Paris Diaries: Truth, Love, and Asshattery
After musing for a bit by the water, I finally made it to the D'orsay just in time to realize that every other tourist in Paris was already on line there. Still the D'orsay had just opened, and it was only minutes before I was inside-dry and warm.

One would think, considering how much time I've spent in the D'orsay and how much I've written about it, that I wouldn't have anything else to write, but indeed that museum is the gift that keeps on giving. When I arrived, there was Ferdinand Hodler exhibit. I had never really considered his work, but I wandered through the exhibit and was particularly interested by two of his paintings-L'amour and Regards dans l'eternite. In L'amour-the lovers, with their entwined limbs, lie in front of an ocean. Their foreheads touch and the man's protective pose obscures the woman's face. Despite their nudity, the painting wasn't erotic to me, but breathtaking in its intimacy. I stood looking at it, knowing that I had enjoyed moments like that. The quiet shared unity, my head turned towards his neck, able to smell his skin and hair, skin naked-feeling both the breeze and the sun simultanesouly. To be that exposed and still feel safe.

Regards L'Eternite was provocative to me because of its obscurity. An old man is in a wood shop. By the lower left corner is a very small coffin. The juxtaposition reveals the reversal of the natural order at work. An old man, near death, has made or is making a coffin for a child, who should be beginning life, but who has died. Furthermore, there is the absence of narrative. Is the old man a wood worker? Was it his grandson? Or is it merely that a death of this kind would provoke thoughts on mortality regardless of one's relation, if at all, to the dead child? I stood and pondered this stark painting for quite some time while most people pushed past me to see some of the more famous works.

Manet's Olympia has always intrigued me-the youth of this girl naked, but instead of a sweet, blushing virgin, we find her unabashed, challenging the viewer's voyeurism with her direct gaze. Her fearlessness and confidence especially in what most would like to think a frail and helpless creature captivates me. Unfortunately, this time there was a group of Asian tourists having their picture taken in front of this painting. It was such a large group that they had taken over most of the room, and their efforts were as disorganized as they were selfish-making me annoyed at having to wait so long to actually look at the painting as opposed to stand with my back to it.

Those of you who have read my previous entries about the D'orsay and even some about the Louvre know I have long chronicled the more ridiculous tourist behaviors and comments in museums. I've never understood the compulsion to have one's picture taken in front of a famous work of art. Sure if it's a work that means a lot to you or you're doing some funny pose, I get it. But if you stand there, stone faced, looking at the camera-what exactly is the point? To prove you were there? Wouldn't a ticket stub do the same? Some times, I admit, the strange juxtaposition of these photos is amusing like the newlywed couple that wanted me to photograph them in front of Michaelangelo's A Slave Dying. Most times, like the woman who wanted her photo taken with a particular Renoir and was giving her husband such an intense death stare as he set up the camera that I'm surprise that the man didn't die on the spot, I find it annoying and odd. What will her friends and children think when they see that photo? Certainly not that their friend enjoys being in the presence of a Renoir. And even so, if having a picture taking is that upseting-would you be better served by using that time to enjoy contemplating the work itself?

I've often wondered it is about museums that invites such asshattery. Is there some sort of chemical trigger? And how has museum asshattery changed over time? There should be some sort of historical survey because as sad as it is to say, I would love to read how Victorians were asshats in museums and how they differ from contemporary museum asshat practices. I'm sure there is a PhD or seven in that for some young enterprising soul.

Of course, behavior is only one thing-what people say in museums-erroneously thinking that no one is listening. There were the college students who, on my previous trip, were fascinated by the frames rather than the paintings themselves. This time it was two girls who interrupted my reveries by La Femme Piquee Par un Serpent, a favorite of mine since it was modeled on Apollonie Sabatier AKA La Presidente, famed demi-mondaine, while alledgely in the throes of an orgasm. The statue caused such a scandal that the artist later added a snake (for which the statue is now named) to "disguise" the blatantly sexual nature of the pose. I was contemplating the statue when one girl walking by with her friend gave the statue a casual glance. "She has really nice toes," she commented to her friend. "Yeah," he friend agreed, "like finger toes." "Her toes" the first one continued "are even nicer than Layla's toes." They giggled and kept walking. "Nice toes?" I thought. "This woman was once beloved by famed poet Charles Baudelaire. Invitations to her Sunday salons were the most sought after in all of Paris and entertained she the best and brightest of her time AND THE ONLY THING YOU SEE IS NICE TOES?"

But at least they actually looked, no matter how casually, at the art, unlike another museum goer who was so interested in taking pictures that he wasn't even looking at his camera as he snapped picture after picture, but already turning towards his next target. What is the point of that? To not even look at the painting long enough to take the picture. Can you really get some enjoyment from the digital picture you took of a painting that you didn't even bother to look at? Still, he was better than the fashion and hearing impaired American (of course) in a black t-shirt, blue sweatpants, brown timberland boots-lumbering through the museum, not even noticing as he plowed through people, to dully stare at some of the paintings while death metal blared from his ipod's earbuds.

