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May 2016

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Sunny Jones Style.

Sunny Jones is sitting in the sun on the terrace of Le Babylone legs crossed, one foot flipping the toe of a tan suede loafer, so that when we cross the street, my first thought is –  I want those shoes. Yeah, shallow, but let’s not get preachy. It’s spring. Pastel sweaters, flowy embroidered shirts, make us feel alive again. We all get a sudden interest in suede loafers, salsa, Liberty prints, whatever it is. Spring fever. Truth is, when May rolls around, I generally start coveting shoes. Oh, there was this one pair, worn by a guy (but who cares) – a pair of grass green suede loafers with small brass buckles on the side. Beautiful. On that Wednesday morning I sat worshiping his shoes for 7 metro stops.

Speaking of worship and stuff… Andrew and I went to a concert last night to see Father John Misty, kinda folk, psychedelic rock. You might know him. Andrew discovered the guy, intrigued (definitely!) by his name. As Andrew told some friends, “He brings to the stage the intensity of an ex-evangelical.” And he’s got this long hair. You should have seen how they lit him. From behind, so as he approached the stage, there was this aura, like the approach of a celestial being. What techies might call angelic or ‘Jesus lighting.’ His band is rocking. Plus, Father John’s got piercing eyes and a pensive way. And he wore his black shirt unbuttoned half-way down.

You get the picture. What I was eager to tell Sunny and Dawson cause I was still jazzed up, you know, on the after-show vibe/energy of great music. I swear I even woke up looking all glow-y. Like her name, Sunny is all glow-y. She is also 80 years old, so I’ve got to get on with this story, as she needs to go home in the afternoon for a nap. Sunny, (Sandra back in California) wears a lot of thick gold jewelry, moved to Paris after her husband, a doctor in Carmel, died and left her a small fortune and is making a new life for herself here. She is teaching me how to speak my mind. I’m no amateur. But she’s a pro. Being around her, I feel the hogwash rinse away, and the snappy lines blossom forth.

I’d brought Dawson along too. Dawson is into holistic healing and Sunny has some joint issues, so I thought they could talk thru that. Introductions. Kiss, kiss. Dawson and I smoosh into chairs around the small round table, bumping, like usual, into 4 others as we get shifted and comfy. Sunny is telling Dawson that “Thank god that couple at the next table finally left, both smoking like chimneys. The French haven’t gotten the message about lung cancer, have they?” She eyes two girls smoking up a storm, but a few tables down. Everyone else have their faces raised up to the sky. Just a little warmth, please.

“By the way, Sunny,” I say, “you’re gorgeous in those loafers.” She waves her hand, dismissing me, her gold bracelets jangle. At 80, she knows what’s what. After we’ve caught up for a minute and Dawson has suggested some herbs and soaks and some guru masseuse in the Marais, I tell them about the concert. “Last night we saw Father John Misty at the Alhambra and he’s amazing.” I pause for effect.  Sunny is right with me, “Darling, you never told me you were Catholic.” She looks a bit put out. “No, no,” I laugh, “not that kind of Father, he’s this singer. But he’s got this presence…” I paint the picture. Sunny smiles. Father John’s sounding right up her alley. “Next time,” she says, “call me.”

He’s in Berlin tomorrow night, I tell them. I’d gotten kinda carried away scoping out his tour schedule, listening to his albums all day. “I mean, we could grab a train.” I let the idea float and for a free-floating minute, I do believe that Sunny considers it.

 

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Find a Bridge.

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You know how you sometimes picture a thing in your head, but when you get there, it’s entirely different. When the long weekend rolled around, Andrew was still swamped with work and couldn’t come out to the country with us, the Saturday morning train out was packed with people, we had to sit on our suitcases. In Vernon, where we got off the train, there were no taxis. While we waited for a taxi in the cafe adjacent the station, a waiter served us hot chocolate, his long yellow fingernails tapping disconcertingly against the white porcelain cups. It felt a bit like one of those persnickety British children’s films when things start off wrong and there’s an unruly cast of characters.

