Saturday, December 30, 2006

In it for the long haul

Once upon a time a dilettante English lad smuggled a sentence or two about everything in his carry-on luggage and sat next to me on a flight from Sydney to Japan and didn't stop talking. He then nabbed the room next to me in the airport hotel in Tokyo so he could tap codes on my wall overnight - waited for me in the hotel breakfast room so that he could bag the seat next to me on the plane from Japan to London - and chewed my ears off followed by the rest of my body fat so that by the end of the flight I was a pile of bones. Ever since then I always try to avoid the long maul.

When I take my seat on the plane for a long haul flight I’m always really careful to avoid saying a word or making eye contact with the person next to me. The first few minutes may well determine your relationship for the rest of the flight and an unplanned greeting, a random question, may lead to twenty-two or so hours of conversation.

So now invariably I find myself seated next to a stranger whose origins and life journey I can only guess through quiet clues for the nine or so hours between Sydney and Asia and then the thirteen or so hours between Asia and Paris. It's usually only in the last five minutes when we’ve lived, landed, watched each other’s personal tv, and smelt each other’s food left to stagnate in open, sleeping mouths, that I dare open the lines of communication: where are you from? Oh you were visiting your son in Sydney – bon bon – ok, Bonne Fête. Saved from swapping travel tips and becoming penpals with her son.

For my latest long haul flights I was lucky to escape the casse-pieds, and except for one guy placed next to me on the Sydney to Hong Kong flight with wormish tendencies and toothless baked otter breath, I was left alone. I don’t know how anyone can speak, or drink alcohol, on planes. I become so dehydrated that my voice dries up.

I recall one particulary youthful flight from London to Dehli where everyone was completely trashed on bloody marys, changing seats and swapping sacred cow stories, and all cheered and vomited vibrantly when the plane landed. I sometimes feel compelled to applaud. After feeling vulnerable in the sky for so long, the spectacular landing in Paris the other day on an invisible fog swamped runway was the dramatic culmination of hours and hours of awakeness, and I clapped politely with the rest of the voyagers.

I can’t sleep on planes. I get weird on the long haul. Watching movement. This time around I watched In the Mood for Love four times, even though I’d seen it before. I watched it in different ways: first with its haunting music, then with the sound down and my ipod playing Bowie tracks with one particularly cringing moment when Little China Girl came on. Then dubbed in German. Then with no sound at all so that its deep colours jabbed at my eyes and I wanted to scream out: This is the greatest film ever made!

During the first nine hours I decided that life was all about being wild and I’m just going to live a party girl life, late nights and lost days. I swapped planes in Hongkong and was tempted from the airport window to disappear into the polluted mist - there's something incredibly romantic about the early morning mountains of Honkers (as it is affectionately dubbed by long haul Aussies). The last time I actually left Hongkong airport was when I was four years old and living there, streaming down back alleyways with my mother when I suddenly disappeared. She found me minutes after, nabbed by a sabre-toothed man who wanted to sell me his rugs, over estimating the buying power of a western four year old.

Back on the plane as the clock sweated out the hours and I could count the drip drop of the seconds as the plane left Asia behind, my condition deteriorated. Correspondingly I lost interest in being a party girl and decided life was all about quiet nights in a bath, combing my hair, general personal hygiene and food that wasn’t laced in aeroplane sauce.

On the screen before me I watched the plane follow a well dug path between Sydney and Paris. After we'd passed over Tashkent I started to feel like I was on the home run, and once on Russian territory my usual worries surfaced, inspired by memory clippings about planes accidently shot down. Out of Russia, ticking places off one by one over the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, Hamburg - where we could make an emergency landing if necessary - and there she is: Paris.

No real emotions about seeing Paris again. No flutter of I'm back home. As I said to a friend when he asked me last week how does it feel to be back in Sydney? It’s like I’ve lived here all my life and like I’ve never lived here before and the two cancel each other out so that in the end I just feel nothing.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Your Paris

The lifestory of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes had enough smashing and crashing together of love, tragedy and good poetry to keep me interested for many years so it wasn't too surprising that last night I decided to watch the dvd of the film Sylvia. Gwyneth Paltrow, with her penchant for English dinner parties as opposed to American discussions about work and money around a table full of food, was appropriately cast as the expatriate American poet Sylvia Plath, reciting, writing and chewing on poetry in the bars of Cambridge, in London and under the thatched rooves of the English countryside. Daniel Craig's blossoming muscles and dyed black hair made him a passable version of Sylvia's big, dark, hunky boy, Ted Hughes.

