September 30, 2008

The Book Selling Man

This is a little bookstand. It is a newsstand, except there are books. I've walked past this a hundred times. Each time, I revel in it. Books stacked to be sold. Piled. In no order - no classification. Books that unfold from the little hut's interiors.

This time I stopped and talked to the guy a bit. He obviously supplements his reading time with a lot of vodka, but once I got past his breath, this was an interesting and crazy guy. He had nowhere to go. Not in a bad or homeless sense, but in a beatnik sort of way. He was content to just sell his books. At the end of our little interaction, I asked him if I could take his photo. He smiled and held out his hand and signaled for me to wait. He pushed against the shelves of books so that they rotated to reveal the guts of the little stand - and he disappeared into them. When he resurfaced, he brought paintings - one by one to decorate the sidewalk around the bookstand.

September 29, 2008


must post this ---->

how i love them. my sister. baby joyce.

September 28, 2008

Exposed Wires

They are all over the place. And I wonder why I like them so much. I like how they are messy and intertwined and tangled and purple and red and yellow and blue. It will gratify me to know they are still there in cahoots with each other, behind the walls, even after all of this.

Apartment Wonders

Progress...(as the move-in date rapidly approaches...)

the kitchen...

the bathroom...

...sans toilet and sink, excavated by Xavier

the bedroom upstairs...

...this sink resides in the bedroom - charming...and I'm going to tile the wall behind it with tiny square tiles and make a mural of my own

...this fireplace also resides in the be renovated a bit

...Xavier thought about working hard all day long

...and I could be found in various corners of the apartment singing songs

September 23, 2008

September 21, 2008

Fraggle Rock

This is Xavier.

As part of my process to become an American, I was reading the NYTimes on Sunday morning (online though - nobody's perfect), and came across an article about Disney, who is trying to revive the whole Muppet Show franchise. I followed up with some Wikipedia research about the Muppets, Jim Hansen and incidentally discovered who my wife is: a Fraggle.

My beliefs were then confirmed by Emilie herself, who told me that her friends in high school thought she had a strong resemblance to Animal in the Muppet Show. And it started very early.

Hence, I decided to invite myself on Emilie's blog because I felt compelled to make a relevant contribution. These pictures help to illustrate my point even further.

Note Emilie's position in the background of the picture. Julie is reading nicely. Emilie fraggles.


Sacre Coeur

We went to a Joly family soirée last night - a gathering of cousins. It was in the 18th arrondissement. Sacre Coeur loomed. (Featured here as the sun was setting and then after).

It is funny how things shift in a foreign experience. Six months ago last night would have been really tiring for me. It is a tricky thing to be an extrovert unable to play. I felt that for a long time in France - I was never the one telling jokes in parties or social situations; in fact, I was never the one even getting the jokes. I felt like I was with a stranger - and not a very funny one - myself.

But last night, I realized that it happens underneath you and then you are standing on it. I laughed at jokes and got it all and often forgot that French was being spoken all around me. One of Xavier's cousins who hadn't seen me for a number of months couldn't believe that my French had come along as it had. I suppose it is inevitable, but you don't see it as it happens.

We were talking about it and I remarked that it is funny how a personality changes in another language. I, of course, have felt like I'm sometimes timid in French where I would never be in English and I listen much much more (which is a forced blessing for everyone). But it goes deeper than that. I told everyone that Xavier is different in the two languages as well and I imagine it is a common experience for people, even when they are fully bilingual. A language carries different possibilities for expression. In French, Xavier is almost brutal - very direct, super funny - cuttingly so and merciless. In English, he is equally funny, but in a very good-natured way. His personality actually shifts.

The Apartment and Marguerite

First, Marguerite - we've had her this whole week and as a result, we've laughed a lot. She is such a character and she is in the phase of being contrary - she loves to disagrees with what is said, even if she ends up disagreeing with herself numerous times in the same interaction. She loves going down the "grand tobogan" (big slide), landing at the bottom and running toward me to deliver a high five. The other French kids don't know what is going on with the high five event. But I think we make a great team at the park.

Then, we have Marco, a friend of Xavier from London this weekend - and he is delightful. He came to our new apartment and raised his eyebrows.

Whenever Marguerite comes to the new apartment, she insists that we should go back home. She isn't ready to admit that this will be home yet. Understandable. But progress is continual. The whole apartment has been emptied of the ruins. Bags and bags were taken down the 5 flights of stairs and now our living room is cleared and ready to be done. The frames of walls are up and the tiles are delivered and ready to installed...

September 19, 2008


La directrice:
Ce n'est pas toi qui décide ! C'est moi !
(You don't decide - I do!)
Oh how true that is.

September 18, 2008

St. Sulpice

"Sometimes, late at night...he would be observed staring up at the huge towers of the church which rose into the sky, unlovely but reassuring...Standing small and insubordinate, he would watch the basins of the fountain loosing their skirts of water in a ragged and flowing hem..." (from Nightwood by Djuna Barnes).

Rust | Rouille

I have big problems. A really hard life. For example, I have this problem with my desk.


I really love this desk. We found it at a flea market and it has served me well...until last week when I cleaned it with something strange and the entire surface of the desk rusted. A large fight ensued between Xavier and me. Comme d'habitude.

So this week, I wanted to fix it. I went to the Quincaillerie (hardware store) to search for the solution.

I walked in, said bonjour, and thought to myself, I really have no idea what I'm looking for. Then I told myself I did. I tried to locate the metal cleaning section, which included a range of words that I just do not use or know in French. So, I approached one of the workers in the shop. She was a middle-aged French one in a frock. I said, bonjour and explained that I had a desk.


