Allez allez allez Versailles!

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I did not know what to expect from our sojourn to Versailles when we headed out on 13 July. I was not surprised that we left an hour or so later than planned, but unaware of any real consequences that might have. At this point I was learning that Frenchie’s adherence to schedules and attachment to timing was really something of national pastime, not really just an individual idiosyncrasy of hers.

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I was also surprised at how close Versailles is to Paris, so my being perplexed over a delayed departure seemed silly (although the “arriving-at-the-station-just-as-a-train-had-departed phenomenon was getting tired.)

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I knew that this was the hometown of my Frenchie, and as we rode out to Versailles and back in time somewhat for her, I thought a lot about what I would show this group of my hometown, were they ever to travel to the international destination that is Petaluma. It is hard to imagine really, I mean, their coming to Petaluma and the things I might choose to show them. Of course, Petaluma is not home to one of the world’s most famous palaces, so I might be forced to think a little harder. Though, truth be told, I think having the palace made it more challenging for Frenchie to really show us what her hometown was like, because we were all like, “Oh my god look at the palace!” the whole time.

Oh, and we were hungry.

No one wanted to admit it really, because no one wanted to be a pain in the ass, but we were hungry – and a hungry mob is an angry mob. Now we were arriving in Versailles to find out that a) we were too late to rent bicycles in town (which had been another of those plans I was unaware of) and b) restaurants were closing for their midday break… save for McDonald’s. Add to this, Frenchie really wanted to give us a peek into her life, one I know Nic and I really wanted to see. But things were not flowing smoothly. I knew that we were going to picnic. Tthe French, as you can imagine, have their own take on this. Frankly (see what I did right there?) it is actually a far superior take on a picnic than we have here in the states, because it is just so “whatever” (read easy). There is generally very little planning, whatever food is around is gathered up, and you eat somewhere outside. Viola! Picnic. I also knew that we would be seeing some fireworks as the Bastille Day fête would be on the eve of 14 Julliet in Versailles.

As we wandered around looking for a suitable place to eat like a heard of Goldilocks (not too fancy, not too expensive, not too closed, not too not-French, not too touristy, not too fast-food) we contemplated just picnicking – or at least I did because I was carrying quite a bit of weight on my back with our wine supply and wondering when the picnic was going to happen.

What I did not know was that what Frenchie had in mind was: get bikes in town, ride around and see her old house and haunts, get some lunch, ride around the palace grounds, sunset picnic, see Frenchie’s flat, meet our friend Fred (who was our neighbor in HK and a friend of Frenchie’s since school in Versailles), see fireworks and head back to Clamart.

What Frenchie did not know was: we would arrive too late for bikes in town and lunch, her pals would be worried about when they would eat, the palace (not the grounds) would be closed because it was a Monday, and the grounds would close, oh, right around sunset.

What we all would come to realize is, that regardless that “the best-laid plans of mice and men, often go awry,” it all works out in the end.

We wandered hungrily around town before finally settling on a ‘too touristy’ place for lunch. But it was not McDonald’s, so victory was ours. I actually really enjoyed my lunch. This could have been because I was starving (see Eddie Murphy and the saltine cracker) or it is just the reality that the worst French food is pretty damn good. I had an excellent quiche and salad, which I may or may not have mentioned is something that food-wise that the French do not understand: greens and vinaigrette is all you are going to see for salad, they simply do not understand how to use and combine vegetables without creme or cheese. Still, yum. Frenchie ordered something of a classic French meal that had random animal parts and sauce. I passed on giving it a go. She loved it. Of course. This is an enduring theme of our friendship: we are a great team for sharing because we have nearly universally opposite tastes in everything. It is really both peculiar and convent.

As a funny side note, we found a dime bag of weed under the table. It was hilarious to us for some reason, and we were quite beside ourselves with laughter, and then: wait, what should we do with it? After going through no end of what ifs, like what if it were a test or a trap, or what if we put it in our pockets or our bags and forgot about it and got stopped at the airport, or what if we just said fuck it let’s smoke it and it was laced with some hideous drug we had never heard of, we left it on the table.

We would be roundly chastised for this later.

