Riding Bulls in the European Rodeo… so to speak

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Upon my first visit to the Motherland, I was warned of a very particular Eurocentric tendency for the men of said lands to be, well, f’ing perverts. Sure, I had had my fair share of rather indecent experiences back in the States – there was that homeless man jerking off in front of me while I walked home at 2 a.m., then there was the driver in the town car holding his dick in perfect view of my mother and I’s table facing the street. Oh, and the other homeless man who sat in front of me on an empty train and exposed his enormous, flaccid member while moaning into the terrifying abyss. So, yeah, when it comes to disgusting displays of wayward male sexuality, this isn’t my first time at the rodeo.

You would think such experiences would fortify me for the journey ahead. But for some reason, in Europe it feels different.

Americans, when it comes to sexual harassment, really go for it. Genitals are exposed, chases ensue, considerations are made for restraining orders. But in Europe, their variety of sexual harassment falls somewhere between completely grotesque and fairly innocuous – and it’s a disturbing gray area for an American woman. The best way I can describe it is as though you find yourself in the bull’s-eye of a very creepy, very intense stalker for a very short amount of time, and, if pressed, you couldn’t tell a police officer just what exactly happened.

Case in point:

Michelle and I are waiting in line at the Paul’s kiosk in the Tuileries. We’re standing there, minding our own business, when HELLO! What’s this? An older man has appeared, standing at a distance more appropriate for a close cousin or a nervous boy on a first date. He zeros in on the both of us like a drone, only without all the intelligent, stealth technology.

His proximity to my behind makes me uncomfortable. I move.

And then he moves.

I move again, forward into the line, bumping into people.

He follows.

At this point, his frogger-like precision to hop on my ass is unjustifiable, but every time I look back at him, he stands there, hands behind his back and eyes gazing at the menu. A true pervert professional.

There is nowhere else for me to go but out of the line. Following me out and around would be far too obvious. I stand, at a distance, watching him from behind. Unfortunately, I have left Michelle to fend for herself. He retreats, finding satisfaction in saddling up to her.

“You like chocolates?”

This is the kind of tactic your mother warns you about when you are in second grade. Lesson 1: Do not get into vans with strange men. Lesson 2: Do not wear clothing with your name on it. Lesson 3: If they tell you they’re looking for a puppy, they’re lying. Lesson 4: If they call you by your name and tell you they’re looking for a puppy and say that your mother said you should hop in their van to go look for it and here, have a candy… you’re definitely going to get molested.

Michelle crosses her arms and stutters an “ummm, no, not really.”

DISENGAGE! DISENGAGE!

She looks back at me and mouths a “get fucking back here.” I shake my head no.

The old man continues to close-talk her for an extended period of time. I do my best to offer moral support, standing next to her on the other side of the ropes – which really is only me using her body as a barricade between me and the aging sex offender.

“Are you model or agency?”

Not even sure what that means, dude.

“I’m a designer,” Michelle says. A pride of accomplishment dictates that Michelle answer this question honestly, but the part of me that would prefer he not be able to look up her after this interaction nearly drives me to slam my heel on her toe and wrap my hands around her mouth before the words come out.

“Ohhh, good good good.”

Too late.

When she gets closer to the cashier, I retreat once more, seeing this as his window of opportunity to creep on yours truly. I stand at a distance behind, measuring 4 meters, while I watch Michelle pay for her coffee and wait for him to cop a feel of her ass.

It never happens.

And even if it did, I have no idea what I’d tell the French police.

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The Lobbyist: Hotel Costes, Paris

The Lobbyist is a division of JBLY that specifically handles reviews of hotel lobbies and hotel bars.  If you’ve got a good suggestion (or, preferably, a bad one) for a place I should visit, please send me an email at jennyblovesyoudaily@gmail.com.

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Welcome to Hotel Costes, the sluttier Parisian cousin of the Chateau Marmont.

