Thursday, November 14, 2013

a la prochaine paris

A slight nudge and a gentle suggestion that I wake up, considering my taxi would be there in three minutes was how I started my last morning in Paris. I’d been sleeping beside Annie on her futon for the past three weeks, in addition to every weekend for the past year and a half, so she  was more than accustomed to my hasteful negligence of an alarm, and not all too surprised by my calm stupor as I prioritized brushing a night’s worth of red wine stains off my teeth and giving her about a million hugs, over my trans-atlantic flight. 

After multiple trips dragging my luggage down the stairs, I’d missed my taxi and had seven floors of angry tenants who would probably forever remember me as the noisy one who technically didn’t even live in the building but always used their hall bathrooms. Or in the case of the older woman on the 4th floor, who saw me cleaning Christmas tree branches after I foolishly drug one up the stairs the night before, I’m the maid who didn’t understand much French. 

Staring out the window on the way to the airport, I continued the tradition started only a few days earlier during a tear-filled goodbye with a French friend I met in New York three summers ago. We could barely look at each other as we said a la prochaine, loosely translating to “until next time.” I realized then that was the only way my heavy heart would make it through one of the most difficult transitions of my life. So with a shifted perspective that I wouldn’t have to stay gone forever, I added, a la prochaine Paris, to my rotating repertoire of French phrases and decided I ought to properly send my regards to the city that’s become a best friend. 

Beginning in the 17th arrondissement, I ran through Parc Monceau, past the President’s house and Bugsby’s, a bar we’d frequent for overpriced but conveniently located beer. I nodded a familiar hello as I peered down Faubourg Saint Honore, one of the most expensive streets in Paris, where I never shopped, but would walk along as I followed smells of my favorite burger truck. I dodged crazy Parisian drivers as I crossed the Champs Elysees, and as I came to Pont Alexander III, I was once again overwhelmed by the majesty of the Invalides before me. I ran across the cobblestones of the Seine, as I recalled many wonderful moments epitomizing the cliche way of the French as we watched the sunset along the river with friends. I got the same thrill that came each time I rode my bike down Quai des Tuileries, with arms spread wide and the wind making me feel practically invincible. I zigzagged back and forth along the bridges, stopping to admire the Eiffel tower and perform my civic duty by saving a couple from taking an eiffie-selfie. I wandered the backstreets of Saint Germain passing the apartment I stayed in with my parents, allowing myself to get lost one last time before ultimately ending in Luxembourg Gardens. It was incredible to see the transformation the leaves had made in just a few days and as I sat hugging my knees close with tears forming puddles in the corners of my eyes, I thought about the very way Paris had captivated my entity. 

Paris challenged me to find what truly makes me happy and to make a point to daily indulge in that. It taught me the importance of slowing down and that progress or work should never define me. It made me value close friendships and to appreciate each and every small interaction with strangers on the street. It showed me the beauty in disaster and that at the very least I’ll have a good story out of it. It has given me remarkable patience after daily 45 minute metro rides and the reality that French paperwork may take six months. It made me proud the day I could finally eat a baguette a third of my height. It taught me to be mindful of my surroundings and to never stop appreciating the wonder before me or how blessed I was to be there. And it left me with an overwhelming peace in the person I’d become. Paris has been my greatest adventure to date and I am daily thankful for the unique opportunity I had to live on a cloud the past 14 months.  

I never made it out of Charles de Gualle airport that Saturday morning. Thankfully my overweight suitcases and expired visa weren’t to blame, but rather an overbooked standby flight that brought me back to Paris the very same day I tried to leave. And as my stomach tightened up in excitement on my ride back into the city, I caught a small glimpse of the thrill I’ll feel each time I return to Paris and the overwhelming sense of home. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

This past July, I chased the moon across three continents, traveling to Tangier, Barcelona, Cinque Terre and Istanbul. I intentionally gained 3.7 kilos in carpets, bowls, paintings and trinkets and not so willingly added a few from the constant tasting of breads, gelato, bruschetta, tapas, sangria, and hot mint tea so sweet it rivals Chick-Fil-A. I stood before artistic geniuses like Gaudi and Picasso and was amazed by the beautiful ceramics and windows of Topkapi palace and the Blue Mosque. I rode all forms of transportation, though the most exhilarating were a camel on the beach and on a wagon behind a galloping horse down the highway. I hiked, swam and kayaked along the Mediterranean Sea falling in love with the colorful villages tucked amidst tremendous mountains veiled in vines. And I experienced a traditional hamman where I was exfoliated with black sea scrub,and exited an entire skin shade lighter. 

