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. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013


Last night I was jolted from sleep with the loudest clap of thunder I have ever heard. Paris is experiencing a broody Indian summer at present so the thunder wasn't that surprising, but it's sheer intensity and deafening rage caused my heart to pound. I was scared. I never get scared by thunder or storms - they thrill me - and they're so rare in Paris - but this was something different. Again - POUND - the building was a cardboard box - FLASH - blinding light strobed my brain - even our blackout curtains and my tightly shut lids couldn't block out the bolts of electricity.

God was angry. There could be no other explanation. Was it pollution? Global warming? Putin? Was it that I sometimes put the yoghurt container in the bin when I'm feeling lazy?

God pounded again. It was bigger than that. God was railing at the entire fucking planet. God had stood by long enough. God had had enough. God was tired of the imbecilic, self-obsessed, non-caring, bullshitty little human race. It wasn't just Tony Abbott or Syria or the US shutdown - it was more of a general thing - god was pissed off with the entire history of man. God was stroking his great grey beard and saying - fuck this. This is bullshit. I'm starting again.  

For ten to twenty minutes it really did feel like God was tearing it down, building by building. I felt guilty, and small. Please God! I didn't mean it! I'll be better!  

Thankfully, God moved eventually away to rail at other naughty members of the kingdom leaving our building upright and me inside it drifting from one strange dream to another. In one I ran from house to house screaming at people like the house was on fire 'I'm 40! HELP! I'M 40!!' and in another I was standing shivering in an above-ground pool filled entirely with strawberry ice-cream. As I leant down to start eating my way out I was awoken by Kiki's voice calling: 

'Mama! Ice-cream!'

Further proof of all the forces greater than us.   

Monday, September 2, 2013

I Saw a Spider

I saw a spider. Seeing one in France is different to Australia, probably because you're not reminded of your imminent death. Seeing a spider in France feels like good luck, especially if you live in Paris, because it reminds you that nature does exist, and that it can be lovely, and not necessarily dangerous. Spiders in Australia can kill you, and because there are a few species that really can, the rest are unfortunately tarnished with the same brush - even Daddy Longlegses - because you never know. That is a shame for Australian spiders and I do feel guilty as I squash them. Mum wasn't afraid of them, even the fuzzy ones, and even though one day she opened the cupboard above the washing machine and a dirty big huntsman ran up her arm and into her sleeve. I look in corners - every corner of every ceiling in Australia, because there is often a big huntsman up there in a corner, and that's cool, as long as you can see him and know he's there. He generally won't move, but it's good to be aware. Especially because once at my cousin's house I rolled over and there was one on the curtain right near my face and I could see the hairs on its legs.

The spider on the wall in the Dordogne was large for a spider in France and it was holding on to a big white egg sac, which made it look bigger. I wasn't sure what to do because it was a bit large to sleep near. I knew it couldn't kill me, but I most certainly didn't want it crawling up my pyjama sleeve. I didn't want to kill it either - it was a mother! I shouldn't kill it anyway - been teaching Kiki not to squash ants. I got a book - Lawrence Durrell. It was a bit thick but it was close. And I tried to get the spider to climb on to it, but the spider just kept moving up the wall. She seemed a bit slow and dumb. Maybe she was exhausted from filling that sac up with eggs. Don't you hate the word sac? I kept nudging her and she still didn't take the hint. She had found her place. She wanted to stay. Shit! I sighed. I tried to sleep but the picture of her landing her sac on my face was too much. I turned the light back on and got Lawrence and more aggressively nudged her, threatening squashing. She took the hint this time, but instead of compliantly climbing on my book she instead moved into a little hole in the stone wall carved out for books and moved right down between a row of paperbacks, eyes peering out at me. I climbed back in to bed. She was technically gone, though still there. I wasn't worried about her crawling on me any more. But then I started to worry about her babies in there and didn't sleep anyway.  

