Wild Thing

After a few weeks of wanting to hibernate, my mind has been whirring at full speed with words. It’s still a distinctly abnormal world by everything that is so odd – and I see everyone getting snarled up, in how to respond to that.

I’ve felt other things coming into a groove. New-growing ideas. Stuff to take forward, moments to relish, plans to make, and plenty of music to celebrate and investigate.

One thing I have watched sporadically is the wild output of so many people that are involved in Paris Fashion Week. With today being the last day, I will offer my take on it. While the shows from the designers have plenty to offer, in particular for the red carpet or for those in the corporate world, I tend to look more outside of the shows, since these are more versatile everyday clothes or sportswear. And the Paris fashion pack are crowding to be photographed in their attire.

I enjoy watching from my computer- although a front seat would be far better, the catwalk shows and how fashion influencers must take the opportunity to debut their best in one final attempt to grace the magazine pages.

Parisians, renowned for their inimitable aesthetic and ability to achieve the epitome of “chic” with ease, the fashion pack are always the ones to watch.

But the younger set including models with the exception of Olivia Palermo keep showing up in their worse attire. The street style set championed the athleisure trend, which comes as no surprise throwing the old school rule book out the window.

I see those who continue donning underwear as outerwear. Yes, the trend is well and truly back, as distasteful as it is.

Double denim is notoriously the biggest fashion faux pas in all the land. I see no point in being redundant. It reminds me of when ladies would match their shoes including the fabric to the dress they were wearing. This is a bore.

No one seems to get enough of the sleeve, and while I think a bell or a pleat is fun, when a dolman starts skimming at the hip, it’s too big and overwhelming. Why do people think that more is better, when too much of something borders on absurdity?

I see a lot of mismatch of everything that rings, I just rolled out of bed, grabbed the first thing I saw and who cares?

Those are my impressions. How do you feel about what you’ve seen either inside or outside of the shows? Do share.

Invisible with Endless Ideas

Last Monday I meant to load this blog post when I could not find my website.  I was directed to Go Daddy and was instructed to call Host Gator since they host my domain. It’s taken this long for the content on my website to migrate. Obviously it wasn’t a priority for them.  And we’re not even in Mercury retrograde yet. Which reminds me; never let the calendar or anything else for that matter control your decisions into accepting a mishap as your fate! Anyway I’m pleased that everything is up and running.

A week ago on Friday I was at an event chatting with a man from Madagascar, when he switched to French I was somewhat stumped. And then on Saturday, over lunch when chatting about weather conditions I again turned to France and a few words spilled out.

When I was growing up and it came time to learn a third language, in my mind, I wasn’t going to stay in familiar surroundings and wherever life was taking me I was sure it would have something to do with Paris.

I gave myself my own private lessons in Berlin, through watching Canal+ on television and mimicking radio programs and going as often as I did to Paris, I said a few phrases which was enough to get by.

Many people would be terrified to live in a country where they can’t communicate but this never bothered me. I loved the intrigue at the time and still do, that wherever I traveled, I relied on non-verbal communication to read people as I do. Without adequate language skills you are forced out of your comfort zone and open yourself up to new experiences by putting yourself in unfamiliar situations to test your character on how to survive each day and make it the best it can be.

When I would arrive at my rental apartment in Paris, there was a stack of books on the fireplace mantel, faded from the sunlight streaming in the window on those gloriously quiet afternoons and dusty from the years. Sitting there, just the size of my palm, was an old french language handbook from the late 1960’s. I sat in the sunlight one October afternoon practicing the unchanged phrases of French culture and wondering as I felt the texture of the old thin paper between my fingers, what wary travelers had held this book in their hands and fumbled through the phrases as I had that day. I imagined them filled with hope that each line of expression would unlock another door in my journey through this land. Where did this book, stuffed into a back pocket, take them and who will possess it after me? What is it that brings us all here, to France, weaving an invisible thread between us?

I have for most of my life been a social person.  Some have called me a social butterfly. Living in a place with no one to talk to was a release of an invisible social responsibility I had given myself. I could do it in Europe. At first, there were no parties to go to, no friends to call upon to meet for a cup of coffee. And I savored the quietness. But here lies my contradiction; I also need and crave alone time.