After three hours, I could no longer stand the rampant asshattery and went downstairs to say good-bye to my girl, La Jeune Tarentine. This statue never loses its hold over me. As much as I admire the artistry of Rodin and Camille Claudel, no statue means more to me than this work. This time I contemplated her hand-open on her hip. It is the position of this hand that shows the viewer that the model is awake-is conscious. That the model allowed herself to be captured in such a state of sensual vulnerability makes the statue even more compelling, but it also adds a layer to artifice. You are looking at piece of marble carved to look like a reclining woman who appears to be asleep, but is actually conscious. The illusion is two fold-on the part of the model and the material-all of these elements collaborating to create this single work. I'm always in awe of marble statues, but this one in particular. How can an artist take a stone and make it so seemingly human, so alive, that I want to touch her hand just to assure myself that she is indeed stone? How can an artist even have the vision to look at a slab of rock and think such a work is possible? I simply can't imagine, but I'm glad there are those who can. With her, I would have never come to Paris.

As I looked at her I realized that by the next day I would be measuring my trip in hours, not days. I would leave soon, but she would last-my marble girl-long after I am gone and even the asshats who walk by her without so much as bothering to look-not even they can destroy her enduring power and beauty.

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Paris Diaries: Top of the World, Ma
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The following day Paris was foggy-perfect for a museum day, although truth be told I was going to go to the Musee D'orsay rain or shine. Those of you who have followed the Paris Diaries from the very beginning know that the reason I wanted to go to Paris was to see a statue in the D'orsay. I didn't know the name of the statue, or who made it, or even when. All I knew was that she was in the D'orsay and for that reason the D'orsay is my favorite museum. I love the gardens and the bread stealing birdies of the Musee de Rodin and nothing can rival the magnificence of the Louvre, but no museum has the same pull over my heart as the D'orsay.

I got off the metro at one of my favorite open spaces in Paris, La Place de la Concorde. It's almost impossible to capture the feeling of coming out of the Metro and being able to see the Champs Elysees, La Tour Eiffel, the Gates to the Tuileries, the grand fountain, the Luxor Obelisk, as well as the statues personifying Strousbourg, Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux, Nantes, Brest and Rouen all at the same time. This is the place where Marie Antoinette, Danton, and even the ever reasonable Robespierre met Madame Guillotine. It's hard to imagine a place where I feel such awe was once the site of such bloody inhumanity, perhaps it's a testament to our ability to heal, to change. Perhaps the large ferris wheel there is to remind us of the Wheel of Fortune, which turned so quickly to bring these and hundreds of others to their fate in this square.

Or perhaps it is another example of French logic; namely that there is no reason why one shouldn't have a giant ferris wheel in the bloodiest mile of all Paris.*

If you have mobility issues like me, you miss out on some of the greatest vistas that Paris has to offer. I can't climb to the top of Notre Dame and look out at the city amongst the gargoyles anymore than I could make it to even the first tier of the Eiffel Tower. While the ferris wheel was fascinating and I found myself contemplating it often, for some reason it had never occurred to me to actually take a ride until that morning. It was almost likely it never occurred to me that I could. But that morning, because it was foggy and the square was empty, I could easily see the ticket stand. No one was online for a ticket, and so the two women working at the window were casually chatting with each other; They didn't even pause their conversation to talk to me as I bought a ticket and walked up the ramp to be helped into an awaiting basket.

The basket quickly brought me to the top of the wheel where I could look towards the L'arc de Triomphe, La Tour Eiffel, Sacre Coeur even the D'orsay itself. I had never seen Paris like this before-to be able to look out in any direction I chose and see miles of the rooftops, the signature Paris rooftops, in any direction. I remembered what the Sauvage had told me months before, in Paris, all things are possible.

How right he was about that I thought. All things are possible here, and one can accomplish them in typically French style. As I sat in that basket, I remembered my father doing one of his favorite movie lines- Cagney's famous line from White Heat "Top of the world, Ma. Top of the world."1 In that moment, I felt like I was, indeed, at the top of the world-looking down at everything that I loved.

Normally, I would have reached for my notebook after I had taken photos, but instead I quietly enjoyed Paris being slowly revealed as the basket climbed and then hidden again as I descended. Afterwards I began to walk towards the D'orsay, but something about the Seine on that cloudy day pulled me. Instead of walking directly to the museum, I climbed down one of the stone staircases and walked by the water. I knew that I wasting energy that I would want in the D'orsay, but Paris is all about living in the moment and so I walked along the water. Alone and unafraid and totally in love with the world including foggy days and crazy ex-boyfriends who just happened to be right.

*I have no evidence that this is, actually, the bloodiest mile in all of Paris, but it seems like it should definitely be in the top ten.

1 Could you even make a film with that title in this day and age?

Paris Diaries: Marco...Polo
"But the ghost of you asking me why, why did I leave" -The Ocean by The Bravery

