There exists in Paris a peculiar intersection that has come to be known as “The Intersection of Arguments.”
In a city of narrow streets, this crossing in the 4th Arrondissement, a tony part of Paris not far from the Place des Vosges, is difficult for modern vehicles to navigate, especially the large delivery trucks that supply local businesses.
But beyond its physical limitations, there seems to be an enduring spirit permeating the very cobblestones which can only be described as adversarial.
For at this location on any given day, disputes arise, disagreements blossom, spats, fights, quarrels, dust-ups and even brawls materialize seemingly out of nowhere, like sudden thunderstorms on an otherwise clear day.
Even casual research uncovers ample evidence that this phenomena is not limited to contemporary times, or even to the last century; documentation suggests that this modest intersection has been the scene of a steady flow of contention for at least the last 1700 years.
Locals still relate the legend of how upon this site in the Third Century AD, two Roman legionaries, in love with the same woman, fought to the death, ultimately dispatching one another with mutually lethal sword thrusts, their hot blood draining into the very soil from which the “City of Lights” would eventually arise.
From that point on, arguments spawned at this very spot with startling regularity.
During the French Revolution, as the city of Paris was awash with brutality, no records exist of any unusual violence at this spot, however one could surmise that during this singularly bloody period the city and this crossroads achieved a certain equilibrium.
Since the revolution, a trend of sustained discord has resumed and has never dipped.
During Le Belle Epoch, rowdy absinthe drinkers spoiling for a fight with one of their drinking companions (or one of their hallucinations) would frequent this intersection in expectation of a duel, and would find satisfaction.
During the Second World War, the French resistance held a few clandestine meetings in a cellar below the crossing in question, but the participants soon realized that a different secret location must be found: they couldn’t agree on anything, and wasted precious hours in squabbles.
The 1950s, and even the ‘60s, despite an obsession with “Peace and Love” featured unusually high reports of conflict at this intersection far oftener than at any other.
Even the bureau in Paris concerned with traffic accidents reports a consistently higher percentage in this zone. Various remedies have been undertaken to reduce the number of incidents, without success.
The spirit of disagreement continues, unrelieved and unabated, across the decades, like a well-held grudge.
All of this to explain why when very recently, Bernard St. Germain, a man of thirty years, desired to break up with his girlfriend Justine, he conspired to bring her here, to the intersection of arguments, because he hoped the disputatious environment would facilitate his desire for a decisive and final sundering.
The ploy was by no means novel. The intersection is, in fact, the place to go in Paris to dissolve relationships swiftly, and irrevocably. There have been as many breakups at this innocent looking crossing as there have been pledges of undying love at the Pont du Neuf, signified by the thousands of small padlocks that festoon the railings of that famous bridge.
Justine, however, was blissfully unaware of this. To Justine, all was well between herself and Bernard. She was as oblivious of her boyfriend’s intentions as she was of the legend of the resolutely murderous legionaries.
As Bernard led her to this controversial intersection, she smiled and held his hand, mindful only of the beauty of the afternoon and the prospects of the pleasant evening that awaited.
He, however, was tuning in to the invisible undercurrent of antagonism that acted like a homing signal, beckoning him toward the spot where he led his soon-to-be ex-paramour.
He began entertaining a variety of topics which he felt would be certain to shatter forever any confluence of feelings between them.
“Can’t you try to walk faster?” He complained, “I feel like I’m dragging an anchor.”
This was unfair since she was actually keeping up rather well, considering her choice of shoes, but Bernard thought it a strong opening salvo, echoing as it did a frequent point of disparity; his longer legs and her own propensity to dawdle.
“Are we in a hurry?” she asked pleasantly, failing to take the bait.
“It’s just… never mind.” He retreated, hoping to gather more inspiration at the spot which they were fast approaching. He spied a particular wall on the opposite side onto which the rays of the noonday sun pleasantly glanced, and smiled grimly, noting the diagonal shadows created by the slashing sunlight. To him they represented the bars of the jail he would soon escape from by escaping Justine.
His heart quickened and his mouth grew dry as he gave himself over to the life-changing argument that was about to be set in motion.
“Justine,” he began, “we need to talk.”
“Of course my love,” she answered, “we need to talk, and make plans, and laugh, and make love; our future is full of wonderful things!”
“I meant…,” he tried again, “I need to tell you something.” He swallowed and set his chin. “It’s time we broke it off.”
“Of course,” she said, disarmingly, “I had the same thought: we need to break off any old ties to past lovers! We are dedicated to one another, and it’s only fair they know.”
“No, no,” he continued, “I’m saying that you and I simply can’t go on as a couple, don’t you see? It’s… done.” His brow took on a furrowed aspect, like grooves carved on the edge of a cliff by desperate fingers.
“Indeed I couldn’t agree more, my heart!” she exclaimed, “we cannot go on as a mere couple! We have moved beyond being separate people to being one unified whole! It’s the miracle of love!”
He sighed, his eyes traveling up and over the 17th century balconies and into the cloudless sky. This wasn’t going at all well.
His dry throat inspired a change of tactic.
“I’m thirsty. Let’s stop in there.” Like the blades of a scissors parting after being about to close, his long legs swung open in the direction of a nearby cafe.
But before he could open the door, a workman in a blue electrician’s uniform and hardhat quickly barreled out, colliding violently into Bernard.
“What’s the big idea?” The man shouted, “You looking to start something?”
Bernard, who had indeed been looking to start something, but not with this ruddy-faced fellow, found his tongue strangely out of service.
The electrician, expanding on his theme, yelled “Learn some manners, idiot!” and then grabbed Bernard by the shirt collar and hustled him out onto the sidewalk.