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Dudes of the Quartier

There's Rasta Man. I originally thought he was just rehearsing at Studio Bleu because that day he had a guitar but then I noticed him in other parts of the quartier, never further than a ten-shop radius, sometimes without instruments. I measure distances in shops because I can simply never get distances to stick in my brain - 5 metres? 5ks? I think you'd probably say a 10m radius, but then Mr Rabbit would probably laugh as that's way further or smaller than I meant. I'll stick to shops. You see Rasta Man sitting outside the Napoleon drinking beer or standing outside the Bobun shop and though he looks really poor with his big dusty dreads in his big dusty knitted hat and three-piece wool suit (in high summer, over a very very big black heavy body) I don't think he is, especially because the other day he asked me if anyone in our block was renting out their apartment over summer. Not that our apartment block is anything special, but the rue des Petites Ecuries is definitely not the value it used to be, and especially in summer everyone's doing Air bnb. I said I didn't think so, but it was really nice to hear him speak and I realised we were friends, which was nice because most of the dudes of the quartier, the ones you see every single day, never say hi. Now when I pass he acknowledges my existence, not with a smile, but just a something.

I guess the reason that most the people of the quartier you know and see every day don't say hi is because you see them every day because they live on the streets. Rasta Man, though he doesn't live on the streets, mustn't live far from them because you see him, literally, every day, outside the Napoleon or La Ferme or the El Papi Chulo. I don't think there has ever been a moment I have stepped outside and turned left and haven't passed him somewhere around. He's never drunk, but always drinking. He is very very huge so maybe it's too hard for him to get drunk. He has a stable air about him anyway, and doesn't seem troubled, so I don't know - maybe he just likes being outside.

Outside the El Papi Chulo is a spanish looking guy in a wheelchair whom I also pass every single day. He never, ever looks at me. Kiki has called out to him a few times from the stroller. I have caught his eye when he was looking in my direction by accident and smiled, thinking we might one day start up a conversation - I mean we practically live together. But he looked away.

There's the Indian man swamped in green bags and a shopping trolley on the steps of the Mairie. Kiki waves. He doesn't look away like the man in the wheelchair, he looks straight at me and there is nothing in his eyes at all - no begging or sadness or illness or drunkness or hope or joy. He's just - there. He has a thin beautiful face and an overgrown grey beard and you can imagine it wasn't long ago he was living a different kind of life. He is not always on the steps. The other day I passed him on the corner of Strasbourg and the Boulevard - he noticed me and we looked at each other like normal, like neighbours, though you'd normally say hi to your neighbour and start up a conversation beginning with 'what are you doing here?' It was funny to see him there like it's funny to bump into a neighbour in a different country.

There's brain tumour man. He lives in the Faubourg St Denis and the brain tumour changes size from a small egg to the size of another head over the course of a few weeks at a time. Then he goes away for a while and comes back and the tumour has gone smaller again. I don't know what to say. Seeing brain tumour man is something that after the initial shock of the moment you slowly grow accustomed to. He is ok - he sees things, and he dances. One day I saw him asleep bent over the bonnet of a car, his feet on the ground.

There used to be the Laughing Man, but I haven't seen him in a long time now. He was the drunkest, maddest, most joyful homeless guy I ever saw and he was always there around the quartier - everywhere - from the Faubourg St Denis all the way to the canal - omnipresent - everywhere I looked there he would be with a can of Despérados in his hand, filthy and shoeless, no teeth in the front of his mouth, laughing his head off. It was the truest laugh you ever saw. He was on another planet and there was absolutely no reaching him, ever - not once did I see Laughing Man connect with any real object or human, apart from his can and the concrete and possibly the remnants of a grimy lit butt in his blackened fingers. I wonder where he is now. Oh my god I hope he's still laughing.


Friday, August 23, 2013

Fish on Pavement

Paris. August. It's quiet. And lovely. Especially if you can ignore the fact that most Parisiens are currently having more fun than you, ie, they are in nature, which is where humans go when the weather gets hot. Sometimes I do wonder if that's where you should be more often than that, but then I think Work and I think Shut Up. Summer. Summer is probably better spent somewhere with a) fresh water or b) salt water or c) a shaded garden with dappled light on grass on which toddlers can take their pants off and dance whilst you sip rosé with glaçons in it and nibble at some fresh prawns whilst smoking a cigarette in a well-fitted bikini and a great pair of sunglasses and perhaps even one of those glittery turbans you saw in the Elle magazine today or d) just anywhere with nature and not with bins.

