jeudi 30 avril 2009

Treading water

I'm busy.

Too busy.

Really.  It's getting kind of ridiculous.

I'm busy at work and busy socially.  I don't have time to do lots of things that I should and can't even think about doing many things that I want to.

I've neglected my blog roll (sorry!) and I'm finding it hard to call my Mother more than twice a week.  I just about manage to hold down a Facebook page, but seriously, that's it.  I've had to get up at 6am to post this missive, such is the disaster that is my schedule at the moment.

To give you an example of how crazy my days are, let me tell you about yesterday.

Yesterday, I planned to start the day easily with an hour of catching up on general rubbish in the house.  No chance.  I've been trying to talk to my boss about something for days and when does she choose to call?  Yep, I lost the hour I'd put aside and then some.  

By the time I got off the phone, I was fifteen minutes late for my train.

So, instead of taking a leisurely métro ride to the Gare du Nord, I ended up rushing to find a cab and racing off to meet Debbie.  This would be the first of four taxis yesterday.

I take the train to Lille, then change stations and trains and head further north to Calais.  All the train ride I am working, prepping the meeting that I am heading to in Calais.

A taxi, hotel meeting room and another taxi later, I'm back at Calais Fréthun TGV station and back on the train to Lille.

In Lille, I grab a sandwich and jump the train to Paris.  I grab a sandwich because I know it's my only hope of eating that day.  I'd alread missed lunch and so was determined not to miss dinner.

Arriving in Paris, I head off to see the first friend of the evening.  And this is where the day gets crazy.

I have a lovely time with my new Paris Blogging Friend at the Opéra Garnier - it's a modern dance performance that started good, got better and ended up with an amazing, moving, disturbing piece that - to me - was about pack mentality, alpha male-ism, bullying and torture.  It was amazing, yet uncomfortable.  The French found it hilarious and laughed a lot.  Bunch of insensitive freaks.

Alas, after the performance, I didn't have time to really chat with PBF as I had a second friend to see.  He was waiting for me on the steps of the Opéra and we headed off to my favourite bar for a drink.  It was lovely to catch up with him, but we only had an hour together as he had a train to catch and  I had a third 'date'.  

Yep, I told you that the day was crazy. 

Anyway, as we left the bar, we kissed goodnight and planned that the next time we'd have longer together.  With this friend, it's hard.  I never really get to see him that often and, when we do, both of us always leave feeling short-changed.  We spent the next half hour texting each other back and forwards - him on his train, me in the final taxi of the day.  We made tentative plans for next week.  We'll see.

I get out of the taxi at the final friend's apartment in the fancy 16th, take the lift up to his flat and collapse into bed.  Luckily he was already there.  Luckily I found a bit of energy.

I get to sleep at around 1.30 thinking of the chaos that today has in store for me.

I know I said that I'd got up at 6am to write this post, but that was a bit of a lie - I was up already.  I'd left the flat in the 16th at 5.30 this morning, taken the métro and walked in through my own front door at 6am.

I'm off to shower now.  Iron a shirt and shine my shoes.  I need to be up and out in half an hour.

Goodness knows when I'll phone my Mother.

mardi 28 avril 2009

Bo Bun, Bipimbap and Bling

I'm having an existential crisis.  Really, I am.

This is serious stuff.

Thing is, Paris has so many great eating options that I never want to eat at the same place twice.  But I have my well trodden path now and find it hard to get away from the places that I love.  

I keep promising that I will find new places to eat, but I never do.  It's turning into a crisis, as everytime I get a visitor, or go out for dinner with a date, I always end up at the same places.  I'm going to tell you my favourites in a minute, but please, dear readers, please tell me of other great spots in Paris to eat.  

For Japanese and Korean food, I love Japkora near the Theatre du Chatelet.  Their Bipimbap takes some beating.  The only time I've ever had better Bipimbap was in Business Class on Korean Airlines flying to Fiji.  Yes, I know.  That's as weird as it sounds.  

If it's a revolving sushi conveyor, then the Matsuri chain gets my vote - especially the branch at the rue du Bac.  Really great mid-shopping treat and the biggest toilet seat I've ever seen..  

For Vietnamese, then it's hard to beat the seedy, down at heel Dong Huong in Belleville.  A favourite for years now, this place does the best Bo Bun in the city.  For 8 euros, I'm not complaining.  Even when they send you to sit in the sandwich shop next door and bring your order up the street with a teatowel covering it.

For a romantic dinner à deux, then you'll go hard to beat the dark lighting and good food at le Réconfort on the rue du Poitou, just next door to the Christian Lacroix designed Hotel du Petit Moulin in the Marais (where else?).  The food is fine, the ambience is so romantic and the lighting is very, very forgiving.  What more does a boy need?  A big wallet.  It's not cheap.

And then my all time favourite place to get dinner, lunch on the run, a good plate of charcuterie or cheese, a decent mojito or just a smile from a cute waiter has to be the Café Crème on the rue du Birague, off the Place des Vosges.  Not only is the location excellent (and a ten minute walk from home) but their souris d'agneau is to die for.  Everyone who has visited me has been and eaten here with me.  No-one has died.  Yet.

