Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Rally

Sunday I was a part of the biggest gathering of people in Paris since the French Revolution.

The rally for the terrorist attacks last week drew 1.3 million people to the streets.

I met Maïa and Charlotte at M&M’s. All public transportation was free for the day, and announcers on the metro informed riders that stations Republique and Oberkampf were closed for the day “pour raison d’une manifestation.”

The streets were closed – no cars were to be seen. People walked in groups, sparsely at first where we began by their apartment, all in the same direction toward Republique. We joined them. It was strangely quiet. A police motorcycle whizzed past us with sirens blaring, and the sound was a hundred times more jolting than usual, crudely ripping through the cobble-stoned streets of murmuring people.

It’s difficult to describe the feeling in the air, but these streets I’ve walked so often by now felt completely alien. There was a heavy, determined energy in the city that afternoon.
We passed the offices of Charlie Hebdo, where the 12 people were shot Wednesday; flowers and candles spilled into the street, and people stood around silently staring at the entrance as though they could somehow glean answers to all the “whys” buzzing in their minds since the incident racked the city. One young couple was locked in an embrace, and the woman’s eyes were red-rimmed and filled with tears.

Everywhere we looked people wore the name “Charlie.” Most people had signs or stickers with “Je suis Charlie” written on them. Students held up pens and an old man wore a hat with colored pencils stuck in it like feathers, and a baby was asleep in a sling decorated with Charlie Hebdo cartoons. I noticed there weren’t many children there. Nobody wanted to say it, but everyone was braced for something bad to happen, despite the anti-terror squads checking the sewers and the snipers standing on rooftops majestically like Parisian Batmen.

We met up with a group of journalism students and stood smooshed between two Jewish organizations. Everyone stood shoulder-to-shoulder, moving only to light their cigarettes. I tried to make my way ten feet through the crowd to interview some people holding flags for an organization against anti-Semitism, but mobilization was simply impossible. The sun hid behind clouds and buildings, and the cold seeped through my jacket and scarf and into my pockets where I gripped my pen and notebook.

After an hour, we started moving forward; we were far from Republique, where the march was set to begin, and much farther from Nation, the ending point. Helicopters swarmed overhead; people in the crowd waved French flags and flags bearing the name of their organization. Cameramen climbed streetlights to perch like monkeys with their giant equipment in order to capture the crowds. Every few minutes people would start clapping and chanting “Charlie,” and people of all ages waved flags and shouted down from their balconies along the street.

It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. All the while Maxime texted me as he watched on the television, updating me with the news they were delivering – that’s how I first found out there was a million of us.

I wrote an article for The Speaker with more details about the whole thing: France rallies in act of solidarity against terrorist attacks

After two hours of marching, surrounded by protective security guards (since we were alongside a bunch of journalists, obviously the most targeted group at the moment, alongside the Jewish community), dark had fallen and we were freezing and hungry, so Maia and I parted ways with everyone before we reached Nation.

On the way back to her apartment we stopped at a bakery and scrounged together our change to buy two multigrain baguettes, fresh out of the oven. Chewing them warmed us from inside until we got back and spread salted butter and jam on them, and she showed me photos from her and Matthieu’s trip to Scotland for New Years.

At home, finally warm in my bed, I opened the moonroof in my loft and climbed onto my roof for fresh air before going to sleep – it was exactly 1 a.m., and the Tower was sparkling for the last time for the night before all the lights went out in the city. The moon was enormous and yellow right next to it, and the contrast was breathtaking. I remembered the first time I peeked my head out of my moonroof in the night and saw the Tower lights weren’t shining, before I knew of the city ordinance implemented a few years ago to save energy, and my immediate thought had been, “Something terrible has happened!” I’d grabbed my phone to see if this was normal, if the Eiffel Tower really ceased to shine after a certain time at night, or if terrorists had finally attacked us. That was back in August. Now, the city really had been a target of a terrorist attack, but the Tower still shined. I watched the bluish lights twinkle exactly like stars and then abruptly stop, leaving me on my roof in the moonlight.

