Thursday, November 30, 2006

The safe car

During my Jungian phase I went to see a psychologist with the aim of taking notes about her. No one recommended her to me, I must have just found her in the yellow pages or something.

I was immediately ill at ease when I entered her office and saw that placed any which way on a chair in the corner were about twenty beady-eyed, patchy teddy bears, who looked like they had been chewing each other's ears and licking each other's fur every time they were left alone in the dark. Their bellies were popping open with pain from hearing too many weighty secrets. One of them, a rose-coloured runt with sad holes for eyes, was sitting upright in a seemingly uncomfortable position, a paw caught under the heavy legs of an obese bear. I walked straight over to it and moved it to a more relaxed position over by the window, saying apologetically to the psychologist "he looked uncomfortable".

How does that make you feel?, the psychologist said through the haze of boredom that hovered around her making her hair dull and brittle and giving her words a lifeless timbre.

"A bit ill at ease I guess" I responded, how does it make you feel? After all, you have to work with them looking at you like that...

But she wasn’t going to let me tinker around in her mind and toy with any feelings of guilt she may or may not have in relation to the crowded conditions of the teddies. Ignoring my question she started compiling my dossier. I kept trying to re-direct her from delving into my inner recesses to a more interesting conversation - her opinion on Jung’s theories for example. But she was a wall when it came to intellectual insight so I never went back to her.

According to her, the reason I was ill at ease had nothing to do with the teddy bears but was in fact because I'd recently changed apartments in Sydney and moved out of what she called a safe house, a place where I felt at home. Apparently I was feeling vulnerable because I just hadn't spent enough time in my new flat or with my new flatmate to feel safe. I needed to inhale the new smells and reciprocate by rubbing my own smells all over the place. It's true that I can't say that wherever I lay my hat, that's my home. I need time to adjust, like most cats I guess. It was the kind of stuff you study in psychology 101 or that the vet tells you.

I personally think one of the safest houses I’ve ever lived in was, in fact, a car. And it only existed in my imagination. I remember that one day in 1986 on my walk home from school I was accosted by my older sister and her friends, red eyed, wailing and clinging on to one another, informing me that because the US were bombing Libya, Colonel Gaddafi was going to blow up the world. Apparently he was going to switch the button from existence to non-existence within hours. We said long-drawn out goodbyes to one another in the tomato splattered dusk and I went home and wriggled around under my bedcovers, waiting for the bomb to drop and imagining a place, a safe house.

My safe house was a revved up version of our family car and it was invincible. All my family and an assortment of my pet rabbits and guineapigs (and teddy bears of preference) would pile inside. We could drive wherever we wanted but the car, with all my most loved inside, would be protected from anything that took place outside. I took refuge in the notion of this safe car on many a dark night (it was kind of like counting sheep to fall asleep - I spent a lot of time thinking about who would go in the safe car, seating arrangements and general car hygiene). Naturally over the years new people were added to the improved safe car model.

I guess my choice of a safe car rather than a safe house was fuelled by a desire for movement and travel combined with the desire to have a space where I feel, well, safe. I wrote quite a few posts in my old blog on places I've lived and I think they fit in here, so i've posted them below.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The witching hour

As well as having the fear of waking up to find a stranger looking at me and being afraid of fear itself, like many people, I also have a fear of change, although this is not a fear which can't be overcome.

When I moved from London to Paris, in order to minimise the changes that would be involved, I vowed that I would continue to go to my London hairdresser. Every time I needed a feather cut or a fringe, I'd hop on the Eurostar to go and see Hans in Soho and listen to his tale of two cities and why he prefers London hair to Paris hair. Of course after two such trips i'd started to ease myself into Paris, and I decided that it was simpler to visit a hairdresser over here. Hans is probably still fuming and snipping his scissor-hands in the air for exclamation: "Why doesn't she come back? They don't know how to cut hair over there!"

After I'd been living in Paris for a while, I felt change was nigh again, the witching hour was upon us. Even though it was well and truly over between French and I, in order to make the impending change seem like it wasn't really a change, I set up a loveless cohabitation.

"See", I explained to French, "it's like nothing has really changed. We'll just continue to live together, except you are free to date tall women if you like, and I don't have to ring you and tell you where I am..."

