V. had been visiting us, along with her mother and father. Her mother is Mexican, her father French. V. is a baby of six months. We last saw her three months ago—half her life time ago. She lives in Paris, and that is where we visit her and her parents. It is better that way, because then we are not tourists. We are unofficial visiting grandparents and, not being tourists, our activities are more satisfying. V. lives near the Bibliothèque Mitterand, not far from the Seine. Three important places, side by side—V. and the other two.
We are all in love with V. As she throws things on the floor, we all hop to pick them up and set them on her highchair table again. All of us, her lovers, we swoon looking at her, focusing on her eyes, each of us making faces that we hope will make her smile. The house is in chaos—in more chaos than usual. Her things are everywhere: toys, commercial and improvised—she prefers the latter—parts of her bottles, her powdered organic French lait, plastic spoons the width of a baby’s mouth in red and green, jars of Blédina—sans additif—without additives—baby food unopened, opened, emptied, unwashed, washed, gooey remnants hardening from exposure to high desert Mexican air. Little baby jars carried all the way from Paris.
There are blankets on the kitchen floor for her to wriggle around on. Nearby dishes and food containers have been relocated. We pick up her chupón—pacifier—for the thirtieth time, and wonder each time whether we should rinse it off with filtered water. Her father, the French banker, rubs it against his shirt, then pops it back in her mouth. I pour whatever I’m drinking over it, over my glass, hand the chupón back to her, then drink from my glass.
She spits the chupón back out, or keeps it, depending on her mood, of which there are three main ones. First, buoyant, flirting—after waking up from a good nap, being washed, changed and dressed, the fewer clothes the better for her preferred sense of freedom. Second, fussing, writhing in the arms that happen to be holding her. This means she’s hungry, not hungry, tired, unchanged or teething, which is happening right now. She already has two lower front teeth. They are as sharp as razors. Do not put your finger in her mouth. All kinds of French teething potions stand on the kitchen counter, to lessen the discomfort. And three, not getting what she wants, which usually is the right to stand up or, failing that, being carried around in a place where there are interesting things to see, like human faces and cats. We have two of them, cats, and when V. arrives, being plopped down on our bed, they slink away, insulted by and wary of anything that looks like a child that might chase or replace them.
This afternoon, V’s mother’s friends gathered for a last visit at the local French restaurant in Guanajuato. In attendance around a table were a French artist-sculptor, a Belgian jewelry maker, a French film maker, a Texas book keeper, my love who is a community organizer, French student, architect and writer—myself, also a student of French, and the writer of this deathless prose, and V—all women, except for myself and a young man whose connection at first I couldn’t quite ascertain. Because of his light skin and red hair, I didn’t know whether he was French, American or something else. He appeared to be speaking a native Spanish, but I suspect one of his parents was French. Conversation occurred in Spanish, French, some English and V’s exclamations—upper register grunts that are designed to make her admirers jump in feigned surprise.
V’s mother was leaving in the morning for Aguascalientes on Primera Plus—a bus line—taking V. from us, abducting her as far as we were concerned. V’s father had flown back to Charles De Gaulle the night before—in-people don’t have to mention the name of the city, Paris. This was the last chance to see V’s mother, a former model of mine (painting), and—of course most important of all—V.
I don’t know how to describe it. It was as if we had all come to see and be in attendance to the baby Jesus—except, in this case, it was the baby V—and, for some reason, no less worshiped. Not in the religious sense, but more in the spiritual—as if we were celebrating the crown princess of our futures, an heir apparent, a child as innocent and sweet as her mother was funny, ironic, irreverent, smart and good-natured. It is hard to explain what V. means to us that we coo so much over her. While there are natural reservations and boundaries between friends—and even more between friends of friends—there are none around V. And we fall all over each other trying to make her respond to us, to make her smile or, better yet, laugh—to gain her recognition. And perhaps acceptance and trust. All of us united in this one purpose, to make her happy and protect her.
And to make us happy.
I have since done some research and found there is a part of the human brain called the medial orbitofrontal cortex. We react quickly to visual information with that part of the brain. Apparently, when looking at a baby, the reaction is accelerated and the cooing impulse starts in one seventh of a second. In addition, even the smell of a baby, even at a distance, can activate brain waves associated with good feelings of the kind we have around food we want to eat. Fortunately, the reward-pleasure impulse overrides the impulse to eat—thus sparing the child from being a meal.
While we were waiting with V and her mother for their bus to Aguascalientes at the central—bus station, three young middle class Mexican women sat across from us in the waiting room. They made faces, bobbed their heads and played hid and seek in various ways, all directed toward V. She was tired and a little squirmy, but she indulged them and brought out their smiles and delight with her proportionally large eyes, fat cheeks and Rubens-like mouth, granting them the connection they sought. Unknown to them, with the youngest Parisian in Guanajuato.