has really spiffed up its act and includes a reasonable travel zine. They
also revamped their status.com ff mile tracking service. Recommended.
PS. I feel really stiffed no one reminded me of President's Day Monday. Now I
can't pick up that quickie jaunt to Paris this weekend for $288 -- 3 day
advance purchase, doh!
The Paris Gaze
A Special Valentine
By Alan Jolis
Introduced by _Sammy O. Speedway_
February 1, 1997
Reading time + 4.5 minutes
)One might get the impression_especially after the first few editions of this
column_that our interests lie only in the more provocative nature of After
Hours life. And perhaps that's true. In our ceaseless desire to ascribe
ourselves as "hip" (in an age when "hipness" is doled out in bottles of CK
Black), we sometimes border on parody, on satire. We have to remind ourselves
that as much as we portray ourselves as creatures of steely desire, we do so
often for one very human reason: to touch, and, hopefully, to love.
It is with this thought that we present the following from Paris-based,
author/playwright Alan Jolis:
The streets of Paris are the anterooms of love, and the non-verbal language
that goes on here is not at all the same that one might experience, say, in
New York or Los Angeles. Eye contact is at best elusive, and depends on time
and place and the myriad details of life. But is there really such a thing as
a gaze peculiar to Paris? Even Marcel Proust, who spent endless pages
cataloguing and analyzing the female gaze, came to no facile conclusion.
In Paris, the streets are where people sit in cafes, read their papers, kiss,
go shopping for dreams. The streets are like one big cruise ship, and it's
only natural one should also fall in love there. Physical love is at the
center of everyday life, subtle yet at the same time utterly selfish in its
disregard of public reaction.
)The Parisian women I know, for example, do not understand the American
obsession with sexual harassment. One female executive recently complained to
me, "I hate going to New York because the men are terrified to look at you.
You can be in an elevator alone with a man, and he will stare at the floor."
As with most Latin countries, everything in Paris is gloriously mixed-up_you
flirt in the workplace and you work in the cafes. The only rule is that there
is no rule.
When I was 20 and had my first summer job in Paris, I noticed a girl staring
at me across a crowded metro car. She was young, maybe 17, with short dark
hair and a narrow face. As the period of our staring lengthened, she reddened
and I reddened. I kept telling myself, go to her, talk to her, be the kind of
man who would find out her name and where she lives. But I did not. Despite
all my imagined resolve, I knew deep down that I lacked the courage to
approach her. So I wallowed in the luxury of indecision, and eventually at
Passy station, she was carried away by a press of bodies and was gone.
But that gaze from a total stranger confirmed for me the French saying that
there is a depth even on the surface of things. That the superfluous and the
shallow need not be ersatz at all; that they can also contain what we live for
and die for_or at least an invitation to it.
One way to understand Paris is to try to imagine a similar encounter in New
York. New York romance is more-or-less confined to set hours and times, often
in singles bars and often after downing a couple of stiff drinks. And while
there is much to say on the importance of alcohol in foreplay and mood
creation, in Paris, the drinks are much too expensive and most people you see
in clubs are just ordering Cokes.
What I understood at 20 was that the real gaze, the important one, is not
only outward, but inward. What you see best is what you see. One can become
surfeited with sex, and like St. Augustine, cry out, "Give me abstinence, Oh
Lord, but not yet!" but one never grows tired of gazing.
I love to be inspired. And women inspire me every day, every hour, without
even knowing it. The rhythm of their walk, a bitten fingernail, mascara
thicker on one eyelash than on the other. The tinier and more intimate the
detail, the more real the woman somehow. But for sheer drama and human
potential, nothing beats a woman staring at you. Nothing so strips away your
guile and forces you to scramble for another mask. It calls into question you
as a man, and you as a part of the world.
What I call the Paris gaze may not be an aberration, some provincial mistake,
or special hybrid experience peculiar to Paris. I am willing to believe that
such gazing may not need Paris at all. As a young Parisian once told me, "When
I want to feel beautiful, provocative, sensual, completely irresistible, I go
to Rome and get in an elevator. There, a man really looks at a woman."
SAMMY'S FIVE FAVORITE SPOTS FOR PARIS GAZING:
Food marketing at rue Lepic in Montmartre on Sunday mornings. ("Food and
fantasy go hand-in-hand. What better way to meet someone than by exchanging
recipes for ratatouille?")
Antique and secondhand shopping at the famous Puce flea market at Porte de
Clignancourt. ("Something about a flea market eases everyone's guard. It's
dressed down and relaxed.")
Meandering the sculpture garden at the Musee Rodin at 77 rue de Varenne.
("Peace, quiet, beauty and all those naked sculptures.")
Meeting others while waiting in queue for a dream-like fraise des bois ice at
Berthillon on 31 rue St Louie en l'Ile. ("Queues are always a good choice,
but remember to bring your English phrase book. No better icebreaker than the
look of a helpless foreigner.")
Old hat or not, coffee and croissants at Aux Deux Magots on 170 boulevard St.
Germain ("even if you're more likely to meet a systems analyst from Boise").