Scraps of Memories

I readily admit that I have sentimental attachment to objects. When I see minimalist friends’  living spaces, I admire them and think that I would like having so many clear surfaces too, but then I go to recycle my piles of paper and the process is slow because each brings back a memory.

Recently I went through my paper bag from my recent years in France and found:

  • Printed list of “Contacts in France”- names, phone numbers, and addresses. It was only one page and listed literally everyone I knew in the country. A family friend, the former director of my undergraduate study abroad program, my former host family, a friend, and several acquaintances. Included a note at the bottom on how to dial French numbers from the U.S. and vice versa, which would later become second nature to me. +001…
  • Printed list of my online address book, just in case. Contrary to the previous list, was very long and in tiny typeface.
  • My boarding pass from Newark airport to Paris Charles de Gaulle.
  • My ‘carte jeune’ and its cute little holder provided by SNCF. The carte jeune is a travel pass for 18-27 year olds that cost 50 euros a year at the time. It paid for itself many times over through reductions on train tickets.
  • A faded receipt for my first dinner in Paris—Chez Gladines with my friend and her boyfriend, the people I was staying with while I looked for an apartment. I remember sitting in the restaurant with them and feeling grateful to be with familiar friends rather than alone.
  • A form I had signed authorizing the school region I taught for to post on their web site an audio recording of me and two other teaching assistants (a Welsh and a Texan) singing Christmas songs.
  • A handwritten list an American friend and I made of Christmas carols we planned to sing in front of Hôtel de Ville.
  • Sketches of girls doing crew. In preparation for a customized tote bag I painted for a friend who was my Secret Santa recipient.
  • A list of rules for a photo competition that I entered at a public library. Thème ‘la gourmandise.’ All photos were displayed at the library.
  • Ticket stubs for museums, exhibits, and shows. For ballets, operas, plays, and concerts, often offered by friends and acquaintances. Including:
    • A terrible play a date took me to. At least we both thought it was bad.
    • “Cinquante Nuances.” No, I don’t think it portrays a healthy relationship. Yes, it was a heck of a fun night with two girl friends. As long as you don’t romanticize the story or think it is something to aspire to, I say enjoy its ridiculousness guilt-free.
  • The name of a singer and song title noted on the back of a receipt by someone I dated. I enjoyed listening to him play it on his guitar frequently, but I never remembered what it was called, so I had asked him to write it down before I left Paris.
    I never listen to it.
  • Handwritten by me on a scrap of napkin during a brief trip back to the States:
    I don’t know how to swipe my Metro card.
    I don’t know how to order coffee.
    But there was cocoa, cinnamon, brown sugar, white sugar, soy milk, and cream.
    I don’t know how to hug.

No need to reprimand me for keeping these– I threw out all of the above items, enfin. With regards to the last item, I have relearned how to live in the land of choices and to commute in the city of “Please swipe again.”

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A Tradition Transported

Fête de la Musique became my favorite day when I lived in Paris. It takes place on the Summer Solstice every year. Along with other cities around the world, New York has adopted it and made it its own. Nothing has changed since I celebrated Make Music New York here last year; there are still a lot of free concerts around the city, and it still isn’t mainstream.

When I arrived at the midday concert featuring a quartet performing Brazilian and jazz, there were only a couple of people there. I sat on the grass right in front of the musicians: an Italian singer and a guitarist, drummer, and bassist. Gradually, more people came and scattered about the lawn and ledge nearby. The music was soothing and breezy, upbeat and chill, perfect for a summer day outside.

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The concert I attended in the evening was well-attended (by locals?) in a community garden. Though the seating area was small, it was the right size for the number of people, and there was ample room on the grass. I snagged a seat on a bench next to a lady who had arrived early. The sun was bright and low in the sky as it slowly set in the west. Kids ran around and played and danced and ate ice cream during the performance, which were again a female singer and three male musicians. They were great. I love old love songs, which they honored while adding their own twist.

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After the hour-long performance, I scuttled across the street (is that verb ever used for beings other than crabs?) to meet a friend for tapas and drinks outside. It was that rare café terrasse in New York that is on the quietest of avenues. I am realizing that there are always new places to be discovered.

