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

Entries in real estate (3)





Ballerina Clown by Jonathan Borofsky, Venice, California

"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy, for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter into another."

     -- Anatole France 

One of our greatest fears about moving to Paris was that we’d miss our family and friends too much.

But almost no week goes by when a friend or family member doesn’t visit. And the best part is that we see them while they’re in a state of relaxed enjoyment, giddy from the beauty of this city, even while jet-lagged.

This week, Chris and Alice, friends from Los Angeles were here. He was on his way to Lyons to teach a three-day class in myth and film. She was in the midst of real estate business by phone and computer even while staying in Paris several days.


Downtown Playa del Rey, California

No one is a better source than Alice for what’s happening on the ground in our last hometown. She was once a writer, and brings a writerly sensibility to understanding character and people’s domestic desires and dramas.

When Richard and I taught myth in L.A. and beyond, in discussing the Greek gods and goddesses and their various realms, we’d always emphasize that genius, one’s daemon, is not just a description of artistic originality. Genius can be found in any field. And as we discovered in working with Alice on the huge challenge of selling our house in Playa del Rey at the very bottom of the real estate market, genius can and does shine in real estate brokers, too.


Venice canals

Richard and I each lived several lives (he six years and I four) in Los Angeles before meeting each other. We met in 1994 (the year of the great earthquake) when we lived within several blocks of each other in Venice. For that and other reasons, Venice is my favorite spot in L.A.

It’s where I lived in the ‘70s after crewing on a schooner and crossing the Pacific from Honolulu to Marina del Rey. It’s where the crew hung out with Ken Kesey and his gang of wild women and men.

It’s where I used to go when I’d come to L.A. in the ‘80s as a traveling art dealer.

It’s where I lived when I moved from Santa Fe to Los Angeles in 1990.

It’s where I experienced the Malibu fires in the distance, and the L.A. riots closer at hand in 1992.

After meeting Richard, it’s where we bought a fourplex and lived from 1995 to 2001.

It’s where we became close friends with Jane and Alex Eliot and so many other friends of a lifetime.


Sumo tournament, Venice Beach

It’s Gold’s gym, the beach, the boardwalk and the Rose Café, where we helped run a poetry series in the late ‘90s. It’s where we met most of the poets in L.A. and many from around the country, too.

It’s where we lived when we both went back to Antioch University, L.A., for graduate degrees in writing.

And it’s the place we left in 2001 to buy our dream house in Playa del Rey.


View from our former house, Playa del Rey

Richard and I loved that house, but we discovered that it changed our lives from living in a beach town where you could walk to almost everything, to one where you had to drive to get almost everywhere. And that made a huge difference in our lives.

When we decided finally to move to Paris, the market decided to stop us. The house was on the market, then off, on the market, then off, as home values plummeted and fear reigned. We wondered if we’d ever sell the house. 

Enter Alice.

She began with a stern talk on being realistic about the price. We listened to her, and adjusted it accordingly.

Then came the painful part. Feng shui! She Feng shuied our house, every corner of it, and began to stage it so other people could come in and imagine themselves there.



She began by taking my most precious piece of art, a stylized papier-mâché cross made of antique leather book covers that my sister Jane had made me as an Antioch graduation present, and placed it at the top of the inside stairway. I had my own strong reasons for its placement elsewhere, but Alice was intransigent. Then she took my favorite brilliant-colored Indian rug, a gift from my parents, out from under the dining room table and positioned it in the entrance hall. The first thing you saw on entering the house was a joyful splash of color on the wooden floor and at the top of the stairs.

She added mirrors, pillows, rugs, shifted paintings around—it took all evening. Richard went to sleep nauseated, and I did too. I know a thing or two about creating an inviting home (you would, too, if you had my mother).

But in the morning, I saw what Alice had done. Genius! We had looked for years for the right piece of art for the top of the stairs and Alice saw immediately that we already had it.

