How Lucky I Am…

Today is my last day in Paris.

It’s hard to believe that my little Parisian adventure is coming to an end, and yet, here I am. I’m feeling a bit wobbly about it all. I’ve cried more than a few times this week as I thought about leaving. The horrific fire at Notre Dame on Monday certainly stirred up my feelings of love for this city but I’d been having a hard time even before that. Honestly, it’s not unlike how I was feeling about Dublin when I was getting ready to move to Paris. So, this is kind of just what I do. But that doesn’t make it any easier.

I’m still excited to be moving back to Dublin. Professionally, it’s an absolute no-brainer that Dublin is where I belong and where this next part of my career will thrive. I’m returning to my beloved Dublin neighborhood of Ranelagh, and actually, in a funny twist, I’ll be living in the apartment complex I lived in during my first year in Dublin. Personally, it’s a mixed bag – I have wonderful friends in Dublin that I’m so happy to get back to, but I’m leaving behind some equally wonderful friends in Paris. They actually surprised me with an early birthday celebration on Friday, so they aren’t making leaving any easier that’s for sure.

But as I reflect on this past year, what I truly feel is grateful. Living in Paris has been a dream of mine for such a long time and I actually made that dream come true. How many people can say that? Living here certainly came with challenges – French bureaucracy’s reputation is well-earned and my struggles with the language never got any easier. But everyday I was astounded and humbled by the beauty of this city. The French people were, for the most part, very kind and very welcoming. And don’t even get me started on the wine and the cheese.

So tomorrow as I lock up the apartment I have loved living in this past year, as I leave the city I have called home, I am sure I will shed more than a few tears. But that means to me that this time in Paris had meaning, that this time in Paris had an impact on me, that this time in Paris was very, very special.

How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

 -A.A.  Milne

 

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My Paris, in pictures…

I’m heading to Dublin tomorrow (pretty apropos for St. Paddy’s Day, huh?!) for the next phase of my move. I have so much going on right now that most of the time I’m not sure if I’m coming or going. Amidst all the chaos of moving, I’m trying to find time to reflect on this past year in Paris and to enjoy the time I have left here – easier said than done when your to-do list has a to-do list. There are so many things that I am going to miss once I leave, things that are more about living here. So, I’ve started to take pictures of them…

 

This is the view from my window. This Indian restaurant is the closest thing I’ve got to a local in Paris. I order from here far too often, but it’s so good. They know my regular order, they wave to me when they see me in my window, they always include a little something free in my order, and when I opt to eat in the restaurant, there is always a free liquer to finish off the meal. I shall miss my Taj Mahal.

 

The beauty of this picture may be lost on my American readers but those in Europe will understand the absolute luxury it has been to have a separate washer and dryer, and brand new to boot! I have an older combo washer/dryer in my new Dublin apartment and it’ll do the trick but I’m fully aware that my clothes will now be “dry” rather than actually dry.

 

This little nook is my favorite spot in my Paris apartment. It’s just so cute, and French. It fills me with joy on a daily basis.

 

This is my neighborhood bodega – the new yorker in me doesn’t know what else to call it. It’s right across the street from my place and is great for those quick items when I don’t want to go all the way (meaning, to the end of my block) to the grocery store. I can literally run down to buy a quick snack (or bottle of wine) during a commercial break on the telly. And the two men who work there are so sweet. I love little shops like this.

 

There are no less than three boulangeries within a one block radius of my apartment but this one is by far the best. The line to get a baguette is often out the door. Baguettes are a way of life in Paris – not a great thing for someone like me who tries to eat low carb, but I shall miss them nonetheless.

 

The waiters here are dicks in the way only french waiters can be but the food is really good and I’ve had so many meals here with friends from all over the world, as well as on my own. Lots of wonderful memories here, just not of the waiters. It’s also got the best terrace on Rue Cler.

And speaking of Rue Cler…

My absolutely favorite street in Paris. End of.

 

Also on Rue Cler, the waiters at Cafe Roussillon are definitely not dicks. This restaurant is also where I randomly met someone (okay I was being nosy and honed in on her conversation with her husband) who has become a dear friend, so I’ve got a special fondness for this place because of that synchronous meeting. (Fun fact, when he is not in the Elysees Palace, Macron lives just a couple doors down from here.)