But slowly I moved my body and its objects from our shared bedroom to the study (French's tall woman wasn't so keen on him sharing a room with his ex). And after I accidently brushed my hair with her comb (I found black hairs in my comb, I heard her whimpering on the other side of the wall), French gave me a gentle nudge in the direction of the door.

Even then, like a child clutching on to her blankie, I tried to stay in French's aura.

"The apartment upstairs is for rent, I might take that. We could be neighbours."

"You couldn't afford it!" he scoffed (nevertheless, he looked a bit nervous). But he was right. So I started scouting the nearby streets for any old place to lay my head so that I could still eat exactly the same shaped baguette every morning. But to no avail. Bad-breathed gods were blowing stifling winds of change, and I was swept in the direction of the nearest arrondissement.

I'd been warned that flat/studio hunting in Paris was going to be difficult. In fact, I didn't have too much of a hard time. The place I live now was the first I saw - something about its old world feel and the idea that if any ghosts lived here they would be the unsociable type - attracted me to it.

One proprietor further up the hill tried to get me to rent her closet with the selling point that it's two minutes walk from the Sacre Coeur. When I said no thanks, she barred the door with her body and baring craggy teeth demanded that I tell her why I didn't want to rent her place.

"Because I saw another place four minutes further down the hill for the same price, and it's bigger and has less orange, fluffy carpet."

She gave me a disdainful slap with her eyes and said: "Four minutes further down the road is not Montmarte, it's Abbesses."

"It looks and smells like Montmarte!"

But she made me agree to consider her place before she would let me go forth into the world again. As I was leaving she called eerily down the staircase: See you soon Pinochiette, which left me with the fear that she'd put a spell on me and that I would end up renting the closet.

In the end the spell didn't work. It was a toss up between a flat which had one entire wall of window devoted to a close up view of the Sacre Coeur so that if anyone entering my flat doubted I was living in Paris I'd have the proof, or my current flat which has a bath. No choice: who needs the Sacre Coeur when you can lounge in a bath. I'm a bath kind of girl which is one of the reasons why this book, which pays homage to the bath, is one of my favourite books.

I've already discussed in an earlier post how finally having a [b]room of my own was so important to me. It was in the early days of living in my new place, when I'd finally faced change, and I used to dance from room to room - doing a handstand in this corner, a pirouette over there - filling up my own space, that the hands of the clock ticked over and I had to face yet another of my fears.

It was a stinking August night, the building where I live was drained of its inhabitants. I was sleeping in the silence, broken up by the soft mutter of distant drunks entering through my open first floor window. In my dream someone was fiddling with the lock on the door of my flat. This noisy dream woke me and I saw my curtain moving. Wow, that's some wind! The curtain moved aside to reveal the human face of the wind. A twenty-something, unidentified man was standing there, in my bedroom.

Without hesitation I started to scream, layer upon layer of screams, like with each scream I was hitting the stranger in a different part of his body. He didn't stay around to hear my symphony. He was out the window before you could say Larry and I just kept screaming for John and Yoko, for headless jelly babies, for whatever reason I could think of to scream.

When he'd climbed back to the ground, as if to say, I may be an intruder but I haven't forgotten my manners, he called out: "ca va?"

To which I screamed "Non, je vais appeler la police!"

And he disappeared in a puff of screaming.

The hour of this visit, four in the morning, became the witching hour, and although my window which opens on to the street is always kept firmly shut now, it took me months after that incident before I could sleep before dawn.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A [b]room of one's own

I was changing the sheets on my bed the other day and I noticed that they are banana-yellow. This puzzled me. Why have I got banana-yellow sheets?

If they were sand-coloured it would be understandable - they would fit in with
the whole Beach House ambience I’ve tried to create Chez Moi: my sea-blue quilt splashes over me as I sleep, and in winter I naughtily turn up the radiators full blast so that I can walk around my apartment in my bikini, a straw hat shielding me from the lamplight as I gently water my mini palm trees.

But these banana-yellow sheets just aren’t me.

And then I remembered that French and I used to have sheets like this. It seems that what must have happened is that when I finally decided to clamber out of my shackles and find a place of my own (a bed of my own), I could still feel the hot peppermint breath of French burning up my neck and like an automatism, I bought the kind of sheets that would best suit his tastes.

I guess I had an uninteresting power relationship with French: It was him who decided everything and I just went along with it, happier-than-Larry to be living in Paris.

