Ramblings: August in France

Amidst a time when a lot is going on in my life, and where there is a lot of uncertainty in the world, I have chosen to write a piece based on a nostalgic feeling I had the other day while I was eating toast with Kiri cheese on it, to remember my favourite month in France, the month where everything seemed to slow down and, contrarily to nature, nights seemed longer and days shorter.

August was always my favourite time in France, especially in Grenoble. The city would empty itself of people, running away to long holidays in the south by the sea, or into the mountains where the haze of city pollution would disappear, making way for fresh air and blue, blue skies. The weather was always hot, often muggy, the humidity broken up by spectacular thunderstorms that would throw bolts of lightning through the sky, sometimes right to the ground in front of you, rain would pour for an hour and then before you knew it everything was clean and clear and silent again. For a few days. Afternoons were for drinking coffee and/or cold pints of beer “en terrasse” of a bar somewhere in Place du Trib, or the Champollion or L’Excalibur if we are talking many many years ago. Mornings were for sleeping and/or working, watching the news and eating a light lunch, napping for a few hours in the heat with the shutters closed. Reading books and writing poems and stories, listening to music and watching series on TV until it was time to go out and grab coffees and beers and see what the night had to bring us. 

There were the days of lying by the pool in the hot sun, or hiking up the mountains to the cooler air, or just driving (or walking) up to the Bastille and having a picnic or barbeque up there, looking over the city and waiting for night to fall and the stars to light up the sky. There were days of hiding in darkened rooms, waiting for the day to go away, listening to Type O Negative and Sisters of Mercy and The Cure with some Slayer thrown in there, wondering what kind of parties the night would bring. There were afternoons spent at friends’ apartments, eating late lunches of pasta and vegetables and cheese and yogurt and fruit, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee, chatting about life and relationships, love and anger, and where we would be in 10 years time. There were afternoons spent in my apartment with my best male friend, watching American crime series and talking about how we were going to change our lives and go away somewhere special and start over. There were those afternoons when we would go and watch movies at the cinema, just to get away from the stifling heat and sit in the cool of the air conditioning.

And then there were those August nights, mostly spent going from one bar to another, to someone’s apartment, to some area outside in the city, by a statue or a fountain, in a square, surrounded by other people enjoying the summer night. We would grab bottles of wine and beer, and sit in different spots around the city, daring ourselves to get up to some kind of mischief, looking for parties in different apartments, ending up dancing the night away at the Dock or the Mark XIII, or just standing on the bridge over the Isère, feeling the light movement under your feet and singing to the breeze. I remember one night, during one of the infamous electrical storms, just after watching The Craft with a friend, standing on the steps of the St Louis church across from the FNAC, watching the lightning hit the ground right in front of us, and instead of feeling scared, just feeling euphoric. Nights that would end at 5 or 6am, when the sun would start rising over the mountain tops, and the air would feel fresh and clean for about 10 minutes until the heat and the pollution would kick in again. 

I miss those afternoons where everything would shut down for three hours after lunch, where you could walk around in silence and just hear the tram bells ring from time to time and some cars drive by. I miss those days of eating warm bread just out of the oven, nabbed from the still-closed boulangeries at 5am, I miss those days when it felt like nothing else really mattered and when there were no real responsibilities, well not until September started again, and with it school and university and jobs and real life. And so now, until September starts in a few days, I will continue to dream of August nights in Grenoble, of real French food, of time spent with friends of long ago, who are still friends of today, of cheap wine and laughs and mountains and magnificent thunderstorms, of dubbed TV series and of music that I still love today…

The Adventures of Luna

I always thought that she would outlive us all. Stupidly maybe, seeing as she really was only a cat, and the average lifespan of a domestic indoor cat ranges from 12 to 15 years. But Luna was more than your average cat, and always seemed timeless, living through more than some human beings live through in their lives. She was born in some place that only she knew about, abandoned by her mother and left, obviously the runt of the litter, to die alone. She was found by a friend of mine’s mother, and placed in an incubator. Thirteen years ago I received a phone call from my friend saying he had found a tiny black cat with green eyes, and would I like to meet her… Three hours later I brought my little Luna home to the apartment I shared with my best friend Maud in Grenoble. I had to feed her kitty milk from a little bottle and teach her how to eat. I had to teach her how to find and use her litter tray and during the first few days I had to try to coax her out of the most impossible hiding places (under the stove being one example). On the third night I had nearly given up hope that she would ever come out, and I switched my bedroom light off and went to bed. Four minutes later she crept into my room, snuggled on my arm and from that moment in time it really was unconditional love.

She never really learnt how to meow, but purred louder than most cats, and would even purr in her sleep, as long as she was next to me. As she grew she would become more and more adventurous (walking along the railing of my fifth floor balcony or finding a way on to the roof to chase birds for example).  When I took her to the vet to get all of her vaccinations she decided he was in good need of a scratch and that the hiding spot behind his computer was a better place than his examination table (and she was right, he was an asshole anyway). Whenever I was sad or depressed she would curl up on my lap and stare at me until I smiled. We would dance around my apartment to the Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus, and she would sit with me and my friends while we got drunk listening to Cure records in my living room. 

