Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Break Up

B and I are officially over. It’s an ending I knew was coming, one that I had even thought about instigating on a few occasions, and yet, the heartache I feel is enormous and very painful. I left Paris on September 1st and it was a very difficult goodbye. Though most of my friends had already left the city in the months leading up to summer, I was still clinging to all of the wonderful memories I had there over the past year. The last time I punched in the code for B’s apartment building, walked up the 101 steps to my apartment, bought a baguette at the Boulanger… it was so hard to grasp the fact that my Parisian adventure was coming to an end. Not to mention the fact that my relationship would shortly be coming to an end as well…
B took me to the airport that Monday morning and reminded me that he would be seeing me in just three days. Turns out B’s friend, who works for Air France, had a flight scheduled to NYC and would be able to get B on the flight practically for free. B would spend 5 days in New York and 5 in Maryland and we would make the most of our last days together. But the reality of our looming fate caused a lot of tension between us and we spent much of his trip arguing, until we were able to talk it out and fully acknowledge our sadness.
On September 14th, I drove B to the airport to catch his flight back to Paris. There was a problem with his reservation and the airline wouldn’t be able to get him on a flight till the next afternoon—the same day my mom and I were scheduled to fly down to Florida for a week to house hunt and visit a family friend. I was so happy we would have one more day together but since my folks would be with us at the airport the next day, we decided to say goodbye beforehand and stayed up late into the night, spilling out all the things that we didn’t want left unsaid. So on Monday afternoon (exactly 11 months and 6 days after our first date) our goodbye was brief and as we hugged each other for the last time, B whispered into my ear, “I’m coming back for you…”, got back into the car, blew me a kiss and drove away.
And just like that it was over. The thing is they don’t tell you it would be like this… the grief that weighs so heavily on your heart, the days that seem to drag on and on, the nights spent alternately praying for sleep because you’re so mentally and physically exhausted, and praying for morning so you don’t have to lie awake in a cold empty bed thinking about the man who’s no longer a part of your life. It hurts not being able to call him, ask about his day, talk to him about mine. And the saddest part is knowing I no longer have the right to.
But on top of it all, I just feel shame. Shame for being so devastated and helpless over something as “trivial” as a breakup. People go through it all the time, hell, they go through worse all the time. It’s not like anyone died. It’s only the end of a love affair, and one that I was going to end one day anyway. So what’s with all the melodrama? (It reminds me of the weeks after 9/11 and how I just felt so distraught; I refused to leave the city but all I could do was cry and sleep. And I hated myself for being that way because I didn’t truly have the right. I was one of the lucky New Yorkers, I didn’t know anyone who died in those Towers, it didn’t touch my life the way it did thousands of other people. And yet, the grief consumed me for weeks on end).
So now, all I do is cry. I never knew I would feel this physical weight of sadness over ending things with B. Its like I'm walking around in a fog and everything has lost its meaning and importance, I don’t feel up for doing anything at all. I’ll be ok for about 30 minutes, maybe an hour, and suddenly something reminds me of him and my throat closes up again. No more slow dancing in his living room, no more singing made-up songs to each other, no more staying up late at night telling stories, no more excursions around Paris and France and Europe, no more silly jokes… I’ll miss him looking into my eyes and telling me I’m beautiful, I’ll miss arguing with him to put on a pair of dress shoes instead of his beat-up Converse sneakers, I’ll miss his hugs…
The craziest part of the whole thing is that our breakup is simply due to the fact that we are now living on different continents. There was no fight, no cheating, no boredom, no loss of love, none of the typical reasons that relationships end. It just so happened that it was my time to leave Paris but not quite his. And although I don’t think this is the person God intended me to spend the rest of my life with, I wasn’t ready to give him up just yet. But that’s also the reason why I’m trying to steel myself to this pain. Because in time, I know it will pass and I’ll be happy in the decision that we made to go our separate ways. As much as I miss him now, I know it will get easier. And one day, hopefully, we’ll be good friends and learn how to be an important part of each other’s lives in a new way. But for now I suffer and try to go on the best way I know how. And I just pray to God for the strength to get through the days and for help to carry this new burden. They say you never get over your first love…

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Charity

As usual, I'm a million years late updating this thing about my Habitat for Humanity trip. But since I want to document this experience, we’ll pretend that I actually wrote this back in August like I should have :o)

One of the things I wanted to do while living abroad was some type of global humanitarian work. I found the perfect opportunity when a friend brought me to an H4H meeting with her. I joined the Habitat for Humanity chapter at American Church of Paris and we spent close to a year doing a bunch of fundraising activities that would allow us to send a team to Macedonia to build a home for a family in need—bake sales, concerts, raffles, silent auctions, you name it. By the summer we had raised 10,000€ and 12 of us were off to Veles, Macedonia for two weeks in August.


As excited as I was about the mission, the trip would take a huge chunk of time out of the last few days I had left to spend with B—something that never crossed my mind when I first signed up as a single girl who had recently met a cute French boy. But by August, the clock was quickly winding down so I was feeling especially sad about having to be parted from him for 2 whole weeks.

After about 10 hours of travel and a 6-hour layover in Belgrade (we went to the city center to see a bit of the town—nothing much to report), we finally arrived in Skopje late at night and were picked up by our local driver to go to the hotel… and I use the term “hotel” loosely. What we walked into was the most run-down, depressing, dirty, ancient place I had ever seen—and, naturally, the only hotel in the village. When they led us down the dark corridor to our room, it reminded me of a scene from a horror movie and I had to fight the urge to turn around and head right back to the airport. The room was no better: two stained twin-sized cots with moldy, itchy blankets over them, a couple of rickety nightstands, thin washcloth sized sheets for towels, sheets strung up as curtains to only halfway cover our street-level window and the luxury of all luxuries: a floor fan. With the weather getting up to 120 degrees in the shade, the fan would turn out to be a welcome friend in the days to come. Thankfully, I was rooming with my good friend Temi who is not only a good sport (much better than me I admit) but absolutely hilarious as well—she’s English, I think they’re just born that way. She made the situation bearable with her endless jokes about our bug infested bathroom (with no shower curtain, a shower head with a mind of its own, a toilet that only flushed on good days, a tub so high you practically needed a step stool to climb in, no ceiling and water that you had to let run for 5 minutes before it would heat up) and the dusty town and its inhabitants and playfully suggest that we call a cab to sneak us to the airport in the middle of the night so our group wouldn’t know we were missing till sunrise, by which time we’d be well on our way back to Paris. I literally got a headache every night from laughing so hard, as she kept me up till midnight to gossip, share stories about our boyfriends and joke about our pitiful state.



So when we reported to work on the first day, it was a big shock to all of us to find out that we were not building a home for an underprivileged family. Instead, we were adding an addition (3 floors, 2 extra bedrooms and a couple of living spaces) to the already nice home of a family who wanted to expand. To say it was a disappointment is an understatement. I had all these grand illusions of saving some poor family from destitution—moving them out of their run-down dwellings, possibly even giving them indoor plumbing for the first time. And by the looks of the village, there were certainly families who fit the bill. But for one reason or another, we were given this case and we were to spend the next two weeks working on expanding a home for this mystery family.


