25 July 2005

Ice Cream at le Tour Eiffel

Tools of the tourist trade

Two indispensable tools I used to decipher Paris are TimeOut Paris, a British guide book, and MapEasy’s Guidemap to Paris.

A New York Times critic called the TimeOut city guide "the most hip and culturally savvy I’ve used." It’s written in a casual tone. TimeOut also includes loads of sidebars and ancillary information that other guides omit. With its brief history lesson and invaluable information on how the real Paris operates, this book has helped me on numerous occasions.

Its name includes the word OUT, which doesn’t mean that it is a gay publication (although it dedicates six pages to gay Paris.) TimeOut is actually a mainstream magazine that covers all the goings-on in London and New York. They also publish dozens of city guides, covering cities from Budapest to Boston. Try to buy the most recent version of the city guide you need. They’re updated annually. If your local bookseller doesn’t have a current copy, try the TimeOut Web site. This is a great book for those moving to Paris, as it includes information about utilities and locksmiths and such. It doesn’t, however, help you find an English-speaking stylist to cut your hair. Drat!

I like the MapEasy Guidemap to Paris because it includes little notations all over the map, giving obscure factoids. “It’s an interesting walk up the Cite Veron passageway,” it says about a narrow alley that you might otherwise overlook. It calls one hotel in Montmartre “unremarkable but dependable,” and shows you precisely where to find certain restaurants, shops and galleries. It shows illustrations of some landmarks and buildings, which is helpful as you navigate Paris – while trying to avoid daredevil scooter drivers and French pedestrians in a hurry. MapEasy also has maps for many other cities. I recall using one in Washington, DC. Even though it means less of the city appears on the map, the illustrations make all the difference.

24 July 2005

Impressionists were the Punk Rockers of their time

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Portrait de Pierre Auguste Renoir, by Frédéric BAZILLE, 1867

03 July 2005

My Monoprix - grocery shopping in Paris

Monoprix is the primary grocery store in Montmartre. There is a smaller chain store called "ED." I don't know why a store is named ED, but I assume there is a good reason, and that's good enough for me. I had other issues to deal with at ED. I was thrown by the fact that I needed to insert a coin into the grocery cart's handle to free it from its lodging in the store's foyer. When I returned the cart to it's place and slammed it into the rest of the interlocked carts, my coin was dislodged. If I really wanted to steal a cart wouldn't I just take it and forfeit my 20-centime coin?

Monoprix is a bit like SuperTarget, but only one-twentieth the size. One can buy an iron and laundry soap upstairs, then go to the street level for a bathing suit and some toothpaste (la pate dentifrice) and then down to the basement for groceries. They cashiers are inefficient and nothing can be done about it.

They have everything you could possibly need. Dairy products are plentiful. The meat selection is marginal, though the case is clean and seemingly free of contaminates. The meat is presented with two small pieces per package, not a seven-pound ValuPak. I appreciate this.

You can buy a round loaf of bread downstairs, but if you want a baguette you have to go upstairs where the prepared foods are sold – closer to the street. Should you need frozen escargot, there are eight varieties. For the most part, I recognize all of the food groups, and most of the foods. I read the labels carefully...just in case.

The combination of foods is often surprising. I love butter. I love salami. But, I wouldn’t have dreamt they could join between two slices of bread and be called a sandwich. Salads (other than green salads) are problematic. I tend to buy the salad if I like at least two of the ingredients. There is always a superfluous ingredient that I don’t care for, or would not have thought to include. I had a nice carrot and broccoli salad with a light dressing, but I had to eat the corn that was mixed in. Things are always a bit off-the-mark. Eggs are often to blame.

Having the Monoprix close to my house was a blessing. It’s the only market nearby that sells milk. The Arab-on-the-corner, who operates a super-small shop near my house, doesn't sell milk. I suspect the government has divvied up grocery items and told certain merchants what they can and cannot sell. The fact that the baguettes cannot be sold downstairs with the other breads is highly suspicious. I don’t have the language skills to ask why things are the way they are...and I’m not sure I need to know.

02 July 2005

Leaving Paris...loving what is

There will be no dramatic conclusions about Paris. It was a place to go and be challenged. It was a place to learn that - WHAT IS, IS. Fighting what IS or wishing that it were different is futile. The Parisians know this. When things go south, whether it's a strike that prevents them from getting to work or a bureaucratic hurdle to be leapt, they often accept it as part of their life. Some may kvetch about it for a while, but I'd guess that they move on. Perhaps they sit down for a coffee or a glass of wine until the pendulum in their world swings back and things are made right again.

In Paris, suspense hangs in the vapor above the city. You never know what might happen by the time you return to your bed at night. Getting through the day, travelling through the streets, ordering lunch, paying the telephone bill, catching a bus; there are no guarantees that things will go your way. Choice is involved only when it comes to your response. One clerk, one driver, one landlord, one instant can bring it all down. The rewards for persevering are immense in the City of Light.

Au revoir, mes amis.

Lauren B. Davis - The Radiant City

"People come to Paris to work out something, to try a dream that may very well have failed at home. They believe they can either forget themselves, or find themselves...it was these extremes I wanted to explore, margins where cultures and beliefs collide. That’s the thing about Paris: you may not be changed in the way you dreamed of, but you will certainly be altered...[Paris is] a city that is both beautiful and brutal"

-- Lauren B. Davis, on The Radiant City

I have character quirks

My partner's mom recently complimented my photography. But, she seems to think I am wonderful in many ways. This sort of thing makes me suspicous of her capacity to judge. In screenwriter's terms this would be labeled as one of my "character quirks." If I were a screenplay character, I - as writer - would have to write an index card about myself that read, "IS HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS OF PEOPLE WHO LIKE or LOVE HIM." I would tack it to my project wall with all the other index cards and work the quirks into the details of my character's life. I am not fictional. My quirks go where I go, even when I ask them to wait in the car.

