Paris Hangoverby Kirsten Lobe
A glamorous fish-out-of-water first novel, Paris Hangover stars Klein, a just-escaped New Yorker with trunk-fulls of fabulous footwear but without the significant relationship she'd really expected and longed to have by now, in her mid-thirties. Fleeing a live-in lover and their sleek Tribeca triplex as well as a career in fashion, Klein stars over in/i>
A glamorous fish-out-of-water first novel, Paris Hangover stars Klein, a just-escaped New Yorker with trunk-fulls of fabulous footwear but without the significant relationship she'd really expected and longed to have by now, in her mid-thirties. Fleeing a live-in lover and their sleek Tribeca triplex as well as a career in fashion, Klein stars over in Paris-in a tiny walk-up in the 6th that she had to lie (in broken Franglais) and write a bad check to get, only to discover that, among other things, Parisian apartments don't come with kitchens.
Living out of her ten piece of (Louis Vuitton, natch) luggage, Klein plunges into the mysterious world of French men and dating. She muddles her way through: the sexy Renaud, the prototypical Frenchman; dating three men named Jean simultaneously; and one completely wrong Monsieur Married Man, who wants Klein for his very well-kept mistress.
Set against a backdrop of knowing references to Paris and its unique manners and mores, Paris Hangover is ultimately a very satisfying modern romance as Klein falls-- possibly permanently--for the least likely man to catch her eye.
“This is a witty mousse, yet it is also unsparing, without cruelty, ambitious not vicious, chic without the inevitable creak of a writer trying too hard. Paris Hangover will hang around your dreams long after Klein kisses you good-bye-on both cheeks, of course.” Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean and A Theory of Relativity
“Gucci bags, Jimmy Choo shoes, and now a copy of Paris Hangover are all essential items for the upwardly mobile young woman.” Sylvia Beach Whitman, owner of Paris's Shakespeare and Company
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By Kirsten Lobe
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2006 Kirsten Lobe
All rights reserved.
Pepe Le Pew, BYOA, and a Cuf of Copy
MONSIEUR RIGHT REPORT
I can't quite figure out why I've always been drawn to Frenchmen. Perhaps if I went into deep therapy or hypnosis I could find the origin of my obsession. I'd love to be able to say, "I saw an Yves Montand film when I was fifteen and that elegant, Gallic charm swept me off my feet." But in truth it's probably less 1950s black-and-white cinema than Pepe Le Pew.
Saturday mornings, plopped in front of the TV watching cartoons ... that voice: "Ooh-la-la, mon amour, my lee-tel angel of luv." I definitely put that voice and the concept of being completely adored and sought after together. Even today, hearing the French accent twenty-four hours, seven days a week, I still can't get over its effect. I swear I climb the walls in rapturous desire just listening to the waiter read the specials of the day aloud. It can be a bit dangerous, as I often tune out to the content and end up melting into a blissful delirium until I realize, Damn, he stopped talking. Did he ask a question? Is "huh?" going to suffice as a response while I come out of my auditory stupor?
Living in New York City for so long, I'd run through the stock of imported Frenchmen. Word got out among my friends that I had a particular cultural inclination, and by age thirty-four I'd met every bloody Jacques, Pierre, or Philippe in town. I exhausted the supply while still maintaining my demand. (See, I DID listen in economics class and even extrapolated the useful supply vs. demand theory into my life — so that C in economics was completely unfair!) It was time to come to the source, the grand buffet of Frenchmen! I increased my odds by six million in one fell swoop.
Not being a spring chicken anymore, I'd had enough experience in relationships to have acquired a certain vague notion of the ideal man for me. Okay, let's be honest — it was actually a highly detailed, strenuously rigid mental wish list, pretty much specific down to chest hair quantity and arrangement. (I'm kidding ... sort of). But I also knew I had to be a bit more flexible than I'd been in New York City. Dumping a perfectly charming man because he owned too-low-thread-count sheets does in retrospect seem a bit brutal (come on, though, it was like sleeping on burlap bags; okay, you're right, it was harsh of me).
The wish list is, in no particular order of priority, as follows:
1. Obviously, he must be French. I didn't come all this way to date a man from Kentucky.
2. He must have a very non-European appreciation for dental hygiene. I cannot tell you how many gorgeous creatures (already!) have been eliminated due to tobacco-encrusted, scary, brown teeth. (No teeth like Halloween pumpkins or the color of suede, in short.)
