Saturday, April 26, 2014

She who Smiles Last

I'm usually the one reminding Mr Rabbit that 'She who smiles last wins'. No matter what goes down in Paris you should always just smile and move on otherwise you will sink into a pile of muck and die, because nobody gives a shit about how grumpy or annoyed you are, and you end up getting nowhere. Sometimes Mr Rabbit can't help it, but I must say I'm usually pretty cool about the standard Paris frustrations - drivers ignoring the green men (especially that one at the intersection of Magenta and the Faubourg St Martin), the being-cut-in-front-of in queues (oops! Pardon! Je ne vous ai pas vu!), the long waits in front of disinterested people at desks, the ubiquitous disdain of waiters. But this night I was definitely spiky. It had been one of those hairy exits from the house in desperation to get OUT and have some FUN - a badly put together outfit - terrible eyeliner I should never have started - too late to stop for an apéro - which has become the necessary brush-down between the world of the tiny clutches to the lights and dazzle of the Adult Realm - I NEEDED SOME FUN, I needed some time with Rabbit and the Dodge and his rocking love who had fantastically and unexpectedly-as-always rolled in town for 48 hours - an opening for another one of her artists. This was our chance for talk, and drink and food. 

I was definitely flustered, and way too eager.

I rabbited on to Mr Rabbit about some random shit all the way over the canal to Parmentier, where I was sure the Dodge must have booked a restaurant of the same name in a distant French suburb because you could never get a table at this joint at such last minute notice. 

They were running late. 

We stood in the trendy entranceway and a trendy waiter approached. I felt desperately untrendy but I tried to pout it up a bit. 

And then it happened.

A couple had entered closely behind us - a stunning French woman and her older-looking man friend. Just as I went to talk to the waitress, the woman stepped in front of me! As if I was invisible. Now if you live in Paris you'll know this happens all the time - usually I just allow it to happen or grumble a bit, or shrug and look at Instagram. But this time I venomously hissed 'Excusez-moi', and stepped rudely back in front of the lady, turning my back to her in such a way as to cut her off from the waitress's view before saying audibly and with demon bile to Mr Rabbit 'FUCKING FRENCH.' I said it deliberately so the French woman would hear. There was spittle around my top gums. How DARE she. Every time I had been ignored, stepped on, near-run over, cut off, cut-in-front of, denied, hung up on and overlooked came spurting out in that one raging moment.

It didn't feel very good though, I must say, especially when I saw the look on Mr Rabbit's face, and I remembered the main tenet behind 'She who smiles last' - it's always you who feels like crap if you let it out - the other person usually just feels like they've won. 

The waitress couldn't find our name on the list - and we eventually realised once I pointed to Dodger's name on the sheet that our table was for 6. Damn - the Dodge must have invited the artist. Of course it could never be as perfect as I dreamed. 

Mr Rabbit and I sat down at the table - at the end. He was still a bit gobsmacked by my racist outburst. I smiled and tried to pour some honey on the mood. And then, to my slow, sinking horror, I noticed the Frenchwoman and her man moving towards our table. I looked down at my napkin. Yes, it was true. They were the artist and his girlfriend.

And then I actually did wish I was invisible.

She sat next to me, and the artist sat on the far seat on the other side of the table. 

Should I say something? There was no doubt she heard me. And, as she sat down and introduced herself in perfect English, my fucking french was unlikely to have been mistaken.

I hate myself, I thought as I slugged back a glass of bubbled water and looked around the table for ways to suicide. The man seemed put out, but he was older, Greek and a serious artist, so that may have been his demeanor. The lady also seemed uncomfortable, but maybe that could have been that we were sitting here without our common link - I told myself. Perhaps none of us could be bothered meeting new people tonight and hadn't been aware of the others' impeding presence...

Or had we, I wondered in my clammy sheets later that night. Was it possible that in fact the woman had not been trying to overstep me in the queue - rather, just to point out on the waitress's chart that the booking was made for 6 instead of 4, and that they were the other two?

I rolled over and moaned, wanting to die all over again.

