Living In France — Ooh La La Or OMG?

Map of official départements and régions of Fr...
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It’s been a long-cherished dream of mine to move to France and live there again, now and/or in retirement, should that lovely day arrive. On one of our very first dates, being my usual reticent self, I told the sweetie — then not the sweetie but a new beau — that this was my plan and, should things work out, I hoped he’d come along. He, being as focused as I, told me he intends to visit Tibet.

Last night we took a baby step — un petit pas – as it were, towards this and sat for an hour at Alliance Francaise with about 200 others listening to two lawyers and two realtors tell us what it’s like to buy and own property in Paris or the provinces. The Manhattan realtor, bien sur, owns both.

Sobering little session that was!

I’m still trying to decide which part I found most French, the Napoleonic dictate that every child associated with a home’s owner (wedlock, schmedlock) can stake a legal claim on it after your demise or the fact that these said kids could force the surviving spouse from the marital residence. Thank God we don’t have kids!

As the lawyers droned on, usefully, I kept thinking of Balzac and Flaubert every time he mentioned the notaire, the government functionary necessary — in addition to the lawyers and the realtor and the person, who in Paris knows each arondissement (official neighborhood, 18 of them) well enough to find you something within them.

I first visited France the summer I was 17, with an impossibly glamorous month in a villa on the Cote d’Azur rented by my uncle, a well-known British entertainment figure. It’s all pretty much downhill from there! Kidding. I spent the happiest year of my life on a journalism fellowship, with 28 others from 19 countries, from Togo to Japan to New Zealand to Brazil, based in Paris. Years later, I could turn on RFI (Radio France International) and hear my friend Olivier da Lage.

We learned, then, that if you are having a bad day or a headache or cramps do not go to the post office or the bank, where blank-eyed officials will ignore you at their leisure or make you fill out many pieces of paper. The notion of “customer service” is an American idyll. The park? Don’t sit on the grass or someone wearing a whistle will toot at you to get off it. The stores have signs in the window entree libre — you are free to enter.

And what else would you do?

On a small monthly stipend, I lived in a teeny single dorm room in Cite Universitaire. Their website is pretty sexy, but sex? Hah! I was then in my mid-20s and had been living with my boyfriend in Toronto for years, but men in your rooms was interdit.

I was summoned one morning by a furious woman official demanding to know about the clandestins (snuck in) men I’d had in my cell, sorry, room. I had a number of lovely beaux that year, but never brought them upstairs. Nothing better than a false accusation, complete with that very French brand of official outrage, en francais.

I spent the best five days of my life tootling around Corsica on a mo-ped, which I wrote about for the Wall Street Journal. I was moving, in a blessed, once-in-a-lifetime ascent, from one job to another, with a serious raise, within two weeks of getting canned, so needed a fab five solo days. Corsica is it! I stayed in a hotel on the rocks and the sea, smelling the salt through the large, 19th. century windows. I got caught in a blinding rainstorm (eyeglasses don’t work in rain on a mo-ped), and wheedled a garbage bag to wear and prayed a lot — in the middle of a lightning patch, there I was surrounded by electricity pylons. A Corsican man with, of course, a huge boar’s head on his wall that he had shot (in the French dictionary, the word macho may be the same as Corsican), introduced me to the most spectacularly haunting music I’ve ever heard — the a capella polyphony of I Muvrini, a wildly popular Corsican group.

I feel bien dans ma peau — deeply at ease — in France in a way I never have in my native Canada nor in the U.S. Can’t explain it rationally. I value what they value: luxury, great food and wine, family, intellectuals, arguing (see: intellectuals), journalism, thinking, beauty, symmetry, elegance. You don’t gulp junk food at your desk in France. When we visit Paris and I eat croissants every morning and ice cream and dessert, I still lose weight because I walk 4-6 hours a day.

