My birthday was one week ago. I could reveal my age, but since a true lady never does, neither shall I. Insomnia and a couple of glasses of white wine from the previous evening woke me from an intense dream. I have lots of crazy dreams these days, very vivid, with lots of plots and eccentric characters. Unfortunately, I never remember enough when I wake up to write them down. (Note: Must look deeper into lucid dreaming.) Lots of dreams and loads of nights waking up around 3am, similar to my grandmother actually. And I can’t blame it on the drink because I don’t partake right before I go to bed every night. No, not every night. In fact, I’ve been abstaining from it lately, for the most part, thinking that might be the culprit. It happens to my grandmother, so I suppose I could cough it up to age. But I’m not yet ready to go down that route.
The insomnia kept my brain in chaos for another couple of hours, while my eyelids refused to budge. “We’re just not having this,” said one lid. “Completely unacceptable,” huffed the other. So I lay there, eventually defying the eye covers and read for a bit. I drank water, peed, took deep breaths, stretched. The reading must have helped a little, though I still awoke around 7:40am, which is fine if you’ve slept the entire night through. “Huff puff, nevermind. I’m going to get up anyway. There’s lots to be done,” I objected.
I stretched a bit more, took a shower, coiffed meself, put on something pretty and took a little jaunt to the farmers’ market where I found spicy watermelon radishes and a dozen gorgeous quail eggs.
Next stop … mani-pedi. Not just any medi-pedi, but that of Princess Nails. These ladies absolutely know what they’re doing, clipping, scraping, grating, massaging with hands and then with warm oil and hot stones, hot towels, paint, dry and voila! Royalty indeed.
Although I prefer coffee shops on cold, rainy days (thanks to my many years in Seattle), the sky was just overcast enough on this 78ºF day to send me off to The Lab for a tranquil pause-café. A scrumptious slice of Date Bread with Bourbon Sauce and a Soy Latté hit the spot.
Although I didn’t get much reading done, I did manage to fit in a lovely chat with a friend in Inverness, Scotland. It was the next best thing to him sitting right there in front of me. Ah, to have all my wonderful friends and playmates on my very own private island. I’m spoiled and selfish that way. I promise they’d love it. Le sigh.
Time was getting away from me so I ran across in search for something fun at the mall. Ugh, the mall. What was I thinking going two weekends before Christmas?!
But a few dodged shoppers, a couple of stops, a sweet black shawl purchase later, and I was outta there. Heading back home to prep the last few items and organize all for the evening’s Parisian soirée. You see, November 12, I was planning on buying a ticket to spend my birthday in Paris. But a variety of circumstances had me postpone the purchase, though all I could think of was that trip, that escape, to spend three weeks in the beloved city, seeing friends, writing, filming, breathing and figuring out how I wanted my life to go.
I first visited Europe in 1987, with my high school French class.
We spent the first week in London, where I fell in love with a Scottish ginger (now, years later, temporarily living back in Inverness), and the second week in Paris, where I fell in love with the city itself. I was 16 and fresh out of a small town Louisiana. My ideas were big, and my naïveité even bigger. I was boy-crazy, especially for the brown-eyed, dark-haired romanticists so hungry and rampant around the City of Light. But my thoughts remained with the Scot I met on a whimsical journey through the Tower of London, while my eyes opened up to a world in Paris that I knew would stay with me forever. It wasn’t Gertrude Stein. Or Hemingway. It wasn’t La Belle Epoque or Sartre. The history of it never even occurred to me. I was clueless and a dreamer. I just knew what I felt. It was the flirting. Shopping. Dressing however I damn well pleased, without regard for the approval, or disapproval, of my French teacher who had, months earlier, sent me home because my skirt was too short. – It wasn’t, by the way; I just had really long, skinny legs. I went back to school, skirt and all. The following year they changed the dress code to no skirts above the knee. Oh those southern puritans. – Drinking wine with dinner. Crossing crowded streets. Becoming fluent in metro. Meeting with crude agents at Elite while men flipped through pages of fashion models determining which ones would fuck and which girls were prudes. Walking down brick-lined streets bordered by older putes, while slinky African beats shimmied from the top windows. Eating rillettes sandwiches, and chocolate sandwiches prepared by my best friend/soulmate/brother/father/lover’s grandmother. The latter two events happened during my second visit in 1989. My love for the city hasn’t changed. Ok, maybe once. At age 29, I finally had the chance to live there. I’d spent some months, years ago, working as an au pair outside of Brussels as well as in a suburb of Aix-en-Provence. But finally, in 2001, I’d managed to get back to my beloved Paris. I couldn’t believe I was actually living there, if only for a year thanks to an incredible, and impromptu, scholarship. My translation professor at university in Louisiana said I could never get into the college I wanted to in Paris. But I got the scholarship. And I did get in, even if it was short-lived. And one day, while toting groceries back in the rain, I thought, “Oh God, I can’t wait to get home.” And so there it was. I was living in Paris. I’d reached my dream. So now what?