She who smiles last - I thought to myself. I shall never, ever be rude again.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Hypoallergenic

Her dad was a bodybuilder and her mother was short and sweet and baked cakes and ferried her around to dance competitions. I didn't know it then, but her dad beat her mother and ended up in jail later on. So many things you don't see when you're under 14.
Their house was nice, a double-story in a court, and she only had one brother so they had that bit more money. Their house was always dim, however, curtains drawn. There were always videos.
She and I had a love-hate relationship. She was a real bitch - a scratchy one - we had known each other right through primary school and depending on our - or was it just her - mood - we would hold hands and tell secrets or she would chase me around the oval, catch me and beat me. Sometimes with other girls. Once, together, we asked another girl to tip a bin over a girl's head.
There were pink things in her room. She had one of those plastic doll busts with hair that you could brush AND the little plastic lipsticks. Her trundle bed was soft and pink and slid neatly back underneath her own bed with its dancer spread and fluffy lace pillows.
Her mother let her have lots of sugar.
Also, she had a live bunny rabbit.
When she began getting her period her mother soaked their knickers in a bucket together. I was so ashamed, I couldn't have imagined sharing that sort of thing with my own mother. Also - the bucket would be kicked over in two seconds in our house.
There was this video. She was allowed M, and even R-rated ones. I was still utterly PG-restricted. It was a horror movie about girls going to a dance school and getting locked in. One naked woman in the shower dropped some soap and offered it sensually and threateningly to a young girl saying,
"Try it. It's hypoallergenic."
That word just came up in my copywriting job and to this day whenever I see it I think of that film. There was barbed wire all around the dance school and a particular unforgettable scene involved a girl jumping desperately out of a window only to be met with a sea of barbed wire through which she could only try to swim... I looked on in awe, knowing I should never sleep again. My friend's mother soaking knickers, the smell of cakes baking in the background.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Thinky

It is february and the day suddenly stayed up two more hours - literally on wednesday it was dark at 5 and on thursday at 7 - and the sky went all blue and the jasmine came out everyone is walking around thinking - is this real? Maybe it's just me. Last winter was a six month funk of grey and ink that never distanced itself from your skin long enough to let you breathe, a neverending cloak of misery, one of those huge heavy ones people have in country houses that hang by the back door all ugly and heavy and dripped on with dried rain and full of the tall heavy grandfather who once wore it centuries ago. It's so hard to get off you. Well the cloak is not this year and I can't help but feel suspicious and then I feel guilty for not just going with it. I can feel Mr Rabbit thinking - god, can't you just enjoy it? That is so him. Why do i have to always think so hard, wonder - is it the Armageddon? No, Rabbit, it's just a nice day. Sit in the sun and put it on your face for a bit and don't worry. A kingdom to be slightly less thinky.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Where the Fuck is Teddy

I think we're doing ok as parents. It's not easy. Today I used a gruff voice I've never heard before, and I've noticed myself speaking in a measured tone that I have heard before, on other people - grown-ups. The measured tone, I have established, is used when your brain cells are wallowing around defeated in the cup of your head and you have to somehow not only find the means of speech, but assert authority. Losing the power of improvisational speech has been a particularly devastating side-effect of parenting for me, and I do find myself regularly appearing as an automaton, bereft of basic functioning, placing words like Kiki. Put. On. Your. SCARF. Now. Or NO PARK. Also, it is getting harder, because the small bundle of cuddles now suddenly has a razor-sharp little brain of her own and is wielding it with little empathy upon my mushy pile of being. She doesn't even want to 'cuddle mama's chest' so much any more, which is leading to my own kiddy tears. Now I'm the baby! I am 'Kiks' and she is Mama, putting me to bed, changing my nappy, telling me to CLOSE. EYES. I miss being the mama - is my baby really my mother already? She is outgrowing me, at 2.5. Help! I am drowning - look at me, scrabbling around the flat like a zombie for toys - ah, my big girl, ah, my tyrant screaming in bed for cold water and warm milk and honey and big bubba and little bubba and new bubba and squirrel and teddy, round and round and round. And where is teddy? Sweet Jesus. WHERE'S TEDDY?  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Muddy Puddles

The favourite activity of the little girl's favourite cartoon pig was jumping up and down in muddy puddles.

The cartoon pig lived on a hill somewhere in the English countryside.

The little girl lived in one of Paris's grimier neighbourhoods.

The puddle lived outside the New Morning Jazz club. 

