Sunday, October 11, 2009

Ciao a tutti!

I made it to Rome last week! So sorry for the delay, it’s been a crazy time and things still haven’t straightened themselves out yet. But you can follow me on my new Italy blog, Baci from Rome. Until I get settled the updates will probably be pretty sporadic.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Weekend in Barca

My sister-from-another-mother BB came to Paris with her fiancé last week.

It was their first time in Europe and they planned to hit Paris, Madrid and Barcelona in 7 days so I was really excited to show them my city. Personally, I’m not one for whirlwind travelling. I think you need time to explore a city, to sit around and soak up the atmosphere. But I think it’s a typically American thing to country/city hop quickly to try to see as much as possible in the short time allotted. Its one of the many downfalls of life in the States. With 10-15 days A YEAR of vacation, how much of the world can you really see? No wonder only 20% of Americans have passports.

We hit up all the must-see tourist spots in Paris (without actually going inside most of them—a picture of the triangle in front of the Louvre works if you don’t have an entire day to spend inside), some of my favorite spots to eat (making sure they tried escargot, macaroons, sandwich grecs, tartes, fresh baguettes and viennoiseries from a boulangerie, all types of cheese and a crepe at my favorite place on Oberkampf, yum!) and a few of my local nighttime hangouts.

Dinner of bread, cheese and wine on Pont Neuf

After 2 days in Paris they left for Madrid. I was supposed to go with them (I’m dying to see Madrid, I’ve heard such great things about the city) but I had tons of work to get to that had gone neglected since their arrival. So we made plans to meet up in Barcelona on Saturday instead.



Now I’ve been to Barca twice for work and though I never really got a chance to explore the city, I never really felt particularly excited about the place. My chef friend Kelly moved to Barca from New York earlier this year and adores it. I had planned to stay with her and see her view of the city but unfortunately she was out of town that weekend. So this trip to Barca wasn’t really different from the last 2 times I was there—it was ok, a beautiful city with lovely weather but honestly, I’d choose 10 other places to visit before Barcelona any day.


The absolute highlight of the trip was going to the FC Barcelona v. Atlantico Madrid match. I am a huge football fan but have never been to a live game. So when A said he wanted to get us tickets (at 117 Euros each! And that's not even for the good seats) to see one of the biggest clubs in football, I couldn’t pass it up. Sadly, I couldn’t find a flight to Barcelona under 200 Euros for that weekend and I realized again how major this sport is around the world (hotels were nearly booked solid for Saturday night, not to mention they raised their prices). But the game was fantastic!! Camp Nou (the stadium) is massive and it’s so exciting to actually experience the energy of the crowd. The singing and chanting, flag waving, hissing... I loved it all. And Barca won 5-2 so the city was buzzing afterwards.





We spent the next day and a half hanging out at the beach, eating as much Spanish foods as we could get our hands on and window shopping—and BB and I had a chance to try out a nightclub (sucked but it was free) and sit at the chic rooftop bar at our hotel and have some serious girl talk before I had to go back to Paris on Monday afternoon.



On a sad note: its my last day in Paris before the big move to Italy so I'm swamped trying to get everything organized. I'm sending half of the clothes and shoes I brought back home to the States (summer things and stuff I finally realize I'll never wear—I wish I had thought about that before spending $50 in overweight luggage fees), plus a bunch of books I finished reading while I was here (I need a Kindle!). I fly to Florence on Sunday morning and my cousin Martine is flying in from DC today to spend the week in Paris/Italy with me.

I'm so nervous! And excited! Will update as soon as I can.

On verra! Ciao! :)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A fairytale wedding

I met M in 2008 when she moved to Paris from Toronto. She was a former roommate of a friend of mine in New York. M and her husband A work together at the same bank and met at a company function in late January 2009. By February, A had worked up the nerve to ask M to lunch and the rest is history (they also bonded over books, its such an aphrodisiac!).

