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Christmas Past With My Ex, French Edition

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It began with my mother and stepfather wanting to take my daughter and stepdaughter to Italy. My mom's a planner, so she brought this up years ahead of time. I am not a planner, so I don't remember what year that was.

Over time, the trip evolved to include France. My ex's sister and niece live in France, because they are fancy. I was writing on a Very Stressful Television Show, and my ex was being extremely fantastic with our daughter, so I said he should also go to France to see his sister and niece... with my daughter, stepdaughter and my mother and stepfather.

As the trip grew closer, it dawned on me that it was weird for my ex to go on a trip with my parents without... me. (It had already dawned on everyone else. I'm a late dawner). Also, the trip started to look like it was taking place around Christmas; surely I'd be free for that. And then the writer's strike happened, so yeah... not only was I free... I was compelled to be free. Forced to be free by a vote that I was almost positive I'd remembered to mail in.

We arrive in Paris. It dawns on me that our family has never taken a trip with each other, even when my ex and I were together, so I start feeling anxious. (I've got to do something about this "after the fact" dawning problem). My ex is jovial and excited. He can speak French, as can my daughter and stepdaughter because they're smarter than I am. (I took Spanish in high school and can only remember that "el periodico es en la biblioteca." Don't you miss bibliotecas? I know I do. And don't get me started on the shakiness of el periodico business). The elevator in the hotel is tiny... aggressively tiny, as if it's tininess were a hostile gesture towards me.

We go to the first of many cafes. The coffee is stronger than coke and I can say that with authority. When you tip French people, they look at you with their big Audrey Tatou eyes and sigh. "What eez theez?" I explain, "I'm trawying to tip you!" but my New York accent sounds so exaggerated to me, it's like I'm Renee Taylor. When I tell this to my stepfather, he scoffs and says it's all in my head, as if that makes it better. Fine. Let's stipulate everything is in my head. Can you get it out of my head?

Everyone is having fun, but I'm constantly checking Nikki Finke for information about the strike, believing if I were home I'd be able to sort this whole thing out. I start feeling homesick. Oh, for the gigantic elevators and weak coffee of Los Angeles.

After Paris we're supposed to take a train to Montpelier where my ex's sister and niece and her family live. But there's a train strike. I feel unified with my French train-working brethren as I am in the midst of my own writing union struggle. Viva la revolucion, except now we have to fly to Montpelier. Since the trains are down, everyone has to fly to Montpelier.

We wait on line to check in for our entire lives. A French airport official tells us someone has to go ahead of us, as he is disabled. He has tourettes. He has French tourettes, and he is on our plane to Montpelier. French tourettes is just like American tourettes except you can't understand the curse words, because you took Spanish.

Montpelier is beautiful, with cute shops, and crepes filled with Nutella and a little trolley going through it like the trolley at the Grove. (The elevators at the Grove? Enormous). Everything is several different kinds of old all crammed together -- "70's era telephones old" plus "I'm fighting you with a sword" old. I buy a fantastic velvet coat in an aggressively tiny shop... sort of hyperventilating as I put it on my Amex, what with my Nikki Finke updates. We hook up with my ex's sister and niece for brunch -- my family is like a Neil Simon play, while my ex's is glamorous and takes very long walks through the woods with their dogs. The wine at brunch flows like wine. At some point, my mom launches into her hilarious "I got a back alley abortion by a German dwarf" story. My stepfather corrects her: "She wasn't a dwarf. She was a perfect midget." (It's a funny story for which the words, "you had to be there," have never been more confusing). My ex's sister tells us her abortion story, and then also a story about her dog having a miscarriage and dying. In the woods.

My daughter and stepdaughter eventually went on to Italy with my parents... my ex spent Christmas with his sister and niece and niece's family, but I just wanted to go to a movie. That's what my people do on Christmas. I bought myself crepes filled with Nutella, and took the adorable trolley to see Elizabeth: The Golden Age in French with English subtitles. It dawns on me that my anxiety about the trip is related to my anxiety about the strike.

Both things eventually ended, but that velvet coat? Totally worth it.