We stopped at Cafe des Ducs for lunch on the terrace with our friend Nina and I dismissed the challenge in favor of food. Plus, if Nico had been at my side the whole morning, I reasoned, there was no way he could have bought something without me seeing. At least we were going to fail my challenge together.
Nina had us talking about all kinds of fun things, from embarrassing American language gaffes (“J’aime manger des beets! instead of “des betteraves“) to some funny literal translations (“that walks” for “ca marche”). We laughed all through lunch, even when I accidentally elbowed the water pitcher, which shattered into mille pieces on the terrace.
The waiter came over and tut-tutted me for having broken something on the first day nice enough to eat outside. “It was bound to happen,” he said with an eye roll that might be called good-natured. “Je suis desolee,” I said, smiling sheepishly and hoping for some sympathy. “I really like those pitchers!”
This last comment was not just a suck-up remark. The pitchers at Cafe des Ducs really are cute, each one sporting a tongue-in-cheek advertisement for Dijon’s tap water — “water from a controlled source,” it reads, “distributed to your sink since 1840.”
The waiter rushed to pick up the pieces from around my feet. From my vantage point over his shoulder I could see him shaking his head. “She broke my pitcher and en plus she’s Americaine,” I imagined him saying to himself. But as he got up, he gave me a wink just before shuffling off. The French sense of humor, like a good baguette, is hard and crusty on the outside, soft and airy on the inside.
By four o’ clock neither of us had mentioned the challenge of the day and I was beginning to wonder if Nico had forgotten. We were tired of making appraisals, after having successfully located two of the major items on our lists: boots for me at San Marina — two pairs left in my size, so worth the risk to wait — and a nice wool coat for Nico at a boutique on Rue du Bourg, also not the last on the rack. We were turning for home when he said, “I haven’t caught you buying anything.”
Quick. Act cool.
“That’s the point. Not to catch me.”
“I don’t think you’ve bought anything.”
“How can you be sure?”
“I was with you the whole time.”
I smiled one of those no-teeth, smug looking smiles that says, I know something you don’t know, even though I didn’t. “We shall see. The day isn’t over yet.”
Indeed. What was I going to do?! If he was teasing me, did it mean he had something for me? Had he already won the challenge?
“So, on to IKEA?” he asked.
As my Grandma Sharon would say, thank the Lord for small favors! I had forgotten we had to pick up some stuff for Nico’s apartment while he was in town! Hallelujah, I could surely grab something at IKEA, hide it in my purse, then pay for it in a separate line and voila, success!
And that, my friends, is exactly what I did.
When we got back to my apartment, I grabbed some leftover Christmas tissue paper, threw the brand new garlic press inside, then, when Nicolas wasn’t looking, scribbled a note and left it on the table:
“I WON!” it read, “And now you are going to have garlic breath!”(We had been avoiding using garlic at his apartment because we didn’t want to hand mince it and smell it on our fingertips for days to come.)
When he saw the tissue on the table, he smiled. Unwrapping the 4 euro 50 centime press, he congratulated me with a “bien joué.”
“But you didn’t win,” he said. Now he was the one with an I know something you don’t know smile. He unzipped his backpack and paused for effect.
Reaching inside, he pulled out a pitcher with the “Eau de Dijon” insignia.
“You didn’t!” I said in disbelief.
“The waiter gave it to me,” he said. “When you went to the ladies room, I asked him where they came from, and he gave me one, for free.” I laughed as I grabbed the pitcher out of his hand.
“Attention!” Nicolas said. “He told me they don’t make unbreakable ones.”