OH MY GOD THIS IS SO TRUE:
The pastries and bread are indeed more delicious than any pale imitation you’d find at Trader Joe’s, but they’re also on every street corner. And, having been raised in America, you haven’t developed the European discipline of eating only at mealtimes. It’s like a sport with them to figure out when exactly your need to snack will overwhelm your will to assimilate. Hint: it’s usually between breakfast and lunch.
SatAmrit and I dressed up fancy to go to nice stores in Paris today. No, actually. We did.
Paris will do that to you, as much as I’ve struggled against its inherent classism; feeling like Jérôme and Sylvie gives me heart palpitations. But still, as a fashion/textile enthusiast, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see some of my favorite designs in person.
Rick Owens is one of my favorite designers currently. Not my favorite (and he sounds like a pompous dickbag, honestly), but he’s well settled amongst my top 10, if not top 5. Once I realized he had a store here (no shit, it’s Paris) I immediately wanted to go and touch things; fine textiles are definitely one of the joys of living, and if you can’t afford them at least you can experience them a little.
The boutique was what I expected: haughty salespeople who were probably models, or the children of rich parents, or both. Quietly pounding dance music. The atmosphere of the place left a vaguely unpleasant taste in my mouth. Nothing has made me want a Pretty Woman experience more, dressing poorly and then throwing wads of cash at them just to spite them. Smiling too sweetly while plunking down $1000+ on shoes and wearing ratty jeans.
I haven’t lost my taste for fine things, but it’s been a long time since I’ve lost my interest in the culture that goes along with it. In defense of the salespeople, they were friends (two of them were dating each other), they clearly don’t get a lot of custom and it was fairly obvious that neither of us wanted to buy anything. They were certainly bored. But It’s hard not to attribute some of their snobbishness to a rich, judgmental attitude. What pleasure is there in looking down on people because they have less money than you? What experiences, beyond shopping at ludicrously-priced stores, are they lacking that makes them worse or less interesting people?
I’ve also found that going into stores that have objects of my dreams has really put things into perspective to me. Photography lies: nothing is as epic, as grand or luxurious as it seems in its two-dimensional, well-lit, wide-lensed rendering. Suddenly you’re holding in your hands a wedge heel that costs €1,600. It’s well crafted and well designed, sure, but the mystery is gone. It becomes mundane. It no longer belongs to that pantheon of aching desire, that impossible space between legend and reverie. It’s just a shoe.
Paris, don’t ever change. Oh wait, just kidding! fuck you.
Taking the Transilien back from tiny Mesnil-Aubry about 25 minutes north of Paris by train, I decided not to pay the hefty €3,95 for a ticket when it probably wouldn’t be checked so late at night (23h20) anyway. And it wasn’t!
But the way Gare du Nord is set up is that the grandes lignes (main overground trains, like the Transilien for the suburbs) are on the upper platform and you walk down a large flight of stairs to get to the heart of the station. There is a large line of gates which you pass through by either sliding in your valid ticket or swiping your Navigo pass. Obviously since I hadn’t bought a ticket I couldn’t go through that way, but ordinarily there’s a large gate to the left which allows people to pass through Gare du Nord and continue on to La Chapelle station, and which subsequently allows people who have not bought tickets for the grandes lignes to get through easily. This gate is always supposed to be open so people can reach La Chapelle from Gare du Nord.
Except tonight! Of course.
Being the resourceful person I am I thought, but wait! If I walk all the way the fuck down to La Chapelle, there are kiosks where I can buy a metro ticket and just take line 2 home. Sure, it’s way the fuck out of the way but at least then I don’t have to pay a fine!
So I lug my heavy fucking bag waaaaaay down to La Chapelle and, surprise! The kiosks only accept credit cards. However, what they REALLY mean is they only accept EU credit cards. Because American money? Not really money, apparently. So then I decide, fuck it, I’ll just hop the gate.
At the top of the escalators I have RATP officers waiting for me. They kindly fine me €25 and inform me that the ticket works for all transport within Paris for the night. Thanks bro.
Not only have I added about 25 minutes to my travel time by walking in the opposite direction of home and having to take a roundabout way on line 2, but when the metro does show up there’s a clutch of douchebags in the corner being rowdy. One particular douchebag keeps throwing trash and making as much noise as he possibly can. Fuck you dude, it’s 12am on a Monday night. Get over yourself.
But it gets better! By which I mean, of course, worse. Said UltraDouche decides for some fucking reason that he REALLY needs to talk to me. Asshole walks next to me trying to get my attention for a while and follows me around. I’m wearing my headphones, so usually people get the hint and I can at least pretend that I don’t hear them. THEN THE FUCKER GRABS MY ARM.
Naturally I jerk away from him, give him the dirtiest look I can possibly muster and abruptly veer left (which, luckily, was the correct direction for my transfer to line 1). I heave a sigh of relief and lean against one of those half-bench things they have installed while I wait. 8 minutes is a long time to wait for a metro, but it’s the second to last train and I’m just grateful I caught it. That is, until some OTHER guy sits next to me and starts trying to chat me up.
