Sunday, October 21, 2012

Fashion and Cashmere Pampers

Fashion & Shopping
When I was a child, my mother used to take me to the park after school but before doing so she would change me into play clothes. Why? She felt – and I agree – that there was little sense in getting mud on my ballet flats, ripping the seam on my linen dress, or staining a cashmere sweater when I swung from the monkey bars, dug holes in the sand pit, or chased friends around an elm tree. Returning home I was inevitably stained-scuffed-muddied-and-filthy but my school clothes were safely folded-tucked-and-treasured at home.

In Paris however, fashion is imposed on children from an early age (read: before birth). Have you ever walked into a Parisian clothing shop for children? Try to venture inside but be warned that you should leave your credit card at home in order to resist the tempting-tantalizing-and-dangerous purchases. Items range from decadent to to haute couture. I had to giggle when I saw a cashmere-panty-cover that one puts over a diaper for the nickel and dime price of 200Euros - did people forget that diapers leak? And by the way, what they leak is neither pleasant nor lovely, and when they leak is not predictable but almost always happens only when wearing a 200Euro cashmere-panty-cover and almost never happens when wearing the 3Euro panty-cover from Monoprix.

While a child clothed in sneakers and jeans in the park is an unlikely viewing, the peacock plumage of luxurious cashmere sweater sets, suede flats and velvet jackets on full display is quite entertaining. I am sure that I spotted Anna Wintour lurking behind the elm tree today, frantically scribbling notes for the upcoming fashion trends a la toddler. In fact, the first time we ventured to the park I was also tempted to hide behind a tree myself but only because of my shame in poor fashion and parenting skills. What kind of a monstrous parent allows their child to wear scuffed up Converse sneakers to the park?

Oh be still my beating heart - I had a confirmation this weekend that I am not a monstrous parent. I met a woman at a birthday party who wears jeans and scuffed up sneakers. As do her children. As does her husband. And she finds it acceptable, comfortable and even a bit of a political statement. I suppose that, since she is the founder of a famous fashion house in London and her husband is a renown haute couture photographer, they have more liberty to wave about their carte blanche, but nevertheless, she was a breathe of fresh air. 

Despite my determination not to succumb to social pressure, Cedric's already cute wardrobe has been massively upgraded.  Oh yes, no more shopping for mama since the monthly fashion budget has been reallocated. He himself recently decided that one pair of his shoes were "no beautiful" and tossed them into the garbage. Myself, I find that I now wear heels and lipstick to take Cedric to school in the morning for fear that someone might mistake me for the car park lady rather than a student's mother. 

Beyond fashion, outdoor antique markets are lovely but the bargaining is not as transparent as in China. Funnily enough, someone called me a Chinese (under their breath, while coughing and flashing a fake smile) when I attempted to bargain a bit. Of course they had no idea we had just come off the boat. 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Children and Peeing Behind Trees

Despite common belief, allowing your child to pee in the streets does not lead to police arrest. My mother has certainly tested the limits. Of course, one has to be strategic and pee discreetly rather than in front of Hermes. I have found that easing your crouched child in between parked cars works best but your toes then often get a bit splattered. I have seen endless moon-faces crouched under a tree in the park as the nou-nou or nanny gabbers on her telephone, tossing a packet of wet wipes in the direction of the two year old.

A double standard exists because dogs are allowed to do what they want, where they want, when they want and how they want. One becomes fairly agile when walking the streets and even Cedric (who is 2.5 years old) has noticed that it is necessary to dodge the presents left behind by people who cannot be bothered to clean up after their four-legged friends. Cedric, excitedly shouts, “mama, do a kangaroo jump so no dirty feets, there is many many poodle poop-poos!" 

In addition to potty training, nursery school is a bit intimidating in Paris for both children and parents. The first teacher-parent conference was yesterday and, whilst entangled on a toddler-sized stool hoping that my left leg would eventually regain feeling and that nobody could see my knickers, I was trembling as the teacher lectured. Blah blah blah, children should do this, must do that, have to dress in this way, and cannot breathe-laugh-or-show-signs-of-anything-more-than-submission.   

