Monday, April 26, 2010

Impulse Buy

Winter sunset in Belleville.

I've done it again: bought a plane ticket to Paris in a fitful moment of impulse-romanticism-instinct-recklessness-happiness. (I know better than to try to disentangle those emotions by now). They're all part and parcel of a larger force that keeps pulling me back to Paris. This is the third time in the past two years that I've found myself buying a ticket in the middle of the night, and it's looking like it won't be the last. In fact, I'd be quite happy to think that this adrenaline-fueled, late-night ticket-purchasing habit will become a regular occurrence in my life. Better than sleep-walking out of a window, right?

It's inevitable really, seeing as my heart is a magnet and Paris is its polar opposite. Or maybe my stomach is the magnet, and St. Marcellin is its polar opposite. Or maybe my closet is a magnet, and Le Bon Marché is its polar opposite? Who cares.

No matter, I'm going back to Paris a month from today. I wonder what kind of outfits the Parisian dogs are sporting this season, and when the peaches and cherries will start rolling into the markets, and what time the sun is setting these days, and what kind of random, cracked-out adventures await me. Rest assured, I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

My Local Drug Dealers

Ever-changing graffiti near my Belleville apartment

As much as I love my current neighborhood in New York (the Lower East Side), it doesn't have nearly enough drug dealers for my taste. There's something about having a stable crew of pushers outside my door that just makes me feel secure, and this winter in Paris, I had just that.

I realize it might sound strange to admit that I derive comfort from knowing that there is criminal activity occurring a stone's throw from where I sleep, but if you simply think of the dealers as unofficial doormen, it's really quite nice having them there.

The Paris apartment I'm referring to was in Belleville—not a dangerous neighborhood by any means, but certainly well off the bourgeois map. Let's just say, I can imagine the face my mother would have made had she seen my block which, luckily, she never did. But, as is exemplified by the fact that I lived there, Belleville is quickly gentrifying, so check it out ASAP if you haven't already.

But back to my local drug dealers, they were there when I came home in the evening, when I went back out for the night, and when I came back late night. They tended to take the mornings off, understandably; none of us can work 'round the clock.

After about a week, they got to know me. They would say hi, they would part like the Red Sea to let me through, they would push each other out of the way if one was blocking my door. Dare I say they were gentlemanly? I could call it an arrangement of mutual tolerance, but in fact, it was more than tolerance (at least, on my side). I think I loved them.

On the rare occasions when I came home and they weren't there, the silence on the street was deafening. Well, maybe not deafening, but noticeable. I had grown to like them and to count on them. And I knew that—unless one of them killed me—I was extra safe for their presence.

So now you understand why it's somewhat boring to come home to my building in New York—it's so sterile, so yuppified, so free of loiterers. It makes me think about my doorway in Belleville, where I know my dealers are still keeping watch, doing their thing, night after night.

I guess it's a bit unsettling to think that the reliability of those drug dealers was one of the more consistent elements of my recent life, but voila, there it is. As we learn again and again, life works in mysterious ways.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Rolling Dog of Place Monge

When I lived in the 5th arrondissement, it was hard for me to go five minutes without laughing. Everything from the shop owners to the school kids to the traveling minstrels made my day. But there was one particular discovery that really pushed me over the edge— into the realm of pure, unadulterated elation:

A real, live dog on wheels.

These specimens had long existed in my imagination, but to find one in my neighborhood was almost too much excitement for one person to take. In addition to being... how can I put it nicely?... "infirm," this dog looked mangy, unkempt and completely down-n-out. To his credit, he didn't seem to know it.

He wheeled around Place Monge like he owned the place, which maybe he did. Who am I to know? I'm just an ex-pat interloper. This is clearly his terrain.


This winter, I was retracing my old steps, when whom did I see? None other than my dog on wheels, zipping around (ok, plodding along in little jolts), just like in the good old days!

How refreshing it is to learn that I can leave, move across the world, come back and find that Old Mr. Wheels is still charting the same daily course across the Place.

My excitement soon gave way to calmness, to a settling of my heart rate, to an organic feeling that things are in balance, that there is order in the world. If this ratty little dog strapped to a mobile harness contraption doesn't symbolize something good, I don't know what does. All I know is: everything's going to be ok. I have rolling proof.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Picnic in the Metro

I can't sleep, and on nights like this, my thoughts naturally turn to Parisian vagrants—one of my favorite topics. It's not that I take homelessness lightly; it's just that Paris has such a distinctive and wily set of street-dwellers, I can't help but be amazed, amused, enthralled... whatever you want to call it.

I'm recalling a particular evening about a year ago when I was darting through the Metro and came across a woman who had set up camp on a tiled ledge. She had the usual accoutrements: sleeping bag, clothing layers, a few plastic bags full of stuff. But more importantly, she had set up a little picnic that (among other things) included a glass of rosé. Not only was it in a proper wine glass but, upon closer inspection, seemed to have some kind of garnish going on. Wait... wait a minute... yes... two elegant and very fresh-looking raspberries bobbed in the lovely glass. For a moment, I was genuinely jealous.

Then, reality check. I think it's time for my Paris-goggles to be adjusted when I literally start to envy the cocktails of people who live in the Metro. But she did have quite a spread, and those raspberries...

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