Two days before the end of the mission, the heat, lack of nutrients (you pretty much get a choice of cow or pig in Eastern Europe) and the physical labor just took its toll on me (imagine carrying big pieces of rock and buckets filled with cement up and down stairs for 8 hours a day with few breaks—we’re talking serious sh*t here) and I nearly collapsed—I was vomiting and felt dizzy and lightheaded. I had to be taken back to the hotel to rest for the last two days.



The highlight of the trip a weekend holiday at Lake Ohrid where we actually had real beds with clean sheets, AC and TV… we were so thrilled by the luxury we stayed inside blasting the AC, wrapped up in the comfy bed, watching CNN.


Oh, I forgot to mention the fact that myself and the 4 other black girls on the trip caused quite the commotion. Everywhere we went, people would stop us to take pictures, ask us to hold their babies, want to touch us, talk to us or secretly snap us with their camera phones as we walked by. It was kind of amusing at first—I was used to blatant staring after traveling around Europe—but when it became situations where an entire restaurant would fall silent to stop and stare and it went on day after day for two entire weeks, it started to get a bit annoying. We couldn’t go anywhere without having our picture taken—and when one person asked for a picture, soon a mob would form around us and everyone wanted a picture. A guy in a shop in Veles even stopped us in the street to say he saw us in Ohrid the weekend before—keep in mind, Ohrid is 3 hours away from Veles. It was absolute insanity (and funny too, looking back now).

On the flip side, there was the night we went to dinner and got accosted by 15 kids (ranging in age from 5-12) there for a birthday party. They started singing "Happy Birthday" in English and we loudly joined in from across the restaurant. Afterward, they shyly came over to our table and started asking us 101 questions—and collapsing into giggles every time we responded in English. Later they sang and danced traditional Macedonian dances for us until their parents finally pulled them away. There's something about the pure innocence and curiosity of children that is just so adorable.


But for two weeks, I’ll say I endured. I complained every step of the way, about the bugs and the heat, about the difficulty of the work, about the fact that the home we were building wasn’t the kind of mission project I had envisioned, about the terrible accommodations, about the lack of privacy, about the building professionals who were supposed to be helping and supervising but instead, spent their time joking with each other and smoking cigarettes.



Its not until weeks later that I realize what a snobby bit*h I was—I was whiny and angry and disappointed and felt that the work was beneath me—why did I have to build an addition for a family who lived in a nicer home than I did? I finally realized that it wasn’t about these other people at all. It was about doing the work that God had called on me to do.

More than anything, this trip was a lesson in humility. God puts obstacles in your way to help you grow and learn how to become better people. He wants you to do good deeds because you WANT to help, not for what you’ll get in return. And I admit, I wanted the feeling of satisfaction I’d feel when we helped a family climb out of poverty. When we drove past the slums with the barefoot Roma (gypsy) children running around piles of burning trash, the devil on my shoulder complained, “Why couldn’t we build a home for them instead? They need it more.” But I realize now that I was missing the point. Sure our family wasn’t destitute, but they expressed a need to H4H and our role was simply to perform our jobs, not to evaluate the family’s economic situation and judge whether or not we felt they were worthy. We were there to help—and to do it with a happy heart. You give with the best of intentions and can be happy about that, the rest is out of your hands.

And while I didn’t figure out most of this until I was nicely settled back into the comforts of America, I am grateful for the experience. I’m glad to have helped THIS particular family because it became a test of sorts, and allowed me to find yet another area in which I am flawed so that I can try to fix it. My actions prove I’m human and still have a lot to learn. That sometimes (or oftentimes, whatever) I take the wrong course of action, sometimes I can’t see the bigger picture and sometimes I do act ugly. But the fact that I was (finally) able to recognize this makes me feel at peace with myself and feel that I’m heading in the direction where God is trying to lead me. We’re all flawed and that’s ok—as long as we eventually wake up and realize where we’ve gone wrong and try our best not to make the same mistakes again, we’re not too far off track.

So, lesson learned; I will never volunteer to build a house ever again. Nonetheless, I’m happy I was able to experience this and participate in such a great program. I’ll gladly help with the fundraising efforts and all the pre-planning, but when they request a team to go out and fulfill the mission, next time I think I’ll kindly decline :o)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Thin Line...

Interesting situation of being surprised by the unthinkable coming true, life lessons, etc.
As mentioned, my cousin is in town visiting for 3 weeks—let’s call her Fox. It’s Saturday night and my neighbor friend asked if we could all go out for drinks. She had friends visiting from Tokyo and since she’s new to the city, she didn’t know where to go. So I took them all to Café Charbon and we chatted till around 1am, at which point the Japanese girls were tired and decided to call it a night. After leaving them, Fox and I went to my new favorite hangout (which happens to be across the street from my apt)—a divey little bar with a really nice, cute bartender, friendly hipster crowd, and a DJ who plays music way too loud and forces all the patrons to drink in mass out on the sidewalk. Around 1:45am I get a call from Grapes asking what I was up to. I told him I was having a drink and he responds, “Ok, I’ll see you in 45 seconds or 45 minutes”. He shows up about a minute later, just as the bar is closing. The bartender gives us VIP passes for Nouveau Casino so we head over, but decided to go back to Café Charbon and have drinks instead of going to the club.
And for the next couple of hours, Fox, Grapes and I are all laughing and joking, having a good time discussing everything from dating in Paris to being black in America. In typical Grapes fashion, he’s being inappropriate and crazy and I find it completely hilarious.
After a couple drinks, I excuse myself to go to the bathroom and when I came back what do I find: Fox and Grapes making out. Interesting... especially considering that she knows all the intricate details of the Grapes Saga and we’ve discussed the situation and my feelings ad nauseum… Oh, but it doesn’t end there folks. After the cloud of awkwardness lifts, we realize its 4:30am and probably a good time to head home. Fox makes a quick detour to the bathroom while Grapes and I wait outside. He’s giving me the funny eye and asking me if I’m angry. He’s all like, “Don’t be angry. You're the one with the boyfriend, blah blah blah” and gives me a hug. Naturally I laugh it off like it’s the biggest joke I ever heard, “Me angry? What for?”.
So we walk the 3 blocks back to my apartment while Grapes keeps asking me when I’m getting married and how B is doing. We reach my building and as I turn to walk inside Grapes is like, “Wait a minute. I want to take Fox for a little walk”. Oh really now? That little walk turned into the walk of shame when Fox stumbled in around 10am the next morning…
After leaving them I was pissed. I waited to hear her knock on the door so I could give her a piece of my mind. So I guess it’s a good thing she didn’t show up till the next morning b/c it gave me some breathing room to gain a bit of perspective (don't get me wrong, I'm still annoyed. Just not in the neck-roll, curse a bitch out kinda way).
Thing is, it’s not even like Grapes held any real significance for me, it’s more the principal of the situation. I guess part of it is that I’ve been enjoying this little flirtatious dance we’ve been doing for the past year. The other part could be chalked up to simple wounded pride with a little slice of betrayal thrown in for good measure. I mean, my cousin? Really? Grapes is the type to screw a random girl every night, I get that and it doesn’t faze me in the least. But in all honestly, where do friends/family draw the line on what is acceptable? When is a guy off limits? Are you allowed to lay claim to someone else when you already have a boyfriend? Personally, I think a friend should respect the line. If said guy is potential boyfriend material, then by all means go for it and see what could develop (I’ve had a friend who ended up marrying her friend’s ex-boyfriend)—you’re allowed a free pass and true romance wins out over a little crush. But hurt your family for a casual fu*k? Low blow. There are too many random guys you could pick up instead for that to be ok.
Oh well. On the flip side, at least now I can stop entertaining any silly delusions about what could be…