Now with our belly’s full (a hungry mob is an angry mob) we headed through town making our way circuitously to the palace. We saw where Frenchie had lived as a child. I liked thinking of her here is this town, on that balcony. I wondered if we would have been friends back then. We walked along streets she knew so well and it reminded me of the feeling I get when I retrace steps so familiar with the fresh eyes of others: it brings up a special kind of acknowledgment of certain things that have contributed to making us “us”, I suppose that is nostalgia.

As we made our way to the palace I was getting excited. Louis XIV was a rather BAMF enlightened despot and I wanted to see the place that he had envisioned that has inspired so much petty emulation by others like Peter the Great and any number of cheap Vegas McMillionaires. I would not see the castle today as it was closed, which was a bummer on one hand because, duh: BLING. But also a bit of a relief since I would have been the only one of our group who wanted to go in and so, now there was no decision to be made.

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Regardless you get a pretty real sense of the place from the outside anyhow. I have always found the story of the Dauphine (Louis XVI) and Marie Antoinette pretty interesting and it was really cool to walk around and try to imagine what it was like for these kids to be ensconced in this place. And the gardens… wow.

We got bikes here and so that was one obstacle cleared, off we went.

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There are not really words for the afternoon we spent cycling around the grounds of the palace of Versailles except to say that it was pretty special.

DSC_7652Once back from our ride we decided we would have an hour or so on our one and then meet up to picnic. I was told to be back around 7:30, if memory serves, and so off I went camera in hand. In this time alone I really got to explore and have some time to move at my own pace. Being the timely individual that I am I was punctually headed back to our rendezvous when I saw Frenchie coming at me. This was unusual because, well, she was on time, early even. She was overly relieved to see me, so I knew something was up. What was up was that the park was closing. and we were going to have to get out.

Ha. I laughed, that would be funny being locked in the Palace of Versailles, wouldn’t it? As it would happen, Frenchie had already done that long ago when she had spent her summers working at the palace (helluva summer job, no?) and she “knew” a guy whose dad ran things or something… she was quite cheeky in her omission of details around said guy, so I am going to have to follow-up on that story at some point… And somehow they got locked in. Yeah, clearly more of a story there, no? Anyhow, at this point we made it out.

Phew. And in true hometown fashion, we got picked up by her mom to take us back to town.

On arriving back in town the elusive picnic was soon to be had. And in what turns out to be the French picnicking way, we rocked up to a sweet little bench and ate our food. Just like that. And it was, like the riding around the palace oddly, surprisingly, perfect.

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All along Frenchie had been trying to meet Fred and it was looking like that might not happen. But as we walked back towards the action in the town square, suddenly, it was not just Fred, but what seemed like our whole village. It was a moment that would frame so much of my summer… here I was, somewhere far away from anywhere I knew, and in the midst of the people who had, without thought or warning, helped to create my life abroad. To have friends that are like family in this way is a gift. To recognize it, all the better.

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And on this sparkly night in Versailles I was able to both along with my world wide tribe.

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Paris sans Plans.

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For the week of Bastille Day 2015 I found myself in and around gay Paris. We were primarily based in Clamart, although we would spend the night of Bastille Day itself in a sweet apartment in the 15th arrondissement.

In hindsight, weeks -no, months- out from the trip, it seems so simple, but at the time there were issues around planning, and coordinating and compromising. There are always such issues to consider when you are functioning in a group, but there were certain elements that I think made the adjustments a bit more challenging this summer: time apart, expectations, varied personalities. At the end of the day, we were four people in Paris, with everything we could possibly need or want, but in the moment, making decisions seemed really hard. The players here were three people who know each other well from living as friends and neighbors for years on an island in the South China Sea, and two siblings – one acting as a host and one as a fellow traveler.

Our first full day in Paris had us first meeting at a flea market on the north side of the city. Porte de Clignancourt is a well-known shopping area, known more commonly as Marché aux Puces. This is one of the largest antique markets in the world, which is impressive and also should make it totally apparent that I would have no idea whatsoever what we were doing here. I do not like flea markets or antiques, and I surely was not interested in adding to my neat and tidy >10 kilos of luggage for the next month with second-hand furniture. However, having not involved myself in planning, I felt like it was my responsibility to toe the line with those who had made their preferences clear. Plus there were some great photo ops. Sadly, I seem to have deleted the photo of the gigantic €500 wooden penis.

