August 31, 2009

Église Saint-Augustin.

Every time I hang around the 8th arrondissement (which, surprisingly, is often enough) I am impressed with St. Augustin. This church is formidable - looming over grand Paris boulevards. The city opens wide here - all of the intersecting roads are immense compared to so many other areas of the city. Ironically, riding a bike here feels even more treacherous to me than streets in le Marais where trucks who course by are centimeters from my outer thigh. I suppose this has something to do with there being no lanes on these big boulevards. I mean there is a center lane, but otherwise, it is whoever can fit (and more often everyone who can't).

The church itself is a 19th century creation - a vision of Napoleon III, like the wide wide boulevards. It fits. I don't know how many times I've darted past, but this week I finally went in. Worth it. It was after I had just returned from Istanbul and I was pleased to find myself a little unglued by Paris. But of course. She is a wonder indeed.


The whole collection.

August 30, 2009


Xavier gave me the most beautiful photo in large format. We know the photographer; her name is LouLou and she owns a Brocante (antique store - below) around the corner along the Canal St. Martin. She takes photos of the most delightful things and I walked into her store one day and found myself looking fiercely at this one of the mother and her two children on the beach. I loved the light and the shadows and the angelic baby in the middle. Their hands, their hair, the stones. Anyway, I showed Xavier her stuff on a walk one night and he was with me in seeing all of its splendor. So much so that he bought one. Ah, what a great gift.

Here it is.

August 29, 2009

Chez Blandine.

We spent the afternoon at Blandine's house. Blandine is an honorary member of the Joly family. She is Marie's marraine (godmother). Blandine herself is delightful - she is a magistrat (judge) in her professional life and warm and insightful in her personal one. Her eyes encompass years of internal and external debate and she is the picture of self-possession. Her house is on edge of Paris - just next to the Château de Vincennes and she is one of those favored people who have a real house with a beautiful garden attached in the city. Her garden was full of apples and pears and all sorts of blooming things thanks to Hubert, son chéri. Jules and Louise were enchanted and holed themselves up in the small garden gazebo fort and stayed having tea parties there for most of the afternoon.

We picked apples off the trees, rubbed them on our shirts and ate them. In the process we, naturally, found this little guy (he is camouflaged, because he is the same color as the bowl). Even he was a delight.

At some point, Jules came over and sat on my lap and told me all about a 'spectacle' (show) he had seen with horses. His description is charming, whether you understand French or not. I've been moonstruck over little people speaking French since I arrived.


Xavier and I have spent a lot of the summer apart. Given both of our many voyages, we managed to see each other approx. 5 days in the month of August. Well, this week we were reunited. This has meant mainly one thing for me: laughter. Xavier makes me pee my pants cracking up.

I heard him calling from below telling me to come downstairs to watch a film last night. I came down to find Xavier in gear (gear = Chinese jet fighter pilot helmet). A certain well-known interlude was blaring. Jet engines and an 80's theme: TOP GUN. Xavier was standing in front of the projector and screen he has rigged up in our apartment and there he was, doing the same moves as the guys on the screen. Total earnestness. Top Gun. All I could do was laugh hard and take pictures of him.

August 28, 2009

No push-ups.

Anyone who knows my dad knows that he is intense. Intensity may not even accurately define the situation when it comes to exercise. My dad retired recently and he has taken the opportunity to exercise up to 6 hours a day as often as possible. Hard core bike riding (since his knees are gone from years of marathon running).

So it came as a complete and staggering shock when my mom called me this week to tell me that my dad was going to have to go in for an angioplasty/heart stent or possibly open heart surgery. The main artery to his heart was 98% blocked. He said that he knew something was terribly wrong when he was out for a bike ride and he was having tremendous pain in his arms. After that he couldn't walk up the driveway without that same pain. Two weeks prior, he had biked 150 miles over three mountain passes.

Stunned. My dad eats no red meat, has never smoked or taken a sip of alcohol, has good cholesterol, and is quite obviously physically active. All of us were taken aback and quite petrified. For the past two days, I've been edgy and on the verge of tears.

Of course these things can happen to anyone and at any time (my dad is only 53 years old). But there was something so unjust about this. Vascular disease for someone who is the picture of health - fanatic health (he has an excel spreadsheet that dates back 20 years with a record of all his workouts/times/distances). It disrupts something fundamental when you get news like that - news that seems so polar to your ideas about how things are.

Yesterday, I called my dad on the way to the hospital. "What a gorgeous, sunny day here. Why isn't this happening in November when I wouldn't want to go for a bike ride anyway?" he lamented.

And then I called my mom at the hospital as soon as the procedure was meant to be over. My mom answered and my dad chatted beside her. Everything had gone very well and they were able to position the stent in the artery well and it was clear that my dad wouldn't need open heart surgery.

My dad got on the phone and I asked him:"Are you going to stay the night in the hospital?"

"Yeah, I don't think they have a gym here though." This was certainly with a smile on his face. The tragic thing is that deep down he was only half-kidding.

He went on to describe what the doctor told him after the procedure: "He said after 1 week I'd be at 25%, and after two weeks 50%." In the background, my mom cried out, "Not true! Brad! The doctor said 2 weeks at 25%!"

