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SUNDAY READING

A Change of Venue : 'As With Paris, I Love the Spirit, the Elan of Los Angeles'

October 20, 1985|ELIZABETH VENANT | Elizabeth Venant is a Times staff writer.

When I decided to move from Paris to Los Angeles two years ago, everybody had an opinion to express. The patissier , over whose savory bakery we lived, proudly showed me a crate of California strawberries that he had received to make his tarts. In Tours, a chef in a restaurant where we ate had worked in Los Angeles and said there was more to life than big cars and big streets. My hairdresser, a darling of le tout Paris , evoked the suburban density by lining up hairpins (" tac, tac, tac "); besides, he said, the women had no chic. But the clerk at the pharmacy down the street beamed at what he considered my enlightened decision. Breaking out of habitual pleasantries, he burbled about the glories of the California sun, le surfing , the friendly, relaxed people.

Why should anyone want to stay here in the grisaille , he said, waving hostilely at the moody gray sky that hangs like a tent over Paris for much of the winter. My pharmacy friend had visited his brother, who lives in Hollywood, and was planning to high-tail it there permanently himself.

But although Los Angeles seemed alluring, there were nevertheless bonds to sever. My husband, Pierre, is Parisian, and we would be leaving behind family and friends--not to mention a favorite dog, a friend's dachshund for whom we were " tatie et tonton ," aunt and uncle.

We had been shuttling back and forth between the States and France for the better part of two decades and had moved to Paris from New York six years before.

It was a good life. Our apartment had wide oak floorboards, two-feet-thick walls and shutters that we closed at night like a fortress. By day, a skittish Impressionist sun filtered through the lace curtains, dappling the maidenhair fern and the print cloth that covered our dining room table. Outside, sycamore trees lined the boulevard, and twice a week the sidewalks were transformed into a street market. The merchants set up their brightly colored stalls in the first morning light and, when awake, I would watch as, shouting and joking, they unloaded their crates and set out their cheese, fish, vegetables and fruit.

Before work, Pierre and I would have a croissant or a tartine (a slice of buttered bread) and a creme (coffee shot through with milk), standing at the bar of our local cafe. In the late afternoon we would sit outside under the poplars and watch the big stone lions spout water from the fountain in the square. Sometimes the Guarde Republicaine, France's elite horse troops, would parade by in their red coats and plumed helmets, their sabers glistening.

There was a sense of romance in daily life, and, vine-like, our existence became entwined with the history and beauty of Paris. But, as the nomadic will tell you, no place is perfect. There are things I won't miss.

Les Francais coinces : "the cornered French," timid, private and suspicious.

The pervasive spirit of the bourgeoisie. Ex-New York veterans of feminism, my husband and I had been transformed, despite our protests; he to the chef de famille (the head of the house) and I to the faithful sidekick, sa femme .

Telephone books that list the brasserie , La Coupole, under L and the Bureau du Tourisme Egyptien under B, not E. Evidemment !

High income and social taxes, complaints of which are as blood-curdling as any New Yorker's mugging tales. (However, one does receive retirement pay of up to 80% of salary, and 100% coverage for major illnesses.)

I could go on to talk about politics, but suffice it to say that the fresh air of the New World began to beckon. And so one day, after a tangle of deliberations, we called a cab, rode for a last time by our favorite places and hopped a flight to les U.S.A.

Among my hesitations about returning to the States was a distaste for mugging and other garden-variety crime. (Rape and murder still make headlines in Paris papers.) At LAX, when a man grabbed our suitcases and started to make off with them, we ran shouting after him. He was getting a taxi for us, he explained with a smile. That was his job.

On our trip into town, billboards loomed down from the skyline. Suddenly I yearned for rooftop chimney pots. The cab deposited us at an apartment at 3rd Street and Vermont Avenue; our rooms reeked with the stench of carpet cleaner. The furniture was black vinyl. We set out the few objects we had brought along and went to bed. Since then, however, we've found life in Los Angeles well-suited to the Gallic temperament.

If the French personalize professional procedures, my American compatriots approach their after-work hours with the same business sense they apply in the office. Dinner guests are presented by their professional credentials and conversation often focuses on work and business accomplishments (impolite at Parisian dinner parties).

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