 

The produce in the actual grocery stores is pretty lackluster but I love my fruit and veggie shop on Rue Cler.

 

I always like to have fresh cut flowers in my home, preferably tulips if they are in season. I’m in my flower shop on Rue Cler nearly every week. They always ask if the flowers are a gift and I always answer that they are un cadeau pour moi – a gift for me, which they certainly are.


My fromagerie on Rue Cler. It’s not just cheese, it’s art.

 

This sweet little cafe is where me and the friend I met at Roussillon have spent many an hour chatting about nearly everything. It’s teeny tiny and super cosy and they have really good, cheap food.

 

The wine selection at my local grocery store. Yes, I can buy wine at grocery stores in Dublin, but…

… I certainly won’t be getting any bottle of Côtes du Rhône for €4. Let’s face it, I won’t be getting a bottle of any wine for €4 in Dublin. My palette has become much more selective regarding wine after a year in Paris and I fear that once I’m back in Dublin, my wallet will feel the greatest impact.

 

And then there’s this beauty who still takes my breath away every time I see her. It’s been a dream come true to live so close to her this past year.

I will miss her, however, this is not au revoir, but rather, a bientôt.

Time To Go…

Do you follow Quinn Cummings on twitter? If not, you should. Some may remember her as a child actor nominated for an Oscar for The Goodbye Girl but now she’s a writer – a good one. She writes threads on twitter she calls “small stories” and recently she posted one about about how there are two types of people: Stays and Gos.

The Stays do exactly that, they stay. Stays will “arrange to spend their lives within forty-five minutes of the house in which they grew up. If forced to leave for reasons beyond their control, they will spend their lives trying to get back.” That’s not a bad thing. The author herself is an undeniable Stay and happy with that. And then there are the Gos, the people who live their lives with wanderlust blueballs.

I was a Go even before I became an expat. I never tire of traveling and there are few places in the world I don’t have a desire to visit. I’ve been moving around, chasing various dreams, since college. If I spend too long in one place, I get itchy.

Exactly one year ago today, this Go moved to Paris. It’s been an amazing year, one I wouldn’t trade for anything. It’s something I absolutely needed to do, a dream that needed fulfilling. But I had always said that I was only committing to Paris for one year and as the end of this year approached, I was really struggling to understand where I belong. But I think I’ve figured it out.

I belong in Dublin.

That’s right, I’m moving back. There are a bunch of reasons, both professional and personal, as to why this makes this makes sense for me. None of the reasons are because I’ve fallen out of love with Paris. Quite the contrary. I love this city more than ever. It’s been such a privilege to live here. The thought of leaving my apartment, my neighborhood and of course, my friends, literally brings me to tears. But I have struggled to feel a sense of belonging this past year and this whole time it’s like Dublin has been tapping me on my shoulder, reminding me it’s still around, ready for me whenever I’m ready.

Well, I’m ready. And hard as it is going to be to leave Paris, the thought of returning to Dublin fills me with such joy and excitement.

So, for this Go, it’s time to go again. Who knows? Maybe once I’m back in Dublin I’ll turn into a Stay.

Yeah. Probably not.

 

The Beauty Of Our Dreams…

It’s a New Year. And whether we like it or not, it’s a time to reflect on the year that has past and the one that looms ahead.

On a macro level, 2018 was pretty much a shit show. I worked myself up into more than one tizzy because of the bloated orange asshole in the White House. I’ve had to stop letting it slide when I come face-to-face with one of his supporters. We are two years in now and, I’m sorry, but if you still support him then you are a racist, and also an idiot. The grace period is over on that one, as far as I’m concerned. And then there’s Brexit, too many natural disasters to count, way too many mass shootings, climate change, North Korea, the war in Syria, the genocide in Yemen… it’s a lot. And it all sucks.

But on a micro level, for me personally, 2018 was kind of cool. I realized a long-held dream to live in Paris. I traveled to Japan, the place that’d been number one on my travel bucket list for quite a while. I was nominated for an Emmy and, at the last minute, decided to attend the ceremony in Los Angeles. I finally got to see “Hamilton” (three times!) and “Dear Evan Hansen”.

Lots of my dreams were fulfilled in 2018. Mostly because I made them happen. I’ve never been one to sit around and wait for my dreams to come true – I’m a bit more action-oriented than that. But still, to have actualized so many of my dreams in 2018 was pretty cool.