During this time, I observed a flaw of traveling; The ease in which we forfeit the substantial things for the sheer excitement attached to seeing a new world. Everything is exotic- the food, the language, the scenery-and it’s easy to get trapped inside the way your eyes interpret it, rather than the way your heart might. This in turn excludes one of the most important parts of becoming cultured; understanding people. 

I have 2,000 pictures to remind myself of the things that I witnessed, but I also have a notebook that I think I’ll always cherish more than the pictures I print and cover my walls with. It’s pages are full of messy scribbles of the people I met and hope to remember forever. Like Mohammed, a boy of about 16, who seemed to appear around every corner to help us with directions, always with a cheerful countenance, as he said, “hello spice girls.” Like the dad who got his topsiders shoe-shined in Barcelona, solely to give business to a man who needed it. Like the man with a toothless grin at a roadside stand who grew his own oranges and squeezed the juice for passing neighbors. 

Traveling to both Tangier and Istanbul during Ramadan was an interesting experience. Ignorant to a lot of the Islamic faith, my first impressions of the month-long religious fasting, were of sheer terror as we woke in the middle of the night to a call to prayer on the loudspeaker and what sounded like hundreds of people pounding on drums and screaming in the streets.  Feeling like the country was going to war, I spent what seemed like ages gripping tightly to my sheets, barely able to breathe. The next day we heard stories of the hostility provoked by not eating or drinking all day in the dead of summer, and how last year angry men ransacked a bar that was illegally selling alcohol during the time period, destroying all the liqueur bottles, furniture and hurting people in the process. Fast forward to Istanbul and the sickly feeling in the pits of my stomach as we walked around Topkapi palace and saw beautiful ancient relics given from the Egyptians to the Ottoman Empire as gifts for killing Christians and a discussion afterwards of the genocide in 1915 of the Armenian race. And I’m ashamed to admit, a part of me struggled with how their faith claims to be one of such love and understanding and yet they can discriminate against my beliefs and exhibit such violence regarding religion. 

Despite my internal confusion, I didn’t have to mask my immediate feelings of affection for the Turks. In attempts to stuff our ever-growing suitcases with things from the Grand Bazaar, I adored the fact that everyone we encountered treated us like old friends. We sat cross-legged on many floors, as shop owners dug through towering piles of pillow covers. We followed more people into private jewelry showrooms than I think my parents want to hear about. And we were spoiled with apple teas, coming to a consensus that perhaps the famous “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” extends to apple tea as well as the fruit itself. One of my favorites was a precious man who had pillow covers in his hands and laughed at us as we passed, and I had the audacity to take it and hit him in the head like a pillow fight, to which we both keeled over with uncontrollable laughter. As we talked with him he continually wished us good health and happiness for all our lives, and as we left the bazaar, elated, it took all my control to not high-five every person we passed. 

Over the next few days, I grew to love the Turks impeccable sense of humor and the fact that they not only understood my sarcasm, they gave it right back. More so, I began to notice their deliberate generosity; The sweet old man at a Baklava shop who offered me a chair beside him, the free desserts we were given at almost every single restaurant we ate at, and the dry cleaner who was going to stay open for as long as it took us to get across town. But the thing that will remain with me forever, came on the day I lost my wallet in the Grand Bazaar.  

While photographing Turkish towels and proposing a future as business partners, leaving my purse unattended for five minutes, my whole wallet was stolen. It’s hard to dismiss the initial feeling of being played a fool, but as I glanced around me, all I could see was the frustration and empathy from the nearby shop owners. They expressed their sincere apologies, promising they would do everything they could to find it, and I burst into tears and gave them hugs, overwhelmed by their kindness.

Within minutes of the Grand Bazaar police being alerted, each security guard had blocked the exits, three undercover policemen came to question me and the two women who had taken my wallet were found, with a bag full of disguises and four different currencies on them. We were taken to the Grand Bazaar headquarters to watch security cameras and then to the city police station to file a police report. There we joked with the officers of their filing system since I was writing all my details on scraps of paper and they had crumbled balls of paper pouring out from underneath the desk. And as we walked back to the Bazaar with Burkay, our translator and friend who spent the day with us, he joked about holding tightly to our purses, laughing to me and saying, “well your wallet got stolen so I guess you can leave yours open.”

