I had coffee with my academic advisor yesterday. He told me I looked composed and (believe it or not) relaxed. He also told me this post was “weird” because no one was trying to “get” me, or drag me back for a PhD against my will. I told him it was an ill-conceived joke, just me making fun of my inability to read anything off-topic. And then I told him that I surprised myself when I rewrote the bio for this web site. In an effort to keep myself honest, focused and real in my writing pursuits, I discovered that nothing looks the same, or feels the same, at least bio-wise. He said I needed more time. I told him I don’t wait well.
By the time we had finished our wide-ranging conversation, three hours had elapsed.
And three days after I went through the exercise of “rebranding” myself (or so to speak), I still haven’t posted my effort here. What gives?
A few weeks ago, I finished reading A Wrinkle in Time with my daughter. I didn’t really understand Wrinkle when I read it as a child and certainly wouldn’t have recommended it to any of my friends because fantasy was so not my cup of tea. As an adult, I found myself on the verge of
Taken at the Palais Garnier in January 2012.
The only Paris Syndrome I have is that I am in a chronic state of wanting to be there. Yet, today I learned that there is a sinister version of my malaise that afflicts about 20 people a year, many of them Japanese tourists. The tourists in question seem to want to flee the city as soon as they arrive.
The problem: Perception. Some first-time visitors believe that they will always have Paris and that it will be a sepia-toned place where everyone wears couture, eats beautifully-presented meals and lives, sleeps and eats romance. Although the city is sort of like that, it’s also sort of not. And this “not” aspect is what has newbies feeling so blue.
Just how blue? Paris Syndrome symptoms include: hallucinations, feelings of persecution, dizziness, anxiety and sweating. According to the French psychiatric journal Nervure, the crise is sparked by language barriers, cultural differences, exhaustion and an idealized image of the city.
Granted, the Seine does not flow with Chanel No 5 and
In the middle of the night
Miss Clavel turned on the light
and said, “Something is not right!”
— Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
As writers, we start with the feeling and everything follows from that.
— U2 guitarist The Edge in “It Might Get Loud”
I got trifocals recently. Yes, trifocals. My optometrist calls them progressive lenses, but admits that’s just a nice way of saying my eyes needed some major help. Getting adjusted to these new specs has been something of a chore. But when I can figure out where my eyes are supposed to go to see different increments of near and far, it’s amazing how crisp and clear the world is.
I knew something wasn’t right last spring when I found myself squinting in my old, Buddy Holly-style frames. My optometrist (who had a maddening habit of calling me “old girl”) at the time told me I would be fine for another year, but by December I was noticing that I was reading fine print over the top of my glasses and squinting to see, well, pretty much everything. A few weeks ago, I finally dialed up a new optometrist (new only because his predecessor was no longer covered by my vision plan) who decided that it would behoove me to have housefly eyes.
So far, the newfound clarity is dizzying. This, coupled with a fresh outlook, has brought on quite a bit of change as of late. In recent years, I’ve felt that I needed to shake things up a bit. I had a vague sense of how I might actually do that shaking up, but when the vision of how it would all go down snapped into focus, I found myself…talking myself out of it.
I suppose that’s easy to do when you’re an “old girl” like me.
The saving grace in all of this? I have a disturbing habit of going to France and coming home with a fresh outlook. Last fall’s trip was no exception. I immersed myself in a wonderful city with my family, was reminded of my lifelong love for the country’s history and, in the process, stumbled upon a story that I felt I had to tell. That sense, coupled with a tremendous afternoon in Shakespeare and Company bookstore, left me feeling overwhelmed and goosepimply. I sat in a cab, crying, as a couple of things became frighteningly clear.
I ran screaming from graduate school some 15 years ago because I felt I lacked the patience and maturity to study dead Frenchmen and their impact on the world. Though my maturity is still suspect, I knew during my cab epiphany that it was high time for me to be a student again, and a student of French history, no less. When I returned to Atlanta, I studied for the GRE, took the test the day before Halloween and began applying to schools shortly after that.
I was humbled by the process, from rounding up recommendations to writing a purpose statement that explained my background (eclectic) and interest (an inevitable byproduct of being from the great state of Louisiana). I submitted my applications and then waited.
