Sunday, March 30, 2008


In July 1969 I was ten years old. It was my second time at Girl Scout camp.

The first time I was too young. The camping wasn’t completely rustic, with cots on a wooden platform under a large tent, four girls to a tent. But I was only seven then and terrified of the outdoor latrines. So scared that one rainy night when I had to pee I weighed the options and wet the bed. Sleeping in a urine-soaked sleeping bag for a night or two was preferable to walking the dark path to a wooden outhouse where all kinds of insects might be lurking. It didn’t matter what the other girls thought, because I was too shy to talk to anybody anyway. Besides, once I went home at the end of the week, I’d never see them again.

Three years later I had more confidence and could deal with certain aspects of nature much better. Plus there was a lot to talk about with my tentmates, three girls from other towns in western Pennsylvania. The fact that we were strangers and would go back to our regular friends after sleeping in the same tent for two weeks made it that much easier to freely discuss all sorts of things. Like, which Monkee was the cutest? Had you ever looked at Playboy magazine? Did you have a boyfriend?

Shelley was the oldest in the tent. She must have been eleven. She said she knew Bobby Sherman personally and that she’d french-kissed a boy. We waited for her to elaborate.

She showed us how she’d turned her head sideways and, illustrating by holding her fist up like another mouth, how the boy had done the same. I held my breath thinking about it, wondering if that’s how babies were made. Somebody said they’d heard that if your mouths were open wide enough some kind of seed could travel from one person to another and that’s how you got pregnant.

A counselor came running up the hill and poked her head in through the tent flaps to tell us they were showing the moonwalk on TV. We all hurried down to the rec center to watch on an old black and white set.

That done, we walked back to our tent to get ready for bed. Seeing a man bounce around on the surface of the moon had been pretty incredible. But mostly I kept thinking about french kissing, and that part about the seed.

Prompted by Sunday Scribblings

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Roll Away The Stone

In Eric’s wonderful autobiography, A Dysfunctional Success, he describes Easter as being the worst holiday - “like four Sundays in a row,” (note to myself: reread Eric’s book, one of the best autobiographies ever) and it certainly was true here in rural France. Everything was closed. Plus it rained, snowed, sleeted and was generally dark and dreary from Friday until Tuesday morning, when we woke up to a beautiful sunny day.

We’d started off the weekend by watching this Visconti film called “White Nights” with Marcello Mastroianni. Beautiful to look at, heartbreaking, funny, a perfect depiction of what it is to be lonely. I get hung up on French movies and tend to forget that it’s often the Italian films that really have it all going for them. We went to our friends’ house for dinner on Saturday night and enjoyed an incredible hearty dish from the Haute Savoie region called tartiflette. Outside we saw our own white night - it was snowing.

On Sunday the sun came out for a little while in the afternoon, just long enough to take a walk. We drove to the nearby village of Vayres which is our current favorite - there’s an old deserted bar with an adjoining dance hall that sits looking just as it must have in the fifties and sixties, with red and yellow café tables, mod wooden chairs and barstools, and blue, brown and red tiles on the floor. Of course we fantasize about buying the bar and turning it into the swingingest nightspot around, knowing full well there are not enough people around here to support the few bars and restaurants that already exist. Still, it’s nice to imagine it.

We’d packed some sandwiches and fruit and chocolate and went hiking up past cow pastures and through some little hamlets with falling down stone barns and eventually found a sunny spot where the wind died down long enough that we could sit and eat. It was so quiet, the only other living things we saw were a couple of cows.

Monday the weather was really bad, and by the end of the day I was starting to climb the walls. It’s like being aware that there’s nothing open and nowhere to go makes me desperate to get out. If things were as normal I would probably be happy to sit around at home. But if it feels like some greater authority is restricting when and where I can go out I have to rebel.

Luckily, the movie theatres were open. We went to see Juno, and though I dismissed it when I saw it in the US last month, it was perfect for a cold rainy night with nothing better to do. I’d seen it with my daughter the first time and the wisecracking teen dialogue kind of got on my nerves (possibly because I had my own version sitting right next to me?). But in a small town in France, watching with Eric, it seemed like such a sweet love story. And I couldn’t help but wonder what all the small town French teenagers in the theatre must make of cinematic America with the suburban houses and wide open highways and minivans and those huge sodas everyone’s always carrying around. I even found myself affected by Kimya Dawson’s songs.