With socializing off my agenda, there was an opening of a fair amount of time for myself to focus on other things- to do yoga, learn tennis, ride my bike to explore, contemplate about what I was reading, writing, painting and photography. It was in a sense a freedom from obligation and made me feel invisible. When you are invisible you are free from the definition you have created for yourself, or has been created for you, and can become a truer form of what you are destined to be.

As the days turned into a week, people began to recognize my face around the city. I kept a pretty set routine. I would go to the patisserie first thing each day for my baguette. Then to the café for my cafe créme. I bought cheese at the market from the same man and my eggs from an adorable older couple. Then this marvelous thing started to happen. They each started trying to teach me words. Always with an expression of amusement they said it slowly to me, and I would repeat it back to them.  My cheese monger taught me plus and minus, my vegetable grocer taught me the names of the herbs, the woman at the fromagerie taught me Bon Dimanche (Good Sunday), which is used around town starting Saturday afternoons.  Connecting with others through their kindness and patience of sharing has been one of the most generous gifts I’ve received.

I had the freedom from myself and the beauty of kindness in others wanting to help me learn in this shared life in the walk that we take together.

Have you had language travel experiences that you recall years later? Tell me about them.

C’est la vie

Last week-end being warm I took a spin over to Santa Monica. It has always struck me as quintessentially a beach town.  The blue city; blue skies, bue water, blue street signs and big Blue Bus. With an appreciation for the Modern Streamline architecture they have, there isn’t too much more that strikes me as unique, except for the Mayfair Music Hall.

I first went to the Music Hall on a third date, to see an Edith Piaf revival. I remember it so well.

I was razzled-dazzled by the lavish architecture. Intended to duplicate an English music hall, the Victorian building has windows with theatrical masks and shields.mayfair2

The interiors, a deep shade of red had a huge semicircular bar in the lobby.

That February evening, I was clad in a raisin colored wool crepe sleeveless pencil dress that had a drawstring waist.  I accentuated with a gold chunky necklace and bracelet and wore the taupe suede pumps that I had bought in Paris as a student. The jewelry was costume, a vintage find that I had taken to a jeweler and had him retouch.

It was a cool and blazers were the rage, but thinking that one would give me a business look instead, I opted for a shawl and brown clutch.

With hypnotic songs of dreams and desire I felt that I had entered Edith Piaf’s life in the bars and brothels of Paris that made her both tender and tough. The distinctive mix had me mesmerized. The singer’s voice was haunting with heartbreaking ballads.

During the intermission I couldn’t wait to go to the ladies room to see what was in store. As I mentioned in my last post you can get a feel of a place by the restroom, and opening the door, I was struck by the ornate marble décor.

After the performance, we had a light supper and I spoke about my enchanting trip to France. He later told me he could see Paris through my journey.

I went to the Theatre a few more times after that.

Last week, as I walked the streets of Santa Monica, on my way to the Mayfair, I turned the corner: Gone. The facade has been restored but that’s all that is left of the architectural gem.  Note in the photo the new building behind.mayfair3

Sadly, the Mayfair saw its end during my absence from California.

What I saw in Santa Monica were chain restaurants, offices, condos, retail, and chain link fences. Is there any advantage to a life as an overweight workaholic garbed in a new tee-shirt surrounded by noise?

As writers, the arts and personal experiences enrich our minds and storytelling.

A life of aesthetic and culture is languishing. How will we survive the future without it?

Share your thoughts. For those who are interested, you can find out about more architectural saves and losses at: https://www.laconservancy.org/

Allure

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Last time I ended my post with dining in Europe. Today I thought I’d share one of the places I love most in Paris. In fact in 2010, when we had a delay in Paris, I convinced my husband to leave the airport and head there for lunch. In Paris, there is both an art and a science to selecting your café of choice.

La Coupole is a world-renowned cavernous spot with Art Deco murals that practically defines the term brasserie. It’s one of those places that people go to for two reasons— one, is the food, and the other experiential.

La Coupole serves hot chocolate made from Valrhona chocolate. Even better, they serve it in a pitcher with some creme and sugar on the side.

The other thing that endears La Coupole to me is that they are one of the few places left that pass the “two pitcher test” when I order a Grande Crème. A Crème is kind of like a cappuccino— but French. Unlike other places, at La Coupole they give you two pitchers— one of coffee and one of steamed, slightly foamy milk— when you order either a small or large Crème.