Which leads me to bins. In the rue des Petites Ecuries you really know about bins, especially if you're as close as we are to the Faubourg St Denis. Bins + August = a certain smell that we all know as baked garbage, but any resident of Paris will know as baked French garbage, which is worse than any other garbage because there is a lot of duck guts and cheese in there. Add sun and even half a day of staff shortage and you have yourself a very very disgusting apéro outside the Napoléon which is the only café open in the whole 'hood because everyone else is lounging on some dappled grass somewhere, in a glittery turban, smoking. 

After a few years of being cool about being the only ones in Paris for the entire summer, you do start to wonder what else is out there - what everyone else is doing. It's a bit like you got sent to bed early and all the kids are out playing in the street. Everything is sleepy and quiet; one boulangerie serves the entire quartier, and the staff are grumpy as hell as they want to be in the Ardèche with their friends. It's just not pleasant. But for those years you suck it up as it's better, and if you can wait til september everywhere is less crowded and half the price. You refuse to be told at which time of the year you are permitted to vacation. Screw you Paris. We can take you.

You play chess. You walk. You go to the park. You drink. You open up the windows. You put buckets on the floor in your apartment and pretend they're pools. You go to the Bois de Boulogne and the Bois de Vincennes and the Buttes Chaumont where there is a trickling stream full of cigarette butts you try to ignore. You try to be cool about it. It's only a month.

And then today, you quietly lose your mind. Your lips are dry, your face is grim - you're a fish, slapping on pavement. This is the day you go and throw yourself over the bridge on the Canal like Nick did once, to the horror of all the bourgeois bohemians flapping on the banks. They got it, but were also sick at what lay beneath. He emerged, slippery with sludge. But, he said, it had been worth it. It had killed the craving. 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bad Actor Hairy Face Easter Egg Dream

LL and I were in a car on a trip and suddenly I was behind the wheel and I didn't know how to drive. 'I don't know how to drive!' I screamed and everything was dark around me and I couldn't see where I was going and I kept stepping on the accelerator instead of the brake. LL was cool - she said You'll be fine and looked out the window. We began to fall into a precipice and I knew we were going to die. We flew into the open air. Then we were on the side of the road and we had arrived at a house. Kiki was there and I was so relieved not to have killed her and disgusted at myself to have put her in such danger. There was a heaviness in the pit of my stomach. 'It's Easter Egg time!' said LL and she pulled out a bag that was full of chocolate Easter bunnies. My god, I thought - is it really already Easter? I wished we'd stopped at a 7-11 so I could have grabbed some Easter eggs too. LL went about hiding the Easter bunnies in the garden and I went inside. There was a casting going on and a show-offy girl was in there, acting in front of a group of casting people from Neighbours. The girl's agent was next to her on the couch and kept saying favourable things about her - 'She's so talented. I'm sure there must be a role out there for her right now. What's casting at the moment?' And the Neighbours women were nodding their heads and I was thinking - My GOD! Can't you see she's over-acting? And the girl had long blonde hair that was all shiny and brushed and she had heaps of make-up on in pastel colours. I went and sat on the couch which was really big and soft and ladylike and the girl asked me to do her an annoying favour. When I looked closely I could see the she actually had huge hairs coming out of her face and a downy blonde beard. I said no to the annoying favour and she was really affronted. I had belittled her in front of the casting agents and now she looked silly. I was glad inside myself, like I had done some sort of justice, exposing the real her to them. We went outside and there was an adult party going on. An actor friend of mine who is about to give birth was there, and she had a small protrusion of a belly and I hugged it. It was so nice to see her and to feel the baby. It was an honest feeling.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Grey Debbie

