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.