The sweetie fell in love with Normandy on our visit in November 2008. I loved Brittany, but it rains too much. The sweetie loves to golf. I dream of running some sort of antique-hunting tour for Americans who don’t speak French. Who knows when or if we’ll realize this dream — as we headed home, he said “I wish we worked in other industries”; journos even at their top of their (print-based) game, make less than first-year corporate lawyers. I said: ” I wish I had a real job with a real salary.”

Buying property almost anywhere costs serious coin. But, in the meantime, our kitchen is a shrine to Paris — filled with 18th. century engravings and my own photos and maps. As I type this, I look above my Mac at a poster of a drawing by Sempe, “Fin septembre, 6 heures du matin, Paris.” A cat crosses the street at dawn; the metal garden chairs are lined up neatly, the street lamps are still on. (I can’t find the accents on my keyboard, sorry.)

My American mother met my Canadian father in Eze, a hilltop village in the south of France. I think it might be genetic.

The Next Step — For T/S And Me

Forbes building in NYC
Forbes building. Image via Wikipedia

Is not yet clear.

True/Slant will change for good after the end of June when Forbes takes over. We had two conference calls this week with Lewis Dvorkin, T/S founder who made the sale and is now going to run the next iteration of this site.

I want to keep writing as I have been here since July 1, 2009 — with a growing audience, terrifically smart and fun followers and the freedom to say whatever I think needs to be said.

We own our own content so if I move this site — and I will give you plenty of notice when and where to find me — archives are also accessible.

Frankly, it’s been a week of a blizzard of calls and emails: between me and fellow writers here; colleagues elsewhere concerned for my future; scrambling, now, to replace the steady income I earned here by accumulating 10,000+ unique visitors every month since January.

My focus right now is: 1) write for the next month, here, as always; 2) finish my retail memoir, “Malled: My Unintentional Career in Retail” (whose potential cover design I saw this week and loved!) 3) figure out what place, if any, my interests and skills may have with Forbes’ version of this site.

I have never been happier as I have writing here. Mostly, right now, I’m — as the British satirical magazine Private Eye loves to say — a little “tired and emotional.” (That’s their euphemism for drunk.) Nope.

Just….trying to make sense of what’s just happened. We (the T/S writers) simply don’t have a lot of information right now with which to make any sudden or definitive moves.

I hope you’ll stick around for a bit, and, if I do wander off, that we’ll continue the party elsewhere. It’s been an amazing experience.

This Kick-Ass Athlete Isn't Skinny (And Wears $1,000 Heels)

HAVRE DE GRACE, MD - JUNE 09: Christina Kim (U...
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Love this profile of pro golfer Christina Kim, from The Wall Street Journal:

It’s worth noting, as always with Ms. Kim, what she was wearing Monday night: a low-cut black sheath dress, spectacular jewelry and lacy, high-strapped, 4-inch René Caovilla heels which must have cost at least $1,000 when she bought them in Dubai last December. “They’ve even got sparklies on the bottom,” she told an admiring cluster while demurely balancing on one shoe to show off the sole of the other. A few minutes earlier she had smashed a few 250-yard drives on the range at Chelsea Piers, just behind the party room, wearing said impossible shoes.

The title of Ms. Kim’s book, appropriately enough, is “Swinging From My Heels: Confessions of an LPGA Star.” Written with Sports Illustrated’s Alan Shipnuck and structured as an account of her 2009 season, it’s just the kind of saucy tell-all you’d expect from perhaps the Tour’s most flamboyant personality…”I’m loud, I’m not thin and I say what I think. I’ve got a bunch of good friends among the Koreans, but it’s complicated.”

She’d already earned her first million dollars by the age of 19. I love her ambition, talent and determination to be her own woman. In a world where some women start reaching for Botox and Restylane in their 20s, and spend more energy wrestling with body issues than actually doing sports, Kim’s not afraid to be herself, at any size.

(Doing anything athletic that requires accuracy well in high heels is tough; I once trained on a Glock 9mm at Quantico, FBI’s headquarters, in three-inch heels.)

