"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players."  --William Shakespeare

Entries in Aphrodite (4)


Locking for Love in All the Wrong Places

Occasionally we'll notice a Paris phenomenon, like rubbing a statue for good luck, or for fertility, that has blossomed into a full-blown urban legend.

Just a few blocks from us, behind Notre Dame at Pont de L'Archevêché (The Archbishop's Bridge, one of the thirty-seven Paris bridges that span the Seine), another urban legend blooms, to the annoyance of city officials. Lovers who wish to lock in their commitment to undying love (that happens a lot in Paris) snap their initialed and ribbon-festooned bike or travel lock shut onto the bridge's wire mesh fence, and throw the key into the Seine.

, love forever, or at least until city employees arrive with lock snips, as they did last year at the footbridge near the Louvre called Pont des Arts, a few bridges west of Notre Dame. The Paris lock phenomenon started there early in this millenium, and Pont des Arts' reputation as a locus for lovers was apparently enhanced (for some Americans, anyway) in the final episode of the TV series Sex and the City, in February 2004. (Your Paris Play editors somehow missed all episodes of Sex and the City.)

(Incidentally, the love lock phenomenon is not confined to Paris; according to Wikipedia it is worldwide, with reports from cities like Rome, Florence, Cologne, Seoul, Vancouver, Montevideo, Moscow, and from the countries of Serbia--love lock Ground Zero--and Taiwan.)

What annoys city officials is that the lock fetish can get out of hand; witness the angle above, which shows only about half the length (say 34 meters) of the Archbishop's west side. A Paris city hall spokesperson told the British newspaper, The Independent, that the locks "raise problems for the preservation of our architectural heritage."

While it looks to us Aphrodite worshippers like a harmless and even charming tradition, Parisians take their architectural heritage seriously.

So what if the lovers were left alone, and simply ran out of lock room?

Funny you should ask. Here's the east side of Pont de L'Archevêché, where, as in a Hollywood horror movie, the sequel is taking shape, ever so slowly, lock by lock, by lock, by lock, by....


Terroir or Terror

Something odd happened at Kitty’s party, afterwards too, but first things first:
It was the second night of the Loire Valley wedding weekend. We hitched a thirty-minute ride with Alfonso and Gigi from Chinon to Bréhémont, the tiny village where Porter’s mother, Kitty, was giving a party for the wedding guests. 
Alfonso had flown in the day before from China. Seven time zones away. No jet lag, he said. Not if you’re in your late 20s, there’s not. Alfonso’s job takes him all over the world.
I sat in back with his girlfriend, Gigi, who looks like a French Gigi should look: young, fresh and full of zest. The element of beauty is often the anomaly, and in Gigi, it’s her slightly Asian eyes in a classical French face.


We described our ecstatic cheese experience at La Cave Voltaire. Gigi exclaimed that she had studied cheese-making in France for years, in college, no less. She had just returned from a year in Wisconsin as a cheese marketer, teaching cheese makers the concept of terroir. Terroir, she said, was both an agricultural region, and a practice of combining wines, cheese and other foods from the same earth that “go together” harmoniously.
I ask her if she knows the concept of synchronicity. Terroir sounds like the sensual counterpart to synchronicity, I say. No, she doesn’t, but when I describe it, we both agree that it’s somehow analogous to terroir, one emphasizing what goes together in space, the other in time.
Gigi was surprised at how excellent the Wisconsin cheeses were. She loved the United States, and wants to return there to live. Next time, try California, I suggest.
Kitty lives right next door to the bride and groom. She and Porter’s late father bought a house in Bréhémont.  After he died, Porter bought the house next door.

At Kitty’s house, Porter stands in the courtyard in a barbeque apron, greeting friends, radiating his native Birmingham, Alabama charm. Louise is in the living room in a sleeveless, low-cut long dress, bright flowers against a black background, pale Irish skin, orange hair tied in a chignon, looking more beautiful than I’ve ever seen her. Nothing like a wedding to bring forth Aphroditean splendor.
Kitty stands in peach shirt and white pants in front of the fireplace of her fine old stone house. At the opposite end of the room, a boar’s head is mounted on the wall, with a gold hunting horn above it. Kitty describes how she found it in a Paris brocante shop and carried it home on her lap in the Métro. How people did stare! You can see where Porter got his charm. The French kings used to hunt boars in the forests around here.

