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


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.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The ex, continued...

The final part of The Ex saga, read Part 1 here.

I get back to my apt and my mind is running wild with ideas about where he is and what he’s doing. So naturally, I decide to spend the next HOUR calling his house (his cell had been out of commission for a few days) getting angrier and angrier as the minutes tick by (Lord only knows what possessed me to do this—after the 3rd or 4th call you would think a girl would give up and go to sleep). Finally, at 3am, he picks up—tentatively, surprised to be getting a call at such a late hour. And do you know I let the poor boy have it? Thoroughly cursed his ass out. Where were you?! I was knocking on your door at 2am and you weren’t home!! Were you with HER?! On and on in that vein, things that make me cringe to remember so I won’t repeat here. Sigh. The funny thing is, I’m normally very nice and calm. To the point where my friends get surprised when they hear me say a curse word. But when I get mad (which is so rare people often ask if I ever get upset about anything), it’s not pretty.

Anyway, I’m going off for a solid 3 minutes while poor B just tries to get a word in edgewise. Finally he breaks in and says, “Wait a minute! I don’t HAVE to tell you where I’ve been. I don’t owe you anything”. And that simple (and very true) statement stopped me in my tracks… Oh. Right. He’s not my boyfriend. Why am I so upset?

And then he quietly says, “Stacy, what are you doing to me? YOU left ME. What do you want from me? You know I’m in love with you and if you just said the word I would leave this girl and be with you right now.” To be honest, hearing him say that he still loves me and knowing that this “other woman” has not replaced me was a little comforting. On the flip side, I felt guilty for being so selfish b/c I do want him to be happy. But what happens when he does meet “the one”. His next great love? The woman he’s going to marry? How will I feel then?

I had to stop and ask myself what I really want here. It hurts me to know he’s with someone else so maybe that means we should get back together. But is that just jealousy talking or genuine feelings? Last week B’s friend was driving me home and asked about B and I. And then he warned me, “I had to be around him all those months after you left. He was in really bad shape”. And I know I absolutely cannot do that to him a second time. So we spoke, finally had that heartbreaking heart-to-heart. And in the end, we acknowledged the fact that I am here for just a short time and there’s no point in starting something up again that I have no intention of seeing through. It just isn’t fair to either one of us.

I don’t know why I thought we could keep the friendship part without any fear that the romantic part would rear its little head. Is it true that lovers can’t be friends? Or maybe it was just too soon for B and I—maybe we didn’t give each other enough time to forget before we started speaking again. The thing is, while the thought of no longer speaking to him makes my heart drop, I don’t think we should be together. I’m at a point in my life where I’m ready to meet “the one” (ironically, because of B and all that I learned after being in our relationship with all its amazing ups and downs). And while I could blissfully enjoy much more time with B, the thought of getting married and having babies is very real for me and you don’t get there by devoting years of your life to a man you don’t see a future with.

The problem remains that I love him. Simply and completely and I believe that I will love him for the rest of my life. But I don’t think I’m IN love with him any longer. I don’t know what any of that means, if it’s a normal process and these feelings will also pass in time. Or if its a lifelong scar we're meant to carry with us when an epic romance ends... the whole business is confusing. In any case, B left for a 3-week vacation (Spain, Italy, Hungry and Germany) so it gives me a bit of time to clear my head about the whole matter. It’s been nearly 2 weeks and I've missed him since he’s been away. Maybe its innocent, like you would miss any friend you see often; maybe it’s more than that. I honestly don’t know.

One thing I do know is that a big mistake people make in love is that they forget that you have to use your head too, not just your heart. And my head is telling me to move on—however painful, there is someone out there who will make it easy for me to walk away from B. But how do you ever forget the one who took your heart first?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

About that date...

Just a word that I didn’t end up going on the date with Morocco the other night. I got an email from a friend inviting me to join her and her coworkers for an improptu picnic at Invalides that evening. That sounded like much more fun (and it was! I love meeting new people... funny that it always ends up being expat girls and their French husbands) so I texted him and told him that something came up.

The next morning I received this via text message:
Fitting, considering we met in a flower stall J

I know he leaves for vacation this weekend so I guess that’s that. Can’t say I’m too disappointed so that tells you how excited I was about that guy. I guess this means I need to get out there and find myself a real first date!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The ex

This is going to be in two parts because it turned out to be pretty long… sorry, I ramble.

Normally I think I’ve got my sh*t together when it comes to relationships—I’m definitely not the jealous type, I don’t need or want to be all up in your face every second of the day, I believe in having my life, you have yours, etc. But last week I sort of lost it. Sigh.