A talented female athlete who’s loud, not thin, kicks ass both on the golf course and in rhinestone-studded four-inch heels? Bring it on!

Why Crap Gets Read And Real News Doesn't: The Inherent Dilemma Of Writing For Page Views

Lady GaGa concert
No, this woman is not newsworthy. Image via Wikipedia

Why producing serious journalism and writing for the Web are contradictory impulses.

An intelligent — and deeply depressing to old-school journos like me — analysis from Silicon Valley Watcher:

Sam Whitmore reports:

It’s now a luxury for a reporter to write a story about an obscure but important topic. That used to be a job requirement. Now it’s a career risk.

Example: let’s say an interesting startup has a new and different idea. Many reporters now won’t touch it because (a) the story won’t generate page views, and (b) few people search on terms germane to that startup. Potential SEO performance is now a key factor in what gets assigned.

Two reporters from two different publications this month both told us the same thing: if you want to write a story on an interesting but obscure topic, you had better feed the beast by writing a second story about the iPad or Facebook or something else that delivers page views and good SEO.

Page view journalism will make our society poorer because less popular but important topics will be crowded out.

The new head of Bloomberg Business Week magazine Josh Tyrangiel, formerly at Time, agrees, telling FishbowlNY:

“Just because you have a witty tweet…that’s not journalism,” he said. “I don’t want to reward people who go out of their way to make a scene…for [Gawker Media chief executive Nick] Denton and some other properties, it may make some sense, but for us it doesn’t.”

I started blogging here in July 2009 and now receive about 12,000 unique visitors a month; this month I might hit a high of 15,000.

But only if I write something really sexy.

Yesterday set a new record for me of more than 1,000 pageviews in a day, when I wrote about the ‘Lost’ finale. I wanted to write on it and I thought the show smart and worth discussing. Cynically, sure, I also knew it was the pop culture topic of the day. It’s like driving with the handbrake on if you ignore the essential reality that popular topics rule this space.

But this means that thoughtful, serious, ambitious writers whose work appears only on-line, and whose only putative value is calculated in pageviews or unique visitors, are toast. Which is how our worth, here, is measured.

If I’m paid $1,500 or $3,000 or $5,000+ for a story that demands multiple interviews, research, reading and revisions, as most newspaper and magazine stories do, and it appears on-line later (as it will, without further compensation — nice), you, the reader have the choice to ignore it or, if you’re willing to dive deep(er) know you’re getting something solid.

It works for both of us. If you’re bored, just turn the page — you’ve already paid for the publication. In print, I get paid enough to make my time worthwhile and can still, occasionally, place a long, thoughtful piece on a tough issue before the eyes of millions of readers.

This volume-vs.-quality metric is applied in lousy newsrooms, where reporters are subjected to managers who count the number of their by-lines in the paper and the number of column inches they have filled with their words. Are the reporters producing smart stuff? Interesting? Breaking important stories?

Who cares? It’s content. It’s being read.

As someone who has become increasingly aware of on-line work and how to grease and speed the machinery, it’s pretty clear that if every piece I posted had a headline or early mention of Lady Gaga or Sarah Palin or the oil spill, I’d be golden.

And if I have nothing new to add on any particular topic, knowing it’s the topic of the day, or am merely shilling for eyeballs (and getting them), does it matter? If I deliberately choose to write about something obscure (educating my readers) or less popular (niche) or investigative (quite possibly depressing and complicated), I’m kissing my bonus goodbye.

Integrity versus bonus. Dark, smart, tough stuff versus lite/happy/cute videos. It’s not a divide I want to straddle, but some of us do. Feeding the beast doesn’t always mean producing my best work, stories and ideas that I — and some of the clients I hope with to work in the future — deeply value.

I find it depressing, but instructive, that my top five best-read (of more than 700 posts) stories here are on pop culture. Sigh. I don’t even care much about pop culture, so it’s a fairly rare event when I care enough and know enough to think I might have something worthwhile to add to that particular chorus.

