On my way to Congo, I had a lovely layover in Paris. Twenty-four hours is all I needed to reconnect to my old home, even though I was so exhausted and jet-lagged I could easily have slept most of that time.
The first thing I noticed in the metro, which I had somehow forgotten, is that people dress well. It all looks off-handed, effortless.
The women don’t look impossibly beautiful. They don’t wear massive makeup like some do in LA, out of “air-brush” envy. Most women in Paris wear little to no makeup and look feminine. Often I would walk around Silverlake and dodging the hipster fashionistas would come face-to-face with a live-in-the-flesh sample of a woman as put together as a glossy magazine spread.
Nothing so excessive here. Everything is in the understatement for both men and women. The fashion touch is limited to a few items. Attention to detail in accessories, impeccably cut winter coats, sublime leather shoes. It’s pleasant to see elegantly dressed men in their twenties and thirties, not walking around holding up their size 40 gangster jeans as they fight against gravity. I don’t miss the oversized belt-less pant shuffle.
I headed to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Hemingway’s old haunt where I seemed to remember is where he got most of his inspiration for “A Moveable Feast”. I had a ham and cheese crêpe in the streetlight shadow of the medieval church, l’Abbaye de Saint–Germain-des-Prés , the heart of the neighborhood. The good thing about crêpes in winter is that they’re cheap, they’re wide and they’re warm, so they act as mittens as well as food. They’re sort of the equivalent of an LA taco truck taco.
Then I went into the Café de Flore for my only outrageous expense: the world’s most expensive (some would say overrated, but not I) hot chocolate. This littler itinerary is my regular Paris pilgrimage. I think everyone who has some sort of tie to the city has their own version of a “layover pilgrimage”. At this point I generally zigzag through the streets of Saint-Germain, through private stone courtyards and hidden alleys housing Chinese gourmet tea houses. I stare at the world-class one-room art galleries, sometimes exhibiting a single artist or a single piece, brightly lit and white in the dark cobble-stoned neighborhood.
This time around two installations stayed in my mind. One had a huge furry piece. It was strange because of the stance. It could have been a cross between a grizzly bear, King Kong and Sasquatch but it was human in its stance, like a giant human in a fur costume. Who knows. It was eerie and unforgettable.
The next gallery had a haunting series of flat metal horse sculptures, all 8 feet tall and staggered. An arresting motionless herd, pinned between floor and ceiling, devouring the narrow gallery space. It was beautiful but also kind of sad. It seemed like pieces would have liked space to breathe but then I just flew in from the Far West, and
all our open vistas where we fantasize Mustangs can run free for hundreds of miles.
I was glad to only have missed the first ten minutes of “Colorado Territory“. I had to see my Western. This is another one of my few luxuries from the time I was a Parisienne. I used to see classic movies in of the six or seven revival theaters that play Westerns, Kurosawa and Fellini. One of my favorites is the Action Christine, which is where I saw this 1949 gem. It was just as good as they get and I love Joel McCrea. It had everything. Great story, whip-smart often hilarious dialogue, oblique references to sex, contrived acting but undeniable chemistry. It was one of the best I’ve ever seen but maybe I’d just missed it so much I over-enjoyed it.
I had also forgotten how much I missed the running commentary graffiti on metro ads. People walk by and just comment wherever there is room to write. They range from political ststements “my wish for 2010: 1 heart attack for Sarko(zy)” to comments about consumerism–“SO SICK OF ADS!!” to jokes and obscene doodles on the faces of the supermodels.
It’s just an overflow of something Parisians have a lot of: opinions. Parisians have lots of opinions, lots of thoughts, and lots of things to say, over coffee, over lunch, on posters. People are reading intellectual papers and subversive journals, or smut or Dan Brown or the news, but they’re reading, and I don’t mind that they do it
inconsiderately in my face in the metro or walking in the street and almost bumping into me. It’s nice to see people reding in public. It’s nice to see people thinking in public. It’s nice to see excited people gesticulating over coffee, serious faces pondering affairs of the heart or the Economy. Not many random smiles or gratuitous laughter, but hey. This is serious business.