Friday, April 15, 2011

Oh, Champs Elysées

A metaphorical experience

Last night, he had an after-work social hour just off the Champs Elysées. When I met him there, he was two gin and tonics into a very good mood and I was tired and sobered, having finished my happy hours across town before making the trek to my least favorite place in all of Paris. Don’t get me wrong. The Champs Elysées is gorgeous—wide and tree-lined, cobble-stoned, with classy storefronts and cafes along both sides and the impressive Arc de Triomphe at the end. But no sooner had I come out of the Metro at Avenue Hoche than two Chinese tourists approached me and asked if I knew where the Louis Vuitton store was. “No,” I said plainly, and “I’m sorry… It must be on the Champs Elysées.” But they insisted that it was somewhere else and so what I didn’t say was that I couldn’t care less where it was or is or will be.

This is what I hate about the Champs Elysées: The tourists. All the luxury boutiques—cars, jewelry, clothes that would never fit me—high-priced restaurants and cafes where people go to be seen, where you will be scolded for not having made a reservation even if the restaurant is half empty, the nightclubs that pick and choose their patrons at the door. I can walk for hours and find nothing of interest. Not even the beggars are authentic, and the street dancers that draw large circles of on lookers are too cheesy for words.

He usually walks a couple of paces ahead of me… no matter how many times I ask him to walk beside me. He blames the dog, his Paris tempo, but not last night. Last night we strolled—well, I dragged and he strolled. The weather was not so cold and, as usual, we had no idea where we were going. We were hungry and he was high on life. When we went to cross the wide street—four lanes in each direction, or is it five?—he stopped half-way across the eastbound side to tie his shoe, which took him a while so I waited at the median until the pedestrian signs turned red in both directions. He had just seconds left to get out of the street when what does he do? He walks on across the westbound lanes too, passing me patiently waiting for him in the middle. The light had been red long enough that I knew we would get caught in front of the twin Mercedes already revving their engines, the scooters rocking back and forth. So I waited and he walked. He walked as if he owned the Avenue and all the cars waited for him and there I was standing in the middle, having waited there for him to tie his shoe.

As the cars zoomed past in both directions, I knew that this was a metaphor for my entire life. Patience and caution and observation, people passing me by. He’s right when he says I belong in the past. He usually says that I need to be more assertive. But last night he just laughed. From across the wide street, he pointed and laughed and looked around him at all the pretty things while he waited for me. When the light finally turned, I did not hurry to him. I did not even put my arm around him until he made me. “C’mon!” he prodded. “This is the best street in the world!” I gave him a look that prompted the question, “What’s the best street in the world for you?”

“Pacific Coast Highway,” I replied, though really I’d prefer any late night street in this city. Emptied of cars, emptied of tourists, with just my own footsteps setting the pace.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Anti Bio

A 300-word poem I wrote for Cecilia Woloch's Paris Poetry Workshop last May.

Suzanne (Allen) never knows if she’s coming or going. She used to think this was only a statement about emotions or where she stood with certain friends or family, but now she understands that things like jet lag, weather, and living in a second language can keep one quite off balance. So she craves sleep, sleep like a princess sleeps, especially in the afternoon. With the washing machine humming along in the next room like a train softly going. Her home is a place of linens and paper, creaking chairs and bread crumbs, sunlight and socks, where she dare not sit too long. So much to do. There are draperies and dresses to sew, decorative pillows to fluff and throw. Dishes to wash and old truths to unknow. She likes pink and white roses and is also rather prickly—like so many of her favorite women. She never wanted more than an old convertible and a back house, still doesn’t really, though she has so much more. Cats and Long Beach, a Filou in Paris. A man with Mediterranean eyes. Lucky. She’s just lucky. Her kindergarten teacher, Miss Able, sent prayers and Christian love—enough to last a lifetime—home in every report card; and at naptime, she moved about in the cool of the blue-green-gray classroom, putting it back in order, backlit by the wide wall of windows. Suzanne began playing teacher after that, lined up her dolls and stuffed animals in attentive rows, took attendance. By the time she was nine, she was dragging and pushing her Sears Roebucks, Country French bedroom furniture around in her room, which ultimately lead to a whirlwind career in interior design. She can space-plan any room out of a conundrum, and she makes a mean omelet, but her favorite projects are always the poems.