Saturday, August 30, 2008

At The Hipster Hotel

Welcome back to America! Huge stores, friendly employees everywhere, giving you their names and life stories. A clerk in a Starbucks told us his plans for the weekend (it was his birthday), found out what we were up to, and reassured us that he was really happy with his co-workers and job, all within the time it took to hand over a cup of coffee.

So much choice and variety of food and everything. Partly it's Portland - Thai, Vietnamese, deli, amazing bakeries, all within a block. And so much variety in the clothing people are wearing. It's especially heavy on the hipster look. After months in the countryside, I can't get over how cute and creative everyone looks.

It used to be hard won, looking "interesting". Thrift shops were vile, scary places not for the faint-hearted. A certain level of commitment was required to come up with a look that wasn't ordinary. Now in a place like Portland, it's the normal people who stand out, visitors most likely.

We booked into the same Jupiter Hotel we'd stayed at last time and vowed to avoid. They take an old motel with tiny, poorly insulated rooms and slap white paint on everything, put some mid-century style furniture around, place a condom by the bed and blast music all night long. It makes me long for a nice bland Hampton Inn. I once thought being hip meant wanting to upset the straight people. But there aren't any of them around anymore, in places like this.

Still, it was close to the club, and since it was a weeknight we thought things might be a little quieter. The club was another hipster haven. Great music, the best shag haircuts on everybody, but disorganized and chaotic. We were trying to soundcheck in the dark because no one could find a light switch. Our rented amps were hard to deal with or barely worked at all, there wasn't time to figure out the new keyboard (which magically arrived on time)and a late show was scheduled for after our set, meaning the hallway next to the stage filled up with other people's equipment.

We made it through okay though. There has to be a first show somewhere and this was it. Even managed to sleep alright. I think they must pipe in some kind of gas in the night because when I woke up I felt like maybe I too could fit in. Maybe, by my very proximity to all this hipness, I too could be one of them?

"You guys heading up to Bumbershoot this weekend? I grew up in Seattle and I usually try to go up there for it. So much fun! I have to work this weekend though, but y'know, it's good to make money. You have a great time, okay?" said the desk clerk.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A New Leaf

It's 7 AM - I'm on the computer, Eric's in the fitness center, working out. See what being in America does? We're already more productive human beings, and we've only been here for about ten hours.

We left home at 5 AM yesterday, drove forty minutes to catch a three hour train to Paris. Our friend Lo picked us up at Austerlitz and what a luxury to have a scenic drive through the center of the city and out to the airport, rather than having to drag our four guitars and various suitcases down into the metro and RER. The checkin process was interminable as the computers were broken down, but in the end we benefited because they didn't bother to charge us for extra baggage AND we were upgraded to Economy Plus, which is the equivalent of being a cow in a slightly bigger stall but made the first part of the flight easier to bear.

We made it okay through immigration though there was that moment where I was on one side of the glass having cleared and collected the baggage, and Eric was on the other, awaiting interrogation. I was afraid to take my eyes off him, imagining that if I looked away even for a second he would disappear and I would end up pounding on the glass screaming "Where is he? What have you done with him? I'm an American! We have rights!" in my best Jodie Foster imitation.

Like Hal Philip Walker's campaign speech that plays endlessly throughout Robert Altman's Nashville, so the Democratic convention blared out of every TV set in every corner of the airport. I picked up a copy of the Washington Post to try to get some idea of what was going on, but that only seemed to make things worse.

The next part of the journey, from DC to Portland, I spent in a partial coma because I just couldn't stand being on a plane anymore. I'd forgotten to get some American cash in the airport and with only about ten quarters between us, I didn't have the price of a glass of wine. As flying is at very least a license to drink wine no matter what time of the day or night, I felt let down, but in the end it was probably for the best. Because it's early morning now and we're already getting things done. At least until the jet lag wears off.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Here We Go

We've been chasing visas, adding friends on myspace, emailing clubs, mailing posters and trying to track down a keyboard I won on eBay and hoped to have waiting for me in America. I have to believe it'll show up. Doing interviews and arranging more interviews, emailing radio stations and doing everything we can to let people know we're playing, short of donning sandwich boards, which I believe we would do if we could figure out how to fit the safety vests over them.

