January 31, 2010


Paris is Paris to me because Marie is here. Look at what she has been doing lately. See more.

Back to--->


Ah. Le bonheur. There is an interesting dynamic between New York and Paris. People in both cities concur that the other city is the finer than their own. At least, generally, this is the reaction I get. In Paris, when I told people we had moved from New York, they would reply, "New York ! Vous avez eu de la chance ! Pourquoi vous êtes partis?" (New York! You were lucky! Why would you ever leave). And now that we are back in New York, I get: "You lived in Paris for three years! My dream is to live in Paris." The yearning on both sides is proportional. People love these cities.

It is precisely for that reason that I am back for a week. So that I (we) can be in a perpetual state of unrestrained in-between. I am back to secure my hard-earned carte de séjour, without which my path to citizenship would be stymied. In like manner, Xavier is here to hand in his French passport to the American consulate, who will award him a green card and then return his passport (we are hoping) with the right to be an American one day.

This is all dandy, barring the bureaucracy involved. On both ends. The French are renowned for it - n'est-ce pas my American friends in Paris? As it turns out, the American side is not necessarily less baffling.

Here, for your entertainment, Xavier explains the situation as we wait for my interview for the carte de séjour. Mainly, it involves a whole lot of waiting.

"Here we are waiting for the carte de séjour. Our appointment was at 11:30; it is now 12:20, nothing abnormal there. But now the thing is that we are going to have to wait until the lunch hour is over; they've all left. There are perhaps one or two of the minions left - probably interns, who have the privilege of staying around while everyone else eats. Lucky us. I think your camera is a bit crooked." (Remember, the French lunch hour is a full 60-90 minutes. We sat there at least that long).

January 27, 2010


The miracles of social networking sites. Bounty. While it is true that facebook is often the site of voyeuristic prowling and dormant friendships, it is also the site of regeneration, of old things that otherwise may have been no more. Last year, a friend from high school randomly sent me a message on facebook and asked me to meet her in Madrid. I did. What felicity.

Tonight, I was looking through old friends' pages on facebook and fell upon a certain Rhonda from my past. Rhonda was my very first roommate. We met 12 years ago. I was 17 years old and had left home with a vintage bike in a big airplane box and a bag of clothes. I was headed for college in Hawaii. Our first night together, Rhonda and I met and we knew our energies accorded. We dropped any unpacking that was to be done and ran to the beach at midnight, both diving into the water with equal mania and lack of concern for underwater creatures that might have been lurking there in the Hawaiin ocean.

I called Rhonda tonight. Rhonda is an incredible creature. Since I left Hawaii in 2000, Rhonda has stayed and made it her permanent home. She says, "If you have to choose one place to live for the life we have, why not make it Paradise?" Her logic is sound. Rhonda is now Jewish. She is also an acupuncturist and told me the first time she inserted a needle into someone's hand, she felt as if she had done it many times before. She has just married an Israeli who has also made Hawaii home. Their honeymoon was a five-month voyage to Germany, Greece, Israel, Jordan, India, Thailand, Bali, Australia, New Zealand and Tahiti. Oh Rhonda, I love you. Thank you facebook for binding us once again, even if just in spirit for the moment.

January 26, 2010


Xavier and I have a thing for Harlem.

For me, it started the first time I moved to New York in 2005 and got a job teaching composition and literature at the College of New Rochelle Rosa Parks Campus on 125th Street. My students in Harlem always talked way more than I did - splicing each of my phrases with their ideas - my favorite kind of classroom. They were forthright, blunt, demanding and animated, and their personalities matched the place.

Then, we decided to get married in Harlem. It seemed like the most consonant place for a Mormon and a French Catholic to merge their lives and families. The run-down church, the gospel choir, it was comme il faut.

He was the drummer at our wedding.

This was the choir.

He was the reverend.

These were his shoes (photographed by Andrew, my brother who was 10 years-old at the time).

It was the kind of ceremony where I could laugh hysterically in the right places (where the reverend called me all possible variations of my name, "Emil" "Email" "Emile").

So, now that we are back in New York, Xavier is convinced that we need to buy a townhouse in Harlem. Today, I went and looked at a few (shells we might say) and now I am really warming to the possibility. I love the multi-colored rows of townhouses and their stoops and the fact that one can actually buy more than 4,000 sqaure feet in Manhattan for less than a million dollars. Unthinkable anywhere else in this town/on this island.