I once advised a girl in search of a man in Paris to stand still for maybe half a second outside of Sacre Coeur because outside of this church there is a battalion of artists who will draw your portrait against your will or offer you a drink all in the hopes of getting your panties on their headboard as a trophy. I'm fairly sure that they get a stipend from the Tourist Board to hit on any and all women they happen to see alone in order to make sure that Paris never loses its "City of Love" title. Unfortunately, I did not heed my own advice and, while I was photographing a detail from the outside of Sacre Coeur, I made the mistake of staying in one place long enough for an artist to begin to draw me against my will. As I stood there telling him to stop, I heard someone say my name. I turned to see it was Marco, the man I met on the top of Sacre Coeur my very first day in Paris. Marco bought me my very first glass of red wine in Paris, and we ended up having a romantic afternoon of dashing through the rain to make love in his apartment, which also smelled like cat pee despite the absence of a cat.(In retrospect, this makes me wonder if there is some sort of phantom cat problem in Paris where stray cats break into apartments, whiz on the carpet, and then vanish mysteriously.) I leave heart broken men strewn in my wake wherever I go in Paris; Marco was one of my earliest casualties. I promised to meet him at 9 pm on top of Monmartre for dinner...four and a half years ago. I left him that afternoon in his apartment promising to God that I would meet him the following day for dinner knowing the entire time I wouldn't. I never expected to see him again...and I didn't until that moment. I was shocked that not only did he recognize me AND remembered my name, but harbored no ill will over my Houdini impersonation.

He walked over to me smiling and kissed both cheeks. The other artists gather around, and he explained that we had "known" each other for 5 years. They smiled and nodded politely. Surprisingly, I recognized two or three of them from my first trip, and it shocked me how well I remembered that first day in Paris. Marco asked me to join him, and we had a glass of red wine at Corcoran's Irish Bar, the first place he bought me a drink. We sat outside smoking, and I smoked the last cigarette I would ever smoke on top of Monmartre. I quickly drank a glass of wine as it was far too cold to sit out here for any length of time so we move to another bar farther down the street.

The second bar was lovely-small, cozy decorated in light warm tones. It was a favorite of the artists-several of them sat inside with their oil paintings and canvases occassionally trying to chat up some of the tourists for work. The waitresses knew the artists by name and addressed them with grudging familiarity. At one point a fellow artist came in to ask Marco's help with stretching a canvas-a task to which he agreed, I'm fairly sure, in order to make a big show of strength and skill in front of me. Afterwards, Marco bought me a glass of wine. He gave me all of his usual lines. In four years, he hadn't changed any of his approaches. He swam in my eyes, my beautiful eyes. He asked me to come and sit for him, nude at first, then clothed, then just a portrait. "Such a beautiful woman it would be an honor just to try and do you justice," he told me. I raised an eyebrow at this, but I'm flattered. I wondered how much I've changed in four years, since that first terrifying trip to Paris. Have I gained weight? Am I sadder? More afraid? Angrier? A family walked by with a little girl toddling towards the light. I smiled at her and Marco asked me if I'm married, if I have a child. I told him no. When he asked me why not, I lied, a well worn lie. "With the life I lead, it wouldn't be fair to have a child, to have a family."

Truth is there is probably nothing I have ever wanted more, but no one ever loved me that much. In fact, most men don't love me enough to pick up the phone and dial my number, which makes it hard to, you know, start a family. The one man who wanted me to have his children...he's married to someone else now and she has his child. I never wanted to be a famous writer until he left. When it became apparent that I wasn't the type of girl that men marry, then I made being a writer a choice, but to me being a writer will always be second best to the life that I wanted. I would still give up everything, all of my ability with words, even my cat, even all my trips to Paris, all my moments of divine clarity, to have that life back.

I probably would not have accepted that second glass of wine if it hadn't been for that question. But Paris is a city of decadence and so when Marco asked, I said yes even though I knew I should say no. Marco asked me why I was in Paris, and I explained that I came here for my boyfriend...and then left him. "What happened?" he asked. And I find I don't have an answer. I opened my mouth, but no words came to my mind. I tried to organize a sentence, but it wasn't a chaos of ideas as usual. It was a void. A blank. Jesus, what did happen? I tried to come up with even one reason why I should have left him...and I couldn't. "Oh you know," I said to Marco, "there were a lot of problems. I realized that it was just never going to work out between us and so there wasn't much point dragging out." It didn't even sound convincing to me, but it was something. He nodded his head. I'm not sure if he didn't understand me or didn't believe me or some combination of the two. He pointed out that I was supposed to meet him for dinner all those years ago, remembering me swearing to God that I was going to return. He playfully pushed me for an excuse, but it's Paris, I'm a woman. This is reason enough not to show up to dinner. Of course, he didn't know that I never had any intention of showing up for dinner, and I knew he also didn't really want an excuse as much as he wanted to get, even through guilt, another afternoon of lovemaking.

The wine worked its magic on my empty stomach. I felt pleasantly buzzed by the attention and the wine. So much so that I tried to explain to Marco how it is only in Paris that I see the interconnected nature of all events. "Why only here" he asked me, but again I had no answer for him. I was hoping that he would have an answer for me, but I should have known better than to look to Marco for anything more than cliche come ons and a few glasses of wine. But with a stomach full of wine answers and intellectual reflection didn't seem as important as it usually did. I drowsily shrugged. Marco asked for a kiss, and I explained that I just got out of one relationship, I didn't want another man just yet. Je voudrais etre seul. (I want to be alone.) But the truth is I'm happy for Marco's attentions, but not so happy that I am willing to repeat the same mistake that I made four years ago when I discovered that Marco was perhaps the most untalented lover in Paris.

