Posts Tagged ‘france’

Where to Live in Paris, France

Friday, October 31st, 2014


In the Paris apartment, up the long winding staircase on the 5th floor — the 4th floor in Paris, as it were — I shower, or maybe I just bathe, in the cramped tub, taking turns between water and lather because you can’t do both at the same time. Otherwise you’ll drop the shower nozzle — the telephone shower, as we call it — and get water everywhere. I have had more comfortable bathing situations, no exaggeration, in parts of the developing world.

But this is Paris, and all I can remember as this is happening, is the warning at the beginning of Rick Steves Paris 2006 where he says something to the effect of: If you’re ready to travel, you have to accept that showers are not always hot, cups of coffee are not always the size of your big American face, and that beds are not always comfortable.

Well, let me go further. The showers in Paris are not always showers. Sometimes they’re just a faucet and a basin and a hot water tank that’s smaller than a mini-keg of Stella.

I rinse off my jetlag and wash my hair upside-down and the water pools around my ankles, blue-black with the dye from my new jeans. I leave my bracelet on because if I take it off, they may not re-admit me to the festival and that would be hundreds of dollars down the drain. And I would miss St. Vincent.

But for all the bathroom’s hazards, its soup bowl of a sink and slippery tiles, the apartment itself looks like the set of Last Tango in Paris. Plaster ceiling moldings and hardwood floors and fireplaces in two rooms. A brass doorbell. A wrought-iron window grate. Books on a shelf — Paul Auster, the same novel I brought to read on the plane. Collages with flowers. A kitchen smaller than the bathroom, and no trash can, and a view over the street below and the long row of buildings just like it, a march of wrought-iron and blue roof tiles and cream-colored stucco.

The heat is just little electric space heaters that cost a fortune to run and don’t heat the space very well anyway. And there’s no insulation. No soundproofing so the neighbor’s argument is your argument. The crying baby upstairs is your baby, your headache, your sleepless night.

My apartment in Paris, when I lived here, was just like this. Drafty, up a long flight of beautiful stairs, a nest above the city where I turned up the expensive heat as high as it would go and huddled under blankets in January and read news from home using the excellent free wifi. Where I got really good at taking 7-minute showers. It was all love and discomfort. I kept a bowl of clementines on the table and ate mache salads every night with balsamic and kiwi and whatever weird thing I found at the market — maybe the clementines. I don’t think I’ve even seen mache in New York. If I found it, I would buy it.

And the rental apartment of this vacation, this non-living situation, which looked so perfect in the photos, actually is perfect. What I had not realized, before I walked in the door. Before I twisted the complicated double-pronged key in the sticky lock — all Paris apartments of a certain age have a double-pronged key and a sticky lock — is that it would not be such a surprise or such an adventure. It would be perfectly typical — a thing that has not changed. That is what it is — sheltering and imperfect and sure of what it is.

In Paris on a cold autumn day…

Monday, October 13th, 2014

La Grisette

A photo I took. And still kind of like. This is a sculpture called La Grisette and it’s in the 11eme, near the Canal Saint-Martin. It’s meant to depict the working-class French girls of the 19th century who were so named for the gray color of their dresses. They worked as seamstresses, and later, in factories, and there was always a whiff of sexual mystery about them. (Maybe they were prostitutes? Maybe they weren’t? There was work, and work, after all, but in an era when employment opportunities for women were strictly limited, and the idea of women working was somewhat scandalous in and of itself, the lines were blurry.) Mimi and Musetta in La Boheme were both grisettes, as was Fantine in Les Miserables.

I took this on a very gray day in November a few years ago. A day that seemed very appropriate indeed for this very gray girl.

