Hollow in the Middle

Adjusting to France, French Wine, Life in General

We are all mortal until the first kiss and the second glass of wine.”                                                                                                       -Eduardo Galeano

I’m still not exactly sure what possessed me to say yes.

I mean, a wine jury? Sure, I drink a lot of wine and I have some ideas about what varietals I like the most (White Burgundy – HOLLA!) but that is about as far as my expertise goes. What do I know about length and legs and subtleness (I feel like there’s a joke in here somewhere)? The being said, our regional district here in Grenoble asked me to join their yearly wine jury and it seemed like the type of thing that you just don’t say “no” to. Sort of like if a doctor’s office called to offer you a free colonoscopy, you would at least consider it, wouldn’t you? It was as a result of this type of thinking that I found myself walking into an old Abbey on the outskirts of town without a clue what I was supposed to do or what would be expected of me. I mean, I just show up and drink some wine, right…right???

This felt like the very-much-awake version of the naked-in-front-of-the-classroom dream; the atmosphere was akin to the first day of school and I was the new kid, maybe from a Ranch in West Texas, showing up at an inner city school in New York City…okay…maybe that is a stretch, let me simplify this: I did not fit in. Closed groups were chatting in various corners, clearly not interested in making friends or even welcoming a newcomer, and there wasn’t even a table for check-in, presumably because everyone else here already knew each other and what they were supposed to do. Me, on the other hand, not so much.

So, being the intrepid and confident person that I am, I went with my only option, to stand awkwardly in the middle of the room, fiddling with my purse and checking my phone, doing my best to give the pretense of being busy.

Um…I’m not sweating with nerves and anxiety, I swear…why did I wear grey? Worst sweat color ever.

“Bonjour, c’est vous?” Finally, a man approached me, holding up a list and pointing to a name.

“Oui,” I smiled at him with creepy desperation warmly while sending “talk to me” vibes.

“Bon. Merci.” He was looking back down at the list, apparently not picking up on my vibes. “This will be your table,” he said, pointing to the end of the room. “I will be sitting there to help you if you need it.” Then, to my monumental dismay, off he went to talk to the others.

UGH. They already have friends, talk to me! Damn silent pleas for help, not too effective, really.

I sighed. I mean, it was what it was. I had been nervous about agreeing to come to this thing when they first emailed me but my brain had been all: get outside of your comfort zone, this is a once in a lifetime experience to sit on a wine jury in France, don’t be afraid of adventure, you used to be fearless! Stupidly, I listened to it, thinking I should break out of my routine, challenge myself: to be comfortable is to be dead, I told myself…or some such nonsense like that. Clearly, I should pay more attention to those NPR articles I read about the brain not being fully developed until you’re like 35…dumb, immature brain…you know nothing!

Now, here I was, in a room full of unfriendly strangers, feeling foolish, and uncomfortable, and defeated. My attempts at eye contact ignored, and my usual conversational tricks useless…falling flat against the barricade of Frenchness and oneness.

I was “other.”

***

“Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine, so that I may wet my mind and say something clever.”                                                                                                                        -Aristophanes

“Son, does your wife know that you are out with these two foxy ladies?!”

The voice is booming, taking ownership of the room, as does the man accompanying it (who, incidentally, does own the room). Tall, large, with a white beard and a round belly, to my 5 year old self he is like some bizarre Southern Italian-American Santa Claus: bragging, brash, and utterly charming. My sister and I look at each other and smile as my Father steps fully into the restaurant entry hall to greet the man.

“I believe she’d be alright with it, Big John,” my Father says, grinning, one hand on each of our heads to keep us in place.

Big John then leans down in front of us, taking a moment to shake our hands, making us feel special and important…because Big John made everyone feel special and important.

“It’s strange,” he says, a glint of mischief in his eye. “I just – I, well,” he says, scratching his head. “I just thought I noticed something behind your ears, it seems weird. Do you clean behind your ears?”

“Yes sir,” we reply like little soldiers.

“Well, I just don’t know about that,” he says, reaching his two massive hands down behind our heads. “Because look what I found?”

Naturally, because it was always the same, he pulled out two pieces of bubble gum. BUBBLE GUM! This was a rare treat in our childhoods, my Mother favoring carob covered raisins for desserts, not so much candy (yeah, try making trades in the lunchroom with those*).

“What do you say, girls?”

“Thank you!” We trill, pleased as punch with our booty.

“Don’t thank me,” Big John says. “I just found them!”

Then his arm encircles my Father as he walks us to our table and the two of them discuss important matters…wine.

To say that Big John liked wine would be like saying that Albert Einstein enjoyed science…an understatement, at best. Big John was an enthusiast of grape nectar at a time when most Americans were still stuck on liquor and beer. Wine was a passion for him and he was an internationally heralded collector. Twice he broke the world record for buying the most expensive bottles of wine,** and the cellar at his restaurant boasted numbers in the thousands (not to mention a myriad of awards from across the globe). To a child, going into this subterranean world was like entering some other dimension, like something out of a creepy fairy tale, it was huge and cavernous, a little cold and a little dark, in every corner there were rows and rows of bottles, like eyes watching your every move…and perhaps they were, because who can deny the aliveness of wine?

Later, we would move back upstairs and sit at our table, my sister and I excited to have a big-girls night out with Daddy. I would eat my ravioli or spaghetti (really anything with their meat sauce…Memphis people you know of what I speak) and my Father would drink something fabulous…content with the world.

Ten years later, the world would lose Big John and everything would seem just a little bit dimmer, the way it does when a larger-than-life person exits your life. The restaurant would follow not long after. The menu from my Parents’ last dinner with him at the restaurant still hangs in my Father’s wine cellar…a talisman to ward off bad wine?

My Mother says that Big John was an “evangelist” for wine, that he “had found something that increased his joy in life and wanted to share it with others.”

He wanted to share wine.

He wanted to share joy.

Wine is joy, joy is wine.

***

“Sorrow can be alleviated by good sleep, a bath, and a glass of wine.”                                                                                                                                                                   –Thomas Aquinas

The day progressed in the same vein with which it had started. I sat at my table, surrounded by lauded restauranteurs and experienced sommeliers, wondering how I had landed there, knowing that they must have been wondering the same thing. Why had I agreed to come?

Then, magically, the greatest thing happened.

There was a bad wine.

I mean, a really bad wine. The format of our jury was that we would all taste and take notes silently, then compare and discuss. I looked around, wild-eyed, when the leader pointed at me to go first.

Oh god, how on earth can I explain this? What if they all loved it and it just confirms that I have an imbecilic palate and am an imposter?

I took a breath and then shrugged, wrinkling my nose and giving a sheepish chuckle.