We played a local show the other night and it was a great sendoff with a lot of our neighbors showing up to wish us well. I was so pleased to meet a fellow blogger in France, Kim of Je Ne Regrette Rien - she was as warm and funny and interesting as her very readable blog, and she even made it through two whole sets so I know we can be friends!

I'm determined to post short reports from each town rather than trying to recap at the end of the whole thing. And since I'm still in self-promotion frenzy mode until we get on that airplane in Paris tomorrow, I'm going to list our US dates.

Thu Aug 28 East End PORTLAND
Sat Aug 30 Bumbershoot SEATTLE
Wed Sept 3 Cinema Bar LOS ANGELES
Thu Sept 4 Arts Centre MERCED, CA
Fri Sept 5 Thee Parkside SAN FRANCISCO
Tue Sept 9 Knuckleheads KANSAS CITY
Wed Sept 10 off Broadway ST LOUIS
Thu Sept 11 Hi Tone MEMPHIS
Fri Sept 12 Allgood Cafe DALLAS
Sat Sept 13 Emo's AUSTIN
Sun Sept 14 The Mink HOUSTON
Tue Sept 16 The Nick BIRMINGHAM
Wed Sept 17 Star Bar ATLANTA
Thu Sept 18 Grimeys NASHVILLE
Fri Sept 19 Local 506 CHAPEL HILL
Tue Sept 23 Thunderbird PITTSBURGH
Thu Sept 25 Jammin Java VIENNA, VA
Fri Sept 26 North Star PHILADELPHIA
Sat Sept 27 Southpaw BROOKLYN, NY
Tue Sept 30 Beachland CLEVELAND
Thu Oct 2 Schuba's CHICAGO
Fri Oct 3 7th St Entry MINNEAPOLIS
Tue Oct 7 U of W. Ont. LONDON, ONT
Wed Oct 8 Bop Shop ROCHESTER, NY
Thu Oct 9 Cafe Nine NEW HAVEN, CT
Sun Oct 12 TT the Bears CAMBRIDGE, MA

See you from Portland!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Version Pas Originale

There's the romantic comedy version of our 24-hour trip to Paris, where a kooky pair of lovebirds hop a couple of bicycles outside Gare Austerlitz and cycle through the nearly deserted streets of Paris on a soft Sunday evening in August.

Or there's the American Express commercial version where some middle-aged couple dine on steak frites at a great little cafe in the Marais, tracked down through Chowhound and David Leibovitz's blog.

There's the Godard version where two lowlifes grab a pair of bikes and cruise the Elysee Palace and Champs Elysee at midnight, putting the guards outside the president's residence on alert and scaring the tourists by riding down the middle of the sidewalk because the bike lane is jammed with stretch hummers.

There's the political thriller where the couple spend a fretful night in a garret apartment, with the full moon through the skylight. They know the husband has an interrogation by the US government the next morning. After months of preparation his papers are there, in the suitcase. Their future hangs in the balance. The clock ticks past three AM, four AM, five. When the alarm sounds, they've barely slept. She says goodbye, not knowing if she'll ever see him again.

There's the creepy sad movie version where an old woman sits everyday from 11 AM til 1 PM at a cafe near the Madeleine. She wears the same ancient pair of jeans, ballet slippers and striped top that she's worn every day for the last twenty years. Every so often she glances at an antique cellphone that's long since stopped functioning. In her faded Brooklyn Industries messenger bag is a picture of him. The tourists ask and the waiter shakes his head sadly. "She's here every day, at this time, looking over towards that corner by the US Embassy. She thinks her husband is coming back to tell her that he's got the visa and they can go to America. It's very sad..."