Designated bedtime was much too early for a night-owl like me, but because French had to go to the office the next day and because if I read a book in the other room the crinkle of the pages turning would keep him awake, I’d find myself obeying the call to sleep and smothering miserable hoots in my pillow.

The apartment was decorated according to his tastes. The kitchen floor was swept with his brooms and in the anti-clockwise direction which is often attributed to the direction water goes down a sink in the northern hemisphere but the opposite of my southern hemisphere ways.

I was a prisoner in this apartment. But I’m not giving you a soggy story about a poor little bourgeoisie who pricked herself on hairpins while undoing her chignon, and who was imprisoned in a spacious apartment overlooking a Monoprix stocked with fancy ready-to-eats.

No, I was imprisoned inside myself. This was not the fault of French, who despite being an interesting character study is not a bad person. It was just that the particular dynamics that were born from the smashing and grinding together of French and Pinochiette quashed my normal initiative, passions and taste for anything sea-related. My roars were imprisoned deep inside me and all that could escape me were feeble squeaks.

When I finally had the courage to leave French and move to my new place, my current home, I unleashed my lioness within. Those first few days in my apartment I remember opening the cupboards and looking at all the objects inside, my things, touching the newly-bought broom, my precious, mine, mine, mine (the kind of mentality that keeps capitalism kicking).

I was over-joyed to be able to close the door and sit in my very own (rented) space (although admittedly the first day I moved in my bathroom was leaking and due to some French glitch, instead of hosting a plumber, I had two truckloads of dashing pompiers stomping around in my bathroom complaining that I didn't have any coffee and writing official reports on how many pompiers it takes to stop an itsy bitsy leak).

In France, and many other places, as late as the 1960s women couldn't open bank accounts without their husbands' permission. I find myself lucky that I live in an era where financial independence and intellectual freedom are a possibility for me and where I have managed to forge a space for myself, like Virginia Woolf's metaphorical and physical room of one's own.

On the weekend, while thinking about all this, I came across the sculpture by Mâkhi Xenakis called Les Folles D'enfer in the gardens of the Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital.

This sculpture is a memorial. In this place Louis XIV locked up what him and his cronies saw as the "undesirable" elements of society - poor people. Later, the general hospital became a hospital for women and I found this information on it:

At the end of the 17th century, according to the uses of the era four categories of women were emprisoned there. "Bad" adolescents were kept enclosed in the "Correction" section, with the idea that they could be rehabilitated. Women labeled as prostitutes filled the "Common" section. Women who had been imprisoned with or without sentences were quartered in the "Jail," and inhabitants within the "Quarter of the Insane" were those who usually had been sent there by their families. In 1679, the institution housed 100 women who qualified as "mad" and 148 women with seizure disorders. By 1833, the numbers had increased to 117 insane women under treatment, 105 insane women labeled as sick, 923 women with mental illnesses characterized as incurable, and 266 women with seizure disorders. (Charcot Library Archives, Hôpital Pitié-Salpêtrière, Paris)

I also read a review of the sculpture which mentioned that here, in the sculpture, the women are finally liberated. I'm not so sure. They are cordoned off by rope and there is a sign that says ne touchez pas which makes me think that, even in art, they are still imprisoned and segregated.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Time reframed

Francois Bon has held creative writing workshops in French prisons and schools, among other places. In his book Tous les mots sont adultes he tries to get students to start writing by delving in to their memories to create an inventory of places they have slept. Here is my inventory of places I have lived (a much simpler task than places I have slept).

The first house I don’t remember living in was a late sixties, red brick and smallish house in a middle class suburb of Sydney. One morning my mother couldn’t find me - her two year old mouse - and apparently I’d toddled over to the neighbour’s house and invited myself for tea and some squeaking. How's that for anecdotes.

Not long after that, we moved to a slightly larger, equally red brick
house about four blocks away. Summers were hotter back then and I see the years spent at this house through a veil of kleenex. That soft air of childhood, hanging out with the
neighbourhood kids and playing our own brand of games, all specially packaged just for us.

When I was seven years old my parents upgraded again to a two-storey four-bedroom,
three-bathroom house in a fancier part of the suburbs. The red brick was discarded like a rusty pair of flares for an imposing chocolate brown, spanish style house which had all the mod cons including the biggest bedroom for Pinochiette the spoilt, and a swimming pool which would become the location of a million smurf dives [Throw all your smurfs in the pool, dive in and she who collects the most smurfs wins].