Pipes burst

The pipes in my shower burst back in August, and the plumber finally fixed them in November. It wasn’t until this month, though, that the painter came around to fix the brown, peeling, bubbled paint.
I wasn’t expecting anyone at 8 a.m., so when I woke up to a foreign male voice below my loft saying, “Bonjour?” my heart dropped, naturally.

My apartment is close quarters, but I didn’t feel like leaving at 8 a.m. to walk around the neighborhood for hours to allow the guy to do his job, especially since nothing would be open for another two hours, so instead I sat at my table. The table happens to be right outside my bathroom, which is so small I can’t even change in it), and I tried to make small-talk with him. The best part was that he was from Ukraine and didn’t speak any English and his French was lower than elementary level, so our communication consisted mainly of elaborate hand gestures and him pausing often to stare into space desperately searching for a word he knew in English or French that could point me toward his meaning. I was able to figure out that he had left Ukraine a year ago for Paris when he was drafted into the war and he had a 4-year-old son, whom he proudly showed me a photograph of when I offered him a cup of tea and we drank it together. I tried to ask about the kid’s mother, but it was surprisingly difficult to convey the word “mother.” I tried rocking an invisible baby and saying it in sign language, but I didn’t go so far as to mock giving birth. I rubbed my belly to show “pregnancy” in a last feeble attempt, and he said, “You?” and pointed at me. “Oh GOD, no! I’m not! Thank god…” And we left it at that.

This Ukrainian plumber/painter also sanded down my countertop for me, and his co-worker came by to see his work. This man was French, so it was a relief to be able to converse easily with at least one of my guests, although I felt bad for my Ukrainian friend who stood awkwardly to the side, not understanding us at all. The French guy told me about his friend from New York who now has a pizza shop in Paris; he drew me a map of how to get there, but he claimed to forget the street name. “Give me your phone number so I can text it to you later when I remember?” As soon as we said goodbye at the door I realized how dumb I was.

I also looked down to see a little package the mail lady had meanwhile delivered for me. “La poste!” the Ukrainian said, happy to finally have vocabulary for something going on around him.
“Oui! La poste!” I repeated, smiling at him.

When they left I ripped into my package – it was my Christmas present from Katie! She sent me a book called “How to Be Parisian Wherever You Are: Love, Style, and Bad Habits.” Knowing me as she does, she wrote a little note with it about how she doesn’t expect that I’ll try to be Parisian but that it can give me “more insight into why the hell these people act the way they do, all the while laughing as you go.”

She knows me so well.

I finished the book by the end of the day, filled with new knowledge. I never knew the importance of  having  “a way of looking out the window” that looks like I’m not trying to look out the window, but really I am trying to look like I’m daydreaming while trying to look like I’m not trying to look that way … And who knew that a real Parisian woman wears high heels even when 9 months pregnant? Or that “a newspaper clipping with a witty headline” on your mantelpiece makes you classier? I sure didn’t.

Appearance is of utmost importance in Paris. At least, that’s the pervasive attitude of the culture in this city. You have to always look good, but not like you’re trying to look good, but you can only look a certain kind of good. There are all sorts of rules about how you should appear to be in public, too, that I won’t get into. It’s very funny, and I get a kick out of breaking them every day in subtle ways; I’m over the whole “looking like a local” thing. I’d rather look like a foreigner and not be miserable from worrying so much about how I look. I'd rather smile at people and wear lots of jewelry if I want to. Of course, not everyone here actually gives a damn, just like anywhere you go. I’ve met several Parisians who don’t fit that mold at all, including Gaël and Laetitia, Maïa and Matthieu, Maxime.

After I read my book, I sat at my table by candlelight and ate some baguette and heavenly cheese Maxime bought me from the town where his country house is, in Corrèze. (For Christmas he bought me a HUGE chunk of it, and a super warm, fuzzy scarf and the new Pink Floyd album.) I’m not sure if I looked out the window dreamily, or how purposefully-tousled my hair was, but nibbling a baguette and cheese was enough to make feel as Parisian as I’ll ever get.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

C'est ma vie tous les jours...

Daily walk up the street

My neighborhood

Sun shower the day of the Charlie Hebdo attack
Doesn't get more French that Simone de Beauvoir

My thoughts on the Charlie Hebdo incident

Before this week, “Charlie” was just another name. Charlie Brown, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory … Now, everyone in the world is naming themselves Charlie in honor of the 12 Charlie Hebdo cartoonists killed by terrorists last Wednesday morning.