3. No reading material in his bathroom. Not even Balzac will be tolerated. Just do your business and get out; it's not a reading room for crying out loud. I once dated a man named Xavier who'd settle in to read every word in Le Monde. Before he got to the business section I was gone.
4. Absolutely no ownership of slip-on loaferlike, tassel-adorned comfort shoes. And I absolutely recoil in horror at the sight of those Birkenstock Jesus sandals, they're too Peppermint Patty crossed with Caveman for me. Any man caught wearing them is instantly unfuckable.
5. He has the much underrated skill of being able to tie cherry stems in a knot with his tongue. It speaks volumes of hidden talents and possibilities.
6. He should be funny. Not funny like Jackie Mason. Not slapstick funny. No "there's a coin behind your ear" routine. But Jerry Seinfeld /David Sedaris funny. Don't think I'm unaware this is a really tough request in the country that has embraced Jerry Lewis as the god of humor.
7. A strong nose. I have a thing for noses. Not any particular type per se, just unique. I guess you could say I'm a classicist: Gallic noses do it for me, and large is good — within reason. Yup, I'm that bananas that I find Gerard Depardieu's nose sexy, actually everything about him is sexy. I know the "French thing" is an acquired taste; either you get it or you don't.
8. I will not partake in a relationship with any man who is a self-proclaimed sports fan. I can see, maybe, going to watch the French Open, a Polo match, or an occasional soccer match (only if David Beckham is playing shirtless), but following any other team sport is a , deal breaker. If I wanted a sports buff I could've stayed in Wisconsin, thank you, and watched the Packers from a recliner with my beer-swilling pig of a husband.
9. He should be somewhat romantic. He doesn't necessarily need to recite the poetry of Pablo Neruda on a daily basis, but a few sweet notes, kisses on the neck ... that's what I'm shooting for.
10. I'm rather firm on the issue of personality disorders. While men that are bipolar can be a blast when on the upside, generally the crash is not worth sticking around for. Multiple personalities as well are just too tricky and complicated. Schizophrenia is also a bit too tiring for me at my age — maybe if we'd met when I was an angry eighteen-year-old, but now I'll have to take a pass, thanks.
11. He doesn't have a job that involves wearing a name tag, crunching numbers, or working directly with a cash register.
12. (If applicable:) Embraces his receding hairline (no bathroom cabinet full of Rogaine, or brush-over maneuvers). Any resemblance to Tom Ford will be well received and highly rewarded, to be honest.
I'll admit, there's a lot more. I know I'm a smidge demanding. In truth, the older I get, the more I throw things off the list. It's getting to the point where it's pretty much any age of man will do (okay, between a pacemaker and ticket holder to a Britney Spears concert). And any level of intelligence above monosyllabic. He must be at least as tall as he is wide. Honestly, when I arrived in Paris I thought, Well, he must have a semi-decent car. But I've quickly changed that to, Well, he'd better have enough money for the métro, for two. I've gotten the bends as I rapidly plummet down this hierarchy of hopes.
A FEW SLIGHTLY ANNOYING DETAILS I DIDN'T ANTICIPATE
Did I happen to mention that I arrived in Paris without the slightest lead on an apartment? After the flawless, carefree flight from New York City, I checked into a tiny three-star hotel on rue du Bac in the chic Saint-Germain. This was the part of Paris that I knew the best and liked the best, so I'd booked the cheapest room in the cheapest hotel I could find. I dumped my cat on the bed and dragged my ten pieces of luggage into this miniature version of a hotel room. With piles and pyramids of luggage taking up every square inch of floor space — not to mention blocking out the sun from the small window — I knew I'd have to spend all my waking hours trying to get out of this scenario and into my first apartment in Paris.
It should be noted that a three-star designation for hotels in France is completely not the same as three stars in the United States. Apparently the only requirements in France for this distinction are a bed, a door with a key, and a toilet — electricity is optional, curiously. I quickly learned how to bathe, wash my face, and brush my teeth in the dark since the bathroom light was a Studio 54 blinking strobe that, as a rule, trickled into a cinematic fade to black. Without fail, on my midnight trip to the bathroom I kicked the cat food bowls, Pelé style, all over the floor. Amusant? Non.
