Thursday, May 29, 2008

I’ve been reading expat blogs for several years. In my experience I have found that there are two things that will kill a Paris blog.

The first, and this is instant death to a blog, is having a baby*. The simple truth is that other than very close friends and family no one cares about your newborn. Just as no one cared when my cat vomited on me while I slept because she was angry that I moved her food. I’m not saying I don’t understand- I will be the #1 offender when K- squeezes out a little bean. After that you might as well stop coming around because this blog will be loaded with pictures of the adorable little tyke and a detailed description of each crap and vomit. The entire blog will be done in baby talk. “Ohh little baby-wabby pukey- wukeyed on the kitty-widdy.” I will, of course, be incensed when you loose interest in baby-wabby and my bloggy-woggy.

The second thing that will temporarily kill a Paris blog is the inevitable hometown visit. I'm going to my little corner of the Midwest for two weeks. I’m guessing that I won’t be blogging. But I can give you a quick run down of what I’ll be doing.

1. I will be delighting my friends with an affected French accent and pretending to struggle for English words even though I've only spoken 6 words in French since I've been here.
2. I will enthrall my friends with constant comparisons of the Midwest and Paris. When I complain to the waiter about the bread, I will let out a sardonic laugh and sadly shake my head. "This would never be tolerated in Paris."
3. I will talk about "my cafe" and how much better the coffee is in Paris than it is in the Midwest. (Strangely, this is not true.)
4. I will be certain to use words like “provincial” and phrases like, “that is sooo American” whenever anyone tells me their opinion.
5. I will be certain to explain how Americans live to work while the French work to live-because that expression never gets old.
6. Anytime the word "French" is used to describe something, I’ll say, “That’s not French." i.e. “That’s not French coffee.” “That’s not French bread.” “Those aren’t French fries.” "That's not French kissing."
7. And when everyone refuses to give me a lift to the airport because I’ve been such a pretentious jerk I’ll mock his or her big American car.

*The one exception to this rule is Michelle's new baby because that is one cute kid but her blog is blocked so I guess you’ll never know.

Monday, May 26, 2008

My younger brother, who I admire a great deal, once told me that one of his New Year's resolutions was to get a rejection from The New Yorker. The purpose of the resolution was to just get something written and submitted. I vowed then and there to beat him in getting a rejection. Today, after waiting 6 months, I can say that The New Yorker has rejected me flatly. I don't want to gloat but.....I win!!!!! Yeah me!!!! In your face Brendan. The New Yorker hates me and not you. Weeeeeeeeeee!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Most of you know that the gypsies have been courting me to join their band of merry mischief-makers. I’ve been holding out for a proper dental plan and matching 401K but they want me to settle for some gold ring they keep picking up off the ground.

Walking home yesterday I saw the police harass some of my potential colleagues. I wonder why the police chose to pick on these three young ladies out of the hundreds of people milling about suspiciously in front of Notre Dame? I get the sense that “racial profiling” is not frowned upon here. It’s a shame, the Doyouspeakenglish girls probably work harder than anyone out there, except me*, of course.

*If you consider "thinkin' about stuff" as working.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Between the library and my secret super-hero meetings my world has become very small. I’ve tried to be more disciplined about writing and so I’ve committed 6 hours a day to working on the never-ending novel. It’s easier than you would imagine, especially when your novel has no discernable continuity or plot. A character that died of an overdose of heroin in chapter 3 suddenly reappears in chapter 7 with an opinion on the proper way to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I was reading a book, I think by Roddy Doyle, where he tells the true story of a soap opera character that goes upstairs to get his tennis racket and never is heard from again. He just disappears with no explanation. Poof! I have a few characters like that. They say their piece; make a not so clever observation and then Poof! They are gone. I should probably send a search party out looking for them or maybe get their pictures on a milk carton. Have you Seen Me? Perhaps, an age progression mass mailer could go out.

