My new book “Midlife Solo” is now available.

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spouting off again

I feel sorry for those tourists who’ve just arrived for a quick visit to Paris … the weather will continue gloomy, grey and wet according to “meteo Paris,” the website I consult every morning. It’s already been like that for days. To me, a cold, wet day means I can curl up in my little burrow and work. But at some point, rain or no, I will go out to meet my new great love – the city of Paris. Just to say hi, what’s new, mmm, love that new kind of tree that’s flowering, that ancient building I’ve never seen, that streetscape, that museum, that shop … lookin’ good, darlin’.

Last night I held my first Parisian dinner party, so spent the morning tidying and shopping at FranPrix, the small supermarket which has the best prices and yet some of the best stuff. When all was set up here, there was time to go in the rain to a tiny cinema on the rue Mouffetard, which charges only 5 euros on Mondays. I saw “Chéri” – a Stephen Frears film based on a novel by Colette, which is set in Paris at the turn of the last century and stars Michelle Pfeiffer as an “aging courtesan,” and a gorgeous young Englishman, Rupert Friend, as her lover. What I’d hoped to see was lots of period shots to give a sense of Paris at that time, and there were a few – obviously, it’s very expensive to shoot a period film right in Paris. The costumes and interiors were lavish, and Colette’s wise but deeply cynical eye was in evidence.
There was a central flaw, though. Michelle Pfeiffer, as I said, plays an aging courtesan. By aging, they mean that occasionally we are allowed to see a line beside her mouth, or around her eyes. Otherwise she is so serene, beautiful and perfect, we never believe she has spent her life as a high-class prostitute. Not for one minute. Or that she has the bitchy side alluded to, or that she is truly brought low as her young lover figures out whether his future includes her. Hollywood thinks actresses deserve Oscars if they can do an English accent or allow us to see a tiny glimpse of something not quite stunning, but as for the true agony of acting, allowing us right down into the depths of a human soul, it doesn’t come in general from the California types. 
I think a British actress like Samantha Morton – in fact, almost any British actress – can convey more truth in the flicker of an eyelid than lovely Pfeiffer can in an entire breakdown scene. So there’s a hole at the centre of the movie – the star looks gorgeous but isn’t the character. There you have my expert opinion, whether you want it or not. We never quite believe the relationship with the young man either, mind you, and that’s a problem of script and director, not actors. 
As a former actress, perhaps I am extra-critical of actresses who look like they’re doing their job, and I’m sure are doing their very best, but aren’t coming up with the real goods. A new profession dawns  – pompous film critic. One thumb up.
Before my guests came, I checked on Facebook, got a Mother’s Day message from my daughter and found that she was instant messaging. So we sat ‘talking’ to each other, back and forth. She told me her brother was in the background teasing the cat, putting a plastic cup on her head – and as we chatted, Anna uploaded pictures from her birthday party so I could see and comment on them. Again, how incredible is this technology, shrinking our world in the best way. When I told her about dinner, she was concerned that I wouldn’t want her to cook for me any more at home. “I didn’t say I enjoy doing this,” I wrote back. “The job is yours when I get home. You’re the cook and I’m the mouth.”
My new friends Joanna and David Burke and old friend, jazz singer Almeta Speaks, arrived; we ate paté as we sat talking, then melon with prosciutto, roast pork with roast potatoes and thick white asparagus, green salad, cheeses, and brownies.  The easiest big dinner I’ve ever made, which was a necessity as I don’t know the stove here and there’s very little equipment. Confession: I bought the potatoes already roasted, and the delicious brownies. The pork was overcooked but no one complained. In the course of a lively discussion – a lot about what France offers its expat new citizens, which is considerable if you can get through the bureaucracy – I learned that perhaps, because my mother is British, I may be able to get EU citizenship, in which case I could work anywhere in Europe. How’s that for exciting?
When my guests had gone, I checked Facebook again and was able to report to Anna in instant messaging about the great company and the over-cooked pork.
Now I’m wrapping up life here, hard as it is. My friend Christina in London just emailed instructions on how to get from St. Pancras, where the Eurostar train arrives, to her house – “Take the Piccadilly Line …  ” she said, and I thought, omigod, we’re off again. Time to do a bit more battling with French bureaucracy about later travel plans, find some pounds, wander some more, say goodbye, and finish all the left-over pork in the fridge. Wish you were here, to help.
Two hours later: 
I’m glad this struggle has occurred before my departure, to remind me of what drives people crazy about France. I’ve already reported here about going to the train station to find out about changing a ticket, to have the employee there lie to my face about that possibility. Now I’ve spent an hour trying to do it. There’s a number to call, with two possibilities to press: 1 or 2. But at 2, which is the one I need to change the ticket, a machine says, “There are too many calls; try again later.” I’ve tried a dozen times over the last weeks. So finally today I push 1 where I get a human being, but sorry, no, says the unhelpful guy, I cannot make the change, you have to push 2. 
But 2 never answers.
Try the website. 
I try the website, but it refuses to recognise the code number for the ticket or my name. So I call the number and push 1 again, and get the same guy! This time he actually tries the code himself, and then says, yes, your reservation is there; to change it, you have to push 2 or go through the website. But the website right now, he says, is not working. I think he’s lying as the woman in the station did; how could an entire national train website go down?
What should I do then? I ask, barely controlling myself. I need to change the ticket now.
Try again later, he says. 
You know, sir, in Canada, I say, people are there to actually be helpful. Whereas here, all they seem to want to do is get rid of you.
That is your opinion, madame, he said. 
At the moment, I think I’ll just throw this ticket out the window.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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Chris Walks
This blog evolves. It once was about travels. Now it’s a reason to be at the keyboard that I value.

Theresa Kishkan
Theresa Kishkan is a writer living on the Sechelt Peninsula on the west coast of Canada.

I walk on. With my feet, and in my mind as well.

Carrie Snyder
Wherever you’ve come from, wherever you’re going, consider this space a place for reflection and pause.

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