13 Dec 2012

Men and Montana

It's 7.06pm and the metro is packed with agitated people.  I become ensconced in the masses who begin to push the capacity of the train as well as my lungs and I feel my new Longchamp bag being tugged on as I'm violently jammed into a nonexistent space.  In my other hand is a plastic bag filled to the brim with lettuce and other salady ingredients.  I'm praying that the tomatoes don't burst their juices under the pressure and that the cucumber won't break through the seal and prod someone.  Oh the endless possibilities.  I realise my direct line of vision is a woman's assets and there are no bars close enough to hold onto.  She does the typically french "ooh la la" as she expresses her aggravation at being squished, explaining how the whole thing is "fou".  I catch sight of a young man who apparently finds this quite amusing and watch as he sniggers, which instantly sets me off.  There's something so contagious about a laugh.  The nervous giggle which comes about when a teacher shouts at you, when someone is telling you a sad story about their pet, or when you're stuck in an elevator with 13 hysterical people.  Yes, the nervous giggle which always makes you feel uncomfortable, but the more you concentrate on keeping a straight face, the harder it is.  We've all been there.

I catch his eyes burning into my face as he grins and without thinking I smile back at him.  Rule no.1 - never reciprocate the smile; it only encourages them.  Having said that, he was rather handsome so maybe this little eye-lock could have turned into coffee.  Rule no. 2 - never, ever engage in conversation.  This just ruins the moment (and let's face it - if you're going to meet your future spouse/boyf/lover, the metro isn't the classiest of places for your first rencontre).  Instead, I suggest you engage in utter silence, holding the stare for a little longer than is polite, or normal.  What else are you supposed to do when it's that crowded?  The ceiling is only so interesting up to a point.  However, I do struggle with this little charade, worried that the nervous giggle might come rolling back which is never worth the colour it turns my cheeks.  Thankfully we didn't get off at the same stop, but don't think I didn't notice his little eyebrow movement.

There's something about taking the metro which makes me uneasy.  It seems to be the preferred hotspot for creepy men and the ultimate place for dodgy encounters.  Another culprit on the metro once took it upon himself to laugh every time I laughed, mirroring each "haha" that rippled from my mouth.  I was simply chatting to a few friends of mine, sharing a few witty remarks, when he decided his hand would be put to better use on my shoulder.  I was a little disturbed.  But if you think that's bad, I won't mention the leg-humping wonder who blockaded me on the RER train to work one afternoon.  He was probably old enough to be my grandfather.  After what I believed to be an accidental elbow-into-breasts session which lasted for five minutes (granted it was quite busy), I decided to turn around to avoid such close interaction.  On second thoughts, I wish I'd stayed with my chest facing him because my leg has never felt so molested in my life.  And don't even get me started on the arse grabbing.  Should have brought my pepper spray.

So far, I am yet to meet a French man I would consider taking home to meet the parentals (don't sound too surprised..) A recent encounter with another French man who was walking past a bar I was standing outside went something like this: "I like your dress. Would you like me to French kiss you?"  As flattered as I was by this generous and spontaneous offer, the idea of being kissed by a man probably 15 years my senior who thought it was acceptable to ask an innocent female such as yours truly to embrace him on the street was rather shocking.  I politely declined, explaining how my ''petit-ami'' in the UK wouldn't be too happy about it, to which he replied: "so? your English boyfriend doesn't know how to French kiss you.  Let me show you''.  I stuck my tongue out, wiggled it around a bit in the air, and walked back into the bar.

Whilst rocking out to tunes in the aforementioned bar which had an underground cave-like club, I was approached by a young man who very politely asked me if he was allowed to talk to me.  I was confused as to why he was asking for my permission since I'm perfectly used to the bum-pinching, leg groping men who frequent clubs in England.  However, I approved his request nonetheless and waited to see what he was so eager to share with me.  As soon as a friend of mine came to my rescue, the Frenchie decided it would be a fabulous idea to set up his friend with my friend.  I could see where this was going so promptly explained how we both had boyfriends.  The next second I turn around and he's nowhere to be seen.  I shrug and continue busting my moves until I feel someone pushing me.  Next minute, little Frenchie is hitting on and "French kissing" another lady.  Jealous much.

Watch this space!

Montana

10 Dec 2012

Helping the Homeless

Homeless: This should NEVER happen in AmericaYou don't have to walk very far in Paris to catch a man rummaging through leftovers in a bin, a kid fumbling for coins on the street side, or a crippled woman sitting in a tunnel with nothing but a used coffee cup to collect loose change, her face full of flagrant desperation.  The same words are repeated day in, day out.  They need food, a restaurant ticket, money, anything to keep them alive.  They sell magazines that no-one wants to read.  The metro smells of piss and sweat but it's the only place for them to keep warm in winter months before the last train departs and they're forced to leave.  Living in Paris is so ridiculously expensive that I'm not surprised so many people have taken to begging as their only source of income.

Roma (gypsies) hold malnourished children over their arms as they crawl through the metro with one hand hanging limply to collect money.  They have the notorious reputation of being thieves and under Sarkozy's government a large number of illegal immigrants were repatriated in 2010 which spurred on accusations of France's racism.  Many of these Roma live in camps scattered across France in urban settlements lacking secure or sanitary conditions.  Their situation is dire.  According to Sarkozy, these camps are sources of crime, prostitution, trafficking and child exploitation which is why he wanted to put a stop to it. 