“I think it smells like cheese. Maybe I’m crazy, but…”

“OUI! Exactement, c’est fromage! C’est fromage!” The owner of, arguably, the best restaurant in Grenoble was agreeing with me…and laughing as well. Then, suddenly, the whole table was cracking up, smelling the wine…the horrible, disgusting, cheese wine.

A surge of gratefulness for this terrible bottle flowed through me, and I thanked the wine gods.

Then, for some reason, Big John popped into my mind.

Our table ended up awarding a Bronze medal to one of our wines that day, and it still feels pretty cool, knowing that there is a wine out there with a bronze medal on it that I helped to award. Still, I left early that day, just after the voting was done and before the lunch was served. The solidarity the wine had given us at the table seemed to dissipate once we stood up, and I, again, felt myself looking through the window, unable to push through.

“How was it?” MB asked through the cell phone as I walked to the bus stop.

“It was AWFUL,” I told him, feeling whiny and pitiful.

“Really?”

“Well, not entirely. It was just super awkward but I guess I’m glad I did it. If nothing else, it will make for a funny story later.”

Wine is joy, joy is wine.

I sat on the bus bench, going over the morning’s events, shaking my head, content to laugh a bit about it now. Then my mind returned to Big John. How funny that I had thought of him today, I probably hadn’t thought of him in years. Maybe there are some memories that are like little jewels that we keep locked away, only to look at when times are tough and we need to see something beautiful.

…Or maybe Big John is a wine god. I only wonder that the wine smelled of cheese and not bubble gum.

* Yes Mom, I’m super happy that you made me eat healthy, I’m very grateful for it now, just not when I wanted a Dorito and all I had was organic sea salt chips in exchange.

** Those two bottles he then auctioned off to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. To know more about the boundless generosity of this man, you can read his memorial here: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=79955000

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To Be or Not to Be…Why Ask the Question?

Cultural Differences, Holidays in France, Life in General, Travel in France

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.”  -Voltaire

Just last month, my husband (we’ll call him MB) and I were in Paris during the train (SNCF) strikes. During this strike something like 2 out of every 3 trains was cancelled and we arrived at the Paris Gare de Lyon to find that our train back to Grenoble had been one of the unlucky ones. After talking to multiple SNCF staff, it was explained that they could not issue us new tickets as ours were not exchangeable but we could board the next train with our old tickets and we were “sure” to get a seat. My reaction was something like this:

Uh, I’m sorry, what? You are not going to issue another ticket? I’m just supposed to take a chance that what you are suggesting will work out and that we’ll manage to get two randomly free seats in the middle of 3 train’s worth of people trying to board?!?

!!!!!!!!

Oui, apparently that is exactly what we were supposed to do.

So we sat and we waited, having no idea whether or not we would manage to get on the following train that was leaving in 3 hours. As the minutes ticked by, my anxiety grew, I was practically bouncing around with nervous energy. What if we didn’t get on, what was the plan then? Would we stay in Paris for the night? Did I need to start calling friends to try and find a place to crash? Maybe we should just take the hit and purchase brand new tickets? The uncertainty was making me crazy but to my surprise, when I looked around the jam-packed train station, most people seemed pretty zen.

“It’s amazing,” I said. “How is everyone so calm and quiet when no one knows what is going on? In the U.S. people would be flipping out or commiserating with strangers or…flipping out*.”

MB looked around and thought for a second or two. “Maybe we are just more philosophical.”

***

I do not deal well with change.

Now, I don’t mean change as in: “if only women hadn’t gotten the vote” way, but rather: “what do you mean we’re going out to dinner tonight?” When I have organized or arranged something and it changes at the last minute, my brain slams into overdrive, regardless of whether this is a positive change or not.

It goes something like this:

Stage 1: Panic.                                                                                                                                               

OHMEGAWD, what is happening? I’m spinning in circles? Why? I don’t know. It doesn’t matter anyway, there is no rhyme or reason to anything in the world. Apparently, things just happen…(this thought then creates further panic)

Stage 2: Doomsday.

Well, it’s all over. I might as well just sit down. I mean, why do I even try anymore? Nothing will ever work out the way it is supposed to…EVER. Life is just one ironical joke.

Stage 3: Recalibration.                                                                                  

Recalibrating…recalibrating…recalibrating.

Stage 4: Epiphany/denial.

Phew…well, lookie-there, the perfect solution just presented itself. In fact, this option is actually better than the original plan anyway. Things always just fall into place, it’s a good thing I handle situations like this so well. I really keep a cool head and just go with the flow.

All of these stages are wildly verbal and come with gobs of explanations to whomever might be with me when said change occurs (usually MB who is shell-shocked by my range in emotions…never a dull moment with me, right babe?). He, on the other hand, accepts change with calmness and perspective, he becomes quiet and considers things before reacting. While I’m having a melt-down like this:

He is more like this:

Maybe this behavior is based on my need for control (whaaaaaaat…yeah, I’m a little bit of a control freak) but could it also be a cultural difference? Could it be that my French husband handles change better than I do because of philosophical edification?

I mean, don’t get me wrong, I took philosophy at University so I guess I sort of know the basics but not like a French person. The French take philosophy to a whole new level. They have Descartes, Sartre, Camus…and that barely scratches the surface. For centuries they have been churning out one philosopher after another and, perhaps as a result, take the study more seriously.

Not long ago, during a visit from my Parents, MB happened to mention that when he was in high school Philosophy was a required class…required. My Mother (a teacher) erupted into surprised exclamations.

“PHILOSOPHY?!” She demanded.

Philosophy?!” She questioned.

“Philosophy…in high school?” She queried.

MB gave her a Gallic shrug. “Oauis…c’est normale, non?”

Non, my little cabbage, not across the pond.

My experience was that philosophy was encouraged only in higher education but not considered an integral part of one’s academic life**. So, I took my requisite course and was taught about questioning everything….blah blah blah. However, it didn’t really take, my general reaction to philosophy was a sort of mild disgust:

Why ask all these abstract questions? Can’t these people just make a decision already?  I mean, all this dithering around, it’s exhausting! Just CHOOSE something! Yes or no, right or wrong!”

It seemed the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge’s sake was lost on me. I didn’t want to pursue knowledge, I wanted to know.

Absolutes are where my happy place is, which is, perhaps, why change unnerves me so completely. I don’t want a world full of questions and unpredictability. I am the person who checks the weather obsessively, plans detailed trips 6 months in advance, who rarely makes last minute plans or accepts last minute invitations. I like to know what is coming and to be prepared for it.

My philosophy: Why inquire when you can answer?

***

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”

-Camus

When they finally called for our train, MB and I ran towards it and hopped into the car that was listed on our old tickets. However, since the train had changed, so had the seating, and our old seats didn’t exist (cue more panicking)

“This looks good, non?” MB said, pointing at two seats.

