(this is annie)

prison break neurosis

I had been invited to a party for Jonathan Adler's new store. I like Jonathan's designs so much that I even have one of his lamps (bought on sale!) in my living room. Plus, Jonathan's partner Simon was going to be there, and the two of them are a happy, dapper couple whose joie de vivre is genuinely inspiring. The invitation also promised stars of the hit FOX drama Prison Break. I don't watch much television, and aside from Paul Krugman I am unimpressed by celebrity. So, you know, no big whoop on that end.

But then I asked Margaret if she was going to go to the party. She told me that the male lead is a former English major and something of a homebody. A lad who likes to stay home and read? Be still my heart! I began to get nervous about the whole thing, not because he is Hunky McBuff but because he is a book nerd. I am embarrassed to admit that I thought far too much about what I would say to Mr. Prison Break if Margaret introduced us. Would I come off like a jerk because I'm not a Prison Break fangirl? Would I bring up Lady Chatterley's Lover? Or worse, would I be Aschenbach to his Tadzio, silently observing (brainy) beauty from afar? Or would he realize that the whole Mann allusion is a broken one anyway since I am not old and he is not 14 and we're not in Venice anyway?

But when the party finally happened, it turned out that Mr. Prison Break was not attending after all (though some of his co-stars did). I wound up nibbling cookies, coveting pottery, falling in love with Simon and Jonathan and then hobbling to the subway before finally jumping into bed with a good book.

a few weeks ago

In the dingy catacombs of the Jackson Red Line station, two men are in front of a small portable stereo that's hooked up to a mic. They're dancing and singing to old soul and r&b songs, but only one of them looks old enough to have known these songs the first time around. They are not proficient at their craft, but they know it, and so they really ham it up. As they dance, a small crowd forms to watch their show. When the song stops, the older man pulls out a fluffy black afro wig and starts to put it on.

"Whoa whoa whoa," says the younger guy. "What you doin'?"

"I'm James Brown," the older man replies. "And I'm doin' my thing."

This riles the younger guy, who says, "No you ain't, I'm James Brown. I got the moves, I got the voice!"

He starts dancing again, springing up from the concrete to prove how soulful he is.

The older man says, "But I got the wig. And it's Wednesday, which means I'm James Brown. I get Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You get Tuesdays and Thursdays."

"Aw, my bad," the young guy says. He presses Play on the boombox, the voice of the real James Brown bounces around the tunnel, and the two men are back to dancing and grinning, and we are all a little bit happier for it.

i'm rick steves, bitch!

C is off to Paris, and I gave him a long and informally constructed list of things to do while abroad. He's never been there, and in a way I'm envious because he'll see the city with virginal eyes. In case you, too, are planning a trip, here is an abbreviated version of my missive entitled "I'm Rick Steves, bitch!"

Palais de Tokyo is the hipster art museum. It makes the MCA look stodgy in comparison. The cafe there, Tokyo Eat, is supposed to be a hot spot. The bookshop is great -- you'll find tons of wonderful and obscure books, CDs, DVDs and so on. It's near Trocadero, so you can get a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower as well.

Set at least a half-day aside for the Louvre. I find that I can't do it for more than a few hours -- it's beautiful but also exhausting. If you have time, check out the medieval ruins that were excavated in the 1980s. The Mona Lisa is, well, the Mona Lisa. Expect lots of American gawkers discussing the merits of The DaVinci Code.

I wasn't completely blown away by Centre Pompidou, but many people are, so what do I know? I've never been to Musee d'Orsay but I hear good things, etc.

It is difficult to have a bad meal in Paris, although you probably won't want to try, say, American or Mexican or Indian cuisine there. They French everything up, so your saag paneer will really be more like creamed spinach a la francaise. I tend to be cheap when it comes to eating abroad, opting to have only dessert in the fancier places, so here's my short list.

Even the lousy bakeries have delicious croissants. Oh my god. I get the vapors just thinking about the croissants. Cheap and deliciously buttery. If you order un cafe, you will receive something along the lines of an espresso. The French drink coffee after, not with, dessert. Choosing the plat du jour is usually cheaper than ordering a la carte, and it's often part of a menu, which includes an entree and dessert as well. The French will not automatically bring you the check. They think this is rude. You'll have to ask for it (l'addition, s'il vous plait) and although service is included, it's polite to leave a few coins if service was great.

