serge forever.


My first week in Paris (once the profound jetlag that is coming from the States to Europe wore off), I remember sitting down at my kitchen table at La Motte Picquet and jotting down a list of places I wanted to go and things I wanted to see immediately. With Paris in my palm, I decided to kick off cette vie Parisienne with a stroll from 15th to 7th (one of my favorite walks in Paris) to M. Serge Gainsbourg's house.

My intrigue was ignited after reading a 2007 piece in Vanity Fair that documents his daughter Charlotte's wishes to keep everything in the house exactly as Serge left it when he passed away in 1991. With the exception of exploding canned food and perishables, all of his quirky toys and tchotchkes, ashtrays, paintings, Repettos, even chewing gum are exactly where he left them. Because his home is currently closed to the public (although Charlotte hopes to one day turn it into a museum), the biopic Gainsbourg (Vie héroïque) gives us a look inside and his eclectic tastes, among other facets of his incredible life. 

Seeing it in person for the first time, I got the chills. I was not expecting the volume in which his home was (and still is) memorialized by fans who pay tribute with graffiti; some of it being bona-fide street art. That first visit in 2009, the facade had sketches from Joann Sfar, the graphic novelist and director of Gainsbourg. It was months later that I recognized his work in my photos after seeing the making of the film.

I have since visited several times, each involving a little story where I have chatted with other fans who also enjoy a visit with Serge. In honor of today, his would-be 86th birthday, I revisited 5 bis Rue de Verneuil to pay homage to one "France's most beloved and important songwriter", l'homme à tête de chou....white Repettos and all. 






Along with the French classes I took in New York before I came to Paris, I supplemented my schooling with the music of Serge Gainsbourg, looking up and translating the lyrics. While this method vastly improved my vocabulary, I also learned a lot of dirty words and expressions, which of course I loved.

Here's a compilation of just a handful of my favorite songs that on any given day, I can be found rocking out to my in apartment...alone. Enjoy!

(*Fun fact: I sing this one to my cat, Charlotte. 
It totally creeps her out...and my mom.)

little earthquakes.



 Illustration source: Melissa M

Everyday I hop on the metro to go to work, I can honestly say that I have no idea what the day will bring me. Perhaps this is the "excitement and adventure" that is working with children, but these little guys keep me on my toes where I can never predict what they will say, or worse, do. 

At work, the one thing I really do try to avoid is going to the bathroom. It sounds ridiculous, I know. It just seems like every time I leave them to their own devices for even the hottest second, something always happens where I hear crying or some kind of commotion through the door, and can't push my pee out fast enough. Previous episodes have included an iPad being launched from a top bunk and smashing onto a hardwood floor, Franck punching Thomas in the face, or one of them (no names) standing naked in his bedroom, smearing his own feces on the curtains. (Why the curtains? Does this strike anyone else as an odd choice for placement? It was almost poetic.)

That last event was when I made a vow to eschew any personal after-school bathroom activities. Holding off on drinking water and tea in exchange for feces-free curtains is a decision I have yet to look back on. I have been lucky thus far not needing the bathroom, as my lady friend appeared to follow suit arriving on weekends....until last Tuesday. So, with that kind of set-up, you know this story is going into a very dark place. I forewarned you, this will not be an I love Paris in the springtime post.

I knew that I would be in the bathroom a drop longer than usual, therefore I separated the mini monsters to opposite sides of the table to work on their English homework (serious stuff here: coloring paper cookies for a nail-biting round of Who Stole the Cookie from the Cookie Jar?) before heading off to manage my business. With an assortment of phrases instructing them to stay put ("Soyez sage, Restez ici, Bougez pas,"), I was confident that my brief absence would be rid of incidents.

There I was, sitting in the miniscule bathroom, so small that I could touch the walls boxing me in without having to stretch my arms out. I learned toward the door expecting to hear hysteria but all was quiet on cookie mountain. Parfait. Finishing up, I sat up and let out a small yelp when I realized that I had not inserted my tampon all the way. (I hate when that happens.) At first I did that dance to maneuver it in place, which never works, before poking it up.

