Je N’en Peux Plus…

“In an hour, the van comes to drive me to De Gaulle airport. Tonight, I’ll go to sleep in New York.”

Is what I wrote more than two weeks ago, in Paris, when I was supposed to post the goodbye entry on this blog. I fidgeted and struggled to write anything and decided that I’d write the sign-off from New York, once I was back in the States. Then I was supposed to write it in those first days, then I was supposed to write it once I’d been back for a full week. At a certain point it became clear that I was avoiding it.

In part, that’s because there isn’t much to say that doesn’t seem both patently obvious and overly melodramatic. Saying that I’ll miss Paris is silly. Of course I will miss Paris; of course I already do. I know exactly the things that I’ll miss, each and every one.

I’ll miss the mornings I woke up early to go running and jogged down the Rue des Rosiers and smelled the burnt sugar smell of the Jewish bakeries getting ready for the day. I’ll miss glaring at the tourists upstairs at Shakespeare & Co. and I’ll miss walking around the Pantheon at night to wind our way to Piano Vache. I’ll miss the way the river looked at night and I’ll miss walking home on the Rue du Temple, with everyone spilling out of the gay bars as they closed. I’ll miss seeing the sliver of the Pompidou each morning as I left my apartment, and I’ll miss fighting my way through the roaming packs of French teenagers walking home from school each afternoon at La Muette. I’ll miss the African man who sold me my vegetables at the Marché de Bastille, who tried each week to fool me into believing that he too was born in Los Angeles. I already miss the cheese aisle at any grocery store, even the dingiest Franprix. I’ll miss speaking French every day, maybe that most of all.

But I’m back in New York now, along with almost everyone I know, and walking around this city is almost as different from walking around Paris as it could be. With every day that I’m here I feel more confident that it wasn’t a mistake to come back, that another year in Paris would have been fine but not better. But it’s also a decision that isn’t likely to reveal itself clearly for a while – another year, five years. I never doubted the decision to go to Paris in the first place, not even when I got there and was effectively homeless for two months and couldn’t figure out what the hell I was doing there. Somehow, I still never doubted that it had been a fundamentally good idea. So when September comes, and I’m not on my way back, maybe I’ll have second thoughts. But the blog will be dormant at that point, so if and when those doubts come, they needn’t be publicized. And in the meantime, I refuse to say anything sentimental in French, or to make some sort of “Paris, Je T’Aime” comment. Just a pretty picture, one of the very last ones I took in France.

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The American Way

The other night I was with two friends – an American girl and a French boy – and we were discussing a mutual friend, also a French boy. There had been a visiting friend in town, another American girl, and she’d had a crush on him, but he never made a move and nothing had happened. As her friend described it, “they hopped on their Velibs at the end of the night and went their separate ways.”

His friend came to his defense, saying, “he is – he’s very shy. He is, very slow. He’s not very French like that. In that way he’s more – more American. More like an American guy.”

My friend started laughing even before I did, and we told him, no. That is not, really, an accurate portrayal of “like an American guy.” But it’s nice to know that the French see them that way.

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“Chenault,” I asked, “are we dumb?”

(No, Chenault says when I tell this part. Say what you really said. You said, “Chenault, are we misunderstood geniuses…or are we dumb?”)

This was on our way to pick up the rental car from De Gaulle. Our friendly Europcar representative, Christophe, explained that there were two insurance options, both more than 800 euro. And if we don’t want to buy insurance? I asked. He shrugged. But is it illegal for us to drive the rental car without it? I asked again. He shrugged and said, “If you have money, it is okay.” Which is definitely a truth, but was not immediately helpful to us.

So off we went, knowing that even a minor accident would be a financial disaster, armed with a determination to avoid expensive French toll roads and a GPS system equally determined to lead us only to the toll roads. We planned to be in Arles by 8 p.m. that night; we arrived at midnight. We were couch surfing with a photographer who informed us that his apartment was “under the bridge” (not really accurate) and had two gray cats, one of whom jumped on Chenault without warning, more than once.

