Archives for category: Living in Paris

December is sucky in general because of the weather and nostalgia and because it seems to come around so much quicker than it used to.

But I had an unsucky week. This week was filled with youth and passion and swifts and lunches and red wine and a pink latex dress and a purple rubber ducky and a snowman and cowboy boots among other things.

Three days of events around and including LeWeb, Europe’s largest tech conference, which I’ve had a press pass to for three years running since I write about the Internet for tech blogs in the US. I look forward to it all year, as much as I ever did to Christmas as a kid. The conference is an orgiastic encounter of curious and creative minds, and basking in the youthful idealism and optimism and energy of startup founders who want to create some kind of beauty is as good as sunbathing, but without the risk of skin cancer. (The Internet is the fountain of youth, folks.) Here’s Olivier Desmoulin of SuperMarmite, a site that hooks people up with home-cooked meals, one of three winners of the startup competition this year.

I came home with my favorite piece of conference swag ever. Did Yahoo! know before coming to Paris that French designer Sonia Rykiel makes a rubber ducky vibrator? If they didn’t, they found out soon enough. The first thing my French friend Myriam asked the Yahoo rep hosting the Official Blogger lounge was if it vibrated… I took one for my step-daughter (14) and one for me. (It only squeaks, by the way.)

Alas, the orgy ended and regular life resumed. Dog walking in winter is no fun, except when it is. Two days after the huge Paris snowstorm that made international news, Wiley spied a snowman. He gave him a wide berth and slowly circled in close enough to sniff his face, which he did for a long time, because, of course, the sniffing provided no insight into the nature of this creature. I just stood there enjoying the show.

Another dog walk, this one at night in the dark. The only shop open in a tiny side street near my house looked so warm and welcoming, but that could have been the not-so-subliminal suggestion of the sign, the fact that it was in my own language, and what was inside. I felt like the little match girl standing out there looking in at the delicious boots. Of course, it wasn’t the first time I’d paused before this shop, but it was the first time I’d seen it open at night. In fact, I just discovered yesterday that Paris is killing my red cowboy boots, the ones I thought would last forever (and would have in California). The leather on the vamp is cracked through from the wetness and probably nasty chemicals in the rainwater. I was obviously not diligent enough about my mink oiling… This is Go West Boots, in the 5th. Let me know if you want the address (you can’t find it on their site).

I arranged to meet an online acquaintance, a blogger whose voice and views I enjoy, who was in Paris for the week, not for LeWeb (though she’s covered it before), but for LeVin, a big wine conference. I don’t often bring people from my online life into my real life, but my instincts were good, as usual. She’s originally from South Africa, lives in Italy, is my age, and (also) has a lust for life. We connected on many levels and talked about things that, in the old days, you wouldn’t get to till some time had passed but, for better or worse, our ways of being have changed because the Internet has broken down so many barriers. We ate lunch, drank wine, watched swifts flying frenetically around outside her window, and went and tried on wild clothes at Phyléa for dessert.

This November, my fifth in Paris, was a special one because my son came to visit for two weeks. While we were out tooling around one afternoon, I got my annual November picture.

I took the photo at the Place Denfert-Rochereau with my iPhone, which is why it’s a little grainy. Unfortunately, you can’t make out the details of the bronze Lion of Belfort in the middle of the roundabout, but here’s a better picture and some history. It’s one of my favorite Paris sculptures.

Click the pic for a larger version. There are links to previous years’ November photos below.

20092008 | 2007 | 2006

So there I was a year and a half ago with a brand-new (used) dog, a circumstance that came about in part due to my desire to drag my ass away from my computer a few times a day and stave off full-body atrophy. You know.

But after three months of glorious, invigorating walks with my new little buddy on the oh-so-picturesque and lumpy-as-hell cobblestones of Paris, I found myself in the doctor’s office because my right foot didn’t bend anymore and it hurt so much I couldn’t stand the weight of my blanket on it. I got x-rays and a diagnosis:

I’ve limped along in denial on considerably less vigorous dog walks for the last year or so and watched helplessly as my favorite shoes and boots, two by two, gradually wound up in the no fucking way pile… I can’t tell you how much this sucks.

It all really hit me last month when there was this fancy conference (attended mostly by women, mostly in high to very high heels, from half the Fortune 500 and all of the CAC 40, the French equivalent), where I worked as a conference reporter. The dress code was “business/creative casual,” and I had to go buy shoes because all my hot business/dress shoes are in the NFW pile. I ended up with this shoe more or less, but with a leather button instead of the silver thingy. The least frumpy I could find and wear with relatively little pain:

The brand name of these shoes? Dorking. Yeah, I know, salt in the wound. But I kinda like their logo… And I can do the sexy schoolmarm thing.