There I was, my pants around my ankle, standing in grand plié, my face scrunched up in the discomfort of having my fingers up my crotch, while the other hand held onto the wall for balance. 

And that, was when I looked up to see that Franck had opened the door, catching me literally red-handed. Of course he did. After two years, how did I not call that?

Upon absorbing this horrific scene, he let out his best "Home Alone" scream, slammed the door in my face and ran off. Merde, merde, merde!!!

That day I was wearing my vintage sailor pants and had to button all 15 buttons before addressing this, which only adding to the tension as he wailed on in the living room.

"She's naked!!" I heard him cry to Thomas, "She's in their almost à poil being bizarre! Qu'est-ce qu'elle fait?

But really, I did not know what to do, I'm not versed in - at least not yet - handling emotional trauma of a five-year-old. Was I supposed to punish him? And if so, for what? Opening the door? Not listening when I told him to stay put? And was I going to have to pay for his therapy sessions? The horror!

Then the second part of this already humiliating experience dawned on me: I would have to explain all of this to his father that night. I couldn't let this one slide in the hopes that Franck would not relay what he saw to his family. They had to hear it from me. 

At the behest of Aurélien, whom I called for advice, I spared the father all of the gruesome details and placed emphasis that Franck was very shaken up.

"That was his response when seeing you without pants on?" the father joked, "He cried? Oh là."

I was not at all amused. And it showed.

I am not one to storm out of situations, but my humiliation was mounting by the second. I wished them all a curt bonne soirée before leaving to meet Aurel for a much-needed happy hour cocktail at Chez Vous

I sometimes can't believe these are snippets of life in my 30s. I always imagined I would be settled into an actual career by now, but I also never predicted I would be married (still so weird) and living in Paris. Take the good with the not so great, eh? These almost two-years working with these kids have been quite an experience, unwittingly preparing me for the day I have my own, however, I am looking forward to the end of my final year in childcare. Mon dieu.

revisiting la motte-picquet.

May 2012

I admit it's been quiet on the blog this year. The reason is that I have been hunkering down on projects, submitting essays, and considering some new opportunities. This has meant spending my days confined to my desk-slash-dining room table with my thinking beret on, fashionably wearing my blue Sports Authority sweatpants, with my short hair pulled back into a wee ponytail. Hardly a riveting blog post. Aside from being called a deaf girl who doesn't speak French by a toddler (they're still failing to understand that I'm not allowed to speak French to them!), life for this américaine in Paris has been less action-packed than it normally is.

With hints of an early spring season charming the city, and a special meeting with blogger-turned-friend Sara Louise to commemorate her last day in France before moving back to the States, it was time to get l'enfer out of the house!

Meeting at Bar au Central for an early evening glass of wine, Sara Louise regaled Kristen and me with her jaw-dropping French stories as she reflected back on her ten years in Europe. (Girlfriend needs to write a book!)

On my walk home to the metro, I passed the iconic Parc du Champs Mars, and couldn't help but recall my own journey. To bring my sense memory to life, I reached out to my former roommate Charles-Henri to see if he wanted to meet up with me before I jumped back on the 6 to go home. 

My first year as an ex-pat was not exactly typical, but really whose first year is? Because finding an apartment in Paris is pretty much a nightmare, not to mention, that my status was not attractive to French landlords, for the sake of cheap rent and to actualize this dream of living in Paris, I shared a one bedroom apartment (READ: one bed) with a guy I barely knew. As you could imagine this set-up triggered a host of "situations" where I still cringe when I look back at some of the discussions I forced upon poor Charles-Henri.

Luckily he didn't hold the 2009 me against the 2014 me, and agreed to meet with me for an impromptu dinner at the apartment on La Motte-Picquet.

It's funny how our memory gets distorted over time; the spiral staircase leading up to the apartment was slimmer than I remembered and, the smell that I had grown so familiar with had evolved into a different odor that I no longer recognized. 

I rang the doorbell that had a higher pitch and some man, who was not Charles-Henri, answered the door. Apparently, I even forgot what floor I used to live on.

"Oh my god, you look like a wife!" Charles-Henri proclaimed after opening the correct door and giving me the once-over.

