Paris Times Eight: Finding Myself in the City of Dreams by Deirdre Kelly

Paris Times Eight: Finding Myself in the City of Dreams

byDeirdre Kelly

Paperback | September 14, 2009

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A poignant and often amusing reminiscence of growing to womanhood through eight visits to Paris.

For Deirdre Kelly, Paris is not only a dream city but also the place where she attains a deeper understanding of herself. Having always defined herself in opposition to her mother, Kelly finds in the city itself her "other mother," the mother of her imagination.

At nineteen, Kelly first arrives in Paris as a starry-eyed ingenue. In a subsequent visit she appears as a budding writer, eager for intellectual and sexual adventure, who interviews the legendary Nureyev and crashes an exclusive fashion show. In an emotionally charged return, Kelly takes her mother to Paris to meet her "other mother," with not altogether happy results. She also takes her future husband, who has his own connection to the city. On her last trip, she is a mother herself.

During all these visits, Paris is the constant, but Kelly's shifting emotional world creates varying perspectives on both the city and her evolving self. Paris emerges as a principal character, an influence that inspires and guides Kelly on her path to growth and maturity.

About The Author

Dierdre Kelly first joined the Globe and Mail in 1985, and since 2006 has been a reporter-at-large for the Globe's features department. Her articles have also appeared in Elle, Marie Claire, and Vogue. She lives in Toronto.

Details & Specs

Title:Paris Times Eight: Finding Myself in the City of DreamsFormat:PaperbackDimensions:320 pages, 7.5 × 5.25 × 0.5 inPublished:September 14, 2009Publisher:Greystone Books Ltd.Language:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1553652681