With my cat, Puccini, sniffing around in vain for a litter box, I was compelled to run out to the streets of Paris to begin the first of many scavenger hunts. There was no time to unearth my "bible" (the French-English dictionary), but I was confident that I'd surely come across cat litter at the local grocery store. When that didn't happen I had to resort to a popular method I've employed many times since: charades. I did my impression of a cat in a litter box while saying "Pour merde de chat," over and over. And while my charade was ultimately successful, I was sad that this was my debut in Paris — I'd imagined something a little more chic, really. I set up Puccini in the broom closet that was our room, slapped a sign on the door with the warning DANGEROUS CAT INSIDE — DO NOT ENTER (again, portrayed in visuals alone) for the maid, and headed out to get a newspaper to begin my apartment search.
The little man who ran the front desk at the hotel, and who resembled Toulouse-Lautrec right down to the limp, suggested I buy Le Figaro to check out the apartment listings. After quickly flipping past the front page of the paper, where I could only understand the words France, déteste, and Bush, I found the unfurnished-apartment section. It was a mere two pages, for all of Paris. I was astounded. The New York Times always had innumerable options for habitation, and now I was faced with just three listings of apartments to rent in the entire 7th arrondissement. The other option was to consider apartments that were furnished, but it just creeps me out to imagine living with someone else's stuff, so I circled the first three ads. I thought I'd call, make a few appointments, and go to an open house or two. Instead I spent the better part of that day looking for a cellular phone. It was pretty obvious this whole process was going to be a hell of a lot more arduous than I expected.
The next day, phone in hand, I called to set up appointments. After each call, where I'd nervously try to speak in French (I think I may have said, "I'm looking for a cat with a view, but I have to tell you I have an apartment") and feebly try to interpret what they said back (usually I understood their first names, then nothing, and then maybe half of the address), I'd get off the phone, light about ten cigarettes and think, Oh God, I hate this part.
I finally got myself together and grabbed my checkbook and a file of bank statements and set off to an open house on rue de Lille. There was a crowd already waiting outside, made up of the same thirty people I'd see at every apartment viewing. The same desperate souls, all competing for the precious few apartments. I was given a form to fill out by the real estate agent and asked to wait my turn to enter. A "form" and "waiting," my two least favorite things. Hmmm. Let's see here ...
Employer: I'd have to say, "None."
French Bank: Oops, is that important?
French Citizen: Nope!
Present Address: A cheap hotel, is that a problem?
References: Again, is that really necessary? Hmm, then I guess I'll have to go with "none" here.
Realizing I wasn't going to be able to talk my way into securing an apartment even if I could've spoken French, I crumpled up the form and took a tour of the apartment. It was absurdly tiny, quite dark, and had ceilings so low we were all cowering like Neanderthals, and there were absolutely no appliances. No refrigerator, no oven, no dishwasher — nothing. Just scraggly twisted wires coming out of all the walls. Wow, who knew that to rent an unfurnished apartment in France means BYOA (bring your own appliances)? No way, that's crazy. Who the hell moves through life with a stove in tow? And still the mass of apartment seekers were fiercely competing for this dark, depressing apartment that had a kitchen that resembled the inside of a radio. This apartment search process was really merde de chat all right.
Back in the hotel, sitting among the luggage with Puccini staring at me like, Okay, what now, smarty-pants? I took a few deep breaths and vowed to find us a place to live. Defeat was not possible. I spent the next week opening a French bank account and compiling a fairly convincing file that stated that while, yes, I was an unemployed, unbilingual expat with no stove, but with a cat, I was certainly financially capable of signing a lease.
I took old stock and mutual fund statements of accounts long since evaporated, whited out the dates, and made a dossier claiming I had loads of money, if not a visa. I seriously contemplated putting in the file absolutely anything that might possibly sway them: nude photos, money, my "best dressed" award from high school. While being a tall blonde American girl may be a success at cafés, I accepted it was working in absolute opposition to my getting an apartment. I was losing out on apartments left and right. My wish list of what I wanted in an apartment was quickly narrowed down to any apartment with electricity and a door (and I wasn't that firm on electricity.)