Let me start at the beginning…

B and I have kept in steady contact since I left Paris last September. He came to see me in New York twice, I went to visit him for his birthday in Paris this past February. And in between, we would email a couple times a week, plus have a Skype date almost every Sunday morning. It wasn’t that we were trying to have a long distance relationship, we just happen to still care about each other and wanted to keep up-to-date on what was happening in each other’s lives. Careful not to mention any new romantic relationships of course. After my heart had time to heal a bit (which it did! With the help of good friends. But such a surprise b/c at the time I was sure I would drop dead on the spot from the heartache) I began to think that this was all for the best. As much as I love B, there are a couple of fundamental disagreements we have about life (most importantly the religion thing) that I don’t know if I can look past. But I do believe that he came into my life for a reason— maybe to teach me what love is, to learn how to be a little less selfish, to figure out exactly what I need from my life partner, to learn to see myself through his eyes (what woman doesn't want to look into a man's eyes and know that he finds you 100% beautiful & desirable & amazing? Even on your worst days)... who knows.

Sidenote: my mother is in LOVE with B and finds every opportunity to tell me I’m making the biggest mistake of my life (ironically she was in a similar situation and says she doesn’t want it to happen to me: she broke up with her first love b/c she thought he wasn’t “the one” and married my dad. After they got divorced she reconnected with her first love. They’ve been married for almost 20 years now)—I keep telling her she should marry B then :)

Anyway, when I flew back to Paris the first (only) person I thought of to help me with my heavy bags was B. He left work to come all the way across town to help me carry my 4 bags from the train station up 4 flights of stairs to my new apt. The next day we met up for dinner and drinks with a couple of his friends. And the following night I had a dinner date with my Dutch girlfriend E (the one I met through The Rocker a couple years back. I’m in town for her wedding in the South, among other things) who happens to live about a 10-minute walk from B’s apartment. By the time I finally left her apt, it was pretty late so I called B to ask if I could crash at his place for the night and he said yes. We were chatting well into the night and he suddenly mentioned something that made my heart stop: he’s seeing someone. Apparently it’s a girl he knows from his Tuesday night acting class, they started seeing each other three weeks ago. He felt guilty and said he would have to tell her what just happened between us (it wasn’t that much, let me assure you. Though a little more friendly than friends ought to be—lol, I was a bit tipsy from the wine, sue me). Well that just pissed me off. Irrational, I know, but how is it that I have to acquiesce to some random jump off who just popped into the picture two seconds ago? As if I could ever be "the other woman" with a man who was mine to begin with (yes, I know how that sounds. But this is how I felt at the time). I didn't think it would affect me to know that he's seeing someone. He's a good looking guy, I'm sure he's been dating. But for him to actually mention someone to me? Must be more serious than he's letting on. I tried to grill him for details about the girl (I’ve always been a bit masochistic) but he wouldn’t talk, only to swear that it really wasn’t that serious. Fine.

So a couple of days later, my Dutch friend E and I decided to take a day trip to Giverny (gorgeous but more on that later). We made it back to Paris in time to meet E’s friends at the Cinema en Plein Air screening of Mulholland Drive at Parc de la Villette. It’s an outdoor film series the city puts on for a few weeks during the summer. Everyone lays out their blankets with food and wine and watches a movie under the stars. Since it ended after midnight the trains had already stopped running so E’s friends drove us back to her house in the 17th. Of course I figured I would just spend the night at B’s instead of trying to find a cab to take me home so I said goodbye and started walking over… Lord only knows what made me think that I can just pop over to B’s house any time I darn well please, no warning whatsoever. I knock on his door, no answer. It’s a weeknight, where the fu*k is he? Then it hits me: It's Tuesday. Acting class. With HER. Mind you, it was 2am at this point and his acting class lets out around 9:30-10pm… all I could think was, “Aw, HELL no!” I am heated and all sense of reason just flew out the window. I went back outside and flagged down a cab to take me home, fuming the entire time. Folks, it’s not my fault (ok, maybe it is, but this was SO unlike me so please forgive). I’m ashamed to say what happened next…

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A date

I stayed at a friend’s place in the 17th last week (a lovely apt in a very posh neighborhood near the Champs Elysees) so this morning I decided to stop by the farmer’s market across the street to restock her fridge and pick up some flowers as a thank you. While I was looking at the flowers, a guy working at one of the stalls came over, plucked a rose out of one of the arrangements and handed it to me. He was cute (Moroccan, around 30-35 years old, medium height/build) but I didn’t really think anything of it. While he was flirting, the florist started laughing as he wrapped my bouquet and said, “You have to be careful while you’re in Paris! We’re French men after all”. Then the florist asked Morocco for 1 Euro for the rose he gave me and he handed it to him saying, "That's no problem, she's worth millions more".

