning of love. 

Claudia Cardinale, 1960 (Wikimedia Commons)

Claudia Cardinale, 1960 (Wikimedia Commons)

Kenneth often thought about the actress when he saw Martine. She was that beautiful. 

“I plan to lecture them on Pascal and probability theory."

She seemed to want to humour him — probably because she had something to tell him about Antoine. Perhaps they were going to another comic conference in Barcelona. Tapas, sangria, the whole auberge espagnole. She leaned into him and asked him to refresh her memory. "Ça doit être fascinant. What exactly are the probabilities?" 

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Next: Di Firenze

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