Paris Highs and Lows

            It is on Summer Solstice eve, but in Paris it feels the peak of summer has hit.  Saturday’s temperatures reached 38 degrees Celsius (over 100 degrees Farenheit).  This is doable in other places in the world, but in a city that has old buildings with no air conditioning, it is unbearable.  A local Starbucks and airport even lack air conditioning, which blows my mind.  This is one luxury that I miss about America, the luxury of AC, even for the relief of my dogs.  Luckily, I have a portable AC, but the space still remained warm with the AC and three fans.  We slept on the floor near the air conditioning to find peace. One can’t help but notice that everyone is a little more irritable with excessive heat and no relief, even the metros were not functioning at normal capacity.  Since then a thunderstorm has swept through and cooled the land. 

            I spoke with a fellow American the other day, who has lived in the city for three years.  She seemed to have mixed emotions as she discussed the potential of staying in the City of Lights.  I said to her, “you seem to have a love/hate relationship with Paris.”  She responded with a smirk, “don’t we all?”  I agreed.  And we discussed that every place has it’s highs and lows.  

            I love the ability to walk to most destinations or the easy accessibility that public transportation affords here.  But my 27 square meter apartment (less than 300 feet), is beginning to feel cramped.  I noticed this last week, as I arranged two new art pieces in my home.  As they went up, an Edison lamp fell down, shattering glass everywhere.  I let out a scream.  It was primal and automatic.  My dogs peered at me with horror, wondering what they did.  I proceeded to sweep glass in my dust pan, and continue to find shards of glass in unexpected places. 

            I am hitting my six month mark of residing here in Paris, with minimal improvement to my French.  I have made friends, but they have not made my inner circle of deep friends.  I begin to wonder if I should renew my visa in France.  Should I extend my time here?  My dogs are still alive and aging, and it will keep me tied to Europe.  But I can’t help but wonder is another country pulling me? Is France sustainable, without knowing the language, or having a job here.  I could reside anywhere, but will I stay here? 

            Yesterday, I shared this reflection in my creativity group.  The group is full of other expats, who have been here for at least several years.  They reminded me the inspiration that resides in the city, whether this is in the bountiful art museums, the hidden gardens, the history lurking the streets, or the similar minds you interact with.  I’ve given myself a time frame of several months to decide.  It’s a magical place this city, but there are inconveniences one must face to reside here.  

“You stumble, you soar. And if you’re lucky, you make it to Paris for a while.” — Amy Howard

There’s no rushing in parks

            Earlier in the week, I had a pending zoom call at 12:00 on a Saturday.  It was after 10:00 am, and I thought I could squeeze in a good ninety minutes at the park.  We generally had the luxury of two hours, so ninety minutes felt tight.  Yet, I was determined to do this.  I would rush to the park, find our spot and blanket in the sun, restore, then zip back for the call.  But how we plan things does not always equate with what arises. This is particularly the case when you have a 15 year old British bulldog in a stroller and a 13 year old pug/chiauaua mix who walks at a different speed.

            As we began our walk to the park, the sidewalks were crowded, as it was the weekend.  We passed a cheerful homeless guy, who I see daily and always wants to greet my chug.  But so many people were around, and I couldn’t seem to back track to return to him for his daily pet.  I mouthed “later.”  Shortly after, an elderly female who also was a dog owner stopped to talk to us at the light in French.  I tried to answer in French, “il est vient, il est quinze ans.”  He is old, he is 15 years old.” She spoke in English.  I wanted to try to cross the sidewalk while it was green, but Puzo began to stand up in his stroller.  I pushed him back down.  The lady then proceeded to carry her dog up to Puzo height and practically in his stroller to smell him.  I was not going to make the light, it seemed like a comedic scene from a sitcom.  I was in a rush, and the world was not letting me go at that fast pace.  I then stepped in a puddle on the street from the street cleaning. 

