L'escharpe by Alexis Nelson

ebecca and I didn’t jog along the quay; we walked. We promenaded, as we liked to say. We were twenty-two and twenty-three, respectively. We had both come to France—separately, though we were now inseparable—to teach English and have romantic adventures. On our promenades, we discussed the state of such adventures (or, more often, their puzzling absence); our ideas about What To Do With Our Lives; and, of course, what French women were wearing.

French women were wearing scarves. They wore other things, too—deceptively simple things like tunics and tailored shirts, as well as very complicated things covered in unnecessary zippers—but nothing fascinated or perplexed us more than l’escharpe. For instance: how did they tie them like that? And how was it that all French women could get their scarves to fall just so, in that effortlessly chic way that continually escaped us, despite our most fervent—well—efforts? Perhaps knowing how to wear a scarf beautifully, in any season, was simply a part of the French national heritage. Maybe it even had its own institute somewhere.

Frenchwomen aren’t much for jogging themselves—apparently, they prefer to remain naturally thin—but the few times Rebecca and I did cross paths with a gently trotting Française, she did not disappoint. They even wore scarves on jogs! Who knows: maybe they had special jogging-scarves made of moisture-wicking fabric, though we doubted it. At any rate, such questions held endless interest for us then. Such questions were all we needed.

At some point in the seven years that have since passed, I learned how to tie a scarf like a Frenchwoman. As it turns out, it isn’t all that complicated, once you get the hang of it. The rest of what happened to Rebecca and me after our time in France is pretty ordinary. We went to grad school, found jobs, got married. We are both happy now, more or less, and still friends, more or less. But some quality of the talks we used to have has been lost; I suspect it’s all the wonder and uncertainty that’s gone out them. For that reason, some part of me misses mystery de l’escharpe—along with everything else that was so opaque then, back when Rebecca and I would take our walks along the quay and try to plan our futures.

In the fall 2010 issue, Alexis Nelson wrote about Gustave Flaubert's disastrous workshop experience. (Pictured above: French journalist and filmmaker Anne Bramard-Blagny.)