Paris over my shoulder

We are back on US soil, not quite fully sated in the ways of Paris life. Jet lag and a familial lack of orchestration meant that many of our mornings were spent dreamily catching z’s in the uber-comfortable beds in our apartment on the Rue des Beaux Arts, where the early hours brought sounds of steel gates rising above art galleries, bicycle bells, locals greeting each other with comments about the perfect weather that had just come in, and beautiful brilliant sunlight that was blocked out by our black drapes. The sounds were just background for our sleep.  We slept a lot. The glacial pace of our mornings was contrasted by the urgency of the afternoon (at least on my part) to experience Paris in the compressed time frame, and share it with my family.

My family is made up of me, my husband and our 18-year old son, who was in a celestial reverie to be speaking French better than his mom, I think. There are turning points in life, and this was one of them for us. The moment when I turned to him and asked what one of the shopkeepers was saying and he translated for me, was a moment of delineation. Where the study and dedication he has demonstrated for his studies, and particularly this language, the independence and separation he has enjoyed at boarding school, and the competitiveness that infests our family dynamic was replaced by an acceptance that this is how it will be in the future, and is exactly what we had hoped for. The arrival can be alarming at the debut, however. My previous trip to Paris two years ago, was highlighted by my friends’  admiration for my French and the ease with which we traversed the city as a result. One friend still tells everyone “we don’t know what we would have done without Julie!” In this trip, the first “Je voudrais…” out of my mouth was met with the first of my son’s many corrections that followed me around all week like a guide dog. As always, i pushed back, but in time faced the truth: he knows more French than I do now. And this is just the beginning. I acknowledge this in my heart, and hope he will be kind as the process of switching roles unfolds over the years. It is difficult sometimes to do that, even when you love someone.

Our Paris trip together was amazing, and is customary will be amplified even more so as time goes on, as good times will. Because the importance of it went beyond the beautiful architecture, the sumptuous and decadent food, the cobbled streets and secret boutiques, the dividing Seine and thousands of gleaming locks on the Pont des Arts. It surpasses the ancient texture and solemnity of Notre Dame and the overwhelming beauty and sorrow of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings at the D’Orsay and the mystical smile of the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. It passes through the arrogance of some Parisians and my American pushback, and the ubiquitous scarves that somehow make every Parisian look chic.

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Gloria of the hat shop loved our little family

The memories, for me, will be the enormity of human achievement represented in the art of this city, but move more through the heroic walking and observations together about what we were seeing, the delightful ‘cafe creme’ punctuated by a little “ok” sign that my husband had latched onto as his linguistic place in our pseudo-speaking group, and Gloria, the hat-shop lady who kept us in her very expensive shop for an hour, exultant in her discovery of our little family and in particular, our son, whom she practically Knighted in her assessment, and for whom the exchange in French was probably one of the most gratifying of the week for Matt. The memories will be of our visit with dear friends Jennifer and her son Michael, who live in Zurich (Michael goes to boarding school in NJ)  who made the trip to Paris to see us, and who graciously accepted our excessive slumber, lack of plan and occasional American outburst of loud laughter, knowing how much Europeans detest it.  Now ostensibly half American and half European, the cacophony probably sounded like a car accident to them. I will remember the wonderful dinner at Le Lipp with them–not so much for the food, which was good but not extraordinary–but for the combat over what “Cafe Creme” was and the very confident order of “vegetahhhbles” I placed with the waiter and the hilarity that ensued, and the fact that true friends make the effort to stay in touch and visit, even if it means traveling distances to do so.

The rude waiter at another cafe whose name escapes me, where we stopped just short of stumbling in on our aching feet, and who finally explained that he was not quite right because “when something bad happens to you in March when you are little, every March thereafter is very difficult”. I wished him an exceptionally good thing to happen this March to wipe out the bad memories, but i’m not sure he understood. Image

I will remember the coincidence that Matt’s roommate at Williston was in Paris at the same time, and we enjoyed a really nice glass of champagne (or two) with his parents at their hotel while Matt and Nick ‘went out on the town’ in Paris, and the worry that never leaves a parent when their child is on his own, stretching his wings into adulthood. How Matt had his first shot of vodka(well that’s what he said, anyway) and a couple of beers in Paris, walked Nick home (who was not feeling well at all), and then walked ‘home’ at midnight to the apartment, phone out of juice, by himself, and what a rite of passage the evening was for him, and us. The morning-after hangover/headache that had us searching for Advil and cutting our trip at the Bastille area/Le Marais to a blip, so that Matt could go back to the apartment and go to bed. Image

The memory of Matt’s acceptance into the University of Michigan, emailed on our last night in Paris.

