Excess Baggage: Overcoming our first day in Paris

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I have a million and one wonderful things to write about our recent trip to Paris/London, except that none of those things apparently wants to come willingly out of the tips of my fingers and onto this keyboard.

Can you say “Writer’s Block”? I knew that you could.

On top of this writer’s block, I’ve had the worst, most paralyzing case ever of post-vacation blues, or as I like to call it: Post-Paris Depression®.  Like my friend Robin says, after Paris there is really no place to go but down.  The girl’s got a point.

Too much butter and cheese has made this normally vivacious and energetic Chloe very indolent.  I guess you could say I’m suffering the dark side of hedonsim.  And as if this sudden sluggishness wasn’t bad enough, I’m in hormone hell.  I’m jonesing for estrogen and if I don’t get a fix soon I’m going to kill someone, or maybe grow a beard, I’m not exactly sure. 

A few nights after we got home I awoke soaking wet in my bed experiencing my first undeniable hot flash. Who knew that the words “hot”, “wet” and “in my bed” when used together in one sentence could be so bad.  And as if the flushing and sweating weren’t terrible enough, the brain fog I’m having is simply dreadful. I can neither find words when I want them nor seem to hold any one thought from one minute to the next.  It is so….oh, what’s the word?….ARGH!…. DAMN!…..it’ll come to me in a minute. 

What were we talking about again? 

Brain Fog Sucks

Ah, yes.  We were talking about Paris and baggage.

This is a nice picture.  I think I’ve seen it before

One of the last posts I wrote before our trip was about all the inconvenient extra baggage we were having to take with us because of the unpredictable weather.  It turned out my extra suitcase wasn’t the only extra baggage I ended up lugging with me to Paris.

Along with all the jackets and scarves and bulky sweaters, I also carried a load of unbidden and not entirely welcome old memories.  It seems that while I can’t remember what I did yesterday or where I put my keys five minutes ago, crap that happened 30 years ago is right here on the tip of my frontal lobe.  As we winded our way over the North Pole flying from San Francisco to Heathrow, memories of an old boyfriend, Marc, who just happened to have been French, reared their ugly head.

No, I hate to disappoint you, but they weren’t the sort of memories you might be thinking I was having.  Trust me, my American husband has put to shame that silly ole Frenchman.  But Marc did leave a another sort of mark on me because, you see, Marc wasn’t just French, he was also a chef, and while he may not have taught me much that I didn’t already know about sex he sure as hell taught me everything I know about food.

I grew up cuisine-deprived. The only vegetable I ever had as a child that didn’t come from a can was iceburg lettuce.  In my mother’s defense, she would have and could have been a great cook if it weren’t for my stupid father who was too busy reminiscing over his own mother’s cooking to appreciate my mother’s brave culinary experiments. (The woman actually made something practically edible using only SPAM®, French’s®  Mustard, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes®, and DOLE pineapple slices.) I believe he could have encouraged her to greatness, but he decided to use her shaky amateur efforts as opportunities to play The Great Santini and let her know what a total failure of a wife she was. (Upon reflection, I think that he might have felt that appreciating my mother’s cooking was a betrayal of his mother, but that’s a sick Oedipal reflection best left for another time.) 

Dinnertime with my parents was a harrowing experience in terror that often ended up with the meal being violently thrown in the trash.  After awhile my mother simply gave up trying. And I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there.  At seventeen, I graduated early from high school and got as far away from them as I could.  The truth (and the shame) is that my father was passed over for promotion for the second time from the Marines (The Great Santini, remember?) just as I was graduating from high school, thus marking the end of his military career and the beginning of my freedom from crazy. They moved back to the South from whence they’d come and I refused to go with them preferring the sunny beaches of Southern California to the backwoods of middle Tennessee. 

I met Marc very soon after and he became my first real adult boyfriend.  His best quality?  He was nothing at all like my family. Young and foreign, hip and modern, he had me at “Bon Jour”.

While Marc was all things French, for me, at least, it was almost all about the food.  Always the food.  He worked a lot (all real chefs do), and after he got off work, late, we would gather at one restaurant or another restauranteur’s home and eat and party until dawn.  On his one night off, Mondays of course, we would entertain or be entertained somewhere. Ah, the things I learned.  I learned that sauces are one thing, a great thing, but the quality of the ingredients is what counts.  Marc introduced me to cassoulet, the French equivalent of chili, that most delectable of white bean dishes made with  pork sausage, duck, goose, and lamb.  He explained to me the differences between the haute approach and the traditional peasant method (Parisian by birth, he was peasant to the core).

Marc taught me how to steam couscous just so, but more importantly he taught me how to take a potential kitchen disaster, overcooked cauliflower maybe, and turn it into the most sublime cream of cauliflower soup you’ve ever tasted.  Mistakes in the kitchen to him were simply opportunities to try something new.  After years of watching my mother try and try to please the unpleasable, Marc taught me to please myself.  He taught me to make what tastes good to me and if others don’t like it then likely there is something wrong with them.  Outside of the retaurant kitchen, Marc never used a recipe for anything and he taught me the joy and freedom that can be found from inventing new things off the top of your head.  He taught me that once you understood the holy trinity of the mirepoix and the mystery of the roux, everything else was just a fun game.