At the end of the day, it was just my wallet. Of course it’s a pain to cancel and reorder credit cards to be sent to France. I don’t want to endure the DMV to get a new license and was a bit bummed to lose my student discount card for Jcrew. Fortunately though, I was safe, I had my passport, and everything was replaceable. However, to the Turks it was a big deal. They saw me as more than a foolish tourist, wearing a very unambiguous colorful tunic, purchased the night before since all of my clothes were bed bug bombed. To them, I was a friend in need, and as I thanked them a million times, Burkay kept saying, “it’s fine, you would do the same thing for me.” Struck by his simple, yet profound words, that parallel scripture, I was left hoping he was right but wondering if I really would lose a day’s worth of profits by closing my shop, spend hours repeatedly translating the same story for a police report for a complete stranger, all the while exhausted from having no food or water all day. I can only hope so and certainly intend to be mindful from now on. 

Our guardian angels continued to watch over us at the airport the next day as a man walking into work passed us as we were getting our bags out of a taxi. We’d booked a taxi you could pay with a credit card, but were pointed to the wrong one as we left our hostel and were unable to pay. Without hesitation he pulled out his wallet, paid the driver and gave us his card saying just to shoot him an email when we got back to Paris. His response to my email thanking him, was simply, “To help someone and to see that honest people are still somewhere out is more precious than 50 dollars. Glad you got to see what the Turkish people are like.” 

My wallet has since been found. The women took the money out and ditched it in a store in the bazaar. The shop owner looked inside, found a card from a carpet guy I’d met during my travels, who then contacted me on Facebook and found my mom’s cell phone number. My dear friend, Burkay, retrieved it and has put it in the mail for me, saying I don’t owe him anything for the cost of post, but that he hopes I can one day be his tour guide in Paris. 

Not a day has passed that I haven’t been grateful to the people of Turkey-- for their sincerity and graciousness; For their humor and lightheartedness, despite what their country may be fighting for. But most of all I’m thankful for shifting my perspective and allowing myself to refocus on the importance of loving people, no matter what cultural, religious, or political differences you may have. For half of what makes this world so beautiful, are the people who are placed here with us. And it would certainly be shame to be blind to half of it’s beauty. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

4th of july

when warmer weather hit paris we were always a little nostalgic for summertime cookouts back home. we don’t have too much space of our own, especially in terms of a yard, but we craved intimate backyard get-togethers to last well into the night. we are very fortunate that annie landed an amazing au pair family that loves american holidays as much as we do and are so generous to host us for thanksgiving, a mexican party and now a 4th of july party which included american beer and burgers from the grill!!! (they were so delicious that I may or may not have eaten two!) nancy made a gorgeous layered cake that when cut looked like the american flag and we even got vincent to have a shotgunning competition with us. aside from the fact that it was such a treat for us americans to get to celebrate together, it was also such a fun thing to have all anne and vincent’s neighbors and their families join us in the celebration with little children running around waving the american flag.this year has definitely turned me into a francophile, but deep down I will always be an american at heart. I guess I’m stuck with it considering my french visa runs out in two months! happy 4th of july:)

Monday, July 1, 2013

the louvre

I have said a lot of hateful things about the louvre since I moved to paris. with an average of 30,000 visitors per day, it’s hard to not despise the oversized tourist hot spot. and while the inside is still ranked highly on the worst places imaginable to die, I can’t help but be overwhelmed by the grandeur and beauty of the outside. back in april during a bike tour with laura and emily, it was incredible biking through the inner courtyards. since then when I’m on a velib in that area at night, I try to ride through it.  I also love the way it looks from bus 95-- seriously, how cool is it that a public transport can casually drive past the most famous museum in the world hundreds of time a day. I get goosebumps and a huge child-like grin each and every time I go by. this year there was a secret dinner held there, diner en blanc, where over thousands of people gathered together all wearing white for a fancy dinner with lots of champagne and sparklers-- something I hope to get a chance to attend one day! and going forward I’m going to make a point to visit this part of town as much as possible before I leave. I don’t know if I’ll make it to the inside but I definitely am going to sit in the tuilleries and cherish this beautiful and very special part of paris

Friday, June 28, 2013

life lately

hippodrome at chantilly 
roses in bloom
new haircuts, post torrential downpour
cute lunch date at causses 
lots of morning rain with gorgeous clear evenings
fete de la musique 
nights on the river 
awesome parisian windows 
new favorite and frequent brunch: le bal cafe
my sweet josephine
du pains et des idees- voted best bread in paris 
you can never have enough mexican
lots of quality time with lee anne before she leaves
still in awe of how beautiful my suburbs are
soldes have started--sure do wish I had some money for the sales
suno market in paris round 2 
fun nights along the canals 
had to say goodbye to the little mister today

