Monday, April 23, 2012

Joyce Maynard's Hair

What I knew about Joyce Maynard before going to see her speak at the American Library in Paris, was, frankly, not a whole lot. I knew she was a writer, and I vaguely remembered reading something about her living in Keene, New Hampshire--not far from where I once lived during 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. I'd also read that, back in the '70s, she was the teenage paramour of J.D. Salinger, and it was that titillating tidbit that wrenched me out of my warm apartment and across town to the 7e on a brisk Paris evening.

The book that catapulted Maynard into the spotlight at 17. J'adore that bob

Miss Maynard charmed me immediately. She has an unassuming je ne sais quoi about her; a combination, I think, of a pixieish face that belies her 50-some-odd years, a slightly nervous energy (one that I understand from experience), and a seemingly natural talent for engaging storytelling. She mesmerized the audience--an attentive room-full of plastic-wine-cup-clutching bibliophiles wedged into sturdy Danish Modern chairs--with a riveting recount of the day's drama at the Musee d'Orsay. There, beside a bridge linking the left bank to the right, a team of gypsy pickpockets relieved her of her wallet using that Oh-Here's-The-Ring-You-Dropped scam. The combination of pity, anger, and laughter that her story provoked totally won me over.

The remainder of the evening was no less confessional, and equally spellbinding; with disarming earnestness, Maynard shared intimate details of her topsy-turvy life with us strangers. This was an oral autobiography punctuated with dramatic bullet points--alcoholic parents, an affair with a famous (and bitter, and controlling) old man--and  equally interesting but more mundane details about her development as a writer, parenting, collapsing relationships, and travel. We had a bit in common, I thought.

I left the event empty handed (the book I was most interested in had sold out already), but felt full with that warm-and-fuzzy feeling you get when you realize you're not alone in the universe--that there are kindred spirits within our own orbit who share similar experiences and express those similarities with vivid language.

What was I thinking? A yearlong experiment in blondness that lasted roughly 364 days longer than it should have

Since then, I've followed Mlle. Maynard through the usual social networks, which is where I came upon her most recent piece, this published in the New York Times on April 9 titled "The Kindest Cut." It's about hair. Most of us have at least a little bit of the stuff, and some of us struggle with it on a daily basis: Taming unruly cowlicks, dominating subordinate gray strands with "natural" hair dye, and aiming for a style that doesn't look like you tried too hard or cared too little. It's exhausting work, and has been an all-consuming preoccupation more than a few times in my life.

Right now, I'm preoccupied with whether or not to whack my hair off. I've been growing it long for about two years now, and it hits my upper back right about at bra-strap level
. I think I thought that having long hair again would make me feel pretty. I realize I've never felt pretty, long hair or short, so that's not really a valid reason to schlep around a tangled mess of boring brown tresses. Perhaps, subconsciously, I also harbor a fear that men will no longer find me attractive if I snip of a few inches.

My hair last week. It doesn't look too bad when freshly washed, but it's still time for a change

"Men don't like short hair," a friend tells Maynard knowingly in "The Kindest Cut."  Maynard isn't deterred. "Should my hairstyle be dictated by the desire to please men or myself?" she asks herself in response. Now, I have to ask myself that same question. I hope I'll be brave enough to heed the desire to please myself, and not feel resigned to sporting a head of hair that's boring and unflattering. 

On our way to Copenhagen a couple of weeks ago, I made a pre-flight pit-stop at the Relay store at Charles de Gaulle. Quickly rifling through the magazines, I spotted a fashion feature showing magazine editors (aka "real people") wearing the latest designer duds. The clothes weren't nearly as compelling as one of the editor's hairdos. I hadn't seen anything so fun and interesting in a long time. Her slightly messy, long bob hit about shoulder length, with eye-grazing blond-and-brown bangs funking it up in a mod way. I loved it, and thought, "I wish I could have hair like that."
So, why not? 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Bye-Bye Bling Bling?

I didn't recognize the man who approached me as I left the chaotic Sunday market on Boulevard Ney. Reaching out with a friendly "bonjour," he pressed a thick pamphlet into my hand as I passed. Looking down at the sober red, white, and blue sheaf, I quickly sized it up as pro-Sarkozy election propaganda. (The public markets, brimming as they always are with Parisians of every political leaning, prove to be prime territories for leafleting.)

At home, after stuffing the last of the spring fava beans and juicy tangerines into our Lilliput-proportioned refrigerator, I flipped open the 34-page manifesto, hoping to discover just how well those twice-weekly french lessons are paying off (suprisingly well), and more so, to learn what the incumbent everyone loves to hate had to say to his public in what are likely the final hours of his tenure. It was a fascinating read.

The president of the Fifth Republic is definitely preoccupied with a few specific themes: immigration, national security, and France's economic strength. Nothing surprising there. More interesting was the thread that held this manifesto together: What it means to be French.

Candidates on every corner: These ubiquitous posters depict the 10 presidential contenders; Ultra right-winger Marine Le Pen's head is scribbled with "Disgrace."

So, what does it mean to be French? In Sarko's view, it means assimilation, and definitely means speaking French, but it's more than that, he says. "Everyone who wants to come to and live in France, whether man or woman, must know that here, we have rules that we impose on everyone: Separation of church and state, a burqa ban in public places, a veil ban for public service workers, mandatory education, equality between men and women, the right of women to work, and an absolute ban on polygamy and female genital mutilation."

He continues (rather snarkily, if you ask me), "In France, men and women use the public pool at the same time. Doctors are both men and women. And school lunch menus are what they are, so don't try to impose your cultural or religious preferences on secular France." (He didn't actually say that last bit, but it was implied. He's made it clear he does not support Islamification on any level, nor does he believe in vegetarian lunch options in public schools.)

"No one is obliged to come to France, after all."

Sarko's plan for the future of France includes reducing new immigration by 50 percent, and then, giving priority to political refugees and highly skilled labor. I wonder what this means for me and the rest of France's current immigrant population? The cynic in me says those immigrants with the whitest skin will find themselves more or less immune to the threat of closing doors and invitations to return "home."

Get out the (youth) vote: Pro-Hollande event flyer posted outside Lycee Honore de Balzac in the 17e

The candidate I believe has the strongest chance of defeating Sarko is Francois Hollande. An unapologetic Socialist, he seems less focused on blaming immigrants for France's problems, which makes him a strong candidate among the
populaire proletariat, and he's one of just a handful of candidates I've seen grooming the youth vote. His campaign buzzword is "change," and where I see that most is in his environmental agenda, which includes reducing reliance on nuclear power, developing renewable energy sources, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. No word from the Hollande camp on whether that plan includes a moratorium on factory farms, but it could happen! And in typical Socialist fashion, he wants to raise taxes for the rich and redistribute the wealth to bolster public services that will help the neediest in every corner of l'Hexagone. Even if I'm not entitled to vote, these are ideals I can stand behind.

The primary election is this upcoming Sunday. Yes, Sunday! Why vote on a Sunday, instead of, say, a Tuesday? So that everyone can vote. (Well, almost everyone.) Two weeks later, the last two candidates standing will be whittled down to one winner. Is France ready to say au revoir to President Bling Bling? I think the answer is "oui."