Three Tuesdays

Today I was sitting in a café, looking out the window at the rain in the city where “our” President-elect currently resides. It was my second time in this café; the first was three weeks ago. Staring at the old-timey barber shop across the street without seeing it, I remembered what I was doing here on that equally gloomy, rainy day. I was scribbling thoughts on the back of a metro newspaper, thoughts that had been tumbling around in my head since the previous night. It was only twelve hours after I had woken up in the middle of the night to see Trump on TV.

“11/9/16 Last night I fell asleep around 1am and left the TV on. I woke up at 2:56am and saw on TV, “Clinton calls Trump to concede.” At first I thought that meant she called on him to concede. [The latter part of the night, it was “too close to call,” “too close to call,” “too close to call”… had she won, he was contesting it and therefore she was calling on him to concede?] Then it sank in that he had won. He started giving his victory speech, and I started crying. I cried for what it meant. Our country’s citizens had elected someone who denigrated women, minorities, and vulnerable groups. I thought, “I am not represented by him.” … On my commute to work this morning, thinking about it made me tear up. He didn’t force his way in. People voted for him. I cried when Clinton finally gave her concession speech around 11:50am today. … We’re a nation of immigrants and diversity and supposedly progress. What is going to all the progress we have made? … And half the country is happy about Trump’s election.”

In the following days, not a day went by where the topic of the election results didn’t come up with friends, family, colleagues, acquaintances. If there is one good thing about this horrendous election, it is that it has spurred those who are normally apolitical to search for ways to take action for causes they believe in.

Even if complacency started to settle in, one would quickly be reminded of what is going on as a resident of this region. The other Friday, I heard that there were traffic delays of an hour between New Jersey and New York due to the Lincoln Tunnel being closed. This was the first time I had heard of the tunnel being closed; there are three tubes with two lanes each. There are times when one lane or one tube is closed due to a car accident or a suspended bus, but for the whole tunnel to close in both directions something must be up. I later found out that Trump was on his way from New York to New Jersey… to go to his golf course… at rush hour.

In case you’re wondering, most of us are not proud that he’s from here.

Finishing Touches

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To me the weirdest part about this scene was not that a petite man was painted green, solely covered by a loincloth, and about to climb on a pedestal, but that he was painting himself in public. Wouldn’t a professional have come out fully painted and ready to pose?

Am I jaded? No, even though I was not surprised to see a little green man, I was not too blasé to take a picture.

Am I too demanding? Maybe…

Overheard

Heard the other day in Manhattan:

“…in terms of accessing his inner fabulous…”
– One guy to his two guy friends

“People do stupid stuff around dogs, too”
– Construction worker to woman with three dogs

“This is as good as it gets for a children’s playground in Manhattan”
– One guy to another as they passed an Astroturf-covered playground consisting of several wide, low-hanging suspended nets to climb on. Clearly he was not impressed.

“Thank you. I feel SO lost.”
– Young man to female police officer who just told him how to exit bus station

As these strangers and I walk by each other, I am curious about the context of their conversations, and yet the snippets reveal enough.

What Do You Think of French Music?

Sometimes during a conversation on French culture, people ask me whether I like French music. A popular consensus among the French people I’ve spoken with is that contemporary French music is lacking. They like their classic Jacques Brel, Alain Souchon, and Georges Brassens (do they love Brassens), but a number of them listen to more music in English than in their native language. That’s not to say there aren’t contemporary French hits on the radio in France; I heard musicians like Christine and the Queens, Black M, BB Brunes, and Julien Doré played multiple times a day. Still, you’d more easily find fans of Rihanna, Pink, Beyonce, Mika, Coldplay, and Jay Z on the streets of Paris.

I like French music, though! Usually my first answer to the music question is Alex Beaupain. Most of the time this is met with no recognition. Alex Beaupain has his own albums, but I discovered him through the songs he wrote for Christophe Honoré’s musical film “Chansons d’amour.” I once attended a concert put on by him in collaboration with actress Fanny Ardant and singer Camélia Jordana. It was a day that I was feeling down and on the spur of the moment purchased a ticket to their show for that night in Paris. It certainly did the trick.

