Posted on Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Being away from home is really hard during this time of the year. Though Christmas is drawing ever closer, and my flight to JFK is just around the corner, I'm thinking a lot about home.

Tonight, after my older sister cooks dinner for the family, my mother will fall asleep happy to have two of her girls home, the sound of their homecoming set to the constant hum of the washing machine and dryer. My sisters will fall asleep in their own rooms, maybe fight over who gets to sleep with the cuddly cat. They'll sleep in later than they expected to, and wake up to the sound of music already turned up in the kitchen, the sound of the long meal prep already beginning. When they come downstairs, Mum will already be in her apron and setting things in motion, and Dad will be near the bar, finalizing his choice of pre-dinner cocktails.

The smell of roast turkey will fill the house slowly but surely, and as the snow falls outside (this year!) , the fire will  roar inside. Two gray cats - one very very fat and one very very thin - will lounge around the living room, lazily sauntering into the kitchen when they smell the turkey being brought from the oven. Dinner will be early and long, but before all else it will be delicious. Mum won't sit down to the table until everything is just right in the kitchen, and as my sisters will chorus
"Mum come ON!", Dad might turn up the lights because he "can't see his food". 

After dinner, my sisters will do the dishes (Megan will claim I'M WASHING! or  I'M DRYING! whichever she deems easiest after careful surveillance) and they'll listen to Mum's iPod, harmonizing until one of them messes it up and they erupt into laughter and swat each other with tea towels. Then they'll pile into the basement, all four of them, into the cool leather couches and in front of the projector, ready to fall asleep in front of whatever movie they've agreed on.

Suffice it to say, I'll be missing lots. I'll be missing my family, our cozy house, the lazy fat cat, the skinny mean cat... But I won't necessarily be missing out.

It's an interesting thing to live outside of the States during Thanksgiving. This is my third year away from home, and I think it's been as good as any I've had. Last Thursday, I invited a few girls over to my place for an early celebration. In the afternoon my roommate and I decorated our apartment (and got distracted by making and drinking mulled wine), and I spent hours in the kitchen washing and chopping and roasting. The girls came, we had bubbly and foie gras, roast chicken and all the trimmings, lots of Bordeaux, pumpkin spice cake. We ate until we couldn't eat anymore, and as the wine bottles emptied and the candles dripped low, we finally got to my favorite part of any Thanksgiving meal: Go Around The Table And Say What You're Thankful For.

Sometimes this little ritual can feel awkward or forced or trite, but during this particular Thanksgiving, it was none of those. Instead, it was warm and touching in the least cheesy of ways. Hearing what my friends were grateful for last Thursday evening really gave me pause for thought, reminded me to add certain forgotten things to my own little list. This  year's Thanksgiving that I was lucky enough to share with these friends was really one of my favorites (and not just because I finally found the perfect candles for the table). I feel like this year, I really understood the whole thing in a new way. It's not about the family or particular friends, it's not about the food being perfect or the wine going perfectly with it. It's about the little moments, like the one that I enjoyed watching my friends earnestly list the things they were thankful for. These little snapshots, these little glimpses of warmth and humanity and love, these are what Thanksgiving is really about.

When we first moved to the States all those years ago, there were several things that we didn't really know about American culture. One of these was, unsurprisingly, Thanksgiving. Virtually unheard of outside of the US, my little immigrant family had no idea what we were supposed to be doing. Thinking we were doing it right, one year, we set off in our Sunday best to a small bistro in Greenwich Village, where we were the sole family in a sea of gay couples, and where my only real memory is eating a delicious crêpe for dessert. Over the years, though, we got the hang of the whole Thanksgiving thing. We sometimes gathered as a family of five, but we often gathered as a family of more. Among my parents' expat friends in the States, there were always other families, far from their own extended families, happy to share the meal. As we came to the Thanksgiving table year after year, the real point of Thanksgiving became clearer and clearer. The idea of "family" became less rigid, as we realized that the friends we'd made in the Sates were like our own extended family, a home away from home.

Ultimately, it's become pretty clear to me that it really doesn't matter where you are. It doesn't matter who you're with, it doesn't even matter if you're by yourself. The meals I shared with my family were no more or less special than meals I've shared here with friends, or in the States with various expats that also landed in Yardley. Although I'll be missing every moment of our Thanksgiving, and though my heart aches when I think about how much I'd love to be there, none of that is really the point of Thanksgiving, is it? 

The point is to take a minute and feel a little bit of love, a little bit of gratitude, for the little things in life. It's a time to step back, to pause, to reflect, and to be thankful. And guess what? I've got a lot to be thankful for, this year more than ever. I'm living in my favorite city in the world, supported by family and friends from thousands of miles away. I've got a beautiful apartment, I'm studying something that really interests me, and I feel like I'm on my way towards Figuring It All Out. I'm so grateful to be here, and I feel so lucky to have so many wonderful people in my life (Thank you for being so wonderful, people in my life!).

From me, to you, on this Wednesday night in Paris, happy happy Thanksgiving, my friends. I hope you've got a lot to be thankful for this year. xx


16 November 2014 (or: "I Own A Pencil Case Now")

Posted on Sunday, November 16, 2014

I thought I'd write at the end of the summer.