Wallace Fountains: Paris, Marseille, New Orleans

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

The Wallace Fountains are everywhere in Paris. Designed to bring water to every citizen of the city, from the richest to the poorest, they’re so much a part of the Parisian landscape that after a few days town, you stop really seeing them. They sort of blend with the boulevards and the green parks, the onion-domed advertising columns that are painted the same color. Take them away, though, and Paris is not Paris. They exist in a number of French cities besides Paris, and in handful around the globe, from Amman to Macau. Here are three that I’ve seen in Paris, Marseille (where the caryatid has been splashed with neon paint), and New Orleans. The latter isn’t painted that same gleaming, bulletproof green that you see in Paris, but has more of a coppery finish.




Paris: The Thing That Everyone’s Seen

Sunday, November 27th, 2011

And the Sculptures at Trocadero

On the last night in Paris, I visit the Eiffel Tower, because no one can be cynical about the Eiffel Tower, even in February. I went up once, but not to the top. It was closed because of the wind. But I have never really needed to go up, to get the true bird’s eye. Once you have done it from the Tour Montparnasse or the Sacre Coeur, you don’t need to do it again, to see miniscule Paris. Or maybe I’m just leaving things, setting aside Paris experiences to have later. I never want to run out.

I always do the same thing, on that last night. I get off the Metro at Trocadero and I buy macarons at Carette, and I go see the Eiffel Tower, like paying a visit to an aging Aunt. There is no point in going during the daytime, when it is beautiful but not magical, when the tourists nearly injure themselves, tumbling over the steep wall, to get their thumbs-up photo. They do that at night too, but you can’t see them as well, which helps.

This time, I do what I always do. I snap photos in the cold. I wait the requisite 15 minutes for it to begin its pre-programmed shimmer—the thing that never fails to conjure a surprised gasp from the assembled crowd, like they had no idea it was going to happen. But then, maybe they truly had no idea. The people who gather at Trocadero to stare at the tower are the typical hodgepodge—businessmen in town for a night, weekenders from Italy and Belgium, elderly Japanese women on a tour. Maybe they missed that line in the guidebook. Or maybe they read it and the reality of it is still stunning—that sudden shimmer of sparks on the tower’s surface, the closest it will come to straightening up its bowlegs and doing a little dance, and all for no reason. For amusement. For the sake of being lovely. An iconic monument puts on a show. You can understand why people applaud.

The last time I was in Paris, I observed my little tradition. I got off at Metro Trocadero and crossed the nutty streets that loop around the square where people drive like they’re trying to kill themselves, or you. And I walked between the long wings of the Palais de Chaillot, the collection of museums and government buildings that crown the hill above the Eiffel Tower in grand fashion, all of it done in sleek art deco gold. In the open space between the two sides of the building, this is where people come to view the Eiffel Tower, and where men come to sell their wares. They are the famous, ubiquitous trinkets of Paris—Eiffel Towers on keychains. Eiffel Towers in metal with felt under their feet so you can sit them on a desk or in a cabinet. Light-up plastic Eiffel Towers for children. Eiffel Towers that play “La Vie En Rose” when you touch a button.

The men are mostly from north and west Africa, and they keep the keychains—a hot seller, no doubt—threaded on a big silver ring, which they then loop over an arm. They advertise by shaking the ring so that the whole thing jingles like a Christmas bell. This noise fills the square, and the sellers call out to you as you pass in heavily-accented English. Every once in a while, an ambitious trinket seller will add a new item to his inventory. One I’ve seen a few times is a little light-up helicopter that flies when you wind it up. At Trocadero at night, you are likely to see them before you even arrive from the square, little blinking rainbows dipping down and up in the dark.

This time, I decide to buy something. I approach one of the men. He has not been hassling me or calling out at the top of his lungs like his colleagues, which is probably why I choose him. For an instant, as I approach, his eyes dart around him, terrified. Clearly I am not a cop, but it makes me wonder how many times each week, each month, these men get busted by the French police, how quickly they need to throw their wares into a bundle and run. This man looks like he’s about to.

“How much for the little one?” I ask.

“One Euro,” he says, so quietly I can barely hear him.

I pull out my wallet and fish for a coin, and he unhooks the loop on his arm. He hands me five little Eiffel Towers—two gold and three silver, each molded in chintzy pot metal that will undoubtedly start to turn colors before I get them back on the plane.

