for exposure, don’t do this

I just received an email entitled “how to get serious exposure…fast.”

No thank you. My worst nightmare.

I don’t want serious exposure. I prefer my current level of limited, almost non-existent exposure, thank you very much. I’m very happy with putting my hair brained thoughts here for a couple of people to read.

I am in no danger of going viral. This blog on writing, metaphysics, travel, and meditation is quite niche.

One benefit of having a very small readership in the first few years of your career is very few people will see the poor writing, the mistakes, the uncertainty.

Joanna Penn (My writing podcast crush/writing guru) rebranded and re-launched her first three books 3 years into her writing career and she is a powerhouse indie author now with more than 30 non-fiction and fiction books in two pen-names. As a self-published author I can do that too if I want.

Perhaps I will… next year…

I am 35,000 words into my memoir Remembering Paris. My one regret, my path not taken, is a stint living in Paris as I mentioned in last weeks post, the somewhat ironically titled Power of Now. I’ve been doing some deep journalling and meditation on this shadow in my psyche, and yesterday, as often happens, I received an answer to my pondering from a podcast. Musician Dave Grainey said he enjoyed spending his 20s in London as a broke muso because that time away from everything familiar helped him to break free from his personal history.

It was an A-HA moment for me. I really could have done with a rest from myself.

Not the view from my hotel…

Here is the re-worked first chapter of Remembering Paris

Sunday, July 24, 1994

 ‘You feel okay?’

The taxi driver caught my eye in the rear-view mirror. His forehead creased into a worried frown as he looked at me, but I would have preferred he keep his eyes on the road. I nodded and felt my forehead. I had been feeling unwell for a few days, but I didn’t dare tell mum. She would never have let me leave London.

I’d just been partying too hard. On one of our group tours I’d met an Aussie girl recovering from a terrible breakup. She was in Europe on what was supposed to be her honeymoon. Her ex-fiancé had moved on, and in, with her best friend. For the rest of the week we saw some shows and sampled a few bars and nightclubs. She said she would hate her ex forever. I suggested the so-called best-friend was the true villain of the piece and ordered more drinks. She laughed and flirted with the bar tender. I didn’t tell her my story. I just shrugged my shoulder and nodded my head when she asked if I’d been through something similar. I couldn’t tell my story. It confused people. I was twenty-three, didn’t look a day over sixteen, and had been a widow for eight months. I was in no state to be traveling alone.

‘What is this city?’ I asked the taxi driver. This can’t be Paris, I thought. Look at all those drab grey apartment blocks.

He looked at me again in the mirror, one eyebrow cocked. He had already asked me if my hotel was in Paris, confusing me, and making me a little fearful. I know now that is important information for a Parisian taxi driver, but back then I wondered if I was going to end up in some other city, or worse, bound and gagged in the boot of his car.

 ‘Paris. All.’ He waved his non-steering hand around like he was conducting an orchestra. Then he smiled, kindly, with big, white teeth. I wasn’t sure where I was going, but he assured me I was in Paris and I relaxed a little.

But here I was in Paris. Finally. My dream city was at my feet and I was about to become a citizen, even if only for a week. I sighed and rubbed my cheeks to give them a little colour the way mum had taught me and turned my face to the window to take in the city spreading out before me. The driver pointed out the Eiffel Tower in the distance. In the days before Google Maps we could still be surprised. I was amazed at its scale, even at that distance. It loomed over the other buildings. Well, not every other building, there was an ugly glass skyscraper to the left of the tower. The snooty architecture lover in me was horrified by it, so I decided to ignore it. I wish I had known about the amazing view from that ugly building, Tour Montparnasse.

We continued along the raised expressway, my eyes constantly drifting back to the grey urban spread to the horizon. London had that spread, too. I suppose I had always thought these old cities had been frozen like a mosquito in amber, but here they were, in the late 20th century along with the rest of us. The driver pointed out the white onion domes on top of Montmartre. I copied the words he said, ‘Le Sacre Coeur.’ He told me my accent was impeccable and I blushed. The Basilica shone in the bright summer sun.

Eventually he slowed down to leave the expressway and within seconds we were rolling along a wide leafy boulevard. Finally, Paris looked like Paris. After a few loops around similarly sounding streets I started to worry again.

He reached across and switched off the meter. ‘We’ll find your home, it’s okay,’ he said. We had exhausted the Parisian possibilities for my hastily scrawled address and consulting his book of maps, he looked up and smiled. ‘Perhaps,’ he offered, ‘the hotel is not in Paris?’

