Chickenhut, Barnum and Bagels, ginormous parking lots, E! Entertainment News, cabs, elevators, Whole Foods, TJ Maxx, SNL, and high rise buildings with doormen are feeling exotic to me right now. Some other things America has meant to me in these first ten days...
It occurred to me yesterday as I was balancing my tall peppermint mocha no whip latte and fishing for my taxi fare (I'm not blowing all my money on cabs, but they're so cheap compared to Paris! And it means I can wear heels!)--I’m really lucky to be bi-coffee. Not ten days ago, I was loving the Cafe Contrescarpe and now I'm in bed with Starbucks. I know French people for whom walking with coffee is anathema, and Americans who are turned off by those wee shots of milk-free expresso. Not me. It’s all my bag and there’s enough of my coffee lovin' to go around, babies.
The first couple of days here, I didn’t know how to talk to strangers. I gave a hearty “Hello sir!” to the Airport Express Shuttle man. Sounded funny. Next, I couldn't remember how I greeted people if I needed directions. Was it Hello and then Excuse me? Hail ye fellow citizen of Earth? I was at sea.
Water fountains, they are EVERYWHERE. Whenever I want water, THERE IT IS. It is as if this country said, “Let us anticipate that people will get thirsty outside the confines of their own homes, and they will want to satisfy themselves.” Ditto toilets.
Jingle Bell Rock is just a cracker of a tune--the part with the key change releases more endorphins to my brain than the molten hot chocolate at Le Fumoir. I’ve heard it no less than 387 times since I arrived. In France I’d get to experience it twice if I was lucky. It makes me anxious to think of all the Jingle Bell Rock I'd be missing if I were in France right now.
Whole Foods is a strange place. 2-bite Brownies, Laura’s Wholesome Junk Food, Pumpkin Seed Cheese Snacker Crackers. Everything is disguised as something else. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a little variety. Curried Cauliflower is great, but sometimes we should just let veggies be themselves.
You know you’re in the US when you see a college students wearing strange things: pajama pants with puffy fur-lined jackets and flip flops, for instance. I saw three girls hop out of a car and run into the Blockbuster on Huron Street wearing only tanktops and track pants! It’s 20 degrees out! Put some clothes on, bitches!
I stepped off the plane, and overheard this guy say “I mean, I truly do love basketball” with a Southern drawl--right! Southerners say Truly! How charming! Why don't I have any Southern expat friends in France? Later, I caught a little bit of The Food Network where that lady with pretty gray hair was making blueberry dumplings and she said, “Ah thank ah just swallahed mah tongue.” Ha! Regional accents are too much.
Sunday, on my way to get coffee in Lake View, I saw people carrying leftovers from brunch. First off, allow me to say: B-R-U-N-C-H! And also: leftovers in styrofoam! Your hungover self can open the styrofoam container throughout the afternoon and graze on bits of breakfast burrito. Makes me miss college.
“It’s so strange that you’re in the country and I haven’t seen you yet” my mother said on the phone last night. It’s hard for both of us. I never thought I would be that girl who could go a year without seeing my parents. (Normally, they would have come to France for visiting this summer, but they’ve had a tough year rebuilding our home from the hurricanes of 2004.)
Gosh, this is going to make me sound like I need a 12-Step Program, but I chose not to go home for Thanksgiving for the sake of my sanity--I have a whopping deadline to meet early next week. Family is more important to me than anything but I guess you have to pay the piper from time to time if you want to do work that you enjoy. To reward myself for pouring through lookbooks and transcribing interviews when I should be making stuffing with my mom, and to continue my life’s current chick lit meets poignancy vibe--(It's not that I'm lonely, but there is something about turning down invites to see Second City with old friends or being too busy for Thanksgiving that makes you feel desert dog-ish)--I think I’ll go see Shopgirl today, or In Her Shoes...they're not around in France yet. But I’m saving Rent to see with my sisters. That has to do with counterpoint renditions of Would You Light My Candle? in a small Renault in Italy, Fourmont Family Roadtrip 2002, but that’s another story for another day.
Back to the salt mines...
This post was originally published on August 16, 2005. Since I arrived in the states, I've crashed at Erin's place in Evanston. Neither of us knew when she left Paris that I'd be showing up at her doorstep asking for shelter. Thanks, Erin!