"Why? Because my hair is short?" 

"No, because you're wearing a wedding ring, cocotte."

(Beat)

I helped myself to my former bathroom and through the faintly frosted window saw that the same neighbor still lived across the way. Well yeah, of course he did. This was the neighbor who had told me five years ago, that he and his daughter could see me sitting on the pot and performing other bathroom activities when they ate dinner at night. 

"What happened to the blinds we put up in here?" I screamed through the walls, yanking my tights up.

"Oh, they fell down a few months ago." 

That's it. They just fell down. No further explanation, which I recall being a typical Charles-Henri response: so direct and assured. He knew exactly what I was suggesting but he didn't care, and I suspect the neighbors also know that he doesn't care since they have never approached him about it. Only I got to enjoy the privilege of that conversation.

Sitting in "our same seats", over pinot noir, poulet rôti and steamed brocoli, we dished about the present while entertaining ourselves with tales of the past. He is the only person I am still in touch with who witnessed the insanity of my first two years here and met the oddball characters that, even then, he vehemently disapproved of. 

Extending my visit to the last drop of wine, it was time for me to say goodbye to 2009 and go back home to 2014.

"You really did it," he said as I was putting my coat on. "You came to Paris to learn French, to make a life, and to get back to writing, and voilà, tu l'as fait."

"I do forget that I was hanging by a thread for a long time," I acknowledged, "And it's nice to be reminded sometimes that life has a way of working itself out."

"We learn and grow more from our failures than our successes." he said, never ceasing to impress me with his English and his astute outlook.

"I wasn't sure what I was doing with myself in those days," I mused, "For a while I felt like a loser, but I was secure in the decision to come here. I'm glad it wasn't all for nothing." 

"It never is, cocotte."

A brief visit with my past was just the refresher I needed to continue on with my future. And what better time to look forward in Paris? I hear it's lovely in the springtime.

Quel chou? Kale chou!


 
In my almost five years in Paris, I have learned (sometimes the hard way) that finding certain items in this town can be unpredictable  and to remember to keep an open mind when setting out for something specific. (Case in point: it took me a week to find inexpensive silver glitter.) More often this applies with food. I have maintained a habit of relying on the Parisian basics, nothing too wild, so I would no longer set myself up for disappointment. 

It took one rainy day in the 12th to have my theory come crashing down on me...

It was a typical Friday morning at the Daumesnil farmer's market to stock up on veggies for the weekend. All the usual friends were present: onions, garlic, tomatos, chou frisé, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kale...whoa, back the train up, kale?! My friend with benefits was there! Delighted by this fine and unexpected discovery, I struck up small talk with the merchant who told me that they were there every Friday and always have kale as it has been in high demand. (Many thanks to the efforts of The Kale Project for creating this demand.) 

How progressive for my quiet area of Paris! For laughs, Aurel and I have spruced up Daumesnil by giving it one of those cutesy New York-style acronyms the jauntier parts of town are sometimes called. Over wine one night, we came up with SoNa, for South Nation. I know, I know, it so doesn't work, but I always enjoy seeing the expressions on our French friends faces when we tell them that we live in SoNa.

Last week, I prepared a shopping list for a dinner party we were hosting, and a part of me knew I was setting myself up for major disappointment, but I did it; I put kale on my list and set off on my journey.

My first stop was the supermarket for items like rice milk, dark chocolate tablettes for melting and foie gras toast. Amazingly, the market didn't have dark chocolate tablettes or foie gras toast, yet they had organic rice milk in several varieties. That just struck me as odd, but I wasn't going to let that discourage me, there were other supermarkets in my neighborhood who would meet such needs.

I left the supermarket and made my way over to the farmer's market with my little list. I stocked up on my basic veggies at my favorite corner stand where the merchant gives me a free clementine for my patronage, and picked up a few blocks of cheese before setting out for my kale. I had remembered that the stand was closer to the Dugommier stop and made a beeline straight for it. 