It was amazing how, even representing both buyer and seller, she managed to dissolve every single obstacle that came up in the final negotiations with the right buyer. And there were considerable obstacles. At one point, when we’d packed up most of the house and were essentially living out of just the master bedroom and kitchen (boxes were piled high everywhere else), with some of our possessions already on the way to Paris, an inspection revealed that the entire master bedroom oak floor would have to be removed so that two beams holding up the second floor balcony just outside the bedroom could be repaired. (Termite damage.)

Alice got several other contractors’ opinions, and found one who had an ingenious method of ridding the beams of termites without tearing half the house apart.

There were numerous such examples. She kept her cool when Buyer was balking, and calmed us when it looked like we were not going to be able to move to Paris after all.

Now, here in Paris, over salmon and lamb and Côtes du Rhône in our favorite bistro, we learned from Alice and Chris that Venice is booming. Stretch limos prowl Abbott Kinney. Robert Downey, Jr. bought a loft on Abbott Kinney for eight million dollars, I think Alice said.

Rose Avenue, right adjacent to where we used to live on Fifth Avenue, has turned into the next Abbott Kinney, with shops and chichi restaurants.



The movie producer Joel Silver just bought the charming 1939 post office building on Windward Circle with the murals of Venice and Abbott Kinney himself. Last November, Google moved into the Frank Gehry-designed "binocular building" on Main Street, directly across from Richard's old duplex. While we HATE the name, the three-mile strip from Santa Monica to the tip of the Marina del Rey peninsula is home to so many tech start-ups that the industry (and press) has dubbed it Silicon Beach.


Parc Monceau, Paris

It is wonderful to spend time with a couple who love each other and are full of news about so many things that interest us. But that night I lay in bed wondering if we should have sold our fourplex in Venice. Wouldn’t it have been great to have a pied-a-terre there? I mentioned it to Richard at breakfast. He reminded me that we wouldn’t have moved to Paris if we’d kept that place. I know, I know.

One thing has to die for another to be born. And in spite of realizing how deeply American we are, how the U.S. will always be our country, our favorite city in the world is Paris, and we did not make a mistake in moving here.  As Gertrude Stein put it, "America is my country. Paris is my home town."




A Room for Dreaming

The state we are in

as we leave agent and owner,

the lease in our hands,


the room a dream come true,

the room where a deeper dream

will unfold.


A three-year lease. He doesn’t want to sell.

His son might use it for college,

his three-year-old son.


Galettes at Breizh, a new find—

might be the best in town, though any would be

in the state we’re in, the world perfect and full.



From one end of rue Vieille du Temple

to the Seine, dark waters, shivering,

a ghost memory, I dive in


to another river from my houseboat

on the Thames, swim to a swan

who hisses and strikes like a snake


my hand, protecting her cygnets.

We head east on the Quai d’Orléans.

There! Look! Right above Notre Dame,



Venus and Jupiter shine, so close

they seem to be signaling, so bright

they seem to be speaking.



And there! Two swans on the bank

of the Seine, one with head tucked into wing,

the other grooming his feathers.


I remember Zeus disguised as swan

ravishing Leda, her hyacinth-colored eggs bearing

Castor and Clytaemnestra, Helen and Polydeuces;


remember the swan poems we wrote the year

we met, calling out to each other,

“Cob!” “Pen!”


We look back from the Pont de la Tournelle

at Our Lady’s eastern face, the skull

that shows in the dark.


The sweep of light across the heavens

from the tip of the golden tower, Jupiter and Venus

like swans curved in embrace.


And it seems to us that all that matters

is that we turn again

and again to love.





Chambre de Bonne

Have you ever wanted something so intensely that not getting it—or even getting it—made you sick? That's what happened to me last week.

When did I first see the light from a sixth floor window in Paris, one of those alluring little chambres de bonnes—maids’ rooms—attic aeries where so many writers I’d read about had written, or placed their characters?

It must have been the summer after my freshman year of college, a sad year in spite of the fact that two out of the three courses I took were splendid, one in French literature, one in anthropology.



My sister, Jane and I were about to start college at the Sorbonne (she) and Oxford (I) in the fall. But first we had several weeks in Paris before my mother and three youngest siblings arrived.

I wanted one of those writing rooms then, and I wanted it years later after rereading in Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast of his climbing up to his chambre de bonne each morning and writing until he’d shaped a story to his satisfaction.



