Graffiti

Sometimes when I see graffiti, I think of:

– The day one of best friends and I rented bikes and took them along the Canal Saint-Martin far out of Paris. This was before I signed up for the cost-effective annual Vélib subscription, so he and I were racking up a fee, but I think we’d both say it was worth it.

– Sitting along an isolated part of the canal on a warm day having a conversation with a Right Bank mec I knew. It started drizzling, and we skedaddled to find cover. Where did we go? A bar? Was that the day he taught me how to play pétanque? I don’t recall, but I remember the grinning cat graffiti across the water.

I guess there is a lot of graffiti along parts of the canal.

Somehow they hold for me pleasant memories of unrushed afternoons en français.

Bof

I feel a sense of dread about this year. There are various reasons for that that aren’t easy for me to verbalize.

I generally think of myself as a positive person, and I think most people I know would describe me that way, but when I think back to years ago and then move forward to more recent years, there were periods where I struggled to find something positive and some beauty in life. As is the case with everyone. Life ebbs and flows. If we’re lucky, we have more happy times than sad ones. I know in the grand scheme of things, I’ve been lucky. And #blessed, if I was someone who used hashtags.

During hard times, where I turn to find that momentary relief has changed over the years. Within the past decade one source has been nature. Looking up in a quiet space outside. Witnessing the trees that are bound to change next week.

And there’s music. Writing. People. Turning outward when it’s tempting to turn inward and stay there.

For a few weeks now certain things that I thought I had almost become desensitized to have reasserted themselves and stayed wedged in my mind past the moment. They span the levels from personal—what’s happening in my circle—to global—what’s in the news.

A small example: every time I see a homeless person in the subway now, the sadness I feel lingers longer than it used to. It seems inhuman to hear someone beg and then go about one’s day. There is a man I see sitting in the corner of the subway entrance every morning. What would help? I’m not going to give money every day. Would a smile be better than ignoring him?

I think in most cases, the feeling of malaise in difficult situations comes from feeling powerless or not knowing what to do or believing that one’s actions or words won’t make a difference.

If someone told me all this, I would probably tell them to think about what they can do, and try to do it. Sittin’ and sulkin’ ain’t gonna do anything. Well, I wouldn’t tell anyone the latter—tough love isn’t really my thing—but it’s what I tell myself after a night spent worrying or when a cloud descends on my mind.

More thoughts to come.

 

Note: I wrote this two and a half weeks ago. It’s representative of a moment in time, and good and hopeful things, as well as bad and worrisome things, have happened since then. Everything evolves (though I still wouldn’t say I’m feeling particularly cheery).

Oh Snap

Today I had lunch with a colleague who graduated from college last spring. When our appetizers arrived, she asked, “Should we wait till the entrees come to snap everything together or start eating now?”

I didn’t hear exactly what she had said and thought she was asking if we should snack on the appetizers or wait to eat everything together. Whatever the actual question, I knew my answer was that I wanted to start eating; hadn’t we both just said we were hungry?

A moment later, I realized she had actually been asking if we should wait so that we could take a picture of all our food to post on Snapchat, the app that’s all the rage among teens and early twenty-somethings.

This could have made me feel the significance of the seven years between us, but truth be told, I know that even if I were her age, I would never have considered waiting to eat my spring rolls. I do take photos of my food sometimes, but as it comes and not to show my friends. I can think of a few reasons I wouldn’t have started eating immediately (if my food had arrived and hers hadn’t, if she was in the restroom while they came, if one of our orders was wrong), and none of them include an app.

I acted as if her question was normal, but I was really thinking, “Are you serious??” I still wonder if there’s a possibility she was half-joking. Hot spring rolls! Hunger! No one except us cares what we’re eating!

Even when I was that age and up on all the trends, I didn’t feel inclined to follow them. The difference is that now I can use my age as an excuse!

On the Go

New York City is truly the city of convenience. Case in point: I came across this postal truck selling stamps:

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Perfect, I thought. I wanted to get the new Wonder Woman stamps and a sheet of ten cents stamps.

They did have Wonder Woman and an array of other new designs—not all post offices are so well-stocked—but unfortunately, no small denomination stamps. I would have had to go to the nearest post office. I was on my way to Grand Central Station and deemed that I did not have time to stop in and see if there was a line to buy stamps.

The nearest post office was right behind me; the truck was parked outside it.

At first I was amazed by this new food truck-esque vehicle, but upon further reflection I see why they set up a truck.

Sometimes I don’t know if having more at our fingertips makes us more or less efficient.