You see, the idea is rather exciting when you meet someone who has taken this...

...and turned it into this:

So...staking out every available empty townhouse in Harlem is on the list of current projects.

(This is not one, but I love it.)

January 25, 2010

Joyce Nally.

On the phone this weekend, my sister Julie narrated, "When Joyce and I were in our prenatal belly dancing class this morning, I was doing a shimmy-shake shoulder thing while squatting really low to the ground. Joyce came over right by me and pulled up my shirt so that my belly was showing and started chatting with the baby, telling the baby she loves it and giving my belly kisses."

Joyce also high fives the baby through the womb. Today Joyce turns two. Happy birthday my little niece! Joyce's little sibling will be born in March and we all can't wait for Joyce to be doling out the real high fives to the little newborn.

Only in New York.

January 23, 2010


Here, Xavier is holding Louis-Philippe on the D train coming back from the Bronx - from Louis-Philippe's birthplace in an alley near 149th Street - Grand Concourse. Beware, this is something of a remorseful tale.

The alley was hers. Or so she claimed, in her white and blue terricloth robe, which appeared to be as permanent as any of her body parts. The birds were also hers. Permanent looking too. 37 or so in cages, at the exterior of the house and invading the entire first floor of her brownstone, (which explains why all the curtains were drawn and the house was pitch black on a sunny day...or at least it could, possibly, be one explanation). Their imprint was there on the terricloth robe; the cats' equally.

"I've already got 8 of them and if I could, I'd live in some big house somewhere and have 30 cats. I can't - my dad's allergic, so he will be really thrilled when you get this one off of our hands. I grabbed him by the scruff of his neck before he could get feral like his brothers and sisters." (Here, she paused to point at two raw scars on her hands - apparently evidence of Louis-Philippe's siblings' savage behavior). "They are still crying for me out there; I hear them now."

She stopped and held her maimed finger out in the air, beckoning them, and cocked her head to listen. I don't know about Xavier, but I heard nothing supplementary to the squawks of the birds.

We walked away with the little gray kitten wrapped in a white piece of cloth. He was frantically trying to escape and as we descended into the pit of the subway, we were terrified that he was going to end up making a transfer that we would miss. We imagined his little head staring out the window of another subway passing by - ME--->OW.

Louis-Philippe had a little kitten's body and would shake his butt in preparation for attack, my favorite quality of all members of the feline family. He only stayed 2.5 days with us, because, well I can't say exactly, beyond saying that moving to a new city across the Atlantic and getting a new kitten in the same week is perhaps not really lucid or well-reasoned. It was not Louis-Philippe's fault.

Sunday night he got dropped off at the animal place. We couldn't live with it. Monday morning I was in a taxi cab, trying to control the horrible rising feeling in my chest and my breathing. I arrived, jumped out and pretended to be a friend of "Xavier's - the guy who brought the gray kitten last night."

"Number 845220 - go to the adoption trailer."

A line of people scrolled out the door. To the girl in front of me: "What animal are you waiting for?" anxiety dripping from my words.

"A kitten," smiling.

"Oh yeah? Which number?"


I practically did damage, grabbing the slip of paper from her hand. "That is my cat! Err, my friend brought him last night and I am here to get him."

"Well, that is the cat I've selected and I'm in front of you. Sorry."
Tears (only slightly appreciable) from my eyes (only the beginning). Of regret, of confusion of self-condemnation.

"You will take really good care of him right?" Pleading.

"Oh yes, I am a Columbia grad student and I'm just finishing my program and now I work from home. I get lonely. Have you met this kitten?" She was understandably confused.

Cringing/nodding, "Yes, he is marvelous, Louis-Philippe. He is gray and has white whiskers that fan out and come forward when he is on the hunt. He already uses a litter box. He cries at night, but he is just scared and little."

She paused, not sure how to deal with me. She was in front of me in line after all. "Well, let me take your phone number and if anything comes up, I'll call you. My name is Chu."

I walked down the ramp of the adoption trailer with a heavy head and collapsed shoulders. I walked across town on 110th and cried, out in the open. To be fair, I was mollified knowing Louis-Philippe was going to cuddle up with Chu. They would look at the computer screen together and he would shake his butt and then pounce on the mouse moving across it (he did this with me). But then I really cried - out of loss and feeling rash and indolent. By the time I got to Madison, I was howling.

"Miss!" "MISS!" "GET BACK HERE!" I heard an aggressive command behind me and turned around.