So perhaps that was the magic of Easter (or Paques, around here) kicking in? You wind up in a sort of semi-coma for a few days, whether you like it or not. Your critical faculties get slightly readjusted. So that when it’s all over, on Tuesday morning, you wake up feeling alive again. Renewed, even.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Marché Madness

Every place I live I end up having a complicated relationship with the local supermarket, and in France it's no different. In fact, I think it's amplified by my expectations about the quality of food here, and complicated by all the small outdoor markets that sell higher quality food, at higher prices. I'd like to support the small owners and their stuff is better but often lower prices and convenience win out, so there's guilt mixed in there too.

In Brooklyn there was Key Food, the first supermarket I ever hated. Messy, crowded, with their own sad, low-priced line of products and impatient, nasty cashiers. Worst of all was the dreaded parking lot on McGuinness Boulevard and the metal bars that made it impossible to take the shopping cart out to your car. With a toddler in tow I could never figure out which was better: leave the shopping unattended in the cart, take the kid and get in the car and drive back around, hoping the stuff would still be there, or drag it one bag at a time, holding onto the kid with the other hand? Eventually she was old enough to help carry the bags to the car, and grew to hate Key Food as much as I did.

When we moved to Nashville I thought we'd have it made. This was suburban living - free and easy parking, spacious aisles, low prices. But I quickly developed Kroger Rage. It wasn't the cashiers, because they'd installed the self-serve checkouts so you'd rarely encounter an actual employee of the store. And when you did it was "Why, what's the problem, hon?" or "I am truly blessed!" (This in response to someone having exact change for a purchase.) No, it was the customers - slovenly groups of three to seven people in horrible light blue Nashville Titans sportswear. Or even worse, the music biz brigade with their impossibly good grooming and constant cellphone use ("So I said to him, you gotta get that thing remastered. Hey, they've got a special on the honey roast turkey breast. Anyway...if Tim and Faith cut it, uh, yeah can I get some of those jalapeno poppers please, and..." ) Remember cellphones? It seems like a lifetime ago.

Cleveland was a whole other brand of misery, but like a lot of things Cleveland the Giant Eagle ended up winning a strange little place in my heart. The cashiers were indifferent, the other customers surly and defensive. But there was this sweet guy who collected the carts. He'd always get a big smile on his face when he saw me and say "My friend, my friend!" Some days it was the only human contact I'd have.

So our local supermarché here is the ATAC. At first I was pretty excited to have one within walking distance. And the novelty of all the different products - so many cheeses! Look at that magazine section! Cheap wine! kept me entertained for a while. But there's no escaping the fact that ATAC is merely an outpost of the huge Auchan chain, and a dowdy country cousin at best. At worst it's a probable dumping ground for produce that wouldn't make it in a bigger town.

The local markets are good for special occasions or when visitors come but the prices have gotten very high. So for decent meat and produce, we've been traveling to the Intermarché about thirty minutes away by car. Not so bad until you consider the store closing hours in France. 12 to 3 every afternoon and then 7 PM onward. Except Intermarché which closes inexplicably at 11:45. This means having the forethought to look at the clock by 11 AM and say, "shit, we'd better get to the store." Which inevitably doesn't happen so we're off on foot to the ATAC (which is inexplicably open until 12:15, except when it's not.)

Most of our ATAC anger has been focused on a certain cashier who is so pinched and unpleasant that we started calling her Rat Face. It got so I would do anything possible to avoid her scorn. If there was a guy at her caisse with a bottle of wine, some oranges and a jar of cassoulet, and a woman with two weeks worth of frozen food, canned goods, cookies, and clothing for the entire family at the other cash register, I would commit myself to waiting ten minutes for the other cashier and let Rat Face stand by herself staring into space, rather than have her cold claw of a hand throwing change at me in a shorter amount of time.

But there was good news a few weeks back. A new Intermarché had opened, just a short ten minute drive away! We were so excited, knowing our quality of life would improve without the daily grind of a visit to ATAC.

But this new Intermarché sucks. It must be the Siberia of Intermarchés, where they send all the butchers who can't cut it, and the cashiers who've been broken by having to deal with too many expats.

So it's back to the ATAC. But Rat Face is gone. I don't know why, but I kind of miss her.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


It took months of preparation: study, research, training. I rehearsed it in my head dozens of times, how it would go. It was so daunting, with such potential for failure, that I kept putting it off. But I knew that I would have to swallow my pride, tackle my fears and go through with it. If only to confirm my status as a true American.