I’m already at work on making things happen, dream-wise, in 2019. And I hope you are too. The world is a dumpster fire right now. When there is so much to feel hopeless about, our dreams are more important than ever. If we don’t have our dreams, if we don’t work to make them a reality, then what’s the point really?

Eleanor Roosevelt managed to say it far more eloquently that I could ever hope to:

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

It’s a New Year. Your dreams are beautiful. Believe in them. Make them happen.

 

Bearing Witness…

A couple weeks ago I visited Krakow, Poland – a city that had been on my travel wish list for a long time. It did not disappoint. Krakow is an amazing city with lovely medieval architecture, delicious food (and surprisingly good wine!) and some of the friendliest people you will ever meet. I did a food tour, sampled local vodkas and craft beers, shopped in the massive Cloth Hall, toured the Salt Mines…

And went to Auschwitz.

This was not my first visit to a concentration camp – I’ve been to Terezin in the Czech Republic and Sachsenhausen in Germany – but it was my first time at an extermination camp. There was never a question in my mind that I would go to Auschwitz. It wasn’t a fun day but it was a necessary day.

I saw pictures of the prisoners (before Germany realized it was maybe not so smart to document the residents of their camps). I passed through their barracks. I walked the same walk from the train platform to the (now destroyed) gas chamber at Birkenau that so many arriving prisoners walked, thinking they were going to the showers but actually going to their deaths. I entered the crematorium. I stood in a gas chamber.

It was the rooms of personal effects that really got too me though. Dimly lit, with huge glass cases. I don’t think we were allowed to take photos, but I didn’t want to anyway. There was a case of shoes, many of them children’s – the red ones standing out in the huge pile. A case of eyeglasses, a case of artificial limbs, a case of pots and pans. The case filled with suitcases really got to me. Prisoners were instructed to clearly label their luggage so they could be reunited with it later – such cruelty. Seeing those names in big block letters on the suitcase sides was devastating.

But it was the hair display that broke me. After they were gassed, women’s hair was cut off in order to be used in the manufacturing of products such as cloth. To me, this was the ultimate act of dehumanization of these people, even after death. These were people, but they were not seen as such by the Nazis. Though I took no photo (again, I don’t think they were even allowed for obvious reasons), the image of that hair room is seared in my mind and will stay there forever.

A lot of people have wondered why I would subject myself to such a heart-wrenching day while on vacation. Others have commented that they could never do it, it would be too hard. I’m sorry, but the fact that it is hard is why you must do it. Having one difficult afternoon is they very least we can do for these people who were exterminated. They deserve to be remembered. What happened at these places cannot be allowed to evaporate into the annals of history.

I am so privileged to have traveled all over the world. And I feel very firmly that one of the duties laid on me by that privilege is to bear witness to history. No matter where my travels take me, if there is an historical sight whose memory needs to be kept alive, that people need to remember, then I will be there – even if it means I must “sacrifice” a day of my holiday to something not exactly enjoyable.

It is my privilege. It is my duty. It is my honor.

The reason I always visit sights such as this when I travel.

Entering Auschwitz.

Cans of zyklon B – the gas used to exterminate millions.

Gas chamber.

Explaining the Unexplainable…

I’ve been an expat for six years now and by far the question I get asked most often from Europeans when they learn that I am American is “What is it with Americans and guns?”.

Sigh.

I usually reply that it isn’t all Americans and that, in fact, a majority of Americans support stricter gun laws but the NRA is rich and powerful and has a stranglehold on too many politicians so nothing ever changes. Again, sigh.

Not long after I moved to Dublin the mass shooting in Sandyhook, Connecticut took place. Twenty-eight people, most of them children, were massacred. I thought (it turns out stupidly) that a bunch of first graders being gunned down would finally lead to sensible gun control in the US.

Nothing changed.

The mass shootings have continued – in schools, movie theaters, churches, nightclubs, concerts. Truly, nowhere is safe. Just a couple days ago a dozen people were killed in a mass shooting in a bar in a Los Angeles suburb. This shooting came less than two weeks after eleven people were gunned down in a Pittsburgh synagogue.