With its shiny, black lacquered façade sitting on Rue Saint Honore, Hotel Costes screams sex – French maid, velvety boudoir, Eyes Wide Shut sex. Once inside, things get even steamier, with dim lighting and drippy chandeliers, plush furniture and beautiful rugs strewn everywhere. I kind of imagine this is the Paris Henry Miller wrote about in Tropic of Cancer, minus all of the starving artist poverty and whores’ flats jumping with bedbugs. So, yeah, maybe not like Tropic of Cancer at all.

When:

Paris Fashion Week. 4 p.m., to be exact. Eva woke me up from a luxurious mid-day nap to meet her PR rep for “lunch.” I’d been once before, around 5 in the morning, after an evening of dancing at a place where a cover band sang late ‘90s classics like Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise” to a room full of drunk Lebanese expats. My friend, drunk but not Lebanese, wanted nothing more in the world than their club sandwich — her intense craving blamed on the addictive precision with which they cut the bread into triangles. “They’re just… so perfect.” And it’s true: The Hotel Costes club sandwich is likely the most beautiful in all of Paris (and it better be for 33 euros).

Wear:

Thus far, Paris has been a nice change from my life in Brooklyn, schlepping from my quiet apartment to the local grocery store wearing boat shoes with socks from Costco and a pair fat-boyfriend jeans. Here, surrounded by magazine editors and rich young women, I am forced to care, mostly by way of self-shame. I have even ventured to learn how to curl my hair, no small feat for a woman whose “girl card” was recently revoked by a gaggle of gays who stood in horror as they watched me attempt to do my own hair.

Dressed in black tights, a wool APC mini dress, and a pair of Proenza booties, I walk into Hotel Costes confident that I will seamlessly blend into its gorgeous, pretentious décor. Though, from the way the hostess looks me up and down in a way I have never before experienced, accompanied with flared nostrils and a curled lip, I believe my efforts to have been in vain. I do my best to not retort an unprovoked, “Oh, yeah? Well, you look like a goth employee from Hot Topic circa ’97. Bitch.”

To ensure you do not receive similar treatment, I suggest arming yourself to the teeth with Tom Ford, Celine, and maybe some Rick Owens. The hostess will still likely treat you like garbage, but it’s worth a shot.

Seen:

Hotel Costes is a fascinating mixed bag of old men, young women, and well-dressed everybodies… which I guess is less of a mixed-bag than it is a predictably homogenous fashion stew.

Heard:

“Our server hates us.”

“Where’s our server?”

“Did they give us the French menu on purpose?”

“I’ll have the agua con gas.”

“Are you coming to the party tonight?”

“Hey, is that… ?”

Eat, Drink, Be Merry or Whatever: 

Hotel Costes is part of a tightly bound restaurant group that includes La Societe, L’Avenue, and probably a couple other spots I have not yet been dragged to. They are so tightly bound, in fact, they share the same menu, ensuring that you spend a week shuffling between different locations with the same people, eating the same food, which, while seemingly boring, is probably good for digestion.

In terms of this shared menu, I once “dated” a gentleman who swore by the poached salmon, which I happened to have ordered once but by the time it arrived I was too wasted on champagne to even bother with it. To its credit, however, it did look like salmon and came on a nice, heavy-duty plate.

The food I have managed to eat is serviceable (in the way I find all French food to be serviceable) and typically price-gougey (bring your corporate credit card). If you’re not having a flush year, you can always sit in the courtyard drinking wine and chain smoking cigarettes with everyone else.

The Lobbyist Rating: 5/5 Kate Mosses

Hotel Costes is the people-watching equivalent of Venice Beach, California – if Venice Beach was filled with very thin models, men wearing glasses indoors, and Russian fashion bloggers trailed by an entourage of gay men wearing three-piece suits.

I live for this shit. If I could give it 7 Kates, I would.

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(Photo courtesy of Slim Paley)

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That time I got to the airport with the help of three Europeans and a delivery van.

 

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Mass panic is serious business. Okay, mine wasn’t this serious in that I’m obviously still alive.

The train is shittier than I remember it being. Five years ago, I took the RER to and from Paris without incident. I was a cheap and ambitious 23-year-old who couldn’t fathom forking out 80 euros for a cab both ways. In the years since, I’ve been spoiled with client paid-for trips and $200 cab reimbursements. Not this trip. This trip I’m on my own. This is money in real time. Train it is.