Being part of the EU means that Bulgarian and Romanian citizens have the right to come to France without a visa, but French immigration laws require them to have work or residency permits if they want to spend more than three months in France.  Understandably, these permits are difficult to obtain which means many Roma are forced to either return home, or stay in France illegally in unliveable circumstances.

It's far too easy to become desensitized; to walk past a homeless person with your iPod headphones in, on the way to a cafe where you proceed to spend extravagant amounts on coffee and cake.  A coffee in Starbucks will cost you €4, while a baguette can be as little as 80 cents and could cure a child's hunger, be it temporarily.

The other day I saw a man clinging onto a bar, sobbing.  The pain in his eyes was unbearable and his uncontrollable tears were heart wrenching.  Person after person walked past him, unwilling to be the Good Samaritan.  And I did the same.  

Luke 3:10-11 : And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

8 Dec 2012

West SLide Story

http://www.concordplayers.org/00productions/WestSideStory/graphics/WestSideStoryLogo.gifThe reviews were fantastic and phones were ringing nonstop in the theatre's reception as everyone tried to get their paws on the coveted tickets to see West Side Story in Paris's Chatelet Theatre.  December 2nd had arrived and I was wearing a new sparkly dress - courtesy of Zara - my favourite Dorothy Perkins' purple heels, a rabbit fur neck wrap and my new Longchamp handbag hanging off one shoulder.  I looked every inch the theatre-goer.

I was certain that this would be a night to remember, that I'd literally be singing its praises for all to hear.  And as a lover of heart wrenching romance and bursting into song, there really was no reason why West Side Story shouldn't deliver.

Sadly for me, this particular production of West Side Story fell flatter than a crepe (now that I'm in Paris, I'm abstaining from using the phrase ''flat as a pancake''). Imagine going to a restaurant which has received rave reviews and ordering the michelin star salmon only for it to be over-cooked to the extent where it can't be improved with a squeeze of lemon or a shake of salt.  You're desperate to enjoy it but there's something stopping you from fully appreciating it because it's lacking a vital kick and frankly, it's a little dry and flaky.

Comparing West Side Story to a piece of pink fish might seem a little odd, but bear with me on the analogy front.  Salmon is a delicious fish, much like West Side Story is a fabulous tale, but if the chef doesn't know how to properly cook the salmon, and the director doesn't know how to successfully direct his cast, you're left with something which is just about edible or watchable, but bland and unfulfilling.  Your final product is a piece of fish, or a play, which had so much potential because the raw, untouched original had so much going for it, but it was placed in the hands of someone who lacked creativity.   Instead of savouring each mouthful, or each moment of stage-time, you spend it thinking about how you should have been the one putting the icing on the cake.

Part of me is happy to blame it on the fact that nothing will quite match the lustre and skill of West End or Broadway.  I'm in Paris after all, not London or New York.  And there is certainly no Cameron Mackintosh lurking behind the red curtain.  This time it is a German company who are producing Sondheim's grand oeuvre.  The theatre's director Jean-Luc Choplin was desperate to bring the musical back to the Parisian stratosphere after its successful run five years ago, but this mark of success seemed foreign to me and I still struggle to accept its flawless ratings.

I wanted to see the actors bring the story to life, to live and breathe the stage they were standing on, but there was a lack of chemistry and freshness.  The show's director Joey Mckneely explained how “believability” was a huge factor in casting his leads because “I always have to believe their love story” he said.  His intentions were all too accurate, which makes my confession all the more painful because he was just off the mark.  Believability was exactly what the show was lacking.  I wanted something a little more edgy, more pumped, and oozing with vitality.  Instead I felt deceived by the wishy-washy ''love'' between Maria and Tony which left me begging for a refund.

Maria's sweet youthfulness needed to be sung with a girly vibrancy which the lead actress just didn't grapple.  I had to accept that the vocals of Marni Nixon in the 1961 movie production were simply unbeatable.  The Maria on stage lacked the sensitivity and raw emotion apparent in Nixon's voice, replacing it with a matured operatic falsetto which gave a faux representation of the naive, love-struck heroine.  Tony similarly took the notion of vibrato to new heights and was lacking in manly fecundity.  I struggled to see why and how Maria would fall in love with the effeminate Tony who looked like he needed a scruff in the mud and a few Turkey sandwiches in him.  Their duets were painfully unmoving and doing the odd large breath and semi-passionate sigh at the end of a note isn't going to make me believe it any more.  Crackling voices, painful whispers, sob-style singing, clogged up throats and frozen vocal chords are things I can live with, because at least that would show genuine emotion.  Best leave the Opera to Mozart.

Whether it's melodrama, opera or vaudeville, a successful performance requires an actor to use emotional memory to be believable.  There's something telling about an actor's ability to experience the part during a performance whilst creating their own depth to the character which might not be inherent in the narrative.  Yet for me, in this production of West Side Story, the actors hinged far too much on the narrative when they needed to go deeper.  Of course a love story evolving over the course of two hours is nay impossible, but I was simply yearning for a bit of profound passion.  I don't cry in The Notebook or Love Actually for nothing.  Their duets needed to be more than just a shallow sound; to be the passionate unison of two people whose love can conquer all odds.

It probably didn’t help that our seats were disappointing, but that's what you get for €22.  It’s never ideal when you’re vying for the best view with a stubborn pillar for two and a half hours.  But this minor detail shouldn’t have been the be all and end all, and for such a big stage, I expected the passion to be bouncing off it left right and centre, invading each heart in the auditorium.

