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

Entries in bookstores (5)


Unexpected Pleasures




You can walk out into the world thinking you know what pleasures await you, and have no idea of the treasure in store.

I knew the dinner would be excellent.

I knew that editing a story would be satisfying.

But I'm startled by the acute pleasure of being out in the cold sharp night air after several weeks mostly indoors with the flu. The world is so… solid, so real! Feathers! Flowers! Carytids! The moon! 

The pleasure of crossing a narrow street at the crosswalk, three men talking and blocking my path, the one on the bicycle looking up with great sweetness, "Oh, pardon!" and backing up his bike to let me pass.


The sweetness of men! It moves me even more than their strength. That Celtic douceur that comes from centuries of the troubadour tradition of courtesy (and perhaps from centuries of its opposite, savage wars on one's own soil).

The pleasure of remembering that I have several books to pick up at Shakespeare and Company. I'm carrying a book bag with my laptop and printed-out stories.  Do I want the extra weight? Sure. Better than swinging by too late after they've closed.



I detour, pick up the books. The bookseller with whom I'd been exchanging messages says, "Oh, it's you. I know your face, but didn't know your name."

"Same with me. You have the slightest accent. What is it?"

"I'm French."

"But your English is perfect."

"I lived in the States for a while."

Out into the blue-black cold. The face of Notre Dame across the river makes me think of Rosamond Larmour Loomis. The cathedral reminds me of those four years of boarding school, of memorizing hymns, the strict regimen of classes, study hall, every hour mapped out.



Rosamond was the headmistress of the school. She died last week at the age of 102, several weeks after her boyfriend Henry.

I remember two conversations with her, one when I was 14, and had been called into her office with Miss Moran, the sadistic assistant headmistress. I’ve already mentioned this once on Paris Play, but it made a deep impression on me, hinted at my future. Miss Larmour sternly addressed a most unfortunate incident involving naked girls in high heels and pearls stampeding down the dorm singing an aria from La Traviata. She said, "We thought you were a leader when you arrived, but this is not what we had in mind."



And later at a school reunion, she was no longer the strict head of the school, but relaxed, warm, ageless. We discovered that we'd both been married for the first time later in life, at the same age, though years apart.

Rosamond died the way I would like to die, quickly, quickly, well past the age of 100, with my beloved and friends nearby. I imagine her on her journey, sailing into the mystery.

It is crowded at my writing café. But maybe, maybe that man is not sitting at my table.

The waiter asks.

No, he's just spread out his packages there from the adjacent table where he's talking with a woman. He graciously makes room for me.



I order salmon and scalloped potatoes, the way my mother used to make them.

I open my new James Salter novel, Light Years, and begin to read. Oh. my. god. Oh! Oh! This is music. I cannot help it, I begin to annotate the page with a pencil, making scansion marks above the words as if the lines were a prose poem.

The rhythm of his sentences, the sculptural quality. The weather, the sensory richness.

I know these characters, their lives rich with art, books, friendship, family, storytelling, animals, weather, beauty. (And later, carelessness, sad choices.)

The dinner arrives. The waiter says, “If you finish that book tonight, I’ll give you a free dessert.”

The couple next to me laugh. It's a joke Parisian waiters make only when it’s clear that you’ve just started a book.

The meal is fantastic.



The man at the next table gets up to use the bathroom. The woman strikes up a conversation with me. She lives for literature. She lives in a small town near Brittany. 

The man returns. He runs a poetry and fiction reading series near us in Paris.

She invites Richard and me to visit her in her small village. She offers to drive us around.

He invites us to come to his poetry series next weekend.

They have just met in the Jardin du Luxembourg.  We all exchange cards.

I am flooded with richness.

When they leave I order a glass of cider. The mild alcohol content won't interfere with my editing.

Oh yes it does. I'd forgotten the lingering effect of the flu, am instantly tipsy. Now, how to balance that out? A coffee would keep me up all night. But a hot chocolate wouldn't. That delicate balancing act we do with food, drink and energy.

The hot chocolate warms and awakens me. I edit the story with the music of Salter's sentences ringing in my ears.





What a Wonderful Way to Die

Our friend George Whitman died Wednesday.

