Mon coeur qui bat …

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If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. -Ernest Hemingway

It is impossible to return from Paris unchanged, no matter how many times one has visited. This was my sixteenth visit of the past 24 years and still I saw things I’d not seen and learned things I hadn’t known and fell in love with the city anew. It’s a city that loves you back, one of its most beautiful qualities. 

Still can’t figure out the tipping thing. 

It’s wonderful to experience Paris with someone who is visiting for the first time, to share the bits that I know and love and to see it in a way I never have before. My lovely travel companion showed it to me through a photographer’s lens and I learned from the moment we landed why it is the City of Light, how the skies are different and more luminous, how the streets are lined with language and pictures. Even the vulgar graffiti – and there is much – somehow looks prettier when written in French. 

We did many of the things I’ve done before and never tire of – La Musée d’Orsay, Notre Dame, Montmartre et Sacré Cœur, aperitifs at Les Deux Magots, lunch at La Coupole, la Marché Bastille – and we did some amazing things that were brand new to me. We went to a match between Paris Saint-Germain and Bastia (PSG won 4-0), to Sunday mass at Notre Dame, to dinner on a boat on the Seine. We rode to the top of the Eiffel Tower and drank Champagne. And we explored the Louvre – on my previous visits I’d basically run from Point A (Mona Lisa) to Point B (Venus de Milo) to Point C (Winged Victory) to have had the experience; the immensity of the palace, while too small for Louis XIV (that guy), overwhelmed me. This time we spent hours in its hallowed halls and it was formidable. We visited in it the apartments built for Napoleon (another tiny, humble Parisian) and Josephine. On this visit to Paris I also learned that I had a great aunt named Josephine, thanks to a distant cousin with whom I just connected who loves the city as I do. 

There still remains the paradox of incredibly rich food and a finely appointed populace, despite the fact that gyms are in short supply. The Parisians do smoke a lot less than they used to, and there are electronic cigarette boutiques partout. The city absolutely evolves, but just when you think it’s not what it once was, it will remind you it’s still Paris by throwing in an off-duty mime sipping RIcard in a cafe, or a beret-wearing poodle wielding a baguette on a bicycle. 

There is so much more to say on this visit, so many memories and observations to share, but I am going to save them for a different forum, a project I am very excited to begin. 

Alors, mes amis, we’ll always have Paris.

 

K

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Apparently I won’t be falling back asleep anytime soon. Le grand sigh. In part this is because I’m really looking forward to the trip I’m (we’re) taking on Tuesday, so much so that I can’t quiet my mind about it – and my mind is busy translating my thoughts into French as best it can. Each time I’ve been there has been an entirely different experience, and so while there will be plenty of familiar there will be a lot more new. What I think is really well-timed about this is that it will break us of our routine(s), or lack thereof, in my case. It will mean planning and structuring and rolling-with in a different time zone and a different language and a different atmosphere. I feel like each time I go there I wipe clean the slate of whatever’s been bogging me down on this side of the pond. Not that it makes it all better, but it re-aligns the thought processes that decide how good or not-so things here are.

One thing, one life lesson, that I’ve struggled with for a very long time and just been re-reminded of is this: if someone has adamantly decided to believe their version of you they will. It doesn’t matter how much you try to show them who you actually are, how much you beg and plead and dance around them and self-depracate and self-indulge to show them you know you’re no better than anyone else – if they’ve decided you think far more of yourself than you do anyone else, they want or need to think that. And that’s what it comes down to – we believe what we believe out of self-preservation. “He’s delusional, that’s why he doesn’t trust me.” or “She’s wrapped up in her own stuff, that’s why I feel alone.” or whatever the case may be. As a darling friend “said” (we don’t say anymore, we post) “Every morning that you wake up is another chance to get it right.” This is my self-preservation. I err I hurt I fuck up I ruin but I know how to apologize and I know above all else that as long as I’m on this planet I can try again and do better next time. I can’t erase my missteps, I’ve tried and just left a cloud of chalkdust of ugliness and confusion – best tact is to leave it be and clean up our version of it – apologies are so much easier and more liberating than defenses will ever be – and move forward.

My friend Cheech avers that words that contain the letter K are inherently funny. ThinK about it: monkey. chicken. kangaroo. duck. 

 

Dreams of you all through my head

I did not want to get out of bed this morning. At all. I have a houseguest, my dear friend Max, and I knew he’d walk Lou if I didn’t. His door was closed I didn’t know whether he was up orImage and I didn’t want to disturb him so I mustered the energy that most people have anyway and I took the kid for a walk. And holy shite – this might be the most beautiful day I’ve ever experienced. 