I met up with M for drinks at Sir Winston when I was in Paris for B’s birthday this February. There was a group of guys from her office there, cute French banker types, who asked us to join them. Of course I was all ready to say yes but M quickly said no and steered me towards an empty table on the other side of the bar. Apparently its office policy that you shouldn’t date coworkers so it was all very hush hush, but she told me that she had met “The One” 2 weeks ago and that they had already talked about marriage and children. Keep in mind this was my no-nonsense, type A, investment banker friend who dated 6 guys at a time because she was too busy and independent to devote herself to one man. Now she had met some guy at the office (and a Frenchie no less! She was adamant about not dating French guys) and they were planning to get married?! Already?? If I didn’t know her better I would think that she had lost her mind, gotten herself knocked up or was just plain desperate. But later that night I met A and was like, “Ohh, I get it”. He is absolutely fantastic (the man carries her purse for her when they’re out shopping, enough said) and they compliment each other so well.

A month later they planned a trip to Venice and A proposed during a late-night walk along the canals (cliché yes, but so romantic!). Three months after that they were married in a civil ceremony in Paris. Their Catholic wedding took place in Clermont-Ferrand 2 weekends ago, at the church A was confirmed in.

We arrived on Friday so that we could spend a day exploring Clermont. Let me just warn you right now—there is NOTHING to see there. I spent about an hour exploring; the rest of my afternoon was spent working in my hotel room.

We did go to a lovely restaurant for a truffade dinner (an Auvergne specialty of fried potatoes, melted cheese and ham) that was the most incredible thing I’ve ever had. Then we went for drinks at the “Aussie Bar” in the center of town before heading to bed.

The wedding ceremony on Saturday afternoon was lovely.




The cathedral was as beautiful as French churches always are, and they hired a gospel choir to sing throughout which was the highlight of the ceremony for me.

video

When they came out of the church, we all threw rose petals and rice at them before heading off to the reception. It was my first time staying in a chateau so I was stoked.




This was less of a party atmosphere than E & J’s wedding. It was a black tie affair so we basically hung around looking fancy, drinking champagne and chatting. M & A changed into Indian outfits to incorporate her Indian culture. There was a series of lovely speeches by M & A’s friends and family—and when her father spoke, he got so chocked up talking about his littler girl that we were all in tears. Dinner was fabulous (fois gras, duck confit, chocolate mousse cake and LOTS of wine),


followed by an hour of dancing (disco) before everyone retired to bed.


One funny thing was that there was 1 single guy at this 70 person wedding (see, no men anywhere! I’m starting to get worried!). M told all her single girlfriends (7 of us) about him so we spent the night before the wedding talking about what he would be like and who would snag him first. We finally spotted him after the ceremony and one by one, each of us said, “Um, that’s ok. You can have him” and “Oh, that’s him? Um, not really my type”. M sat him next to me thinking we would hit it off best and though we chatted throughout dinner, there just weren’t any sparks. M’s little sister said he looked like Mr. Bean. And he spent the entire night on the dancer floor by himself while us single girls danced together in a group. Poor guy.

On Sunday morning we had a long brunch, took a tour of the grounds and hung out by the pool before starting back for Paris. I managed to score a last minute ride with a French/Italian couple (which saved me 65 Euros on train fare) and we stopped by Vichy on the way back. It’s a really cute town, but a bit like Ft. Lauderdale in that no one was under the age of 65 (Vichy is known for its thermal springs and being a base for the Nazi’s during the war). We arrived in Paris around 10pm on Sunday.


All in all a great wedding… the fact that I was able to spend the weekend in a castle in a beautiful region of France was all I really needed for it to rate as one of my favorite weddings ever. How often do you get to do that?