I started to panic. Of course, my hotel is in Paris, what game is he playing? Maybe I was going to end up in the boot of his taxi after all. He smiled again and assured me everything would be okay and pointed along the adjacent street to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. I was enchanted but my stomach was on a roller coaster. Five minutes later, after driving through a labyrinth of elegant, tree lined streets, I was standing on the wide pavement in another leafy street, looking up at my hotel. It was decidedly nicer than our creaky old London hotel and I could hear Mum’s voice saying, ‘at least it’s not a fire trap like the last one.’

If our London digs were an over-grown B&B, then this was a 70s-vintage post-modernist Barbie Dreamhouse. All white, low-slung sofas and potted palms, with a very cool-looking bar at one end under a glass ceiling. My mouth watered at the sight of it. I was well on my way to a drinking problem and I would have wandered over if there had been anyone manning the bar. I had become well acquainted with the hotel bar in London with its wood panelling and stained glass. I felt quite grown up drinking there even if I did not look it. At least when I went for a drink in Paris I wouldn’t have to deal with my mother’s judgement, only, it turned out, that of the hotel staff.

{In 2012, in the spirit of writer research, I thought about wandering out to Neuilly on a time-travel expedition but found I really couldn’t be bothered. I could spend a few more hours in the museum and sit at a sidewalk café or go out to the suburbs. Easy choice. Once I arrived home, I checked it out on Google Maps instead. The area is still upmarket and mostly residential and the hotel is refurbished and re-branded, 5-stars. I wonder what they did with all the palm trees.}

Check in was confusing. Back home, my French teacher had assured me my beginner-level conversational French would suffice in all situations because, and I quote, ‘everyone in Paris speeks Eenlgeesh.’ I am not mocking a French accent here. The teacher was Australian born and bred but it seemed the entire class had wordlessly decided to ignore her fake accent. I say fake because one does not tend to pick up an accent on a semester abroad. I know people who have lived in France for years and still sound as Australian as a kangaroo.

The young woman behind the desk in the hotel did not speak English, or if she did, she was reluctant to do so with me. German and Spanish, yes, but English? ‘Non, mademoiselle, je suis désolé.’

I didn’t bother explaining that I was madame not mademoiselle. We muddled through, resorting to gestures and eventually I had the room key and vague idea of the breakfast serving times. She also handed me an envelope containing information for my tour group and with that I was dismissed.

Key in hand, I took a few steps back to my waiting suitcase and waited for a few minutes, pretending to reorganise my daypack. I hadn’t stayed in many hotels but the ones I had visited always had a man who helped you with your luggage. The woman on the desk didn’t acknowledge my existence again and when it became obvious no porter was going to show, I dragged my over-full suitcase to the lift. It was the 90s, before we had sleek, hard-bodied suitcases with multi-directional wheels.

My room was on the second floor, the green floor. Or was it orange? I should remember, the colour was so all-pervading. Perhaps I have psychologically blocked it out. I dragged my suitcase along the green/orange carpet and eventually came to my door, a large green number painted on its glossy white surface. Was my room going to be this pulsating shade of secondary colour? I was a little disappointed to find the room was a drab, puce box but it had a television and a bidet so at least I would be entertained while I was there. The view was through the trees into the street so nothing to write home about there.

I freshened up and headed back out into the bright hallway. I was finally going to be walking the streets of Paris but first I had to satisfy my curiosity. I had studied interior design for a while and was a fan of commercial interiors. Perhaps I would go back to interior design now I had to work out what I wanted to do with my life. As I reached out to select the down button on the lift, I changed my mind. I had a hunch that each level was probably a different colour, so I pushed the up button. I stopped the lift on the three other floors to confirm my suspicion. From memory, there was a red, a purple and a yellow floor, each coded with huge laminate discs and disco swirl carpet which I’m sure had been the height of interior decor sometime in the 70s.

I was giggling by the time I found the lobby. Did they know, I asked my terribly superior self, how tacky it was? Little did I know this feature would come in handy a few nights later when I dragged my drunken self into the elevator, trying to ignore the judgemental stares of the desk staff. At least I could rely on the gaudy colour scheme to guide me to my door. 

Back in the palm-fringed lobby I waved to the desk attendant, but she called me over and asked for my key in perfectly adequate English. I looked at her, my mouth open in shock.

‘Do you know anyone in Paris?’

‘Er, no. Just visiting.’ I smiled. She didn’t.

It occurs to me all these years later that it may have been a completely different woman. Mum had warned me to keep my key, but I knew that wouldn’t ensure my safety; they always had spares anyway. I handed the woman the key to the room and bid her a cheery ‘bonjour’. I couldn’t wait to get out into the streets of Paris.

But then I wasn’t actually in Paris, was I?

Remembering Paris. In 1994 you could walk right up to this painting and stare at it for an hour if you wished, snap a photo, stare some more. Damn you Da Vinci code, damn you to hell.