I’m not sure when it was exactly but somewhere along the way I realised I’d married the wrong man. It may have been in that time between the wedding and the having of kids. Anyhow at some point I knew for sure he wasn’t the prince I’d been conditioned to expect. Or a knight. There was no shining armour or even a white horse. No hidden fortune to be bestowed. He was’t going to rescue me. Give me answers. Complete me. Nor was there a get out of the childhood damage and live happily ever after card tucked in his back pocket.
Once upon a time I wrote a short story. It’s about a midlife woman who found her heart on the lounge room floor. Neglected and hidden amongst a pile of art books. She hadn’t even realised it had gone missing. Her first impulse was to hide the thing. So she wrapped her heart carefully and put it under her bed. This was where she kept those special private things.
However on some days when she was alone she started spending time with her heart. Maybe doing art making or sewing. Sometimes just sitting with it. Later she started taking her heart out on daily walks. It was on one of these walks that she realised she needed to get away. By herself. Well not exactly by herself. It was to be with her heart.
Of course it’s about me. And mon cher couer. My dear heart. This was the beginning of My Paris Story. And after that all sorts of things started happening. And changing. Still are. It’s actually a little bit magical.
Here is a Paris Story. A real one. The one that tells the truth. It starts in a moment when you are out of sorts. Disgruntled. Uncomfortable. Disappointed. It’s a story of the wrong weather, aching feet, annoying crowds and too many monuments to be seen too quickly. You remember it exactly because it’s the very moment when you tumbled out of fantasy Paris and into a real city.
It was just after the waiter was terribly brisk and cigarette smoke was definitely violating your right to clean air. You realised the real reason to have learnt some French is to curse and swear effectively. Like you wish you could right now.
You have a mild headache because it seems a decent coffee can’t be had for any amount of money. Whats more the cute little poodle has just pooped on the path and Madame isn’t one bit bothered. Not like you are. There’s way too much pooping and rubbish lying about for a fantasy city. And that smell of urine in the metro earlier is still stinging your nostrils.
The first time I saw ‘Muriel’s Wedding’ I didn’t like it. Not like I do now. It was because it was too close to home. Painfully close. I felt like the director was making fun of Muriel. And therefore of me. Well I didn’t think that as clearly I write it now. I had distanced myself from her nervous mannerisms and naive expressions. I didn’t want to have a terrible dysfunctional family. To be that provincial. I experienced an uncomfortable mixture of embarrassment and pity watching her. Even as others laughed along and loved her.
I couldn’t actually bear to think I was Muriel. With her weight issues, low self-esteem and appallingly limited ambitions to be a bride. Later in the film I cringed at the sight of her in that white satineen jumpsuit. Dancing so delightedly to Waterloo. She was way too fat to be wearing that. I thought I was ashamed for her. But it was for myself.
It’s true that it’s very grand. That there are those swanky hotels like Four seasons Hotel St Georges, Hotel de Crillon and Hotel Plaza Athenee. That most of us will only ever fantasize about staying in such places. That the so-called Golden Triangle of Avenues with the high-end designer stores the ilk of Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Chanel cross it. That the Champs Elysees the most famous avenue in the world is now overrun with tourists taking selfies against a backdrop of chain stores and the Arc de Triumph. But to focus on that would be to miss out on an essential part of the Paris story.
Sometimes all the photo taking that is going on really irritates me. It seems that we are all so intent on recording we were physically somewhere (especially when it is somewhere other than home) that we risk not actually being fully present at the time. That the photo evidence that we were happy or having fun or having an experience substitutes reality. That till the picture is posted the experience is not completed.
Once upon a time I went to Paris. It was to do a creativity workshop. In the months before this trip I’d written a fairy story about a woman who unexpectedly found her real heart on the floor one morning and ran away to Paris with it. I imagined it as a piece of magical realism. An Amelie for the older woman. Actually I’m still working on it. I reckon it has the makings of a sweet Paris movie.
Anyhow enough daydreaming. What my fairy story foretold was that everything would change after that journey. And it did. Best of all the depression and grief I was dealing with got that much better. Not just because I went to Paris. It was because I decided to make it into a story.
I don’t want to be the party pooper. But your New Year resolutions are destined to fail. You are wasting your time. Sorry to have to say that.
Did you know that people who have suffered a serious health issue like a recent heart attack don’t manage to make the changes they need too. Even with the threat of possible death to motivate them.
These people know it’s time to lose the weight, get fit and change to a plant-based diet. All that stuff. Yet after an initial phase of enthusiasm and motivation the majority return to their old ways. Recognise something of yourself here.
The truth is that the brain can change. But it doesn’t really want to. It’s wired to keep the status quo. It likes things to stay the same. That’s how it keeps you safe.
I grew up listening to my parents talk about ‘the communists’. I wasn’t sure exactly who they were. Yet I was certain they were evil. That they were to be guarded against at all costs. In my childish world the communists were the Russians. Bad Russians. Americans on the other hand were the good guys. They were leading a war against the evil forces. To be honest I wasn’t exactly sure why it had to be a ‘Cold War’ or what that meant. The most important thing was that we were on the right side. The good side.
By the time I was an adult the focus had changed. A few times. Like when Saddam Hussein and Iraq were acting badly. Something needed to be done. And we all know how that’s turning out. Now there’s the war against terrorism.
Here’s my problem. It’s with this enemy thing. It seems that as soon as you get rid of one enemy another turns up. There’s a constant need for this war. A battle of the good against evil.
The battle ground has changed. The enemy morphs. The rhetoric stays the same.
The seventh Arrondissement is home to the grandest of dames. That most recognised of monuments. A cultural icon. And I confess my very favourite. La Tour Eiffel.
Oh gosh. There really is something about that view. I always select a window seat on the flight. It’s to look out over Paris as we come in to land. I find the tower then trace out to the other landmarks. And it’s absolutely thrilling. Every single time.