I looked around, frantic, trying to think if there was some way to beat the system, to be organized about this, but we were trapped. There were hoards of people getting on and it was only a matter of time before all the seats were gone anyway…so we sat. Every minute felt like an eternity, as one person after another was ejected from randomly found seats, such as ours, by rightful ticket-holders.

“We should have bought the new tickets, we should have just BOUGHT the new tickets.”

My blood-pressure was through the roof. Each new person who entered the train was a threat. Whilst I was internally losing it, MB was unpacking…seemingly certain that we would remain in our seats. How could this be? There was no way of knowing! We didn’t even know what we would do if we got booted off the train, we didn’t know where we would go or how we would get home.

So many questions and no way to have an answer.

I jumped when the doors to the train finally slammed shut, sweet relief flooding through me. It was unbelievable, we were sitting in the only two seats in our entire car that hadn’t been booked by someone else. We had made it…even though there hadn’t been a plan.

And what would have been the major drama if we hadn’t kept our seats? We would have sat in the aisles or by the bathrooms like all the other poor people packed on our train or we would have waited for the next one. As the denial/epiphany stage washed over me, I felt a great sense of calm. Perhaps in future, I should be more contemplative before having a melt-down, perhaps I should embrace the French philosophical perspective instead of going straight into panic-mode. I should start asking questions and searching for the meaning of life, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes in cafés while reading Neitzsche…

Meh. Seems like a lot of trouble.

I may never bother in asking all the questions but perhaps I could manage to follow Camus’ advice and quit searching so hard for the answers. Afterall, there is one great American philosopher whose words I have always valued:

* There were, in fact, people flipping out at the Gare de Lyon but mainly just the ones who were trying to rush onto trains that were leaving, most of the others were pretty chill and calm.

** This was just my educational experience. I know there are people in the USA who study philosophy in high school or more intensively in college.

Sweating in Jeans Town

Cultural Differences, Life in General

Oh.  Okay,” I think to myself as I wave at the friend I am meeting.  “So THAT is what we are wearing.”  I walk across the street, briskly, in my spandex pants, sports bra top, and tennis shoes.

After the obligatory kisses hello, we begin our stroll towards the Bastille.

“Are you going to be able to hike in those,” I ask her, looking at her feet.  She is wearing ballet flats, skinny jeans, a fashionable sweater, and a floral scarf whereas I look like I’m about to rip open a protein pack with my teeth while simultaneously checking my heart rate.

“Ouais….,” she responds with a shrug.  “I was out shopping so I just thought I would meet you from town.”

“Alright,” I say, totally unconvinced as I look up at the Napoleonic Fort we are about to attack.

To be clear, the Bastille is not a particularly long hike, only about 3.5 kilometers one-way but, in that 3.5 kilometers, there is a level difference of 300 meters.  You basically feel like spider man scaling a rocky cliff.*

Now, for me, that means wearing shoes made for athletic performance and sweating, probably within the first 5 minutes of the walk (yes, I am a super-sweater) but my European friends and the French seem un-phased by this (Alien alert).    I often meet friends to walk up the Bastille and never once have any of them had on tennis shoes…never.  Not only that, often, they like to stop along the way, take in the view, smoke a cigarette or two…I mean, WHAT?!  This is exercise, people, not a nature walk or Friday night at the bar – it is a serious business, we are here to sweat, to work, to realize how out of shape we are!

But in France, there seems to be a different idea about things.  Left to his own devices (read: my not nagging him to death), MB would go hiking in leather driving shoes or even flip-flops* while I won’t even go hiking in jeans (sweating in jeans is pretty much the worst thing of all time).  Now, obviously, it’s not as though you won’t see French people dressed in appropriate workout attire, of course, you will but they do not deign to wear it unless they are doing something pretty hardcore.

I remember making a remark to MB once regarding a group of women who we passed on the way up to the Bastille one weekday afternoon.

“I don’t get it,” I said to him.  “I mean, did you see what they were wearing?”

The women were in skirts, hose, and slip-on shoes. “How do you exercise in that?”

“Ouaaaaaaais,” he had responded, between panting breaths.  “But they aren’t really exercising, just taking a walk.”

I looked at him like he was crazy as I wiped sweat out of my eyes.  Weren’t we on the same “walk” as these chicks?  Why did we look like we were in the first stages of a stroke while they waltzed blithely by?  Is there some magical European trick in which you can decide whether or not you will exert yourself regardless of the terrain?

I pondered this as we continued the hike up the mountain, happy that I had on my sports bra and wasn’t sweating into the padding (yeah, it’s like that) of one of my nice Victoria’s Secret ones.   I mean, I can just imagine how this would go down in an American workplace:

Coworker: Hey Mike, where are you going for lunch?

Mike: Actually, I think I’m going to climb that mountain outside the office and have lunch up there.

Coworker: What?  Right now?

Mike shrugs. 

Mike:  Yeah.

Coworker:  But…I don’t…I mean, did you plan to do that?

Mike:  Nah, but it seems like a nice idea.

Coworker:  Mike, you can’t just decide to hike a mountain.

Mike:  Why not?  It’s there, it has a trail.

Coworker:  But…what are you going to wear?  You can’t wear your suit!

Mike:  Oh sure I can, do you want to join me?

Coworker:  No thanks…I’ve got a session at the gym with a personal trainer after work…(then under his breath)…like a normal person.

Mike: Suit yourself!

Mike waves and then leave the room.

Coworker:  Geez, I hope Mike isn’t having some sort of mental breakdown or spiritual crisis…maybe I should call his therapist.

SCENE.

In the meantime at a French office…

Colleague:  Bonjour Michel, you are going to the canteen for lunch today?  They are serving Tartiflette!

Michel: Non, merci, I’m actually on my way to meet a personal trainer for a session.

Colleague:  Ah ouais, pourquoi?  You have an injury or you are training for an event?

Michel:  No, no, just to exercise.

Colleague:  Mais, quoi?  Why is it you need to pay someone to exercise?

Michel:  I don’t know, it is nice and organized.  I have a definite start and finish time, I’ve got the showers and all the equipment, you know.

Colleague:  Bah non, I do not know.  To me, this sounds cree-zee.  You want to exercise, go outside like a normal person! (A French person would not bother saying this under their breath)  You know, Michel, there is a mountain right there!

The Colleague points out the window towards the Bastille and Michel just shrugs.

Michel:  Still, I am off to the gym.

Michel leaves the room.

Colleague:  And he doesn’t even stay for Tartiflette…pfff…incroyable.  He must secretly have a very bad injury and is trying to hide it.  I must discuss this with everyone over lunch in the canteen.

SCENE

***

I look back at my well-dressed friend and sigh, I suppose I will forever be the type to “miss the tartiflette,” ensuring that I am always prepared for any potential physical exertion; and I can’t help but worry that in doing so, perhaps I am losing out on the joys that come with having a spontaneous moment in nature.  I mean, is it really so awful if I sweat a bit in clothing that won’t automatically whisk it away from my skin?  Am I so precious that I can’t get a little grime on my feet or dirt under my bra straps? 