I went over to his stall next to find some fruits and he asked me to sit and chat with him. I was meeting friends for brunch and told him I had to run. And just then, a couple came to purchase something and he had a cute convo—very sweet, friendly, funny (I’m a sucker for funny guys). So when he asked for my number, though I had planned to say no, I gave it to him. Ok, I may be being naive but I figure it couldn’t hurt to go out with the guy once (though I do know that the term "dating" doesn't really exist in French, either you're with someone or you aren't). If I don't feel any sparks he could be an interesting person to know, someone to practice my French with and expand my social circle. Or I won't ever see him again. Anyway, he just called and asked me out for drinks tonight but I declined. So he asked if he could take me to dinner at Lido this Wednesday. I said ok but now I’m having second thoughts.

The dilemma is, will he expect something from me simply because he’s taking me out (Lord knows I can’t afford to drop that kind of money in my unemployed state)? I have heard horror stories about dating in Paris (i.e. men think buying you a drink/dinner buys them a free pass into your pants, they get angry if you simply say thank you at the end of the night, etc) but considering I met B so soon after I arrived, I didn’t really have a chance to experience "French dating". So what to do? Do I let Morocco take me to Lido (wait - is a cabaret too provocative for a first date anyway)? Should I suggest we just go someplace for drinks so I can pay my way (I personally don't believe in paying for the first date but considering that I’m not really interested and don't know dating protocol, maybe that's playing it safe)? Or maybe I’m over thinking this whole thing. After all, its just a date right?


Saturday, August 8, 2009

Je suis arrive

It’s a trip being back in Paris the second time around. It’s August so the city is relatively quiet, aside from the tourists traipsing around the Louvre. I’m living near Gare du Nord (a sketchy but central part of town) in an amazing 4-bedroom apartment with 3 guys. It was my girlfriend AC’s place until she moved in with her boyfriend. She needed someone to take over her room for a month until her lease ran out and thankfully the timing worked in my favor. I’ve got the room until Sept 5th when AC’s friend comes back from holiday in Cambodia and moves into the apt. My roomies are cool—I’ve met 2 of the 3 guys so far. One is away on vacation. One left for 2 weeks in Israel and Greece a couple days after I arrived. But the third guy is absolutely adorable. I can’t tell if he’s gay or straight (European men, figures) but the first thing he said to me was that he was really excited that I moved in because he loved Americans and was looking forward to practicing his English. So he’s been sticking his head in my room for a little chat every night and sending me cute text messages during the day in his broken English.

(the building foyer)

The apartment is quintessentially French—a 19th century Haussmann building with lots of dark creaky wood, tall ceilings, massive windows and huge heavy doors. A big change from the tiny chambre de bonne (which I adored) I lived in last year. Granted, I haven’t had a roommate since college (let alone a group of messy boys) so its been a bit of an adjustment but I always did enjoy being out of my element.

And how am I feeling about being back? It’s hard to describe exactly. On one hand I can’t say that Paris is my “forever home”, though I deeply love this city. But being here in this place, in this moment, I feel at peace. I sleep in. Go for walks. Meet friends for a glass of wine in the afternoon that stretches into the evening. Read books along the Seine. Host dinner parties in my apartment. Sit in cafes with free wifi and surf the internet. Window shop. Go to free concerts and movies in the park. Make new friends... I’m simply living. And I don’t feel that cloud of guilt and shame that hangs over your head in a city like New York. After a few weeks of being jobless, I was just plain sick and tired of people asking, “So when are you going back to work? What are you going to do with your life? Have you lost your mind?”

Honestly? Is it so unusual that after 8 years of climbing the corporate ladder I’ve decided to chuck Plan A and try something new? When I tell people in France that I quit my job and am spending the next couple months hanging out in Europe while I figure out what I want to do, they just nod and carry on, like it’s the most normal thing in the world. There is no judgment, only the understanding that your 20s are a time for learning and exploration. Sometimes the path is straight (where's the fun in that?); other times its not and it leads you to places you would never have imagined. The French seem to understand and for that I am grateful.

Recently I came upon a quote by Rilke that I found appropriate:

“Have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”

For now, I’m just going to enjoy living the question.