Then I decided that I was quite over living in France for a while. My MA had been completed, all of my family was either in California or England, and I needed time away from everything. So I shipped all of my belongings over to my mum’s place in California, got Luna a good travel case and set off for the US. I bawled my eyes out at Charles de Gaulle airport when I had to hand her over at check-in, and didn’t sleep a wink during the 11 hour flight, thinking that she had died in the bottom of the plane. I made a vow that if she ever flew again she would be with me in the cabin. Of course she made it over alive, a little shaken up and a little annoyed at me for abandoning her, but she settled in very well in the house in California. She finally had the chance to explore the great outside, fighting with cats twice her size, at one time challenging a huge black and white snake that appeared in our back yard (at that moment I forgot my own fear of snakes and rushed out to grab her away from what could have been her death). She met up with her old friend and foe, Fury, my sister’s dog, and let herself be chased around the house until they both got bored of it and decided to live together peacefully by mainly ignoring each other. Although there were many times that I found her hiding on the stairs, waiting to catch Fury out with a hiss and a playful paw punch on her way down them.

In June of 2003 I had to leave the US for at least a year or risk being deported and not allowed back into the country. Not knowing where to go I decided to take up my aunt in Israel’s offer, and visit her for at least 3 months, and help her with her kids. I ended up staying there for over a year, and left Luna with my mum, knowing full well that she would be well looked after (although it broke my heart to leave her). She ended up becoming more aloof, going out into the wild for a few days on end, only coming back when she was hungry and in need of a good rest before her next adventure. Once I was back in California she hardly left the house again. By this time she had acquired a new enemy in the house, in the form of another cat called Muffin, an abandoned cat my mum and brother had adopted. While Luna had always held her own against other cats, Muffin proved to be another story. They hated each other from day one, and even when we tried all the tricks to get them to accept each other they didn’t. While Luna had been fine with Ludwig, her old friend in France (apart from the time that she hit him on the head with her paw, after that they were always together, cuddled up on my bed or chasing birds and flies), she never became friends with Muffin. In any case, Fury realised that she now had a more evil enemy in Muffin, and bonded with Luna. 

And then I had to leave once again. With no visa and no ability to work in the US I had to go back to Europe, this time to England, the one country where at the time all pets needed to be quarantined for 6 months on entry. There was no way I was subjecting her to that, so I left her in California once again. In the ten months I was in England I came back to visit once, for two weeks. The day before I arrived she came home for some food, but then disappeared. After two days I put posters up around the neighbourhood and on day three got a call saying that Luna was running around a backyard. I ran out, still in my pyjamas and flip flops and saw the little monster running through the green belt. She stopped when I called her name, and then ran off. I went home, saddened, until my sister called out to me to say that Luna was waiting patiently by the back door. For the rest of my stay she did not leave my side, only to go back to her adventures of neighbourhood cat queen when I left.

A few months later, Luna went away on another adventure, and stayed away so long that she had my mum worried. She finally crawled back home, dragging one of her back legs behind her. The vet ran tests and x-rays and the poor thing had severely torn ligaments in her back leg, with three options: amputation, surgery or a cast for a few months to see if she would heal naturally. While the vet kept pushing for amputation, after consulting with me my mum decided to go with the cast option. A few months later her leg was healed and she was able to jump up and down on things. At that point I finally had a visa to work in the States (albeit New York and not California) and I flew her back with me after spending Christmas with my family. She came to live with me in my tiny one bedroom apartment in Spanish Harlem, killed the mouse that had been living in the couch (the one I couldn’t kill because I hate mouse traps and refused to use poison because I knew Luna was going to be living there). From that moment onwards she never left me again. We moved to an even smaller apartment in the West Village, where she was more than happy to give up her outdoor adventures and stay inside, sleeping on my bed and waiting for me to get home from work or from my own adventures on the Lower East Side. 

A few years later we moved to a much bigger apartment in Bushwick, where she would wait for me to get home from work from her perfect spot on the couch from where she could watch the front door at all times. Her cat friend Ophelia would sometimes come to visit, and many friends would come over to cuddle her and listen to her purr. She loved people more than other animals, although I was always her first choice when it came to cuddling. My roommate once commented that it was as if she wanted to become part of me, never leaving my side and following me wherever I went, even waiting outside of the bathroom door while I showered. She never failed to jump on my bed and sleep next to me every night, even when she was annoyed at me for not coming home or for staying out too late. Her fur went from black to brown with age, but her eyes remained pure green, unless she was in a playful mood and they would turn yellow. She was always tiny, and put a little bit of weight on with age, but never had a weight problem that older, less active cats often experience. She never overate, always eating whenever she was hungry, and spent many a day sitting on the windowsill, watching the world go buy. We would always still dance to music together, and she would sit on my desk while I was writing, watching me put all of the thoughts and images that travelled through my head into words on paper. When my roommate adopted a dog (the lovely pitbull Doyle) they became fast (but secret) friends. I’m sure Luna was the only one to know Doyle’s past, his life before he came to live with us, and she knew that all he wanted was peace, as did she. I sometimes found them nearly curled up together on the couch, and they would touch noses in front of us on occasion. I’m glad she had a friend like Doyle in the last year of her life.