If you're into ethnic food, you'll have no shortage of North African food. L'As du Fallafel has the best falafel I've ever had. Seriously. It's cheap and delicious, and you can take it to go (a emporter) or pay a little extra to have it in the restaurant. It's on the Rue des Rosiers in the Marais, and when you walk down this tiny street, the smells are amazing. This place is open on Sundays, and sometimes there is a little line, but it is worth it. Laduree is supposed to have excellent hot chocolate, but I've had only their macarons. They're delicious (and if you go to Printemps, there's a Laduree there. One-stop shopping!). Cafe de Flore is pretty much a tourist trap with overpriced food. See also: Bar Hemingway, where I spent 23 euros on a single cocktail. Whoops! If you need just a quick bite, there's a place on the right bank called La Ferme. Reasonably priced organic (bio) food, lots of seating, and cute little sealed glasses of wine. You can walk around Paris with a wine buzz and nobody cares. Whee! Go to Cafe Charbon if you want to see where the non-obnoxious hipsters hang. It's next to Nouveau Casino, a venue that hosts a lot of electro nights. Kong is supposed to be hotsy-totsy. Designed by Starck, it has a great view but the food is reputed to be just so-so. Don't know if you want ice cream, but Berthillon's chocolate ice cream is rich and wonderful.

There is little reason to get a cab in Paris. It's easy to walk all over the place, and the Metro is great -- clean, efficient, inexpensive. Don't buy a Paris Visite card; it's a ripoff. How long will you be there? Either get a carnet, which is 10 tickets, or a weekly pass. Cheap and great. I love the Paris Metro.

Look for the Space Invaders mosaics around town.
Everyone young wears Chuck Taylors.
The young women all have hair like Cat Power's.
French hip-hop types imitate American rappers, but they get the details slightly off, and it's endearingly cute.

People say that the 17th and 18th arrondissements can be dicey. Nonsense. If you're from a city, you'll be fine. The only places that felt a little sketchy to me were the 19th and 20th, and the area around Gare de l'Est. The Quartier Latin is filled with tiquetonnes (pickpockets). It isn't dangerous, but keep an eye on your wallet. Same goes for the Metro and Gare du Nord. Just don't look like a wide-eyed tourist and you'll be fine.

Shops are generally closed on Sundays (except in the Marais) and open later on Thursday nights. They don't have sales in France the way we do here; things go on sale twice a year, so you'll probably be paying full price. Tax is included, and the detaxe is a 12% refund for non-EU residents. It sounds great, but unless you're going to be purchasing thousands of dollars' worth of merch, it's a pain in the ass. You have to collect your receipts, go to a service desk to get a form, then take that form to the airport. And then at the airport, you will wait in two separate lines for hours (no exaggeration) to get the proper stamps. It's up to you, of course, but I found that I'd rather spend those hours in Paris than in the airport.

Printemps is the department store where I do my shopping. Tourists get a 10% off card, so if you plan to shop there, grab one. Same goes for Galeries Lafayette down the street, which is worth looking at just to see the beautiful ceiling. Le Bon Marche is slightly more snooty and upscale, and you don't get the 10% discount as a tourist. However, its neighboring food market, La Grande Epicerie, is definitely worth a stop. Its bakery is beautiful, you'll be amazed by the variety of cheese, and I assume their meats and whatnot are also nice. They have excellent jams -- I forget the name, but it has kind of a modern-looking label -- with fruit and flower infusions.

Colette is not as hip as it once was, but worth a quick stop if you're in the area. Most of the artsy stuff in there can be found here. However, I had a vegetable gratin in the downstairs cafe, and it was delicious. I think you'd like APC, which is very simple in its stylishness. Comptoir des Cotonniers is also an excellent source for well-made basics with good detailing. Zadig & Voltaire is huge with hip frogs in their 20s and 30s, but I don't get the fuss. Vanessa Bruno's clothing is all very chic, not flashy but definitely beautiful. I wish I'd bought more pieces from there; while they're not cheap, they're much less expensive than they are in the US, and they're beautifully made. Another good store for women is Maje. Habitat has reasonably priced, well-designed contemporary home decor. In Montmartre, Spree is a lovely concept store for women's clothing. Petit Bateau t-shirts are slim, soft and reasonably priced. There are stand-alone shops as well as departments in the department stores. These shirts are about $35 in the US, only about $12 over there. They are, in my opinion, the best t-shirts anywhere.

If you want to seem Fraaaanch, you can use:
chouette -- cool, great
charmant -- if a lady says you are charmant, she likes you. Charmant and charmante seem to be the flirty word among the French.
vachement -- literally, "cowish." For some reason, it means "really" or "damned," as in "Ces baskets sont vachement chouettes!" (These are damned awesome sneakers)
une salope -- shh, this means "bitch" but with more nastiness. really, really rude!
les flics -- cops
les poules -- cops, but more like "pigs"
tu me dragues? -- are you chatting me up/hitting on me?
je vous en prie -- you're welcome, but also something that people will say that i take to mean "i'm happy to do it." Servers and shop clerks say this often.

