Flying by the Midnight Light of Paris

I definitely have some catching up to do!  I always struggle with the balance between experiencing, and writing my experiences down to treasure in the future, or share with others.  The last few days have definitely been a blur, in a good way.  The heat of the days melted into my nights, and the lights of the city at night bled into my dawns.  Night and day became one, delineated only by experiences.

After dropping my cousin off, I met a Parisian friend who I knew from studying abroad.  I hadn’t seen him in 4 years, but we were as friendly as ever.  He had just come from a play, and I was worried it was a bit late for him, but we climbed onto his motorcycle anyway, just before midnight.  It was an absolute rush!  I have only ridden two other times on the back of a moto, and it was not for as long, or in as thrilling of a place.

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As we rode swiftly through the warm night, I began recognizing places from my first trip to Paris a year ago.  They would come to me in a flash-there is the street corner next to the Citroen dealership, where I sat down and cried because my French was not serving me as well as I’d hoped, and we couldn’t find out hotel-or-this is where my boyfriend pressed me against the wall and kissed me in front of La Tour Eiffel.  It was magical, re-living these memories at high speed.

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My friend had a route planned in his head, so I just enjoyed the view.  He took me to La Notre Dame, which was magnificently lit at night, and showed me where he had attended University.  That neighborhood was still awake and alive with partying, unlike the area I am staying in that shuts down at 11 pm.  We parked the moto and walked down a small cobblestone street lined with bars.  Here, another memory washed over me of when I was visiting Germany, and had walked down a similar street, with partiers pouring out of the bars, loudly laughing, making out, or scuffling.  I was told to choose a bar based on my gut instinct, so I chose a small, wood paneled bar at the end.  I treated my friend to a drink to thank him for taking me on this adventure.  We took our time with the drinks, and he helped me work on my French.

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We got back onto the moto, and he took me past the famous Moulin Rouge, with its windmill lit at night.  The area was still pretty overrun with tourists.  Then, we rode up a hill, through winding cobblestone streets and ended up at La Sacre-Couer, overlooking the City of Lights.  It was a magnificent view, but I especially loved the intimate, quiet streets in an area that has a very old feel to it.  The tourists were gone, and I felt like I stepped into the past-not that I was merely a tourist looking at the ghost of what had been.

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We walked through the streets and tried to find a view of La Tour Eiffel.  As we walked, we passed a man who was rambling in French, and had a deep, gravelly voice.  I had no idea what he was saying as we passed him in the shadows, but my friend turned to me and remarked in English, “now you have seen a true French Drunk!”

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We got back on the moto and descended the hill.  It felt like a roller coaster following the serpentine streets, and feeling the cobbles below.  He turned right, and we rounded a circle where my friend came to stop.  I didn’t realize where we were until he began walking away.  I took off my helmet, which had been blocking my peripheral vision, and saw that I was standing with a breathtaking view of La Tour Eiffel!  I had not been on this side of it when I visited last year.  We were in a space between two buildings, up on a hill that made us seem like we were halfway up the tower.  It was not lit this early in the morning, but I really enjoyed seeing the silhouette.  Something about seeing the looming tower at night, made the structure even more impressive.

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We left La Tour Eiffel and were getting close to what my friend told me he had been saving for last.  I was nearly disappointed that the night was coming to a close because he’d spoiled me so thoroughly with this adventure!  I am not used to riding a motorcycle, so I admit, my legs, and arms were getting a bit sore from holding on, but it was worth it.  When we entered Le Champs-Elysees, all of that melted away, as my eyes drank in the splendor of the lights at night on the broad street.  Ahead of me, L’arc de Triomphe was lit, and getting closer.  The way the darkness surrounded everything except the avenue made it seem like we were racing down a tunnel of light towards L’arc, and it felt like we were riding faster than we had all night.  My friend kept going as we approached L’arc, and drove around it as I soaked in the view.  I had only been there in the day, and it was quite a different monument at night.  So far, this was the highlight of an already amazing night, so I leaned into my friends ear, and asked if we could do it again!  He happily obliged.

