This is a continuation of the previous post – Time Traveling to Visit a Teenager in Paris – wherein I shared some of my teenage experiences of living in Paris, as well as how I ended up living there in the first place.
In this episode I’ll be sharing some firsts – first kiss, first boyfriend, first cigarette, first time I wondered if I might be an alien rather than a human…
“One sometimes weeps over one’s illusions with as much bitterness as over a death.”
― Guy de Maupassant, Une vie
(I had to read Bel Ami by Guy de Maupassant for school… I devoured his writing after that. My favourite was the short story – La Horla – which might explain the dream, Graven – A Hypnagogic Nightmare, I had when I came very close to experiencing my first suicide.)
But first before the firsts…
I was at the local shop on Friday. School had just ended and the shop was filling up with teens. In one aisle, two teen guys and a teen girl were chatting. The girl was explaining to the guys that she felt like a misfit, that she didn’t fit in and belong, and was worried about it. One of the guys said: “That’s okay, we like you!” It wasn’t so much what he said but the way he said it that filled my heart to bursting with a giant smile.
It was genuinely welcoming, warm, caring, friendly, protective and… with so much turmoil going on in the adult world, with adults spending so much energy shouting, getting angry, into arguments, and so on with each other, and often criticising the youth of today… it’s nice to know that the youth of today is much better at relationships than the adults of today.
Hopefully we won’t completely fuck up the world for them… mind you when I was a teen the adults were fucking up the world then too, global nuclear war was a press of a button away on a daily basis. American and Russian fingers were very itchy trigger happy… or so the news and other media said repeatedly.
We didn’t have the level of media coverage, exposure and so on which we have today… you could switch the noise off more easily. I’m not sure if it was better then or better now… maybe it’s neither, it’s the same. it’s whatever – spoken like the Gen-X-er that I am.
I recall thinking about the adults blowing the world to smithereens often and trying to figure out where I could go to survive it… not sure why I wanted to survive it considering all the films and TV shows which were being churned out at the time showing a post-apocalyptic planet populated by the remaining humans behaving even more horribly to each other than they did pre-nuclear-apocalypse, but teens have a strong primal impulse to keep going, maybe it’s due to the rush of powerful hormones which want to reproduce.
Then Chernobyl happened and I stopped thinking so much about it.
Or maybe I stopped thinking about surviving a nuclear apocalypse because 1986 was around the time that I sunk into a deep depression within. It was a slow motion sinking into the inner darkness.
That wasn’t my first experience of depression, but it was the first time I stopped thinking things would get better if I just held on and didn’t let go of whatever I was holding on to.
“A sick thought can devour the body’s flesh more than fever or consumption.”
― Guy de Maupassant, Le Horla et autres contes fantastiques
I was thinking about that last night – the things we hold on to because if we let go of them we’ll fall into the abyss.
If you’re going to fall into the abyss, Paris is a good place to do it.
The French, especially Parisians, don’t mind if you’re depressed, they understand, they may be depressed too, and leave you alone to be the way that you are. They don’t try to cheer you up with platitudes, self-help sound bites, don’t tell you to “snap out of it”, pressure you to change and make change happen, or make you feel worse by trying to cheer you up. They mind their own business.
Or at least that’s how they were in the 80’s.
Paris suits depression, it’s actually built in a land depression of sorts, it’s in a bowl (maybe a Lalique one?) which is why the weather often gets stuck on grey – la grisaille Parisienne (link takes you to a photo-weather site showing what it looks like or you can just look at the foto en dessous which is different from “en dessus” – one letter can sometimes make all the difference).
The sky in Paris can remain stuck on grey for weeks on end. Sometimes it rains and rains and rains, and sometimes it sort of rains without raining. The dampness creeps under your skin and seeps into your bones.
And a river runs through it, not a long fleuve tranquille, but a swirling grey-brown-green tormented soul of a city… by which you can walk and walk and walk, listening to tunes on your walkman to shut the world out, you can cross over it, stop above it to stare down into it while it runs under you, and if you want to, for a price which gets more and more expensive, you can ride upon it (the best rides are on the smaller bateaux mouches as they can go where the big ones can’t, and they last longer).
You can also swim on the Seine, there’s a floating pool, but I never tried it out. There’s a lot of places I didn’t visit in Paris, like the sewer system which is supposed to be fantastic, and there are a lot of things I didn’t do.
