shopping

Paris: Le sigh.

My third day in Paris can best be described in two distinct sections: the part where I could have passed for a real Parisienne, and the part where I wandered around like a dumbstruck tourist. DSC_0030This morning, when I woke up after seven hours of fitful sleep — "pillow-top" must not in the French vocabulary, though "board-like mattress" appears to be — I got ready, handed my key to the woman at the front desk and bounded out in the late-morning sunshine to find breakfast at the Café de la Madeleine. Did I mention how much I love that hot chocolate, bread and more bread passes for le petit déjeuner here? I needed to get some postcards in the mail — and I had it figured out where to put stamped things but not where to acheter des timbres — so I asked lovely man man in his sidewalk kiosk, spreading batter on the griddle to make his first batch of crepes for the lunch rush. He pointed me in the direction of the post office, where I asked for 15 stamps. All by myself. And felt petrified for only a few seconds. Progress, oui? Then I started walking. In the opposite direction I'd planned to go. I saw a sign that said "Grands Magasins." Which, to the uninitiated, definitely means "huge stores where Paige can spend all her money." Because after buying my own stamps, I deserved to do un peu de shopping. Without question. First, I went to the supermarket. Like an idiot, I'd packed half-empty travel-size toiletries, so most of what I brought is already gone. I wandered around the massive store trying not to look completely gobsmacked by the 2 € cheese and 6 € wine or knock any displays over, and I wound up with the following:

  • A bottle of Beaujolais Brouilly
  • Four bananas
  • The same shave gel I use at home, only the label was in German
  • The most adorable size of shampoo and conditioner — not quite travel, not quite American economy. Juuuuuust right!
  • Lip balm that feels like heaven
  • Body lotion that smells like angel food cake tastes

My favorite part of this excursion: I got to the register marked for reusable bags only, and I whipped out my nylon shopping bag. Christ, I'm eco. For some reason, the price came up in francs as well, and I nearly had a heart attack. Because 25 € comes to about 163 francs. But this story is about me passing for a French person. Actually, I probably didn't. I wandered around at Printemps, the department store that Fodor's raves about, for a while, nearly crying about all the designer clothing I'll a) never fit into and 2) couldn't afford even if I were Twiggy. Then I found the fifth floor, which is all. shoes. And I asked for a size 42 when I was trying on shoes , and the woman all but laughed in my face. Whatever, jerk; I still bought shoes from you, even if they were the biggest they came at 41. The shoes say "Paris" on the inside, and no one else I know will have them. It is my one "big" purchase, at 79 €. So I say.

Et puis, we come to the part of my day where I stumble around Paris aimlessly. Today's idiocy includes my total inability to find the bathrooms or fifth floor at the Musée d'Orsay — no map was going to get me there), misplacing my words when a very nice man on the street in St. Germain tried to talk to me about music, dogging on my server at Chez Marianne for bringing me the wrong items until I realized the fa[l]lafel in Paris are just bogus, running into various cement blocks and nearly getting hit by a few moving vehicles. I couldn't find the ex-pat bookstore, Shakespeare & Co., and I was desperate to be around some English speakers. (All I got today was a little girl in red shoes with buckles and some chain smoker in a bedazzled Harley-Davidson tank top from Virginia, and it was not enough.) The American rage also came back in full force today. I nearly elbowed an old Asian lady who kept trying to cut in front of me in the ticket line at the Musée d'Orsay and wanted to yell at a little boy who was throwing dirt and rocks into the reflecting pool at the Jardin du Luxembourg and, indirectly, into my face. But I don't…really know how to be angry in French. I can be only sweet and polite. And bumbling, apparently.

So besides my great new shoes, an even greater V-neck tan and these burgeoning NYC-caliber calf muscles, Paris feels kind of like a fail today. But tomorrow will be better. Going to bed before 3:30 should help things along, and renting a bike might help even more. We shall see.

Spring is coming.

DSC01828

DSC01828Spring is coming. Garden centers everywhere are kicking up mulch in their excitement for the shoppers' impending return to their stores — I never hear the end of it in the office. It's charming, actually.And a sixty-degree day a couple of weeks ago let me know Chicago would not forever be buried under this snowy misery, but it's easy to forget again when a late-February blizzard ruins all my plans of wearing flats with no socks. (With the exception of the skirts and dresses I joyously free from the depths of my closet, my wardrobe doesn't change when warmer weather hits; mostly I just lose the coat and wear big-girl shoes instead of boots that make me look like a fat Eskimo.) Side note: I really wanted to describe Chicago as a tundra, but being the diligent editor that I am, I had to look it up, and that plan was foiled just as my plans to look cute were. Apparently, Chicago could not even be loosely identified — even considering my love for hyperbole — as a tundra, scientifically speaking. That would mean, according to Wikipedia, that our landscape is treeless and prone to mossy, lichenous groundcover instead. And that musk ox and chinchillas roam free on Lincoln Ave. Simply not true. I'm not sure what biomic classification Chicago would fall under, but this weather right now is awful, and instead of moss and lichen, we have canine fecal matter and mud buried under four inches of snow. (And I promised myself I wouldn't be the kind of resident who complains about that. Because if I had a dog, I'd probably break the law and walk on by after my dog had done its business, too.)

Right now, my only real promise of spring is all the the promotional e-mails I've been receiving from my favorite stores. Almost every morning, I get "SALE! SALE!" and "LOOK AT THIS GREAT OUTFIT THAT YOU SIMPLY. MUST. HAVE." messages from Banana Republic, Zappo's, Piperlime, Ann Taylor Loft For the most part, they just tease me with photos of models wearing flats with no socks — which were obviously taken in warm studios where this behavior was OK. Those models probably wore their UGGs and very-very-skinny jeans to the shoot and left feeling just as depressed that they had to take off their warmer-weather clothes as I was after looking at them in those sale e-mails. And yet, I buy. I look at the shiny, tan legs of models and their precious spring outfits and think of myself, 10 pounds lighter, traipsing around the City of Light, a vision of printemps. Sipping Cotes du Rhone in a café, the backs of my pastel skimmers flapping off my heels and the skirt of my navy blue sailor-striped dress rippling in the Parisian breeze as I make people-watching notes in my leatherbound journal. And wrapping that airy, grass-green scarf around my neck one morning and strolling along the Seine, basking in the sun and my transatlantic solitude.

It's such a travesty to sink hundreds of dollars into new clothes that I won't be able to wear for another couple of months, but reverie like this, that transports me as I'm sitting in this fluorescent hole at a laptop that burns under my wrists, makes me want to spend, spend, spend. I guess that's how long-suffering retailers are still making it — selling products just as much as they are dreams of warmer, happier times to come. Let's get out of this country.