“No no,” I say. “Just one.”

“Yes,” he says. “The price is five for one Euro.”

I am taken aback, but it makes sense. Every vendor has the same stuff. There can be no real undercutting or competition. Everything is priced to sell, and at rock bottom. I wonder at a life built on twenty-five cents a trinket, of how many tiny Eiffel Towers it takes to buy dinner, to pay for a room.

While I wait for the real Eiffel Tower to switch on, to shimmer and do her dance, I touch the replicas in my pocket, feel the hard-but-delicate edges of them. Inside and under the fabric, they make a noise like bells, but muffled, as though I have caught the air of the square, and the vendors, and the sparkling tower itself, and put it away, made it ready to transport home.

Taking a Picture of Paris in the Jardin des Plantes

Saturday, January 30th, 2010


I took this photo on a frigid May day in Paris in the Jardain des Plantes, just before I had dinner at the Mosque cafe with friends. Paris explodes with flowers and green in the spring, blooms into a whole new kind of place. It was raining.

My hands shook taking these photos, so desperate to capture the colors and shapes of that rose garden. Because roses are so precise, so strong and structured, and they disappear so quickly. They demand that you photograph them well, and the best I can say is that I tried.

My sister arrived that night, and she was sending me text message after text message from Charles de Gaulle while I stood in that garden, while my phone’s battery power dwindled, while I was running a few minutes late to meet my friends at the cafe, all because of these roses, because I couldn’t leave them behind. Because I needed something to help me remember. Balancing an umbrella on one shoulder, my phone buzzing in my pocket, the camera shaking in my hands, water droplets hitting the lens.

It was a moment of four thousand things. And I was so cold.

Just outside the garden on the Quai Saint-Bernard, the sidewalks were slick and wet with rain, but they shone bright like mirrors, too, bouncing the reflection of trees and fences—green and black like a shivering watercolor—back up at the sky. I don’t think such a thing could happen anywhere but in Paris in May, on the Quai Saint-Bernard in the rain with a camera full of photos of roses. Those bright reds and oranges and pinks on a muted gray palate, they overrode everything else—the cold and the rain and the phone—for just those few minutes.

Go there: The Jardin des Plantes is located in the 5eme and is part of Paris’s natural history museum, the equally awesome Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle. Take the metro to either Jussieu or Gare d’Austerlitz. The roses bloom in May. Entrance is free.

Recuperating (Not) on the French Riviera

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Toward the Corniches

I don’t have many photos of Nice because I was sick for most of the time I was there. I’ve been trying to think about and remember this day in particular, though, how I wanted so badly to visit the little town on that outcropping, but just couldn’t. I was too weak, too unsteady on my own feet. So I contented myself with this one photo, a little piece of it that I could remember and take home.

I’ve been thinking about Nice because I’ve been sick lately, because I am starting to get that horrible antsy feeling that the world is sliding by while I’m stuck in bed, taking my temperature, washing down pills and sucking dutifully on my inhaler. But I’m soothing myself with this thought: The antsy feeling? That’s the one that creeps in right when you’re on the brink, when your body can understand—finally—what it means to be better, when you can see the world getting a little brighter. That’s how I started to feel in Nice, on that day, feeling so gross in such a beautiful place. That longing to be myself again.

Paris: Five Minutes in Montparnasse

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

Through the Verticals of Trees

In Paris, I went to class each day in Montparnasse at the building set aside by the Sorbonne for its extension school. I say set aside because that’s truly how it felt as a student there—as though none of us should ever confuse what we were doing, our charming little French lesson, with attending the real Sorbonne in the Latin Quarter, the domain of true French academia. Every morning, I took the 13 to Montparnasse-Bienvenue and walked all the way through that tangling rail station up the steps to the tiniest, strangest exit that belches you up right at the foot of the Tour Montparnasse.