The puddle was composed of many things.  

The little girl was wearing little pink sneakers and little black pants and little grey socks with tiny flowers sewn in them.

The little girl was wearing the week's piss and spit and cigarette butt and ash and perhaps some sewerage and probably some old coffee and a few old chips up her little black pants. Not to mention the centuries-old grime and plague and dead ants and spew and grease and rat fur and beer funk.

The little girl was delighted.

The little girl's face crumbled upon perceiving the shock of the passers by.

The little girl's eyes spilled over as her mother rushed to pull her out saying 'I'm so sorry darling, but you mustn't jump in puddles! Puddles aren't always puddles.'

The little girl tried to understand.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

To Tu or not to Tu

When and when not to tu in French is a complex cultural dilemma - especially if you're a casual person. In fact, if you're Australian it's probably hardest as our MO is to never act greater than anyone else in any given circumstance. How to be casual in general in French is highly difficult - there are manners of being that are simply not employed. An example that comes to mind is this:

Nice to meet you.

When meeting someone you'd say Enchanté(e) - enchanted - which is ridiculous, but sweet.

It's the goodbye Nice to meet you that's impossible. You know - you've been at the party and you've met some new people and you go around saying 'See you, nice to meet you, bye...' That offhand expression, as far as anyone whom I've ever asked can tell me, doesn't exist. The only thing you can say is:

Ravi(e) d'avoir fait votre connaissance - Ravished to make your acquaintance.

Or perhaps:

Ça m'a fait très plaisir de vous avoir rencontré - It's pleased me greatly to have met you. 

Pleeease, any French reader, if there's something I've missed tell me!

It comes up time after time, at social gatherings or meeting after meeting and I've gotten to the point were I simply say it in English as I can't stand the restrictive formality and directness of the other expressions. They feel so forward. 

The other one I find impossible is a simple 'Looking forward to it.' Ah! The only expressions I have ever found that match the sentiment translate as 'I'm waiting with impatience' or 'I'm waiting with interest.' Crazy. French is just a more sincere language. They either say it with entire conviction or they just say Au revoir. I have never even found any of the expressions I need in verlan or argot.

It's a complex thing - especially when you're used to relying on such nuances to express your being.

These issues are a constant source of squeamishness in my social and work life, but I think the greatest difficulty I still have is when and when not to tu someone. It's something we never even have to contemplate in English - we just use a slightly different deportment and grammar when talking to Grandma as opposed to our brother. In French there are two entire grammar systems based upon the vous and the tu form (in case you didn't study it at school). The former - for more formal situations and plurals, the latter, for informal communications. For example, you would never ever tutoyer an elderly person or a person you didn't know that was older than you - and you certainly would never use it in any sort of public interaction. The latter is used for your family (though I do know some very posh people who vous their parents) and your friends - people you converse regularly with. Oh, and children.

Of course, between the two is a whole, terrifying grey area.

For example, there's this hot chick who takes her one-year old to the same café Kiki and I go to in the evenings after club. We talk a lot, her little boy and Kiki play - we're about the same age. To tu or not to tu? We started chatting the other night after at least ten separate meetings and I couldn't remember if we tu'd or vous'd. So I just tu'd - I mean - come on. I might have been mistaken, but I swear she was offended. In the same café there is a waitress, Nathalie, who hugs and kisses Kiki and takes her behind the bar - they have an entire relationship. The rest of the staff and I all tu - we've known each other for ages. Nathalie, no matter how many tu's I do, vous me back! Ah! When we lived in the Récollets, they had cleaners come in every week and do our room. We struck up a friendship with one of the women named Myriam and one day (after having lived there for at least two years) I asked if we could tutoyer each other. She agreed, so I tu'd her. She spoke back to me in vous! It was mortifying. I tried out of curiosity to change it, but she never ever tu'd me once. I ended up going back to vous and we were all a lot more comfortable.

You see, there is real subservience here - none of the old Aussie 'no worries cobba, we're all equal'. If I serve you, I have no right to tu you. In fact, come to think of it, it was probably disrespectful of me to tutoyer Myriam. I should have respected the system - the distance.

But it's hard. You don't want to offend, say, people your age by not using the informal, but at the same time you don't want to be presumptuous and act like you're friends! I hate it I hate it I hate it! I'm constantly coming out of meetings thinking - oh shit - did I tu too early?