This house of my dreams where I spent the greater part of my adolescence later became the house where all my nightmares are set up until this day. If, for example, I have a nightmare that someone is axing someone to death in the shower (not that I have such nightmares that often) it takes place in this house.

And then kicking and squeaking, when I was 17 years old, old enough to piss off if I didn't like it, we moved to a smaller house in a less fancy area. Gone were the spanish arches, nudey statuettes and bubbling fountains. Here everyone was a lot closer together, physically rather than emotionally.

The suburbs began to give me the plink (form of depression which stems from monotony and derives its name from the sound a tap makes when it drips against the sink in the dead of night - plink, plink, plink) and I left the wide brown land for Europe.

I travelled around Europe for an extended period of time and I was in and out of hotel rooms
my nose deeply ensconsced in Tolstoy's War and Peace. I didn't see much of all the cities I visited but I did read a lot of books.

I remember my first little home in Europe was a sagging hotel in Athens where my travelling companion and I holed up for the summer, worn out and happy, avoiding cockroaches like cracks in the pavement. And then he dropped me off in a hotel room in Patras, somewhere in Greece, and promised to be back in two days while he visited his big, Greek family. Two days became a week. I was naïve and scared of an army of boys called Nikos on vespas who wanted to have coffee with me. I spent the week hiding in my room reading all of Kundera’s books, eating cold spaghetti out of a can and popping travel sickness pills in an attempt to sleep off the week.

Of course there were so many other rooms on that trip, and I’ve travelled much more since then, but those rooms in Greece, my first lick of Europe, lurch forward in my memory, begging to be spoken about.

Back in Australia I finally escaped the suburbs and moved deep into the city with a bunch of other uni students. Apparently our particular terrace house used to be a brothel which explains the persistent late night buzzing at our door. There were four bedrooms in this house but we only actually used three of the bedrooms. One of us continued to pay rent although his room remained empty - this young poet was working up the courage to ask his strict Croatian-Australian parents if he could move there. His room became a kind of shrine to the absent. At parties, due to its open spaces, lack of light and furniture it became an alcove for lovers, a place to rest for the stragglers, while its carpet hosted the puke of a tribe of drunkards.

After the demise of the terrace house in the inner sydney - our young poet friend gave up the hope of escaping from his parents while they were still paying his way and my bank balance was less than zero - i moved back home to finish my studies. Studies completed, I left so my room could be converted into a guest room.

My room in the new flat was tiny and it had bars on the window to keep the night time ghoulies out, but it was right next to the beach. My flatmate was a theologist surfer with the noirest of humour, he knew how to twist my giggles into fully-fledged laughs. I was too timid to use the kitchen to cook or to share meals with him so I’d quickly scoff down tofu burgers on the way home so as not to disturb the pots and pans. Now I was finally a woman, living out of home and paying my way, a woman crouching in her bedroom in the dark to hide when her flatmate had guests, but a woman nevertheless. Everything was green and blue in that room and it's true that I did spend a lot of those two years underwater in the sense of what was going on in my life, but it was a pleasant sensation, like I had a breathing apparatus.

One day I got too big for my underwaterworld and I moved to another flat up the road
from the beach with a good friend. The flat was light and airy and there were no bars on the window but my bedroom was a beat for huntsman spiders. I used to find them, rather conservatively I thought, making out on my bed. I found others who were a little bit more risque fondling each other right bang in the middle of the room. Huntsman's aren't poisonous but they are fat and hairy and look like they should be poisonous.

Two years later I packed my dirt up into tiny boxes and shipped myself over to the Mother Country. In England I spent three months lolling on the floor of my friend's swish bachelor pad in East London. After three months on the floor, my newly met French boyfriend popped the question: "do you have broadband where you are now? Because if not, you should move in with me." And so I took a minor stroll on the compass and ended up in North-East London living in a mini mansion. I think the red walls of this house made all of us mad after a while. Me certainly, French undoubtedly and even Derick, our hibernating, canadian flatmate. I love red walls but I wouldn't do that kind of thing again.

When we moved to Paris I wanted to live in Belleville, on the east side, like in London, where there’s music and there’s people who are young and alive. But French found an apartment on the conservative west side. After a year the blonde wood floors of the apartment were covered with dark hairs, both his and mine. Our hair was falling out from the stress of the bloodied words which passed between us.