She never seemed to be unhappy, and I don’t think she suffered any illness or pain. One day I woke up and found that she had become an old lady practically overnight, the next day came home from work and she was gone, peacefully in her sleep. However heartbroken I still am, and still will be for a while, for the past 13 years I have had the sweetest, cutest, funniest and smartest little creature in my life, and I also know that I gave her a life that she probably wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t have adopted her. And nothing can take all of those memories away. I know that for a while I will still automatically check to see if her food and water bowls are full before I leave the house (and therefore leave the house with tears in my eyes), and also expect her to be at home waiting for me when I get in. Every morning I reach out for her when I wake up and then realize that she won’t be there or coming back. One day I will search for another cat to live with me, but for the time being I am going to learn to live without the little being who came everywhere with me.
However heartbreaking it is to lose a pet, the amount of love and joy they bring into a household makes it worth it all. 

The adventures of Luna… Two countries, two states, three apartments in NYC, two hurricanes, one near death experience (that I know of), many people friends, cat friends and dog friends. The little French cat who was raised in French, and to whom I spoke French to until she passed away. The little monster who peed on my roommates bed when she was pissed off (yes she wasn’t perfect) or who would leave me lovely fur balls as presents. The baby cat who continued to think I was her mother until her last day. I imagine that she is running around somewhere with Bella and all of the other pets that I have lost in my life, waiting for me to join her at some point in time.

Photography and Nostalgia: Scanned Pictures - 1993 to 2004

Me, Grenoble 1998Auntie Dot in Melton 1994Zoe in Manton 1994Dylan in Loughborough 1994Koss and me, Oakham 1994Koss and Zoe, Oakham 1994
Zoe, Simon and Koss, Manton 1994My room, Sassenage 1994School courtyard, Grenoble 1994Rebecca, Champollion 1994Alice and me, Sassenage 1994Me and Karli, Sassenage 1994
Me, Grenoble 1995Worshipping the Docs, Grenoble 1995Rebecca, Grenoble 1995Cannibal, Pascal, me Grenoble 1995Andrew, Grenoble 1995Goth Jade, Grenoble 1995
Pascal, Grenoble 1995Shannon, Grenoble 1995Cannibal Corpse back patch, Grenoble 1995Spontaneous mosh pit, Grenoble 1995Karli in my Sepultura t-shirt, Grenoble 1995South of France, 1994
Scanned Pictures - 1993 to 2005, a set on Flickr.

A few months ago I purchased an amazing little tool called the Wolverine Photo Scanner (see link below for more details if you are interested). The tool scans negatives and slides into .jpg format photos that you can then load onto your computer and post online. So for the past few months I have been scanning all of the negatives I have managed to save over the years and over the multiple moves from country to country and apartment to apartment. I finally finished uploading and labeling them all this week as I had a bit more downtime than usual, with it being Christmas and all.

The photos are a mix of moments in time, taken between 1993 and 2004, mainly of people and places in my life at the time. The amount of nostalgia felt while labeling all of the photos was intense, as there are moments that I had forgotten about, and moments that I will never forget as long as I live. Some people come and go over time, others remain around, however far away you may live from each other and however many months pass between conversations. The photos are all mixed up, as I didn’t have the heart to sort them by year, so you may find an image from 1994 in our old house in Sassenage, France right next to one of me and my volunteer friends in Kibbutz Evron in Israel in 2003. I feel as if this entire set is a snapshot of a decade and of the changes and non-changes that may have happened over those years. I thought about making a playlist to accompany the set, but it would have taken many hours and would have been too long to accomplish before the end of the year. Maybe a project for 2013?

Before I post an obligatory piece about 2012, I felt a real, old-school nostalgia piece was needed, not only because I feel that it helps me to collect all these images in one place, but also because a lot of my friends are probably going to appreciate seeing these, especially as at the time none of us had cell phones and cell phone cameras, and I was usually the only one who would take photos during our random nights and days out…

Take care of all your memories. For you cannot relive them. Bob Dylan

From our house in Sassenage, through the apartment in Ile Verte, Grenoble right through to my first apartment alone with my best friend and roommate Maud, my home was always the main meet-up place and place to hang out for me and my friends over the years. Cooking up pots of pasta and sauce and smoking hash in the Ile Verte, listening to metal into the early hours before going out to explore the huge graveyard down the street; making mulled wine and listening to The Cure on vinyl at our place on the 5th floor at 5 Rue Crépu in Grenoble; standing on the balcony and belting out parts of Mozart’s Don Giovanni to our neighbours at 4am; playing tarot around the table talking about the world and how we could change it…

Walking through the streets of Grenoble with bottles of wine in our hands; sitting on the steps of the FNAC and the church waiting for something to happen. Trips up to the Bastille and nights spent drinking in bars until we were drunk enough to go dance in a club up in the mountains; Paris with Maud and dancing to Bauhaus in a basement bar; electro-goth nights in Grenoble and Lyon; Nick Cave in Lyon in 2001 and standing speechless in front of him, because what on earth can you say to someone you adore without sounding like an idiot? Months and months spent on a kibbutz in Israel, making new lifelong friends and drinking cheap Russian vodka, dancing on tables until 5am and getting up at 6am to go to work in the kitchen. Walks and naps on the beach in Nahariya; talks around bonfires and an 8 day trip around Egypt with $150 in my pocket. Visits to my family in Sacramento, California, meeting up with old high school friends and realizing that some things never change. Little Luna cat as a tiny kitten, still the same little Luna as she is today, 12 years older. Working in the pub in Empingham, England; hanging out in the graveyard and talking for hours; walking around Rutland Water and waiting for the next big thing to happen…

There are so many moments I could write about, so many moments I have already written about and made into chapters of a book that I may or may not finish one day, and I love having a visual reference to these moments in time and to the people I shared these moments with. There are about 400 photos in the set, and there are some people and photos missing because I somehow lost the negatives along the way, but the ones I chose and/or found really portray a great view of our lives at the time.

