Within 24 hours of being home from Paris I was dealing with 70 packages of unopened mail, a dog who had rolled in her own feces, and a basement flooding with water from the washing machine. The plumber was in my house until after 1AM the day after I got home, and when he apologized for the time he had to spend fixing the drain I said, “If I were still in France I wouldn’t have started eating dinner yet. Would you like some charcuterie?”
Everyday life in Paris was perhaps my biggest indulgence during my time there. I had packed enough clothing that I didn’t have to worry about laundry for at least ten days. I didn’t have to walk a dog or make sure she’d peed before going to bed. I didn’t think once about mowing the lawn or the amount of gas left in the car. I didn’t have to sort through a trunk full of packages or stare at a stack of important documents that all need to be filed in separate folders. No packing lunches, math homework, piano practice, sprinkler maintenance or an eight-year-old purposefully fucking with her older sister at breakfast by accusing her of chewing with her mouth open and then imitating it like a monkey puking up a rotten banana.
I had a laptop and a city full of electrifying streets. That’s it. I’ve tried to think of a more badass to do list, and the only thing that would have made it more Not Of This World-like is, “Receive a text message from Lance Armstrong while watching the end of Le Tour de France on Av. des Champs-Élysées.” Which may or may not have happened absolutely. Screenshot, screenshot, screenshot.
Each morning I would wake up, grab one of the protein bars that I had packed—I missed only two things while I was in Paris: iced coffee and protein bars—WAIT SORRY—
HAVE YOU NOT MISSED MY TANGENTS. THEY HAVE MISSED YOU.
The first week I was there I bemoaned the lack of iced coffee to a local who in response did this thing that French people do, it’s kind hard to describe. But I found myself doing it absentmindedly when I got home and realized, oh my god, they all did it. It’s this thing they do with their mouths as a conversation filler, like an “um” in English, or a shrug, or an “eh…” They take their bottom lip, purse it to one side and blow air above their top lip. And the sound of it—the pulse of air shooting up and out—communicates a certain sentiment. And that sentiment is all over their face. It’s either, “Yeah, but…” or, “Sure, you have a point, but…” or, “Let me think about the best way to put this…” or, “Did you really just talk about iced coffee as if that is a normal fucking thing, you goddamn imbecile?”
I call it The Puuggghhh.
I was told to go to McDonald’s if I wanted to imbibe something so uncivilized. FINE, puuggghhh, I’ll go have Ronald fix me coffee on the rocks, a little sugar and soy creamer, please. Make it strong. I’ll be walking six miles tonight after I write for seven hours straight.
I don’t think this person was being a snob. I’ve talked to several people here about iced coffee, how I count down the days to warm weather so that I can switch from hot to iced because iced coffee is one of my most favorite things in life, right up there with the build up toward the end of “Let Down” by Radiohead and the way my eight-year-old daughter makes fun of the way I pronounce “ride.” Many people here are horrified that I prefer iced coffee. FINE, puuggghhh, I don’t care, give me plastic utensils to carve the Thanksgiving turkey, I need to Hee Haw this shit right up.
Cue the banjos.
And then… protein bars… puuggghhh. This tangent just got really long, but it missed you and I’m indulging it. I packed enough protein bars to last me a little over a week, and I rationed them enough to make it a whole 14 days. It’s what I eat for breakfast every morning, and sure, I could have just switched over to croissants and made my life so much easier. Except, I would wake up every morning with words criss-crossing my head and I needed to get them onto the screen. I didn’t want to leave my apartment while the paragraphs were writing themselves, so I would wake up and open my laptop immediately. LOOK. WE GOT BACK TO THE POINT. No need to call my doctor, that manic episode only lasted 22 minutes. Given that I had one that lasted an entire marriage, I’d say the meds are working.
I got to write for hours and hours in Paris, hours uninterrupted by the noise and clamor of everyday existence. Day after day after day. I could not be more grateful for that privilege, for the experience of sitting with a keyboard at my fingertips waiting for me to purge all the inspiration I’d gathered the night before while walking miles through the most beautiful streets in the world.
A laptop and a tangle of unexplored streets. That’s it.
Now there is laundry and a yard and a car and an almost-ten-year-old dog whose energy still rivals that of a puppy. The girls will be home in a week with an injection of total pandemonium. And I’m trying to listen to the lingering whisper of those hours and days of calm and serenity, what it revealed about everyday life, how we Americans fuck it up from the moment we hear the alarm go off in the morning:
“Let me think about the best way to put this…puuggghhh… maybe let go a bit. The laundry can wait. A three-hour lunch won’t kill your business. Dinner at 10:30 PM isn’t a bad idea. Bread is good for you.”