I have yet to see a family in my neighborhood with less than three children. It seems that the two extremes - posh and not posh - breed with determination. Let the truth be known that, although they procreate like bunnies, most Parisians do not actually like children. I have unfortunately, been the subject of attack on two occasions in the supermarket. Why the supermarket? I suppose because they overflow with grumpy-prim-and-proper-snobby-old-ladies who do not appreciate a toddler who is laughing and dancing in the cereal isle. The first time a woman scolded Cedric I was numb but when it happened again a few days ago and I saw my shocked and frightening toddler, my tiger-cougar-lion-bear instincts burst in full force. I realized, to my great joy, that I am quite competent in arguing in French and have the "bah" and dismissive hand wave mastered. 

Due to their dislike for vertically challenged people, they tend to outsource child rearing. Perhaps I am wrong but I have a strong suspicion that the bosomed lady from Bamako is not related to the very Aryan children I see prancing about in high-couture outfits. So one might then ask where o where is dear maman? She is usually sitting at a cafe with a cigarette in one manicured hand and an espresso in the other.   

Eating in Paris and Sexy Butchers

Food & Real Life
The bread is damn good. Vegetables are fresh, sweet and so aesthetically pleasing that I must admit to having had taken a few photos of a certain cauliflower who lives down the road. The vegetables seem to pose coquettishly in their stands, guilty-pleasures winking and mesmerizing passerbyers with their array of peacock colors. And the fruit is pleasurable on a level that is almost surreal; the scent of the seasonal offerings wafts down the road and I can hear the strawberries singing their Siren song.

I am not someone who, in the past, appreciated a butcher per say but this has changed in Paris. All the butchers I have seen thus far are handsome and do not bear any resemblance to the Disney caricature of the days past. You know – the guys who adorned the same bloody apron day in and day out whilst chewing on a toothpick and tossing slabs of meat over bulging shoulders? I purposefully stroll Cedric down Rue de la Pompe near our home so we can gaze into the butcher’s window and admire the men who look as if they were film stars acting in a commercial. Immaculately dressed, their costumes are auburn colored and pressed so that the creases perfectly align just above the elbow - teasing the housewives with a glimpse of their muscular forearms. Their coifed hair, sparkling teeth and tanned skin imply lazy days spent in St. Tropez.

Other than the lovely outdoor markets and shops, the restaurants are delightful and did you know that eating I cannot stop eating steak tartar? I may not actually digest this consumption in the long term but one can hope. On his side, Andy is thrilled that his infamous dinners in China of sea urchin and golden coin have ended.

I have also learned that drinking wine with every meal is perfectly acceptable. People drink everywhere - in the outdoor cafes or while swinging children in the park. There is a gaggle of women I see in the café next to our apartment almost every morning after I drop off Cedric. They emphatically chat together, puff on their cigarettes while rolling their eyes and drink espresso without cease. Until about 12:30 when, after fetching Cedric from school, I pass them again and observe that the coffee cups have been replaced with wine carafes. The Barbie backpacks and snack bags resting by their well-dressed feet.  

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Food & Imaginary Life

Isn’t it a delicious cliché to be awakened by scent of freshly baked bread wafting through the window, ticking your nostrils? I squeezed my eyes shut and opened them, pleasantly surprised to find that I was still ensconced in the arms of Paris. He waltzed me across the room and I was enamored.

Here at my friends flat, I tossed away my computer-and-navy-pin-stripe-suit-along-with-my-deadlines-cold-tuna-sandwiches-subway-rides-and-aerobics-classes as if they were no more than a pot of wilted daisies or a scorned lover. The list of simple pleasures I had planned for my stay in Paris ranged from decadent and lazy to demanding and intense. My mind, as usual a bit overly organized or even manic, raced until I was suddenly distracted by the scents emanating from the street below. The scent of warm bread emerging from a brick oven made me quite hungry. 

I puttered about the apartment, the wooden floorboards creaking under my weight, into the kitchen. I paused before a basket of fruit, the colors vibrant and welcoming, and picked out a peach. Warmed by the morning sun, its ripeness was sensual and I giggled as the sticky nectar flowed down my chin. There were fresh coffee beans in the freezer and a glass pitcher of milk. Breakfast was as simple and honest as a child’s mischievous smile.