It was a strange neighborhood—untouristed as anything in Paris can be, glamorous on the surface for its grand cafes and hulking Haussmann buildings and strangely workaday, too. Those cafes—the enormous and storied La Rotonde on the Boulevard Montparnasse, for example—were often flanked by dives and chain stores like the Body Shop. And all of it pitted at the foot of the famously ugly Tour, which is stuck through the center of the neighborhood like an enormous tombstone. “Discovering” Montparnasse meant sitting in those cafes, yes, and paying a weekly visit to the rambling mixed-bag of a market on the Rue Edgar Quinet. (You were as likely to find pairs of knockoff Converse sneakers as fresh produce.) I did all that—and went to the top of the Tour, too, sat in its sunny observation-deck cafe—and then, one day, decided to venture East, toward Denfert-Rochereau. I would call it a neighborhood, but it’s really just a cluster of buildings (and one very pretty street market; it’s worth mentioning) built around the famous traffic roundabout, Bertholdi’s regal and rather cuddly looking lion standing guard.

I took this walk on one of those churning winter days where the gray-black clouds floated, I swear, almost vertical to the ground. If it was America, I would call it Wizard of Oz weather—volatile and weird, as though something more than raindrops were about to descend. And then something did. I was just past the lion and walking Northeastish (Paris is a circle, remember.), in that place where the Haussmann buildings dissolve into sand-colored tenement blocks, measly little half-skyscrapers. And in an instant, the sky opened, and it wasn’t rain. Ice pellets—too big for sleet, too small for hail—dumped down in walloping white sheets. I feared for the fortitude of my umbrella. At one point, the noise of this stuff—slail?—pelting against the top of it gave me real pause. Half-terrified, I put my hand out. A million tiny spheres settled on my palm, glittering, and then melted to nothing. It ended as quickly as it started, the pellets disappearing as soon as they landed, after a hearty bounce, on the pavement.

For everyone who searches so hard for Real Paris, I wonder how much of it they would actually want to see—a clump of buildings, seventies architecture, a place where people go to school, a place where people go to work. But that is the magic of Paris. The sparkle, sometimes, falls straight from the sky.

Go there:

Montparnasse is located on the Left Bank in south-central Paris. It’s easy to find.

At Sea Level

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009


On a hazy June morning in the part of France that cannot make up its mind about whether it is a Provence blossom or a Riviera jewel, I took a picture of a stone building perched on yet more stone—a corniche, they call them—on the very edge of the shore. I had just begun to move in a great clockwise arc around the Mediterranean Sea, a thing I had wanted to do for as long as I could think the words. To see This Place Where My Father Comes From. J was sick in bed with a stomach bug and couldn’t bear the beach, the sun, or solid food, so I took a bus out to a place where there was no sand, just little stone outcroppings that dropped into the sea.

Two days earlier, a man had circled the spot on a map for us with a ballpoint pen.

“If you want a beach like California, you go here. ” He touched a white strip of sand as wide as his index finger. “Now,” he said, “If you want Marseille, you go here.” And then he touched that little triangle of rock.

I knew exactly where I wanted to go because I had seen it from the window of the bus the day before. A little fishing village wedged into the side of the big screaming city, protected in its cove.

And I sat in my favorite dress, which I didn’t remove because I felt too pale and shy even though I was wearing a bathing suit, and I watched the panorama of mountains, sea, rock, old men, women rocking cooing babies, scattered beach towels, the handsome waiter from the hotel up the street in his bowtie. And I thought about J leaving me to go back to Paris and I thought, Oh God. What the hell am I doing. And I knew that whatever I was doing, I was exactly right to do it.

The little stone building I photographed, Le Maregraphe, is France’s point 0, the exact spot where an entire nation decides what is this thing we call sea level, the dot from which all altitudes rise, in that little bird’s next on the edge of the world. A while after I posted it, someone contacted me and asked if they could use it for an article in a student-run magazine about Marseille. It’s on page 15 of the most recent issue, if you’d like to peek. And that’s why I wanted to write this.