Oh and last thing I forgot to mention, the family. M grew up in the coolest family. Both her parents are bankers who love to travel. So they lived their lives all over the world—India, Beijing, Singapore, Toronto, South Africa, London… wherever her parents felt like relocating to next. During breakfast one morning, her father entertained us with stories of wild jumper plane rides in Africa and being invited to dine with the family of their taxi driver in the Middle East. These days, M’s family is spread out between the States, Europe and Asia. Their friends are so diverse and people flew in from all over the world to attend her wedding (so it made sense that the reception had an International/Global Travel theme). They are really such fascinating people with amazing stories and experiences under their belt (after the wedding M’s parents were driving down to the South of France, then flying to Denmark to spend a week with their grandchildren, then heading back home to Singapore) and I couldn’t help but think that was just the kind of life I want to live. I totally understand the need for children to have structure—spending their entire childhood in one home, one school, making lifelong friends. But there’s something to be said about raising a child that’s a citizen of the world. Going to international schools, living in a different foreign country every few years, speaking several languages. M and her sisters are all well-adjusted, smart, successful—and very close to each other and to their parents, even though they live thousands of miles apart. Of course, I don’t know if there are any deep-seated issues that I just don’t know about, but even with the constant moving, they seem to have turned out ok.

Friday, September 11, 2009

A countryside wedding

So finally, updating about the wedding in Ardeche. Let me just get this part out of the way: no, I didn’t meet anyone. Can you believe out of 200 guests, every man under the age of 35 was in a relationship? All this coupling up is starting to make me feel old... and very single :)

Anyway, aside from that, the wedding was amazing. I drove down on Wednesday night with 3 others. We arrived at the campsite around midnight to find E’s Dutch girlfriends hanging out in front of our bungalow with chilled beers waiting for us—in what we would come to term “the dining room”. They had stopped by the supermarket on their way into town (the closest one being 40 mins away) and stocked the fridge with everything we would need for the next 4 days… you’ve never seen so much booze in your life. By that alone I knew we would get along very well :)

There were 7 of us (E’s friends) in two rented bungalows. We would drive into town every morning before breakfast to pick up fresh bread and have a cup of coffee at the bar (why do you always find old men drinking alcohol early in the morning?) before heading back to the campsite. The day would begin with a huge feast of a breakfast, followed by a dip in the pool, followed by a long lunch. At night we either hung out with some other Frenchies from the wedding party or sat in our “dining room”, drinking and chatting into the wee hours of the morning. One night we got into trouble for making too much noise. It was nearly 2am and we were singing and laughing and apparently keeping the rest of the campsite awake. The guardienne of the campsite came over to us and said, “You guys have to keep your voices down, it’s late. And this is Ardeche, not Mykonos. People come here to for the peace and quiet.” Oops.

On Thursday, about 30 of us went to E’s mother’s house for the BBQ and Olympiade. We spent the entire day eating, drinking, lounging in the sun and swimming in the lake. And later, playing petanque, football (soccer), volleyball and some relay race that involved an egg and a spoon. It was great b/c everyone got a chance to meet and get to know each other prior to the wedding, which only made Saturday that much more fun.

The wedding day was great. The ceremony took place at the mairie (which only held about 30 people, the rest of the group had to stand at the windows and peek inside. By the way, the entire town consisted of a town hall, bar, market/boulangrie and post office—and the view was amazing). After the cermemony, we danced through the town to the music of a local Klezmer band before driving back to the house for the reception. We sat under tents in the front yard, mingling and eating a delicious mix of Dutch and French food. The night was full of beautiful speeches, hilarious performances by their friends and an amazing DJ… I will admit I was one of the last people on the makeshift dance floor. We finally started the 15-minute walk back to the campsite around 5:30am… needless to say Sunday was a wash for me. I spent the entire day in bed until we started the drive back to Paris that evening.

