Monthly Archives

June 2015


The Girl in the Lace Dress.


They say, “There’s no place like home.” Many folks would agree. There’s the cedar fence you built by hand around the garden patch, cupboards filled with favorite cookbooks, deep knowledge of every street corner, and your buddies beaming at you from the local dive. 

But if like Bilbo Baggins, you’re called on a journey far from the Shire, then in a sense, as an expat, you must hitch up the horse and leave it all behind or try to take a bit of ‘home’ with you. You ship those shelves and books, transfer your knowledge of street corners, (hello arrondissements)  but sometimes are faced with a sea of strange faces, many speaking another language. 

Luckily, our i-things display instant chances for millions of meet-ups. Finding some new buddies becomes a matter of clicking ‘Yes,’ and putting on your socializin’ shoes.

Getting out the door, however, has usually been the tricky part, no matter if you’re living in Paris or Pea-ville. Venturing out from the ‘shell’ is hard. It’s so warm and cozy in there in the familiar chair and the dog and cat love and accept you. 

That’s why kindness matters. A little openness and acceptance makes a big difference. You arrive to the new group. Wow, everyone looks so smart and interesting, and it seems they all know each other. It’s the age-old quandary of – how will you ever fit in?

Then someone approaches, all shiny eyes and big smile, and you can see it’s genuine. It rings true from a mile away. If anyone will, they’ll recognize your best side, accept your worst side, and find the humor in between.

That’s what they do. If you have never understood the enormous power of an open-mind and a gracious spirit, venture outside your ‘town limits’ and you will. Offering the ancient virtue of true hospitality – the golden rule in the Koran, the Hebrew and Christian traditions – is dear readers, how you make the world a better place. 

That often means, opening the home, the organization, the metaphorical neighborhood to those the world might deem of the fringe, the fraught, the weak, the worried, or simply those plain old odd folks that most don’t have the time for. True generosity. The kind that does not aim for reciprocity. 

In the age of big connections, and big ideas, it’s good to remember that people function best secure in knowing they are a part of something. If you’ve known the gift of kindness, then you know this to be true. When you smile and take the time to know, accept, and acknowledge someone, you alter the universe toward kindness. Being genuinely nice is simply the Harvard star of virtuous achievements.  

** This post is inspired by a friend who is leaving soon, back to her home, then onto her new home with the United Nations in Kenya. 

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Girls Weekend Away.

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Three of us girls meet up early Saturday morning at Gare St. Lazare in the 8th arrondissment, stand under the time board waiting for our train to Yvetot to show up, then when it does, two minutes before departure, we run and grab a three seater situation which turns out to be a compartment for six. While the other three solo passengers literally nod off, we, of course, spend the 1 hour 30 minute journey, gabbing non-stop. The thing about good friendship is, it gets even better on trains. We’ve known each other for only 5 months, but having been tossed into similar expat experiences, we’ve a lot in common, plus, we liked each other instantly, each easy-going and irreverent in our own sassy ways.

A lot happens in Paris and it’s important to share it. To be up on all the little details that make life the sweet pleasure it is. All the little details, like the latest from the kids school social scenes, updates on the home front, which husband is home, which traveling, we dissect neighbors and new friendships, voice our suspicions about things, laugh about it, roll our eyes, marvel at attitudes, wonder what challenges are on the horizon, assess, predict. You know, the usual girls chats that keeps the world going right round.

Then, voila, it’s our stop, we go find the car rental kiosk, get our Pugeot or whatever French car, fetch the map, and in moments, we’re out in the countryside heading to our village. We’ve gotten lucky, the weekend is sunny and 70, so the plan on arrival is to throw bags in the room, put on the new polka-dot bikini and head to the pool, which is just what we do. Our hotel is down a dirt lane, set off in the fields, the grounds are full of cherry trees and flowers, and the desk guy offers us drinks on arrival. Heck, yeah.

