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My relationship with mannequins has been nothing short of tumultuous over the years. First, there was my confusing childhood crush on a grown man/mannequin hybrid in Jeff from Today’s Special, and then, growing up, the realization that a mannequin’s painted-on eyeliner was so superior to my own. For a brief moment things turned around, when a movement began to eliminate hair and faces on mannequins across the board, in favour of the polished and uniform faceless look. I suspect this was done to accommodate the fact that many prospective shoppers don’t have porcelain skin and horse-hair locks of gold. It was definitely a move to improve race relations, and recently it went a big step further when mannequins started having no heads at all. It was a bold but intelligent move, since as an ethnic minority myself, there’s nothing I relate to more than a decapitated likeness of a human in the latest and greatest fashions.
A few weeks ago though, things went horribly wrong. It happened on Toronto’s bustling Yonge Street in the downtown core. My friends and I (it’s important for bloggers to “character drop” friends into their posts, to eliminate the stigma that bloggers have no friends, even if the “friends” in question are fictional, and in my case they are, but no one needs to know that except myself and the readers (aka my REAL friends! Are you all eating Cheetos in your pajamas too?)…oh wait, I forgot what I was saying. Oh yeah, so my friends and I were strolling along after a fabulous dinner, a skip in our step from splitting two bottles of vino (friends are great for splitting the vino in a dignified way, as opposed to drinking the bottle alone in your pajamas after binge-eating a bag of Cheetos), when we came across…THIS.
Your eyes do not deceive you; those, my friends, are anatomically-disgraceful INVERTED knee-caps. We weren’t sure if our eyes were deceiving us that night, so I took the picture, let it sit for exactly one month, and didn’t look upon it until today, only to find that it wasn’t a sick joke. I mean damn, like it wasn’t already hard enough to relate to blonde mannequins, or twenty-inch-waisted mannequins, or decapitated mannequins, but now you’re telling me the basic structure of my human form is no longer worthy of wearing the dresses in the shop window? It won’t be long before women start getting elective knee-inversion surgeries, just like how there’s procedures to elongate legs, or a recent rise in butt implants, or the newfound obsession with having a thigh-gap (did you see that episode of Dr. Oz? Better yet did you see Beyoncé’s photoshopped thigh-gap from that day she was playing golf?).
The fact that this blog is supposed to be about Paris reminiscence (and there’s so much reminiscence I haven’t yet shared!) should tell you how this issue has been weighing on my mind. I even went back and changed the post’s title to reflect this disturbing topic.
Due to my current state of distress, I think I’ll leave it at that. In other news, since I haven’t blogged for two months, I never shared that Ted Talk I did in November re: following your dreams. Well here it is! (I’m also working on a butt-load of writer stuff, but it’s still too early to mention it yet…just know that I’m using the full 10% of my brain that we humans use!)
Single people have been led to believe that Valentine’s Day is when they must confront their loneliness, feel sad, then reflect on all the ways they can improve as a dateable commodity, to avoid winding up in this sorry predicament the next time this day rolls around. It’s like a new year’s resolution, only tailored to your romantic inadequacies, as opposed to the weight/nicotine/alcohol issues that are typically targeted on January 1st.
Many single people (mostly women) fight the power by getting all dressed up and hittin’ the club with “their girls,” where they’ll inevitably hold court with the remnants of the male population, the single guys who troll such clubs on Valentine’s night, ready to feed off a single woman’s fear of dying alone (1. eww; and 2. been there, said NO to that).
But back to the people who accept their lot in life as feeling sad/punished on Valentine’s Day: stop that now, there’s no need! And I’m about to tell you why.
Few people know that Valentine’s Day is the one day a year to take pity on couples, as they only engage in romance on this day because of the biggest and loudest reminder ever known to man:
Worse than that, is how contrived all this romance is. I mean…a Pepto-Bismol-coloured card with a corporation’s impersonalized greeting? NOT romantic.
