The Buddha in My Bag

Dear Nona

I’m really glad you wrote me because in my computer meltdown i lost your e-mail address and have been continually forgetting to get it from Ethan.

I am very happy to be back – although last night my purse got stolen at a club called bar 13 – with it my wallet containing 13 dollars, credit cards, license, library card etc etc. More painful was that my visor and very favorite agnes b cardigan went with it. Most most painful are the vintage sunglasses i got for only $10 but look fabulous on me and i will never be able to find again because for some reason sunglasses always look stupid on me. Except, of course, for these.

Anyway – embarrassingly enough i have kind of started meditating and trying to follow the dharma (don’t laugh!) and oddly enough i was just at a section in my studying about how “owning” things is impossible and causes suffering. Really, i was listening to it *two hours* before i went out for the evening. Anyway i’m not imputing any higher meaning to the theft of my bag, but it is allowing me to try and put to use these new thoughts. I have to admit that i haven’t been too successful at it. I keep thinking of all the other things that i could have put in my bag last night, but didn’t, and being thankful that way. But that way is totally wrong.

Something else in the lecture was that one should act on every impulse to give. If you feel even the slightest pang to give something to someone, you should. I employed this on the train on the way back from picking up a copy of my house keys (which didn’t work, i’ll get to that in a minute) from my landlord. Oh, did i mention that the keys to my apartment were in the bag and the other sets of keys I have were as follows: 1 with colleen who is in Germany until the middle of next month, 2 with my subletters who are out of town for memorial day and whose phone number is in my visor which is with my keys and perfect sunglasses somewhere beyond my reach or, of course, in my house, 3 with my mother 3000 miles away in LA. So anyway I gave my second to last dollar of the 10 bucks I borrowed from Ethan to two Mexican guitarists on the train. They were good and I felt like I should and then I remembered that I had only two dollars, and a borrowed Harpers magazine in my borrowed tote bag so i really had no business giving things away. But if I was having so much trouble giving up the idea of possession of things, at least I could give in the spirit of the Buddha. And so I did.

I made my way back to my apartment with much apprehension because, after all, my keys were in the bag, and even though my address on my drivers license is my mom’s place in California, they could find the New York address in my visor and basically clean me out. And at this point in my “freelancing” career I’d be hard pressed to be able to replace much of anything I owned. Clearly these are not feelings of “non-attachment”, but I couldn’t help myself. I could only reassure myself by pointing out that at least I was aware of my poisonous thoughts instead of blindly being lost in them. There was maybe one moment of enlightened thought in this whole escapade. Or maybe it was a precursor to enlightened thought. It was that I was glad I didn’t have a cell phone because that would have been gone too. Strictly speaking I shouldn’t have been glad that I didn’t have a cell phone since enjoying it for whatever amount of time up until last night should have been fine in itself, right? But there is the problem with owning things; it is a constant struggle to keep on owning them. It’s not a closed loop. You show up faithfully to your office job, collect your paycheck, find the perfect pair of vintage sunglasses, buy them, even replace the lenses which were all scratched up, and done – the sunglasses are yours. Nope, the sunglasses are only yours by a vigilant process of personal diligence, and societal carrots and sticks.

So, well, I shouldn’t be happy that I never had a cell phone; what I should be happy about is that I enjoyed fabulous vintage sunglasses for a year and a half. Things come into your life and then they go out. Can I stop desiring, grasping? Ok, if you weren’t laughing before, I know you are now. What can I say? It’s impossible for me to escape this shit having grown up in LA and all. It all actually started when I was unpacking my books when I came back from Paris and I found a book called Insight Meditation, which I had bought when I was in 18, the summer after my freshman year of college. It seemed that everyone around me in Venice Beach at that time was a Buddhist and it just seemed like the thing to do. I’m rereading it now and I keep cringing at the places I underlined and the notes I made filled with teenage angst. I’d think it was cute if it weren’t me.

I’ve also been listening to a radio show out of LA by this guy Joe Frank, which has lots of segments by a Buddhism teacher who is actually a colleague (is that the right word?) of the guy who wrote the meditation book. I listened to the radio, streaming and taped, a lot when I was away and it was a really good way to feel connected to the States. If you have a fast connection in Jakarta I highly recommend it.

I also think it’s clear from your e-mail that you would rather go to the Congo in the fall than to Yale. Usually i don’t give straightforward advice to matters this weighty. I mean, I can barely answer them for myself, but in this case it just seems like this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting forever since I’ve known you. Also, you would be helping people, and I think Jack Kornfield is right and that we should follow every impulse we have towards giving. And for fucks sake, Yale is for the mediocre progeny of rich oilmen. Ok that’s not really fair or true, but I’m standing by my advice on this one. Go to Africa! And be really fucking careful!