I have a couple of others, but these are my favourites.  My real favourites.

In a city of great food and amazing restaurants, these are all places that stand out as being a bit special - if not for the food, then for the setting.  If not for the food or the setting then for the lovely waiting staff and the great cocktails.

So.  You've been to Paris.  Where did you eat?  What did you drink?  How did you get rid of him in the morning?  he he.

Tell me your secrets.  If not Paris, then tell me about your home town favourites.  Let's make it a big-old-all-food-love-in.  

I'm hungry.

dimanche 26 avril 2009

The crying game

Thursday, I went out on a date with a nice young American.  

Well I say 'date'.  He's a friend of a friend, in town for a couple of weeks with his job and desperate for some help with the city.  Seems it's the first time he's left the US, first time he's travelled on his own.  First time he's stayed in a hotel on his own.  

I've been stuck, bored and miserable, in enough foreign hotel rooms to know how bad that can be, so I was happy to help out.  The fact that he is cute and gay and funny also helped my decision making process along.

So we went out on Thursday night and it was fun.  It was a lot of fun.  We got dinner, had a couple of drinks and I returned him to his hotel safe and sound.  As I left the hotel Friday morning (come on, what else did you expect?) we agreed that we'd see each other again that evening.

Friday evening started well.  We met at his hotel in the early evening - he hasn't yet gotten brave enough to use the métro alone, so I had to go and collect him.  We left the hotel a while later (uh-huh) and went to meet up with a couple of my friends at the Freedj - my usual bar, the regular hangout.  

Leaving the hotel, I noticed that the American Guy had gone quiet.  I looked at him and he surreptitiously wiped a tear away from his eye.  

"Are you ok?" I said, nervously.

"Sure," he responded.  "I'm just a little homesick".

Swearing that going out on the town was the right thing to do, he dried his eyes, I put my arm around him and we walked to the métro.

At the bar we met the boys and had a great time.  AG really got on well with them and became animated, lively and seemed to be enjoying himself.  

We headed off to get food and then decided we'd go the Depot - the infamous nightclub/sexclub - purely for research purposes, you show AG the seedier side of the Paris scene. 

As we walked to the Depot, AG started to slow down a little.  He was crying again.  I pulled him in towards me and gave him a good old bearhug.  He sobbed and said 'thankyou' over and over again.  He said that this was the best night, and that he was so happy to be there after how awful he had felt earlier.  Having cried, he seemed to cheer up pretty quickly.  He told me that he definitely wanted to go on to the club and so we carried on our way.

So, we go to the Depot.  We dance, drink, laugh at the awful porn on the TV monitors.  We take a tour of the labyrinthine cruising area and giggle with each other at the guys standing in cubicle doorways, waving their erections at passersby.  

One of my friends loses his cell phone, but we all - his husband included - put this down to the fact that his trousers were, at the time, around his ankles and so he deserved to be robbed.  He he.

Anyway, at 6am, we leave the club and AG says he wants to come back to mine.  Luckily I'd done the housework that afternoon.

I close the shutters and as the city turned light and woke up, my bedroom went dark and we were able to think about sleep.

After a bit of a passionate moment, we were both fit to drop.  I lay next him and started to sleep.  He put his head on my chest and clung on like a limpet.

And that's when it happened again.

He cried.

He sobbed.

I held him tightly and figured it would pass.

I offered soothing words of comfort and told him it would all be alright.

I fell asleep.  So did he.

We slept until the late afternoon and went for dinner together.  We followed it with a walk down the Champs Elysées and a movie.  Not once did we speak about the crying.  

After the movie, I pointed him in the direction of the métro and told him how to get back to his hotel.

"You're not coming with me?" he said.

"Not tonight, no"  I said.  "I need to wake up on my own tomorrow".

"Ok" he said, looking hurt.  "But let's do something tomorrow together, yeah?"

So, I'm sat here, fully expecting him to call at any minute.  I'm not sure my nerves are up to it.

vendredi 24 avril 2009

The banalities of TBNIL

So, I have kind of a busy weekend ahead of me. A date tonight. Drinks with friends tomorrow. A visitor to take round some tourist things on Sunday.

I guess this doesn't sound busy, but when you factor in the late nights and big sleeps that I'm also planning, the time becomes short and precious. Very short and very precious. This is where one of the best parts of my job comes in very handy.

The thing is, I only work four and half days a week - I finish at 12h30 every Friday and have the afternoon all to myself. Luxury. Real luxury.

Admittedly, I use my Friday afternoons to do the boring, dull, painful stuff - like cleaning, washing, ironing, changing beds, mopping floors. It's kind of dull, but it does mean that I get a proper 'weekend' on Saturday and Sunday. Perfect.

This week, however, is a bit harder than usual. Because I've been so madly, chaotically busy over the last few weeks, I've built up a backlog of everything. I'm at the bottom of the pile of clean clothes, of clean bedding and clean towels. The house looks like I've been burgled and ransacked. Truly, it looks like Viking raiders have been through, raping and pillaging as they go.