“MERDE!”  My friend shouts and I turn around to see what has happened.

Thick, wet mud is oozing out of her black flat and she is flailing about as the miniature swamp beneath her foot threatens to swallow the shoe entirely.

I answer my own questions: yes.

*In my original post I had a bit in here about rate of incline but I am too moronic at math and had it incorrect so I have removed it…and all references to numbers which is wise because they just confuse me. 

** I am not exaggerating.  I have seen him go on hikes wearing flip-flops.

6 Years and 6 Things

Life in General, Living Abroad, Uncategorized

Recently, the folks over at HiFX contacted me about contributing to their expat tip page which is part of a new campaign they are working on to give expats some helpful and honest advice and it couldn’t have come at a better time since this week marks the 6 year anniversary of when I left the United States.

6 years.  That number still amazes me.

Since then it has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs (mostly ups) in which I have lived in 3 different countries, 2 different hemispheres, had 6 different jobs, met some of my best friends, and stumbled across a French man who became my husband.  As I think about everything that has happened over this time period, I consider all the things I wish someone had told me beforehand, the tips I would have liked to have had.

So, without further ado, here are 6 things (get it?  6 years, 6 things…très cute) that I would have liked to have known beforehand:

#6. Making plans is hilarious.

When I left Washington D.C. and my job and life and friends and family and country…and…(yeah, you get it) for Wellington, New Zealand I repeatedly kept telling everyone that I would be back in one year.  Conversations would go like this:

“Oh my god, I can’t believe you are leaving!  I’m never going to see you again,” said by wailing friend.

“Puh-leeeeese, it is a one year visa, it’s like I’m going on a vacation.  I’ll see you this time next year,” said by over-confident and foolish me who had no idea what I was talking about.

It was 3 years before I even so much as visited D.C. again.

Woody Allen is credited with saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans” and I couldn’t agree more.  Over the past 6 years I have repeatedly announced things that were going to happen, like when I would return to the USA (…there have been multiple timelines for this – sorry Mom), how long I would stay in a particular country (just 1 year in France, right…), what type of work I would have (I will finish my Master’s Degree and get a job in HR…), etc.  Every time I would proclaim a particular plan something would happen to change it (I think the Universe has a perverse sense of humor), often, these changes weren’t bad they just weren’t in line with my original “plan.”

It would have been nice to have been aware of this little joke earlier as I would have been saved many awkward conversations in which I backtracked and had to announce changes to my “plans” (I can’t take the word seriously enough anymore to write it without quotes).  Now I just dodge questions as best I can and try to go with the flow and I suggest that any new expat does the same.  Don’t get too sure about what is going to happen or not going to happen, instead be open and prepared for all sorts of different eventualities.

#5. Be careful about your living situation.

Oh la la la la la la (this should be heard in French accent).  I cannot stress this enough and it applies whether you are 20 years old going for a year overseas or 35 years old and moving for an indeterminate period of time.  THINK before you sign a lease and get into an irreversible living situation.  Listen to your gut if something seems off, consider your finances beforehand, and know what your walking-away point is.

It can be really easy to get desperate about where you will live upon arrival in a new country, there is a need to be settled, and living in a hostel or temporary housing can be the pits.  But you know what is worse?  Living with crazy people people with whom you do not get along or moving into a house you can’t afford or a neighborhood that seemed fine at first but is actually super-inconvenient.  It is not always easy but try to be patient and wait for the right living situation, not merely the simplest…you won’t regret it.

#4. Take good opportunities!  

ARGH.  I still think about a job offer I had in Wellington, NZ – it was perfectly suited for my past experience and would work well to get me where I wanted to go professionally in the future.  It couldn’t have been more perfect…but when they offered it to me (and agreed to give me a visa – yes, I was this idiotic) they said they would need a 2 year commitment…well, I had only been in NZ for a couple of months at that point and I thought, “well, I’m not going to live overseas for 2 years” (see #6 about making plans) so I said I couldn’t do it.  ACK (read: epic stupidity)!

This was 5 ½ years ago and it still plagues me.  Don’t get hung up on timelines because nothing is set in stone.  I could have taken that job and still left after 1 year if I wanted, I mean, it wasn’t a blood oath (…or was it, things get crazy in New Zealand), or I could have ended up staying longer and building something really interesting.  It could have been amazing or it could have been a horrible experience, I will never know, the only thing I do know for certain is that I regret not finding out.

Now, I’m not saying jump at every little thing that comes your way but opportunities don’t come knocking all the time – when they do, take a beat and consider what your end goal is and then maybe say yes to something that seems a little scary.

#3. There will always be something to miss. 

“Being an expat is soooooo amazing, I never think about the past or the future I just live in the moment and I’m never going to be sad about things I don’t have anymore.”

EIH!  Wrong answer.

So being an expat is exciting and full of new things –TRUE – but you are also setting yourself up for some tough times…as my Mother constantly likes to remind me: “you’ve chosen a hard life” (Mom loves a truth gun) and she is right, per usual…so annoying.

You are going to have friends, sometimes best friends, scattered throughout the world and you are going to miss major events in their lives.  You are not going to be able to see your family as much as you might want to.  When you go back home you will miss things and people from your host country, if you stay overseas you will have a pang in your heart for your home and the things that you love there.  No place will ever have it all again and you will be doomed to be that obnoxious person who is constantly making mental comparisons in your head about which place is better (I say “in your head” because if you share these thoughts out loud people will find you super irritating).

This is one of the big tradeoffs that one makes when deciding to embrace the expat life and it is a hard one.

You will also miss certain junk foods.  KRAFT BLUE BOX 4 EVA!

#2. Oh my god, pay attention to your frequent flyer miles. 

There isn’t much to say on this other than the sad fact that MB and I are morons and didn’t rack up our FF miles the way we should have.  If we had been responsible, we could be super special card members with all sorts of lovely perks.  Consider yourself warned, I get irritated every time I think of it.  Le sigh.

#1. You are not ruining your life. 

When I left the USA there were a lot of people who thought I was nuts (don’t try to deny it – I saw your faces).

What people said:

“Ohhhhhhh muh-gawd, that is totes amazing, I sooooooo wish I was brave enough to do that.  You’re like, an inspiration.  It is going to be ree-diculous.  I can’t wait to hear all about it.

What people thought:

“Um right…brave my arse, she has lost her dang mind.  She is walking away from her job, her life, everything.  She is 27 years old not 19, when she comes back she will have to start from nothing.  This is an EPIC mistake.”

I get it, I was pretty freaked out about what I was doing as well.  Leaving a decent career (even if I wasn’t suited for it) and an established life was scary and there were a lot of nights before and even after the move that I was afraid I was destroying my future…but I didn’t.