Ah, Grandmas. The best thing is talking to Grandmas because the boundaries are completely clear. Making beelines to Grandmas at parties now. Where's the égalité? 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

You're Not a Man, Man: Pt 2

Last night we watched 'Before Midnight' - that new Julie Delpy conversation thing. 'They Came... to Talk...' rolled Mr Rabbit's eyes but there was a party upstairs that made our room vibrate so sleep wasn't about to come anyway. That said, the moment it began we got sleepy. But aside from the boring and forced moments, like in the other two films, there were a few great parts that made us both glad to have persisted.

'The only time I get to think is when I take a shit at work. I am starting to associate my thoughts with the smell of shit.'

And there was another part I thought a lot about in the shower this morning which was when she was ranting about how he would go out into the olive groves every day and just think and wonder about his work. It infuriated her, because she had such trouble dissociating herself from him and their kids - she just could never allow herself the time to stop and dream like that. And he answered by saying 'Well if you'd fucking stop whining and bitching all the time you'd have plenty of time to dream.' Which was a very very bad call and caused her to walk out, slamming the door. 

This really affected me. It's so true. Ethan can never understand the complexity of her connection to her kids and that infuriating instinctual urge, despite all her efforts to be an independent, strong, feminist, to be with them at all times. How difficult it is for her to allow herself the time and space to separate from them - especially in her mind. 

Though men feel their own specific attachment to their children, there is something different that women feel, that they have to fight harder in order to keep themselves and their inner worlds alive. It's just different. The man does his share - often huge - then goes for his walk in the olive grove. The woman can do it too, but she has to overcome an extra part of herself that wants her to just stay and spend the entire day in Sandpit Park with them both. All it takes is for her to say - 'I'm going off for a walk.' The man and the kid would say 'great!'. But it's an effort to say it. If I ever do, the family is always better off. But that's not to say it's not anti-instinct. 

It took me back to a piece I wrote about it, when I was first pregnant with Kiki - you're not a Man, Man. That was the first time I could feel that instinct arriving in me. I must have been six or seven months pregnant. And for the first time in my life I felt different from Mr Rabbit; from all men. Until then, I had grown up feeling all the same entitlements and freedoms as a man, the ability to attain my goals in any field I chose - really, between Mr Rabbit and I there wasn't much more difference than our shapes and his ability to smash me in every sport we tried (including chess). We had always met on a very even level, and we both gave equal amounts of passion to the art forms we loved most - and neither questioned that in the other. Suddenly, I could feel myself change. Already I could feel an urge so strong to care for this being, I would never feel the same way about my work and my independence - correction - I would feel the same, but at the same time equally as dedicated to this other creature - and thus live in a perpetual state of torn. I felt it then, but could never in a billion years have fathomed how that feeling would intensify thousandfold after her birth, growing even greater every day she is alive. When I am away from her, I miss her. I can't be home when she's not there, or I feel guilty I haven't gone and brought her home from wherever she is to be with me. I struggle to set time for my work, aside from bread-winning, because anything that is not directly about her and feeding, clothing and educating her, is suddenly indulgent. I hate it! Because deep down I know it's not indulgent. I know it's me. And I know she needs me to find the time and to keep nourishing the self that I am as much as I do - she doesn't want the slave-girl or the empty resentful woman stealing her away from crèche - and as much as I know that, I still have to do battle to find that space, every single day.

Thank God Mr Rabbit got it, not like Ethan. I think Ethan gets it, but he was just angry in that moment because Julie had been acting psycho. I just think - wow - we really do get ripped apart after having a kid. When before we took it for granted we were utterly on the same boat, rowing the same direction, now we're on faraway islands sending smoke signals to each other - 'Hell-oooo! Can I go-oo for a walk in the olive groooove?'

The olive grove is crucial to both of us - and it's tempting/easy to just never go there and thus get all pious - and then get angsty with Mr Rabbit when he goes, and most especially when he comes back talking about it. Woooo!!! Who is that? I've got to find a way to go too - he certainly isn't stopping me - and then I'll come back and we'll meet like we used to and share our stories. Instinct is a beast though. Man I hope I can keep mine tamed.