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Paris or Bust

Not sure if you heard the story of Jessica Roy, the NYU student and aspiring writer who jumped ship and moved to Paris when she realized that the real world was not a bowl of ice cream. Her story is very similar to mine, and for much of the same reasons I fled to Paris hoping to escape the drama that is New York and touch down on normal ground again. I remember my magazine days and how I worked my ass off in the naive expectation that hard work would be rewarded accordingly. I later learned that its not good work that pays off—its kissing ass, flaunting the millionaire boyfriend, hinting about your eating disorder and having your hair dyed the perfect shade of blond that gets you the steady promotions. I was fed up, itching for an adventure and dying to live in the lovely city of Paris where life seemed so much sweeter.

Excerpt from Jessica Roy's blog:

It is, unfortunately, not enough to be honest in this city. I will not give blowjobs for bylines. I will not laugh at peoples' unfunny jokes because I want them to be impressed by me. I will not become someone else so that I can be absorbed into this elite, nefarious world where people trade intellect like currency … I am getting out of New York for awhile, from August-January … New York is not a place for serious people. And it's a terrible place for an honest writer.

A response from New York magazine:

And so Jessica Roy will depart for a semester abroad in Paris in September. She will continue to maintain her blog — which will probably become wildly popular and, upon her return, she'll be owning these godforsaken media parties. Hang in, little one. Paris is a good place to get just jaded enough to come back to this town and run the show.

And funny enough, the New York writer also summed me up exactly. It made me smile to think that this is where I was just a short time ago and I've now reached the point that this author is foretelling for Jessica. I've spent a year writing, loving, learning and growing and I hope this young girl finds whatever it is she's looking for—I certainly did. My time abroad is nearly over, the rust has worn off and I'm ready to take back my city.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Black Issue My As*...


(Photo: Steven Meisel for Italian Vogue)

Like everyone else, I was really excited about the prospect of an “All Black” issue of a mainstream fashion magazine. And for it to be Vogue of all books—one of the most respected pubs in the industry and one that is least likely to feature black faces in their pages—was a big plus. After searching the newsstands in vain for a few weeks I finally found a sole issue remaining on the shelf of my local shop. I quickly tore open the package (I do love how international magazines always come with a little gift) and started slowly turning the pages… umm... I was really confused. For every one editorial page featuring a black model there are 20 pages of advertising featuring all white models. I had to stop and flip through the entire thing to make sure there wasn’t some mistake—surely there must be ads featuring black models, maybe towards the end of the book… nope. I think I counted a grand total of two ads, and they were for nondescript brands.
I’m sorry. Wasn’t the whole point of this issue to alleviate the discrepancy between black and white women in fashion magazines? To show that a black face can sell pages, products, a lifestyle, just as well as (if not better than) her white counterpart? Sure, Vogue Italia couldn’t force their advertisers to shoot black models for their campaigns but couldn’t they have positioned those ads featuring black models within the coveted cover spots or far forward placements? Couldn’t advertisers, considering that this particular issue would be read by a huge proportion of black women, have pulled an ethnic face from their repertoire? A Latina, Asian girl, something! Campaigns are shot months in advance; did none of these brands feature a single black model in their entire summer/fall shoot??
The thing is, its not like readers are just flipping through the articles and ignoring the advertising (how many of us who purchased the issue are fluent in Italian anyway? And there aren't that many black women in Italy). The reason advertisers spend millions of dollars on a page of advertising is because they expect that ad to turn into millions in retail sales. But at the end of the day, the cold hard reality is that fashion brands still do not feel that a black girl can represent their brand to the masses.
Personally, I feel like this was all just a big publicity stunt for Vogue Italia. They’re selling the issue like hotcakes (and the July issue isn’t normally a huge seller for magazines in general), getting tons of press and are being toted as the magazine that is bridging the divide. But when they were laying out the pages for the issue, I’d like to know what the discussion was when they saw hardly a single black girl in an ad in their so-called black issue. Granted, I can’t read the articles so there could be some very profound content within the pages, but visually speaking, the obvious discrimination only screams that much louder against a backdrop of black girl editorial. Its a beautiful issue nonetheless and I appreciate the effort. Its a step in the right direction, but until black readers can really see themselves represented throughout a magazine—including in the moneymaker—it’s simply not enough.
At the end of the day, having a fashion spread in Vogue is great, but having a multi-million dollar contract as the face of Dior is just a little bit better, don’t you think?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bastille Day


Spent 3 lovely days in the middle of the French countryside to celebrate Bastille Day– which was a big departure from my normal ritual of having drinks at a French restaurant on the LES with a bunch of French expats. A friend of B’s has a huge old country home in Corréze, a tiny little town about 5.5 hours southwest of Paris, and invited 3 couples (along with my cousin and another friend) to drive down for a relaxing few days. We drove down on Friday night, arriving around 5am and crashed till the afternoon. On Saturday, we spent the day lounging on the terrace, playing table tennis in the backyard, eating and drinking local wines and wandering around the river and the little town square.

On Sunday, we went to visit an old underground cave. Don’t ask me what that was about—the entire tour was in French and I had no idea what they were saying so I just sat in the little boat and took in the pretty scenery. But it was packed and we waited a good hour or so to get in—so apparently it was a really popular site. On Monday morning, B, one of his friends and I woke up early, took out the bikes and did a tour of the gorgeous countryside.


We got back to the house and the whole group rented canoes and went canoeing down the river. It was a 2 hour trip from top to bottom and not without its snags. At one point, the boys stopped to climb to the top of a bridge and fling themselves into the river (I had keep my mouth shut on that one, can’t be embarrassing B in front of his “boys”). Then, about halfway down the river my canoe (with my cousin and a guy friend of B’s) had a little mishap and veered off into the trees and bushes that were hanging down into the river. When we finally managed to untangle ourselves, we found our boat covered with spiders and bugs! They were just crawling all over us! My cousin was freaking out big-time so that got me laughing, but then I kept seeing spiders all around me and since I couldn’t very well jump out of the canoe into the river, all I could do was scream and cry. Meanwhile, the guy in the canoe is cracking up at our freak out so he isn’t helping, B is calmly rowing off down the river b/c he’s used to my bug-phobia, and the rest of the group is just looking at us like we were a couple of crazies. Sorry folks, I just don’t do bugs and spiders. It grosses me out. Funny enough, before we left on the trip, the guy who owns the house asked B, “Is Stacy going to be ok out here? I know she’s a city girl…”. Well…

Finally, B rowed up beside our canoe and made a half hearted attempt to pull the spiders out of my hair while I tried to stay calm and act like I was still having a blast—in actuality, I was just waiting till the end of the stupid ride so I could go back to the house and scrub myself down in the shower. It was fun in the beginning but after the spider fiasco I was so through. Ugh… just thinking about it is giving me goosebumps… That evening, we had one final dinner before packing back into our cars and driving back to Paris. It was a really nice weekend… I got to know B’s friends better and spend 3 days in a part of France that I’ve never been before.