Once we had our rental car and a map, (no gps available) I turned right. An hour later, wishing I’d turned left, we found ourselves on a peninsula, marshland, deer, but no landmarks in sight. Finally, we arrived at a resort, and there were golfers in sight. I jumped out of the car with my large map but as they gazed at it, they shook their heads. It was a tricky area to navigate and they admitted they only knew how to get home from where we were. All they could tell us was, “Where you want to be is across the river. Get across the river and you’ll be fine. There’ll be signs once you’re there.”

Sure enough, it appeared we had been on the wrong side of the river, where things were topsy-turvy. Once we found the bridge, and got to the other side, things and events straightened up.

The next day found us finishing lunch under the trees in the garden of the Hotel Baudy with friends who’d driven from Paris out to Giverny where we were staying in an old monastery. After lunch, we’d gotten directions to a path for a walk along the hills above the village. We all needed to stretch our legs. Someone said let’s race, the younger kids sprinted up with ease, their feet like wings, breezing thru daisies and buttercups.  At the crest, we looked out over the view. We were lucky with the day. Blue sky. White puffy clouds. There were red poppies dotting the high grasses, like in the painting, “Poppy Field” at the Musee d’Orsay. We’d even once bought the fridge magnet.

The path kept to the top of the grassy hill, thick thorny bushes creating low arbors on each side, then clearings looking down onto the valley and the Seine river below. Here and there people sat on stools, easels set up, sketching on canvases. In the middle of a high meadow, a large group formed a circle. Talking about art, yoga, who knew these days, maybe internet detox. We passed them un-regarded and eventually headed back down to the crowds milling through the village. We’d already been to the gardens that morning, filed along for a turn to make pictures on the footbridge in the Japanese area. We had sat for a moment facing the pond, the weeping willows, reflections of the clouds in the water.

Monet painted about 250 oil paintings of this pond and water lilies. The paintings are in collections around the world. It is said he “didn’t like organized or constrained gardens. He planted flowers according to their colors, and left them to grow freely.” Maybe it is this unrestrained quality that attracts people to his work. A sense of the wild natural world as it is, moving in color and light that with a blink of the eye disappears. The crowds are growing so we get up to leave, but my thoughts trail to the famous painter sitting and looking at this same pond years ago, toiling in a paint smock day after day to recreate what he saw. I would probably look at his paintings differently when next I saw them. I wondered if the girls would feel the same. A slight connection.

After we got back down to the village with our friends, we decided to head out to Roche-Guyon, which was only a few minutes away, have some dessert there and tour the castle. We were walking back to our car and going down a side street when we ran into a crowd of people barring our way. “Why are you waiting?” people were asking and shuffling to try to get past. “Is this a line waiting to leave?” I ask incredulously. Someone answered that it was. A huge crowd waiting to leave didn’t really make sense. “Are you on a bus?” This might explain it. Yes. On a bus. Yes. That must be it. I grabbed the kids hands and followed a man and a lady who were working their way through the crowd, despite complaints. “Hey, who do you think you are?” thundered a man who had to be George from Seinfeld’s Uncle. Definitely from somewhere near New Jersey. We ignored him. He kept up a loud call, “What’s the big idea. Where do you think you’re going. Where are those people going?”

Sure enough, the bus crowd had been blocking the lane. We got through and out to the end of the lane, laughing and imitating Mr. New Jersey.  Obviously, the bus crowd hadn’t realized their mistake.

Zoe said, “It’s just an acronym for the human condition.” I think you mean analogy, I said. Oh, yeah, right. “It’s just an analogy of the human condition. Everyone is afraid to question until that one person breaks the conformity of the crowd and realizes they can.”  On the ride back through the fields by the river, we laughed again at the situation. See girls, I said. That was a perfect example. Just because someone says it is so, doesn’t mean it is so. Check for yourselves. Look at the situation. Take your own assessment. Approach most things with a healthy dose of skepticism. You know how people are. We all nodded our heads and looked out at the scenery.

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Confess the Dress.

A few weeks ago, in early April, my new 25 year-old friend Rachel and I back and forth-ed a bunch of girly talk texts. We’d met at a soiree one night at some Americans’ house in the stately 16th arrondissement, around Victor Hugo, where that modern-ish fountain spurts water up to the Arc de Triomphe in the distance, if you’re standing at a certain spot, or aiming for the cafes around the leafy circle. But, as I was saying, we’d met at this party. I don’t’ remember how. There were a bunch of us there in those big rooms with the thick carpets and drapes, dining tables full of food and drinks.