            We eventually made it to the park, found our spot in the sun and sat.  As I looked at the Eiffel Tower, I realized I was living the life I had planned for one year earlier.  I was in France, all this work to get to here and I have arrived.  My dog park was the Champ de Mars, but was I really present?  Was I living here truly?  Time passed, as numerous dogs and their owners came over to sniff my dogs.  

            As we walked home, I seemed to time it perfectly.  I didn’t factor in these triplet five-year old French girls who wanted to pet my dogs.  One girl tried to take the leash out of my hand, asking in French to walk my dog?  I didn’t know how to respond, until her mother came over and told her no.  The girl removed her hands from Bella’s leash.  They individually wanted to pet both Puzo and Bella.  I realized all of my interactions today were friendly and kind, but my sense of being in a rush could ruin this experience.  

            This was such a metaphor for my life here in Paris.  I came here to write my book, but I have yet to be signed by publishers.  My agent is encouraging me to pause until I am signed.  I must be patient with this process of a book being developed.  Originally, I wanted to be in Paris for one year, in and out with a book completed.  But this year is not looking like that. It’s delayed. I’m learning to slow down, and luxuriate in pleasures.  Learn to appreciate my time here guilt free. Somehow this is tough for me to do. To unlearn. 

            But if I am honest with myself, another reason I came here was to ease the transition with my dogs.  They are older and Puzo would not make it back to fly to America.  Our move from the UK to France, was smoother via car rather than plane.  I’m able to spend more time with them, without the confines of a commute or regular job.  Our pied-a-terre has turned into an elderly dog nursing home, and I have transitioned from being a psychologist to one who is a caregiver for my dogs.  The frequent accidents that occur in the home, the slow strolls, and the somatization of physical issues when I travel are all a reminder for me to live in patience.  I have to remind myself that my life right now is a living breathing loving kindness patience meditation.  This is where we are at, and what is required of me at the moment is unconditional love and care. 

            Perhaps this is what I am meant to learn here in Paris.  To slow down, practice patience, and pleasure.  I am to learn what it truly means to be present in my day to day life, not just as a mental construct.  Let go of what is next, because the reality is I do not know what that entails.    

“If when you look at me, you only see a white face and cloudy eyes, a burden or a hassle…you’ve missed out on the best part of me…Love me until the very end, for I am a gift. With each wag of my tail, I say thank you.”– Bacardi Reynolds

Puzo’s New Lease on Life

            Recently Puzo had a near death experience.  Or at least so I thought.  Puzo is my English Bulldog who was extremely sick days before his 15th birthday.  I had gone away to Majorca for 6 days, and he developed diarrehea when I left.  When I returned, his illness would not stop.  He would not eat, and everything was coming out of him.  Pure incontinence.  I was preparing for the worst with each day.  Would I have to put him to sleep the next week?  With each area I cleaned up, I reminded myself this was a meditation.  All my love for him.  I distracted myself by binging on the Netflix’s reality show Love is Blind, just to not have to think of the horror awaiting me.  

Luckily I was able to secure medication for him prior to his vet appointment, and we celebrated his birthday in pure doggie style, with rotisserie chicken.  The day after his birthday, we even made it to the Champ de Mars with his stroller, as his incontinence stopped.  The vet confirmed his prognosis.  Nothing was wrong with him, he’s just old.  I made the realization, that when I go on holiday, his anxiety exacerbates and he somaticizes his stress.  The other two times earlier in the year, something similar happened and he acted out.  We picked up anxiety meds for my next vacation.

             Since his illness has worked through his system, he seems to have a new lease on life.  He’s been given another chance, not even a second chance.  At this point, it’s easily his fourth or fifth chance on life.  He seems to be appreciating life more.  I know I am anthropomorphisizing him a bit, yet I can’t help and notice shifts in his behavior.  He is waking up earlier in the morning, as soon as the sun rises.  He is wanting to take in more of the day.  He soaks in all of the rays when we go to the Eiffel Tower, and sit on blanket in the grass. I swear this Parisian monument and park inspires him.  People wait their whole lives to visit here, and this is the park we go to several times a week.  Puzo tries to get out of his stroller as we near the park or when we leave, his excitement on his wrinkled face shows.  He wants to prove he can walk further than I let him.  Even on our tiny promenades in our tiny passage, he is walking more with ease and down the hallway.  I am witnessing his exploratory nature increase, he is showing me he is not ready to give up.  He loves his wanderlust life too much.  A dog who my mom purchased for me when I was in my 20s from Amish country to Ohio.  He’s jetsetted with me to New York City, California, Hawaii, back to California, the United Kingdom and now Paris.  He has a new perspective on life, and so do I .  