A second voice:"Girl, get back here. Come on. Look, we all girls and we all been through it."

I was clamped in an enormous hug. A Harlem crossing guard in a neon-yellow jersey and her friend.

"You lose your job? What he do to you? We all know it."

"You a Christian? Listen, when they curse you - you bless them. You BLESS them. Come here." Another enormous hug.

I had not uttered a word. This was all in a commanding, aggressive tone; someone passing by might think the ladies yelling at me were the reason for my emotional outburst, but, no, they were easing my pain. I was still crying when I walked away from the crosswalk, but it was ebbed by the stupefaction that random people in the streets would stop to comfort me like that about little Louis-Philippe.

Block of blue.

I am grateful because the sky is often a big block of unblemished blue in New York City, which leads to the most compelling spaces of veiled light, luminosity and shadow. This is true even in the belly of winter where in other places (may I say, Paris, as just one example) days and days will pass and the sun just doesn't show. I'm not sure why I am so under the sun's thumb - I mean totally dependent, but oh yes, I will concede: I am imbued.

January 19, 2010


There are certain New York things that become thread-bare references they are so frequently used, mentioned, repeated and photographed. The Bethesda fountain in Central Park could be one of these things, but she is not. She is not made vapid by being perpetually cited (there is even a part of Grand Theft Auto set on this terrace, just beneath the flutter of her wings). At least in my mind, she is totally untouched by the banality, by her endless guest appearances in films, by the swarms of Korean brides who peacock underneath her every Saturday, by the blinking of camera shutters as often as the batting of eyes. Maybe that is because her genesis is so pure. The people from Central Park pronounce that she was sculpted by Emma Stebbins (the first major sculpture done by a woman in NYC) in 1861 as part of a tribute to the aqueduct that was built to get clean water to New Yorkers, who were mighty dirty at the time. Bethesda is, of course, a reference to the biblical pool, where an angel would visit and make sick people well. "For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the waters stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease with which she was afflicted" John 5:4.

Plus, he looks great perched at the hem of her skirts.

January 18, 2010

Sun-kissed Stephen.

NYC = Stephen. Stephen = glee. For example, he was making me french toast this evening and his impromptu grapefruit act tickled me pink pink. I made him do it over so that I could chronicle the performance. Relish.

January 17, 2010


Walking in the park, I felt claustrophobic for these branchlets under the ice. They looked like imprints of something still very alive but pegged, maybe against their will. I couldn't figure out what made them like that - so strange and tragic - lying torpid, immured. They looked like winter and a little like me in it.

Then I walked a little further and found some who were free and had only left a mirage of themselves. The ice melts. Thank goodness.

January 14, 2010

Friends and fishes.

Three days in New York means three new friends. Three new friends meant at least one to three months and a craigslist ad requesting friendship in Paris. This is not a value statement, just an observation. I haven't really changed (or maybe I have; for example, I would not blow bubbles on the subway in Paris - more on that to follow). People talk to me in street in New York; it is not just me being Emilie-unrestrained.

(These fish live at Broome and Mott).

For example, the bubble gum story. I got on the V train and walked to one of the puke orange seats while blowing a nice round bubble of gum, letting it sit on my lips for a little extra minute. I was rather pleased with the situation because I felt no shame for my action and shamefacing me didn't seem to be part of anyone else's plans. In fact, some guy sitting across from me remarked, "You're blowing bubbles," in this go-ahead, endorsement way. I nodded and said, "Still." Then we talked to each other for a while and it turns out we have almost the same birthday and are the same age and he illustrates things for a living and now we are friends.

In all likelihood, this friendship making has to do with how Paris changed me. See, living in France and speaking to and approaching people in a language that was not mine and being in all sorts of situations where I just felt bulky and graceless makes me pretty intrepid around anybody in New York. I feel like I have crazy social grease, just by comparison.

Plus, New York harbors some of my very best friends to begin with (and Stephen - winsome Stephen), so I am feeling felicitous all around. I arrived and stepped off the plane and there they were at the Shake Shack waiting for me. We had all agreed we would meet back in the city in five years; well, it has only been three, but here we all are.

January 13, 2010

Waiting for me in New York...

was this:

How I adore the outlines of the hedgehog's anatomy against the red brick wall. John Derian: thank you.

January 11, 2010

Bright Room.

