Our Mysterious Dance with the Sun

t was only several weeks ago, that the majority of us were fleeing the sun.  Her rays were so intense, we had to sneak out to get fresh air before she awoke.  Our working hours were spent seeking refuge from the power that emanated from her and remained stagnant in our homes.  There seemed to be no escape of her presence.

And just like that, things changed.  

She appears in our lives for less hours each day.  Her beams are hidden among the clouds.  The more she leaves, the more attracted we are to her.  Her absence profoundly impacts our lives.  Dynamics are turned.  She’s become that unrequited love we seek.   And she responds with going further into hiding.  Knowing this, how can we long to stretch each moment in her atmosphere? 

This is our mysterious annual dance with the sun. 

And this is what I witnessed each day at the park now.  People squirming to get every last bit of love from the sun, including me and Bella.  With a drop in temperature, some rainy days, and an earlier sunset, the beauty of the sun has increased it’s value in our hearts.  

How To Still Find Magic at the Shakespeare Bookstore

“I stepped into the bookshop and breathed in that perfume of paper and magic that strangely no one had ever thought of bottling.” ~Carlos Ruiz Zafón

            Prior to moving to Paris, The Shakespeare and Company Bookstore was the sole friend I knew that existed in the city.  I visited her as often as I could during the span of one short trip.  Sometimes this would even be daily if I was staying in a hotel close by.  

She has always brought me great pleasure over the years. Time has increased her stardom, and she’s been immortalized on travel shows and films, such as Before Sunset.  I’ve boasted about my love of this treasured bookstore anytime anyone visits Paris.  “This is a must, right after The Eiffel Tower and The Louvre.   But once they get to the entrance, often they are turned off by the line of tourists that seem to grace the front of the store every day of the week. People snub their noses, thinking “I’m not going to wait in line for a bookstore. How ridiculous!”  It is off putting.  There’s even a doorman.  My friends and I have seemed to have aged out of waiting in line for nightclubs or Sunday brunches, so why wait in line for a bookstore? 

But I want to caution you, it’s worth it.  

            Tourists will wander into the store and choose to not heed the “no photograph” signs around.  They will try to explore every nook, looking to capture why this venue has become a place of pilgrimage.  Some may understand the history.  The initial owner Sylvia Beach started the store in a different location, whose customers and friends included The Lost Generation of Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, and James Joyce.  But then war broke out, and this store closed in 1941.  It opened again in 1951, by an American expat George Whitman, and now run by his daughter Sylvia Whitman.  Other writers would frequent here, including Anais Nin, James Baldwin, and Henry Miller.  For those who have become obsessed with the store’s history, we can inhale this in each time we walk down one of the aisles. Yet for many tourists, they seem to have no idea what they have embarked upon.

  

            The store seems quirky, with painted signs that grace the walls and stairs, beds to sit on in the reading nooks upstairs, a cat that wanders from room to room, and a typewriter that stares out onto a window facing Notre Dame. Oftentimes this is exactly the backdrop for one’s intelligent look for that Instagram shot.  They may purchase a tote bag and a book stamped with Shakespeare’s face, and that is it.  The entirety of their time in the store lasts 15 minutes.  But I find when I visit the store, I can easily extend this pilgrimage to one hour.  If you have the patience to get through the line and the condensed people milling about the crowded areas downstairs, find a spot upstairs in the first room.  There’s a piano that sits in the corner of the room.  Often I have sat down here and been entertained by impromptu concerts by shoppers who are hidden musicians.  These pianists choose to spend their time in the store by drifting to another dimension as they play a tune by memory.  People will gather and watch in wonder.  It’s as if we drifted to another moment in time, where we were entertained by people not on social media apps, but in writing salons or jazz clubs.   I watch in awe of how much inspiration this store has exuding in it’s atmosphere.  If you sit here long enough, and wait for the tourists to settle.  There are moments of silence and magic.  Collectively we exist as one for a brief moment, and isn’t this something we are all searching for? 

So next time you are in Paris, stand in line for this bookstore, it’s worth the wait.  Walk towards the back of the store, up the stairs, and allow yourself to be transported for a beautiful ride.

Ethan Hawke, Sylvia Whitman (bookstore owner), and me at Shakespeare & Co.

Fall Into Productivity

            Several days ago I returned from a week long journey to Spain for the Camino de Finisterre.  I was only gone one week, but it seemed as if when I returned it was to a different season.  Autumn has have arrived in Paris.  Streets are full again, all are back from vacances.  The air is cooler, people are wearing leather or puffy coats, boots.  This may be a bit extreme.  The weather is bordering on 60s-70s Fahrenheit (16 to 20 degrees Celsius), it appears that people are eager to allow their fall attire to emerge.  But it seems that people not only want to display their new wardrobe but they also want to exhibit their new found motivation. 