I only hope my wedding will be like that— the entire day (or weekend) being a true reflection of who we are as a couple instead of conforming to some preconceived idea of what a wedding is supposed to be like; surrounded by the people who know and love you. And just a whole lot of fun. E & J looked beautiful and happy and everyone had a wonderful time… days later we were all still talking about how great the weekend was.

video

You really feel the difference when you come back to the city after spending a few days in the countryside. For 4 days my cell phone didn't work, I had no access to TV or the internet and there was nothing to see but cows within 50 miles of our campsite. We barely had hot water. I had real time to relax, talk to people, make new friends, read, eat good food... it was absolutely perfect.

Funny story: one morning during breakfast I realized that we forgot to make coffee. I got up, planning to walk down the road to get water to boil (yes, we were really roughing it) but one of the girls stopped me saying, "No need. Just use the water in the pot we boiled the eggs in". I almost died! Everyone poured themselves a cup of dirty egg water to make their coffee so I (not wanting to look like the bougie city girl) poured a cup too. But I just couldn't bring myself to drink it. It was this city girl’s first foray into camping and I don’t think I complained too much. I could have done without all the bugs and spiders and oneness with nature, but surprisingly, I had an absolute blast. I don’t think I could have gone as hardcore as sleeping in an actual tent (though our bungalow was little more than that), but I’m proud of myself!



This weekend I’m in Clermont-Ferrand (3 hours South of Paris in the center of the country) for my friend Mallika’s wedding. I’ll have to detail their love story later, it’s hard to believe. Mallika and Alex are getting married at the cathedral he was confirmed in and the formal reception will be held at a chateau nearby. It will be the complete opposite of the Ardeche wedding but no less amazing I’m sure.

ps— this makes wedding #7 within the past 4 months… I’ve warned my friends not to tell me about their engagement until the new year :)

Monday, September 7, 2009

A new adventure

Yesterday I moved in with B. And no, it’s not what you’re thinking.

When I arrived in Paris I rented a room in a flatshare from a friend who had recently moved in with her boyfriend. Before I moved in, she had given her room over to a girl named Chloe who would be staying there long term. Chloe was backpacking through Southeast Asia for the summer and came back home on Sunday. I thought about finding my own place but then another idea popped into my head. I could find another flatshare or sublet in Paris OR I could use the move as an opportunity to find a new adventure. Can you guess which path I chose?

In May 2006, the year before I moved to Paris, I went to Italy for the first time. I was there for 2 weeks and I loved every moment and everything about Italy. Taking a wine tasting tour and cooking class in an ancient villa in Tuscany,


floating along the breathtaking canals of Venice, getting lost in the tiny streets of Florence, meeting an expat friend in Pisa for a massive dinner with her Italian in-laws that lasted 4 hours. But when I got to Rome… wow.

I felt completely in my element, it felt like home. It’s that feeling that drives us expats from our native homes, friends and family to live in a foreign place, overlooking the fact that you don’t know a soul, don’t speak the language, can't really know what to expect… simply because something inside compels you and you just HAVE to be there. The last time I got that feeling was when I visited Paris.

I only spent 4 days in Rome and knew I didn’t want to give up on Paris just because I happened to have a fling with another city. So I kept the original plan and moved to Paris—which turned out to be an amazing, wonderful, unforgettable experience (naturally). But in the back of my mind, I knew I had to get to Rome one day. Even if for a short period of time, I had to live there. Experience the food, people, language and culture as a local instead of just a tourist. And on the 27th of September, I’ll finally get my chance to do that. There’s no real plan: I’ll be taking Italian lessons and working on some projects and ideas that will hopefully allow my gypsy nature this sort of independence permanently.

And so, that brings me back to my move to B’s. Originally I thought it would be a great idea. I’d have a free place to stay for 3 weeks before I move to Rome; B’s apartment was practically my second home anyway. But I didn’t realize we’d be struggling with how to manage being “just friends”, imagine throwing “living together” into the mix. Our saving grace is that he works all day and I have a pretty full social life so hopefully our paths won’t cross enough to cause conflict (though it's looking like, in his opinion, that may be the very source of the problem). I’ve already alerted friends that I may be coming to crash on their couch if things get out of control Chez B.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Unexpected chivalry

Last night I went out for drinks with my roommate Benjamin and his friend Benjamin (apparently every French male around the age of 28 is named Benjamin) who just moved back from Rome and is “squatting” in our apartment for a week. We ended up at this tiny little bar off of rue Oberkampf that turned out to be a literary party celebrating a book launch. And apparently the DJ was super famous—the guys were all in a tizzy over him, though I couldn’t for the life of me tell you who he was.