[rest of letter truncated due to gossip]

best best best,


New Valley City

First off, let the valley secede. For chrissakes anywhere that has a completely different climate than the rest of the city might as well govern itself. Ok, sure, I know next to nothing about this issue, but going “over the hill” or “to the 818” is pretty definitely a different place. The temperature, for starters – whew. The first act of the New Valley City (my proposed name) might be to erect enormous fans to artificially simulate the sea breeze that keeps the non-valley portion of LA livable.

Actually my mother’s house is just barely on the LA side of the Santa Monica Mountains. “Just barely” is pretty meaningful as it does get the aforementioned sea breeze. But just a jump away is the valley (read: One and half minute drive including the u-turn out the driveway). Apart from the 15 degree rise in the temperature, the valley does seem to have it’s own culture or rhythm or whatever. And actually, it’s a sort of interesting one. The second hand stores kick ass. They’re huge and cheap. And it’s always cool to see all the Goth kids defy the hundred degree heat and the concrete expanse of Ventura Blvd to stalk along in all black and a kilo of makeup as if it was all actually a cemetery in autumn, somewhere much much farther north.

This article, Valley’s Seamy Side Has Its Say on Secession, from the LA Times is kind of a riot too. I’m not sure who comes off worse, New Valley City, the porn stars who live there, or the Times for writing such trash.

On a WNYC radio show this AM was a segment on the secession battle. Richard Riordan and a rep from the secession movement duked it out over the phone. All through it you could practically touch the smugness coming off of the New Yorker host of the show. He hadn’t much to say except piped in occasionally to say things like, “Since when is there is downtown in LA??” Both guests, a bit taken aback by the his unabashed snottyness, could only answer with a whines like, ‘There is tooooo a downtown… Ok ok, maybe not a New York downtown, but…still…[mumble mumble].” Admittedly it’s hard to defend LA to New Yorkers. I stopped trying years ago partly because it was too tiring, but mostly because I usually agreed with the jabs. But I only agreed in a very abstract way with a smile that secretly said, “You think you know how ridiculous it is over there, but you don’t really know, you east coast wuss.” Still, i always end with a wistful, “Well the weather is amazing.” It is if you’re on the other side of New Valley City anyway.


[Sigh] What can i say? BloggersBlock?

I took a quick (and chilly) ride out to Prospect Park this evening. How is it that when you don’t ride your bike for a long time, everything on it breaks? There’s no logic in this, is there? I noticed one of the breaks was rubbing against the tire and as i stood on the sidewalk investigating, a nice old man came up diagnosed the problem, gestured to a man on a stoop nearby for a wrench who shouted to another guy at the car repair shop for some tools who was buying the largest stick of insense i’d ever laid eyes on. I held the insense while the break was realigned by the car mechanic with the tools. In no time the thing was fixed. I could only offer up a couple sad looking grape jolly ranchers from my pocket.

Rode off in another friendly neighbor mood. Ever since i got back i’ve been saying hi to all the people i pass on the street on my block, saying nice things to the kiddies, and buying chocolate chip cookies from the library bakesale. It’s only become interesting for me to be part of the neighborhood comunity since i was in Paris and it was completely not an option. I’ve been perusing all the super-local newspapers and talking extensively about the weather with the guys at the coffee place. In fact the guy owes me a pastry for a bet we made about rain on Sunday night. I said clear skies, his ankle said drizzle. I say Rasberry Tart please.

In this vein some pictures of Brooklyn at Dusk (and a couple from Queens)

Death and the Hard Drive

If you hadn’t heard already, my hard drive died somewhere after my second little bottle of Bombay Sapphire, over Iceland maybe. Probably it wasn’t Iceland. I just like to think so cause it’s more romantic to think of my hard drive dying over a country of excruciatingly cute squinty-eyed girls in little swan dresses (i liked the dress), than over a random stretch of Atlantic Ocean, which was probably the case. Well let’s think, in fact the death of my hard drive can’t be romantic no matter which country was 10,000 feet below it. In any case it’s made for a tense standoff between me and my machine in the past week or so.

I did scrape together every bit of courage i had, and took a screwdriver to my powerbook to install (and take out, and reinstall, and take out again, etc etc) the new drive all by myself. There were only a few really tense moments and one mad dash to the hardware store to get a certain star-shaped screwdriver. Otherwise, all went pretty smoothly. Though i’d never wish for it in the end, the times when the computer gets sick are the only times i really ever learn anything.