For the year and a month that Richard and I have lived in Paris, I’ve been fervently picturing getting one of these rooms.

At the February meeting of our syndic, coop board, I asked if anyone knew of a chambre de bonne for rent in our building or nearby.

“Oh no!” came the chorus. “They’re rarely available and anyway, there are waiting lines. Everyone wants one.”

Disappointing news.

Then a bit of synchronicity. It’s been happening a lot lately. When you run into the one person to whom you need to speak, though you may not see him or her again for another six months. I ran into someone we know who knows the neighborhood.

“Quick!” she said (in French). “Call this number. The tenant is moving out of her chambre de bonne.

I called. As Richard and I met the agent to look at the room, another prospective tenant was leaving, and another was due shortly.

The room was just big enough for a writing desk and chair. There was wall space to put up index cards to map out stories and novels. And there were two windows, one facing the Pantheon. The Pantheon!



I felt sick with lust. The agent would call me, she said. She had many other appointments. Later that day, she called to say the owner would make a decision after the weekend.

After the weekend?! That was four days away!

The following Monday she called. The chambre de bonne was mine. But we wouldn’t sign a lease for another two weeks.

Are you canceling the ad? I asked.

No, she said, but we won’t show it again unless something prevents us from signing.

Prevents us from signing? But how, I wondered aloud, do I know he, or you, won’t change your mind in the next two weeks?

Confiance, she said. Trust.

Trust? In two people I don’t know, in a country whose customs are decidedly not Anglo-Saxon? In my native land, we’d have signed that lease and written that check the day the owner decided.

I had envisioned what I’d do with every square inch of space in this tiny chambre de bonne. And now I had to wait another two weeks, still not knowing that the room was definitely mine.

So I got sick. Just a cold, but enough to keep me from writing, and from posting on Paris Play. Richard caught it first and generously shared it with me. A friend said that half of Paris had it, and it was a stubborn strain. I rarely get colds. I’d forgotten what it feels like to be so exhausted that you can't imagine ever leaving your apartment again.

And then this afternoon it lifted. I went out for the first time in a week. Astonishing how vivid the world looks when you’ve been home sick for a week. I made five stops in about as many blocks.

At the enchanting little Greek shop, I had to linger in front of the window for at least five minutes to gaze at the proprietor’s miniature display. Interspersed with bottles of Cretan honey in black pots painted like ancient Greek vases with gods’ faces in orange (it was full of thyme, said the label) and spanakopita, were miniature statues of the Venus de Milo, busts of Socrates, donkeys with old men on their backs, a whole little diorama.

I went in to buy walnuts and pine nuts. The silver-haired Greek man behind the counter wore a NY Yankees cap.

Was he a fan? I asked.

Nah, he’d found it at the Acropolis.

At the dry cleaners, the proprietor said they didn’t do repairs. Verbal exchanges in Paris often begin this way. “Non, nous ne faisons pas cela ici. Il ne peut pas être fait.” (We don’t do that here. It can’t be done.) And then someone offers an exception! The woman ironing said that a friend of hers could fix my jeans whose hems were fraying because they were too long. She was ironing a shirt with a bright geometric pattern that dazzled my eyes.

At the little grocery, 8 à Huit, I found some good-looking broccoli and zucchini, but the Moroccan man at the counter said it wasn’t enough to use my credit card. But I was out of cash. We counted out my remaining coins, beautiful copper and silver discs, and there was just enough.



Our flower shop had tulips in an orangey-red for the fireplace mantel, and roses in a coral shade for Richard’s office. Les fleurs! A room full of living jewels!

Les Pâtes Vivantes was packed. I ordered a Szechuan beef soup with cilantro, scallions and noodles which a Chinese chef made in a glass box right in front of you. He tossed and rolled and pulled the dough into long cream-colored strings. This was a treat for Richard who had been out roaming all day taking photos, and would be ravenous when he returned. His studio is the whole of Paris. 

It suddenly seemed real. Next week I’d have my studio. It seems to me that I’ve been waiting for this forever.