Have you ever walked quickly though a farmer's market? I don't recommend it. Everything started to look the same, some of the meat cases had gruesome displays that was making my stomach turn, my bag containing three kilos of veggies was digging into my shoulder, the merchants shouting "One euro, one euro allons-y allons-y!" and having also skipped breakfast that morning, I really thought I was going to faint. It was the Paris farmer's market version of that hazy scene in season one of The O.C when Marissa gets drugged and is wandering the streets of Tijuana. I wasn't sure if I was going to make it.

I finally found the stand, or at least I thought it was, and saw no trace of kale in sight. Of course I didn't. They had chou frisé but not kale, which really are two different things.

"Bonjour, do you have any kale chou today?" I asked, remembering that was what they had called it the first time I purchased it.

"Comment?"

"Kale chou?" I repeated, struggling as I tried to say kale with a French accent.

"Which chou?"

"Kale chou."

"Mademoiselle, I'm not following you. Which chou do you want?"

"Kale chou?" 

After what felt like ten minutes of "kale chou?" "which chou?" It became aware to me that despite my efforts in saying kale with the best French accent I could conjure up, he thought I was saying quel chou (what chou), over, and over, and over, and over. No wonder he was looking at me like I was out of my damn mind.

Feeling slightly embarrassed, as other customers were listening in on our bizarre exchange, with no further explanation, I ran away. There was nothing more to say or do, I just needed to be gone. In my little rubber rain boots, off I went to find refuge elsewhere.

It served me right to think I could go back and get something as uncommon as kale! Paris isn't quite there yet. I couldn't be frustrated, how could I be? What I needed to was to shift my mindset and remember where I was. With that, I walked over to the nearest boulangerie to pick up the most French thing I could think of, something that is always available and brings me comfort, and ordered a trusty croissant au beurre.

"Oh, we actually don't have anymore." the baker said, "We still have muffins though."

Oh. là. là. Since when are there muffins in Paris? I walked home eating my chocolate chip muffin under my umbrella, reminded that in Paris you just have to let the day take you where it goes and to surrender to the flow. Kale surprise.

Bon week-end a tous!

happy valentine's day from paris!




Of course I have a heart-shaped umbrella. Why wouldn't I? This was actually a wedding gift from Aurélien's ex-girlfriend whom I had never met, yet surmised that I would make good use out of something as presh as a heart-shaped umbrella. Pretty spot on, I'd say.

Many of you know that Valentine's Day is one of my favorite days of the year (I even decorate the house for it!) and it is not because I am married. My mom instilled in me at a young age that Valentine's Day is for everyone, and was observed chez nous by exchanging cards and kitchy gifts over hot cocoa and sfogliatelle.

So rock out to Outkast's "Happy Valentine's Day", call someone you love to wish them a lovely day and why not, pop some bubbly!

Happy Valentine's Day from Paris. Bisous!

a new version of me.



During my last trip to New York, I decided to bring back to Paris a stack of my journals from my 20s, providing entertaining morning reads over coffee. It's been branded that our teen years are supposed to be this confusing and emotionally charged time in our life, but I would have to argue that that better describes what my 20s were all about. Something I was not at all prepared for.

The central theme for most of these entries is me figuring out what I was supposed to be doing with my life, one entry took a break in my enduring existential crisis and inspired the photo above to take place.

It was 2004 and my mother called to tell me that she and my father were coming out to LA to visit. It immediately struck me as strange because my parents had been divorced for twenty years, and while they had remained friends, their relationship would hardly necessitate a family vacation to visit their adult(ish) daughter in California. And despite my father's Southern California upbringing, he had made it clear that he had no interest in ever returning. So why were they coming out? 

I arrived at LAX in my clunky 1994 navy blue Volvo, my two ton burden of steel that at any given moment would just turn off. Weeks would pass without an incident, then, just like that, it would happen. I would be cruising at high speeds down the 101, and feel a creeping pressure in the break, then the steering wheel stiffen up and the dashboard would light up like a Christmas tree, which meant boom, the car was shutting down for at least five minutes. 

I learned to avoid freeways or in worst case scenarios hug the shoulder, but when the car broke down in the intersection of Sunset and Vine, in front of the job of this guy I was faux-dating, a guy who made jokes that I was a stalker (ha ha?), that, was when I knew I had to start thinking about getting a new car. Don't you love how it took a guy, not me almost dying on a freeway in Los Angeles to consider getting a new car?

