My old man has left me. He has flown back across the sea to our lovely apartment. I miss him. Plus there is a lone mosquito loose in the house and normally it is his job to deal with such things–the tracking down of said mosquito, the destruction and wiping-up of said mosquito. I am too lazy and so I know I will forget about it until the middle of the night when said mosquito flies into my ear 800 times. Then I will truly know what loneliness is.
In honor of my husband abandoning me in a foreign land, I am indulging in slobbiness of an extreme variety. It is 1 p.m. and I am still drinking coffee and have yet to put on pants. I am eating pretzels because there is no other food in the house. I don’t care. Maybe later I will go eat vegan chinese food again. There is a vegan chinese place 4 blocks from this apartment! It is so delicious.
The other day we had our last major tourist day before the old man toddled off home. We went to a Ladurée–the oldest bakery in Paris–and had a crazy decadent breakfast which I refer to as “sugar dairy breakfast.” Given its name, you can imagine how vaguely ill I felt for the next 12 hours. But it was lovely. The dining room is decorated in 19th-century faux-exotic “Oriental” style. This is the place where they make the famous macarons that come in so many weird flavors. Due to deeply under-developed sweet teeth, I am unable to eat a macaron (pain au chocolat is as low as I can go, sugar-wise, and even that is pretty bitter when done correctly), but my old man ate both the ones we bought, so all was well. This sugar dairy breakfast was also one of the strange times when our French abruptly becomes more fluent and we converse almost normally with a real Parisian, i.e. the waiter, who even successfully told us a very basic joke that we were able to get. We are geniuses! Also he offered us pamplemousse juice, which is officially my favorite French word, and this was the first time a real French person had said it to me. My husband got pain perdu, a.k.a. “lost bread.” It turns out that “french toast” actually does come from france, and is historically made with the old stale bread from yesterday that you don’t throw out because you come from a thriftier time where people didn’t just throw tons of edible food in the garbage constantly. So you have this nice stale crusty french bread and you fry it in egg and eat it with whipped cream. LOST BREAD. I am so glad to finally have discovered something to do with our old bread. I will make my old man lost bread with vegan batter and maple syrup, and fatten him up for wintertime.
Then we went to the coolest thing in the earth: the natural history museum in the Jardin des Plantes. This is a museum that scientists put together like 150 years ago, and then nobody ever changed it again!!!! There are crazy dinosaur skeletons put together incorrectly (we now know), awesome politically-incorrect explanatory signs by the birth-defects shelf (“MONSTERS”), and horrible flayed-open monkeys laid out on boards. Nothing has been added, except for I think there is a video of whales playing next to the whale skeleton. But otherwise it is untouched. All the explanatory museum notes next to the exhibits are on ancient mildewing paper, written in ancient fading calligraphy. The jars of pickled cats and dolphins and pigeons and sharks and monkeys are only half-filled because the formaldehyde is evaporating, so the stuff inside is slowly rotting. There are mammoth bones arranged artfully over the doorways. But the main thing you see inside is just this enormous ballroom-sized hall filled completely with skeletons, in no particular order, all facing the same direction. Whales and elephants and bears and horses and moose and fish and bats and narwhals and wolves and bobcats all marching solemnly in a crazy profusion of yellowing bones. It is really overwhelming. I really truly wish the internet would let me post my pictures. It will have to wait.
Then we went to the Picasso museum, where we found a sign informing us that it was closed for the next two years. Some vacation! Exhausted, we went home and then to the aforementioned vegan chinese food place, which ruled.
On another day we went to the Cinémathèque Française and saw a really boring silent film that relied heavily on the newly-invented telephone as a plot device. But there we also went to a great museum of cinema where we saw magic lanterns you could spin around, old vitaphone machines you could watch movies inside of, crazy old proto-film cameras and proto-film projectors, the robot from Metropolis, telegrams from Chaplin, Kubrick, Welles, Preminger, etc., in support of Langlois after he got sacked, beautiful prints of this one guy’s early experiments with movement photography where he tied lights to the legs of horses and such, and then even earlier proto-proto-proto photographs from the 1700’s wherein a drawing of a city scene had holes poked in it and then a candle behind it would illuminate little things in an additional drawing behind the first drawing, thus creating the illusion of three dimensionality. VOILA!
One night we drank a lot of wine in a café before going to yet another Marx Brothers film (I have an unhealthy lust for Harpo), and a storm rolled in. I had not brought a coat, and I was freezing. The wine, coupled with the freezing, coupled with the strange inattention to money that comes with being in a foreign country where the money is like cartoon money, led us to literally just walk into the first clothing store we saw and buy the first coat we saw, which was red fake leather that looks like some Michael-Jacksony thing somebody would wear in the 80’s in like a Peter Gabriel video. I’m not sure if it is cool or not. My old man insists that it is awesome. But, it was cheap, and it did the job of keeping me warm on that blustery evening. This jacket will be the only purchase (aside from food and pencils) I have made in Paris. What a weird souvenir. Gary calls the jacket “Li’l Smokey.”
