The Reverist of Riddles & Reveries has asked me to elaborate on the stories which I mentioned in a paragraph of a very old post of mine.
Here’s the link to the very old post – The Places We Live and Who We Are When We Live There – posted in December 2013.
Here’s the paragraph from that post:
I went through puberty in Paris. Had my first romantic encounters. Socialised with people of my own age for the first time… went to parties, hung out in cafes, etc. I smoked my first cigarette… silly, I know, but tres Francais. I learned how fashion choices can ostracise you from or draw you into a group. And I also faced a severe crisis point there, when I almost killed myself.
And here’s a magnificent photograph of Paris:
In that photo I can see the building in which I used to live when I was a teenager in Paris.
It’s just to the right and down a bit of the Eiffel Tower.
I think I can also see the school I went to… hang on a minute, let’s Google Map it.
The red upside-down teardrop marks the spot.
I no longer shudder when I think about that school. It wasn’t a bad place, and I had some good experiences there, but it became a symbol of bad decisions I made, including the one to move to Paris.
Although now I no longer view it as a bad decision.
But this is now and that was then, a lot happened in between, some of which I came to view as being due to bad decisions I made then, but then other happenings helped to slowly change my perspective.
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”
― Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
The Pre-teen Preamble (aka. How I ended up as a teenager in Paris)
The decision to move to Paris was mine.
I know that I was only about 11/12 years old when I made that decision, and in theory my parents should have been the ones making that sort of decision for me, but my parents were narcissists – life with narcissists is topsy-turvy (that’s a polite way of saying it’s in a constant state of apocalypse caused by utopian ambitions which create dystopia).
The decision was influenced by several factors.
While I really loved the school I had been going to in London at the time, the ownership of that school changed and I didn’t like the changes… or the changes didn’t like me – the previous owner had created a haven for misfit kids with a curriculum focused on learning at your own pace in your own way, the new owner wanted to turn it into a regular school for regular kids with a regular curriculum, learning at the pace you were told to learn in the manner you were told to do so.
All of my friends seemed to be leaving that school after the change.
Then the owner of the flat where I had been living with my mother for years decided to move back into it, so we had to move.
My very best friend had recently moved to Paris.
My father had an artist’s studio in Paris, just down the road from Saint Germain des Pres and the Deux Magots cafe (see Google street view pic below).
When we finally moved to Paris, we didn’t live in my father’s studio since it was too small.
It was perfect as a bachelor pad.
I did once use it for a very drunken party – in Paris in the 80’s a teen could go to the supermarket and fill up a trolley with booze, which is exactly what I and a couple of girlfriends did.
I don’t recall all that much about the party since I got wasted and passed out.
I do remember this new girl at our school who was from Minnesota whom all the boys were in love with turned up with these two dodgy much older French dudes who stole everyone’s money and I threw them out – even when wasted, do not mess with me or my friends.
And I recall embarrassing myself in front of the guy I had a huge crush on who was my ex-boyfriend… I think I begged him to love me or something equally mortifying. Luckily I could pretend I didn’t remember anything afterwards.
I’ve only ever been wasted twice in my life, both times happened while I was a teen in Paris. That was my second and last time.
My mother did find out about it long afterwards. She was away at the time for a month, maybe more. The only problem she had with it and me was a stain on the white carpet which she couldn’t get out no matter how much she scrubbed and she was pissed that she’d have to replace the carpet… it turned out that was from a leaking window which kept leaking every time it rained and it rained a lot in Paris. My father didn’t give a shit.
Anyway, back to how bad decisions are made…
Since my father refused to ever visit London, always complained about us living there and how he rarely saw us because of me and my schooling, and since my mother refused to live permanently in Italy… Paris was the middle ground (nb: After we moved to Paris, my father decided he hated the place and found another excuse to not see me and blame me for why he never saw me. Sigh! Those two brats).
So I convinced my mother to relocate to Paris… even though I didn’t actually like the city as every time I had been there previously some drama had happened to ruin the experience and taint the place for me.
“She wanted to die, but she also wanted to live in Paris.”
― Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary
(I hate that book, had to read it for school, Madame B just Bourgeois whined and moaned all the way through, at least that’s the impression I had of it and her… but that’s a brilliant line!)
One time when I was about 8 yrs old my mother had a fury fit because I smelled of barbe-a-papa (candy floss) and it was disgusting – what she was really having a fit about was the fact that I’d gone to the Tuileries with my father and had had fun, how dare I have fun with my father, how dare I have fun without her… but she hadn’t wanted to go with us, which meant we weren’t supposed to go either, well, at least I wasn’t supposed to go, I definitely wasn’t supposed to have fun. It wasn’t me who smelled bad that day, it was the hotel in which we were staying, the restaurant had caught fire, the fire had spread, smoke was billowing out just below our suite. Eventually my mother realised it wasn’t me and this story became a hilarious anecdote she’d tell to prove how very P.G. Wodehouse her life was (oh, how funny it was that she screamed at me relentlessly for smelling like barbe a papa when the hotel was burning down!).
Then there was that time after an angry dinner at a 5 star restaurant where my parents behaved very badly and that became yet another restaurant they could never visit again… when my parents couldn’t find a taxi and decided to have a screaming match in the street about it, blaming each other for the lack of taxis. We ended up walking for miles, and I ended up walking way ahead of both of them to get away from the sound of them together, and got called a whore by my father because a man passing me looked at me (he was probably wondering why a child was walking alone at night looking so miserable).
There were plenty of incidents like that in Paris long before I lived there… there were fewer after I lived there thanks to my father avoiding the place once we were a part of the scenery.