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring—it was peace.” – Milan Kundera

Smile, You Are In Spain

Paris may be my favorite city, but Spain is my favorite country.  Again and again each time I visit, it pulls at my heart.  Perhaps it is because, I know somewhere in my family lineage I am Spanish.  Spain invaded the Philippines centuries ago, and some of the cultural aspects I feel I have inherited.   There is a sense of familiarity I have each time I visit, regardless the city or island.  Flan, ensamadas, and empanadas are all cuisine that I use to eat with my family in our gatherings.  The brightness of clothing the locals wear matches the pop of colors my maternal lineage embraced.   And the language is easier than French, I can actually pass for speaking it.  I took Spanish for several years in high school and college, therefore I feel comfortable enough to get around.  Understanding Tagalog assisted with the ease of Spanish language embedding into my bones.  The California-esque terrain and eternal sunshine warms my heart.  
 Previously there was a Spanish tourism advertisement, whose slogan was   « Smile you are in Spain. » And I couldn’t agree more.   I know Americans are mesmerized with France and Italy, but Spain may have it beat.  The euro stretches far, the siestas are tranquilo, the atmospheres are lively, the people are friendly, the tapas, and the flamenco ! Visiting Spain seems to give you that extra boost of Vitamin D you didn’t know you were lacking. 
Espana is the hidden gem.  Last week, was able to have a brief sibling vacation to Mallorca.  I was open to visiting and had visited this Balearic island years ago, but mostly stayed in the capital of Palma and the confines of my all inclusive hotel resort.  I was curious what the fascination was with this place, but I realized what was to be discovered with the independence of a rental car.   The island has 300 beaches to visit, and numerous villages to wander around in.   On this occassion, I did not visit the capital Palma.   Therefore what was interesting, was I felt i was stepping back in time, when we drove the rural landscape.  Throughout our time there, the only stoplights we encountered were linked as warnings for railroad tracks.  Nature surrounded us in every corner.  The vastness of the large mountains, the rural dessert like atmosphere in the center of the island, the village towns that existed up the mountains, the beauty of the cool blue water.  My brother poignantly said, « Americans talk about freedom, but this is freedom. »  This trip did taste like freedom, but it did not relate to a politcal party, or being in the U.S.A., or the amount of money we had.  It was the luxury of time and the ability to explore vast terrain without boundaries.   If you have the opportunity, visit.  Any location in Spain will do.  This is freedom, and you will say to yourself « smile you are in spain. »  

‘Any reasonable, sentient person who looks at Spain, comes to Spain, eats in Spain, drinks in Spain, they’re going to fall in love. Otherwise, there’s something deeply wrong with you. This is the dream of all the world.’ – Anthony Bourdain

What are you waiting for?

            Yesterday I wore a dress for no particular reason for the first time.  There was nothing special about the day, an impromptu market stroll, lunch, and beach time.  But I decided since I’m on holiday, why not?  I had brought the dress with me, what was I waiting for?  So often with “premiering an outfit,” (as my friend Erica says), I feel it must be for a particular occasion.  But why?  If this is the case, I may be waiting for a day that never arrives.

            Last year, I had gone shopping at a vintage shop in Bury St. Edmunds, and debated to by a fascinator for my hair.  I didn’t think I had a fancy event to wear this to, and said it aloud to a friend.  The store worker said, “every day can be special or fancy.”  Her words of encouragement stayed with me.  I bought the hair piece.  She was a great sales lady, but also spoke poignant words.  I need to remind myself this.  It’s like when people are deliberate of what dishes to use for guests or themselves.  They wait to put out only the good silverware or expensive plates for guests.  Aren’t we enough to celebrate? 