The Delights of Anticipation

In a few weeks I plan to return to France for a couple of weeks. For work? some have asked me. Purely for pleasure, I respond gleefully.

I bet you can’t wait, my colleague says. I can, I say, I’m enjoying the anticipation.

You must be excited, my friend tells me over lunch. I’m so excited to planifer my train trips, I nod. He laughs. You’re excited to planifier? he says, emphasizing the last word and implying that that’s not what he thought I’d be excited about.

I was never in a rush to move away from my family and go to college. To be of legal drinking age and go to bars. To graduate from college. To get to second base. To start the weekend (except that time I hated my job).

Don’t get me wrong, I looked forward to these things. I was ready for them when they came, and I dove right into the next stage with oomph. But I didn’t wish for them to come quicker. The way I see it, we live in a moment and then it passes, and we won’t get it back, so I don’t want to live for the weekend if it means I’m not enjoying my weekdays.

What this post is really about, though, is something I picked up from Anne of Green Gables. I must thank my uncle and aunt for sending my sister and me the movie based on the book by Lucy Maud Montgomery. The story is about a young orphaned girl named Anne who ends up living with Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert, who are sister and brother and quite a bit older than Anne’s birth parents would have been. Anne is a chatterbox and dramatic and, well, a kid. Marilla is a stern, no-nonsense figure who tries to rein in Anne.

The scene in the story that stuck with me was a conversation between Anne and Marilla. Anne is wildly excited about an upcoming picnic. She must go! What can she bring? What can she wear? She has only ever dreamed of going to a picnic! She goes on and on about it.

“You set your heart too much on things, Anne,” said Marilla, with a sigh. “I’m afraid there’ll be a great many disappointments in store for you through life.”

“Oh, Marilla, looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them,” exclaimed Anne. “You mayn’t get the things themselves; but nothing can prevent you from having the fun of looking forward to them. Mrs. Lynde says, `Blessed are they who expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed.’ But I think it would be worse to expect nothing than to be disappointed.”

I have always remembered that line: Looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them.

I was only a kid, but the concept resonated with me.

I’m so excited to go back to France. I remember vividly the flight to move to Paris several years ago; it was nighttime, and the future seemed to be as black a void as the sky outside. In a good way. A blank slate with unknown adventures to be had. No apartment secured, a job that could very well turn out to be ill suited for me, and only a friend, an acquaintance, and a former host family as ties.

This time I am going back after having created a history in Paris. Friends, lovers, and colleagues, current and former, will be roaming around the city. Every park and metro line has a memory. I have a long list of people I want to see, food and drink to enjoy, and places to revisit. This is by no means a written itinerary or a crazy schedule; it mostly consists of sitting along the Seine with fondant au chocolat and cidre rosé and people who love me and whom I love.

I can’t wait. But I can.

Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Going out four to five evenings a week after work and avoiding the computer during the weekend is not conducive to blog writing, in case that is the schedule you were thinking of following. You should follow that schedule if you are looking to write a post two months after you mean to.

Are you familiar with the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire? If you’re American, you probably learned about it in grammar school Social Studies class. I’m not sure if it’s taught outside of the United States.

On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in a factory in New York City, and because doors were locked, 146 employees, garment workers who were mostly immigrants, couldn’t escape and thus died.

The incident spurred the creation of work safety regulations, hence its appearance in our history books.

On a rainy afternoon almost a week after March 25th this year, I came upon this outside what used to be the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. Each carnation was tagged with the name and age of a person who had died. It made the whole tragedy a lot more real to me. Mary Floresta, 26. Ida Pearl, 20. Ross Friedman, 18. Esther Goldstein, 20. Frieda Velakovsky, 20. Over one hundred years later, a group had remembered these individuals. I felt a connection with those long gone, thanks to the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, which advocates for working people and recognizes the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire each year. DSC00313DSC00314DSC00316DSC00317DSC00318There is a balance to be struck between learning about and from the past and living in the present and moving forward. Sometimes it seems there is so much knowledge to be acquired, taking into account everything known and unknown and the necessity of sifting through countless opinions and worldviews to find one’s own truth. I am glad for these everyday moments to learn and relearn and remember moments that led to progress.

