To the first man, who I met by the Eiffel Tower my second week in Paris, when I didn’t know better. Who took me out four times, who waved little red flags that I tried to ignore. Like asking me outright if I was a virgin on the first date, like calling me five different pet names when I’d asked him not to throughout the second, like saying he’d heard that feminists were not real women during the third, like disappearing for a week and a half after the fourth. Who, as it turns out, was not the bullet, but the careening fourteen-wheeler that I narrowly managed to dodge. Who admitted that he hit the young woman that his mother was trying to force him to marry. Who didn’t want to marry her because he believes in romantic love. Who doesn’t see the contradiction in those two sentences.
To the guy in my medieval literature class, who lent me one of Camus’ plays and showed me around the library. Who wants to use his French education not to escape to the West, but to go back to his third-world home country to teach at its eight-year-old university. Who I admired until he asked me what my American boyfriend had thought about me coming to Paris, until he demanded to know why I didn’t have one (a boyfriend, that is), until he asked if it was required that I marry an American. Who reached out and touched my earrings, without asking, the next time he saw me. Who won’t take a hint.
To the PhD student who tried to take me up to his apartment after a five minute conversation, when I had just wanted to get lunch, who said there’s a first time for everything. Who told me that we were university students, living in a 21st century democracy, and that relations between men and women were different now, so what was I so scared of? Who recoiled in shock when I told him that I had friends who’d been raped, and by other university students, at that. Who does not have to think about rape on a daily basis. Who insisted on paying for my lunch, because “it was a matter of honor.” Who then physically prevented me from handing my money to the cashier, when I was trying to make it clear that this was not a date. Who didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t want a boyfriend, five times. Whose number I blocked the moment I stepped on the metro. Who has called me three times since. Who told me he wants to go into Senegalese politics. Who, I can only hope, will listen to the women of his country better than he listened to me.
To the delivery guy on the red motorcycle idling outside of the apartments on Avenue de Porte de Vanves, the ones I walk past every day, who said bonsoir and who, because I said it in return to be polite, followed me to the metro as I walked, head twisted down, pretending that I didn’t understand the language I’ve studied for eight years.
To the two men Thursday night in le Marais, swaggering drunk toward me, ignoring the male friend standing by my side, who leered at my chest and slurred, “Bonsoir, comme tu es mignonne,” as I shoved past them, trying to sound angry, not afraid. Who left me feeling fidgety and panicked, so when I took the night bus in the wrong direction and found myself alone with two other strange men at a bus stop at 2:30 A.M., I let the cab driver fleece me out of 25 euro just to take a taxi home.
To the group of teenage boys loitering on the corner by my apartment, who decided to sound a siren at my approach because I was wearing a knee-length dress and a bulky sweater. Who made me regret forgoing tights because I had wanted to feel the spring air on my calves for once. Who will never have to wear an itchy pair of pantyhose in their entire lives. To whom I said nothing, because I still have to walk past that corner twice a day for the next three-and-a-half months, because there were five of them and one of me.
To the three men standing on the corner of the periphery five minutes later when I was crossing the street. To the one who motioned for his friends to turn and look at me, quick, and then left his wolf-whistle ringing in my ears, shame like sunburn covering my face. Who didn’t care that it was broad daylight. Who made me wish that I could swear a blue streak back in French, without my accent betraying that I am American, which is another word for “easy” here.
To the two men at sunset on the bridge by Saint Michel, in the middle of tourist central, who made skeeting noises at me, like a pair of sputtering mosquitoes, to get my attention. Who laughed when I flipped them off, and who kept hissing at me anyway. Who forced me to keep checking over my shoulder, all the way to the metro, to make sure that I wasn’t being followed.
But also to the French friend who blamed my problems with French men on my university in the northern suburbs, a Parisian synonym for emeutes, gang violence, and immigration. Who insisted that if he brought me to his upper-crust private (white) university—where the French elite reproduces itself into perpetuity—I would meet nicer French guys. Who forced me to defend the men who’d harassed me against his barely-veiled, racist critique.
And also to the American friend at home who nearly rolled his eyes as he half-listened to my stories, who said, “Oh god, it’s hard being so attractive, isn’t it?” as if I was being vain. Who laughs and does not understand why I always duck out of the frame of photographs, who knows nothing of what my body means to me.
And that’s just two months in Paris.
To all the Italian men who made me wish I had dyed my hair black before studying in Florence, who kept me from going out dancing because I got sick of feeling them creeping up behind me, sneaking their hands around my waist (and lower) when I’d already said NO three times.