It's hard to fully pinpoint aspects of the performance which I disliked, after all, the dancing was beautifully choreographed, in time, acutely professional.  If the emotion had matched the dancing, I would have been on the edge of my seat.  I don't regret going to see West Side Story, but I was still left unimpressed with one of those anticlimactic hangovers that comes at the end of a performance which doesn't quite deliver.

7 Dec 2012

10 Shades of Paris

10th installment

continued...

He presses a button on a slim remote and a silver screen appears from behind the sliding wall.  ''You hide your TV?'' I ask, impressed at such a high tech furnishing.  The huge wide screen glimmers from a gap within the taupe coloured wall and I wonder to myself whether, like the kitchen, he ever has time to use it.  He drifts through a few channels until he finds one in English and pauses.  ''Are you interested in nature?'' he asks jokingly as we both stare at a butterfly hovering over a  leaf.  I giggle, not knowing how to answer.  He leaves the remote on the table beside me and slides away from the sofa, scruffing my hair up slightly with his hand.


I turn around and watch him open a tall ivory cabinet which appears to be concealing a mini fridge and some rather expensive looking bottles of scotch and whiskey.  ''Don't look'' he orders, pretending to shelter his eyes with his hand.  I obey him and stare at the butterfly on the screen, the vibrancy of the colour intensifying each flutter of the wing.  I become so engrossed in it that I almost forget where I am until he clears his throat and I turn to look up at him, holding a Margarita in one of those fancy crystal glasses with a salty rim.  ''I almost forgot'' he says, walking back to the cabinet and popping a little umbrella into the aqua blue concoction. ''Where did you learn to be so classy?'' I joke.

I take a sip and sink back into the sofa with my arm stretched out.  ''Cheers'', I say with a wide grin. ''To us'' he replies, returning the grin.  For a short moment I find myself staring deeply into his piercing blue eyes, over-analysing the word ''us''.  He knows as much as I do that I only have two days left in this gorgeous city but we both refuse to discuss my imminent departure.

''Are you hungry?'' he asks, startling my thoughts.  My stomach is starting to quietly grumble and I nod my head at him guiltily.  ''Me too'' he replies triumphantly, ''what do you fancy?''  ''If you have a take-out menu I don't mind ordering something in'' I say smoothly.  ''Are you sure?  I can make you something, it's no problem at all'' he suggests.  I wince slightly, not wanting to cause a fuss.  He winks at me the way he always does when he's in control of the situation, so I fold my arms and bite my lip.  ''Whatever you say'' I reply softly.
While he busies himself in the kitchen, I walk over to his CD collection which sits beside a box of records and smile at the quintisentially English rock bands which sit on the top rack, clouding the few French bands whose names are alien to me.  I'm stopped in my tracks by the pungent scent of fresh herbs and spices coming from the kitchen and become immediately intrigued.  I tiptoe quietly into his sanctuary to watch the chef at work, admiring the multiple pots and pans bubbling and frothing.  I don't want to distract him from the task at hand so I quietly step out of the room and return to the butterfly. 

28 Nov 2012

9 Shades of Paris

http://www.diserio.com/ParisSkyline.jpg

9th installment

continued...

His apartment is modern and spacious with artsy furnishings and impressive paintings.  He shows me around and I instantly fall in love with the high ceilings and subtle, sophisticated colour scheme of taupe, cream and red.  I discover things about him that I didn't know before.  I spy a library of books all in alphabetical order.  The latest copy of GQ sits at a perfect right angle on the coffee table in the lounge.  

Stepping into the kitchen I find myself stopping in my tracks.  It hardly looks like he spends any time within its beautiful interior; an untouched gem.  I wouldn't be surprised if there's nothing hiding behind the multifaceted cupboards or the countless drawers.  A gorgeous granite island steals pride of place, and shining pots and pans hang from equally glowing hooks above the oven.  I stare at him in bewilderment, unable to keep the shock off my face.  ''I don't think this could get any better'' I say, gawking.  He half smiles as if he has something to add.  Then he turns to look at me and before I can do anything, he gently covers my eyes with his hands. 

He's standing behind me and gently shuffles me forward.  I try to peek through his hands but I'm met with complete darkness.  I hear a subtle click and a faint hum, but I'm disorientated and anxious to discover his secret.  ''Are you ready?'' he whispers softly into my ear.  I gently nod and he slowly moves his hands away from my eyes, massaging my temples as he does so.

I have GOT to make this into an iPhone skin!!!!!!! <3 (yes, I'm weird.)My heart stops.  An unmatchable skyline gazing out over the entire city floods my vision.  The view penetrates the large glass doors which make the view possible, also showcasing the expansive balcony decked with what appears to be sun loungers and a telescope.  White fairy lights illuminate two green pot plants, shimmering like pearls.  I shake my head in awe.  He smiles dismissively, winking cheekily which makes my heart momentarily spin in lively circles.  ''I think I need to sit down'' I mutter faintly.