The funny part was the girlfriends. The entire trip, all they did was cook and clean while their boys sat around drinking and talking. Like literally, on their knees scrubbing the kitchen floor. And the cooked every meal from scratch—baking cakes, making crepes, eggs, pasta. And they did the dishes afterwards! And during every meal, they were just silent and let the boys do all the talking. They barely made a peep! My cousin and I just couldn’t get over it. You can’t put an American (or New York rather?) girl in a setting like that and expect her to play the mute little housewife. The only reason we didn’t contribute to the conversation much was because they were talking so fast and we couldn’t understand all the French slang. But the two French girlfriends had no excuse! And I’m sorry, I’ll wash a dish or two and maybe you can get me to toss a salad one night, but I’d be damned if I’m going to cook 3-course meals and clean every day while my man sits on his ass like some King. B may get a home-cooked meal once in a while, but we are going 50/50 on that sh*t. My cousin and I couldn’t stop laughing at the situation. After a feeble offer to help (which the girls promptly denied after we explained that we barely know how to boil water) we just sat outside drinking with the boys while the girls cooked. But I guess these girls are better than us, they sure do know how to take care of their men. Maybe that’s why French girls are never single…

Saturday, July 5, 2008

I [Heart] NY


B and I first started discussing New York about a month into our relationship but I never seriously thought we would make it to the point where we’d be taking a trip to my hometown together. I didn’t think we’d see out the month, let alone still be together 8 months later. Even when we bought our tickets (about 3 months in advance) I was thinking up a contingency plan after our inevitable breakup. Needless to say, 8 months came and went and we were soon off to spend 2 weeks in the States—10 days in New York (alternating between 2 friends’ apartments) with 5 days in Maryland in between to visit my parents. B’s excitement about New York was too cute. He lives and breathes hip hop and couldn’t wait to walk the streets of idols. He’s seen every New York-based movie and was determined to retrace the steps of his favorite films. He said to me, “After I see New York, I can die happy” and I remember having the same feeling once upon a time. My relationship with New York goes through waves and lulls—even with the conscious knowledge that I lived in the greatest city in the world, just as often as not, I felt fed up, exhausted, stressed out and annoyed with the place. I never walked across the Brooklyn Bridge or climbed to the top of the Empire State Building. I talked sh*t and complained about everything b/c that’s what we do. Sure, the view of the Manhattan skyline always made me smile, but I forgot about that particular giddy, child-like enthusiasm that the city can make you feel until B arrived and reminded me. I was excited to experience New York with him, to show him my world.
And we had the most amazing time. It was exhausting and way too short. We didn’t get to see everything I wanted to see/do, but B got a small taste of my amazing city and naturally, fell in love with it. I loved that he was so eager to go out and explore. To take it upon himself to wake up early to pickup donuts and coffee everyday for breakfast while I slept in. I loved his excitement at seeing an old-fashioned ice cream truck. I loved that he was so un-New York as to actually start conversations with strangers in the street from sheer curiosity.

And in Maryland was just chill. I let him sit in my favorite chair to watch TV, we hung out at the mall I spent my adolescence in, swam in the pool and just relaxed with old friends and family. And my mother ADORED him. Naturally, being the Haitian mother that she is, she showed her acceptance by trying to suffocate him with food every 2 seconds. But she noticed all the little things (his manners, how he takes care of me, how well he treats me) and said, “That’s a good man—you better not let him get away”.
Growing up as an only child, the only deep interactions I had with people who weren’t my blood family was with friends. As with many other people, my friends became my family. Granted, I have lots of friends and not all of them hold the same amount of weight as others, but each person is significant for one reason or another. So the biggest thing to me was being able to introduce the man I love to the people who matter the most to me—I wanted them to love him as much as I do.
But I forgot that at the end of the day, B is pretty shy. That he’s not Mr. Life of the Party around strangers and isn’t the easiest person to get to know. I forgot that in a group of Americans speaking rapid-fire English in a loud crowded bar he can’t always keep up. I didn’t know what would happen when I took B out of his element. I expected him to just be able to jump in, stand his ground and be instantly comfortable in the middle of the silly, familiar banter that I’d developed with people after years of friendship. And I mistakenly thought that my friends would instantly see in him what I see. And although people had a chance to meet him briefly, I didn’t give many people the chance to get to KNOW him one-on-one and therefore, it was hard for most of my friends to form an opinion about him. With me, he’s B. He’s not perfect and he drives me crazy at times. He tells stupid jokes. He insists on his jeans and t-shirts. He gets moody and sullen and French on me at times, but my heart still skips a beat when I see his face. He is sweet and adorably awkward, gentle and so fragile. Why God put us together is beyond me, but between him and me, it just works. B is just about my polar opposite but he makes me happy.
But does he fit into my world? At the end of this wonderful year in Paris, would I be able to pack him up, bring him to New York and seamlessly integrate him into my life? That is the big question I was left with. Maybe it’s not meant to be as simple as that, but for a girl who is rarely without her friends, I cannot imagine having to try to split my time between B and my friends b/c they don’t care to get along. My boyfriend and my friends—we have to ALL be one family. As deeply as I love a man, I could not give up my friends for any one person—and I don’t know if I could deal with him not loving them as much as I do.
On the flip side, I’m still evolving and growing. Oprah said she didn’t truly know who she was until she turned 50. This is my first real relationship so I’m still figuring out how things work. Add to that the fact that we fell in love under unique circumstances and I didn’t have the normal springboard of opinion from my friends from Day 1 (whether that is a good or bad thing is debatable). I don’t know if my concerns are valid or just a bunch of rubbish that doesn’t matter at the end of the day. About 8 weeks till I leave Paris (GOD!) so only time will tell…

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What Pride?