I was pretty cool with ageing, until this. It began with one, now there is a community. And they're not just grey, as I thought they would be - thinking - I'm down with that, when the time comes I'll just go platinum blonde, it'll be an excuse to be the Debbie Harry I always wanted. But you don't realise. It's the texture. And the length - they are short and wiry and utterly wrongtown - with absolutely no respect for the order of the look. They are neither straight nor curly, and shall not be straightened nor curled, and once plucked return more defiant and spindly than ever. I am losing control over the direction of my being and I'm not liking it, not one little bit. Perhaps deep down I thought I could overpower creeping age by still looking young - still having long hair that would do as it was told. There is this woman in the seaside village where we lived that once came in to the mothers' group to teach us about breastfeeding and she had hair down to her navel and breasts about the same and three children crawling on her like chubby little maggots. I asked her - when did you stop breastfeeding and she replied 'Stop?' She was very tired. And her hair was long and had great big steel wires through it, creeping right down to the navel to join the nipples and one child's hungry lips. And I thought - I respect that, but I don't want a bar of it. And when, two years later, I was sitting in the same cross-legged position, still breastfeeding, I realised - ah - I did that - AND moved continents and tried to be city power woman - no wonder my hair has fallen out in clumps and little dudes begun to stamp up and down on the top my head saying Death! Death! Death Grows Closer Every Day, it will happen and you will also grow uglier and there is nothing you can do about it! I am still trying to do stuff about it, and also trying not to look so much, as I suspect that is something that will help me in my gradual demise - what I can't see can't hurt me. Thanks girl from high school who said back then, upon discovering I carefully constructed the back of my hairdo every day with a pocket mirror - Why?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Old Shit

St Malo is old. Middle-Ages old. The sort of old that gets my dad all het up. There are ramparts. And castles. And forts in the ocean that at low tide you can walk to and accidentally get stuck on when you turn around. Chateaubriand buried in a tomb with a flag on it. Lots of people walking the ramparts and the tombs, poking their nubby little heads into things; teenagers chewing on gum, leaning against the ramparts, wishing there was a disco. It's the sort of place mum and dad dragged us to in Tasmania - all those graveyards and churches, me lusting for a amusement park that boys might be at. And really, I haven't changed. I still don't get the fascination over Old Shit. Correction - I do - I'm enthralled by it - it's Old - and that's fantastic, and now let's get on the Mad Mouse. It's not the looking - it's just - once you've looked - why do you have to stand and mull, and go and see the next bit of Old Shit that sort of looks the same? It just doesn't go in! I've always tried to make it. But it doesn't.

How do we honestly comprehend that these walls were built in the 1400s, or the 1700s and that they really did have people living behind them and climbing on them and getting ready to fight in the carved out bits of them? People having sex behind them and making babies that eventually became our French boyfriend. I see them - it's wonderful to think about it. To see it and imagine all those lives, all that time - what those walls have seen. Yes! It's incredible. But then it's like - let's jump in the ocean. Let's go and wash a big dirty bowl of moules frites down with a big nasty glass of Sancerre. Yes!

I am such a philistine and I know my Bayeux-tapestry draped father would be rolling his eyes right now. I wish I could get it in like him. Memories of the holiday in Italy with Mr Wa, marvelling at the ruins, thinking about vongole. That train trip to Naples when all the good tourists got off the train at Pompeii, look at them - good, good - we look at each other guiltily. Shouldn't we? No, I say, we shouldn't, it is our duty to get to Positano as quickly as possible and get shitfaced. How do we honestly connect with this time that has gone past - and if we can or can't - does it truly matter? Maybe that's why I am feeling all riled up writing this - it reminds me of the futility of our existence - we will all live and die but the ruins and the ramparts will endure (and if they get knocked down then the next people to come will ooh and ahh about the history of that). I don't know. It's so incredibly beautiful, time, the past. It's there. But does it have to be more than that?

When the wonderful Marie showed me around the ramparts the other day there was a statue of a corsair and he was pointing out to England with his cutlass and she told me there apparently used to be an inscription on it which read SUCE LES ANGLAIS but it had been rubbed out in recent times as it wasn't very 'politically correct'. Oh, I said, because it means 'Suck it Englishmen?' She was confused. Not 'suce', she said, 'SUS' as in the old language - 'towards'. It was an inscription from the 18th century, I don't think they had expressions like Suck It back then. I liked 'suck it englishmen' a lot better and laughed my head off to myself quietly imagining that back then they might say that. Who knows? Maybe they were funny and silly. Maybe he did mean to tell them to suck it. How are we supposed to know?

It just all feels so earnest and bland. We know nothing - and yet everything. Because it's all so nothing, and yet everything. It's confusing. How do we know what made them wet their pants laughing or cry? How do we know anything about the true character of then? We can only feel the sepia imprint of it all.