Once it became clear to Marco that I was not going kiss him or pose for him or do anything that would allow him even the smallest hope that he could get me into bed, he decided that it was time for him to go outside and get some work as an artist. I let him go easily and took out my journal to do some writing, but was not left alone long enough to actually do so. At a nearby table, one of the fellow painters quickly tried to pick up where Marco left off calling me over and asking if Marco was my fiance. He was better looking than Marco, with those exaggerated French features that shouldn't be as seductive as they are. He was a classically Parisian man-smoking inside even though the waitress kept warning to kick him out, his face pulling into a wicked smile when she walked away unvictorious, and not shy at all about complimenting my breasts, which he thought "beautiful." He alternated between hitting on me and chatting up two middle aged women and a man from the South for a possible portrait. When it became clear that they weren't going to buy, the artist switched tactics and began to wind them up with invented stories of gangland like murders in Paris. I could tell from the look on his face how much he enjoyed their not very well disguised fear. I intervened a bit, chatting with them as well as assuring them as a girl who traveled in Paris alone often, the city was safe.

It was getting late and they decided to walk down to the Metro and invited me to join them. Once out of the cafe, they asked me what I though of the artist-they seemed genuinely frightened of some of the claims he made about crime in Paris. I said to them, "There are some people who enjoy scaring tourists, especially American ones. It's just a petty torture, but it makes them feel better for some reason. I've walked alone all over this city, you're safe. I would just recommend maybe brushing up on more French. If you speak a little French, they are less likely to screw with you." On the way down the mountain, they introduced themselves and attempted to unfold the labyrinthine story of how they came to be here-involving one of them being a stewardess who came here 20 years ago. The women, Cindy and, if you can believe it, Duffy, were best friends and business parters in a jewelry business. The man was one of their husband's, but I wasn't clear whose and didn't care enough to ask for clarity. I could only hope that he had the sense not to saddle himself forever with a woman named Duffy. They seemed genuinely happy to meet me. It made me uncomfortable to sit with them on the metro chatting with them in English on the metro even as the other Parisians stare at us. I could, on my own, look Parisian, but these women with their peroxide blonde hair and obvious accents, they would never be mistaken as anything but tourists. As they neared their stop to go to dinner I could tell there was a hesitancy. I could have asked to join them for dinner, and there is a part of me that even now wonders why I didn't except that I enjoyed going more "native". If people noticed me, it wasn't because they thought I was American. Instead, I let them go. They hugged me, and the husband told me I was "truly a great American." The compliment made me blush a bit, as the women warned me to stay safe.

As if I was the one who needed warning.

Before the first time I went to Paris, my mother told me that she was worried about me. When asked her why, she replied, "Because of the French men." I told her, "Mere, the French men have to worry about Me." Remembering that moment on the train, I realized that nothing had really changed in those 4 years. Both times I had come for an adventure, not knowing what to expect. I had left heartbroken men in my wake, always willing to give up the company of others to find my own way. I found that almost always ended up in the exact place I wanted to be. In Paris I always find again how much I love the world, and myself and walking back to the hotel from the metro, I was filled with the confidence that much like my other adventures in Paris, that there was still much surprise here for me and that I was still very much that hot carefree girl who once walked through Place Pigalle with only a black tank top, a pair of jeans, and a pocketbook-no fears, no plans, no problems.

Back at the hotel, still in the grips of a red wine buzz, I felt beautiful and took a few pictures of myself, including the one above. I thought it captured me quite well-the hint of a half smile, the direct gaze, the eyes that Marco "swam" in all afternoon. I used to love my body, but now I avoid looking at it, but that day I felt beautiful and seductive as I stretched out in the bed for pre dinner nap. I always sleep with the windows open in Paris so I can hear the city even in my sleep. I looked out at the darkening sky and the Parisian skyline; I felt the sumptuous warmth of the bed along with the cool breeze from the window on the back of my neck and thought this is how the great demi mondaines of Paris, Les Grandes Horizontales, like Apollonie Sabatier AKA La Presidente, must have felt on quiet winter evenings in Paris.

Now playing: The Bouncing Souls - Some Kind Of Wonderful
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Paris Diaries: A Cleaning Woman in the House of God
"Some things we plan, we sit and we invent and we plot and cook up, others are works of inspiration, of poetry, and it was this genius hand that push me off the hotel stairs to say good-bye..." (I'll Love You) Until the End of the World by Nick Cave

If you remember the post I wrote about my first full day in Paris, I climbed Monmartre and visited Sacre Coeur. I hadn't been back since my first trip and so the day after visiting Notre Dame, I woke well enough to actually climb Monmartre and visit Sacre Coeur. I thought afterwards I might even walk down Notre Dame de Lorette and see if Henri was loitering around drinking cider in his favorite cafe. A long shot, but in Paris, anything is possible.

Even though I was still sick, I'm always all shades of crazy and instead of taking the metro to the funiculaire, or "cable railway", I decided to climb the entire "mountain" by way of Square Willette. It was a long slog, particularly for a sick girl, but along the way I got to visit the carousel from Amelie as well as appreciate the hidden corners where students sit on benches and quietly read or draw amongst surprisingly lush bushes. When I reached the top, I was in just in time for a harpist to begin playing- again I was struck by how it seemed my trip was being guided by unseen hands.

A French stranger offered to take my picture on the steps of the church-I though it was a come on, but allowed him to take the picture. Afterwards, though, he simply handed the camera back and walked inside. As I entered the church, the nuns began to sing. Sacre Coeur, with its giant mosaic of Christ, is one my favorite churches in the world. And to walk in just as the nuns began to sing "chants pour le temps de Noel" was even more evidence that my trip, despite my avowed atheism, was ordained by divine providence.