Missing- Lisa, a Life Coach trainer.
Last Seen: Battling an amphetamine problem in chapter 5.
Description: The author never bothered to describe her
Missing for 7 chapters.

I heard an expression that if a gun is sitting on the fireplace mantel in scene two it sure as hell needs to go off in scene 3. Well I have an arsenal that hasn’t been discharged.

Maybe there could be a mass-murderer that is slowly killing off all my characters. The book ends with everyone dead, except for Lisa, covered in blood and a terrible case of speed breath.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My great aunt became too frail to care for herself so she was moved from the south side of Saint Louis to our little corner of the Midwest, about six hours away.

“You can move in with us.” My mother told her, trying to put a happy spin on an unpleasant situation.

“Oh, you two could never afford me.”

She seemed to ignore the fact that my father had been supporting her since he started working. She went into an expensive retirement home near us. I’ve seen the bad ones, the smell of urine is overpowering. Pity the old with no funds.

Her looks seemed to change overnight. She could no longer have her hair dyed the bright red of her youth so she began wearing hats, which she would fumble with to keep her head covered. I hadn’t realized how dark she kept her house until I saw her under the blaring lights of the old folks home.

I went to visit her after a prolonged absents. The nurse told me she was in the community room. I looked around there were about 20 residents watching TV in various stages of decay. I couldn’t see her anywhere. One older woman was staring at me. We looked at each other for a good long while. I walked up to her, still not sure and I had to ask, “Aunt Nora?”

Monday, May 19, 2008

I took a stroll through the neighborhood this afternoon and was astounded by the number of pirates out and about. In the Marais you always expect a few pirates in search of booty but this was an absolute infestation. Passing the Blancs Manteaux I noticed that this seemed to be the pirate hive and it was abuzz with activity.

Back in the states we have groups that participate in Civil War battle re-enactments. They dress in period costumes and pretend to kill each other. It unclear why they do this, scientists are looking for a cure. I’ve always wanted to re-enact the medical surgeries performed during the civil War, such as drilling a hole in their skulls to let the demons escape and sawing off their limbs without anesthetic but I’ve yet to be invited. (It seems to me that if you aren’t going to really commit to the re-enactment you ought to hang it up.)

Anyway it turns out that these swashbucklers aren’t pirates at all but 17th century musketeers or something (I'm so bored with this post I can't even look it up) and they were sword fighting. There were also children dressed up in costume, with fake mustaches drawn on their faces. At what point can this be considered child abuse?

As you can see the name of the event is Lames Du Marais which loosely translates to (apologies to my French teacher, Samantha) "The Lamers of the Marais" I quickly dashed home to get my drill- it’s demon-freeing time.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

There is an excitement to living in Paris. At every corner there seems to be something to get the imagination flowing. Whether it’s crossing Pont Alma, as I do daily to get to the library, and being reminded that James Joyce would stop in the middle of the bridge with his publisher, and discuss writing as they watched the Seine. And while we've established that I'm not a fan, how can you not think of Henry Miller when wandering the base of Montmartre. He was 40 years old he quit his job and came to Paris to write- sound familiar?

But it isn’t only the people in the past that can propel us forward. Today, I spoke with a friend who spent the last week in London with literary agents that love the project she is working on. An English guy I’ve admired and chummed around with for a bit works for Reuter’s News Service and was discussing journalism with an American that worked on the wires during Watergate, Billy Jean King beating Bobby Riggs and the Vietnam War. He painted an exciting picture of tearing the news stories off the wire and running it to the editors- just like in the movies. He gave up journalism to pursue jazz guitar, which spun off into a whole new discussion about Dave Brubeck's “Take Five", which I do know something about. A woman I met recently gave me her web address so I could check out her graphic design and it turns out that it has incredible recordings of her singing songs she wrote. Beautiful songs.

