Initial thoughts on “I am not an easy man.”

The other night I finally took the time to watch the French comedy I am Not an Easy Man on Netflix.

I am writing now in a few stolen moments between my nail appointment and my father stopping by to deliver some wood to my daughter. These are my reflections three days later without notes.

The basic premise is this: a single guy with a rich sexual history with women suddenly wakes up in a world where females are the dominant and stronger sex.

My almost-fourteen-year-old daughter watched bits of the film with me and I think it made her look at gender roles and gender expectations in a new light.

Women wore suits. Women initiated sex. Women went topless and didn’t shave.

Men waxed. Men stayed home with the children. Men carried purses.

Breasts became the power symbol.

The script was funny, but seriously thought provoking. I hope to watch it again and provide a more thorough analysis.

Goodbye, Paris. Hello, Moscow.

Our traveling companion M took us on a walk through Barbès where my daughter made some French/Algerian friends in one of the shops. The people there tried to get her to speech French and Arabic and gave her a piece of candy. She noted the difference between standard touristy Paris and the so-called immigrant presence in the outer districts, seeing Africans and Arabs. I use the term so-called immigrants because of how the French consider even second generation citizens “immigrants.”

We walked up to Sacre Ceour. Lil Miss didn’t realize it was on the top of a hill. She just thought it was tall. But she was a trooper walking up the hill. And M showed her the Eiffel Tower in the distance.We wandered half way down the hill and she spotted the funicular. We had a metro ticket for the day so we actually walked back UP to Sacre Ceour and rode the funicular down.

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Funicular to Sacre Couer

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View from Sacre Coeur

Dinner was at Le Magenta, another place where I have eaten before. I ordered a two course meal for each of us, with Lil Miss trying to overcome her fear of using French words. I suggested the restaurant based on past experience and as soon as she saw they served escargot she was in.  She ordered six escargot in a bourgogne sauce. In the photo, she looks a tad intimidated but in reality she was merely focused on getting those snails out of their shells. I asked her why she liked them and she said it was because she loved getting them out of their shells. I suppose she’s like a cat and needs to play with her food.

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She also had a duck thigh which came artfully arranged on potato wedges and slivers of tomatoes that resembled flower petals.

The walk back to the hotel was exhausting, not because it was far but because of the jet lag and the nine miles we had walked. Lil Miss showered, collapsed into bed. In the morning, we were on the RER early returning to CDG-Roissy.

In the Air France lounge, Lil Miss made an amazing discovery. 1. She LIKES croissants. She has insisted for years that she doesn’t like plain croissant. I have countered, for years, that it’s because she hasn’t tasted one in France.

She ate five or six plain croissants and two pain au chocolat. She also learned how to read French jam labels, though she thought the “orange” was orange marmalade and it turned out to be bitter orange. An adjective makes a big difference.

IMG_3928.JPGThe plane from Paris to Moscow was on an Airbus A318, a big change from the Boeing 777. I discovered this morning a lovely note from the TSA that apparently gave my bag a check before it left the States. Not that I noticed.

We navigated the Moscow airport with no problem and child kept trying to compliment the female customs agent on her pretty eye makeup. Overall, she’s a good kid but we’re working on NOT spurting out every thought in her head to the entire universe.

We even navigated the Moscow subway. The majestic tunnels, architecture and details in the stations. Every train looks completely different. Some old, some new. Very colorful.

We had Russian-style beef dumplings with a butter and sour cream sauce for dinner in a little restaurant off Red Square where to Lil Miss’s delight they had American music videos playing. Calvin Harris and the Disciples: “How Deep is Your Love?”

Child compared Moscow to an urban New York feel. Paris seems smaller and offers more recreation. She thought Moscow was more exotic while Paris felt more like an American town.

And the best so far–

“All I know about Russia is what I see on CNN and they don’t have nice things to say.”

That’s my baby. Now when you go back to school, set them straight.

 

 

Tarts and bonnets

The afternoon passed quickly. Any piece of Parisian real estate needs to capitalize on space, so you experience many spiral staircases. I’ve already had at least one friend picture me falling down them. And breaking something. Or many things.

We headed up to Barbès and out the metro to Couronnes. I am looking for a more effective way to prepare my hijab. There’s a lot of Muslim shops in that neighborhood, but before we even got too far I noticed a bakery that suited my fancy.

This bakery had a raspberry tart that looked appealing. As I perused the case, the contents just got better. I decided on a chocolate bread and impulse bought a raspberry and also a pistachio scone. They were 50 cents each. And they were scrumptious. I spent 3.50 Euros for a Diet Coke, the bread and the macaroons. It was all truly delectable.

Then we stopped in a women’s Muslim dress shop. I wanted some sort of secure underscarf so if my scarf moved I would still be covered. In Africa, I want to find some kind of niqab/dress. M encouraged me to converse with the shop owner in French.

She had some lovely scarfs and even walked me through her dress selection. But when I mentioned I wanted a head covering that didn’t move, she showed me the bonnet.I fell in love with the pink one because it matches the color scheme of clothes I packed for the Horn of Africa. Two Euros fifty. And right now the dollar is darn near equal to the Euro.

