Eleven years ago I honeymooned in Paris with a sociopath. Not knowingly, of course. (Does anyone do anything knowingly with a sociopath, other than war crime tribunals?) You’ve all heard my story… The whole time I was tra-la-la-ing around into my Happy Ever After, he was cheating on me. From that ugly came the genesis of this blog.
This last week I took Paris back with Mr. CL. Paris, consider yourself conquered.
Forgive the foray into personal travelogue. (I’ll resume regular broadcasting on Monday.) But OMG, I’ve had the most wonderful time! Thank you all for the break from regular blogging. I’ve been gorging myself on pretty things and buttered carbohydrates. (Baguettes with every meal! How can I ever go back to sad-salad-at-my-desk eating after this?)
If you’re new to this Gain A Life thing, may I suggest Paris? Next to New Orleans, it may top my short list of cities it’s impossible to have a bad time in. (Unless you don’t eat carbohydrates, in which case it would be horrible torture to be in such close proximity to such a national concentration of pastries.)
This post risks coming off smug and First World-y, and I’m copping to it now. In fact, blogging about one’s vacation might be the 2017 equivalent of forcing dinner guests to watch the slide show of your family’s trip to Mount Rushmore. (Anyone remember slide shows?) I’m sorry. It took me 11 years to get back here, and I’m cognizant of all the shitty years I spent single parenting, under-employed, and eating proverbial shit sandwiches. I’m now older, fatter, happily remarried, and an empty nester. I’m at a different stage of life, and grateful as hell.
So with that out of the way, let me tell you about Paris! I gotta say, it’s much improved by a much better husband. Mr. CL is a great travel companion. Except for his penchant for climbing rickety, historic structures for their views. If it’s a crumbling cathedral with a claustrophobic staircase and a tiny ledge, 1000 feet up, with a rusty metal railing standing between you and plummeting to your death? He’s all in.
What makes him wonderful, and MATURE, is that he does not inflict his love of rickety, claustrophobic historic structures on me — he leaves me alone to explore art museums! And then we get together for dinner and I tell him about French paintings (I had the third floor of the Louvre to myself! There were Ingres! And they WERE ALL MINE!) and he tells me about scaling the Pantheon. It works for us.
By contrast, I really have very little recollection of what it was like to travel to Paris with the cheater. Other than he had to go to the Paris Starbucks and buy a mug. #uglyamericanmoment And he was game to do the touristy things one does in Paris. And whatever other romantic memories there were got obliterated 6 months later when I discovered his secret fuckbuddy life. I hope he and his Starbucks mug are happy together. (Making memories. Drinking hemlock. WTFever.)
Okay, the other thing about that trip to Paris 11 years ago was I bought him a 400 Euro Dupont pen for his birthday and presented to him with great fanfare. Which I, um… later retrieved during the divorce. You can read the pen story here. The important thing to know is that I signed my book deal with that goddamn pen. And with any luck I’ll use it to ink the TV deal too. First I took back the pen. Now I have taken back Paris.
Some random observations about the French and Paris:
This is not a city of business majors. I am in awe of the preposterous shops in Paris of precious, ridiculous things. Like perfectly curated throw pillows. Or teeny tiny macaroons. Or saxophones. Yes, a WHOLE STORE DEVOTED SOLEY TO SAXOPHONES. (See picture.) If you think that is weird, I walked past a store — swear to GOD — that only sold antique glass eyes. I give Paris huge points for whimsy. But OMG, how does anyone make a living here? You have to admire the boldness of I Shall Go Forth and Sell Saxophones Without a Business Plan because… jazz. But Paris — WTF are you living on? Do you all have trust funds?
The food. Everyone marvels at how the French can take two hour lunches, and four hour dinners, and wake up and eat pastries for breakfast. I don’t pretend to understand it, but I’m grateful for a week spent a thousand miles from the nearest kale smoothie. France is in some alternative caloric dimension. They drink red wine. They don’t stress over gluten. They embrace butter. Why yes, I don’t mind if I do have some more béarnaise sauce. AND IT’S ALL BEAUTIFUL. It makes me want to go home and casually poach a pear.
The Devotion to Pretty. I thought Paris was lovely before, but I never really internalized how single-mindedly, manically driven the French are toward prettiness. The gardens, the public statuary, the ornamentation. The ornamentation of the ornamentation. It’s like graffiti artists trying to out-tag each other. I’ll see your gilded iron gate and raise you a hundred marble NYMPHS! Take THAT! I don’t know what this says about the French. But whatever they’re saying, they look good while saying it.
Speaking of looking good, beyond my devotion to art museums (the more the obscure the better — check out the Gustave Moreau museum!), or my love of buttered bread, or my love of Mr. CL — perhaps the very best thing that happened to me on my trip to Paris is… I bought pants that fit.