I talk for a while with David, Porter’s oldest friend at the party, an Andover classmate. David, in black tee-shirt and jeans, a red bandanna around his forehead, has a strong nose and a way of getting straight to the truth. He had made a short film while he and Porter were in boarding school, based on Crime and Punishment. Porter had played the part of the policeman, and he was very good.
David and his wife and children live in NYC, where both work in theater. David began by writing original plays, then discovered that his true talent lay in adapting others’ stories for the stage.  Next fall, Natasha begins four years at the High School of Music & Art/Performing Arts in NYC. “Flashdance,” David says.
Richard and I gravitate towards the big stone fireplace. David introduces us to his Greek-American wife, Erana, and their daughter, Natasha. Erana is as open and friendly as her daughter is closed and sullen. Nothing her parents say or do is right. Richard says later, “She’s a typical 14-year-old.” But judging from the sample pictures Erana shows on her iPhone of her daughter’s work, she has a true gift for painting.

The four of us talk about a possible swap with their apartment in Manhattan. Do they like cats? We can’t swap places with anyone who doesn’t want to live with Marley. They have three cats. 
Erana shows us pictures. Perfect. And after the kids have grown they’re thinking about moving to Paris.
Soon we meet another couple, Richard and Margarita. Both have sculpted Nureyev faces, high cheekbones, are lean and good-looking. They live in Sligo, Ireland, Yeats country, our favorite part of Ireland. Richard’s family have been merchants there for years, and knew Yeats. Margarita is a Russian mathematician. When they marry, it will be a second marriage for each.
They have recently bought and renovated, with Porter’s help, an apartment in Paris. Margarita is ready to move here; Richard, not yet. “You must help me persuade Richard to move to Paris,” she says to me in the deepest voice I’ve ever heard in a woman.
We file around the buffet spread, then all bring our plates to the low table in front of the fireplace.


Mora and Ludovic join us. They’ve just driven from Paris to Bréhémont. Ludovic is a tall slender Frenchman; Mora is Venezuelan, refreshingly ample-bodied after all the skinny minnies in Paris.
Mora is an architect who’s helping Porter renovate a client’s recently purchased apartment in the sixième arrondissement.
Mora, in black with a star-scattered scarf, dark eyes and gleam, tells us how she came to live in Paris. She attended the Sorbonne for college, continued on for a Master’s in architecture, then went on for a PhD.
From time to time, she’d go home to Venezuela and feel depressed, homesick for Paris. She realized she was getting one degree after another mainly in order to stay in Paris.

We wax eloquent about our love for this city. The first six new people we’ve met at this party, by some quirk, all gathered by the fireplace—from NYC and Greece, Ireland and Russia, Venezuela and France—all have a passion in common, a conviction that there’s no better place on earth to live than Paris.
After we’ve eaten, and stacked our plates in the kitchen, the “play” begins. The bride’s Irish family and friends set the tone. Nicola, one of Louise’s bridesmaids and former schoolmate at Trinity College in Dublin, recites a poem about a girl who sits on a porcupine, and has to be taken to the dentist and upended to have the quills removed from her bare bottom. The dentist has taken “things” out of these regions before.

Louise does a dramatic reading about tooth decay in the persona of an ancient hag, folding her lips over her teeth to create the impression of empty gums.
Richard and I had each brought a poem of ours to read to the bride and groom, but quickly discover that the spirit tonight is one of broad humor, Irish humor, which our poems don’t match. We sit back on the couch and admire the Irish genius for memorizing long stories and poems, one after the other.
On the ride home, Alfonso suddenly stops the car. There is a spiny creature waddling across the middle of the road. A porcupine? Or more likely in these parts, a hedgehog. Alfonso shines a flashlight into its eyes, hoping to inspire the little guy to scoot over to the side of the road. But the hedgehog is now terrified, and curls up into a ball.
Is this terror or terroir? Comedy or synchronicity? Coincidence in time or space or both? It is odd right after the long poem about a porcupine.
What to do? Alfonso returns to the car.
Gigi says, “You can’t touch him; he probably has mites.”
Alfonso returns and gently, gently with the toe of his shoe nudges the hedgehog to the side of the road.
We drive back to the Lion d’Or, and dream about porcupines and hedgehogs, terror and terroir, Kitty’s house and Paris, Porter and Louise, and new friends from around the world.