The legendary, incredibly hospitable, and sometimes famously irascible proprietor of the latest incarnation of the Paris bookstore Shakespeare and Company was 98. We've shared our love of the bookstore here on Paris Play twice before.

In these latter years, George had turned over the operations of the store to his supremely competent, beautiful, and equally hospitable daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman, who expands on her father's gifts by running the bookstore as a business, too, which wasn't really in George's nature.


Here's what we mean: Richard had the pleasure of being George's guest at his "Tumbleweed Hotel," a few times during the eighties, which sometimes entailed running the cash box while George stepped out. George was a wonderful, trusting soul, but Richard suspects that many of the other vagabonds who also found themselves in the position of watching the store may not have been as scrupulously honest.

George estimated that he put up more than 40,000 travelers at the bookstore over the years. In exchange for a bed, George asked them to work an hour or two a day, write a short autobiography and read a book a day.

In a video made by Book TV C-Span 2 in 2002 (when George was 90 years old and Sylvia was 21), the interviewer asked him about Sylvia:

Is she the only child you have?

George: In a way she's the only one. In another way, I have thousands of children all over the world.

Interviewer: She came a little late for you, didn't she?

George: Not for me. I'm just beginning to live. When I'm 100 years old, come and interview me again, I'll tell you some more interesting stories.

His friends recalled that George also had the habit of slipping large denomination franc notes into books as bookmarks, then reshelving them and forgetting where he put them. Since George ran Shakespeare as a lending library, too, people would report finding 50,000 franc bills, which George would pocket, saying, "Oh, I wondered where that went." He was a great lover and patron of literature, and counted among his friends many of the greatest writers of the 20th Century, among them Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, James Baldwin, Lawrence Durrell, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg and Wiliam Burroughs.


Willis Barnstone read at Shakespeare in August

I met George in the nineties when Richard and I began traveling to Paris together. In his mid-eighties, he was lean and raffishly bohemian, and had the aura of a Merlin. As Sylvia said about her father in the 2005 video, Portrait of a Bookstore as an Old Man, "For me, he's more of a very eccentric wizard."


There are many fine obituaries out there with all of the pertinent "facts," how George was given the mantle and bookstore name by Sylvia Beach, who began the store in November 1919 (and closed it in December 1941 after threats from the occupying Nazis), and who first published James Joyce's Ulysses; how George and his friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti of City Lights in San Francisco began their "sister stores" in the early 1950's, etc.; but what moved me was the way his death so beautifully mirrored his life. Sylvia was quoted in the 2002 Book TV interview, "People ask me what is his secret. I think it's that he's surrounded by books, which is his passion. And also surrounded by young people, so it kind of keeps him alive. He's got a buzz for life and so he's--I find him quite inspiring that way."

George Whitman died as he lived, above the bookstore in his tiny apartment facing the Seine and Notre Dame, in a 17th Century building that had once housed the monks of Notre Dame. He died surrounded by books, with his daughter, friends and his dog and cat by his side.



We walked by Thursday to bring Sylvia Whitman a bouquet of roses, and found the store closed, and dozens of people with the same impulse, creating a shrine of flowers, candles, and notes that we all hoped would withstand the near-freezing Paris wind.

George will be buried at Pere-Lachaise, our favorite cemetery, where Balzac, Proust, Oscar Wilde and Apollinaire rest, so we will visit him there, and will continue to greet his spirit at least weekly at Shakespeare, the fiercely independent and magical bookstore where we buy our books. 




A Night Alone in Paris

Street art by Pole Ka


Richard is sick in bed. He caught the flu at L’Alliance Francaise (one of the hazards of being in school), so I went alone tonight to pick up a book at Shakespeare & Company. And I got sick too, but in a different way.

A bookstore that stays open till 11 p.m. suits me just fine. Since I work at home, I often forget the difference between weekdays and weekends. Walking down St.-Germain at 9:30 p.m., I was surprised to find the cafes packed with people, the art galleries open, everyone in convivial spirits. Oh, right, Saturday night. I stepped into a gallery where a man in a beret was playing a violin, while a dark-haired woman writhed like a serpent in front of a seated audience. It was not particularly artful. Yet the seats were all taken. More people like to watch than get up on stage and perform, so the balance worked.