I spent two weeks seeing that same crowd of apartment seekers at every appointment. I guess they weren't having any more luck than I was. Then one Wednesday morning we all found ourselves at an apartment on rue de Verneuil. It was a gorgeous seventeenth-century building that had been under renovation for the past two years. Apparently it was one of the oldest buildings in Paris and had spent the last few hundred centuries leaning progressively into the street, until one day it took a death plunge and collapsed completely, blocking the rue de Verneuil for ages. But now all five floors were freshly restored and sold, and this little prize on the third floor was to rent. I knew it was going to be a great apartment because you could sense the tension in the crowd outside. Listen, at this point I knew these people. When I got in the door, I said to myself — for the first time in this whole exhausting search — This is it!
It was love at first sight. Everything was perfect: terracotta tiles on the floors, classically French wood beams on the high ceilings, brand new everything, and beautiful big windows with antique closures. And what was that behind the kitchen door? Could it be? A new fridge. A new stove.
The place was only 550 square feet, but every inch was truly charming. With the masses distracted filling out the de rigueur forms, I put my new strategy to work and strode directly up to the man who clearly owned the apartment. Summoning my full repetoire of French skills as I nervously stood before this short balding man clad in a cheap brown suit, I tried to express the following: I have a lot of money (lie!); I live in New York City and want this apartment just for a pied-à-terre (lie numéro deux). What do I have to do to get this apartment? But this is how the real conversation went:
"Bonjour, monsieur. Excusez-moi, avez-vous un moment s'il vous plait? (No real errors yet.)
"Évidemment, je suis occupé, mademoiselle." (I'm busy, lady, what do you want? By the way, lousy accent.)
"Est-ce que c'est possible de parler intime?" (Giddyup, here we go. I botched the formal use of parler (speak) and instead of asking to speak privately, asked if I could speak to him intimately. You may be thinking he would've interpreted that as possibly a sexual offer, but I'd already come to understand Frenchmen prefer their sexual liaisons infinitely more indiscreet, so it didn't even occur to him to consider it might be sexual. I assume that out of sheer curiosity he broke from the pack of wannabe renters, turned to me and gave me a minute of his precious time. Of course, I stole the moment to further embarrass myself.
"J'habite à New York. Je seulement cherche un espace pour un peu de temps. J'ai trop de money. Qu'est-ce que je besoin de faire pour toi? Je suis desperate." And I handed him my dossier. (As it poured out of my mouth, I cringed at the battering I was giving myself and the language. I'd butchered the formal address and launched into a babble: "I live in New York City, I'm merely looking for a space for a little time I have too much money. What do I need to do for you? (again informal, without respect) I'm desperate." Oh yeah, that's all highly intelligent. You'd never guess I went to college. Have two degrees, in fact. Wasted money.
As I watched the mob "ooh" and "ah" over the apartment, I felt myself becoming more and more fiercely determined to outsmart this group of strangers in my dream apartment. Then the potbellied proprietor with the bad comb-over said, with an amused smile, "Donnez-moi un an de loyer plus un depot de garantie aujourd'hui, et c'est a vous." HUH? I wasn't so good at translating responses yet. WHAT? WHO? Is that sexual? Is that a reasonable suggestion? Staring at Monsieur le Propriétaire with a blank expression, I realized the entire negotiating process would go a whole lot smoother if I knew what he was saying. No chance we could mime this out is there, mister? By the grace of God, a young woman standing behind him jumped in with (in flawless English, thank the Lord above), "He's requesting you give him a check for a year's rent and the security deposit — today."
I had a shot! I chose to completely ignore the fact that I didn't have the money and began to pull out my checkbook (look, everyone, I have a French checkbook!). Seeing this gesture he wagged his fat finger furiously and added (I translate), "Non, mademoiselle. A cashier's check, depositable today." Today? Ouch.
Excerpted from Paris Hangover by Kirsten Lobe. Copyright © 2006 Kirsten Lobe. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Kirsten Lobe is a former fashion designer for Calvin Klein and Oscar de la Renta who also designed home furnishings sold in stores such as Barney and Neiman-Marcus. In 2002, she traded a 2,000 square foot Tribeca loft for a 550 square foot garret in Paris' St. Germain, where she still lives.
Kirsten Lobe is a former fashion designer, and the author of the novels Paris Hangover and French Trysts, and the memoir Paris, Baby!. She has lived in Tokyo, New York, Paris and Lake Geneva, and is now a citizen of the world.
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