Have I mentioned I live in Paris where if you wear tennis shoes (other than the decorative kind) eyebrows rise and nostrils flare as you pass? Have I mentioned I really, really don’t like flats? Ballet flats, the Parisian ingénue standard, are fine for the 30-and-under, which I’m obviously not, or I wouldn’t be having this particular conversation with myself.

Dorky shoe shopping was the straw that got me to the podiatrist this week, where I got the final answer: “You’ll never wear high heels again, honey” (only in French). I honestly teared up. Seriously.

She said this condition was either the result of a foot trauma (nope) or a number of “micro-traumas.” Since I have it in both feet, I’m thinking every hour (and there were thousands) between the age of 16 and 20 when I stood, walked and danced on five- or six-inch stilettos, micro-traumas were occurring. I asked her if there was a brand of shoes that was even a little sexy that I could still wear. She said she had no particular brand to recommend, sexy or otherwise, though she did have a Mephisto catalog on her desk (frumpalicious). When she recommended thick soles, I suddenly felt myself aging at the rate of hundreds of years per second, like Katherine Deneuve at the end of The Hunger. Then my podiatrist described a surgery (last resort, I’m not there yet) where they fuse that nasty painful joint (at a slight angle, not flat, so you can pretend your foot still bends) when the pain gets unbearable and can’t be treated with painkillers and having some goo injected into the joint. She just looked confused when I asked her if they could fuse my joint at a Barbie-foot angle…

About now the feminist outrage, if you have any, has probably bubbled to the surface and you can’t wait to get to the end of this so you can leave a comment about how we’ve all been screwed over. Trust me, I’m with you. I know all the things you want to say and agree and understand — intellectually. And I am now painfully aware of what heels did to me, and I suppose I should blame society for making me think I look hot in high heels. But I do. Did. I’m the product of my conditioning. So shoot me. I’m fighting other battles, but if this is one of yours, Bad Shoes and the Women Who Love Them looks like a good read. I may get it myself, though I’m beyond salvation. This book is what I found when I googled the keywords sexy shoes bad feet.

If you’re in Paris and a size 8.5 (39), I’ll invite you over to pillage the NFW pile. But I’m having those black suede pumps I got in 1987 (and have kept practically pristine because they are perfection) bronzed. Too many good memories…

At least I can still wear my red cowboy boots.

For the first time since I got here over four years ago, I waited 15 months before going home back to California for a visit. It was too long; a year’s about my limit, I discovered. Living in France can be exhausting after a while. It’s like attending an interminable lecture on some abstruse topic, while living in America is more like watching a Gilligan’s Island rerun…

Sometimes I need a break, and I crave the relative — and objective — simplicity of America, that all-American “That sucks, let’s get a beer, you like my new Spiderman t-shirt?” way of being. (The French version is “That sucks, let’s discuss what every philosopher in history has said on the subject and what happened in WWII and why capitalism is the root of all evil.”)

Plus I was really homesick. The homesickness starts to kick in around November, of course, and I usually plan my trip for February or March, when I’ve had just about all I can take of winter and Mexican food deprivation, and I can’t go without seeing my family, especially my son, any longer.

Every year I go there expecting my homesickness to be assuaged. My annual pilgrimage did the trick at first, but with time the treatment has become less and less effective. I would find myself coming back to France still homesick, thinking it was because I hadn’t stayed in California long enough. This year, though, standing outside, alone and barefooted in the California sun, I was astonished to realize that I was feeling homesick even though I was “home.”

Which is when I figured out what was wrong.

What I’ve taken for homesickness is actually nostalgia. (I know, duh, but sometimes the obvious escapes you.) And that can’t be treated. I’m homesick not for a place, but for states of mind I’ll never be in again. I’ve changed. I’ve been looking at America from the outside in for too long. That home is gone. When you leave, the place you knew ceases to exist.

I was ragging about France in some post a while ago and a (francophile) friend said in the comments “No whining allowed, you live in Paris!” This is the Paris he meant, of course, a place as mythical to him as California has become to me, the Paris I moved to over four years ago:

Of course, Paris doesn’t look quite like this to me anymore either… That’s gone forever too. When you go somewhere, the place you imagined ceases to exist. And I don’t know if Paris will ever feel like home the way home once felt. I got here late in life. Bizarre. I guess that makes me homeless. A little scary.

While in California I ate tacos, had a decent margarita (no better, unfortunately), hit my old shopping spots for cheaper Levis and things I can’t get here, hugged my people over and over. That was good.