Before that, lunch on the veranda, see how we fare …  20150613_135739 ….  a stroll around the village abbey ruins, splendid set of ruins, it was. Stone soaring to the sky, now notches for birds nests, and spaces for tour guides to stand and let people marvel. 20150613_123041

Serene is the word that comes to mind to describe it.

After pool-side lounging         IMG_9586   (bold evidence!) and reverent spa-taking, the spirits revived, we meet to plan the dinner spree. Our friend, a consummate gourmand and expert on all things French, had found a little local bistro by the Seine that served the county’s finest and had been smart enough to reserve. So, off we go to the Auberge du Bac, sit on the terrace, watch cargo ships go by and cycling tourists turned away with no reservations. Two girls pull up outside the resto, ‘settle into the riverfront’ – put their wet clothes on the walls to dry, change down by the river, wash a few things, walk over to the Auberge, only to be turned away. We almost ask if they can join us, as they had worked hard for their dinner, but they were young, packed up their things, and set out to undoubtedly find another fine spot.

My dinner, turned out to be the best deal, for this lovely ‘assiette des legumes’ 20150613_202810

or plate of veggies, I paid 4 euros. What?

Sunday, on the terrace in front of the Abbaye Saint-Georges de Boscherville, we had a slow lunch and viewed the garden walls and rolling hills behind the towering abbey in front of our plaza. A pretty sight especially since we could anticipate going to tour the grounds after lunch. I’ve always been intrigued by the life of a monk. The communal life, the robes, the chanting, plus making wine or beeswax candles all in the name of the Lord, not bad work if you can take the hours. Abbeys mostly occupied prime real estate too – gorgeous settings, with gardens and orchards all in the spirit of community and helping the poor.

We return that night on a crowded train, anxious to see the kids and hubs, but still making jokes left and right, one of those kinds of weekends, when everyone is on cue and the material is all that stuff in our collective lives. Sometimes you just need to laugh. Comedia dell’ train. Thanks girls! 

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The Victory of Friday Night.

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Have you ever been in one of those moods on a Friday afternoon when you are craving a good look at marble statuary? Well, last Friday night at 7pm we met friends and regular tour guide beneath the Group sign below the pyramid at the Louvre to go look at and hear about the Winged Victory of Samothrace, which is one of the most famous marble statues in the world. It was sculpted around 200 B.C. on the island of Samothrace, which is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea. Pieces were discovered in 1863 by a French archeologist, who wrote ‘home’ saying, “I found a statue of a woman…”

Seems that for some 2,000 years, the pieces of marble had been scattered about in the warm Greek dust.

The statue of the ‘woman’ it turned out (after the various pieces were assembled) was the Greek goddess of victory, called Nike. (Yes, that’s where your sneakers got their name. Now, go be victorious, in those swishes.) She was a popular goddess, the incarnation of victory in battle, in competition, so there were, and are, statues honoring her all over the country. Winning, it seems, has always been a popular concept!

But no earlier works seem to have the presence of the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Gracing the top of what resembles a marble prow of a ship, placed above the top of the long Daru marble staircase, the Winged Victory of Samothrace gives to this foyer in the Louvre, a sense of triumph, strength and power. Her placement in the museum is part of her splendor. High above us, and headless, she presides.

How does one sculpt a god? How do you sculpt in hard unforgiving solid marble, the concept of wisdom (Athena), ecstasy (Dionysus), regret (Hades)…victory? How do you try to express in stone the warring factors between struggle and destiny? Whatever you might believe about the ancient civilizations, it is often a surprise to find out they were often strapped with many of the same concerns that occupy us today and through their artworks expressed these beliefs and ideas.

In Samothrace, the goddess’s long chiton, or tunic ripples in the invisible wind, the fine cloth clinging to her form, her wings outstretched in a moment of descent, alighting, one feels, lightly onto earth from her celestial realm. There is some implied majesty in her bearing, bringing as she does the rewards of high feat and smiling fortune. Some force has been conquered, whether literally or metaphorically, it doesn’t really matter.