I did go to the Refuge des Fondues in Montmartre and drink red wine out of baby bottles (the baby bottles were tumblers with rubber teats on them which you sucked to drink, when empty you just held your baby bottle up in the air and it would get refilled – it was a thing at that restaurant) – you can order wine at bars and restaurants when you’re a teen in Paris. That was the first time I had fondue… what a weirdly addictive foodstuff. The toilet at the restaurant was a cubicle in a courtyard at the back which was just a hole in the ground… they’ve probably upgraded it by now, but maybe not, perhaps it’s part of the experience.
OMG… thus far in my story of being a teen in Paris I’ve made it sound like it was all about drinking alcohol, and made myself sound like a lush. Thing is those times were memorable because they weren’t the norm. I was actually a rather prudish and well-behaved teenager… which is why my mother could leave for months on end and not worry about me (that and she was a narcissist, so she didn’t think about me unless she was thinking about what I meant as an extension of her about her = she was thinking about herself as usual).
I was more careful than she was – one time after dinner with friends she walked home (they lived just across the Champ de Mars from us) slightly tipsy and was followed home by some strange man. She let him into the building (which had two security doors), and rode up in the tiny rectangle known as the lift/elevator with him squished in there with her. There were only a few apartments and we were on the top floor so her pressing the button first… she was a stupid bitch (sorry if that offends you but she was both of those, in that instance she was just stupid, but on a regular basis her bitching sessions went on forever, no one was safe from her sharp, cutting and cruel tongue and holier-than-thou judgment). She was so giggly like a naive teen girl about the experience… I was furious like a pissed off due to fear of what could have happened parent.
I was actually known as being a bit of a goody-two-shoes (that phrase always brings to mind Adam Ant) by my friends – I hated that identity but my friends seemed to like that about me and objected to my trying to not be that.
I remember one time I ended up going to this dive bar just off the Champs Elysees, a place where teens could get drugs easily… that’s not why I went there, it wasn’t why the girlfriend I went with wanted to go there, she wanted to “bump” into the guy she was crushing on, and he sometimes went there. We didn’t “bump” into him, but we did bump into the African brothers – the coolest dudes on the planet, the superstars of our school, super talented, super intelligent, super charming, but most of all super genuinely nice. All the girls were in love with them, all the boys wanted to be them. They were shocked that I was there, embarrassed that I’d seen them there, and immediately became protective of me – lecturing me on being there, this place wasn’t for me, and making sure I got out and home safely.
I did smoke my first spliff in Paris – at the Australian Embassy residence. That place was the chillest. It made me very depressed and I avoided pot after that because I didn’t need anything to help me be depressed or more so.
I also tried hash – my girlfriend’s mother had a stash, and we ‘borrowed’ a bit to try it out. Her mother was also a never around mother, wrapped up in herself when around so not around really. We didn’t know how to do it, my friend was trying to copy what she’d witnessed her mother do, so I’m not sure if it worked, had an effect. We did suddenly feel the need to play a lot of Pac Man on her new Atari… is that what hash does to you? – asking for a friend.
“Sin ought to be something exquisite, my dear boy.”
― Emile Zola
(Ah, Emile Zola… my school was on a street named after him. He was required reading at that school. I’m not sure if I liked his writing or not, but Germinal was unforgettable because of the penis on a stake thing.)
While cocaine was a very 80’s thing… it wasn’t much of a thing amongst the teens in Paris at the time, at least not that I was aware of until one time.
I was supposed to meet my boyfriend and friends at a location. I somehow heard (two of his best male friends were also my best male friends, we stayed friends long after my boyfriend and I split up – boys and men gossip a lot more than they realise or admit to doing) that they were planning on meeting some shady character under a car bridge to buy some drugs, and I think cocaine was mentioned.
I blew them off, just didn’t turn up – later I heard that my boyfriend slammed his fist down on a random parked car’s bonnet/front hood when his friend said I wasn’t coming. So he did notice me and care for me after all – that’s what I thought when I heard about that. Not a good thing to think really about something like that. I knew that then and it made me realise a few things which sunk in later. He wasn’t abusive, not at all, but I needed to rethink what I thought caring and love and stuff was.
It wasn’t the whole maybe they’re buying cocaine from a shady guy in a shady place in a shady deal which put me off… depression was taking a stronger hold of me at that time, and I just wanted to be alone, yet I also didn’t want to be alone.
I went to my very first rock concert – The Police in Paris. I was right up at the front and almost had my first being crushed by a surging crowd experience.