I often toy with the idea that you can have a “Paris state of mind” anywhere in the world and therefore I shouldn’t be too upset if I have to leave but I’m just kidding myself. It isn’t just Paris that stirs the imagination it’s also the people that have chosen to come here and make Paris their home despite the uncertain finances and distance from their families. These are the people that inspire others to work toward their dreams.

Monday, May 12, 2008

My mom and dad have been renting an apartment around the corner from the Louvre for the past 2 months. They go back home at the end of the week and we will miss them terribly.

My mom called my brother before a shopping trip. “What’s French for bleach I need some bleach?" My brother, who knows even less French than I, said, “I don’t know, try babel fish.” Two hours later, in Monoprix, my mother was asking a befuddled employee “Ou est le babel fish”

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Everyday for the past 8 months I have gone to the L'Etoile Manquante to get a café and read at the zinc bar. I am always polite with my “bonjour monsieur”, “au revoir Monsieur”, “S’il vous plait” and “Merci”. Yesterday, after saying my usual hello, the bartender looked at me and after a moment of thoughtful consideration he walked over, said “bonjour” and…. shook my hand.

In my mind the café became dead quiet -you could hear a pin drop. Suddenly everyone in the café stood and began applauding. A spotlight hit me. I blushed and fanned myself with my hands but that couldn’t keep the tears from welling up. I accepted his handshake as though I were accepting the Miss Teen U.S.A crown.

I shook his hand as I left, trying not to appear too pleased with myself.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

I need to finish up my Moroccan tales, readership is at a dangerously low level. Dissatisfaction is high, moral low. "We want Paris not Morocco!" I hear you, your silence is deafening. Well, this final tale of Morocco begins in Paris, and really that last post was all in Paris and yet no one cared. I few anonymous comments from the New Zealander mafia- the dreaded "Kiwi Boys" threatening to rearrange my furniture. Other than that I couldn’t get a rise out of you.

As we were waiting on the runway for our plane turn to take off, I noticed much movement in the center median. And there I saw thousands of bunny rabbits frolicking. Frolicking- I tell you. I immediately looked to the side of the runway to find the bunny carnage splattered, but there were none. Of course, if a plane hits a bunny taking off or landing I doubt there would be much left. You’d think the loud noise might damage those big ears. Maybe Bridget Bardot could fund supplying the big yellow earmuffs for the bunnies.

So the take off to Morocco was magical- everything involving bunnies is good. The landing back in Paris was a different story as I had been vomiting in my seat for ¾ of the flight. I used 4 barf bags. I'm not bragging or anything, but it was 4. I admired the gay flying waiter’s commitment to being friendly, every time I handed him a “used bag” he accepted it with a smile. If I had been flying Delta the bitch would have probably pistol-whipped me and planted an explosive device in my carry-on. I looked out for the bunnies but my eyes were blurry and couldn't see anything but my own frightening reflection.

As I’ve mentioned about 6 times, Hassan met us at the Marrakech airport. It is important to me to immediately say the wrong thing. This lets me know that I’m alive.
“So, you're Arab?” I say as we shake hands.
Hassan bristled at the mere mention of the word. “No, I am not Arab. He said with a look that would be repeated from the lady that was sitting in front of me on the flight back.
“I am Berber”
As I write this I am picturing Yul Brenner in the King and I with his fists on his hips and his legs planted firmly. “I am Berber”

The conversation continues in the 4x4. Moroccan culture is new to me, so I wasn’t certain if I had really put my foot in it as I like too.

“So you’re saying Berbers aren’t Arabs?”

Hassan clutched the steering wheel and breathed deeply, undoubtedly a Celine Dion song was playing in his mind to calm his soul.

“No a Berber is a Berber – they are not Arabs. Berbers are the original people of this land.”

I started to interrupt.

“You will see!” he snapped. “You will see as we drive through Marrakech what the Arabs are about. And then you will see what the Berbers are about.”