I thought that in the time between golden summery sunsets and grey autumn skyscapes, I'd have time to sit down, to catch up, to take stock. But with lots of big changes and a new routine to get used to, time got away from me (again) and now somehow it's mid-November and I'm wondering if things will ever slow down enough to leave a moment or two aside.

But, even without the luxury of a spare few minutes to go into the details, I promise that this summer was such a good one!

The long long days and the warm nights, the picnics and icy-cold rosé and drippy ice cream and sticky fingers, laughing until my stomach hurt and drawn-out breakfast on the balcony and never sleeping enough. I wish I could package up those few weeks, those short summer months, and keep them like a secret beneath my pillow, to remember how good and how easy life can feel. Already, now, summer seems like a far-off memory, like something I might've dreamed up on a particularly dull and rainy afternoon (or an evening like tonight, where homework just doesn't seem like it will happen).

The weeks continue to pass at an ever-increasing rate. It feels like only yesterday that la rentrée was happening, the French name for "where's-your-scarf-you-must-now-always-wear-it-back-to-school-back-to-work-back-to-routine-end-of-summer-end-of-sunshine-end-of-fun." Now, we're in the throes of business as usual, and the Parisians are back to their un-summery state of "eternally (and existentially) disgruntled". The sun is coming up later and later, warming our faces less and less. Though the autumn, so far, hasn't been a particularly cold one, there's a chilly note on the air, the hint of a threat of colder weather to come.

Since the end of September, I've started a Master's program. Getting used to being a student again has been an experience. I'd missed the learning, the thrill of really loving what I'm studying and the excitement of discovery. What I don't miss, though, are the early morning wake-up calls followed by back-to-back-to-back classes (I have 14 classes this semester!?) the exhaustion that seems impossible to be kept at bay, the stress of a particularly tough assignment. I hadn't sat in a classroom since the end of 2011 at Villanova, hadn't had to take notes or turn in papers or follow lectures. Being in school in France, in particular, is pretty different than being in school in the States, and the differences manifest themselves in sometimes surprising ways (I mean, I bought a pencil case. I realized I was the only student in my amphitheater class without a pencil case, and so I bought one. I am a nearly 25 year old Master's student with a floral pencil case.) It's been good, though, to create new habits, to ease into a new routine and to find my bearings. The years since college graduation have taught me so much, and I'm grateful to feel like I'm heading in the right direction, finally. Change can be such a good thing.

This time of year, though it came upon us so quickly, is one of my favorites. The Christmas markets opened this weekend around the city, and already, the lights are up around Paris. It's not hard to imagine why Paris is known as la ville lumière at this time of year, where twinkling strings of lights swoop over every street and through every tree branch. Walking beneath the awning of the grands magasins, it's a comfort to hear familiar Christmas music piped over the window displays. The Christmas season seems to start earlier every year, but I'm happy to begin the march towards the end of December, which promises cozy nights around the fire at home, snuggling with the cats, reuniting with my favorite group of people over a drink or two (followed, always, by morning after bagels), and the other countless comforts of home. Before all that, though, my roommate and I will deck the halls of our chez nous, ready for a Thanksgiving among friends and mulled wine taste-testing and lots of Christmas music and general festivity.

Not so deep in the back of my mind, ideas for my next year are already simmering. There will be a quarter-century birthday celebration, a visit to the desert, an autumn wedding, a few more races, and exciting visitors. I've already got a really good feeling about it all, about the next year in general, and I can't wait to ring it in with some of the people I love most.

Something tells me, though, that this year's still got a lot left to give. xx


On Breathing In

Posted on Friday, September 5, 2014

Two years ago today, I left behind a pink bedroom in a red house, two grey cats (one fatter than the other), two freckled and redheaded sisters, two wonderful and supportive and loving parents, and a circle of friends that feel as close as family. Two years ago! Time is a funny thing. There are days when it goes so quickly and I can't stand how fast my life is passing by; days that I want to last forever end too quickly and moments I want to savor for ages are gone before I've blinked. On other days, time drags on and on and on and I want to scream and break something or run somewhere or do something, anything, other than waiting for another boring minute to pass by

I haven't decided how it makes me feel to acknowledge that two years have gone by, now. On one hand it sounds so terribly short - what can I possibly have learned in such an insignificant period? How can I possible have evolved? On the other hand, though, the days that have passed between September 5th 2012 and today are an eternity, filled with so much love and beauty that I can never remember them all because there's too much to grasp. There are moments, though, that stick out to me as I look back, and the joy contained in these little moments is reason enough to continue to seek more out.

It's no secret that there are no shortage of beautiful views in Paris. They're everywhere. There are the iconic views - the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame - which are undoubtedly breathtaking, even now. There are clichés that still make me smile - a man in a striped marinière shirt with a baguette under his arm and a cigarette hanging from his lips, or a beautiful slim woman navigating cobblestones succesfully in impossibly tall and thin stilettoes. In Paris, there are Haussmann's buildings and boulevards, there are wooded groves bursting with greenery, there are the looming high rises of La Défénse, there is the Seine, there are the sidewalk cafés...This city is a veritable feast for the eyes at every corner.

