A Paris, Dans Mes Rêves

I greatly miss the City of Light.  I miss being able to go to someone who is an expert in every piece of food you could desire.  I suppose it seems tedious to Americans, but I saw a great quaintness to the practice of going to la fromagerie for my cheese, la boulangerie for my bread, le magasin de fruit et légumes for my fruit and vegetables, le marchand de vins for my wine, et la pâtisserie for my sweets.  It’s those simple things that stay with me after I travel.  Of course, I remember La Tour Eiffel and La Notre Dame in all their gargantuan grace, but it is the little things that are nearly intangible and define a culture that left the greatest imprint on me.     

So, this is how I find myself in my small, private side yard, so reminiscent of a European patio that it convinced me to take the apartment, with a glass of Bordeaux in my hand, a plate of brie, a baguette, and a cigarette, so desperate to reconnect with my literary self reborn a year ago in Paris.  It was in Paris that I learned how to write without pressure.  To write for me.  My degree in English Literature forced me to always be writing for something or someone.  While I felt myself occasionally getting lost in my assignments, and at times finding pride in my words, I was mostly on a mission to complete an assignment, bank the grade, and get outside, or to a party.  

I would never dream of writing with a glass of wine for an assignment that needed to be turned in, but in Paris I learned that sipping and savoring a Bordeaux was a gateway to letting the words flow.  It was Paris that taught me discipline and creativity can coincide, that one does not have to squelch the other.  I learned to write nightly, with abandon, and yet the lack of care proffered superior writing.  Over a nice Bordeaux and my latest cheese trial, I found my inner self.  I am one who thrives in solitude and reflection, especially in the wee hours of the morning.  

I see the world in colors and swirls of movement, like a Monet painting in which everything bleeds together, and yet is one.  My words come from me in some combination of a flowing waltz and a pop and lock street dance, like halting hiccups in which I can see what I feel, and search for the letters to string together into words, into sentences, into meaning, for everyone else.  I hope I am succeeding.    

 

Cheers,

QuarterCentenarianAbroad

 

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Cathartic Rain

I awoke feeling incredibly repressed and bottled up.  My chest was tight, and I had the feeling that I needed to let go in order to take on the world, but I found every reason to not get out of bed.  I had to check my phone, or read some chapters in my book, or think about what I had to get done without actually doing it.  Then the sun began to fade, and through the skylight I could see an encroaching gray.  I had read that July is the rainiest month in Paris, but so far, I enjoyed over two weeks of sun.

I allowed my nights to blend into my days, and going to bed at four or five in the morning wasn’t a problem because I could just get up and start my day at noon, enjoy a cafe with my cousin or a friend, and then enjoy the occasional bar or a glass of wine at my apartment while writing in the stillness of the night.  Most people, then, would probably be disappointed to wake up and find the gray, and feel they lost their day.  However, it is as if the world felt the same urgent need to acquiesce.  There is a beauty in the act of letting go.  It is cathartic.  I feel like I am crying with the earth, but it a pure moment of clarity.  I feel cleansed by the rain.  I came to terms with the fact that somehow I have fallen for this place, or this time in my life, and I am terrified to have it end.

But for now, like the Earth and the rain, I am going to let go.  Today is the day I am going to explore Paris in the rain and see how the locals deal with weather.  I might even get on a bike here for the first time.  Playing in the rain makes me feel alive.  I’m like the birds in the trees singing through the rain.

I just had a de ja vu while proofreading this piece.  I know I’m in the right place.

Strangers and Social Norms

My Dutch friends came to town, and we only had one day together.  It took a while to coordinate, and we finally met at a cafe, shared some wine, and decided that instead of sightseeing, we wanted to relax together in a park.  We got provisions for a picnic, and went to a more residential area.  We found a spot in the grass and joined the locals in soaking up the sun, and watching the birds fly.

After enjoying a languid afternoon, we decided to head to a cafe for some dinner and a drink.  Just as we were about to leave, a man entered the park.  He was about forty-five, well dressed with Khakis, a long sleeve button shirt, and canvas loafers.  He paused as he entered the gate, and looked at our group with deep interest.  I noticed him, and he circled slightly around our group.  There was a mix of intensity and childish interest in his eyes.  He didn’t seem threatening, but he certainly was stepping on some social boundaries.

He was staring intently at my friend who has very unique, gorgeous fiery orange and red hair.  The sunset was behind her, illuminating her hair in a very stunning manner.  I had already commented on it myself.  He came over, and immediately in English said, “Please, please, I must see your face. I must look at your.  You are so…so…” and he searched our faces to see if anyone knew French, because he could not find the word.  He made eye contact with me and said, “jolie?” and I said, “beautiful.” He turned to my friend and said, “you are so beautiful.”