Back in March, B’s mother invited me to his goddaughter/niece’s baptism. Very exciting stuff considering it was a big family affair and she told B to let me know I was to be her “guest”. Then, about 2 weeks before his family was expected to arrive from LA, B gets a call from his brother informing him that the baptism would be strictly family—meaning I could not attend. What?! Why?? Did his parents not want me to attend? Did the family think I was just some random jump-off who wouldn’t last and didn’t want me in the pictures? Was it b/c I’m black? I couldn’t understand why I was suddenly excluded (particularly since I’d already been invited months ago) so of course I assumed the worst. B felt horrible about it and that made me feel worse than the withdrawn invite itself. But there was nothing he could do so I decided to spend the baptism weekend in the South of France with my expat friends who were leaving Paris the following week.
2 weeks later, B’s brother leaves his wife and her 2 sisters in Paris and heads to his parents house in Troyes with the baby. I was determined not to act stank so I made every effort to get to know the ladies and we actually ended up hitting it off. They were all really sweet and fun and I took them around to see the sights and hang with my friends as if they were my own guests.
On Friday, B and his sister-in-law left for a weekend in Troyes. By Sunday, B returns to Paris and tells me his brother said I could come to next weekend’s baptism after all—apparently he regretted saying I couldn’t attend and was really looking forward to meeting me. Very nice. But there was no way I was going to go after all of that drama—my pride wouldn’t let me. So I gave B my gift for the baby and told him to extend my apologies to the family for not being able to be there.
The next day B’s brother arrives in Paris. I wasn’t sure whether it would be awkward or not but it went off without a hitch. We chatted and laughed a lot and ended up hanging out a few times throughout the week. By this time, my trip down South had been cancelled so I planned to spend the weekend in Paris partying with my friends. Meanwhile, the whole group was heading to Troyes that evening and it was time to say my goodbyes since I would not be attending the baptism and they would be flying back to LA directly from Troyes the following week.
As I was saying goodbye, B’s brother said, “What do you have planned this weekend?”
Me: “Well my friends are leaving Paris this week so we’re having our farewell party”.
Brother: “What day? B/c we would really like you to come to the baptism on Sunday”.
Me: “Tonight… but we may get together Saturday night too”.
Brother: “Well you should join us tomorrow morning instead”.
Me: [Laughing] “I really don’t think your parents would like to see me hung over tomorrow”.
Brother: “True. Then you’ll just have to come in the afternoon once you’ve sobered up. Really, I insist”.
I was determined to stick my ground, not b/c I didn’t WANT to go, it was strictly on principal. In my mind, I didn’t want to be the girl waiting around with her weekend open, hoping for a last minute invite. But once his wife started chiming in I couldn’t say no any longer. Technically I didn’t have any plans and I couldn’t think of a valid excuse quick enough so I gave in.

There were about 30 aunts, uncles and cousins at the house and we spent all day Sunday drinking wine and champagne, eating delicious French food and talking (all in French) in the family’s garden. B’s brother announced to everyone that he was really impressed with my French. I did some translating for the in-laws who didn’t speak French/English. I even had a 30 minute convo with B’s aunt discussing my relationship and future plans with B. Late that evening, while B was driving me back to the train station, he told me that his family pulled him aside to tell him I was great and they were looking forward to seeing me again. Score! I was able to meet his family and finally put faces to names, be part of a significant family function for the first time ever and practice my French. And I actually managed to make a good impression despite my nervousness. So in the end, I’m really glad I decided to swallow my pride and go.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Sorry!

I know I’ve been M.I.A. these last few weeks—that only means that I’ve been super busy and have lots more stories to share so please forgive me and please bear with me. First, I had another interesting encounter with B’s family which tested my humility. Then, B and I went off and spent 2 eye-opening weeks in New York and Maryland. And finally, we had the biggest, scariest fight we’ve ever had, over the blog. And I did think about shuttering the blog for good—it’s an awful feeling to know that you’ve hurt someone you love—but then I thought, this blog is for me. I started it with the intention of having a space where I could jot down my thoughts and feelings and document my life in what is proven to be one of the most significant years of my life. A space where I could share with friends my mistakes, triumphs, doubts, adventures and lessons learned in all of its “coming-of-age” glory (and folly). As the ex-Governor McGreevy said (in an entirely different context but whatev), “This is my truth” and what good is having a truth if you can’t express it. That being said, moving forward, I will be conscientious while still trying to remain completely accurate and true to myself :o)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Land of Lepricons

Went to Dublin with my American friend Alejandra (from New Orleans) last weekend. We had yet another national holiday (what’s up with the French and their endless holidays… these people never work) so we decided to spend 2 days in Dublin to see how the other side lives—basically we just wanted to spend a girls weekend partying. Which we most certainly did… and never have I been as conscious of my age as I am now.

We arrived on Friday morning and I quickly realized that despite being a tiny city, in addition to having a pub every two steps (a local radio station actually had a contest to see if anyone could walk from Point A to Point B without passing a pub... no one could do it), Dublin has the very thing that make London such a great town—amazing shopping! They had The Office and Oasis, Boots and the crème de la crème: TOPSHOP… they even had a Wagamama, which is, hands down, the most delicious Asian fast food I have ever had in my life. I was in heaven.

So after lunch and an afternoon pint (the pubs were packed even at 2pm, gotta love the Irish!), Ali went to take a nap while I set out to hit the stores (who needs sleep when you can shop?). Its times like these when I really miss my girl Paula (we once had a 4-day, sun-up to sun-down shopping fest in London. By the end of it our bodies ached, our feet were literally swollen. We had to sit on our suitcases to close them and feared getting stopped by customs due to the sheer amount of things we bought. But we came back to the States with piles of delicious clothes/shoes) but I went at it alone, and even though I’m hopelessly poor these days, I walked away with a few cute summer dresses.

We were staying in a hostel and our 3rd roomie was a Californian named Kristy who had been studying abroad in Florence for the last year. She was super sweet and traveling alone so we invited her to join us for “an easy night out”. We had dinner and then decided to stop by a pub on Temple Bar, the party street which was a block away from where we were staying. After the first pint, we decided to go to a second bar. Then walking out the door, we bumped into an Irish girl who told us we HAD to check out another bar (off Graffton St which is where the locals hangout)… we arrived at the 3rd bar and spent the next 3 hours dancing with a group of Brits in town for a bachelor party—the DJ spinning everything from Britney Spears and 50 Cent to “Grease Lightning” and “New York, New York”. Funny what music sounds so “fantastic” when you’re drunk :o) At closing, the doorman gave us free tickets for the club across the street which was inside an old theater so we stayed there till closing an hour later. And as per usual, we needed junk food to end the night properly so we decided to stop at Burger King (I know, but you really get to miss American junk food living overseas), where Ali met an Irish guy who escorted us home around 5am.

The next day, we woke up at noon, hurting from the night before. We had planned to see the Guinness Factory regardless of our physical state, so we walked over, waited in line for over an hour to get in and have our tour, complete with a free pint of Guinness (meanwhile, at that point just the sight of beer made us nauseous). We got back around 5pm and fell into bed until it was time for our dinner reservation at Elephant & Castle, apparently one of Colin Ferrell’s favorites. After dinner we wanted to do something chill but since it was Saturday night (or simply b/c its Dublin?), everything was a huge, loud, packed party. So we went to bed at 11pm Saturday night like a couple of losers… granted our flight left at 7am the next morning but its odd to think that just a few years ago I could party till 5am six nights a week and feel fine, while now, one night will do me in… oh well. Dublin was a blast, very cool city with really nice people, but probably made more for the younger set. But after living in a crappy shopping city like Paris for so long (yes, it sucks unless you can afford Chanel and YSL), at least I had a chance to shop!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Kalimera!