To the six-foot-something Georgetown student who prided himself on protecting the girls from being groped on the dance floor. Who chose to write about the rape of the Sabine woman for that week’s assignment. Who described the way her breast slipped free of her tunic when she fell, as if he was writing a porno, not a rape scene, who had the woman fall in love with her Roman rapist the next morning, after he spun her a tale of the coming glory of his country. Who said “in a fit of passion, she thrust herself upon his member” and was not joking. Who ended the story with the titular character saying to her children that she had been raped, but only at first.
To the seventh-grade boy who told my younger sister that he could rape her, if he wanted to.
To the gang of twenty-five year-olds in the Jeep who hollered at her as they drove past, leering at her thirteen-year-old body dressed in sweat pants and a tank top. Who made my sister, fearless on the soccer field and in the classroom and in the karate studio, run home crying. Who were the reason she became afraid to walk the dog by herself in our “safe, suburban” neighborhood.
To my father, who said, “What white male privilege?” Who was not being ironic.
London greeted me with a friendly blanket of white clouds stretching for miles. My plane descended into the fluff, bounced a bit and then landed softly at Stansted Airport, about 45 minutes east of Liverpool street station. Gavin had called me about 10-15 times making sure that I had landed (it is in his nature to be a worrier) and as I gathered my things to exit the flamboyant yellow and blue cigar shaped contraption, I felt at ease and I cannot say why exactly but a delightful wave of solace washed over me. Hurtling towards London town on the Stansted Express I drank a box of Ribina and ate a stale croissant purchased on the little cart that passed by me along the narrow aisle of the train. I smiled at the attendant and spoke in English without feeling embarrassed for the first time since visiting America back in November. I was happy not having to think whilst talking - even though that might seem lazy, it was delightful just speaking effortlessly and I was comforted by the fact that I was in a Country where my native language (or at least a version of it) was natural and shared. It was nice.
The Tate & the girl.
On Friday Gavin and I drank cider at a pub near his work by the Thames and then ventured to the Tate Modern to have a look and perhaps get lost for a few hours in the hallways that held art, poetry and various installations.
Museums: People standing around looking at beautiful things.
I always wonder what people are thinking. What are they feeling? I sat down on a bench and took out my notebook and wrote down everything I saw, heard and sensed: young girls in Ugg boots, so many different languages being spoken - it was like a melting pot filled with Spanish, English, American, French, Italian and more, but so many different accents, people that looked like they knew what they wanted to see and then many that looked like they were on a sole mission to wander the museum halls just like me, not knowing what they were looking for exactly. I guess it is easy to tell what kinda people are like you when you know what to look for. I guess it is in the eyes.
The enjoyment of art is such an incredibly personal experience. At least I think so. I cannot necessarily go to a gallery with someone else and experience it as fully as I can on my own. I feel rushed and pressured to move along when my partner is ready and it leaves no time for thinking or even really taking a long look at the piece of art in front of me. Gavin and I held the same feelings about that and so he took off in one direction and I in the other. I got lost in the Cubist labyrinth on the third floor and hid out behind the interactive zone dedicated to children and their playful parents. I watched a handsome bespectacled man and his young daughter play with an exhibition. They were French and it was so easy to tell how much the man loved his girl and he did not hide that fact, nor did he even notice his surroundings. All of his attention was on his little blond child who I could easily tell was spunky and sassy already at four or five years old. It was so nice to sit and think and watch the man interact with her. Her laughter was boisterous, high pitched, wonderful and utterly contagious - I could not help but to mimic it (in a much more subdued manner). The man was so happy to show his daughter new things and to explore with her and that was so beautiful and so natural and so real.
Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll. Dripping in cool, steamy with sex, littered with cigarette butts and espresso cups. I fell in love with it immediately. I listened to Billie Holiday on my iPhone and bought “Lonesome Traveler” by Kerouac and felt like I could live in one of the boats along the canal and sell tacos or vinyls out of one of the market stalls.
All of the romance melted away upon stepping in a pile of dog excrement. Then we walked along to Regents park and I cleaned off my shoe on a cleet cleaner.
Europe: 1800 − 1900 / British Museum
I found a semi quiet spot to write on the third floor of the British Museum. It was raining outside. The chair that I found to sit on was right next to the heater in a room showing off decadent jewelry from the early 19th century. I sat and waited and wrote, not looking for anything in particular except for a little bit of silence. As much as I love the hustle and bustle of day to day living and the sounds that come along with that, I much more enjoy, appreciate and revel in quiet moments spent alone and I was determined to get a a piece of that kind of moment near the jewelry and the delicately cracked vases that adorned the room around me. The jewelry in front of me in a large glass case seemed so perfect except tiny flaws that most likely had to do with age. Not many people stopped to look at them but passed by instead to admire the gold pieces just on the other side of the room. I could not stop staring at the cracked pendents and vases they were not interested in. I thought they were quite beautiful. Do you ever feel like vulnerability is the most beautiful thing in the world? I do. There aren’t so many things as pretty as a crack in a vase, a blemish on otherwise perfect skin or a bruise.