ISBN - 13:9781553652687

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“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” I cupped my palm around these words in hopes that my mother, sitting next to me in the car, hands hawkishly grasping the wheel, would not see what was making me open my eyes in wonder. I didn’t have to worry. Her mind was on her driving, or rather speeding — we had less than five hours to make it to Montreal, and we were racing against the eastbound Highway 401 traffic. My mother isn’t what you would call a bookish person. She doesn’t entirely respect books and has never understood my passion for them. “You’ve always got your nose stuck in some book,” she would say. Or, “Stop reading so much and go outside. You’re pasty-faced.” Or, “You think everything’s in a book? Get real.”But books were my salvation, an escape from my family, which included a runaway father, a volatile mother, a wayward brother, an emotionally vacant maternal grandmother, and a grandfather who, my mother alleges, molested his own children, including her, while drunk. Not exactly a fairy tale, unless we’re talking the Brothers Grimm. I found kindred spirits in books. They were the one place where my mother couldn’t intrude and where I could escape my loneliness and sadness, forget my hurts, conceal my fears, and rise above my shame. Now — ironically, with my mother as chauffeur — I was physically in flight. It was the summer of 1979. I had just graduated from high school, and to mark the end of what seemed an interminable childhood, I was departing Canada for Paris for my first visit there, at the invitation of Jenna and Nigel,* a Canadian couple who had asked me to help look after their two young boys. I was anticipating a reprieve from all that tormented me — my mother’s complicated love and my own deeply sorrowful self. But the book in my hand, Anaïs Nin’s study of D.H. Lawrence, was making the break difficult. Nin’s unhappy family life made me think of my own. My mother was always in the driver’s seat. But though she might be driving, I was fiercely driven, determined to define myself in opposition to a person who was always telling me I was just like her — a chip off the old block. This notion mortified me. When I was growing up, my mother wore hot pants and orange fishnet stockings, walked with a wiggle in her step should we go to a restaurant with one of her paying boyfriends, and ordered frosty mint-green grasshopper cocktails with paper umbrellas. She was a hot tamale. Men wanted her, I knew. She often told me that the husbands of her girlfriends would hit on her and that she would have to put them in their place. I didn’t want to know this, but she said she had no one else to tell. And so I understood her to be a sex kitten but not a floozy. Still, seeing my mother in any kind of sexual light nauseated me. I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but I wanted a mother who was nurturing, not naughty. A mother who was present, there for me, instead of the other way around. She wore her streaked brown hair short now, with a chunk of bangs falling over one eye like Natalie Wood’s (her favorite actress since she was young and saw Marjorie Morningstar). She cut it herself, often with a razor blade, slashing away at the back of her neck to correct what some idiot hairdresser had done. No one ever got it right with her. She had hazel eyes that she frequently narrowed to a piercing glare, and a prominent Presbyterian nose that, as she might say, was frequently out of joint. She wore too many gold rings at a time, one, sometimes two, to a finger, even though her hands weren’t her best feature. She picked at them, tearing at the skin around the nails until it was raw. I never knew her to wear nail polish or eye shadow or perfume. Lipstick she liked, shades called Chiffon and Pearl Praline. The colors complemented her fair, flawless complexion, making her beautiful in her own way, I thought as I watched her hunched at the wheel, driving with her chest practically thrust upon the steering wheel — like a battering ram wheeling down the highway. Partly she drove that way because of her height. She was five-foot-three to my five-foot-six and couldn’t see out the window without propping herself up. But it was also a style of physical combativeness that she had perfected over the years. She was a jock, a field hockey player to be precise, whose bellicose ways with a stick had enabled her to hold her own. Her bald independence and aggressive behavior had given her alpha-female ways some harsh masculine coloring. Even on the highway she was not exactly acting like a lady. “Get the hell outta my way!” she screamed at a driver in front of her. “Goddamn man! Did you see that?” She leaned heavily on the horn and waved her arms angrily. I retreated into my book, trying to shut her out. I had friends with more traditional moms who thought mine cool for seeming to be so liberated. But they didn’t know what they were talking about. I hated having a single mom, hated being left alone at home while she was sleeping around, going out dancing, staying out without calling home. I waited and read and worried. When she had spent all her money, she came to me for a loan. She said she was exhausted, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and needed all I had to buy a ticket to Bermuda. Doctor’s orders. I was devastated. I had been scrupulously saving for months to get to Paris and away from her, doing any number of low-paying jobs after school and on weekends just to make sure I had enough. I had read Gertrude Stein’s The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and imagined Paris as a place where art was king and the only rule was being true to yourself. I imagined aimless strolls down wide avenues and dapper Frenchmen bowing to kiss my hand. I imagined Paris to be a city where I would, for once in my life, feel free. It was no accident that for my dream city I chose a place that was physically and culturally as far away from my mother as possible. But when she asked for the money, how could I refuse? Of course I needed to help her. It was my responsibility. I was the kind of daughter who did as she was told. I put Paris on hold. I told the Canadians that I wouldn’t be able to make it. They’d have to find a new babysitter. But then my mother surprised me. Instead of paying me back, she bought me the ticket to Paris. That was why we were now driving to Montreal. It had been a cheap fare, about $100 less than flying from Toronto — cheap on paper anyway. She hadn’t factored in the cost of gas or the time spent driving such a vast distance to save a few dollars. But that was her — always looking for a bargain, but impulsively, erratically. She chortled that we were having an adventure. I read on, or pretended to. But the book in hand was leading me down the thorny path of sex, sex, sex — sex in Paris, to be precise. Sex was usually something I tried strenuously to avoid. I wasn’t entirely a sexual person; I was too consumed by fear to give myself up to the call of the wild. Sex was something that could lead to pregnancy, and pregnancy meant disaster, the end of your ambition and of your life. My mother had taught me that. She had become pregnant with me when she was nineteen, the same age as I was now. She had never been interested in my father except for the fact that he had nice dark hair and strong eyebrows, qualities that she had hoped would pass on her to child. “And you do have nice eyebrows, you know. So I wasn’t wrong about that.” He was what today is known as a donor, except he hadn’t a clue. He had married my mother for love, she told me. He loved you too, she said. But he was gone by the time I was six. “Aw, he just loved you too much. That’s why he left. It hurt him. He loved his kids.” Her words left me completely bewildered. He loved me but had to leave me.Love and desertion, love and hurt. I would always make the connection. Now, as we raced to get me off to Paris, a city she had never been to yet imagined to be wonderful, full of promise, my mother screamed at me, “You are living my dreams! Don’t ever forget that!” Her voice clanged in my brain like a gong. I was paying attention to her now. She had pressed her body even tighter into the steering wheel. Her hands were fists, white at the knuckles. Suddenly she leaned on the horn. She began raging at a passing driver. But this time she apologized for her outburst. This shocked me; she never said sorry to anyone. She rooted in her handbag on the floor next to her and pulled out a small packet of pills. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” she said. Her voice sounded frantic. “It’s a Valium. I have to take it.”She had never revealed a dependency to me before. She prided herself on never having touched a drink before she was twenty-eight, of never having smoked and having stayed away from drugs. But here she was now, sedating herself. She was strong! She was in control! And so her pronouncement unnerved me — the more so because she was still driving.We had crossed the border into Quebec some time ago. The signs said aéroport instead of airport. The distance was now just twenty miles. I suddenly became aware that this was it, the end of our journey together. I wondered if I would miss her. But I didn’t want to think about that now. I closed the book that had been sitting on my lap for hours, mostly unread. My mother was also strangely quiet. Maybe it was the pills she had just popped, or maybe it was the realization that I was finally going.Approaching Dorval airport, we suspended our ongoing family drama to focus on the more mundane matter of getting me to my flight on time. Where was the exit for international flights? Where was the gate? My mother didn’t want to pay the steep airport parking fees and so screeched to stop outside the terminal’s sliding doors. We yanked my baggage out of the trunk and ran. We found the counter easily enough and were panting as I handed over my tickets. The agent told me where the departure lounge was and to be quick. Mother and I ran to the security wall and then, suddenly, it was time to part.We looked at each other awkwardly. Who would reach out first? Neither of us was good at this anymore, not like when I was a little girl, eagerly flinging my arms around her neck and crying, “Oh, mommy!”I think she, like me, was biting back tears. I had that panicked feeling again. What if I never saw her again? She was my tormentor, but she was the only family I had.“See Paris,” she said, her voice strained. “Have fun. Have fun for me.” On that point, I thought, I won’t let her down. Away from her and her suffocating ways, Paris was where I would find freedom. Even happiness. I already envisioned it as my dream city. The light at the end of my road. I willed myself not to cry, and stepped forward, past two uniformed men with electronic wands scanning my body for hidden weapons. They couldn’t detect my breaking heart. I feebly waved to my mother and walked on, with Paris, my destination, before me, and my life in Toronto at my back. When I looked around again, my mother was gone.

