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.