“Memories are what warm you up from the inside. But they're also what tear you apart.” - Haruki Murakami, Kafka on the Shore


Short Story: Wine Days (aka La vie en rosé)

Wine Days (aka La vie en rosé)

Tout seul dans mon placard
Les yeux cernés de noir
A l'abri des regards
Je défie le hasard
Dans ce monde qui n'a ni queue ni tête
Je n'en fais qu'à ma tête
Un mouchoir au creux du pantalon
Je suis chevalier D'Eon – Mylène Farmer, Sans Contrefaçon

“First stop at Hannibal-qui-n’est-pas-Hannibal for the wine, then Place Victor Hugo for Berlioz!”

“It’s been too long; we have so much to tell Berlioz, so much!”

Red wine for the winter days: dark and warm, stains your lips red and leads to a darker and thicker drunken state. Red wine to warm the soul while running around the streets of the town in the cold days, sometimes Port on a rich day, but mostly red wine of low quality, no more than 15 francs a bottle from the usual épicérie on the corner of Les Halles. White wine for the spring and the summer, fresh from the fridge if possible, but it’s not too much of an issue if it’s warm as it’s all going to be gone pretty fast. One bottle for now and another for the bag, as you never know how long of a night it is going to be.

It’s always important to eat before drinking, because you don’t want to get sick, especially if you don’t have much money and are leaning towards the cheaper bottles, or even the plastic bottles of near-vinegar if the finances are severely dire. Bottle opened in hand? Ready to go!

Place Victor Hugo, where our old friend Hector Berlioz resides in the form of an imposing statue, looking over the fountain and the people who walk through on their way elsewhere. This is where the Christmas market is held in the winter and where children jump through the fountain in the summer (as well as the occasion child-adults such as me). Who hasn’t jumped into a fountain and walked home soaking wet but laughing gleefully? Or maybe that is just me…

Mélusine and Marie-Antoinette, off with her head, skipping hand in hand down the old streets of the city, a bottle of wine in each hand and hundreds of ideas and thoughts racing through our mind. Berlioz is the beginning and the end; he listens without judging, never moves and never leaves us. The first bottles are opened at his feet and the race towards l’ivresse commences.

Sometimes in life we are lucky enough to find that perfect friendship that makes you feel free. When I met Mélusine she was shy and hid behind her hair in the corner of the bar. My friends would try to get her to join us, because she was beautiful and sweet, but she would not say more than one or two words at a time, until I gathered her up and took her with me along my own journey on a path I didn’t know existed. We discovered a mutual love for female-fronted punk and grunge bands, strong coffee, wine, 19th century literature and decadence, as well as playing hilarious pranks on men and women who we found annoying, insensitive and stupid. There were many of them around at the time, and they tended to congregate around us and our little group of misfits.

I had grown up with my group of friends, mainly men with a few girls who came and went as time went by. Mélusine appeared out of nowhere and stuck with us, becoming my best friend and favourite companion, someone who I could talk to about things that I couldn’t talk about with the guys. Crushes, love, sadness, fear and loneliness: the topics of misplaced childhood and youth. We were both shy and suffered from low self-esteem alone, but together we thought we could conquer the world, reaching the lowest pits of despair and the highest peaks of happiness together. Mélusine listened to me cry as I comforted her through her darkest days. I listened to her laugh as she held my hand when we skipped through the sunshine, picking daffodils along the way. Did you know that there is a fine for each public city flower picked? We are lucky that we were never caught because we would walk around with bunches and bunches of daffodils in the spring, leaving a trail behind us.

We were like polar opposites physically. Mélusine with her long, blonde hair and green eyes, me with my long, brown hair and dark brown eyes, but we were of the same height and similar skinny builds. We both dressed alike, although Mélusine was more understated than me and liked to hide underneath large layers. Ribbons in our hair and long red nails on fingers covered in fountain pen ink from all the writing we would do. Letters to others, letters to each other, university papers and diary entries were all written by hand in ink. Babes in Toyland in our ears and Fluffy lyrics flying from our mouths when we were angry drunk, Mylène Farmer when we were happy drunk. We liked to sing to Berlioz when we started to feel warm and fuzzy inside, before going on our way towards the adventures of the night.

Si je dois tomber de haut
Que ma chute soit lente
Je n´ai trouvé de repos
Que dans l´indifférence
Pourtant, je voudrais retrouver l´innocence - Mylène Farmer- Désenchantée

Café St Germain and then wine by Berlioz. One bottle finished, the next one opened and then en route pour l’aventure! Every night was different, we never knew where or what the stars would lead us to. Some nights we would roam the streets of the town, looking for parties to crash, other nights we would meet our friends at one of the local hang-outs, some nights we would go to the coureur de jupons apartment and invite everyone we knew to join us and other nights we would sit by the river talking about how much we despised everyone and everything and how life would have been so much better if we had been born in a different century.