Night Lights

After my Spanish class last week, I walked through Herald Square on my way home. The temperature was freezing (literally), but I stopped and took in the scene. I crossed the street, then turned to look again and take a picture, then walked a few steps, then stopped one more time before continuing on my way. A passerby would have thought I was a tourist in New York for the first time or a resident New Yorker on her last night before moving to a new city. I’m neither, of course. I can walk here whenever I want, and I do, at least once a week after my class.

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I’ve passed through this touristy area many times, but for some reason the atmosphere of colored lights and city night reminded me of certain evenings near the Opéra Garnier in Paris. Some Monday nights, one or two British girl friends and I would meet at the same café for a slice of quiche or a hot chocolate. I’d walk there from work, when it was almost dusk, and by the time we emerged from our chats, it was nighttime. I’d turn the corner to walk to my bus stop, pass lit up commercial stores and theatres, and there would be the Opéra Garnier. Like Herald Square, it was a normally busy area that cleared out on cold nights but kept its buildings aglow.

I think I just realized why I like Hopper paintings. Or do I feel myself expand in these real life scenes because I like Hopper? Rhetorical questions. Words rarely encompass feelings.

I’m not as head in the clouds as my writing makes me out to be. Not all the time, anyway. If anything, my feet are firmly planted on the ground, looking at what’s around us.

Do you get those moments
in between all the running around and responsibilities and worries
too?

Nirvana

Lunchtime in the park in Manhattan. On the next bench over from me, a man sits and chats with his friend who has rolled up and parked her wheelchair next to him. I’ve seen her in the park before; she has some kind of handwritten sign affixed to her chair. They seem to be regulars who linger in the park without anywhere to rush back to. A girl comes by and greets them. She is a student, perhaps in college. I wonder how they know each other. They talk about her classes a bit. In the course of their conversation, she mentions Nirvana.

Man: Nirvana? Is that a white girl? She won a Grammy, right?
Girl: It’s a band.
Man: It’s a band? It sounds like a girl’s name.
Woman: You’re thinking of Rihanna.

An old man approaches. I scoot over a bit to make room for him. He obviously knows the rest of the group, but they merely tolerate him. He is very drunk and has a small bottle of alcohol with him. His manner is subdued, not raging, though he’s definitely out of it. He tries to talk to me about his travels during his time in the service and his anxiety these days, but he has trouble completing his sentences, so his thoughts taper off as quickly as they begin. However unfinished, his brief mumblings reveal more in a flash than decades of greeting a distant neighbor or colleague in passing.

People in the park.

The Glass House

Last fall a friend and I took a tour of The Glass House in Connecticut. It was a great suggestion on her part because it was located equidistantly between us, about an hour’s drive northeast for me and southwest for her. She booked us tours ahead of time. Designed by architect Philip Johnson and located on what was his private property until he died in 2005, The Glass House can only be accessed through guided tours.

We met up for lunch at a cute café, opting to sit at a table outside. It was a short walk to the building where the tour began. The guide started by showing our group a wall of photos from Johnson’s life and talking about his beginnings and influences. We then hopped on a shuttle to take us to the actual property.

The entrance was imposing. The guide discussed Johnson’s sense of humor; the gates resembled a guillotine or tombstones and rose far above us in a manner that could be considered menacing, yet they didn’t really block access to the grounds. One could in theory just walk around them, as they weren’t connected to a fence.

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The two-hour walking tour was much more than The Glass House itself. On our walk to the house, the guide showed us other buildings on the property, all designed by Johnson—Da Monsta, his studio, the Ghost House, the Sculpture Gallery (yes, there was a gallery on the grounds—he had money to spend)– and spoke about his design choices, not only for the buildings, but also for the placement of paths and trees and walls. The property was created with its relation to nature and visitors’ experiences in mind.

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A path on the grounds101_1272

Do you see the Ghost House below?101_1273

The Sculpture Gallery, sculptures temporarily hidden away in boxes101_1304

It so happened that we were there in the year of two anniversaries—the tenth year since The Glass House opened to the public and 110 years since Johnson’s birth. To celebrate these milestones, Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama had been commissioned to create several works on the property. She plastered red dots all over the transparent house, placed 1,300 silver spheres to float on the lake below, and created a large steel pumpkin that sat a short distance from the house. She likes circles and pumpkins. The tour guide told us that Kusama is the most popular female artist in the world (determined by number of visitors to her exhibitions).