I needed hand lotion. By chance (or more likely driven by my unconscious), I grabbed a tiny tube of Jergen’s at a giant American pharmacy. It was about the only lotion in America when I was a kid, and I hadn’t used it in decades. I remember hoping, as I reached for it, that they hadn’t changed the scent: my mother smelled like Jergens my entire early childhood. Back at her place, I rubbed it all over my arms and buried my nose in the crook of my elbow. It smelled the same to me, as far as I could tell. That moment was about as close as I got to feeling like I was home. It was a primal thing. Maybe I’ll just have to carry some Jergen’s around with me for the rest of my life…

So I don’t know what home is. Maybe I’ll just make my physical home a shrine to the feel and feelings of my concept of home. It’ll look something like this, but more specifically Mexico and France and Hawaii and California flavored. Ultimately, I guess, if  home exists, it’s in me and I am it.

…my house will speak for me. My house will tell them I am warm and rich. The house will tell them inside of me there are these rooms of flesh and Chinese lacquer, sea greens to walk through, inside of me there are lighted candles, live fires, shadows, spaces, open doors, shelters and air currents. Inside of me there is color and warmth.

My house will speak for me.

Anaïs Nin, Children of the Albatross

If I didn’t live a block from the Seine, I sometimes wonder if I’d still be in Paris. I’ve spent most of my life next to or in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, you see, and I can’t live long without a body of water nearby. Even the dirty brown streak of the Seine, a sad, sad substitute for the Pacific, an icky little skid mark in comparison, satisfies that criterion.

The fact that I’m a Pisces has nothing to do with anything at all, but it’s a pretty coincidence.

I’m not complaining about the murky strip of river that is standing in for my ocean, really I’m not. I walk my dog along it every day and it’s water and even though I can only look at it, not that I’d want to get in it, yuck, it gets me as close as I can get for the moment to Madison when she dumps the bottle of Morton’s in the tub and unfurls her tail.

This post is brought to you today by the letter W because it’s Blog Action Day, a day when bloggers all over the world publish posts on the same socially or environmentally conscious theme and this year’s theme is “water.” (Last year it was “poverty,” and I wrote about it here on frogblog.)

I put on my drama queen costume and say I would die without water but, every week, nearly 38,000 children under the age of 5 really do die from unsafe drinking water and unhygienic living conditions.

We don’t have problems like that in the West.

(Mini-mermaid maintenance in Indiana, while Dad was at Purdue.)

For a time, I lived “on the shores of Gitche Gumee,” a formidable body of water, not an ocean, but big enough that I couldn’t see to the opposite shore and badass enough to swallow the Edmund Fitzgerald. It served as a Pacific surrogate for a short time. Much later, the almost three years I lived an hour from Death Valley nearly killed me, though the thunderstorms were magnificent and flash floods made temporary baby-beaches of the dunes. By the time I escaped and moved back to the ocean I was like one of those fish in Africa that live in ephemeral ponds and dehydrate into crispy fishcakes in the dry season and then come back to life with the spring rains.

I don’t feel like getting on a soapbox today. Sorry. I feel like selfishly daydreaming. I don’t rant as much as I used to on this blog anyway. Maybe all the people in my building tossing cat litter into the recycling bin and plastic bottles into the trash bin and American morons voting for Tea Party morons and fucking Sarko rounding up and deporting a vulnerable and disadvantaged ethnic group to pander to the far right are slowly draining the fight out of me. At least today I don’t have much fight in me.

Sometimes I just want to say to the world what my mother said after a dozen years of watching my little brother and me knock each other around, from her spot on the couch where she was drinking white wine as was her wont in the years immediately following her divorce: “Go ahead and kill each other. Just don’t knock over the Christmas tree.”

Anyway. Do me a favor and go here and scroll down to “Suggested Post Ideas” to get some compelling factoids about the state and use of water on our poor abused and declining planet. And then please sign this petition. And then maybe donate some money to Blue Planet Network or a charity of your choice (preferably one that doesn’t shove religion down throats along with spoonfuls of mush) so I can keep on dreaming of warm salt water on this fall day in Paris without feeling guilty about not having done my duty. I’ll be grateful to you. Besides, I wouldn’t ask you to do anything I wouldn’t do; I donated to last month. (I guess I am still fighting after all.)

My darling husband knows the Seine is not a permanent solution, so he dangles this carrot in front of me on gloomy days. We’re toying with the idea of going there “next,” when and if next happens. Rents there are less than half what they are in Paris and you get an ocean too.