At Shakespeare & Company, I asked a young woman behind the counter if my Alain de Botton book had arrived. She searched the shelf behind her, speaking to me in English and French. Her English was so perfect, I assumed she was British, but no, she had just started learning it 11 years ago. She gets a lot of practice at the bookstore.



She handed me Botton's, How Proust Can Change Your Life. Margarita recommended it, and she loves Proust the way I love Proust. She’s also reading a biography of Proust, which she said makes him seem like a nasty man, but I find that hard to believe.

I browsed the fiction section and found two Jennifer Egan novels I hadn’t read, Invisible Circus and Look at Me. Extravagant, but I learned from my mother extravagance in buying books. She used to leave bookstores with a box of them in her arms. When I was a child and my parents had more children than money, she’d take us to the library every day for another Wizard of Oz. The passion for reading came from her, and she got it from her mother, Esther the poet, who ran off to Columbia for a year of graduate school, leaving two small children (one of whom was my mother) at home with her parents. While it was an agreement she’d made with my grandfather, who could start his medical practice now after finishing medical school, it was still a shocking thing for a small-town Minnesota woman to do, and I think cost her dearly in her husband and daughter’s affection.


On to the poetry section to see if the book I longed to read last night was there. I’d gone to every bookshelf in our apartment, unsure if we’d brought it or donated it to Antioch, our MFA alma mater, when we moved. Hélas! It was nowhere to be found at home.

But here! Here it was at Shakespeare. I grabbed the only copy of Ezra Pound’s The Cantos, and headed for the red theater chair in the next room to read a little of each Egan, and decided, of course I needed them both, and then dipped into The Cantos.


The French woman clerk came in with an English colleague to put some art books to bed. They were bedding the books above me, and to both sides, so I offered to move. No, no, they said, in the relaxed way that characterizes this bookstore.

We talked about learning English and French. Terry said that he surrounded himself with French people, played soccer with an all-French team, sang phrases while he showered, just bore down on it like a jackhammer. He practiced saying words with French friends, asking them over and over, “Am I saying it correctly?” After four years, he was fluent. Both were fluent in both languages. But, they teased each other, “I can still tell you’re French when you say certain words.” “Well, I can tell you’re English,” she sing-songed back.



I listened to a couple speaking German.

Another couple came in and spoke Spanish, from somewhere in the Americas.

And then a couple spoke what sounded to me like Chinese, but perhaps was not? Japanese? No, they looked and sounded Chinese.

I went back to reading The Cantos, and read a line about Chinese or Japanese. Hmmm. That was strange.

I asked the woman if she spoke English or French.


Street art by Tristan des Limbes


English, she said.

“I was just wondering if you were speaking Chinese or Japanese,” I said. “And then I read this.” I showed her the line.

She nodded, as if to say, Very strange indeed, but she was looking at me, not the text.

I came in for two books, but I wanted all four. I’m trying to be frugal—the exchange rate from dollars to euros is nuts right now; imagine everything costing one-third extra—but frugality doesn’t apply when it comes to books. I was programmed that way in childhood.



I meandered out into the cooler autumn air, past the oldest tree in Paris, a robina planted in 1636, which has a crutch beneath it like a figure in a Salvador Dali painting. Maybe I’d try a new restaurant I’d passed on the way. I wanted healthy tonight more than delicious, and Le Grenier de Notre Dame promised wholesome vegetarian fare. It was intimate and beautifully lit, and the waiter was warm and wall-eyed, and recommended a vegetable pie, and I sat and read The Cantos, and ate a perfectly delicious, perfectly healthy meal.

I was again ensorcelled by Pound’s way of weaving myth, history, poetry of other times, astronomy, astrology, philosophy, beauty of place, Italian, French, English, German, Chinese, Latin, Greek, his own memories, his obsession with economic justice and wise rule, and the occasional expression of a heart that seemed cracked with scapegoating and hatred—the works. Oh, but the richness.