So one fine day several Junes ago, I took 16 metro trips (aller-retour) and carried all my possessions to the flat on the hill in the 18th arrondissement in Paris where I bask now, a slice of the sea in the city.

Two very obvious things that were prominent for me when doing this exercise: I've had the good fortune to never be homeless and the memories of the places in my life are invariably connected to the people who have passed through those places.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Shredding the news (it is good for worm bins)

I didn’t read an Australian newspaper for my first four or so years in exile. It's only recently I’ve started to sniff around in Australia again, sticking my big nose in where it might not be welcome.

Friends in Australia are always lamenting that the almighty Sport dominates the news there. Forget the arts, its sports people who sing, dance, write and paint the best.

I remember the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics, drinking sticky pink sea breezers and waiting with the rest of the country for Juan Antonio Samaranch to say that it was `the best olympics ever'. It was early in the morning in France when he said it. Did you hear it? I've asked lots of French people. No i didn't watch it, they reply, I didn't hear that, but the beach volleyball looked good - those Brazilians are hot. What year was that?

Australia isn't one of the big decision-makers on the global stage, it isn't a G8 country. It's a small-big country (small on the population, big on the desert) looking for approval and it is perhaps through sporting prowess that Australians try to get the clout and recognition they can't get politically. Looking in the newspapers over here - I see Ian Thorpe’s decision to quit swimming made the news.

But apart from that, not much else - Australia rests quietly in the United States' penumbra. A firm lackey of the US it makes the news as a terrorist target due to being one of the allies of the United States. Australia's Prime Minister is likely to appear in a photo alongside the US President with the caption: George Bush and "unknown civil servant".

After sporting news - cricket updates and the like - probably the biggest news Europe receives about Australia is news about Australian "entertainers". The death of the crocodile hunter (perhaps because he gave the world a stagnant quirky-cliched image of Australia that didn't make anyone have to think or change their ideas) was news. Also in the world news was Mel Gibson getting done for intoxicated racial slurring - although Australians who used to be so quick to claim him as an ambassador of Australia when he seemed so promising back in the days of Mad Max: "They say people don't believe in heroes anymore. Well damn them! You and me, Max, we're gonna give them back their heroes!" were very quick to say "He is American!, he wasn't born in Australia" [no he just grew up and was educated in Australia]

In the same way that Australia relies on its sporting heroes to give it recognition on the world stage I think it relies on its entertainers as well, with Australians having a bloated sense of pride in their acting exports. I've found myself pointing out all the Australian actors in Hollywood to H (some he doesn't recognise because they've expertly disguised their accents). With all those Kidmans and Crowes, gone are the days when you have to rummage around for Australian oscar winners, ummm, errrr, well you know, an Australian won the oscar for best costume designer three times! But I don't really care about oscars. As H was quick to point out "you're really proud that Tom Cruise married Nicole Kidman aren't you? Me, reddening: No, i'm prouder that Heath Ledger is dating Michelle Williams from Dawson's Creek, I replied.

The link between business and government is old news. But the link between entertainment and government, or rather celebrity and government, still astounds me. I remember during the race riots in Sydney last year when Australia's Hollywooders were flown in to Sydney to calm the social unrest, Cate Blanchett making a special appearance to speak about racism with a poise and charisma none of the Australian politicans could muster.

Ok, celebrities getting involved in politics is rather common now. But what about when politicians have to get involved in celebritics. When I was reading the Sydney Morning Herald last week I saw that interweaved among the fait divers and entertainment and sporting news which seems to make up the bulk of national news, an Australian television hosts' wife had died. She used to act in some Australian soaps as well. Of course it was sad, she was young and positive, and the couple were in love.

However, people die every day from wars supported by Australia (John Howard has most recently noted that the war in Iraq was "not a disaster" - yet another thing he isn't about to say sorry for in the near future), and I found it strange that because of the links between vote-getting and celebrity supporting, both the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition party were expected, and indeed did, give public condolence statements even though they didn't seem to know the couple personally. Perhaps most telling was when the opposition leader got the name muddled and rather than offering his condolences to the television personality, he offered them to Karl Rove, yet another lackey of the Bush regime.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

An ibis in Paris

I like to mark time. To circle dates and point out moments in the past to anyone who will listen. It's five years today since I left Australia for the Mother Country. Five years since I wore a cotton winter coat, grabbed a suitcase full of clothes for a slightly fatter body and a lime (just in case – there have been so many historical cases of scurvy on voyages between Botany Bay and England).

