i know it’s been months since i’ve last written, but i’ve been experiencing what seems to be a sort of writing-juice drought, at least regarding anything unrelated to tunisia and my thesis.
we’ve had an uncharacteristically warm winter in paris, despite gossip about this being the “coldest winter yet” (though i think that’s an annual refrain, at this point). i thought things might get nasty come february, but…it seems to be february, and things remain comfortable and only occasionally rainy.
but today it rained, so i suppose i will blog.
i’ve become slightly obsessed with my thesis, and have realized that the hours i’m investing may be disproportionate to the assignment’s importance. but oh well. i tend to have trouble doing things only half way (except cleaning my room. that can exclusively be done half way. sometimes i intentionally leave something on the floor, because if i put it away, i might forget where i put it, but if it’s on the floor, i can see exactly where it is).
this daily routine has, as my routines tend to, left me with a great deal of time alone. curiously, i haven’t been feeling lonely, or even like i’m by myself. what i’m saying is that paris has transformed, evolved from an endless ocean of independent discovery to a comfortable companion that has started to feel like a community. i’ve become quite chummy with the staff at my two most frequented cafés, au chat noir and la chope du chateau rouge, to the point that we fait la bise when i arrive, and i think there was a mutual sentiment of nostalgia last week when la chope closed for renovations (i was certainly sad). the vendors at the barbes marché, which has replaced bastille as my go-to cheap-produce-haven, greet me with a warm s’bakhir in the morning and are starting to remember that i purchase 6 exactly apples at a time, and that 5 or 7 would offset my weekly equilibrium of apple intake.
so i’ve finally arrived at what i hoped i would achieve when i first landed in paris on august 20, 2009, so inexplicably naive and inexperienced that each of my parisian encounters was overwhelming and challenging. my wide-eyed-ness has faded, but not yet into the drab glare of parisians that line the terrasses chauffées on rue du faubourg saint dénis. it’s something else. i rarely feel the inexplicable elation that i used to upon finding new streets but experience something just as strong when i curl up in the corner of a favorite café and seep up the dim yellow-lighting, taking in the scene.
the café thing is central in this achievement. my daily life seems to uncoil against a backdrop of au chat noir, le sully, and la chope du chateau rouge. apéro starts when the bar tells me it does, once the scene progressively shifts from freelancers and doctorate students to drinkers, ready to wet their appetite with a pastis or start the night correctly with a cocktail. the degree to which i’ve become attached to these places is very strange. i’ve never felt so drawn to physical spaces before, and cycling through my different locales as a regular provides with a sense of ease and belonging that i’ve never encountered before. the idea of potentially leaving paris (recently someone asked me how i felt about the “next chapter” of my life starting once i finish grad school) makes me anxious because i wonder where i will go when i want to read a book or write an article or stare at people and decide what the world is like based on who i see on a given day. i think that, if and when i leave, i’m going to miss the owner of au chat noir more than, say, some of my friends (maybe). his name is Sari, he’s Kurdish and always gives us ginger-rum shots made of his special recipe that are delicious but never seem to serve me well the next morning. he also gives us so many bowls of peanuts that i might actually stop liking peanuts soon, or cease to distinguish between the taste of salted roasted peanuts and ginger, and rum, and pastis, and beer. sometimes things get messy at au chat noir when the forces that be decide it’s time to close the books and open the bottles. it can get dangerous.
i know what you’re thinking: karina, just stop. all three of us have been reading your blog since 2009 and we’re sick of your descriptions of your pathetically easy exist, slinking through parisian streets and punctuating your drinking routine with tiny espressos and alleged “homework.” recently you’ve been talking about this “thesis,” thing, trying to fool us into believing that you actually have work ethic. enough of the nonsense. cut the bullshit.
but really. these days i actually have been doing a lot of work. work of all kinds, even. i have a series of petits boulots, most of which involve unsuspecting parents trusting me with their children, convinced by my veneer of legitimacy bolstered by sciences po and my american passport. it’s very bizarre.
on saturdays i have a little girl and her friend on rue d’athènes in the upscale 9ème arrondissement, clémentine and léonore, who are somewhere between 7 and 8. they essentially refuse to speak to me in english and léonore runs around the house yelling at me to stop following her. her favorite things to talk about are poop and pee, and each of them separately asked me whether or not their dolls would have sex, after, in a game we were playing, we decided that they were in love. léonore’s bedroom is bigger than my studio and she has no brothers and sisters. last weekend she told me to shut up and i told her it wasn’t allowed, to which she spewed a series of “tu m’énerve, tu me fais chier, tu m’agasse.” she is not a very happy child. her friend, clémentine, is much nicer, but her often falls prey to léonore’s bullying. and last weekend, after léonore and i reconciled, they both realized i was capable of lifting them up and spinning them around.
they are 8.
