The Grass Is Always Greener

Since I have moved to Paris one month ago, I’ve been lucky enough to meet locals and non-locals.  With non-locals that have chosen to move here, Paris is a world of wonder.  There’s gratitude and joy for getting to live in this city.  Paris is full of opportunities and culture.  Their dreams have been realized, and they remind themselves of this fact each day when they walk down the boulevards or pop into boulangeries. 

For local Parisians, I find that some are fed up with their city.  Complaints arise, such as it’s dirty, too expensive, too crowded, not enough nature, too many tourists, etc.  They desire to move to the country or even another country.  There is an idealization of how other people choose to live their lives.  One has lived in Japan for four years, and longs to return to Japan.  He admires the respect the people have for their land.  Another is lured by the mystique of the American West, the novelty and intrigue of the land and it’s people fascinates him.  Another spoke of Brazil and the liveliness that exists among the people there.

Both viewpoints resonate with me.  I have lived in multiple places in the world, and although currently I am a newbie to this town, I know what it’s like to despise where one lives.  Yet, it’s all a matter of choice.

I couldn’t help but think of the end of the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris.  Owen Wilson’s character is fascinated by life in Paris in the 1920s, and magically steps into that world each night when midnight strikes.  He meets another character played by Marion Cotillard who exists in the 1920s but she idealizes the time from La Belle Epoque, which occurred from 1871-1914.  In the film, these two actors jump back into that era as well.  Both characters have a yearning to be part of a reality that existed in the past, but not the present.  Owen’s character eventually realizes the disconnect that’s occurring, as he says: “Yeah, that’s what the present is. It’s a little unsatisfying because life’s a little unsatisfying.” 

We long to be somewhere else, whether this is another city, country, or era.  This seems to be a fatal human trait.  We want what we don’t have.  But perhaps the point of life is to enjoy what you have while you have it.  That doesn’t mean you cannot change your future and where you choose to reside, but in the meantime how can you find joy and wonder in your current zip code?

Challenge: Find 5 things that spark joy in your neighborhood and share these with your loved ones (or with me below!)  

An Endless Art History Class

“…the whole of Paris is a vast university of Art, Literature and Music…it is worth anyone’s while to dally here for years. Paris is a seminar, a post-graduate course in Everything.”-James Thurber

There seems to be an endless amount of museums in Paris. I queried the official amount, and it totals 136 museums in the city of Paris! This is bountiful for a city that is actually quite small and walkable. It is only 6 miles long (North to South) and 7 miles wide (East to West). And therefore this past week, I checked out two additional art museums: Musee de Luxembourg and the Musee d’Art Moderne. One exhibit I had been excited about attending was the Vivian Maier exhibit. I first learned about her from the documentary Finding Vivian Maier. In the film, we discover a nanny who lived a double life as a minder of children and a street photographer. But the intriguing twist was nobody in her life was aware of this creative genius that existed among them. She hid her passion, and kept the beauty of her work for herself. The type of camera she had was a Rolleiflex, which could be worn on the neck and did not have to be brought to the eye to focus. It stayed stomach level, and she napped many of her subjects unknowingly. These were strangers on the street in cities around the world. At her death, most of her belongings were in a storage unit and were auctioned off. It was he who began to share her work with the world.

As I gazed at her works in the exhibit, I couldn’t help but wonder about the life of this woman. Why did she keep this skill private? Was she cautious of receiving criticism? How did she learn her craft? What went on in her head in her daily life? Was she satisfied in her job as a nanny because it covered the costs of her basic necessities of life and afforded her the opportunity to travel the world? My fascination with her continued as I walked past each image and into the gift shop that sold numerous replicas of her work as postcards or books. What would she think of this fame and her secret work being shared with the world?

I also began to think of the artists that exist among us. We are all creative beings, but why do some deny this aspect of themselves while others fully embrace it? What type of artist exists within you?

My First Day of French Class

I’m nervous.  It’s my first day of school at the Alliance Francaise.  I’ve read David Sedaris’ book Me Talk Pretty One Day and realize I’m in the same school he was enrolled, while he wrote this book.  The exact location he felt defeated in.  I sat in a class of 13 on our first day of French class. It was a complete immersion, therefore the teacher only spoke French.   

Je m’appelle Tricia.                                My name is Tricia.

         Je suis Americainne.                                 I am American.

         Je parle Anglias et pou Espagnol.            I speak English and a little Spanish.

         Je suis psychologe et auteure.                 I am a psychologist and author.