The sights are beautiful and I devour them ravenously, happily. The day that I don't feel a thrill in the pit of my stomach watching the Eiffel Tower sparkle late at night is the day that it might be time to go home. I've been thinking lately, though, that Paris offers a whole other dimension beyond what it looks like. As I think about the past two years of my life, this two year relationship that I've been building with this place, I realize that lately, I've been noticing more than how things look. Lately, I've been thinking a whole lot about how Paris smells. Stick with me, here.

It's not surprising, really. I've always felt a particularly strong connection between smell and memory in my own life. There are smells that will stay with me all my days: the smell of my parents' perfumes as they leant to kiss my sleepy forehead goodnight on date nights; the basement of the church we attended, where we practiced for school plays and talent shows and ate donuts after Mass on Sundays; my grandmother's cooking filling her bungalow on a drizzly Dublin afternoon while Grandad watched the TV in the next room; Sunday morning crêpes at our home in Yardley, the Nutella inevitably smeared on mine and my sisters' and fresh lemon for my parents; chlorine from summer after summer at the community pool, a smell that seemed to come from our skin by the end of each season. I'll never forget the smell of my high school hallway, nor the senior lounge where we drank coffee and hid from nuns wondering why we weren't in class, nor of my first boyfriend's car when we drove along the Delaware on weekends. And then, of course, there was Villanova - fresh laundry from the basement of Stanford, illicit smoke rising from the quad to our room in Sheehan; the stairwells of Tolentine on a 90 degree September afternoon; Vladimir vodka/Crystal lite cocktails in the shower; stale beer lingering The Morning After and coffee and sandwiches from Bagel Factory; the Pit on a weekend morning; the third floor of Falvey Memorial Library...

So many moments have been captured just by breathing in - entire experience summoned just by catching a familiar hint of long ago on the air. Just like before, in my childhood and in high school and college, I'm making new connections and discovering new reminders with each turn. I'm cataloguing this Chapter In My Life as I've done with so many others before. For what it's worth, I'm willing to argue that the smells of Paris are a close second to the sights. There is nowhere on earth that smells as heavenly as the outside of a bakery at five a.m., the comfort of butter and sugar and all things forbidden beckoning on a well-timed breeze. And then there's the smell in the cafés, a croque monsieur or an entrecôte at the table next to you making you wonder if maybe you actually are hungry, after all...

There are so many places I've been over the past couple of years, people I've met and laughed with, things I've eaten, so much life has been lived and enjoyed that it's no wonder that it's been such a sensory experience. There's the smell of my first tiny aparment, a bit musty but HOME for the very first time in a new place; the sugary smell of the candy stand near Odéon that I used to pass daily; the crêpes and waffles being made a bit further down the intersection. There was the cheap cologne my students used to douse themselves in, the imitation perfumes that the girls applied while I looked on, not daring to reprimand. There's my office, which is situated juuuust close enough to a bakery to smell the morning baguettes, and then the midi, and the evening, so that every time I'm outside I'm tempted. The smell of Ricard on a sunny afternoon on a beach in the South, playing pétanque, or seeking shade on Chez Prune's terrasse on the Canal Saint Martin. There's smell that hits you if you pass the fromagerie when its door is open, the smell of the saucissons hanging from a vendor's stall at the market. There are the rôtisserie chickens that I pass on my bike past every night after work, spinning lazily over new potatoes and, I'll have you know, inspiring me to roast a chicken for the first time myself. In the parks there's the smell of freshly cut grass, of gravel that's been walked on for centuries, and in the street the damp smell of the street cleaning that Paris is famous for. There's the smell down by the Seine, not pleasant but certainly not forgettable, a mix of stale tallboys of cheap beer, spilled red wine, long-extinguished cigarettes. And of course, then there's the smoke - oh, the smoke! At café tables, at bustops, walking out of the métro, walking into it (and sometimes, late at night, inside it), running behind a commuter on his way to work in the morning. It's outside every restaurant and inside some daring bars, it's outside businesses at ten o'clock, two o'clock, four o'clock, the end of the day. It's in playgrounds and outside churches, on Vespas and in SmartCars. It's incredible, it's unavoidable, and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere. If there's one smell for Paris, if I could try to capture the whole city, it would be mainly composed of cigarette smoke.. with hints of freshly baked baguettes and camembert.

It was never a conscious decision to stop looking around so much and start noticing other things, but it happened somewhere along the way. I like to think it's a good sign, a sign of making a real and good life here, more than just enjoying the sights. I'll look forward to the time in five or ten or twenty years when I catch a hint of something that brings me back to this time, to this here and now. Who knows where I'll be by then? 

For now, though, I'm still happy to be here, I've still not had enough. This weekend, to celebrate the past two years and in happy anticipation of the next, I'll take myself out for dinner and raise a little toast to me, to Paris, to the life I'm trying to make for us together. Here's to another year with you, Paris. I really do love you. xx


In Which I Become Fake Athletic

Posted on Monday, August 11, 2014

One day last September, sitting alone in my office on a rainy day, I made a kind of rash decision. Perusing my Twitter feed, as one does, I came across a post about the registrations for the Paris half marathon, which were opening that day. Though I'm not quite sure why, I clicked the link, and before I knew what was happening I was joining the online queue of people waiting for their chance to register.

