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

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

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.  

Fondue Etiquette

I was in a fondue pop up Swiss Restaurant in a French Agriculture Exposition.  And I felt judged.  My French friend watched me as I dipped my bread into the fondue pot.  I knew there was a comment to be made.  Portions of bread were provided to be dipped in the cheese, and so I did.  After some time, he said “no, cut it into small pieces, like this.  That way you could cover every spot of the bread and have even more cheese with more little pieces of bread.”  Ahh.  This made more sense.  I thought dipping the big piece of bread with the skewer looked awkward.  I had only frequented The Melting Pot once, an American high end chain fondue restaurant.  It actually is the only fondue restaurant I had ever visited.  I was no pro at this, I admit.

But he kept watching me.  I knew what it was.  When I rolled my cheese in the fondue, there was so much excess string I pulled the string piece out of the pot with my fingers.  I made sure it didn’t touch the pot.  Was he worried about my germs?  “See I’m not touching the other cheese, I’m pulling it out,” I said to his perplexed face.  “No, like this,” he said.   “You must be patient, as you roll it. Just wait.” I had noted my poor fondue skills, as I had been pulling the cheesy bread out of the pot too quickly.  The string would then come with it, versus letting it linger and eventually harden to the bread before bringing it to my plate.  I realized I would have to learn to soften my American ways during this year in Paris, in more areas than just fondue etiquette.  Most likely this virtue would serve as my mantra for the months to come: patience. 

I had quit my job two months prior, and felt I needed to already be a success in this new world I was venturing into of being an entrepreneur and author.  I wanted to see results fast and damn was I struggling, like that piece of melted cheese. I seemed to forget why I had moved here.  I moved here to write my book, spend more time with my aging dogs, learn French, and make new friends.  In my previous job, the last several years my life consisted solely of work, and a minimal social life.   Here, I had the opposite schedule.  My days were filled with French classes, trips to art museums, and friendship outings, but I feel I am not being productive enough.  I was judging myself because I had yet to be a signed author.   

But everything takes time.  And who is to say I am not successful in living the life I am living right now?  It is a dream for many Americans to vacation here, let alone live here.  Wasn’t the life I am living successful because I am doing what I set out to and enjoying it along the way?  Tim Ferriss encourages us to have multiple mini retirements throughout our life, not just one big retirement.  Perhaps I can learn to live into this during the year, minus the guilt of productivity. 

So this year, as I learn the practice of undoing the busy, I will also begin to embrace the acts of pleasure and patience.  Maybe this is what Paris is meant to teach me, and to eat from a fondue properly.

“When good Americans die, they go to Paris.”-Oscar Wilde

The Test

“That step, the heroic first step of the journey, is out of, or over the edge of your boundaries, and it often must be taken before you know that you will be supported.” Joseph Campbell

         Did I really want to move to Paris?  But this was one of the biggest risks I would take.  I had planning it for months, quit my job of 8 ½ years, got rid of my car, put everything in storage, and now was ready to make the Great Resignation during the pandemic to start my new life.   This was all because I was tuning into listening to my intuition and not just following out the logical path.  

But there were numerous tests along the way.  I would have to get a negative covid test 24 hours before, my dogs needed their health certificates, I would navigate sleeping on the floor for five days as the movers came, and numerous other minor details.  But the massive test came several days before.  On Thursday December 16th, France made a declaration that the only people from the UK that could come to France were those with a “compelling reason,” this meant residents, French citizens, or those travelling for a funeral.  I was going to be a new resident, would that count? 

         We had to think quickly.  My mother had flown from the US to assist with the move. Decisions were made for her to fly back in two days to Philadelphia to not chance it of being rejected into the country.  The taxi driving me and my dogs from the United Kingdom to France cancelled on me without giving any alternatives.  I chose instead of freaking out to think of other solutions, I could freak out later.  I called the taxi company pleading to ride with another family days earlier.  I then phoned my moving company to see if my dogs and me could ride with the boxes to France.  Both said no, but I was eventually able to find a company that assisted with ease. 

         For one week, I lived in shock, mania, and extreme caffenation.  I knew I could do this.  I knew I could empty out a four floor house and squeeze into less than 300 square foot apartment.  I made too many sacrifices to quit now.  And I pushed through. 

         I took the risk and it paid off.  

         In the midst of this, everyone is asking the following questions: 

         What do you want to do first thing when you get there?

Answer: sleep and rest (which works because I have to quarantine for 48 hours)         

         Do you speak French?

                                     Answer: No, but I will learn.

         Do you know anyone?

Answer: Acquaintances, but I will meet people in my French classes.

How does it feel to be here? 

                                     Answer: relief, joy, and gratitude.  

And so it is…

Whatever dream that is pulling at your heart, know it’s possible.  Adversities will arise, but so will angels to help you out.

“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.” Joseph Campbell