But the film was a series of plots points (boy meets girl, boy and girl write poetry but girl has writer's block whereas boy wins prizes, relationship falls apart, girl writes good poetry, girl kills herself) strung together to create little more than a string of fake emotions, egged on by overly romantic music. The film was lacking in genuine dialogue between Sylvia and Ted, and if we hadn't already read all her diaries and all the biographies about them we might be wondering why everyone in the film was saying they had a love like no other (although in one scene "Gwyneth" did make "Daniel Craig" a full English breakfast after she suspected he had probably been cheating on her, so I guess that's real love).

More disappointing was that although the title of the film is Sylvia as opposed to Sylvia and Ted, the film begins with the meeting between Sylvia and Ted rather than with Sylvia's previous life in the US. As if to say that Sylvia's life was nothing without Ted, whether as her husband or eventually her betrayer.

The good that did come out of watching this film is that I revisited Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters, the organ-bursting poems that he addressed to Sylvia for 25 years after her death, and I came across the poem entitled "Your Paris". Bearing in mind he was referring to a time when they visited Paris about ten years after the Second World War, I'll quote what he says of Sylvia:

"Your Paris, I thought was American
I wanted to humour you
When you stepped in a shatter of exclamations,
Out of the Hotel des Deux Continents
Through frame after frame,
Street after street, of Impressionist paintings"

and of himself

"My Paris
Was only just not German. The capital
Of the Occupation and old nightmare
I read each bullet scar in the Quai stonework
With an eerie familiar feeling"

This got me thinking about something I wrote in my old blog about everyone having their own version of Paris:

When friends and family come to visit me in Paris, they each lead me somewhere new, giving me their customised Paris.

My father's Paris is wartime Paris. Part of the reason for this might be that his uncle was killed during the First World War, buried in a stark field adorned with a practical cross, somewhere in Normandy. With my father we visit Les Invalides, La Musee de La Resistance, the Memorial of the Shoah. We stop for any plaque that pronounces someone's cause of death as war, and we scrutinise the streets for tombs of unknown soldiers that he might recognise.

And then I thought about how my Paris is constantly changing. In the four years I've lived here the quartier that energises me continues to shift, the people and places I frequent form and re-form. Endless taxies have transmogrified and become walks on blisters. I plan to write a series on some of my Parises, but for now I'm just going to post below a couple of pieces about Paris from my old blog, which I think belong here.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Paris on a stick

The first time I ever visited Paris was in 1995 as part of a couple of smudged and tatty pages of the Big Book of Pinochiette in Europe. Before arriving my head was a-mess with half-formed expectations for which I was mainly
indebted to Polanski’s Frantic (with my usual problems distinguishing between reality and fiction): yes, in Paris there would be intrigue and leather clad women slipping around on the roof tops. I’d also tucked my head in to protect myself from the derisory blows I was to expect from waiters as outlined in National Lampoons European Vacation.

In the end I’m not sure what Paris was really like because I tucked my head so far into
my book that I couldn’t get it out again, but it did seem that the waiters were talking
about boring things like café and soufflé and not the size of my nose or about me being a big-breasted and clumsy anglo saxon.

One night I was rushed to a hospital with a fit of homesickness. At the hospital I was accosted by one of the many drunks that the French police, out on a law enforcement binge, had slapped around with remnants of the napoleonic code and rounded up for blood testing. On learning that I was Australian he got down on his knees and apologised on behalf of the government of France, and in particular Jacques Chirac, for the bombs: "Oh Australienne we are very very sorry about the bombs". Lets not forget that this was 1995 during the period when France was conducting nuclear tests at Moruroa atoll in the pacific ocean and Australians were penning all kinds of catchy ditties against the French Government's actions.

The second time I visited Paris was in 2001 and this trip was directed by French, who was responsible for both the production and lighting. This was just a week after I met him and therefore a weekend which was pregnant with the possibility of being lip-bashingly romantic.

Once on the eurostar I was satisfied when I looked at our reflection in the window to see what a winningly handsome couple we made, but without skipping a beat French produced an eye mask and earplugs. At first I giggled politely at what I saw as French’s outlandish humour but soon realised he was for real and that he was planning on sleeping for the three hour journey. Once more I was going to find myself speeding in to Paris with my head in a book.