She won't be embarassed if I say so, but my mother-in-law is not, herself, a master photographer. I only accepted her photo praise after she mentioned that one of her co-workers also thought the photos were good. See how I am? But she is a prolific photographer and that's admirable. Her composition and adherance to the Rule-of-Thirds is subpar. She is not bothered by this and bravely snaps on.

I have, in my posession, a stack of photos of dirt and bricks that she captured when her back yard and patio was being redone. Her photos tell a story, and when they fail individually, it helps to remember that they are often shot in a series. I would not call her a photojournalist, per se, but she takes series of photos that relay occurances, events, and information. Her photos are visual aids for a story she intends to tell...to many people...at a later date. Her photos are like Post-Its. They will help her remember various details about what has transpired -- but it is in the telling that the context of her photos will take form.

Today she asked me where the pictures of my Paris apartment were. It never once occurred to me to photograph that place. Sometimes, I think I could stand to forget it entirely. If I were thinking about the "re-telling" of my apartment, I would have photographed the armoire in the bedroom, the buffet in which I was able to store my electronics and my school work. I would have photographed the odd looking water heater, and the miniscule television. I would have taken a picture of the 220-volt iron I had to buy, and then leave behind. These pictures would give people a detailed look at my everyday surroundings. I guess I don't live in the details, and I'll end up remembering only the broad strokes, and that filthy powder-blue carpet.

My mother-in-law has a different style. After her vacation on Catalina Island, we ended up with closeup pictures of the Saltillo tiles she encountered at her hotel. On another trip, she took a picture of a 7-11 convenience store because it had unique architectual elements. I saw some pop-culture merit in this 7-11 photograph and began to notice unique branches of 7-11 when I travelled.

I live in another state and was not able to witness her yard being dug up and put back together. When I saw the finished product more than a year later, I knew exactly what went in to its creation. I had a photo series that provided background and I liked being in-the-know. I once caught her taking a snapshot of a rather unremarkable pedestal sink in our old house. So, a photography compliment from such a photographer must be verified by other sources. Two moms, a dental professional, and one of T's co-workers have validated my photo skills. I can live with that.


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Now is the time

I have no idea what I ought to do now that I am back in the U.S. My friends who have traditional careers cannot empathize with my dilemna. "You just spent six weeks in Paris, and now you don't know what to do with six more weeks off?" "You poor, poor dear," they might type from their cubicles. I tend to make life difficult for myself. So, I forget I am in an enviable position. I struggled to get this far, and I don't mind saying that I feel entitled to good fortune.

The question now is about which direction my internal life should take. I have a clean slate and I'm hesitant to fill it with anything that doesn't serve my goals. My mom encouraged me to write. This is striking in two ways. She has never directly encouraged me to do anything. Sure, she raised my siblings and me to be resourceful, independent and to survive adversity, but there were never any words that went along with those lessons. Secondly, in her own way she was telling me that I was a good writer and that she enjoyed reading my work.

We are descendents of The Irish. Coming right out and saying something that personal is not my people's style. But, I heard it. In the breath between people's words I sometimes receive the message. The spoken word often fails The Irish, but the written word is our domain.

I want my clean slate to include the reassembly of my Self. There are parts that have fallen away since I left Washington in 2001 -- before we moved to a Red State, before September 11, before I lost my religion, before I went into stealth mode, before I started to play small. These are things I tried, unsuccessfully, to repair when I went to The Abbey of Gethsemani in 2003. I sat in silence, took walks, listened to monks chant the Psalms. No epiphanies came. I left Kentucky and came home, still out of alignment.

When clear herself, my mom is capable of directing others to a sense of clarity. We had a long talk on the phone when I got back to the U.S. She said a few complimentary things to say. Good thing, because these days I am - at long last - willing to hear and absorb compliments. Considering the source, the words held extra meaning. I'd have liked to ask her to record 100 more things about me -- to remind myself that I'm worthy. I could slip speakers under my pillow and listen to the messages in my sleep. In the morning I would put my slippers on with confidence. I miss my confidence.

The amazing thing about bodies and minds is that, in most cases, we can work our way back -- or adapt and move on. Humans are always able to rebound. And that's how I'll spend the remainder of the summer.

Another Friday evening wedding

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None of my business

There are some sophosticated Hit Counters available that could tell when, and from where, my blog is read. Having that sort of information could be a distraction. I intend to write (blog entries, movie scripts, magazine articles) whether two or two million people are reading. Admittedly, I check my Hit Counter to be sure that someone is reading. People find their way to 40 Days in Paris from a variety of links and directories. Eventually it will slow, then stop. That's none of my business.

It's been a great exercise. It can be difficult to effectively relay a story in four to six paragraphs. I've learned to edit my work tightly, to slash and cut. I also learned to write quickly and from odd locations (which may explain some of the punctuation and style errors.) Web writing is supposed to be lean and lively. I think I am achieving that more often now.

For almost a year I have been actively putting more of my work into the world. This year I will have more work published. I am ready to be PAID to write, even as I finish my journalism degree and continue to learn the endless details of grammar, style and punctuation. I don't usually know what happens after my work is published, or how it is received. My job is to write. That's what I do.

Sunlight filtering into the Jardin

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01 July 2005

From the inside out

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