All this means that this afternoon I have my work cut out for me.

So, I'll be home in an hour's time. I'll find some good music, get a load of washing started, pour myself a nice cold gin and tonic and start cleaning. There's nothing like Bombay Sapphire to get you in the mood for a little dusting and hoovering.

Anyway, I have to finish by six. I need to make myself look beautiful for my date.

But I guess that if the house is clean, I won't be too embarrassed if we end up back at mine later.

If ever there was a motivation to get the house clean, the thought of a handsome young man seeing the dust on my headboard has to be it, surely?

jeudi 23 avril 2009

He said, she said

Yesterday I was in the UK for the day. Just for the day. Seven hours, in fact.

I managed to fit in three meetings and lunch with my Mother. How's that for productivity?

I'd travelled over with Debbie - as usual - and by the time we came to take the flight home we were mildly hysterical from the travelling as well as the busy-ness and business of the day.

Normally I'm very organised and have something to read in my bag. This time it turned out to be the last 20 pages of a Tom Perrotta novel - 20 pages that lasted ten minutes. Not so good. Debbie, being Debbie, had brought along her 'beginners sudoku' and was frustrated with it being so difficult. Lord.

So we're sat on the plane with nothing to do. I want to sleep. Debbie doesn't.

"Let's play 'he said, she said' - it'll be funny" she suggests.

Now, this isn't something I've done since I was, like, ten years old. But, given the wave of hysteria that was now washing over me, I acquiesced. Out came 2 sheets of paper.

Now for those of you unfamiliar with the game, each person starts by writing a boy's name on a piece of paper, then folding it so that the name is hidden. The paper is passed to the other person who writes 'met...' and then a girl's name. The papers get swapped again and 'at...' is written, followed by a location. The process then goes 'he said...', 'she said...', 'and then they...'. Each time the papers getting swapped between the players.

At the end of the process, you end up with a random tale about random people. It's very funny. Especially if you are a twelve-year-old girl.

I guess that I forgot to mention the libation of which we'd partaken at the airport. This possibly explains why we decided we'd play using the names of our colleagues. This also possibly explains why we found the whole process hilariously funny.

As we sat on the plane, passing papers to and from and laughing like drains, I realised that other passengers had started to stare.

Now, I'm happy for people to stare. I'm more than used it in fact - looking this good, you either live with it or hide away, ha ha. But staring with eyes wide open as me and Debbie found ourselves increasingly hilarious while playing a kids' game? That's kind of uncomfortable.

As we boarded the bus from the aircraft to the terminal at CDG, a very straight-laced looking French businessman turned to me and smiled.

"Looks like you found a way to pass the time on board!" he said.

"Erm, yeah. I hope we didn't distrub you," I replied, trying to act as if this was totally normal.

"It made my day," he said. "I've been stuck in the most miserable meetings and to hear some laughter has done me some good. Shame you didn't ask me to join in."

"Next time maybe" I said, as we got off the bus and headed to the exits.

"Definitely," he said, flashing me a killer smile. "Most definitely".

I said goodbye to Debbie and headed off to get the bus into town.

Our work here was done.

mardi 21 avril 2009

It'll end in tears

So, I've been offline for a few days. Unexpectedly.

I'm going to say it's been one of the strangest weekends of my short but fabulous life. Strange good, not strange bad. But bizarre, nonetheless.

Friday afternoon, I was sat at home, minding my own business and trying to muster up the energy to organise some friends for a few drinks that evening. My crackberry pinged and I got an email from a 'dating' website that I've been known to use from time to time.

"Are you in Paris? Do you speak English? Do you fancy a beer?" it said.

I went online and looked at the profile of the guy who had sent it. This isn't something I do so often, but I thought I'd have a look.

Turns out it was a cute looking American guy. Very cute looking. But I'm big enough and daft enough to know that these things can be deceptive. Anyway, I had nothing else planned, so I thought I'd accept his offer of a quick beer that evening.

Now, he was on his way to the Opera, so we met at 5.30 for a quick drink beforehand. It's not often I get a date who turns up in a full tuxedo, but this guy did. Seems he was doing the Opera in style. I like that in a man.

We chatted over the beer and laughed like fools. He was cute. Chunky, handsome, funny and cute. Boy, was he.

Looking at my watch, I realised that he was running late for the performance. He ran off to the show, but not before we'd arranged that I'd meet him after the Opera and we'd continue our conversation.

And that's where it went. I've never spent four days in a row with someone I just met. I've certainly never spent four nights in a row with them. But that's what happened.

We spent the whole weekend (and Monday) together and it was amazing. Funny, hilarious and stupîd. Romantic and a bit dirty. Mostly, it was relaxed, easy and comfortable. I've never really slipped into that with someone so easily and he either - is what he said, anyway.

We were together from the moment I met him outside the Opera Bastille on Friday to this morning, when I left his hotel to come to the office and he took the shuttle to the airport.