There’s graffiti all over the vinyl seats and trash on the floor. Two pale blonde boys sit in the corner, where I am certain homeless people take dumps or shoot heroin. They move quickly to another spot on the train, having likely discovered something akin to my suspicions. Behind us, a lunatic bellows in French. “VOILA! VOILA! VOILA!” he roars. It is the only time the language has made me think of something other than bedrooms and croissants, rococo molding and sculpted foliage. For all I know he could be screaming “Voila! I’m going to shoot all of you in the head right now!” but my French-speaking traingoers seem largely unperturbed. I stare forward without compassion. Ah, feels like home.

The Paris periphery passes on my right, a swell of lesser buildings than those at its center, neighborhoods that reek of relative poverty and gray depression. A tent camp runs adjacent to the train for some stretch of time and then disappears seamlessly into a trash heap. It’s a far cry from my brunches at Le Maurice, the late lunches at Hotel Costes, the designer stores on Rue Saint Honore.

An announcement is made overhead in French. An English translation never comes, but I can tell from the ensuing collective groans that there is something wrong with the train. The gray-haired man next to me, suspecting I’m the clueless American I am, manufactures a ham-fisted sentence in English: “The train, it stops here and goes no further. Accident.” He points up at a map at a little circle indicating a station five stops away from CDG.

“Do they say how long it will take?”

He shrugs his shoulders and puffs his lips. I take this to mean a time frame that exists somewhere between two hours and never. Either way, I’ll miss my flight if I wait for service to resume.

The train makes it final stop and the passengers spill out, many rolling pieces of luggage and sporting looks of general panic. The pale blonde boys from earlier saddle up next to me, as does a young bearded guy with a hiker’s backpack and glasses. By hazard of all being screwed, we adopt each other.

One of blondes speaks English. I tell him what’s going on.

“What should we do?

Fucked if I know. My cell phone doesn’t work in Europe and we are in the middle of nowhere, stuck in an unfamiliar suburb where taxis are as common as shooting stars and unicorns. I nervously chew on my lip and look around the station, as though some answer will magically come to me by way of paralyzed stagnation.

“Ummm…”

“Okay,” he says. “I guess I will go talk to someone. You guys stay here.”

The other boy, who I suspect is his boyfriend, lights a cigarette and says “Fuck!” which is apparently the only word he knows in English, or will at least admit to knowing. The bearded guy, who also does not speak English, dumbly surveys the inhospitable scene.

“The taxis pick up on the other side,” Pale Blonde Number 1 says upon return. And we silently hustle around the corner and down a street, up around to the entrance of the station, where a swarm of increasingly frantic people stand in the middle of the street and on the sidewalks, positioning themselves to steal cabs whenever one might arrive. There are about forty people here who need to get to the airport. One cab arrives every six minutes, if it’s even available. I’m not very good at math, so let me pull out my calculator…

MANY PEOPLE + ZERO CABS = HAHAHAHAHAHA

Everyone else has apparently done the same calculation, dividing supply by demand and factoring in their flight time. Getting from this train station to the airport will be a modern, first-world-problems example of the survival of the fittest. Those who do not act, perish. When a large taxi pulls to the side of the curb, the stranded descend like hungry vultures pecking at the last carcass in the field. Shouting ensues, a lot of hands being thrown into the air. It fills up with randoms and quickly disappears. The four of us stand in the street becoming increasingly helpless.

It’s 3:30 My flight boards in 45 minutes. This is almost as bad as my whole “Hey, I booked my flight a whole month off” trip to the Maldives last March.

There, stopped at a red light, is one of those white vans you imagine delivers European flowers on birthdays and funerals. His window is down. I run across the street, my carry-on bag swerving wildly behind me.

“Parlez-vous anglais?” I breathlessly shout into the window.

“A little,” he says.

The light changes green.

“The train is broken,” I start, my English hampered by fear. “Can we pay you, uhhh, 80 euros to take us to CDG? The four of us?”