So, yeah, Paris was not associated with pleasant memories, nowhere in the world was if I traveled there with my parents… oh dear hell I’ve just had a flashback to our family cruise in the Caribbean, that was my idea too.
Why oh why did I keep trying to bring them closer together when they were better apart? Separately they were awful but it was better than the awful when they were together. I do know the answer to that… when people blame you for their relationship problems and you believe them, you do a lot of stupid shit which you know is stupid but it’s going up against other stupid shit which makes it look smart.
“It is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs — and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety.”
― George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London
Yet there was someone in Paris with who I associated good memories – my very best friend… thus I chose to follow her there and go to the same school where she was.
We didn’t see much of each other once I moved there. She didn’t seem to be all that pleased to see me. She had made new friends. She was in a different class – the school was huge, each year (grade) was divided into many classes, each one with about 30 pupils, and if you were a foreign student your first year was in a class separate from all other students. She was different there from how she had been in London.
Soon I too would be different from how I had been in London.
Because I’d got such good marks/grades at my London school (thanks to their curriculum for misfit kids), I was bumped up a year ahead of the class/grade I should have been in – there was no convincing my mother and the head mistress to not do that to me. The head mistress did keep asking if I was sure I would be okay with it, but she only heard me when I said “Yes”.
They seemed so pleased that I was a child genius – I soon proved them wrong.
Maybe the reason I kept getting passing grades even though I got F’s and 0’s in pretty much all my classes (it wasn’t that hard to do, especially once all my classes were in French and you got two points off for every spelling error which included accents – I’d just put those wherever and whichever way and invariably got them wrong) was because the headmistress refused to be proved wrong – I always wondered why I kept leveling up in school while others who got better grades had to redo the year. It never made any sense…
Paris became an out of my depth experience for me in many ways… I didn’t quite drown, but I didn’t quite not drown either.
So… let’s move on to the teenage years, because the bit before was fairly uneventful.
“My heart is lost; the beasts have eaten it.”
― Charles Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal
A Teenager in Paris
I used a Baudelaire quote to mark the passing of time because… well, because I had to study Les Fleurs Du Mal as a teenager in school, and I got a bit obsessed with him even though I was never a big fan of poetry.
And yes, I did go through a poetry writing phase in my teens… doesn’t everyone? Most of the poems I wrote were about death and dying in one form or another. Oh, and rage and love, despair and hopelessness.
All I can recall about the early stages of puberty were things like comparing boob growth with other girls and challenging each other to use a tampon which seemed like such a terrifying thing to do. Oh and gym class wasn’t as fun as it used to be because my bottom suddenly weighed a tonne.
I didn’t really appreciate the changes I was going through until I was 14 and became a hormonally horny mess.
“Be always drunken.
Nothing else matters:
that is the only question.
If you would not feel
the horrible burden of Time
weighing on your shoulders
and crushing you to the earth,
be drunken continually.
Drunken with what?
With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will.
But be drunken.”― Charles Baudelaire, Paris Spleen
Almost every weekend there was a party, a “boum”, somewhere – no adults allowed.
The “boum” was a very in thing to do and go to.
If you’re curious about it, and would like to time travel and vicariously experience being a teenager in Paris during the 80’s, then if you can find it, I’d recommend watching the most popular, most watched, definitive party film of the time – La Boum 2.
The pic above is a still from the film – that’s a very young Sophie Marceau with the straight bangs/fringe. There’s this scene in the rain when she and the guy kiss in a phone box… sigh! <— went every female teen who watched it.
The main song from the film played at every “boum”.
There was a difference between French teens and foreign teens. French teens were cooler, more mature, more fashionable, more everything than Foreign teens. Foreign teens and French teens didn’t mingle that often because the French thought the Foreigns were snobs and the Foreigns were in awe of the French teens but tried to pretend they weren’t which ended up appearing to the French as snobbishness. Or something like that… it was a bit more complex than that.
Most of the parties which I went to were small, just us teens getting together and listening to music, usually at someone’s house while their parents were away for the night or a few days (a lot of kids, especially the foreign ones, were children of diplomats or other importantly busy people busy doing busy things, no time to watch the kids).
I think the very first one I went to was at the Australian Embassy residence. They had this room in the basement which was a sort of makeshift disco.
That’s where and when I met my very first boyfriend (we didn’t get together then, that would happen later). He lip sync serenaded me at that party with “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” by Culture Club. He was a couple of years older than me. Was part of a super cool set. He also went to a different school, but all of us Foreigns got together thanks to connections and the fact that our community was quite small.
The Australian Embassy residence is also where I got completely wasted for the first time, at a different party there at a much later date in a different part of the building – in the penthouse. I think it was the daughter of the Aussie ambassador to Paris who threw the party while her parents were busy and not paying attention to what she was up to. She was a super cool almost woman teen.
I got drunk by guzzling an entire bottle of champagne (when in Paris…) which I’d brought with me having ‘borrowed’ it from my mother – she was away again for a long spell. No one else wanted any so I drank it all. I could say that I was trying to get over breaking up with my boyfriend, but frankly I just wanted to experience what it was like to get very drunk.
Some American guy tried to use my wasted status to get me to sleep with him – even when wasted, don’t mess with me. To be fair to him, he gave up the moment I said “No”. He was a teenage guy who saw an opportunity, but also acknowledged when the door shut firmly on that opportunity and was okay with that.
Later I passed out and a girl who went to my school who I didn’t know all that well, she was quite a tough cookie and rather intimidating, took me to her place and looked after me. I was so confused when I woke up. She and her family were so very sweet to the mess that I was. Very grateful to them for their care – they really didn’t need to do that. Humans can be awesome to each other.
I’ll stop there for now and turn this into a to be continued…
a la prochaine!