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On a high from Le Champs-Elysee and L’arc de Triomphe experience, I had no agenda, and was just enjoying our ride.  We stopped by a bridge where it is popular to lock your secrets, and write the name of you and your love on a lock, and throw the key into La Seine.  I was led down stone steps, and we walked around a small park and ended up at the very tip of a stone island in the middle of La Seine.  It was beautiful seeing the river flowing by on each side, and I could appreciate the view of both riverbanks, with its impressive centuries-old buildings.

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My friend took me back to where we started, but then asked if we had seen everything I wanted to.  A part of me just was not ready for this amazing adventure to end, and I absolutely love Le Louvre.  I didn’t quite realize it was directly back the way we had come, but again, my friend kindly obliged saying, “I could ride through Paris all night!” We sped through the night, in and out of tunnels with hills-it was so exhilarating!

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The space in front of Le Louvre pyramid was completely empty.  It was just me, my friend, and the gargantuan glass pyramid.  The vast space between the historical buildings felt calm, and peaceful.  We walked around the gardens a little bit, and over to a smaller arch.  Every once in a while, a small wind would kick up the dust into swirls dancing around the benches.  There were lovers pressed against the trees, and at times, they seemed to be a part of the branches, with their arms reaching overhead in a moment of passion.

I had to go to the bathroom, and my Parisian friend told me to just go in the garden.  He told me it would be a badge of honor to say that I went pee in Le Jardin des Tuileries, and that the French always pee in public.  I had seen that happen enough already on my visit that I knew he was telling the truth.  So, I earned my badge of honor.

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What an amazing treat to see the City of Lights with nothing around me but the night air. We got back onto the moto one last time, and rode through the tunnels of light, charging fast, with the crest of dawn at our backs.

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Why Paris?

I’ve often tried to write for myself only, and I find that I end up tailoring my sentences for an audience. I have been trying to change that on this trip, but let’s face it, there is a reason why I am an actress, and have been pursuing performance since I was six. I had a lot of expectations for this trip to Paris, and I cannot think of a more perfect day. I think it is important to explain how I have found myself here in an apartment in Paris.

I am accompanying my cousin to Paris this Summer while she attends an art class abroad. My cousin is an amazing person, but has suffered from being the “baby” in the family. While I am an only child, my mom and her sister are very close, twins in fact. So, my aunt’s two daughters (my cousins) and I, are very close. Well, we were very close. According to my family, I never went through the typical teen phases. I did not yell, or resent my family and rebel. I feel that I did, but in my own ways. I do know that I did not become a brat, and despondent. It was hard when my two younger cousins went through what I am told is typical teen behavior. I thought I would be the cool older cousin, but that wasn’t so. Our giggly, secret-sharing sleepovers dwindled, and I began to truly feel like an only child.

My cousin began to have some medical issues, and I wanted to swoop in and play the big sister role, and save the day! However, they kept me at a distance, and never confided in me. Paris is not just a chance for my cousin to grow, and give herself the help she needs, but it is also an opportunity for me to feel like I made a difference. Over a year we pulled together the puzzle pieces that had always been floating around us and realized that this was not a new problem. My cousin had been suffering for years.

My cousin’s struggles paralleled my own, but I didn’t fully come to terms with that until this year.  Damn, did I envy my sixteen year old self who had her shit together so much more than my young adult-self. It took me a long time to unveil my own problems to my family and explain that I had insight to help them decode my cousin’s difficulties. It is hard to explain, but I have always been a rock for them.  My family has always had me on a pedestal, and I can not honestly say that I do not enjoy that position. I like to help others, yes, but I am sure there is a selfish layer, that enjoys the love and praise I receive. I can’t tell if that makes me a bad person. It is not as if I have ever done anything disingenuous to earn their praise, in fact, sometimes I feel like I must be channeling an ancestor to have so much wisdom.

Without knowing me, I am surely beginning to sound smug, but please know I am repeating what I have heard from my own family. If you can see this, and give me the benefit of the doubt, then you may realize all of this could be a burden.  Sometimes it is, but most of the time it drives me to be my very best.   I strive to continue to be perfect for my family. I want to be the best. I want to be the savior (please excuse the religious reference, it is not meant as such). I am desperate to make a difference and feel that I existed in this world for a reason. A human yearning.