I looked up and a woman with a very nice camera standing across the room from me snapped a photo in my direction and then she aimed her lens at the sullen looking woman who blankly stared at the coral jewelry in a small case in front of her. A man with a small black camera was also taking photos in a vigorous fashion, seemingly of all the jewelry he saw. I assumed he did this throughout the whole of the museum as well. He had a hat on, was wearing a fanny pack and looked like he was on a mission to document his entire visit at the Museum. I wondered “will he ever look at those pictures again?” I chewed on my pen (as is my habit) as I rolled my ankles and waited for Gavin to find me.
Annie Hall & The Artist & Leaving
We watched The Artist on my last day in London. Before that I shopped quickly at Oxford Circus and Gavin prepared a picnic of Scotch Eggs, Pork Pies and sandwiches from Pret that we ate happily inside the Odeon theatre somewhere near Notting Hill. It was a perfect movie and we were one of six in the theatre. The chairs were old and soft and the pair of older women behind us were speaking Spanish and eating popcorn. They laughed delicately and it made me smile.
The rest of the day we explored the city without a compass and ended up back at Mile End exhausted and ready to relax. We sat down to Annie Hall and it made me want to move to New York and I related to Annie Hall and Gavin sunk down deep into the couch getting completely comfortable. I was to fly back to Berlin in the morning so I went to sleep early and dreamt of Woody Allen and then was off by 4am back to Germany. London had been amazing and was the perfect break.
We left for Sweden early on Friday by plane from the Southern most airport in Berlin (Schoenfeld). We did not have any real plans except to leave Berlin behind for a little while. I travelled with Jessica and she was the source of our connections in Sweden. We arrived in Nykoping, a small village an hour outside of Stockholm and took an incredibly comfortable bus to our final destination. Looking out the windows all I saw were straight as arrow trees, grassy fields as far as the eye could see and small houses that dotted the side of the road that we lazily meandered along in our huge vehicle.
The air was so clear and seemed filtered and sweet as I breathed in deeply once we got out at the central station. I stood there and felt the clean air fill my lungs as countless blonde haired Swedes passed me by on the way to their next destination. I was immediately enthralled. Entirely and utterly excited about my five days in the heart of the city. We got word that we were invited to stay at a “Startup Haus” on Gamla Stan which was inhabited by startup entreprenuers from Stockholm. They lived in a mansion on the same island where the Royal Palace and Parliament were. We had hit the jackpot.
Five days in Stockholm and we were both hooked. I had fallen in love with the buildings, the incredibly friendly people, fika, kanelbunel, all the water everywhere and how blue it was, the Swedish aesthetic and so much more. There was beauty everywhere I looked and it was glorious. Also the style in Stockholm was so flawless and effortless. The lines were clean, jeans were paired perfectly with coats & converse and everything was plain yet so stylish. I liked the easy simplicity that I felt in Stockholm. It was nice and relaxing and calming and just perfect.
At the end I felt like I was not ready to go but Berlin was calling and so was London, so we packed up our bags and said goodbye early in the morning before the sun had even decided it might rise for the new day. Leaving the city I knew I would be back again and so I shall but in the meantime I will keep the sunny nordic destination in my mind.
Gimme Shelter: Playlist feat. Hospitality, Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Yves Montand, The Kills + more. http://LSTN.in/fhgz8#chill
1. The Rolling Stones - Gimme Shelter 2. Jack White - Love Interruption 3. The Kills - Wait 4. Hospitality - Julie 5. Fleetwood Mac - Gypsy 6. Jack White - Never Far Away 7. Explosions in the Sky - Yasmin the Light 8. Donovon - Jersey Thursday 9. The White Stripes - Its My Fault for Being Famous 10. Sam Cooke - You Send Me 11. Fiona Apple - Shadowboxer 12. Hospitality - Friends of Friends 13. Yves Montand - Rue St. Vincent 14. The Rolling Stones - I am Waiting 15. The Kills - Sweet Cloud 16. The Who - The Kids are Alright 17. The Rolling Stones - Can’t You Hear Me Knocking 18. Deep Purple - Hush 19. Fleetwood Mac - Dreams 20. The Who - A Quick One, While He’s Away 21. Velvet Underground - Sunday Morning 22. Franco Battiato - Ruby Tuesday 23. Fiona Apple - Sullen Girl 24. Unit 4 + 2 - Concrete & Clay 25. Faces - Oh la la