January 30th, 2006
It is time to write Paris Letter #12, the last of our year abroad. Back to the land of sunshine and sunscreen; the land of space and light as they called it in the 60's art world; the land of fruits and nuts as they currently call it in the middle of the country. The city of angels is what I have just decided to call it to myself. Los Angeles.
I have been balking on writing the #12 letter. It is not that I haven't been rolling it over in the brain, nor that there haven't been lists of things I wanted to tell, but the impact of the words, LAST LETTER, has been paralyzing. I sit down at the computer to start writing with my coffee and headphones on and music playing. Getting into the writing mood. I stare at the screen and think OK let's go, let's get this done. And nothing happens. I loose steam and seem to collapse in on myself like a red and white beach ball whose plug has just been pulled. Then I start surfing the web in mindless inattention trying to take up some time. Finally I get up and go do something else.
After a number of these failed attempts, I get the title written and pick a picture to go with it.
In reflecting upon it now, I see that the photo I choose (without much thought) is interesting. It is a view looking down the stairs from the top of Montmartre just at the edge of the Sacre Cour plaza. It was taken in the clear soft light of a sunny Sunday morning. I love Paris in the winter. Friends say it is the best because you can see everything with the leaves out of the way. I like it because of the colors and the emptiness. Looking at the photo I realize that it alludes to this journey I've been on - a climb that was arduous and exhilarating and ended in a magnificent view. I feel older, wiser and certainly more Frenchified, which I guess means more sophisticated and experienced. There was a sense of existing in a kind of rarified air - the expat experience - that simply put felt special. All in all, the world has gotten remarkably smaller and considerably bigger with this last year and every step has been worth it and worth it and worth it.
I chose the title "already!?" because it echoes the dichotomy of this place and time. We are truly all ready to go and excited about that (!). Shippers are arranged, boxes are piling high and an apartment has been settled upon for the first few months in Los Angeles. As such we are already all ready. On the other hand, Catherine and I look at each other and ask "already?" as if there has been some mistake on the calendar that will soon be corrected. How can it have been a year already?
We teeter between those states of ! and ?: We want to go back! and Do we have to go back? But our departure date of January 31 inches forward and no one has announced an error on the calendar and our daily actions take us ever closer to leaving. The ! and ? volley back and forth, especially around five o'clock in the morning before the light has seeped into the dawning day and I lie in my bed marvelling at the never-enough character of Paris. I haven't gotten enough of it and I guess I never will.
Our friends down at Place Victor Hugo are throwing us a good-bye party this evening, and it was no mean feat to keep the guest list down to a reasonable 25. We had a second-to-last farewell dinner with Alison at Le Petit Troquet, which our French teacher, Jean Robert, recommended and we have a final lesson with him later on in the week at another of his favorite stomps.
Strange coincidences have been occuring.
For instance, I went to a funeral of a friend of a friend at Cemeterie Montparnasse a few days ago. The bare trees were black tangles against the misty backdrop of that cold morning. The mourners were clumps of charcoals and blacks, wrapped in heavy coats and felt hats and luxurious furs and gloves of all kinds. It was a good looking crowd, a crowd that spoke of wealth and refinement. It was a hushed morning, soft words and quiet thoughts and the tap of high heels on the pavement. We each carried white roses to the grave and poured little scoops of dirt down upon the casket.
Afterward, I went to a Japanese restaurant on rue Soufflot with three friends who had been with me at the funeral. Over hot tea and the combo platter, the two men, Viktor and Steven, began discussing Los Angeles (of all things). Isabelle and I popped pieces of cucumber sushi as they talked. It turns out, both men had lived and worked in LA. And both considered Los Angeles their favorite city in all the world, with Paris running a close second. I stopped midair with my chop stocks and clicked them together as if I was snatching their words out of the atmosphere to inspect them more closely.
"Why?" I asked. Why could Los Angeles be their favorite city when they were sitting in the middle of Paris?
The weather, the people, the beaches, the lifestyle, the mix of nature and city, the arts, the fun. They rambled off reason after reason.
I sat and considered their enthusiasm for a minute. Then I remembered moving to Los Angeles 16 years ago and spending those first few weeks driving around looking at the palm trees and the bouganvilla and the crystal skies (it was winter) and the "old" Hollywood architecture. I remembered driving to the beach and walking along the shore in Santa Monica. I remembered going to the Griffith Observatory and looking out on the jeweled basin at night when the lights just didn't stop. I remembered loving Los Angeles. I had forgotten that feeling.
Then I remembered that I had said over and over "I love Los Angeles" when the conversation turned to "I hate LA. I want to move," at countless parties and gallery openings and chance meetings at the mall. People always wanted to leave Los Angeles. The smog. The crime. The postmodern horror of the mish mash. But I had always maintained that I loved L.A. And now I was returning and trying to remember why and these two men were bringing it all back home. I thanked them for the sushi and the memories and kissed them French style cheek-to-cheek and caught a taxi for home.
I leaned into the back seat and the taxi driver asked if I was British. My accent. American I said, but I live here now. I was determined to hold on to that until the last second. Where from? he responded and I replied Los Angles. Well, without a beat, the taxi driver began a long soliloquy on the wonders of the USA (which he has yet to visit) including Texas and Las Vegas, but he ended with a resounding Thumbs Up on Hollywood. He wagged on about the beaches and the stars and the glitz of Hollywood, the bloondes and the easy living and everybody's a star. Of course it was in French and I missed a fair amount of what he said but the overall meaning was exquisitely clear: here was another one of the "enthralled."
Twice in one day was too much to ignore. Something or someone or I don't know what was trying to get the message across: Los Angeles is the place to be! I groaned and counted out my euros as the taxi came to a stop in front of the big blue doors at 17 rue de la Pompe.
We came home to where we understand the language, as Catherine says, and I announced to everyone who would listen that I had lived in Paris. Then I went down to Starbuck's and ordered a tall coffee just for the hell of it.
Bye for now, Georgia