NOTE: I wrote this a few years ago, when Matilda was younger and before I published any books. Because clearly, publishing books makes you the High Priestess of Regal Glamour.
Whenever I get upset with myself, the hurrying-around doing dull errands, the mess in the house, the slopped-together meals of cereal on the couch, the ugly clothes I wear constantly, I beat myself with a stick I like to call “Life In Paris.”
Let’s apply this concept.
Last week, we went out to eat at Ember’s. My daughter Matilda wanted pancakes and my husband and I were too tired/lazy to make them at home. (Also, she wanted bacon and we had no bacon.) After we ate our crappy meal at Ember’s, which was actually quite delicious, we went home and I put on a pair of clean pajama pants and went to bed in the shirt I wore today.
When I woke up, I put on a bra under my shirt I had slept in and replaced the pajama pants with the jeans I’d wore the previous day. I splashed water on my face and brushed my teeth. Then I hustled Matilda through dressing and breakfast (whole wheat English muffin with rhubarb-strawberry jam and a shot of blueberry juice). Then I dumped her and the rest of the kids on our block at school and burned rubber over to the grocery, wearing no make-up, forgetting the reusable bags, to return milk bottles* and get more milk for my coffee.
Now, what’s wrong with all of that, you say? I’ve had that morning often myself, you think.
Enter the Life In Paris. If I were having my Life in Paris, I would not take my child to Ember’s to eat pancakes. In Paris, we have crepes, which I make with total and complete magnanimity, as I’m a Parisian woman! Just as it’s in my nature to fuck an older, uglier man who is shorter than me, so is making crepes without breaking a sweat.
In Paris, I would not leave the house wearing a shirt that’s been recycled continuously in three different instances. I would not leave the house without styling my hair or wearing make-up.** I would not wear junky, flat-bottomed snow boots and ill-fitting, thrice-worn denim.
Furthermore, in Paris I would not drive to some ugly, all-purpose grocery store where the food is bland and indistinct and the counter man in the meat department has no more expertise in meat than the $7 bucks-an-hour cashier. No, in Paris, I would market at individual shops that offered premium food know-how – fromagerie, patisserie, charcuterie, boulangerie – and after learning about the provenance of my purchases, I would put on my Chanel sunglasses, exit the store and clack down cobblestone streets in heels. My feet would not blister or ache. I would buy fruits from a vendor every day. I would buy my paper from a gnarled old man in a newstand and peruse it while I nibbled on a pan au chocolat. Because there’s no way I would not have coffee at home with a plastic coffee maker.
Non, belles amies! I would be having cafe au lait in a charming bistro before I went to work at my glamourous job at a publishing house. I would be wearing a frilly silk blouse with lots of lovely necklaces. I would have jewelry custom-made that didn’t come from a thrift store. And of course, I wouldn’t be fat. My bra and panties would match. My daughter would toddle off to school on a bus – such lovely public transport! – and I would meet her at home for a lunch of dressed greens and roast duck.
Isn’t Life in Paris is beautiful? Life in Paris doesn’t involve scraping one’s windshield, or picking up dog shit with a shovel in the backyard. Life in Paris features shoes with smart heels, and clothing made of silk and wool. No synthetics allowed in Paris! Life in Paris doesn’t include a trip to the health club to stand on a machine for a requisite 45 minutes to remove flab. In Paris, we flutter over long, picturesque sidewalks, holding our berets to our heads, as we jet to meet our lovers in bistros in the rain! This type of exercise isn’t labeled such. It doesn’t exert, you see. Besides, should your body have the audacity to store adipose, which I don’t believe is actually possible within the 16th arrondissement, such tasteless flab would be run out on a rail by a mob holding stalks of artichokes.
Why I let this stick abuse me so, I don’t know. I went to France on my honeymoon, with a phrasebook and not much else. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I didn’t like France very much at all. We drove from north to south, in a rented car, going down the autoroute at high speeds only to be stalled out by our lack of language skills in small towns. Adrian found the whole place in need of some spackle.
“It’s like they rebuilt everything that got destroyed in World War II,” he said, as we drove through a cloverleaf in some small town with too many vowels and x’s in the name. “But they only rebuilt it once.”
In France, I could mimic my phrasebook and get a response that sounded like someone sucking on marshmallows. About all the French I have left from that puny guidebook has been used in this essay. All of this left me feeling like France is some club I can’t be a member of – is that what life is all about? About letting junior-high notions of exclusivity ruin your day? I can’t help it that I’m provincial and my province doesn’t have lavender fields or couture houses. We have a local foodshed, but only for 5 months of the year. The rest of the time, life here is slogging through snow muck up to one’s ankles or dragging a large plastic garbage bin to the curb at 9:30 at night or picking around superstores with an oversize shopping cart or watching pay-per-view movies versus hoofing it to the art cinema. Anais Nin couldn’t land in my life and grab the reins. There are not enough satin lampshades or casks of wine in the cellar or opportunities to watch burlesque shows.
Maybe I just need a Life In Akron, Ohio stick? Maybe I don’t need a stick at all?
*Back then I used to buy milk in reuseable bottles but our grocery doesn’t carry that brand anymore. Of course it doesn’t.
**I don’t do this anymore. I put on make-up because I’m a vain motherfucking 40-year-old.