Thursday, March 22, 2012

Just this

Too busy to blog, so for now just this...

And this...

And maybe later I'll relate my faux pas in a fountain which resulted in this...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

If you need a hand...

In Paris, there is a shop for absolutely everything. If you want mustard, there's a mustard shop.

If you want to give yourself a medal, there's a shop for that.

There are shops dedicated to teapots, soap, musical boxes...

If you hanker for a bird's nest, there is a shop for that.

An upside-down crystal chair to hang from your ceiling? I know the very shop.

Specialist glove shops...

And if you need a hand for that glove, there's even a hand shop.

There are lethal weapon shops...

Shops that sell lampshades as dresses.

And best of all, if I need an editor (as I often do) I can buy one here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Zing of Spring

I discovered what the strange zizz was in the air yesterday evening - a champagne fizzle in the pink dusk that made me tingle as I walked along the Seine to Shakespeare and Co.

Spring burst upon the city overnight. Trees that were bare and square yesterday are clouded with a fine, green haze.

Yes, I did say square.

Paris likes its trees square. The city is run with military precision and designed by an obsessive mathematician; more on that later. For now, I'm worried - do square trees grow round in the spring?

Above me, the green buds of a chestnut tree are opening like a newborn's fingers. They tremble, still too raw and tender for the world. I swear this park is greening, moment by moment, as I watch.

So that's what I felt waiting in the dusk last night - the zing of spring.

How To Make A Myth of Yourself in 2012?

A PS to my last post on authors behaving badly: here's British author Isabel Losada, who just set up camp for a week in the window of WH Smith's in Paris, round the corner from me in Rue du Rivoli, to promote the French edition of her book.

Not that I'm suggesting Ms Losada was anything other than well-behaved. But I just can't see Simone de Beauvoir doing that.

Shakespeare & (some Scottish) Company

The sun was balanced on the tip of the Eiffel Tower like a big orange ball on the nose of a seal.

I was heading down the river to see fellow Glaswegian writer Lesley McDowell at an event at Shakespeare and Co, the quaint Dickensian bookshop on the Left Bank that, if I'm not hauled out of it, I'd happily burrow away inside for days on end.

By the time I'd walked from the Louvre to the Ile de la Cite, the sun had fallen off its perch and the bells of Notre Dame were pealing out the hour - 7 o'clock. I'd meant to get there earlier but I'd lingered on the bridges as the sky turned to pink champagne and there is a tangible fizz about the city.

Silly me. The bookshop was packed out. I'd have to scramble upstairs where they'd packed in late stragglers. I'd hear, but not see, the event. This is when it's good to be small and quietly stubborn. I bent my knees behind a large, seated American and tried to hide behind a bookstack. And yay, the writing gods were on my side. Two friends spotted each other across the room and the seat in front of me was free - just in time.

Lesley and American author Dan Bullen were here to talk about their books on the love lives of writers - legendary liaisons like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Henry Miller and Anais Nin. Why, asked Lesley, had so many brilliant, intelligent women thrown themselves with such abandon and been 'steamrollered' by ruinous relationships with male writers who lived for their art? Her answer is that they were not victims, but volunteers. They knew what they were doing and the pay-off was worth the pain.

Desire and writing are so intertwined that each feeds off the other. These women had ambitions for their writing; they ached and yearned for a writing partner and sought out such men as part of the fulfilment of their dreams. A deeply passionate relationship with a powerful male talent inspired and drove them, boosted their confidence and writing - and their careers. It is not, said Lesley, a view that will warm feminist hearts, but it's probably the truth.

These were vampiric relationships, on both sides. Dangerous liaisons that often burned themselves out with tragic results: breakdowns, suicide, alcoholism, abortion, abandoned families... leaving vast wreckage in their wake. But the perilous journeys resulted in some great art.

These writers were living out a great, passionate experiment that fuelled their fiction - and made myths of themselves in the process. They lived it and dissected their experience, sacrificing normality to create their art. 'Art' was the excuse for a lot of bad, selfish behaviour.

So was their art - all the groundbreaking books and the great explorations of human (and uncharted female) experience - worth the pain and wreckage of themselves and the innocents around them? Can even great art justify that?

Where are these mythic creatures, these creative couplings today? Who are our passionate writer-explorers? The boundary breakers, the dangerous ones, the lethal liaisons? Would it even be possible to cultivate the myth of yourself in the age of Facebook, Twitter and the Daily Mail? To live riskily, wildly, sordidly even, to make your life an experiment so that you could write about it and perhaps add to understanding of what it is to be human?