Rasputin, the same batshit crazy Russian who told me that all women get their period when they visit Paris, also told me once that I was a Christian, I just didn't know it yet. When I was recounting this part of my trip to my good friend Princeton, he remarked "See, there's hope for you." But it is only here that I feel these things. London, Rome, Florence, Edinburgh, Dublin...I love all these cities, but they do not touch me the way Paris does. They do not convince me that there may actually be a benevolent God or that all events are interconnected, we simply lack the necessary perspective to see it. In Paris, all of this becomes clear to me.

Because Sacre Coeur doesn't permit photography, I sat and "sketched" the paintings and mosaics. And when I say "sketched" I mean made rough stick figures that even the most brain damaged of cave men would have mocked. Yet again this is an example of French logic, while you can happily snap pictures in Notre Dame, St Eustache, and St. Denis all infinitely older churches, you can not CAN NOT take photos in Sacre Coeur. Since I knew my "drawings" would never do these paintings credit, and I knew I didn't have enough time to sit and write a detailed description of everything I saw, as much as I wanted to, I knew that this was a sign that I should just sit and be with these paintings and mosaics as the nuns sang. To revel in the multi colored wings of angels and, particularly, St Michel. The first time I went to Sacre Coeur, I lit a candle for St. Michel and became convinced he helped me with the rest of that vacation.* This time I do the same and sit with him, enjoying his Pre-Raphaelite beauty almost as much as his French indifference as he pierces a winged Devil. Here Jean D'Arc is robed rather than armoured, as she is at Notre Dame.

In front of these shrines and paintings were bouquets of flower-huge gorgeous sweeping bouquets of white flowers. As I sat drawing, a cleaning woman in a grey and white uniform came up and removed a partially rotting bouquet tossing it into a garbage bag she carried with her. I pondered her for a moment. "Shouldn't the nuns do this? Of course, some of the nuns are singing, but surely they must have time to do things other than sing." I thought to myself. I wondered about what it would be like to be a cleaning woman in the house of God-sweeping, vacuuming, washing, scrubbing in a place like this every day. Would it affirm one's faith, or destroy it? The woman moved quickly, with little emotion, and her blank facial expression gave me no insight into her experience.

I could see the sun through the stained glass windows shining brightly. As much as I love Sacre Coeur, there were other places I wanted to see. I was about to walk out, when a guard held his arm out and I stood there as all the nuns, who had been singing, filed past me. I looked into their faces as they walked silent and serenely past. They didn't look at each other or those of us who stood waiting-and their expressions were strangely blank, much like the cleaning woman. I was struck by their youth-most of them were about my age rather than the more elderly nuns I occassionally see in the hallways of my mother's hospital. Their outfits were varied and intriguing to me. There were some all in white, others with the more traditional white and black habits, and finally some nuns were dressed like 18th peasants with white blousy shirts and full brown or blue skirts, but with white habits. All of them, however, sported comfortable shoes.

It was, to me, miraculous to be so close to these women. Not just because I had listened to them sing for the last hour and a half, but because I was in awe of their commitment and dedication. Religious faith is something that I utterly lack and always have. When I was younger, I studied various religions hoping I could find one to believe in, but I never found one that made any sense to me. I have always envied those with religious faith even though I can not, even now, conceive how it is possible to have that kind of conviction. 1 Finally the procession passed and I finally walked back in the Parisian sunlight.

*My affection for St Michael was inspired by an early boyfriend of mine. His middle name was Michael, and I used to think of him as my seraphic beauty. He used to call me the Devil Herself as well as the Greatest Argument for Sin Ever Made. Out of all my exes, he is one of the chosen few for whom I still have affection so much so that I think fondly of him whenever I see St, Michael/ St Michel depicted.

1 Last night I was having a conversation with a person named, strangely enough, after the archangel who defeated the devil. He remarked on how much he loved the ritual of the Roman Catholic Church. When I asked him about some events detailed in the Bible, he revealed an amazing ignorance of the text even though he said he did believe in God and Jesus and the whole trinity thing. I asked him if he felt as a christian he should actually read some of the more important sections of the Bible-as it struck me as odd that a "jewish" atheist would know it better than he did. He responded, "I don't need to read it to believe in it." For a moment, I saw the strange logic of his claim.

Just for a moment though.

Paris Diaries: Serendipity

The following day, my migraine was gone and my flu seemed improved enough that I decided it was time to finally venture out of my quartier. First, however, I strolled down the Champs Elysees to Avenue Montaigne. Avenue Montaigne is a delicate torture. The Belle Epoque buildings are as beautiful as the Pret a Porter clothes that are in the windows, and equally unaffordable. If you want to buy Prada and Givenchy, this is the place do it. Not a store filled with snarky women who make their nasty comments through their nose in undisguised Long Island and New Jersey accents, women who think that class is all about how much money you have, but a truly gentile, quiet, and tasteful street. A street so incredibly high class that even empty with all the stores closed, it intimidates visitors into polite behavior.

Once at the Seine, I enjoyed the view from Pont Alexander and then continued to walk up Avenue de New York (of course!) until I reached the Grand and Petit Palais. From there, I took the Metro to Blvd St. Michel, but not before getting tearful outside of Shakespeare and Co where I had great trouble resisting buying a copy of the "Summer of '42."