He walks over to an ivory cabinet and I watch as he brings out an old record-player.  I excitedly wait for the crackle as the needle taps the record and my heart warms at the sound of mellow jazz.  I sink into his suede couch, easing myself into the melody and loosening my shoulders. He covers my feet with a cashmere blanket and pours me a glass of 2008 Bordeaux.  ''You certainly pull out all the stops don't you?  You must have done this before'' I tease.  ''How can you possibly say that?'' he replies, pretending to take offense.  My eyes wonder around the room, envious of his home.  I glance behind me and glimpse a tiger skin rug mounted on the wall.  ''Shot it myself'' he says, his tone serious.  I double take, slightly worried that Mr. Perfect isn't quite as perfect as I thought.  He sees my face scrunch up slightly and shoots me a glance.  ''I'm kidding'' he sighs,  ''it was actually a gift.''  The puzzle fits back into place and I sit there looking smug, certain that if I haven't already, I will need to capture the heart of this extraordinary human being.

27 Nov 2012

Thanksgiving Feast

So maybe this is old news as Thanksgiving was last Thursday, but I still feel it's necessary to grace this special day with a blog post.  Better late than never and all that jazz.

After celebrating Canadian Thanksgiving a month or so ago with some Canadian friends in Paris (which, admittedly, was rather scrumptious), it was finally time to celebrate (real) Thanksgiving with the Americans.  And since 85% of the people I work with hail from the US, celebrating Thanksgiving was sort of a no-brainer.  It's the highlight of the year for most Americans, and being an American in Paris certainly wasn't going to spoil the fun.  Although I did find myself asking what exactly it is that the Americans are giving thanks for (despite being a half-breed myself).  Surely it isn't just an excuse to eat nice food and be merry?  I thought I'd do some research...

It was originally a religious celebration, but much like Christmas, the true meaning has been frosted over by secularism.  The notion of Thanksgiving has been around since 1621, celebrated by Pilgrims and Native Americans after a successful harvest.  But times have changed and this spontaneous gathering of ''Thanks'' held atop green hills has failed to transfer to the modern day (a third of American adults are obese...that plus hills is never a great mix.)  It wasn't until October 3rd 1863 that Abraham Lincoln proclaimed, by Act of Congress, an annual National Day of Thanksgiving "on the last Thursday of November, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens.''  A time for families to come together and give Thanks to the Lord for all the blessings received over the past year.  Or an excuse to kill a bird, eat yourself into a coma, and forget to say Grace.  You see where I'm coming from.  And I still find it difficult to get my head around the fact that we all receive presents at Christmas.  I mean, imagine planning a huge 21st birthday party and all your friends come bringing a multitude of gifts.  You then realise that they've brought gifts for everyone apart from you, and ignore you most of, if not all of, the evening.  I think you'd be pretty bummed.  Yet God is a lot more gracious than we could ever aspire to be; another reason to be thankful.

Thanksgiving started off like any other day here at the IHT until around 2pm when editors and journalists came flooding in with blow-up Turkeys (getting in the spirit of things!), Thanksgiving style napkins with pictures of Turkeys on them, festive tablecloths and mysterious food hiding beneath lots of tin foil.  We decided to go ahead with ''pot luck'' which essentially involves hoping and praying that there will be enough food for everyone (without knowing who will come), as well as having faith that we won't end up having 20 birds and no dessert.  Fortunately for us, a very kind member of the newsroom offered to organise Turkey, gravy and stuffing (or the French equivalent) which essentially looks like thickly sliced spam which I think comes in at number 1 (narrowly beating school dinners) in the ''I wouldn't feed this to my pet'' category.  But apart from the ludicrous stuffing, I had officially died and gone to food heaven.  The creamiest mashed potatoes, the tastiest sweet patatas, beautifully dressed green beans, sautéed mushrooms, roasted root vegetables oozing with garlic, home-made cranberry sauce, cornbread (my taste buds still can't work out whether this is supposed to be sweet or savoury), quiche, red wine, macaroons, pumpkin pie, individual pecan pies, brownies (made by yours truly)...red wine. 

You get my point.  And it didn't matter that we were all eating off flimsy paper plates, or that gravy spillages were snaking around the newsroom, or that the food was lukewarm, because it definitely makes a gourmet change from Emmental omelettes and wilting salad.  

Watch this space.

Montana

26 Nov 2012

8 Shades of Paris

8th installment

continued...

He tucks a lock of hair behind my ear.  "That's better'' he says, his voice hanging melodiously in the air.

I let the street artist paint my portrait with all the poise and elegance in the world, admiring how he holds the paintbrush so steadily over the canvas.  I stare into the distance, trying to look natural with a hint of sultry.  From the corner of my eye I glimpse him squeezing the tube of red paint onto his palette.  He's doing my hair.  I hear the rattling of the paintbrush in the water jar before he gently blends it into his plate of watercolours and I watch as he brings the brush to the board and stares deeply at his subject.

I close my eyes for a brief moment, letting the distant sun rest on my eyelids, frozen in a moment of uncontrolled happiness.  My nostrils flare at the familiar scent of roses and I feel something soft tickle my face.  I gently open my eyes to see my Frenchman caressing my face with the petals of the reddest rose before tucking it into one of my curls.  The painter frowns slightly, wanting him to leave the frame, and mildly irritated that I've tilted my head.  I giggle, trying hard to keep a straight face.
  
It's growing dark by the time he's done and the street begins to quieten.  I watch my dashing amant fold up a note into the artist's hand before delicately placing the painting in a paper bag.  ''Can I not see it?'' I say, slightly disappointed.  ''Later'', he whispers in my ear, pointing at a set of grey clouds which seem to be getting closer.

...