B and I had both been itching to leave Paris and go someplace warm and since I had Spring Break, we decided on a week in Greece (April 26-May 3). What I was worried about was the prospect of spending an entire extended holiday (7 days and nights) with this man for the first time...

Athens (1 day)
Flew into Athens on Saturday night, getting to our hotel around 2am. Being in Plaka, the city center and oldest/most popular neighborhood in Athens, it was easy to find. They gave us the best room (I use that term loosely, considering the hotel was totally budget) with a view of the Acropolis. Granted, you had to crane your neck to see it from the balcony, but we knew it was there. After dropping off our stuff, we went out to grab a bite to eat. We found the streets buzzing, even at that late hour, and had Mythos beers and my all-time favorite Greek snack, Spanakopita (a spinach & cheese filled pie). I was told that Athens isn’t the greatest city so we only planned one day there, just to see the Acropolis. Well, guess what? The one day we’re in town the Greeks up and decide to have Orthodox Easter—meaning every single thing in the city was closed. Including the Acropolis. Needless to say, we were bummed… we spent the day wandering the city, eating and drinking.

Santorini (3 days)
We booked economy class for our 7am ferry and grabbed the best seats we could—two chairs at a table in the crowded restaurant. Not the most comfortable way to spend the 7 hour trip but we sat next to a really great couple and ended up talking to them the entire way. A 35-year-old French guy named Benoit (a struggling,girl formerly-homeless gypsy jazz musician) and his English girlfriend Clara (a wannabe interior designer) who lived in London and were spending 3 weeks island hopping—camping no less—on the most remote islands in the Cyclades. Couldn’t be me, but Clara put on a brave (girlfriend was totally faking it).

At the port we were met by a driver for the hotel who told us that the hotel we booked only had twin beds left and if we wanted a double, he could put is in their other hotel a few blocks away. It was terrible—situated on a loud, busy street and on the ground floor—so I politely asked the receptionist if we could take a look at our original hotel to see if we’d prefer that instead. She had the nerve to cop the biggest attitude! Finally I had to get rude and she agreed to call the owner and have us driven to the other hotel which we ended up switching to.

Walking into Fira town, my first thought was, “This is it? This dirty, busy, loud, tacky place is supposed to be one of the most beautiful islands on earth?” I was totally bummed until B decided to walk in the opposite direction from the center and we ended up in Firostefani, the most beautiful little village I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s the Santorini of picture books—whitewashed buildings, amazing volcano views, red rocked cliffs and an unbelievable sunset. And since tourist season had yet to begin, it was quiet and peaceful, as if we had the entire village to ourselves. We stumbled upon the most beautiful hotel (closed) and I talked the owner into opening the bar for us. We sat out on the terrace drinking beer and taking in the view… unbelievable is too light a word.

The next day we rented an ATV… I was really hesitant about it b/c the Greek Islands are known for their bad roads and tourist motor casualties. There’s nothing to keep you from veering off the side of a mountain, 1000 feet to the rocks/sea below and to your death. I wanted to just take buses to the sights but B insisted on the ATV and I’m glad he did. After running of gas on the side of the road and having to walk 20 mins to the nearest gas station, we ended up seeing so much of the island; visiting the beaches, ancient blue-domed churches, wandering through the villages… even driving back from Oia (in the dark, on a winding cliff) was amazing… granted I was drunk from dinner, otherwise I would have been freaking out. But the entire island is stunning; I will definitely be going back.

Naxos (3 days)
Naxos is known for their varying landscapes—mountains, vineyards, farmlands, beaches. It has absolutely everything you can imagine, is as close to unspoiled as you can get for a tourist destination and is a nature-lovers paradise. Needless to say, I don’t do the nature thing very well so aside from the fact that it was beautiful, the bugs and insects were kinda grossing me out.

Again, we rented an ATV and spend a day touring the entire island. My absolute favorite part was when we came upon a tiny village called Kinidaros. We stopped for lunch at a little place called Oasis, literally just a Greek guy named Dimetri serving food out of his kitchen. We walked in and asked if they were serving food and he replied, “Sure! I have some things I can make for you. Take a seat and I’ll bring something out”. No menu, nothing, we just had to wait and see. Turns out, he makes all the food himself, depending on how the day goes. That day he happened to kill a goat so we had goat cheese and spaghetti with grilled goat. He made a Greek dish of rice wrapped in leaves (picked from his tree in the front yard) grilled in olive oil (homemade). And we had a delicious glass of wine—also made himself out of 12 types of grapes. Everything was absolutely delicious. He sat down with us and told us all about his life and sent us off with a couple of bottles of his homemade wine.

The next best thing was getting lost on the way home. After seeing the countryside, we wanted to ride back along the coast. We took a little road and as it got more and more unkempt, we realized we had made a wrong turn. At a fork in the road, I told B to go left and we ended up near a house. I was going to get off the bike to ask for directions when out of no where, two dogs ran out and started growling and barking at us! I screamed and told B to step on it as the dogs ran alongside the bike, lunging and trying to bite our feet. At the time, I was terrified, thinking we were going to get eaten alive, but now I can only crack up at the image of B trying to maneuver the bike through the potholed, gravelly road without flipping us over and me screaming at him to go faster :o)

It was just such a fun, relaxing trip, I didn’t want it to end (plus, I wasn’t looking forward to the 6 hour ferry ride back to Athens). We got to Athens around 12:30am and since our flight was at 6:40am, we opted out of getting a hotel. Instead we got to the airport around 1:30am, picked out a spot on the floor in between all the backpackers, made a little “campsite” out of our suitcases and towels and lay down to sleep until check-in time.



My favorite thing on vacations is trying to pretend I'm not a tourist. Sure, I like to see the sights, but the best part is attempting to behave like a local—going to the small towns, eating their foods, getting lost in the backstreets. It was pretty unplanned so we just went with the flow and even with a few missteps, we had a blast. And the lucky thing is, it was B and my first real holiday together and it went off without a hitch (aside from the fact that I nearly made us miss our flight b/c I insisted on catching a United game… our saving grace being that the flight was delayed so they let us through the gate. Hey, we made it there in the end so that’s all water under the bridge). The only downfall of the trip was the reaction I got from the Greek people: I have never been stared at so hard in my entire life, not even in Italy (and you know how Italian men are!). I travel a lot so I’m used to looks a tourist (esp. a black woman) gets and I usually ignore it, but this was downright uncomfortable. I later spoke to a black woman who lives in Greece and she said the Greeks are fascinated with anything “ethnic”, it’s like the cool thing now, even though there aren’t many blacks in the country. So all the stares could mainly be caulked up to old-fashioned curiosity rather than racism. Anyway, apart from that it was an unforgettable trip—and a few dozen stares won’t keep me from going back again someday!

