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This is my honest assessment of six months spent in Paris, where I explored a new (to me) city, in a new (to me) country, in a new (to me) continent, made amazing friends, wrote another novel (“Never or Forever“), published that novel, had a book launch party in Paris, had my heart skip a beat more than once, and walked for endless stretches against a scenic backdrop. It was the city of lights, and it possessed the same magnificence captured in the countless guidebooks I’d read before ever reaching its soil.
From the external world, it goes like this:
“So how are you “adjusting” to being back in Toronto?” (the word “adjusting” is accompanied by a condescending scrunch of the nose, which I can even detect in text messages, believe me)
“Have you started looking for a job?” (obviously this question comes from the parental unit)
“Do you think you’ll ever go back to the corporate world, or can you afford to keep writing full time?” (back-door way of finding out how much money I’m making from writing, to assess if it’s more than a hobby)
The questions that come from within are a little more detailed, and they usually go like this:
“What am I supposed to do next, after living the dream that was only a far-off vision for the longest time?“
“Are dreams individual goals, or is dreaming of new possibilities a way of life?“
“How will I get back to Paris? Or will Paris become a memory that nothing else can ever top?“
I’ve never been in this place before, a place where I could check an insane dream off the list, and pat myself on the back for a mission accomplished. Before now it was always something I was working towards, and not having reached it was the common thread to all my efforts, the thing that gave me focus. It makes me wonder if dreams are only ever supposed to stay dreams, since turning them into reality is just another way to kill them, only this time it happens after the finish line…a natural cause of “dream death.”
On the other hand…well shit, if I’m not going to strive for something bigger and better after the best experience of my life, then why am I even here?!
Now is the time to have a sense of humour towards this limbo, now is the time to put my restless energy into writing new things, and now is the time to give my books some marketing love, in the hopes that new readers will find them.
Along the way, I’ll figure out what sort of job I’m willing to take to keep the bills paid, and meanwhile I’ll keep dreaming that one day writing will pay ALL the bills, and leave something extra for fancy indulgences like twenty-five-euro conditioner (I forgot my twenty-five-euro conditioner in Paris; I’m not sure if this is a “white-people problem” since I’m brown, but I think about that bottle often with nostalgia and regret…it made my hair smell like coconuts, and during my nighttime frolics in Paris I’d get compliments about it from various members of the male population).
Meanwhile, the name and theme of this blog will remain the same, since my memory is full of Parisian moments. I’ll continue to post those moments on the blog, which will help me figure out just how they’ll fit into a non-fiction book…i.e. the places and the STORIES behind the places, because you don’t usually get the stories in a typical Paris guidebook.
So I’ll see you soon, or as they say in Paris “à bientôt!” Before I go though, I wanted to mention a talk I did at the Tedx Youth conference this past Saturday. I was so honoured when they asked me to speak, and whereas here I discussed the aftermath of a dream, in the talk I focused on everything it took to get to Paris, in the hopes of inspiring today’s youth (when I say “youth,” I wish I was talking about eight-year-olds, but in reality sixteen-year-olds are considered youth when compared to my very adult age. This is horrifying; now please excuse me while I put on an extra layer of “Oil of Olay” for tonight). The talk should be up on YouTube before the end of the year, so make sure to come back as I’ll definitely share the link!
Here is a preview of the Ted Talk, with some quotes of things I actually said. This isn’t meant in that traditional way where it’s totally weird and “delusions of grandeur-ish” to quote oneself, but more to give you an idea of the weird things I actually said while onstage in front of 250 students. Below that is a picture of me giving the actual Ted talk, complete with “suspended in a jpeg” hand-motions. It all feels rather old-fashioned in a world of animated GIFs, but it’ll have to do for the time being.