Professional writers write for money. A very rare, and very fortunate, few freelancers are making serious coin writing only serious material.

Dedicated and amateur bloggers can become financially wildly successful if they persist and draw enormous audiences.

But who, beyond the elite troops of paid on-line journalism veterans like ProPublica, (and the on-line versions of old-school newspapers and newsmagazines) will actually cover anything serious?

Do you care?

Loved The 'Lost' Finale Or Hated It? Clarity Versus Ambiguity

P religion world
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I’m finding the split between those who loved last night’s ‘Lost’ finale  and those who hated it interesting.

I lay in bed last night pondering all its Biblical and religious symbolism: Jack’s surname (Shephard); his father’s name (Christian) and just…thinking. The Buddha atop the bookcase as Jack entered the church; the stained glass window behind Shephard as he finds an empty coffin (tomb?), a window filled with every religious symbol, not just the easy, obvious out of a cross.

Buddhists believe that after death, the soul enters a “bardo”, a period of time in which it transitions between the life that has just ended and the next. The island, the church, the entire series might not only have been Christian (Limbo, Purgatory) but a bardo.

I’m not someone obsessed with most television and had missed many of the episodes of this show.

But I loved the finale. I didn’t care what really happened to Walt or the submarine. I wanted to be moved by mystery, to feel the larger heartbeat of the eternal. Not to fuss over detail. Plenty of other television shows have tidy plots and resolutions, but could never move me to tears.

I was deeply moved by the finale’s larger point: connections matter. Our connections to one another, wherever and whenever they happen, can have profound and life-altering value.

It may not be sexy or cute or tidily-resolved. Those hungry for Big Picture conversations are today, I think, happy with what we saw. Those who insist upon Tidy Resolution — maybe on-screen and off — are not.

Life isn’t tidy.

Television, with every issue hastily resolved within a 30 or 60-minute timeframe (minus commericals) comforts us otherwise. How annoying when the one place we rely on for that illusion lets us down!

Here’s fellow True/Slant writer Japhy Grant’s take on it:

But eyes are all about what LOST is about, from the first frame to the last, and how we choose to view the world and how that view shapes our lives is a central question of the show.

Come On Everybody! It’s about the people.

To those who view the hippy-dippy faith trip that the final episode winds up being as cheesy or ludicrous, I ask, what show have you been watching for the last six years?

It’s never been the plot conceits or mystery that have made the show; it’s the human connections these strangers find that have brought us back season after season. Why are you judging the show on the mechanics of the metaphysical.

The metaphysical is the true heart of The Island.  It’s mysteries are those of the human condition. How do we forgive? How do we fall in love? What can we do to not feel so damn alone?  In this respect, LOST’s final moments deliver in every way. For it offers up a clear, definitive answer:

We find meaning in our lives by living our lives like they have meaning.

David DiSalvo, another True/Slant writer, is furious with the ending:

What the chosen ending of Lost verifies is what most of the speculators have been saying for a few seasons: there would be no way to adequately wrap up the criss-crossing plot lines, the unending questions, the bottomless allusions. They feared that the show was begging for a big cop-out, catch-all ending.  I feared they were right, but hoped that the most original show to grace network TV since ‘The Twilight Zone’ wouldn’t go out that way. Surely the writers of this unique show would prove them all wrong.

Well, they didn’t.  They couldn’t have proved them more right if they’d had Jesus and Krishna themselves make an appearance on the island and tell Jack that, “everyone will go to a warm, lovely place that they made together to be together to remember that they were together somewhere for some reason, because that’s what people have been wasting their time for six years to find out.”

I’m being harsh, I know, but I’m a little cheesed off right now.  Despite the ending, I have enjoyed the show and appreciate how it has, for the most part, shined with originality amidst a sea of formulaic crime and hospital dramas. But with that pedigree, which has drawn a loyal legion of followers few shows in the history of TV can boast, all the more reason that it should have ended with something other than a predictable “we’re all dead and happy now” cop-out.