He was right about seeing what the Berbers were about. We only stayed in Berber hotels, ate in Berber restaurants and traveled through Berber towns. There was one town that he felt he needed to clarify. “These people here, all these people” He said motion to the 3 women on the street. “They used to be Jews, now they are Berber.” It was unclear what that meant and he wasn’t providing any more information. “This is my band.” He said as he put a CD on. “The singer he is crazy.” We listen to the hour-long improv drum solo as he beat upon the steering wheel to the sound of him beating on drums. I put my iPod on and looked out the window and thought about the Berbers that had one time been Jewish.

“There are no scorpions in the desert he has to tell me for the 10th time.”
“I find that very hard to believe” I persist. “In all the Sahara desert there are no scorpions?”
Other tourists at the cafe listen in, this, after all, affects us all.
“There is no water in the desert. Therefore there are no scorpions or snakes.”
“I watch Discovery channel and I’m certain they’ve discussed snakes and scorpions in the Sahara. I was told that I should shake my shoes out because scorpions will climb in to escape the sun.”
Who told you that?” demanded Hassan. “An Arab? Arabs know nothing of the desert. We are the original desert people. There are no scorpions.”
The crowd seemed to be siding with me on this one.
“You know, scorpions.” I did a little hand gesture to show a scorpion striking.
Hassan considered for a moment. “Ah yes, we do have those.”

Monday, May 05, 2008

I loaded up my Rick Steve’s backpack (a sure sign you are traveller and not a tourist) and walked from my apartment in the center of Paris to the metro at Hotel de Ville. As I trudged down Veille du Temple with my walking stick, safari hat and snakebite kit dangling from my belt, I ponder my next adventure. I’m off to Africa. I feel like an adventurer, but a stylish adventurer as I was also carrying my man-bag loaded down with treats. I take a small break after a block, it’s important to not overdo it on your first day. Swigging from my water bottle, I swallow a salt tablet and I look out over the terrain. As I mop my brow with my new bandana, I hear my wife Kelly yell from the window. “Did you take all the toilet paper?" I quickly gather my things and stagger down the street. Kelly is fleet of foot and I won’t be stopped, not this early in my journey.

“Africa!” I say out-loud to know one in particular. The local tribesmen of the 4th arrondisement stare at me as if to ask “Where is that dapper fellow with the practical backpack, excellent man-bag and perfectly coiffed hair off to? “ They seem to snicker with respect. “I’m off to AFRICA suckas!” I respond with my slight wobble from an over-packed bag and a lower back that’s already beginning to ache. Rue de Rivoli is just another block away and then to the metro station. Discouragement begins to descend upon me, as it must have for Dr Livingston. “I will keep my spirits up.” I say aloud to some German tourists who have that ‘what might have been’ look that they always get when they visit Paris.

”A new continent!” I say to bolster my sagging spirit. “ The dark continent. Dark because…well…because there are a lot of dark people there or because it is shady or something.” My thoughts are interrupted by the pang of hunger, the candy bar I ate a few minutes ago isn’t going to cut it. There is a fruit stand at the next block where I can replenish my supplies and perhaps throw out some of these candy wrappers. Finally, after 10 minutes, I have made it to the metro station. My back is drench in the sweat of a good, honest trek. A well-deserved rest can be had on the train, unless one of those old ladies try to steal my seat.

I take a breather before I descend into the Hotel de Ville metro station- the next leg of my journey. I sip some water slowly and wipe my mouth with the back of my sleeve. I swallow another a salt tablet even though my wedding band seems unusually tight and the laces of my sneakers are straining. The sun is beating down on me- it must be at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit but it easily feels like 60 . I eat some jerky; the salt will do me good. Wiping the grit and chocolate that has accumulated on my face and neck from the hike, I reflect on the 10 minute journey thus far, the changes I have seen in myself and the people that I have met. I smile at the thought of that nomadic tribe of people that sit on the corners with “J’ai Faim.” written on cardboard. It seems to me that if they were really “famous” they wouldn’t need money from me but I try not to judge. I note all of this in my Moleskin notebook. It occurs to me that other than the “famous” people I haven’t really been paying attention to anyone else, but I did catch my own reflection in the Melchior window so I wrote a quick Haiku to myself, which I wont share here. Let’s just say it was good, real good.