Things I actually said in a Tedx Talk…
“…Angelina Jolie’s right leg had a blog at a certain point…there is even a blog called “Is Ryan Gosling Cuter Than a Puppy?“ which is obviously a resounding YES, so I’m not even sure why we need a blog to debate that.“
“And then the inevitable buyer’s remorse, when you realize the butt pockets don’t even align to your actual butt.“
“When you’re scared about pursuing your dream…you must book non-refundable things!“
“A restless soul is the number one catalyst for change.”—>okay, that one is actually a good reminder for me, I should listen to myself more often (“delusions of grandeur alert!” CODE RED.)
Is there anything else I really need to add to this post beyond that title? If you saw me right now, you would observe me inhaling deeply and smiling with satisfaction, on this exciting release day of book three in the “Year of the Chick” series.
I DID IT!!!
This book (“Never or Forever”) is the reason why I didn’t blog for the last few months, and the reason why I spent many Parisian days and nights in my pyjamas writing away (I’m very excited to wear normal clothes and enjoy the city again, as I’ve got one month left in Paris to soak it all up!).
If you’ve been following along with the book series, you know where the character left off last, and if not, it’s important to note that books 1 AND 2 are FREE on Amazon for a limited time, only until September 28th as a matter of fact! Book 1 will continue to be free after that, but this is the first time book 2 has ever been free…it’s sheer craziness! So if you like romantic comedies with some edge and a not-so-fairytale vibe, go ahead and try them out! (book 1: “Year of the Chick”; book 2: “Last-Minute Love”)
Here’s the new book’s description to give you a little preview; so if you’re interested in Paris, in men (both creepy and alluring), and in the idea of asserting one’s independence and taking a new direction in life, well enjoy!
“Never or Forever” book description:
For many people, Paris is the city of love.
Most of those people are tourists.
This turns out to be one of Romi Narindra’s first realizations, when she ditches her corporate job and moves to Paris for a year to write a book. It’s a year that will shatter illusions, assert independence, and maybe even leave some room for a love affair or two.
All the while, the past comes swirling back like a ghost with unfinished business, which raises important questions about hope and second chances.
Some things last forever, some things will never be, but one thing’s for sure: love in the modern world is not a fairy tale.
Oh well, fairy tales were never all that interesting anyway…
And to end today’s post, here’s a picture from a few days ago, when a friend and I had lunch on the riverbank after a jog; and no, I’m not sick of this glorious city yet…not even close. Viva la France!
Hemingway had the right idea when he decided to live in Paris to write his books…the cafés, the Seine river, the energy, the anticipation, the calm, the periods of reflection helped along by stunning views, the writers that surround your life…decades couldn’t change these attributes of Paris, so let it be known: Paris is a damn good place to write in!!
But let it also be known: all these wonderful things can be the devil in disguise! That’s right, just as easily as Paris can inspire you like no other place in the world, it can also sweep you up into the vortex of new experiences and great memories, a vortex that tosses your pen and notebook out the window, distracting you from the very task you came here to accomplish.
Right now I’m doing okay, because along the way I have always had a self-awareness for the ebbs and flows of Parisian distractions…or the “outside of Paris” distractions (like running off to London last weekend!). Today I must’ve spent a good ten minutes talking about the freshness of baguettes from Eric Kayser Boulangerie, particularly at the unexpected “freshness hour” of seven p.m. (part of the conversation with my equally stunned baguette-eating friend: “HOW is it so crusty on the inside and so soft in the middle? Oh my god!!“). Then there’s those times when I take detours on the way home, so I can walk along the river for a while, and simply watch the ripples of the water. That’s another twenty minutes gone. I can’t help it, I mean it’s PARIS goddammit, and I’d be a fool to ignore my surroundings just to crank out the word count; I mean really, what’s the point of being in Paris if I’m not even going to see, smell, and taste it?
Indeed, but then how do I beat this devil dressed in pain au chocolat and endlessly beautiful sunsets?
Like this: I make workback schedules, I freak myself out over how little time there is to finish, rewrite, and edit my book, and then, suddenly, from the negative reinforcement called the fear of failure, the words will flow.