Overnight, Paris changed from a safe home where I walked along the river alone at night to a dangerous city where the sight of anybody running to catch a metro at two in the afternoon made me nervous.

 People were advised to stay indoors and not take the metros. Le Marais, the Jewish district, closed for the night Friday in case of extremist attacks spawned from the very prevalent racism between Jews and Muslims here. At the kids’ school, parents and au pairs are no longer allowed to go inside to pick up the children – they are handed over individually, class by class, to the crowd of pushing women shouting their children’s names.

 Yesterday, hostage situations and false alarm bomb threats racked the city — my friend was stuck on a crowded metro at night when it was halted by a bomb threat at Châtelet; at 3 p.m., 45 minutes before I left to get the kids at school, the police shut down Trocadero (right by the Eiffel Tower), just near my apartment and the school. Gaël left work to walk me and the kids home.

Friday night I went out to “The Swamp,” the gay neighborhood near the Jewish district. It seemed normal there – there were slightly fewer people roaming about, but nothing felt unnatural. Friends and family have been texting me to make sure I’m ok. The media always makes things seem even crazier than they are, and I’m sure from across the ocean it appears even scarier hearing about it. But, as with any bad situation, life goes on. Routines are just temporarily shaken for the moment, as are the jumpy people on the metro.

I’m a bit irked by the way people are reacting to the incident and with the whole “I am Charlie” movement around the world. It's understandable that here in Paris “Je suis Charlie” appeared overnight in spray paint all over the city, but I see people from around the world using the movement’s hashtag on Facebook and Twitter. I think it’s great the world is rallying in support of freedom of expression and honoring the death of these cartoonists. As a journalist, I especially respect the fact that people are suddenly conversing so much about freedom of the press and of speech. However, knowing I run the risk of sounding insensitive to anyone reading this, I’m going to say I find all of the media hype, protests and rallies a bit too much.

Yes, what happened is tragic. Yes, nobody should be killed for exercising their freedoms of expression. But here is the thing: Our freedom of expression is not being threatened. It was attacked by terrorists, but nobody is threatening to take away this freedom. It’s still there, and it’s not leaving. Terrorists can't take that away. Flooding the news with heated debates about the freedom of the press and speech is pointless. Taking to the streets is fruitless. What are you trying to change? We have those rights. Taking to the streets and constantly talking on the television and radio about the incident is striking fear into people and only providing fuel for the terrorists whose goal is to get a reaction out of their victims.

If we’re going to take to the streets and focus so heavily on one topic at the expense of reporting on other more tragic events happening in the world (for example, I bet you didn’t hear about the terrorist attack in Yemen that same day that killed 31 people, because who cares about Yemen, right?), why not focus on an issue that actually needs to change? Why not highlight a problem that needs solutions? The Syrian refugee crisis, war in the DRC, massacres in Nigeria, the failing euro … Not one of these receives half as much media crisis as this one incident.

However shocking and tragic the Charlie Hebdo incident was, it should come as no surprise - the cartoonists’ work knowingly and deliberately insulted many groups of people, and whatever your view on satire, it’s not arguable that the artists weren’t aware of the risks in poking fun at these people, especially since multiple terrorist attempts had been thwarted at the offices over the years. They died on the battlefield. This makes it no less tragic; however, again, where were all the hashtags for all of the innocent Yemeni children killed that same day?

I just find the reactions of the media and the people of the world to be irresponsible and futile. Rather than being stuck on an isolated incident of the past that we can not change, we should say our condolences, come together and move on to focusing on what the real problems are in the world and what we should and can change now.

