Here's looking at you, kid....

 

A Romanian lawyer from the public prosecutor's office in Bucharest came to have lunch with me not long ago. She was stopping in the city as part of an international exchange program, and the program officer arranging her itinerary said she wanted to meet with journalism and law professors. I suggested the lunch.

She would be at my office at the university at 12:30, the program officer said. Promptly at 12:30, she knocked on my door .

My made-in-the movies stereotype led me to expect a linebacker in tweed and heavy oxfords, with a moustache under a prizefighter's nose. But when I opened the door, I was stunned by her beauty. She was just under 40, I estimated, with a face as classically proportioned as Ingrid Bergman's. She wore no makeup. Her brunette hair was pulled back into a no-nonsense pony tail and tied with piece of plain cloth, not even a ribbon.

Her eyes were magnetic. They were big, with chestnut brownpupils, and were set off by the hint of pouches under them and deep brown eyebrows above. Bergman's eyes, but penetrating rather than promising.

"I am Monica Macovei," she said.

She was all business, as you might think someone from the public prosecutor's office in Bucharest would be. Direct. No small talk. She wanted to compare press freedom here and press freedom there. Her system, our system. I wanted only to look into her eyes.

We went to lunch in the faculty dining room where we were joined by two law professors I had invited. One alked about the the summer program he directs in Budapest and Moscow. The other explained the qualifications for standing before the U.S. Supreme Court.

As the three of them talked, I studied Monica's face: high cheekbones, Roman nose, gently sculpted ear. The lawyers compared U.S. and Romanian constitutions.

After lunch I drove Monica to an instant-printing shop on St. Charles Avenue. She had run out of business cards and wanted to get some printed by the time of her next appointment, the following morning. The printer had four styles at the special $14.95/1000 cards, and it should have been a simple task to choose one. But there was a snag. She wanted to squeeze a five-line Bucharest address onto three lines of the shop's stock U.S. business card, and he had trouble understanding her through her accent (which was not movie-spy thick, as I had imagined it would be, though tough for him, apparently).

They finally reached an agreement, or maybe he just gave in, and she ordered 1,000 cards. He warned her she would not have them before noon the next day. She told him she would be there to pick them up early in the morning.

We were on St. Charles Avenue, near Lee Circle. As we crossed the street, I pointed to Lee's statue and started to tell her who Robert E. Lee was. Monica cut me off. "Who is that?" she asked in her best prosecutorial manner, pointing to the statue. I told her.

"Is that the same one who is on the horse in Jackson Square?"

"No," I said. "That is Andrew Jackson. He saved New Orleans in the War of 1812. He was later president, the seventh president of the United States." She was looking at a disheveled man sprawled on the sidewalk.

Earlier she had said she wanted to go back to her hotel, and I thought I felt just a hint of an an extra heartbeat. But there must have been something about my history lesson. She changed her mind and asked to go to the French Quarter.

We drove into the Quarter on Chartres Street. Maybe I could invite her to the Napoleon House to have a drink? We could sit in the courtyard and she could explain the intricacies of criminal libel in Romania while I looked into her eyes.

Traffic slowed. A policeman was in the street with his arm up. Were they rounding up the usual suspects?

"You can let me out anywhere," she said.

I turned the corner and stopped. Monica opened her door.

"Goodbye," she said and held out her hand. "If you are ever in Bucharest, let me know." She said it in her best public prosecutor's tone, though I thought I detected a softness.

I said the only stupid thing that came to mind: "If you are ever in New Orleans again, give me a call." I handed her a card.

"I'm sorry. I don't have a card," she said. She said it with great seriousness.

She closed the door of the car, swung her bag over her shoulder and strode down the street. I watched her go, hoping she might turn for a last glance. Or a second thought. But she moved on--Bergman striding across the tarmac to the plane to Lisbon. The end to a beautiful friendship.

"Here's looking at you, kid," I said to myself, and eased back into traffic. And reality.

 

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