"If I were you," the French Genius says, "I would not get your computer fixed now. I would wait until you get back home."
I lean across the Genius Bar at the Apple Store in Paris, inside Carrousel du Louvre. "Five weeks without a computer?"
"It will be much more expensive to fix it here. And if you want to buy a new one..."
"....You will not be happy with the French keyboard." He enters his diagnosis on his iPad for the Santa Monica Geniuses to read upon my return home. "In the meantime..." he says, "you can write with a pencil and paper."
The screen on my laptop is black, allowing a barely perceptible image of all that I can not get to beneath the darkness. I'd hoped it would cooperate with my needs and heal itself. I think of all that I can't do without it. I feel deprived, as if my broken computer has diminished my financial and creative potential, severing the deal that I made with myself: five weeks in Paris -- if I get plenty of work done... if I don't lose my momentum, writing. I look out the window of my swapped apartment at the cobblestone street where Matisse used to paint. A woman told me that she would never move from this street because Matisse's molecules linger in the air. Matisse and his molecules have me thinking. In the big scheme of things, what's five weeks without a computer? Will my life be any less of a life? Can I look at the bigger picture -- the one that can't be found on any screen? At this moment, I have no pressure-inducing deadline. The pressure I feel is coming from me. This is no catastrophe; this is a vacation from the trappings of technology. In fact, I will up my five-week challenge: No tweeting from my phone. No Facebook. I will hang a sign on my computer that says: 'Scuse me while I kiss the Paris sky!
The cold wind makes my nose run and chills my fingers inside my new gloves. So I let Paris come to me, today. I sip espresso at Café de Flore, watching the parade of people on Boulevard Saint-Germain. Flirty waiters carry trays of Welsh Rarebit, mille-feuille, plump profiteroles, carafes of wine and pitchers of hot chocolate. I am in Paris -- and I am not posting: Look at me! I am here! I am quietly acknowledging my presence to myself. How nutritious to just... be. Still, I have an urge to email a photo from my phone to a friend, a photo that screams: "Look where I am!" Surely, it can wait until I can write the words: "Look where I was." The act of emailing the moment will remove me from the moment.
A waiter brings a tarte Tatin to the guy at the next table who has barely looked up from his phone in half-an-hour. He places the phone on the table; it falls to the floor. He picks it up, looks at me.
"I have had this phone for three days. I did not want a smart phone," he says, his Italian accent, drenching his words with drama. "I am already on my computer ten hours a day... I hate this phone!" He steps outside, stands in the doorway. People enter the cafe, walking past him. He doesn't see them. He's feeding two addictions: smoking while staring into the phone that he hates.
The warmth of the fireplace, in the lobby of Hotel Daubusson, reaches out to me and my tastefully upholstered chair. The warmth of the good-looking man, seated in the corner, reaches out to no one; he is texting on his Blackberry.
"Êtes-vous français?" I say.
"Oui. But I went to school in the United States." He sets his cup of hot chocolate on my table, sits beside me and says: "Harvard." He tells me that he is un avocat (a lawyer), his specialty: intellectual property.
He glances at his Blackberry and I ask him the question that I have been asking myself. "Why would someone rather connect with a person on a computer screen than with someone who is within touching distance?"
"It is easier to say things in an Instant Message," he says.
"Instant Messages are brief." I show him the message that I received from a friend in Los Angeles: 'Want u 2 know I'm thinking of u.'
The Frenchman who went to Harvard shakes his head, then says: "'I would instant message you -- 'What kind of sex do you like?'"
"I would instant message you -- 'That's a question best answered in person.'"
My fabulous new, Irish playwright-friend and I sip cappuccino in a cafe, near Hôtel de Ville, in the room where live plants sprout from the wall. "I used to be on Facebook," she says. "I stopped because my ex-boyfriend was posting photos of his new girlfriend."
Music suddenly distracts me. A familiar voice wafts from the speakers -- mine! A barista starts to dance. If I were to tweet the moment, it might read: "A barista is dancing to my new single in a Paris café. Oh la la!" But I don't tweet. Instead, I tell the French guy who's nodding his head in time to my music: "C'est moi." I say this as the manager of the cafe asks my friend to close her laptop.
"Computers are bad for the plants," she says.
Confession: I have emailed from my iPhone; sent a few texts (in French) and occasionally (and only from my apartment), sent just the right photo to just the right person. But I have survived without my computer for 20 days. I feel free... light. Actually, I prefer writing with pen and paper in cafes. I am more connected to my surroundings and I am not compromising the ambience. At a legendary brasserie, I was granted permission to write in a private upstairs-room where Hemingway used to write. I overheard two managers weighing in on the decision; and the deciding factor: "Pas d'ordinateur... seulement stylo et papier." No computer... just pen and paper.
I am writing in my notebook, now, upstairs at Flore. A young Taiwanese man sits with his back to the flowers that bloom from the window boxes in optimistic defiance of the gloomy day. He is a student at USC in Los Angeles, studying microchip technology. "In Taiwan, when I go out to eat with friends, we pile our phones on the table," he says. "Whosever phone rings first must pay the whole bill. If we don't do that, people will talk on their phones." He admires my abstinence from Facebook and Twitter, but admits: He couldn't summon the willpower to stay away from them for five weeks. And life without a computer for that long? He can't imagine the horror of that scenario.
I tell him that a friend, who is an avid chess player, said my attitude toward my computer is "very Zen." And that he assured me: It will help with other obstacles in my life.
"That is awesome," the Taiwanese student says.
"I hope so."
On the metro, the thumbs of the girl, standing beside me at the door, hover and twitch over the keyboard of her phone, anticipating her next text, while an announcement blares: "Please mind the gap between the train and the platform!"
The last few days in Paris always go by the quickest. I am feeding my senses inspiration-concentrate. At Musée du Montparnasse, I marvel at the 19th-century paintings of Georges Gasté -- the light in the eyes of the women that he painted. We don't see the light (or lack of it) in someone's eyes when we communicate through computers. Are people in the 21st century losing the ability to look into each others eyes long enough to see the light?
At the sculpture garden of Musée Zadkine, the branches of a tree reach for the sky like the arms of the sculpted man beside it. Man; tree, they move me to tears. Inside the museum, I say to a kind, French guard: "It is like the tree and the sculpted man are reaching toward the sky and shouting: "'Look at me... I am here.'"
"It is important for me to meet people like you," he says. "So many people are closed... sour." His face assumes a mock-grim expression.
I touch the shoulder of his maroon jacket, in gratitude.
"You smile, you touch, you see," he says.
Through the window, I shout at the tree and the sculpted man: "Look at me... I am here! Regardez-moi! Je suis ici!"
The guard laughs. Then shouts too: "Regardez-moi! Je suis ici!"
The Santa Monica Geniuses did not agree with the Paris Genius, but gave the remedy a try. It only postponed the eventual solution. After seven weeks without a computer, a Santa Monica Genius hands me my laptop. "All fixed," he says. "Most people would have had a nervous breakdown by now. But you're still smiling."
"I have super powers," I say. "I smile, I touch... I see."
My computer and I are at my writing table. I am looking at my Facebook page. It is filled with Happy Birthday wishes from Facebook friends. I stare at the blank box at the top of the page that says: "What's on your mind?" And I write: "Just when I thought I was out... you pull me back in."