dimanche, avril 10, 2005

Ask and You Shall Receive

I was looking through the window of a shoe store, trying to decide if the gold strappy pumps would go with the dress I was thinking of wearing to my sister's wedding, when I heard a woman's voice behind me.

"You have beautiful eyes, but they have sadness behind them."

I turned around to face a short Roma woman of indeterminate age. She could have been thirty; she could have been fifty. I smiled at her.

She studied my face and continued,

"There are two men who love you, but you are not with them. They are not available to you. You are an upfront person who appreciates honesty and directness in others. You are not interested in money, but in happiness and love. This is what I am sensing from you."

I didn't say a word but just looked at her. I had been thinking recently that it would be fun to have my fortune told, but didn't want to pay anyone for it. And here it was, offered up on a toney street where I had gone to buy a mini oven.

"Show me your love hand," she said.

"Which one is that?" I asked, cocking my head. She looked at me like she knew I knew.

"The left one," she said, taking it and pulling me gently aside out of the stream of passersby. I leaned against the building as she opened my hand.

She traced her finger down a line, "I see here you will live a long life. And here, I see you have suffered much in love." I watched her weathered nails move over my palm. I wondered what the passersby thought we were doing, crouching in the doorway next to the shoe shop. I remembered a game my mother would play with me when I was very little.

"You see these little pinks?" she would say, grabbing my wrists and bending my hands a little towards me, "you know what they're good for?" I would be near esctasy, as I knew what was coming next. She would bend down and place a kiss in each palm, clap my hands together and exclaim, "Nothin'!" It would make me squeal with joy.

The Roma woman continued, her eyes moving rapidly over my face as she said flatly, almost reciting, "This man, the one you love, he loves you but he is not available now. You were with him, but he couldn't show his feelings to you. You want to be with him. I can help you."

Here we are, I thought. I had been waiting for the catch.

"There is something blocking you. There is jealousy blocking you. You have been betrayed and hurt by jealousy in the past."

"I haven't been betrayed," I said, laughing.

"You didn't see it that way. You don't like to see the bad side. I see you will go far away and live in a foreign country."

I laughed again. "I am in a foreign country."

"I know," she countered, "but I mean somewhere far away."

I shrugged.

"I will help you clear away what is blocking you. Put three pieces of money in your hand."

Oh why not, I thought. If you can respond to some fake Dalai Lama email by sending it to ten friends so something good will happen, you can let a Roma woman do her thing on your hand.

"I don't have much," I said, leaning down to get my change purse out of my bag. I never have much cash. Some things never change.

"No, not coins," she said, "they bring bad luck. I mean bills."

"I only have one," I said, "and it's a fiver." I had already pulled it out, and she had already seen it.

"I need three bills on your hand to help you. You can get them from an ATM. I give them back to you. You keep them. Trust me."

You can withdraw money from an ATM in 20 euro increments. I calculated that would mean withdrawing at least 40 euros, and with the fiver, came to 45 euros. If she ran off with that, I would be very mad at myself. I'm all for giving people the benefit of the doubt, but I've been had before by the let-me-take-this-curse-off-you set. I didn't plan to fall for it again.

"I give you my word as a Gypsy," she insisted. I wondered for a brief moment if she was being ironic.

I clasped her hand in mine and smiled warmly at her.

"No, thank you," I said, "I know you want to help me, but I'll take my chances."

"I can free up what is blocking this man from being with you," she said.

If only it were that simple.

"We are not witches, you know, it is not evil what I do," she tried.

As if this were the problem.

"No," I said, shaking my head slowly.

"Why not? Don't you want to be with him? I can help you."

"I don't want to be disappointed," I said.

"It will work, believe me." I didn't have the heart to tell her what I really meant.

If she had stolen my money, it would have really depressed me.

I believe if you get to the heart of people like her, ones that aren't used to being trusted or approached or touched, if you acknowledge their humanity, they will rise to it. And all kinds of walls and weights and negativity will fall away.

"No," I repeated, "I will let things happen as they may. But thank you."

"How about giving me a little something for reading your palm, then," she said, eyeing the five euro bill I had folded in my fingers.

I searched her face. I looked deep into her eyes and held them. I am no fool, I thought, and neither are you.

"Here," I said, placing the bill in her hand and closing her fingers over it.

"Be well," she said.

"You too," I replied, and stepped into the homewares store to buy an oven.

The right size to make meals for one.

lundi, avril 04, 2005

I Am A Goddess

It's official. I rock.

Why? Aside from being unquestionably hot and a near-genius, it is because I DROVE A CAR IN THE CHARLES DE GAULLE ROUNDABOUT. You know, the one with the Arc de Triomphe in the middle? The one you say to yourself you will never drive through whenever you are in it as a passenger?

Yes, moi, little moi, drove through it for a total of twenty seconds of screaming and being guided by a Spanish friend who kept pointing wildly at the car in front of us saying, "Just follow him!"

Not only that, but I rented this hot little convertible for a cheap price on a SUNDAY in Paris without even knowing that it was hot or convertible. I know crap about cars, so when faced with two choices on the rental internet site, I chose the one named for the ancient Egyptian equivalent of a soul. See how clever I am?

All of this because I had received an invitation to a lunch and open house for a chateau outside of Paris. I had inquired about it for an upcoming financial seminar I am supposed to organize.

I decided to take advantage of the opportunity. It would have been nice to make it a romantic getaway, but lately I am about as good at romance as I am at reading maps.

So how else to get to a chateau an hour and a half away from Paris but a rental car and a good friend as co-pilot?