Ever the delightful host, my friend had left breakfast for me. The croissants fought with the hunks of cheese for space on the blue ceramic plate, both overflowing onto the table. Hmm, small slices of impressionist art transposed into the quotidian. I threw open the French doors in the living room and laughed at the cliché - Mansard slate roofs and clay chimney pots dotted the horizon.

I made a genuine effort to study a bit of grammar but quickly grew bored. Tossing aside my books, I ambled outside to a small restaurant, Camille, for lunch. The air was brisk but I preferred to sit at an outdoor table. Groups of people sat in carefree, laughing groups, shuffling sunglasses-cigarette-cases-and-café-crèmes on the rickety wobbly tables.

The Eiffel tower could be seen in the distance but I did not bother to take a photo and left my camera tucked away in my purse, hoping my imagination would help me recall my brief stint in the city of delicacies. There was a sudden cacophony of voices passing my enclave on the street corner and I marveled at a group of women. There was nothing remarkable about either their attire or their beauty but I was intrigued by their arrogance as they strode past, with hips swaying and a resounding click clack of their heels echoing in the cobblestone street. Their sensual-chic-and-elegant manner and confidence were contagious and I made a mental note to myself to only wear heels going forward, regardless of how uncomfortable they might be. Learning to sway my hips might prove a bit more complicated. 

I felt a vibration in my pocket and, empowered by the scents of this hypnotic city, shut off my blackberry. Taking another sip from the wine glass that seemed to never be depleted of its resource, I had to restrain myself from laughing as any stress that had insisted on traveling with me cross continent, melted away. So this is what it feels like to live in Paris.

Leaving Camille and walking towards the river, I came across a small patisserie tucked away at the end of a deserted street. The first step in becoming not-an-obvious-foreigner-who-slaughters-the-language-but-an-outwardly-enviable-woman-who-adapted-to-French-life would be to eat my way through the city. Perhaps I could nibble a bit from all the stands and cafes I passed? Could my waistline assume such a challenge?

After having had engaged in a seemingly innocuous flirtation with the baker, I sat outside on a park bench to relish every morsel of my pain au chocolaté. Despite his octogenarian status, crooked teeth, and corpulent belly, he had managed to seduce me as he flirted outrageously, spicing his flow of compliments with oohs, ahhs and mon chéri. I suppose his scintillating ability to create a masterpiece out of chocolate, butter and eggs had helped as well. .

I meandered down a path, the blurred lights garlanding the narrow passageway, and came across a market. While it is a novelty in NY find asparagus spears lying in stacked bundles side by side juxtaposed by baskets of ripened cheeses and barrels of bitter-sweet apples, here it is an assumed luxury for the life of a Parisian. I was not immune to the constant sensory assault that was Paris and found myself tasting-pinching-licking-drinking-sipping-crunching all the tidbits to which I was invited by the boisterous vendors.

I had no schedule, no appointments, no commitments and so I wandered the streets, enjoying the serendipity of not having plans other than to devour the myriad of tastes, sights and sounds which quite confounded the senses.

Flipping through a magazine I came across an advertisement for a cooking course and was intrigued by the idea. Until I remembered my inability to cook even the simplest of dishes without producing a bowl of slop coupled with my fear of being chastised by a presumptuous chef in French. Bah, as the little train, I mumbled to myself “I think I can I think I can” and walked to the school, almost hoping that the class would be full and I would be liberated of this silly endeavor.

Quite shyly, like a lumbering mountaineer entering a room filled with debonair men in tails, I peeked into the classroom. Alas, the chef and teacher was a sweet and approachable man who welcomed me into the room with a grand sweep of his arm.

Seated at one of the tables was a man of exceptional allure, whose eyes flashed with both mischief and promise. 

Friends and the Eight Senses

Note to the reader: If you find these updates to be silly and superfluous, please let me know and I will not send anymore.  Writing is serving as an enormous relief for me as I transition into my life here but of course, just as my addiction to red wine and Oreo cookies, this hobby can be discreetly stored away in the closet.

Friends and the 8 Senses

When I am feeling a bit sad or melancholy, I tend to consume large amounts of noodles. With butter, with cheese, with herbs and with an extremely ravenous appetite. Lately however, I am tempted by neither noodles nor any other carbohydrates that I frequently inject into my bloodstream for a quick sugar high of false happiness. Despite this lack of appetite I am not necessarily metamorphosing into a sleek-slim-and-sheek** Parisian.