This may seem trivial to think of our precious belongings we own, and our desire to savor them for the right moments.  But expand your view of what this is representative of.  The time is now.  Life is short and if we take this mentality, there is value and worth in every moment.  It doesn’t have to be captured on film or be filled with other people wearing expensive attire to count.  Our life is full of moments available for us to participate and luxuriate in.

 “One can make a day of any size and regulate the rising and setting of his own sun and the brightness of its shining.”

– John Muir.

Comfort in Comedy

Comedy is the blues for people who can’t sing.-Chris Rock

            Am I an outsider looking in, or an insider looking out?  I couldn’t help but reflect on that as I watched comedian Chris Rock yesterday.  I was lucky enough to see Chris Rock in a sold out venue of only 360 people at the Apollo Theater in Paris.  He entered the stage wearing all white, the lights were dimmed.  When he tried to speak into his microphone, the power on the stage went out.  As the staff worked quickly to fix this, he offered to the audience, “I’m a little off, but you’ll have a good show.  We know how good I am in crisis.”  Laughter eased the discomfort with that one line.  He promptly alluded to something we were all thinking.  Would the infamous Will Smith slap heard internationally two months prior be addressed?  And it was with an insinuative remark.  

We were in the 12th row, and it was surreal.  The title of his show was called Ego Death, and I couldn’t help but be curious as to the meaning of this title.  As I watched his show, I viewed it through the lens of my old psychology profession.  This is how he chose to deal with this experience.   His craft of storytelling and boldly sharing his opinions in a palpable funny way, was his cathartic journey.  This is how he is intentionally dealing with that media driven experience.  Instead of being a victim, he is using it as fuel for his work.  In his set, he shared that people get attention through either being infamous, excellent, or a victim.  He reminded the audience we have a choice.  And there was power to that statement.  Although he didn’t state it, we knew Chris was opting to not be a victim in this narrative.

 To be an American, listening to an American telling jokes in France was like an out of body experience.  I haven’t lived in America for almost nine years, most of that time having spent lived in the United Kingdom.  But those years were spent working with Americans as a therapist.  The USAF to be exact.  Therefore, I have yet to pick up any type of accent or new language.  I still sounded ‘murican.  I could relate to the jokes because I still identify as an American, my family and friends reside there, and I visit annually.  But how American was I?  Was I American in my ideals, values, or daily living?

            As the show continued, I listened to Chris Rock rant about political hot topics, celebrity gossip, the state of homelessness, racism, the pandemic and the overused political correctness that have taken over the country.  I laughed at the jokes, as so many were based on reality.  But as I laughed, I couldn’t help but think how sad the state of the country was, and wondered if I want to return as a citizen in the future? Did Chris Rock even want to return?  He asked the audience if abortion was legal in France, and joked that maybe he could get one while he was here. 

            And Chris also talked of things that are universal, not just not the crisis of all things American.  But the creative process.  Chris shared at the beginning of the show how art sucks these days.  This includes all types of art: movies, television, music, books, tangible art.  He stated all art sucks because there are layers of people who oversee the creative process of what actually gets distributed to the public.  Art is out of the artists’ control today and is censored.  He exclaimed that all mainstream art seems to be out of one’s control, except that of the art of a standup comedian.  A standup comedian is in charge of their own acts and the words that come out of their mouths, not the publishing world, or the television executives, or the publicists.  As I heard that comment, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe and jealousy with that statement made.  I’m in the process of my book proposal being pitched, and I am keenly aware that much is out of my control.  Yet comedians take their art straight to their audience.  And they can get away with it. 

            Just as the olden days of a royal court, the only ones who could get away with telling the truth and not be punished were the court jesters.  Buttons are pushed, and often things slightly teeter on the edge of controversial.  But then laughter breaks up the discomfort.   Viewpoints are shared with audiences in a way they can swallow it. Shock, laughter and wit can go a long way.   Their intelligence is hidden with smiles.  

