28 April, 2011

Kickball and Catholics

Yes, I will admit it – there have not been enough blogs this month. But please do allow me an excuse. I have been spending even more time on writing my book – the purpose of this move, as you know. And of course I have been very busy simply living a fabulous Paris existence.

Yesterday I played kickball with a group of Americans and Brits. After having taken the Metro to the outskirts of Paris we walked 20 minutes to a large field of overgrown grass in the center of a massive park. Before divvying up the teams we sat down to enjoy a picnic. The 50 members of the group broke into smaller sub-groups like one may see in a high school cafeteria to enjoy lunch. Each picnicker contributed something different: brique cheese, crackers, pasta with crabmeat, homemade tartines, chocolate crisps and wine of course.

Finally managing to get motivated we formed teams and began the game.
The Brits required the Americans help, this game being literally foreign to them. They caught on quickly to this version of America’s pass time. After an hour of rowdy play we ended our game. 11-6, my team won! This thrills me and satisfies my intensely competitive nature.

Then, out of nowhere we heard thunder and the clouds closed in. Thanking the unpredictable weather of Paris for allowing us sunshine for the game we packed up the empty Tupperware, half eaten blocks of cheese, wine bottles and beer cans. I made it to the Metro just before the clouds gave way to the rain.

Leaving the metro back in the city the ground was dry and the sky clear, the rain having missed my part of Paris. I marched upstairs, forfeiting the luxury of the elevator, then settled in for a relaxing night. I am reminded I have to water my seeds.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I do not, by any stretch of the imagination, have a green thumb. But a perfect Parisian terrace like mine deserves some foliage. I had enlisted help from my Thad during his visit last week and together we planted seeds of Thyme, Rosemary, and Sage. I figure they aren’t alive yet so I can’t kill them. But I must remember to water the seeds if I want them to grow. A seemingly simply task one would think. Not for me. I needed a way to remember. So I made a deal with myself that I would think to check on the seeds when I miss him. This seems to be working so far as I already see a few green buds popping through the soil.

Now I just hope I don’t OVER water them.

Last Sunday was my first Easter Sunday in Paris. Upon my father’s request and my desire I attended, sort of, the Easter Sunday mass at Cathedral Notre Dame. The line to attend the mass resembled a ticket line for a Broadway show instead of a religious ceremony. The hopeful worshipers wore their Sunday best in the line that wrapped around the watchful eyes of the gargoyles on the spires above. I found it so strange that during the 45 minutes I stood in line I heard not one person speaking French while waiting to attend the French service. The parishioners must tire of the tourists invading their space of worship. It is a house of God turned into a tourist attraction. I justify my presence however by the fact I am a Paris resident.

After the long wait the long line starts to move, slowly at first then at a rapid almost sprinting pace. Suddenly the Broadway like queue has become a pushy rushed entrance to a rock concert. Wow, people really wanted in. Bodies pushed against bodies, shoving each other even. God must either be thrilled at this turnout of eager Christians and their determination to attend the mass or terribly disappointed that they have come to observe it as an attraction rather than a way to hear his word. I am guilty of both on this day.

Once inside I see what all the fuss is about. It is majestic, the choir rejoices and their sound fills every corner of the chiseled stones. In the center of the Cathedral the pews are filled with those who were in the front of the line while others stand in the aisles. But the periphery, where it is difficult to see the Priest even on the many televisions set up intermittently, is bustling like a farmers market. There are hushed voices and cameras flashing. I will admit I was a bit ashamed to be standing amongst the chatty edges of the service. It, to me, seems disrespectful and downright rude to chat whilst a service is in progress. Maybe that is just the Presbyterian upbringing in me.

I had to squint my eyes to the bright sun upon exiting the most frenetic service of my life. I then went to treat myself to an Easter croque monsieur which, incidentally, turned out to be the best one I have had since moving here. It was a perfect Easter meal if I must miss out on Lox, Stock and Bagel, which my family would no doubt be enjoying 9 hours from then after their church service.

Leaving you now with the promise that the busy few days ahead of me will be shared with you in a blog early next week.

17 April, 2011

Les Visiteurs

It wasn’t a week of solitude. It wasn’t a week of Erin strolling alone through this city of hers. It was a week of pride in showing some of my favorite people the place I have learned to call home.

The post winter sunny days finally arrived and along with it my friend Alysha and her husband Josh. Straight off of the chunnel from London, where they had spent their first week overseas, they walked towards me, big backpacks in tow looking like any of the other pseudo backpackers in the crowded halls of Gare de Nord, the train station. The first sight of one of my oldest friends brought a smile to my face and quickened the pace of my steps. I threw my arms around her and squeezed overjoyed with the knowledge that a little bit ofback home” had found me here.

They would be staying with me for 3 nights and 4 days filling my home with extra bags that made it feel like Thanksgiving time with my family: people everywhere, activity, laughter, joy. It was absolutely calming to have their presence fill these walls. I had planned for a few days of sightseeing – or rather showing them the “sites” I thought worthy of seeing, the sites that only an insider can provide. We walked the chaotic streets of Les Halles, I with pride, they with wide-eyed wonder. I pointed out places I have come to know and tidbits I have learned: the old brown beams you see on the ceiling is a dead give away of the age of the place, that cathedral has the most beautiful organ music at their Sunday service, this is the smallest of the two islands in Paris and one of the most expensive places to live.