By this time I was starving and found a local cafe where I stuffed myself with oeufs. The front of the cafe was also a tabac, and while I ate, I mused at some of the brands here: Hollywood gum and Hamlet cigarettes. What kind of ad campaign Hamlet cigarettes would have? "To be or not to be...a smoker? That is the question." Afterwards, I made my way to Notre Dame.

It wasn't until I went to Paris that I understood the real power of Christianity. As a Jew in a small New England town, I had never seen anything like the gothic beauty of St. Eustache or breathtaking mosiacs of Sacre Couer. Before Paris, christianity was a bunch of stories about some twit who walks on water, which were then used to help the Inquisitions and the witch trials. I thought"C'mon the Greeks and the Vikings have that beat by a mile. I mean if you are gonna believe in some ridiculous shit, why not get some REALLY ridiculous shit like princesses impregnanted by grains of sand or showers of gold?'" Here, in the view of these awesome churches, I was finally able to understand not just the beauty of the religion, but the power that could be used for creativity and artistry.

After donating 2 euros to a light a candle for Jean D'Arc ( a personal favorite not just for her life, but also for the George Bernard Shaw play written about her), I paid another 3 euros to go into the treasury museum. I also discovered my fascination with reliquaries in Paris, specifically at Cluny which houses the not at all well advertised reliquary of the umbilicus of christ. As a Jew, this whole "Let me cart around this foot in the name of JESUS!" well, it just doesn't seem right. I mean if you have those kind of precious metals, why not use them to, you know, help the poor or something. Is encasing the hand of a saint really the best use for those diamonds and sapphires?

Of course, considering that in 1176 Paris was saved from a flood by the Bishop of Paris holding aloft a nail from the True Cross and praying "In this sign of the Holy Passion, may waters return to their bed and this miserable people be protected!" perhaps their love of reliquaries is fairly understandable. And the treasury is full of them, but if you find them not to your taste, you may prefer gorgeous pieces like this crown of the virgin, which is detailed with blue angel wings encrusted in diamonds.

Whether you want to linger in Notre Dame or not, the crowds keep you moving pretty quickly. Most people come here with little appreciation of the place simply knowing that it's some place they "must go" without knowing quite why. As a result, they move quickly and if you know what's good for you, you will too especially if you happen to be a four foot six girl. It's like being swept away by the undertow, if you don't move with it, you risk drowning. Since I had been to Notre Dame before, and personally prefer Sacre Couer, I allowed myself to be amiably jostled through.

Once back out on the street, I happened to see a hot spiced wine stand and warmed my hands as I walked towards the bridge. Two jazz musicians, a clarinetist and, unbelievably, a pianist, had closed down the bridge and were playing in the street. While the pianist had his back to the audience, the clarinetist playfully mugged for the audience-clearly understanding that performance was part of his art. I stood on that bridge with my wine listening to jazz while looking at the Hotel de Ville and Notre Dame-and in that moment, I was exactly where I wanted to be.

Paris always reaffirms my faith in myself and my ability to make decisions. Standing on that bridge I thought to myself, "If you can break up with someone in the city of fucking love during your period and still feel good about it, you have absolutely done the right thing." While in New York, I never seem to stop fucking up, in Paris it seems that no matter what decision I make turns out wonderful in the end. And that may be why I am an atheist every where else in the world, but in Paris, in Paris I believe in a benevolent God who guides my actions. It's also only in Paris that I can see the interconnectedness of all events. urse that's an oversimplification. Thousands of minor decisions had to happen with minute precision to bring me to that bridge in that moment, happily sipping my wine, yet amazingly and improbably they did.

I walked on to the Hotel de Ville and discovered that for Christmas they had transformed the front of the building into an erstatz winter wonderland complete with fake "sledding." In a typically French solution to the lake of snow, the had constructed plastic white slides that children could "sled" upon. In addition to the sledding, there was an ice skating rink and two carousels. In typically decadent Parisian style, one of the carousels was actually two levels. If I hadn't been embarassed by all the children with their parents clamouring for a ride, I would have jumped on-but as it was I knew that the witching hour was approaching. It was almost five, and I knew that my legs wouldn't hold up much longer.I walked towards the metro pleased that even in January, Paris is filled with surprises and joy.

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Paris Diaries: Tea and Harmony in Paris
Now playing: Jimmy Scott - I Have Dreamed
via FoxyTunes


Back when I used to date Rasputin (no, not the crazy Russian performance artist, the crazy Russian novelist), he told me that whenever a woman goes to Paris, she gets her period. Considering that this man also thought I was one of the descendants of the Lost World of Atlantis I took his claim with the seriousness I thought it warranted, which is to say none at all.

The following day I woke up to discover that in addition to the flu, which had now turned my brain into a giant ball of mucus overnight, that my period had decided to be impatient. Furthermore the radical flux of hormones had brought me to the jagged edge of a migraine. Although I had planned to go to Notre Dame and the Blvd St. Michel, I decided that today should be spent yet again investigating the local area. That way if my migraine fully blossomed, I could easily make my way back to the hotel for a nap.