I don’t like to be rude, and there are some situations where, as a girl, you actually just don’t feel safe enough to say “fuck off, I don’t want to talk to you right now, Random Asshole Who Feels Entitled to My Attention.” This was one of those situations. So I politely lied through my teeth about my name, about where I lived, about how long I was staying here and about not having a cellphone (yes, fucker ASKED FOR MY CELLPHONE NUMBER) just to avoid getting shanked or mugged or whatever the fuck. When the train came after the longest 8 minutes of my life, I power-walked my ass to a car he distinctly WASN’T in, then walked down one more just for good measure.
The whole situation was generally made crappier by the fact that I was carrying my really heavy duffel (which requires both hands to carry) full of the only things that I still own which are worth any amount of money. So not only was I ripe for mugginz ‘n shit, but I also didn’t have ANY hands free to, I don’t know, defend myself from rando brograbs. I’m mostly grateful that I came out unscathed, but that was definitely one of my shittier experiences with late-night Parisian transportation. And, really, I should be grateful for even THAT: worse things have happened, and can.
So, thanks world! I’m really loving this post-feminist utopia we don’t actually live in.
Tumblr decided that my lengthy post about sex, BDSM and dating in France was not meant to grace the internet, so…fuck it. It’ll probably come up again eventually.
Every time I think about going back to California I have this mixture of nostalgia and dread in the pit of my stomach. I long for certain aspects of it—cold beach days, coffee shop study sessions, summer bike rides, The Penny Ice Creamery, my stupid cats and my stupid friends. I miss it, I really do. But I don’t want to go back. In a lot of ways, I’d rather just keep on missing it, instead of living it again.
This city is a trap, somehow. What is it that I love so much about this fucking place? I love the lights, I love the Metro, I love the shops and the shows and the variety. I love the hidden places, and even the tourist spots. I love the Seine, and that hazy sense-memory of experiences, expected or lived, that hangs over everything like thick, damp fog. Paris is always a city you’ve been to before.
But more than anything, I love the flow of this place. Walking out onto any street you get a feel for the rhythm of its particularity: this is a street for a commute at 6am, this is a street you hurry down, this is one for ambling. And everything feels distantly familiar, whether there’s any truth in that sensation or not.
What I’m trying to say is, that I’m comfortable here. It’s not the resigned acceptance of my hometown Palo Alto, or the casual ennui of Santa Cruz. It’s faster, but not frenetic. It’s diverse but specific. There’s something about the way everything feels here that makes me feel like I belong. Not to say that I feel like a Parisian, or even French in any way; just that, even for all my fumbling, even for the enormous language barrier that I chip away at each day, even for the fact that I will never be anything but an American, and a Californian at that, even for all the cultural and social intricacies which I may never truly understand or accept, somehow I feel like I should be here.
One of the hardest things about living here is knowing how temporary it is when I don’t want it to be. I’m afraid to buy books or clothes or shoes because I know that I’ll have to bring them back to the US. My walls are huge and bare and white because it seemed pointless to decorate something that won’t really be my space for long. This place feels like it should be my home, but I can’t make it so since I know my departure date. Which I’ve already set back by 10 days.
I would never leave if I didn’t have to. And the biggest reason I have to is my cats, and housing. But mostly my cats.
Oh god I’m gonna be that lady, aren’t I?
One of the strangest things so far about being is here is feeling that slow, subtle shift from missing home to never wanting to leave. Soon the memories left behind become less of a reality than the present; the nostalgia never really leaves, but the desire to go back is lost. And instead of being either excited by or contented with going home, I find instead that I’m dreading the day. The trappings of a real home have been acquired here: the friends, the routines, the annoyances, the joys. To go back is almost to be uprooted all over again.
How much of my experience here is colored by knowing how short my stay is, I’m not sure. But regardless, I find myself wishing I could be here longer.
This is going to turn into a rant, just so you know.
Once every couple of months or so (give or take, depending on how busy I am) I go on this “health” kick. I wake up and realize that I’m tired of being unhealthy, I’m tired of being unfit and I’m tired of being even vaguely unhappy with my body. I get up and I think, “Yeah! Today is the first day of the rest of my life!”
I write up grocery lists for healthy snacks to fill up my perpetually sparse pantry. I look up recipes, search for
dieting healthful living advice and download workouts that seem doable. I search for nearby gyms, or swimming pools, or drop-in yoga classes. I ask my friends if they want to go running. Sometimes I do go running. And I feel really good afterwards!
Working out is definitely something that I’m trying to incorporate into my life. Not with a whole lot of success, mind you, but I enjoy moving and I enjoy being active.
Eating healthy…now that’s something entirely different.
I am a foodie. Not just in the snobby haute cuisine sense, but in the truest sense. I love eating. I love food. I love talking about food. I love learning about the politics of food. The man of my dreams is some renegade chef from a top culinary school, no lie. But there is not a single thing that turns me off more than the self-righteous campaign for “healthful eating.”