Table of Contents

1. Au Pair2. Wannabe3. Material Girl4. Daughter5. Miss Lonely Hearts6. Fiancée7. Fashionista8. Mother

Editorial Reviews

"[Kelly] takes the reader on a colourful travelogue along the narrow streets of the Marais district, the spectacular Tuileries gardens and the bustling Galleries Lafayette department store...Paris Times Eight is a fast-paced, breezy read, its substance subtly woven into a tale of a city whose glamour and beauty never fades."—Ottawa Citizen“Kelly recounts how each of her visits to the French capital coincided with a major change in her life, and helped her become the self-proclaimed fashionista she is today. ‘Each time I am in Paris, I find myself studying the female populace, emulating the way they wear their hair and tie a scarf, paint their nails and walk everywhere in heels.’ Men might even enjoy this read...”—FranceGuide Prestige 2010 "In 1979, Kelly, a freshly minted high-school graduate from Canada, made her first trip to Paris. She returned to the city eight times over the next two decades, and this book divided into eight chapters, one for each visit tracks her evolving relationship with her favorite city-away-from-home: at her first visit, she is young and impressionable, and the city is strange and wonderful; by the eighth visit, she is a mother of two, and Paris is an old friend, comfortable but still exciting. Written in a very engaging style (Kelly is a veteran journalist), the book shows us Paris in various incarnations, as seen through the eyes of a woman who sees it differently each time she visits. This charming travel memoir shows us how a person and a city can grow and change in tandem."—Booklist (Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2009, American Library Association.) “Deirdre Kelly’s writing is fast-paced and full of colour and gives the reader an insider’s view. She gets it right.”—Sally Armstrong, author of Bitter Roots, Tender Shoots: The Uncertain Fate of Afghanistan’s Women"Erudite, charming, and yet sharply appraising, Kelly's ode to Paris evokes the spirit of the city itself. A lovely book."—Patricia Pearson"In this elegantly written memoir, Deirdre Kelly evokes her infatuation with Paris. These eight chapters contain hundreds of adventures, subtly combining poetical descriptions with vivid, confessional details. We leave Kelly's City of Dreams refreshed and fulfilled."—Julie Enfield, author of Kiss and Tell: An Intimate History of Kissing"Deirdre Kelly is the latest in a line of marvelous writers from Steinbeck to Gertrude Stein who have found their muse in Paris. Hers is a poignant, honest and deliciously sexy coming-of-age story that speaks to any woman who has been there, or ever dreams of going."—Jan Wong, author of Beijing Confidential, A Tale of Comrades Lost and Found