The day came when, confidence at a new high, I felt strong. Strong enough to push past the discomfort. Hand trembling, I dialed the phone. A voice answered, in French. I swallowed hard and spoke, timidly at first, but finally making myself clear. Unmistakably clear. By the time it was all over, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment, coupled with relief. Exhausted, I took the afternoon off.

So, I have an appointment for my first dental checkup and cleaning in France, in two weeks.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Bang Theory

It takes forever to grow out bangs. It takes - I’m not really sure how long it takes, because I’ve never actually managed to do it.

Since the age of 4 or 5 when my mother sat me on the kitchen counter, brushed my hair down in front of my face, ran a strip of pink tape just above my eyebrows and snipped, I have lived life with only half a face. The rest is obscured by bangs.

Every year and a half or so, a model or actress makes big fashion news by cutting bangs (or fringe, to the English or French, though this word indicates a certain lack of commitment). And all of a sudden, it’s seen as a stylish option - something women can blithely run to the hairdresser and choose.

How I envy them! For these ladies, hair is just an accessory. They don't know it's all a continuum of darkness and personality disorder. Often begun by a frustrated parent in early childhood (“for God’s sake, would you get that hair our of your face!”) and compounded by TV’s influence (That Girl and Mary Tyler Moore), it can have an everlasting effect. A lifetime of ducking, hiding, peeping and squinting. Of contrived coquettishness and implied insouciance, smiling and people-pleasing. Marlo and Mary did manage to break free for a while with side and center parts but you’ll notice they inevitably show up in bangs again.

I know I should avoid women's magazines - they exist mostly to sell products. But I can't stop myself - I at least want to know all the different ways I'm doing it wrong. (French magazines are a little more forgiving, with flawed looking women the norm.) On one page you'll see an irritating article that says noone over 30 should wear bangs - it looks like you’re trying too hard to hold on to your youth. A female version of the male combover? Yet the makeovers always have hairdressers “softening” an older woman’s appearance by cutting bangs. They don’t tell the women that they’ve just been inducted into a kind of mafia of the hair, where you will try to get out and keep getting pulled back in. Some are strong enough to break free. Not me. I’ll get a little extra confidence going and almost manage to grow the bangs out. But the thought of full disclosure is terrifying or downright impossible. A bad day, a glass of wine, a mirror and a handy pair of scissors, and the months of pushing my hair to one side or the other while the front pieces grow out is washed down the drain. And the cycle begins again.

I’m thinking of starting a support group for the forehead-impaired. The members would mostly be women, although we would certainly consider accepting guys. We’d call each other up and talk it through in weak, haggard moments when the barber shears beckon once again.

But then some Goldie Hawn movie would come on TV and it would be all over...

Prompted by Sunday Scribblings

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Putting The Skirt Before The Horse

I am seriously skirt-impaired. It could be the lousy weather and a longing for spring, but I am so sick of wearing the same old clothes. The other day a package came and I answered the door in horrific sweatpants, striped socks, clogs and a pilled ratty sweater. The only boost to my self-esteem for allowing the delivery man to see me this way was that he mistook me for a French person. Not that you’ll see many self-respecting French women actually out in public looking like that - they leave slobby dressing to the expats.

But back to the skirt. I have gained about ten pounds since I moved here. Not the end of the world and though I did try to stop eating butter, cheese and bread I decided I’m willing to accept a little extra weight rather than forego some of the greatest pleasures of being in France.

Most of my clothes don't fit anymore. And some of those skirts were looking a little too short anyway. I’m all for hanging onto whatever youthful accoutrements you can, as long as you can, and I seriously dislike those “age-appropriate” articles you always see in women’s magazines. Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth still looks great in bare legs and a short skirt. But I feel less and less like that’s right for me and so I’ve been searching high and low for a simple, just above the knee but not mid-thigh a-line skirt, possibly with buttons down the front. Nothing pleated, nothing gathered, no asymmetrical hems or bulging pockets. I cannot find the skirt of my dreams. Even when I come sort of close, it’s too expensive.

I tried eBay and outbid someone to pay a whopping 7 euros for a skirt which is too big, too long and generally better suited for camping under. I know I can do better than that.

So I scroll through these embarrassingly-named websites (net-a-porter, shopbop, etc.) and it has become my equivalent of window-shopping.