I was approaching the terminal from the short term parking lot when I saw my mother, already waiting on the curb wearing a black chinchilla coat.

"Holy shit!" she said, fanning herself with her boarding pass, "Why is it so hot here?"

"Because you're wearing fur in April. In Los Angeles."

"Wait, where's Georgia?" I asked looking around for my dad, mindlessly using the nickname I have coined him with back when I was a teen-ager.

"You still call him that?" my mother asked, extending her arms out to give me a hug, "He's going to the bathroom. He'll be right out." 

"So why are you guys here? Don't tell me you're getting back together."

"What are you, crazy?"

Through the sliding doors, my father came out, except it was not the dad I knew. He did not have his hair, was about thirty pounds slighter and looked like he had aged twenty years in the six months since I had seen him, mostly by the way he was struggling to walk.

Before I could even let out a hello to greet my father, a flood of tears filled my eyes where if I blinked they would paint streaks down my face.

"I'm dying. We wanted to tell you in person." my father said with a shrug, "Anyway, let's go. The airport fumes are making me nauseous and I'm starving." 

"You have an appetite still?" my mother asked as the two of them walked past me with linked arms towards the direction of the parking lot. "I could go for a glass of wine about now."

That week I insisted that my parents stay with me in my studio apartment as some fucked up family vacation we never got to have. It was my mother and I in my bed, my dad on my couch, and my 2 month old kitten Charlie that did nothing short of torturing my father in his sleep. The first night, in my dark apartment, the three of us tucked and were dozing off to sleep.

"Lisa-ington?" my dad whispered to me.

"Yes, Georgia?"

"I have a request before I die."

"Ok."

"I never want to hear the song "Dreams" by Fleetwood Mac ever again. If I hear Stevie Nicks whine about her crystal vision one more time, I swear, I'll lose it."

"But I love that song!" my mom chimed in from her side of the bed.

"Ok," I interrupted my loud mother, "If I can help it, you will never hear "Dreams" ever again. Any other requests? One that is not so random?"

"No, that's it." 

We heard "Dreams" over breakfast at Eat Well Café at the Sunset Junction the following morning.

Looking back on that week, I don't remember so much the tears as I do the laughs while my father's "sparkling" personality was still intact. We even took a day trip down to Long Beach where I met my grandmother Stella for the first time who was just as dramatic as she had been illustrated to me by my family. Rocking her deep red lipstick and turban, she spoke in a traveler's lexicon, infusing bits of French, Arabic and Spanish into her English.

A week later, I dropped my parents off at the airport, and for weeks, I felt lost. I didn't know what to do with myself. My entire family would be with my dad during his last six months, and I was in LA doing extra work and waiting tables. It seemed stupid to stay, but my mother insisted that I finished my time out there because she believed there was a reason why I needed to be there.

Without giving it much thought, I drove to a salon by the Silver Lake reservoir and made an appointment to donate my hair to Locks of Love, the non-profit organization that provides wigs for financially challenged children who experience hair loss due to an illness.

With it almost being the ten year anniversary since the first time I participated in Locks of Love, the one year anniversary of the death of my uncle who struggled for four years with pancreatic cancer, and the would-be thirty years of sobriety for my father, it seemed like the perfect occasion to make another donation.

Last Tuesday I went to Toni and Guy in the 11th arrondissement with a mound of hair on my head and left with it in a zip lock bag; a way more emotional experience that I had predicted when making this decision. The salon's art director pulled out her large scissors, I felt its cold blade slide on the small of my neck, and heard a crunch. "Et voilà!" she said handing me my hair over my shoulder. And just like that, it was gone.

My Dad had never been to Paris but he will always be a part of Tuesday's memory. So without further ado, here is the new look....




It's a new version of me....

fighting the battle of who understands less.



 illustration by jim darling.

Back in Paris and it feels pretty good. Aside from the stiff neck that has me moving like a robot, and the chilly and wet weather Paris winter is gracing us with, I'd say I'm in the full swing of 2014.