My dad has had three knee surgeries. After each, within two weeks, he was on 20-mile hikes. Not normal. So, this is a plea of sorts. Dad, we love you like crazy. We want you around for a really long time.

NO PUSH-UPS. No bike rides. Those are the rules. Seriously.

August 25, 2009

Locked out.

Back in Paris. Back in my apartment. Loving the waves of light (even if a bit gray with the rain) through the window onto the brick red of the tomettes. Not loving the utter and complete mess strewn everywhere. Back from Istanbul and what a mess I've made. Xavier is in New York, so no pressure from him to get tidy. Then, suddenly, I feel the impulse. I want to clean it all up and wash the tomettes and everything. Frantically I start throwing clothes around hoping that transferring piles from here to there will produce the result I am looking for. So far, nothing.

I'm hot. I throw off my dress and throw on a pair of shorts. Before I get to the shirt, I look over at the garbage. It needs to go. No shoes, no shirt, but the garbage needs to get out into the hallway. Priorities. I grip the top of the plastic bag and heave. Out my front door and onto the landing outside. Plunk the garbage down. Look over at the window in the hall. It needs to be opened. Turn the handle and a gust of wind flies in.

SLAM. Behind me, my door slams. Slams. My door in France has no exterior doorknob, so when it slams, it is locked. I stare at the door. Hard. How could you do this to me? No shirt, no shoes, shorts. Nothing else. No keys, no phone. Laughter. Hysterical sort. What a predicament. What a predicament. I'm giggling and trying to cover as much of myself as possible while knocking on the girls' apartment upstairs. No one. They have hung an unlikely in-the-hall laundry line though. Thankfully. Full of bedazzled Beyoncé-inspired clothing. I'm giggling much more. Yank - the cobalt blue one with diamond angel wings. Stunner. Fly down the stairs. Knock. Knock. Frantic. Knock. No one. Personne. Why? Why? Why? August. Paris. August. My whole building has evacuated the city. Half giggle, half sob.

In the tiny courtyard, feet immersed in the soppy/dank puddles of pouring rain. Lighting. Thunder. Out the long corridor into the streets of the 10th arrondissement. Afghan boys. 15 of them despite the rain. My street is their congregation. They always hang out here. They see me. No shoes, bedazzled shirt, ragamuffin shorts. Looking frantic. I look up and down at the closed shops (again, August in Paris). Which direction? They huddle round me. Ask me what I'm doing. I ask them if they have phones. Negatory. They don't even have visas, they tell me. Merci, ciao.

Right. I head up. The Moustache bar is pounding music. Chairs flipped erect on top of the bar. Big burly mustache looks at my sick feet with a cringe. I cringe back. I scream over the music: désolée, je suis votre voisine. Neighbors, eh? I guess not according to him. My door closed behind me, I explain, my keys are in my apartment. He rolls his eyes and saunters over to the dial on the radio. Twists. Quiet. I re-explain. He cuts me off and picks up his phone, dials a number and tells my story way better than I did. Dans une petite heure. Oh no, not that. Une petite heure means a really long time. My smile forms a square on my face. I am trying. Thank you, thank you for calling.

Re-enter the rainstorm. My Afghan friends await me at the entrance of my building. Re-hi. Punch in the code. Stand in the doorway, my big toe propping the door open. Hoping une petite heure might this one time be literal. Nope. Start talking to the Afghans. Fascinating boys. They pull out scraps of paper. I gather they are asking me in Farsi at which metro the address they are pointing to is. Not much English, not much French. I tell them I think it is George V. Why? The Canadian Embassy. Oh, you want to go to Canada? Yes. First it was Greece, now France, their goal: Canada. They sleep in the park. They show me scars on their hands where the Taliban cut them with knives and burned cigarettes into their skin. I cringe. I tell them Canada will be better. I hope it is true. France doesn't seem to be. The rain pours. I feel sheepish for thinking about my locked door.

He finally arrives. Little man. Looking at me suspiciously. Dirty feet, wet girl, 'fancy' blue diamond shirt, surrounded by 20-something year old dudes (at least they are wearing shoes). He asks me what seems to be the worry. I locked myself out of my apartment, of course. Why on earth would I call him otherwise? He accepts this. Will we need more than 'la radio?' he asks. What? La radio? Why the heck is he talking about a radio? An x-ray. An x-ray. He pulls an x-ray out of his briefcase. Yes! I tell him. I am certain we are going to need more than that to open my locked door. He shakes his head. We are going to try with la radio first. Great.

He kicks. He pries with his fingers. He shoves the x-ray violently into the crack in the door. Forces it upward. Shoves. Squawks a little. And wins. The door opens. An x-ray? Who knew? I squawk several times in thanks. Then watch his eyes to make sure they are not sizing up the belongings in my house. Xavier is convinced these guys come back to steal. I don't know.

He leaves with his x-ray and I rip the Beyoncé shirt off my back, make sure keys are in the pockets of my ragamuffin shorts and run out to return that useful thing to its place on the close-line.