For the sake of full disclosure, it's important to note that in the twelve months prior to this rainy September day, I had probably run a total of ten miles, over three or four runs. Three or four runs in a year, three or four runs which were completely unenjoyable, and yet here I was in some weird e-Line To Sign Up For A Giant Race. I'd run cross country in high school, but anyone familiar with my high school knows that being on a sports team at Villa does not an impressive athlete make. During college I had a couple of phases of "being into working out," but all good intentions fell by the wayside with the advent of senior year and its non-stop festivities. Though I managed, between graduation and moving to Paris, to get into pretty decent shape, I didn't keep it up once arriving in Paris. I signed up for the FPFP, the French Person Fitness Plan, which involves eating whatever I want whenever I want within a fairly liberal margin of reason, and also sometimes taking the stairs instead of the escalator in the métro.

So it was that I found myself doing something kind of extreme (how out of character!) and signing myself up for the Paris Half Marathon last year. I hesitated when I saw the 45€ price tag, but then clicked through to the confirmation page anyway. 

I didn't tell a lot of people about the race at first, because I figured that that way, if I chickened out, then I'd have lost nothing except the money I'd paid to sign up. Between that rainy September day and January, I didn't do much training. Paris was cold and dark, and I was very lazy and way more interested in eating oatmeal in my warm bed in the morning than ~*hitting the asphalt*~. But coming back from holidays in the States after January, I decided to actually do it. I ran. A lot. And I started to really love it, much to my surprise. I loved not only the running and the getting in shape part, but loved too the routine and the different perspective of Paris I gained on my runs. I learned not to run through Place de Clichy unless I wanted to be catcalled or stared at. I learned not to run through the Boulevard Saint Michel on a sunny weekend unless I wanted to trample (or be trampled by) tourists. I saw new parks in Paris I'd never seen before, I joined my fellow runners as we went around and around the Parc Monceau, the Jardins du Luxembourg, the Champ de Mars. (Side note: If you are a tourist in Paris in the near future, or a fellow resident, please do yourself a favor and observe the running clothes favored by many in these parks. Khakis, button-down shirts, polos, skirts (??!??), you name it! It's one of the more amusing parts of the sport.)

What I realized, once I'd kind of set my mind on doing it and started to work towards the goal of completing the race on the day, is that I'd been living in a kind of apatehtic in-between for quite some time. What I mean is that for the longest time, for years before now, my goal was to move to Paris. And well, once that was accomplished it was tough to think of new ones. In comparison to having achieved my primary goal, any others paled in comparison. Once I landed on this new one, haphazardly though it was, everything changed. I swapped long nights out for quiet nights in (well, sometimes). I favored early bedtimes in bed to watching Netflix before closing my eyes. I was motivated to do something for the first time in a long time, and it felt pretty good. Race day came, and when I crossed the finish line I miiiight have had a little tear in my eye. I was proud, and so glad to have done something I'd set out to do, and I admit I'd forgotten the pleasure that it brings. I decided to keep it up. 

Running has afforded me much-needed time for introspection and reflection. When I leave my apartment, no matter which direction I head I revisit my story over the past two years and beyond. I run past a bakery where I used to buy a pain au chocolat and an espresso every morning before class in 2010. I run through parks where one bottle of wine has led to another and to another with the sweetest friends on a warm summer afternoon. I cross the bridge where I'd kissed a boy as the Eiffel Tower sparkled. I pass my old tiny apartment, and take stock of how far I've come since living there. I huff and puff up hills that I'd previously wandered down, feeling lonely and homesick on a blustery fall day.  From the top of the Buttes Chaumont, I run with Sacré Coeur rising over the city behind me, and remember how breathtaking the view from the top is every time. I watch the sun come up over the Seine and sometimes pause on the quais to take in the beauty up and down the river. I ran by the river the day after the French Independence Day, and saw some sleepy-eyed patriots opening another bottle of red wine as the sun came up. I ran at the Château de Versailles and imagined Marie Antoinette sauntering through the gardens in her glory days. 

I'm never going to be one of those insane (but awe-inspiring!) triathalon addicts, and I surely will encounter extreme lacks of enthusiasm despite my current gusto... But for the moment I'm enjoying the enthusiasm I've managed to find. The quiet Paris that feels all mine in the morning is one that I'm so glad to have discovered, but ultimately it's a process of self-improvement and not of urban discovery. Over the hours I've spent criss-crossing the city this year, I've identified my own high points and low points. I've realized what still needs work, and what needs to change. I've recognized the people that are worthwhile, and others that might not be. I've learned to be very hard on myself, but also the importance of being kind to myself. Even when it's hard, the rewards are always there.

And if nothing else, the smell of croissants baking in the morning is worth getting out of bed for... Most of the time. xx 

P.S.: (Thanks, Heather!) Maybe one day I'll run this wine-fueled marathon... Any takers?


Monsieur Chat

Posted on Wednesday, May 28, 2014

This morning, I woke up about an hour before my alarm and despite my best attempts couldn't get back to sleep. After a while, I decided to hop out of bed and go for a run - maybe I could use the extra time to fold the laundry that's been waiting for me all week, I thought. 

It was a sticky morning, not very warm but somehow very humid, but I was feeling great as I started running, and happy to feel less guilty about the enormous bowl of pasta I ate in front of the TV last night. I was hitting my stride along the Boulevard Haussman, beneath the covered arcades of the Galeries Lafayette department store, when I saw her. I almost ran past, but I found myself stopped in my tracks to see what was the matter.