There is a pirate in town who sits outside the supermarket on his computer, smoking a cigar. Maybe I'll ask him. He winked at me last night as I walked out with my Corn Flakes. Maybe he knows something about the absurdity and hilarity of history. Maybe he can take me there.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The French Lady Inside

If nothing else right now, one skill I am getting better at is asking for things I want and getting them. in French, mainly. Today, for example, I got what I wanted twice, and it was astonishing. Not so much that I got them, but just the way that I asked for them.

I am in St Malo and feeling bold and today I rang a lovely ex-race car driver in his home in Aix-les-Bains and set up a meeting between he and a car enthusiast family friend who will be driving an old car across Europe in August. I just rang the guy, from the phone book. You should have heard the politeness - I could hardly believe what was coming from my own mouth. Excusez moi de vous déranger monsieur, mais je suis sur une mission un peu particulière... and I went on and on and I was so measured and clear - it was like another person had stepped into my body. I liked her so much more than me. She used all sorts of good confident words and articulate phrasings, not only because she didn't have much more vocabulary than that, but because she didn't have the faculty to express the sheer wavering, unsure, terrified, lost, insecure, shivering, pathetic little wreck she had become of late. The gentleman warmed to this other character - she was charming, well-educated and enthusiastic without being an idiot in any way. There was no way of communicating the true her through this language she had formed through years of study and gradual assimilation, so here she was: Mademoiselle Megapolie. And even then, she wasn't so polite as to be annoying. She was just right.

Later, satisfied, I went and bought a big yellow skirt and sat in it at the café above the beach and put my feet up on the chair and felt slightly Bardot on the Riviera basking in the sunlight with my book and café crème. It didn't matter that it was way too late in the day to order a crème - the way I asked for it was so assured, no waitress could resist. And I took off my top because it was right and was reading my book when I realised how badly I needed a cigarette. There, to my right, was a young man sitting looking out to sea, smoking. And keeping the sure French lady inside of me I bounced over to him and said like chocolate Excusez-moi d'interrompre votre moment sublime... Would I ever really say that in my true life? Interrupt your sublime moment? Seriously?

I should. I want to try. But it's way easier to be the person you want to be in a different world in a different language. Being the one you really are is sometimes a real battle. 


Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Sum of My Life Thus Far

The great thing about aging is that you can be unpacking boxes in your office and discover a picture like the one above and have a belly laugh like you've never had before. You're having one right now as you type this. The reason why you can have such a deep, painful, tear-invoking laugh, is because though you may be her, you are now so far from her, it's like she's a different person. You can like her. You like her so much, it hurts, like a 24 year-old you've just met - she's sweet, but so young she barely exists. Look at her. Look at her hair! She is trying so hard. She is so full of hope. She is thinking 'Maybe if I accept the job to be on the front of the Yellow Pages it will help my acting career because people will sort of know me, without knowing exactly how they know me. Instead of being just another fresh awkward face in auditions, they'll usher me straight through - yes, yes, we know her, we know her. People won't really pay attention to it or anything. It could be a good career move.' And she will do the shoot and they will put a ring on her so she looks sort of serious/married-like and she will borrow a shirt from a friend because she doesn't own one. Look at her - trying and hoping so hard. Look at her in the rainy phone booth in Tasmania, being graffed like fury as some guy orders drugs, before her boyfriend uses the phone and carefully tears her off, bringing her back to Melbourne, for a different kind of laughter, one with a more strained edge. Am I a dick? 

Yes you are, child. You are. You are the village idiot, and it's fine. Don't worry - one day you will look back and think it's ok that you're such a dick and that you made such a choice. You may even like that you did such a thing such as put your face on the cover of the Yellow Pages. You may think - God, that's so me, and maybe for once that will be ok. 

And you will always, always, appreciate that the doodler put a scar on your hand and did the chains and the ill-constructed hairy dick coming out your head. Imagine how many doodlers out there you inspired. How many people stabbed your eyes out or gave you a pig nose or blacked out teeth or crossed eyes. So much joy for so many people - you of all people can appreciate that, you still wet your pants over a good shit doodle.