I point to my three new brothers standing across the street.

“Yes, yes,” he says. “Okay.”

I wave at the boys and scream for them to get into the car. There is that awkward moment when we forget that this is not a real cab, but a good Samaratin with a car, and we stand at the back, waiting to put our luggage in the trunk. The driver stays put and the boys grab onto their bags and launch themselves into the backseat. I jam myself into the front, my luggage on the floor and my knees up to my throat, shoes crammed against the dashboard.

“I don’t speak very good English,” he says. “Airport? CDG?”

The quiet bearded dude confirms in French.

I turn towards the backseat, taking this moment to get to know the people I have just hitchhiked with. The Frenchman with the beard who doesn’t speak English manages to tell us that he is going to Rome. The two pale blondes are from Moscow. The one who speaks English has blue eyes and cute dimples. A Russian Gerber baby. They’re going back home.

“Where are you going?”

“New York.”

“I love New York.”

“I haven’t been to Moscow,” I say. “I’m dying to go.”

“Come visit!”

And we laugh because wouldn’t it be ridiculous if this whole ordeal started a bizarre international friendship, the kind that doesn’t happen anymore because of Facebook and telephones and instant connections through a tighter, known periphery because the world is a scary, massive, terrifying place of which you have unparalleled access to.

The car goes silent, save for French rap playing on the radio and air pushing through the open windows. I imagine this is what being in war is like. You’re fighting with strangers for a very similar cause, which gives you an instant camaraderie without the usual requisite history to establish it. We resume a nervous silence in the car.

It takes six very long minutes just to snake through the narrow, unfamiliar side streets and onto the freeway, at which point I let go of any possibility of something untowardly horrible happening to us. Thankfully our driver isn’t a psychopath or a horrible driver. His car smells of nice cologne. We take a corner and the contents of his trunk tumble over. Everyone laughs. And then, again, silence.

The sign for CDG comes into view. Ohthankfuckinggod.

I’m the first to be released. Terminal 2B. I hand one of the Russians my 20 euro contribution and extract myself from the car, limb by limb, wallet falling onto the sidewalk along with hat and scarf, while I say, “Merci! Merci! Merci!” to our unnamed driver. “You’re an angel!”

I wave to my new friends, who will remain forever strangers, say goodbye and wish them luck.

“Have a nice life!” says the Russian.

And I run towards my gate, where I make my flight with minutes to spare, sweating under my jacket, graying at my temples, ready for a travel experience nearly as horrible as the RER: American Airlines.

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ESL Encounters: Attack of the 70-Year-Old Italian Male Model

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I’m not quite sure how the interaction begins, being that, when alone, I often dial my face in at an uninviting hostile resting position – especially when traveling in a foreign country. This, I believe, ensures that I will not be the subject of my own Taken-esque autobiography, provided I survive to tell about how I lived through a pimp-mandated heroin addiction and enslavement in a black-market prostitution ring (though, let’s be honest, I’m probably too old to even be considered for such abductions). Needless to say, anyone willing to approach me thereby has the brave fortitude of a climber taking to Mount Everest barefoot. Or, you know, they’re just an idiot.

Eva is downstairs handling jewelry-line-business stuff while I’ve been left to my own devices, wandering around the cavernous halls of an accessories trade show. I’ve worked these types of environments before as a model and their general unpleasantness triggers a muscle memory release of anti-endorphins, sucking the life out of me while I walk down the rows of leather goods and hand-beaded belts, past sales reps carrying undercooked stacks of Parisian pizza and looking positively grim. Prince plays out of speakers somewhere. Murder me.

Exhausted from a night spent dancing to the same J. Lo song over and over again, I sit down across from a cafeteria selling the aforementioned pizzas.

“Parli Italiano?”

I look up at the face of a man in his mid-60s, wearing glasses and tufts of thick white hair.

“No, sorry.”

I have been mistaken for a few things in my day – Russian model, that girl some guy met at Art Basel last December, Julia Stiles – but never Italian. My German and Dutch heritage paints me all the blonde-haired-blue-eyed colors of a Hitler Youth rainbow. Even Northern Italian would be a stretch.