I read:

       “nothing matters but the quality

of the affection—

in the end—that has carved the trace in the mind

dove sta memoria


The couple two tables away spoke Italian, he in a caressing soft tone, she like a barking dog. She had tattoos on her arms that looked like the exquisite graffiti on the walls around here. I glanced at each of them. I’m fascinated by volume, how some nationalities speak loudly, some softly. Italians, like Americans, speak as if they’re on stage. French people tend to speak as if they’re in the bedroom, and sometimes as if they want you to get in bed too.

I was struck by how softly this Italian man was speaking. But the moment after I glanced over at the two of them, he began to bark back at his companion, as if caught in the act of being too gentle, too refined.

And I walked home at 11 p.m., feeling perfectly safe on a Saturday night in this city where my soul is so at home, sick—sick with love.




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.






Shine A Light


We ventured so far into the inner world in the past two posts that I’d like to focus on something external this time, like, say, a list of differences between life in France and life in America. And why not present the list in the context of the vision quest? Those twelve sea creatures metamorphosed into variants of the Greek gods and goddesses, each with their own realm of action, so let’s look at the French and Americans through the eyes of the “invisibles.”



Any such list is entirely subjective, of course, coming as it does from our limited experience of living off and on for three weeks to three months at a time since the ‘80s and now as permanent residents of Paris for a mere three months. But here are a few things that Richard and I have noticed:


Poseidon (sleep, dreams, the Collective Unconscious)

We live in a stone building that was built in 1862. Our apartment is on the fifth floor and looks out onto two courtyards. We have three fireplaces, none of which work but which look good, especially the salamander in the dining room, and herringbone parquet wooden floors that creak when we walk but which we wouldn’t change for the world.


A salamander

At night, if you lean out the window far enough, you can see the lights of every one of the twenty apartments in the two wings of our building. I am knocked out by the discipline of the French in relationship to sleep. By 11 p.m., almost every window is dark. By midnight, everyone has gone to sleep, including Richard and me…unless we are writing or editing photographs or studying French or we just got back from dinner with friends and are a bit too wired to sleep yet.


Beaujolais, the house cat at Rotisserie Beaujolais

The French are our model for good sleep habits. They are Benjamin Franklin’s delight, “Early to bed, early to rise….” But we don’t always follow this model.


Dionysus (passion, desire, silence, the Personal Unconscious)



I’m going to get in trouble here, but here goes: We keep running into examples of the French notion that marriage and passion don’t go together. According to our French friends, mistresses and side men are rife, for both sexes. It seems to me that Americans place more value on fidelity in marriage than the French do. My advice to American women who are considering moving to France: find an American mate first, and move here together.

On the other hand, silence: we could write a book about the different public attitudes about noise in the U.S. and in France. It is shocking to sit in a restaurant surrounded by French couples or groups of friends who modulate their voices so that everyone in the room can have a private conversation; then a couple of Americans sit down and the shouting begins.



Or you fly back to the U.S. and land in NYC or Dallas-Fort Worth and before you’ve even reached customs, a TV overhead is blaring news or some inane reality show.

The relationship to silence seems to me to reveal something about a culture’s embrace of, or fear of, the soul. You cannot hear the voice (or voices) of the soul in the midst of a constant barrage of noise. Creativity begins in the soul. 

And the French have a tremendous respect for creativity.


Artemis (emotional security, cleanliness)



Let’s just talk about showers. American showers are better, the plumbing is better, since it’s not hundreds of years old, the water has less calcium and it makes for less fly-away hair.

Then there’s toilet paper. Over the years, we’ve laughed at stories we’ve heard of people who bring a suitcase of their own, but it’s true, if you want sandpaper, go into any French bathroom.



I can’t speak about emotional security except one by one, within individuals. And I don’t know enough French individuals to say.


Hermes (education, reading, inspiration)

A friend just sent me an Internet link that compares how many independent bookstores there are in New York City to ones in Paris. The difference is staggering: something like 1400 in Paris versus about 18 in New York City. I’m not surprised. You can’t go for more than a few blocks in Paris without running into a bookstore.  

“If you don't listen to the Guardian Books podcast, I recommend it. It's free. Regarding Montaigne, the podcast in Paris also distinguished the French, in contrast to the Brits and Americans, for loving and publishing essays, liking to read about ideas.”