It’s mid September, now people access new found energy for productivity.  Perhaps this is because there are only several months remaining in the year to ensure they hit their annual goals.  Or now that vacation has passed, they can fire up another aspect of themselves.  The get s$it done version.  I am not simply noticing this in others, I am observing this in myself.  

During the hot summer months, we seem to feel as if time expands.  Sunlight is plentiful, our days are actually longer.  We take time for granted because there is an abundance of it, but when September hits things shift.  It’s harvest season, and not only do farmers harvest their crops, but we attempt to harvest time.  This has now become difficult to grasp.  

Time is elusive.  There is a finality to what the year has in store, and knowing this we begin to question what do we want to do with this time left.  What do you want to do with the remaining 100 days?    

“Time is free, but it’s priceless. You can’t own it, but you can use it. You can’t keep it, but you can spend it. Once you’ve lost it you can never get it back. “-Harvey Mackay

The End is Our Beginning

            We had arrived in Santiago de Compostella, which is the endpoint for many people who choose to do the pilgrimage of Camino de Santiago.  The film The Way popularized this bucket list journey.  The most traditional path is to take the Camino Frances route, which begins in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port France, and then transitions into Spain through the Pyrenes mountains and traverses for 500 miles.  Generally, one needs to do at least 100 kilometers to receive a certificate of completion.  Regardless of how many miles one walks, generally the destination was our starting point.  

            It was our initial day in Spain, and we were beginning our journey at everyone’s end.  On our first night, we went into the Cathedral, that houses the remains of the apostle St. James.  For hundreds of years people have walked to this location for this specific purpose, to see where St. James lies.  It seemed taboo.  Had we earned the right to visit without yet putting on our walking shoes?  Our walking journey was to begin the next day, but we could take in the evening’s festivities of this celebrated town. 

            I am not new to the Spanish culture.  This was my 21st trip to Spain, and my second time embarking on this pilgrimage in Santiago.  Yet this time our route was to end in Finistere, also known as the end of the world.  It’s been said that this Celtic path predates the Catholic pilgrimage.  We were hopeful the exploration of the city that evening would massage out the kinks that occurred at the airport hours before.  We were lucky it did.  

            After securing a walking stick, a delicious meal of tapas and patatas bravas, a tasty pastry, and rations for the next day’s journey, we strolled the streets to see what the night would reveal.  The tourist shops had now closed, and it was solely bars that were open at this hour.  Then we stumbled onto an archway by the church.  It served more as a portal.  Generally during the day, a musician plays his bagpipe, demonstrating the Celtic traditions that still exude in this land of Galicia.  But at this hour, the bagpipes were packed away, and were replaced with an opera singer.  

I love most street performers.  They move an audience to stop the busy-ness of their lives and slow down, and simply take in the gift of music they are sharing.  The opera singer sang several popular opera songs, the crowd slowly started to build.  Then the tunes changed, and he began singing “My Way,” which generally isn’t my favorite song, as it reminds me of an American middle aged drunk man’s go to karaoke song, as a bar closes.  But there were other people in the audience that seemed to enjoy it.  A tiny group of three older people who looked as if they were tourists and friends had their arms around each other.  They swayed and sang.   The opera singer appreciated their immersive experience.  When it was time for the chorus, the opera singer pointed to the trio and allowed them to take the stage.  “I did it my way.”  People had stopped to sit on the steps, and observe this magical moment.  For a brief passing period of time, we were all connected.  I couldn’t help but cry witnessing this beautiful example of collective gratitude and mindfulness.  These were not tears of sadness or worry for my future.  These were tears of joy I was able to experience this moment of collective bliss.  

            Perhaps starting at the end wasn’t a bad decision.  It was how this journey was to begin.  We could harvest the beauty and love shared from the evening onto the next day’s 23 kilometer trek.  I couldn’t wait to see what was next in store. 

Awaiting the Camino

 
The journey for a pilgrimage begins as you prep to go to the airport.  Regardless of your method of accessing the airport: walking, metro, bus (we took all three), it’s all part of the Camino.  It’s interesting how your zen center can be tipped off balance easily, with pushy fellow passengers, a lack of air conditioning, overcrowding, people coughing behind you without masks, or the joys of going through security check and dropping your laptop.  All happened, and therefore I wanted to relax and have a cappaccino and asked the barista if there were espresso shots in the cappacinos.  He said yes, but I did not see him or anyone prepare them.  They were premade espresso shots.  I asked for espresso, and therefore he made a separate shot, he double charged me.  A small cappaccino somehow equated to 6.70 euros.  Lost in translation, he complained to his coworkers about me, and I internally repeated the conversation complaining to myself.  This is all part of the journey, and I am writing this now to decompress and realign myself with my chilled nature.  
               My friend and I are flying from Paris to Santiago de Compostella to embark in part of the Camino.  Yet this part of the voyage is a walking pilgrimage from Santiago to Finisterre, also known as the end of the earth.  Pilgrims have taken this voyage for hundreds of years. 