I took my glass of wine outside after a chat with Lesley, my book signed, and tried to imagine what Sartre and De Beauvoir, Plath and Hughes, Elizabeth Smart and George Barker, would have made of - could have been - in our era? Maybe we'll only find out once those writers are dead - or will it all disappear with them into the ether?

Dan Bullen, as an American, seems sure of the answer: 'America wouldn't stand for it.'

Monday, March 19, 2012


A bit of a hiatus in the blog-writing. You can blame some of it on this. 

And some of it on this.

I didn’t dare post these until it got a bit cloudy here in Paris and the sun came out in Scotland. There has also been the small problem of getting my hands on my own laptop. Then, just as I sat down to post the blog in a handy Starbucks, a crazy French lady began screaming in my face. Apparently I was causing a public disturbance by tapping my keyboard. In a cafe. With the music blaring. And her sitting at the opposite end of the cafe. With her ipod earplugs in. 
I was quite shaken up. Then I remembered I was from Glasgow where people are hard. So I told on her to the staff and got a free coffee. 

Anyway, regarde le ciel was almost the first thing I saw as I climbed up out of the Metro into the thunder of traffic when we first arrived, and it made me smile as it seemed to sum up Paris and what this gap is all about: looking up from everyday life to snatch a pause, a rare chance to work in a new setting and live a different kind of life, just for a while.  

In Glasgow, we tend to have less lyrical graffiti. In Paris, it’s everywhere. Elegantly scripted on walls and pavements. Look at the sky. And so you do. Well, I did. I was so busy regarding the night sky where Venus and Jupiter were mimicking a Van Gogh Starry Night above the Palais Royale and the Eiffel Tower was lasering the city, impersonating a sparkly Dalek, that I stumbled into a hole in the pavement and sprained my ankle. Well, I’d done enough wandering and gazing. Now I’d have to sit still and write.

That was the plan. Until Daughter injured her knee running in the Tuileries Gardens which meant we were both grounded. Cue a daily battle over who gets the laptop... 

How many shoes can one mother and daughter squeeze into Ryanair baggage allowance for one springtime in Paris? You’d be amazed. The shoe crisis took three days to resolve but finally we managed to shut the suitcases, and even avoid the Ryanair random weigh-in and the new Ryanair Roving Box (a new form of torture to weed out passengers whose hand luggage might be classed as a weapon due to the dangerous protuberances of shoe heels).
I’ve been getting two distinct reactions from people to the idea of Gapping in Paris with my daughter - this brief, snatched pause between two chapters of my life, and hers, before she goes off on her own to Italy, then university in the autumn.
‘Wow!’ Subtext: ‘I hate you.’ (Other writers)
‘Wow... that’s er, brave.’ Subtext: ‘Are you crazy?’ (Other mothers)
One friend helpfully suggested that if it all goes wrong we can always fly home on separate planes.
Imagining the worst and working backwards is a speciality of mine. (Check out my books). So I’ve already thought that one through.
There have to be Rules. Mostly for me. The deal is that we’re here as two equals, each of us working hard on our own projects. I’m writing, she’s studying. She’s testing her wings; I’m loosening parental chords. So I’m not in charge. No one is. It’s a big step towards the future, for both of us.
Maybe that explains the shoe crisis. Just a pity both of us are now struggling to find a single pair that we can hobble about in on sprained legs. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

So who did I see today in Paris?

No kilted Scotsmen or weird old men with cameras. Just this lot.

One of 'the second sex' at Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir.

One unkilted Scotsman, in the Adidas store, larger than life.

Oui-Oui? Noddy in French. Did no one tell them?

Isn't she cute?

Statue behaving badly outside the Louvre.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bladerunners, Bubbles and Other Strangenesses

Bitter crosswinds swept up the Seine all last week and clashed at the Quai des Fleurs, the footbridge that links Notre Dame’s Île de la Cité with her little brother, the Île de St Louis - one of my favourite spots in the whole of Paris. Bypassing the tourist hell around Notre Dame, I’d brave the crosswinds to make my own pilgrimage to the smaller, colder island for a cupful of heaven, the perfect soul food for chills - hot chocolate spiced with ginger and cardamom. 

Damp mists clung around the Seine mornings and evenings, blurring the edges of the days. At home, drab weather makes everything dull but Paris turns ethereal, bleaching to an old sepia print and the cold glare of sun behind the clouds turns the mist milky, like ice in Pastis. The City of Light is beautiful in any light. 