Thursday, June 20, 2013

parisian haircut

{the only thing to come up in my search of vintage coiffure on 
pinterest looks hilariously like my hairdresser today}
I can safely attest that most of us love a good hair cut. it’s not necessarily the end result, but the means of getting there-- the massaging wash, the delicate brushing and fondling of your “goods,” the blow out and definitely the products!! I’ve been neglecting getting mine cut since I moved abroad, wanting to grow it out and wanting my loyalty to stay with julie back home, but could stand it no longer and decided a fresh cut might be a nice little treat before a summer’s worth of sweat and tangles make me rip it out myself. annie and I scheduled matching appointments today at a place recommended from a friend, just in case I needed her to do some hair talk in french.
today’s experience started out with overheated from my power walk in the humidity and getting judged like crazy as I passed over my forever21 trench coat. it continued with a very relaxing wash, that seemed to reach almost to my eyebrows and I found myself uncertain if I had over-bronzed to his liking or if he thought I’d booked an appointment for my eyebrows as well. from there, he didn't really understand anything I said, indicating I need not worry and him laughing as I showed him a picture of what I wanted and it was longer than my hair already was. haha whoops! he then tried to persuade me to cut most all of mine off because it gets such bad tangles (sorry I was born with very fine hair) and as he brushed ripped out my hair, I was fearful I may indeed be bald after the hour was through and politely mentioned maybe they should use some moroccan oil. once we got to cutting, he conveniently brought over a stool that he sat on while he cut my hair (apparently all french hairdressers do this) only stopping to occasionally comb back his own hair as it fell into his face and slighted his vision. I swear he  was checking himself out more than me. seriously buddy? inside I was dying laughing. the cutting was fine until he started doing super tight twists that made my face look like it’d endured plastic surgery and then there was a technique of random chopping where he may as well have had his eyes closed. I also panicked as he thinned my already thin hair. again, seriously?? but then again, there was a time when he was on his knees, and I pitied the poor fellow, covered in my blonde castaways, his white pants now partially black. but not for long, as he made sure to immediately blow dry himself off. truthfully he did a really good job, though a simple few inches isn’t a hard task. and I did love him for hooking me up on the products, though I couldn’t exactly say merci monsieur, because he seemed to be flirting the gender line. the best part of the whole thing, though, was as I was going to leave and as he asked if I had an umbrella. and as he realized I was going to use my trench coat, he stood aghast like, how dare you, you stupid american girl, ruin all my precious work. and while I hated that I’d forgotten one and my hair, while perfect for all of 3 minutes was now shot-to-shit, his face was totally worth it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

porte des vanves flea market

after big nights out in paris, it’s sometimes hard to pull myself out of bed early enough to scour flea markets all morning. but I will say, despite my incessant yawning and initial fight to wake up, once I get there, it’s electric. this past weekend was an especially good visit to the porte des vanves flea-- my favorite of all the established ones. it was busy in a good way, buzzing with all sorts of people, namely americans. and though I normally get quite annoyed at the asians negligence of personal space, I closely followed two who giddily exclaimed at each and every thing. it was quite adorable. also, the merchandise was amazing. the warmer weather brought out many new people and loads of new things and suddenly their english was impeccable (was this just in time for the boatload of tourists dropped off or were they living up to their stereotype and being stubborn beforehand??)I also adore the way that despite what they are doing, the french are still french. so many of the vendors bring bottles of wine and casually sit down while people peruse their things. they have dogs who wander up and down the street. and my favorite are the men who bring the card table and spend the day playing cards together. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

O Chateau wine tasting

yesterday was a lousy day of constant rain and too-cold-for-june temperatures forcing me to pull my barbour jacket out of my packed suitcase for the second time. knowing the weather, I had mentally prepared myself wednesday night and was looking forward to a morning of writing, a late afternoon movie, and some under the covers reading time-- I’m reading the paris wife and love it! I got a phone call from annie in the morning saying her little boy was sick and asking if I wanted to take her reservation at wine tasting with her family since she had a non-refundable place. hesitant, because I was kind of enjoying my solitude and I felt bad canceling my tutoring for the second week in a row, I quickly realized I might not have another opportunity to go again and am very glad I did. O chateau is a wine tasting venue that two brothers run, giving entertaining insight and knowledge about french wine.
her cousins and I spent the afternoon wandering from the 2nd to the 11th where their apartment was. we had a gouter of crepes, operas and all things chocolate they needed to get their hands on. and I was extremely pleased to spend the afternoon curled up on the sofa watching out of africa on their giant big screen tv, with a glass of ice never leaving my hands. tv and ice are rare in paris so this was a real treat! 
we had dinner at a place called au pere louis, the second (or third if I count cosi) feast I’ve eaten this week with them. I fell in love with french onion soup and couldn’t control my hands as they reached across the table to annie’s cousins bowl dunking as much bread as possible. when I thought french onion, I though clam chowder color with the taste of fo packets, which really wouldn’t do it for me. but this was like an explosion of thanksgiving in my mouth. the night was wonderful and we continuously toasted saying, “we’ll always have paris...”which made me teary-eyed thinking of my all too soon closure of paris