A tiny cat was cowering in the corner of the closed department store window. Her eyes were round and scared, she had glossy fur and looked healthy, except for a ratty red leash tied around her middle. There are a fair number of people experiencing homelessness that set up camp near these department stores, and for whatever reason this population generally prefers cats to the dogs adopted by wanderers of other neighborhoods. This cat, though, was alone. She was meowing, crying loudly and frantically, and  I despite myself bent down to cautiously scratch behind her ears and sooth her as best I could. Looking up and down the arcade and around the corner, it became clear that she was abandoned.

A man on a scooter pulled up onto the sidewalk behind me, and he asked me if it was my cat. I explained that it appeared to have been abandoned, and could see that the man was pretty concerned about it. After muttering a choice expression or two under his breath about the people that left her there, he asked me if I could take it home. Anyone that knows me, I'm certain, knows that I love cats. We've got two grey cats at home, and I think I receive more photos of them from my family than I do of my family. I am, as they say "a cat person." When he asked me to take it, though, I knew I couldn't. I live with a roommate that I don't think would be a fan, I travel on the weekends, the cat could have diseases... Lots of reasons came to mind. I told him I couldn't, that my roommate was allergic, and hoped he'd take care of it from there.

Instead, he begged me to take her for an hour. Just one hour, he said, and he would come and get her. I felt skeptical. Maybe it's my newly-developed sense of street smarts, but something felt weird about taking a cat at the insistence of a stranger who swore he'd be back for her. As he picked her up, though, it became clear that the cat was very injured. Both of her back paws had mean gashes, one so bad that her little bone was visible through tabby fur. She kept crying, more pathetically then ever, and I agreed to take her. I exchanged numbers with the man, saving him in my phone as Monsieur Chat, and set off gingerly with the little cat.

I was about fifteen minutes walk from my apartment, and quickly realized that this wasn't going to be easy. Because her leg was broken, every time I shifted her position the cat cried desperately, the heartbreaking kind of cry that can't be ignored. I felt a bit overwhelmed, cursing myself for having stopped in the first place and wondering what the heck I was doing. Before I knew it, I was crying too, trying to comfort the little cat and also trying not to seem insane as I wandered home with tear-streaked cheeks, howling cat, and a tattered red leash streaming behind me (I wonder if I did a good job?).

Thankfully, today is recycling day in Paris and so there were boxes everywhere. If there's anything a cat loves, it's a box. I lay my little friend down in a box, and carried her home the rest of the way - no more tears from me and no more howling meows from her. When we got home, I brought her onto the balcony, not wanting her in the house and also not wanting to wake my sleeping roommate with the pitiful meows that were issuing from a fairly soggy cardboard box. I gave her some milk (the cat, not my roommate) and wrapped her in an old towel. I texted Monsieur Chat and let him know that we had arrived, and what time would he be back for the cat? To my surprise, he replied, and said he'd call me at 8:15.

With more than an hour to spare, I headed off on my run as previously planned before the unexpected cat interlude, arriving back with a brand new much better box for the cat and to a phonecall from Monsieur. He would come and get her at 9 o'clock.
I can't pinpoint why it all felt so suspicious to me. Why would this grown man (he was easily in his 40s, and seemingly very normal) care so much about a skinny and lame cat? Why would he cajole me into taking her? Was I the butt of an extremely strange and also unfair-to-animals practical joke on his part?  Swallowing my skepticism, I headed to the shop and bought the most expensive cat food I could see (Lily, my very fat American cat, would drool with envy if she knew...) to feed my little ward until she was collected. She hardly ate, which made me sad, but then fell asleep for a bit, which I was glad for.
Sure enough, I got a phonecall at 9 o'clock from Monsieur Chat, he was outside my building. Carefully closing the top of her box (there were airholes!) I brought the cat downstairs where MC was waiting with a standard cat carrier on the back of his scooter. Trying not to act surprised that this somewhat burly man had procured the perfect tool for the job, I helped him carefully put the cat inside, despite her yawling protests. He was taking her to the vet, and assured me he would let me know her prognosis. I made sure to make it clear that I couldn't (unfortunately!) take her, in case I really was the object of some weird scam where you end up with a cat whose leg has bone showing. We both looked in at the cat one last time, me and this Frenchman with a soft spot for felines. I went inside, threw out the mostly uneaten Tuna Feast and Pink Shrimp, and left for work.

Thirty minutes later, I received a picture message of my little friend at the vet office.

My experience with Monsieur Chat this morning was bizarre, but also gave pause for thought.
For me, it served as a reminder that even when it comes to very trivial matters and very small sad situations, like a lame abandoned cat on the corner of Boulevard Haussman, there are still good people out there, you guys. 

And, also, no matter how tough a big man looks, he might still be a big ol' softie for a cute cat. xx


On Being Away, and On Being Home

Posted on Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Paris is my favorite city in the world, and has been since my very first visit, but there are times when I need to get out. Though the architecture is stunning, and history lives around every street corner, and the public outdoor spaces (now, more than ever) are beautifully manicured and well-kept, the city can feel mean and grey and unkind as much as any other. Living here, though on paper sounds like a life full of warm crunchy baguette and sunshine on balconies and everything in between, is just like living anywhere else at the end of the day. And like living anywhere, sometimes it's time to get away.