I made my way to a couple of shops, trying things on, and buying onea or two little things in particular a cashmere sweater with a skull and cross bones on the back in silver. The brand was "Rebel Cashmere" and the slogan, proudly blazoned on the tag was "it's just a fucking cashmere." I thought for the slogan alone I had to buy the sweater. By noon, I was feeling weak, and my head was pounding. I bought a sandwich and made my way back to the hotel. Unfortunately my room had not yet been visited by housekeeping. Rather than taking a nap only to be disturbed in the midst of it by a maid, I decided to venture out yet again.

My guidebook claimed that St. Honore Fauborg is "great" for shopping. This might be true if one walks much farther down than I did. To me, it seemed like I walked quite far without seeing too much in the way of shopping with the exception of some antique bookstores, which while interesting, were closed.(In retrospect, this probably saved me from blowing a wad of euros on some fabulous antique edition of a book I could never hope to read.) After walking by several closed furniture stores on what seemed like an abandoned street, I turned around and decided that I would take tea at Mariage Freres.

Should you find yourself on a Saturday afternoon in January by the Champs Elysees pondering how to spend an hour or two, Mariage Freres is the place to go. The perfume of tea fills the place, while Jimmy Scott and Nina Simone singing softly over the sound system. The waiters are all meticulously dressed in white, and the tables are set with the signature white ceramic Mariage Freres sugar bowls and plates. I was seated quickly at a table and ordered a pot of Earl Grey French Bleu and a dessert called the Little Sahara.

The pot of tea arrived quickly and the perfume of bergamot cut with "blue flowers" cut through my cold giving me, for the first time in days, a sense of clarity and wakefulness. The dessert arrived-it was composed of three small parts: a petite wedge of tea infused cheesecake, a scoop of ice cream with a crunchy praline topping, and a flan with a tea glaze. And while the advil I had popped had no effect on my migraine or cramps, I found that the melting deliciousness of the dessert and the soothing sound of jazz managed to restore me. And again I found myself feeling that everything was as it should be for Mariage Freres creates such an overpowering sense of harmony that it restores one's faith that there is an order and intelligence to the universe. Surely, I thought, there should be some sort of government fund to send women to Paris. I'm sure that the need for zoloft and prozac would radically diminish with liberal doses of tea infused cheesecake and fine quality tea in a pleasant environment.

Unfortunately, the moment I was back on the street my migraine returned with a vengance. I found myself barely able to make my way to the hotel room. I set my alarm for 7, allowing myself three hours of sleep, and awoke to find the migraine now blinding in its ferocity. I took some more advil and went back to sleep. At nine I found myself a bit better, but now starving. I decided I would get food at the closest, easiest place, which ended up being a restaurant called Hippopotamus. If you remember this post, you will remember that the only English word that the Sauvage thought was beautiful was "Hippopotamus." I hadn't thought to wonder how he would know such a word until I saw the sign for the restaurant, a popular chain in Paris. It's kind of like the Parisian version of TGIF, only without the "flair" or any of the other cheesiness. Essentially, it's French fast food served in a low key restaurant environment. I actually liked it much better than the fancy place I ate the night before. The waitress was very friendly, and the food, including the goat cheese salad, was tasty.

While eating dinner, I felt guilty about how little I've done. I hadn't even left the quartier yet and I was almost half way done with my trip. On the other hand, the ghost of my migraine is still present enough to remind me I had little choice about how to spend today. Furthermore, I assure myself it's far more of Paris than I would have seen with the Sauvage. Still it's a Saturday night, and the girls on are on their way to the clubs in their short skirts and high heeled boots. They walk arm in arm-chatting animatedly with each other. I feel like I should be doing more, pushing myself harder, but my temples occasionally throb. Rather than waste another day in bed with a migraine, I decide to go home early and rest.

On my way back to the hotel, I pass a few smokers huddled by the opening of the restaurant quickly puffing away, a sight that gives me a moment of levity as I imagine the Sauvage huddled outside of some bar in Frehel lighting his cigarette and cursing the American girl who left him behind.

Paris Diaries: Champagne and Ruins
It wasn't until the next day that I felt healthy enough to resume the Cultural Death March. After consulting with my guide, I realized that I was only a short walk from Parc Monceau and the Musee Jacquemart Andre. I had never been to either place. My guide book had a detailed map of the park, and it seemed like it would fit in perfectly with In Ruins. Furthermore, it wasn't far from my hotel. Even though I was feeling a bit better,I didn't want to push myself too hard too fast.

If you are unconvinced of my description of the mildness of a Parisian winter, the presence of flowers in bloom in January should be fairly compelling evidence. Even in the dead of winter, there were flowers amongst the cascading waterfalls and Belle Epoque tributes to famous writers like Guy de Maupassant.

The park was fairly empty except for a few joggers and some mothers with strollers so I could walk around and take in the colonnade and even watch the ducks that leisurely paddled their way around the pond. While it was lovely, I still preferred the Luxembourg Gardens in August.

Afterwards, I decided to head to the Musee Jacquemart Andre. According to my guidebook the museum houses paintings by Fragonard and Boucher, two of my favorite artists. Unfortunately, it was a 30 minute wait to get into the museum to see exactly 2 Bouchers. There was, thankfully, an entire exposition of Fragonard including this painting Les Debuts du Modele. Part of the draw of the museum is that it is an 18th century home thus it adds to the overall experience of looking at 18th century art. Unfortunately many of the rooms use only natural light making the paintings difficult to see, especially during the hazy days of winter. While I enjoyed some of the paintings, I found myself disappointed and thinking that I would have enjoyed myself more if I had visited the French Masters wing at the Louvre.

