one year later

It is almost one year since I met him. ‘Him’ being the reason I am living in Paris. So much of life is about timing. The rest is up to us. In the words of my mother, indeed the wisest woman I know, ‘everyone is given a moment in life that can alter its course forever, and it’s what you do in that moment that makes all the difference.’ Either the head or the heart must dictate. I chose the heart.

This is my story in short, to inspire those searching for love amidst the chaos and distraction of a city like NYC, or anywhere in the world for that matter. I met with love on the street, on a late evening in early Spring, in NYC’s Soho neighborhood. In one fortuitous moment two smiles were exchanged. Followed by a drink, followed by dinner (which will remain one of the most defining moments of my life), followed by simple knowing. Perhaps it all began with knowing.

Reflecting on my life, have I ever been one to follow the assigned path? To do what is expected of me? Yes, in regards to my academic and professional life. I climbed the proverbial ladder, so to speak, living 12 years of a highly responsible, moderately corporate, decreasingly satisfying life in NYC. Until I disembarked at a rather advantageous height and abandoned the ladder altogether (here begins my story of traveling the world, an experience that undoubtedly contributed to the status of my current life, to be delved into in later musings…) Back to the path, the vast vista that lies ahead in which all the secrets of our lives are revealed. When it came to love, I simply NEVER followed a path. Born a hopeless romantic who at around the age of 15 decided it wiser to live a life as ‘hopeful’, my heart ALWAYS dictates. For this, I thank my parents.

Every day amidst these foreign tastes and yet undecipherable sounds, I feel fortunate. Whenever appropriate I share my story with like-hearted women, in hopes of inspiring those who for years reputed love to be something only to read about in romance novels or to watch upon the big screen. (One too many heartbreaks can dissuade even the most diehard of romantics.) In our current state of ‘Generation X’ affairs, the mind often takes precedence over the heart. A career sets the path while love only provides temporary rest stops. I agree that we must follow our own path towards fulfillment, and whatever we consider to be success, but at what cost? Is not love the foundation upon which fulfillment and success is built? Beginning with the love of self.

I believe that you get what you ask for in life, what you truly desire. Often this is not so evident as it’s hidden deeply in our subconscious. But in a moment, or sometimes an entire lifetime of reflection, the answer becomes clear. Sometimes it’s as simple as smiling at a stranger.

living a language

I have decided to take a break from studying French the traditional way (also known as taking classes), given that I can almost speak naturally in the present tense, delving occasionally into the past and future, excluding certain irregular verbs. I am doing my best to find ways to immerse myself in the culture and learn through speaking, observing, doing…in other words, learn by the act of ‘living’. So far it’s been quite a sensory adventure!

Listen. It’s interesting how much we actually do understand when we need to. I recently had my coffee read by a Turkish woman, an apparent expert in such matters. When someone is speaking to you about your life and relative ‘pursuits of happiness’ you listen! And somehow, I understood. I did have a friend with me to translate, in case I completely misunderstood my fate. It was surely an experience. Do I believe what she told me, (or what I think she told me)? That remains to be decided. What I do know is that surely this is the path that is assigned to me. But I did not need a ‘fortune teller’ to confirm that.

Watch. Since I don’t have a TV at home, and that seems to be a great way to learn French, I decided to try the French Cinema. (In my opinion one of the best in the world). My first film in French was Coco Avant Chanel. Thankfully Audrey Tautou is expressive enough to be understood without words! I was deeply moved by the scenes, by what I imagined was taking place, and as soon as the film was finished I read the history to better understand the story of this impressive woman. Was this experience a success? More or less, or less than more, but it was surely an attempt! Ironic that once upon a time I would only watch foreign (mostly French) films and now I am limited to Hollywood blockbusters, another motivation to learn French!

Read. I grew up reading the The New York Times and look forward to the day when I can read the French equivalent. Does it even exist? Meanwhile, whenever I pass a 20 Minutes journal, found in most metro stations, I pick it up, and attempt to read it. This seems to be the best way to learn a language, by understanding the literary construction. If it’s an interesting enough article, preferably about art, travel or the state of affairs in America, I will do my best to decipher this linguistic puzzle. This too is a great way to understand the people and culture, as the written word is taken quite seriously in France. Next on my reading list is Les Enfants Terribles by Jean Cocteau, my first (adult) French book….

Look. I spend a lot of time walking around the city, exploring, reading the signs on streets, in store windows… Everywhere I look I am learning, searching for words in my dictionary. To understand, for example, why the trendy Cambodian restaurant is closed on a Saturday night. ‘Partir voir la neige’ read the sign. Ah yes, the owners have ‘gone to see the snow’. (Only in France!)