Without further ado, here is a short selection of my favorite French songs. These lean towards the softer side, pop and piano music.

Alex Beaupain and Camélia Jordana- Avant la haine
Tété- Petite chanson
Berry- Le bonheur
Zaz- La fée
Vincent Delerm- Il fait si beau
Gerald de Palmas- Au bord de l’eau
L.E.J- La dalle

Why does current French music get a bad rap among its own people? Or is this different from what you’ve observed?

Rough and Tumble

Last night I was at a dinner, and the (French) woman next to me asked me, “Vous allez regarder le match avec nous après?”

I was puzzled. “Le… match?”

She became flustered. “Je veux dire, le débat!”

I can understand her mistake.

Note if you don’t speak French: ‘Match’ usually refers to a sports game. She was asking if I was going to watch the game with them after dinner. Now, I am not a sports fan, so it is entirely conceivable that I wouldn’t have known about a big game last night. However, she was actually thinking of the presidental debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The Cloisters

Earlier this summer, a friend was in New York for a business trip, and I jumped on the chance to hang out with her. She came up a day early on a sunny, hot Sunday. We agreed to meet at her hotel with another college friend.

First to arrive, I sat in the snazzy hotel lobby. A bit later, I received a text from my friend saying that she had arrived and how about we meet in ten minutes? I looked up and saw her checking in at the reception desk. Not wanting to scare her or interrupt her conversation with the receptionist, I creepily stood behind her at the distance you’d stand behind the customer at a post office counter when you’re next in line (in the U.S. I mean… in France mosey on right up behind that stranger).

We went up to put her bag in her hotel room, which to her surprise was stylishly decorated but did not feature a desk. Considering she was there for work and would need to use her laptop several hours a day, she called reception to inquire about it. They responded that she hadn’t requested one. We were baffled. Even in low-cost motel rooms, I have always seen a bed and a table.

Our friend joined us, and after a leisurely lunch and animated chat at a restaurant in the neighborhood, we took the subway up to the Cloisters, which is built from stone and materials from four French medieval abbeys. It contains art, objects, and tapestry from the Middle Ages. There was a surprising lack of signage leading to its location in Fort Tryon Park. We followed somewhat inclined paths surrounded by trees and plants before reaching the fortified structure. 101_1003

You may recognize “The Unicorn in Captivity” (1495–1505).

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You’ve probably never seen this guy, though. He is an aquamanile from Germany (ca. 1425-50), used for handwashing at the table.

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This stained glass window from the cathedral of Notre-Dame in Rouen (ca. 1200-10) depicts a scene from the Legend of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus.

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The gardens were lovely. 101_1009101_1010

There was an entertaining garden of plants grouped by use in medieval times: magic and ceremony, arts and crafts, brewing, medicine, vegetables and salads. Plants had funny names like wallflower, scarlet pimpernel, mandrake, common foxglove, catnip, and butcher’s broom.

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A couple of trees reminiscent of pipes or menorahs stood against a wall. 101_1050

Our visiting friend had chosen the perfect museum for her trip because she spent time looking at every object and artwork in the building. Meanwhile, our other friend and I sat in one of the peaceful gardens for a while after looking through the Cloisters until she joined us.

On our walk out of Fort Tryon Park, we took a different meandering path and found a small cave.

101_1055We topped off our day with dinner at an airy restaurant near our friend’s hotel. Old friends and the even older Cloisters, a delicious Sunday indeed.

When I Said À Bientôt to Paris

Last year I said goodbye to the people I knew in Paris. I remember in the weeks leading up to my departure, people asked me how I felt, and I felt really fine because I had lived every moment during my time in France and it was my own choice to move back to the States. I already felt lucky to have soaked in every nighttime golden bridge, both with others and by myself. I had doubts about what the transition would be like since there were uncertainties in my immediate future, but I accepted that as a necessary part of changement.

