Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Goodbye Paris

dear bunny
so you've decided to leave paris. the place where you sort of became yourself, where you nearly died one night, where you fell in love, gave birth, where you watched so much snow falling. where you slipped on your arse once on the faubourg st martin so hard it made tears come out. where you screamed on bikes and got down on a wobbly knee one night on a bridge with a ring. where you sweated in black clothes for two years in front of a row of artists you admired so much you couldn't speak to them in social situations and who shook their heads over and over as you wriggled and writhed and tried and tried and tried and failed and failed and occasionally you flew. where your read your first experiments with writing out loud and a lady described them as 'demeaning'. where you always felt inspired to make and do stuff even if it wasn't finished and made you look like a dick. where you were never afraid of someone saying 'pipe down bunny.' where you lived in your first apartment alone but for the cockroaches. where you learned to pee standing up. where you were near raped by a hotel desk clerk and learnt quickly how not to be so Nice. where you got your heart broken over and over, and enjoyed experimenting with how far you could push it. where you once screamed C'EST FINIIIII on a metro step thinking you could rip out a pole and javelin it down the stairwell at back of the disappearing head. where you rejoiced alone at having your first story published. where you watched kids in the park from your window and then became their parent looking back up at your own wistful ghost. where you tried to remember what it was to have time to be wistful and look out windows. where you smoked a thousand cigarettes and drank wine that made you go silent with joy. where you learned to boil an egg and never learned how to make a tarte fine though you did once try very hard. where you made deep friendships and felt a new sort of pain at every departure. where you wheeled a squeaky trolley piled with instruments down a crazy street to a stinking studio on thursdays and made music with a group of boys. where you created a business by accident and got serious and figured out how to act in meetings and also got your paperwork in order (almost). where you learned to say Go Fuck Yourself and said it one day to an awful man on a phone who said he would sue you; where you finally learned how to pronounce phrases containing no consonants. where you swore at traffic, amazed at fashion and cried well enough to secure a bank account. where you learnt the importance of presentation. where the beauty of the ever-changing light never ceased to stab you in the soul and where there was a time that nothing made you happier than wandering the streets all day long with nothing but your camera. where you always felt excruciatingly alive - never one single banal or average day to pass you by. where no matter what, you always somehow felt yourself - too yourself - every characteristic and emotion exaggerated to breaking point: grief, idiocy, elation, hope, fury, wonder, melancholy. where you revelled in solitude. where you learnt how to look out over a bridge alone and truly see it, just for yourself.

i want to mark this day, bunny. it's ten years since you arrived, and things have changed. but don't be sad: remember it like leaving the theatre school. you weren't nostalgic because you'd put everything you had into it - and once you left you were surprised to notice that you never wanted to go back. you still live right around the corner and to this day you pass that painted blue door regularly and feel nothing but a sense of joy and completion. 

you feel that same sense of completion now - almost - you're ready, but nostalgia-dreading. when you've tried to move away from paris before you've often looked back and wondered - were those the best days? and you've run back and felt safe because in paris you're either so enraptured or exhausted by the everyday you have no choice but to live in the moment. plus, even after ten years it is still so unfamiliar you can always feel the edges of yourself. but don't worry bunny, you don't need to fear any more that you're not living. you'll live this now, and you will be in it, and when you pass that doorway, which i'm sure you will, you'll think - well that was awesome. and you'll walk on and buy your bag of oranges. 




Friday, October 10, 2014

The Black Photo

'Guess what?' I said. 'On Thursday at school they're going to take your photo!'
'No!!' said Kiki. 'I don't want them to!'
I stopped brushing her hair. Kiki loved being photographed more than anything. 'Why not?'
'It's mine!' she said.
I kept brushing. 'So, you'll all be in a group and they'll take your photo. We'll be able to send it to Grandmama and Eckie...'
'I don't want to!' she said with a desperate look. 'It's my black photo!'
The sun wasn't up yet. She was talking nonsense, with that other-worldly edge. At least that was what I told myself, because it was too early to allow the truth to occur to me which was that there was never a single shred of nonsense to a single word she had ever said. But, a 'black' photo? Her recent string of odd, esoteric comments was also blurring the edge of my judgement. For example, the night before:
'Which restaurant are you going to mama?'
'To 'Aux deux amis''.
'Oh. When I was a man I used to go there.'
Maybe the black photo was something ancestral. I wondered at it for five seconds then hustled her off to school.
Wednesday came. She was eating pasta in a tutu. 'They're going to take your photo tomorrow.' I said without thinking. 'We'd better wash your hair.' 
Her face crumbled and she started to really cry. 'But it's mine the black one! I don't want them to have it!'
'I don't know what you're talking about honey,' I said. 'What's the black photo?'
'It's my black photo! Nanny Chris gave it to me!' 
I suddenly remembered the beautiful Eisenstaedt postcard Nanny had given her when visiting the month before, of ballerinas in an old Paris studio. She had bought it for Kiki as it reminded her of the room where she had recently had her first ballet class. There, she, Grandad and I had brought Kiki to the creaky attic room of the magical old dance school deep in the Marais with all the ballerinas and tap-dancers and tango couples twirling behind tall white windows. The three of us had huddled together under the low wood beams to watch her and the other pink ducklings flutter from corner to corner, teacher scrabbling to get them to point their toes. Nanny Chris had bought the postcard for her the next day, and Kiki had been carrying it around ever since in the bottom of a shabby book bag, showing it to everyone she met before clutching it hard against her chest. 
'The black and white one? Of the ballerinas?' I asked. 
She nodded, tears dripping in her bowl. 'It's mine!' 
'But what's that got to do with school...?'
And then it dawned on me. She thought they were going to take it away.