Just after I arrived, the publisher of the book randomly came over, kissed my hand and started chatting me up. Turns out he also used to live in the East Village in New York but moved back to Paris after 9/11. He was interesting but physically not my type (late 30s-early 40s, short, blond hair/blue eyes). After 15 mins a woman came over to talk to him about a manuscript he just submitted so I snuck off to rejoin my friends. Later, the publisher popped over to quietly ask me if Benjamin was my boyfriend—I said no, he said good—but I eventually lost him in the crowd. Looking back on it, I should have given him my number; he would be a cool person to know, especially considering that I’ve been working on some writing projects lately. Oh well…

Around midnight Benjamin’s girlfriend, her best friend and another guy joined us. I excused myself to go to the bathroom and bumped into a cute guy on his way out. We did the whole smiley, double take thing and when I came back he was talking to RomeBen. I walked over to join them but quickly realized the cute guy was drunk, sleazy and slightly stupid. At some point he said something to me in French and though I didn’t understand the slang, I got that the context was sexual. RomeBen looked at him sharply and said, “Come on, don’t say stuff like that. I think you need apologize to her”. So the guy apologized and the three of us continued chatting. And then the interesting part of the night began:

Sleazy guy: “So where are you from?”
Me: “New York City.”
Sleazy guy: “No, I mean where were you born?”
Me: “Oh, I was born in Washington, D.C.”
Sleazy guy: “No, come on. Really. You're from Senegal, aren't you? Or Mali?”

Sigh. This is the thing that annoys the hell out of me about the French (some French people, I don’t mean to generalize). If you’re not white you’re not really considered French (or American in this case). If you’re black you can only be from Africa or the West Indies, there’s no way you can be anything else. I understand that it has to do with the fact that France only recently got an influx of post-war immigrants and they’re just now dealing with racial issues. And to be fair, most of the non-white people living here really are foreign-born or first generation French. You’d be hard pressed to find a black person in France who’s familial line goes back more than one generation within France. But not so in the States. The funny thing is, my parents were born in Haiti and moved to the States in their late teens/early 20s so I am in fact a first-generation American (and I happen to very much identify with being Haitian, possibly more so than American, since I was brought up with Haitian food, language, music, culture, etc) BUT it was the principle of the matter. This asshole was insisting that because I was black, I could not be American. Sure we’re all African, but for many black Americans, how the heck do you know which country your ancestors came from 300 years ago?

Anyway, as I’m about to open my mouth to set the guy straight, I notice RomeBen tensing up next to me. He steps in front of me, gets in this guy's face and says, "Didn't she tell you 5 times that she's American??" then proceeds to go off on him in French!

Now a little background on RomeBen: This guy did his undergrad in Engineering at one of Paris’ most prestigious Grandes Écoles (basically the French version of the Ivy Leagues) then went on to get his Master’s and PhD from MIT in Boston. During the day he wears his little glasses and works on his computer, quiet as a mouse. He’s not pretentious or anything (I didn’t even know the details of his schooling until last night). He’s very polite and friendly, timid even. In his 6 years in the States he sort of picked up a general idea of how far black people have come; to be accepted and be able to claim the privileges that come along with being American. But this is not someone who you could ever imagine in a million trillion years saying the words: “We can take this outside.” But he did! He said those exact words! OMG.