From the market, where in spite of my anti attitude towards shopping at that juncture I bought a scarf as I had lost my favorite one on the train to London, we headed to the Sacre Couer. Again, I felt like I was just bumbling along with my friends and felt myself wondering for much of the morning when they had made the plans they had, feeling simultaneously left out and relieved to not have the responsibility of possible people pleasing problems by making potentially unpopular choices. I wandered along with the group under grey skies towards what would be one of my favorite views of Paris.

It started to rain as we made our way up the steps, and I was bent on getting to the top, a choice I pushed for. I think everyone was glad they did it in the end.

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Following our climb to the top of the Sacre Couer we headed to Place du Tertre. Now it was sporadically sprinkling adding a sort of appropriate melancholy to this former artists’ district that was now an overflowing tourist attraction. We sat for drinks after looking at the art and my first few dozen looks at le chat noir du Montmarte. I noticed that Parisians love dogs – seriously there are so many dogs, but they seem to really prefer cats as a motif.

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From here we endeavored to navigate down Rue Lepic towards Pigalle and the Moulin Rouge, because tourists. And frankly, I was shameless. I actually considered how I might react if Ewan McGregor came flying towards me in song.

Again, I found myself wondering, how did they plan all this and where had I been? And again, I was happy someone else had done the work to make it happen. The walk was really lovely – neighborhoods and areas that I thought were eminently livable. Except for the whole being-in-France part. But all joking aside, were I able to reside Paris, and it could abide the coming of another Americane, the 18th arrondissement would be for me.

We did some food shopping and made our way back to the hotel where Nic and her sister had been staying; a side drama that had been developing was that luggage had been lost and so there was understandably much ado about this – I would have been pretty buggered myself, especially on learning that the missing bag had reappeared some twelve hours before I was notified… but overall, there was much relief on learning that the bag had returned. As we deliberated next steps I finally spoke up. Looking at all the luggage that was now in our possession, and a good six hours on our feet I was heartily in favor of taking a taxi home rather than navigating the metro – or busses (Frenchie loves busses – definitely more on this later). I stood firm on my position and felt relieved to see that it would happen.

Back at Clamart we fixed a meal and had some wine and I think felt pretty satisfied all around with our day. To sleep we went, well, everyone except me. I had taken to using the late nights to send photos home so as to maintain memory on my iPhone – a strategy that worked well through most of the trip, and I could post photos then too without it being an issue in mixed company… I have always taken a pretty good amount of shit about my use of social media from these friends so I was being sensitive to that. [I do feel that they eventually saw the benefit of my strategy, and I even got them in on the Summer-of-Selfie™. #validation]

All in all as the day had shown, it is clear I did not do the preparatory work I would normally have done for a trip (which many people would already consider pretty lightweight) because I was relying (unfairly) on Frenchie to sort out France because, she’s French. Coupled with trying not to hurt feelings when people said/suggested things that others thought completely ridiculous, we eventually sat around a lovely table in the courtyard of our host’s home and talked in circles while having our morning coffee on our second full day as a group. There was far too much “I’m fine with whatever” from my side – because let’s face it, that is a lie. And there was frustration with collective indecision from Frenchie, our de facto hostess, who while French has not lived in France for more than two decades and is not from Paris. JM seemed to find the whole thing amusing, Nic wanted to make sure everything was perfect for everyone because she is ever the caretaker for us all – which must be tiring, and I fear not outwardly appreciated enough by any of us. [As an aside, I know that for all the years I lived in HK I felt so much better knowing that with my mom was on the other side of the world, I always had someone I could call on who would ably be there for me if ever I needed her, even though I was not her own… and if I never said it aloud Nic, I am saying it now.] 

The thing is, a week is simply not enough time in Paris. A fact Frenchie had made clear months earlier. Add to this that there would be a day trip to Versailles, it was Bastille Day, and we were planning on heading to the South of France in what suddenly felt like no time at all.

Frenchie suggested we focus on les classiques for our time in Paris. But even this was not consistently understood. As the only one in the group who had never been to Paris, I wanted different things, and I think I like museums more than most people… Again, as I sit here and reflect back on it, it seems so silly that there was any issue about accommodating people as we are all seasoned travelers and can manage whatever we want in most places. I think the issue was trying to please others got in the way – for (almost) everyone, and perhaps we should have been a bit more selfish.