Erin, whom I met in January through the blog, has been one of my closest friends since moving to Paris. Like a lot of expats eventually do, she moved on last week--back to the states to attend a graduate journalism program.
What’s Erin like? She’s full of beauty and mischief and just the right amount of geekiness and she liked to talk on the phone. There are so many fun things we did together, but I single out the mundane phone talking because there are not a lot of people in this time zone who I can call to chat up on the phone, like a normal American girl would American do. I’m so lucky to have a few french girlfriends, but we’d never call each at 2 a.m. to google a fella we had just met at a bar. (Oh come on, don’t act like you’ve never googled for sport!)
Tuesday, after duck confit and Bordeaux from a cafe with turquoise wicker chairs near rue Cler, we went to her apartment, which I had somehow never seen before. Her apartment has a SICK view of the Tour Eiffel (in the rap star sense of the word) and the most brutal eight flights of stairs that are also sick in the OH YEAH, DID I MENTION THAT I LIVE ATOP THE KANGCHENJUNGA? sort of way. As we walked to the metro afterwards, I finally got to see the fountain where she once plunged her scrawny body shouting, “A poil! A poil!” before a midnight swim. I so wish I had known her then, as it made me realize my time in Paris has been lacking in fountain jumps, and that would really add a nice La Dolce Vita texture to things. Next on our tour, she showed me the exact spot where a guy trailed Erin and her friend the other week and started jerking off in front of them on the street, until that is, her friend snapped a shot of him on her camera. You’re maybe thinking I could have spared you this tidbit, but if you had seen her reenacting his exact hand motions Tuesday afternoon, on the street in the 7th, and then FREEZING with her mouth open in shock, just as he did--trust me, you would have laughed too.
We kissed goodbye on each cheek (because yes, we live in Europe, this is what you do, and no, we are not the type of people who wear sunglasses indoors, thank you very much). It was the most unseasonably gorgeous August day--dry and crisp, no clouds. Her blond hair was in a neat ponytail and she had a blue scarf with metallic embroidery wrapped around her shoulders. Let it be known for posterity that the day I said goodbye to Erin Zaleski (Her full name, HA! Hi anyone who has just googled Erin! That thing I said about us googling people on the phone together, ALL TRUE. She’s probably googling you this very minute. Be afraid, be very afraid of her J-school-style research powers)...where was I? Let it be known that Erin was down to her toenails the classic, BCBG-chic inhabitant of the 7th arrondissement on the day we said goodbye. And now she’s going to Evanston, Illinois where they don’t allow you into class unless you are wearing a puffy Northface jacket. (Ah Chicago, you know I love you, baby!)
Miss you already, Eh-reen.
P.S. She’s been writing for Newsweek here in Paris and I always felt badly that I never linked to one of her stories.
People have been asking me questions about this whole going-to-Chicago thing, so I put the answers right here where you could find them. Only I realize that I made all the headings start with "On" and that they're really not questions at all. Oh, well. Enjoy!
On leaving town
So yes, I’ve got an ocean to cross on Sunday, damn it. The last week has been a blur of researching stories and writing pitches. Then throwing it all down to run to the doctor or get my hair cut or give damned tutoring lessons. (Paying the bills! It’s so annoying!) I hear Guigui and Jeanne are rustling up goodbye drinks for me tonight. Hope I can make it.
On the state of blog
Through Thanksgiving, it’s going to be hard for me to remember my name, much less blog. And in case anyone work-related is reading this: worry not, I’m not going to talk about that stuff here. But people, we are on a tight deadline.
Purchased: vitamins, tape recorder, dop kit (so as to be a tidy houseguest), gym membership, American cell phone, and a guide to Chicago--all so I can hit the ground running. But you can’t think of everything. I hate that.
On the destination
People have asked if I have family in Chicago. Nope, Chicago was the city I chose to make my home out of college. I worked as a fact checker at Chicago magazine in 2003 and loved it (the work and the city). But still, I was all set to move to New York at the end of the year because, well, seemed like the thing to do. The idea to move to France had never, ever occurred to me, until a conversation with an editor on my last week of work, in which she said “You should move to Europe or something,” and “we all wish we had done it before we had insurance packages to leave behind.” She made it sound downright practical! I remember feeling very strange because this wasn’t in the plan, but I could see that she had a point. When I came into work the next day she told me, “My husband thinks you should move to France, too.” She was half-joking. And I was all, “Uh huh, yeah. I’m totally going.”