We drove from Arles to Aix-en-Provence, from there to Marseille, from Marseille to Hyères, and finally on to Juan-les-Pins and Antibes. We pronounced Juan-les-Pins as “Wan les Peens” and were ridiculed for several hours. On our last day we drove up the coast from Antibes, spent the gray morning (obviously, once we reached the Cote d’Azur, the sun disappeared) on the beach in Cap-Ferrat and then meandered back to Antibes by way of Nice. More than once, especially on the sun-soaked drive from St. Tropez to Cannes, Chenault looked at me and said, “who do we think we are?”

I might quit my job next summer, assuming I have one, and just move to Arles for a month. Or Sainte-Maxime. Lots of things could happen. We met three Brits living in Antibes who were trying to get work on luxury cruise ships and private yachts (“what are you girls doing in Antibes? this isn’t really a vacation spot, now, is it?”) and asked them if there were jobs for women. Only the worst ones, apparently. So no dock walking for us.

We stayed with a friend of a friend in Aix who kept pulling out various maps, insisting that we sit down with him and nail down our itinerary. At that point we were preparing to leave for Marseille, and still had no idea where we’d be sleeping that night. He kept looking at us, looking down at the map, google mapping our route, and then shaking his head. “I think you’re a little too – freestyling,” he said. We shrugged. Chenault mentioned that we were hoping to hike Les Calanques later that day, and he told us that it would doubtless be a “very bad day for Les Calanques.” Every few minutes he’d shake his head again and mutter “freestyling” under his breath; French men frequently freestyle themselves (for example they are all huge couchsurfing enthusiasts) but they apparently don’t see this as appropriate behavior for girls.

Still, that’s what we found on this “bad day” for Les Calanques. And we never did have any trouble with the car. And we never did find ourselves without a place to stay. So freestyling, in the end, worked out pretty well.

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Hoodrat French

So Mademoiselle Taylor arrived in France yesterday, fresh from her first year as an eighth grade math teacher for TFA New Orleans. Because she’s a G, she needed not even a nap and was ready to hit the ground running. Which, incidentally, meant that she was my date to an ISEP “afterwork” held on a peniche, also known as a boat. On the Seine.

I was thrilled because the entrance fee was 3 euro and included a free buffet, and drinks were only 2 euro each. Tragically, the “buffet” was somewhat hit and miss. Which is to say that it was made up of giant tubs of Monoprix tabbouleh, something that resembled potato salad, Haribo candy, coke bottle candy, potato chips and pretzels. Also, later in the evening, a tiny Asian girl helping host the event was wandering around with a giant tray full of thick slices of saucisson. Chenault really hit the nail on the head when she took a first look at the buffet table and noted, “This is like, some 23 year old guy heard that he was expected to offer people dinner, and decided that this was what people would want.”

There were also many ominous clanking sounds that led us to believe that the boat was actually going to leave its dock and float away on the Seine for the evening, effectively robbing us of the option to leave. Fortunately/unfortunately, that never happened.

And now, we leave tomorrow for the six day excursion (by car) through the south of France. Aix, Marseille, Hyères, and Antibes are definitely on the agenda. Arles is in theory where we’ll spend tomorrow night (after ten hours of driving) but it’s a bit unclear where we’ll be sleeping. Ca va, says Chenault. T’inquiète pas.

Photos to come, hopefully. Vive le roadtrip.

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Anyone who hasn’t seen the Monumenta exhibit at the Grand Palais, go. When my landlord (who’s an architect and explained that architects loooove the Monumenta exhibits) initially explained it to me I was skeptical, but I stepped inside and didn’t want to leave. I was surrounded by middle-aged tourists, all of whom were couples who seemed to be unusually PDA-enthused, and I still didn’t want to leave.

You feel like you’re standing inside an enormous human heart (a heart in a cage, maybe, because the steel framework of the building dome above you shows through). Or inside the belly of the whale. Or something. I don’t know what the right metaphor is. But everyone should go.

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“If I fall into somebody, I can suffer it for….a very long time.”

This is a picture of Adam and Suzie (Jujee, as pronounced by Hungarians).

Adam owns, and Suzie manages, what is by far the best hostel I’ve ever stayed at. It’s worth making the trip to Budapest just to stay at Lavender Circus – the name comes from Adam’s mother, who chose two of her (unrelated) favorite things when choosing a name for the hostel. Though to be fair, there are other things worth seeing in Budapest. Like:

When we got to the hostel, at 2 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon, Adam explained that there had been scheduling issues with some of the morning’s guests – as in, people had arrived expecting a room and had been told that none were available. “But yours, no problem,” he said with a shrug. He clapped his hands loudly. “So, girls. It is after noon, you know? Which means…”

He trailed off ominously and my travel partner looked at me with the same terror I felt. Oh God, I thought, we don’t have a room.