A highly talented and beautiful friend in Paris has long toiled on a theater project, which has now come to tremendous fruition. Hillary Keegin translated Tony Kushner's play, A Bright Room Called Day, into French, cast it, and is directing and performing in it. It is on stage from tomorrow, January 12th through the 17th in the 11e in Paris. I attended a reading of the play, which of course showcased the actors and their absorbing talents, but didn't include the scenography by Mounir Fatmi - which should be equally impressive. I wish I were going to be there to see a real performance. The play is set at the very end of the Weimar Republic in Germany, on the brink of the Nazi rise - at a moment of political turbulence and for some, lassitude. The play is a call to action in modern times and Hillary's translation and her troop of actors (including Hillary herself - she is American and is performing a pivotal role in the play in French with total supinity - this is a feat to be admired) are most compelling.

Mardi 12 au dimanche 17 janvier 2010
au Théâtre de la Boutonnière!

20h Théâtre de la Boutonnière
25 rue Popincourt, Paris 11e.

Réservations: 01 48 05 97 23
Métro: St. Ambroise, Voltaire ou Bastille
Site: http://la.boutonniere.free.fr/

January 10, 2010

Marguerite's dress.

I decided to sew over the holidays, which is to say that I decided that my mother and I would sew. My mother is an excellent seamstress and her mother even more. My mom would tell us stories of her mother taking her and her sisters into department stores to pick out new dresses, but instead of buying them, she would pull out her sketchpad and sketch away, go home and recreate the dresses. Magic. Naturally, my mom picked up a lot of this talent. She remembers her mom patiently teaching her to sew using patterns. They would going through each step of the patterns, which were taped up to the cupboards above where the sewing machine sat. My mom did exactly this with me over my visit; she pulled out the scotch tape and tacked each corner of the thin paper above us. We spent hours at the sewing machine together.

It started one day when Marguerite and I went to the fabric store down the road from my parent's house. I strolled through the patterns with my fingers, through the drawers and drawers of sketched girls and vignettes of women in 80's-like stances. I decided on making a dress for Marguerite and a little matching dress for her baby-doll, since she had asked Père Noël for "des habits" (clothes) for her little baby. We chose big polka-dotted fabric and Marguerite wanted to sew an ice cream cone patch on whatever we made. I giggled and agreed it was a great idea (even if it was never realized).

Then the merriment began. I shall never regard a dress in the same way. After this little project, I am frantic about turning things inside out to inspect their making. Reading a pattern is like reading another language, terms you've never ever heard of (at least not in this context): selvege and nap and miter and ease and casing and basting and awl. Good thing I had my translator. Those were lovely moments, sitting there with my mom like that. She is still my mom, but now I can look at her as an adult and a funny thing happens - I see why she was such an enlivening parent. She would say things like, "You're a natural, Em!" with such gusto she had us both convinced (until we pulled the piece of fabric from the machine to see that I'd sewn the wrong sides together) and even then she was still convinced.

In the end, after far more hours than either of us thought it would take, two little dresses were produced. And two little beings looked very winning in them.

January 8, 2010

Bedda's basketball.

We've been watching a lot of basketball games here in Washington, rooting for a certain 5'2" shooting guard, #3 Bedda Johnson and the Enumclaw Hornets. She is a shrimp, but she can play basketball - she scored 10 points tonight and she had a spectacular 3-point shot at the buzzer of another of these games. A real crowd pleaser. And, amazingly, she is never scared of getting stepped on.

Marguerite loves basketball.

So does Joyce. She was enthralled. Hooked. (On her popcorn too).

Marguerite finds interesting variations of the normal viewing position.

So does my mom. During one game, I glanced down the bleacher row and saw my beautiful mother looking particularly smashing:

I guess she had stashed these glasses in her handbag to pull out for spectator regalement during halftime. We all had a go. (Inspired by Stephen and his colleagues at Martha Stewart Living - you can easily make a pair of your own...find eyes you love in a magazine and frames from glasses. Fit, adhere, poke viewing holes through pupils). Pretty amazing how they change the face they're sitting on.

I love the USA for girls' sports. At Bedda's high school girls' wrestling not only exists, but is very popular:

'Lady Hornet Wrestling' indeed. In the local paper, one contender was listed as Rose Johnson in weight class 14 (Heavyweight, 285 lbs). My mom felt concerned they had unintentionally entered her into the competition and was worried that she wouldn't be able to keep up with the other heavyweights.
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