He grabs my hand, sheltering me from the pouring rain which begins to shroud the city.  We stand in front of a shop window, covered by an overhanging canopy sinking with the weight of the raindrops.  My damp curls begin to unravel and I can feel mascara trickling down my face.  He wipes my eye with the cuff of his pristine white shirt.  ''Don't cry sweetie'' he whispers.  I bite my lip, not knowing what to say or do next, the rain pounding down harder and harder and my chest thumping so loudly that I can barely make out his voice.  I rest the palms of my hands against the brick wall behind me, waiting.

24 Nov 2012

Klass is Classy

Oh do forgive the awful wordplay, but it simply had to be done.  

Upon receiving my daily dosage of my guiltiest of pleasures (the inscrutable* Mail Online), I couldn't help aaawing and aahing at Myleene Klass.  Both her figure and fashion sense bring me close to tears (green with envy etc.) and I'll never forget the iconic image of her in a skimpy white bikini taking a shower in I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here.  Appreciative, not perverse, I'd like to point out.  It may not be quite as iconic as Elizabeth Hurley's safety pin dress or Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's shrouded with jewels and seductively holding an overly long cigarette, but it's definitely high up in my books.  

Take a look at this dress.  The fur collar totally gets my seal of approval.  I'm not usually fanatical about fur, but ever since I purchased a jacket with a fur rimmed collar and received many compliments, I agreed that fur can be fabulous, if fashioned fittingly.  A little touch of our furry friend turns an LBD into a FLBD - a furry little black dress.  Granted, it doesn't have quite the same ring as LBD, but hear me out.  No-one, and I mean no-one can deny that the lady is owning this dress down to the ground.  She struts the figure hugging ensemble with a fierce sensuality while still keeping it casual.  And I would too, if I had a waist like that.  Carved by Rodin himself.  A definite winner.

So I thought I'd take it upon myself to delve into the archives and pull out some of Klass's classiest moments:

Green is a favourite of mine, and I often have to stop myself from vigorously peeling green dresses off hangers when I hit the shops.  It's more exciting than blue, and I believe many more people suit the shade than is commonly thought.  I never usually endorse shiny materials either, but I think I'll have to say au revoir to my out-of-date stereotype and bite the bullet on this one.  I mean, the woman's practically glowing.  In a good way.  And it does a great job of highlighting her sun-kissed skin.  And bravo to match it with orange nails.

There are few people that can pull off yellow, and I'm certainly not one of them.  But if you've got the skin-tone of Miss Klass, matched with locks which could give chocolate a run for its money, then a bit of yellow is definitely worth investing in.  Even if you end up blinding half the people in the room when you make your entrance.  But when you're a celebrity, you are called to stand-out.  When you're competing with the red carpet, there really is limited space for holding back.  Apart from the firecracker shoes, what I love about Myleene's look here is the sheer elegance.  And you know what makes it even better?  She wore it in Heathrow Airport.  Talking about flying high on the fashion radar.

And now heading back to 2012, in October at the Brit awards she opted for a strapless purple peplum dress which she even designed herself.  Is there any colour this woman doesn't suit?  And according to Vogue (a fashionista's beacon of knowledge), purple is the IT colour of Autumn/Winter 2012/2013, which probably explains why on a recent shopping exhibition to H&M and New Look, I was spoilt for choice with the regal colour.  Must.  Hold.  Back.

I'm also loving the black lace bag which makes an appearance in two of these photos.  Vintage! 


Watch this space.

Montana

* spelling errors/missing captions/misleading titles to name a few reasons...

23 Nov 2012

7 Shades of Paris

7th installment

continued...

I step quietly into the church, not wanting to disrupt the choir.  A gust of wind ventures to slam shut the heavy iron door but I catch it just in the nick of time.  A medley of pensive anthems are being performed and I stand at the back of the cathedral, overwhelmed by the rich sound which echoes through the pews.  Men and women young and old scatter themselves, some with their heads bent down in prayer and others kneeling on hand-stitched hassocks. 

I step over a grate in the icy building, being careful not to catch my heel.  I stare up at the imposing stained glass windows reflecting the Saints, the winter sunlight pouring through the glass to create a rainbow of colours.  My hair flickers gold.  I smile at the group of French babies in pushchairs who show their toothless gums as their Maman's wipe off the leftover yoghurt from their podgy faces.

He places his hand on the small of my back and I can feel my face glowing with a rush of heat.  The nerves on my cheeks start to prickle as I suddenly forget where I am, like an angel in the presence of God. 

 ...

He holds my hand and I take him vintage shopping in the Marais.  I hide behind clothes rails cluttered with fashion from the 50s; the clothes my Grandmother would have worn in young adulthood.  I try on over-sized knitted jumpers, ridiculous headpieces and unflattering dresses with bobbles and frills.  He takes photos of me with my Polaroid, telling me to pull funny faces.  We laugh and chatter until the film runs out.  He doesn't think I've noticed but I see him sneak one into his jacket pocket.  My knees turn to jelly and I sit down on the floor of the dressing room in my white bouffant skirt, my ragged red curls bouncing along my back and a tiny beaded corset clinching my waist.  "Is everything alright in there?" he asks.  I look at myself in the mirror, having fallen back into a different era.  He makes life more exciting.  I pull back the curtain and look up into his perfect face.  ''Gosh you're beautiful" he exclaims, before wrapping his finger sensually around one of my curls.