Back at the table in Clamart, the conversation seemed adrift, but eventually some decisions were made. And as one might imagine, in the end most needs were met. And although I am still childish enough to pout about people/things that do not meet my expectations, I am proud to say I am adult enough not to put them all out here on the internet.

And really, all of this is just a big reminder about group travel – it is a unique endeavor.

Our decision for this day, July 13, 2015 was that we would go to Versailles.

 And so we went. 

Eventually.

Sei sup mmmmmmmmm: ripple in still water.

I wanted to write tonight. I took care of all the things I needed to take care of today and I was all ready to give myself time to sit and write. But I couldn’t. I mean, obviously I could have in a literal fingers-to-keys kind of way, but not in a metaphorical making-meaning(ful)-meaning kind of way.

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung,
Would you hear my voice come through the music?
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

I wanted to write about this video I took from JM’s car in Paris this summer.

I wanted to write about something satisfying. Like about taking a group of high school seniors to listen to a conversation with US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer on a Friday night and having them come out of the talk and say, “He is all about the Social Contract, isn’t he?”

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But, no.

I suppose if I were a writer, I would say I had writer’s block. But I am not really a writer, am I? Only in so far as one with an Instagram is a photographer, or one who goes to church is a Christian (I wanted to write about the Pope too, because I cannot get enough of the Pontiff.) Instead, I sat. I considered meditating, but I didn’t want to make the cat move, and I sort of suck at meditation anyhow.

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken,
Perhaps they’re better left unsung.
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air.

I turned 45 this week. I sat with that for a while. 45. Forty five. Cuarenta y cinco. Sei sup mm. Fifty minus five.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

Maybe that is why I can’t think of anything good to write. Maybe by the time you get to be this age, you are supposed to have a whole bunch of real things to write about, and here I sit with my immaculate home and my two cats and some loud Eighties music in my unbearably hip neighborhood, and no typical accomplishments like husbands and divorces and kids and shit to write about.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

I was born in 1970. Do you know how long it takes to scroll to that year when you are filling out your birthdate on-line? You have to pick your finger up off the touch pad at least twice. That shit is crazy. Nixon was the president and my Grandma M tried cocaine. That would have been something to see.

In 1970 things were pretty fucked up.

I came of age in the 1980s. Do you know how accidentally iconic the Eighties have become? What I know recall about the Eighties could feather your hair. I still love the music, hipsters still love the fashion. We are all still paying for the politics.

In the 1980s things were pretty fucked up.

I got some education in the 1990s: formal and otherwise. Do you think everyone assumes the time they opened their minds is the more relevant than that of others? I don’t know, but a lot of shit happened in the nineties. And then at the end of 1999 the world didn’t end and I think a lot of people thought that was pretty fucked up

I had my mid-life crisis in the mid-90s. Which makes sense because I never really thought I would live very long (which is kind of dumb of me because the women in my family tend to live a very long time.) For whatever reason my mid-life dramz kicked off at 34. It took me about four years to sort that shit out.

Mid-life crises are pretty fucked up.

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.

On the weekend leading up to my birthday I met someone who is in her mid-30s and appears to be on track to have a midlife crisis just like mine. (Apparently it’s not just movies and politicians from the decade that never go away.) I told her I had to sail away to China to deal with it. She did not get the musical reference, but I am fairly certain she is on board with the rest of it. I predict she breaks up with her boyfriend before the end of this year (not due to my counsel, mind you – I am not a meddler, just a sharer.)

Maybe the reason this birthday isn’t sitting so well with me is that I don’t have anything to be in crisis about because I already got all destructive and ridiculously reckless ten years ago and so it feels empty of purpose. I emerged from my midlife crisis down one Wal-Mart-shopping boyfriend and one suburban tract house, but as my kids would say: I am not about that life.

Life in with the suburbs was pretty fucked up.

You, who choose to lead, must follow
But if you fall you fall alone.
If you should stand then who’s to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.

This week was my fifth repatriated birthday. The birthday itself was not particularly eventful, but at this point in one’s life, that seems like a win. A dear friend I have known since the 8th grade said to me, “I hope you feel how much you are loved.” Yes, L, I did. And here I am, in a great city, with great hair, a few new wrinkles, amazing friends, no involuntary responsibilities, and I am alive.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

So, happy birthday to me: good hair, good shoes, wrinkles, and a potty mouth, but crisis free. That’s livin’: L-I-V-I-N.