At last yesterday, the sun sparked on Cleopatra’s Needle and blazed across the Tuileries Gardens, after what felt like a very long wait (though we’d only been here a week). So we walked and walked, all through the maze of the Marais then across the bridges where the sky and the Seine were a great splash of rosé wine and were struck by how this city feels anchored to its river more than others, with the parks and public spaces arranged all around the Seine like rooms off a great hallway, and the people, like the river, move in a neverending, restless flux...

... like the Bladerunners. Today I saw one suited businessman with briefcase rollerblading through the crowds on the Rue du Rivoli, two rollercops almost waltzing together on the Pont Neuf, a couple of teenagers racing motorbikes along the Seine and one baguette-eating girl, weaving dreamily through lunchtime traffic on the Rive Gauche. They remind me of the young zappers in my book EXODUS, who powerblade through the sky tunnels of their futuristic city on zapeedos.
So far I haven’t caught one on camera - yet.

I did take one very bad snap of a mysterious kilted (Scots?) man standing across the street photographing the gates of our courtyard first thing this morning as I went to fetch bread. 

But I was laughing too much to snap the girl who’d wheeled an upright piano all the way onto the footbridge of the Quai des Fleurs to serenade the cafe crowds in the sun then trundled off in a huff after being upstaged by gigantic bubbles. 

And then there was a scene of inexplicable strangeness, just a few feet from my coffee table in the Tuileries Gardens, where I’d gone to write in the sun. One hunched, very old man was photographing a beautiful teenage girl dressed in running gear, under the trees by the cafe. It was all very public and they appeared so happy and relaxed in each other’s company I’d have assumed he was her grandfather - had it not been for the unnerving intensity of his camera focussed entirely on the girl's bottom and other intimate (lycra-clad) parts. She wasn’t quite young enough for me to call the gendarmes, even if I’d had the French to do so. What would I have said? What did I just see there? I really don’t know and it bothered me all day.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Forest in the Library and Other Rebel Spirits

I set myself a challenge to find something inspiringly Parisian for International Women’s Day. I walked along the Seine in the sun, heading for The National Library of France, intending to cross the river via the Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir (which seemed appropriate) - and there I found it. 

Over Simone’s footbridge looms President Mitterand’s stunning, controversial legacy - four giant towers constructed to look like open books, enclosing a patch of forest. Sunk deep between the towers, the tiny forest seems unnervingly ancient. You shiver as you look down into the shadows of overgrown birches and pines, expecting to glimpse something primeval there. 

Mother Earth turned renegade, bursting through the city at the heart of a giant library. 


It reminds me of The Library episode in Doctor Who, said my daughter, where the library is a whole planet and you’ve got to watch the shadows... 

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

V and Wifi in the Park

Free 'weefee'. It's everywhere. The world comes to Paris to write its novel on its laptop, it seems, so there's even free wifi in the parks.

When the sun finally burst through today I headed round the corner to my local park, the Tuileries Gardens outside the Louvre. It was nice and quiet, as the Louvre is closed on Tuesdays, and I was deep in a piece of work when a pair of vertiginous red polkadot heels splashed into the corner of my vision. What a twit, I thought, as a girl hobbled past on shoes fit for a red carpet rather than the pink grit paths of a public park. Then I saw a cluster of them - like a beautiful alien race, all angular faces in strong make-up, tottering on giddy heels with weirdly long skinny legs, striking poses, surrounded by photographers.

It was a Valentino exclusive. So I got out my iPhone and did my first-ever Paris fashion shoot - in between a chapter break.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

One Starry Starry Night in Paris

Even the sky was different. An inky blue starry starry night. I was bedazzled, wandering the boulevards, gazing up at the Van Gogh sky, aching to be one of the exotic creatures who lived in the balconied apartments above.

I was seventeen, on my first visit to Paris. I felt I was walking through heaven. Now I know I was falling in love - with a city.

My Dad's response was succinct enough when I came home and said I wanted to live in Paris for a while before university. I'd work there, I'd...


We didn't do Gap Years back then in the West of Scotland. University was our gap experience; a bit of a skive before reality hit. I was the first in the family to go to university. My Dad got his degree the hard way, the only way open to a bright working-class boy: years of night school after work. There was no way he'd let me take some wayward path and muck up my chance to do it the easy way.

'So who gave you that idea?' he wanted to know.

I muttered something about Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde and Simone de Beauvoir. They'd all escaped to Paris to write, to find out who they really were. Two rock goddesses and the high-priestess of the Left Bank. I knew I was sunk the moment the names were out of my mouth.

'Well, you're not them,' he reminded me. 'And you're going to university.'

And that was that.

Until now.