It’s gotten so bad that it seems like more than 10 people need to be killed in order for it to get any sort of broad media coverage. By definition, a mass shooting is an incident where at least four people, not including the gunman, are killed or injured in a single event at the same general time and location. There were between the Pittsburgh shooting and the Los Angeles shooting ELEVEN other mass shootings in the US. There have been 307 mass shootings in America this year alone. This has become normal in the US. But this is not normal. That’s why I get asked to explain it so often.

I know that even in places with stricter laws bad guys still get their hands on guns and terrible things still happen. Tuesday is the anniversary of the terror attacks in Paris. Those bad guys had guns, dozens of people were killed. But there’s no denying that the US takes gun violence to an entirely new level and the main thing that sets us apart is our government’s refusal to enact common sense gun laws. I really, really don’t think this is what our founding fathers meant when they included the right to bear arms in the constitution.

The gun situation in the US is definitely a reason I’m thankful to be an expat. I don’t think I could live in a country were there is a mass shooting nearly every day. I try to be hopeful that things will change, eventually. But I’m fairly certain they won’t. There will be another mass shooting with substantial casualties and I’ll be asked to explain the unexplainable again.

And again.

And again.

Gun control rally in Paris after the Parkland, Florida mass shooting.

March For Our Lives in Paris.

 

 

 

Living in a Different Language…

I had to break down and get a French mobile phone this weekend. I still use my Irish number as my main method of contact but, after living in Paris for eight months, there are certain things I keep coming up against that require a French number. So, I bought a cheap, refurbished iPhone and decided to get a very basic call and text only plan. I first tried to buy a SIM online. But when ordering a SIM card to get a French mobile number one must already have a French mobile number in order to be sent SMS tracking info. Okaaaaay. Do you get the irony here, France?

So, this meant I would have to go to a brick-and-mortar shop and actually talk to people in order to get my SIM. I don’t like dealing with shops and people as a rule and I was even more stressed out because there was a very good chance I would need to do this transaction in French. Oh, the horror.  I seriously worked myself into a tizzy trying to figure out how to say want I wanted in French. I needed to get this right. This wasn’t something cute like when my waiter the other day thought I said “Côtes du Rhône” when I had actually said “carte du vin”. Whatever. I still got a glass of wine. It was fine.  But my decidedly non-parisian accent and limited vocabulary could get me into trouble when trying to buy a mobile phone contract.

I am not strong when it comes to languages. I have been trying to learn French on and off for the past fifteen years and I’m still an advanced beginner at best. I feel like I constantly have to learn the same concepts over and over. Things just don’t seem to stick. I have a private tutor here in Paris now and she’s great, but I can tell I frustrate the hell out of her.

Living in a place where one doesn’t speak the language is not easy. It’s frustrating, isolating and exhausting. Frustrating because I desperately want to be fluent in French but it feels so out of reach so much of the time. Often, I feel like I’m making progress only to get knocked back down when I’m reminded of how little I really know. Isolating because the language being spoken around me is not one I understand fluently so I retreat into myself (even more than usual) as a result. On a recent visit to New York, I was on the subway and I was taken aback when I could actually understand the various conversations going on around me and it was surprisingly comforting. And exhausting because living in French means constantly having to figure out what I’m supposed to say, or what someone is saying to me. The language does not flow naturally into and out of my brain and sometimes I just get tired.

By the way, I feel the need to point out that, for the most part, the Parisians have been amazing to me and my broken French. I have a standard line that I say when someone starts speaking too rapidly: “Je suis désolé. Je suis nouvelle à Paris et mon français n’est pas bon. Mais j’essaye”, which translates to “I am sorry. I am new to Paris and my French is not good. But I am trying.” Almost without exception, I am then met with words of encouragement and questions about where I’m from, why I moved to Paris, etc. This has been such a welcome surprise for me. Merci, Parisians.

I love the French language. And I knew it would be one of the biggest challenges when I moved to Paris. I’m not giving up. I am determined to, if not master French, at least get to a point where I can join in a conversation rather than retreat into myself because I don’t understand what anyone is saying. I’m inspired by the French people who encourage me to keep going and compliment the progress I’ve made. I’m inspired by friends who have lived here for a while and knew even less French than me and are now fluent. And I’m inspired by Paris itself. This beautiful, amazing city will be even more beautiful and amazing, I think, when its language comes more naturally to me.

In the meantime, j’essaye.