“Where are a’you from?”

“New York.”

“Ahhh! New York, A’love New York. You are here for fashion week modeling?”

“Yep.”

I lie because it’s easier than explaining that my friend has an apartment and I’m officially one of those irresponsible degenerates who can add “lady who lunches” to her impressive list of accomplishments. I’m in Paris for six days doing nearly positively nothing aside from eating, drinking, and seeing friends, which I guess qualifies itself as a vacation.

“Me too!” he starts. “I’m here for shooting. We doing Hermes tomorrow.”

Given his age, I would assume that he was a photographer, or someone that has otherwise given up vanity in favor of an occupation that requires legitimate skill and intelligence. He sits next to me before I can protest and pulls out a Blackberry from 2006. And then he starts showing me photos from all of his “campaigns.”

“I’m a model, too! See!”

The Male Model of Antiquity thumbs through photo after photo of him wearing futuristic reading glasses and posing with random young Asian women. It’s nearly the same image every time, with badly Photoshopped advertising copy placed with great aesthetic irreverence. I have no idea what the hell I’m looking at. “Oh!” I want to say. “Glamour shots by Deb? I know those!”

Oddly, at this point his English devolves into indecipherable mumbling, as though learning how to purposefully mistake young women for Italians and then share the fact that you’re an aging male model is as far as he got in his Rosetta Stone: English tutorial. From this point forward, there’s a lot of vigorous head-nodding and fake laughing on my part, while he begins to talk to me in full-blown Italian.

I think he complains about agencies.

I think he tells me he worked for Chanel.

I think he says something about making $15,000 yesterday.

I couldn’t tell you; I have no idea what this guy is talking about, or, for that matter, what he’s doing walking around a jewelry trade show if he’s so fabulous and in-demand.

One of the Prince songs that’s been playing wraps up, and I take the opportunity to shut down this interaction before it goes anywhere weird. Maybe not like prostitution-ring weird, but “Can I a’take you out to dinner weird.”

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Getting Ugly

Click through for my story about the Saint Laurent show in Paris last week, along with some music and pictures and all that yumminess.

Getting Ugly

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Quiche. Quiche. Everywhere It Smells of Quiche.

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It’s Sunday morning and the whole city steeps in butter – the smell of croissants and burnt quiche seeping from under door jams and through cracked windows. The sun’s out for the first time in days, warming the lumpy unpaved pathways in front of the Louvre, sitting on the shoulders of our black coats.

“Thank fucking God!” I yell. Paris can often be so drab, so irrepressibly gray. That, and my warm wool coat is back in Brooklyn, sitting on a wire hanger at my local drycleaners doing me no amount of good. I’ve been freezing for three whole days.

Michelle and I are late again for brunch, routinely waking up about two hours too late for a proper morning. By the time we arrive, Café de Flore is out of their breadstuff and nearly all of the breakfast options. No pan au chocolate for us today, just “baguette and…uhhhh…jam…if you want” says our server. Michelle exhales loudly and considers the laminate menu. Americans are the most spoiled citizens of the world. In New York, I can get bananas at 4 a.m. and foie gras from Blue Ribbon at 3 (you know, in theory). But here, there are constraints for every purchase, short windows of opportunity for every desire. Paris is the land of “Is Not Possible.”

They’ve seated us in between a group of four men who apparently got served the last of the croissants and the most silent lesbian couple in all of Europe, likely pioneers of the movement (judging from their heartiness of build, also likely German).

I look around the room for perhaps hints of the café’s storied history. I try to imagine Ernest Hemingway or Truman Capote sitting at these sticky wooden tables, around the red vinyl banquets, their reflections bouncing off of the mirrors placed between cheap-looking marble columns. I take a note on my iPhone: Typing on this feels like literary blasphemy.

“Hey, is that Waris?”

In the foreground of two fashionable women is the back of a white turban hovering above a nicely tailored suit. Given the week, and the context, you hardly need to even bother asking.

“Yeaaahhhhh… I think so.”

Why I know the names of designers and niche fashion celebrities but I probably can’t list all of the states in my own country is beyond me. I hate myself.