I stopped because I did not know the word for rust and that was a really important element of what I needed to say.


I looked into her eyes (I always try the unrelenting eye-contact tactic to stir communication) and told her what was happening to my metal - it was turning red. There is only one word in English for that phenomenon. And I was confident the same word existed in French.

It was like playing go fish with her. She just kept telling me to go fish and I could only say the same thing like 5 times before even I was a bit convinced that rust was an occurrence that just does not occur here. Finally, when I seemed adequately exasperated to her, she used the word in her sentence. She slipped it in. Calmly. Like we had been using it the whole time. I pointed in the air - that word! Can you say it again? Empty/blank stare. And then she did it again. The tricky thing was that rouille is in the genre of French words that gets me. The ou i lle is basically a sound that does not exist in my mouth. And I try. I swear. But I really must applaud her performance. Unflappable.

So, after establishing that we were talking about rust, she told me she had nothing. Clucking, she told herself that she had some products to protect against it, but otherwise nothing. My face fell. Pleased, she led me to some "strong water," which, it appeared, would do exactly what I needed. I stopped myself from appearing too satisfied, for fear it would preclude her from helping me further. I scanned the rest of the shelf and saw a product that looked like it might do the same thing, but with a bit more force. I reached for it and she reached out and covered the product with her hand. No.

You cannot take this one, she said to me.

But I just want to have a look, I replied.

Absolutely not. It is not relevant for your problem. No.


She led me away from that section, directing me like a kid away from something she can't touch or play with, to get gloves and steel wool. I kept looking back longingly at the aisle. She kept trying to hold my gaze. I told her I wanted to have another look around and she looked at me distrustfully. Of course I went straight back to get it, took it and held it in my hands, contented. I went to pay.

Daggers. She was heated. In fact, she wouldn't let me purchase the other product. She took it, placed it safely behind the register and kept it there. I wanted to lie and tell her it was for a different (but very similar) problem, but then I just decided to surrender to her will.

Ah well. I went home and I've now cleaned the desk a bit and with a lot of work I think the "strong water" will work. We shall see.


Gap or lag.

I've just gotten off the phone with my dear friend Sarah. She had a solution for my desk problem, which involved coca-cola. She can't sleep. It is 4am where she lives. Heartening to hear her - to have her voice coming out of the thing in my hand.

But it is strange, having relationships with people on another continent largely by phone. There is always a gap. A gap in timing. A gap in tempo. A décalage in thought. I think differently at night, when I've just woken up, when I've had lunch, when I'm in a rush in the afternoon, when I can't sleep. And it never aligns properly. The person on the other end and me. I'm dead tired when the other person is jubilant for just having finished a long day at work. I'm peaceful and want to talk in the morning and no one is awake to listen or to respond (except Sarah of the insomniacs).

Maybe I'm just going to go cyber. Purely.

Not Real. Fake.

September 10, 2008

Demolition Chez Nous

The fun has begun. We are officially the new owners of the catastrophe on rue du Faubourg St. Martin! Take a look:

Quite seriously though, the apartment is going to be magnificent - 'going to be' is the most important part of that claim. We signed last Wednesday and started destroying immediately. We found the guy who is doing all the work rather serendipitously - he was the person who did all the work on the apartment we are renting now before we moved in and we have continually thought his work was splendid. So, we called him up to do some work of our own this time.

I will keep adding photos to document the work on the apartment because it will go quickly; you see, our move in date is October 15. Given the evidence from the photo above, you might say that is an impossible and fool-hardy target, but then, you don't know Xavier Joly. (Remember, speed everything up by 200% - even the motions of people he has employed to help him).

But first, I will take you to the apartment from afar. We are the blue and black bulls-eye on the map of Paris below. (Definitely to scale).

More specifically, rue du Faubourg St. Martin in the 10th arrondissement.

We will start with the stairs. The long trek up: 6 flights.

But there are beautiful things to see along the way:

Almost there:

Ah. The front door, which, like the rest of the abode, will get a facelift (and some plants potted in that planter).

We've arrived.

The plan is to knock down as many walls as possible and have an entirely open living room/kitchen. This picture features Juan - the great guy doing all the damage. He is really incredible. We came on Monday and walls were still up. When I walked in this morning, I was shocked. He knows how to use a hammer.

Here is the view from the opposite side of the apartment, looking back at the door from the windows.

And with the help of a modern miracle, here is what will become the kitchen:

The view still knocks your socks off:

So, that is the first floor - the kitchen, the living room, a small bedroom (to be constructed), and the bathroom (not featured, but in which we plan to use Parisian subway tiles - more on that promised). As for the second floor, here we go...our lovely little stairs leading up:

And, this space has remained untouched thus far.

The view from one bedroom window:

And the other:

And the tremendous skylight:

And then a feature of the apartment that I particularly love. "Les tomettes." The floor. Aren't they yummy? They are warm and cold. They are all sorts of reds. They are well-known in France but not in my brain. They are everywhere in the apartment.

And one more. I love the little balcony - we shall have a planting festival out there when this mess is all cleaned up.

Let me just add that Xavier is remarkable at getting things done. Gas lines, electricity, no problem - a guy is there within hours. Tiles to be ordered: one discussion of what I'd like - ordered the next day to be delivered. Some people would deliberate for hours about what type of tiles should go in a bathroom. We concur that that sort of thing is a waste of time. Our impetuosity has gotten the better of both of us at various moments in our lives; not this time. With our powers combined, this will be the shortest and most efficient demolition/decoration/move-in job in history. Just plowing ahead. Especially Xavier. He is a go-getter. I'm lucky to be the main beneficiary.
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