Thursday, June 13, 2013

an interesting little art market in saint sulpice square on monday

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

a brunch to rave about: les enfants perdus

this past weekend we had sunday brunch at the most delicious place I’ve been to in paris yet. though we like to act like we do brunch around here, our brunch is normally just a place that serves both breakfast and lunch, not a place typical to paris where it’s a fixed menu for a fixed price. plus we’ve been trying to save money lately and profit off the 1.15 euro pastries. annie’s mom and girl cousins and aunts are all in town, and sara and I had already mooched off their massive apartment the night before, but they kindly insisted we join them for breakfast. 
the first course started out with deep bowls overflowing with chocolate and plain croissants. this was paired with the most delicious jams in flavors like fig and blackberry, though I preferred my standard strawberry. we also got fresh squeezed orange juice and coffee. I went to town of the first course going through two mini jars of jam and like little piggies we were practically begging for a refill. they don’t do refills on drinks or coffee here but I could almost bet you can get them on pastries. the next course had eggs baked in delicious cream, cucumber salad, salad and a mushroom and cheese muffin. though none were really what I would have wanted, it was all really good. and after having stuffed ourselves- me thankful to have worn a longer dress since my protruding stomach would have made the other much too short- the waitress came up to announce we needed to keep our silverware for the next course. my mouth practically hit my plate and even when it was placed in front of me I thought I’d probably not eat much. false. it was a plate of baked mini raviolis and probably one of the best things these taste buds have ever had paired with some fresh dark grapes. 
I’m excited to try the place on a regular day and hopefully get to sit in the back room, which was covered in pillow seats and super light and airy, with the glass ceiling holding draping white fabric. 
we also passed a vegetarian restaurant that had this alain ducasse book in the window. the pictures, layout and graphics alone are enough of a reason for me to want to buy it, but I think it’d be a great coffee table book and daily reminder of all the things I loved so much about parisian eats. 
image via alain ducasse

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

stories from the day

after I dropped lucy off and was on the road headed back home, a police officer stopped me to let another car pull out. I wasn’t paying too much attention to the fact that there were about 8 other officers dispersed near him and for the drivers going the opposite direction. he signaled me into the spot, to which I responded with a confident, no thank you. I don’t need this parking spot, I’m just headed home. his second and more severe point made me realize I was about to get stopped. I panic in any situation with an officer. even with a ticket riding the metro, when I get stopped by an RATP person I panic and practically want to get into tornado drill position. rolling down my window, the officer asked for my license. of which I did not have. or my passport. nope, that’s at home too. he made me explain my living situation, why I was in france, who’s car it was, etc. constantly heavily sighing and repeating oh my goshhh. he asked if I had chris’s phone number so he could verify the car and why I was driving it. but I’d forgotten my phone too and barely know my own french number by heart, let alone chris’. I also remarked that chris was still in bed asleep when I got home so that wouldn’t be helpful anyways. thankfully he let me off without a ticket, saying lesson # 1 was to keep my ID with me from now on and lesson #2 was to learn more french!! when I told chris the story, he told me to next time ask him how he was, saying it in a peculiar way I hadn’t heard before. and while I thought he said, “how are you today officer?” he really taught me “are you married?” whoever thinks that actually works is crazy.

when I went to get the girls for lunch, they both separately confessed their adoration of a special boy in their class. while josephine was telling me she was glancing longingly out the car window describing just how sweet her crush was and how in love she was. I’ve met him and adore him so I’m pretty supportive of this love affair. this now explains that the innocent kiss on the cheek he gave her recently may have been a little loaded after all. with lucy, I found her and her crush sitting together. him waiting alone with her for me to get there. she was giddy as could be exclaiming that he was the cutest and cleverest boy in her class. they were both so cute. I laughed remembering my five-year-old love of jack fields but a large part of me was so protective and hoped they would stay innocent and carefree in terms of boys forever. I must be starting to realize how my father feels... lucy and I proceeded to get in an argument after lunch with her not listening to me when I said she wasn’t allowed to gave a chocolatey treat. she stormed off, locking herself in her mom’s office and when I said she was so annoying and stubborn, she calmly said back, christina, you are breaking my feelings. the adorable mix-up of the two phrases immediately made my heart melt. but more so, I realized how powerful small words of mine can be and how important it may be to mock your frustration towards little ones. we each quickly got over it as we passed notes under the door and she drew me a drawing telling me I was so “cind.”