Michelle orders quiche with salmon and chives. “And for you?” the server asks. He squeezes my shoulder when I tell him “just coffee” and smiles that “I would try to have sex with you in a back alley” smile before he walks away. If Michelle were closer, he’d likely squeeze her, too — a ménage trois of gross discomfort and European sexual harassment. Unfortunately, I’m the one most convenient for groping. The rest of the meal will be spent fielding various untoward advances, my least favorite being the needless proximity of his crotch to my body whenever he places something on the table. Each time, I look behind him to see if there is anything forcing him towards me, perhaps a crushing mass of hungry tourists, only to find a vast and empty nothingness.

Pardon me, while I place this plate… right… here…

I immediately regret having unbuttoned my blouse on account of the stifling heat inside the café and Michelle’s comment about me dressing like Annie Hall, giving our server carte blache access to my non-existent cleavage, a pale expanse of taut skin pulled over sternum bones like a drum.

“You good?” he asks, squeezing my shoulder again. I’m waiting for him to pat my head or stick his tongue in my ear.

“Bathroom?” I ask. “I mean, water closet? Restroom?” Asking where to pee in Europe always leaves me fraught with lingering anxiety.

“Upstairs,” he says, squeezing me one more time and then letting me pass as I head towards a narrow set of stairs, just behind a woman with a Fendi bag and a white Labradoodle. How very Hemingway.

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Of Fish and Fishermen. Dangerous Liaisons on Base Mag.

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Base Magazine just put out a beautiful fifth issue, built around the theme of temptation. Read my piece about my horrible taste in men on page 43. You can view the magazine online for free here.

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The Lobbyist: Le Meurice, Paris

The Lobbyist is a division of JBLY that specifically handles reviews of hotel lobbies and hotel bars.  If you’ve got a good suggestion (or, preferably, a bad one) for a place I should visit, please send me an email at jennyblovesyoudaily@gmail.com.

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When:

In the middle of Paris Fashion Week, what better place to brunch it up than at Le Meurice, a five-star, luxury hotel smack in between the designer stores on Rue Saint Honore and the shows near the Tuileries? Eva and I waddled on over there for a late brunch, which, as it turns out, was a little too late, even by Paris standards. The conversation went something like this:

“Uhhhh, Mademoiselles. We ‘ave… uhhhh… no breakfast.”

“What?”

Might we suggest arriving before noon if you plan on indulging in their traditional continental breakfast (40 €) or their signature Meurice breakfast buffet (76 €), which includes champagne by the glass “selected by the Chef Sommelier” (as opposed to the bus boy) and hopefully at least 50 USD worth of smoked salmon.

Wear:

Le Meurice recommends “suitable attire” on their website, though — to likely avoid being labeled a pretentious European opulence den — they do not specify suitable to what. To a punk show? To an ‘80s-themed prom? To the Russian baths? Judging from the marble floors and chandeliers, we’re going to err on the side of caution and assume that “suitable attire” means your Sunday Best — which means a mink sable coat, your Louboutins, a designer handbag (not vintage), La Perla underwear, and a pair of Prada sunnies.

Seen:

Le Meurice feels to me like a mini Versailles, complete with gilded mirrors, heavy silk window treatments, and a somewhat misguided ceiling fresco of elongated babies and curtains that look like bacon. It’s the perfect place for the fashion crowd to cram in their power breakfasts (even if they’re not serving breakfast when you get there, and who eats these days anyway?). Giovanna Battaglia was there, wearing white fur (if you’re still struggling with the “suitable attire” recommendation, just look to this woman for inspiration) and quietly chatting over coffees with two others at a table the host refused to give Eva and I earlier (anti-American hate crime).

Heard:

Lots of French and ESL. The occasional wail of a baby crying for its silver spoon.

Eat, Drink, Drink, Be Merry or Whatever:

A club sandwich: What you order when you really wanted scrambled eggs and a bucket of fresh-squeezed orange juice – though those expertly crafted layers of chicken, bacon, tomatoes, and buttered bread seem an inferior replacement, really. Eva would have been inconsolable were it not for the three pan au chocolates they scrounged up for her. Against all better judgment, I had a bite. It was delicious.