“I want to kick that door down and tell them to stop hanging around those awful people. I want to punch that girl in the face and tell her to stop trying to be my friend because I despise everything that she stands for, stupid fucking hippie!!”

“Why do they all hate us so much? What the fuck is wrong with us?? I wish I had enough strength to tell people how I felt. I mean, I wish I could tell HIM how much I love him. All I can do is watch him out of the corner of my eye and listen to you and him talking about natural things and I don’t even dare open my mouth.  I hate myself!”

“Oh darling, stop beating yourself up about this, you know what he is like. He only goes out with girls who he can manipulate into doing what he wants. Those girls are like Rapunzel in their towers, waiting for him to come home after he has been out all night drinking with us. Do you want to be that girl? At least we are free to do whatever we want and say whatever we want… N’est-ce pas?”

No one had cell phones at the time, and we all used to find each other at some point during the night. There were a few spots where we would always end up, usually besides one of the many fountains or statues in the city; or at the barDock for an electro-goth night or at the venue if there was a concert on, smuggling our wine into the venue and drinking it in the toilets. If we found a house or apartment party going on somewhere we would wrangle our way in, pretending we knew one of the people there, make a beeline to the fridge and walk out with any alcohol we could find. The town wasn’t that big, and the center, although full of winding streets, was small enough to find whoever you needed to find, and big enough to hide from those you didn’t want to see. Mélusine and I tended to read each others’ minds, and our first concern was always the welfare of the other. Our friendship was one of such closeness that we could always feel when the other was in difficulty or danger. We loved the same men but never fought over them; we hated the same people and pushed each other to find the biggest and best pranks we could play on people.

I was a wild shy child, alcohol helped me lose the cloak I shrouded myself with and gave me the power to be myself in front of everyone. Alcohol gave Mélusine the force to lose her inability to speak in public and brought out her real personality that you would only see when she was completely comfortable in a group of people. It took her a while but she ended up feeling comfortable with all of us, throwing witty and funny comments out here and there, and surprising the people who had already put her in the “blonde-who-doesn’t-talk” box. I was just completely erratic, sometimes nice and friendly and sweet, other times sad and depressed, other times angry and sarcastic and rebellious. People tried to analyse us, judge us, become friends with us, tag along with us because they were feeling adventurous or talk shit about us because they didn’t dare be us. Most of the time it was Mélusine and me against the world, often with our male counterparts, poets, rebels, musicians, full of ideas and despair, discontented and angsty, wondering when the world would change for us.

Slutkiss girls
Won't you promise her smack?
Is she pretty on the inside?
Is she pretty from the back? – Hole, Pretty On The Inside

Mélusine came from a strict family and would constantly lie to her parents about her whereabouts and her friends. She stayed at my house whenever we went out, as I benefitted from a very free-spirited mother who trusted me to be safe and not to end up in a ditch somewhere, and, however much I drank or however much I smoked, I always ended up home, safe in my bed. We avoided drunken one night stands and we avoided dangerous situations, preferring the company of each other, our bottles of wine, our friends and our songs. There is really nothing to match that slow but steady warm and tingly feeling that starts in your stomach and rises towards your head once you start drinking, and once you start there is no going back… One, two or three bottles and the party is on.

My lie is true, My lie is true
It is I swear to you
My lie is true, My lie is true
It is I swear to you
You don't want to
You don't want to see me crawl
Do you know how hard I try
To never let you see me cry
I seem to have too much control
and now I feel cold – Fluffy, Crawl

“I want to leave this godforsaken city and move to Paris. There is nothing for us here except the deep, dirty waters of the Isere and the unrequited love of the boys who consider us to be just that: female versions of them. At least in Paris we can fade away into the crowd and not have to put up with all of this crap every day.”

“Let’s plan on moving there once we have finished university. We won’t tell anyone, we will just go and find new lives there. A little apartment in Montmartre, jobs in the bars around there, maybe we could sell books by the Seine and meet the loves of our lives there? I’m so bored of this town, nothing ever happens here, no one ever changes and no one ever falls in love with me. Or if they do I don’t know about it, because I’m obviously still single.”

“Dreaming… Dreaming… Dreaming of something else. But is there anything else?”

Every day was filled with written words, every night filled with singing and shouting, laughter and tears. Freedom was easy, but we still felt trapped in the town we had grown up in. Brothers and sisters in happiness and despair, so far but so near. Wine days make everything so much better, and wine nights are full of surprises. La Décadence.

 « Le vin, la moyenne de facilite de partir, partir loin d’aujourd’hui. Tout le monde il est beau, tout le monde il est beau… Le lendemain est moins euphorique, mais il reste toujours le lendemain soir et le soir après etc, etc, etc. Devenir fou ? Nous le sommes déjà… L’alcool aide à libérer nos grains de folie, de les faire voler, voler au-dessus de tout, dans le ciel noir et nuageux. Tout est mieux que la lucidité affreuse. » M.V.