That seems like a lot to write about.

I’ll get back to writing in no time, I am sure.

“It’s the little differences.”

The first morning I woke up in Paris, I was up before everyone. (I was generally up before everyone always, although Nic would end up giving me a run for the money.) I sort of laid there where I was, in the upstairs bedroom in JM’s chateau in the suburbs, Clamart to be precise, and thought to myself : I CANNOT BELIEVE I AM IN PARIS.

Okay, fair play, I was just outside of Paris, but for all intents and purposes I was IN PARIS.

And it was sunny.

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This first day was supposed to be a “planning day” for Frenchie and me so we could work out our desires and priorities before meeting up with Nic and her sister the next day, but first I was going to go meet a friend who was coincidentally laid over in Paris en route to Dominica from the UAE. [Having friends for which sentences like that are apt is so awesome.] I wanted to see Rachel because she and I are friends entirely due to Stuart, and for reasons I am not interested in articulating here, we share a certain understanding of the bloke.

To see Rachel I would head out to Orly Airport so as to keep things as simple as possible for someone moving to the other side of the world with their young child. JM offered to take me there, so I would only need to self-navigate one way, which was kind. Frenchie and I arranged to meet at a fountain near the Notre Dame. How hard could that be? I mean, a fountain in Paris, right?

Yeah.

I had gleaned from the previous evening that JM enjoyed the excitement of vehicular delights, and so when he pointed to his motorcycle and I looked down at my black mini dress, I determined that all bets were off on wise choices. He handed me a helmet and I sighed with relief to know that my cranium would be safe and probably only 90% of my flesh would go missing should a mishap occur on what google maps said would be a forty minute ride.

He grinned reminding me entirely too much of Peter Fonda’s Captain America as I hopped on the bike. It would be fine, I reasoned. I mean, he has made it to 40 – and has a family. He doesn’t want to die.

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The ride to Orly was pretty easy surface streets and highways and under beautiful sunny skies. I focused a lot on the sky. It turns out JM does not like to be behind other vehicles on the road, and he sure as shit is not going to be passed by a motorcycle. A couple of times he looked back to ask if everything was okay. I hope in my efforts to be completely cool about all potential outcomes, I hadn’t inadvertently Heimlich’d him. To be fair it actually was a fun ride. I mean, I like roller coasters a lot.

When we arrived at the airport (in approximately twenty minutes) I stepped off the bike and took my hair out of the helmet while adjusting my LBD. No lie, I felt pretty glamorous. Like, here I was coming in hot (in every way) and hopping off a bike driven by a super cute guy, with no luggage and heading into the airport, as if I might be heading off on some crazy spontaneous get away. That could be an great scene in a bad romcom.

And the best thing about black is your sweat doesn’t show, which is awesome.

Although, it does show where one’s thighs were gripping the sides of a black leather seat on a motorcycle. And the strap of the helmet got a little caught up in my windswept hair, so my reverie ended rather quickly as JM sped away.

Entering the airport, I logged into the wifi – which is free everywhere in Europe, as it bloody well should be in America – to check where I would meet up with Rachel. We settled on Laudurée. Tres French. Plus, macrons; like cookies, but a little different.

The catch up was short and sweet and a wonderfully playful bit of punctuation on the Stuart Saga. we laughed a lot, and Rachel remarked how she just knew he would try to take credit for everything were he there because, yes, he was such a cheeky bastard.

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And like that we said adieu and headed on our separate ways. Another perfect rendezvous accomplished.

So now, to get back to Paris and a fountain.

I found someone who graciously directed me to the Orly bus, which would get me to the RER, which in turn would get me to central Paris. Stepping out I saw there was a bus there – fantastique! I would get on that bus and be on my way. I proceeded to the ticket machine; like those I had seen before, but a little different.

And then, I missed the bus.

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The machine now seems simple, but like so many things, it’s the little differences in Paris, and this weird quasi touch screen with a roller mechanism… just really did not present itself as an obvious option at the time. To be fair the three guys behind me were French and had no freaking clue how to make the machine work either. By the time I eventually got a ticket I would be waiting more than twenty minutes for another bus.

Merde.