Everything about the word “healthy” or “healthful” smacks of moral superiority. When my friends tell me they ate quinoa and avocado (but only half an avocado!) for breakfast like I should pat them on the fucking back or something for being so food conscientious, I just want to throttle them. Generally speaking no one really approaches me directly about my eating habits, but that sense that I should feel guilty for eating breakfast cereal (if I eat breakfast at all) fills me with such rage I can’t even properly express it.
And oh god, hearing girls in my program talk about eating in France? Jesus. Fucking Christ. That’s something for a whole other Rage Post.
Even that blasé, bi-monthly comment, “Yeah, I’m just trying to eat more healthy, you know?” sounds moralizing. And how could it not? We’re told that we eat healthy for our bodies, to improve longevity and feel better about ourselves. Sure, I feel better about myself for eating healthily; but is it because my body feels better, or just because I’m told I should feel better, morally, as a person? Considering I only manage to eat salad for about a week or less, probably the latter.
And at the end of the day, it still sounds an awful lot like body policing to me. Suddenly, this conversation makes it okay and even interesting for people to ask about your eating habits. Suddenly, what goes into your body is a welcome topic for public scrutiny, yet another thing people can judge you for and weigh themselves against. Food has always been political, but the ignorance and privilege which the conversation of “healthy” eating has hovering around it makes me apoplectic with rage.
This topic is a lot more complicated than I really want to get into critically right now, I kind of just wanted to vent. I will say this however:
If I hear one more motherfucker get on my case about how much “better for you” brown rice is than white rice, I will kill them. I will kill them right after explaining to them, carefully, that if it’s been good enough for all of my Chinese ancestors up until now, it is certainly still good enough for me.
And I’m not drinking this glass of red wine for my heart, I’m drinking it because I’m out of whiskey. So fuck off.
I find that I’m dwelling far too much on my homesickness than is fair or even accurate. I think it’s because my writing style is entirely selfish—I write when I’m feeling down, or I have a particular thing on my mind. It’s cathartic more than anything. Hence I’ve never been the best blogger, and that’s before factoring in my total inconsistency. But I really am trying to get better at documenting my stay here! My friends broke my camera though, and even if they hadn’t I hardly use the thing anyway…
So here are some assorted thoughts on Paris, in no particular order:
-I live in an apartment/dormitory with a courtyard shared by some small businesses and other apartments. Across from my window I can see into the living room of some tenants, and they have the loveliest bookshelf. It’s completely full up of colorful spines and I am, for a moment, filled with longing for a real home.
It also reminds me of this great article “How to Fake Like You’re a Parisian,” which makes me smile every time. So far it’s been pretty accurate.
-Let me take a moment to say that I don’t give a FUCK: I love de l’éclairage de la tour Eiffel (jump in around 0:55 and note that this video was taken, characteristically, by Japanese tourists). It’s pretty and silly and gaudy and just terribly endearing. Every time I have evening picnics there, literally every time the lights go off people gasp in delight and then groan in disappointment five minutes later when they turn off. This process is repeated every hour, on the hour until 1am.
-Dogs are plentiful and adorable. Cats are a little more rare, and definitely have the air of archetypical cats. I pet as many as I am able. I have actually had to bite my tongue when considering offering to pet sit cats for strangers, such is my need of them. There’s a little flower shop on my way to school that has two of them, and I stop to look for/pet them every single time I pass.
-I’m not sure there is anything better in this world than French butter on a warm, fresh baguette. Really, I’m not.
-Locals will avoid Laduree, but if you do manage to wheedle them into one they will thank you later.
-Courtship rituals here are a little different. The stereotype goes, American women talk a lot but don’t put out, whereas French women don’t talk at all unless they’re willing to back it up. This leads to a few problems: if you talk to men here, say, at a bar or on the metro, it literally does not matter what you say, they will construe it as flirting. Because a French woman would never respond if she wasn’t interested.
So when you’re trying to be polite or maybe even express disgust, unless you’re actively ignoring the guy, he thinks you’re into him. “No” does not mean “no” here; breaking off all contact does. There’s no real vocabulary for dating or casual sex, either. “J’aime” is thrown around perhaps a little more lightly than in the US.
-Most people here speak some kind of broken English. If you catch them drunk, they will delight in compliments on it.
-Pretty much every French person who has any knowledge of California will assume you had to take Spanish lessons since you were young.
-I TOTALLY SAW KARL LAGERFELD. My friend lives on the same street as him and one evening while returning from a café we saw him coming towards us. Against my better judgment, I was unable to stifle a gasp. As we approached, he and his handsome manfriend deigned only to move off the sidewalk into the street.
He looks much less wrinkled and orange in person.
-It’s easy to forget that I’m living in Paris until I happen across another enormous monument to some thing or other, or almost get killed by a driver who has decided that just because pedestrians have the right of way doesn’t mean he has to wait for any bullshit red light (both of these things occur daily).
Anyway, that’s life for now.