With this in mind, and propelled by a seemingly ever-present desire to go on holiday, I recently headed to Venice for a quick weekend visit. This choice of location was largely a product of the old classic "go on easyjet's website and type in the applicable dates and then see which location is cheap" game, but it could not have been a more perfect pick. Though I'd been before, it must have been just about ten years ago on a family holiday and so this time around I saw the city from a whole different perspective. The tiny streets weren't too busy this time of year, and we found a charming B&B with a waterfront view where I loved watching the boats pass by. Italy, like France, does a lot of things right, and we enjoyed some of its finest offerings over our short stay - though I still can't decide between prosecco and gelato (and pizza!... and pasta!...).

I'd long wanted to return to Italy, and though our few days there were wonderful, the short trip only whetted my appetite to go back again and again. Italians (which are admittedly difficult to come across in Venice) are friendly and cheery, and the little city with its twisting alleyways and shimmering canals felt like the perfect place to get lost for a few days. Incidentally, as someone with a notoriously poor sense of direction, I was comforted by the fact that the city is an island and thus it is literally impossible to wander out too far.

Coming back from those dreamy few days, and after another week spent gallivanting around Paris and enjoying picnics galore (more on that to come later), I unwillingly got back to work and back to my routine. Despite a wonderful staycation week after Italy, spent eating and drinking and relaxing and enjoying the city, Paris still felt like it was missing something, though it was difficult to identify exactly what. In short, it felt like somewhere I didn't particularly want to be.

As luck would have it, my parents planned a trip to France at just the right moment, affording me the chance to hop on the train the past two weekends and head à la campagne, to escape the city for a bit.

The France outside of Paris is a wholly different world in many ways, which is why it can be so nice to visit and remember that this country has so much more to offer beyond Paris. While Parisians are known to be pushy and rude, most of the people I've encountered beyond the péripherique have been nothing but warm and welcoming. Life beyond Paris moves at a much more pleasant rate - which is really saying something, given that the Parisians themselves are no strangers to enjoying the finer points of living. In fact, the difference between Paris and the rest of France can be so stark at times that Parisians refer to the entire country outside the city by a collective "en province", a.k.a. "not in Paris." Discovering the other side of French life is always a pleasure. There's a certain wonder in exploring other French cities, something exciting about realizing how much more complex French culture is beyond the stereotypical Parisian image. Though these two weekends were not the first times I'd ventured outside of Paris, for reasons unbeknownst to me they stand out in particular as weekends where I really noticed the different rhythms of life, and appreciated the nuances of daily existence. Maybe I've been in Paris for too long...

Rather than being rudely awakened by the trash trucks (it's always trash day in Paris, everywhere, all the time, always... and remember, wine bottles make a lot of noise...) under my window each morning, mornings spent in the countryside meant waking up to the sound of a cuckoo bird. Though on an unfortunate note, my alarm in the city is also a cuckoo bird sound, and so it took a few false starts around 5am to realize that I was supposed to be enjoying nature and not resenting it. In the mornings, I went downstairs to where my parents are already on their second cup of coffee. Dad had gone into the village to get pâtisseries for breakfast -- and yes, I enjoyed my pain au chocolat as much as I did fifteen years ago. My parents, much to my delight, brought over several back issues of The New York Times Magazine, and so I'd sit in the armchair after breakfast and devour its pages while I let my coffee get cold. 

The plans for the days, as ever in our family, revolved around food, either trying a new restaurant in a neighboring village, or going to the outdoor market to get fresh stuff for my mother to cook with - the taste of her cooking being always and forever what I'll miss in the foodie heaven that Paris is. After lunch, we visited antique shops, or drove through the rolling hills for a dégustation (this is wine country, after all). Between lunch and 5 o'clock, time for l'apéro, we'd squeeze in naps at the first opportunities and hope that it was warm enough to drift off on the patio.

These little weekends away with my parents were wonderful, and exactly what I needed. (A bit of peace and quiet in the countryside does wonders for the racing twenty-something year old brain) Through all of this, though, through the lazy mornings and the several-course lunches and the sparkling wine under the evening sun, there are just two little things that are terribly terribly missing. No matter how close to home these little weekends might feel, something will always feel a bit off as long as my sisters aren't there. I'm grateful for the time spent with my parents, and so happy to have the comforts of home a quick train ride away, but the time spent in our almost-home over here leaves much to be desired when I think of what it could be with my sisters. Home is a complicated place when family is spread so far and wide, and missing them is something that won't get any easier no matter how long I stay over here. For the moment, though, I've got to stay positive and feel grateful for the time spent with the family that I could see over the past two weekends. 