The Lobbyist Rating: 3 out of 5 Kate Mosses

I have to be honest. If it weren’t for the soymilk, I would have given this place a two. The hosts hated us, the tourists wore sensible shoes, and the two lamps flanking our table were especially garish considering it was noon. Le Meurice puts the le meh in “chic.” That being said, I’ll still go back.

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Paris Fashion Week: Night 1

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Dinner’s at Carine. The usual. John and Lucas are already waiting out front, a cigarette moving between John’s hand and mouth. Also the usual. Francesco comes in from the other direction, wearing a massive puffy coat and a smile that never leaves him. I haven’t seen him since June in New York. It was about sixty degrees warmer.

Ciao, ciao, ciao…

They give us a table at the back of a very small, very empty room. Eating at Carine is like eating in your grandmother’s armoir. You can touch both sides of the wall lying on the floor with your arms outstretched. The bathroom is down an impossibly narrow set of stairs, the ceiling poised to knock your head off if you’re not too careful and the door-jam into the water closet smaller still. The entire process is like a gradual compression of space, until you are finally inside, behind a door more suited for Alice in Wonderland after a bottle of Drink This!

Lucas calls it “The John Malcovich” bathroom.

The restaurant is often so packed we’re left to wait on the sidewalk drinking complimentary champagne and eating a plate of apologetic proscuitto. Last summer, they dragged a table out in between two parked cars and we ate there. Sometimes Paris has a lawless, “Go fuck yourself” quality to it that can be enormously charming, like the older sibling who’s learned how to manipulate the elders and get away with everything. This kind of stuff would never happen in America. No, America’s the serious middle child who has to stand straight and fly right, exclaiming, “We left for a reason!” while making up strict rules for speeding and drinking in public.

The boys order heaps of pasta – either the sea urchin or with butter and a mountain of truffle shavings. Everyone gets starters. We share a bottle of wine. During fashion week, everyone eats like kings.

“Cher is here,” Francesco whispers to me.

“Who?”

“CHER.”

I look across the room towards the entrance. Sure enough, Cher sits there, a two-foot tall fur hat propped up on her head, taking up all the available space between her on either side. Candlelight bounces off of buttery, acid-peeled skin, and casts odd shadows in the hollows of her eyes. Your brain juggles what should be with what is. It knows Cher is 100 years old, and that Cher should look 100 years old, but here she is before you, looking neither young nor old, with pulled back baby skin and holes for eyes.

“She looks good, no?” Francesco says.

True, from far away, the woman has better skin than I do, but upon further research, it turns out Cher is not 100 years old, but 66, which puts her a year below Helen Mirren, who is still one foxy, natural (?) babe. In trying to look 28, Cher’s managed to add on another 10 or 15 very confused years. That being said, Cher is still Cher. My love for her is devotional, if for no other reason than the movie Mermaids.

“I feel gypped she didn’t come in wearing fishnets.”

One of the highlights of my trip will be listening to Cher, in that gorgeous iconic voice of hers, relay her dinner order to the server.

Someone pays for dinner and we leave for another café, sitting outside under shitty heat lamps while the boys drink out of fancy glasses. Francesco’s about to go home and sleep when he gets a text message from a friend heading to a party in Pigalle.

John hates Pigalle. Pigalle is the sort of trashy, red-light district that one might find in gritty independent films filled with neon lights and drug addicts. Francesco says everyone is at some place called Foiles Pigalle for such-and-such an after-party. “Let’s go, no?” he asks, and then runs inside and pays the bill just to hurry things along.

From the outside, Foiles Pigalle looks like a set piece from a Gaspar Noe movie, the words “PARIS BY NIGHT” and “DISCOTHEQUE” glowing in red, some of the neon lettering blown out and playing understudy to the rest. I think there’s a sexy cat woman riding a piece of the signage; I can’t tell.