We stayed in the apartment of one of his friends, with sweeping views across the cemetery of Montmarte. French gave it his best shot to steer me from "wow" to "wow" in a 24 hour tour of Paris and I felt a bit like Jenny in that advertisement they show at the cinema where our representative anglo opens her eyes a notch wider at every suggestion from her romantic frenchman who tells her all the wonders he is going to show her in Paris, including fairyfloss in the shape of the Tour Eiffel (proof that advertising is wasted on me in that while I can remember the ad having seen it a billion times I have no idea what product they are advertising).

I was a bit worried about the party we were going to “make” that night with his French friends. I was expecting all the girls to be dressed in tight red dresses and look like Natasha Kinski and I was simultaneously relieved and alarmed to see I’d fallen in to the hole of what seemed to be the football jersey crowd who favoured looking like you are leaving rather than arriving.

After making the usual polite conversation about kangaroos and Crocodile Dundee I was pleased to see that, rather than sipping daintily on shandies, everyone got completely wrecked on properly proofed alcohol and danced all night. It was when we stumbled out into the pink in the wee small hours of the morning that I had my first feelings of genuine affection towards Paris. In Nabakov’s autobiography Speak, Memory he talks about how he associates places with colours. This is something I’ve always done too. While Sydney is a definite mustard yellow and London is as grey as old socks, Paris is for me the sugary pink of fairy floss or the equally poetic French way of saying it: la barbe à papa.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Unhappiness is a funny thing

Even if you haven't read all of Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu and haven't had the adulterated pleasure of reaching the final volume - where everything hots up, where sexuality bubbles and flows, and everyone comes out of the closet, I'm sure you know all about the madeleine scene at the beginning of the book.

In this scene Proust (or M as he likes to call himself) dips a madeleine into his tea before eating it, and this action, and the ensuing flavour of the soggy madeleine, transports him back to his childhood. Involuntary memories are triggered:

The taste was that of the little piece of madeleine which on Sunday mornings at Combray … when I went to say good morning to her in her bedroom, my aunt Leonie used to give me, dipping it first in her own cup of tea or tisane …. and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and garden alike, from my cup of tea.

I had a similar experience with my morning coffee the other day. With sleep-infested eyes and a hangover from allergy-combating tablets, I wasn't paying my normal meticulous attention to detail when I fired up my Delonghi coffee maker. I could see the resulting coffee was not up to my usual standard but I was too bleary-bodied to care.

The coffee was hot milk. Weak as Larry on a weak day. I was suddenly transported back to when I first moved to Paris and I didn't have my Delonghi, when I had no choice but to start my days with the café crème they dish up in Paris cafes, like drinking milk that's been out in the sun too long and stirred by the cat's tongue.

This was a time when I was lack lustre. When I was out of step. When my colour scheme was all wrong. With my mind's eye I see a grey-faced girl who ate without appetite, stuffed herself with madeleines to try and fill an undetected void. I'd spend hours in the department stores buying badly fitting garments with bows in the wrong places that now lie in a heap somewhere in my wardobe, nothing but nests for locusts.

The funny thing is that at the time I didn't recognise I was unhappy, at least not consciously. It's only when I sip weak coffee and remember this period that I realise that I was dejected. At the time I think I was fooled because everything was ostensibly in place to be happy. I was living in Europe with a completely new climate, landscapes and crannies to explore. I had enough money so that I only needed to work sporadically and I was free to spend the rest of the time shopping, sitting in cafes and searching for friends online.

My hair started to fall out and I was convinced it was a sinister force, a curse had been placed upon the house of Pinochiette. The doctor ruled this out and diagnosed stress. "I'm not stressed!" I argued with him. How can I be stressed when I have absolutely nothing to worry about? I said, kindly pointing him in the direction of various fatal diseases he might want to check my symptoms against. But he was unyielding and a couple of doctors later I had to ask myself: am I stressed? am I unhappy?

Parc Monceau reminds me of my recovery period. Admittedly it was during the spring time that I used to go there, when the sun was bursting out of its socket and the air was filled with the crackle of birds stomping on branches, so this may be one of the reasons why I remember this as a period of re-growth. I stopped shopping and instead I sat in the park and read. I bought a coffee machine and I started the days with a strong coffee.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Notes on noses

It might appear prudent, if not altogether necessary, to commence by vindicating the Nose from the charge of being too ridiculous an organ to be seriously discoursed upon. But this ridiculousness is mere prejudice; intrinsically one part of the face is as worthy as another...
George Jabet, Notes on Noses, 1852

This post has been written due to popular demand.