And finally, the memory of the little boy waiting for his Berthillon ice cream at Smith’s Patisserie. This picture is the hope, the expectation, the glorious anticipation of a treat, a pleasure and a discovery that captures the essence of our trip to Paris, for me. Matt is poised for this treat and discovery of life,  heading off to college in the fall, pushing against the starting gate of the life race that he has heard others talk of, and that he is ready for, and anticipating. Image

In the end, looking back on Paris, ‘over my shoulder’, it was as almost everything in life for me is, about people: the impatient Parisians, who were probably just pushing back against the first beautiful week in their city which became overrun by tourists, and reminded them that they will be held captive once again until September or October when they can have their city back. My friend Jennifer knows all too well the quandary of living in a place everyone wants to visit, wintering in Zurich and summering in Montauk. She was thus far too sympathetic with the Parisians in my view.  This trip reminds me too of the decades-long friendship with the Iaconos, through playgroups, house sales, parent deaths, fabulous and lifelong memories of multi-family times at their beach house, which my son qualifies as ‘probably the best times of my life’, many glasses of wine, comparisons on aging, children growing up and thriving, retirement and job loss, recovery, and the quiet confidence that the oceans that separate us can also unite us again. More: Sabrina,  the greeter at our apartment in the Ste. Germain des Pres who gave us an anchor in Paris if we needed it, Gloria the hat shopkeeper who regaled us with her tales of growing up with 10 children and how that is NOT a good idea, and her divorce, which is still a wound for her, and her admiration for our family, seeing the sparkly gifts my husband has bestowed on my ears and fingers over the years, the laughter and affection we displayed between us and assessing our family to be ‘the best’ and our son to be a ‘diamond’. And finally, the beauty of that city in the late amber light, the buildings and people almost painfully stunning, the stubborn strength of it through thousands of years, and our little family nestled together there, sleeping late, desperately searching for a warm croissant, watching “House” on in french, taking the free metro (the pollution was BAD in Paris), walking, walking, walking, getting punchy from the walking and being silly and looking at each other knowing we are each other’s anchors, as are our friends. Wherever we are.

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Santé!

Un, Deux, Trois at Notre Dame

Un, Deux, Trois at Notre Dame

We pose for our Christmas picture

We are almost at the end of our trip to Paris. We’ve walked about 40 miles, visited as many monuments and museums as our little dogs could carry us, eaten ourselves into a frenzy without much guidance, managed to not fight much, and are, as we should be, completely spent from this week. The Parisians seemed to have gotten nicer over the week, or perhaps we just picked up on when we should speak French and when we should speak English, how to order things and how to be fast at it. The city is still full of freakishly beautiful people, or perhaps just people who know how to dress and are not fat. That’s one of the things that strikes you in Paris–everything is skinny–the people, the cigarettes (and there are plenty), the bread, the scarves. There’s a theme of long, lean lines here and Americans stand out a bit because of it, I’m sorry to say. How French people stay thin when there are mille feuilles, croissants, pain au chocolat, flan au natural, ile flotand and an array of cheeses, wines and opportunities for calorie consumption that is staggering, I still don’t understand. You see Parisians everyday walking along the Rue de Whatever holding a huge sandwich of cheese, meats and delicious baguette at lunchtime, and eating ice cream and just enjoying food. We sat next to a lovely young woman who was eating a nice quiche and a small beignet for dessert–no biggie! So salade for her and she was thin as air. Enjoying good food and enough of it, without being punished is something i’ve never been able to accomplish so it’s fascinating to me that there are so many here who do it with ease.

Today, once again, we slept until 10:00 and didn’t get out of the apartment until 2:00 pm. We stopped for lunch at our favorite “Smith’s Bakery” (yes, really) and had a wonderful lunch of bagel with mozzarella and basil for me (delicious), cheeseburger “seignet” (rare) for Matt, and a poulet et avocade sandwich for Bob which he devoured. At 3:00 we were ready to do some touring! The plan was to take the Metro down to the Bastille area and then back up to the Champs Elysees where I could finally do some shopping. No cigar. Matt’s evening stroll with Nick caught up with him, and he became quite ill so we were on the hunt for some Advil and water. A quick trip down to the Bastille (which is not there, by the way–just a monument) and a turn around on the metro, which was free all day today–! a quick stop at the only perfumery we passed–L’Artisan–and we are back in the apartment , Matt sound asleep and Bob and I not too far behind. We had hoped to go to Le Lescure for dinner tonight…we’ll see. Paris is not for the faint of pieds! DSC_3966

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Is it me or is it Paris?