The Police was my boyfriend’s favourite band, he bleached his hair like they did, he was a Brit, and sort of looked a bit like Sting – he sort of wanted to be Sting.
We weren’t dating at the time of the concert. We didn’t go to the concert together, but we did bump into each other after it was over and went home together with a bunch of others all crammed in a friend’s parent’s car.
I can’t remember exactly when my boyfriend and I got together. We pussy-footed around each other for what seemed like ages.
He was a couple of years older than me.
He went to a different school. So we only met up at parties and other Foreign teen gatherings (we were a fairly small community).
He was known for being a “player”. Very good-looking, charming, and aware of that.
My father was a “player” and so I was wary of my boyfriend not yet a boyfriend… and played games with the “player” who also played games with me which dragged us getting together out, and caused many vague gaps in our togetherness where we were sort of together but sort of not together.
One time at a birthday party in the Passy area (see pic all the way at top of the metro bridge – that bridge had this cool manmade peninsula where you could hang out and watch the world and river go by, there were also two bars opposite each other at one end where we all hung out), at this Irish girl with an impossible name to pronounce and spell’s home away from home, he approached me and invited me to go somewhere private to talk – what he told me in private was that his mates had bet him that he would never be able to get prudish goody-two-shoes me to go somewhere private with him.
What an asshole… but an honest one! with asshole friends! – that was part of my reaction, another part of my reaction was disappointment for being played and being a fool… and a third part was, what a bunch of morons for messing with a psycho like me and thinking they’ve got who I am pegged. You don’t know me… but then again I don’t know you either.
“Pleasure is often spoiled by describing it.”
(Stendhal’s The Red and The Black was also required reading at my school – it’s the sort of book which at first seems like it is only going to induce bored yawns, but it quietly blows your mind and then abandons you to deal with the mess it made.)
I gave a big party too (not the drunken one at my father’s studio, that was much later, but a big production directed by Mommie Dearest to show all the other parents and their children what a wonderful mother I had and she was, at a hotel, to which she insisted I invited everyone – I think it was for my 14th birthday. Anyway I invited all the French and Foreign teens, it was a big success.
All I recall about it is lots of French and Foreign teens being surprised that I’d invited them, since to them I was very standoffish – I was shy!!! Shy people seem like aloof snobs, but we’re just not that at all, we’re just like – Yikes, people!!!
Then there’s a memory of me storming into the men’s toilet and scaring the shit out of the boys smoking weed in there because a girl in the men’s toilet was somehow not possible and thus frightening. One of the hotel staff had asked me to deal with it – so I did.
And my boyfriend pre-boyfriend status charming the pants off of my mother – usually a kiss of death move. If she likes you, we’re done before we even started. His birthday was a few weeks after mine and he asked her permission to invite me to his party – what a total player playing the game!
At his party I hooked up with someone else… I saw your move, player, and now you get to watch mine and be played.
If this thing between him and me is making your head and heart ache – one of the results of this Machiavellian teenage mess for me was to swear off having a relationship until I’d sorted myself out. With him I totally did the whole you’re my dad and I’m my mother only a leveled-up smarter and less stupid bitch version which wasn’t really as leveled-up as I told myself it was.
“Even the genuinely good cannot, unaided, learn to love. To penetrate beyond the absurdities, the vices, and, above all, the stupidities of human creatures, one must possess the secret of a love which the world has now forgotten. Until that secret shall have been discovered, all betterment in conditions of life will be in vain.”
― François Mauriac, Viper’s Tangle
(I didn’t read Francois Mauriac for school… I just found a copy of The Viper’s Tangle somewhere and read it and gasped at how much it seemed to be about my life.)
We actually reconnected decades later on that reconnection place known as Facebook. I looked him up and said Hi! – he accepted my friend request and showed recognition of who I was by referring to me as “oh, you’re that crazy redhead”. I made a video for him which I shared on Fb where I spoke only in French and was weird as usual… and sometime not long afterwards I deleted my Fb (nothing to do with him or the video, that was all me being me. Still a crazy redhead… some things just can’t be changed).
The guy I hooked up with at my soon to be boyfriend’s B’day party was really nice even though everyone said he was a “bad guy”.
For some reason “bad guys” never do their bad guy thing with me… although we lasted for about five seconds so he didn’t get a chance to do it. We made a date, my very first real date, to go to a film. I left early to arrive at our rendez-vous point and so his call to cancel missed me.