Like any love affair, reality hit. Although Paris would not prove to be my wife, it would be my long-term on-and-off-again mistress. I’d return from time to time even though she was determined to give me a hard time, the cold shoulder. Though I knew in my heart that she was, and always would be the one. I could never forget her, even if we couldn’t always be together.
This year, after telling a couple of people, namely French friends, their responses were less than positive. “Oh Paris, well it’s the decline of French civilization.” “Oh Paris, well it isn’t really France anymore.” I knew there were things I loved and hated about the city. And I also knew the French have a knack for being Delphine-downers, but had it really changed that much? I wanted to know. This is what my film would have been about. This would inspire my writing.
When exactly did Paris begin to change? Was it the opening of the first hypermarché in 1963? Was it the influx of METRO wholesale foods within the bistros during the 70s? Or what about the first Picard frozen food shop? The construction of the Eiffel Tower? The building of Beaubourg? The many wars? Shall we go farther, deeper into history? And what’s bad about the changes Paris is going through? Every change can be painful. But isn’t Paris learning to break its bad habits? Or are we just so attached to the stylish French panache of mediocrity, that we’ve lost sight of what actually makes Paris, Paris? There is something about hanging on to what’s holding us back, the romanticism of it, that is difficult to shake. It’s the past. It warms us, comforts us, even if it keeps us from living, from evolving. This I think of, in general, more and more as I get older. Holding on to things that bring up memories, whether good or bad, but just to hold on, to remember who we are and where we came from, throughout all our travels and new life chapters.
Tell me, what is Paris? French people (generalizing here) can be a bit of a downer. Contrary to their squeaky, over-excited American counterparts, they have a history of pessimism. Of course not all French are this way, nor all Americans happy-go-lucky. And there is shit going down in every country, so I don’t think the French get the stronghold on this one. Reminiscent of times past: la Belle Epoque, the Lost Generation, the days of Pairs haute couture? Or the economically viable trente glorieuses? What era do people want to live in? Which era is the best in Paris? Note: Must watch Midnight in Paris again, soon.
But my decision to go to Paris changed on November 13, 2015 when a wretched event took place, leaving the loss of over 120 people, innocently enjoying a Friday night out, life. I was away with some friends in a remote area, but happened to hear the news right as I was driving up to the house. With no Internet or phone reception, the next day I headed back home, hoping to hear that everyone I knew there was safe, though in tears because of these senseless, heartless, brutal acts. It brings up so many thoughts and emotions.
After being glued to the news every day, talking to friends, and stressing out going back and forth wondering if I should make the trip anyway, I decided against it. That’s right, I copped out. I wanted more than anything to be in Paris right at that moment, but it didn’t make any sense. Great for filming and telling the story I’d planned, but I wasn’t ready for that atmosphere, the vigipirates, or the limitations I might encounter.
So instead of being there, I brought Paris to me. I’m good at this, bringing a city that I miss to the place I’m living. It’s called escapism. I love it. This way I can travel anywhere in the world from the comfort of my uncomfortable futon, when I must. My apartment is covered in mostly French photos and items I collected over the years or via some spontaneous diy project. One might think I’m either very creative or completely mad. Maybe both? So it’s not difficult to pretend I’m in my favorite city … until I walk out of my front door, that is.
The night of my birthday, I planned a small soirée Parisienne with some lovely ladies chez moi. Menu of the evening:
(Recipes: Bagna Cauda, Chicken Liver + Fig Pâté, Escargot + Mushrooms Mini Tartes Flambées, Spread for Endive (I also added diced pears.), Chocolate Dulce de Leche Tarte)
It was fantastic, with several of them even dressing up in very fashionable garb. The menu turned out well, the kir royales were flowing, and the evening continued moustach’d at another friend’s Christmas party until 3:30am.
Rising the day after was a slight challenge, but it didn’t matter. That was my lazy day. My only stop out was to buy a NY Times. The rest was spent resting, dining, reading, enjoying a magical Sunday sans responsibilities. Ahhhhhh …
Another of my regrets about not being in Paris was not having beautiful pastries to choose from on every corner. So, instead, I decided to make them, along with a few other treats that I’d offer to a handful of friends for the holidays. Baking is bloody exhausting, I just have to say. Not like the savory items I’m used to making, where I throw in a little of this here, a tad of that there, and experiment along the way. I mean, when they say whisk continuously, they mean whisk continuously, or else you end up with scrambled eggs or scorched chocolate. No fun at all. But in the end, it all came out with only a few water burns and some slight tendonitis to scoff at. And sharing happy treats with friends makes all the difference in the world.
(Recipes: Madeleines, Mendiants, Profiteroles (not exact recipe I used, but similar), Boule, Boursin, Pickles, Marmalade (I also add grated ginger and an orange).
Despite this strange world we live in and all its absurdities, I am so very thankful for the beautiful friends and food in it, for traveling (both near and far), and for the universe allowing me to be creative and live this life. And as for my film on Paris … well, you work with whatcha got. Here goes …
Paris, Je t’aime from Julia/Lulu on Vimeo.
This has been one of the best winters not in Paris EVER! Merci à tous, bisous …