Aphrodite's Corner


Richard’s and my friend, Tristine, was in town last week. In our meandering around Paris, she and I met a warm, intelligent, attractive American woman who had once been married to a Frenchman. We discovered this by asking her why her French was so perfect. One thing led to another and before long we were telling stories. Love stories.

I mentioned my experience with Aphrodite (see the last Paris Play post, “Three Short Stories”) and the list I had made of what I wanted in a mate.

Jo Anne was weighing whether to stay in Paris or to return to the U.S.

What would it take to make you want to stay? we asked her.



Tristine and I had a mutual inspiration: what if I interviewed Jo Anne about her experience living as an American woman in Paris and what she was looking for in a relationship?

And call it Aphrodite’s Corner, Tristine suggested.

And so I did. I asked Jo Anne five questions:

1. How did you come to live in Paris?

2. How has your feeling about living here changed over the years?

3. Anything you want to say about being married to a Frenchman, or being a single American woman in Paris?

4. Have you thought about moving back to the U.S?

5. If you could live anywhere, with anyone, what scenario do you see for yourself? And what would be on your list for Aphrodite?

Here is what Jo Anne said:



In the 9th grade, back in the early ‘70s, a law passed allowing girls to wear pants to school, so I happily discarded my skirts and chose French as a foreign language. The two are linked in my mind as some kind of stepping stone to becoming what my fourteen-year-old brain imagined was a “free woman.”

It has always been a mystery to me exactly why I dreamed of coming to France. It was as if the plans had already been made and I was merely, and quite enthusiastically I might add, following through. Was it the freedom of being so far away from home? Was it the language, the art, or the desire to walk on cobblestones where centuries upon centuries of men walked before me?  



I was nineteen in my sophomore year in college. My mother thought a year in France would make me more “refined” and thus, I imagine, a better prospect for one of the “good catches” in our Boston suburb. Little did she know I had decided to make my own catches, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer.



I fell in love with a Frenchman, became a woman, a mother, and during all this tried desperately to become French…and succeeded! After fifteen years, I lost my accent (almost) entirely and often stumbled over English when speaking to family. Some things were so much easier to explain in French. It was in that language that I became an adult, learned about history, philosophy, politics, motherhood, relationships. And observed my home country through the eyes of Europeans. I had very few English-speaking friends and would go sometimes for months without saying a word in English. I forced myself to speak English to my children but the words they learned were mostly “brush your teeth,” “nighty-night,” and “turn that television off.” 



When “je t’aime” started sounding more real than “I love you,” I knew I was losing an essential part of myself. Thus began a long climb back to re-possessing my language and re-becoming an American, with pride.

My job, working first for an international agent, then a French publisher, has helped a lot in that respect. Dealing constantly with English books and contacts, I dropped a lot of my French reading, refusing to read translations of English books or to watch American movies dubbed in French and becoming openly critical of a bad translation of anything English into French.

This struggle to repossess the “American in me” has lasted from the end of my marriage through two other significant relationships with Frenchmen, roughly twenty years, and continues today.



When I was a single mother I thought about returning to live in the USA. I missed my family a lot, but the main thing that kept me from making the jump was taking my children so far away from their father. After all, they were born in France. I just couldn’t be that selfish.



The strongest pull on my heart to return to the USA came in September 2001. A Swedish colleague rushed into my office and said, “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center, check out CNN.” I was stunned for days, months even. I felt I needed to be “home” and realized then and there that I hadn’t lost the American in me after all.

But that American is a strange emotional and cultural hybrid.

Everything truly intimate, although it might be experienced in French, is translated by my heart into English. Despite all the sincerity of a “je t’aime,” I know it won’t reach that tiny compartment in my heart where those words were first recorded, and believed, in English.



I reached France at the outer limits of childhood, still young and naïve, full of dreams and time to make them happen. All of these things were transformed in French. Maturity came in French and was translated into English. Trips home highlighted what was lost in that translation as I tried to convincingly reword my experience to friends and family.



Today, I’ve reeled back in much of the American in me that has unraveled over the years.