Although my blog is certainly supported by the physical size of my nose, which enables me to sniff out a good story - not wishing to cut off my nose to spite my face - i'd like to think that my blog is located outside the discipline of nose-ology. I'd like to think that, in fact, my blog tells of the ex-splat adventures of a 30 something (thirties are the new twenties) Australian woman in Paris and beyond and reviews my life (books, films, love and thoughts).

But a quick look at the google searches that have landed people in this blog makes me think otherwise. Just a few examples:

"big greek nose", "big nose actors" "nose keeps growing" "big nose French guy" (I know a few if you want me to introduce you) "big nose cure" "big nose solution" "big nose males" (once again, I can help you with this) "the nose gets bigger as you get older" (yes, it does) "she had a big nose" - yes she did indeed. My nasal history is as follows:

I've been through many phases with my nose. When I was
a sloppy girl of six, the equally sloppy six year old boy whose
arm I used to stroke during dark classroom moments called me
"big nose" to my face (and i'm sure my nose heard).

Then as I grew older no one noticed my nose except me but nevertheless
I kept all my lunch money to save up for a future nose job.
I got super skinny from lack of lunch but I never quite got enough money together
and my nose stayed firmly intact, twitching all over my face.

My nose then disappeared for a while and it was in my early twenties
that it became an object of desire. Boys liked me not DESPITE my nose
but BECAUSE of my nose. Apparently this oversized gadget on my
face was sexy.

In my later twenties my nose became less prominent,
one wouldn't say petite but one wouldn't refer to me as "the girl with the big honker". Now that I am 33 it has suddenly started to grow again.

Unfortunately there is no happy ending to this story so far. I haven't yet saved a bundle of burning cats from a flaming house in the dead of night because I was the first to smell the smoke with my All Mighty Nose.

Lately my memories of childhood are becoming stronger and stronger. I think there is a correlation between this and my ever-growing nose.

It is certainly great to see that people are interested in their own and other people's noses. Recently actresses such as Nicole Kidman have worked towards giving greater exposure to noses: in the re-make of the television series Bewitched she showed us that noses can be not only charming but imaginative, and when she played the role of Virginia Woolf in the film The Hours sporting a largish (i've seen bigger) prosthetic nose, she did much towards raising the profile of noses all over the world.

Eyes get to wear make-up to enhance them, noses just get covered in concealing powder, losing all their shine. And as for the discharge that trickles and clogs the nose, this is one of the last taboos. Provocative modern art has been known to use real-life faeces, but where is the public display of good old-fashioned snot? Isn't snot art too? No, apparently it is best quietly banished to the tissue and discreetly discarded. Even the nose's power as a musical instrument has now been forgotten, with the act of blowing the nose no longer an art form. I refer to a passage in Le Mesangere's Le Voyageur de Paris:

"Some years ago people made an art of blowing the nose. One imitated the sound of a trumpet, another the screech of a cat. Perfection lay in neither making too much noise or too little"

People are always writing songs for the eyes of their beloved, or include "nice eyes" as what they look for in a love match, but what about the nose?

George Jabet, although not known for his modern views on sex and race, describes some different types of noses. There is, for example, the straight nose which is supposed to denote a refined or artistic personality. And apparently for women the power of this nose might reveal itself in artistic needlework! [Oh Jabet, you are such a card.] Then there is the hawk nose, the self-evident cogitative, the snub and the celestial noses...but he fails to talk about the whopping big bunger of a nose and what kinds of qualities we can expect from someone equipped with one of these.

And it seems that you lot are not just curious about noses, you want to know about big noses and how to cure them. Does size matter? Today's society certainly seems to favour regular features and the smaller nose, but that's just the current fashion. For example, back in Marie-Antoinette's day the aquiline nose was still considered socially acceptable. And you know, fashion is retrospective.

Aside from the obvious "cures" such as plastic surgery, nose-binding at birth and frying the wing of a bat during the witching hour, there is no cure! So I'll leave you with these encouraging words from the biggie of the big noses, Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac:

A great [that is HUGE] nose indicates a great man [And woman of course]
Genius, courteous, intellectual
Virile, courageous