Citizen of the Month

the writing and photography of Neil Kramer

Tag: Paris

Paris Journal – Day One

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A week before we flew into Paris, Danielle, the owner of the two-bedroom apartment in the Marais district that we were renting for ten days, called my mother in New York. It was six o’clock in the morning. Apparently, Danielle was confused about the international time zones.

“What did she say?” I later asked my mother.

“She said she was going to pick us up at the airport.”

“Wow, that’s nice of her. This trip is looking great!”

We arrived at Charles De Gaulle Airport at noon on Saturday — me, my mother, and my mother’s friend, Laura, a kind-looking woman in her seventies.

As we passed through security, I searched for Danielle in the crowd, hoping she would be one of those greeters holding up a sign with my name on it, like you see done in movies. She was not there.

She was not in the baggage area, either.

I headed for the exit, pausing at the sliding door, realizing that my next step would be my first ever step on French soil, a spot in which Napoleon himself might have stood if he ever took a discount flight into town.

I entered France.   Danielle was not waiting, and my first whiff of Parisian fragrance was of a taxi blowing fumes into my face.

I called Danielle on the phone and she answered, speaking in a thick French accent.

“Bonjour! Bonjour, Neil!”

“We are here. Will we see you soon?”

“Absolutely. I’m only two minutes away.”

My mother, Laura, and I found a bench near the information booth inside and waited for twenty minutes.  Nothing.

“Call her again,” pushed my mother.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “This is how the French are. They take things slow. They like to eat and drink and enjoy life. Two minutes to a Parisian is like twenty minutes to us.”

I was winging it.  I felt that it was necessary because one look at Laura’s face and I could see that she was questioning my decision to rent an apartment.  Of the three of us, she was the one who most preferred staying at a traditional hotel.

“Trust me,” I told her two weeks earlier when I booked the rental. “You and my mother have played it too safe over the last few years with all those by-the-book tour groups and cruises.  Now is the time for adventure.”

“Hmm,” she said, not convinced.  Laura also wanted to go to England instead of France. At least there, they speak English.

“Call her again,” said my mother,  wondering about Danielle whereabouts.   My mother was now getting anxious because she saw the discomfort in Laura.   I was now getting anxious because I saw the worry in my mother.  You can take three neurotic New Yorkers out of New York, but….

I took out my iPhone and called Danielle for a second time.

“Bonjour, Neil!” she said.

“Uh, Bonjour, Danielle. Are you on your way yet?”

“Oh, don’t worry. I just live two minutes away. Call me when you are here.”

“We ARE here.”

“Where?”

“At the airport.”

“Oh, so just call me from the airport when you reach the apartment. I only live two minutes away from the apartment. I’ll give you the keys when you arrive.”

“So, you’re NOT picking us up at the airport?”

“No, no, no. Just take a cab! It shouldn’t be more than seventy Euros!”

“Uh, ok,” I said.

As we taxi-ed into central Paris, my mother insisted that Danielle told her, during the phone call a week ago, that she would meet us at the airport.

“Are you sure she didn’t say that she would meet us at the apartment, and NOT the airport?” I asked.   “It seemed too good to be true.”

“Maybe you are right,” said my mother.   ” But it was six o’clock in the morning when she called so I was sleepy.  And also, she had a strong accent that was hard to understand.”

“If we went to England,  we would have no problem with the language,” said Laura.

Well, actually she never said that.  But I KNOW she was thinking it.

We had arrived in Paris.

Paris Journal – Prologue #2

“Thanks for driving me to the airport,” said Jonathan.

“No problem,” replied his friend, Bobby. “It’s too bad that you’re going on this business trip to Paris alone.  I hear it’s a romantic place.”

“Oh, I’m not going alone.”

“You’re not.”

“Physically, maybe, But mentally, I’m going on a tour bus filled with the women in my life.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Well, first, there’s my wife.  She’s mad at me because she’s stuck home dealing with Junior’s soccer schedule while I’m going to France.”

