Like a bird that wanders from her nest,
So is a woman who wanders from her home
Today I allowed myself to become lost in Paris.
I wandered wherever my little heart led without worrying about finding my way back (my cell has a map function.) The relentless rain which would start every time I stepped out the door actually ended — I saw the sun today!
It was glorious.
I wandered and wandered past one tiny restaurant after the next. Parisian streets are crammed with one-off restaurants, clothing and shoe stores, and occasional bookstores and banks. There are also many “dirty” stores which shamelessly display unidentifiable things in their windows.
After a while, the cityscape began to blur — it was too much for me: I visually overloaded. Like paint on a pallet, my mind began to blend the colors of stores into a motley grey pastiche; stores which had seemed so charmingly unique turned into one, endless shopping centre. I bought nothing.
I didn’t see corporations or big businesses, just small and mid-size retail stores.
One lovely attribute of Parisians is thinness. They’re also smaller than Americans in height. I’m between 5’6″ and 5’7″ and at least a third of the men seemed smaller than I. Men have a style, here: rubber-soled shoes, tight pants, short, dark jackets that zip or button, and the ubiquitous scarf around the neck folded neatly under the chin. For many men, the scarf is the only color on their bodies.
The impression I got of both men and women was one of fragility, not physical strength, even though the French are obviously in good shape from walking. Americans seem beefy and tall compared to the French. And very, very fat. When I was growing up, I didn’t know any fat children. None. In fact, I don’t remember fat adults either. I grew up in California, an outdoor paradise, where all kids were athletic and in tremendous physical condition. Then, something happened. Now, we’re fat, in horrible shape and not doing anything about it. About half of the kids in the United States, in my opinion, need to be put on a treadmill and introduced to fruits and vegetables.
Anyway, it was nice to be transported to the America that existed before I was born, which is what I felt in Paris today. I always wanted to be alive in the 1950s — American culture imploded in the 1960s which I can remember. Being in Paris is probably the closest I’ll get to the way Americans used to look and act … when America was still America.
When I spent some time in the Dakotas many years ago, just sorta hanging out with my kids, I became too tired to drive so pulled to the side of the gas station, set up the bed in the back (camper van) and put my squalling boys on either side of me. We promptly fell asleep. The next day, when I awoke, the red sun was just beginning to peek over the flat eastern horizon. I sat up, and to my surprise, I saw about forty HUGE men standing near my van, drinking coffee. These were big old Swedes, farmers of wheat and cattle in South Dakota. I remember thinking that the smallest guy couldn’t have weighed less than 200 pounds and the average height must have been more than six feet. Those men were bred to work with their hands … not shop.
I’m sure France has big men, too, but not in Paris.
The women, here, are attractive with large features that reveal emotion. As I rested against a little wall, I watched two women in their thirties trying to close out an animated conversation about their respective boyfriends. Their affection for each other was palpable. At no point in their conversation did they lose physical contact. One woman held the other’s arm as she spoke — the other put her hand to shoulder. They even touched heads while laughing.
Parisian women, like men, have a “look:” hair is cropped to shoulders, very little jewelry, short coat that covers the butt but not legs, tight jeans or pants or leggings. They’re delicate and thin … quite appealing, really.
Then, it struck me that I hadn’t seen a child. Not one. Where are the kids? School? I wonder if the french homeschool their kids like Americans. I hope so. Libérez les enfants! (I hope I got that correct.)
I also saw very few oldsters but a lot of middle-age Parisians who let their grey/white hair grow into the color of their youth — this, too, seems to be part of the look. I liked how they age naturally. The very old, however, were nowhere to be found. I didn’t see one wheelchair, walker or “mobility scooter.”
Paris, then, has a middle-age feel to it, at least in the 2e arrondissement.
Americans have a different attitude toward aging — we battle our own aging with everything we’ve got. It’s crazy, really, the cult of youth at home. I’m very light blonde naturally — but as white hairs replaces blonde ones, I get agitated and upset, hit the bottle and turn my entire head back to blonde. I confess this. In my defense, however, my “white” hair isn’t really white. It’s clear; it doesn’t show. It reminds me of spider webs. I hate it.
But, being in Paris has taught me to think that maybe, just maybe, I’ll just let myself go, spider webs and all. I’ll stop fighting aging — it’s futile anyway. I’ll be decrepit and then die like every other person, animal and plant in the universe. That’s the way it should be. Right?
I’d like to discuss, here, a myth — that Americans are loud and the French are quiet and reserved. NOTHING could be further from the truth.
One piece of advice I received before going to France was not to talk loudly. Now, it’s difficult to hear me anyway, so why would I make my voice softer? To make the person I’m talking to lip-read? Whatever. This myth persists.
Let me state this bluntly: I have never heard such loud people IN MY LIFE as the people I saw, today, in Paris. The French positively shout. All the time.
Vendors shout. Customers shout at vendors. I watched an old woman hang out on the second, perhaps third, floor to shout at her neighbor across the alley. Even the garbage collectors shout.
Everyone shouts. Particularly my neighbors.
The couple upstairs from me is an extreme example of shouting. I’ve concluded that they are either actors, clowns, political radicals or magicians who make money by putting on children’s parties and hosting strange political meetings. They have these meetings EVERY DAY.
Not only do they shout, they stomp their feet. It sounds a bit like a rally upstairs — one guy shouts and the group responds with shouts. Furthermore, the woman and man like to practice loud shouting, laughing and bird calls. They’ll practice the same laugh maybe ten times, just to get it right. Then they move onto animal and bird sounds. Their conversations are loud, too.
As I was writing this, they stomped in circles, walked out the door, then shouted slogans that sounded eerily National Socialistic, and finally stomped back.
Across from me lives another couple who also contribute to the din and roar of Paris. Last night, Sunday, this middle age man decided to hold an party that spilled out of his apartment into the alley. The noise was breathtakingly loud. Young men flung their bodies at the doors, broke bottles and then stumbled outside the alley to vomit. People banged on my door for hours. It was like a scene out of Gomorrah. I know no one here, so obviously didn’t answer their knock.
True, there’s a quiet woman who lives alone. My selfsame.
And a man with a young child he seems to be raising alone. He’s not doing well with his child. He blows up, yells, then comforts the child with apologies. I’m very tempted to ask him if I can take his child for a few hours so he can calm down.
The point is this — the French are noisy people. They shout often. They’re not as reserved as Americans or Brits, but are more like Italians. I’m sure they don’t see this in themselves, but it’s true. Shhh. Don’t tell them we’re onto them.
I know this because I’ve been listening.