Taste. This is surely a great way to learn a language, considering Paris is a gastronomic capital of the world. Taste the menu, to be certain of what you are eating, fearlessly of course. Coupled with a good glass or two of wine the conversation is sure to flow more smoothly!

Speak. As often as possible I express myself in French, rather creatively I might add, to whomever will listen. Simply leaving the house provides many opportunities in which to practice. My conversations with the woman at the local boulangerie are rather limited, as with the friendly man at the vegetable stand (though I am learning a lot about herbs!). I suspect it’s my hairdresser who notices my progress most of all. We almost speak as though we were friends, versus when I first arrived to Paris I would simply point and smile. Most of all I speak at home, with the most patient of teachers who has himself experienced what it feels like to live in a world of misunderstandings.

What great sensory experiences am I missing…

a hidden paradise

Before moving to Paris I could not get enough of the Parisian bistros found on nearly every corner. To sit and imagine my life as a French girl. These days, I no longer need to imagine as I sink further into my mostly blissful reality as an expat in France. I still revel in the cafe culture and often find myself sitting at a cozy cafe with every intention of studying French but much too preoccupied with studying faces and street style of the passersby.

Recently, on my way to such a cafe I discovered a doorway leading into a hidden paradise. A place to hide from the world and that could quite honestly be anywhere in the world (apart from the fact that there are floor to ceiling shelves of used French books lining the walls, a minor detail). This is my new haven. A place of tranquility and refuge in my beloved neighborhood of the Marais. A place to study, meet a friend or make a new one, peruse a French comic book (that’s about my level these days), splurge on coffee and cake, or simply dream. And should you need a new designer shirt, a Liberty mug, a dining table to put it on, or a lightbulb, voila! To the creators of this conceptual one-stop wonderland all I can say is Merci!

Passing the Fiat Cinquecento and stepping into the 3-story loft space that creates Merci, you feel like you are entering someone’s dream, if not your own. In fact, Merci is the realized dream of Marie-France and Bernard Cohen, the founders of the famous children’s clothing line Bonpoint. What makes this store so unique and even more highly venerated is that that all of it’s proceeds are donated to a co-op for young women in Madagascar. Thus, it’s impossible to feel any guilt while shopping! Not to mention that much of the unique, fashion-forward men’s, women’s and children’s clothing has been designed exclusively for this space and cause.

I’m wondering if they would mind if I moved in…

Merci, 111 Boulevard Beaumarchais, Paris 75003

the dream of Honfleur

I grew up listening to my parents tales of journeying around France, during those seemingly endless summer months when they would leave my brother and I in Poland to fend for ourselves. Well, not exactly. We were in good company with a dozen or so cousins and plenty of aunts and uncles who took delight in temporarily parenting the ‘American’ cousins. Summers were spent building houses out of haystacks and learning the difference between the variety of pretty and poisonous mushrooms on our frequent walks in the woods. I’m still not certain whether elfs really do live inside trees? As well as being a gullible child, I was always very curious and knew one day I too would run wild amidst lavender fields in Provence and drink copious amounts of Champagne in where else but the Champagne region. Those dreams have yet to be realized, though I did travel around Luberon during my year of exploring the world. Most recently I lost myself (literally in fact) in the charming village of Honfleur during a romantic weekend escape. I imaged to feel the charm of this intimate coastal town much in the manner that my parents did so many years ago, considering it has not changed for centuries.

Honfleur provides a setting in which to dream, to become lost within the tangle of cobbled streets possessing brightly colored buildings evoking a historic Normandy. Impressionist masters such as Gustave Courbet, Eugene Boudin and Claude Monet found inspiration within this scenery, immortalizing it forever upon the canvas.

Much of our time was spent sitting on the Old Harbour in peaceful observation. Time moves at a slower pace, surely allowing one to waste more of it!? As in most regions of France, you can easily live off of the local produce in Normandy. Had I not already been a gourmand I surely would have become one! We feasted on local oysters, scallops and an assortment of freshly caught fish, each meal ending with a cheese plate, camembert being the regional speciality. Evenings called for a well-aged calvados, necessary for digestion, of course.

It is here where the oldest wooden church stands, Eglise Saint-Catherine, a perfect place in which to seek refuge when caught in a sudden romantic rainstorm.

Before returning to Paris and concluding the dream of Normandy, we stopped at Étretat, known for it’s twin cliffs. This, another scene of inspiration for Monet, a natural splendor rising from sea to sky!

the Normandy sky

Our adventure in Normandy began with a drive along the coast, beneath one of the most dramatic sky that has ever captured my gaze! This tumultuous sky seemed fitting, considering the battles of D-day which took place along the beaches code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. A little history. On the morning of June 6, 1944, an armada of over 6,000 ships and boats hit the northern Normandy beaches and tens of thousands of soldiers from the USA, UK, Canada, etc, stormed onto French soil. These landings, known as ‘Jour J’ in French, were followed by the 76-day Battle of Normandy. The Allies suffered 210,000 casualties, 37,000 troops were killed, as well as a loss of over 14,000 French civilians.