A while ago I was listening on the radio to an Italian guy, a dancer, who has been living in France for the last twenty years. He was saying that for him and other expat friends of his five years away is when you start to make a choice: should I stay or should I go.

Looking around at some expats I know it has been a bit like that. They hit the five year mark and they pack up all their accumulated artefacts (oversized ornamental hippos bought in Portugal etc) and go back to where they came from. They fold up a life within weeks, carrying it "home" in excess baggage.

Whether this anniversary will have the same effect on me remains to be seen. Sometimes I catch the tiniest whiff of Australia on a spring day in Paris. My nose is the sniffer dog of history. I react to the smell and sniff out the traces of my past sewn firmly into secret pockets or lying at the bottom of an unsettled stomach. I think what it would be like to go back. I've grown to love the cold winter which tinkles, to love Europe as a bloc and a well-studied mannerism. It doesn’t feel worn out yet.

I'm pleased with my own relative exotic status in paris: pleasantly exotic rather than out of place. As I wrote in my old blog:

Considering that in Australia I always felt a bit out of place, not sporty enough, a strange dark, bookish character sitting up a tree watching everyone else participating in life.

I’ve been reading Australian newspapers lately and I came across a newspaper blog on the Australian white ibis which can be found roaming freely in Sydney's parks. An animal behaviourist, Ursula Munro, has been studying ibises for the past five years and believes the "east coast cities have become a last bastion for the species in a time of extreme stress".
Apparently Sydney councils have been exterminating the birds and destroying their nests because they are seen as pests (or perhaps not sporty enough).

According to the blog "Before the 1980s ibises were rarely seen in coastal cities such as Sydney and the appearance of the odd straggler generated excitement among locals". But the blog posed the question whether Sydneysiders believed that ibises should be protect or culled and I was surprised at the viciousness of many of the readers' responses, many of them advocating mass execution.

At the risk of being “just an expat” and being dubbed the Germaine Greer of the ibis debate, I left my own hoity toity deux centimes' worth:

I live in Paris and I recently visited Le Jardin des Plantes, a small zoo in the 13th arrondissement. Having grown up in Sydney and grown accustomed to seeing ibises roaming free near the Botanical gardens and at Circular Quay, I was surprised to find that ibises featured as an exotic bird in this French zoo, a bit like having a parisian pigeon in one of the enclosures at Taronga Zoo.

French friends who have visited Sydney with me have been charmed and surprised by this unusual bird strutting around the harbour foreshores, which does indeed add character to Sydney - so important in this world where the arrival of global chain stores means that all big cities in the world are starting to resemble one another to the detriment of diversity.

I'm surprised at some of the venom in the comments above - as if something so trivial as a bird trying to steal your sandwich is a reason for mass killing and annihilation of the species.
As someone commented above - be glad that the city can at least support some wildlife. One of the things I admire about Sydney is that the creation of a big, modern city has not completely destroyed all signs of nature and that sydneysiders still have the opportunity to live among animals.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Boyz in the bar

A while ago I was speaking with an English male friend who lives in Paris and he said to me:

"The problem with the girls I pass on the street in Paris is that they don't look at me! In England I used to feel like a handsome fella because girls would actually make eye contact with me and I'd feel they were giving me the ogle of approval. In France I feel like a suited monster with a briefcase".

Let's leave aside the evident question arising from this statement, that is, why my friend needs a girl to make eye contact with him in order to feel pretty. And let's also acknowledge the fact that if girls don't look at him it might be because he blends with the crowd because if he did resemble a monster, girls probably would look at him, as the juxtaposition of a monster with a briefcase would be an unusual sight and attract many onlookers.

I'm merely using this quote as an example of numerous comments i've had from, mainly boys, both French and from other backgrounds, who say that the problem with the girls in Paris is that they are reserved, `closed off', and don't make eye contact.

If that's the case, there's no need to wonder why. I've already talked about this in my earlier post on boyz in the street. I've found that if you make eye contact with this sector of boydom -these boyz in the street whose life is dedicated to harassing lone women - more often than not this is interpreted as though you are up for sex and biscuits behind the bins, right that minute.

Hence you don't make eye contact with anyone and `innocent' boys like my friend suffer low self-esteem.