Otherwise, the massive amounts of alone time i had to pick apart my brain in Paris are just not here Brooklyn. This is good for the mental health, bad for the blog. I am trying anyway to remind myself to get into that introspective place every once in a while. Like when I’m on the subway. I’m also convinced introspection is good for my skin. It’s weird I know.

Is That All?

Now that it’s all said and done, it’s a good time to reflect on what’s fabulous about Paris, and what makes me want to throw day-old baguettes through a cathedral window. I thought i’d make a list of the things i’ll miss and thing’s i won’t. Ending of course with the things i won’t miss since i am going back for better or worse and one should always feel like she’s made the right decision even if it is horribly awfully wrong.

A petit disclaimer: The things below aren’t the big real reasons why i’ve decided to bail. For a more serious explanation of my inability to stay put you might want to peruse the archives or read this post. What follows are the details that make up a person’s day in this place or that place. And i’ve often thought that from Paris and New York i could fashion the perfect city. But really for me, the people matter most — the friends i’ve made and the one’s waiting to be made. Most of those kids seem to be in New York, and i just miss them terribly.


++ Things I’ll Miss ++

The Cheese, The Bread, The Wine, The Coffee

Yes, all these are so superb here that each deserves its own entry. In fact each specific cheese, bread, wine, and cafe should have its own, especially Tomme de Savoie and Cote de Rhone. But that would get tiresome, because the point is to *eat*. Oh to eat here is always a pleasure. The worst days always have three bright spots: breakfast, lunch and dinner. And this is available in all price ranges. Always. It’s hard to order a bad meal, or pick out a crappy wine, though i have played the odds enough for it to have happened to me once or twice. And there’s the bread. Why is it that we don’t have bread this good in the States? With the wine and the cheese, i can understand; maybe we just don’t have the right raw materials. But i think we got plenty of grain. And it can’t be expensive to produce. In fact bread here is way cheaper than in the States. It’s like we make crappy bread on purpose. I mean white bread? That’s not food, that’s like a joke.


Yeah i came in with the snickering attitude of an American who bought into all the rah rah talk about low unemployment, high GDP, and whatnot. But then i got violently ill here without any insurance, and a doctor came to my house in the middle of the night with 10 minutes notice and made it better. And i didn’t have to so much as give him my name, much less fill out the book of forms you have to do in triplicate just to get a doctor to say hello to you in the States. And then there are the subsidized lunch tickets that i get for meals in any restaurant every work day. And half my metro cards are reimbursed. There’s the mandated three month severance if you get laid off, and then 36 months of unemployment! And the 5 weeks vacation. And that no one eats lunch at their desk, ever. You know this whole Most Powerful Nation thing is kind of a scam. It makes about 100 people really fucking ecstatic. The French may be onto something. Sure they get the 1000 MHz processor a month and a half later than we do, but they’re all making it home with plenty of time to eat dinner and play a nice game of scrabble with the tots. Me, i’d trade it all for health insurance, 5 weeks vacation, and job security in less than a second.

UGC Carte Illimite

A little blue card: 16 Euros a month, unlimited movies, anytime, all the time.

Café Culture

When you have nothing to do and don’t feel like being in your apartment,

you order a coffee, take out a long Russian novel, and you’ve got your aftrenoon. The difference between cafés here and in LA or NYC is that there is that there’s nothing hip or arty about it. Sitting with a coffee is truly for the masses. It seems every place with decent coffee here has some sort of edge or angle. Retro decor, collection of vintage dentist chairs, obscure set of nose hair trimmers, whatver. I admit i’m easily impressed at first, but more often than not i find it all so oppressive. I’d rather drink my joe next to the lady with the loafers on.

Public Space

Paris is full of fountains, and sculpture gardens and plain old squares with benches that are designed for general public use. Sit around, chat with your friends, think about the absurdity of life, do whatever. It’s free, no one gives you funny looks, and no one asks you to move along (even between the hours of dusk and dawn, ahem).

No Open Container Laws

This is just common sense. Why polite folks are not allowed to drink whatever they chose in public is beyond me. Pre Guiliani this was ok in NYC too, but, that’s a whole other list.

Tip and Tax Included in the Price

No surprises when the bill arrives, and splitting the bill is a cinch. Leaving early and paying correctly is also possible. Sometimes friends visit from the States and ask, “Don’t you feel bad about not tipping?” I remind them that I *am* tipping — it’s in the price. And waiters here aren’t scrounging up couch change to pay for a flu shot (See “Socialism” above). They make a decent living and have good benefits.