The mobile phone wasn’t a thing then as it is now… if it had been it would have ruined the day for me.
I had nothing else to do that day, other than perhaps homework but fuck that shit (sorry to those who hate swearing but we’re in Paris now in the 1980’s and I’m a teenager at the moment…).
I waited and waited under the Arc de Triomphe freezing my butt off because it was still Winter in Paris, and ended up having a long chat with a gendarme who took pity on the girl who had been left waiting by her date. That was fun, I mean it, that gendarme had some awesome stories to share and he was as bored as I was.
When I finally got home and spoke to bad guy not bad guy who was profusely apologetic even though he didn’t need to be – it was no one’s bad, it’s just how that cookie crumbled… we made another date and that went fine, but neither of us wanted another one after that.
Perhaps I wasn’t enough of a “good girl” for a “bad guy” like him. No, we didn’t have sex or make out, or anything like that. I was a virgin and not yet ready to not be one, and not quite ready to do more than nothing much at all. But when he thought I was jumpy due to being scared or something along those lines by the film which we watched, FireFox with Clint, I was actually bored and fidgeting. I grew up on horror and Clint films… so his moves to reassure me and maybe whatever after that fell flat.
We were falling into flatness together and neither of us were old enough to have a flat relationship yet.
The first time I smoked was… a cigar, one of my dad’s which was not a cigarillo like Clint used to smoke, it was a fat one and yuck! But the first cigarette I smoked was when I was a teen in Paris, at a party I went to which may have been my first party (rather than the Aussie party in the disco basement). It was given by a French classmate and I was shocked that they invited me because the French and Foreigns didn’t tend to mix – they were shocked I turned up at the party and I got kudos points with the French teens for doing that.
I’d been practicing smoking cigarette using incense sticks… crazy redhead, possibly a psycho, remember… while listening to Tainted Love repeatedly at home.
I just wanted to try a cigarette… so I did. And I quite liked it, didn’t have a coughing fit like they do in films… or maybe I did, but I’m fairly sure I didn’t.
My first kiss with my boyfriend at a party given by Greek super school swat girl who was also super nice wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been a teenage cigarette smoker. So there…?
I smoked menthols… really disgusting and I have no idea why. Oh and for those wondering how a teenager got cigarettes, menthol or otherwise, in Paris in the 1980’s, you just went to the tobacconist and asked for them then paid for them.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: Smoking is bad for you!!!
“You ask me what forces me to speak? a strange thing; my conscience.”
― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables
(Can’t recall reading Hugo… Quoi!?!… but you could never get away from Les Miserables – I think I watched the Japanese cartoon version of it, because… it was on TV)
I caught a horrible head cold a day or so before that first kiss party and it looked like I’d have to miss it… but after smoking a few cigarettes my head cleared up and I wasn’t as phlegmy or catarrhy. Yay! Perfect for a first kiss…?
Anyway I went to the party with my girlfriends… that may have also been the night I told my mother to fuck off and she didn’t like that at all, had a fit about it, but somehow she was powerless to stop herself from being fucked off.
My boyfriend and I finally became boyfriend and I – I don’t recall much about it, other than lots of kissing which became French kissing.
My very first kiss is a bit of a blur.
Paris is also the place where I first drove a vehicle – a mobilette (moped). I got stopped a few times by some guards outside an embassy or other diplomatic bastion which needed to be protected from crazy teenagers on mopeds who used that street as a short cut because those were paranoid times (not dissimilar to the paranoid times of today), and eventually after much mayhem which thankfully only I noticed and was affected by, I decided driving wasn’t for me.
That’s it for this installment of a teen in Paris in the 1980’s…
I haven’t discussed the part which I think The Reverist of Riddles & Reveries really wanted me to address in more detail when he challenged me to flesh out what I said in this paragraph:
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.
of this post – The Places We Live and Who We Are When We Live There – posted in December 2013.
It’s not the fashion part… I’ll do that next time.
If I remember when I’m writing it, I’ll include the bit when my mother decided to inform her just getting to grips with puberty, with her attractiveness to males due to her changing pubescent body, self-conscious, and low-self-esteem due to too much exposure to mother, teenage daughter that her legs were crooked, deformed, ugly, not perfect, straight and beautiful like mother’s… or maybe I won’t include that since I’ve included it here, but it did have a profound effect on my fashion choices.
Au revoir for now.