We went to Leader Prix on the way home to get envelopes for M and I snapped a photo of the pink sky.

Good surprise, bad surprise

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This hardly getting any sleep and doing a lot of walking and traveling takes a toll. I was so exhausted on the RER into Paris.

Luckily M knows we’re not as young as we used to be so he booked us a hotel room at Mercure-Gare de Nord. We always stay in this neighborhood, but usually in little m0m-and-pop establishments deeper in the side streets. This hotel is across the street from Gare de Nord.

That was a great surprise. I flopped onto the bed and took a nap.

But… speaking of small establishments… the coffee shop where M and I have taken coffee for the five years we have been traveling together has changed hands and it’s now a STARBUCKS. Sigh. So sad.

But… more news… We are here during the January sales! France only has sales twice a year. And I managed to show up during the sales. Went shopping already.

And since I am interested in youth disenfranchisement, immigrant politics in France and French rap, I bought Diam’s two books.

‘This Paris’ in StepAway Magazine

It thrills me to share with you my first official creative byline, a milestone despite my fifteen years as a professional print journalist.

My friend Nancy and I were reviewing markets in September when we discovered StepAway, an online literary journal honoring flâneur style poetry. I submitted what I call “my Paris poem,” which captures a walk through multi-cultural, post-colonial influenced Paris. The poem comes from my return to Paris, fifteen years after I first met her.

We had both changed.

I see Paris as a bewitching, urine-stained whore and the details in the poem are real. They had put us in our room before housekeeping cleaned it. They did have 85 pink and brown stairs. We were sandwiched between Gare de Nord and Gare de l’Est.

The man in dreadlocks really existed. And my tears were also real.

I will find myself in Paris again Jan. 8, on my way to East Africa (Djibouti and Somalia). It’s a common stop-over for me now, but in 2010 I wasn’t sure I would ever see Paris again.

When I submitted the poem in late September, I didn’t know what would happen November 13. I think my poem speaks to inclusion, and if I wrote it now perhaps Paris herself would cry and the man in dreads would soothe her. 

The editor’s note in StepAway offers a great sentiment and lead in to my poem:

StepAway Letter From Editor

And my poem itself:

This Paris in StepAway

Some of my Paris photos:

Angel’s Paris photos

The illiterate have reached Moscow

Before I begin with our adventures in Russia, let me summarize a few things from our last hours in France. I have a habit of following eateries from around the world on Instagram. It usually begins because I make an ethnic dish and post a picture on Instagram. Then, I check photos of other people’s versions of the same dish. On an African food kick recently, I discovered La Riziere in Paris.

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I had a hard time sorting out the menu, but I decided, with much assistance, to have a beef dish in peanut sauce.

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My companion got chicken.

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I had a great night’s sleep and in the morning we quasi-enjoyed our final Paris breakfast. It had started to rain (we had great weather while there) and had decided that the coffee kept getting worse every day. I did enjoy the rattle and hum of the metro train as it passed beneath the building. I have mixed feelings about our hotel room on the sixth floor that was at the top of a spiral staircase. With all the miles we walked yesterday, the stairs were tiring.

We flew from CDG to Moscow. The flight was uneventful. My scarf, MacBook Air and toiletries were pulled aside for a security check. Which is funny when you consider I’m not a big toiletries girl and I don’t wear make-up. Then in Moscow, customs pulled me to the side. Again, a seemingly random check.

We almost thought we broke Russia like we broke France. Oh, wait, France was broken. We didn’t do it. They had technical issues getting the bags off the plane.

And then we decided to use public transport into town. First, we withdrew rubles from the ATM. M forgot their was a terminal-to-terminal shuttle that we could have taken from where we landed to the other side of the airport where the train departed. He had me jogging for about 1/2 to 2/3 of a mile. He has a longer stride than I do. He used the machine to purchase tickets.

And we were fine coming into Moscow. The outskirts of Moscow looked very industrial and full of identical highrise apartment buildings. The initial views of Moscow were basic. We followed the crowd to the subway. We even got tickets. When the seller heard M speak English she even held up a calculator so he could read the price.

But we realized, as we went down this fast and clunky escalator in this gorgeously clean and gleaming tunnel, that we can’t read or speak Russian. I thought I had learned to speak some. He had tried to learn to read some. Our grown up boring lives intervened and we have realized our Russian language skills are useless.

But we did it! We did ask for some help, but I think we could have done it on our own. We also think we’ve determined how the system works. I suppose tomorrow will tell.

We also asked for help finding our street. But we got here!

And the hotel is way fancier than anything M usually stays in, only because of the falling value of the ruble when he booked it. When we turned the corner from a side street into the main area of downtown Moscow, I could not believe how visually stunning Moscow is. Prettier than Paris.

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We’re a tad concerned because it looks like Red Square might be closed for next week’s parade. This was as close as we can get:
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But hey, thank goodness for zoom function on the old iPhone 5c:
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After a brief walk, we went for dinner at an Italian cafe. They did feature Russian food so I had pelmeni (Russian ravioli with meat filling, in a butter sauce with sour cream) and redberry mors (a very tart and sweet homemade juice). It was extremely yummy.

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