Unfortunately, my trip over was not as smooth as the transition of getting back into town has been. In fact, it was pretty much fresh hell. 

Check it out. It was the first day of my lady friend and I had started antibiotics (for something unrelated), which had left me light-headed. When collecting my ticket at JFK, the gate-agent noticed I was a bit flushed and was kind enough to put me in an open back row in coach so I could lie down once we took off. This is seldom the case so when it does happen, it's the golden ticket; the next best thing to flying premium.

I settled myself into the end seat comfortably and decided to make a trip to the restroom before take off. Upon my return, there was a young guy, my guess he was in his early 20s, sitting in the middle seat, to right of mine. My bag that was there before had been placed on the floor. My first assumption was that a last minute ticket had been purchased or the gate agent was mistaken and the row was not free. No big deal. I was disappointed, but it happens, right?

But no.

Per this guy's chat that he was having over me with his brother who was sitting in the next aisle to my left, he boasted that he just decided to move seats. His explanation: pourquoi pas?

Okay, so the other two seats were not officially mine, nor were they his. I get it. It was the fact that his arrogance allowed him to move his seat along with my things just because? That, was what irked me.

During a long flight you eventually get used to whomever is sitting next to you, where you just co-exist or many times in my case strike up a cordial acquaintanceship with another polite passenger. Sadly, this was not one of those times. 

The kid was a nightmare. During take-off, he was sending text messages, which made me nervous. Who was he contacting? He was rude to the flight crew, demanding his "food" during the beverage service, in which the flight attendant slammed down a packet of ChexMix and said, "Here. Food." And in a total Larry David moment because I just I couldn't resist anymore, I asked him why he insisted on moving his seat, in which he told me to "go make fuck off" and that my French sucks.

Go make fuck off? And it was my second language that was lacking?

You guys, we weren't even halfway over Boston.

I had put off attempting sleep until after our meal came, and struck up conversation with the lovely new mother in front of me whose sweet infant seemed more acclimated to flying than the young guy next to me. Well, our chat was disturbing him, the boy who voluntarily chose to sit next to me.

"Can you please shush up?"
"Non."
"Why not? I am tired. I don't understand when you speak French."
"T'as pas compris 'non'?"
"No. I didn't understand."
"Mais tu me réponds?"
"Yes, I responds you, but I don't understand when you speak French."
"C'est quoi ce jeu?"
"It is no game. I just don't understand when you speak French."
"Okay. Tu es un petit con."
"You a psychopath."
"This time of the month, yeah, you pretty much summed it up."

My ego doesn't prevent me from switching to English if someone doesn't understand my French, but the fact that he was responding exactly to the words he was so adamant about not understanding just made me push the French even more. I know, how old am I?


Knowing that this was going to be an even longer flight if I continued to stoop down to his level and with my head starting to spin, I leaned back in my chair and took deep breaths in an effort to ignore the reality mere centimeters away from me. Letting my eyes daze off as my head tilted to my left, they were met with a set of eyes weighing heavily upon mine. Jolted, I refocused to find his brother, staring at me with death daggers. Now what was his problem? Not breaking the stare, because you know, I'm a psychopath, I continued the stare down for a solid five minutes before he punctuated his rage by flipping me the finger. In slow motion.

The remainder of the flight was dotted with little messages from them. I woke up to find his dirty food tray and drinks on my tray while he slept somewhat comfortably on his, my blanket was wet, he turned my reading light on to shine on me, and I can't confirm this, but I think he may have put my seat in the upright position. If I was in better form, I totally would have retaliated. I grew up with all boys, so I have been trained by the best to handle these situations, I just didn't have it in me.

Before landing, I felt an aggressive tap on my shoulder, and before I could lift my eye mask to see what he could possibly want, he asked if I had seen his headphones. In an exaggerated display, I lifted my sight-hindering apparatus, and turned to him, "I don't understand when you speak English." As much as I want to say that I I told him to "go make fuck off" because I am more evolved than that, I can't. I simply forgot.

I practically kissed the ground at CDG and couldn't get home sooner to plunge into my bed. Sadly, Paris is a small town. I known will see these brothers again. That, I'm pretty sure about.