The day I can’t avoid seeing a hashtag supporting the millions of innocent Syrian refugees being left to starve to death, the same way I now can’t avoid seeing #jesuischarlie in support of 12 instigating cartoonists, is the day I will have restored faith in the media and humanity.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Boissons de Paris

Cidre de Bretagne

chocolat chaud

Belgian beer and white wine

vin chaud

The Realm of Death

A bundled-up man with a trumpet was playing a beautiful rendition of “White Christmas” as I walked through my neighborhood amongst crowds of shoppers pushing past each other on the narrow sidewalks of Rue de Passy. Immaculately-strewn Christmas lights liven the streets almost as much as the stoked faces of the kids admiring the twenty gigantic Lego models by the Passy market – an almost-life-size Storm Trooper guarding the mall entrance with his gun; a pink Lego city, complete with Polly Pocket dolls playing harmoniously with their Lego people counterparts; models of the Eiffel Tower and Sacré Coeur, accurate, albeit with strange curves from the limitations of rectangular blocks. I avoid going inside the mall, where the other displays are, at all costs. My normally spacious mall has turned into a holiday tourist attraction that reminds me of trying to maneuver my way through the metro on a Friday night. My trips to Monoprix for groceries have been nearly cut in half the last few weeks.

The Christmas displays in the mall don’t compare to the world-renowned ones we saw at Les Galeries Lafayette, though. Fuzzy colorful puppets bigger than my little sister dance in circles around wrapped Christmas presents, reminding me of creepy Youtube videos made specifically for teenagers tripping on acid, and dolls with yarn hair float through the air around golden stars to piano music. Kids press their snotty noses and mittens to the glass and are bombarded by the marketing industry capitalizing on Christmas. Men push grocery carts topped with a metal plate filled with roasted marron nuts – I swear there were always at least four of these guys set up in my line of site at one time by Les Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. The smell sunk into my jacket like bonfire smoke; it almost smells the same.

Right around the corner from Les Galeries Lafayette is L’Opera de Paris – The Opera. I received one of the loveliest birthday gifts of my life from Gael and Laetitia this December – two tickets to see the ballet at The Opera with Laetitia! She found out that I did ballet for 8 years, and she also did ballet (for even longer, I’m pretty sure), and we had spoken briefly one time about how we both loved going to see the ballet. I thought it was so thoughtful that she remembered. Plus, holy cow. The Paris Opera at the Palaias Garnier! Before, seeing something there had been a dream I didn’t think I’d be able to afford for years.

That being said, I also can’t exactly afford fancy clothes, but the night of the show I put on my nicest outfit and met Laetitia on the steps of the entrance. Any of [very slight] apprehension I had about my appearance was replaced by the glorious appearance of the building when I arrived. The enormous staircase, the statues, the pillars, the whole style of the architecture and the inside all reminded me of Italy, especially a particular square in Verona we visited. The building was built in the late 1600s. It always strikes me how the older the building, the more intricate and mind-blowingly beautiful it is. Technology seems to have had the opposite effect of “progress” when it comes to aesthetics in architecture.
Le Grand Foyer is lined with dwarfing, magnificent chandeliers hung from tall ceilings painted in the Italian style. The stairs leading to the auditorium reminded me of the famous staircase in Titanic. You know the one I’m talking about.

People murmured quietly as we found our seats – dead center on the ground floor, from where I could admire the gold balconies and the painted red curtain. I settled into my red velvet seat, and when the curtain rose I witnessed the most magical ballet I’ve ever seen. We saw La Source, a mystical ballet written in the late 1800s. I’d never heard of it. The setting is the Orient, and the costumes were designed by a famous French fashion designer, apparently. They were impressive, to say the least, and ranged from charming to sensual to ethereal. The set was simple but original, two adjectives that, when put together, have a soft spot in my heart. It was just thick ropes hung at different lengths from the ceiling. A hundred thick ropes were tied together to form a few “pillars,” but the others just suspended in space, moving up and down so slowly that the movement was barely perceptible, as though the set were breathing. Green and blue nymphs sat in the ropes, and my eyes were dazzled by all the sparkles in the performance – definitely the glitteriest ballet I’ve ever seen, and certainly the most captivating. By intermission, my skin hurt from getting goose bumps so much.

Laetitia showed me around a bit more during intermission and bought me macarons at the table where people were buying glasses of champagne and little chicken sandwiches. I don’t know that I’ve ever been to a more “refined” event, but I wasn’t uncomfortable like I would’ve thought I’d be a year ago. It was all breathtaking, and I couldn’t have dreamed of a better birthday present.