At first I was a bit disappointed that we wouldn’t see the house in its standard state, all glass and striking to the eye. After hearing about Kusama and actually seeing and standing inside the house, however, I appreciated the dots, which I found joyful and whimsical. The structure was as striking and fascinating as ever.

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Johnson used The Glass House as his summer home and for entertaining. It would have been too cold in the winter.

What it must have been like to attend a party there.

It was a perfect day. My friend and I both have an art history background, and one of my favorite classes in college was Intro to Architecture. (I also took an Architectural Design class that kicked my a**, but that’s a story for another day. It was enjoyable but kept me up all night bent over foam boards while gripping a box cutter.) The tour was like being in school again, learning with visual aids and asking questions of someone who could answer them. Not to mention that in this case most of our “class” was outside on a beautiful fall day with the most moderate of temperatures.

The Glass House is closed for the winter and will reopen on May 1.

Cock-a-doodle-doo

It’s been over a month since the start of the Lunar New Year. The year of the rooster began on January 28. For us Chinese (and several other Asian ethnicities), it’s the chance for a sense of rebirth on the heels of the Gregorian New Year, just shortly after the French stop saying “Bonne Année.” Not only that, but the celebration goes on for two weeks.

I follow the superstitions surrounding the Lunar New Year, just in case. Clean the house the day before but not the day of. Eat three good meals. Eat long noodles. Don’t get your hair cut. Wear red.

Did I mention eat well?

On New Year’s Day this year, a group of friends and I had lunch in New York Chinatown. Our ringleader was my friend who is Chinese-born. Then there was me, who is Chinese American, and seven non-Chinese Frenchies, several of whom had spent a few years in Beijing.

Perhaps you know how it goes in Chinese restaurants. Rather than ordering our own entrées, we ordered dishes to share (though this place lacked a lazy susan, which would have made second helpings easier). After a meal of fish (presented in complete form), lobster, meat, eggplant, noodles, rice, and more, we wandered out into the streets to watch the dragon dance, in which several dragons accompanied by loud drums went from door to door. Businesses put money in their mouths for good fortune. Sidewalk vendors sold long cylinders that when snapped in half, popped and shot confetti into the air. Kids threw fake firecrackers on the ground that made a loud noise upon impact.DSC00187DSC00188DSC00189DSC00190

About a week later, I came across these fierce dragons near Times Square. Though they’ve apparently been there since last fall, I hadn’t noticed them up close, and they seemed particularly appropriate to take a walk around and greet for the New Year.

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They made me smile. How could they look so ferocious and joyful at the same time? It must have been the heart and happy faces on their noses.

I am still finding confetti. Today I was sitting outside and saw a piece of shiny pink confetti on my pants. It must have fallen out of my purse. That’s how you know you celebrated New Year’s well.

A Screwball Comedy

What is, My life as a film?

I have been wearing tall black boots almost every day to work. I like them a lot, but I’m tired of wearing the same thing. They’re just the best winter footwear I have that are appropriate for work.

One night this month, I was inspired to dig out my black loafers from my closet. I’d worn them probably once or twice in the past eleven years. Overall I had used them for only one or two years in high school. My little Catholic grammar and high schools required a uniform, and for years I had worn variations of black laced shoes and black loafers. While it was exciting to make the change from laced shoes to loafers in seventh grade, once I went off the college, I never looked back at those loafers.

Once in a while, when going through my shoes, I would take them out, admire how new they still looked, and decide to keep them for when I needed an extra pair.

That moment finally came recently. I thought they looked pretty smart with my jeans and black turtleneck.

The next morning, I took the bus, then the subway. Halfway through my walk from the station to work, I felt a loosening around my right foot. I looked down, disconcerted.

My shoe had come apart around my foot.

I couldn’t believe it. The edge around the toe of the shoe had partly broken off, and the sole had broken in half. I could see the bottom of my cat socks.

I knew that rubber band in my purse would one day come in handy. I wrapped it around my shoe and gingerly walked to work.

