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.

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.

Bordeaux

Around this time last year I took a weekend trip to the city of Bordeaux with five friends. I had just come back to Paris from attending my sister’s graduation in the States, and it was the perfect way to mitigate the sadness of leaving my American home. One friend had found cheap train tickets weeks earlier and in her knack for organizing groups, gotten four of us to commit to a specific weekend and a rental apartment she had found online.

After four and a half hours on the train, we arrived in Bordeaux midday. During our relatively quiet walk from the train station to the apartment, a French man on a scooter zoomed up from the opposite direction and stopped next to us. He said my friend’s name in the form of a question. She answered in the affirmative, and we quickly realized that he was not a stalker who had followed her from Paris, but the owner of the apartment. He was afraid we would get lost on the way to his place and so had come to look for us (clearly this was not Paris, where looking for five girls with suitcases would have yielded too many results).

He needn’t have feared because we were just fine. Realizing this, he said, “Ok, à tout de suite !” and turned around to drive back to his apartment and wait for us.

Upon our arrival at the apartment, we were greeted by him and his partner (wife?), who each made their rounds with the five of us to faire la bise. That out of the way, they gave us a tour and chatted with us a bit. Of course, we didn’t know them personally, but without knowing their real life problems, we could have easily believed they were living the dream life. They were both tall, good-looking, had a child, owned a beautiful, beautiful apartment with a backyard deck, and were off to Paris for the weekend to celebrate his brother’s birthday. They were like those magazine feature articles of celebrities. Like those stars who are interviewed at home, they were not wearing fancy clothes, but casual clothes that still made them look effortlessly chic. Good grief.

After cool couple relinquished the keys, we were free to let the excitement bubble over at our place for the weekend. As the weather was warm, we shed our Parisian scarves and sweaters before heading out into the sunshine.

On our way to the center, I was charmed by this small lending library. I have seen one of these in New Jersey too, in exactly the same type of enclosed shelf.
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The main streets were animated, with a multitude of restaurants, bars, and shops (including a shoe store with the amusing English name of “Size?”). After an unfortunately mediocre lunch, we continued our exploration of the city. 100_8254100_8256100_8259100_8263100_8264100_8266100_8268100_8270100_8272100_8273100_8275

Our day closed with a dinner that made up for our midday meal. Triple threat: the service, food, and ambiance were all good. My positive opinion was clinched by a dish featuring duck served three ways. I never said I believe in restraint when it comes to food. Moderation, yes, but decadence too.

We took a nighttime walk and had a quick drink at a high table outside a bar before calling it a day. Day one of a luxuriously lovely yet inexpensive weekend with four fun girls, pas mal.

People sometimes ask me where I would like to live in France if not Paris. I love getting acquainted with different regions but never had a desire to live in another French city. However, since visiting southwestern France I usually have to add, “But… I could maybe see myself in Bordeaux.” The main streets were lively and the weather was amazing. Sure part of the reason why we were so relaxed was that we were on a brief getaway from daily life, but it was also that Bordeaux had a laidback vibe that was conducive to loosened muscles and sandals flapping against the sidewalk.

Moving, Blogging about Blogging, and Do You Know Johnny and Martha?

I recently moved back to the States. My daily life is completely different, but actually the adjustment has been fine. It was by choice, so that helps. I lived a beautiful chapter in France—it was my second chapter there—and I feel very lucky that I did.

When I first started this blog, I was content in Paris and didn’t yet know how long I’d be there, but I had an inkling that at some point I’d go back to where I’m from. That’s why the title is in English and French and I didn’t call it a travel blog or “Life in France.”

I began writing here because I was already writing and taking a lot of photos for myself, not only on trips but also in daily life. I always have my camera in my bag because even on a run to the supermarket or a walk in a local park, I never know when I’ll see something interesting or beautiful. I don’t have a fancy camera or use the features of mine to full capacity, but I like to capture different scenes and show them to friends and acquaintances who would not have the opportunity to see them otherwise. I still whip out the photo of me with a Johnny Hallyday impersonator if a French person mentions him and then says, “Oh, but you’re American, you probably don’t know who that is.” In response, I flip through my digital images and say, “I put my arm around him in the flesh, deep in the heart of your country!” Okay, not the real one, but I attended a whole concert of his songs, surrounded by Johnny fans in leather vests…

Anyway, as I mentioned, I write a lot, both for myself and in correspondence with friends who like to write letters via email or the postal service. I also like to see and do a lot, so I figured, why not share some of these slices of life?