The hour and a half walking through the corridors of the museum Friday night, listening to the story of the statue unfold, was its own summation. That week, I had my list of accomplishments and also my list of unfinished business. I’d gotten the youngest into next years Girl Scouts, registered the eldest for Tech camp in the U.K. for late summer, met a new Spanish friend for coffee, talked to the theatre teacher, mended a carpet issue, enjoyed a gorgeous long lunch with a (gorgeous) friend in Place Dauphine, put together a band and had a jam, got invites out to a cocktail party here at square Jasmin! But I still needed to reach the Irish embassy, buy a curtain rod which was proving an impossible feat, upgrade my computer, make myself run every day, and finalize part of our Italy trip. There was enough left to do in the ongoing business of life, that feeling victorious wasn’t exactly the word I would use.

Going on that tour Friday night, got me thinking. Aren’t we all warring our own battles, whether proclaimed or accepted as part of the daily routine, whether interior or exterior? Maybe it’s the battle against bureaucratic mediocrity, maybe it’s to fight against prejudice of the oppressed, maybe it’s simply the battle against complacency or self-control. Or in my case, the battle to successfully manage life in France plus make myself jog to the Bois every morning…!

Shouldn’t we remember to celebrate life’s little feats, like those little items checked off  the ‘to-do’ on the longer list…?

If looked at that way, isn’t it possible to imagine such a triumphant vision as the Winged Victory of Samothrace alighting in our living rooms, all light and splendor, waving to us, arriving with the news, that indeed, we have accomplished feats of daring and won mighty battles of will…. I think so. Then we go back to our desks, our jobs with a bit of renewed sense, a bit of the ‘wind in the hair’ motion of it all.

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Time to be with you.

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Last Friday, I sat in a theatre watching the documentary, “Yalom’s Cure,” a bio pic about California psychiatrist and Professor Emeritus at Berkley, Irvin Yalom. I’d never heard of the man. No matter. After the film, I felt like I knew him and what’s more, I left the theatre invigorated by the overview of his universal concerns and excited by his questioning nature. I’ve always loved analyzing people, their intentions, their motives, trying to decipher why friends, family or acquaintances make the decisions they do, why they choose certain roads to go down. I’m nosy, and I’m a good listener, I read body language and watch people closely. I would have been a good spy. I’m a literature major, after all. The human condition, in all its permutations, is food for our spiral notebooks too. So, watching Yalom talk about his ideas, while viewing scenes from his life, was entirely up my alley.

Of course, I especially liked his opinion that writers are essentially creative psychologists as their mission is to confront and explain through their work of art, the underlying mysteries of human behavior and the human mind. That literature in its best form, is a roadmap to understanding ourselves and others. And his belief that, “the more we know ourselves, the better lives we can lead.”

My younger self could have been his acolyte, ernest and passionate about questioning it all, the hours, months, years spent reading books, looking up at the clouds and talking about life with best friends, professors, fellow travelers. Life’s journey was fascinating and we were open to the possibilities. What topic, political, social, philosophical did we NOT cover, did we NOT explore while we went to hear bands every Friday night, took long road trips to California, spontaneously moved in with each other for awhile. What rich ground we laid to construct our future lives, it now seems from the perch of ‘middle age’

Having children has only confirmed those views, that a life well-considered, is time well spent. My decision to stay home with my children was my best moment. To watch them awaken to the world in all those little daily ways, was fascinating. Watching a person unfold is a great gift. You are fortunate if you have had the chance to see and share those moments of becoming. Watching a toddler react to a bird in a tree, can help confirm life’s shared condition. Children can remind us daily of the range of emotional life. In the faces of babes, you see it all. Fear of the unknown, courage to try, pain of separation, joy of the familiar, sadness from losing your best thing. And the nuances of their personalities spring to life with every little step they take.

How do we construct a meaningful life? No one has all the answers, but it seems to me that we will never regret taking the time to try and figure out that question. And that takes time. Precious time. 

As I write, the doors are open wide onto the warm Paris night, lights shine from apartments across the garden. Moths are collecting around the lamp that hangs over the table.

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