there’s johnny: paris, pt 1

April 2, 2018

The premiere* feels like a fever dream.  Hot on its heels, bleary eyed and fighting off a cold I arrive at JFK. Rain is falling. I watch out the window as the homes, brick, aluminum shingled, stone porches guarded by bare, angry winter trees, roll by from the highway. Familiar NY, NY.  Like the neighborhood I grew up in, only in Queens. Dad and I catch up, I’m over the moon to see him.  Occasionally interrupted by the sounds of the Yankee game, we pause for important at bats and turn up the radio. What year is it? Dad’s 70th birthday! NY nostalgia plays on me. I push it back. I know there’s so much more to come and this journey has only just begun. Who knows how I’ll feel by the end.  After all, we’re still in the preface.

Eleanor and I meet at the clock at Union Station. I still love this place even though I’ve been through it hundreds of times; my way to Vassar and back, auditions and back, to Westchester family and back. I stare up at the constellations drawn in the ceiling. A symphony of people rush by in every direction. I think of A Winter’s Tale, one of my top 5 all time favorite books. Later in the day, I try to convince Eleanor she must read it.

We find a good, old, NY Greek diner and catch up over coffee and eggs. Eleanor has a hundred year war with our, “only in NY” waitress. Mostly it’s me talking. She wants to know about the premiere, the movie, the job, LA. Not once since I’ve left LA do I feel good about the responses I stumble through on route to answering.  I don’t know how I feel about it myself. She’s always been a touchstone for me. A godmother, a mentor, an advisor, a confidant, a dear and true friend. The real meat comes when we make it to the Oyster Bar under Grand Central. It’s a languid poem to a NY lost in time, early and gone by. I want to visit every day. I even think, I wish I worked here. IMG_1559Immediately I stop, like seeing a ghost out of the corner of my eye and I look to make sure I thought what I think I thought. Did I just say I wished I worked in a restaurant again?

I order a glass of Sancerre. I mean, preparation for France. Eleanor says she hardly drinks anymore. She feels better. It’s a small thing but for a minute it’s a new and odd sensation to not be in synch with her. Eleanor begins to tell me about her travels in Germany. Her story stops time. She recounts her travels, a detective solving the mystery of the past. Her father’s survival. A Jew in Germany who lost his wife and daughter to the Holocaust, survived Auschwitz, the long march, and, (fresh to these ears), the years in crummy cramped housing just after the war. She shows photos of a stone fortresses, where he met and fell in love with Eleanor’s mother. The movies always stopped when the allies arrived at the camps. Of course, of course, that can’t be the end. This untold story, the fight, back to normal (?) life. Why has no one has ever shown that?  And did I really never consider it? These buildings now have been repurposed by artists and hipsters as lofts, theaters and coffee shops. How did he survive? What are we capable of? How did he fall in love again, embark on a life again? I’m in awe. The human spirit astounds. The horror and cruelty astounds as well. Eleanor produces pictures of herself standing in front of these buildings, perfectly matching one of her father’s photos, like slipping into a costume from the past. It echoes through time. They are still living, living these painful, miraculous, impossible, loving moments again through her. It’s all one circle, I think, I wonder. IMG_1561We are both emotional but nothing compares to her eyes in a photo against a wall where she finds her father’s first wife’s and her half sister’s name. There are no words.

The bus to Newark cuts through Times Square; the heartbeat of world. I spent so many hours, important moments here.  The Broadway banners are hit movies made into musicals. The restaurants are all chains now. That hurts a little. I feel bad for the tourists who come to NY and wind up eating at Ruby Tuesday’s in Time Square. I mean, what’s the fucking point?

I find myself on the flight next to Sasha. We strike up a conversation and before I know it, she’s the best airplane seat mate I’ve ever had. It’s terrible to admit, but when the conversation first began, I was just trying to think of a way to get out of it and back to my book. She is a short, stout, light skinned African American woman from the Bronx. She now lives in Red Hook, Brooklyn with her husband and five year old son; an actress, a mother, a New Yorker. She’s surprising her friend in Paris for his birthday. She spent a semester there in college so in addition to being a great conversationalist she’s also a good resource, telling me places to go and visit. We talk about everything from acting to how miserable she finds motherhood. “No one ever talks about it, then you are in a park watching your kids play with another mother you don’t even know and she’s crying to you saying how unhappy she is”. We try to sleep for as much of the flight as we can (3 hours?). We giggle like kids once we are woken up by the stewardess for breakfast. We make jokes about everything and everyone. When we discover our head rests have moveable parts to increase your comfort I tell the stewardess we need to run back and do the flight over again and Sasha howls. We cruise through an alarmingly easy and disinterested French customs. Sasha and I decide to navigate the metro together, or rather, her maternal side takes over and I truly think she doesn’t have confidence I will make it on my own. I don’t know where I am going, but I am moving at 70 mph and her at 5. I keep stopping her from heading the wrong way. On the train we talk in abstract about her marital woes, my post divorce dating life experiences and porn: the pros and cons. Our journey is fraught with delays, closed subway lines and one very crowded train. By the time we part we’re hugging and laughing, each confident in the knowledge we met a kindred spirit. We exchange phone numbers on my new What’s App and say we’ll try to connect sometime for a drink. We never do.

When I get off the metro at my stop I am finally ready to breathe in Paris. First impression: underwhelmed. The area I’m staying in looks exactly like the lower east side of Manhattan, but with much older and classier architecture. I make my way to Hotel Selva. I’m told my room will be ready in 15 minutes so I spend my time attempting to woo the local Pomeranian who’s daytime domain is the lobby and growls at me with biscuit clenched in it’s jaws. I succeed and eventually find my way to pet it’s back, but he/she, (respecting privacy) never drops the biscuit or takes it’s eyes off me. The room is on the 5th floor of a spiral staircase climb and just as small as I have been warned. IMG_1630An invite to stay out and about and adventuring I think. The view from my window strangely conjures memoirs of Disney’s Ratatouille. I drop my bags and splash water on my face and immediately head for coffee. In the span of one block I pass a cheese shop, pastry shop, charcuterie shop, Italian salumeri, wine shop, pharmacy, Vietnamese and Chinese restaurants. At the end of the street is a bread and pastry shop where I buy a croissant. Then to the cafe for cafe au latte. My first attempt at ordering is a masterclass in how to be awkward and uncomfortable when traveling abroad. I answer in mixed English and Italian, (my brain launching into foreign language mode but unable to distinguish which) keep my head ducked low and apologize with every gaze. Must make improvements here. The very pretty and becoming waitress looks at me with grave concern. The coffee is a delight. I am reminded European service moves at a snails pace. I resolve to shower, and head out for a grand adventure. Who needs sleep? I’m in Paris.

* Yes, a footnote! I made a film, (not alone, but I did lots of stuff – that’s industry talk), that’s the premiere I am referring to. If you want to know more, website is listed above.


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