My last night, as I parted with a friend across the street from Invalides after our ride on the bateaux mouches, I was confused by a sudden feeling of sickness that overcame me. I hadn’t eaten anything in the past few hours, so it wasn’t that kind of nausea. It wasn’t that I was hungry, either. I didn’t believe it was post-seasickness, if that is even a thing. It took a few minutes of me standing there and descending to walk a bit along the Seine in the direction of home to realize that my body was catching up to the knowledge that I was leaving and reacting in its own involuntary way. Perhaps I was fine in the weeks and hours prior and would be fine later that night, but I didn’t feel so in that moment.

During my stroll past the people enjoying the summertime air on the berges, a friend called me. We had already had our “goodbye for now” a couple of months prior since he lives in another part of France, so we didn’t have to have one now. He was just calling to see how it was going and to wish me off well. I was feeling better at that point and was further bolstered by his comforting and encouraging words.

The next day, a good friend came over to say goodbye before my SuperShuttle to the airport. We had meant to meet up the day before after an afternoon party I attended, but due to my usual lingering at events, by the time I headed to the bateaux mouches that friend was on his way to another get-together with his friends, and we missed each other.

Luck was on my side, because he offered to stop by my place midday before going to his office. Lucky because everyone else I knew was working since it was a Monday, but his schedule that day permitted him to come by. Lucky because we were then able to open a nice bottle of champagne that one of my bosses had given me and that I would have otherwise left behind. It went well with my last opéra pastry that I offered to split with him but that he declined, leaving me to eat the whole thing by myself (pas de souci).

Half an hour later, as I gazed out the window of the shuttle van during the ride to the airport, I was glad that we had sipped a little champagne. I have a low tolerance, so even the light bubbly made everything just hazy enough so that I didn’t think think think during this bonus tour of the city, but dreamily observed neighborhood after neighborhood, each containing memories made and absorbed into my being.

I Finally Watched the Final Five

Yesterday my summer cold kept me out of the office and in bed, which means I finally got to watch a bit of the Summer Olympics… only two days after the closing ceremony. I watched some men’s and women’s swimming and women’s gymnastics, just a couple of hours in all. The ever-reliable Bob Costas commentated on NBC, the American TV channel that airs the Olympics. Like his entertainment counterparts Ryan Seacrest and Nagui, he is ubiquitous, sometimes a bit cheesy, and a complete pro. He’s hosted the Olympics since I started watching them.

Two weeks prior, I was standing on the subway platform after a night with Klimt at the Neue Galerie and wine with two friends on a friend’s rooftop when I realized that I had forgotten to record the opening ceremony, which was airing at that moment. I enjoy watching the opening ceremony—it’s the time when the inevitable controversies leading up the Olympics are set aside for a brief moment for people from different countries to come together, feel inspired, and soak in the atmosphere of something greater and longer-standing than themselves. I love seeing the variety in attire, looks, and sizes of the teams as they wave their flags and their countries are announced in English, French, and the host country’s language. It’s the beginning, where hope reigns before wins and losses have accumulated and more scandals have broken out due to drug use or misconduct (lying about being robbed, really? Way to represent the USA). Every participating group gets a chance to showcase their best athletes. We finally see what the host country has been spending its money on and how it wants to present itself to the world. I didn’t watch Rio’s this year—tant pis.

I guess I’ll never be as excited for the Summer Olympics as I was when the Magnificent Seven competed in 1996. The U.S. women’s gymnastics team, they were seven teenage girls, all a few years older than me, and I knew all of their names. Shannon Miller, Dominique Dawes (“Awesome Dawesome”), Amy Chow, Dominique Moceanu, Amanda Borden, Jaycie Phelps, and of course, little Kerry Strug, who vaulted into the spotlight by clinching the team gold while injured. There was a lot of talent, a lot of drama, and a lot of tears during those games. There’s nothing quite like being a kid and looking up to these amazing athletes who now look like kids to me.