Regarding passions, I've always been interested in too many things and envy those who have just one to concentrate on and perfect.  I love to read of course and write (poetry, short stories, songs) all for my personal pleasure. I'm still waiting for a great idea to inspire me to write a novel.  I enjoy making things with my hands and have dabbled in clay modeling, painting, quilting and all kinds of arts and crafts.



Recently I have taken up archery and find it most enjoyable. I have always been passionate about being a mother, adored pregnancy, and am looking forward to grandchildren (a little further down the line).  

I know that I can never, nor would I wish to, erase either side of the French/American me. My ideal life would be in a loving relationship with an American man, living half the time in Paris and the rest of the time somewhere in the beautiful American countryside. A place where all four seasons can be enjoyed to the fullest.

There is no idolization of American men in that, nor excessive criticism of Frenchmen. It’s that I now know the value of a shared cultural experience, and how different to me the word love is from the word amour.



This American man, ideally in his mid-fifties, will have developed a positive philosophy about life and is open to spirituality.

He is kind, attentive, has a generous heart and is protective of loved ones.



He must have a sense of humor, can be dry, amusingly cynical, but not bawdy unless it’s just the two of us (wink).

Enjoys learning and takes an active interest in our world... culture, politics, ecology, science, history...  and is definitely more Obama than Bush.



Physically in relatively good shape, doesn’t have to be a marathon runner though, just someone who is interested in feeling good and staying healthy but who knows how to indulge from time to time.

Is capable of self-deprecation, but has strong faith and determination to see things through. Clearly speaking, he has high moral standards and is faithful in every sense of the word.



He of course embraces compromise as a means of moving forward.

Is financially independent.

OK, down here on Earth, I have a job, a teenage daughter to support and retirement is still several years in the future. That said, few things are (as they say in French) “engraved in stone,” and I too am open to compromise.



May I end with a word to our dear Aphrodite?

Dearest goddess of love,

You have been here all along and I had shamefully forgotten about you. Thank the heavens your messenger, Kaaren, has come just at the right time and in a way so totally unexpected that I would be crazy not to act upon this chance you have offered. Please use everything in your formidable power, be it arrows, potions, sparks and roses, to help me recreate a loving relationship, as I am, and have always been,

truly yours,

Jo Anne.


                                     *     *     *     *     *     *


A final mot from Kaaren:  On behalf of Aphrodite, I ask you all, does this sound like you? Or like someone you know? Let me know if it does, and I’ll introduce said male to Jo Anne.




Three Short Stories

Story #1: 


Since we’ve been in Paris, we’ve met more than a few American women who’ve lived here longer than we. In response to our question, “What brought you to Paris?” we’ve heard more than a few answer, “I fell in love with a Frenchman. But we’re no longer together.”


Story #2:


We’ve also heard a few people say that they don’t believe in the inner world, the spiritual, the Invisibles, the gods, the stars, magic or myth.

Each of these is a story.

A story that someone has lived.

A story that someone tells him- or herself.


Story #3: 


Both these stories make me think of a third story, a story I lived, which is related to both these prior stories.

In 1994, I was living by myself in an apartment in Venice, California, with a view of the sea from Malibu to Marina del Rey. I had moved there during the Los Angeles riots of 1993. As I moved in around Halloween, I watched the terrible Malibu fires from my windows, an orange snake slithering along the black mountains.

In early 1994, the Northridge earthquake struck my building so forcefully that I leapt out of bed and under my pine dining room table before I was fully awake. I thought the building would collapse and that my life would end there.



And a love relationship ended there as well. I looked back on the two of us and wondered, What was I thinking? He wanted to live in the country; I in town. He wanted more children; I wanted none. He liked constant movement and social life; I liked a balance between going out and staying in. He rarely read; books are as real to me as people and just as important. He was a hearty drinker and smoker; I cared about health. He had no interest in his own inner life; I’d gone as far as I could in exploring my own.

We weren’t suited. Yet we’d stayed together for several years.



Didn’t I know who I was by now? Didn’t I know what I needed in a partner? I felt such weariness, despair, in imagining ever going through this entanglement and breakup again with another man, when anyone looking on from above could have told us: Impossible! Out of the question!

I needed some invisible being who knew all about such things, an expert in love, someone like… Aphrodite! Yes, I needed to have a serious talk with the goddess of beauty and love.