And maybe to dream, for one minute longer, about Marseille.

From the Beginning

Saturday, January 24th, 2009


Summer comes for the first time on a seaweed-strewn beach on the Cap Corse, the finger of Corsica that points, unwavering and unmistakable, toward France. (And Corsica, her storefronts striped with graffiti, her guttural dialect, knows exactly which finger it is.)

That morning, my friend takes a flight back to Paris and school and I take a bus up the coast to a tiny town with a beach, a half-moon of white sand cradling neon blue ocean. This would become, it turns out, my seasonal theme. But by June, summer has only half-arrived in the northern stretch of the Mediterranean. Drippy, late-afternoon rain still falls every other day. I wear a jacket and retreat to my room to watch dubbed TV.

The very last day, though, the clouds blow away and the heat settles, leaving the sky a suffocated powder blue. For the first time, I pull my bathing suit from the bottom of my suitcase. The bus ticket costs 2 Euro and the driver accelerates around the corners as though he’s playing a video game. Stomach still touchy from the flu, I close my eyes as we fly around the rim of the Cap—the coolest roller coaster ever. The one that falls over water.

My destination is a pebbly parking lot hemmed in by mountains on one side, green vineyards clinging to their slopes. In the center of the lot, looking weathered and out-of-place, stands a painted cement altar dedicated to Saint Anthony and the chapel that stood on the spot before it was bombed in World War II. The beach itself is serviced by only a ramshackle bar and café at one end, its awnings flapping the breeze. The sand is mostly empty, save a few scampering children and their weary moms, and picky gobs of seaweed that look like dish-scouring pads.

I hardly remember how to be on a beach, what to do on one. It’s been that long. I am early-season pale and soft from all those macarons in Paris and reluctant to stand around in a bathing suit, to make tanning-related pretenses while the women around me are mostly topless and brown already. (In Paris in the cold, where such things are easier to say and do, I boast of being topless all summer. In the actual Mediterranean in actual summer, I realize that certain parts of my body have never known direct sunlight and that the acclimation process could prove painful.)

I spread out a towel. I have no idea what to do. My bathing suit is a riff on a 1930s showgirl costume. There is no better way, in the Mediterranean in early summer amidst sleek black suits and skin without tan lines, to look like an American. It might have been more effective, maybe, to paint a target on my back in sunblock and let the rays do the rest.

He appears before my eyes in a clinging blue bathing suit that is vintage chic and worthy of the window display at Le Bon Marche, and so does the second theme of my summer. That I will be approached —in several different nations, situational contexts, and languages—by handsome men who bear, along with a certain sort of swagger that I will only call international, a single question.

“Are you traveling alone?”

The answer to this question changes depending on my mood, the exact contours of that situational context, and whether they guy seems, at the outset, like a would-be or even a seasoned murderer.

In this case, the suit whispers a tantalizing, “Maybe.” So does the ravishingly beautiful boy, no older than 19 or 20, who shares his beach blanket. As the man leans over to ask if I’d like a coffee, my eyes wander to the boy, whose dense curls—a lazy midday yawn—distract me and make me wonder if I am in a sort of real-world version of a Bond movie. Only I’m wearing a bathing suit with too much fabric.

I say no thanks to the coffee and he smiles.

“Do you want to swim?”

“Yes,” I say, “But I want to warm up first. I’m going to wait a little while.”

“Come on,” he says, waving me toward the water. I blame the language gap.

I follow because I am grateful for the company or maybe because I like swimming in Corsica with handsome men, two things that can get a girl killed in all sorts of situations. When I ask where he’s from, he smiles, reveals a row of gleaming teeth and says, “France.” Assuming that “No shit” won’t translate particularly well, I ask which city.

“Paris,” he says, before diving under the surface.

“No shit,” I say to the splash.

The cove at Pietracorbara is surrounded by high green cliffs that obscure the view to other parts of the coast. The sky is cloudless, the color shifting from pale to sapphire as your eyes move higher. The beach itself is rounded and white, a thumbnail edged by reedy grass. I take stock, float over the waves, prepare myself for weeks more of just this.

