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

20 Observations of Paris: A 6 Month Review

“Paris, I believe, is a man in his twenties in love with an older woman.”
― John Berger

 
               I am headed to the states for the third time today since living in Paris.  It’s been six months since I have moved here, and everytime I leave I can’t help but reflect on what my experience has been like.
 
What I have learned in France so far….
 
1.People have opinions of your dogs : are they healthy enough, where they should go to the bathroom, how long should they live, should they walk more, who to play with ?
 
2.Women don’t wear shorts, sweats, or yoga pants.  Floral dresses and skirts seem to be preferred.  Until 2013, it was illegal for 200 years for women to wear pants.  It sounds preposterous, but I found this out reading the Bonjour Effect. Women were forbidden to wear pants to keep them from dressing as men and going into the workforce.  
 
3.The double kiss on the cheek is the real deal.
 
4.Life does feel like a scene from the Disney cartoon Beauty and the Beast, where one must greet everyone with a bonjour.  To avoid doing so is rude.  It’s best to comply.
 
5.Many Parisians do not drive or have a need for a driver’s license.
 
6.Most people speak English, particularly the younger generation.  Those fifty and over years old, I have learned to not expect this.  If you don’t speak French, and find yourself in conversation with someone who solely speaks French, you can basically figure it out.  Guestimate it.  
 
7.Paris is full of diversity and interracial relationships, which has been beautiful to witness.
 
8.Apartments are small, anything over 400 sqare feet is killing it with space ! We all seem to partake in tiny home living here I’ve learned to survive in 290 square feet, between me, my English bulldog, and my chug.  I’ve even hosted a guest for a month .  .  
 
9.Parisians are quiet on public transportation.  If they talk on the phone, it’s a whisper, the dogs don’t bark, and even the children are behaved.  This becomes apparent when other Americans get on a metro. 
 
10.Paris seems to be the quintissential American European dream.  There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t hear an American accent (which isn’t my own).  
 
11.If you try to speak French, they may speak back to you in French.  Or they may find it amusing, and want to minimize your embarassing accent, and just respond to you in English.  
 
12.There are over 130 museums in Paris, to appear cultured, one must attend an exhibit at least once a month.  
 
13.The French dress simply, but classy.  One doesn’t find much bright colors, and due to minimal closet space, they make the most of what you have.  A camel winter coat,  military green trench coat, and simple white sneakers go a long way.  
 
14.Parisians love their parks.  Apartments are small, but the parks (in addition to the cafes) seem to be where locals extend their living rooms for picnics, celebrations, or even dates.  
 
15.Everyone drinks tap water.  Je voudrais un carafe d’eau s’il vous plait. 
 
16.There’s no guilt over the pleasures in life, whether this is gluten, calories, wine, or sex.  Joie de vivre is real.  Who needs a gym when you walk everywhere ? 
 
17.Parisians are serious about their food and desserts.  Everyone has an opinion, and generally it’s « not bad. »  Compliments are infrequent for cuisine.  
 
18.You can feel the creativity, history, and dreams as you walk the streets and boulevards of Paris.  All who inspired by it once haunted the same pathways as you, and if you observe and listen closely, you may absorb the Paris effect as well.   
 
19.Many Parisians long to explore other parts of the world too, and dream of living in other places.  It’s universal to desire what we don’t have.  They have a curious interest towards the American Western dream, cowboys, land, and the unknown.
 

20. There’s a mystery to the city, in trying to define it.  How does one do that ?  A flaneur is someone who walks around not doing anything in particular but watching people and society, according to the Cambridge Dictionary.  And I feel one can spend a lifetime doing this in Paris, trying to absorb the wisdom and creativity that are embedded in the historical streets of the 20 arrondistments. 

 
And so I will continue to explore more of the complexities of Paris.  I am an outsider looking in, roaming the streets, wondering if I will ever be an insider…

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.

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

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