By this point Sleazy Guy is cowering on his stool (meanwhile he was easily half a foot taller than RomeBen) and one of his friends, trying to pacify RomeBen, apologizes and says that his friend is a little drunk and doesn’t know what he’s saying. I couldn’t tell you what RomeBen was saying, I was too busy staring at him in shock, wondering what happened to the shy little geek who had spent the past 4 days hunched behind his laptop in my living room. Finally I put my arm around him, gently pulled him back and said, “Shall we go?” And he stopped, gave the guy one last dirty look and we walked out of the bar. It was intense. And to be honest with you, also extremely sexy… it’s awesome watching a guy defending your honor.

After that episode I looked at him in a completely different light. We joined the rest of the group outside then jumped in a cab and went back to the apartment. The 4 of us hung out in the kitchen drinking tea and talking until Benjamin and his girlfriend went to bed. And then RomeBen asked me if I wanted to take our conversation into the living room (since Benjamin’s room is right near the kitchen) and we ended up talking until 3am.

He’s such a contraction—this adorable and super smart science nerd who gets really excited explaining molecular physics (still completely over my head) but values quality of life over work, loves to travel and live in foreign countries and will throw down if you get on his bad side. But alas, he has a girlfriend back in Rome. She’s coming to visit in a week or so and he said he wants to introduce us. I bet she’s sweet and wonderful and we’ll probably get on great so let me just shut my homewrecking mouth right now… :)

Update: This afternoon RomeBen and I were both in the living room, he was working and I was folding my laundry when he got up and left the room without saying a word. Suddenly I heard classical piano music. I thought he turned the radio on or something but when I walked down the hall to investigate I found him playing away (my roommate has an upright in his room). I had my own personal 10 minute performance. If I wasn't smitten before I may be now!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The casual wedding

Heading to Ardeché in few hours (in the South of France) for my girl E’s wedding. E & J are the coolest couple, I absolutely adore them—very fun, down-to-earth, artsy (they’re filmmakers). They’re all about having a good time and going with the flow, which I guess is why we clicked immediately. The wedding is on Saturday but a few close friends are driving down early for a Thursday night pre-party: “Olympic Games” (i.e. three-legged races, soccer, swimming in the lake, etc) and a BBQ. E’s parents own a house in a tiny village; the ceremony will take place at the Mairie (town hall) followed by a reception in their backyard. The guest count is around 200 people and we’ll be eating, drinking and dancing under the stars until the wee hours of the morning. They’re not big into weddings so they made it a laid back affair—E described it as a big 3-day party for their friends & family, with a quick pop over to Mairie at some point to get the wedding stuff out of the way (LOVE that!). At one point, I was wondering aloud which heels would work best with my dress and E said, “Just come barefoot!” (she was dead serious). Truth be told, I’m especially looking forward to mingling with the guests. Weddings are a great place to meet men right? ;)

Back on Monday night with (hopefully) some interesting stories!

Monday, August 24, 2009

I LOVE Edinburgh!

What a magical city! But good gracious it is COLD! Before I left I looked at the weather forecast: between 55-65 degrees, cloudy and rainy. But I think the Parisian heat must have fried my brain because all I made of that was, “Ooh, it won’t be 100 degrees and humid. Great, I could use a little break from the heat.” And I only packed a little cardigan and pashmina and set off. But as soon as I stepped out of the airport in Scotland I remembered REAL quick what 58 degrees felt like.