Music: Mylène Farmer

I moved to France in the early summer of 1991, flying from the flat suburbia of Apeldoorn in The Netherlands to the small city of Grenoble, nestled in the valley in the Alps and surrounded by three different mountain ranges (the Vercors, the Chartreuse and the Belledonne). For the first couple of months, while we were looking for a home to rent, we lived in a small unit in a temporary housing building in the suburb of Meylan. Our days were spent getting used to the heat, playing outside in the grass until late in the evening, taking French lessons  and watching French TV in the morning. To our absolute delight there was a whole channel on network TV that seemed to play only music, M6, a bit like MTV but for the French population. There were some weird songs and videos (like the one with the dancing mummy that I used to reenact for my sister, and finally just found online), some terrible ones, some American and/or British ones that I recognised and one that I couldn't get enough of, not only the song itself (even though I could hardly understand a word of it), but also the video, which appealed to my romantic-I live in the land of 19th century literature-13-year old self.

Even though the Mylène Farmer song Désenchantée was actually high in the charts that summer, I am pretty sure the first Mylène Farmer video I saw was for the song Pourvu qu'elles soient douces, a Barry Lyndonesque recreation set in the 18th century. I could however, be completely wrong, because my research tells me that it was censored for TV as it contained nudity and sex. It would have been edited anyway, because the full-length version is about 20 minutes long, and would have never been shown during regular TV hours. So it is possible I am right. I just know that a few of her videos were on regular play during that summer, the two above, and Libertine. The Pourvu qu'elles soient douces video is actually a sequel of the Libertine video, in which Mylène plays the same character (named Libertine). You can pretty much imagine what a young woman named Libertine would get up to amongst a group of debaucherous characters in 18th century France.

I fell in love with the videos. They were mini movies, shocking, beautiful, something straight out of one of the novels I was so obsessed with. It wasn't until a while later that I also fell in love with the music, because I needed to understand the lyrics before I could really appreciate the songs. So dark and intriguing. It was pop music mixed with something a lot darker and artsy, with a voice both fragile and strong at the same time. Over the years I spent in France Mylène Farmer became one of my favourite contemporary French artists. I would forget about her for a while, to fall right back in love with her again, always because of the amazing videos that she put out every time she released a new album.
After dropping out of high school in 1995 I was working as a chambermaid at the Hotel Ibis in the centre of Grenoble and at the time M6 pretty much played the video for California on a loop. In the video Mylène plays both a rich woman with her lover and a street hooker in California. She witnesses her double being threatened on the streets of LA (her double is then murdered in the video), so goes back there, dressed as a prostitute herself to avenge her double's death by murdering her double's pimp. There was something about the song, the many puns in the lyrics and the beauty of the video that kept me dreaming that there was something more out there for me, even while I was cleaning someone's mess up just so that someone else could make their own mess in the same spot.

The next year Mylène went on one of her extremely rare, but extravagant, tours, and a double live disc of her show at Bercy (Live à Bercy) was released. That year I listened to it over and over and over again, the most poignant part probably being when her voice breaks during Rêver and she stops singing, just for the crowd to sing the song for her until she regains control. I know her voice breaks a lot during the show, and that she has a hard time hitting all the high notes, but there is something so human and heartbreaking about that, especially when you understand the lyrics properly. OK, I was going through a hard time back then, so it helped to listen to songs that were just as sad as the way I felt, and were a great counter to everything else I listened to on a loop (everything being The Cure).
There were many nights that my best friend during the late 90's and early 2000's, Maud, and I would roam the streets of Grenoble at night, drinking wine from the bottle and singing "Je je suis libertine, je suis une catin", to the most probable horror of anyone trying to sleep. I think we thought we were being daring and annoying at the same time. Actually, we were. All the time. Other times we would sing Sans contrefaçon to the statue of Berlioz on the Place Victor Hugo. I'm sure he enjoyed it immensely. Je t'aime mélancolie was another favourite, not that that should surprise anyone. We would run around dressed in suits and ties and Doc Martens with dark ribbons in our hair, a bottle of wine in one hand, a cigarette in the other. Cendres de lune...

In 1999 Mylène released the song Je te rends ton amour, a single off her (then) new album, and it immediately caused a huge scandal as the video depicted a church, blood, naked woman, the devil and a crucifixion pose. Super goth, super controversial and immediately banned on most TV channels. When it was released as a video single Maud and I made sure we were able to purchase one. It's still one of my favourite Mylène songs to this day. After that album I kind of lost touch with Mylène, especially because she didn't release anything for ages after that, and also because I left France and came to the States. I did try to find her 2005 album, but it was impossible to purchase in the States, so I gave up. I'm sure that with the help Spotify I can now discover her new songs, like or dislike them, and listen to the old songs I used to love so much again. It's strange, she's one of those artists that I adore, I love her image, her videos, her words, but I don't love every single one of her songs. There are some amazing ones, and others that just don't really do much for me. She's one of those artists that I could make my own "best of" playlist and just listen to that (although it could end up being pretty long). I think it's mainly the whole image, the long-standing artistic partnership with Laurent Boutonnat and the magic they create together, the wonderful videos, the darkness, the melancholy, the beauty and ultimately her reluctance to share her life with the Press, and her desire to remain as private as possible. All I really know about her is the image that she has portrayed through her music over the years.