On Friday however, I woke up and made a conscious decision to embrace my new home and explore my senses as they relate to the women I have met thus far. So while I am still quite lonely and do not have any friends yet, I have started to emerge from my self-imposed-6-inch-thick-tortoise-shell and meet people but I have only met a few people in our weeks here. So, if I recount the people I have met according to the senses they have stimulated, my impressions would be something like the following: 


A trip to the salon this Saturday was invigorating since a creative genius covered my 4-inch gray roots. Her work was tinged with a series of exuberantvoila-like-zis-oh-la-la and interspersed with a series of would-you-like-ze-cafe-o-maybe-ze-petite-apero? Yes, since the clock had struck 11:15 one was granted social permission to begin consuming alcohol. I opted for a strong cafe instead but let the record state that I was the exception in the salon. By the time she was finished with my hair, I noticed a number of fairly inebriated octogenarians who, despite the wine, managed to apply their lipstick correctly.  

I left the salon looking like a woman who was ten years younger than the woman who had entered. I was even able to ignore  - for a fleeting moment - the fact that the rest of me has been seriously neglected since leaving Asia. What is the state of my feet you ask? They have grown 3-inch deep calluses that would allow me to scurry up palm trees and collect coconuts. And what is the state of my hands? One can see that have recently been required to wash, scrub, iron, clean, cook and shake. I tried to give myself an emergency manicure but discovered that painting ones own nails and staying inside the lines (like a coloring book) is virtually impossible. 


Strangely silent. Murmurs. Everyone is terribly well behaved in this neighborhood. At times I have to bite my tongue for fear that I will endure an attack of oral-Turrets and run about in the middle of the road shouting profanities. This weekend was amusing since two men walked up and down the street early Sunday morning playing the accordion and trombone. They were loud, full VOLUME, invasive and out of place - it put me in a lovely mood and as I tapped my feet to the tune, Cedric giggled and clapped his hands from our perch on the balcony. At one point the men encouraged us to toss them coins but this seemed a bit demeaning, no? 

The next day we were invited to the home of a friend-of-a-friend and the couple was lovely yet restrained. And my son happened to be severely sleep-deprived that afternoon and felt inspired to use his lungs. I have a strong suspicion we will not be invited back.  


As a child were you ever forbidden from touching something, anything, or even everything? The warnings would emerge as guttural moans increasing in intensity and fervor - Do not touch the vase, it will break. Do not touch me, your fingers are dirty.

When invited to the home of another friend of a friend I sat in S's living room terrified to breathe (for fear that my germs might spread), to touch (for fear that I would secrete nasty oils from my fingertips) and to shift around (for fear that my vibrations would cause one of the many pieces of perfectly positioned pieces of art to fall from their perch). I had the sensation of reverting to my childhood when the list of do not dos was often terrifying. The texture of the couch was sensual, fabulous and while it was tempting I sat on my hands and refrained myself for fear of soiling the fabric. 
I avoided pouring myself a cup of tea for fear that I would spill it on the table. I delayed going to the bathroom until we reached a café two blocks away for fear of accidentally breaking the plumbing. I hesitated to touch her child in greeting for fear of breaking her fragile-toothpick-infant arm.

In terms of refraining myself, the same applies for the gorgeous-hunky-desperate-housewives-handy-man-from-Paraguay that comes by our house to fix things every so often. Ay, dios mio. 


Smelled like home. Like grandma's home. My new friend R is a goddess in the kitchen and my tastebuds were overwhelmed and for a moment I fell deeply in love. Andy and I were at her house for dinner on Saturday and we returned home purring like cats and tempted to rub our bellies, fingers hooked under our belts as homage to the Chinese men on the streets of Shanghai.    

At home however, we were accosted by the horrible and lingering smell of the natural herbs creams-bulbs-oils I am meant to massage-rub-and-pat into my bald spots whose periphery seems to grow by the minute. Perhaps a beret is in order. Or perhaps I should learn to bake, allowing the scents of butter-cinnamon-and-spice to meander through the halls of our happy home. Ha ha. That is an amusing suggestion.  


Lets return back to the topic of food since everything (life, friendship, status) is associated with food in Paris. On Friday I was invited to O's home for lunch. A friend from university, A, introduced us online and I was initially a bit worried since he owns nightclubs in NYC and tends to surround himself by women who sport false-breasts-lips-eyes-coupled-wtih-empty-brain-cavities-and-a-heightened-ability-to-find-rich-prey-in-nightclubs. You all know the type, the Russian models prowling the chic streets of NYC. Lady O is a family friend and the two families started vacationing together in St. Tropez when A and O were mere toddlers. The kids, ahem, even kissed under the pingpong table when they were six years old.

She is a lovely, borderline hippie yet bourgeoisie woman who lives in an entertaining and lively neighborhood. Her dining room table was overflowing with different platters of vegetables, meats, salads, cheeses. A cornucopia of delights. Walking (or waddling) back to my neighborhood I felt my infusion of energy and positivism to decrease, literally sapping out of my pores as I passed - one after the other - tight lipped ladies who click clacked in their patent leather pumps, smoothing out their cashmere sweater set lest they cling to their bosom and tantalize the neighborhood butcher. Going forward, I am going to wear a short skirt with a tight blouse that has not - oops - been fully buttoned and red shoes. Indeed, high heeled red shoes are key to causing scandal in this neighborhood.

I may even ask that Andy trail behind me with a camera, documenting all the women who are aghast as I pass en route. 


I was introduced to C shortly after our arrival through a close friend from Spain.  While my friend is lovely, her friend C seems to have consumed a few too many cups of special-kool-aid-mix. C has checked all the boxes in terms of her blossoming and prestigious career path, her delightful-coordinated-and-multi-lingual children, her sexy husband, and her jet-set travel and social schedule. At the same time she is absolutely and categorically exhausting to be around. One can see her begin to twitch when things are not perfect, one can sense the false smile when she proposes another way of doing something (e.g. pouring the tea), and one instinctively senses that she was sufficiently spanked as child.   

After an afternoon in the park with her and her children I felt as though someone had split me open, removed my insides, kicked me about, and then re-stuffed me with a different material. Cross-eyed, sweaty, and drained, I returned home, chattering wildly to myself. 


I sit confused and bewildered. The conversation was surreal and I felt as though a camera might emerge from behind the closet door to reveal that everything had been said in jest. I met K through S, a friend in NYC. Our kids are the same age and I invited her over for a late afternoon play date and apéro. During the course of our email exchange I asked whether she had any allergies or food preferences. A summary of her response was as follows: No bread, no dairy, no preservatives, no sugar, no red meat, and no processed foods. And things should be bio and natural. 

So I find myself in a conundrum - how does one makes bio-hummus or prepare a platter of natural charcuterie? And more importantly, this begs the question of why someone would opt for such meal choices? Perhaps I will toss aside my planned menu and serve a cup of kale-leek-and-tofu-juice? And how can someone married to a French man not eat bread - I was under the assumption that before a foreign woman was allowed to marry a French man she had to take a vow promising to provide bread-cheese-wine-and-many-children till death do us part?   


This one is debated as no singular mechanism has been found that allows people to perceive time.  Most people detect time when looking at someone since age invites a plethora of changes - wrinkles, baggy eyes, droopy knees, dimply bum. Experimental data has conclusively shown we have a startling accurate ability to start demonstrating signs of middle age at about, hmm, now. 

But then there are the blatant exceptions and it turns out that two of the women I have been introduced to in Paris are ridiculously-annoyingly-gorgeous-and-immune-to-aging. Why is it that this insecure-stout-aging woman (me) is quite suddenly surrounded by models? One of the women, K, was very humble when I asked what she did for a living but it turns out she is bloody famous! Her home is littered with magazine covers and photographs or her meeting every head of state in the world who, inclusive of the female ones, is standing at her side with a love sick expression plastered on their faces. 

Needless to say, I feel like a bit of a pork-stuffed-won-ton when standing by her side. 

End Note

So everyone, we are officially living in Paris. This was declared last week and not by the residency papers but rather by the sudden influx of sex spam to my telephone. I suppose this is a subtle Welcome to Paris message from the local mairie.