Or finally the music video version (to the strains of Wham's "Wake Me Up Before You Go Go") where the woman looks up from her coffee to see the guy coming towards her, victorious. They embrace and then there's a montage of meals and cafes and Paris Plages and a whirlwind shopping spree, with the couple popping out of various dressing rooms in cute outfits. They finally collapse on the 6:30 PM train back home to the countryside.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Summertime Thing*

We went to visit friends in Royan this past weekend. It's a great-looking French town on the Atlantic. Badly bombed at the end of World War II, they rebuilt it in the 50's and it's got the best mod white buildings.

I feel like I've spent plenty of time on the beach in France, but it's all through films. And God Created Woman, Pierrot le Fou, Rohmer's The Green Ray & Pauline at the Beach, Betty Blue. But people on the beach in real life France don't look like the ones in movies. In a way it's a letdown and in another way it's a relief.

I realized when we were packing for the trip that my bathing suit is now ten years old. A red & white striped sixties-style bikini, I bought it on sale at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City. It made the move to Nashville, where I retired it for a while after gaining ten or twenty pounds. But somewhere along the way I started wearing it again. Coney Island, Fire Island, countless hotel swimming pools, the Gulf in Florida, Pacific Ocean at Santa Cruz and Santa Monica and Yuma Beach, the freezing North Norfolk coast (I didn't go in) and now the Atlantic from the other side.

But the suit is looking pretty shabby. I went shopping for a new one last summer and it was my first experience with trying to buy clothes in France. On that excursion I realized that what is your average female clothing size in America is almost XL by French clothing standards. Then there was the lack of choice. And the prices were absurd. I thought it was maybe just to do with bathing suits but I've come to accept it's just the way here. The benefit is I buy way less. In fact I barely bother looking at all.

Another issue has been the two-piece debate. I'll be fifty in a few months. Maybe that means it's time to resign myself to wearing a one piece bathing suit. So I've been clinging to the old suit, because that means not having to make some sad, decisive step like that. To cut myself off from my youthful wasted summers is something I'm just not ready to do yet.

Which was why the beach at Royan was a revelation. Here were all kinds of women, young and old, and everyone was looking very human. Not like Arielle Dombasle (of Pauline At The Beach who these days, I'm sad to say, most closely resembles that scary lion lady you'd see in the papers in NY all the time, the one who couldn't stop with the plastic surgery?) or Anna Karina. Some were in better shape than others but it was heartening to see that a lot of the older women were sporting bikinis.

It might sound like a cliche but I get a sense of people enjoying themselves here (when they're not being miserable like the woman at our last show who sat there glowering at us but I've already talked about her way more than she deserves). Just as when we had the big meal with our neighbors and all the women seemed to get such a kick out of singing "Un itsi bitsi tini ouini, tout petit, petit, bikini", so the ladies of any age enjoy wearing them.

As do some of the men, but maybe that's another post?

*see Chuck Prophet

Friday, August 8, 2008


I was lying on the floor in Pilates class when it hit me. First of all, that I am really enjoying Pilates these days, after being initially so bored with it I didn't think I could continue. When I'm away now I really miss the good it does and then there's that chance to just lie there for a few minutes at the end - that alone makes it worth something. Anyway, I realized that I've now lived in France longer than I lived in Cleveland.

It feels like some kind of accomplishment, or as if a spell has been broken. Not that I lived in Cleveland that long - it was exactly seventeen months. And even though it was one of the loneliest, bleakest periods of my life, it was also the last place Hazel and I lived before she went off to college. And where I was holed up when Eric and I got together. I'll always have a soft spot for the place. Like an old army buddy, someone you were stuck in a trench with. Every now and then you want to meet up, have a beer and remind each other how tough it really was. I reflected as I was lying there on the linoleum of our local Ecole Maternelle that I was happy to be where I am. But actually looking forward to playing at the Beachland in Cleveland in September.