So Alice and I set off at 11 AM this morning, armed with maps, movie-star scarves and sunglasses, a blanket and picnic basics in case the whole thing sucked and we decided to escape to a nice little field somewhere.

It was a gorgeous day, and so were we in our little Ka, the top down and our scarves flapping arrestingly. The handsome invitation said the lunch started at noon, and never the first to arrive, we estimated if all went well, we would make it there by 1 PM. The rental car was due back in Montparnasse at the latest 5 PM or we would pay for it twice.

We took the wrong way a total of five times, almost ran out of gas once, and couldn't get the CD player to work.

But we made all sorts of other discoveries.


  • If you take the wrong highway within thirty minutes of leaving the city, don't fret. An eclair break in the parking lot of a suburban shopping center does a world of good.

  • If you think you should stop for gas or to pee, by all means, do. You will be much, much happier.

  • If you end up waiting to do both, you will risk having to pee behind a building in front of the entire countryside while being entirely too conspicuous in a move-star get up of scarf and sunglasses. You will then risk being so flustered at almost running out of gas in the middle of nowhere that you cannot figure out how to take off the gas tank cap, which is located on the other side of the car from the pump, and will have to enter your bank card code twice because you have taken too long to yank the hose over to the driver's side, all while a line of ten cars of local villagers is waiting behind you.

  • If you have endangered your life by pissing off local villagers in your fancy city car, get out the chocolates you brought along and dig in while tearing out of the parking lot as fast as you can. Go in any direction.

  • Often times, detours for emergency gas can actually put you on the most direct route to your destination.

  • If you arrive at 2:15 PM for lunch at a high-end chateau that wants your company's business, the valet will simply smile at you and show you the way.

  • If there no place to sit at the lovely tables set out on the lawn around the tent with the delicious food and wine, a cat hair covered blanket that you so smartly brought with you makes do nicely on the grass.

  • Freshly-picked strawberries and sweetened sour cream is a lovely accompaniment to a glass of Macon-Villages on a sunny Sunday in the country.

  • You might discover that a seemingly unremarkable chateau is the place you vow to spend at least one terribly passionate weekend with someone very dear to you, if not use it for your wedding - if you ever get married again.

  • Laying on a cat hair covered blanket in the sun in the countryside at 3:30 PM with a good friend and a glass of Macon-Villages are not ideal conditions to make you actually leave in time to get your rental car back to Montparnasse before 5 PM, and you probably won't even care.

  • If your CD player doesn't work, and you're in a really cool convertible car with a good friend on a sunny day, you can belt out Edith Piaf songs while gesturing dramatically into the wind.

  • ALWAYS stop at that gas station ahead to pee. Even if you don't have to yet. You will.

  • If you are stuck in Paris traffic jams with the clock ticking away to paying double for your rental car, the last thing you want to think about is how much you really have to pee. And how much money you would pay just to be able to pee. Right then and there.

  • If you turn in your rental car an hour late, but you both look too adorable with your scarves and sunburnt noses, the guy behind the desk won't even charge you. And will even let you use the employee bathroom.

  • If you manage to drive in Paris and the countryside, get lost and find your way, almost run out of gas, but find a service station in the middle of nowhere, almost miss lunch but eat and drink well, get cool gift bags just for showing up, croon long-forgotten songs into the wind, and avoid paying for the rental car twice, you will feel on top of the world. After you pee.

  • Accept random invitations in the mail that at first you think might be too much trouble. There could be a little magic lurking behind them.

Little Miss Perfect

The other evening, after getting lost in a two block area of the Marais that I had only left a mere three hours before, I ended up all the way in Republique and had to take a taxi to the restaurant where I was to meet my friends for dinner. I arrived an hour late, embarrassed, flustered and blistered. Setting down my packages, which spilled onto the floor and trapped my chair into a position that wouldn't let me sit down (it was that kind of day), I was introduced to Shania, an acquaintance of one my friends at the table. A young Bangladeshi-American woman in her early twenties, she smiled smugly at me as I fumbled around trying to sit down. I had been warned in advance that she was a little stuck on herself, mainly for being the first female from GA Tech to win a full scholarship to Cambridge in mechanical engineering. I settled in for the show.

For a full two hours, we were treated to an endless string of less than subtle references to her travels around the world (Paris, London, LA, NYC, DC) all which were dropped strategically into the conversation as if she knew them intimately, even to the point of calling Paris her "second home." She mentioned speaking French "with no mistakes" and even added that people from the Southern US speak French so horribly that she often asks them to stop. I stared into my glass and cleared my throat. We learned that she ran several miles a day, was an expert coxwain, and spoke Spanish to her students in an underpriveledged neighborhood of DC. I was half expecting to hear she was a gourmet cook, had published a book, and had a pilot's license, but I suppose she didn't have enough time to get to that. Glaringly absent was anything that would have been a bit too close to what I imagined were some rather raw nerves, such as calling Dhaka her "second home" or being fluent in Hindu, Urdu or Bangla. Much to my amusement, her mother was with her, and often mentioned "the village" and even, to my delight, regaled us with a story in graphic detail of having a large mole on her chin removed that had started to sprout hairs. Thank goodness for mothers.

Shania put McKinsey consultants to shame for knowing and doing it all. Personally, I prefer people who have fucked up a little in life.

I don't think I was alone. As we were leaving, she stopped to buy a ticket for the metro from the distributor. Waiting by the turnstiles, it was obvious she was having trouble, but not one of us moved to help her.