22 Nov 2012

Christmas & Celebs

It's not every day that you get to see the Christmas lights coming to life in Paris.  And it's not every day that you get to see a celebrity either.  And when I say celebrity, I don't mean a one hit wonder from the 70s trying to make a 2012 comeback - I mean Diane Kruger, the stunningly beautiful actress who currently lives in Paris and was cast as Helen of Troy in 2004 opposite the (ex) love of my life Orlando Bloom.  And when Christmas lights and Diane Kruger join together, you should get an amalgamation of something really quite beautiful.   

The Christmas lights on the Champs Elysées (or as I've nicknamed it, "The Champers'') were officially turned on last night and crowds of people gathered around a small stage near the Arch du Triomphe exit at Charles de Gaulle Etoile to catch a glimmer of Paris coming alive with Christmas cheer.  Despite the buzzing atmosphere, it was definitely a stressful experience, being pushed around and forced to practically hang onto the person in front of you for dear life.  But we had all come here for a reason; to be present for this memorable event in the company of a Hollywood actress.

She stood there, looking as radiant as ever, cameras mounting on her every movement.  Then came the big moment.  Glitter and confetti showered the arena and came tumbling down in shimmering silver streaks like a never ending firework and the lights flickered.  I was hoping for a stunning display of French creativity (I'm in a city nicknamed the City of Lights after all), but was instead left disappointed.  Tacky rings were attached to all the trees along the famous street, flashing orange, then purple, then pink.  I was hoping for silver fairy lights twinkling in the leaves, but Christmas never looked more tasteless and commercial.  They were like giant glow in the dark wristbands.  I frowned, knowing that this month's taxes would be paying for it.

Watch this space.

Montana

21 Nov 2012

6 Shades of Paris

6th installment

continued...

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-4C74nj3QF_8/T2kkKoHczBI/AAAAAAAAAqM/XNUsJtGIFTA/s1600/frizzyhair.jpgI put on yesterday’s clothes and head out into the crisp air alone.  I’m wary of becoming overly attached to my Parisian counterpart and set it upon myself to have a day to myself to ponder and regale with a friend the prior day’s events.  He’s starting to occupy my mind more than is comfortable and I try to knock him from my thoughts for just a second, but he keeps biting back more aggressively.  I look at my reflection in a shop window, my hair slightly frazzled and my rosy cheeks accentuating my red locks.  I helplessly try to mend my appearance, embarrassed by my ‘bed head’.  I really should have brought a hairbrush.  The cold, fresh air is jarring to my lungs and walking past a crepe stand I see a man with a comic moustache and a wide smile who perches over freshly made pancake batter.  I stop for a moment and order myself one for the journey home, covered in lashings of creamy nutella.  It starts dripping out of the bottom of the flimsy cardboard holder so I lick the underneath, smearing it all over my face.  A passerby stops and stares in disbelief.

I peer nosily into a second hand vintage shop where the owner is sitting in a rocking chair, smoking a cigar.  Rings of smoke blur his face; in fact the whole surroundings smell of musty smoke mingled with a faint stench of alcohol.  Everything is covered in a sheet of feathery dust and I flick through a card stand, spinning it around, trying to find something meaningful, or poetic.  I buy a 50 cent black and white postcard of an abandoned guitar sitting on the metro.  There’s something beautifully nostalgic about the picture but I can’t put my finger on why.

My phone vibrates in my pocket and my heart momentarily stops.  I nervously giggle to myself, trying not to share my sentiments with the rest of the world.  I wait a few minutes before opening the message, focusing on quelling my overactive delight


A restless night is spent dreaming about him.  We haven’t even kissed, but there’s something so wonderfully gallant about him.  He strikes me as the sort of man who owns a chateau in the French countryside and spends his afternoons galloping on his various horses.  I don't think I've met a more versatile creature.  One who values glamour, but not excess.  I create endless scenarios of us spending summer days together in the South of France, soaking up the sun on his yacht and snorkeling among the coral reefs.  I picture each step; introducing him to my parents, and spending New Year with his friends.  I’ve known this mysterious man for a grand total of three days but I’m already his captive.  I start biting my nails.

14 Nov 2012

5 Shades of Paris

5th installment

rose-candle-aisle

continued...

“That was absolutely amazing.”

I turn around to see a young British woman waving at me with a white satin glove.  “We absolutely loved it, didn’t we Dickie?  He couldn’t stop raving about you.  You marvel!’’ I hear her say.  But as touching as the young woman’s words are to me, all I can see in front of me are black dots.  My skin is becoming hotter and her voice drowns into a general noise vacuum which disorientates me.



I wake up in an unfamiliar room.  It smells different, like rose-scented candles.  My head moulds into the pillow, made from the softest goose feathers, and the fluffy duvet envelops my body in sublime warmth.  I’m not sure whether I’m still dreaming but I stare absent-mindedly up towards the cream ceiling, covered in sculpted angels; a glimpse of heaven.  I try to pull myself up from the heavy duvet when I see something sparkle.  Crawling to the end of the king-sized bed I study the sparkling object more closely and recognise almost immediately a gold satin slipper.  I start frowning.  I search around for the other one but it’s nowhere to be seen.  