And thereby lies the problem. He's heading back to Miami today. I'm still in Paris.

Why do I do this to myself?

I think I need therapy.

But meanwhile, le Parisien, the Boy himself, is back from his long trip out of town this weekend.

Let's just hold our horses.

vendredi 17 avril 2009

Mixing up my Marco's

The last few weeks have seen a pattern developing. Marco, Gino, Arno, Mario, Vincenzo even Lolo.

Yep, it seems I'm only dating men whose names end with an 'o'. Even to me this seems like an odd pattern to have developed.

I can understand how I could end up with a string of men who all have something in disco, go to the gym, speak to their mothers every day u.s.w. But this name thing is totally random and a bit of a worry.

Of all these guys, Marco is the one I liked the least. To say I didn't like him is an understatement. He was handsome enough, had all the moves and bought me a drink. But he talked non-stop about his 'troubles'. His ex who wouldn't leave him alone. His over-dependant mother. His boring, dull job. By the end of the evening I wanted to open a vein - mine or his, either would have done.

But of course, he got my number. I gave it to him earlier in the evening so that we could coordinate our arrival at the bar.

So, yesterday afternoon I got a phonecall.

"Hi, is that TBNIL?" he said.

"It is". said I, suspicious of the 'unknown number' on the screen of my phone.

"Hi, it's Marco! Am I disturbing you?" said the caller.

"Look," said I, huffily "I'm at work. You can't just call me during the day you know. I'm busy."

"Ok....." said Marco. "It's just that I wanted to confirm that I'll be coming to the interview tomorrow morning. Do I need to bring anything in particular?"

Damn me. I'd forgotten that I was interviewing someone for one of my colleagues today, and that his name was indeed Marco.

I did the best volte-face that I could, and (in my mind) saved the situation by being apologetic and over-friendly. Goodness knows what this guy is now expecting. He's due here in ten minutes' time.

Let's see how I explain my way out of this one....

"You see Marco, I confused you with a nuisance of a guy that I'd refused to take home with me the other night, but who keeps on calling me".

I somehow think that won't go down to well.

mercredi 15 avril 2009

Ting Tong merrily on high

I got a call last week from a guy who wanted the exclusive distribution rights for my company's products in central France.

As this kind of thing is part of my thrilling, international jet-flying job, I organised to see him. This is how I ended up in a meeting room of a fancy pants hotel with him, his wife and Debbie. It's normal that husbands and wives end up doing this kind of thing as business partners, so it didn't surprise me that they were à deux.

However, I was a little surprised by the oddness of the couple. It didn't help that when Debbie came back from collecting them at the reception desk, she quickly came over to where I was sat and whispered in English "Wife - not daughter".

They entered the room.

He - fifty something, unattractive, badly dressed.

She - twenty something, podgy, dressed head to toe in pink leisurewear and a Thai girl of the mail order persuasion.

I smiled sweetly and introduced myself.

Small talk over, the conversation turned to business and the Wife soon lost interest. She perked up a little when I was trying to get a map back into a plastic tube. She took it off me, stood up and inserted it into its, erm, sheath, with a good deal of panache and a not small portion of sluttiness. Had she licked her finger when it was in, the scene would have been complete.

Now that the map was back in its home, she retook her seat. Well, she did once she had coquettishly walked behind her husband who patted her ass as she brushed up against him.

I ignored it all and continued to talk about profit margins, selling prices, exclusivity and non-compete clauses. All very dull.

Madame obviously foudn this very dull as within minutes of taking her seat, she fell asleep. Fast asleep.

Her head was back, her mouth was open and she was snoring. No, she wasn't snoring. She was gurgling.

I looked at her husband.

"She gets like this in the afternoon" he said, clearly disappointed.

"She must be tired" said I.

"Maybe she has jet lag" said Debbie. I tried not to show that on the inside I was pissing my panties laughing.

"Maybe" he said. "She's only been here a week. You wouldn't believe the trouble we had getting a visa for her."

"But she's worth every penny, no?" said Debbie.


"So about that non-compete clause......." I said.

I don't think I've ever been quite so desperate to change a subject.

mardi 14 avril 2009

You are what you eat

With the target of shocking myself into action (and to entertain you good folk), I decided that this Easter weekend I'd keep a record of what I drank.

Now, this isn't to show off, or to say that drinking is big and clever. It clearly is neither big nor clever, but it can be fun....

So the weekend's tally is as follows (and remember, this is a long weekend - four nights worth here!):

37 small glasses worth. That's 9.25 litres for the more precise amongst you.

1 and a bit bottles of red.
1/2 bottle of champagne

4 margaritas
3 whisky-cokes
2 vodka shots
1 Get 27 shot
2 jack'n'cokes
1 gin and tonic

My conclusion is that it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I'm guessing that in other worlds this could be considered a bit of a problem. Maybe I should slow down a bit.

The thing is, us Brit's are a nation of binge drinkers. It's a problem in the UK and it's something that I know we're (shamefully) famous for around the world. However, in defence of my nation, I'd like to point out that each and every drink that I had this weekend was matched by both Frenchies and Americans.