The man emerges from the waves and says, “Do you know what they are, les meduses?”

“Yes,” I say. “Jellyfish.”

He laughs at the word and we converse for a solid five minutes about my French-language education, my time in Paris, his “good friend” back on the sand, how much he loves Corsica, before he says, “Ah, there is a meduse right in front of you. So many in the water today.”

I arrive safely back on my blanket approximately four seconds later. My friend stops by later to check in, water still dripping from his hair. He asks again if I want coffee, and I thank him but refuse again, unable to grasp the idea of drinking coffee in a bathing suit. Later , he brings some back to the boy.

I flip. I read, but only a little. I braid the ends of grass. I watch a mother wrangle a kicking, squirming little boy into her line of vision. I wonder how I will manage my summer alone, how I will make my way down endless stretches of sand, vacation everywhere, the domain of the exhausted, all while knowing no one. I touch the clumps of seaweed to see if they really feel like scouring pads. They don’t. They’re softer in the center.

Fast Food in Corsica

Thursday, August 21st, 2008


The sun sets over the mountains in a straggling seaside suburb outside of Bastia, and I get off at the wrong stop. Actually, it is the only stop.

I sit watching the view, waiting to see the familiar contours of the streets around my hotel, but they never come. This bus is in a whole different place. The right direction, but the wrong everything else.

Terminus,” says the bus driver, eyeing the open door and then me. I am the only person on the bus and I sense that he’s talking about his shift more than anything. Busses are busses everywhere. The words “Last stop, kid” comprise an almost-universal language unto themselves.

This is where I was told to go. But this is not where I’m supposed to go.

C’est l’hopital?

Oui,” says the driver, bothered that he has to weigh in further on our location. He doesn’t elaborate, but points a thick finger toward a mammoth complex of flesh-colored buildings directly to our left. If this horror of modernity is not a hospital, I could not venture to guess its actual use besides perhaps a jail.

I force a smile and step into the street. For the first time in four months, I legitimately have no idea where I am. I have no map. My cell phone battery is dead. The sun falls fast over the sea, painting the coastline, its intermittent smattering of high-rise hotels, orange and pink. I do not have much time.

I walk toward the sea.

I am on a hill high above the coast and some inner compass, a basic awareness of how things look and act in certain places, tells me that I’m not that far off. But I’m not that close either. I’ve also been at the beach all day and I’m wearing clothes that aren’t particularly suitable for a solo nighttime stroll through a strange suburban neighborhood. I am also carrying a pizza.

Back in town, before I catch the bus, I decide that my hotel’s exorbitantly-priced menu of stringy steak and roast chicken isn’t to my taste or my budget, so I think ahead. I get a pizza at one of the cheap little sidewalk joints on the square. I had looked forward to a luxurious night in my room with English-language TV, a white cotton bathrobe, hotel-brand shampoo. All the cheap accommodation in town was full and I planned to take advantage of my sprawling, handsomely wallpapered situation. I did not plan on getting lost, however, and as I walk, the pizza — and my aspiration for a moment of high-class comfort — turns profoundly cold.

A man comes up behind me and I slow down to let him pass, my city girl instincts kicking in. Eyeing his back, though, his very non-threatening pair of Tevas, I make a decision. There’s no one else around.

Excusez-moi, monsier. Ou est l’hotel…

He smiles and stops me. “I’m a tourist,” he says, in French that I can at least understand. “I’m sorry. I don’t know this area.”

My face, I’m sure, arranges itself in some totally unfortunate way.

“I’m going this way, though,” he says. “I’ll walk with you.”

He’s older and handsome in that very French way — narrow-featured, bright-eyed, gray at the temples but distinctly youthful. He asks where I’m from and his reaction is everyone’s reaction.

Bof… New York c’est magnifique!

We talk, but my French is hinky and limited, even though he assures me several times that it’s not. I ask him what he’s doing out here.