This neighborhood, on this day, was designed by Rene Magritte and Edward Hopper. The colors are stunning, the climate nonintrusive, the sky and the clouds perfectly executed. My mood does not match it but my mood is not terrible – just melancholy, a state of being I’ve always experienced and never minded. On our walk I wished, for a moment, that I’d had my camera. But I wouldn’t have been able to capture the day’s beauty, anyway. I’d been feeling kind of blue (Miles) and the powers that be reminded me that all is far from lost. 

Oh how I love love love my little bunny boy, Lou. I’m painfully aware that he’s “an older dog” and I’m blissfully aware that he’s larger than life and not planning on going anywhere anytime soon. What’s hard is that he came of age with three other family dogs, all of whom have gone to the great dog run in the sky. It also doesn’t help that two years ago he received a “Welcome to your Golden Years, love, Chelsea Animal Hospital” card in the mail (a day after he received his AARP card). However, he is spry and lovely and excellent and staring at me now as I click away madly on this modern day typewriter while glancing at him with my furrowed brow. 

 

And so today, my world it smiles …

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…your hand in mine, we walk the miles.

Love that song.

I started this post two nights ago and it is a long and winding road of incongruity:

A few months ago I wrote about a friend who asked me to identify my worst quality. I couldn’t – not because of my impeccable character, but because of my inability to assign superlatives to most things. Tonight I’ve honed in on one thing I’d love to change over all others, and that is my compulsion to worry. I come from a long line of worriers. My paternal grandfather, who lived to be 99 years old, was my touchstone. We grew up with a German Shepherd named Lovable (stop that. I had nothing to do with it.), and when Grandpa was over he’d often say to Sister and me late in the evening, in his gravelly, Ukrainian accent, “The pooch is hungry! Maybe now he can eat?” and we’d shout (GPa was very hard-of-hearing) “GRANDPA, WE FED HIM THREE HOURS AGO!” Once Sister was heading out to a party at the all-knowing age of 16, and he saw her to the door and called after the turquoise Trans-Am in which she fled, “Don’t drink!” When he wasn’t audibly worrying he’d observe the situation at hand with a furrowed brow, which I’ve proudly inherited. 

Sometimes when I’ve expected to hear from a loved one and haven’t, I furrow my brow and contemplate everything that might be to blame. And the possibilities are fairly boundless. Blech. Who needs this? I certainly don’t. I wish I could let things take their course and convince myself that the fact that I worry does not mean that there is anything to worry about. 

Ukrainian Grandpa was an exceptional man. He came to the States on the Mauretania in 1908, traded molasses, married my grandmother, had five children, lived until New Years’ Eve 1992. In 1989 I studied in Paris for a semester. When I made my triumphant return stateside I called him, the first time we’d speak in five or six months. The conversation went as such:

G: …Hal-lo!

L: GRANDPA? IT’S LAURA!

G: … … … Ca va?

He’d studied French as a young boy and, 85 years later, remembered that bit.

A couple of years ago I decided to study Russian. I taught myself the Cyrillic alphabet and learned a few words and phrases. I mentioned this to an uncle who informed me that Grandpa was, in fact, from the Ukraine and did not speak Russian. Least one of us does. 

I learned a new word yesterday: chthonic.

Devilish, isn’t it? It means “concerning or belonging to the underworld.” Apparently the “ch” is silent. Vestigial, really. There’s a limerick in there somewhere – about a man from Taconic who drank gin and tonic and started to act kind of chthonic.

I went to a football game last weekend, something I’ve been doing since I was a slip of a thing, and I think I actually started to understand the game this time. Much to the dismay of my rather boisterous date, I’m not a cheer-er, which belies my enthusiasm for the spectacle at hand. Thank goodness they don’t do “the wave” anymore – good lord, what a mortifying display of forced audience participation that was. I used to rifle through my pockets or handbag and pretend not to notice as it was going on around me. Exhausting.

Next week I will be taking an unexpected and last-minute trip to the aforementioned Paris, a city I love so much it hurts. I’m blessed to have this opportunity and will savor it. This blahhhhggggg pretty much took form when I was in Paris in April, as the three of you who read it back then might recall. So much has happened since then, so much has changed, and I am in a far better place than I was. That trip was the catalyst for much of this change, and for that I will forever be grateful. So many words I’ve written since then, so many songs I’ve listened to, so many times I’ve realized how lucky I am to be where I am at this point in time. And this point in time is all there is, really.