It can be really easy to get sucked into societal pressures, parental pressures, and even pressure from friends about how you should be living your life and what timeline you should be on.  Don’t worry about it – if I had listened to everyone else (including my internal voice of reason) I wouldn’t be married to an amazing man, living in France and following my love of writing.

Be confident about your choices and chase them with intelligence and hard-work, don’t let the naysayers (internal or external) pull you from your path.  (Insert appropriate “Robert Frost, life is a journey, two roads, blah blah blah” quote here)

*While this post is directed at expats, I think that it applies to life in general no matter where you might find yourself living…especially the part about frequent flyer miles, keep up with that stuff, people! 

My Dirty Little Secret

Adjusting to France, Life in General, Living Abroad

“I HATE EVERYTHING – nothing is ever just easy,” I am stomping around the house in full tempter-tantrum – Scarlett-style.

MB looks at me silently with no reaction (he has learned to let me just wear myself out…much like one might do with a 3 year old).

He sighs as I continue to slam around being disagreeable.  Could I be enjoying this?!  NO!  Of course not…

“I went to Picard…NOTHING.  Then I tried the Petit Casino – you know, the one that always has them and they didn’t have anything either,” I wail.

“Well,” he says tentatively.  “Maybe at Carrefour?”

“NO,” I say loudly, for some reason feeling satisfied to crush his possible solution.  “I have never seen them there, they don’t carry them at all*!”

MB looks at me, “I could call the stores,” he suggests.

“I guess,” I say, sulkily.  “I don’t know what good it will do, even if we find them we will have to take a tram to go and get them.”  I’m not ready to be mollified yet.  “GAWD!  I just wanted to make crawfish etouffee – I bought all the other ingredients and stupidly took for granted that I would be able to find the crawfish at the stores.”  I’m ranting again and flailing about with drama.  “But NOOOOOOOOOO…I mean, why would a store stock the same merchandise every time?  That would be too easy and convenient for the customers and your country HATES easy and convenient!”

MB retreats into the bedroom with the telephone to call the stores and I am left feeling…meeeeeeeeeeeh…a little ashamed of myself.  I don’t mean to pull out the “country card” but it is certainly the quickest thing to revert to when I’m feeling frustrated.  These are not proud moments

***

“My, my,” My Mother says into the phone.  “You are really living the life, aren’t you?”

I have just finished telling her about our weekend jaunt over to Munich.  There was all-you-can-eat schnitzel and fairy castles, what more could a person ask for?

“I sure hope you are appreciating it,” she continues.

I smile and roll my eyes at the same time (this is the reaction to a special mixed emotion that only my Mother can summon forth – it is simultaneous irritation and amusement).

“I know, Mom,” I reply.  “I do!”

“Well,” she continues.  “I sure hope so…”

I’m waiting for it.  I know what is coming next.

“Because…”

Queue ominous and foreboding thunderclap. MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!  Feeling scared yet?

She goes on, “Your life will not always be like this.”

I sigh into the telephone, unsure of exactly what my response should be.  Do I say, “thanks for letting me know” or “I appreciate the warning?”  Do I pretend that I am still fourteen years old and say, “GAH MOM, you’re such a downer!”  OR do I tell her the truth?

The expat life is great.  I am living in Europe for the first time and enjoying traveling around and seeing all the sights, I have an amazing French husband, and I get to write all day long (sometimes this is awesome and sometimes this feels like I have sentenced myself to a lifelong homework assignment).  I mean, it’s pretty much a Meg Ryan movie over here without all the neurosis (and bad plastic surgery…why Meg, why?).

…Except when it isn’t.

I regularly think about how much I am enjoying my time here and all the cool experiences I am getting to  eat have but sometimes…I hate it.  (EEEK!  I’ve done it now – I’m just waiting for the black helicopters to start circling.) 

Alright, alright, calm down – I don’t hate France, that isn’t it, it’s just that some days I hate being an expat and France gets caught in the crossfire, a convenient thing to blame for a bad day.  The only thing that people hear about is that I get to go to Munich or Italy for a weekend – it sounds so romantic and exciting to have all these European countries at one’s fingertips…and it is.  What they don’t know about is how when I need to get crawfish for a dish I want to make and can’t find it after spending two hours walking around to different stores that I have to wait for my husband to come home and call every supermarket chain in the city because I can’t just do it myself.  I mean, sure, I can speak French but try asking a complicated question over-the-phone with grocery store level customer service (read: no customer service) in a second language…I dare you.   Or how if I want to go and see a movie I have to search to try to find one that hasn’t been dubbed or how if I want to run a quick errand it is impossible because I either a) spend ages looking for parking or b) take public transportation as opposed to the glorious, glorious parking lots of my hometown.  OR how when I am sad or having a bad day I can’t just pick up the phone and call home because it is probably 3 o’clock in the morning.  It can be lonely and it can be alienating, everyday tasks and chores are more complicated and things that are normally really easy aren’t anymore.

Okay, okay so I can hear you rolling your eyes at me and I get it – I’m not this bratty all the time and I know it’s still a pretty sweet deal when you get to travel and learn about a new culture, I realize that my life isn’t hard; but bad days happen everywhere…even in the middle of a romance novel setting.  And while there are certainly some pretty sweet perks to being an expat, it isn’t all roses all the time…usually you will love every minute of it but some days you will have disgraceful temper tantrums about groceries and wish the time zones were the same so you could call your best friend (who, by best friend contract has to agree that you are being completely rational) and tell her about it.

So, the old adage rings true: I should listen to my Mother and remember that my life won’t always be like this.  Some days that idea makes me sad and other days…well, other days it seems alright with me.

 

*Carrefour does actually carry crawfish occasionally but it is in very small, expensive packages and not worth the effort.  Just wanted to clarify so that people didn’t think I was maligning the glorious Carrefour!!! 

When You Have Paris

Holidays in France, Life in General, Living Abroad, Travel in France

There is never any ending to Paris and the memory of each person who has lived in it differs from that of any other. We always returned to it no matter who we were or how it was changed or with what difficulties, or ease, it could be reached. Paris was always worth it and you received return for whatever you brought to it. But this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.
Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

There are some cities that work on you like a potion (I was going to say like drugs but potion sounds so much prettier – even Lewis Carroll knew that).  I find my energy and attitude changes depending on these types of towns.  In New York, my god, I can’t help it I just feel COOL.  All the time, the whole time, no matter how un-cool what I am doing is…like riding the elevator to the top of the Empire State building…the city just infuses me with a sense of coolness.  In New Orleans, I feel zany, almost child-like, always ready to have a party, someone who doesn’t just stop to smell the roses but stops, smells them and then buys them a drink (who knew roses were so boozy?).  Wellington, NZ makes me feel like a hip adventurer: “Go swimming in Orca infested waters that are near arctic temperatures, you say?   Pfff…that’s just a Tuesday.”  In Sydney, I feel sophisticated and laid-back all at once…and for some reason, more attractive – must be something to do with being surrounded by surfers.  The point is, all these cities have big personalities, the type of personalities that can impart themselves upon you when you visit and bring out some inner part of your being, they affect you when you are there walking the streets and taking in the views.  They can shift your perspective and, in turn, your sense of self.