I made the schedule after I got back from London this weekend, and according to said schedule, if I don’t finish the first draft before I leave for my three-week Europe vacation in fifteen days, I will fail in making my self-imposed publication date for book three. Which means I will have failed as an over-achieving Indian-Canadian.
And excuse me, but over-achieving Indian-Canadians were not made for failure.
So I’m on it, for those of you who’ve been reading the Year of the Chick book series; I’m on it! And book three will be released in the end of September!
Part of this pact means the regularly-scheduled blogging I’d originally intended will not be so regular in the next two months; I think that’s okay though, because maybe it’s better to spill the best of my “Confessions from Paris” after the dust has settled; take some time to reflect and all that.
I’ll still blog from time to time this summer, to be sure! But for the most part the season of crazy book-writing is upon me, so you can follow more regular updates on my Facebook Author page, sound good?
PS: Here I am in London this weekend, being a tourist and so NOT being a writer…
Sometimes in Paris you get this remarkable feeling that you’re amongst famous ghosts from the past, sometimes you feel as though the simplest thing like a charming street has transported you back in time, and sometimes you wonder why it’s not how you’d hoped or thought it would be (now’s about the time that you should watch the movie “Midnight in Paris“).
I was curious to know what sort of feeling I’d be left with after visiting the famous “Shakespeare and Company” bookshop in Paris. And now, after making a few trips there, I think I finally have my answer…
…As you make your way to 37 Rue de la Bûcherie, with the river close by and the Notre Dame cathedral in view, you’ll find yourself in the overwhelming footsteps of Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Actually that’s not true at all.
There are actually TWO Shakespeare and Company bookshops in Paris’s recorded history, two separate entities in two separate eras with two separate histories.
Most people figure this out by the time they arrive in Paris, as Wikipedia and any good guidebook will tell you the same. It was Sylvia Beach who started it all in the early twentieth century, with a bookstore and lending library popular with the “Lost Generation” of writers. It didn’t quite end with her though, for when she died in 1964, a colleague inherited the name for his very own bookshop in Paris, along with some of her private collection of books.
“The 1960′s to present day” Shakespeare and Company has a fascinating history of its own, with the late George Whitman at the forefront. Not only did his regular customers include the likes of Anais Nin and Allen Ginsberg, but he created quite the socialist refuge under that little roof, with book displays converting into beds after closing time, and writers welcome to stay for the simple cost of a short biography, one or two hours of work in the shop per day, and the promise to read a lot of books (books that would be vetted by Whitman’s keen eye…crime thrillers need not apply). Not to mention the Sunday tea sessions, poetry readings and more.
With a history like that, and a Canadian author who wrote a memoir based on the months he lived in the shop (“Time was Soft There“), I was full of naive notions before my visit, tempered by the reality that Whitman had died and his daughter now ran the shop (Sylvia Beach Whitman is her name, and it’s a much more clever name than “North West”). Maybe things would be different now, but not so different that I couldn’t travel back into the past…right? Right!
I thought it would be cool to swing by the shop to see a live performance, so I wandered my way over at seven p.m. (Toronto is for power-walking and Paris is for wandering, in my experience at least). The crowd was already gathering, and before too long, famed guitarist and songwriter Gary Lucas took the “stage” in front of the bookshop. Throughout the performance the crowd grew and grew, along with the number of jaws dropped in awe, as this man let his magic fingers tell story after story, with all the best notes played at mind-boggling speed.
It was a great way to start my journey at Shakespeare and Company.
But then…the crowd.
After the concert, too many people tried to squeeze their way into that tiny hole called a door. As I barely squeaked into the shop amidst body heat and American accents, the first thing I saw were stacks of modern books; today’s bestsellers, last year’s bestsellers, Harry Potter…it was slightly reminiscent of a Barnes and Noble, but hard to tell because the walls and ceilings and bookshelves felt so beautifully archaic.