Richard and I watch French TV for an hour a night, as one of our French lessons. It’s striking how many shows have intelligent debate about books, literature and ideas, and how few dumb sitcoms and idiot reality shows and dancing with celebrities there are. Our acupuncturist here told us how the American CBS series 60 Minutes did a long, admiring piece about the highest-rated show (at the time) on French television, an hour-long, prime-time Sunday night talk show called Apostrophes, which featured interviews with writers the caliber of Marguerite Duras and André Malraux.  The show Apostrophes still has its own definition in the Larousse dictionary. 


Daedalus (creativity, art, craft)



In this realm, there is something that is so striking about Paris that it might be half the reason we moved here: the street signs. You can’t go more than a block without reading some plaque on the wall that honors a poet, a novelist, a photographer, a sculptor, an architect, a scientist, a doctor, a philosopher. Often it is where that artist or inventor was born, or only lived for a year.



On our short street alone, there is a plaque at #74, where Hemingway and his first wife, Hadley, lived; a plaque at the town house, #71, where Joyce finished Ulysses in the apartment which was loaned to him by Valéry Larbaud, poet, novelist, essayist and translator; a plaque at #67 for the philosopher, Blaise Pascal, who died there in 1662; a plaque for Jacques-Henri Lartigues, the photographer and painter; and at #2, where the poet, Verlaine, lived for a time. Creative people are respected and honored in this city. Perhaps that’s why so many have lived here. You can feel it in the stones, in the buildings and in the streets.



Athena (government, management, money, peace)

It’s inevitable that a country such as France, which has known so many wars on its own soil, would be more cautious than the U.S. about invading other countries for imperialistic aims, whether to gain resources or territory (in the name of democracy, bien sûr). The U.S. is too young a nation, too naïve about the costs of war, to have much wisdom about the value of peace.

After divesting itself of its colonies during the wars of liberation in the early ‘60s, France has maintained liberal relationships with its citizens abroad, and immigration, while flawed (but at least they don’t build border fences), still rejuvenates French society daily. Most neo-logisms, which the French Academy tries desperately to keep out of the language, are now coming in from Arabic and African languages, not American English.

And money? The French pay about 70% of their income in taxes. Most entrepreneurial Americans would find that unthinkable. But they haven’t experienced the safety net—the infrastructure and the health care—that the French take for granted. More on the latter in Demeter’s realm.


Hestia (house, home, garden, interior and architectural design)



Parisians live in apartments with fewer square metres than the average American. We moved from a house of 2,500 square feet to a 900 square foot apartment. While there’s no room for all of our books, it is considered relatively roomy by Parisian standards. And we immediately have a more expansive life here than when we lived in a larger house. We can walk anywhere in the city and join friends in restaurants that are open to the street, or to any one of the theaters you find every few blocks or any of the world-class museums to be found within walking distance. Imagine, a troupe of world-class Sufi dancers from Syria performing two blocks from your apartment.

But “home” brings me to another subject: household appliances. Americans win that one hands down. We cannot figure out why a European Maytag washing machine takes several hours for a load of washing and several hours for a drying cycle and is noisier than the jets coming in and out of LAX. It’s a mystery. But Americans are better at manufacturing machines.


Aphrodite (beauty, morphos, shapeliness, style, love)



Paris is the center of fashion, so fashion is in Parisians’ genes. What is striking, in contrast to the outlandish styles you see on the fashion runways, is how French elegance combines three things: fine material, simplicity of design and understated refinement. And it seems that mini-skirts never go out of style here, they’re just accessorized with leggings or dark stockings in the winter.

And shapeliness? It’s startling how few fat Parisians you see. This is due, we think, to the nourishing diet, and to the ease of walking in Paris.

The French seem to have built-in radar for temperance and restraint in standards of beauty. You rarely see huge artificial breasts, bad face-lifts, over-bleached hair, sloppy gym clothes in the street and men who dress like boys in shorts and T-shirts—again, elegance seems to include the notion of measure and appropriateness here.

And love? Aside from food, it’s the national religion.