As exhilarating as it was to explore this region of France and gaze into the vastness of the sea and sky, it was an equally intense and thoughtful journey into recent history. I will forever recall the feeling and depth of this sky…

A final moment of calm before the journey continues…to Honfleur!

Life in Paris : Top 10

It is nearly 6 months that I am living a life of love (and miscellaneous other sentiments, depending on the day), in the most romantic city in the world, Paris! Not to mention with the most passionate of men, an Italian. (No offense to all others nationalities of the world, most of which I think very highly of, but I must be partial). 

As any ex-pat who has lived in Paris knows very well, living in a uniquely French culture is no easy task. These days the French are even asking themselves ‘What does it mean to be French?’ Hence, is there even a place for the culturally curious like myself? Being raised by a Polish mother and an American father (a Francophile I might add), I always understood and accepted culture to be a mysterious and stimulating mélange. Having grown up mostly in the USA, a country composed of immigrants, this is what I was taught is acceptable, also considering I never chose to fit in, in the first place. In hindsight, the ‘American Dream’ was never mine. (Hmmm, does a white picket fence exist in the South of France?)

Rather than begin the debate ‘Can an ex-pat ever be considered French’, or a long list of what I miss about my life in NYC (so many simple pleasures filled my 12 years…), versus the many difficulties I face in France, I will focus on what I LOVE about Paris. In an attempt to increase my awareness about this city and to miss home a little less.

My top 10, in no particular order (except for the first one):

1. Paris is for lovers and I am in Love! In NYC too, surely love can be found, but much more difficult to nurture in such a fast-paced city with so much of everything.

2. Eating is an art. Dinner is a daily ritual, an experience to savour, whether dining at home on a Monday night, at a local bistro with friends, or at a highly-rated Brasserie. 

3. The pace of life is S L O W. These days, I rarely walk with the speed of a New Yorker. As soon as the flowers begin to blossom I will take the time to smell them. ALL of them.

4. Living history. Each corner of Paris feels like stepping into the pages of a history book. Simply taking a walk, anywhere, is enchanting.

5. Simple pleasures. You can exist on a decadent (if not so balanced) diet of the finest in bread, cheese, wine and chocolate, at least for the first month. I could go on about the cheese…

6. Art fills the air. The unique and often beautiful graffiti art and murals are a pleasure to admire. Even a shopping trip to Galeries Lafayette proves a cultural experience, with a gallery exhibiting select artists and window displays to match. And the MANY revered galleries lining the left and right banks…

7. The sky. Particularly mesmerizing at dusk. (I can’t recall, was there even a sky in NYC?)

8. Time to be. Mostly due to the highly coveted 35 hour work week. The French value their free time, something I (nor anyone I know) seemed to ever have enough of in NYC. To pursue hobbies, to travel, simply to be. 

9. The Seine. Whether it be a late summer night, wrapped in warm air overlooking the Notre Dame, or a brisk walk across the Pont Neuf in the chill of winter, in the reflection of the Seine I cannot help but to smile and feel grateful.

10. The people I love most in the world will all come to visit. This is Paris after all!

The list is much longer and there remain many more Parisian delights to discover. (Please feel free to add your own.)

What is that famous saying, ‘you can take the girl out of the city…’. I will always be a New Yorker at heart, and I will never quite attain the status of a Parisian. But surely I will enjoy the experience of living in this culturally resplendent city and adding to the richness of my own unique culture.

to love and to be loved

French novelist George Sand once said “There is only one happiness in life — to love and to be loved.” Ah yes, love. This is the reason I am here, living an unexpected and privileged life in the city of lights. Whenever I feel uncertain of my existence upon this earth, (quite often during these cold, gray wintry months), who I am meant to be and what I am meant to do, I look at the smiling eyes beside me and I am quickly reminded of love. My ‘raison d’être’. An inner peace settles in. It is not the places nor the things but the people that provide the foundation of our lives.

Valentine’s Day. Another day to express the uniquely enabling sentiment of love, amour, amore! I have many sweet memories of this day in my life. Most cherished are those impressionable childhood years when my father would send me V-day cards in the mail, making certain I knew how much I was loved. Surely sentimentality (and corniness) are both traits I inherited. Today, my first Saint Valentin in the city where romance thrives and expressions of affection are visible on every street corner. I wonder what exactly is the difference between this day and all the others. Perhaps there is none, when in love.