Or how about chocolates that are supposedly romantic because they’ve been stuffed into a heart-shaped box for this once-a-year occasion? Umm NO (and don’t be fooled by the box, it’s exactly the same as the regular Ferrero Rocher chocolate, only the heart-shaped box has eight measly pieces, whereas the year-round rectangle box contains SIXTEEN pieces for only a dollar more! There’s a sucker born every day…)
What about stuffed animals holding stuffed-hearts? Seriously, what’s a grown woman supposed to do with a stuffed animal? That’s the equivalent of getting Flintstones chewable vitamins for your wedding anniversary.
“But guess what Romi, ” the couples say (condescendingly), “we don’t do the shitty “greeting card and chocolate” stuff on V-day. We plan romantic getaways, and give each other mix tapes, and do scavenger hunts, and make crafts based on inside jokes, which means our love is REAL, so the single people can go back to envying our holiday.“
First of all, dear couples, you doth protest too much. Second of all, no matter what you do, no matter how quirky and “not mainstream” your hipster romance is, if it happened on Valentine’s Day, it’s immediately disqualified from the best romantic moment of all time, because any sweet gesture was jacked-up, amplified, and prompted by the manufactured romance that’s filling up the air on February 14th. It’s like when disgraced baseball star Mark McGwire tried to claim the home-run record when his butt-cheeks were pumped full of steroids. I DON’T THINK SO.
Of course, this won’t stop the couples from trying to show the single people who’s boss. You’ll know that feeling when the Facebook posts start trickling in: “My man is the best!” Or “I’m the luckiest girl in the world!” You know what the “luckiest girl in the world” posts are supposed to do, right? They’re supposed to remind you that you’re not (until February 15th of course, when everything goes back to being the same, ya know?). It’s cool though, ’cause calendar-prompted romance is the same as a tainted home-run record, so why feel bad about that? And let’s not forget the slashed prices on chocolate you’ll find on February 15th! (the heart-shaped boxes of Ferrero Rocher are always the first to go)
Despite this post being a streak-free spray-tan of self-esteem for the average single person, your couple friends definitely deserve a shout-out, for when they do romantic things on any old day of the year (and when asked why, they respond: “just because”). When these random acts of romance happen and you hear about it, you’re totally allowed to feel jealous. And sad. And maybe even jump off a cliff.
Okay so the “dying alone in a violent way, cliff-death wise” imagery was harsh, but back to my overall point: Valentine’s Day should never make you feel bad again, so take back the night!
PS: is it weird that I listened to “You’re Beautiful” by James Blunt on repeat while writing this post?
How can I even argue with that?
You’ve got the sunsets to enjoy with that someone who could be “the one,” and how could you not feel happy when you admire the changing sky, and how those last rays of sun make the ripples of the Seine glimmer like jewels from Chanel? If it’s cloudy out, don’t worry, there’s back-up! It comes in the form of romantic cobblestone side-streets that are perfect for stolen kisses. Or here’s another option: gaze at each other as you sit side-by-side on charming café terraces.
These elaborate set pieces are somehow the natural state of Paris, and as beautiful as it all is, it negatively alters your ability to discern who’s dateable vs. who’s insufferable. If anything your judgment is blurred by the distracting background.
Basically…Paris is airbrush makeup for ugly personalities.
It’s not Paris’s fault; I mean Paris didn’t ask to be defiled in this way, to be used as an agent of “surface romance,” for people who think wine and chocolate and gazing at Eiffel Tower views will be enough to distract you from poor conversation skills.
But that’s what people do!
And only after several dates (once the Parisian haze has lifted) do you realize you’ve never been more bored in your life but now you’re so far into it you should probably break it off in person and dammit if only you’d met him (or her!) in a rural barren wasteland because then you would’ve known how boring he (or she!) was within the five-minute mark.