It occurs to me I’m looking for more than a skirt. I’m searching for some new version of myself and it becomes a preoccupation. I start to wonder if I’m living entirely in my imagination, seeing myself in the clothes that fit a life I don’t actually have but don’t want to admit it. The option of giving up is seriously tempting out in the country, as days go by where the only outside activity is a walk through the rain to the supermarket.

Just like my 12 year old niece plays endlessly on Stardoll, dressing her favorite stars in whatever haircolor, boots and eyeliner seems right and then changing it all with a click, I'm mentally putting on this top, that jacket, that skirt, to see who exactly it is I could become. If only I had the money. And somewhere to go.

But maybe if I had the skirt...

Monday, March 10, 2008

South by Southwest (France)

It's that time again, when everyone and their brother heads to Austin for South by Southwest. Well, not exactly everyone although at least one of my brothers will be there.

It's been a few years since I spent a small fortune to play, listen, talk, drink, eat and generally make my presence known to those who already know me at everybody's favorite waste of time. I've lost count of how many years I went and I still get a little pang thinking about it, missing it even. Not as some big career opportunity, even though I always enjoyed when I'd finally play my show in varying circumstances (an Irish pub, a daiquiri factory, a tandoori restaurant are a few of the ersatz venues that spring to mind). But just as surely as the swallows come back to Capistrano in March, so all the people I know who've hung in there in music forever (never mind the hundreds of new bands) reward themselves with a trip to Austin - especially valuable when you live in the frozen north. You wonder why people don't treat themselves to a cabin in the woods or beach shack weekend somewhere. But aren't we creatures of habit, even the most out-there musician types?

I tell myself that I'm not missing too much by forgoing a chance to hoist a lukewarm beer in the back garden of Yard Dog while one or several of my singer/songwriter buddies dazzles the crowd. I'd probably be worrying about how each year it gets increasingly terrifying to see and be seen in the harsh afternoon light, especially after two or three days of drinking and eating greasy barbq and Mexican food.

But I know that there'd be a point where I'd forget the self-consciousness and stop wondering if there was someone else I should be saying hello to and get a warm glow. Possibly related to some kind of chemical substance, but a happy feeling nonetheless that I'm still here dammit and still loving to play and hear other people play.

It's funny that the last time I was there was the last time Eric was there (2005, I think?) We kept trying to see each other but it wasn't meant to be. Now we're together here at SXSW France and playing together. When I think about it, it's really not so different from Austin.

There's this big chateau, which is kinda like the Four Seasons hotel - impermeable unless you're extremely successful or on someone else's tab:

There's smoked meat, eaten outdoors:

This pretty little river flowing nearby:

This bridge, almost like the Congress Street bridge but without all the tattoos and haircuts:

And always some place (gig, party, bar, restaurant) that is possibly better than the one you're at right then.

You get the idea. The only thing missing is the people. And the Shiner Bock.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Experiment

I'll bring the white coats
You break out the beakers
Pipe Thomas Dolby
In through the speakers
To screw results
In skewed results
We're the no control group
Lab partners

Prompted by Sunday Scribblings

Saturday, March 8, 2008


I think I'm starting some French lessons next week but I have doubts about the teacher. First of all, he's German.

That's not really such a problem. He speaks beautifully. But his approach seemed less than appealing, on our first meeting. "We'll focus on the three hundred most regularly used verbs," he said, and "Don't worry about the words you don't understand, they're not important." But they're the ones that attract me! Though he's probably right, in terms of learning.

I guess I've been spoiled. Our friend Emmanuel has been patiently teaching me, through speaking slowly enough for me to follow, gently correcting me in conversation, and bringing me exercise books. But I'd like to move things along a little more.

The lessons are right here in our village. I might enjoy an opportunity to get out and about, even travel into Limoges. But factor in the time and cost of fuel and it seems more practical to just walk around the corner once a week and spend an hour with someone who is possibly an excellent teacher.

Plus, I'll actually be here for the next several weeks (unless, of course, the bitc- I mean, wonderful actress they got to play my TV role gets a case of laryngitis).

I think learning French, really learning to speak, read, write and think in this beautifully complicated language, will take what I have left of a lifetime. So, do I risk anything by committing to spend 5 one hour sessions with this guy?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Hollywood, Baby

We were standing around the microphone yesterday, recording handclaps and watching the snow come down outside the window.