               You don’t want the beginning of a spiritual pilgrimage to be tainted with tiny aggravating occurrences.  But one cannot be blissed out for an entire trip.  We are human who deal with other irritating humans.  The goal is to not avoid all stressful situations, but  how to bounce back, find your center so it doesn’t ruin an entire trip. 
               Perhaps for you it’s taking several deep breaths, or listening to music to drown out the world, writing, or walking to a secluded area of the airport.  Do what you need to decrease that sympathetic nervous system and align with the chilled you.

A Month Long Break

 “I want to vacation so long, I forget all my passwords.” – Unknown

            If America took a month long collective vacation, how would we function?  How would we exist?  Outside of the pandemic, when have you stepped into a town or country and seen that over 50% of businesses are closed for a span of three weeks to one month.  This is the case in France, or perhaps all of Europe.  This is my first summer living in France, and I heard Paris is empty in August.  But experiencing it is a different reality.  The streets have been empty.  There is no school, it seems as if nobody has been in the office, or the grocery stores have had limited selections.  Throughout this month, in my local neighborhood market, pharmacy, and Chinese takeaway the lights are out and signs grace the front door saying “Bon Vacances.”  Good vacation.

            For us Americans, this is unfathomable.  Stores shut down for an entire month.  Automatically the questions that arise are:

Don’t they have rent to afford?

Employees to pay? 

Money that could be made on all the visiting tourists?

Aren’t they losing out?

But are the French really losing out?  They aren’t working for an entire month, instead they are taking a much needed rest as a country.  People are making memories with their children, pets, partners, friends, or even solo travel.  Rest that is needed to rejuvenate them for the next year of work.  They work to live, not live to work.  This is something that I have been slowly unlearning since I have been here.  

Who am I if I am not an employee?  Who am I when I am not in the 9-5 job?  Who am I if I am not defined by my profession?  Can I enjoy my life without equating my worth as a human to the amount of productivity I can offer an organization? 

We need enough time off to ask ourselves these questions.  Two weeks off for an entire year does not suffice. Taking an entire month off repairs you.  Imagine if that occurred as a state or nation?  How would that impact our well being?    

Explore these questions, and see what arises.

“Vacations mean a change of pace, a gentleness with ourselves, a time of rest and renewal, and a time to stretch ourselves and encounter new people, new lands, new ways, and new options.” – Anne Wilson Schaef

                                               Imagining Another Life

         Why is it that anytime we travel to a new fabulous destination, we automatically wonder “could I live here?”  Or at least this is what I do.  I scope out the terrain, I look at the advertisements that frame the real estate offices on main street and ponder what life would be like if I was a local.  What coffee shop would I frequent, could I afford living here, where would I walk my dog, do I know anyone close by? 

         This was the case when I visited St. Malo this past week. It had many of the things I want in a town: walkable, affordable, good public transportation, scenic, relaxing vibe, but it was the nature that pulled me in. St. Malo is in the Bretagne region of France.  All I had heard previously about this place, was a good spa existed here.  I didn’t know the massive history this town held.  It was founded in the 1st Century, has Celtic influence, and has a wall that surrounds the entire city.  Although much of it was destroyed during World War II, renovations were completed to ensure it kept it’s charm.  What I found most fascinating was the seaside and the interplay of the low and hide tide which transforms access to Grand Be and Petit Be, two mini islands that one can generally walk to during daylight hours.  Yet, the path disappears when high tide approaches.  

         Although I also visited Mont St. Michel on this trip, the sacredness of this journey was lost due to the high number of tourists that flocked there that day.  What I was longing for was actually felt in St. Malo.  I couldn’t help but feel vastly connected to nature.  One could feel it was a living breathing entity, noticing how the land morphs every 12 hours.  During high tide, land several hundred meters away are islands.  During low tide, they are walkable, and in fact the beach you walk through was actually under water only hours ago.  This landscape’s beauty was captivating, and one couldn’t help but be mesmerized by it’s ever changing form. And at the same time, I felt like this aspect of Mother Nature could hold me, in adventure, entertainment, awe, and reflection.  It didn’t ask much of me or her other visitors.  It simply expected respect, and that was given.  She demonstrated her fierce power and playfulness.  Her dimensions morph, and I couldn’t help but be in reverence for all that she offered me.  

         So as I visit new cities in towns, I notice it is nature that I seek.  It’s not the crowds of the infamous structure in town, souvenir shops, or Michelin starred restaurants.  It’s nature I long for, which heals the busy-ness of my mind.  What has called out to you on your most recent trips?  

Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you. —Frank Lloyd Wright

Dying For Sex

“You needn’t die happy when your time comes, but you must die satisfied, for you have lived your life from the beginning to the end.”-Stephen King

Recently I binged on a six episode podcast in a span of 24 hours.  It was beautiful, poignant, and emotional, and I had to share this.  The series is called Dying for Sex.  It’s a conversation between two best friends, where one particular friend has stage 4 cancer, divorces her husband, and explores her sexuality with the time she has left.  It contains such beauty, humor, rawness, vulnerability, and inspiration.  It serves as reminder for one to think of how do you want to live your life, knowing that you will die. 

       How often do we forget that we are going to die?  That is the only certainty we have.  I’m not trying to be morbid or focus solely on the negative here, but it is true.  Yet, when we know this and can hold this in our hands, it reminds us of the preciousness of our lives.

       This is a foundational principle in Buddhism.  In fact in Bhutan, people remind themselves five times a day they are going to die to bring about their happiness.  If you have problems doing this, you can buy an app called “We Croak,” which will remind you.  I purchased this years ago, and try to remind myself how precious life is frequently.  

       When you know death is imminent, you cut out the crap, and live a life aligned to what is most important to you.  But the truth is none of us know when our time is.  What are we waiting for?  What do you need to do to live in alignment with your values?  What is on your bucket list? 

More info on the podcast : https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/dying-for-sex/id1495392900

Artist Date to Rodin

This past week, I took myself on an artist date to the Rodin Museum.  For those who aren’t familiar with artist dates, they are something Author Julia Cameron suggests we do weekly to deepen our creativity.  Basically we treat ourselves on a date, whether this is to a park, film, beach, or even the $1 store.  Often we wait for someone else to do activities with, but in this we treat ourselves, regardless how big or small.  This is a concept I love, and even used to recommend it to clients.  

I’ve been living in Paris for over seven months, and I had only been to this Rodin museum twice in those months.  It was a museum I fell in love with 18 years ago when I first visited Paris and one part of me thought I may spend my days here volunteering at the museum.  That didn’t happen, it was a beautiful warm (but not hot) day, and perfect moments to spend Rodin and his sculptures.  

Rodin’s works speak to me, as I felt he was one of the first artists to display in sculpture the intensity of our emotions.  This includes not just victory, but the suffering, longing, pain, ecstasy, wonder, and contemplation.  Although he’s most known for his piece The Thinker, there’s so much more depth to his pieces.  This is what calls out to me in his work.  I am someone who veers to the optimistic, perhaps in the past of demonstrating toxic positivity.  This blog is called It Only Takes A Smile, for gosh sake.  But over time, I have been learning the beauty that exists in suffering, complexity, and despair.  I am not idealizing these emotions, but they are part of our human existence and also part of our internal and collective shadow.  There’s a necessity to embrace the totality that life has to offer, and I appreciate the artists who can share humanity’s vulnerabilities (and sometimes their own). 

On a future artist date, go to a local museum and examine the versatility of the works available.  Embrace both the dark and the light.  See what stirs inside. 

“One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”-Carl Jung

Everyday Observances

            There’s a magic you forget, when you live in a touristy town.  I live two blocks from the Eiffel Tower, and a 10 minute walk to the Seine River.  Some people save money for their whole lives awaiting to simply visit this town, and take their obligatory photos.  And in the midst of everyday life: days that are too hot you just want to stay indoors, or days you have too many errands to do, or days you just are feeling down, you forget the majesty that lies outdoors.  I try to remind myself that.  It’s still less than eight months that I have lived here, and I am aware my time is limited. 

            I go to the Champ de Mars daily now, which is my closest dog park.  I notice the tourists, as they dress in their finest and pose for outlandish photos in front of the La Tour Eiffel.  Some try to look sexy with flowing dresses and high slits, cheesy with making peace signs, some jump in the air, or have accessories such as a bicycle held high in their arms.  And I watch their glee, as the moment is captured. 

            But what is interesting I find in the park, is the routine.  The same people who walk in the park at the allotted golden hour before the sun exudes too much heat.  There is the lady with a tan hat who walks laps with a cane getting her steps in, a yoga teacher who takes her studio outside for visiting tourists, a retired couple who work out daily, the staff members that keep the park clean, the homeless person who takes in a nap, and all of the dogs and their owners.  I don’t know any of these people, and have talked to few of them.  But they have become familiar, and in a town of strangers, the familiarity has become something I’ve learned to find most beautiful about this city.  And the irony is that this exists in every city, if you are patient, walk the same paths, and observe closely enough.  You can witness beauty unfolding all around you. 

“To acquire knowledge, one must study; but to acquire wisdom, one must observe. “Marilyn vos Savant

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