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking — Tracy, the Parisian frivolity has taken hold of your senses. Or you’re thinking — Tracy, you are a squidgy woman over 50, there are no pants that fit. Especially in Paris. But you would be wrong. CN, I had a RELIGIOUS CLOTHES SHOPPING EXPERIENCE.
This does not happen to me. (See squidgy, over 50 above.) I am 5’10” and a size 14 on a good day. (More like 16, fuck 18 on those Euro sizes.) The chances of me going to Paris and finding clothes that fit me are as likely as a macaroon solving a differential equation.
But miracles happen, CN. I am living proof. As it happens, our hotel was next to this store, CAZAK. The windows were full of gorgeous things and I kept walking by it, and one day (while Mr. CL was scaling a ruin, or smoking a cigar by the Seine) I went in there, intrigued, and ever so slightly intimidated. It’s Paris. The clothes are expensive and beautiful and not for mere North American mortals.
I was greeted by this warm woman, Nadia, who immediately told me she knew what size I was and what would look good on me. (Who the *&$! are you, Nadia? How do you presume to know my unique squidginess?!) I pulled a few things from the rack. Nadia pulled a bunch of other things… and CN, I’ll just cut to the chase — I HAVE A NEW WARDROBE. I am REBORN.
For like two hours (WHO SPENDS TWO HOURS ON A CUSTOMER?) this French woman dressed me better than I could ever dress myself. Okay, she tried to talk me into a sexy leather skirt (“Modern!”) and I drew the line there. But damn, I left that store with a new suit (Knit wool! Peplum jacket! Pencil skirt!), a black dress (she made me alter it tighter around my ass… okay, a point toward “modernity”), a black jacket made of some kind of miracle fabric, a floral dress (for my inner hippy chick), and a scarf with FUR POM-POMS!
I floated out of that store deliriously happy. Like crazy happy, even having spent a lot more on clothing than I ordinarily would ever spend. (They’re going to bury me in that suit.)
And you know what’s different on this Take Back Paris trip? Me. I’m different. Last trip I bought an ungrateful cheater a 400 Euro pen. This trip, I bought myself some exquisite new clothes. Yea me! Yea Mr. CL for being happy I was happy.
I know that sounds so princess-y. But you guys are chumps, you get reinvention. I stepped way out of my comfort zone and it’s all rather exhilarating.
So, about those pants. I confess a second trip to CAZAK. (Hey, I had to fill out the tax rebate forms. Forgot my passport.) I got talking with the owner, Karen, this vivacious Danish woman — 50-something, divorced, retired from an IT career — and we got to gabbing like long-lost sisters. She told me how her life diverted. How she re-created herself and started this shop. About her dream to live in Switzerland some day, and how improbably she made it happen. A little piece of heaven, her own apartment in a 15th century house, in the mountains overlooking a lake. How hard won it all was. And her amazement and gratitude for her good fortune.
And both being tall, busty women she told me how she created her shop to be the kind of store she wished existed for women like us. And I told her how I created a blog to give people the kind of advice I wish existed when I got chumped. And we commiserated about pants.
Look, I don’t know about the rest of you, but pants shopping when you’re 5’10” and middle aged is not for the faint of heart. A) Nothing is long enough in the leg and B) nothing comes up to my waist. No, I mean my REAL waist. Not mid-muffin top.
Karen, turns out, had this issue too and being a seamstress, she created her own line of pants, sizes 2 – 26. All I can tell you is, I tried these stretchy, miracle things on and my thighs disappeared, my ass looked better and THEY CAME UP TO MY WAIST. Oh! And they were dressy and French and Jesus, I don’t know what voodoo Karen does, but my faith in pants is restored. I bought two pair. (They’re around $200 a pair. They were worth it. Money well spent if I don’t have to try on pants again for a long time…)
Anywho you’re all very indulgent to read about my Paris trip and my forays into clothes shopping. I don’t think I’ve ever plugged a product in my 5 years of blogging, but I wanted to give a shout out to Karen (pictured above). In talking (for hours!), it turns out that this talented woman with her amazing shop isn’t online yet (she’s working on it! But if you’re pants-starved contact her, they ship). She was thrilled that I rated her Facebook page 5-stars. I think I was the first to rate it. I couldn’t believe this pants genius with her fancy Parisian shop could ever feel buoyed by a nice review. I was so pleased to offer encouragement (knowing a bit about building an online world), because this shop and the two women in it made me so happy. It’s the least I could do.
And isn’t that what new lives are all about? Paying it forward in pants that fit.
Viva la Paris!