And if you were to die tomorrow, no need for a eulogy, just hold this up. Yes, it is the sum of your life thus far, and that is ok. Perhaps there will be another photo between now and then to replace this one, but for now, this is it, and that is fine. Enjoy it. Blu-tak her to the wall of the office and when in doubt, turn and refer to her - ask - she will always answer.    

what if

what if everything i write from now on to my death is in the present tense. what if i finish some things. what if i never get any more copywriting work and have to rely on my art

what if i stop thinking completely and what if there's no point to anything at all. what if there is a point to things. what if i'm missing it. what if i should be doing other things. what if i should be doing nothing. what if i'm fat. what if everyone thinks i'm a dick behind my back and what if people don't and i think they do. what is it like for people that do famous things and don't realise the effect they have all over the world - how can they - what if david beckham could know that his name came up tonight at a dinner table in the 10th arrondissement in paris and that cormack mccarthy was being read in bed and he didn't even realise. what if cormack thought everyone thought he was a dick and didn't care about his writing and didn't know of a man lying in bed loving every single word and making annoying sigh sounds every goddamned five minutes? that kills me - you have no idea what anyone thinks of you. you only know what YOU think of you and well, if you think you're a dick, then you're stuffed. it is hence very important to try not to think you're a dick - they should teach that in schools. you could get the best grades in maths and loathe yourself when everyone in school is thinking -wow - she's amazing at maths. it's hard, knowing how to be.

Monday, July 22, 2013


I keep waiting for the time to arrive but it's not coming so the frustration is growing. And then I wonder - will it ever arrive and if it never does, does it even matter? And then I quantify the mounting pressure and realise that if it doesn't soon then I shall spontaneously combust, and I would rather not go before my time. So I should start to find a way to create the time. I think - am I an idiot for moving back to Paris? And the immediate answer is a small yes followed by a resounding NO. For Paris, to me, is life, frustrating and wonderful and fucked up and tear-jerkingly beautiful. At least, when nothing make sense I can look around me and know that I am alive - I am certainly not nowhere. But how to survive and to actually make the work? This I do not know. I just noticed I am saying do not and shall and that is because I have started reading again and there are the voices. I don't need to add any more voices in there since I began writing the book because my characters kept speaking like Bukoswki or Carver or whomever it was - whom? -seriously? but now the fact I am writing this right now is better than the fear of sounding like someone else. Miranda July in this case. She has such a beautiful, gentle way of writing. Like the way she speaks.

Anyway - the time. Finding the time. In Shakespeare it has two syllables. Ti-me. Time is funny because it's when you think you've got none that you have some - for example, when I'm flat out working on say the translation of a 70 page document on a guidelines brochure for an electrical company suddenly I get an idea and it can come out all clear then - and be fine. Mostly not, but it does happen. I think I've been most productive at times of crazy affluence.

Which leads me to the question - self - why the desert? Why so long dry? There is stuff swelling in there but i keep quashing it in order to be available or something. Ah it's starting to make me angry - secretive and hard and resentful - and I don't want that. I have to change. I have to find a way to change.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


Tomorrow is Mayday. This whole month has been Mayday. MAYDAY! I wonder if we can truly survive here - create a life for ourselves? We're close to rock bottom. Can we swim up, make ourselves a boat? Cruise for a bit?

On May 1 there are flowers on little makeshift tables all over France, tied with little ribbons. The Mayday flowers last - I don't know what they're called. I had a little potted one last year on the kitchen sink - white - it sat there for months. 

I remember being in the country one Mayday years ago, in a convertible with two boys. We were going to a pretentious lunch out at someone's country property. I was wearing the wrong clothes, deep in the back seat. The vibe was all Bret Easton Ellis. The boy who was driving suddenly stopped at a random intersection in the middle of nowhere. I didn't know what was going on because the top had been down and I couldn't hear their conversation. Even if I could, they were speaking too fast and in too much argot for me to understand. They jumped out of the car, still talking about their boys school days or something. I didn't exist and I didn't really care. The air was sweet. There was nothing but dry grass as far as the eye could see. Were they going to kill me? And then I saw an elderly man just off to the other side of the intersection sitting behind a little makeshift table. On it were little bunches of flowers tied with white ribbons. Before the man could come to standing the boys had already thrown some cash down on the table, grabbed two bunches of the nicer flowers and were back in the car, still yammering and sharing their joint. The man slowly went to sit down again. He probably wasn't sad but the simple act of sitting down at the intersection in the middle of nowhere felt like resignation. I got back in the car. When we arrived at the château, the boys threw the flowers down on the kitchen table and went out into the backyard where their friends were drinking rosé. There were lots of similar bunches strewn all over the table. I slunk outside, wondering what the point of them was.