The crowd was too thick to explore any further, so I resolved to make another visit, one where I’d make my way deeper in the back to find something better (it’s like grocery stores, where they put all the important stuff like milk and cheese in the back).
On my following visit the store was filled with tourists once again, but this time I managed to make it to the second floor. Here was the Childrens’ section and the library, a place where you could sit and read from leather-bound books all day long. Now that’s more like it. The first thing that struck me was George Whitman’s famous motto hung up on the wall, a simple token that transported me back in time, to the glory days of “angels in disguise” making their home in the shop. Next I saw a typewriter, which immediately brought me back to the writing nook that was used by actual residents in the shop, as recently as the early 2000′s. Only here the typewriter was on display atop a shelf. Like a museum artifact.
Next I saw a surprising real-life message board. It was filled with hundreds of love notes to the shop over the years, with people stating their country and date of visit, along with some special words about their experience at Shakespeare and Co. That was something I’d never even heard of before, and seeing those notes written by people from all over the world was pretty remarkable.
Even so, I got no sense at all of an organic presence of writers living in the shop (although I’ve heard that does still happen), but rather an overwhelming feeling that I was in the way of someone’s touristy experience, so I should probably get out or pick something to buy and get in the queue.
So I left the shop for a second time, now totally confused by my impressions.
Soon after, a fellow Ex-Pat writer told me about a writers’ group every Saturday at Shakespeare and Company. “Go to give feedback, go just to listen, or go and bring copies of your work for a critique.” As someone who had put all kinds of effort into forming a writers’ group in Toronto in 2009 only to watch it fizzle due to people’s lack of commitment, I was intrigued by this fully-formed group (and five Euros a session wasn’t bad for attending a writers’ group in an inspirational city such as this).
When I showed up on Saturday, my initial reaction was to cringe, when the shop was so crowded that they couldn’t let in more than three people at a time. It was like Best Buy during a “Black Friday” sale. I wonder what Hemingway would’ve thought of that. Luckily I was able to skip the queue and head straight upstairs to the library for the workshop.
In the next two hours I heard a lot of poetry and prose being read, and some really useful feedback being given. I chimed in a couple times, but mostly I was there to listen which actually proved to be invaluable (you wouldn’t think that feedback on a poem would be applicable to the first draft of my novel, but you’d be surprised!) After the workshop the writers all converged at a cheap watering hole, and even though I was late for a previous engagement so I couldn’t make it (oooh, I’m so popular!), I’m certain I’ll be back on a different Saturday.
Three visits, and three very different impressions. I’m sure my impressions will continue to grow, like if I see the next play performed outside the shop (I missed “Much Ado About Nothing“), or if I attend one of the many upcoming literary events.
I guess what I’ve learned then, is that time does change all things, but that doesn’t mean their value is diminished. Shakespeare and Company has been featured in books, articles and movies, and so change would’ve been inevitable with a level of exposure like that. I would never begrudge an establishment for achieving success, so even though Best-Buy-like measures are required at times and some of the shop feels like a museum, it’s managed to retain a good community, for those who are willing to participate. Now I’m reminded of what someone told me earlier this week: “I shouldn’t HAVE to make an effort to find a great community in Paris; it should already exist like it did a hundred years ago. But it doesn’t anymore.” (I might be paraphrasing a little). If you ask me, communities are built and maintained by people, so how would you ever tap into that without making any effort? Human interaction…try it sometime!
And so, the writing community in Paris continues to grow as I experience it; I’ve got “The Abbey Bookshop” for random conversations and aperitifs and meeting writers just like me, I’ve got two weekly open mics now, where a great group of people converge (“Spoken Word Paris” and “Paris Lit Up“), and I’ve got a great new place to get writing feedback at Shakespeare and Company.
2013 for a writer in Paris; not too shabby at all…
My seven-week anniversary of living in Paris is just days away, and it’s right about the time when my existence here feels more established. And so I will bestow you with some highlights and favourite things.