I’m sure there are friends that don’t know I have this blog simply because it doesn’t come up in conversation. Once in a while it does, and I give them the link if they’re interested. A few friends give me feedback on it, but I mostly have no idea which ones read it without commenting.

I started reading blogs maybe six or seven years ago, if we’re referring to the blog in its current form. A few years prior to that, in high school, I did have classmates who had Xanga and Livejournal pages (were these online journals popular outside of the United States?), but those tended to be full of angst, at least the ones I saw. I also never would have had the thought to search for the Xanga page of someone that I didn’t know.

I have no recollection of how I started reading blogs, but I think one of the first I followed was written by a young American woman who lived in France at the time. From there I branched out to blogs about expats and travel and blogs completely unrelated to those topics. It’s really interesting to read certain people’s perspectives and stories. Some posts touched and helped me when I was going through a difficult time. It was a great reassurance to know that someone went through an experience I could deeply relate to, one my friends hadn’t necessarily lived. To me that’s one of the goals of the internet: to create connection that would not have been probable otherwise.

I learn a lot from your comments, often things I didn’t know– about France, other countries, or any variety of subjects. It’s been very interesting writing without being able to make assumptions about where the reader hails from. When I speak with an American, I know that I can go right into a story about Martha Stewart, whereas I will have to give some background on Johnny before I recount my experience at his impersonator’s concert. When I speak with a French person, I know that I can straightaway show my picture with Johnny’s sosie, whereas I’m going to have to find the words to explain what I mean by the term “domestic goddess.” How many times have I said in French, “Well, Martha Stewart makes creative things, and she had a TV show and became rich and famous, and then she went to prison, and then she made a comeback…” And I explain what kinds of things she makes and that she is a household name, and find the words for insider trading, and at the end of it I’m still pretty sure that the other person doesn’t have a full sense of Martha’s persona.

On the other hand, here I work under the assumption that some of you don’t know that Mister Rogers educated a generation of American children or that SNCF operates train lines. I like that.

Thank you for following along thus far. Your dialogue has made my outlook richer. I have some more travel stories up my sleeve, and I’ll be sharing daily life here in the States.

Lille

To continue our gray daytrips, my friend and I visited Lille a week after visiting Strasbourg. Well, of course we didn’t plan for it to be rainy and gloomy, but we didn’t let it stop us, either.

Lille is in the North of France, part of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region. Direct trains from Paris take only about an hour.

Their Christmas market welcomed us in French, English, and German.

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A bunch of little Santas were out and about.

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How can you not like things converted into other things? This museum in Roubaix, a city that neighbors Lille and is accessible by metro, is fittingly called La Piscine, as it is a former swimming pool.

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Back in Lille, I snapped this photo whose colors and shapes now remind me of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” For as long as I can remember, I have loved the combination of blue and gold, stars and moon.

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This outdoor scene resembled a party: the colorful square recessed lights, the decked out display windows and escalator, and the adorable little snack truck. It was actually just the entrance to a shopping center.

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We were mesmerized by this striking tunnel in the middle of the road and walked around it to appreciate it from all angles. The structure encompassed you. It stood alone and yet dialogued with its surroundings. Cars passed under it and pedestrians strolled alongside. It is always special to see the handiwork of someone’s creativity.

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Speaking of creativity, this Christmas tree plopped on a merry-go-round amused me as it rotated beneath the strings of lights.

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We revisited the main plaza we had walked through earlier. Pas mal, wouldn’t you agree?

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It was chilly outside, so after spending the whole day exploring the city center and its surroundings, we checked out the centre commerciale near the gare before taking the train back to Paris. Its holiday decor did not disappoint. And it had pink escalators!

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These chairs, table, and place setting for giants attracted us. I succeeded in sitting at the table, but my poor petite friend and I ended up cracking up when she tried to climb onto a chair and struggled before slipping off.

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The next time I went up to Lille was for a half-hour stopover halfway through a nine-hour bus ride to London, but that’s for another day.

Home Away From Home

The night after the recent attacks in Paris, I attended a concert with two friends in New York. The performer, Jon McLaughlin, is one of my favorite artists, so when he is on tour, I am there (except when I am not. I still haven’t done the whole groupie thing for anyone). This was my fourth time around.

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During the concert, I felt a sadness and happiness. If you have been moved by music, you will understand what I mean by happiness; it rises up within me sometimes when a voice, an instrument, words fill the room. It happens most often with live music. Murmured recognition and delight as a song begins, the feeling of being encapsulated in the sound, remembering each time why live music is delicious.

The sadness I felt during the concert was ever-present, not one that I could shake off or forget for more than a moment.