Friday, April 26, 2013

My Dad

My dad likes 'two fruits' in the morning, on his Weeties
My dad has coffee from the microwave
My dad says it was years of being on tv sets that helped him truly appreciate granulated coffee
My dad likes airplane food
My dad likes hospital food
My dad says 'All you need is three things. Something in your tummy. Something to keep the rain off. And someone who likes you a bit.' 
My dad never wants to go to the party and then you have to drag him out at the end
My dad never wanted to come to Paris and then he did and now he comes all the time and has a old map of the city on his guest toilet door
My dad once bought a toilet seat that was made of perspex and had underwater art inside it - fish and coral and shells etc
My dad lives by the beach, but never swims, just looks
My dad can't resist a lemon crisp with his coffee
My dad is all about chocolate teddy bears
My dad used to put Wagon Wheels under our pillows while we slept 
My dad drinks coffee before going to bed at night
My dad can't understand why he sleeps so badly
My dad gets excited when he sees rosellas in his backyard
My dad has arms that when you're in them make you feel like the world is very safe
Children melt in the crook of my dad's neck
My dad has nails which are all picked back
My dad has an excellent crop of thick silver hair
My dad answers his landline
My dad answers his mobile even when he's at dinner
My dad never wanted a mobile phone
My dad never wanted an iphone
My dad was right!
My dad visits people and calls people just to say hello
My dad gets wild when you don't use the flash 
My dad swears he's not an artist
My dad gets passionate about the organization of events such as weddings and christmases
My dad loves show tunes
My dad keeps his house immaculately clean, usually to show tunes
My dad says anything is fun, when you've got music
My dad doesn't think you can ever listen to the same soundtrack enough, or film, especially ones involving show tunes
My dad puts hotel chocolates on folded towels on each bed for each guest in his house, even if it's just us
My dad doesn't make too big a deal when his children go off to all sorts of places in their lives - he graciously lets them go
My dad makes a big deal of everybody's birthdays
He says he never wants to make a big deal of his
But if I was there today, I would - I would do a big song and dance until he said 'Oh, must you make a song and dance about it?' 
Fortunately he's already being spoilt by Nanny C and all the gang.
I'm glad.
My dad is happy.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Images that Make Me Happy

Isn't it great that soon it will be normal for everyone to be able to marry the person that they love? Isn't it strange and unfathomable already that it ever wasn't the case?

Isn't it great how French daily newspapers are ever unafraid to show full-frontal dong shots?

Monday, April 22, 2013

Eat that Grasshopper

If the sheer amount of butter and sugar inside an escargot from Du Pain et des Idées can kill, then I shall gratefully die a thousand painful, artery-clogged deaths. I don't normally allow myself - not like the old days at Prune with J and two of their pain au chocolats - each. How did we get away with that? I remember the slightly insane feeling creeping into my brain, the caffeine from that second terrible crème going to my head - the rising panic of too much richness in my veins. Ah - I could go and tear a house down. Conversations were passionate. Back then we could chain smoke inside, and we did, and the indulgence was so fantastic we could have died with bonheur.

Ah J, Paris is not the same without you, and even if you were still here, we probably wouldn't eat quite so many pastries. Certainly not the escargot.

They really are works of art. The range is ever changing. Today it was a choice between rhum et raisin, fruits rouges et cream cheese and chocolat pistache. Once a year there is fig and walnut and that is just about enough to throw me off the edge. Today I chose fruit rouges et cream cheese. I deserved it because I'd been on the RER to a place called Evry for a corporate acting gig, and I hadn't got too lost, and I did an ok job of acting like I was a formatrice in front of a teleprompter. I had twenty minutes to kill before picking up Kiki. So I treated myself. 

Then I went and ate a grasshopper. The contrast was astounding. My escargot was barely digested and still a note of sweet creamy joy lingering on my palate when Kiki and I popped into Julhès to get her some gnocchi. Julhès is a cheese shop that sells all sorts of wines and fancy things. But mainly cheese - it's been our staple for years but they recently got taken over by a whole lot of weird zombies so we don't buy cheese there as much. The gnocchi man seemed not to be stoned this time and when I went to leave he asked if I'd like to taste their sauterelle. 