There is something quite delicious and exciting about this shift that occurs when you travel and I think it is a reason that we gravitate towards, and love, certain cities – it isn’t necessarily for the cities themselves but, instead, what happens to us when we are in them.

I remember, very distinctly, the first time I was in Paris alone.

MB and I were there for a long weekend and he went in to work that morning.  I, a new resident of France and of speaking French, got myself up and put myself together…more carefully put together than usual because Paris can do that to you, make you feel as though you should dress for her.  I slowly made my way down the stairs of our hotel and out into the crisp autumn air, my map carefully concealed, for whoever wants to be a tourist?

I turned right and then left, unsure of which way was best to make my way down the Seine towards the Louvre.  Unwilling to consult the dreaded carte, I turned left and soon realized that it made scant difference which direction I went as I could always cross over at some ridiculously gorgeous bridge or other in order to turn around.  I pulled my iPod out of my purse and switched it on, strolling slowly as Billie Holiday crooned in my ear.  Occasionally, I would stop and look at the posters and books displayed on the green stalls lining the sidewalk, sometimes I paused to lean onto the concrete barrier and take in a view…blue sky mixed with some piece of a man’s soul that had been carved into a thing so beautiful that it made my heart hurt.  At one point, I popped into a café and had a tea, sitting in my chair facing the street…allowing myself a moment to be an observer, no longer a participant, of the world.

It all felt desperately romantic.  And I, more romantic for being there.  I found myself reminiscing about things I hadn’t thought about in years, happy things, sad things, sweet moments of my life that tend to remain forgotten and dormant under layers of practicality and daily doings.  I felt as though my soul was sighing contentedly…I wasn’t stopping to smell the roses, I was the roses.

Later that evening, I met with MB and we sat at a café and shared a bottle of wine.

“How was your day,” he asked.  “I hope it was okay on your own.”

I took a sip of wine, wondering how to explain what I had felt like that afternoon.  “It was fine,” I say, pausing, searching for more words.  I find that none will come so I say the only thing I can think of.

“It was Paris.”

I love this little movie; it fully realizes my Paris.  If you would like to see more of these lovely films check out: http://oliveus.tv/   They are all deliciously charming!

Nerding Out with Time Travel

Life in General, Living Abroad, Travel in France

 

 “Um…dude, this is awesome.  That is a wolf over there!  All of these buildings are so old

A typical campsite at the festival...

A typical campsite at the festival…

and I love all the campsites – is that chick making lace?!  Someone over there is spinning wool?!  WHAAAA?!!  Man, people are super into it.  I’m so glad, I didn’t want to feel like a geek in my outfit.  HA – like that is possible!  This outfit is so fly – yeah, that’s right, I used the word “fly.”  I feel very secure in all these layers and the whole lacing situation sort of makes me feel seat-belted in, you know?  Why don’t we dress like this now?  Whose bright idea was it to lose layers of skirts and lace up bodices in favor of skinny jeans and crop tops?  I mean, who can pull that off?  Other than creepy-thin people who make me want to force feed them, I’m looking at you Keira Knightly.  Ridiculous…but I digress.  Ooooh, there is a musical performance over there and some hypocras to drink.  I think I will just swish my skirts on over in that direction…tee hee…swish my skirts.  I’ll just reach into my 16th century fanny pack here to find the money for my medieval drink…rad.”

“Hey, where are you going?”

I am pulled out of my internal dialogue by MB.

“I was going to go and get some hypocras and watch the performance.”

“Okay,” he says, “but maybe we go home after, yes?  Aren’t you tired?”  We had been walking around for hours at this point and, if I am going to be honest, my bodice was starting to dig into my hips a bit…maybe I do get why clothing changed.  Instead of admitting this, I give him a look like he is nuts.

I was not lying...really, a sword.

I was not lying…really, a sword.

“Babe,” I say seriously.  “There is a sword on her head…A SWORD.”

He looks over at the group that is performing and the belly dancer who is dancing with a sword on her head and laughs.  “Okay, okay, we will stay for one more.”

“Heck yeah,” I say, skipping off merrily to fetch our drinks.  We stayed out for another two hours.

***

So…a couple of things.

1)      I am not cool which I’m sure comes as a huge surprise to you all, gentle readers, but there it is – I’m actually a huge nerd (“well duh, like we didn’t know that already, I mean, didn’t she just make a Miss Manners reference?”). 

2)      We don’t get to do stuff like this in the United States.

For MB, going to the Medieval Festival (actually it is really Renaissance time period…see?  nerd) in Le Puy en Velay is normal.  He has done it many times with his family and beyond that has spent his entire life surrounded with opportunities to go to various historical festivals in historical villages (ahem…Carcassonne).  For me, on the other hand, this was a totally wacky and new experience.  I’ve lived in the United States, New Zealand, and Australia; in all of these countries people get excited if something is 150 years old – Europe is on an entirely different historical plane.  Wandering around in an historical costume from 500 years ago has a different feel when you are in a town that was already well established at the time.

“There is the chapel of Saint Michel D Aiguilhe,” MB points up to one of the volcanic chimneys in the distance.

“Oh yeah,” I say, looking towards it.  I’ve been to Le Puy before but for some reason I feel like I am seeing it all through new eyes…clearly something to do with the bodice and blood flow to the brain.

“It was built in the 960’s,” he continues.

I stare, dumbfounded, as a thought occurs to me.

“So, we are impersonating people from the 16th century, right?”

“Ouais…” MB responds.

“So when they were alive, that chapel was already 600 years old!  Just think of that.”

He takes a beat before responding.  “Pfff…yeah,” and there is a touch of wonder in his voice, too.  “It’s crazy.”

There is something magical about taking a moment and realizing all the people and time and events that came before you, to really stop and think about it.  That those who seem so far removed from us had a history that we can barely even touch upon – and yet, we share with them blood, DNA, genetic code.  Maybe it is because of this that we have the desire, to reach out and touch them, to connect with them…to remember some old part of ourselves, long forgotten.

As a child I would imagine myself into the past often, I would head west as a pioneer (we’ll blame Oregon Trail game** for this) or run through the Tennessee hills as a young Cherokee girl, knowing ancient and powerful secrets. I was constantly thinking myself into history, so curious with wonder about those lives that preceded me, so fervent with the desire to fill the questioning void inside me.