But what sets us apart is that us English are particularly good at the speed drinking. The 'getting it all in before the pub closes' kind of drinking. This is particularly useful when the drinks are shockingly expensive and there is a short window of half price drinks at happy hour.

Anyway, I'm going to keep an eye on how much I'm drinking and try to cut back.

I'll do that tomorrow. Tonight, I have a date with a French guy. We're meeting in an Irish pub.

There's only one way that can go, isn't there?

lundi 13 avril 2009

Fierce People

The dinner was served on Rothschild pattern porcelain, the cutlery was antique silver.  The wine glasses were crystal and the water was served in monogrammed Asprey silver beakers.  

The table was decorated with Herend bunnies.  Like five thousand dollars worth of them.

The whole set up was somewhat ridiculous.  Over the top.  Craziness.

I was eating sunday lunch - Easter lunch, in fact - at my friends' apartment in the centre of Paris.  The friends are the odd couple that I talked about a while back.  One is French, the other American.  

The French guy works 9-5 in a dull office job, the American has a trust fund.  Really.  A trust fund.  Admittedly, he had to take his father to court to get him to pay out, but hey, that's Americans for you (apologies to my American reader).

Anyway, the food was sublime and the conversation ranged from political debate (spare me) to hilarious tales of blowjobs in car parks (not me, oddly enough).  It was a good, if not very christian, way to spend Easter sunday.

After dinner, we headed out to a bar.  On the way out of the apartment, I stopped to look at some photos.  They looked like stills from a movie of any F Scott Fitzgerald novel.  Beautiful people, living a beautiful lifestyle.  With servants.

"Is this your Mom?" I asked.

"Yeah, that was the last photo of her before she died".

"She was beautiful"  I said.  The photo was of a handsome woman, admiring flowers in the grounds of what looked like a stately home, New England style.  "Where was the photo taken?"

"Oh, that's at my summer cottage.  In Maine."

I felt like Dorothy.  A long way from Kansas.  A long way from home. 

samedi 11 avril 2009

il Postino di Parigi

It's been a lovely day.  Sunshine, blue skies and shoe shopping.  

I shopped the Marais.  I shopped the BHV.  I looked in at the Pompidou centre.  I ate a hangover reducing lunch.  I sat in the park at the Place des Vosges and soaked up some sun.

Walking home, there was a fool on rollerblades heading towards me. 

Zigzagging in and out, generally causing mayhem, he was oblivious to the fact that everyone on the street was watching his moves.  And boy did he have some moves.  

After showing off to the crowd for a while longer, he started to hurtle towards me, doing that backwards skating thing that they do.  As he came within a couple of feet of me, he stoppped suddenly.

He turned as he stopped and leant in to kiss me.

"Ca va mieux ce matin?" he said.  It was the Italian postman.  The guy who I'd had a thing with a while back.  The guy who, not 12 hours ago, had been lying next to me in bed trying to find the strength to get up, get out and go home.

"Not bad", said I, fully aware that everyone was watching.  My hangover had lifted, but I was still hiding behind my big sunglasses.

"See you tonight" he said.  He kissed me again and skated off through a quickly parting crowd towards Bastille.

"Erm, maybe..." I said, to no-one in particular.

How do I get out of that?

Do I want to get out of that?

jeudi 9 avril 2009

I feel like Avril Lavigne

The homeless people in my 'hood have got it going on.  They're having themselves some fun tonight.

I'm not talking about the man who sits next to the cash machine at HSBC across the street.  He's a street drinker and when he's not there (where does he go?) there's a lovely dirty greasemark that he leaves behind on the wall to remind us of his presence.  Truly, it's like his own little Turin shroud.

And I'm not talking about my favourite homeless boy - the one who lives on the other side of the main avenue outside the house.  The one with the 'Pet Shop Boys Road Crew' t-shirt.  He drinks Breton cider.  And he's quite cute.  I usually slip a euro or two into his pot while he's asleep.  And no, that's not a euphemism.

I'm actually talking about the folks that live in tents just up the street.

This makes my neighbourhood sound really awful doesn't it?  It's not, it's just popular with the homeless.  Hmm.  That sounds bad too.  I give up.

So, the folks that live in the tents were having a good old party tonight.  I walked past on my way home from a, erm, date tonight and there they were, giving it large.  They had music on (how?) and they'd got a good old bar set up.

One of the men had a fishing rod out and was wielding a plastic cup on the end of it into the street, trying to get donations from passing cyclists.

He managed to tangle up two Vélib' cyclists in his line, causing them misery and pain - much like they cause us foot-folk on a daily basis in Paris.   Watching them trying to fight their way out of the mess they'd got caught in was spectacular.  The boy cyclist looked like he was about to cry.  Hilarious for me, but I know I'd have been furious if I'd been the cyclist.

For this, the homeless guy got my thanks, my praise, a mini applause and a two euro coin.  Worth every single cent.