It's like a French Twin Peaks around here, with the occasional log truck rolling past and an old man in traditional cap walking slowly by, oblivious to the fact that we're just a few feet away raising some kind of hell in the studio.

Things got even more surreal last week when I was asked to audition for an American TV pilot. So here we were in rural France, trying to recreate your basic sitcom set in the kitchen in order to film a scene to send to television producers in Los Angeles.

When did I become an actress, you may be asking? I think it was Tuesday.

Our friend Nick came over with his camera. After a few minutes of trying to "act" while reading from the script it dawned on me that I was going to have to memorize my lines. Eric played all the other characters, off camera, and no doubt will have his own series soon. When I'd learned the part it was actually kind of fun playing, what else, a guitar-totin' mother. I've often felt like a character in some bizarre show anyway, so maybe I could play one on TV?

Now we're recording again with one ear towards the phone, but the thing still hasn't rung. I imagine they're hiring a thirty five year old actress to play a rock n roll mom in her 40's. That's Hollywood, baby. It could never be as interesting as real life.

Monday, March 3, 2008

7 Deadly Dull Things About Me

I've been tagged by Rosie to tell 7 random things about myself. Last year I did something similar and got terribly heavy - I was depressed for days after. So I'm determined to keep things lighter this time. Here goes:

1. I'm a lip balm addict. I am constantly on a mission to find the perfect one. My current favorite is Molton Brown - I think it's actually from their men's line. But when I get desperate, I'm not picky. The same way we used to have pacifiers everywhere when my daughter was little, I have alternate lip balms tucked in every purse, pocket and room in the house.

2. I can walk pretty fast in high heels. It must come from years of experience in New York, back in the punk days when I'd ricochet all over the Lower East Side in 50's thrift shop shoes. But onstage I find them impossibly unbalanced. How does PJ Harvey do it? (although I notice she's taken to sitting down at the piano lately...)

3. I love broccoli. But it can't be raw. It can be very hard to find when I'm out traveling. I've endured many a bad Chinese restaurant just to get some broccoli.

4. My current favorite movie is "A Star Is Born" with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. I think Eric and I have watched it 4 times in the last few months. I am obsessed.

5. I really missed seeing the Oscars this year. Maybe there was a way I could've watched it over here, online or something? I couldn't get it together to figure it out. I have to admit I was looking at all the websites first thing the next morning, to see who won and who wore what.

6. I love making (and eating) good old American pancakes. Every time I go to America I mean to pick up some Trader Joe's pancake mix and then my suitcase is just too full. I've done them from scratch a few times here in France but it's very hit or miss.

7. I have dozens of scarves. I can't pass up a cute 60's or 70's square or oblong. And now even 80's patterns are starting to look good to me. Do I wear them? Occasionally. But mostly I just like to take them out and look at them.

There, that wasn't gut-wrenching at all. I'm way more superficial than I thought.

Here's who I'm tagging:

and Jimmy James
(damn...that's only five for the moment.)

And here's THE RULES:
1. Once you are tagged, link back to the person who tagged you.
2. Post THE RULES on your blog.
3. Post 7 weird or random facts about yourself on your blog.
4. Tag 7 people and link to them.
5. Comment on their blog to let them know they have been tagged.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Pulling Weeds

I haven't written in a week - have been trying to get ready for our show tonight. I'm embarrassed at how little work I've put into practicing or playing the last few months. We've been working on a record, true, but a lot of that is listening and making decisions about what to keep and what to redo. And Eric does a huge amount of work, setting things up and moving things around where I just stick my head in and say "I like that." But as for just everyday pick up the guitar or keyboard and spend even a little time, or sing something, for fun or to keep in shape - I suck. It's more instant gratification to write here! And sociable - it gets kind of isolated out in the country. And then there's all the other ideas and schemes I always seem to have brewing.

I used to spend a large portion of my time being a mom, the rest of the time I was driving or flying or even taking trains to gigs to make some money so I could pay the bills so I could keep writing songs and playing and singing. Now that freedom of time almost overwhelms me where I end up pulling out weeds and digging in the dirt with a stick instead of accomplishing something, and I think "I have to buckle down somehow." I know there's some half-assed metaphor in here for preparing the soil for new growth but I'll leave it out for now.

But I do love playing and singing! So I better go do that. And get back to writing, and pulling weeds, tomorrow.