But, the bus ride was easy, and I kept telling myself that Frenchie would wait for me, I mean, to my knowledge she has not been on time to anything since I have known her, and this includes her own events. I was not getting a sim card because I had my American iPhone, which of course is locked, because: America. This meant old school meet ups like we did in the 80s: make a plan and stick to it. It was refreshing.

Until you were 45 minutes late.

On arriving to Sainte Michel with ease I came out of the metro station and promptly turned the wrong way. I include the map below as a weak explanation. Emerging from the RER in the foreground left, I walked towards the intersection and made a right towards the Notre Dame because that is what everyone was doing. I surmised there would be a fountain there. And yes, there was. A multitude. But alas, no Frenchie – or not the Frenchie I was looking for.

I walked in literal circles – well trapezoids if we are really being literal – for nearly a half an hour. Paris urban planning is a little different.

And nothing.

Retracing my steps I headed back towards the RER where the Fountaine Sainte Michel practically screamed at me with its obviousness. Huh. Perhaps that fountain then? I walked toward the fountain and headed left (towards the M in the rear right of the diagram) where I saw a cafe and heard “Amanda?” in English, but a little different.

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It was Nickie, seated with her sister, and Frenchie (whose head had been down as she was trying to figure out the wifi to contact me – the figuring out of the wifi would also be a theme of this trip). I was shocked, relieved, delighted, amazed, happy, hot, and thirsty. It was a lot to take in, but I really could not believe we were all sitting here, like the three of us had so many times before, but a little different.

Frenchie and I were supposed to meet Nic the next day as she and her sister would be staying the night in Paris to rest after the flight from Oz. But Frenchie had been nearly as late as I had (!!) and so she had been worried about me as I am generally painfully punctual and she had been walking around the now so obvious to me (like the roller thing) fountain when she had randomly bumped into our Aussie companions. Incroyable!

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This happy circumstance totally shifted the day – a planning session would not happen, but phones and strolling the streets of Paris and rosé and catching up would. In what seemed like another lifetime, three women in Hong Kong had made a promise to meet in Paris five years on, and here we were. Same same, but, a little bit different.

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We finished our day a top the Tour Montparnasse as a small reminder of where we were. In case anyone had forgotten.

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I love Paris in the spring time, I love Paris in the fall…

…actually I have no idea about Paris in the spring time or the fall. But I definitely got a kick out Paris in the summer when it sizzles.

Love? Well come on, you know I may be quick to commit, but I remain, as ever, very slow to admit.

I have wanted to go to Paris for a really long time. In spite of all of the less typical places I had travelled, I had never gone to Paris. I am not sure why I never did, but regardless it loomed as a must see. In the fall of 2014 someone, in an effort to impress I suppose, told me he wanted to take me on a trip somewhere I had never been. When he realized I had not seen Paris he began to wax poetic about Paris in the springtime and told me he wanted to take me there in the spring of 2015 for a whirlwind getaway because he had to show me Paris. The clichés should have been a give away that it was a total load of shit, but it sounded exciting enough that I almost forgot that I had already made plans with people who would never ghost me to go to Paris – and the prearranged time was nigh – if we stuck to our original plan we would be in Paris in the summer. Grateful for my ghosting, I would find myself in Paris with my tribe in July.

My arrival in Paris was like a story that seems ridiculously fictitious. Alighting the train at Gare du Nord, I saw (even without my glasses!) Frenchie waving to me in the quintessential (and eventually ubiquitous) blue and white striped shirt.

C’est ici.

We had a plan to meet her brother – our eventual host – although we were not exactly sure where. Pretty sure, but you know…

We landed with ease into Cafe A a short walk from the station. In no time rosé was in hand as I sat in ecstatic disbelief that I was IN PARIS sitting here with one of my dearest friends. IN PARIS. 

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Soon enough JM was on the scene… and suddenly everything was happening in French. I mean everything. It dawned on me that I really and truly knew not a single useful phrase in French. Nothing. Nada. Never have I felt so totally linguistically impotent, it was amazing. And by I amazing I mean, “Holy shit, now what?” Although I have travelled to lots of places where English is hard to come by and signage was not even useful – Kyoto and Beijing spring immediately to mind – the thing that was not synching in my mind is that everyone in Paris looked like they could speak English. I realize that sounds at best ethnocentric, and at worst totally ignorant, but somehow my mind was not getting it that I was somewhere where people who looked like me were not going to be speaking a language I could make any sense of. And French puts a special twist on a Romance language; where I can make my way in Italian, and even Greek… I could not understand a word these people were shuzzing and zhuzhing at me.