Oh and the date?  What can I say?  He was a skater boy.

I said, "see you later boy".

And I'm sure I will, too.

mercredi 8 avril 2009

One of the lucky ones

Yesterday evening, I sneaked out of work early and met up with le Parisien before he went off to his evening class.

It being such a lovely evening, and with two hours to kill before class, we decided to go for a stroll. The sun was shining, the temperature was balmy and it would have been a pity to have sat inside some café looking out at it, or squeezing onto a hot and smoky terrasse.

Anyway, we'd met at place Sainte Opportune, and so decided that we'd take a stroll around the nearby Marais. The Marais is traditionally the Jewish part of town, and now it's also the heartland of gay Paris.

We walked for the best part of two hours, chatting and laughing as we went.

I felt incredibly lucky.

Lucky to be walking with le Parisien? Not really. He's lovely and all that, but he's not why I felt so lucky, so blessed.

I felt lucky to be able to walk down the street with another man and not have to worry about his arm around me, or whether we could hold hands, or whether a stolen peck on the cheek would lead to us getting arrested, beaten up, killed.

For many other gay people around the world, life really isn't this easy. I appreciate how lucky I am to live in a reasonably enlightened society. Amazingly, homosexuality has been legal in France since 1791, so they've kind of had time to come to terms with the idea.

I'm not saying that France is perfect. It isn't. It's really not.

Equally, I appreciate that the Marais isn't representative of Paris, nor is Paris representative of France.

I understand that, instead of writing about how much this little bit of freedom makes me happy, I should be fighting for much more freedom.

But you know what? On a sunny April afternoon, with a handsome man at my side and the promise of the summer to come, I felt lucky to have this square mile of liberty.

Truly, I'm one of the lucky ones.

mardi 7 avril 2009

Cross-dressing with the Vicar

My Mother sent me an email yesterday. Her church (baptist) had sent her an invitation to a cross-dressing party and she wondered if I'd be in the UK on that date because 'I hate going to these things alone - and I never know what to wear'.

I called my Mother to make sure I'd read her email correctly.

"How are you?"

"I'm just getting my bunnies out, hold on a minute," she replied.


"Oh you know, the bunnies, the Easter tree, the chickies, the eggs - I'm decorating the house for Easter".

When did we turn into a family who decorates the house for Easter? This is most odd.

"Your brother has finished his house already," she informed me. "It's decorated from top to bottom for Easter."

"But he's a buddhist." Apparently this held no sway with her. Apparently my brother's buddhism didn't stop him from sending his kids to a church school (protestant) so why should it stop him from celebrating that fact that Christ is risen.

Since I decided that a holy path wasn't for me, and worked out that being a good person was enough without necessarily having to believe in a greater power, Easter has really been about eggs, a long weekend off work and that's about it. And to be honest, I get very few eggs these days - which isn't a bad thing either.

But that said, any church that holds cross-dressing parties could be a church for me (as long as I don't have to believe in God). I wondered what the vicar would wear - he's quite a young hottie and would probably look good in a pair of hotpants and a halter neck top.

Alas, it's nothing as exciting. It's not the festival of transvestitism that I was hoping for.

Apparently every year they get a big old cross put up outside the church and they 'dress it up' - i.e. they cover it in flowers and plastic eggs and fluffy bunnies. The vicar's drag would have to wait for another occasion.

I declined her invitation to join in - I'm not going to be travelling to the UK again until the end of June.

"Well, never mind Bab," She said, obviously not really all that bothered, and clearly a little distracted. "Now, should the theme of my Easter table be bunnies or chicks?"

"I think it should be Jesus, Mom."

I mean really, if you're going to be religious, be religious.

dimanche 5 avril 2009

The B.G.O.

Saturday was a Big Gay Out. Kind of like a Big Day Out, but with showtunes.

Really, it was camper than christmas and gayer than the front row at a Liza gig.

The day started with the traditional gay Saturday morning ritual. Clutching head, simultaneously dying because of hangover (due to too many fancy cocktails the night before) and worrying about what to wear. A day at a lovely art museum was planned, but cycling would be involved. Trust me, it's difficult to decide what to wear when it's cold outside and all you've packed is a sailor sweater and capri pants.

Well, my wardrobe wasn't that limited to be honest, but it was suffering due to a thirty minute packing window and the fact that I was on the telephone whilst packing. Never a good idea.

Having selected suitable attire, the three of us bundle into the car and head northwards. Well, Eastwards. Well, towards the German border at least.

We have two i-pods to choose from and decide that we'd play from one on the way out and the other on the return journey. Suffice to say, neither was butch. And my Dutch Irish Friend did manage to pick out tracks by La Garland, Doris Day and Baccarat. He also managed to sneak in a couple of Eurovision tracks and a Bananarama classic too. As I say, not butch, not ever.

So we stroll around the museum, paying particular attention to the van Gogh's, the Seurat's and the lovely arms that one of the fellow visitors is displaying at the end of his lovely strong shoulders. Alas, they only sold postcards of the first two.