Paris is beautiful. Almost everything about it is stunning: the buildings, the food, the fashion, the cars, the art, the children, even the stray animals have a sheen to their scrawny coats. So, be prepared that any tiny insecurity you might have about yourself will be amplified in this freakishly gorgeous city. And, if you are brave enough to attempt the language, you had better have your armor on.
I was aware of this reputation prior to coming this month, but because i have been to Paris several times and NEVER experienced the famous Parisian Pout, I was unprepared for it this time. Is it that i am traveling with my family? Is it that my french is so rusty it flakes when I speak? Or, is it as i suspected in an earlier post, that Paris has become so wildly popular as a tourist location, that the Parisians have decided once again to uphold their nasty reputation?
I hope that i am mistaken. I hope that today, when my family and I finally leave the cozy, quiet, flop-yourself-down-and-sleep-for-12-hours comfort of our apartment on the Rue des Beaux Arts, we will be refreshed, our French will be resuscitated after rest, and Dimanche will be reflected by smiling, open faces who don’t insist on speaking bad English in response to our bad French, with an air of “why bother?” about it, even as they shine perfect pearly whites in our direction.

A Graduation Trip to Paris–Nous Sommes Arrivés

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It’s Matthew’s high school graduation present, so when June comes and we hand him a photo book of the trip, we hope he remembers.

Months in the planning, and like many big trips, hard to believe that we are really here. Up for more than 24 hours, so not a great time to write, but the weather is perfect, and we are managing to navigate our way around. Eating tons of croissants, walking and reduced to sneakers as my feet are killing me already. Quel horreur! The women are in general totally put together. Sneakers have made an appearance on stylish Parisians, but only vivid-colored, Adidas style sneakers. My super-supportive Brooks with the purple venting are surely de rigeur and the reason why we were seated opposite the serving buffet at Le Procope on the Rue de l’Ancienne Comedie. We had an overall mediocre meal there, which was disappointing, as it was touted as one of the best restaurants in Paris. There were some bright spots: the soup a’ champignon (Cream of mushroom soup) was absolutely delicious, with tiny sautéed scallops hidden at the bottom of the bowl, the endive salad was quite good as well. The steak tartare was knife cut and good but honestly, how much raw beef can one woman eat? The steak my son had was very average, but the pollack my husband had was delicious. The tiramisu was amazing. The espresso small and powerful and not bitter. The service was pleasant, but this trip I get the overall feeling that Parisians feel they have ‘done their time’ being friendly to Americans and now, since tourism is at a peak, it’s time to keep out the riffraff again. The check out girl at the supermarket literally rolled her eyes at me!

Our apartment is nice, although not as nice as the one in Le Marais on “Rue de Roi Dore!” that the girls and I stayed in two years ago. Have I really been to Paris twice in three years?

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Cheerios, Old Chap

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DSC_2823DSC_2821Did you know that Cheerios are not that filling? Yeah! Imagine that! Turns out they are made mostly of air; its the milk that provides the bulk, apparently. I learned this at 3:00 am last night when one of the side effects of living a simpler life, insomnia, rousted me to the kitchen looking for something to eat. I’ve been eating a modified Paleo diet for the last week or so, thanks to my son’s great success and iron determination to sway his parents to the caveman side of eating. I’m not sure i’ve lost any weight but the other day I opened a can of tunafish with my teeth, so i think it’s working. But last night in my weakened, sleep-deprived state I obviously had to have something with wheat in it. The least offensive thing in the cabinet was this empire-sized box of Cheerios, which i have set in different locations to make the photos more interesting and offset the fact that I am writing about little oat circles with holes in them.

This enormous box of cereal weighs almost nothing, so it’s a safe bet that calorically it’s pretty deficient. I mean, have you ever lifted a box of Puffed Wheat? It’s the greatest scam in food marketing to charge people $2.50 for a box of air. Same with Cheerios. When you pour the cereal in to the bowl, there’s barely a sound–a little ‘shhhhh’, that’s it. Yup. Air.
So last night i ate half of that box of celestial wheat-filled air. It was so good. Even though it’s air, it is blessedly crunchy, and after eating only meat, vegetables and a little fruit (with the occasional self-rewarding cup of Skinny Popcorn-okay maybe three cups), I was foaming at the mouth for something other than an apple.
Deprivation is a funny thing. Once it gets the better of you, you are it’s Submissive, following shamefully on a silver studded leather leash, panting with expectation and flinching gloriously at the first lashing that a bowl of Cheerios can deliver. Oooh.

Cheerios is actually more than a cereal, truth be told.  When my son was resisting the ever-important potty training that had to be completed before the end of his third summer in order for him  to attend the local nursery school (his first-ever entrance exam, it seems), i read somewhere that putting Cheerios in the potty and asking your male child (it would be cruel to ask a female child to do this) to aim for them when he peed made a game out of potty training and facilitated the process. Matt thought this was huge fun for about two days, and I think he managed to hit his targets about 50% of the time, until he figured out that it was just another ruse to get him to do something he wasn’t quite ready to do,  and he completely lost interest. I am not proud to say this infuriated me as time was “running out” for his diaper days. But the memory of him aiming his little stream into that toilet and giggling when he managed to torpedo a little “o” will be with me forever, and makes my insides hurt a little bit now thinking about his adorable face, little laugh, great tiny hugs and the unquantifiable love I have for him, as he is 18 now and would be completely mortified to know that I am writing about him peeing.