“OK, I can see that.”

“There’s also my ex-wife who called me last week, pissed that we never went to Paris during our marriage, and only honeymooned in Napa.  “Maybe things could have been different if I wasn’t so cheap back then,” she said.””

“That’s cold.”

“And then there’s Natalie.”

“You’re girlfriend from the office?”

“Yeah.  She won’t sext with me anymore because I’ve ruined her ultimate fantasy of the two of us walking by the Seine at night, side by side, as the voice of Edith Piaf surrounds us like a warm Givenchy coat.”

“Surely she can understand that this is a business trip.”

“And now there is Ellie.”

“Who’s Ellie?”

“She’s my next door neighbor.  Divorced.   She put a note under my windshield wiper last night saying that if I brought her along to Paris and took her to this five star Michelin-rated restaurant she read about in the New York Times she would give me the best blowjob of my life.”

“That would be an expensive blowjob.  Is she worth it?”

“Uh… probably.   But I’m there for BUSINESS, not pleasure.”

“Damn, this is getting to be one crowded tour bus.”

“There’s more.   At six o’clock this morning, my mother called, reminding me to bring a hat, because she checked the temperature in France online, and it’s suppose to be brisk when I go up the Eiffel Tower.”

“Yeah. Apparently you aren’t going alone.”

“Paris seems to have some sort of meaning for women.   I don’t quite get it.  I’m just excited to go there and see where they chopped off the head of Robespierre.”

“Exactly!   So jealous!”

Paris Journal – Prologue #1

I approach the beginning of this Paris travel journal in a fog of self-doubt. After all, on my Facebook stream today, there are FIVE other online friends visiting Paris right now.  How can I approach MY trip as “special” when international travel is as common today as a bunch of high school kids from New Jersey driving into “the city” to party on a Saturday night.

Is there anything new that I can offer to you, the reader? A fresh vision of an ancient city? Probably not.  My instagram feed will be filled with the usual shots of cute-looking cafes and cliched views of the Eiffel Tower.

Who am I  to write about a city that has already been glorified and praised by countless poets, artists, and philosophers?  I’m a nobody.   This week’s top box office movie, Warner Brother’s Prisoners, grossed $11,270,000.   My blog’s first month profits from the banner ad in my sidebar — $2.16.

But what I lack in self-confident, I gain in self-delusion. Reality holds little sway in my universe.  I don’t need to worry about the Paris of Hemingway, Voltaire, or my online friends already there on holiday.   I can only tell the story that I can see, and in my tale, the city of Paris is already the least interesting character.

Paris will be beautiful, exhausting, fun, frustrating, and disappointing.  But Paris is only a backdrop.   It could just as easily be Boise.   First and foremost, a story needs characters.  That’s what is interesting to me.

And so we begin.   The flight is Friday.   Tomorrow I will start to pack.  The plot — three characters, unlikely travel mates, each hurting emotionally and spiritually, looking for answers, but don’t yet know the questions.

Imaginary Paris on $5000 a Day

I love imaginary Paris. I love the cafes, the art, the fashion, but mostly I thrive here because this is the famed city of French existentialism and moral relativism. I am comfortable here using the $5000 that I found in that imaginary wallet yesterday. Sure, I COULD have returned the wallet to the owner, but what’s going to happen to me now that I didn’t? Will God strike me down? Of course not. Not in a city where God is dead.

Imaginary Paris is at its finest in the spring. The flowers are blooming and the scent of perfume is the air. And the women? Oh, the women. I was in an imaginary tiny bakery in the 18th arrondissement just below Montmartre when I met Juliette. She had just finishing doing a fashion shoot for Paris Vogue across the street and was now enjoying a quick espresso. I immediately knew my reason for coming to Paris. I had to know this woman.