Additional information on the artist HERE
Also - disregard the subtitles on the video of Je te rends ton amour above - they are terrible.

People begging with (their) children - Rant

Back when I lived in Grenoble in France you used to see a lot of people begging on the streets, sometimes the lone old “pochtron” with his dog, pockmarked face and vinegary-wine smell, sometime a group of punks with their dogs and their tattoos and their piercings (otherwise known as “les travelers”, kids who moved from city to city, living in squats and abandoned buildings until they got bored of the lifestyle). But often you would see women begging in the streets, holding their babies. We called then “les gitans”, gypsies, Romanis, those people who would roam the land in caravans, pitch up camp anywhere and everywhere and move on afterwards. People who have never really had the best reputation anywhere that they stop. Not that I would judge anyway. I always liked the romantic idea of living the gypsy lifestyle, picking up camp and moving along to the next location, palm reading and dancing and just being free. I know, I know, I read too many novels and watch too many old movies (Golden Earrings being one of them). I used to read a lot of Enid Blyton when I was a child, and there was often a gypsy camp portrayed in the book, often with one bad apple who was always caught, and the rest of the camp were full of wonderful people. I don’t even know if these people were really gypsies or not, we just all used to call them that. Probably because they would move on to other cities when they felt like it, they were not here for good. Fleeting begging?

Back in France, these people that we would call “gypsies” would beg on the streets, always holding a tiny baby and maybe pulling another little child along with them, usually holding a sign up asking for money. They would make it sound like they couldn’t speak French and it dawned on me pretty early on that they would change identity depending on what was going on in the world at the time. Fall of Ceausescu in Romania in 1989? They were all Romanian. War in Yugoslavia between 1991 and 1995? They were all refugees from Yugoslavia. I’m sure today that they are all holding signs that say they are from Libya. Smart move no? How can you tug at someone’s heartstrings the most? Look sad and distraught, carry a tiny baby around on a sling and say that you are from a war-torn country that has been on the news every day for the past year.

I am not going to write about how I dislike people who beg – not at all. It’s not the people I dislike, it’s the system that makes it so that there are people who have to beg to survive. Although I wish we didn’t have to live with poverty in this day and age, we all know that it’s never going to go away. The rich get richer, the poor stay poor, unless they are really lucky. The even poorer struggle to live and depend on others to help them. There are many reasons why a person may be begging on the streets of a city, and I am not going to write an essay on that. I do however, severely dislike people who beg while using their children as a prop. It makes me so angry and sad at the same time – parading your child around the streets of a town to get money is just wrong. We frown upon the wide use of children to beg in countries like India, where groups of adults actually collect and buy children from their parents and use them in begging organizations (yes, we have all seen Slumdog Millionaire); but when it actually happens in our country we just let it happen. It’s still child exploitation. Especially when the children get to an age where they should be at school, or at least interacting with other children their own age.

The reason why I bring this up is because I hadn’t really encountered this in NYC until very recently. I’ve seen Vietnam vets, pregnant ladies, crackheads, people who claim they have AIDS and no money for meds, buskers, poets, dancers, actors (that subway version of Act V, Scene 3 was pretty amazing), blind people etc… But I hadn’t noticed anyone begging with their children until recently. Then twice in one week I saw it. The first time it was a couple with a tiny baby, with a sign asking for money. The second time it was a guy playing the accordion, followed by a woman and a little girl. Just like it used to be back in France… The war-torn country victims who are trying to get money from people by parading their children around the subways. And the main reason why it really makes me angry is that it makes me want to cry. I wish I could do something about it, but I can’t, so I am just writing about how much it really annoys me to see this happen.

There are lots of organisations around that help the homeless - if you want to volunteer or donate, see this website for more information: Hearts and Minds

The Park - place of sanctuary... Memories

We all had one growing up. It may have really been a park. It could have been a playing field, a graveyard, a railway embankment, a tree house, a forest. Just one place where you and your group of friends would meet up every day, lounge around for hours talking about everything and nothing, drinking beer, smoking hash and watching the hours roll by in great company.

A typical day in the life of outcasts teens, lazy, depressed, happy, sad, motivated, silly, young, old beyond our years... Countless hours of talking about the next gig we were going to, who the best guitarist in the world is, who the darkest 19th century poet was, about boys and about girls and about how we were going to afford the next packet of cigarettes and the next bottle of cheap red wine.

Our park was in the centre of the city, kind of in between all of our high schools, but right next to the private Catholic school a few of us went to. I had already dropped out of my school by that time, 1995 was the year of skipping class and then just never going back, smoking a lot of hash and drinking a lot of wine and beer, skipping through the park, contemplating the clouds in the sky, dating cute metal or goth boys and all signing our names in the little children's house with the slide. I must have had an awful reputation with the teachers at that school nearby as they used to try and drag my friends who went there back to class whenever they hung out with us all there. We were harmless, just different.

One night Alex and I decided that we were going to climb the fence and "break in" to the park... We did it, and walked through the trees in the pitch dark, pretending that we weren't scared when we really were, but unwilling to back out of the dare because we were trying to prove something to ourselves. At that moment we just wanted to run away to another country together and forget all about our lives, living another. Of course that never happened and I don't even know what he is doing or where he is nowadays, but that memory will always be imprinted in my mind.