“My wife is in the hospital,” he says. “She broke her ankle while we were water skiing. We were supposed to go all the way down the coast in a car, but we’re stuck here for a few days now. Besides, she won’t be able to move very much once she’s out, so I think our vacation is over.”

I share my sad story too and it’s a short one. Je suis un peu perdu.

We come to a fork in the road and parked on one side is a kebab-and-fries stand that looks like it hasn’t served a customer in a decade.

“I’m going to ask this man,” I say.

“Alright. I’m going this way, and I think that’s the wrong direction for you. So we’ll say goodbye, then. And good luck.”

I wish him the same, and to his wife, too. His politeness is reassuring. There is no real tragedy for either of us. No doubt in him that I will find my way home. He treats me as though I don’t need rescuing, and suddenly, I don’t.

The guy in the fry stand is missing teeth. He seems confused when I approach him; he stares at my pizza. I ask for directions to my hotel.


My heart beats faster. What if I misunderstand him or I confuse something? But I have no choice. Directions in French from the fry guy are the best I can do. All the while it’s getting darker. The houses along the coast have turned a hazy, liquid purple. But then he starts to describe landmarks that are distinctly familiar. They are mundane things. A roundabout with flowers. A place where three streets meet. But this is right. I know it’s right. I will get back.

I repeat everything back to him twice, just to be sure.

“It’s far?”

“No,” he smiles, revealing the series of dark holes between his teeth. “Not far.”

After the fry stand, the houses change. They become a little more rundown, a little smaller. A crowd of big, pimpled teenage boys lumbers past and I can feel their eyes on my back. I walk a little faster.

When I come upon a pizza stand, I decide to ask again. Just to be sure. There are five or six guys inside at a table, all of them a little bedraggled and tough-looking, but something about them, their easy laughter, makes me unafraid. Another man sweeps the grimy linoleum floor, and I inquire with him first. The words are barely out of my mouth, though, when the entire place decides to come to my aid. They form a circle around me, asking questions, fussing over who’s going to offer their advice first. That I already have a pizza is apparently hilarious.

“Where are you from? English, right? Of course you’re English.”


Alors! Americaine!” they all shout, as though I am some strange breed that only emerges from the forest on rare occasions.

One guy looks at me and then around the room, baffled. He puts up his hands. “But why would you come here?” he asks, as though I have come to Corsica just to visit this very pizza place.

Before I can answer, another guy is nudging me on the shoulder. He has a shaved head and clutches a cigarette between his third and fourth fingers.

“Alright, listen. I’ll take you right now.”


“On the scooter.”

He is, apparently, the delivery guy. And there’s time in his schedule, it turns out, for an additional drop off.

Euuuuuh… Non, merci,” I say. “I’ll try to find my way back. It’s not a problem.”

They all seem disappointed. They reassure me, though, that the fry guy’s directions are right. That I’m going the right way.

“And if you get lost, just come back here,” says the delivery guy. “We can even give you another pizza, if you want.” They all laugh.

I set off, wondering if I will need to take them up on it.

Just up the road, I see the roundabout with the flowers and I feel my muscles relax, inadvertent, the reflex of fear. The street lamps start to flicker on. Then my hotel appears over the hill, like magic. Like I wished it there. The oil from the pizza has soaked through the bottom of the box.

Inside, the click of the electronic key in the door is like love. I collapse on the bed, stare at the neat swirls of plaster on the ceiling. I am petrified to look inside the box. It’s been hours.

I have a ferry ticket to Sardinia in the morning. I am leaving France, setting out. Moving onto the next phase.

I turn on the TV and Gimme Shelter is on, blessedly subtitled and not dubbed. I watch, curled up in the white cotton bathrobe, picking at the pizza. The cheese — which is emmental and not mozzarella, of course — has coagulated into a solid lump. They didn’t really bother with sauce. I wonder, out loud and to no one, if the box would taste any better.

Onward, then. To Italy. To anywhere you can find on a map. To anywhere that is not far.