Canal St-Martin -- If you need to get away from the hustle and bustle of the tourist areas, the Canal St-Martin is relaxing and pretty. If you've seen Amelie, it's where she skips stones.

Notre-Dame is obviously a must for any good Catholic boy. It's stunning and definitely not overrated. Be sure to hop behind the cathedral so you can see the flying buttresses. Skip the crypt and take a short walk over to Hotel de Ville, which is City Hall. It's, uh, much more beautiful than Da Mare's office here. There's also a lovely flower market that's a birdy market on Sundays nearby.

The cemeteries are beautifully dark, and if you have time to pop into one, you'll find a nice sort of calm. A walk through the Jardin des Tuileries is beautiful, and you can walk from the Louvre on one end to Place de la Concorde (where the Champs-Elysees begins) on the other.

The Grand Palais was closed the day I visited it, but it's beautiful even from the outside.

Montmartre is what you make of it. The view from Sacre-Coeur is lovely, but the tourist shops are annoying. Spend a bit of time wandering through the neighborhood, though, and you'll find good restaurants and charming sights. There are a few independent designers' shops here, too -- great for picking up an accessory or two as gifts.

Champs-Elysees = not as beautiful as you'd think. Not ugly, and definitely worth checking out near L'Arc de Triomphe, but it's filled with Sephora and Lousy Vuitton and the like. Publicis Drugstore is a good spot to check out wine, grab a quick snack or browse magazines until 2am. That's right by L'Arc and the Charles de Gaulle Etoile Metro stop.

The bateaux-mouches are popular, but I never liked the idea of boating down the Seine. Moulin Rouge = Moulin snore. Don't even bother with this Vegas-style catastrophe.

La Tour Eiffel -- if you visit, take a walk down the park to la Musee de la Paix (I think. Something de la Paix, anyway). It's a modernist outdoor sculpture with etched glass, and you can get a pretty view of the Tower or take an arty shot like this.

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tales of a fifth-grade nothing

When I was four years old, I had ringleted honey-colored hair, bright blue eyes, rosy cheeks, milky skin. I was a very attractive, if Aryan-looking, little one. But then my dainty baby teeth were replaced by crooked, horsey chompers, and I scarred my face through clumsiness and chicken pox. Moles popped up. By fifth grade, I was not an ugly child, just a homely one. Almost every child goes through an awkward period, but they all think they're the only ones experiencing such ennui. I was no exception. "I look like a hermaphrodite," I'd wail. "And a Krakatoa of a pimple is about to burst on my nose!"

In an attempt to boost my self-esteem, my parents showered compliments on me. "Oh, you are getting more and more beautiful as you grow up," my father said. "You'd be so pretty if you didn't have that damned Tomlin nose," my mother said. At home, my parents praised my alleged beauty, while at school my classmates picked apart my flaws. They were happy to point out my flat chest, uneven smile, scarred eyebrow, braces, discolored tooth, generic Keds, Sears-bought corduroys. I felt ugly, and to combat their criticism, I did what any other 11-year-old in 1989 would do.

I got a spiral perm.

It didn't happen overnight, of course. I had to beg my mom for a perm, giving her no real reason except that everyone else was getting a perm and I would be the only girl with straight hair. "Well, how much would that cost?" was my mother's refrain. I did some research. The popular girls at school went to the Clipper Ship, a nautical-themed hair salon decorated with fishing nets and taxidermied fish. I called the Clipper Ship and reported my findings to my mother.

"We can't afford that," she yelped upon hearing the price. "Pssh. For forty dollars, you're just paying for the ambiance."

But my mother loved me, and my mother is a wily and frugal woman. She eventually contacted Nan, a French-Vietnamese neighbor who also "did hair." In our tiny corner of Michigan, nobody is a stylist; people are hairdressers, or they "do hair." So my mother made a deal for Nan to come over one Saturday afternoon to give me a spiral perm. "It'll only be $25, and you can have it done in the kitchen," my mother explained. I was on my way!

When Nan came to our house, she showed us all kinds of rollers. "I want tight curls," I instructed. "And teased bangs." Nan and my mother tried to talk me out of this coiffure choice, but I would have none of it. And when the rollers came out, and my hair reeked of chemicals, I was the happiest girl in Van Buren County. So happy, in fact, that my jagged smile almost deafened the taunts of Poodlehead that came my way when I went to school the following Monday.


say hello

    it's anniet at gmail.


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