I did receive some other lovely gifts, though. Ben bought me a Simone de Beauvoir novel that I’ve wanted, “The Mandarins,” from the Shakespeare Bookstore, and a French press, and Liz sent me the most thoughtful package of novels she thought I’d like, complete with little notes on the inside of each one, as well as leaves from home pressed into every hundred pages or so. Matthieu brought Ben and I out for a night on the town at Oberkampf and paid for all of our drinks; Ben and I missed the metro before it stopped for the night and ended up crashing at Matt’s. It was a memorable night, to put it lightly. I’ll just say there were a few drunk firsts between us. And by “us” I mean Benjamin. (You’re welcome for the lack of details, love.)
The week after my birthday Ben and I woke up early so we could go to Catacombes de Paris before I had to work à seize heure. The line stretched around the corner, but we weren’t waiting for more than 45 minutes, which flew by as we talked and talked, probably about capitalism or how much we hate cops or something.

The Catacombs are ossuaries holding the remains of six million people 65 feet under the streets in the heart of Paris. Needless to say, Ben and my heated anarchist discussions turned to revered silence as the energy quickly transformed while we descended lower and lower down the narrow, winding steps.

Arrête, c’est ici l’empire de le mort” (Halt, this is the Realm of Death). That’s what the engraved stone reads before you enter.

We followed what felt like miles of tunnel on a path wide enough for a single person, surrounded on all sides by limestone and silence. Occasionally, we passed other people, also wandering around the realm in silence. Somehow Ben and I failed to take into account that we both have claustrophobic tendencies, so the first ten minutes before we reached the actual catacombs was interesting as we exchanged short, strained words of encouragement and deep breaths. I kept feeling my arms start to go numb like they do when I’m about to hyperventilate from being in small spaces, but I willed myself to keep my fists from clenching and I breathed through it. When we reached the gate, the space opened up considerably; the claustrophobia dissipated when we found ourselves surrounded by human skulls.

Walls of brown bones arranged meticulously, artfully in rows. Bones, bones, skulls, bones, bones, skulls. The air was wet, and the lights cast an orange glow as we walked as slowly as a bride toward the altar. Of course, signs screamed not to touch, but I couldn’t help feeling the skulls under my fingers. In Anthropology Club when I lived in California I got to hold human skulls in my hands, and also in the tombs in the anthropology building in Plattsburgh, but it never fails to be an insane experience. I kept stopping at random people’s dead head bones and wondering what their lover had looked like who had kissed the place where I was placing my fingers. It’s a weird experience for the human mind to encounter its fragility and biology in such a naked way.

The walk took about 45 minutes, and even though the bones all look exactly the same the whole way (another weird thing to grasp, I think), we were engrossed the entire time. I don’t think the finest art museums in Paris could have so aptly garnered our undivided attention for that long.

Ascending the limestone stairs again into daylight was like waking up from a dream. Outside, it was sunny. One of the only nice, sunny days of Ben’s visit (Paris’s autumn/winter is rainy and chilly), and of course we had decided to spend it underground in a dark tomb.

On the walk to the metro we stumbled upon a medieval attire shop that sold hand-crafted leather boots, bags, and belts, as well as swords, armor and other random medieval stuff. Ben was like a little boy again as he admired daggers and swords and those metal glove things. I forget what they’re called. I found a cute little leather belt with pouches stuffed with corked glass viles. That was the coolest thing I saw. I totally would’ve been a medicine woman in medieval times and had that strapped around my waist, the viles filled with all my favorite healing herbs. Or I could just use it now for different iggy mixes. (Liz, if you’re reading this, know I totally thought of you when I saw it, too, and if I were rich and had sixty euro to blow I totally would’ve bought it for you for your iggies.)

That night, Tuesday, Maia took a train from Lille just to have a night out the four of us. Matt, Maia, Ben, and I headed to Le Caveau des Oubliettes, the bar we went to the first night we all went out together in Paris. It’s one of the best bars in the city for live music, especially if you like blues. A band played blues, and the guitarist blew my mind on his electric. I was totally sober, but the way he was playing literally made me tear up. He shredded. He beyond shredded. He pulled out all the stops. And his stage presence was awesome.