Another time little skater Marion and I smoked a joint with some random guy and couldn't move for hours from the grass. Literally couldn't move. I suppose there was some lesson to be learnt there but I didn't learn it. The smell of burning Afghan hash still immediately brings me right back to the park and the memories of all that we left there.

Of course we weren't the only group to hang out there, there were other groups, but we never mingled with them. I think we all used to sneer at each other. Them at us because we wore ripped jeans and listened to aggressive music, and the boys had long hair and the girls smoked and swore. Us at them because we thought they were all boring and we felt inferior. We didn't fit in and they did.

My park is in the middle of Grenoble, France and it has a big fake elephant in the entrance. It's called the Jardin des Plantes (there is one in every French city) and is next to the Natural History Museum. The private high school is called Pierre Termier, my high school (lycee and college) was called Stendhal and was located just down the road (although my section has since been relocated). Some of my friends at the time have disappeared into their lives and away from mine, some are still very, very good friends and others I hear from now and again.

I'll always remember the time we drank bottles and bottles of beer in the afternoon and just stuck them upside down in the grass like a sculpture and left them there... It's amazing that the park keeper never banned us!

Wanting to be somewhere else...

I always know when it's time to leave somewhere. Sometimes it happens gradually, sometimes I just open my eyes in the morning and realise I need to live somewhere else. The last time I felt this so strongly was during 2001 and 2002. Living in Grenoble, France, last year at university, my family had just moved to California, the Twin Towers had fallen to the ground in front of my eyes through my television, and my deep research on Sylvia Plath for my thesis was creating my own personal bell jar. I only left the house to go to my few classes, to teach and tutor my students and to get groceries. Tim Buckley (Anthology), Tom Waits (Used Songs) and Bob Dylan (Desire) were the only CDs in my 3 CD player, and I spent most of my days reading and watching inane crap on TV (mixed with documentaries on serial killers, old-fashioned god people and terrorism). My friends would stop by to see me, try to get me to go out with them, just like old times, and would leave me multiple messages on my answering machine every night telling me how much they missed me, singing to me (I wish I had saved the tape - some of those messages were pretty amazing).

All I wanted was to leave. Be somewhere else. Do something else. Be someone else.

I got through it, moved to the US for a while, and because I couldn't stay there longer than 3 months, went off to Israel for a little over a year and then to London for a little less than a year. And then arrived in NYC.

From the moment I moved here I never thought I would want to leave. I vividly remember getting off the plane at JFK, getting in a cab, and thinking to myself "this is what it feels like to come home". Six years later, and I am finally feeling that same sinking, gradual feeling of realisation that I am very much tired of living here. I'm tired of being unhappy at work, I'm tired of not doing something that really means something to me (and to the rest of the world), I'm tired of not having a quiet place to go to and relax, I'm tired of not being able to grow my own food, I'm tired of having to listen to my friends complain about everyone else, and about how they all want to change their lives but just end up doing the same thing over and over again (i.e. getting drunk in the same bar every night). I'm tired of giving people the same advice that I should be taking myself.

I can't just pick up and move this time around though.. I have debt to pay off, a need to sustain myself, rent and bills to pay, plans to make. I don't even know where I want to go! One day it's England, another France, another California and yet another day setting up my own commune on a tropical island where I can fully sustain my own life.

But the one certainty that I do have is that I don't want to be HERE anymore.

Varsovie (band/music)

I love these guys. Not just because I've known one of them for longer than I can remember (Arnault), and another one of them nearly just as long (Greg), but because their music, lyrics and style are pretty much a perfect mix of everything I like most.

Art, poetry, history, d
écadence, tristesse, paradox, love, war, mélancolie, nostalgia...

They also bring me back to days of the past, when we used to roam the streets of Grenoble together, drinking wine, talking about everything and anything, crying and laughing, smoking endless cigarettes, dancing, thinking we had all the time in the world. I don't think any of us have really changed at all. When I listen to Varsovie, I always feel like there is a piece of myself in there somewhere.

Varsovie released their first album Etat Civil at the end of 2009.
You can listen to some songs on their Myspace page
(an order the album)
You can also find them on Facebook

And here are a few videos. They really are worth it. And now I am REALLY homesick...

Varsovie - Etat Civil

Varsovie - Mademoiselle Else

Ahh... April...

My favourite journal is the one that dates from June 19th 2000 until December 23rd 2003. There is something so heartbreaking, poignant and real about all of the entries in it. Living in my real first apartment without my family, breaking down while writing my thesis, being so afraid, but living without fear, drinking coffee and smoking in the university corridors... Wine from the bottles hidden in my backpack, poetry and music, dancing all night long. I miss Aymeric playing 100 Years every Saturday night for me at the Mark XIII. Caramel vodka shots! We were all so smart and ready to make something happen. We could all sit around a table in a bar and talk for hours and hours and hours. You can't talk in bars here... You can only drink and watch people make fools out of themselves. I just need more than this - playing dumb is just plain boring.

It scares me a little that the July 12th 2002 entry describes exactly how I feel right now. It's too personal to even copy bits out of, but it just makes me wonder if I keep running away from those feelings, and that they will always catch up with me wherever I am...

Luna and me, 5 Rue Crepu, 38000 Grenoble, France, June 2001