            As I watched Chris Rock, I reflected on the show’s title: Ego Death.  Ego Death disarms the audience, it humbles him, and allows us as a group to take in what he says with more ease.  Although he speaks of his lavish lifestyle and the privileges that fame and money bring, he is grounded by being a human being, with the woes of parenting, dating during midlife, and the joys of co-parenting with an ex.  It’s a reframe.  We are curious as an audience to see this man as a victim of another celebrity’s slap, but we see how he’s fueled to redirect the narrative.  

            Perhaps we also re-write the current narrative of America.  It does not only have to be the bold, outrageous, wild, divided, selfish nation that the media has painted.  I feel I’m only watching it from afar, like a reality television show that I cringe to admit I’m a fan of.  As a nation, we seem to be getting attention through either being infamous, excellent, or a victim.  All aspects are there.  We have a choice in how to frame the nation.  And what if our ego death as a country is approaching?  This may be the key for our story to be reframed in a way that is palpable to the world and ourselves.  Laughter may be key to get through and beyond this moment.

Stumbling onto the past

Recently, I found myself lost after getting off at a metro stop.  I had plans to visit the local hammam, which was a six minute walk, according to my GPS.  Yet, when I followed the GPS, I found myself getting further and further from the destination.  Minutes went up, but the arrow was off.  I found myself walking in circles, and found myself by the Pantheon. I had just visited there the week prior.  As I walked in the direction I came, the minutes went down.  I got closer to the hammam.  But I stumbled on something else.  A Roman Arena.  Arenes de Lutece.

I had heard about this place the week prior.  It is located in the 5th Arrondisment, and according to history, it was hidden for centuries.    It was constructed in the 1st Century AD, could hold 15000 people, and existed to demonstrate the valiance of gladiators.  Romans once ruled the land, and throughout time were overtaken.  Eventually the arena became a cemetery.  More and more was placed upon this site.  Over time people knew the arena once existed, but the exact location was unknown until the 1860s when it was discovered by individuals wanting to build a tramway on the site.  Allegedly, there were protests to stop the demolition of this historic site.  One person who fought to preserve this was Victor Hugo himself.  

I felt guided to visit this place, perhaps this is why I was lost with my GPS.  My eyes were alert to go to this arena. I have lived in Paris for several months, and visited many times before, but never heard of this place.  Locals informed me this is hidden from Paris, and I can see why.   Arenes de Lutece has turned into a special park, that has a sense of tranquility from the busy-ness of the city.  I went on a weekday, and the stands had people sharing lunch with their friends, or reading, or journaling.  It’s located in the Latin Quarter, and it’s a quiet spot to simply be.  

I appreciate the little ways this town continues to surprise me with it’s history, allure, and magic.

“You can’t escape the past in Paris, and yet what’s so wonderful about it is that the past and present intermingle so intangibly that it doesn’t seem to burden.” — Allen Ginsberg

An Old Pastime

When I ask a lot of French people what they like to do here for fun, there is a response that arises again and again.  Walk. Marcher. Flaneur.  People like to walk, not as a means of transportation to get to point A from B, as a way to hit 10,000 steps, or to engage in exercise.  They walk simply for the pleasure of walking.

         This reminds me of the Jane Austen days, when people would take turns about the grand estates or gardens.  Outside of going to the fancy ball, the local market, or working on skills to impress others (instruments, singing, reading) there was nothing to do.   And so they walked.  

         We live in a world of distractions.  Non-stop entertainment on endless devices.  The French engage in these activities too, along with the rest of the world.  But the Parisians also like to walk.   This brings joy to me.  As over the years, I have found I take pleasure in walking.

         In my Midwestern hometown, the only people seen walking are children or those who have gotten a DUI (driving under the influence).   Nobody would be caught dead walking.  Most of the time one will drive from one shopping plaza to another for the sheer convenience of it.  But here that wouldn’t be an option.