The floorboards creak and I stop in my tracks.  “Who’s there?” I whisper, grabbing the slipper as my sole weapon.  “Brilliant, you’re awake…” comes a voice, but it’s too late.  I’ve already thrown the slipper at him, but I watch it miss and fall straight through the window, beneath the venetian blinds.  I hear a woman scream “merde” from down below and I put my hand to my mouth.  “I’m, I’m sorry” I cringe, “I thought you were trying to attack me”.   “Attack you?” he repeats, bewildered, “now if I really wanted to hurt you I don’t know how far I’d get with a croissant”.  I snigger.  I watch him take a hearty bite out of the buttery croissant and I immediately pace towards him to try snatch it off him.  “Not so fast” he remarks, lifting it higher in the air.  “What about girls first?” I moan.  “That must be a British thing” he laughs, “in France, it is always men first”.  “You big joker!” I retaliate, jumping back onto the bed and doing my best puppy dog impression.  “Don’t do that, it might give you early wrinkles” he says, winking.  “That’s not how the story goes though!” I say, pretending to whine.  “What story?” he asks.  “The story where I look like a cute, lost little puppy and you become so mesmerised that you simply can’t take your eyes off me and proceed to give me everything and anything I want” I retort like a baby.  “Ah, that story.  You’re living in a fairy tale you know, ma Cherie!” he whispers in my ear.  I sit on the bed with my arms folded, looking like a grumpy school-child.  “You have multiple personality disorder, you know” I say, comically.  “Multiple…?” he says, confused.  “Well what about last night?  The dress, the corsage, the diamonds, the…anyway, it seemed last night that you would have given me anything I wanted” I confess.  “Well of course, but if I treat you too much you might get bored of me.  I need to keep you on your toes.  Especially now that you have no shoes” he jokes, glancing towards the open window.

 

4 Shades of Paris

4th installment

 
continued...

''You're on in five minutes'' he whispers.  I look up, confused.  ''What do you mean?'' I ask.  ''I know it's not quite the West End, but it's a start'' he says, grinning at me.  I stare into the mirror, a tight ball of fear beginning to clog my throat.  Could this really be happening?  “But I don’t have a song prepared” I squeak.  “But you do” he mutters earnestly.  Ever since I was a little girl I’ve always dreamed of performing “Maybe This Time” from Cabaret, to recreate the one and only Sally Bowles.  Nights would be spent practicing under the bed covers to mirror the vocals of Liza Minnelli in the 1972 film.  I foolishly told him this whilst gorging on a plateful of food in the restaurant.  “But how…?” I attempt to struggle with him, but he places two fingers against my lips.  “You ask too many questions” he responds, smiling.

I begin to feel that all too familiar sensation of butterflies flitting around excitedly in my stomach.  A rush of adrenaline makes my heart pound and my breathing becomes shallower.  He gently touches my arm and I shiver.  “Follow me” he says, gripping my hand.  “But what about my shoes?” I fret.   I lift up my sweeping ball gown to show him a pair of navy blue converse.  “I thought you might be wondering” he chuckles, “will these do?”

Cinderella’s glass slippers are nothing in comparison to what my eyes behold.  Gold satin heels with shimmering gold beads, hand-stitched into a forest of wild flowers.  Time is running out and I gently slip my left foot into the silky insides of one heel, followed by my right.  Like a magician, he brings out a gorgeous corsage of cream roses from behind his back which he promptly ties to my wrist, with all the delicacy of a bee to a flower.  My hair is still tied in a firm bun from earlier, but I feel him gently ease his hand through my locks and before I know it my vibrant red tresses are bouncing and flowing in perfect ringlets.

...

I'm centre stage.  The bright lights are blinding me somewhat but I don't let them vex me.  A sea of black stares back at me, and I'm not able to make out any faces in the glaring light, but I can sense the heaviness of the crowd, the murmurings, the chinking of wine glasses.  I hear the first note on the piano loosen up, joined by a faint drum beat.  My cue is getting closer, but it's as if the words are stuck on the edge of my lips and can't seem to move.  I take one large breath and open my mouth.

13 Nov 2012

3 Shades of Paris

3rd installment

 

continued...

We make our way towards Montmartre, home of The Moulin Rouge.   Passing an array of magasins selling erotic memorabilia and dramatic head-pieces, we follow the bright red lights and the momentous fan.  I tiptoe out of the taxi, overwhelmed by what I see.  Women wearing vibrant feather boas float around the entrance provocatively.  But before I can fully take in the spectacle, I’m taken backstage through a door of hanging jewels that twirl and rattle in the breeze.  I watch the reflection of each bead bounce off the surrounding walls, made up of slanted mirrors, magazine cut-outs, messages written in lipstick and remnants of spray-on fake tan.  I walk past heavily made-up women in lavish, cleavage-inducing costumes and faux diamonds, and I immediately hold on more tightly to the real ones I’ve just been given.  I want to ask what all the fuss is about, until he takes me to a glamorous room set behind a red velvet curtain.  Lipsticks, hairbrushes, combs, curlers, and bottles of the dearest perfumes are neatly lined on the glass top of a majestic dresser.  I bring my hand to my mouth and turn to face him.  “Oh you shouldn’t have” I whisper, but when I turn around I see that he’s disappeared.
 
I slip on the emerald green dress, being careful not to catch the zip on my pale skin.  It fits perfectly.  I powder my nose with a brush as soft as cashmere, watching the silky particles softly melt into my complexion.  Opening five different lipsticks, I find the perfect shade.  With one short lick of lipstick my lips turns from neutral pink to a deep, bloody scarlet.  With a black eyeliner pen I gently draw one small black beauty spot above my lip.  Opening a bottle of perfume I breathe in the pungent scent, an aroma of rose and vanilla tingling my nostrils. 