On room and board
BLIND ITEM: What Northwestern graduate student’s couch will I be crashing when I'm in Chicago?
And now you all know about as much as I do.
I was going to say that with a ticket out of France booked for this Sunday, it feels a bit like hopping on the last chopper out of Saigon. But that's not what it feels like at all. I have this strange feeling where I know that the violence is so close and yet it might as well be in another country--just another catastrophic event I wouldn’t know was happening if I didn’t have a t.v. and DSL connection to tell me otherwise.
5,000 cars burned. I don’t even know what to make of that statistic.
A lot of people I talk with think things will just calm down, because "they have to." They don't foresee upheaval. They think the parents aren't strict enough. They think the curfew will be good.
But Le Monde had this to say: "Exhuming a 1955 law sends to the youth of the suburbs a message of astonishing brutality: that after 50 years France intends to treat them exactly as it did their grandparents."
My father was talking to his cousin in Orleans who is convinced that it’s organized crime who are paying the teenagers to riot. If not that, then it’s the extremist Muslims. He just doesn't think it’s like the civil unrest of the 60’s. Maybe he won’t think that, or maybe he’s right and these kids are just puppets. What do you all make of this?
ballon (d’eau chaude)
I had lunch with a British friend on Thursday and the words you see above are words I used in conversation instead of underwire, hot-water tank, repair estimate, lace, landlady, and registered letter.
I’m always watching out for stuff like that--the last thing you want to be is that American who goes back to the States and says “Well, if we were in France...” or exclaims that a cake is “Délicieux” or something. But there’s nothing you can do about technical terms mixing in with your English. (In this case, I’ve been shopping for lingerie and having a hot-water tank installed.) They just slip up on you--like sneezing. You really can’t beat yourself up for it.
However, I would maybe have to consider ending it all if I ever did this: I overheard a man at Monoprix the other day telling someone he had bumped into, very seriously,”We’re going to the party at The Reetz tonight.” It took me a moment to realize he was talking about Hotel Ritz. This was a Scottish person speaking to another Brit. Sure, I can see pronouncing Hotel Costes with a French accent (when you're speaking English)--it exists only in a Parisian context--but The Reetz? What, does he walk around telling people that he writes documents on Microsoft “Poobleesher” and takes his kids to see Mickey at “Euro Deesnay”?
It’s almost as bad as those people who say they like Van Gogh or Bach with some phlemmy attempt at Dutch/German pronunciation. I just want to give them a good hard slap them on the back and ask “Ya got something in your throat?”
Behold, one of the reasons I love living in Paris. You can buy a pick and mix box* of macarons, go to the Café de la Mairie with a friend and share nibbles over coffee until you pass out. I also sometimes buy two or three (even just one--they don’t mind) at La Grande Epicerie and eat them in the park in front of The Bon Marché. (Or as I've started to call it--air quotes intentional--"Best Buy.")
*The flavors are not listed on the website; I am ruined.
Update: Thanks to Stefanie for listing the flavors in the comments!
On my way to give an English lesson in the 5ème yesterday, I passed a red-suited woman looking in a store window with her daughter. “Ooooh!” the daughter screamed at something in the display, delighted. As if on cue, a low, swirling gust blew the girl’s hair straight up, giving the scene a sort of ominous, here-comes-Mary-Poppins feeling. I thought that they maybe were enjoying a seasonal scary display in the window of what I knew to be a toy shop, but when I approached, the vitrine was its normal hectic palette of rainbow colors--neither bat nor black cat to be seen.
Well, that just ain't right, I thought. But not right for whom?
Linus in the pumpkin patch, wax candy lips, apples bobbing in spicy cider, paper scarecrows taped to classroom doors. It’s not that I miss the stuff, of course I don’t miss the stuff. But the satisfying melancholy for childhood that the stuff evokes? Maybe just a little.
Later, I saw a troop of pint-sized witches wandering around Saint Germain des Prés squealing in French, their parents looking a little sheepish. It’s an entirely different shade of melancholy, and you cannot imagine until it happens to you, but you will feel fantastically, chemically homesick if you ever see a half dozen French children all wearing identical costumes (what was up with the matching costumes?) and squealing delightedly for "des bonbons."