Having done the art, we then headed out to cycle around the national park in which the museum is situated. And rather than cycle the 2km back to the car (the direction we came in), we turned around twice, got giddy and got lost. We ended up cycling nearly 10km away from the car before we found a map. the fact that there were three car parks and three entrances to the park didn't help - especially as we had no idea which one we were parked at.

Bewitched, bothered and bedraggled, we found the car and found our way back to the Hague. Arriving home in time to gulp down a lovely bottle of Meursault and some champagne (I did say it was a big gay out), we neck our goats cheese salads and head out on the town.

Now the Hague and gay nightlife. Not really two words you'd put together, but you'd be surprised at how many gay bars there are in town. And you'd be surprised at how much they all look alike. I hope that the eggs, hoops, lambs and bunnies are all out for easter - if not, they have a funny idea of interior deco here.

We judged each of the bars (seven, count 'em, seven) out of ten, based on the quality of the deco, the quality of the patrons, the beer, the price and the general gayness. Nowhere really got above a five. Apart from one bar that got a six, but that was largely because Dennis was there.

At the bar where the old man kept staring at us, I was accosted on the way to the toilet by a handsome (in a beaten up, Rocky Balboa kind of way) guy called Marco. He wanted to know who I was, where I was from, did I like the bar, did I like the Hague. Pretty much chatting me up, I'd have said. But then he said "I'm not gay".

So he's not gay but he's in the worst of gay bars, where the only thing that could possibly make someone want to go in there would be the possibility of meeting other gay men. Hmm? Go figure.

"I'm not gay," he said "but I do like the gay men".

"Why's that?" said I.

"They buy me beers" he answered. Well I guess he's honest. 'Gay for pay' never really does it for me though, and so we moved on.

Having picked up a couple of hanger-onners along the way, we end up as a six-some leaving 'Stairs' at 2am. This is the only gay bar that is still open at this time, so we have to move on to somewhere that is - shock, horror - mixed. I know what this means.

Mixed never means bright young things, getting down to the latest choons. It never means cutting edge fashions and fabulous cocktails.

As I stood back and looked at the crowd of middle-aged men and women, dancing badly to really awful 'house' music, and necking beer after beer, I got a little wistful.

Sure, those gay bars had been pretty ropey. Sure, they had all been decorated by my grandmother. Sure, there were some dodgy characters in them.

But at that moment, I'd have quite happily swapped. Give me a seedy bar with showtunes over this lot any day.

That is, any seedy Den Haag gay bar except the one that smelled like a deep fat fryer.

That one, you could keep. No deal.

vendredi 3 avril 2009

I can see it but I can't touch it

What a day it has been. It's the quarterly meeting of the French sales team - never a meeting that goes smoothly. It's usually little more than a burning cross away from being a lynch mob....and it's usually me that gets lynched. Or shouted at, at least.

The thing is, you see, I represent HQ and they, being independent and all that, represent themselves. We have control over their activities and they (feel as though they) have little influence over us. They fight against this and they fight against me. Every step of the way.

Luckily, the ones who really hate me stay away. Well they do ever since I asked them to not come to the meetings. But hey. For every one of them that hates me there are two that secretly want me....he he.

Today, however, the meeting passed without incident. Well, I say without incident. One of them called me a 'pédé' - the French equivalent of 'faggot' or 'queer'. Which was nice. And one of them stormed out and sat in his car for the rest of the meeting. Beyond that, all went well.

So now I'm back on the train, heading away from the sun of the south to the joy of Paris and, ultimately, to get into a rental car and drive to Holland to see my lovely Irish-Dutch Friend. He tells me that there' ll be wine and cheese waiting for my midnight arrival. I'm very excited. I'll try not to bore him with tales of the Parisien.

The train is pretty full, what with everyone heading back to Paris for the weekend. Unfortunately, there are tourists on board too. Well, I say unfortunately, but it's only unfortunate for one of them. Which one? The little, fat American man who looks like a piano landed on him.

Thing is, the TGVs have automatic double doors that are prone to breaking down.

As I sit reading my book - Dirk Wittenborn's Fierce People, if you're interested - I can hear a holy kerfuffle coming from the door area behind me. Normally first class is kerfuffle-free, so I turn to have a look. To be nosey if you will.

The doors, it seems, have only opened halfway and then jammed. The American is on one side and his bag is on the other. Now, people are passing freely in and out of the door except for this guy. He's too round to get through, bless him. And his bag is too big to be squeezed through too. Alas, with the design of the train, he'll have to disembark, walk round, and get on again to get to his bag, but the train is non-stop to Paris....

The 'Chef de Train' arrives and asks what the trouble seems to be.

All I hear is the poor, unfortunate, fat American wail "I can see it, but I can't touch it". I hope he's talking about his bag....

If he's talking about anything else, I'd be amazed if he could see it, let alone touch it.

jeudi 2 avril 2009

Tales of the Auvergne

Today the BBC are telling us that ‘brothers breed distress’. I can honestly say that Auntie Beeb has a point.