On the way back to the hotel, I stopped in at a cafe which featured champagne sorbet on the menu or as the menu claimed "champagne water ice." The waiter seemed taken aback that I would order such a thing, but brought it to the table anyway. If one can't be decadent in a cafe after strolling around Paris, well, one can't be decadent anywhere. I slowly enjoyed my champagne sorbet considering where to go next before heading out into the street for some more exploration.

As I walked, I discovered that my favorite chocolatier A Cote de France as well as Mariage Freres were only about a block from my hotel, which was either a very very good or very very bad thing depending on how you view a gourmet spending binge. Laden with three tins of expensive tea and a small bag of chocolates, I continued walking, enjoying the windows of a few antique bookstores until I came upon an open air market on Rue Poncelet, which was a seafood lovers dream come true. There were mussels, lobster rails, King Crab legs. It almost made me wish that I had a kitchen so I could buy something and cook it.

Finally I went back to my hotel for a much needed nap before dinner. When I awoke, I sought another local restaurant still not feeling up to traveling too far. As I drank a glass of red wine, I realized that it had been about 6 years since I had broken up with anyone. I rarely leave anyone because I am particularly sensitive to rejection-even if it is my rejection of another person. But at dinner, I thought, I should do this more often-it feels alot better than the wallowing in misery after yet another asshat leaves me. I thought about how much I had wanted to go home, and how I would have missed out on all of this. Paris always teaches me something, but also I was sure that there was much more enjoyment to come.

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Paris Diaries: Lost in Translation
One might think that freed of the Sauvage that I would immediately run around reveling in the Paris that I had been missing. Unfortunately, I was still sick. The previous evening I had walked around for about two and a half hours, and I woke with sore legs as well as my usual flu symptoms. While on past trips I wouldn't let something like my health get in the way of my Cultural Death March, I had learned from past experience that trying to push myself in Paris was dangerous. I walked around for a bit, windowshopped, and bought myself a new dress-a patterned turquoise dress that turns heads whenever I wear it. When I was in high school a woman named Rita who owned a dress store called Rita's Bleutent on Madison told me "You can always use a new dress and a new man and in that order." It was good advice and I've always followed it.

I returned to the hotel in the afternoon for a 3 hour nap. Considering how many vacations the French have, they understand the necessity of rest. They have the work ethic of my cat, which means a particularly ambitious day involves a casual stroll to breakfast, some loafing around showing casual disdain for about 3 hours, a leisurely lunch, a six hour nap, perhaps a bath, and then finally dinner. Considering that I was still sick, this seemed like a pretty decent schedule for me. While I was in the bathroom freshening up, I noticed the "please towels you wish cleaned" note on the mirror. Unfortunately whoever wrote the English translation of this sign was clearly not as fluent in English as the hotel supposed as the message in English was "For the ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION We thank you for agreeing to put by ground the bathroom linen which you wish to make wash."

After my nap I decided to go someplace nearby for dinner. I left the hotel without my coat, just wearing a heavy sweater. The Parisians are pussies when it comes to the cold. It was about forty degrees that nhnight, but the Parisians were buddled up like it was blizzarding outside. They wore hats, mittens, scarves, heavy coats. They hurried and rushed to their destinations complaining about the bitter cold, while I walked, the cool air on my cheeks. I wondered how the Parisians would handle a winter in NYC. The first time I was in Paris in January with Henri, he had commented on how cold it was. I wanted to tell him, "It's not cold until you walk outside and get an ice cream headache just from breathing. THAT'S COLD." As it was, all I did was smile and nod.

As I wasn't cold, I indulged in one of my favorite activities-looking at movie marques. What makes this so entertaining is not only to see how movie titles are translated, for example Death Proof was translated as La Boulevarde de la Mort (Boulevard of Death), but which titles are left in English. So looking at one marques one might find that Once Upon a Time is translated into Il Etait Une Fois (Once Upon a Time), but Gone Baby Gone is left in English.

When one is in Paris, one understands how Dadaism came into being. Round a corner and you will end up facing something both stylish and absurd-this gorgeous house, for example, lit up beautifully with a car under a kind of 70s futuristic plastic bubble parked in front. There were no indications of why the car was under a plastic bubble-it simply was-as if it was placed there just to challenge the curious to find an explanation.

Further down the street was a rather pathetic display of Christmas cheer.
Some trees had been arranged around a fake little pond. The trees had been sprayed with fake snow, and some batting had been placed on the ground to give the impression of snowy countryside. This illusion might have been more compelling if the batting and snow didn't just suddenly stop. If more artistry had been in the transition it could have worked, instead it looked like a rather half assed attempt at Christmas decoration. Since it was well into January, I wasn't sure why there were still Christmas decorations, but I rather enjoyed their ridiculousness.

On my way to dinner a man followed me into the restaurant. He wouldn't leave me alone until I told him I was married. It re-assured me. I still had it-illness and heartbreak be damned. I sat down to a decadent steak with a glass of red wine assured that there was still some good adventure to be had on this vacation.

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