On another day (yesterday I think) we went to the Opéra, which is beautiful. I had never been in a historic opera house before, and it helps so much to envision the kinds of anecdotes one reads about. Unlike modern opera houses, opera houses of yore used to be much more intimate—all the boxes are equi-distant from the stage, rather than staggered ever-further back and back and back as they usually are today, such that cheap seats in a modern opera house feel like they are 10 miles from the stage and your view is usually blocked by enormous chandeliers and such. The old-school opera is all right on top of each other. You can so much more easily understand how social it once was, with people spying on each other with their opera glasses and dashing back and forth to other people’s boxes, where cold chicken dinners were being served and no one was paying attention to the music. So much illicit lovemaking! We peeped into the velvet-upholstered boxes and saw that they are very deep–you could draw your little curtain and be all but hidden from the world. And what on earth is Lady Dutchington doing in her box with the curtain drawn, because someone saw the visiting Russian dignitary go in there awhile ago! OMG!
They have a bust of Hector in the Opéra, which gives one a rueful thrill. Too little too late, my friends.
Then we went and saw a bunch of Proust’s letters where he has drawn humorous caricatures of kings and queens sitting on goats and the like in the margins. Then we ate at the chinese place again.
So much has happened! It is all blurring together and, unusually for me, I have neglected to write any of it down. This month in Paris will become, in memory, one giant blur filled with late-night wine parties with French friends, Marx Brothers screenings, vegan chinese food, Oscar Wilde’s grave, guillotines, carousels, chocolate glaces, and bread. So much bread.
On Oscar Wilde’s grave (which is covered by lipstick kiss marks and adoring graffiti) someone has written “JON BON JOVI” in bold black ink.
We also saw Jim Morrison’s stupid grave. People leave booze and cigarettes on it. “Imagine how many people have taken dumps on this grave,” my old man pointed out.
And Proust’s grave! Where people write notes on métro tickets and leave them scattered about. And Méliè’s grave! Where someone has drawn a charming smiling moon on his headstone. At Gerard de Nerval’s grave people had left small smooth stones and chestnuts and a fading graffiti scratched into the marble that said something in French about “in the darkness of the tomb, you have comforted me.” Balzac’s grave was being restored and so was hilariously swathed in red and white construction zone tape. We couldn’t find the wall where all the Communards were shot in 1871. What a terrible story. The more I learn about Paris the more surprised I am that there is even still a country called France with a city called Paris inside of it. It seems like the whole thing should have imploded long ago. It is truly a testament to something, I don’t know what. Maybe to the fact that a changeable concept of civic government, while often leading to grave violence, also creates a marginally better country than those with an unchangeable concept of civic government, like ours. When you’re conceptually accustomed to just ditching whole means of governing yourself and starting over from scratch, it’s probably easier to make major changes. I am sad for the Communards, though. The first (only?) real democracy in the western world, snuffed out before it began. And everybody writes about it like they were just being tacky punk kids.
Is there no way for humanity to win at this thing called living together? It seems rough.
We have picnicked on the canals and drunk warmed armagnac along the boulevards of an evening. We have seen the neighborhood that fell down into a pit in 1734. We have explained Marx Brothers jokes to French people (a primary source of confusion was the term “monkey business”). We have confused waiters and annoyed librarians. We have finally learned how to say “water,” although we have yet to divine the secret involved in getting a waiter to actually bring you some. We have ridden almost every métro line in the city! We have mailed postcards and purchased novelty gifts. We have had both our birthdays and our anniversary. Now I am re-reading “Lolita” and wondering what the hell I am doing with my life.
There is an old sheep dog who sits in front of a record store on the left bank called “Crocodisc” and he attracts a lot of attention because he looks like a cartoon dog. He sits there solemnly (his owner must work there?) and people slow down on the street and then stop and then stare at him. He stares back calmly. He is the saddest old dog, although for all we know he could be both young and a girl. It’s hard to tell with cartoon dogs.
“Crocodisc” and accompanying dog are across the street from the school where Roland Barthes taught. In between these two institutions is the street where he was hit by a laundry truck. “Did this experience inform his thinking on narrative theory?” I asked, chuckling. “No, he died,” said my old man. OOPS. Poor Roland Barthes.
Also, have you seen the movie “Visioneers”? It is a brilliant and kind of tremendous film, starring Zach Galifinakis in a non-comedic role. It is a biting metaphorical critique of the bourgeois American embrace of faux Eastern religions in the pursuit of a dimly-defined, platitudinous and capitalistic “Happiness” that can only come into being if real-world harsh truths are ignored. It is pretty devastating. Zach Galifinakis is pretty heart breaking. I was so surprised by this film, including its incredibly complicated, dark ending. Due to the entire world being insane, “Visioneers” was not able to find distributors (!!!), so you can only watch it on Netflix instant streaming, which I urge you to do. Zach Galifinakis! Sign me up for all future proceedings from that guy, no matter how stupid seeming.
p.s. can you believe Nabokov wrote “Lolita” in English?? I couldn’t even write it in English, and I’ve been speaking English all my life. I just want to barf when I think about how much smarter so many people are than me.