The result? Like Drew Brees, my family and I have been called to Louisiana. We will be moving to my hometown of Baton Rouge where I will be a graduate student in history at Louisiana State University this fall. I will be working with a beloved mentor, someone I probably didn’t appreciate enough in my twenties even though he saw something in me back then, some beast he felt he could unleash. Fifteen years after the fact, I have decided to find out whether he was right. I am looking forward it.
Aux Champs Elysées, aux Champs Elysées
Au soleil, sous la pluie, à midi ou à minuit
Il y a tout ce que vous voulez aux Champs Elysées
— “Les Champs Elysees,” by Joe Dassin
Time Differences Since returning to the United States on Saturday night, I have struggled to get back onto Eastern Standard Time. Right now, I am uncertain whether it is more unfortunate to have my interior clock so askew, or to be in Atlanta instead of Paris, France. Perhaps it’s a little of both.
Charcuterie We lived across the street from the best charcutier in Paris, I’m told. And so, right around 5 p.m. every day, I’d pick up cured sausage and some cheese, before heading next door to a boulangerie for a baguette. Then, we would have a little snack before dinner each night, the windows of our apartment wide open so we could hear the sounds of opera floating up through the courtyard from an apartment down below.
Jardin du Luxembourg When I was visited Paris for the first time, some 16 years ago, I just thought of this place as a pretty park, full of statues, gardens and locals contemplating Lord-knows-what as they sat in its signature green chairs. Now I view it as a special little part of a Parisian childhood, replete with a pristine playground, pony rides, puppet shows, toy sailboat rentals and a gorgeous, well-worn carousel. My daughter fell in love with the place and we frequented it in between trips to the museums and such because it was within walking distance of the apartment we rented for the week.
We are in the final moments of packing up our things chez nous. Our suitcases are out and opened, our clothes are in neat piles, our kid entertainment is too. Near these mountains of stuff is a present for my old roommate, who we’ll see on Monday night. She requested dried cranberries for some reason (there is a dearth of them in France?) and I bought her a couple of packages today.
But I felt my exodus to the land of escargot would not be complete without delving back into old journals for tales of how young and foolish I was when I visited France some 16 years ago. This post is about l’amour…well, sort of. It’s more about that twisted, confusing-yet-wonderful kind of romance you can only have with the likes of certain Frenchmen. This post is for everyone who has ever been in love, whether for a fleeting instant or for much, much longer than that. This post is also for Jesaka, who wondered how a bookworm like me could get embroiled in something like you’re about to read.
It began the way all great romances began, with a young French man and a young American woman telling each other they have no earthly idea what they’re talking about.
The young French man in this case was a 20-year-old Parisian podiatry student who was vacationing in Florida with his friends. The young American woman was me, who had just returned to Florida after completing my freshman year in college. We met on the beach one day and talked for three hours. The journal entry from this meeting, dated 8-18-92, describes the experience in a way Graham Greene never could: “Hubba-hubba.”
What do you want? I was 19 years old at the time.
The young man in question, I’ll call him F., had a quiet charm and easy smile. “He’s so nice, he probably has a girlfriend back home,” I wrote in my journal. “That sucks, but when he goes home in a couple of days, maybe he’ll be my pen pal or something.”
We exchanged addresses just before he left the country and began writing to each other shortly afterward. The sick and twisted deal of it all was this: I was rather proud of my seven years of French class and he was rather proud of his 11 million years of English (being the sophisticated Frenchman and all that), but we could always stand to improve ourselves, non?
And so, for months we sent letters back and forth: He would correct my French (“Sacre bleu, this sentence is for merde.”) and then soften the blow by letting me know in English how he was doing, what part of the foot he was studying, what his Parisian suburb was like. I would respond in kind, saying “Silly Frenchman, this is how you spell this word and what do you mean in the third sentence of this paragraph? By the way, here is what is going on with me.” We got to know each other through those letters and eventually he said his family would be happy to host me in their home for the summer.
I replied, “Oh my God, yes! I am so there.”
Here’s how this sat with my overprotective mother: