Paris is Often Not My Kind of Girl

Autumn Colors
Bassin de la Villette, Quai de Loire, Paris
24 October 2009

I awoke at 6 am this morning. PJ has been setting his alarm for this time for the past two days to be able to get up to write, and my body clock has already set to wake up to that time, apparently. Also, I am still adjusting to the time change, which we here in Paris did the weekend before folks in the States (October 25) .

I did not try to go back to sleep. Instead, I arose, started some coffee and hot tea, got caught up on some email and a little on some blogs.

I replied to the comments on my previous blog. My commenters liked the dog poo story there, and re-reading it, I do, too, so go to the post and scroll to the end to read it, if you like and have not done so already.

I tried to take a photo of the the just-shy-of-full-and-now-waning moon winking in at me between the curtain panels of our living room window, but it came out too blurry to post here.

And now, I write.

I am afraid what has come out today for my Project NaNoWriMo has been more introspection on the nature of blogging and writing than reporting on any of the activities I have done recently in Paris. I have, however, also written about PJ’s and my relationship with the city as given in a metaphor and discussion we had earlier this summer. I have been thinking more about the existence of this blog and what I would like it to be since starting Project NaNo. I talked about it with PJ this morning and we were discussing how perhaps what I am doing here is starting to chip away at a block of marble without really knowing what will emerge. He had thought he remembered Hemingway making this kind of comparison in writing — writing as sculpture. I went on an internet search, and while I did not find an attribution to Hemingway about this idea, I did find these quotes:

“Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees.  Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain.”

(Elie Wiesel as quoted on this blog).

Also, Joan Didion said this:

“Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing.”

(found at an interesting blog about writing by Lauren Davis called Unfettering My Imagination).

This is totally unrelated in some ways, but this link came up in my search for quotes about writing as sculpting: a lovely piece by student abroad participant Hayley Rosado about her study experience: Through My Eyes, In My Words. I am actually writing this introduction *after* a day of work, and maybe it is that I am getting weary from a day of writing, but Hayley’s piece made me get a little teary. It was her fresh and young voice of experiencing Paris for the first time that got me a little choked up. I think I am a little weepy about this because after writing some of this blog, I realize what an old, somewhat-jaded lady I have become when it comes to my getting out and enjoying the city.

Here are the topics for today:

  • On Writing and Blogging
  • On Seeing Paris – Getting out there and doing
  • Paris as Girlfriend versus Wife versus Potential Best Friend

On Writing & Blogging

I have made it my goal since the first of November to write a post every day of a minimum of 1,667 words for this blog until the 30th of November. I decided to participate in Project NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. The goal is to complete a novel-sized piece and type of writing of the equivalent of 175 pages or 50,000 words from November 1st to 30th. This means in 30 days, 1,667 words must be written per day to keep up with the 50k goal by the end of the month.

I decided the night of October 31, I think it was, to use NaNo as a way to develop this blog a little more. I explain all at this post here: November NaNoWriMo Challenge. I just went and re-read that post myself as it explains a lot about what I think this blog is and could be and why I am keeping it. If you want to understand what it is that I am trying to do/to figure out with this blog, please take a look at the post.

Over the past three days of working with this blog in the context of NaNo, I am finding that my academic nature is really kicking in. By this, I mean that my penchant for analyzing and deconstructing events is coming to the forefront, and I find myself wanting to take apart the process of why I am doing this all in the first place.

These questions have been like a carousel in my mind, and my thoughts, in an attempt to answer them, are like children wanting to ride, hopping on and off the animals going round.


The Jardin des Plantes, 5 July 2009

The central and pivotal question has become: WHY BLOG?

Why do I feel the need to put my writing “out there” in this kind of way? Why put myself at the risk of being *known*, both in a microcosmic sense as well as a macrocosmic one?

What I mean about the whole microcosm/macrocosm thing is that there is being “known” in terms of putting my thoughts and my sense of self as I choose to reveal on a webpage (being “known” in the small sense of opening myself up by sharing these thoughts and feelings) and then there is becoming “known” by garnering a following on the blog and then potentially having it “blow up” into something even more public. The first thing I think is a very good thing. The second thing scares the bejeebus out of me.

I just Googled, “Why do people blog?” and found there are dozens of blogs on this topic, lol!

The first article that popped up is entitled “Why do people blog and how many of us are there?” dated April 23, 2007.

The post, by Dave Taylor, in a nutshell says this:

  • blogging is a tool to communicate
  • there are millions of blogs
  • blogging exists for people “to have a voice, however small”
  • blogging allows good writers  “who wouldn’t otherwise be heard in mainstream media” to share their interesting and intelligent perspectives
  • blogging raises issues about privacy, and while Taylor is “a bit leery about the oddballs and weirdoes out there…,” he reads about 150 daily (!) and writes his own blogs, too, taking care to protect his children’s privacy by not using names and not publishing their photos online.

The past couple of months I have been looking at the memoirs, blogs, and stories of dozens of people here in Paris in an effort to try to figure out what *I* am doing here at Paris Blog High School (as I have come to call those who blog specifically about what it is to live and exist in Paris, although with different emphases); I have wondered what my voice and contribution might be. I think Dave Taylor has part of my answer, in general: I am here and I blog in order to have a voice in the Mother of All Formats for Voice right now, the World Wide Web.

What is happening, in my opinion, is that in developed nations, this Web is indeed becoming a real World in which we live. For me, the Web in so very many ways keeps me connected to what it means to be human: to interact with other people, but via the written word instead of through face-to-face interaction (although it has led to a lot of face-to-face friends, such as Tess, whom I now know in the city and the formerly just-online friends who have come to visit us in Paris. I also got to meet others I’d first only known online when I lived back in the States. Heck, I met my second [now ex] husband online… and re-met PJ there, too). I think for many people age 50 and under (and for a few older than 50, too, to be fair), having an entire life, or an aspect of one’s life, on the Web is a concept that is accepted and understood. For those who do not or have not spent much time in the world of the Web and who have reservations and /or fears about it, it seems as if to them the Web is not a “real world.”  I think this is because they do not interact much on the Web in their day-to-day living and it is therefore harder to understand and feel a connection to it. To these people, the Web is seen not as another world in which to interact with human beings much as we do in the world of the five senses,  but is seen as mostly “escapism” and a “self-aggrandizing enterprise” (thinking of blogging with that last part).

I am thinking here about folks (often older, but not always) who may use the Internet, but only as one might use a toaster, or people who have expressed critical opinions of blogging, question its function and purpose, and question having an online life in general. I am thinking of criticisms I read about the writings of Catherine Sanderson (petite anglaise) and Julie Powell, bloggers who got famous and then published. I think about how they were opened up to scrutiny not normally experienced by people not present on the Web.

I know I am totally putting my shoes on before my socks with this. I am not trying to presume that I ought to be the same as either of those two women and that somehow out of the millions of blogs being written on all of the Web, and out of the hundreds that are written about expats living in Paris, some publishing person is going to stumble upon this blog and say, “Wow. We want to publish her.” I mean, sure, it has crossed my mind with seeing movies like Julie and Julia and reading petite anglaise’s story and blog. I love to write. I have already written here in blogs that to be recognized and remunerated for writing would indeed be a kind of dream-come-true.

But, I do not envy what has happened to women like Catherine Sanderson and Julie Powell because of their blogs and subsequent writings in terms of some of the vehement criticisms of not only their writing, but also their personal lives and choices. My fear is what if this blog did get noticed and then turned into something like it did for them: where their every life-decision is called into question by people they don’t even know, people that think by virtue of the fact that they read their blogs, they have the right to weigh in on those women’s lives.

Or, in fact, do those who criticize have the right?

If someone is going to put themselves “out there,” then doesn’t that give other people the right to respond and weigh in? I’m not sure. I really don’t have the answer to that one. I mean, I really wonder does anyone, at any time really have the right to weigh in on another’s personal life, ever?

What it comes down to is that I do not think I have the thick hide Catherine Sanderson said is necessary if one is going to live the writing life and also blog about it. (See The Writer’s Altar segment of my previous blog.) The kind of criticism they received scares me, makes me want to hide under a rock, and consider not keeping a blog like this at all.

Anyway, for now, however, I am continuing on and keeping this blog for the same reason I have kept the others I have written. Since about 2005, I found that online diary-keeping and connecting to others doing the same thing is an integral and necessary part of my life. I suppose if that changes, then poof. Away goes this blog.

I blog because I need to write. I do it publicly and not-so-publicly on the ‘net because I appreciate knowing my voice is heard, that my words are not just locked up between the covers of a journal never to be read nor appreciated, and never to help another human being who might be assisted by reading and realizing, “Hey, that is like me, too” or, “Wow, that was helpful information, ” or “Gee, that was funny!” I know I receive so very much through reading others’ blogs as they inform, make me laugh, or help me realize I am not alone in this large and often disconnected world.

So there you go. Why I blog.

On Seeing Paris – Getting out there and doing

PJ and I were talking this morning about this blog being my NaNoWriMo experiment and what is happening on this blog so far. My original premise for keeping the blog was that it could be a place to write about and showcase the photos I have taken as I have been trying to make myself get out and enjoy Paris.

Yes, you may laugh at me with the irony the words “make myself enjoy Paris” might seem to be.

But, unlike for some who have had a long-time love affair with all things Parisian, Paris and I have not been a natural attraction. I will get to why a little later in this post.

I wonder a little with writing so much for this blog in this month if I am going to wind up jumping the shark, and losing the original premise for this blog: to help make myself get out and enjoy Paris.  Already I have defaulted to the style that characterizes the writing I did at Yahoo! 360° and have done on Multiply: extremely introspective, somewhat navel-gazing, speculative, spiritual and philosophical, somewhat academic diary-style writing. This blog was an attempt to draw me OUT of that kind of writing and give me a reason to actually go out and DO something in this city.

Already I see the writing of the past four days moving once again into this insular, thoughtful, isolated, INDOOR kind of place. Posting photos of Paris but from the perspective of looking out my living room window, not getting out to see what the city has to offer.

I do not know why it is a continual struggle for me to find desire to want to go out.

I think part of it is that I have to, most of the time, go out by myself. It’s lonely.

Part of it is that it is autumn, and is getting colder and wetter outside.

Part of it is that Paris is often not my kind of girl.

Paris as Girlfriend versus Wife versus Potential Best Friend

This past June, PJ and I had French guests for dinner. Two gentlemen were former clients of PJ, and the third man was the companion of one of the clients. Yes, as in partner. As in they are a gay couple.

Paris seems to be a city very accepting of those living an alternative lifestyle in terms of their sexuality. In November 1999, French Parliament voted into law PACS, pacte civil de solidarité,  which is a kind of civil union open to both heterosexuals and homosexual couples.  The current Mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, is openly homosexual. He is also a Socialist.

These are two aspects of living in France with which I am completely comfortable: France’s official stances on things like homosexuality and socialism. Not expecting everyone and anyone to agree with me, I’m just sayin’. It’s my opinion and lets you know a little more about me and the things I do like about living in France.

Anyways, for the three Frenchmen, I cooked a large Mexican-style meal. I’m from Colorado and Mexican-American food is a staple there. PJ said it would be good for me to try to prepare something of a uniquely American style of which the three men might not have a great opportunity to partake. I decided Mexican-American was it. I prepared a garlic and parmesan artichoke dip and tacos for the entrée, chicken enchiladas with homemade sauce for the main course, a mâche, avocado and grapefruit salad, and trés leches cake with mango and strawberries for dessert.

The recipes can be found at these web pages:

Artichoke Parmesan Dip

Homemade Mexican Beef

Chicken Enchiladas

Trés Leches Cake

All of these recipes, except the cake, are gluten-free if 100% corn tortillas and taco shells are used. Unfortunately, the corn tortillas and taco shells sold in my local Monoprix store here in Paris contain small amounts of wheat flour. I ate a salad with some of the chicken I’d made and the taco fixings. I think that the potential for the cake made with a gluten-free baking mix for the flour to turn out well is very good! I would try to do so myself, but I am also not eating any dairy right now, and trés leches is full of it!

We had a very enjoyable meal with good conversation. From the gay couple, I learned more about soaking grains before eating them and since then always soak my brown rice. I got to learn more about Pernod and what the difference is between pastis and Pernod. I also got to hear PJ wax upon his answer to this question:

In which place do you like living better, Paris or the U.S.?

It’s a natural question for a French person to ask an American living overseas. It is a good question, and I was interested to hear PJ’s answer.

This is a paraphrase of what he said.

The United States is like my sister. I grew up with her, I love her, I love to visit her, I love to catch up with what she is doing. But as an adult do I want to live with her everyday? Do I have more than a brotherly love for her? Of course not. Paris, on the other hand, is like my girlfriend. I love her passionately, I want to know everything about her, to see her baby pictures, and know her stories. I love spending time with her and exploring her, getting to know more about her.

I had a time of it not openly rolling my eyes and snorting out loud over this whole spiel.  I’ll get to why in a moment.

First, however, it is a wonderful comparison, a beautiful metaphor. As an expat of almost 20 years, for PJ to equate his relationship with the States as a sister-like is perfect. Dead on. The way he came up with that rocked my socks. But his girlfriend? It sounds great, and if it were remotely true, it would be a fantastic metaphor! As it is, after 20 years of his living in Paris, Paris is in no way PJ’s girlfriend.

Paris is his wife.

I am thinking of the Lyle Lovett song, “She’s No Lady, She’s My Wife.”

And I can’t remember
How I met her
Seems like she’s always just been hanging here off my right arm
And I can’t remember
How I ever
Thought that I just couldn’t live without a woman’s charm

Paris’ baby photos are on shelves gathering dust, her stories have all been heard and PJ would rather kick off his shoes and watch the latest epi of CSI:Vegas (also known as Les Experts in French, which can now be seen in English for those with digital TV converters) than pay attention to any more stories Paris has to tell. And while PJ may have consorted with her much at the beginning (for example, walking every one of her streets in at least three arrondissements and writing one [unpublished] novel about her and starting a second book for which the proposal even got interest from a publisher before the publisher fell on hard times and the proposal was dropped), if he gets out to walk streets other than the ones back and forth to work each day, it must also be a blue moon.

You know what they say about married sex: it’s boring, dull, and does not happen very often. (Yeahhh, I know. It’s a bit of a cliché and not actually true for many couples. But there sure are a lot of jokes about it, and a quick internet search corroborates the idea here.) Paris and PJ are not doing it very often anymore.

Sure, twenty years ago, when Paris first walked into PJ’s life, he was into her in a passionate way, but now? She’s old hat (to use a hackneyed phrase to describe a hackneyed situation).

I brought this up to PJ not long after the dinner, pointed out to him how he really should not use the metaphor of Paris being his girlfriend if he wanted to be a person of integrity, and told him that maybe there were ways we could together renew his passion as well as stoke my own for this city. Indeed, the rest of the summer, except for when we spent time Stateside, we got out to do a few things together.

rue du Pont Louis-Philippe

The rue du Pont Louis-Philippe
Across from the Île de Saint-Louis
June 2009, when PJ and I went out for an afternoon together

Still, I find Paris to be not unlike the stereotypes of her female inhabitants.

For example, in petite anglaise’s early blogs, she writes about the French Female.

A species à part


High maintenance

She writes in her comments:

I sincerely hope my comments don’t offend French readers – I’m aware that I make sweeping generalisations and that sometimes I am treading a very fine line…but it’s all about getting cheap laughs not meant to be taken too seriously.

I am about to do the same here, so I hope this will all be taken in stride and in humor.

Here are a couple of other interesting articles I found defining French/Parisienne females:

What Makes a French Woman So Sexy?

As Coco Chanel once said, “Elegance is refusal.” Elegance requires pencil-thin, smartly dressed restraint. It means saying no to the extra cheese, no to the croissant and a definite non, merci to that third glass of wine. (ouch!) Au revoir to the muffin top. Au revoir to the lush!

But style and sexiness come at a price. With so many elegant temptresses on the ground there is little time for friendship among the girls. According to Frith-Powell, French women are a typically jealous and suspicious lot. One reason they spend most of their time trying to look so good is to stop their girlfriends seducing their husbands. The term ‘femme fatale’ is a French one. Resisting their instincts and passions is not in the genetic makeup. As Vicomte de Valmont says in the book Dangerous Liaisons, “It is beyond my control.”

French Women are Complete Contradictions

Unlocking the Secrets of French Women

French women are self-possessed; even slightly defiant. Why? Partly because they don’t grow up with the mandate to be liked and be like everyone else. There’s no word or concept for “popularity” in France. Imagine growing up without that pressure. No wonder French women don’t seem to give a damn what we think of them. (News flash: They don’t.) When it comes to relationships, that self-possession serves them well. If a man’s Just Not That Into Her, a French women generally Just Moves On.

La Parisienne

For most people, the Parisienne represents the quintessential French woman. She is slender, feminine, self-confident and, especially, has a certain je ne sais quoi that leaves everyone wondering what it is she has that other women can’t seem to get no matter how hard they try.

An American woman who has lived in France for eight years and who is the very portrait of the independent liberated woman, told me how surprised she was by the influence of Paris on her vision of herself: “Living in Paris is like being in a room of wonderful furniture. You want to dress up and look good to fit in with the surroundings ! “

I really liked that last article! It’s true and informative. It’s focused more on the fashion sense and sensibility of a French female, but it also shows the emphasis Parisiennes’ put on physical appearance all the time, not just when going out for a special night.

Paris, to me, is intimidating, somewhat more formal than I am used to as a Colorado Girl, a little standoff-ish, slightly snooty, and kind of high-maintenance. While she sparkles and is very charming, I find it hard to connect with her, to feel like she wants to be my friend, too. It does not feel like a natural friendship and I am not sure how to continue to try to make friends with her.

PJ is married to Paris, though, in so many ways, and if I am going to stay in a relationship with him then I feel like I have to try to become friends with Paris, too. It has to become my home.

I have been trying. This blog. My photography. Spending so much time reading blogs and memoirs about Paris that I have correspondingly been spending the last several blogs wondering whether or not my blog has a place with all the other blogs about Paris. Circular, I know, just like that carousel up there! 😀

I feel kind of stuck with Paris right now, and while there are delectable macarons to be eaten here and beautiful buildings to be photographed, I know in order to become her friend, I really do have to find ways to experience her with others and at least learn to communicate better with her. I am not sure how to make that happen. I think I have hoped this blog will become something else, too: a way to connect with other people in this city so that I do not spend day in and day out, pecking away at this keyboard, posting more photos taken from my living room window.

I think I am cashed for the day. Word count: 4,422. I know not all of them are mine, but the bulk of them are. Off to post to NaNo now.

Categories: Gluten-Free Recipes, Life in Paris, NaNoWriMo, Paris Blogging, Personal Life | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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12 thoughts on “Paris is Often Not My Kind of Girl

  1. Karen

    Hi Karin!

    We’re almost-name-twins! (Mine’s spelled with an “e”). I am also an American, originally from near Chicago living almost-in-Paris with my French husband (my town is Villejuif, a suburb connected to Paris by the metro, but I’m close enough to walk into the capital, a brisk 30-minute trek by foot!)

    I stumbled upon your blog through the link from a comment you left on David Lebovitz’ site (think it was about his hellish internet service provider…) Since discovering your blog, I’ve read through most of your entries (the Ladurée macarons and the one where you explained how to brew tea were very much appreciated!) and I just want to say how much I admire your witty, hilarious and honest writing, so generous with meandering anecdotes and lovely photographs.

    I also think you’re really brave to push yourself to have adventures exploring this amazing place, because behind all the elegance, history and glamour, it can feel like a lonely gray place at times, and I find myself having to do the same. Thank you so very much for sharing your thoughts and insights with the world—they are unique, interesting, important and such a comfort!!! I’m still trying to figure my relationship to this place too and really thought your analogies of Paris as girlfriend, wife and potential best friend were amazingly insightful and nuanced. I’ve also been near Paris about a year and haven’t nearly taken advantage of all the things that Paris has to offer, so if you ever want a random adventure-buddy, I’d totally be up for it! There’s so much more I could say, but I’ll stop there. Sorry I don’t have a blog (yet…), but I wish you the best of luck with the NaNoWriMo challenge!

    • pariskarin

      Hi Karen!

      You know how when something really good happens and it happens at the beginning of a day you weren’t so sure was going to go all right, and then, because that thing happens, you know everything’s gonna be all right? (*cue up Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds”*) Well, yeah, that was this comment. 🙂

      I know where Villejuif is because it is one of the ends of Line 7 (we’re close to that line in the 19th — Stalingrad) and also because I like to say it in French “Veal zhoo-eef”! I think it is cool-sounding and I also had a mini-revelation about it one day when I finally figured out what it means in French: Jewish City. So yes, while I have not been there yet, I do know it. 🙂

      I think what I appreciate most about your comment is this: “I admire your witty, hilarious and honest writing, so generous with meandering anecdotes and lovely photographs.” I have worried on and off since the start of my blogging “career” that my writing is just SO not suited for blogs — it’s long, anecdotal, and meandering, like you wrote, and it seems like blogs “out there” are so tidy and focused and not all over the place, like my writing has a way to be. So to read that it has done *just* the trick for someone is a kind of relief: knowing that I can be just who I need to be, and write how I need to write, and it has a place, too, in the online world. So I cannot thank you enough for the affirmation that this is*exactly* what I need to do — just be myself. That’s always a nice thing to know, eh? That being ourselves is perfectly okay.

      You betcha I will email you — like I wrote, I have been hoping this blog will open up to opportunities here in Paris to meet others and integrate as much as I can into this home in which I have found myself. And maybe we can do something about changing your blogging status. 🙂

      Thank you, again, Karen, for making my day.

  2. ken

    were it Guatamala, the buildings and river would be the same, but the families underwear would be flying from a string from each window

    • pariskarin

      Hi Ken! Funny. 🙂 Makes me think of when I came to Paris the first time, PJ picked me up at the airport and when I got outside, I said, “It looks like Dallas.” I kept saying that all the way on the RER train into Paris. “Looks like Dallas, except for the graffiti. Looks like Dallas, except for the Euro-style apartments.”

      We joke now when we go to new places — PJ asks, “Does it look like Dallas?”

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  7. Melanie Urdang

    Thanks for the lovely comment about my daughter, Hayley Rosado’s writing.

    • You are so welcome! I was very impressed by her piece on Paris. 🙂 Thank you for reading and leaving a comment about her writing, too. 🙂

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