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). 

A Reminder Stress Is Good

“Comfort is the opposite of stress.  Modern living tends to seek stress-free conditions, where we are comfortable, but this comes at a terrible cost: fragility.  Said another way, comfort is fragilizing.”-Bernie Clark

I am currently enrolled in a week long yin yoga anatomy class.  For those who aren’t familiar with yoga, or yin yoga, here is a brief explanation.  We have all heard of the term yin and yang, and perhaps are familiar with the yin yang symbol.

Yin yoga is the compliment to yang yoga, or our current modern day yang world.  Yang is action, doing, busy, movement, sun energy.  Yin is receptive, stillness, reflective, moon energy.  One is not all good or all bad, we need both to survive.  The facilitator of the class and author Bernie Clark says that “Yoga is a dance, not a wrestling match.  Yang is about changing the world, yin accepts the world as it is.”

Yin yoga focuses on working on our deeper tissues, our fascia, and stressing our joints.  This is to elongate them, release stored up chi/energy, and to balance the body.  

In the class, it was mentioned that we yearn for comfort but to not stress is to atrophy.  I couldn’t help but think of this metaphor for life.   I myself am a creature of comfort.  I do long for what is easy.  Who wants to struggle, when we could ease through life?  But if I keep turning towards this ease and comfort, I do not grow.  I need to remind myself this at difficult times. 

I want my life to be full of ease, and part of me continues to pivot towards this. But if this perpetually happens will I atrophy and decay away?   

The instructor discussed how astronauts who are floating in space for months at a time, they are not using their bones.  When they finally land back on earth, often they need to sit in wheelchairs.  Their bones are weak after not having used them.  We need to put pressure on our bones to support us.  It’s called anti-fragility, but I believe we know this more in our everyday world as resilience. 

We crave comfort, and indeed this is called for at times.  But we cannot live in this space.  In order to continue to grow, we need some stress.  We need to get out of comfort zone.  This could be travel, new jobs, new friends, new experiences.  There are so many ways to shake up one’s routine and patterns.  Pushing oneself is good for you, although it can feel overwhelming.  

It may be helpful to ponder in this season of your life, how are you stretching and stressing yourself? 

Happiness is a Human Right

I was at a my first raclette party the other day filled with expats, who mention they may not return to the United States due to several things: healthcare, guns, and education.  “Healthcare is a human right, it should not be for profit.”  I cannot disagree with this statement, and it ruminates in my head as I live here, and ponder my future.  

Later that evening, I got off at the metro stop Varenne by the Rodin Museum (my favorite sculptor).  The Eiffel Tower was in the background shining, as I walked towards my apartment.  I was leaving a dinner with a new group of friends, I had just gone on a date that surprisingly went well the day prior, and had plans the next day to meet up with creatives to lead an Artist Way workshop.  I thought “this is my life!”  I’m shocked by this fact repeatedly.  Paris is my current hometown.  I live in a city people dream for years to visit, and I was doing it.  I was living in a town filled with delights in pleasure. But I couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt.

Did I deserve to be happy?  I wasn’t working.  I thought of the judgements others may have towards my happiness that I was lazy, a freeloader, or a drifter. I even thought of so many people who are suffering, who may believe I wasn’t worthy of this emotion.  

I was setting limits on the bounty of my happiness.  

Why do I feel guilty for feeling happy?  It’s as if I feel happiness should be earned.  I felt guilty that I was not working in a job.  I had this false belief that I could only receive happiness if I clocked in 40 hours and received a paycheck.  

I was setting rules to how I could enjoy myself.  

But as I walked home, I battled that thought.  Happiness does not have to be earned.  It is a human right, just like health care is a human right.  We all deserve and have access to happiness.  It’s not a limited resource, or tied to profit.  I have the right to be happy.  And I will continue to remind myself this, as I live in the city of my dreams.  

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

Oh La La

While taking a stroll in a local Parisian park, a recent expat said to me, “The French really like saying Oh La La.”  Prior to living in Paris, when I heard the phrase “Oh La La”, I thought it simply would be the phrase that would come out of Miss Piggy’s mouth from The Muppets when she saw Kermit.  For me, it meant “Wow”, “Sexy”, or “I love this.”  But it’s multidimensional.  I heard the phrase three times this week, used in different contexts.

1-Frustration:

I was in the line of a marche (market).  I had several items, the woman behind me had one item, and the old man in front of me pulled out his entire rollie of products to be scanned.  The woman behind me sighed “Oh La La,” as he emptied the entire contents of 20 plus products to the cash register.  She did not want to wait and was frustrated there was only one cashier that day.  