Why did I engage with him?  Well, I have experience working in the field of medicine with psychiatric patients.  This man seemed more the type to respond to being “yessed” away, then ignored, or asked to leave.  And, he didn’t seem like a threat.  He was staring at my friend like an artist with a deep appreciation for a piece.

The man went on to ask, “can I just, sit for a moment with you?” and he began to crouch on the ground. Someone said something about the fact that we were about to go to dinner and he got up quickly and said, “No! Please, don’t let me bother you.  Please, you could just sit here for another half hour, and look like that with the sun behind you.”  He began to back away, as if he would rather leave this art, and miss seeing it, than be the cause of its demise. Then he tried to explain himself to us, saying, “you see, I am…I am losing my mind.  I am not right up here.”  I felt so bad for this man-caught between two worlds, between his mind and the world we were in.  I could see a deep sadness in his eyes.  He was at the point where he was aware of the fact that he is slipping away, and yet there is nothing he can do to stay.

I looked him in the eyes, and said “okay” because I wanted him to know someone was listening.  He said, “sometimes I feel like I am dancing, but I am not.”  I thought to myself, at least he has positive hallucinations!  Then he looked at me and asked, “why does this happen?  Why do we have to age? Why do our bodies have to get old? Yours is too.” “I know,” I said. He was looking at me, searching me for answers.  The only thing I could come up with was, “C’est la vie.”  It seemed like a trite platitude and I felt bad that was all I could offer. However, he looked at me as if I was enlightened, and had given him a new way of thinking of life.  “C’est la vie. Thank you.  Thank you. You are right.”

At this point, one girl was shifting uncomfortably because he was next to her, the other girl felt objectified by him,  her brother was silently sizing the man up, and my cousin was looking down trying to ignore the whole matter.  So, I was the only one that would make eye contact with him.  He looked at me, and with urgency he asked, “do you love?”  Again, I had the inclination to say something broad such as “I try to love everyone,” and he must have seen this because he corrected, “are you in love?”  I gave a very emphatic “yes” and he continued, “does he know it?” Again, I responded emphatically, “yes, definitely.”  “Good! That is good!”

Someone mentioned that we should get going to dinner, and he said, “yes, I will leave you.”  Then he looked us all firmly in the eyes, and he pleaded, “make sure you do what makes you happy.  Make sure you do what you like to do.  Do what you like.”  The space around his head seemed to be filled with unspoken thoughts.  Maybe he didn’t do everything he wanted to. Perhaps he made choices for money, and not happiness.  Now that he was losing his mind, he felt he no longer had time.  The regrets hung thick in the air around his face as he pleaded with us to live happy, fulfilling lives.

I don’t really care if he was losing his mind.  His advice was sound.  He was a paradox.  He spoke the sage words of an adult, and yet had the glint and gleam in his eyes of an earnest six-year old.

At that moment, a couple asked him to take their picture, and he seemed torn.  He didn’t want to leave us, but he knew that in polite society, he should.  It made me think about societal norms, because if we were all a bunch of six-year olds in a sandbox, it would be okay for a curious child to come over and talk about what is pretty, and what is scary, and what is happy and important to them.  We have been so trained in society to be wary, because there are malicious people who can take advantage of kindness.  However, this man just wanted to appreciate the basic beauty of everyday life, and impart wisdom before he slips away from reality, and is unable to connect with others.

I felt terrible sorrow for this man.  On the one hand he has a good perspective on life, but on another, I could see his despair and fear of slipping away from reality-afraid he would not be able to enjoy this world much longer.  I know that my cousin and my friends found it easier to shrug him off as a person with mental health issues.  However, at times I wondered if he wasn’t an angel-some sort of guardian or messenger, or even a regular human being used to channel a higher message.
We are all on a journey, and we are all traveling.  I learn the most about life and myself when I travel, so it would be a fitting time.  It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we never saw that man again, and if he never even existed at all.

Bastille 2013 en Paris a La Tour Eiffel!

Liberte! Fraternite! Egalite!

I had the pleasure of seeing the fireworks over La Tour Eiffel for Bastille Day.  It was fantastic!  My host was kind enough to meet me, and we grabbed a drink before the fireworks.  It was already a pretty big day for me walking-wise, because I went to Versaille with my cousin.  It was a pretty great experience, but very tiring.  It was an extremely hot day, and we walked further than I did when I visited Versailles last year.

Luckily, my host is as much of an excited six-year old as I am when it comes to big crowd events.  So, we spent the beginning of the fireworks trying to get closer and get that better view, and it actually paid off.  We were able to see almost the entire tower, and have a nearly clear view (minus some tree branches which I did not mind), of the entire show.