Another thing that occurred to me was how, in a class of nine or ten women, I was the only American. This sounds a little like one of those simple arithmetic problems - if there are ten women in a Pilates class in France, and one of them is American, how many Frenchwomen are there? The answer - zero. They were all English, except the instructor, who was South African.

Which might explain why I've actually been learning not one but two new languages in the last few years. In addition to our French neighbors and friends, I'm surrounded by Brits.

There's Eric of course, and anyone who's ever heard him knows he has, colorful way with language. I always thought Americans were the blunt, coarse ones but we're kindergarteners. I can't even ask someone to tell me where the toilet is without blushing. It just feels so wrong. But as it is with French, so all these English English phrases go through my mind now. The other day, some promoter told me what kind of deal they were willing to do for a show. "They're taking the piss!" is all I could think. I don't even know for sure what it means. It just felt accurate.

I go back and forth between American, English and French. Nowadays I don't even know what to call most things. The "American" pronunciation of basil sounds so bad, but if I use the English pronunciation I sound like a pretentious twat...I mean asshole. Anyway, you get it.

So I just use the French word. Maybe it's a convenient way to be forced to learn French - it's a completely different language rather than a partially different one and therefore I have to take on a whole other persona to speak it rather than sounding like someone in a suburban high school production of "Oliver". But it might reach the point where I am barely fluent in three languages.

So when I see you, please forgive me if all I can do is smile, nod and wave.

Monday, August 4, 2008


Luckily, on Friday some regulation safety vests arrived in the mail from our pal Lindsay, and I can now get on with my life.

Times when I've been working a regular job during the week, the weekend seemed like the only time to do the other things that pile up (laundry, dishes, bathing). This weekend I tried to take a break from the computer, where I spent all week confirming some last tour dates and making all kinds of travel plans. Like my fruitless weed-pulling in the courtyard, every time I think I'm almost finished, I'm back at it because more of the sneaky things keep popping up.

But it's hard not to catch the summery, relaxed feeling around here. It's August in France - the pace really does slow down as businesses close and people who have actual jobs take time off. But with the way the economy is, there is clearly less of that going on this summer.

Eric's been helping with the scene ouverte (or open mic night) at our local bar for several months. The idea is mostly for some of the younger musicians to have a chance to get out and play. For us, it seems to have become an opportunity to suck completely, as we did this past Friday when we massacred "Me & Bobby McGee". I think I was playing and singing in one key and Eric in another but it gave a clear message to the youngsters - you're never too bad or incompetent to strut your stuff in public.

We had a big excursion to the curry van planned for Saturday night. It is the only place within hundreds of miles to get decent Indian food, and it comes but once a week to a nearby village. Some friends had driven up from the Dordogne for a fix but it turned out the van was at the night market in another town. These night markets are happening all over this month - it's a novelty and special treat to be able to shop after 7 PM, and for the commercants it's a chance to make a little extra. We decided to go check one out and it was tacky, useless fun: lots of hippie-style ponchos and leather hats, fake flower arrangements and a guy at a keyboard playing a version of "On Broadway" that seemed to last the entire length of time it took for us to cruise all the stalls.

Yesterday I stood in line at the good bakery and ogled the treats in the case: eclairs, tartes aux fruits, mille-feuilles, religieuses. The place smelled incredible and I wanted to buy everything they had but stopped at some croissants and a chocolatine. Which meant of course that Eric and I had to take a bike ride, because we're "in training" for the tour. I think the hardest part of the strenuous routine is getting the bikes in the car so that we can drive to the (nearly flat) bike path. Still, it's something.

The sun came out late in the afternoon and I sat out at this little table we found recently at a vide grenier. Typical cafe table and four chairs, two with all their slats. I know we should paint it to cover the rust but the color is just too perfect. And I know we should cut the grass but hell, it was the weekend.