2-Disappointment:

Earlier in French class this week, we each had to read our answers to various homework questions.  When one person was asked to read the number 85, she could not recall how to say this.  The teacher breathed out, “Oh La La”, disappointed that we were already at the end of 8 weeks of French and a simple number could not be read.  For those, counting it’s pronounced “quatre-vingt-cinq.”  

3-Adoration:

My nearly 15 year old English Bulldog loves going to the park, but does not seem to have the energy or motivation to walk two long blocks to our destination.  Therefore, I transport him in a stroller.  Upon our return from Champs de Mars, a man looked at the tired but content Puzo, and smiled saying “Oh La La”.  I could sense in the hint of “how precious.”

I am sure there are many other ways to use this phrase.  It’s a catch all like, “Oh my gosh”, “Ay ya ya”, “Geez Louise.”  This is one phrase that seems stereotypical, but I am going to try to embed into my vocabulary.  Perhaps you will catch me next time saying “Oh la la,” but hopefully in a complimentary way. 

Am I an American in Paris?

“…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

         The market street of Rue Cler is petit, cute, and quintessentially Parisian.  It has all the shops you need in one space, but not under the roof of a supermarket.  Because it has such charm, it’s highly frequented by tourists.  As I hear American accents, part of me recognizes they are from my homeland.  But am I American?  I’ve lived away from America for nearly 9 years, and in addition to that 2 of my adult years were in Hawaii (not the mainland).  

         I stood in line for a coffee today, and as I did, there was an American who spoke Franglaise.  The barista opted to speak to her in English.  The American then said, “merci beaucoup, thank you.”  Both phrases to ensure the staff member understood her.  Yet when I ordered in French, I didn’t speak one word in English.  She responded by speaking to me in French.  Perhaps I am fitting in a tiny bit more than I thought.  Maybe my French is better, or at least I’m attempting to speak French in full sentences or I appear to fit in more?  

         I can’t help but ponder my identity several months into my year here.  It’s more than the exterior of language.  How American am I in my values?  How I represent myself to the world? How I engage with others.  It’s quite interesting the longer one is away from one’s home country, one begins to understand it more because it’s viewed and questioned from numerous angles.  I can also appreciate aspects of it that I have taken for granted, each time I return home, such as closet space, convenience, sense of humor, idioms, and the fact I can understand everything that is being said.

         The shock values is heightened with each trip back to America over the years, and then my eventual return to wherever I am living at the moment.  Where is home?  What resonates with me?  How do I want to live my life?  I will continue to ponder these questions over lattes the next several months…

Positif ou Négatif

The other day in French class we were learning various adjectives for emotions or character traits: triste, agreable, serieux, desagreable.  We had to quantify if these words were positive or negative.  We got to a word “orgueilleux,” which according to google means “proud.”  A classmate noted, “c’est positif.”  The teacher disagreed, and the student looked at the class, shrugged his shoulders and said “depends.”  The teacher then shared that it means more than proud, it means “arrogant.”  This is pride discussed in the way Jane Austen would back in the day.  So the class agreed, “c’est negatif.”  

It’s interesting as a psychologist, to sit in a classroom and label emotions as “bad or good.”  This is what we are trying to get away from in society, as all emotions should be welcome.  There’s a time and place for sadness, anger, joy, and seriousness.  But I understand, we are doing this exercise, solely as a learning experiment.  The images shown to describe the emotions were the universal language of emojis. 

 

When you are in a beginners language class, generally there is no room for debate or philosophical discussion.  It’s basically a time for memorization, particularly if the words are positif or negatif, or feminin ou masculin.  

Is it written in the stars?

I have a deep fascination with all that is mystical and magic.  When I was younger, I had this belief that “it was written in the stars.”  Our fates were decided for us, and we were destined to live it out.  Now, this has shifted.

I believe we are co-creators.

We may be pivoted to live a particular life, due to numerous factors.  This could be our upbringing, families, astrological sign, karmic debt, education, or communities we grew up in.  But we are not doomed to live one path.  

Life is a collaborative, ongoing, and active process.  

Our tomorrows are written by the actions we take today.

If you do not like the dynamics of your current lifestyle, you have the power to change it.  But it’s not simply magic, manifesting and wishing it.  It takes consistent work towards the goal we have.  It’s the small decisions you make every day that leads to the path of where you want to go.  Instead of complaining of your circumstances, process the lessons learned, and take action.  

You always have a choice in the destiny you choose to live.

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