It’s a shame how Paris numbs your senses and radars, and all the other skills you’ve amassed over the years to weed out the wrong ones to help you find the right one. It’s a shame because well shit, you’re in Paris! And it’s beautiful! So why can’t you share it with someone special?!
This is the part where I tell you to move to a different city.
This next part is when I tell you I was lying in the part above, because I loved living in Paris and will rob you blind when you’re not looking so I can fundraise my way back to the Seine.
So what’s the workaround to the Paris “blur”?
Actually, it’s simple: you must go to the places that bring out the random conversations…you must! Nothing tells you more about someone’s personality than how they react to random topics of conversation. “But Romi,” you say, “conversation’s not that important. I mean that’s what my buddies are for. I just want a girl I’m really ‘into,’ ya know?” Sure random blog reader, I know all about it. But what YOU don’t know is that forty years from now when all your buddies are dead (your buddies lived hard and fast) you’ll stare into the face of the person you spend almost all of your “awake time” with, and you’ll realize you have absolutely nothing to say to her (or him!). And it’s not one of those adorable “comfortable silences” either.
So back to my workaround solution!
There are many places in Paris that are ripe for random conversation, and one of the best ones is the Centre Pompidou, a.k.a. Paris’s museum of modern art. I don’t even have to take you through it step-by-step because it’s easy. All I have to do is show you some of the art I saw when I was there, and the conversations will make themselves. I was not there on a date, but if I had been, there’s so much I could’ve discovered about a possible mate in front of this melting bicycle painting. I mean it’s MELTING! What does that MEAN? Does it make you think about how everything’s made up of atoms, whether it’s a liquid or a solid? In which case…is a melting bicycle really such a leap in logic? And how does a specific combination of atoms even hold a bicycle into a solid? How fragile is it? What if I’m riding a bicycle and it starts to melt?! I have many concerns!
Obviously this sort of date could result in my possible mate thinking I’m extremely weird and running away, but that’s the risk you take by being yourself, and there’s someone for everyone..right? In other words your conversations don’t have to be as weird as mine, but at least it’s a conversation! Now this one…well this one is just so easy. Do I even need to go there? Look closely. Bringing your date here and getting them to describe this work of art will equal automatic laughter, and laughter’s an important part of haze-free romance!
Okay…so this one. Well it freaks me the hell out. I could find out a lot about a guy by asking him how he feels about these little troll men who are basically SMILING while one of them passes the other one the CORPSE-HEAD of one of their peers! If your date is not the least bit disturbed by this, he is probably a serial killer, which is a really important trait to weed out!
These are just a few examples, but by reading this, please don’t think I’m so nerdy when it comes to romance that I’m a conversation robot who simply wants to talk and talk until death do us part. As a matter of fact I love gazing into someone’s eyes on a café terrace, I love sunsets, and I love those little cobblestone alleyways which are so conducive to making out in doorways (heh). I’d just rather do all that once I’m sure the personality in question matches up well with mine. You gotta EARN the sunset…
Before I drift away into the new year, I wanted to share some exciting news: the “Year of the Chick” series is now available as an ebook box set! The readers of the series have been SO great with their reactions/emails/Amazon reviews, that I’ve put together all three books into a set you can get for yourself (for a crazy introductory price of $3.99!), or gift to your friends via Amazon’s simple “give as a gift” button (all you need is the “giftee’s” email address, and they don’t even need a Kindle, since you can read ebooks on your phone or iPad with the free app).
Anyway, here’s the link so feel free to check it out, just in time for Christmas!— Year of the Chick series boxed set
I’ll be back in 2014 with many more thoughts on Paris (oh, you thought I was done?) and updates on my writing projects.
For now I’ll leave you with this lyric I’m really digging right now: “Our love, it grows, because I know it makes me better; thy will be done, when we are one, us, together.” (See? I’m not a robot who’s only obsessed with conversation!). It’s called “Fall” by Serena Ryder, and I gotta say, she really gets me. If you’re curious you can listen to it here!
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…