After a wonderful holiday, and time spent in the countryside the two weekends following, this weekend is the only weekend out of five that I'm in Paris. I plan to use every moment to reconnect with this place as it comes into its best season, and to enjoy being here before setting off again. Traveling is one of life's greatest pleasures, but it's particularly worthwhile when it serves as a reminder of all the lovely little things that are right at home. 
And luckily for me, there are so many lovely little things in this home. xx


On Existing in Two Languages (or: This Post Is Not A Humblebrag)

Posted on Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When we were younger, I remember traveling to Quebec with my parents and sisters for a vacation. I think I was around thirteen at the time, and it was a wonderful holiday, but there is one memory in particular that stays with me even today and that I revisit frequently (in addition to the memory of chocolately beaver tails, that is). Standing in line to check in at the Hotel Frontenac with my parents, I realized that the group in front of us were speaking French. I knew that my dad spoke French, so I asked him what they were saying - sure he wouldn't be able to tell me. To my surprise my dad listened carefully for a few minutes, then explained their conversation to me... which was ultimately something totally boring, but that is not the point.

I always remember this moment as formative, in its own funny little way. It was the first time I really thought about language in a real and practical way, the first time I realized that maybe speaking something other than English was useful, interesting, worthwhile (and of course, Dad, I realized your impressive French skills... Even when faced with those quebecois accents!).

As I started high school and picked French as my language of choice, I thought back to this moment frequently. I'll admit that there was some level of "if Dad can do it, I can do it too" involved in my resolve to "get good" at French. There was more to it than that, though. I couldn't get enough! I made lists of vocabulary, combed through my French textbooks for words I didn't understand. I made word associations, created bizarre links in my head to understand, invented mind tricks to remember some tricky lessons. I worked hard, but enjoyed it all the while. While I couldn't understand the first thing about how many whatevers were in a noble gas (sorry, Mr. I...), and never fully mastered Ms. Conway's infamously difficult word problems, I managed to find ways to understand most things that were contained in the French books.

Now, all these years later, I've certainly come a long way. All this being said, the word BILINGUAL is a big one, and not something that I'm ready to claim - in fact, I'm wary of most people who learned a language after the age of two and claim to be bilingual. One of the first things that people ask me upon learning that I live in Paris is whether or not I'm bilingual. But the truth is, language isn't easy. Becoming bilingual is a living process, not one that is accomplished in six weeks or months or not even in six years. I'm more than comfortable in French, it comes to me in dreams and in under-my-breath curse words and as the first instinct almost all the time. But I'm still learning.

Living life in two languages is so interesting. Because language has always been my "thing," though, this new experience brings to light so many fascinating questions (fascinating to me, at least) that I'd never thought of before. The most interesting of these is the most obvious: am I the same person in French and English? It's difficult to say.

As an expressive, talkative (read: loud) person, the initial struggle of not being able to express myself in French was second to none. The idea that I was unable to get a point across was an unwelcome one. These days, thankfully, I can express almost any point in French with decent rapidity and an accent that won't make a Parisian's ear bleed (and now, I'll confess that I'm getting anxious that this entire post is beginning to sound like a humble brag, but it's really not my intention - questions of language and identity are constantly swimming around in my head, and this post is an attempt to sort some of them out. I really am sorry if it comes across in another fashion!). However, though I have the right words now, and I know I'm being understood in terms of word comprehension, there comes a greater question of "Are they really understanding me?" I sometimes get the impression that my French self and my normal self are not the same. I speak in a different range, I use completely different expressions and gestures, even the facial expressions related to French and English can be surprisingly different. The French are notorious for using non-verbal audible communication, and those loud exhales and disapproving pursed lips can be difficult to shake once acquired as a habit.

This is a part of living in France that I didn't expect when I moved here. I never thought beyond the "get good at French" goal, and so never considered what came with linguistic comfort.  I hadn't realized the divide fully until I spent a weekend in Dublin with a close French friend. I happily spent several moments of the weekend translating between my aunt and uncle and my friend, but it became so apparent to me that the way I expressed myself in French and in English were completely different.

Working in an office that employs both French and American interns, too, has also been cause for reflection about this point. While I speak in French with the French girls, it feels strange to speak in French with the Americans - both because, well, there's a certain pretension to it, I feel, but also because I can't communicate the social cues and indicators that I'm used to indicating to an American peer. When I speak in French with the Americans, it genuinely can feel as if we're communicating from behind masks, which is funny because I feel confident I'm using the right words, but I'm still not sure that they're understanding me like they would if we spoke in English. 

Ultimately, there's no conclusion to make here; no "and so" that will satisfyingly round up my ramblings into a concise realization - and if the conclusion exists, it certainly won't be found on a Tuesday night after typing out one blog post. Though it raises many questions and demands many difficult answers, the dichotomy of self that comes with language acquisition is fascinating, but not life-altering. I'm not having an existential crisis and worrying that no one knows my "true self," nor am I worried that I'm being misunderstood as someone I'm not. I just think that reflecting on things like this is an important part of living abroad and so I've come to this space to do so. Though next time, I'll try to find a lighter topic... 


Le Matin

Posted on Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I discovered something about myself during my junior year of college that was, initially, difficult to admit. Living in an apartment complex filled with other college students who begrudged the early hours of the day, who groaned at the first sound of their alarms poisoning the air, I admitted, finally, that I might be a morning person.

I came to the conclusion in rather a roundabout way.  Tired of attempting (and FAILING) to work late into the night like my peers, I gradually fell into a routine of going to sleep whether or not my homework was finished, and waking up early the next morning to finish it.  Where in the late evenings, I'd strain my eyes to read every line of text (read: Facebook status), and force myself to finish analyzing each image (read: Instagram post), the mornings were a completely different story.  As sunlit rays snuck through the slats of the blinds in our living room on Villanova's west campus, I happily finished the work that had seemed so impossible the night before.