Now, not having a sister, I can’t truly say that a female sibling would be any better, but my brother is his very own little disaster zone. Truly.

You may remember that he’s been off work with depression recently. Well, this has now been extended and he’s about to finish his first month of not working. Has he seen anyone of a ‘professional’ nature during this time? No. Has he sought help from anyone other than the family GP? No.

Last night I asked him how he was going to get better. He told me that his pills would sort it all out, once they ‘kicked in’. I’d suggest of they haven’t already kicked in, then they’re not likely to and he needs to up his script. But I guess that would be seen as ‘none of my business’. The problem is that it’s becoming my business when he starts to inflict his miserablism on my Mom. And this is just what he’s doing.

But hey, enough of this dreary little post. I think he’ll get better, but he’s just on the downward part of the curve. Instead, let me tell you about my lovely day in the Auvergne.

Ah yes, the Auvergne – images of shepherdesses in bonnets chasing sheep over green hills come to mind at the mere mention of the name. Whilst I’m sure that this still exists (trust me, they still wear bonnets and send the women out to mind the sheep here) my reality is somewhat different.

I took the clickety clackety train out of Paris this morning, to be transported due south. The train very nearly had two people less as Debbie’s tardiness reached epic proportions this morning. We jumped aboard as the train started moving and stopped sweating somewhere south of Orléans.

The train clicketed and clacketed all the way down through the absolute middle of nowhere – Nevers, Moulins, Vichy, Riom and finally Clermont Ferrand. CF is famous for making tyres and being surrounded by volcanoes. But mainly for the tyres. As the tyre factories are closing their doors one by one, the town is getting sadder and sadder. It’s like the French equivalent of my brother – needs to go down a little bit further before heading back up again.

We stepped out of the station hungry and travelsick (a strange combination, I’ll admit). We walked into the first bar we found and asked for the lunch menu.

"There is no menu" said the waiter. He was obviously married to the one waitress and father of the other. They all shared a common look - one of long, lank, greasy ponytails and bad, bad teeth.

"Is the kitchen closed?" said Debbie.

"I’ll send my daughter over," he said, tutting and looking skywards at the thought of us fancy Parisians and our fancy Parisian ways.

"YOU WANT TO EAT SOMETHING?" Jesus wept. We both jumped at least ten feet in the air. The younger greasy-haired waitress had snook up on us, ninja style, and was shouting at us as if we were in the bar next door.

"Yes please," I said. "Do you have a salad?"

"WE HAVE STUFFED TOMATOES, THEN BEEF STROGANOFF, THEN CHEESE" she shouted at the top of her voice.

"That’ll do fine", I said.

The food arrived and it was plentiful, and very good. Alas, Debbie, being a slight girl, couldn’t quite finish the three kilos of pasta that came with the stroganoff.

"I'LL FETCH MY FATHER" shouted the waitress when she saw the food left on Debbie's plate.

"It wasn’t good, Mademoiselle?" said the waiter, in a mildly threatening way.

"It was good, but I couldn’t finish it" she said.

"I’ll leave it with you for five more minutes," said the waiter.

"No, no, it’s finished" said Debbie.

"I think you’ll find it isn’t" said the waiter. And he walked off.

As Debbie gagged and retched, swallowing two more mouthfuls of the now slimy, cold pasta, I vowed that I’d never leave Paris again.

Yeah right. Like that’s going to happen.....

mercredi 1 avril 2009

What kind of (April) fool am I?

This used to be my life. It ws supposed to have calmed down. Instead, here I am at the Gare du Nord. It's 6am and I'm waiting for my train northwards, to a shitty town on the Belgian border. I'm just waiting for someone to jump out shouting "April fool!". Alas, I don't think they will.

I went out for a beer with le Parisien last night. And I came to some conclusions, made some decisions.

I like him. I like him a lot.

But I actually only like 80% of him.

I like that he makes me laugh. I like that he's as hot as hell. I like that we have things in common.

But it's the bit that I don't like that I think is finishing this for me.

I don't like that he's never happy to say "yes, let's do something again soon". I don't like that he's emotionally distant and yet really close at the same time. I struggle to see much beyond the facade and get an idea of the real person. He's a closed book and it's pretty firmly closed.

I'm an open book, a talker, a person who likes to know where he stands. I don't handle 'playing hard to get' or 'I'm an enigma' very well. It bores me, stresses me and makes me mildly neurotic. I prefer cards on tables. I hate being neurotic simply because the other person won't open up.

Now, maybe it's too soon to expect this from him. That's totally possible, but I'm usually pretty good at working someone out quickly. Maybe I'm so head over heels with the 80% that I want the other 20% immediately/too soon. Either way, I've made a decision.

I'm going to keep on enjoying the 80%, and keep my eyes open for someone who gives me the 100%.

Thinking that this boy is the be all and end all is not healthy for me, and will be the death of anything happening between us.

I'm moving on. But I'm not giving up.

Maybe something comes of this, maybe it doesn't. Either way, I'll find what I'm looking for.

I will, won't I?