The first is an inexhaustible highlight; it regenerates day after day (depending on the weather), and much like the renewable resource of bio-fuel that’s used to power at least some of the city buses in the greater Toronto area (as far as I can remember since Toronto seems a distant memory), it won’t run out until the earth is destroyed by an asteroid, and the human race along with it.
It’s sunsets in Paris by the river.
The sun sets at a weirdly late hour in Paris (what is this, Iceland?), but I don’t mind, because to me it equals better odds of making it in time for the view. One evening, as I was leaning against the bridge, watching the sun do its’ disappearing dance, I totally lost track of time. It was beautiful and nearly tear-evoking (if only I wasn’t made of stone…just kidding I’m like a wailing infant most times), and if not for my peripheral vision which alerted me to a strange man standing beside me and giving me hungry eyes, I’m sure I would’ve stayed for a twilight view. Maybe next time.
Another highlight (though much less gorgeous as it involves two sweaty middle-aged men) occurred when two French businessmen from outside of Paris asked me for subway directions. In French. And I actually knew where they needed to go. And I knew exactly how to say it. In French. That was the big, big highlight of last week, which is shocking because aside from sunsets I only expected to have food-related highlights in Paris.
When it comes to a few of my favourite things, these will be exclusively food-related (I knew there was a reason why I didn’t have food in the highlights section). There’s this Lebanese place in the Latin Quarter called Topoly, and it, in my opinion, sells the best chicken pitas in Paris. I’ve had the one in Marais that’s renowned as the best place around (for falafels, at least), I’ve made the mistake of trying one of those pitas stuffed with not only meat but French fries, from one of those Greek food stalls in the Latin quarter that all look the same (it was dry and horrible!), and I’ve even enjoyed the spicy chicken kebab pitas by the Oberkampf metro station, but nothing beats Topoly! And why? Well it’s all about the bread! These angels of food service don’t give you a pita out of a bag, oh no! They actually roll the dough out in front of you, and cook it on this giant metal dome before your eyes! The result is the thinnest bread which is truly the key, just like it’s the key for a good thin-crust pizza. I cannot extol its virtues enough; go to Topoly and ask for a “Poulet pita au four”, less than six euros my friends!
This next one is the most unassuming, “couldn’t have predicted that!” kind of thing. It falls into the dessert category, and while you’d think I was getting ready to talk about a velvety chocolate mousse or an irresistible crêpe, you’d be totally wrong. Because I’m talking about…good ol’ American apple crumble. In Paris. I’m dead serious. Beginning at Montmartre, you’ll slowly wander your way down from Sacre Coeur, along the charming cobblestoned streets of Rue Norvin, and you’ll find yourself standing in front of The Consulat. The people-watching opportunities on the terrace are some of the best, and its exterior is the famous subject of many postcards. But no one knows about its’ apple crumble! The dollop of whipped cream, the scoop of vanilla ice cream, the hot apple crumble where the apple’s not sweetened too much (like with all apple pastries in Paris compared to North America)…c’est parfait! Tell them I sent you.
My third favourite thing is the simplest of all, and I discovered it at one of the nearby food markets. It’s at Place Monge in the Latin Quarter, open Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. On my very first visit I was on a singular mission: to find strawberries that weren’t disgustingly over-priced, the way they are at all the chain grocery stores in Paris. Well, not only did I find twice as many as I’d usually buy for two thirds the price, but they came direct from a family farm that grows strawberries and rhubarb. People were snatching up the rhubarb stalks like they somehow contained the secret to eternal youth, but since I’ve only heard of rhubarb being used in rhubarb pie and I don’t have an oven, I refrained. The strawberries though? They smelled magnificent (i.e. I started to open the fridge and untie the bag just to smell them; long hard whiffs. It’s like cocaine, but less side effects).
Once Paris is all said and done, I will certainly compile a formalized list of the best (and maybe the worst?) for the Paris book that emerges out of this experience, but I know that what’s listed here will make the final cut.
I’ll continue to explore and see what I encounter, will report back soon…