“We can offer you alcohol!” he finished. Suzie had poured us two glasses of wine, but when we smiled and said “yes please,” Adam was so thrilled (“usually this makes the guests a little uncomfortable”) that he offered us something more, palinka, which he described as the traditional Hungarian spirit of choice. Two shots’ worth, and it only stopped there because we begged him to give us a break and send us in the direction of a cheap restaurant. Keep in mind our flight had left Paris at 9 a.m., which meant that we hadn’t eaten any lunch and hadn’t even really eaten breakfast.

This general spirit continued on Friday night, when Adam and Suzie organized a group dinner for the entire hostel. We helped chop potatoes for the paprikash while Adam repeatedly refilled everyone’s wine glasses (“should you be drinking while chopping?”), then just sat and drank while Suzie cooked. Lucky for us, almost every single other guest was French, which meant that my friend got to converse in her fluent French, and I got to practice mine. We also got some choice lines from Adam’s own account of his love life, including both the title of this post and this: “for me, it’s very sexual if a girl has a teeny seeming voice. You know? It’s like, I need to save this girl.”

Also, there was furniture glued to the wall.

The next night we all found a bar that seemed like it had been designed by the same Mad Hatter interior decorator as our hostel; in the open air courtyard, people were sitting in the refurbished front seats of old-fashioned cars, and there were armchairs everywhere. My friend ordered a cocktail that combined Bailey’s and orange juice (I was skeptical, but she swore it was great) and, eventually, the new French friends quizzed us on whether there were “petits amis” waiting for us at home in the States. When she shrugged, they zeroed in on her ambivalence and she explained that there was someone, but that she wouldn’t be living even on the same continent with him for at least a few more years. Once they learned that the reason for my shrug was living in the States, they smiled. Et, voila, one of them said. On va se remettre? I don’t know, I said. It’s a little more complex than that. One of them nodded and smiled again. Je vois, he said. T’as souffert?

Making one giant step for his kind, giving us proof that French men can actually be quite perceptive (put him in the non DSK column?)

And with that, our final tourist activity in Budapest: the Children’s Train, a holdover from the Soviet era. You board a tiny train that looks like it was hijacked from Disneyland and ride it up through the leafy green hills of Buda. Every staffer on board (with the exception, each guide book reassured us, of the driver) is younger than 15. “Shouldn’t they be in school?” my friend wondered aloud, but either way it was adorable. And afterwards, we even got to observe their (somewhat undisciplined) drills.

So the main conclusion of this long rambling tourist post: go to Budapest. And when you do, stay at Lavender Circus.

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Le Scandale

Given recent events, I’ve started watching the French news shows while I get dressed in the morning. Needless to say, it’s a shame I didn’t do this earlier.

Perhaps, one female pundit suggested this morning, this was just a continuation of the common French male mindset – he wanted it, and so he took. (He, of course, is Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Every time you hear someone mention “he” or “him” in Paris right now, it’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn.)

“Mais, non!” an anguished male pundit responded. He began making a series of rapid scissoring motions with his hands, directed generally towards his crotch. “Mais il l’a….il l’a….il la forcée! Il l’a forcée à faire une fellation. Une FELLATION!

“Oui,” everyone nodded. Oui, oui. Une fellation, was muttered a few more times. I think it’s safe to say that in the many varied expectations I had for what this year would bring, I never once considered the number of times I would hear middle aged Frenchmen say the word for fellatio. And this is just the past 48 hours.

Meanwhile, the International Herald Tribune quotes the politician Jean-Pierre Chevenement, who apparently defended his friend DSK by saying, “Un effroyable lynchage planétaire ! Et si c’était une monstrueuse injustice ?” The IHT translates this as, “A terrifying planetary lynching!” I would hope that “planétaire” can here be interpreted to mean “global,” rather than actually – planetary. But then, who knows? Things are wild right now. Carla’s pregnant, and DSK is in prison. Paris is about to pop a collective blood vessel…

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