Grateful to you all, my dear friends.

Here by the sea and and, nothing ever goes as planned

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Some merry prankster has taken to writing the words “Bad Luck Spot” in chalk on the street corners by my house. Thanks, buddy. I’m way too superstitious for that. It’s a bizarre little enclave Lou and I live in; the gas station down the road has been temporarily usurped by an “art” installation – there is a white picket fence around it, a few dozen metal sheep, rams and lambs (are these one and the same? I do not know) grazing on astroturf, and a man in head-to-toe black holding a clipboard. The man is real. Maybe the grass is, too. The farm life is definitely not.

This has been a week of things not-quite-going-as-expected: shifted plans, chance encounters, interesting strangers. Today I escorted a visually impaired man to the Verizon store, where I was headed as well; this is the third or fourth time I’ve had occasion to do this. Once it happened while I was fortunate enough to be visiting Paris, beautiful, magical Paris; a blind woman asked me to escort her out of the metro. As we’ve established, I’m afraid of heights and, much to the dismay of anyone who’s been to an airport or shopping mall with me, terrified of escalators — I much prefer the stairs. This was one of these metro stations with a fifteen-story vertical escalator, and the woman grabbed me and asked for assistance just as I was bypassing it. I couldn’t summon the French for “debilitating, irrational fear of moving stairs,” and so I clung to her for dear life and made petite-talk for the 12-minute ride. It was all at once a good deed and extreme sport.

A friend used to tease me that my greatest fear would be riding an escalator without mascara. Which is ridiculous; I’d be fine with just eyeliner. 

So … I might be published in the New York Times! Yep. In the past couple of days I’ve submitted a question/complaint to the Social Q’s column and a found haiku to Metropolitan Diary. Hey, a byline’s a byline – even if every grandparent-of-a-precocious-child-who-takes-public-transport gets one in the Diary.

I am learning a tremendous amount, this year, about how to live in this world. And, as I’ve said aloud to a couple of people in the past few days, my life has been infused with a lot more color than it used to be – in my decor, my wardrobe, my experiences and relationships. What a difference it makes; I spent April 2011 – April 2012 in a series of casts for a fractured scapula (look it up, too tired to explain); because I was x-rayed regularly my cast was changed regularly, and the day I opted for a fuchsia one instead of the standard bone-white, my mood improved dramatically. You learn a lot about human nature when you spend a year in a cast – particularly how intrusive strangers can be. I can’t imagine seeing someone with a broken bone (or black eye or gaping wound) and asking for an explanation, but an amazing number of people NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED!!! At first I would explain, in painstaking detail, my official version of events, but I soon learned that if I just said “accident” people would seldom ask me to elaborate. I also learned in that year to type very quickly with one hand (insert obligatory internet porn joke). 

Alright then. I had intended to write about something entirely different, had been thinking about it since this morning, but here by the sea and sand …

Buenas noches a todos. 

 

 

Addendum: I have always depended on the kindness of strangers

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 So this one, obviously, is not a lyric. 

My good day was ruffled a few hours ago, and then it redeemed itself. I was running late due to a miscommunication – typed conversation breeds confusion – and when I got to the train I was asked repeatedly to swipe again; swipe again at this turnstile; too fast; swipe again. I don’t do “flustered” well and I walked in a circle, tried again, and got the same behests. 

Reply hazy, try again.

I watched helplessly as one train, then another, passed me by; I’m not the turnstile-jumping type. I went to the booth and handed the booth-gentleman my card; he did whatever it is he did and said, “This card hasn’t been used since September 19th.” I waited for him to go on, realized he was the one waiting, and said, “I haven’t used it since then!” “What have you been doing?” he asked. “I’ve used another card.” Another train roared through the station and he said something I couldn’t hear. “I’ve been traveling?” He shook his head and asked again how it is that my Metro Card hadn’t been used since the 19th. 

I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t use public transportation as often as I should. It’s not a hygiene or a safety or a mingling-with-the-masses thing at all. It’s that … actually, maybe it is a mingling-with-the-masses thing, but not because I don’t want to do so, because I’m not very good at it. I’m not good at rushing down the stairs, at balancing, at keeping a poker face no matter what’s going on in my head, at finding my way around my hometown. If it’s doable I much prefer walking, but truth be told I spend way too much money on taxis. 