Monday, April 21, 2008

The "L" Word

Saturday was another big day… B and I finally said “I love you” to each other.

B’s mother was in town for the day so he left my place around 8:30am to pick her up from the train station. They spent the afternoon together and he came back to my place around 7pm after dropping her off. It happened to be one of those rare warm and sunny days in Paris (this so-called spring weather is ridiculous!) so we planned to go bike riding. Naturally, all the Velib bikes were taken (the second the sun comes out of hiding, every Parisian in the city decides they want to go bike riding so unless you get to a Velib station by sunrise, there are never any bikes left) so we decided to go to a little café on Canal Saint Martin that B knew about where we could watch the sunset. We got there and, of course, all the outside seats were taken (gotta love Paris!). There was a supermarket next door so B suggested we grab some food and have a picnic along the canal—there were tons of people sitting along the edge of the canal drinking beers with their friends (totally illegal, but then this is France, the police don’t care). So we picked up a baguette, some saucisson, a bag of chips, a few beers and some cookies and found a spot along the canal to spread out and watch the sunset. It was lovely.

On the way home, we decided to stop by a little Irish pub called The Cork and Cavan and have another round. We hung out there for a few hours, chatting about lots of random stuff—from religion to football to Henry VIII—and at one point we were just making googly eyes at each other. He smiled and said, “What are you thinking?” Now, he always asks me what I’m thinking, and if it happens to be about him, I just laugh and say “Nothing” and he eventually lets it go. But this time, he wouldn’t let it go. He was like, “Whisper it to me” and we were whispering silly things back and forth to each other and then suddenly he whispers, “I love you”. WOW.

I said it back and he just kissed me all over my face, repeating “I love you” over and over again. It was so completely out of the blue and so HUGE, but oddly, really easy to say. Now to hear him call me “my love”… it’s just so exciting and weird!

It’s funny, because as close as my mom and I are, we never really had that kind of relationship where we said “I love you” to each other every day. Except if I was going off to college or moving Paris or something, we aren’t the type to say “I love you” at every parting. Plus, I’ve never loved a man before (except for those silly little crushes I was prone to every once in a while where I thought I was in love… but let’s just forget all about that shall we) so it’s totally new for me (and for him) but its really nice.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Training Day

I remember my mom talking to me about the quirky little things that men do and how there are certain instances where you just have to bite your tongue and look the other way. I had no idea what she meant… honestly I couldn’t imagine any situation where I wouldn’t tell a man exactly how I felt—and if he got pissed that was his business, he could just fu*k off. And I’d be damned if I would close my eyes to something as insane as infidelity. But for the first time, I’ve finally understood what she was talking about. It’s not about being a stupid woman, it’s the little, inconsequential things that men do that may annoy, but since it isn’t really hurting anyone, a girl should probably just let it go.

Case in point:
On Sunday night, after cooking a dinner of spaghetti bolognaise for B and I (I’ve been doing a lot of this cooking thing lately, who would have thought!), we paused The Sopranos DVD to make some hot chocolate. The two mugs that I own were dirty (as were all the dishes and pots from our dinner) so B said he would do the dishes while I heated the milk. So I’m minding my own business, preparing the hot chocolate and what do I see out of the corner of my eye? B washing the dishes… WITHOUT ANY SOAP! I mean really! What’s the point?! How does a person think its OK to wash dishes without soap?! Are they supposed to be clean? Is someone supposed to drink out of that glass afterwards?

But I was thinking of what my mom said: When a man tries to do something nice and gets criticized for it by his wife/girlfriend, he has no desire to ever do it again. So if I told him he was doing it wrong, that I’d just do the dishes myself, he may get annoyed and never take it upon himself to wash my dishes again. And Lord knows I hate to do dishes but I hate to see dishes left in the sink … a bit of a catch-22, someone’s got to do it… aka B.

Let me tell you, it took every ounce of strength I had to not snatch the sponge out of his hand and do the dishes myself. I love the guy but it was dawning on me that every time B washed my dishes they were probably never totally clean! Finally, when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I just gave a little chuckle as I stirred in the chocolate. B turned to me and said, “What?” And I put on a big smile and breezily said, “Oh nothing… it’s just funny that you’re not using any soap”. Thankfully, he didn’t hear the strain in my voice. He just laughed saying, “Strange, I thought there was soap on the sponge already” and added more soap.

I had to do it. I would just end up having to rewash the dishes later, and from every moment thereafter, and then what would be the point? And in my defense, I completely ignored the fact that he didn’t rinse the dishes completely and there was still a bit of soap on them when he put them in the rack to dry. Hey, you pick your battles, right?

So. I’ve learned that the training process with men is also important and can be utilized in just this type of scenario. And as long as you’re not really criticizing but kind of masking your frustration as trait you find cute/endearing/funny, they’ll never even notice that you’re being an anal-retentive freak :o)

Sunday, April 6, 2008

An Expat Wedding

On Saturday afternoon, March 29th, my Brazilian friend Christiane married her Frenchie in a civil ceremony in Paris. They got married at the Mairie (Town Hall) in the 2nd arrondissement of Paris which was absolutely lovely (the rule is you have to get married in the Town Hall of your district and apparently some of them are pretty sh*tty) so they lucked out. They have the wildest love story: they met on a beach in Rio about 2 years ago when he was on vacation with his friends. A year later she went to Paris for vacation and decided to give him a call (they hadn’t spoken much throughout the past year). They spent 2 weeks together last March which was enough to convince her to move to Paris in September to give it a shot. By December they were engaged. Technically they got married now so she could live in France legally, but obviously it’s much deeper than that. If I didn’t see them with my own eyes I would give them about 6 months, tops. But they have this relationship that you can’t help but believe in the commitment and sincerity of. You can really see how happy and in love they are and even thinking of an “appropriate length of time” seems silly.

So around 9pm that night B and I went out to Enghiens Les Bains, a wealthy suburb about 15 mins outside of Paris, to the groom’s parents’ house for the wedding party. We spent the next 3 hours eating sushi, chatting with the other guests, dancing to the music on their iTunes playlist and getting drunk on champagne, then left around midnight to catch the last train back to the city. And with the weather finally deciding to cooperate, it was a fantastic day.