The conflicting feelings didn’t compete with each other but rather, filled me right up. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular. I had done that the previous night and during the day. There is a lot to think about if one starts: the attacks in Paris, the bloodshed, the individual stories, the aftermath, attacks in other countries, other types of killings all over the world, what individuals can do, what governments can do. One can’t think about all the problems at once. It becomes too much for one person that way, but no one said that one person has to carry the burden.

I remember what it was like to walk outside in Paris after the shootings at Charlie Hebdo and before the hostage taking in Vincennes. Exposed. And the following week, when for those who did not know someone killed, the physical motions of life had returned to normal, and yet my perspective on daily life had changed.

Surely when the shooting on the train from Amsterdam to Paris happened, I thought about how a friend and I had not long before taken that train, peacefully sleeping side by side in the early hours.

This time, I was not in Paris, but rather following the news from afar and checking in with friends. The next evening, I was going to a restaurant with friends, attending a concert with no more security than having my last name checked against a list, and walking to the subway nearing midnight while people spilled out of bars. Activities that many of us expect to do without wondering whether we’d be better off staying at home.

Unfortunately, I’m sure we’ve all had moments when a horrible event shifted how we saw the world. We witness violence in its different forms in every country. The world is still beautiful, but frightening as well and terribly sad.

One question now is what we can do going forward. I’m going to think about that.

Stags and Hens

The first time I saw a young man dressed up in a rabbit suit surrounded by peers in broad daylight in Montmartre, I didn’t know what was going on. They were not performers. And why was everyone but one poor guy in regular clothing?

By the time I saw this penguin fishing under impassive eyes a couple of years later, I knew that he had found his mate.

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In France a man or woman who is engaged to be married may be made to wear a costume or embarrassing outfit while accompanied by his or her friends in daytime or nighttime activities, often involving the public. Once, a group of girls approached my companion and me and asked us to sign the bride-to-be’s notebook with a message to wish her well.

If not in costume, the bride-to-be may be wearing one color (for example, a white t-shirt) while her following of friends all wear another (likely pink).

In the U.S. grooms and brides-to-be often have bachelor and bachelorette parties, but they usually take place in the evening. A typical one will be at a bar or someone’s home or if it is an overnight trip, Las Vegas. The friends of the star of the party may try to make them engage with strangers, but it will be in an enclosed space, as opposed to in the street. While it is often obvious who in the group is engaged to be married, because they will be wearing a sash or tiara or other indicator, animal costumes are not a tradition. Alternatively, some people opt for tamer celebrations, like a dinner with their friends of the same sex, a spa day, or another group activity. I am sure this is true in France as well, that some people prefer to have a meal instead of pretending to fish for one in the Seine as their friends look on.

Bref, that is all to say that I’ve seen many costumed characters in the streets of New York City, but I’m pretty sure that none of them were getting married.

This Provincial Life

In the dead of winter a couple of years ago, a friend and I took a day trip to Provins, a medieval village about an hour and a half from Paris by train. It was very cold, and there were no other tourists in town.

It was charming.

There were stone buildings on the quiet roads that sometimes ascended and descended.

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Doors about five feet high were everywhere. Why?

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We walked to the northern edge of the town, where the ramparts are. After passing under an archway to the other side, I was amazed. Before us were fields. Vast fields. The landscape was like a beautiful painting.

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It was very cold. But I said that already. We climbed a staircase up the ramparts and walked along the edge.

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Through another gate of the fort, we found a path leading to the tourist office. An odd location I thought, rather than near the train station or the main square Place du Chatel, which was our next stop.

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On a covered heated terrace of a resto, we ordered galettes (buckwheat crepes) and were given red blankets to warm our laps. The cream to accompany my smoked salmon and spinach galette perched on a curved spoon.

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Provins is a walking town. We reached the Tour César easily from the square. Atop a hill, it reminded me of the tower in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” I pretended to ride an invisible horse with coconuts knocking for the hooves. I suppose saying ‘pretend’ is redundant since the horse was invisible.

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We climbed the twelfth century tower and paused for a view of the village.

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For the rest of the afternoon, we wandered and visited a park and a couple of churches, including the Eglise Saint-Ayoul, which had beautiful stained glass windows in a low ceilinged wing of white arches. There was one window of yellow stained glass, and others with red or orange or purple glass.

The stained glass I love is light. It creates light, filters it, plays with it through color. A photo never captures it but makes me remember how it felt to stand in its light.

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By a quarter to five, we were back to the train to Paris’s Gare de L’Est. It was not the first day trip I had taken to medieval times, though it was probably more authentic than the dinner theatre of the same name in New Jersey.