I arrived in Paris as what you may call an open person, my wide eyes bumbling over every building facade, studying every face, ready for chance encounters and conversations with other forms of life who could potentially contribute to my little, but growing, collection of knowledge. A little over three years later I now pass a lot of my time studying the ground to avoid eye contact. I think I've changed my behaviour to shield myself from the boyz in the street and I don't like this one iota.

In summer I enjoy shedding some layers. I like to feel free to wear a short skirt if I want. But now if I am going out walking on my own, day or night, I find that my wardrobe is dictated by the boyz in the street. I now find myself strolling about in sacks, hesitating to wear something that I think might draw further attention to me, even if it's what I normally feel most comfortable wearing. Instead I cover my breasts with a protective armour like I am going out to battle.

I try different techniques for dealing with them. Lately I have just been saying absolutely nothing, quashing my natural tendency to curtsey and be polite when someone addresses me. A boy I passed the other day leered at me and said "bonjour", letting escape some further opinions on my body and I didn't respond, forgetting the incident within a nano second.

But sure enough, further down the road, at the fruit market as I was squeezing a melon to determine its ripeness, I felt his hot tobacco breath against my ear and my pursuer said:

Vous etes très timide où vous ne parlez pas Francais?

For him the only possible reasons I might not want to speak to him are because I am shy or because I can't speak French!

Forced into a response by his insistent proximity I said: "non, c'est plutot que je ne veux pas trop parler avec vous".

After my fairly benign rejection he started to spit derogatory remarks at me, so what started out as his praise for the beauty of my face which apparently he believed could launch a 1000 ships or at least a supermarket brand of perfume, ended with him placing a curse upon my kennel. You hardly want to go behind the bins with someone as fickle as that!

One unconscious `technique' that did seem to work the other night was when I went to the Australian bar to watch the football. Havi was working, so in a last minute decision to watch the match I slipped into the bar on my own.

I arrived at the bar a little bit early, found a seat and started reading my book.

Even though I was holding the book up to my face like a pair of sunglasses to protect me from the radar of lone boyz, a boy broke off from the stools at the bar and started dancing about in my personal space, throwing questions at me.

I toyed around with the idea that perhaps it was just a matesy thing, we're both here to watch the match, we can talk strategy and tactics. But his opening: "Where are you from? Australia? Oh welcome Australia!", followed by his disappointed look when he found out i've been living here for more than three years (less chance that I think he is exotic) and his fly-ridden comments about my beauty were less than promising.

When the match started I was so transfixed I completely forgot he was there -although I vaguely remember a voice at my ear attempting to tenderly explain the foreplay.

At half time, when I removed my eyes from the screen, he excused himself promising to be back soon - and he never came back!

I looked down at my book which was opened up to the chapter entitled "Pussy Power" and reflected on how here I was, a girl alone in a bar not holding on to her boyfriend's hand and asking questions like: "oh what happens if the goalkeeper gets a red card, do they have to play without a goalkeeper?" (admittedly a question I asked H yesterday while holding his hand) but a girl genuinely interested in the match on her own terms. Perhaps because this boy had a chance to put me in context: to see beyond my meat, to see that I was an independent character who reads about the power of the pussy and has opinions on football, he realised he could not objectify me, got scared and ran away. Perhaps my show of independence was a strength not to be reckoned with.

Of course there may be any other number of reasons why he left - perhaps he thought it was pas la peine to wait until the end of the match and go through the rigmarole of harrassing me and that it would be much quicker to go to a peep show up the road.

This reminds me also of something that happened to me in Sydney quite a long time ago. A boy on the street came running after me and gave me some worn out and creased line, accompanied by an old piece of paper with his cell phone number.

Before I had the chance to say anything, he was running off. So I flipped open my phone and rang him straight away:


"Hi" (suspiciously, out of breath) "Who is this?"

"The girl on the street who you just gave your phone number too!"

Alarmed, shocked, stuttering: "Oh I didn't expect this..."

"But you gave me your phone number ya dingbat"

"You're not a crazy stalker are you?"

He couldn't believe that I'd actually called him so he started questioning my sanity, which says something about the success rate of boyz in the street and how well they actually cope when the woman starts to act upon them.

Of course after the initial shock that i'd actually phoned him wore off and he was safely hidden behind some bush he started to get all cock-sure again. So I made some some polite excuse about having a husband and an old dog to feed and rang off.