This Wednesday is me & B's 6 month anniversary… every month I’m shocked that we’ve arrived at this point. I mean, me? In a serious relationship?! Absurd. We go to sleep together and wake up together nearly every day now, and I still feel as though I can’t get enough of him—I miss seeing his face when he’s not around and it feels weird sleeping alone. It’s so strange because I’m the type who ALWAYS gets tired of people if they’re around too often, even if it’s my best friend… I think it’s only child syndrome. But with B, oddly, it’s different. On the one hand, we have our separate lives and I go out with my friends and have a good time without him and I love that. But on the other hand, if he’s away for a weekend, sometimes I prefer to just stay home watching Rob & Big reruns than go out and party—and yall know me, that’s just unheard of! I don’t know what will happen at the end of my Parisian run, we don’t like to talk about it, rather just enjoy the moment. But if at the end of the summer I only get to package the memories into a nice little box to take home with me, I’ll still be happy that it happened.

video

Monday, March 24, 2008

The French Countryside

Thank God for holidays! I had a 4 day break from school last week due to the Easter holiday so B and I decided to get away from Paris and explore a bit of the countryside. On Saturday, we took the train 1.5 hours SW to Chartres. This town is famous for their cosmetics/perfumes, baguettes (they made the 1st traditional French baguette) and the Cathedral of Chartres (also known as Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres) which is on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list. Its one of the oldest and biggest cathedral’s in the world, dating all the way back to the 12th century, and it pretty much started the whole Gothic trend. The coolest relic was a robe worn by the Virgin Mary (see below)! I must have started at it for 10 minutes, its just hard to wrap your mind around something like that. And the town itself was absolutely gorgeous… it was freezing and it rained and snowed all day, but B and I spent hours just wandering down the little streets, along the river and through the old stairways/passageways. Absolutely stunning…

On Sunday, we went to Blois, about 3 hours from Paris in the Loire Valley. This region is all about the châteaux—their famous one being the 13th century Royal Château de Blois, home to everyone from Louis XII to Catherine de Medici and is where Joan of Arc went to be blessed in the 1400’s. It’s such a trip to wander through castles dating back thousands of years—stand in the bedrooms of Queens, the office’s of Kings, walk down stairs that were built in the Middle Ages. I don’t think of it so often, but when I’m in these medieval towns, it hits me that America is such a baby compared to France. Unfortunately, Sundays are when France shuts down (another cultural grievance of mine) so nearly everything was closed but we were able to see all the important sites and soak in the ambiance of the village...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Weekend with the In-Laws

I think I’ve figured out what it feels like to spend a weekend with your boyfriend’s parents: it’s like being on a roller coaster, at the top of the lift, right before the big drop. The sensation of being suspended at a point where anything can go wrong at any moment—you’re holding your breath, heart quickening, hoping everything will be perfect, anticipating the worst—and then you get to the end of the ride and you’re still alive, you realize it wasn’t as bad as you thought it would be. But each time you have to encounter the parents again—having lunch, dinner, making small talk on the way to the bathroom—the roller coaster starts all over again… and it’s absolutely exhausting! I don’t know if it gets easier over time, but if we were there for any longer than 2 days, I don’t think I would have made it through.

That being said, I had a wonderful trip.

My first thought upon waking up on Saturday morning was, “Is it too late to back out?” I just didn’t think I could go through with it, I was so nervous. But then I’d read online that if you cancel on meeting the parents at the last minute, “you better be seriously injured or dead when they find you”. So I got up early and spent the next 1.5 hours getting ready.

I wore a grey sweatshirt dress, brown knee high flat boots and a leather jacket with my pink scarf. Cute but casual—I didn’t want to come off as too “city girl” and scare them (they are country folk after all) but I didn’t want to look like I hadn’t tried either. I woke B up about 10 mins before we had to leave for the train station. It was pretty funny—he was so confused as to why he only had time to brush his teeth and throw on some clothes, “Did I sleep through the alarm? I didn’t hear it”. And I said, “No, I woke up earlier and turned it off. I just needed the prep time for myself and didn’t want you hogging the bathroom… they’re your parents, you don’t need to shower”.

We arrived in Troyes around 11am and B’s dad picked us up from the station. He’s an older, handsome man, very fit, with salt & pepper hair and glasses… it gave me a preview of how B will look in 40 years… not bad. I had decided to get the parents one gift: a pot of yellow orchids which I put in a small white vase. When we got to the house, his mom was waiting for us outside and I handed the flowers to her with a “J’ai s'apporté quelque chose pour vous”. She seemed pleased and displayed them during our meals all weekend (she may have thrown them out once I left but no matter).

It was about 68 degrees so we sat in their beautiful garden (B’s dad hand built a pond in the backyard and caught fish from the lake 20 mins away to fill it with), drinking aperitifs (cognac) and eating cheese while belle-mère showered me with questions… surprisingly, I was able to answer everything with just a little help from B on the French words I didn’t know. I was even able to have actual conversations with them. She told me she was really impressed with my French and mentioned how her daughter-in-law (B’s older brother’s American wife) can’t speak any French. B told me that when the wife is with them, she doesn’t say a word—so apparently my barely intelligible, kindergarten level conversation was a welcome change.

Afterwards, B and I went “into town” to sightsee. While we were walking, a black girl ran up to us and said, “Excuse me, are you American?” She said she hasn’t met a single American the entire 3 years she’d been living here (she had the typical story: American moves to France to teach English for a year, meets a Frenchman, falls in love and stays), let alone a black American. We chatted about expatriate life in France for about 10 minutes before parting ways. Wow—that is how small and isolated this town is. Very pretty, but a quintessential French country village.

We returned to chez B around 7pm for dinner with the folks. His dad BBQ’d steak on a grill he built out of a trash can (his father is seriously something else) and we drank so much wine that B told me I was starting to look drunk. Its really funny considering I grew up in a household where alcohol consumption (no matter how small) is considered taboo… meanwhile, B grew up drinking wine since he was about 5 years old. That’s American culture for you—if we weren’t so strict about everything maybe we wouldn’t have so many alcoholic kids running around. Anyway, later B and I met up with a friend of his at a little dive bar in town but I was so exhausted (read: drunk) we had to leave around 12am. That night, even though we were SUPPOSED to be sleeping in separate rooms, B knocked on my door around 1am and told me the guest room was too cold so he wanted to stay in my room (I was sleeping in his old bedroom)... just to sleep... hmm...

On Sunday, B and I had decided to go for a drive in the country so he could show me his childhood—picking mushrooms in the forest, playing & fishing at the lake, biking through the wheat fields—I would laugh if it weren’t so cute. So after a late lunch of escargot (beau-père picked the snails from the forest himself) and grilled sheep (sounds scary but it was delicious!), we were lounging in the living room watching TV when beau-père walks by and says, “10 minutes”. B barely turned his eyes away from the football game he was watching to say, “Oh yeah, my parents are coming with us”. Greeeaaat.

It actually turned out to be a good time. We drove around for about 3 hours and they gave me the full history of the village and showed me all their family hangouts which was really nice of them. And the countryside of Champagne (their region) is gorgeous. We went back home for a gôuté (a torte) and then belle-mère drove us to the station to catch our 6pm train back to Paris.

As relieved as I was to leave and switch the perma-smile off, I had a really great time. It went a lot better than I had imagined. They were really nice people and I think they actually liked me (they even invited me to come back in the spring). Plus, seeing where B grew up, what his life was like, who he came from, that was pretty cool. And the best moment: B’s brother is coming to France with his family in May for his daughter’s baptism and belle-mère was talking about how full the house would be and started ticking off on her fingers who would be saying that weekend and said, “…and Stacy and B will take one room...”. It’s gotta be the best feeling to have your boyfriend’s mother include you in an important family function as though you’re a part of the family. I sent them a Thank You card the next day.

(I forgot my camera at home so I have to scan in the pics from my disposable later)