I flew into Glasgow on Thursday, took a 2 hour night bus to Edinburgh and made my way to the hostel. It’s called the Edinburgh Nights Hostel and was clean and relatively central which are really my only criteria. But what made it standout was the staff*. I’ve only stayed at a hostel twice before. Once on my first trip to London with my cousin 5 years ago, once in Dublin last year. In the first instance, we randomly made friends with a Londoner who took us out every night. And in Dublin, my friend Ali and I roomed with a cool girl from California and the three of us partied together the whole weekend. This time I was in a room with 4 Japanese kids who didn’t speak more than 4 words of English, and the hostel didn’t have a communal area so there was no chance of befriending people to party with. Normally I would have just gone out by myself, but I soon realized that drunken Scots scare me. I passed tons of bars walking home at night but instead of making a detour inside for a drink, it just made me clutch my purse a little tighter and pick up my pace. Guys weaving drunkenly down the street, screaming and shouting gibberish (or Celtic, who knows), making their way out of bars while dragging a drunken friend between them, fights breaking out. Even the girls were a bit off… a lot of them were stumbling around barefoot in their miniskirts and tank tops (mind you, its 50 degrees and raining!). At one point, I even saw a guy standing outside, calm as you please, with blood streaming down his face. Now of course I’m not saying that this is how Scottish people behave, but what I experienced was a little too “reality TV” for me. So I enjoyed getting to bed before 1am so I could be up early the next morning and sightsee (read: shop). One night I did go to a late night comedy show near my hostel but was chatted up by some guy who had such a thick accent (he was from Glasgow) I could barely tell he was speaking in English. I was drinking pink champagne and he offered to buy a bottle so we could chat more but I quickly declined and made my exit.

Edinburgh has amazing shopping (though I heard Glasgow is better which blows my mind) and the hostel was just a few blocks away from Princes Street, the main shopping area. They have everything from funky British retailers to H&M and Gap. And the Holy Grail: Topshop! (we do have one in New York now but for some reason it sucks. The Edinburgh store is apparently the 2nd biggest after the Oxford Circus flagship).

But what I really came for was the Festival. Every August Edinburgh pretty much shuts down to this International Festival, which is really a series of festivals taking place over the course of the month. There’s the Jazz Festival, Book Festival, Art Festival, Fringe Festival (the biggest arts festival in the world)… Everyone from Janeane Garofalo to David Sedaris was in town and the energy was incredible. All these creative, artsy, over-the-top people out trying to make a name for themselves. And the best part? A lot of it was free! I spent my days hopping from one venue to another, taking breaks here and there to shop, eat or just sit in a café with a cup of coffee and the Festival Guide mapping out the shows I wanted to hit later that day. And around Royal Mile in Old Town you can just plop down on a step to check out an impromptu street performance at any time (my breakfast entertainment).

But the funny thing when you go to free shows is that at least half of them are terrible! Like the comedians are really, painfully bad. It makes me wonder how they got this far without a single friend or family member ever telling them the truth. How in the world does that happen? Couldn’t their mother say at some point, “I’m sorry Billy but you’re just not funny. The jokes aren’t funny, the delivery isn’t funny. Comedy is just not your thing. Have you thought about becoming an accountant?”

When I wasn’t cringing in embarrassment or trying to keep a fake smile on my face (some of the venues are really small and I made the mistake early on of sitting in the front row) I did get a good laugh at just how bad they were. Even thinking back on it now makes me smile… especially The Lebanese Midget from England with hair down to his waist who did a couple black jokes. No one was laughing and one Scottish guy in the audience looked over at me (the only black person in the room) apologetically, winced and ducked his head. I didn’t find the comedian insulting (I can handle a few stereotype jokes, we do strange things sometimes), sadly he just wasn’t funny :o/

As a black woman traveling in a foreign country I always take a quick scan to gauge how people are reacting to me. Sometimes it’s full out shock and awe (Macedonia), shameless flirting/catcalls (Italy, Tunisia) or steady staring that makes me slightly uncomfortable (Greece). In Edinburgh, either they’re used to seeing black folks and don’t find us to be that big of a deal (though I could count the number of black people I saw all weekend on one hand) or they’re just too polite to stare, but it was totally fine. Aside from smiling at my American accent, my being black didn’t seem to be an issue.

So the weekend (aside from my unpreparedness with the weather) was great. Edinburgh is stunningly beautiful, definitely one of the most picturesque cities I've visited. I found myself stopping dead in my tracks to take in the sudden view of the hills or the sea in the distance. Or sitting on the side of the road at dusk to watch torchlight’s flickering at the Castle on the hill while a symphony played. Or watching young boys playing bagpipes in the street (and yes, I DID see men in kilts! whoohoo!)—I don’t know if it was because of the festival but you really can hear bagpipes everywhere, and it’s a beautiful sound.