These days I am less prone to frolicking around in my made-up lands, there are too many other things to worry about and, usually, I see the world just as it actually is, hushing the questions away.  Most of us don’t have time to stop and imagine for long stretches, to think about all that came before…but sometimes, sometimes, we get to stand on an 11th century bridge in France, wearing 16th century dress, and stare up at a chapel built in the 900’s…hypocras on our breath and medieval drums in the distance…and perhaps, in those moments, we are more truly whole than ever.

Lisa's pic

 

* In case you are unfamiliar with Oregon Trail – the best game of all time:  http://classicgaming.gamespy.com/View.php?view=GameMuseum.Detail&id=266

** Here is a video of the inside of the Chapel in the photo 

  (p.s. please note the woman at 2:28 with the bottle of wine…nice, France, nice.)

Wordy Actions

Life in General, Uncategorized

“Stop it,” I snap out testily.

“Quoi,” MB is trying to be innocent but is laughing so hard that he can barely get his one word response out.

“I see what you’re doing,” I say, waving my finger at him.  He mimics the gesture back at me with exaggeration, totally cracking himself up.

“What am I doing,” he asks, flailing his arms about wildly.

I press my lips together in a tight line and sigh loudly while looking plaintively at our friends.

“You see what I have to put up with,” I ask them, while outlining his form with my hands.  My life is very hard and wearisome.

“I’m just trying to learn your language,” he responds, grinning, while creating even more gestures.

I turn back to our friends and give a “voila!” type hand wave towards MB’s direction.

He just starts laughing even harder.

***

So yes, there is it, I will admit it, I am a hand-talker*.  It is virtually impossible for me to carry on a conversation without accompanying gestures to bring emphasis to what I am saying (in fact, I am gesturing in my mind right now as I type this…yes, that is so possible).  I just get so excited when I talk about things that the words themselves just don’t seem like enough.  Anyway, everyone loves a pantomime, right?  RIGHT?!

Well, Jerry Lewis does at any rate.

MB loves to tease me about this and makes jokes about how he needs to translate my language but here’s the deal, at the end of the day, he already knows it.

The importance of spoken language cannot be debated; it is crucial to basic communication and one’s ability to ask for what they want or to communicate complicated information.

For instance, years ago on a trip to China I watched a friend try to order a soft-serve ice-cream at a fast-food restaurant (yes, yes, FINE, we were at a KFC in China…it had been a long trip, we just wanted something that tasted like home.  Don’t worry, we were punished for being such philistines about an hour or so after the fated meal).  My friend did not speak or read any Chinese and walked up to the counter as the rest of us watched from our seats.  We had all taken the easy meal deal that was photographed so that we could just point to it but she was determined…soft-serve ice-cream happiness would be hers!

As she stood at the counter, we watched, both amused and horrified (mainly amused, we may not have been the nicest group ever), as she brought her fisted hand to her mouth and made several circular motions before making continued in and out movements.

I’m not sure if I’ve described this correctly but just think about it for a moment…

“Ehrmergerd!  She totally just made a super inappropriate sexual gesture…soft-serve ice-cream has never been so dirty!”

We were practically falling out of our chairs as the cashiers did their best to stifle their laughter and procure her pornographic ice-cream.  This was a situation where more of the spoken language, as opposed to gesturing, would have come in handy, I mean, no one wants to go Jenna Jameson in a KFC.

However, I have also noticed over the years that there are a variety of situations in which spoken language isn’t necessary.

It is possible to communicate emotions with nothing more than our facial features and commonness as human beings (um…except maybe like the Iceman).  Regardless of culture or language there are some things that are just funny or just sad.  We’ve all shared laughs with strangers over something that we both watched happen and I have often had an encouraging smile from someone across a room on a tough day.  How does that person know that I am sad?  I haven’t said anything, I haven’t spoken to them but they inherently understand something that I am communicating and, perhaps more incredibly, are able to communicate back to me in total silence.

Excitement can be shared without speaking as well.  I remember watching, amused as my Father and MB’s Uncle, neither of whom spoke the other’s language, shared an animated discussion about the wines they were drinking.  I mean, how is it possible to have an in-depth discussion about palette and wine quality while speaking in two completely different languages?  Somehow, it is.

As humans, we have been given a unique style of communication**, one that allows us to communicate and share the strongest and most important information…happiness, sadness, joy…whether we share a spoken language or not.  It is an inherent gift that we have been given so that, even in a strange land, we need never be truly alone.

***

“Oh please,” I say to MB.  “You do it too, we all do it!”

MB grabs his chest in protest, “I do not, I hardly use my hands at all when I speak.”

I give him a rather drole facial expression, scanning the use of his hand against his chest.  He drops it quickly before beginning to explain how he doesn’t really use his hands to express himself.

My friends and I exchange looks, a silent joke shared, regarding his hand movements as he speaks.

I guess actions truly can speak louder than words.

*It is a trait that I come by honestly, as my Mother is, perhaps, the most epic hand-gesturer ever to be born outside of Italy.  You could potentially create an entire dictionary from her gestures. 

** So unique, in fact, that dogs have actually evolved in order to understand it.  If you are a dog lover and haven’t seen this Nova documentary, check it out: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/nature/dogs-decoded.html

*** P.S. Pop on over to Bread is Pain Food and check out the latest post…unless you don’t like fried mozzarella (read: hate joy).

For the Love of Food

Adjusting to France, Life in General, Uncategorized

“Look what I have!!!!!!!!!”  I come bouncing into the kitchen with my grocery sacks.

MB turns around to see what I have brought him, no doubt expecting cheese or a spreadable meat or, at the very least, some sort of internal organ like gesiers.  He looks very excited, anticipating whatever delightful thing I have found at the store.  We are food people – food makes us happy.

“BAM,” I say with satisfaction as I hold out the small white paper package.

MB deflates.

“What is this?” He takes the package from me and looks at it, confused and slightly disgusted.  “I don’t understand, is this fish flavored crackers?”  He makes a face.

I laugh…silly Frenchman.  “No, they are goldfish crackers.  They have different flavors, like cheese or pizza, or sometimes they can come as pretzel goldfish.”

He seems comforted to know they are not fish flavored but still confused.  “But then, why are they shaped like fish?”

“What?”

“Why they are shaped like fish if they don’t taste like fish?”

I ponder this for a moment.  “I don’t know, they just—UGH—I’m not sharing any!”  I snatch the package back from him in a huff…he has ruined my goldfish cracker moment by pointing out that it is totally bizarre that they even exist.

“No, I’m sorry,” he begins.  “I want to try them!”  He seems desperate now that he realizes he may be about to miss something incredible (like the Kraft Mac and Cheese experience…I will always regret letting him try it since now I always have to share).

“We’ll see,” I say with a smile, clutching them to my chest.  “This is the first time I’ve ever found them here!”

