Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Living the Dream Cliché

I never thought of my life as clichéd in any way--it's been far too awkward, bumpy, and uncharted to truly fit that designation--but that hasn't stopped several people from pointing out that my path, which has led me back to France to fulfill a strong desire to live "differently," is actually a stale and hackneyed idea boasting absolutely nothing novel about it.


"If I'd moved to China instead of France, my life wouldn't feel so clichéd," said a friend who really had her heart set on a future in non-hackneyed Asia. That was before her heart really became set on a guy who just happened to live in Paris, and two years later, she's grown somewhat accustomed to life as a walking, talking stereotype.

I don't see her or her life that way, though.

I mean, I see where she and the others are coming from. France is sort of an obvious choice, right? Just watch one of those wistful and dreamy 1950s musicals set in Gay Paree; is there anyplace more romantic, more beautiful, more wonderful for a starry-eyed American girl (woman? old lady?) to reinvigorate her life? And am I the first one to want to give it a whirl? Uhm, no.

Paris is definitely not as adventurous as a move to, say Kabul. Or Kinshasa. Or even Kiev, for that matter. But it's also not San Francisco, or New York, or Los Angeles, which is where--I think--most Americans' minds go when we think of "fulfilling the big-city dream." And besides, I've proven my ballsy spirit with months of travel in India, Cambodia, and Indonesia. (And I'm still aching to cross Sri Lanka and Algeria off my must-visit list.)

Frankly, I'm just grateful that I didn't end up "settling down" in Loomis or Penn Valley. That's not living the dream, is it? Well, for some, it is, and they're entitled to that dream. In fact, you can have it all to yourself! I'm happy to share my dream with thousands and thousands of others. Rough And Ready, California, is all yours!

France, however, is steeped in clichés. And it should be--the French invented the word, after all. It's from "clicher," a typographer's term that relates to moveable type, otherwise known as "stereotype." And while I might fit into the cliché category, the others who share that spot with me are really much more interesting. Take striped shirts, for instance.

Ever since Jean Seberg (American in Paris!) hawked copies of the International Herald Tribune in that form-fitting striped T-Shirt in Jean-Luc Godard's Breathless, the French sailor look has gone iconic. Every few years Vogue does a "France inspired" spread that features some pretty young think done up like Leslie Caron or Audrey Hepburn, a stripey shirt on her back and a copy of the Herald Tribune tucked beneath her arm. This cliché is one I like a lot. I hope France keeps it up so I can feel good about adding to my striped-shirt collection.

And the French really do love their poodles, too. And other sorts of chiens, petit et grand. Homeless people here, too, love their dogs. I'd previously mentioned seeing a fluffy, chow-like dog in my old 11th arrondissement neighborhood who I thought had been turned out on the street while his "parents' went on their summer holiday. Turns out he belongs to the homeless boozers who live in the square across from Nathalie's office on rue de la Roquette. He seems semi-well taken care of.

If I have to be a stereotype, I'm glad it's here, in this funky corner of Paris that I call home.

And now, I'm going to go chow a baguette.


  1. I would much rather be an alleged cliche than a nay-sayer, criticizing someone else's journey to enjoy life a bit. Life is not a contest to be the most original, and if it were, I'd rather lose and have the freedom to make choices based on what makes me happy. And I love striped shirts!

  2. Hi, Sarah! You're right: life is not a contest, but some of us forget that from time to time. (Especially me. Must stop that!) Sometimes a quiet(er) life with kids and a white picket fence somewhere green and calm sounds so very alluring. Maybe someday (but probably not).

  3. Heyyyyy!! Hi! :) Gee, I wonder who that person who wanted to move to China was, lol. ;-)

    You bring up a good point here: "France, however, is steeped in clichés. And it should be--the French invented the word, after all. It's from "clicher," a typographer's term that relates to moveable type, otherwise known as "stereotype.""

    I like to whine a lot about how "typical" Paris is, and wish sometimes that I would have been plunked somewhere much more unusual and exotic, but you know what? Here is what I really desire with all my heart: I want people to find their bliss. And if that bliss is in Paris -- and there is a *reason* why it is so clichéd and popular -- then god love 'em, they should just GO FOR IT. Life is too short not to seize upon what we truly desire.

    I know I wanted adventure in my life, and by golly I got it. It's true: be careful what you ask for, you might just get it. Okay, so it did not take the form I thought it might, but it *is* an adventure! I need to remember that.

    This is a lovely piece about allowing and embracing Paris, and it is really apropos (another French word!) for me to read it now, especially as I ranted all over Paris the other day in my own blog, lol!

    Thank you, Aurelia, for your insights here. :)

  4. Thank you, Karin, for inspiring me to flex my kvetch muscle a little bit, and for always having something thoughtful and interesting to say, whether responding to something I've written or busting out your own wonderful blog.

    Last night I went to see Patti Smith "perform" (half reading from her new book, half singing and strumming two of the eight chords she knows on her guitar).

    At one point, she read a passage describing her first visit to Paris with her sister back in, I think it was, 1968. She was in Montmartre, wearing a striped fisherman's sweater, drinking Algerian wine and tracing Edith Piaf and Rimbaud's footsteps. "Oh god!" I thought. "Now even I'm starting to tire of this hackneyed Paris story!" It made me think of you :0)

    BTW, when you find your bliss (assuming you haven't yet), will you point me in the same direction?! Feel a little lost in that department sometimes. I know "bliss" is not the same for everyone, but fresh fodder/food for thought is always helpful!

  5. The majority of people never do what they dream to do. As long as those people exist, your moving to Paris is an extraordinary adventure that you share with a very exclusive, esteemed group. No one can ever take that away from you.

  6. I'm into finding satisfaction these days. The location isn't important. Penn Valley, though - Si and I just joked about moving there so the kids could get horses. Aack!
    But, I'm so glad you moved to Paris so I can hopefully satisfy Si's hope of European travel some day. This sounds very small minded USA but do they have yoga studios there and please tell me they're not that lame hot yoga?

  7. Beth, yoga is actually not that easy to find here. Instead of studying English literature, I should have studied to become a yoga instructor, because I'd have the market cornered! The few classes i've seen advertised are ridiculously expensive, including Centre Jonquiere (http://www.ca-lajonquiere.com/ateliers_ateliers.html), just around the corner from us. Thanks for reminding me that I wanted to go in and ask if they have an "poor American" rates. I'll let you know how that goes!


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