A Week in the Life

I took the train to Telegraphe and walked through the streets feeling nostalgic. I never lived near Telegraphe but it wasn't far from where I once lived near Jourdain one way and near Gambetta the other. Also I used to do voiceovers near that ugly metro mouth for an English learning site. I played an octopus and all sorts of things. It was fun. I was happy.
I'm looking for traces of happiness it seems all across the city because lately it seems I'm not happy here and I can't really figure out why. Somehow i my ad-hoc freelance life I seem to have gotten stuck in a daily grind - a metro-boulot-dodo of sorts - without the metro as i'm spoiled enough to live 5 minutes from my office. And i can leave at any time. I lost my 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Trying to Express your Person

Learning another language is like being young again and trying to master your own. When I was 8, I overheard Sarah Cahill, 10 and cool, say 'crack a fat' at the tennis club. That night I said to my mother 'Mrs Moore will crack a fat if I don't do my homework'. My mother said, 'Come with me'.

It's important to truly understand the context of an expression before you use it, though it's so very tempting not to wait. It's hard, because you do have a personality and that personality is limited to the breadth of a pre-teen because you simply don't have the knowledge yet.

Here are some examples of French expressions that I would like to master how to use:

À la limite
À fleur de peau (misused the other day when trying to describe someone who was looking lovely - the two words 'flower' and 'skin' seemingly perfectly expressing this fact. Apparently it means scared, or something like that..)
Tu m'étonne

And I'd like to know the correct way to write 'à toute'!

That is all.

Bunny X

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Clafoutis

Have you ever had clafoutis? It's a cake, not a venereal disease. Have you ever had a venereal disease? I haven't but I remember one nervous hour in a waiting room. And being convinced for one solid month that I had AIDS. Is it human nature to constantly think you have some kind of terminal disease? Do your teeth sometimes ache? I have a toothache in my lower right molar that sometimes goes away so I think I don't need to go and see the dentist on the Avenue Parmentier who hurt me so much when she cleaned my teeth I cried. Can Clafoutis cause gum disease? Should I be brushing three times a day now I'm over 35?

Another piece won't hurt. Ukie bought it yesterday from Julhès. It tastes like heaven. Imagine a baked custard tart with little red berries in it, but slightly fermented and with a custard so rich it's practically caramel. Couple this with the sweetest saltiest butteriest crumble crust you've ever stuck in your hole and you have me, in bliss, on Sunday night, alone with a 3/4 full wine glass. And you.

Do you like Riesling? I remember it being terribly unfashionable when I was in my early 20s. Do you remember a wine named Moselle? Did you parents drink wine from a cask? Have you ever spent 7-10 years composing a novel and then reread your first draft and found it better than your current one? Probably. Anyway, I stopped writing to you here in order to focus on such redrafts. I thought it was right but the feeling was a bit constipatey. Better out than in! So... me-revoilà. Do you still want to be friends? Want some clafoutis? 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

No Tongue

The first time I saw someone buy a pig's head was at the Au Bon Porc. The purchaser was a dainty elderly lady as high as my shoulder, and wearing a perfect magenta twinset with an immaculate silk floral scarf, matching felt hat, beige stockings and navy shoes.

'Mais ou est la langue?' said the woman, looking up from the bag. The butcher wiped his knife.

'The tongue is not included,' he replied.

'The tongue, not included with the head?' she argued, astonished. 'But it's part of the head!'

'Of course madame,' the man continued, huffing and turning a deeper red, having clearly encountered this argument before. 'But it's a delicacy. The tongue is never included with the head. One must buy it à part.'

'But I wanted the tongue,' said the woman, 'I am serving the head, and I want the tongue.'

