Can I Get a Connection

If at some point I thought that my years in France and my years in the U.S. were separate, compartmentalized chapters of my life, I certainly don’t think that now. Last night it hit me that those years “away” expanded my circle and that the lines crisscross all the time.

That evening, I attended a friend’s dinner party to celebrate her birthday. She and I first met in Paris. She now studies in the northeast U.S., and she was back in her hometown of Long Island, New York, for winter break. It not my first time to Long Island, but it was my first time on the LIRR (Long Island Railroad), a fact I announced to everyone I met. I had heard about this train line from colleagues and friends for years but never had to take it. It wasn’t that different from traveling on the Metro-North, which I have now ridden to Connecticut a number of times over the past few years, but in my mind it had a mythical quality. It was practically empty on that Sunday night.

I thought I wouldn’t know anyone at her party, but her brother said we had met when he visited Paris, and she said I had met her mom at that time too. I have a good memory, and it is unusual for people to remember meeting me and not vice versa.

On top of that, her younger brother had invited one friend to the party, and it was someone that I interviewed in Paris six years ago. I am a volunteer interviewer for my American alma mater, which involves meeting high school seniors who are applying to the school I graduated from. Six winters ago, I evaluated five candidates, most of whom were studying at international high schools in Paris. Well, that “kid” I met with for coffee happened to be my friend’s brother’s childhood friend, and he was now working in New York! Apparently we had both been warned ahead of time that the other would be at the party, as my friend’s dad said to this guy as I approached them, “Here’s your interviewer!” Way to establish the dynamic off the bat.

Also, did I mention that my friend’s mom is on the mailing list of the organization I work for?

A similar discovery happened recently when I was having dinner with this same friend and our other friend. The other friend was talking about how our mutual acquaintance works at an exercise studio in the area, and I said, Oh, you mean the studio that my colleague goes to almost every day and is having her birthday party at tomorrow that I’m going to!? I had met that mutual acquaintance in Paris when she was visiting our friend, and I’d interacted with her at a couple of parties in New York since then. I messaged my colleague after dinner, and she confirmed that she does know that girl.

If you didn’t follow all the connections, I don’t blame you. My point is, it is a small world, and we probably all walk past people every day who are connected with other people in our lives. No matter where we travel, we’re all living on this planet. I find that quite fun and somewhat comforting.

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A Trip Down South

This past weekend I visited a friend in Marseilles in the south of France.  I slept very late the night before, figuring the three hour and fifteen minute train ride would give me plenty of time to nap, but an hour and a half out of Paris, I saw this.ImageAnd so I gazed at the snow-covered landscapes instead.  I realized that I had it perfect.  It wasn’t snowing in Paris, and it wouldn’t be snowing in Marseilles.  The beautiful scenery was mine to enjoy without getting my boots wet.

Since my train arrived at the Marseille St-Charles train station midday on Friday and my friend didn’t get out of work until the early evening, I had a few hours to wander around by myself.  On my walk from the station to the Vieux Port (which means “Old Port”), I saw some building art.ImageImage

On Saturday, my friend drove us to Aix-en-Provence.  Every time I am driven in a car, it feels so luxurious.  I’ve gotten used to taking public transportation everywhere, and I even like it, but to be driven somewhere without having to worry about anything—I think it’s one of the my great pleasures in life, along with hot showers after a day out and a warm bed when you’re in between asleep and awake.  It was Peanuts cartoonist Charles Schulz (via Charlie Brown) that first made me aware of how very secure you are when you’re child sitting in the backseat while your parents drive and worry about things for you.  Ever since I read that comic strip some years ago, I think of it when I’m lucky enough to be in the passenger or backseat of a car with a person I trust taking me somewhere.ImageAs in Paris and Marseilles, Christmas lights were up in Aix.  There seemed to be a ladyfinger theme going on.ImageImageThis was my third trip to Aix, and I have to say that it is charming every time.

The next day was a Marseilles day.  Marseilles is the “European Capital of Culture” this year.  Nativity sets, or crèches, are a specialty of the region.  My friend and I walked through an outdoor market that showcased stand after stand of nativity figures.  I’ve never seen so many different kinds of sheep figurines in one place. My friend’s cousins are both in the crèche business, but they weren’t present that afternoon.

After lunch, we walked around the MuCEM (Musée des civilisations de l’Europe et de la Mediterranée), a new museum that just opened a few months ago.ImageThat partial cage outside the nested structure is full of holes so that when you walk the paths between the core building and the web, you are both inside and outside the museum. The layout is not conducive to finding your way easily.  However, the contemporary structure offers the rare opportunity to have a heightened awareness of how architecture shapes your experience.  It impels visitors to look out, up, and around as they circulate.  The concrete shapes and hard tree-like beams combined with the city and sea visible through the gaps make for a unique experience.ImageOn the rooftop of the museum are a variety of chairs that visitors can lounge in with a view of the Mediterranean Sea.  My friend and I agreed that if the weather had been warmer, a little siesta with the sun on our faces would have been delicious.

Here you can see Notre-Dame de la Garde framed from the inside of the web.  This Catholic basilica tops a hill and is visible from all over the city.ImageSee it?  This is a view overlooking the Vieux Port. Image

While driving through Marseilles, I saw this sign that made me laugh.  The sheets of paper are perfectly lined up but with a disjointed result.ImageThis picture of a pedestrian bridge connecting the ancient stone Fort St-Jean and the new concrete and glass museum needs no adjectives from me.ImageI can’t helpful myself, though.  The word that first came to mind when I saw this scene was ‘storybook.’  Do you know what I mean?

Marseilles is one of those cities that either elicits a positive or negative reaction from people in France when you mention it.  It does have its share of problems: violence, poverty, and racial tension. It’s an interesting city.  I struggle to find a word to describe it.  I wouldn’t call it beautiful, yet it has its beautiful points.  And driving along a winding road next to the sea during sunset—nothing like it.

What do you know of Marseilles?  Have you been there?