8 is heavy.
i was sore for one week. this is not a reflection of my physical fitness.
my next set of children are 3 sisters who live in the 19ème on quai de la loire, they’re inexplicably adorable and all share one little room in an apartment overlooking the canal. they’re 8, 7, and 4, each one cuter than the next. turns out not all kids are disastrous demonic species. i leave smiling. the youngest one, paloma, gave me a drawing and a kiss on the cheek.
so amidst my café lounging, tunisia-musing, and child-monitoring, i don’t have lots of time for much else. this might mean that i’m “busy,” and sometimes i actually get “stressed out” because of said “business.” and this is where the wide-eyed excitement and constant discovery that always hits me in paris comes back, even when i think it had faded away, as at the end of a long day i walk down faubourg saint dénis onto rue saint dénis and subtly acknowledge the prostitutes that line the street. at this point they must recognize me, that bashful slightly preppy girl with too much brown hair that tries so hard to divert her gaze but can’t help but wonder what it’s like to be standing in those stilettos on cobblestone for so many hours a day, like some strange caricatures of the trade trying to attract customers but remain invisible to everyday citizens.
i’ve also created a new framework for justifying things i do and for categorizing strange experiences, which all become ammo for a potential book that i will write at some point. it will comprise some schizophrenic mélange of pieces of my blog and analyses about tunisia, or something, and also occasional musings about french administration and different kinds of beer, maybe.
the two men at the table next to me at le sully are ruminating over the scene while sipping two pints of stella. they’re speaking maghrebi arabic because that’s the only language i really hear anymore, until i cross the river to go to school in the super chic sixième arrondissement where a gallon of white paint smothers faubourg saint dénis’ colorful clash of turks and north africans. i walk up rue dauphine from the seine and find myself in a scene so much more foreign than the the 10th arrondissement’s stew of diasporas, as flocks of mindlessly wealthy parisians fully clad in fur and armani slide between galleries and outrageously priced lamp stores, or boutiques that sell 400 euro umbrellas. who would have ever thought that i would end up living these first years of my allegedly “adult” existence in such a strange context, in paris, france, a place that i now suddenly know and understand more than the one i was born in. what’s most curious is how all this currently factors into my identity, but how that equation might be weighted completely differently five or ten years from now. twenty-four is this strange age, an all-at-once realization of what things are against the backdrop of knowing that i’m still so young. my perspective is limited because so much is still going to happen. apparently, there’s this looming period during which i will “settle,” a heavily-loaded term that i’m yet to really understand. its components include things like marriage and a career, which are supposed to entail being physically stationary. settling in one place and not moving after that because otherwise you will disrupt the natural order of your settled, stable existence.
i like being settled. i’ve realized more than ever recently that i don’t like my self-imposed routine to be destabilized. it interferes with my daily existence of essentially doing whatever-the-hell-i-want. i map out my weekends in paris in order to maximize on going out at night, because that’s apparently what one is supposed to do when they’re in their 20s, lest they experience what some of my friends have informed me is referred to as “FOMO” (fear of missing out), the dreaded phenomenon in which you might not experience something that you would actually really enjoy. so all the kids my age and i are grasping for air, dancing around potential loopholes that might send us face-first into FOMO-land, as if one glitch in our schedules might drop us into an abyss of missing out. but what i’m realizing is that it’s an impossibly structured obstacle course, because, guess what, kids: we’re always going to miss out! that’s what happens when you can’t be multiple places at once (still waiting to hear back on that bilocation app, seriously).
so i’ve just tried to embrace this realization that, inevitably, i will MO. i’ve embraced my FOMO. i’m trying as hard as possible not to be MO-phobic. also i just need to add that this slew of acronyms like FOMO and YOLO is yet another less-than-admirable characteristic of my generation’s cultural habits.
and i don’t really know how we’re actually going to miss out if we’re awake. and that’s the best thing about paris. you can be completely passive about addressing the imminent possibility of potentially MO-ing and then you go outside and realize that you’re not missing out on anything. today i pushed through way too many old veiled ladies with grocery caddies at the barbès marché, desperately fighting for the last green pepper to make their famed salata mechouia. i fought my way in line at the poissonerie to get a piece of fish and i did my best not to buy three kilos of everything, despite all the vendors’ demands. that market is a microcosm of all the conflict in the whole god damn middle east, i’m telling you! transposed onto the 18th arrondissement. it’s a mess. but i’m digressing: what i mean is that, when all this is just up the street, i’m not sure how i could possibly miss out on anything.