I descend down the Metro steps. Longing for the comfort of the two old women that are always sitting there with their belongings, piles of day old bread and their “I am famous” signs. "Aren't we all" I say to myself, shaking my head and smiling as though my observation actually meant something.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

I keep referring to our trip as a trip to Marrakech, but in fact, we only were in Marrakech because of the airport the remainder our time was spent making our way to the desert and back. We were picked up by a 25 year old Berber named Hassan in a Toyota 4x4and we drove and drove and drove. 18 hours in 2 days to the Sahara desert. It was incredible. We went through the high Atlas Mountains, Tizi-n-Tichka, through Ouartzazate, El Kelaa M’Gouna, Gorges of the Dades Tinerhir, Gorges du Tondra, Erfound, Rissani and finally off-road to the edge of the Sahara. We got out of the 4x4 and on to the 8x8. It’s a Berber joke that was repeated by every Berber we met. The 8x8 is a camel. One would think that if you were about to get on a 1,500 lbs of exotic pot-roast you would be given a little instruction- not so. The information our guide gave was less than helpful for instance, I don’t know how to tell a camel to ‘stop’ but I do know that Celine Dion is a musical genius. Is it ok to shrill like an African woman or will that cause the camels to stampede? Do camels stampede? I don’t know- what I do know is that Celine Dion is a musical genius- that’s what I have learned in the Sahara.

The desert and the dunes are breathtaking and yet when the camel in front of you craps you are drawn to it like a magnet. The camel is a large beast, six feet high, ten feet long and yet their poop are the size of marbles and the marbles roll down the dunes gathering at the valleys where they are met by thousands of other little marbles. Beautiful dunes, covered in countless shadows cast by the small ripples in the golden sand surround me. Bright blue skies, light wind, a lone Berber walks into the desert miles away and yet I’m drawn to the marbles. I blame MTV for my fascination with watching crap go downhill.

Everywhere I go I am met by New Zealanders. They are everywhere- like a pandemic. In the Sahara Desert, under a Berber tent I shared a meal with, yes, you guessed it, a New Zealand couple. They introduce themselves but I immediately forget their names as I am thinking only of myself and suspiciously eyeing the butter that sits on the table. Who eats butter in the desert? Is dairy safe in 100-degree temperatures? I would ask our guide but I’m not interested in knowing that Celine Dion was nicknamed “Vampire Queen” in highschool. The Kiwis are an older couple- hardy. They don’t sleep in the Berber tent they’ve reserved but under the stars, I like them immediately. I name drop my New Zealand writer friend and the title of his award-winning book. They’ve never heard of him or the book. It occurs to me I’ve never actually seen this book he claims to have written. New Zealanders are like butter in the desert- refreshing? Sure. Delightful? You bet. Suspect? Definitely.

The 14 tents set up in a figure 8 define the living area. The entrances to the tents are on the inside of the courtyard. The courtyard itself is covered in rugs, a low table is in front of each side along with a mattress to sit on or sleep under the stars. We reserved one of the larger tents for the 5 of us. A young Greek couple wandered into the compound and asked the Berbers if they could send the night. For a little cash they were given one of the outdoor mattresses. At one point the Greek guy walked into our tent to have a look around. “Something we can help you with?” We query. While we might all be pretending to be communal nomads for the night we will kill you if you try to steal our sleeping space. “You have a lot of room in that tent.” The Greek says and waits for us to respond to his non-question question. “Very observant, Zorba- there are five of us- now back the fig away.” They guys girlfriend made some disparaging remark about Americans and she smirks at us through supper. Later that evening she kept the compound awake with her vomiting- beware of butter in the desert and my evil-eye, I’m not kidding.
Good morning and welcome to Morocco.