At my desk, I contemplated how to go about the rest of the day. Unfortunately, I had a meeting in about fifteen minutes across the street and had to remedy the situation immediately. It was clear that one rubber band wouldn’t prevent the half-sole from slipping away from my foot.

I started to color a rubber band with a permanent black marker, then quickly abandoned that idea. Did you know that the texture of a rubber band doesn’t lend itself to marker?

I stuck some scotch tape on the bottom of my shoe. It was like dropping a square of toilet paper in a large puddle.

I wrapped about ten rubber bands around the top half of my shoe. That should hold it together for  now.

Now, how to disguise my collapsed footwear?

I looked at the stash of small plastic bags on my bookshelf. A standard white plastic bag would make it too obvious that I was trying to hide a problem. I decided to go in the other direction and selected the bright red plastic bag and tied it around my shoe, knotting it at the bottom. Maybe it was so flashy that people would assume it was a style choice. This was New York, after all.

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My brief foray across the narrow street to my meeting made it clear that there was no way I could walk all day in this shoe, let alone commute home. It was falling apart.

Luckily, I work in a neighborhood with a lot of stores. DSW, the shoe mecca, is under a ten minute walk away if you’re walking at a normal pace. I, however, was walking with a slight limp to avoid creating too much movement of the various separated pieces of my shoe. This did not work at all, and I ended up stopping six or seven times on my walk to readjust the tectonic plates, which were rapidly slipping away from the desperately clinging rubber bands and now tired-looking red plastic bag.

My low point was when the plastic bag blew off, and after quickly considering whether to let it go, I ran to retrieve it and wedged myself between a mailbox and a trash can to retie it under my shoe. It had torn from the walking, and I wasn’t sure if it would make the block and a half to DSW. At this point it wasn’t just to keep up appearances, but to keep the moving parts together.

The employee at DSW looked down at my shoe as I walked towards the clearance section. To her credit, she greeted me normally. I responded brightly.

I scored silver booties for $17.98 after a 70% reduction. I’m not sure it was fair to be so richly rewarded for my foolishness.

I don’t know what the lesson is here. Choose one that suits you: Always keep an extra pair of shoes at work. Shoe glue expires. Things aren’t made the way they used to be. Don’t neglect a pair of shoes for eleven years without expecting a revolt. Always stay within half a mile of a DSW. Shame is real. Leave loafers in school.

Snowshoeing without Snowshoes

I skipped out of work a couple of hours early (having worked late several evenings this month) and hopped on the Metro-North train to visit a friend who got married last summer. A few weeks prior, I was sitting in a restaurant next to three young women, one of whom was espousing the line to her two friends: “The Metro-North is the way to travel. It is like, so sweet.” I’m not sure I would go that far, but it does tend to be on time (great if you’re early, out of luck if you’re running late).

My friend and her husband picked me up from the train station in New Haven, Connecticut. Along for the ride was their big Doberman puppy, who jumped all over me as soon as I got in the back. She alternated between being very conspicuous—bounding on me and chewing the crocheted lanyard on my bag—and almost invisible, as she is black as that Friday night.

In their town about half an hour’s drive away, they had left their door unlocked for the other friend who would be joining us for the weekend and had arrived shortly before. We certainly weren’t in Kansas anywhere—or maybe we were closer to Kansas? In the Jersey suburb where I’m from, we wouldn’t leave the door unlocked if we weren’t home.

Here were wide open spaces. A long, wide driveway leading up the house. Peaceful, snowy trees out back. Birds flitting around a feeder on the deck. A kitchen that could fit two, perhaps three Parisian studios.

The weekend was a lovely one, with a BIG pancake (to quote the menu), laughter and talks, the making of not one but two cakes, music and movies, cuddling with the two dogs, and a hike up snowy hills and along a frozen reservoir.

In Paris I used to visit a friend in Marseille every few months. Since coming back to the States, I’ve done the same with my friend in Connecticut. The Metro-North is not quite the same as the TGV, but it’s still “like, so sweet” since it takes me to scattered parts of my heart.dsc00223dsc00224dsc00226dsc00229dsc00234dsc00235dsc00237dsc00240dsc00242