The most ironic part of this tale is that on our way back from Istanbul, my bag was 'lost' at the airport in Paris. I wouldn't have cared except that my keys, yes my keys, were in it. We waited for 5 hours at CDG for that bag and those keys, only for me to return to Paris to perform this little stunt. Bravo Emilie.


If you go to Istanbul, you must go to a high-in-the-sky, out-of-the-way restaurant/cafe called 5.Kat. Chris' Turkish connection dragged us down unpopulated streets and up a claustrophobic elevator to this place and once we got there, we were beholden to him. Bosporus Vista. City below. Sunset circumferencing. Prayer calls in the distance. Ah.

5.Kat | Soğancı Sokak No: 7 Kat 5 Cihangir İstanbul

...and on our way, we ran into him. I stayed and soaked him in for a few cherished moments. Did he know just how arresting he would look when he chose his place of repose? I was convinced he did. He is a cat after all.

August 24, 2009

Hagia Sophia.

Maybe just one word: light.

...and a wee tribute to a sub-rosa cat who appeared from the shadows and who seemed to have time traveled directly from 530AD.

August 23, 2009

Istanbul = Some love it hot. (Me).

When I first moved to New York in my young 20s, I felt like I went to a place I immediately recognized, but also a place that recognized me. Oddly, I felt the same way in Istanbul. This may be a strange thing to say because, after all, there is so much underlying religious and cultural dissonance between a girl like me and a place like Istanbul. I guess it comes down to personality. I am convinced that people and places fit because of their personalities. I have so many girlfriends in France who really really fit. I love France dearly now, but I still don't fit. Clashing personalities. So, despite our religious, cultural and language asymmetries, Istanbul and I: we fit. Reasons to follow (at least a few anyway).

1. Aesthetics: Chris and I had a good conversation about how personalities also drive aesthetic taste. Extroversion in my case may explain my relishing of bright colors and bold/intricate patterns. Introversion in his case may explain his fancying more subtle and minimalist design. One idea. Well, Istanbul was full of color, of pattern of boldness. Carpets, lanterns, domes, tiling, clothing, even the sky against the red roofs. A pastiche of mirth.

2. People: Warm. Affectionate. Unblushing. Inquiring. Outward. Ardent. Chatty. Jocular. Chris and I were invited at least 5 times to dine with people or to join them for tea. Countless times we were stopped in the street or pulled over by someone who wanted to sell us a rug, but really just wanted to talk to us. Our waiters made us laugh every night and by the end of the trip, they were sitting at the table joining in on our conversation. I am now friends with them on facebook. In some other countries, this just would not happen. I love this kind of open affection between human beings. I approach the whole world this way and sometimes get clipped. Sometimes people hate this about me. But here, I was right at home.

3. Weather: HOT. Love it. Skies: cerulean. Enshroud me.

4. Community: the sense of this was palpable when on our first morning at 5 am we were awoken by a haunting and beautiful voice - the first of many prayer calls we would hear while in Istanbul. When we talked to local people about the area our hotel was in, they knew the man who did the prayer calls there and spoke of his beautiful voice. When the prayer call starts, it is a constellation of voices coming from all sides, from all over the city and it reaches all ears. No one is disconnected. We were also there for the very beginning of Ramadan. Huge tents were being assembled in the city center near mosques for the great gatherings of people for meals after sun goes down. For a month people will gather together and eat. Over the enormous Blue Mosque, hanging in between two minarets, were words written in what looked like Christmas lights, reminding everyone in Turkish to reflect on the real meaning of the sacred month. We asked one of our waiters about it and even though he was clearly not devout in his practice, he spoke with reverence about the month in front of him and his people.

5. Chris: I must say that my loving Istanbul also had a lot to do with who I was there with. When I am with Chris, I am at essence comfortable. Chris is my friend from many moons past. I guess it was first at college, but then more fully in New York. Chris encourages and embraces my impetuosity. When I decided to move to Paris rather abruptly, Chris said to me, "Do it Emilie, for all of us who never would." Traveling with Chris was one endless, engrossing conversation. He asks rattling questions like, "Do you think you are exceptional and that you will do exceptional things with your life?" and then we would talk it over and dig into it and come up with ideas about American exceptionalism and his dad's dentistry practice and Monsieur Obama. Chris also makes me laugh. Hard. I spent most of this trip with a thick smile and laughter coming up like vomit - I couldn't help it.

Chris is also a photographer. He is first assistant to a rather prominent NY photographer. This is splendid on many levels. He sees and frames things beautifully, in and out of lenses. He notices light in strange and specific ways. Also, I had a bit of bad luck and Chris the photographer was my lucky charm. See, my camera relinquished life about halfway through Istanbul. I really like taking photos, especially in places I really like. I was calmed by the Canon 5D Mark II with its 28-105mm L IS lens decorating Chris' neck and the skills behind it. Many of these photos from Istanbul are consequently his.

This was the terrace at our hotel where we ate breakfast and often dinner as well. Killer.

Chris' boots were my favorite fashion piece throughout the trip. He wears them splendidly. The photo below was inspired by photographer Chris' directing skills, which included "bend over and flip your hair wildly into the wind". Desired effect achieved.

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