Maybe I’d heard her laugh, or heard her telling a story the way she does, scoffing rifts delivered with a straight face. Maybe she’d seen me gesticulating with my hands like I do when I talk, and thought, “Now, there’s someone different.” Or was it simply that we were all making the rounds. Asking those same first questions you ask at parties in Paris, “Why are you here?” “How long are you here for?” It’s like there is a script that everyone follows. But really, it’s just that the city is such a presence in itself. We all want to know what our relation to it is.

Everyone has a different story, even if the stories sometimes mesh together so that when you run into those same people later shopping in rue Passy, you can’t remember if they’re the Dutch diplomats, the women whose husband died suddenly so she packed it up for Paris with 4 kids!, or the people who hold a patent on some salt extraction process. Stories that sound unbelievable anywhere else, start to sound reasonable here. It’s crazy.

Whatever it was, Rachel and I must have decided we liked each others shtick. After the Weinstein’s party, we started to hang out here and there. She knew Andrew. She met the kids, had some pizza with us one night, startled the girls with her madcap silliness playing charades. I kept tabs on her love life. She kept tabs on our family holidays. And in the spring we both decided we’d go to one of the big galas in town. Get all fancy. Andrew agreed to go. (He looks fab gussied up) She was going alone. On Tuesday, she buzzed.

Rach:  I have nothing gala-ish to wear.

Me:  Me either.

Rach:  Ok. Let’s wear sweatpants.

Me:  Haha. I don’t need convincing. But off to walk the dog. Text later.

This Paris life had turned out to not be so bad. We’d been sheltered from the worst of it, so far. We were constantly meeting people of all ages, from everywhere. But we’d settled into some real friendships too. And then there was the grandeur of the city as a backdrop that never lifted, only our focus shifted as the daily ups and downs played out. It could be beautifully bleak, it could feel like the grandest most coldest-hearted place in the world on a day when you’d been shoved on the metro, or cold stared by scary international spy types, but the point was, even then, it was terribly beautiful. I mean, we all got tired of the rush of the city, but we were infatuated, at least I was. Terribly infatuated. And I knew I could be obnoxious about it.

By the time, we’d started to go to these parties, we had begun to feel at home. We’d resigned ourselves, more or less, to the highs and lows of the lifestyle. It had been good to meet younger and older friends. For so long, we’d seen mostly our own age. Our own league. It was fun to have 20 year-old friends, 80 year-old friends, friends who played jazz on bridges for tips, friends who were famous and rich, all the in-betweens. Andrew and I both got a kick out of Rachel and we looked forward to the Gala, looked forward to hearing the drama of her twenty something life. I texted her later.

Me:  I have dresses but I think they’re too short now.

Rach:  Why’s that?

Me:  They look too short. Maybe they don’t fit.

Rach: You look good in everything. Everything I own is covered in cat hair.

Me: That’s a style. Dog hair covered stuff, with rips – you pay top dollar for that. Plus, you’re young. You don’t even have to try.

We were both despairing. As the date drew near, the weather had not improved. A few times while out I’d wandered into a few boutiques, but it was cold and raining, so I’d never tried anything on. Besides, I’d decided it was better not to spend the money on a dress, as we were leaving for another holiday soon. I’d considered vintage, but hadn’t bothered to find a shop. Andrew had been working around the clock, the girls were being grouchy after school. A fancy dress just wasn’t the mood, but I didn’t want to be embarrassing in something dowdy.

Me:  Took a look thru closet. Discovered serious lack of dresses.

Rach:  I’m going naked.

Me:  Naked a good idea plus benefit of being inexpensive.

Rach:  What if it’s raining.

Me:  We live in Paris. It’s always raining.

Of course, we had a great time. It was a party, after all. There was good food. A really nice dinner, as much champagne as you wanted. Across the Seine, the Eiffel tower twinkling outside the windows. Over my dark dress, I wore a long black coat I had bought at Agnes B. last winter. I piled my hair on top of my head, and had at it.

Continue reading
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