The security guards know Francesco because everyone knows Francesco. We walk through the ropes and into a black hallway that reminds me of every downtrodden, abused concert venue on the Sunset Strip. Once inside, the walls alternate between red and pink, sometimes purple. There’s a disco ball hanging over the dance floor and a DJ on an elevated stage at the back. I’m told that it was a massively popular gay club back in the ‘90s.

John and Lucas stand at the back, staying near the exit for any swift emergency departure. Francesco flits around, introducing everyone to everyone. Here’s this model, here’s this person, and that one, and this, and that. She’s the best. He’s amazing. I love, love, love her. He’s like a Rolodex with the heart of gold.

The Berlin babe DJ is playing a rotation of heavy, banging house music. John’s upstairs smoking in a cigarette cave with a friend. Lucas has peeled himself away from the bar and reluctantly dances, shifting his feet from left to right and back again. The old wooden floor groans under the negligible weight of models and other fashion people, the average BMI coming in at about that of a prepubescent 12 year old.

And when the guy wearing the kilt saddles up to the guy wearing monk’s garb, I know it’s time to leave.

(Photo courtesy of Living Travel)

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Paris Fashion Week: Day 1.1

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The old woman next to me begins to clear her throat immediately after sitting down, the phlegm dragging against her esophagus until it makes it way into her mouth and screams for release, finding an exit between her parted lips. After a ceaseless twenty minutes of this, it becomes obvious that this is a condition that plagues her chronically, and it will be a condition I will be plagued by for the next seven hours to Paris.

“Give her a cough drop?” a friend advises via text.

“Is it alright to kill grandmothers?” I respond.

Four months of Bikram yoga have done wonders for my in-flight anxiety (though, apparently, not my tolerance). The plane hurtles forward until we are airborne. I breathe deeply and hear my half-naked teacher with the shaved head and the impressive ab muscles screaming “Puuusssssshhhhhhh the floor away! PUSH!!!!!!!” – only I imagine it’s the plane pushing from the earth, which gives the whole venture a deceivingly safe quality to it, one I would not ordinarily fall for. For the rest of the flight, we travel over the Atlantic on a pair of sturdy, invisible arms, which provides me with more confidence than any scientific tutorial on aeronautics.

An hour in, the flight attendants are making their rounds with the usual “Pick Your Poison” routine.

“Beef stroganoff or cheese ravioli,” a man with a tidily tucked shirt and a gold wristwatch asks me.

Neither?

“Beef.”

The girl next to me practically giggles with delight at the sight of her vegetarian platter, a steamy, potent combination of rice and curry. I look down grimly at the tray in front of me: shrink-wrapped white roll, a triangle of nuclear cheddar, something you might call a salad, and gray mess of overcooked beef and dry mashed potatoes sweating under a plastic cover. I find one carrot and two pieces of broccoli and forgo the rest. Better safe than sorry.

I drape my men’s coat over my head and do my best to fall asleep, which I think is successful in that I wake up hours later to the familiar sound of the food and beverage cart hulking down the galley. “Breakfast?” he asks. These questions always seem misleading, as though from them you could distill what is actually coming. “Sure,” I say, and then I remember that American Airlines has removed 90% of the components of their continental breakfast option, leaving only a sad croissant clinging to a paper doily and a round plastic container of orange drink.

Just beyond the bulkhead, I see a woman with shaky hands paw around for butter and jam to adorn her infinitely superior croissant, which stands, tall and flakey, upon a proper dish. I seriously want to know the cost difference between a shitty croissant and a real one, and if it’s done less as a measure for cost effectiveness and more to just further accentuate class hierarchy in life.

“Actually, it’s okay,” I say, handing my tray back to him, like a prisoner who would rather starve than suffer the indignities of his jailing.

Our tires hit the ground at 7 a.m. As usual, it’s darker outside than you’d imagine it to be. Here, the sun feels like it doesn’t come out until noon. I follow Business Class out the doors and trail the same silent parade of plastic wheels over red carpet as we walk through the white metal and glass corridors towards a “Sortie” sign.

French customs is the usual, disturbingly casual affair. I am asked no questions. My passport is stamped without hesitation.

Bonjour, Paris.

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