20 Euro flight, 40 Pound lodgings and a few bucks for food and drink isn’t too shabby. I’ll just have to remember to pack my jacket next time, even in the dead of summer.

*Two brothers run the hostel and when I arrived at 1am, cold and sleepy, they made me a cup of tea and then let me stay in a nicer 6-bed room en-suite even though I had paid for the cheapest room. And on Saturday around midnight, I came back to the hostel to collect my bag (they let me store it in the locker in my room instead of the communal storage in the basement even though I had already checked out that morning), prepared to spend the evening at a bar or café until the 3am bus to the airport. I was exhausted from a full day of running around the city and the brother told me to just go lay down in one of the rooms for a couple hours, that he would wake me at 2am when it was time to leave to go catch my bus. So nice! I don’t know, maybe I’ve been living in New York and Paris too long, but how often does stuff like that happen?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Bagpipes & kilts?

I'm off to Edinburgh today! Why I absolutely love living in Europe: my Ryan Air flight was only 20 Euros roundtrip. I can't even get from New York to DC for that price. Granted I’m flying at the craziest hours, but no matter. I’m going to SCOTLAND! August is apparently the most exciting time to be in Edinburgh (though its supposed to rain every day) because of the International Festival going on all month. Including The Fringe, which I am VERY much looking forward to. Will post pictures upon my return.

PS… I have only 2 visa pages left in my passport (which I got in 2005) so I have to order more. For some reason that fact makes me blissfully happy! :)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Giverny

About two weeks ago I was having dinner chez E and she suggested going on a daytrip. E is from Amsterdam, her parents have a home in Ardeché and her fiancés parents have a home near Marseille. Outside of those two places (and Il-de-France of course), she hasn’t visited much of the country. Never one to pass up an opportunity to travel, I told her I would be happy to join her. We settled on Giverny, which was close enough for easy access but far enough to be a relaxing reprieve from city life.

We took a 9am train from Paris to Vernon, 1 hour northwest in (or near?) Normandy. From there, we stopped by a grocery store to pick up food for lunch, rented bikes (12 Euros) and biked about 30 minutes through the countryside to the tiny village of Giverny.

When we arrived around 11am, the line to enter Monet’s house and gardens was already long so we decided to find a place to picnic first. Then we went to see the Monet family gravesite at the village church, followed by a cup of coffee on the patio of a nearby café before heading back to Monet’s house. 40 minutes later (and that was a short wait, let me tell you) we were wandering around the most stunning garden I’ve ever seen, words can’t even begin to describe it. The smell of the flowers alone was incredible. The colors were stunning. The grounds are bursting with fruit trees and plants, flowers of every type, color and height. You literally feel as if you’ve stepped into one of Monet’s paintings.
My favorite place on the grounds was the Japanese water garden.
Weeping willows, bright green bridges and water lilies floating in the pond Monet designed. Wandering through the little pathways and over the bridges reminded me of how I felt reading my favorite book as a child, The Doll in the Garden.

The house Monet lived in with his family was also open to the public so we were able to wander through the rooms, see the beds they slept in, the books they read, the kitchen they cooked their meals in. They even had family photos and wedding certificates displayed around the house. Everything was impressively preserved (no pictures allowed inside unfortunately).

After leaving the house, we wandered onto a little side street, sat on a bench under a tree to eat a snack and imagine what life must be like living in such a sleepy little village. Surprisingly, even with all the tourists flocking to Monet’s house, the rest of the village was very quiet and peaceful. We hung out for a bit before climbing back on our bikes to catch the 6:30pm train back to Paris. Giverny is definitely one of the most picturesque cities I've visited in France, and worth the trip.