For a minute I got totally freaked out.

But then Frenchie and JM came back to English and there was lots more wine and everything was fine again. For now.

We went from Cafe A to a restaurant that JM found on his Fooding app. It could have been the wine, but that food was freaking brilliant. [Eventually, I would learn that is was the wine as the true verdict (read French opinion) would be in and the restaurant was deemed: acceptable. More on French opinions to come.] In spite of the restaurant likely not being as good as it seemed, it did not matter. The reason it actually was so awesome was that I was sitting in the gentle evening light, having a tasty meal (and more wine), with my extended international family, as the sun went down IN PARIS. I was IN PARIS.

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Adriana: I can never decide whether Paris is more beautiful by day or by night.

Gil: No, you can’t, you couldn’t pick one. I mean I can give you a checkmate argument for each side. You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights, I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe.

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From dinner we got the first of many Autolib’ cars we would take while in Paris and JM proceeded to take us out on my first tour of Paris. It was epic. Really there are no other words for it.

I said I felt like I was in a movie. I asked the siblings if they had seen Midnight in Paris. They had. I asked if they liked it. They said it was so cliché. I said I felt like I was in that movie. We looked out at the Seine and laughed as we made our way to le Musee du Louvre.

Clichés are not always so bad.

The Arc de Triomphe, le Tour Eiffel, Musée du Louvre… it was a visceral and thrilling night: so perfect… even with a fabulous selfie fail (this too would be a recurring theme as Frenchie and I [not surprisingly] have completely different priorities around photo subjects and composition) due to an inability to come to consensus on what was the important element of the photo – us or IM Pei’s glass pyramid.

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In the end, I like to think nous sommes arrivés à un bon compromis.

If this was what Paris had to offer in the summer, then yes – I could love it.

Honey, I’m home…

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I have hardly written a thing all summer. This is odd because, well, I like to write and I have had a lot of really cool shit to write about this summer. I haven’t even been writing in my journal as I usually do. I chalked this up to being around people almost constantly at first, but I think I have just been going through a different sort of processing strategy.

Or something. I don’t really know yet.

I landed in San Francisco on the evening of 6 August 2015 having departed 6 July 2015. Prior to this European sojourn I had only been home a week after two weeks in Mexico, and my head was full as I made the long walk off the plane into the terminal. So many things I had seen and done and contemplated and tasted and dreamed and tried… and still, I was so glad to be back in San Francisco.

So glad.

Going is so much better when you have a place to come back to. What a gift to return to a city you love living in. I am not sure how long I will stay in San Francisco, I am a public school teacher after all and San Francisco is not really all that easy for those outside the super rich realm any more, but for now, it remains home and it feels just right.

I came home on the night of the first major GOP debate, and the last episode of the Daily Show. And there is not a city I would have rather experienced either of those in more than San Francisco. [I have not watched the Daily Show yet – too soon for me, and the debate will be great fodder for my government class this fall… Even Mumford and Sons couldn’t help poking a little fun about it on Friday night: “Oh America… really? We love you so much but, really?”]

I came home to my neighborhood and my cats and everything felt just right. And I have lots to say about all the amazing things I have done this summer, but for right now, I am just so glad to be home, sitting in my kitchen in San Francisco.

At home.

In search of मन्त्र.

The Sanskrit word mantra consists of the root man- “to think” (also in manas “mind”) and the suffix -tra, designating tools or instruments, hence a literal translation would be “instrument of thought”

It would seem that the search for mantra begins early in life. Or, at least it did for me. The ubiquitous words to live by, maxims offered in children’s books, sayings… words of wisdom were always right there at the ready, waiting for me to try them out. I let the roll around my mouth, coming tumbling out in various ways and contexts. I thought about them and considered their gravitas. I endeavored to create my own.

People are people no matter how wierd they are. (Spelling, words, and attached art – not pictured – are mine, circa 1976)

I don’t remember when I started collecting quotations, song lyrics, expressions, lines from movies… and the collection has comprised all sorts of representations; collages, repetitive script, artwork, photos, memorization. I definitely was looking for instruments of thought.