What We Lose With The End Of 'Lost'

From left to right: Faraday, Boone, Miles, Mic...
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I admit it. We’re planning our evening around tonight’s final episode of “Lost.” We’ll order in Thai food, the closest we’ll easily get to cooking Hawaiian.

Like many of its fans, I’ve lost interest in it at times, found the final season weird and sometimes mawkish — CJ Cregg as Jacob’s mom? Really? But one of the things I’ve really loved about “Lost” is its insistence that so many unlikely characters — the morbidly obese Hurley, the rigid and domineering husband Jin, the bitter Sawyer, the criminal Kate, the submissive Sun, the do-gooder Jack, the addict Charlie — each had a crucial role to play in this artificial universe.

I really liked that most of the key female characters — Kate (a previously unknown Canadian actress, Evangeline Lilly), Juliet, Sun, Ana-Lucia and Danielle Rousseau — were strong, wiry, no bullshit women, most fully capable of handling a firearm. (The wimpy, whiny Shannon was killed off early.)

It’s rare, outside of a show based on aliens or cops, to find so many female characters who are consistently physically powerful, emotionally resilient, able to handle everything from sewing up a stranger’s back (Kate) to surviving alone in the jungle (Rousseau.) Who will be the next Kate?

I loved seeing Koreans, an Iraqi, a fat guy and an inter-racial couple play integral roles, becoming leaders and well-loved by their community. “Lost” began six years ago, long before anyone else was casting such diversity. It never felt faux-diverse, as so many of these efforts do, just real.

I’ll miss that community. Many of us now live alone, work at home or are looking for work. We hunger for a lively, funny, quirky posse of our own. We don’t want to run from the smoke monster or shoot a polar bear or have to suffer a plane crash to find one, but the hard-won interdependence of the survivors of  Oceanic Flight 815 speaks to a powerful longing.

I’ll raise a glass of something festive — coconut milk? — and toast their farewell.

The More Successful Friend

Money (reais)
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I had lunch last week with a friend whose income makes mine look like pocket change. She has great jewelry, belongs to a country club, lives in a lovely, large house.

It would be so easy to not be friends. It’s hard when someone is doing so much better. We live in a culture where acquisition and showing off the loot — I’ve blogged here about “haul videos” — remains a national pastime.

But I’m grateful she’s my friend because I have a lot to learn from her. I wish I commanded the higher fees she does for similar work, but she has a few in-demand specialties — while I remain a generalist. (My choice, my fault.) She’s also a super negotiator. She may well work many more hours, or work smarter.

It’s too easy to envy another without admitting what we bring, or don’t, to our own level of achievement.

Most important, she’s still a friend.

I’ve seen a larger income, a proxy for “success” and the putative higher value of the higher-earning half, split the best of buds with ruthless efficiency. I lost a dear friend of a decade after she married a high-earning corporate executive and moved to a lakeside mansion. I’d have been happy to remain friends long after she left her single-gal-in-the-Manhattan-studio days behind, the long, boozy nights when we prowled the bars or danced ’til dawn.

But she had clearly traded up. Her husband was one of those guys who likes to talk about how much money he makes. Not my style.

The nature of “success”, certainly in some cultures, is that it’s too often defined as purely financial, because in a capitalist system — capital = $$$$$ — s/he with the most capital wins.

But many of us bring extraordinary riches to the world, in social capital and intellectual prowess and kindness and generosity, creativity or gentleness with animals or small children or those with severe disabilities, humor and forgiveness, a whole basket of good(ness)s that aren’t quantifiable by economists or measurable in the visible status symbols of Birkin bags or Bentleys.

To me, the measure of one’s real success is the generosity to share it. Not simply, as some do, by writing a check to charity, but taking the time, as I’ve done many times over the years for less-experienced writers as well, to share the skills that help you achieve it.

Do you have a more successful friend who helps you? Or vice versa?