So all of this is swirling through my head while the man’s admonishing me and trains fly past.

“You’re going to have to buy a new card,” he yells.

“Okay!” Another train is pulling into the station and he’s saying something else I can’t hear, though he must realize I’m getting agitated about my thwarted efforts to get to 34th Street. I could have burst into tears and probably looked like I was about to, out of frustration as much as anything else. A young woman who’s been watching for a bit snaps at him, “Stop being so hard on her!” and offers to let me use her card. “I can’t give it to you,” she says, “But I can get you through the turnstile.

By this point it had been about 15 minutes since I was supposed to be where I was supposed to be, and it was fruitless. I thanked her, cast what I’ve no doubt was a pitiful look at the man in the booth, and went home with my tail between my legs. 

Travel snafu and aborted plans notwithstanding, this young woman was lovely to me in a ridiculous moment when I just needed someone to be lovely to me. 

The point of all this: despite what our parents warned us, do talk to strangers if you might be able to make their day a tiny bit brighter. 

I’m going to make a concerted effort to become more comfortable with the MTA.

That’ll show him. 

The littlest things that take me there

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In case you’re wondering, which you probably aren’t, the titles of these posts are lyrics from songs I like that may or may not be pertinent to the writing that follows. 

Now then. 

A few months after I graduated from college, the summer before my freshman year of life, I was in a place of great uncertainty. Like most of us, I assume. I had gotten a Bachelor of Arts in the ultra-employable double major of English Lit and French. No, I didn’t want to teach. I didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do. I’d sort of grown up around show business and had a brief flirtation with moving to LA to work at an agency that had just opened there, but I let that one go. I was living more or less alone in the house I’d grown up in in the suburbs, a house that was an albatross for my parents until it finally sold some years later. I commuted up and down the West Side Highway (I drove!) to a job as a production assistant on a short lived talk show hosted by Dr. Ruth. The show was called “Never Too Late” and each episode featured guests who had changed the courses of their lives well into their adult years. It wasn’t about sex, yet somehow it managed to often be about sex. My job entailed things like reading “People” magazine and tracking down the world’s oldest waterskier, babysitting Al Roker’s daughter in the green room, ironing Rue McClanahan’s skirt – it was a glamour job. It would be over at the end of that summer and then I had no idea what was next. I felt lost between a college I’d never really fit into and a completely uncharted life whose purpose was a mystery to me. 

A childhood friend hosted an annual end-of-August party, and that year I had a long conversation with the host’s college friend, who was (is) deaf, very smart, and excellent at reading lips. We talked about what we were doing now that school had ended and I expressed my fears and uncertainties – they hadn’t yet manifested in the bout of depression that would take hold a few months later. I remember this conversation well. The friend – Josh – told me his philosophies on life, one of which has stayed with me over the decades. He said, “I define good days differently than most people” – this was in part, he said, because he’d had more to overcome than many people he knew. He said, “If I have a good conversation with a friend, it’s a good day. If I get to be outside in the sun, it’s a good day.”

In the spirit of Josh’s wisdom, this has been a good day thus far. I finished a draft of my dark and weird short story. I set up a few work-related meetings. I got a response to a query I put out about a project I’m sort of working on (vague enough?). Louie and I took a walk and ran into an old friend and her 1 1/2-year-old son. I drank coffee and read the paper. I had a good conversation with my sister. I gave directions to a lost tourist (it’s the little things!). I did an important errand, and … I got a library card.

A library card! Remember those?!

I can’t recall the last time I had one, but they still give them out. The little branch of the NYPL on my street, the Muhlenberg branch, has about as many books as I do, but I found some good ones and checked them out FREE and I get to keep them for three weeks. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to do this, but I’m in a big reading phase right now so it makes sense. This is one of those things that the interns in my office probably have little to no concept of, like postage stamps, landlines, and albums — record and photo. 

This past weekend I climbed a mountain – to me it’s a mountain, to others it’s a gentle slope – and considering my lifelong fear of heights and of scaling cliff-like things, this is quite an accomplishment. I also went apple-picking, which I’d never done before (I know!). At the end of each calendar year, I make a list of things I did for the first time over the preceding twelve months. A few years ago the list including salsa-dancing in the street and snorkeling in the ocean. This year’s will include the aforementioned, as well as: attending a music festival, visiting Budapest, submitting a book proposal, keeping plants alive for more than a month, and making a quiche. Three more months to add to that list. Three more months of potentially good days.