“Teach him a lesson!” shouted a man in a passing delivery truck, “Goddamn hipsters!”
“Look, I don’t want to fight with you!” said Bernard, who truly didn’t.
“You should have thought of that before!” said the worker, his face now turning the color of a boiled lobster, clutching Bernard’s collar and twisting it for emphasis.
“Hey,” cried Bernard, flummoxed, “let me go!”
“Why not?” said the now incarnadine man, and shoved Bernard roughly away, sending him sprawling on the sidewalk. He officiously dusted his hands, spat onto the pavement, and sauntered off.
“Brute!” shouted Justine, “You belong in a zoo!” She turned to Bernard, helping him to his feet. “Are you hurt, my dearest?”
“I’m alright, he just surprised me, that’s all. Cretin!” he yelled after his assailant.
They proceeded through the doorway of the cafe again, after first making sure it was quite clear.
Bernard spotted a waiter. “Two please.”
The waiter, with a sour expression, said, “We’ve nothing available.”
Bernard glanced at several obviously vacant tables. “What about those?” He asked.
“Are you telling me I don’t know my job?” The waiter made a threatening gesture with a folded napkin.
“No,” said Bernard in a measured tone, “it’s just that I can see there is plenty of room–.”
“Well, your eyesight’s so good, why don’t you read that sign!” He pointed to a small placard on which was printed: We reserve the right to deny service to anyone.
Justine, smiling pleasantly, spoke up to ameliorate the situation.
“Look, we just want to sit down for a minute and have a drink. We won’t stay long.”
“Mademoiselle, It’s quite impossible. I regret that your companion’s behavior is so disrespectful. If you please.” And he gestured to the door with the napkin.
“Look,” said Bernard, his voice rising in pitch, “there are plenty of open tables! What the hell is the problem?”
“Yes, for goodness sake!” defended Justine.
“That’s it! Both of you! Out! Out!” shouted the waiter, stamping his feet and whisking at the air between them with the napkin, as if dispersing a swarm of gnats.
“I can’t believe this,” said Bernard, frozen to the spot in confusion.
Suddenly, an elderly woman with horned rim glasses seated at the nearest table, struck Bernard a stinging blow to his shin with her umbrella.
“OW!” he cried out, raising the wounded leg into the air to grasp it with both hands and hopping on one foot.
“Stop being a nuisance!” the old woman ordered. Her small dog seated below the table began to bark, making a sound like a nail being yanked out of a wooden board.
“Let’s go!” suggested Justine.
“Christ!” said Bernard, inspecting his shin for blood but finding none.
After reaching the safety of the sidewalk, Justine, too examined the wounded leg. “She really walloped you!” she said.
“I don’t understand”, Bernard bleated, “there were a half dozen open tables!”
“Well, there are plenty of other cafes,” said Justine. “That one there, for example.” She pointed across the street to another establishment, with a black and white striped awning and large windows.
After a few minutes they felt calmer, and started to make their way over to the next cafe.
They nearly made it across the road without incident, but a loud car horn and a squeal of brakes caused them to freeze. Even though they had taken care to cross with the light, a driver in a small convertible had nearly run them over, its front bumper halting mere inches from Bernard’s traumatized shin.
In milliseconds, the driver had exited his vehicle and was pressing his nose up against Bernard’s, an encyclopedia of insults cascading in a deafening flood from his mouth.
It took Bernard several seconds to discern that he was being blamed for his own near flattening, and that the driver was threatening legal action, as well as immediate physical violence.
For Justine, this was the final straw.
“Barbarian! Nincompoop! Imbecile!” She shouted, punctuating each epithet with a punch to the arm of the driver. “You almost killed us! Where did you learn to drive?”
“Stop hitting me! I’ll give you something to shout about, you whore!” The driver drew back his arm.
For Bernard, THIS was the final straw.
With a bestial cry that was a direct descendant of what must have come from the throats of the two doomed Roman legionaries, Bernard grasped the bumper of the vehicle in front of him and, with strength exponentially magnified by adrenaline, tipped the small vehicle over onto its side. The dumbstruck driver backed away slowly, then, as if obeying a report from a starter’s pistol, sprinted rapidly in the opposite direction.
Somewhat numb, Bernard allowed Justine to lead him away from the intersection, now a cacophony of shouts, screams and car horns, and down the street to a quiet area near a gently flowing fountain.
“My arms,” he whispered, “I can barely raise them!”
“That was amazing!” said Justine, guiding him gently to an empty bench in the shade of a flowering tree.
“I don’t know what just happened,” he confessed.
“You’re very brave,” she said, squeezing his limp arm affectionately and looking deeply into his bewildered eyes.
“Oh… it was nothing.” A warm aliveness was beginning to flow back into his limbs, and a flicker of it began to illuminate his eyes, as he returned her gaze. Looking at Justine’s tranquil face, a recognition of something pleasant crossed his mind, like a shaft of sunlight against the surface of a dusky stone wall.
“We can at least talk here…What did you want to say to me?” She asked, innocently.
“Oh… I don’t recall now.” he said, sincerely. “It couldn’t have been very important.”
“Well, when you remember, let me know.” She rested her head against his shoulder. They both looked out at the park in front of them. The sound of the fountain carried on an uneven conversation with the distant sounds of car horns and shouts coming from the crossroads they had just left.
“What shall we do tonight?” She asked, “go to the cinema or just stay home?”
“Don’t let’s fight about it”, he said, his voice husky with a strange mixture of fatigue and warm satisfaction.
Story and art by Jim Meskimen