The more I accomplished, the more I grew to love the optimistic silence of mornings.  Waking up and doing things, or even just having extra time to make coffee or breakfast at home, became something I looked forward to, though I'll admit it felt like I was kind of "doing it wrong". Wasn't this the kind of thing I was supposed to start appreciating when I hit 30? 

It's certainly not always true. I'm more than capable of sleeping all day, well past noon and onwards, if the night before has been a bit of a late one. But, in general, I find that there's lots of things worth appreciating about mornings - as I discovered all those years ago in the living room of the affectionately nicknamed Spaceship, waking up early can be worth it.

Now that spring is on its way, the sun is finally rising at a reasonable hour. During the winter, it's close to nine o'clock in the morning by the time the sun lazily appears, and it's only half past four when it calls it quits. As you can imagine, winter's short and depressing days mean that once the seasons start shifting, moods are improved noticeably. This morning, noticing that the sun was beginning to rise as I got out of bed, I decided to go for a run to the jardin des tuileries.. And I'm so glad that I did.

One of the main differences between Paris and New York is that Paris sleeps. New York, in my limited experience, is moving always in all directions with people from everywhere doing everything.  It's intoxicating, it's exciting, it's truly something incredible and worth treasuring about that special place. Paris, though, ... sleeps. Shops are closed by eight, and aside from some exceptions, bars close at two am. Though the street lights stay on, the Eiffel Tower light turns off at two (too often serving as a reminder to GO HOME AND SLEEP NOW on weeknds!).  The city becomes sleepy, quiet, calm.  It was into this calm that I ran this morning, and it was really exceptional.  New York's energy is exceptional too, but in a different way. The calm of Paris in the morning is something worth experiencing, if only for the buttery boulangerie smell permeating the air on every corner, the Seine floating lazily on by as though stretching its legs for the day. The Eiffel Tower, without its yellowy nightlight glow, seems sinister on the horizon until the sun rises, finally, welcoming Paris to the daylight.

The stillness and calm of Paris this morning, though thousands of miles from that living room in west campus, reminded me so much of the same quiet optimism of mornings that I first fell in love with years ago - and it feels so good to rediscover. When I Instagrammed the picture above this morning, I wrote beneath: "This morning, running along the Seine was so calm. It felt like Paris was all mine."  What I failed to grasp, though, is that Paris, and my relationship to it, IS all mine. Sometimes it just takes waking up early to realize it. xx 


17 February 2014

Posted on Monday, February 17, 2014

Time to sweep the dust from this space and start using it again, I think. What do you think of this design?  I'm not convinced that it will stay, but I wanted a change and this will do for now. 

The past few months have been busy busy busy, but I've missed this blog. Never one for New Years Resolutions, this year I set myself several Birthday Resolutions at the end of January, among which a new resolve to return here more frequently.  It's important to me, and if it's enjoyable for you than tant mieux. Among other birthday resolutions: enjoy more delicious things, homemade and otherwise, see more new places, read, be more grateful. So far, I'm trying my very hardest with each.

I signed up, in a weird moment of spontaneity last autumn, for my first organized race. The race is in two weeks' time and though training for it hasn't always been enjoyable, it feels nice to accomplish goals, to stick to promises, but mostly to move.  Finding balance in life is difficult, but I think I'm coming pretty close and it feels so good. Paris is a beautiful place for running, even on the greyest of days and during the toughest moments of a run, the city manages to encourage me. Yesterday, an old man in a charming hat and cane bowed when he saw me approaching on the pavement, towards the end of a particularly challenging hour.  He cheered me on and patted my back as I passed, my step quickening with his encouragement.  Little things like that make it difficult to not enjoy life, don't you think?

The weather has been behaving extraordinarily well this year.  Far from the normal bone-chilling temperatures, the skies have been blue and the temperatures have been mild. While everyone back home is freezing to death under the polar vortex, over here there are hints of spring on every breeze. Days are getting longer, temperatures are staying in the high forties, and Parisians are hopeful that we've avoided, somehow, the usual terrible winter. I'll knock on wood, though, because I wouldn't be surprised if winter suddenly arrived at the end of February and stayed through til June..

Over the next few weeks I've got lots to look forward to. This weekend I'm bringing a good friend to Dublin with me for the first time. It's always fun to show people around somewhere you love, and I'm hoping that she'll enjoy discovering somewhere so very special to me. One of my closest friends from home will be arriving for a long stint in Europe in the beginning of March, and I can't wait to have a little piece of my heart come a little bit closer to me. Very special visitors, among them my parents,  and exciting travel plans mean that March will fly by, and I have a good feeling that warm weather won't be far behind (I'll knock on wood again, just to be sure).

These days are busy, and they're uncertain, but  they're certainly optimistic. I've still got lots of things to figure out but at least I'm enjoying the process.. Most of the time.

I'll leave it at that for today, as I have some frustrating red tape issues to clear up and some potato leek soup to get started... but do watch this space. I'm resolved to be back soon! (In the meantime, you can see what I've been up to via instagram here.) A très bientôt xo