Just as I’m about to open the box from Tiffany’s, my wealthy suitor enters the suite.  I’ve never seen a man look so dapper.  His hair is perfectly coiffed, wearing his tuxedo like he’d been born in it.  “Wow”, I hear myself saying.  He nods at me.  “You don’t scrub up too badly yourself” he says, causing me to giggle.  “Scrub up - it’s a phrase you people say in England, yes?” he comments.  I nod, equally amused by the phrasing of “you people”.  

I hand the diamonds to my glamorous cavalier who neatly places them on my chest before delicately fixing the clasp.  All the while I’m staring into the mirror which is reciprocating the finest elegance.  I touch the diamonds with the tips of my fingers and feel the lightness of his warm breath resting on my scalp.   

2 Shades of Paris

2nd installment

 

continued...

...the following day

I make chitchat with a street vendor outside the Notre Dame who excitedly shows me an eighteenth century manuscript of the Bible.  I watch as he fumbles through the pages of his most prized possession with the purest of pride.  He turns it over and I squeal at the price tag.  His neighbour points poetically at his antique collection of toy soldiers and I hold them up to the sun delicately, afraid the forever chipping paint might seal my fingers.  I then spend the early afternoon getting lost in Shakespeare’s company amongst piles of dusty books which have that glorious, pungent smell of leather. I tiptoe quietly behind a stack of books and delve in before I am awoken from my reverie by a young child hitting the vintage keys on an out-of-tune piano.

My stomach rumbles and I look up at an imposing Grandfather clock.  Late lunch in a Swiss-style Bistro with a mysterious suitor awaits me.  A set-up from a friend back home in England: ''a real catch".

I arrive to a gourmet spread.  An oozing raclette, steaming potatoes drenched in butter and herbs, cured ham and crusty brown bread.  A good bottle of red sits majestically on a rustic wooden table.  The fire-place is blazing, the waiter smiling, and the complimentary Spanish olives rolled with feta and sunblushed tomatoes wet my appetite.  A cough startles me.  I turn around to see a man in a smart black trench coat with his back to me.  There's something about his posture I recognise from somewhere but I can't seem to place it.  Or perhaps it’s the leather satchel.  It suddenly clicks - I'd met him on the metro the day before.  He grins at me, the awe-struck red-head.  "Have you been following me?'' I ask.  ''Of course not'' he says, equally as surprised as I am.  ''Fate?'' I declare
, cringing slightly at my dreamy remark.  ''Someone had to say it'' he replies, his mild French accent making my stomach churn with excitement.  ''Sophia was right about you'' I tell him sheepishly.  ''About what?'' he says, grinning.  ''Oh, nothing,'' I reply, ''nothing at all!''


We talk and talk into the early evening and he tells me all about his future plans to travel the world and become a writer.  He marvels at my life-long ambition to become a musical theatre actress in London's West End and make it big.  Like a true gentleman he slips a credit card onto the table and pays for everything, even the extortionately priced scoop of mango sorbet which I insist on having.  ''You like your food'' he remarks as I begin to satisfy my sweet tooth.  I make mmmm noises and he laughs.

It’s almost 20h.  I look up at the star-studded sky, clad in a beret and stripy scarf, my knitted Hermes coat with navy blue tassels squeezing my ribcage slightly more than normal.  He steals my attention by producing two shiny tickets from his wallet.  "The Moulin Rouge'' he announces rather nonchalantly, “fancy going?”  My face lights up immediately.  ''But I don't have anything to wear'' I say, looking down at my bulky attire.  He opens his briefcase and pulls out what looks like a crisply folded package from Marchesa.  He pulls a dress out of the pink tissue paper, ''to match your eyes'' he says, smiling.  ''I thought these would look nice too'' he says as he brings out a familiar turquoise box from his pocket.  Diamonds from Tiffany's.  “Oh you do know how to treat a girl” I retort, as I cradle the dress in my arms.

12 Nov 2012

1 Shade of Paris

A short story

1st installment


Winter.

The leftovers from autumn’s leaves are swept into a bed of tousled confetti.  Christmas lights are projected through the crystal air, broken only by a faint whisper of cloud.  The wind blows momentarily and the leaves tumble down in a cascade of deep magenta.  One settles on my scarlet scarf - emblazoned with sprinting stallions - and curls into a heart.  Douce Nuit ripples out of an old record player on the Champs Elysées, glittered with festive spirits and candy wrappers.  A gentleman offers me a glass of freshly brewed mulled wine.  Christmas is arriving in Paris.

I spend my days funnelling through little side streets with their quaint Latin architecture and intricate black iron balconies.  I stumble upon Rue Ferou with lines from the poet Rimbaud inscribed on its musty yellow bricks.  I withdraw my Polaroid.
 
Hopping on the metro, I find an empty seat between a dog, its owner and a cheerful old man.  I peer above my broadsheet newspaper to stare at a dashing Monsieur; a 20-something year old young professional with a leather satchel and glossy brown hair which he flicks to the side occasionally with help from his chiselled jaw line.  He pretends to read a free copy of Le Direct Matin but I know he secretly can't help looking at me, the mysterious red-head with the sea green eyes hiding behind the giant canopy of words.  The metro gets busy and we stand up to make way for loved up couples and map-bearing tourists on their way to elegant soirées and cheerful Brasseries.  He accidentally brushes my hair with his perfumed lapel before I bite my lip and giggle.  Charmed by my British allure he darts me the eyebrows but before he can say anything, I disappear into a sea of faces, ready to discover what Paris has next in store for me.