Bonne Année

Towards the end of December I sent out Christmas and holiday greetings to friends, family, and acquaintances, which included many Frenchies. Their responses reminded me of the differences between French and English greetings and how much I love noticing them:

– All the responses wishing me “de très belles fêtes de fin d’année” (very happy end-of-the-year holidays). Not that one can’t say “Joyeuses fêtes” (Happy Holidays), but I think that the fact that the former is even used reveals the specificity of the French language. No wonder non-native English speakers don’t get why we use the word “get” for everything, from “get groceries” and “get ready” to “get up” and “get down.”

– A French friend who responded to my “Merry Christmas” on December 23rd with “Thanks! Although Christmas is in 2 days!” It reminded me of my first year in France, when a friend admonished me for wishing him “Bonne Année” (Happy New Year) before the end of the year, which I had done because we wouldn’t see each other until after the holidays.

– The “bizzz” at the end of some friends’ emails, not to indicate a bee buzzing, but rather a friendly way of signing off. Not to mention the bisous and je t’embrasse and so on depending on the sender’s personality and how they view our relationship.

I hope you enjoyed the holidays. Bonne Année!

A French colleague told me I can say that until January 20th.

Bizzz

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Cold Spring, Warm Fall

On one of the last weekends warm enough to spend all day outside, a friend and I went hiking in Cold Spring, New York. An hour by train from Grand Central Station in Manhattan, Cold Spring is a village of under 2,000 residents. We were reminded several times that it is the “village” of Cold Spring by signs, including one displaying the “village speed limit.”

Most of the leaves had fallen, though there were a few trees that for some reason remained lush with autumn colors. With a view of the Hudson River in the distance that manifested itself from time to time between the trees, we talked and followed the trail marks along the bumpy landscape. We’ve known each other for perhaps about five years already, but I got to know her better that day. I guess being out in the woods one on one and crunching through leaves away from the noise of the city will give the space and air to fill with words about one’s stories and real thoughts.

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Post-hike, we walked along the road to get back to Main Street, where we warmed up with a very early dinner in a café and poked at old, beautiful beaded bags in antique shops. Then it was time for a nap on the train (well, I napped while my friend read a novel).

Of course, as soon as we exited Grand Central, we found ourselves on extremely crowded sidewalks of people during our walk to the next stop in our respective commutes. Part of it must have been due to the Christmas market and ice rink at Bryant Park, though we were passing the periphery of the park. And may I just mention that a friend recently told me that though it is “free” to skate there, skate rental is $20; $28 if you want to skip the line whose wait can be one and a half hours; and $6 to purchase socks.

We squeezed through throngs of pedestrians and crossed busy avenues before parting with a quick hug at a frenetic corner in Times Square. Talk about a jolt back into the bustle of a city that never sleeps.

City Citrouilles

A couple of weeks ago, I saw this nice fall display outside a New York City residence.101_1416

Granted, it was behind bars.101_1415

The building’s ground floor dipped slightly below sidewalk level, so these bars prevented pedestrians from falling into the shallow canyon created.

Small square footage doesn’t stop city residents from festiveness.

The Comedy is Outside and it’s Free

Last week a couple of friends and I went to a comedy show in Manhattan. The lineup included Judah Friedlander of “30 Rock” and Michelle Wolf from “The Daily Show.” While shivering in line outside the Comedy Cellar, we struck up a conversation with the young bearded guy with a backpack who was behind us in line. He was in New York for the first time because he was offered a $100 roundtrip flight from his home in Chicago with the condition that he had to stay “for a while.” In fact “a while” was just a week. I wasn’t clear on how he had scored this ticket.

Alone in New York and knowing not a soul, he was paying only $17 a night for a room at an apartment somewhere far out in Brooklyn—he wasn’t sure which neighborhood. One of my friends asked him what subway line he had to take, peppering him with possible letters and numbers, and deduced he was in Bed-Stuy.

His plans included getting some tattoos at a tattoo parlor in Brooklyn because they are known for their traditional tattoos (I did not know what that meant, but he explained that they did traditional designs, like what Popeye the Sailor would have. I honestly don’t remember if that’s how he worded it or if that’s how I translated it in my brain. I think that’s what he said, though).

Later, during the show, comedian Judah Friedlander singled him out and asked what was on his baseball cap, to which he responded, “Fuck, That’s Delicious.” Not sure how I missed that while we were talking to him.

Earlier that day, I saw a woman in a sleeveless shirt and sleeveless puffy vest walking a tiny dog with a sweater.

In the evening, we saw four carolers, two men in tails and two women in bonnets and long skirts, singing outside a dim bar: a study in contrasts.

This is why you should do and wear whatever you want. As long as you aren’t making someone else get a tattoo or expose their arms in winter weather, you’re adding to my entertainment.

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…