I have not lived on the Atlantic, but something tells me it will do just fine. I should be able to stick my toes in it at least a few times a year. And I’m sure it looks and smells right, and I’m sure it sounds right. Like an ocean.

There I was, tripping merrily along between the Centre Pompidou and the Hôtel de Ville on the rue du Renard (Not really. That’s the Hollywood version. I was struggling through pedestrian traffic doing the usual “sudden stop wait sidestep sigh” on the unbearably crowded sidewalk, just trying to get the hell home), returning from coffee with a friend at the Café Beaubourg…

…when I saw this in a tacky souvenir shop:


First thought: Going for that American tourist dollar. Second thought: Even little souvenir vendors in Paris know America’s full of religious extremists. Third thought: How fucking embarrassing. Fourth thought: Cool shirt, though. Fifth thought: Today’s Jesus wouldn’t love Paris. They show boobs on TV here. Sixth thought: Wonder how many they’ve sold? Seventh thought: Will the godlies go for it or think it’s blasphemy? Eighth thought: Probably a bit of both. Ninth thought: Bold and cynical marketing move.

All this happened in like two strides. My brain’s all fast like that. I walked about 50 feet past it and did a U-turn and went back for the pic. Then I continued on home.

But I kept thinking about the shirt. Like what was up with thought number four? “WTF?” I asked myself. I’m a card-carrying atheist! I hate what all this religious nonsense has done to America! I hate that people there don’t think anymore. I’m appalled and embarrassed that 83% of them think there’s a God who answers their prayers and that only 4 1/2% of them oppose a national prayer day

“WTF?” I repeatedly repeated to myself. I concluded eventually that it was the graphics. I dig 70s retro to begin with. And that font in the context of the Jesus image reminded me of a time, back when I was a kid, when Jesus Freaks seemed jolly and benign, tossing praise-the-lords around if somebody farted or said his hamburger was good. (Seriously. There were quite a few of them in my family. My childhood Thanksgivings were praise-the-lord hell.)

It was the mid-70s, the flower children were fading, and all they seem to have held on to was Jesus, whom they’d embraced in their make-love-not-war days because he was so laid back and non-judgemental and turned water into wine and hung out with a hooker for chrissakes, so he must be cool.

But as time passed and Jesus got old and crabby, he started getting downright mean. Today’s Jesus (thought number 5) hates hookers and homos and democrats and the meek and the peacemakers and almost everybody, in fact. No way he’d share his five loaves and two fishes with the multitude now! He doesn’t want his tax dollars paying for the multitude’s medical care either! Fuck everybody!

I’d be really surprised if today’s Jesus loved Paris.

Anyway. Two days later, I went back out of curiosity. I wanted to ask the shop owner about the shirt. Who bought it, if anybody. Whose idea it was. What was the thinking behind it. Stuff like that. I went in, found it on the shelf, and said to the young (30-ish), Arab-looking man in the store that I wanted to try it on. He looked over to his two buddies, nodded and smiled, beaming with pride, his body language saying “See?” He then proudly said to me “It’s my design.” I complimented him on it, saying “It’s cool, I really like the graphic design.” He said “I’m not a Christian, but Jesus is cool.” I said, “Yeah, like Gandhi.” He said, “Hey, you’ve given me an idea for my next shirt!” He then said “I just did it for fun.” This latter remark kind of stopped me from asking if he had made it with American tourists in mind. I don’t think there’s much doubt about that, though.

He showed me another design of his, a t-shirt that said “I am Paris,” explaining that it was because of Johnny Cash, who always said “I am Johnny Cash” when he got on stage. I’ll take his word for it. It was a nice-looking shirt too. I said, “So you’re a designer,” which he denied with modesty, but I insisted that he was. I was sincere. The guy has an eye.

I bought the t-shirt. The fabric is quite thin and it’s tight. My blasphemous boobs in my blasphemous red lace push-up bra will look really good under it.

As I walked home, I reflected on this man who has an obvious creative bent, an obviously kind heart, and a bit of business instinct, whose options are limited by his circumstances. Today’s Jesus would probably hate him.

It looks like I’ve survived my first winter of dog walking. I checked the temperature every morning around 7:30 before walking him the last few months to know how many layers and accessories I needed. Still totally foreign. I’ve saved a few other cities in my iPhone Weather Channel app, and some days I look at the weather there too, just to see how cold or hot my son, brother, mother, mother-in-law are, and to see how cold I wouldn’t be if I were still in San Diego (#masochism). San Francisco’s in there too, just because Vincent once said he might be able to stand living there.

At least hat head season is over…