“Bonjour.” I said flirtatiously, deciding to open the conversation with a sure-shot French ice-breaker. “Excuse-moi, j’ai perdu mon numero de telephone. Est-ce que je peux emprunter le tien?” (Excuse me, I seem to have lost my phone number. Could I borrow yours?)

She smiled, wooed by my charm and wit. We chatted, at times in English, at times in French. We had some Parisian friends in common, including Elisabeth of La Coquette, Lauren of Maitress, and Tara of Paris Parfait. I made some jokes at the expensive of American culture and she laughed, her eyes twinkling. I offered her one of my Gitanes Brunes, and we enjoyed a smoke together. There was something very sexy about the way she smoked a cigarette. Like only a French woman could do.

I love imaginary Paris. Of course, there were some changes since the last time I was here. American chain stores had moved in. There was Starbucks. And Kentucky Fried Chicken. I even found a CVS Pharmacy right in Paris! I’m not a superstitious man, but I was half-expecting something bad to happen to me for using that $5000 dollars on my trip. But not in Paris. Nothing could destroy the magic of the City of Lights. In Paris, I was able to sit across from a beautiful model wearing a strapless Dior dress while dining at Le Grand Véfour, a restaurant nestled under the arches of the Palais Royal, overlooking a beautiful little park, at a romantic table once occupied by Colette and Victor Hugo and Jean Cocteau.

After dinner, I brought Juliette to my hotel room. She stood in front of me as I sat in bed. She danced for me a bit, swaying to a Carla Bruni song, then let her dress gently fall off her body. I felt a tinge of anxiety. Always neurotic and pessimistic, I figured this was the moment of bad karma. Here I would be with the most beautiful woman I’d ever met and because of my guilt over the $5000, I wouldn’t be able to get it up. But clearly this doomsday scenario didn’t occur. She looked at me and smiled. She slid next to me, purring.

“Avez-vous un préservatif?” (Do you have a condom?) she asked.

“Oui, I do.” I answered.

Luckily, before dinner, I slipped into that Parisian CVS Pharmacy and bought les condoms!

Within moments, Juliette and I were making passionate love. All I could hear was her heavy breathing and the pounding of the bed against the wall.

Or at least I thought it was the pounding of the bed against the wall.

In reality, it was the Paris police breaking down the door to my hotel room and an Interpol SWAT team smashing through the window. Apparently, when I bought the condoms at CVS Pharmacy, I used the CVS ExtraCare frequent shopper card from my wallet – but it wasn’t my card! It was the CVS card of Mr. Craig Tellerson of Studio City, CA, who had lost his wallet and $5000 cash while riding his bicycle in Redondo Beach.

“Fraud is a federal offense in France,” said the Parisian police officer.

Today, I am blogging from Devil’s Island in French Guiana, the first day of my 300 year prison sentence. On arrival, we greeted by the warden who said, “Welcome to the penal colony at Devil’s Island, whose prisoners you are, and from which there is no escape.”

While I enjoyed my date with the French model, this certainly was one expensive bill to pay. Take it from me, if you find a lost wallet, return it to the rightful owner. God is alive… and vengeful. C’est la vie!

Two years ago on Citizen of the Month: Clock and Crow

Size 20

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Fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier was controversial yesterday at his 30th anniversary show during fashion week in Paris.   Amidst all the size 0 models, Gaultier included one size 20 woman, wearing a sexy black corset.   Some writers have said that this is a positive development for the fashion industry, opening our eyes to different images of beauty.

I frankly think it is a gimmick, more of a joke at the expense of those wanting to ban “underweight” models from runways.   Everyone knows that size 20 is not going to be the norm for fashion models, so this is just a one-time gag.   It would have been a serious move to actually USE a size 12 or size 14 model, but no way — that would freak out the industry.   Here, everyone can play with the concept in a cute way, but not really do anything about it.

In other news, CNN, in a attempt to add more diversity to their broadcast, has signed a prominent African-American to read the news on Friday evening.

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