Demeter (food, cooking, nourishment, health)

No one who’s ever spent three days in France forgets the food. The bread! The cheese! The chocolate! The artistry and deliciousness of the cooking!


Poilâne bakery, the world's best 

But let me just mention what the French lack: Whole Foods. There is no market like Whole Foods in Paris. I miss the American spicy salmon and California guacamole they sell. And though the French make a better almond butter, they can’t approach American peanut butter.

Then there’s health care. Our health insurance payment here is equivalent to our old Anthem Blue Shield, but it pays for all medicine, all doctor visits, and a doctor’s visit means the doctor comes to your house if need be. But we wouldn’t want any such socialism in our country, would we? Well, maybe if we’d experienced French health care, we might.


Ares (goods, shopping, purchases, travel, war, practical community protection--such as firemen and policemen)

In spite of my fondness for Whole Foods, it is so soulful to walk to the boulangerie to buy bread freshly baked within the hour, cheese from a fromager where every clerk knows the history of fifty different kinds of cheese and what bread or wine would go best with it. And if you’re a chocolate kind of person, you can buy that dark chocolate and carry it out in a turquoise bag that is more beautiful than a bag from Tiffany’s.



And the public transportation? It makes us weep with gratitude. Though most of the time we can walk to just about anywhere in the city (Paris is only 41 square miles, smaller than San Francisco), when it’s raining or very late, we can hop on a Métro and reach any distant destination in the city within 40 minutes at the most. After driving for hours at a time to get to a destination in Los Angeles, this human scale, of buildings mostly not much taller than five stories, of restaurants and shops mixed in with residential apartments, of great public transport, everything feels intimate here. And that has a relaxing, pleasurable effect on the psyche.

As far as protective services, my hairdresser in Los Angeles, who was from Paris, told me that after experiences like being occupied by the Germans in World War II, the French will not put up with aggressive local policemen. He said we’d get to know the police in our arrondissement, and run into them at our local cafés, and get to know them by name. And that compared with American policemen, they’re much friendlier, and less confrontational.



We experienced this when Eric, a policeman, was called to our building. He was a blond young man on a bicycle who seemed about as threatening as the pre-med student in your dorm in college. (But that’s another story.)


Apollo (performance, enjoyment, celebration)

Okay, here’s a story from 2009. Richard and I went to see Martin Scorsese’s film about the Rolling Stones, “Shine a Light.” It was in one of the theaters in what used to be the former public market, Les Halles, a rather Dionysian part of town near the rue St. Denis, where all the hookers hang out. The theater was full. We had good seats in the center of a central row. Now, no one goes to see a film about the Rolling Stones unless he or she likes rock ’n’ roll, and has some attraction to the Dionysian brand that the Stones have been giving us since the ‘60s.



The film was terrific. One great song after another by the greatest rock band in the world (And if you disagree, you’re just wrong.) We could hardly sit in our seats we were so ecstatic. Richard was once a disc jockey in the San Francisco Bay area, and we both came of age with the great rock bands of the ‘60s. It was crazy to be listening to this music and sitting down. So we moved in our seats. How could you not?

But we slowly became aware of the oddest phenomenon. Everyone around us seemed rapt. No one was leaving the theater. But everyone sat, not moving, hands in their laps, like good children waiting to be allowed to eat. No one around us even moved their heads slightly in time to the music. We wondered if we’d hear people saying afterwards that they hadn’t liked the film or the music. But no, in the lobby, we heard low murmurs of approval in French in every direction. We stood by the exit door and listened. The very thing that makes it so pleasant to be in a public space with the French, their decorous restraint, seemed lunatic while listening to the Rolling Stones.

We came away with two impressions: that Americans with their impulsive exuberance might just know how to let loose better than the French, at least in public. And this is why great rock ‘n’ roll has come from England and the United States and not from France. It’s just not the gift of the French.



Zeus (generosity, gift-giving, blessing)

The uninhibited nature of Americans makes it easier for them/us to express generosity. Or so it seems to us at this point. Though, as we get to know more French people, who knows what we’ll find? The French, we are told, are notorious for their initial reserve—smiles are earned, not given freely as they are in the United States. But, we are also told, they are warm life-long friends once you break through that reserve. We’ll keep you informed.