To say all of these bespoke sentences repeatedly in a group of 13 people from Colombia, America, Cuba, Brazil, Turkey, England, Sri Lanka, Finland, and Mozambique took 3 hours.  Two additional students would join us later, nuns from India and Thailand.  There were a few peers who spoke with confidence, but most spoke with hesitation.  Not only was our teacher trying to have us speak a new language, but she was attempting to show us how to end our sentences with a “period” and not a question mark with the dramatics of movement.  She pointed down to the floor and spoke with a deep voice, as a student said her name.  “It’s not a question, but a statement,” this is what I believe the teacher said in French.  Later she pointed up to the sky and spoke with an inflection, as she encouraged the same student to ask “et vous” to the student next to her, meaning “and you?”  We were learning a new language, but also confidence?  I say this with a question mark, because it’s hard to have confidence, when you are being corrected with every other word you speak.  

These lessons are being taught with each one of us having face masks on.  The teacher took off her mask several time to show us how her tongue hit the back of her teeth for some words and how her mouth reshaped for other words.  We learned one additional thing in those three hours, we learned to pronounce the alphabet.  I know my English alphabet, and even my Spanish, but French?  Most makes sense, but for some letters, my tongue has trouble producing.  The teacher completed drawings of circles with arrows of how our mouths or tongues should be with each letter.  I have yet to totally understand what was said or diagrammed out.

I spoke to several classmates in between sessions.  An American girl moved here two months ago because her wife is French. An English bloke is engaged to a French woman and moved six years ago.  This was also the case for the Cuban man and the Finnish woman.  They are learning the language for their partners, their in-laws, and their new home country.  Et moi?  Why did I move here again?  I began to ask myself this question.   Why was I tormenting myself with a month of classes, 3 days a week, in 3 hour sessions? I didn’t move to this city for a loved one but for the love of a city.  And for this I will temporarily endure the excruciating discomfort of being a fool.  I despise looking like an idiot in front of other people.  As a Type A personality, I hate not knowing the answers.   I was the one to sit in class and raise my hand, not avert my eyes and hide.  

Many people in the class seem to be sacrificing something.  A woman who I believe is a chamber maid in Paris is a dentist in her home country.  A man who usually is a professor is working at a bar.  I’ve given up being a psychologist and now am winging it as an author, with several years of savings funding me.  Sitting in the class encourages me to have compassion for those learning the language in my homeland.  Oftentimes we are too lazy to be with the struggle of pushing ourselves out of the comfort zones of our natives tongues and into the world of new ways to pronounce letters and words.

I’m reminded of several lines from David Sedaris’ book about this experience:

“My only comfort was the knowledge that I was not alone. Huddled in the smoky hallways and making the most of our pathetic French, my fellow students and I engaged in the sort of conversation commonly overheard in refugee camps.

“Sometimes me cry alone at night.”

“That is common for me also, but be more strong, you. Much work, and someday you talk pretty. People stop hate you soon. Maybe tomorrow, okay?”

I know that me talk pretty one day too. 

En francais : moi aussi parle joli un jour

Week of Faux Pas

As I complete my second week of being a Parisian, it’s been a week of faux pas.

A friend of a friend took me to a typical French restaurant today.  On the menu was heavy French cuisine such as escargot, foie gras, and rabbit. I opted for a croque monsieur served with truffles.  It was delicious and I paired it with a glass of local red wine.  We opted for a café afterwards.  He had an espresso, I wanted a cappuccino and asked the waitress if they had soy milk.  She looked at me confused, and I said a regular cappuccino is fine.  My new friend began to laugh at me, saying “they serve rabbit here, I don’t think they will have soy milk.”

And this is just one example of learning the culture here.

Earlier in the week, I popped into a small grocery store.  I had several items in my hand, and placed them down.  The clerk asked in French for “sac” =a bag.  I said “no” I didn’t need one, and pointed to my bag.  I didn’t speak French, she didn’t speak English.   She then said a word I recognized “regarder”, which means “to look,” and asked to see inside my bag. I had two items purchased from a previous store. Then she tried to scan it. Since I don’t know French, I said in English. “No! I bought that from another store.  No!” She didn’t understand me.  And the items didn’t seem to scan.  Then she looked in my other bag with my laptop and purse. I believe she thought I may be stealing. Then she said simply “desolee”, which means sorry.  I was embarrassed and stunned.  *Tip: keep all receipts or only shop at one market at a time.

The most interesting faux pas occurred in my home.  I was making cous cous, purchased from the market above.  Yet, when I began to turn on the kettle, I saw it was broken.  This is probably because my kitchen is so small, and I have to put the kettle away every time for counter space.  It simply fell apart.  As I tried to put the kettle together, I electrocuted myself.  Maybe I am not meant to cook in tiny spaces.

The evening ended today, with my new French friend sending me several store suggestions of where I can most likely find gluten free bread and pasta, but left me with a warning: “Don’t eat too healthy, you’re French now.”

C’est la vie.

I am slowly am beginning my welcome to France.