         I was speaking with my friend the other day, and noted the French do not count their calories.  It is not listed on menus, or boards where one orders food.  Nobody seems to be calculating how many carbs were eaten or fat consumed.  But perhaps they do not have to.  They walk it off.  This is part of life.  

         Walking does not cost any money.  All it requires is good walking shoes.  One may wear out their shoes more easily, but view it as an investment.  There’s no need for a gym membership or gas money.  Let your feet take you there. 

“After a day’s walk, everything has twice its usual value.”

-G.M. Trevelyan.

Out of Routine

It’s easy to stay disciplined when one lives alone and has carved out time for their routines.  Yet, when one adds others to the picture and travel is involved, things can easily shift.   It’s important to remain compassionate towards oneself about what you can do.  So has been the case for me the past month, with travelling to multiple states in America, visiting friends and family, having friends visit me in Paris, and celebrating for days my 43rd birthday. I love seeing those I adore, but it’s at time like these that my morning routine shifts.

         My usual morning discipline includes journaling (morning pages), gratitude, meditation, breathwork, reading a spiritual text, yoga, and more recently sound healing.  But this definitely is not always possible.  I know it’s grounding for me, and parts are necessary, at the same time I can forgive myself for not engaging in the entire process. 

         As one who is on the cusp of introversion and extroversion, it’s important to look at tiny moments I can ground and center myself.  This morning that includes whisking away to a local coffee shop to write this blog post.  Take my time with my latte, listen to music that is soothing to my soul, and slowing down my breath. Tiny moments of peace can extend you throughout the day.  

         What do you need to sooth your soul at this moment?  What actions can you take?  Take a step towards a moment of peace. 

“Nobody can bring you peace but yourself.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

Generations of Creativity

Creativity runs in my genes, but is expressed within different ways among each of us.  My mother is a fashionista, my brother is a designer, I’m transitioning to being a writer, and my aunt’s 10 year old daughter is a multi-faceted talent.  Most recently she received the Charlotte Miller Simon award for a poem she wrote for a classroom exercise.  It was then submitted to a local competition with hundreds of other submissions.  She came in first for her age group.  The poem is below, and tackles her experience of race in a personal way.

Roots by Jordyn Colbert

Shake, shake, shake the hairspray

Trying buns, bob cuts, and even bangs

Nothing’s working my hair’s too thick,

I don’t think YouTube tutorials will do the trick

Shake, shake, shake the hairspray once more,

Maybe the bob cut isn’t the look I’m going for

I browse and browse through the magazines,

None of these girls look like me

Shake, shake, shake the hairspray again,

Ugh! I’ll never get it right!  this will never end!

The ladies in the magazines are all white girls,

And nothing’s working for these crazy curls 

Shake, shake, shake the hairspray one more time,

If this doesn’t work it’ll be the end of the line

I straighten and style and all done let’s see,

Anything it takes to look like the girls on the magazine

Shake, shake, shake the hairspray but this time I won’t,

I put down the empty spray can and I feel a tightness in my throat

I look into the mirror then take another glance at the magazine,

Watching other light-skinned girls live out my dream

Mama walks in and comforts me,

“You are beautiful and you’re the best you’ll ever be” 

I hug my mama tight as I look into the mirror and smile,

I’m different, I’m dark, and I love my profile

Growing up in small town Ohio twenty years ago, race was minimally discussed.  Since the area was primarily Caucasian, few understood the dynamics of diversity.  They viewed racism as solely a black white issue, and didn’t think others could possibly be discriminatory towards me.  Others were ignorant of how acts of discrimination could arise.  A blind spot seemed to exist on how the world and community saw variations of the browns and other hues in between at that time. 

Jordyn expressed her struggle of being Filipina and Black, of not fitting into what America’s ideal of beauty is at the moment.  Although the media has allowed more variability of what constitutes beauty, many still feel they do not fit into the mold. I appreciate the boldness and authenticity Jordyn offered in her poem, and being able to be the voice for others to note and finally see her (and others’ experience). 

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