A cup of coffee with foamy milk on top, is not the same thing at all.

And that means, for the same price you’re paying for a coffee at another restaurant you get about 3 cups of coffee. That’s a deal in a country that doesn’t refill your coffee cup.

For lunch they serve the most exquisite seafood platters set high on a silver tray laying on a bed of crushed ice. It’s a feast for the eyes.

And the waiters present with such style, not to mention they are wearing a white tux jacket and black patent leather oxfords as they glide across the slick floor.

For dessert, they have a caramelized apple tart and offer profiteroles also made with Valrhona chocolate.

All of which leads us to the experience. It turns out that La Coupole is a pick-up joint for men and women of a certain age.

The last time I was there while waiting for my husband to return from the WC (which is down-stairs) I was watching men walk by, then walk back, then walk by again. I also noticed that the women of a certain age in the café were all sitting alone, well-dressed with high heels, with dark colored hair and red lipstick— were avoiding looking out the window…until the men did.

Then I noticed that some of the men would come in and sit down at the tables with these women. Being single for as long as I was, it didn’t take long for me to get it— the reason the men were walking back and forth was to see what was on offer among the women— and the women were there for the same reason.

Evidently, there is some kind of ocular code that occurs when the men are walking by and the women don’t look…then look…but do so in a very specific way that remains a mystery to me— but is clearly the key to when the men join them. It’s a pick-up parade and so very discreet.

So there you have it. The decision-making criteria you, too, can use as you choose your Paris cafe at the crossroads of Montparnasse.

Just be discreet. It is Paris, after all.

http://www.lacoupole-paris.com/en/the-legend-of-la-coupole.html

Strangers on a Train

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Years ago, as a student, I found an intimate connection between the sensibilities of Europe and me. I also discovered that Paris is astrologically ruled by the sign of Libra governed by the planet Venus paying homage to love and beauty.  I fell in love with the city, losing myself in the art captivated by the attractive and astonishing city.

Strolling along the Seine turning into the heart of the Left Bank, into the picturesque narrow lined streets filled with bookstores, galleries and cafes, I am drawn into shop after shop in the early morning where shopkeepers wash down the sidewalks.  From patisseries, I smelled bread being baked. The perfumeries and flower shops called me in, but because of my student budget, I stand in the shadows.

The best part of being in Paris is getting lost; as I walk, I saw huge wooden gates hiding courtyards and further back mansions and I find secret hidden places.  Parisian beauty tucked in recessed surroundings, like a mysterious woman, the best part of her is hidden from sight.

A boutique window catches my eye with tarot cards decorating the portal.  Inside I splurge by buying myself the Marseille Tarot deck and a pair of pumps reminiscent of the 1940’s. They are round toed stack heels in suede taupe with very thin leather brown piping.  It sets me back financially for a few days but I rationalize my purchase by concluding that for the next three days I will only consume apples, bread, and water purchased from the grocery store.

On my last morning in the youth hostel over a continental breakfast, I sat at a communal table next to Joao, from Portugal.  He runs a graceful finger through his dark curly hair.  He is rugged handsome, a square jaw, green eyes and what appears to be a slim body.

When I find out he too is traveling alone- he’s thinking what I’m thinking- we say in unison, “would you like to see the city together?” We spend a lively day sight seeing, taking photos and visit the Rodin Museum.  We eat savory crepes from street vendors, our dessert – in season from the fruit stands.

I excuse myself, “I’ve got to make a call, to my friend’s cousin.  Are you available tonight?”  Joao nods.

Mildred’s cousin Sophie lives in Paris, with her parents, she’s fluent in English studying at the Sorbonne. She answers the phone telling me she just got back from holiday. We agree to meet at Gare d’Austerlitz the famous train station, I tell her I have a male acquaintance with me, she replies, “I too will bring my boyfriend.”

“But he’s not my boyfriend,” I insist.

“Don’t pay atencion,” she said in her trilling accent. I sense there are hundreds of commuters at the station, so I ask, “How will I know you,” she goes into a self-description that includes, “I am tall and elegante. My hair is dark, my eyes are large,” (she rolls her R’s). I think to myself – oh my God, I am meeting a Goddess!  I had better change into my best blouse.