That night I wrote in my journal 100 things I wanted in a mate.

I awakened the next morning with the thought, “Too greedy. Narrow it down to ten.”

It was surprisingly easy. I wrote the following ten things I wanted in a mate in one steady flow:



* Mutual chemistry.

* Mutual adoration.

* Fidelity.



* Communication.

* Has done some serious inner work in healing childhood wounds.



* A reader.

* Preferably a creative type who is capable of being as much of a muse to me as I to him.



* Counter-cultural roots.

* Does not want children, or at least any more than he already has.

* Wants to travel the world.



I said to Aphrodite: “Please bring me a man with all ten of these attributes, or else, if it’s not meant to be, I’ll have the richest life a single woman can have.”

“In the meantime, I’ll work on overcoming my stage fright, and find a place to read my poems in public in Los Angeles.”

I then forgot about the prayer, and began focusing on poetry.

Three Fridays later, I went with an acquaintance to a reading in a Santa Monica bookstore called Midnight Special. (Like so many independent bookstores, it no longer exists.)

I saw a man in a white shirt and Levi’s in the far right of the front row. He looked familiar, but I wasn’t sure from where.

He, who was hosting, stood up halfway through the lineup and read three poems. One about horses, one about a former love, one about taking his dying father to Paris.



I fell back in my chair, barely stopping myself from falling over completely.

“What just happened?!” said my companion.

“I don’t know,” I said. But I did. An arrow had hit me right through the heart.

This is not a metaphor. I felt an arrow pierce my heart with such force it knocked me backwards.

After he read, this poet mentioned that every Saturday afternoon, there was a poetry workshop at Midnight Special that three poets took turns leading. It was free, he said, and all were welcome; he’d worked on his own poems there.



That night I wrote in my journal that I would marry this man.

The next day I awakened early and canceled several appointments. I opened my journal to a poem I’d written about driving through Navajo country in northern Arizona on one of my journeys to pick up paintings as an art dealer between New Mexico, Arizona and California.

I shaped and edited this poem for hours, then drove to the Promenade for the poetry workshop. It was led that week by the very poet whose work had knocked me out the night before.

I had had a better track record as a muse for male artists than I had received from them. So I was nervous when it came time to read my poem.

Richard—for that was his name—began talking about my poem as if he were an x-ray technician of poetry. He said that in the poem’s central metaphor, the unraveling of love being like the unraveling of your own DNA, I'd woven a braid between the three strands of the natural, human and spirit worlds. He then said something so humble that I found it hard to believe: “You’ve done something here that I don’t know how to do, that I’d like to learn how to do.”



Darling one, I said, silently, we have many things to learn from each other, and I for one, will be your glad and willing student and teacher.

There were other poems discussed that day, but I don’t remember them.

After the workshop, our ritual was to all walk down the Third Street Promenade to the Congo Square coffee house. When a group of poets get together, the stories fly.

He and I were startled to learn how many of the same places we’d lived, the same events we’d attended— demonstrations, rock concerts, art events—in the late ‘60s and early '70s in the Bay Area, and later, film and writing conferences in the '80s and '90s in L.A. How was it possible that in more than twenty years we’d never met? Yet this explained why he’d first looked so familiar to me.

Just as it took three weeks from the time I’d sent my wish to Aphrodite to meeting Richard, so it took another three weeks for the romance to burst into bloom.

One Friday night at a Midnight Special poetry reading, I showed him two poems and asked him which I should bring for editing to the Saturday workshop.



“Either,” he said, “Yours are always wonderful. Let’s go get some dinner.” He took my arm and we strolled two blocks to the Broadway Deli, and that was it for him.

Love came aurally for me. For him it came through touch.

In another three weeks we were talking marriage.

What does this story have to do with stories #1 and #2?



Story #3 happened because I do not believe story #2, that the Invisibles do not exist, and because I asked an Invisible, the goddess, Aphrodite, for a story that was not story #1, a story of infidelity and heartbreak.

Richard, it turned out, lived four blocks away from me, on Paloma Avenue in Venice.

Aphrodite is associated with the sea, scallop shells, dolphins, bees, honey, apples, pomegranates, myrtle, rose trees, lime trees, clams, pearls, sparrows and swans. And doves.

And you probably know that paloma means dove.