The music was timed to the fireworks, and every once in a while they worked a speech about freedom into the soundtrack.  It was beautiful, and inspiring.  It did amaze me how many songs were from American bands, and in English, considering we were celebrating France’s independence day.

Then, my host and I headed back in the sea of people.  At times it reminded me of an apocalyptic scenario-all the stores and restaurants were closed down, and everyone was headed in the same direction, but could barely move.  It was strange because in my country when there is a national holiday like this, arrangements are made-the metro is open longer, bars and clubs stay open.  In France it was all the same, and my host had to rush to make the metro back home.

She walked me back to my apartment and showed me that there is an entire street I have not yet discovered.  She also showed me that there are places to get liquor late at night, more bars than I thought, and snacks, too!  We parted happily, and have plans to hang out again.  That makes me happy because I get to practice my French, and I am making a local friend!

Vive la France, et vive Liberte!

Humans and Paradoxical Parisians

There is a fundamental problem with all human beings, and that is that we always want more.  There are people that will tell you this is not a problem, and that it can only lead to further success in life, earning more money, or getting a raise and being able to buy that house that you want.  However, there is an equally as valid argument for why this is not healthy.

In order to feel contentment, one must not want for more.  Yet, once we achieve a goal, we often enjoy the feeling of triumph for a short time, and then we want more.  Take, for instance, my goal of getting to La Fromagerie et Le Boulangerie: I was trying to get there for a few days.  Once I did, I felt triumphant.  In my journal I even began my entry with, Je suis triomphante!  How proud I was!

Now, I am sitting in my apartment in Paris, fully funded, and yet I feel discontent.  The reason is that I did not hear from my Dutch friend who was coming into town, my cousin is tired from her school week and sleeping, and I hear people in the street having fun, and I have no one to play with!  Boo. Hoo.  Right?  I’m even disgusted with myself!

When I first arrived, it was enough to be in a Parisian apartment, on my own, with a glass of French wine and a baguette and brie.  Now, I have all those things, and the opportunity to write, but I want more! Well, frankly, I know the area is safe, and I could go out, and there are bars open, but I just do not feel up to it.  Perhaps that is where the real frustration comes in.  Not only that, I am disappointed that I do not have more conversational French in my repertoire after all of my French schooling.  I would stick out like a sore thumb, and when I first arrived in town, I was willing to take that, but now I am a bit spent.

A few days ago, I was, in my opinion, harshly judged in a cafe.  It was my second night, and everything was going so well.  I could tell I was in a safe area, and there is a cafe/bar that stays open in my area until 2 am.  I went there for a drink, and the waiters did not come to take my order.  After a few minutes, one came up and asked if I was waiting for someone, and I told him no.  Then, a few minutes later, another waiter came to take my order and I told him what I wanted.  Again, this man asked if I was waiting for someone.  I told him no.  Apparently it was strange for me to be drinking alone. Now, in the U.S. this is not common, but I surely do not think people would be this surprised.

Finally, I was served my drink, and because I was a bit uncomfortable, I was on my phone.  This is an affliction most Americans have, and at home is drives me insane.  So I was a bit miffed by my own hypocrisy.  However, there were only two other couples in the cafe and two men having a drink, so I didn’t think it was rude or offensive.  It was also the only time my family and I had been able to speak since I had arrived.

I noticed the waiters staring, and some mumbling, but I could not believe the cellphone would be that offensive.  I lowered it at times, and decided not to let them bother me, because I was a paying customer, and enjoying my time.  I ordered a second drink, and continued to enjoy the cafe, and message my family.

Now, anyone who has been in France knows that cafes take forever to give you your bill.  It is part of the charm and culture that there is a place that is not rushed, compared to our usual lives.  However, the waiter came before I had even finished my second drink, and in French said, “whenever you are ready” and left my check.

Even before I experienced this, my host had told me I would find the French paradoxical, (and for the record, she told me she did not think it sounded like I did enough to offend them).  At first, I did not know what she meant, but then my cousin told me a story about when she accidentally bumped into a woman on the subway with her bag.  She turned to apologize, and the woman yelled at her.  This apparently happened to my cousin’s friend as well.

I told my host that I finally understood what she meant.  On the one hand, Parisians can relax all day in a cafe, sip their wine, slowly eat their meal, and stroll on the street in a way that every New Yorker has forgotten, and yet, there are still some unwritten rules, and many ways that a tourist can bring a Parisian to quick anger.

As for the things I can control: I am here, in my apartment, relaxing with a bottle of Bordeaux, a ripe avocado, a baguette and some brie.  I know life is not really bad, and I am fortunate.  I am living in the here and the now, and my writing helped bring me back to a place of appreciation.

The adventure continues…