It makes sense at a young age to rely on the words of others. People who have more experience in life, or art, or the world, or something, can serve as guides, or teachers. The words can provide validation or support whether or not you even know the person. And it’s nice to feel like someone has been there before – someone really *gets it*. I think that was my first motivation in the search for mantra.

A silly beginner, basic apprentice aggression
In the absence of a master, trying to make up my own lesson – Astronautalis, Oceanwalk

Eventually, my search for mantra had a different purpose. Rather than validation it was more a search for kindred spirits: one’s tribe. Again, this is not for a lack of a tribe of my own, but more of an effort to somehow identify the reach and significance of the tribe. Here came the words of the masters; great poets, singers, novelists….

  • All who wander are not lost!
  • Carpe diem!
  • And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make!
  • Do not go gentle into that good night!
  • Rage rage against the dying of the light!
  • Oh! The places you will go!
  • The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return!
  • Emancipate yourself from mental slavery!
  • Live! Laugh! Love!
  • Dance like no one is watching!
  • Shoot for the moon, you might land in the stars!

ओं मणिपद्मे हूं

This led into my efforts to really study mantra – in the traditional sense. I began to think much more seriously about the power of words and the power of manifestation – like how words can so often become reality, for better or for worse, and how words can provide a path to deeper more effective thinking, concentration, or better yet, a truly quiet mind. Considering that mantra is also defined as “a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in meditation” this too makes sense in my continuing coexistence with, and search for, mantra.

Om mani padme hum has been a staple for me. This mantra has far too much depth to be covered here, but as the lotus mantra, and the lotus is that which can emerge with beauty and grace from the mud may indicate a bit of its direction. I love studying the yoga sutras and the mantras of the Bhagavad Gita because the relevance of these ancient texts underscores so much of the interconnectedness of life that my age has been beginning to show me.

And as I continued to embrace mantra I started to see how everyone else I saw around me was too – sometimes consciously, other times less so; looking for the perfect tattoo, identifying the perfect quotation for the college essay, or with which to begin each chapter of the new novel, or to get through the next overwhelmingly sad/challenging/devastating/heartbreaking circumstance that will surely come up.

Mantra is also believed to be a spell or weapon of supernatural power…

I think maybe the reminder of mantra can also be protective and maybe that is what drives a lot of people to search for mantra. It certainly drove me last year to a point where I felt compelled to put mantra on my body – out of my mind, my mouth, and on to my skin. This was new for me, and definitely reactive. At a time in my life when I was feeling overwhelmed by all that was happening around me, and needing a reminder that not only could, but that I would, stay the course.

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In hindsight, I am not sure I would have actually gone through with this commitment to mantra had I not been reeling emotionally on so many levels… which is not to say I regret the decision, I do not. But I have found myself feeling shy about it in a way I never anticipated, which makes me wonder.

I chose to get two mantras tattooed on my back in the last year. One, the lotus mantra was less surprising, and somehow, people seem not to ask about it because: I do yoga. I guess that excuses the cultural co-optation. I also chose to represent the mantra in a form that is not generally scripted because I wanted to include a traditional ॐ. I suppose this could be construed as an error – but it is just intentionally archaic. Somehow, that feels apropos for me.

The second piece of mantra I chose to put on my body was a refrain from a song that I listened to on repeat for nearly three months after the sudden loss of three friends near the end of last year. Because the words are in English, people are much more likely to ask about them. And it feels really silly to explain that I have put a song lyric on my grown up body. This is a shyness I am not familiar with. But that bit of mantra – like everything – is so much more than the tattoo. I am not sure if I will add to the tattoo, or change it, or grow into it, but I am so glad for the reminder that in spite of terribly sad times, I do maintain my belief in the good things coming… that nothing is irreparable, or lost forever.

Mantra brings comfort, and is powerful. We have seen this always, prayers, chants, superstitions, cheers, spells. I think even for people who would say they don’t believe in mantra, they would find, upon closer examination, that they actually do. From positive self talk and affirmations, to songs of empowerment and resistance, to calls to action, mantra is there.

And we could do far worse than to seek out interments of thought.

I am no master, I know nothing…
I am a servant and I know something…
I am a witness….