Early on the morning of December 24, 1985 Vonelli, Lizzie and I boarded a train at Gard Du Nord. As we walked down the platform, our breath hung in the air. The winter damp had a good hold on Paris. Lizzie exhaled a thick cloud of smoke. The singer loved her Gaulloises.
"So we go to the Isle of Wight for Christmas?"
"To spend Christmas with Lord Ventnor."
"Will there be snow?"
I turned to Vonelli.
"Probably not, but it will be cold."
"I hate the cold." Lizzie came from Lyon. Winters were winter there. She blew on her fingers and I held her hand.
"It'll be cold, but not like New York."
We knew each other from that city. The petite Parisienne singer had been a hit on the punk scene. Richard Hell was her friend. The two of us had been having 'une affaire' since Armistice Day. Nobody in Paris bet on our lasting out the year, the again we were more lovers than friends.
"I wish we were on a plane to the Bahamas." She had recorded her LP MAMBO NASSAU there.. It had beaches and warm weather.
"We all do, but we are where we are, besides the Isle of Wight is the Riviera of England," I replied and hurried onto our car, as the conductor called 'tout abord."
"Yes, a few," I answered, since it was almost the truth.
The train ran straight across the northern basin and arrived at Boulogne-Sur-Mer, from which Hovercraft was running a special holiday service to Portsmouth. Everyone at the bar was smoking a cigarette and I waited the arrival of the PRINCESS MARGARET on the tarmac. The cold was even damper on La Manche.
I turned to the waiting room. Lizzie laughed with a cigarette in her hand. The bearded art dealer must have told the singer a joke. Lizzie was a good audience.
At noon the SR.N4 hovercraft hoved into the harbor. The winter air hummed with the power of the four gas turbine engines. Lizzie exited from the terminal. Vonelli followed buttoning up his camel hair coat and said, "The beauty of the modern world."
"This is the modern world," Lizzie quoted the Jam.
"I guess it is." I put an arm around her. She smelled of tobacco.
I checked the sky. There was no sun. Only the damp cold.
"Looking for snow?" asked Lizzie.
I shook my head.
The grey clouds bore no threat of snow and we boarded the Hovercraft for the 'flight 'across La Manche.
An hour later we disembarked at Portsmouth and I carried Lizzie's bag over my shoulder. The three of us boarded the ferry to the Isle of Wight. I told her a story about my Irish grandmother crossing the Atlantic. She laughed at the right moments. Like I said she was a good audience.
The ship pulled out of the harbor past the Round Tower and we stood at the stern railing. Portsmouth became small and Lizzie held my hand. The crossing the Solent took less than forty minutes.
"This doesn't look like Nice," complained Lizzie.
"Wait till you see Cowes. It's the yachting capitol of Europe."
Vonelli extolled our destination's other assets.
"Queen Victoria lived at Osbourne House. During her reign The Empire was ruled from this island."
"So the Isle of Wight is like Rome after the Goths burned it." Lizzie was a virulent anti-royalist.
"Only here there are no ruins." Vonelli had left the USA in the early 60s. Many people suspected that his art dealer calling was a cover for a more clandestine career. No one knew for sure and Vonelli wasn't betraying the truth or the myth.
We got off the ferry and walked to the Cowes Floating Bridge. The chain-drawn ferry was idling on the other side of the Medina. Vonelli suggested a drink at the Navy Bar. The narrow drinking establishment had been built to service quick drinkers. The barkeep was a relic of the glory years of the British Empire.
Time stopped and we missed two crossings of the Floating Bridge.