A group of teenagers sat together chatting noisily, some of them turned away from the music, very obviously not enjoying or even listening because they were caught up in getting drunk and gossiping together. They didn’t didn’t clap at the end of songs or shut up when the singer talked between songs. We could all tell the singer/guitarist (his name is Khaled, as I later found out Matt works with him through his company and is helping him put out his c.d.), did not appreciate this, which made total sense, because the guy was wicked talented and deserved at least the respect of his riffs not being yelled over.

Instead of letting it get to him, though, Khaled started calling the kids out specifically, making them sing after him, and finally he sat down at their table and played right there in front of them until their thick heads were drawn out from their inner drama and engaged in the awesomeness that was his music.

At another point a guy randomly showed up with a sax, and Khaled noticed and beckoned the guy to come up. It was just what I like when I want live music – lively, interactive, bluesy and full of surprises and good vibes, people coming together.

Speaking of music, Benjamin and I visited Jim Morrison’s grave the other day – the third cemetery we experienced together in Paris. I keep laughing in my head imagining Ben going home and people asking, “So what did you do in Paris?!” and him responding, “Walked around graveyards.” I just have a love for cemeteries, especially European ones.

 There were a bunch of other Americans there paying respects to Jim. The coolest thing about it was this weird piece of “art” seemingly created randomly by Morrison’s mourners – a little fence that looks like these bamboo placemats my mom used to have is wrapped around a very average tree and then plastered with people’s used gum. People have such strange ways of expressing their fandom. Somehow it made me hungry.

It was a dark, cold, rainy day that would have been perfect for raclette, a famous French dish I’ve now tasted twice and crave any time I’m cold and hungry. It’s a melted cheese that you eat with cold cuts and potatoes. (It’s not the same as fondue.) Ben and I ate it at M&M’s house, and then Gael and Laetitia made it for my birthday dinner; it’s a winter dish because it’s so heavy. I won’t post the post-food baby pictures Maia and I took, but here's a photo of the Eiffel Tower the night of my birthday.

Monday, December 1, 2014

November and December

Rain in Paris isn’t quite so romantic or lovely on the verge of winter. Every day this week I wake up to gray skies and misty rain; I’m currently wearing two pairs of socks and leg warmers with the heater in my apartment blasting. It’s only dipped down into the 30s once, and stays around the mid-40s on average – it was 7 degrees last Friday in Plattsburgh. I’ve turned into such a baby. People were warning me in the beginning of Autumn when I bought my relatively light, suede kilo shop jacket that I’d be cold in the winter. “Nah, I’m from Vermont. You don’t know cold here.” Now it’s not even below freezing and I find myself lusting after furry sweaters and puffy jackets in shop windows whenever I venture outside.

I’m currently reading A Moveable Feast, sketches of Ernest Hemingway’s life in Paris in the twenties, (Liz sent me a diligently duct-taped box of books to read this winter for Christmas because she’s the best friend and loveliest human in the world and knows me so well). He describes Paris this time of year: “All of the sadness of the city came suddenly with the first cold rains of winter, and there were no more tops to the high white houses as you walked but only the wet blackness of the street and the closed doors of the small shops, the herb sellers, the stationery and the newspaper shops …” It’s rather bleak, but in a beautifully melancholy way that I strangely revel in, anyway. Plus, more Christmas lights appear along every rue each day.

It’s normal for a travel blog to taper off eventually, especially as the writer becomes accustomed to a life in a new place; I have little adventures all the time, but at this point my life I Paris is so normal to me that keeping an online, public blog is more like keeping a journal of my daily life for everyone to read, and I guess that’s a bit strange for me and doesn’t seem like it’d be interesting for anyone to read. I’ve had a few people ask me to write a new post, though, so I can write about some of my mini adventures in the city, since I am still discovering Paris anew all the time.

Ben arrived in Paris October 30 – I left my apartment at dawn the day after arriving home from Germany the night before.

He’s seen a lot of Paris at this point, of course. He's always up for little adventures, which is why I love him. We have yet to go to Versailles or inside the Loubve, but he’s seen all the other main attractions of Paris and then some; we even ventured inside the Notre Dame on a Sunday when a service was happening. Men in white robes chanted in Latin beneath stained glass windows, and Ben drew 666 on my forehead with holy water. Such a sacred experience.