One mid morning wake up we showered methodically as we had the previous two days making room for each other as we passed by the narrow hall between the bathroom and the kitchen. We prepared to go for a picnic at the base of the Eiffel Tower, a must in my humble opinion especially in the perfect 25 degree c weather we were experiencing. Strolling the streets of Paris we picked up quiche, fruits and pain au chocolat from the farmers market we stumbled uponAlysha being splashed with fish guts from the haphazard fisherman cleaning up his booth. She swore involuntarily in French. We laughed.

Finding the ideal shade vs. sun locale we positioned ourselves among the versatile mix of Parisians and tourists at the foot of the looming magnificence of the metal tower, which causes gasps upon first sight. Cool grass, fresh bananas, a tall can of 1664 (my favorite beer), and a deck of cards. We had it all, including the view that is almost easy to forget about if it weren’t for the hundreds of bodies stopping to snap shots at every step. It was lovely.

Walking back home I got the sense that perhaps my guests were not as in love with my city as I – rightfully so, how on earth could anyone love it as much as I do? I started to get a sort of protective feeling like one may have if someone insulted your sister. Sure she (I mean she as Paris not my amazing sister) is a bit littered. Sure the 3 dozen steps into the metro smell of rotting urine. Sure you may witness a pickpocket or random hookers on the street. But she is, to me, heaven even in all of her faults. All these things I disregard or even perhaps factor in to my love for her. I let these things go and feel a sense of gratitude for the sound of busy street traffic and urgent emergency vehicles (reer-er, ree-er). I feel the soft air off of the Seine as a tourist filled tour boat glides by ever so gracefully. I see the footsteps of thousands of strangers caressing the streetscobblestone or cement. This is my Paris.

A new experience and many, many, new memories made and it was time for my friends to return to the clean, chaos free streets of London before returning to the States. Giving them a hug I shut the heavy wooden door of my apartment twisting the lock once, twice, three times until I hear it tell me I am securely in my home. Unexpected tears fill my eyes. What is it about friends (those who might as well be family really) can, even in our differences, bring out theyou” in “you”? I knew instantly my time in Paris was enriched by their visit.

The forgotten silence in my apartment returned leaving me with only the sounds of cars going by. But not for long. Another visitor would be arriving not 12 hours later to once again fill this home and my heart with love.

He arrived on the 8:15 to Charles de Gualle airportthe largest airport in the world, or so I’ve heard. I waited with hair coiffed, lips glossed and heart pounding until he breezed through the international doors. I would like to tell you that I ran to his arms and spun around in circles as they do in the movies but truth be told I don’t even remember how my feet moved to his side. A long, oh so Parisian embrace followed once we made it to each other. My arms no longer empty we boarded the RER train towards the home I was so desperate to once again share. The kissing couples that scatter the city didn’t make me long as they often do. This time I joined them retreating to a private world of two with the rocking, speeding momentum of the train the only reminder of where I was. They call Paris “The City of Love”. It really is. Even when you aren’t in love. But to be in love in the city magnifies the lights on the boulevards, the color of the flowers in bloom. Perhaps this is true no matter where you are when love has found you.

The days now are filled with cards games and cafes, cooking and laughing, exploring and staying put.

Today our feet took us to the ancient Catacombs of Paris; a place that my good friend Shannon assured me I must see, just not alone. Descending the 130 steps to the basement of Paris we entered the cool, eerie underground where over 6 million human remains had been placed methodically in the 1800’s. We ducked our heads to the low ceilings while I ran my fingers along the dirty stones perfectly placed to hold the walls from collapsing. You could almost feel the ghosts among you, curious at your presence. Turning a new corner we entered the darkest hall yet to find human bones perfectly stacked to form the dark, dank, muddied halls of this dungeon – or this grave perhaps is a better word. The skulls at some points were placed in the shape of a cross. Shinbones made up most of the surface – or were those arm bones? The unwelcome yet oddly appropriate drips from the ceiling caused puddles of cool “catacomb juiceto fill my black ballerina style slippers I probably ought not have worn on this excursion. I was done with it, ready to move my feet quickly towards the exit, up the 84 steps and onto the welcoming streets of my Paris. One last thing. My bag must be checked for “bones”. The attendant had a stack of bones by her side: “souvenirs” some silly tourists thought perhaps would look good on their end table. I promise youyou will NEVER find a human remain if you join me for tea.

We poured ourselves into the sunlight a bit more disturbed than when we had entered, or at least I was. We walked along, hands clasped as if they had always meant to be that way, and hunted for our next tasty Croque Monsieur.

The days tasks done I write you now before waking up a napping man to enjoy a simple sandwich on the no longer lonely confines of this beautiful studio apartment overlooking Rue de la Lune (street of the moon).