It was saturday morning. The Faubourg St Denis was quiet and the concrete cold and hosed-down. I was having friends for lunch and I wanted a chicken, but the tongue discussion and a thudding hangover were making me weak. I was also ill-positioned in front of the terrines, a milky greyish one called fromage de tête affecting me on a cellular level. I had seen head cheese plenty of times before, but as I stood listening to the argument a documentary played in my mind of how it was produced. Skulls crunching, pressing out mucus which is then mixed in a dish with squashed brains and pus, to congeal in a dish before being guzzled by a delighted Gérard Dépardieu. I vomited a little in my own mouth and pushed my head with my own hand towards the lined up jars of peas and casserole, trying to think of fields of crisp green lettuce.

The Au Bon Porc was the cheaper butcher on the Faubourg St Denis, right in the centre near the Julhès delicatessens and opposite the Lecoq School where I had been a student for two years. I still lived up the road, and regularly visited the Au Bon Porc, though I would prefer to go to the neater, fancier butcher closer to the Gare de l'Est with their meats on display in an art-like cabinet, but they cost double. Also, I knew where to point at the Au Bon Porc. And the big fat lady behind the till always smiled, and also, they had hot crispy potatoes that could carry a hungry student stomach an entire day.

The shop fit the street. It had huge front that took up at least three shop-sized blocks. The meat was housed in large glass cabinets that went in a semi-circle around the walls of the shop, and you entered one end and moved along in orderly fashion, past the cashier on your way out. In the middle of the all the wasted space was a tired old stand housing cheeses, charcuterie, wine and pickles nobody bought because why would you when you have specialty wine, cheese and charcuterie shops all around? The cheeses were wrapped in plastic and looked guilty for being there. There were also greasy potato chips in see-through plastic bags, sweating to get out. The shop was the centrepiece of the Faubourg St Denis and reflected all that was mad and nonsensical about it. If you don't know the stretch of the rue du Faubourg St Denis between the grand archway on the Grands Boulevards up to the Marché St Quentin on the Boulevard de Magenta, here is an attempt to describe it. It is the craziest street I have ever walked down, and that first day I strolled the length of it in 2004, I thought I had entered another planet. Every kind of culture and colour and smell and song seemed smashed together here in a giant festival - the poor, the rich, the fat, the emaciated, people passed out on filthy sleeping bags, Indian, African, Middle Eastern, Eastern-European, polite, insane, Syrian, Afghani, English, French, sexy, smelly, delicious, dirty, immaculate... everywhere you looked the eye was met with the perfect contradiction of what you'd just seen before. A model in trainers sashaying past a man with a tumour the size of an elbow coming out his head bent over the hood of a running car. Gourmet restaurants, kebab stands, hairdressers and spice stalls... nothing ever made sense. And it still doesn't. But one thing that I always liked about it was this fact. And that, of course, is changing.

In my 10 years in the Faubourg St Denis I've watched it change, slowly at first. It began with Chez Jeannette, the rundown red-seated bar/bistro three doors down from the Lecoq school that was once run by crabby old Jeannette, who wouldn't let us eat our crappy home lunches or Paninis in there. One day, Jeannette was gone and Grég had moved in. He cleaned it up a bit, keeping its charming cracked mirrors and old cheese cabinets, making the coffee and food slightly less awful. The hipsters came in droves, soon also taking over the humble Mauri 7 across the road, to the astonishment of sweet Tim and his Tunisian compadres. Then, one by one, things began to smarten up. The Capri Bazaar moved in, serving exquisite meats and italian goods. The Daily Syrien took over the old panini joint and started selling quality kebabs. Chez Julian took a dive and got lost amongst the dust of its hats in the front window which once fooled passers by to not think that Karl Lagerfeld was actually down the back seated beneath the magnificent art nouveau mirrors and roof. Fine dining Bistro Bellet moved in, the Quincaillerie, Paris New York burgers with its claim 'Cheaper than a psychiatrist' (but only just I always said in my head). Suddenly you could hear English being spoken - and the French were liking it. The street was becoming something else.

And then before summer 2014, the Au Bon Porc was suddenly boarded up. I had never seen it closed for more than its usual 2 days a week (and lunchtimes). It made me sad - the centre of the Faubourg St Denis seemed to have fallen out - but it was summer, so I figured they would be back. They weren't. I read that the handsome group of young men who had created the trendy 'L'Office' and 'Le Richer' would be taking it over at la rentrée, putting in an entire new restaurant. 