The Pronoun, “One”

It’s sooo handy. As in, “One can never find a cab on Sundays”. In English it sounds so retarded and snotty, but in French it’s normal.

++ Things I’ll Not Miss ++

The Ridiculous Shop Hours

Anything you may want to buy or pay someone to do is pretty much unavailable for anyone here who has a job. Nothing is ever open on Sunday. Half the restaurants are closed. Everything shuts on the dot at 7pm on weekdays, so unless you race out of work precisely at 6 forget it. No dry cleaning, no haircut, no groceries, no really fabulous sandals that you’ve rationalized because of that unexpected tax refund. Naturally this means all the shopping areas are zoos on Saturdays. Ever been to Macy’s on the day after Thanksgiving? That’s what it’s like every single Saturday of the year at every department store or shopping district in Paris. On the bright side, this has helped immensely with my saving-money plan.

The Dog Shit

It’s disgusting and it’s everywhere and no one ever picks it up. Yuck.

The UnAirconditioned Metros

August, at rush hour, in a country where “Lasts For 3 Days!” is printed on the deodorant sticks. Yuck.

The Metros Don’t Run All Night

They are closed between 1am and 5am, leaving you these options: 1. Take off from the party/bar/friend’s house in time to catch the last train home. 2. Take your chances finding (and paying for) a taxi. 3. Suck it up and party till 5am, then take the first train home and try not to hate yourself too much the next day. Nothing will ever beat the subways running all night long in NYC.

The Collective Taste in Music

I’m sure this one is all my fault for not being able to find the cool night spots, but really, it’s bad. Nonstop cheese. The first party i went to here was torture, and i thought it was just a fluke. Not so. At any given time I swear Rod Stewart is playing somewhere on the radio dial.

The Concept of Meetings

They never ever start on time, and they last for about 8 times longer than necessary, and nothing ever gets accomplished. But maybe that’s just where i work.

Queuing Up and/or the Idea of Personal Space

When i come into Charles De Gaulle Airport from New York it’s always funny how the Americans and the French make their nationalities known immediately in front of Passport Control. The Americans are the ones in the friendly orderly line. The French are the ones in the heaving riotous mosh pit. And then when there are somewhat defined lines, like for the boulangerie or the cinema, you can bet the person behind me is continually bumping into me or actually breathing on my neck. Is it really helpful to nudge someone constantly for 10 minutes?

Coffee To Go

For those of us who need to consolidate our morning activities in order to squeeze out as much sleep as possible, sipping coffee on the train in the AM is a no-brainer. Yet for some reason, coffee only comes in porcelain here, never paper. I’ve had to adjust myself to waiting until i’m at work to have my caffeine. Ouch.

Cat-Calling and Leering as a Part-Time Job

It’s relentless, it’s creepy and it really does make me want to throw things and hurt people. I’m happy to be leaving as the summer approaches. I forgot about how getting anywhere as a woman alone in any sort of summer clothing is a routine of teeth gritting, unsubtle brush offs, and anger management. There’s looks, comments and those weird annoying hissing noises here too, but generally people aren’t following you home on the bus. And once you tell someone that you under no condition would you ever want to have anything to do with them ever in a near yell, they usually go away. Arg.

So now that i’m back in Brooklyn, the narrow Paris sidewalks in my memory are already starting to have less dog shit and more friendly smiles. But nothing beats spring in the city though, and i’m not really looking any further than that right now.

No Sleep till…

Back back back in Brooklyn and jetlagged as a motherfucker. Lets go through things:

1. The screen on my visor will not stay on for more than 4 seconds.

2. My hard drive is toast. Finished. Over and out. Gone gone gone.

3. Does anything else matter really?

I arrived at 11 pm. My computer died on the plane. I woke up at 6 am, cleaned myself up, went directly to Tekserve so they could offer to do practically nothing to make anything better but keep my powerbook for two weeks and then charge me $50O. I owe a seriously nice lunch to Witold who stopped me from getting screwed five ways by Tekserve and loaned me a hard drive until the new one gets here.

So, if you are my friend call me or email me with your number and what not because i have nothing left.

Ahh, but it is beautiful here in Fort Greene. The sun is shining, birds chirping, and english everywhere. There’s a nice wrap-up post about Paris in the works (that even got edited by like a real professional who knows what he’s doin), and in the meantime i’m moving back into the nicest apartment ever. It’s got a bed and plates, and an ergonomically correct work table and chair, and i am so fucking happy to be home!