***

Okay, now let me be clear, I am not obsessed with goldfish crackers or anything.  I mean, I like them, they are a tasty treat but it’s not like my favorite cracker of all time (that would be Triscuits…obviously, is there even another option?), but there is something thrilling about finding a home product when you are overseas.  It’s like getting a high five from your native land.

“What’s up, USA – appreciate the shout-out!”

“Word,” responds USA, slapping my palm. 

(This is how USA and I talk.)

When you are expat, you will get excited even about home products that you aren’t really into.  For instance, I don’t like Dr. Pepper (or any soft drinks actually) but it still makes me happy when I see it and I will tell every American expat about where I found it. Another example is the friend of mine who left an exuberant post on Facebook about finding cottage cheese.  That’s right, you just read the word “exuberant” in reference to cottage cheese.  I was so stoked that I ran right out to the store she mentioned and then called her in a panic when I couldn’t find it.

“What does it look like,” I demand into the telephone.  “I’m standing with the cheeses.”

“It’s green,” she says, “It’s Jockey brand.  It is with the yogurts.”

“The YOGURTS,” dread creeps over me.  “I’ll never find it on the yogurt aisle!”  The yogurt aisle in France is epic (salty dogs chocolate frogs).

After a few minutes of her talking me through it I find the outrageously priced cottage cheese and feel a surge of energy course through me.  “Victory is mine!  Cottage Cheese for dinner tonight, muhahahahahaha!”

I have never before or since had quite such an emotional reaction to cottage cheese.

But I have had many emotional reactions to food before.   During our honeymoon in Italy, I remember sitting at a particularly fantastic meal and telling MB that the food made me feel even more in love with him…and it was the truth.  There was some portal of emotion inside of me that the meal opened up, just as tasting an old recipe of your Grandmother’s might bring a tear to your eye or how the first bite of something deliciously sinful can make you grin (or moan if you are that type…you know who you are, you sexy food-moaners).  And it doesn’t have to just be in the eating, I love cooking for people as well, taking the time and effort to put together a creative and delicious meal to share with friends around the table is one of the great joys in life.

I know there are the “fuel for the body” people but I will just never understand that.  In fact, I remember the first time someone told me that food was just fuel for the body…I never invited them to dinner again.  Why would I want to share a meal with someone who doesn’t appreciate the beauty, the majesty, and the soul’s connection with food?

Food, whether it is typical grocery store fare that allows you to time-travel to your childhood or a 5 star meal that makes your senses dance – is emotion.

***

And so, with that being said, starting next week I will be rolling out the Bread is Pain Food blog sharing some of my favorite recipes and dinner party ideas.  Everything from the simplest party dip to the menu for a 7 course dinners.  I hope you will come and check it out!

Here is a clip from the penultimate food movie: “Babette’s Feast” (in a close 2nd is “Like Water for Chocolate”). It is a long clip but perfectly elucidates the “fuel for the body” people vs. the “food is emotion” people. Enjoy!

Paris Tara

Life in General, Living Abroad, Travel in France

I love Paris, I really do.  It is fabulous to visit – so many different neighborhoods to wander through, so much to do, amazing museums, exceptional restaurants, history and art at every corner.  Every time that we go for a weekend I discover some new part of town that I’ve never been to before; I will never tire of it…of visiting it.

But what do you mean, visit it?  Why wouldn’t you want to live there?”

“Yeah, I don’t get it, why don’t you live in Paris?”

“I mean, when you moved to France, how come you didn’t choose to live in Paris?”

“Where would you live beside Paris?  Wait a minute, are you saying that there are other cities in France besides PARIS?”

“PARIS…PARIS…paris…PARIS!”

The way non-Frenchies (meh…and sometimes Parisians…you know who you are) talk about Paris kind of reminds me of the final scene in “Gone with the Wind” – check out this clip at about the 1 minute mark:

(SERIOUS SPOILER ALERT: If you have never seen “Gone with the Wind” this completely gives away the ending…also, if you have never seen “Gone with the Wind”, slap yourself and go rent buy this film immediately.)

 

Foreigners are obsessed with Paris; I mean, how many books, films, articles are written about the glories of living the expat life in Paris?  It’s as though if a foreigner comes to France they must be doing so in order to find themselves (“Um…their true self”, she says while straightening her Lisa Loeb glasses and sipping an organic chai tea) in the quirky, intellectual, and artistic world of Paris.  I mean, come on, Hemingway and Fitzgerald (both super happy guys, right?) did it and then Woody Allen made a movie about it and how he desperately wanted to do it so there must be something to it, no?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to bash on Paris or on the inspiration provided by that fair city.  I mean, hell, I buy it, man – Paris is dead sexy, wildly provocative, and classically romantic all at the same time…a combination which packs quite a punch.

I remember my first visit there; I went out by myself in the afternoon.  I dressed in skinny jeans and ballet flats with a loose tank top and a blazer thrown over my shoulder, I hardly wore any make-up and let my hair stayed tousled and messy.  As I stepped out of my hotel, I flipped my Ipod on and listened to Billie Holiday while walking along the Seine, I took myself to the Louvre, I got an ice-cream cone (Berthillon…obviously) and watched the boats float by while pontificating about life…it was all very Truffaut-esque.  Paris made me feel different; that is a power that Paris invariably has…especially for foreigners.

I’m just saying – there is more to France than Paris.

“OHMAGOD, what did she just say?”

“She does NOT know what she is talking about.”

“I don’t even…I’m just…PARIS!”

For instance, Paris: NOT the gastronomic center of France.

*GASP OF HORROR*

Paris is excellent for getting a taste of a lot of different types of French cuisine in one place and the classic French bistro is undoubtedly Parisian but Lyon is actually the major gastronomic city of France and areas like Burgundy, Normandy, Perigord, Provence, and the Southwest (just to name a few) all have their own regional cuisines.  Foie gras, escargot, brie, camembert?  None of these things are produced in Paris.  Boeuf bourginon, coq au vin, cassoulet?  Not Parisian dishes.  And don’t even get me started on wine.  Why buy the wine for 3 times as much at a restaurant in Paris without even tasting it when you can buy it for 3 times as much at the vineyard in Burgundy AFTER having a few sips?

The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and Versailles are super cool (hall of mirrors – what what!) but so are the Chateau’s of Loire, the Roman ruins in Provence, and the various medieval castles you see from the highway during a road-trip.

I guess my point is that Paris is cool but France is even cooler.  It is a virtual wonderland of food, wine, and history and Paris is a part of that…not all of it.

So go to Paris, don your sunglasses and walk around, maybe get a coffee and smoke a cigarette…even if you don’t smoke.  Wear attractive shoes even though you know you will be walking all day, never hurry, and think serious and deep thoughts… let yourself be enveloped by the city, by its contradictory combination of sensuousness and utter coolness…then get out of there and go see France.