Though I felt sore in the chest, I felt excited. Maybe it would be amazing - maybe they'd take the spirit of the old Bon Porc and serve nothing but pig and make the place all homely - maybe they'd do eggs (FINALLY!) - maybe they'd make great homely, comforting all-day-long food, which Paris as much as it was changing, just never seemed to figure out how to do. They weren't used to comfort-dining, so they just didn't expect it. Bacon and eggs! Coffee and a roll... Ah Tom Waits. He would come and we'd lounge around the Au Bon Porc (because they wouldn't change the name) and read newspapers and there'd be a jukebox and it would become that place I'd been dreaming of for so long, where we could bring our kid, wear trackpants, have messy hair, drink fresh juice. I began to get really excited. And then, the day the new place opened, my hip Paris guide-book friend and I arranged to meet there to check it out.

52 Faubourg St Denis, it was called. I had seen the décor go in piece by piece and it looked comfy, diner-ish. But as soon as we entered we realised it was nothing of the sort. One of the handsome men I knew from his other two restaurants greeted and seated me. Damn, it was posh. No! No formule midi. Straight à la carte, and all rabbit and deep fried cheek. I just wanted a toastie. Zut! We ordered wine, the sommelier taking our order very seriously and generously allowing us to taste. Bof. The butcher's wife wept in my head, manning her till, pressing the 'ding' button over and over. The floor oozed in blood. The blood of toil, all those years of flesh and knives and guts and tongues and heads. Where were the Au Bon Porc family now? Were they happy? In retirement, surrounded by animals, which they feed and carve with peace and joy? I hoped so. Though I got the feeling gentrification didn't quite work that way and that they were perhaps somewhere muddy - lost in their own head cheese.

I didn't want to be here. We ordered our coffees to finish off the meal, which had been delicious, but so very expensive and unnecessary.

'What, no spoon?' asked my friend, as the waiter handed her her noisette.

'No,' said the man, 'We don't include spoons with our coffee.'


'Um, pourquoi?' asked my friend, affronted.

'Because we don't include sugar with the coffee. It is of such fine quality, the sugar turns it bitter.'

My friend guffawed into her cup. 'What a giant wank,' she said loudly, as the man disappeared.

'What if I want to just stir it?' I wondered aloud.

We paid and walked out into the sunlit street, and it felt as though stepping on to it from an entirely new perspective. The Au Bon Porc was old, tired and outdated, but I would have preferred millionfold wait in a queue there for a pig's head. Tongue or no tongue.




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 junk 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 stating audibly and with demon bile 'FUCKING FRENCH' to Mr Rabbit. 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 accumulated in that one raging moment and spurted out.

It didn't feel very good, 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 bad if you let it out - the offender 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.

The buffed cement floor beneath my chair turned to quicksand and drew me gratefully down to into its sweet, suffocating embrace. Oh death. Oh peace. Please.

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, I realized 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 eight.
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.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Print or Die

Dear reader,
It is 2014 and the time has come for me to bid adieu to this project, which has served me mega in providing a portal through which to pour myself, over several years now. I love writing and I love being read and though this blog has been a lovely haven into which to pour my ideas and experimentations, there is a time and a place to take the step into the unfamiliar - to take a punt on the big world of actual publishing. It is such a liberating thing to be able to publish oneself, and I'm so grateful to live in this day when we can decide for ourselves what we see fit for the public eye, rather than wait for dumb old fat cats to tell us we deserve it. The only danger of that is that in turn we become so accustomed to our safe little hole with its faithful community of friends and onlookers that we never attempt to step on to the world stage and, with fat cat approval, fail, or otherwise. I always liked to construct safe walls around my work - I was always the star... of school. But in the real world I have never existed - yet. I've never really tried. I think it's because I just love to work, and could perhaps be quite happy tapping away into the void forever, cuddling up safely inside my own work, but the trouble is, I do have ambition, and a giant ego, and it would be fucking cool to actually be heard and read by the wider public. A friend of mine the other day told me that I was a dumb Instagrammer - a dumper - and that in order to garner a following, you should be more restrained, dosing your images out one by one so you get more likes. This was absurd to me, because I never put pictures on instagram to get likes, I just liked to put them on there for myself, as a record of my life going by. I can be seen in trains regularly scanning back through my photo lists, just to marvel at the way things change. I could easily be that person, neatly recording my life and observations in blogs and albums, snuggling up with it all around me, never sharing it with anyone further than friends and family. I love that. I could totally do that. But I have the feeling I might hit 70 and think - fuck.
It's time to wrap it up. From now on, the words will stay private until they're printed on a page - or nothing. That's the new project - Print or Die. For as satisfying as cyber life is, there is nothing quite like holding your real life baby in your arms, and putting it on the shelf. I want to fill a shelf with stuff. It has been real, writing this blog, and I love it and am proud of it, and it is a Something, but it has no weight until I make a book of it and touch the pages, and I want sensuality. I want to get out of my head this year and touch things.
I love you, and thank you. There have been other Ends, and there will probably be more, but for now, here I am, signing off.
Yours faithfully,
Rabbit