Rounding back to my original point…I am in Paris to make sure that my cousin has a good, healthy time, and that if she needs help, or family support, someone is here.  Of course, I have my own agenda, too. I don’t want her to just survive here in Paris. I want her to thrive. My own Summer experiences really defined who I am today. I did multiple camps since I was 8, and backpacking trips.  I cannot say that my experiences were all easy, happy Summer camp experiences. I often cried, felt pain, and wanted to go home to safety. But, these are the challenges that taught me to be independent, adaptable, be my own friend, and persevere.

Today was the most perfect day for reasons that may seem simple.  My cousin asked me if I wanted to have dinner.  I took some time for myself, prepared for a very rough afternoon of coaching her through stress, and encouraging her to keep at it, and met her at her hotel. I got a bit lost on the way, tested my French for the second day, and found that I could ask for directions and understand them. Yippee! So, I found my cousin at her hotel, and she took the reins and chose a nice cafe near her hotel. We both ordered the same pasta dish, and thoroughly enjoyed it. This allowed for conversation about how much healthier the food is in Europe than in the U.S. and the fact that I have heard many people state that they gain weight eating the same food in the U.S. as they did when they lived in Europe. (Side note…what are we eating back home!!?!?!?!) She mentioned wanting to try a wine, so I picked a Chablis. It was not sweet enough for her, so, ultimately I finished it. It was a very relaxing, slow-paced meal and talk. We both commented on the difference in the pace of life in Paris, and enjoyed the time to just talk.  I think it was the first time that we were both this honest and in depth about our own problems. I believe this was the first time she really understood that I have experience with the same struggles she faces and that I am not just empathizing and trying to get her to open up.  I felt a moment of triumph and excitement.

We traveled on the metro together and she even helped me when I had trouble figuring out which way to go. Before Paris, I thought I was going to have to force her to plan out a trip just to have her fail, experience failure and see that it is okay, and get to the other side. Instead, she really took charge and took her class assignment seriously. She took some pictures, got more into it, and even ignored the street artists dancing that had me clapping and cheering at Le Notre Dame, in order to continue taking photos.

Then, we had a perfect travel moment that I hope my cousin will carry with her.  I have always enjoyed travel, because it teaches me to let go.  When I let go, the world becomes easier, and things just flow.  My cousin needed a lock for her locker at her Summer program, and we were walking in a park next to La Seine.  We asked the guards if there was store where we could buy a lock and it turned out that we were next to a famous bridge where people lock their love or secrets to the bridge, and throw away the key. So, across the bridge was store where we bought her a lock!  She was so excited with how well that worked out. I seized the opportunity to show her that life can be kind, and offer gifts such as this.  Over a scoop of fresh, delicious dark chocolate ice cream, she kept saying, “I’m going to have to tell people about this! This is a really great story!” Then we got back on the metro, I showed her my apartment, and then took her back to her hotel.  When we said goodbye, she surprised me by smiling wide, throwing her arms around me and declaring, “I had a wonderful day!  Let’s do this again tomorrow!”  I wanted her to know that it meant a lot to me too, so I thanked her for making it such an amazing day.

I am nervous about how things will go from here, but I will always treasure this day.  Here I am, hanging my hopes on this 3-week experience in Paris: I hope my cousin can find her own inner strength, and grow. And I hope her newfound strength endures.

Paris, July 2013.

Anonymous Abroad

I do not want to have a name. I do not want to have a face.  Whenever I claim my work, it becomes stunted because I worry too much about the details, when the beauty is in the obscure.  I do not want to coax friends over Facebook, Twitter, etc., to follow me so that I can feel good about myself and my writing.  I have decided to do this the, er, old fashioned way (using contemporary tools).  This may end up being nothing more than a diary, with no online presence, and no followers, or, maybe it will inspire other artists who feel the same burning desire to turn their observations, experiences, thoughts, dreams into something more tangible.

For me, it is a journey of self-exploration-one that I have been on for twenty-five years now.  I am a quarter-centenarian, and I have decided to stop making excuses, stop allowing my fear of failure to limit myself, and to just. keep. expressing.

Paris, July 2013.