Le Petit Ceinture
One Saturday we walked along Le Petit Ceinture, an abandoned railroad that runs through the heart of Paris. Graffiti decorated the stone walls along the train tracks overrun with plants and decomposing yellow and orange leaves. I stepped along the tracks instead of the pavement most of the way, taking those awkward steps you have to take when you’re walking down stairs that are a weird width or on stepping stones that seem like they were placed by dwarf people.The Little Belt was seeing the variety of wild herbs growing along the walls – yarrow, mullein, comfrey, plantain … it was a wild apothecary, and all I could think about was all the tinctures  I could make if only I had jars and bottles.
I slid on piles of melted candle wax left over from Nuit Blanche when the tracks were lined with candles for the night as part of an art exhibition. The best part of

We ended up wandering to an enormous pavilion market dedicated solely to music. Tables were piled with cardboard boxes of records, cds, cassette tapes, posters of Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Kiss. Books about music history and vintage headphones sat unceremoniously on plastic fold-up tables. One table was filled with old movies on dvd. I found It’s a Wonderful Life in French. I really wanted it, but it wasn’t close enough to Christmas time yet to justify such a festive purchase. Plus, imagining George Bailey dubbed with a French man’s voice ruined the prospect. Sixty three percent of why I even watch that movie is for James Stewart’s voice.

We could see all of Paris from the top
A week before Thanksgiving, holiday festivities became acceptable, though. Ben, Sara, Vera and I walked the Christmas Walk at Champs-Elysees. Christmas music played on speakers as we made our way past stands selling potential, rather generic Christmas gifts for loved ones – pine cone wreaths, pottery, exotic teas, candy, hats, jewelry, soaps. I sipped hot wine, which I ended up having to chug when we got to the ferris wheel because the drunk carnies wouldn’t let me take it up with me.
At the top we could see all of Paris – the Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Sacre Coeur, Notre Dame, the Grand Palais … I didn’t buy any Christmas gifts there. Ben and I did holiday shopping at Montmartre instead.

One of my favorite places Ben and I have explored thus far is Le Cimetiere de Montmartre. It’s weird to walk through a cemetery in a city. It’s different from cemeteries back home – many graves aren’t marked by a simple tombstone, but by what resembles a tool shed big enough for a couple shovels, usually with one or two stained glass windows inscribed with a scripture. Some of these “tomb sheds” are more intricate than others – a few resembled miniature Temples of Delphi; one woman’s loved ones had a majestic statue erected in her likeness, a young version of herself, standing like a queen with rays of light shining from behind her in gold on onyx pillars. I felt as though I were standing before an Italian goddess. She was obviously very loved.

Cats – hundreds of cats – silently crept around tombs, guarding us closely and keeping a safe distance. Black, gray, calico, striped, many of them pregnant. Someone had built small wooden coops stuffed with hay, probably for them to give birth in and sleep in. Crows cawed loudly overhead as we slowly meandered along the cobblestone path examining statues, strange French names, notes written in sharpie on miniature guitars and ballet slippers as offerings to loved ones who had passed on.

Ben strummed his guitar as we walked, and I thought about how long it must have been since the place had heard music; I imagined that if there were ghosts or spirits they were probably dancing and happy. Dusk was falling when we decided to make our way out to walk home through the Red Light District.

Ben approached a fluffy orange cat who was eyeing us, and I knelt to take a photo. The little guy bounced over to me directly and rubbed his purring body against my black pants lovingly. I pet him, even though I’m incredibly allergic to cats. How could I not? Petting a fat orange cat is worth risking an asthma attack if the cat seems lonely enough. He followed us 20 feet or so, then sat down and watched us walk away.

Mom and Bill are going halfsies with me on a plane ticket to the States so I can be with my family for Christmas. I am beyond ecstatic. My flight is to Montreal, so I’ll probably take a bus down to Plattsburgh and get picked up there. It’s going to be so strange being back in Plattsburgh after being in Paris, especially knowing that I’m going home to Paris in hardly any time.