Joao and I arrive, slightly early and pace the famous train station. “Are you sure you’ll know her,” he asks after a 15 minute wait. “Yes,” I say with certainty.  I cannot possibly be stood up by one of my closest friend’s cousin.

The clock strikes seven. I ask Joao since his French is better than mine to go to the ticket counter to see if we can have, Sophie paged. Standing in line behind is a girl with platform tennis shoes, she looks around constantly, and wears thick-rimmed glasses. I’m daydreaming thinking what lay ahead when I hear her speak to the man she is with and the voice is vaguely familiar.

I tap her shoulder, “Sophie, is that you?”

“Ahh, Linda” she expresses with gaiety.

After introductions, we head to Montparnasse and go to a café. Sophie smokes while the boys drink café noir and I ask for a mineral water.  Since we’re all students, we chat about what we will do with our lives. Joao says, “I plan on going into finance, I like handling large sums of money. And you, Linda, what are your plans?” “I want to write… only I don’t know if I’m good enough.” The crowd goes, “Ahh,” they are impressed and Sophie begins her habit of starting a conversation switching subjects then switching to it a half-hour later, as if it were natural. I love this mental game, because I do it too, but I’m the only one that can keep up with these interrupted lines of thought. When I double kiss Sophie and bid her “bon nuit,” I feel I am saying good night to a family member.

The next day is my last in Paris; I visit the Louvre and spend the entire day there.

In the evening I head to the train station and sit on a bench reaching into my suitcase changing from open sandals into my pumps, then decide they really don’t work with my outfit so I go to the ladies room and change from a floral skirt into a rust colored one.

Inside the compartment, I make myself comfortable for the thirteen-hour train ride from Paris to Madrid, since my pocketbook mandates that I not spend additional money for a couchette, I’ll sleep sitting up.

Two loud American men wearing tennis shoes come in, sit next to me talking to one another.

A French woman walks by murmuring, “Mon cheri” to the poodle she holds in her arms.

“Geez that dog is smart” one man says to the other.

“How do you know that?” Says his partner.

“Well, he understood French didn’t he?”

I bury my head in my book, Les Miserables, but can’t help but notice when in walks an elegant older man. I put my book down when I hear the voice come over a loud speaker announcing a delay. The two Americans grab their bags and leave, sparing me from their mindless yakking all night.

The older man sits across from me. I begin to journal and stare out the window, twenty minutes into the journey the conductor opens the door asking for passports.

“I see you’re an American,” says the man.

“Yes, and you most likely are French” I say with formality.

“Yes. What may I ask takes you to Madrid.”

“I’m traveling to understand my roots.”

“You do not have French lineage?”

“What makes you ask that?”

“Because Mademoiselle, you have the style of a French woman,” he says as he views my crossed legs proudly displaying my new shoes.

“I’m Hispanic, and a student.  But now that I have told you about me, may I ask your vocation?”

He reaches over to shake my hand “Allow me to introduce myself, I am Claude Dubois. I am a journaliste,” (he emphasizes the e), for LaMonde.

Enthusiastic that I am chatting with a writer we talk about non-fiction, politics- and the recent Republican national convention. He asks my views.  After I express them he smiles like a professor proud of a student, “good point.”

Our conversation turns to genealogy, culture and language. I decide to take a chance and tell Monsieur Dubois a joke. “There are three cats- their names are un, deux, and trois. They are standing over ice, are hungry and decide they have to get to the fish below for consumption. They find a saw, and saw a block around themselves.”Then in my best French possible I deliver my punch line,“ and that is how un, deux, trois, quatre cinq.” He manages a polite smile, but I’m rolling in my seat.

In the morning, I awake to hear the train wheels getting louder as we slow down. Monsieur Dubois in a polite gesture hands me his business card and wishes me a bon voyage.  When I stand, as a gentleman he reaches over to where my luggage has been stowed. I carefully file the card in an outside zipper of my suitcase knowing I will never do anything with it but thank him.

Unknown to me at the time this begins a new phase in my life- chance encounters with strangers- genuine conversations that by all accounts feel like a mental bond has been formed as in friendship, at least temporarily.

I soar like a kite onto the street, happy and adventurous, going wherever the wind takes me.