'Sure,' I said, thinking sauterelle, or grasshopper, must be some sort of interesting cheese, just like snail can be a delicious gluttonous pastry. But he came over with something in his fingertips and dropped a small insect into my hand, a bit like a dried chilli, but with a head and antennae and a little abdomen. My stomach turned. The man smiled. 'Sauterelle.'  

'Is this candid camera?' I asked.

'No,' he said. 'It's nice - taste it. It's sort of salty, spicy - with herbs. It's good.'

'Well I suppose we do eat bugs in the country I come from,' I said. His female colleague and champion zombie sidled up beside him, smiling at me. She was holding a jar, like a salt container, full of the little chillies.

It was a dare.

Who knew?

I ate it.

It was disgusting.

'It's not my thing,' I choked to the man, who smiled and took the jar from the lady, shaking it. The sound of the dried bugs inside made me want to puke up my delicious escargot over their array of chevres frais.



At least I know now for sure which I'd rather stick in my vermin hole.  


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pigeons in the Flower Box

We had a pigeon nesting in one of our window boxes - I'm not a big fan of pigeons, neither is Kiki - she runs screaming from them when she sees them on the street - but this was one of those beautiful dove grey ones with the shimmery peacock-blue necks. I noticed her sitting in the soil one morning and she was doing a strange wiggly dance whilst rooting deeper into the depths of the box. I wondered if she was dying, or perhaps if she was giving birth. She looked distressed, but controlled. It reminded me of something. Kiki and I watched and later that night when we came back Kiki banged on the glass and the pigeon flew over to a window sill on the other side of the street. And sure enough, there was a pretty little white egg, about the size of the hole if you touch your index finger with your thumb. It was perfect.

The next morning we got up and ran to the window. The pigeon was there again in the same spot, looking still and proud and grand. Her feathers were perfectly smooth - she could have been made of porcelain. We wondered - what now? She ruffled her feathers slightly when Kiki moved, but she stayed. After breakfast we returned and saw that the pigeon was doing the strange movement again, heaving and puffing, her breast rippling and coiling. I slowly backed Kiki away from the glass. Peace, peace. 

It was nice that she had chosen our window. She obviously felt safe. I felt proud - like a midwife.

That evening we returned and there were two eggs in the little ditch. Kiki and I danced around the room. Two babies! We wondered how many more there might be. A dozen? We wondered what they might look like. And how long their gestation period was. Would we see them breaking out of the eggs like in cartoons? What do baby pigeons look like? Are they disgusting? How long does it take for them to fly? 

I could have looked all that up on the internet but that would have ruined the excitement.

The next morning our lady was there again, still and silent. She trusted us. I thought about giving her a little bowl of water, but that just seemed un-Parisien. She was a pigeon. She knew where to get shit.

We watched. We tittered. We ran to the window each morning. No more eggs, just the two. A still, careful mother. Mr Rabbit and I wondered what the sex had been like. We wondered how many other children she had had. How many babies does the typical pigeon have in a lifetime? Stuff like that.

It became part of our day, and we watched and watched and watched. We pulled the red chair up to the window and Kiki sat on my knee. The chair was carefully positioned off to one side of the window.

And then this morning when we awoke, they were gone! All of them! Vanished! WHAT HAPPENED? I couldn't help feeling like we'd had people staying and they had just cleared out without so much as a note. But moreover, I was worried. What did that mean? Had they been killed/eaten? Had they fallen the four flights down to the footpath below? Mr Rabbit peered over. No squashed birds. We couldn't figure it out. Are baby pigeons able to fly as soon as they hatch?

I'd had visions of waking to the cracks in the eggs, then the little heads poking out, then the little slimy babies in the dirt, watching the mother clean them off, sharing a glass of champagne with her and musing over our shared experiences, the mysterious joy of these strange new creatures just entered our lives. But she was gone - gone! I would never know what they even looked like. 

I'm so sad I won't know them. Will I, perhaps, in the street? Maybe one day I will be walking down the top end of the Faubourg St Denis and as the flock does its usual explosion into the sky two little ones will remain on that dirty bit of concrete and they will just look at me and I will know.