We lived life in the fast lane amongst the restaurant elite for two (mostly) splendid years, but our relationship ended as badly as you’d think two people steeped in the excess of the early ’80s would end.  Communication, never our strong suit anyway, did us in.  To end the doomed relationship I committed the ultimate betrayal: I became a vegetarian.

Honestly, except for rare flashbacks in restaurants, I almost never think of Marc, but apparently, previously unbeknownst to me, memories of Marc sit deep in the recesses of my mind where my rudimentary French is located.  Once surrounded again by the sounds of spoken French, my mind was flooded with the thoughts and feelings from that time in my life.  Some of my memories were really more like snapshots of Marc’s memories; things he told me about his childhood that I was now seeing with my own eyes.  It was weird. And somehow it brought up a whole bunch of insecurities that I thought long-resolved.

For as much as Marc and his French friends seemed to enjoy my company, and for all his guidance and pleasure in teaching me the ways of culture, I always knew I was really sort of second class to them.  One doesn’t need to come from the projects of Kentucky to know this.  The French, and the Parisians for sure, have their own special way of letting you know that they are better than you are.  I was blind-sided by this unexpected rush of low self-confidence.  Suddenly, walking around in Paris, I had this constant feeling like I had spinach caught between my teeth and toilet paper stuck to the bottom of my shoe.

Besotted with jet-lag, edgy and tense from these unpleasant and confusing memories form the past, I did the only mature and sensible thing:  I picked a fight with my husband.  (Travel tip: If you are going to quarrel then I must say that there is no more romantic place in the world to do it than while walking on the Seine.)

View from our apartment at 17 Quai aux Fleurs

At the time I felt completely justified in all my annoyances, but, in retrospect,  I might have been behaving a little unreasonably.  First of all, I wanted him to know what to do at all times.  Second, I think it would be very nice if he could just spontaneously speak flawless French (Marc did, why couldn’t he?).  And last, I would feel a whole lot safer if he could just read my mind and know that it is his job to always stand between me and the gypsies because gypsies scare the shit out of me. (Oh. Yeah. Apparently I wasn’t aware of my gut-level fear of and aversion to gypsies until we were confronted with them.  I know this isn’t PC to admit, but I’m admitting it anyway.  I think it goes back to a deep childhod fear of carnie workers and my mother’s threat that she would sell me to gypsies if I didn’t behave.  People hawking things at me in the street or bent over and pretending they are crippled really skeeve me out.)  I think that my husband should just intuit when I’m nervous about something and fix it for me.  Ummmm, yes, that’s all I demand from a husband: Omniscience; the spontaneous gift of tongues, and the ability and willingness to protect me against any and all threats, foreign or domestic; real or imagined. That seems sufficiently reasonable, don’t you agree?   His only point in the argument? Sometimes I’m a royal pain in the ass.

I suppose he won.  Mostly.  After he stopped laughing, he did agree to make sure to guard me against all gypsies.  “Spot the Gypsy” became a bit of a game and the humor from it helped me overcome my latent Romaphobia.  For my part, I decided it was a bit unfair of me to expect him to speak French like a native in five minutes.  Usually my husband is the better one with languages, but I was the one who took two years of high school French and spent two years living with a French guy.  I sucked it up and took over the lion’s share of the language duties and I stopped acting like he was embarrassing me.  I still would like it if he would know how to handle all situations immediately, but we both agreed that maybe it would help more if I could be more encouraging and less like a bitch. 

Of course we made up.  Twenty-fours years together doesn’t teach you nothing.  I introduced him to my ghosts and he helped me remember that they are really only just figments from my imagination now, not really real at all. The ghosts from my past continued to join us along the way, but we learned to laugh at them and not to take them too seriously as we walked arm in arm along the Seine admiring Paris for all that she’s been through and all she’s become and celebrating each other for all that we’ve lived through to become the world to each other. 

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10 thoughts on “Excess Baggage: Overcoming our first day in Paris

  1. >I absolutely love this post for all its honesty and humanity and Chloeness. I'll try to remember to save all the best arguments for one day when I can walk with my beloved along the Seine. Good advice, that.

  2. >What a great post! Thanks for letting us in on your humanity. The way you write — profound things that are covered in humor — is really special. You have a gift. Nurture it. You've got a great traveling companion. I just love that he can tell you that you are a total PITA but he loves you anyway…and you can accept it! Wonderful.

  3. >Great post. I laughed, I cried, I reminisced. I think Batman and the Tick could totally (if uncomfortably) relate with regard to some of their wives' little expectations. :)I want someone to make a movie of your life. Seriously.

  4. >There are layers and layers of fabulousness (not a word but oh well) to this post. Thank you for sharing and letting us in on the 'view from here'. Wish I could share some estrogen with you. I have it in spades these days and that end of the pendulum is a bit hard to ride as well….:)

  5. >Thanks ladies. Fighting on your vacation is sort of like fighting on the way to church, it just ain't right.But then there's always the make-up sex. Well, not at church.

  6. >Bwahahaha!! So glad I didn't take a sip of coffee before coming to check the follow-up comments!!! Chloe, you crack me up!!! (and my son wants to clarify that you are, in fact, kidding about the end of the world…..)

  7. >Oh, Girlie, just try to imagine our depression after living as ex-pats in the UK for 28 months in Surrey; an hour's train ride from London and an easy car ride from anything you dared look for in a travel book… I completely understand what you went through. I also love how you put words to the silliness that can happen between two people…

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