I wondered how they came up with the name Cheerios, so I googled ‘the history of Cheerios’ and here’s what i found: http://www.cheerios.com/en/Answers/Whats-the-story-behind-Cheerios.aspx#.UtF1w3mEzwI

Honestly, I think they could have done a little more with that.  “Cheerioats” was first made in 1941 . They changed the name a few years later, probably because people were calling it Cheerios anyway. I was hoping for some quip of how they wanted to make an inspiring  name, one that got people smiling in the morning, something that sounded British because Americans love anything British and everything sounds better with a British accent, even words like ‘fragmented’, but it was a no-nonsense soundbite that Cheerios have offered to its devoted followers. They probably know that our attention spans are not quite spans anymore, but are more like blinks. “I have the attention blink of a flying squirrel” you might hear someone saying in the future, and now you will know exactly what they mean.

I will try to get some sleep tonight.

Day Five of a Simpler Life

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Day Five. Woke up at 9:00 am. Made coffee. Conference call at 9:30 with a local magazine. Opened our shipment of Beetnik Paleo Foods and microwaved some frozen scrambled eggs and decided that even though the Groupon was a great deal, I could make my own scrambled eggs and they would be a lot better. Checked out the Open House schedule today (I had seen all the houses) then spent a few minutes chatting with Olga and Jesus and hearing about their visit to Costa Rica and the big 80th birthday party they had for Olga’s mother. Bob took Sunny for her laser treatment for her hips. Did the dishes. Checked email. Worked on my marketing plan for 2014. Confirmed plans for a dinner in NY on the 14th and subsequent overnight visits from a childhood friend.
Boring. Wonderful. Grateful.

My Meditation Group

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Tonight is meditation night. A group of about 10-12 of us get together and meditate for about 40 minutes, and then we have dinner. And wine. We have been together (various incarnations of the group) for about five years, I think. We are guided by a woman who is a mortgage broker and a true ‘seeker’. She has been to India twice, the last time spending 10 days in total silence. That is scarier than scaling a sheer rock face. She has had many trials in the past three years, and perhaps the spiritual study she has undertaken has enabled her to withstand this. Perhaps she hasn’t withstood it. At any rate, she guides us, makes her house available to us and has helped each of us grow to whatever levels we are capable at the time. Here’s a little video I did about the group for her 60th birthday: 

Never mind I will have to load it separately. 

It’s my night to cook and i’m make my third batch of short ribs since getting my slow cooker for Christmas.  I’m hoping there’s enough to go around, but it’s not about the food. It’s not about the food. Right?  

 

A New Year

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It’s 2:20 am and I am not freaking out that I’m up in the middle of the night writing. I’m thrilled. My sleep cycles have been a little off, it’s true; up until 4:00 then sleeping until 10:00 or 11:00 some nights, to bed at 9:00 and up at 6:00am other times. It’s okay.

The handcuffs are coming off. I’m starting a take-no-prisoners year. I’m reading. In the morning, before I go to work, IF i go to work. I’m writing. Badly, at times. Probably often.  But I’m writing. I’m getting my house in order so I can think. Throwing stuff out. (Last night’s episode of “Hoarders” was terrifying). I’m cooking for myself and my husband so we can eat healthily and efficiently. I’m planning ahead–way ahead so that i’m not caught with my head all twisted around when i have to make decisions. I’m listening to the fact that all the money didn’t make me happy. It was fun, and wow, I definitely have a perfume collection to envy, and we took some great trips and my son got to go to boarding school, (which was the best thing we did with the money and i would have worked twice as hard if i had to to make that happen), but what do i really have to show for it? What is it that I REALLY want?

I want peace. I want love. I want health. I want security. I want laughter. I want friends. I want to see some other places in the world. I want time. I want my son to be happy, healthy, purposeful and successful with lots of love in his life.

It’s selfish. It’s a bold, selfish declaration of my own desires. I’m giving myself room to write badly, and sometimes to write well. I’m giving myself the room to keep an organized house and hoping my family will see the benefit and step in line. I’m giving myself the permission to take care of my body, as best i can.

This is not a slam-dunk. I don’t do “medium good” well. But maybe “medium good” is where i need to be to be ass-kicking good where I want to be.

We’ll see.

 

Anniversary breakfast

Anniversary breakfast

Bob and I celebrate 21 years of marriage–blissful in absolutely every single way lol–with breakfast at Migis Lodge. We snagged ‘our’ table, which someone else had somehow commandeered for breakfast, for anniversary dinner. Champagne, anyone?