Tag Archives: Paris

Missing things

As the countdown has begun to leave our international destinations and head back to the US, for the driving-across-the-country/US-history portion of this amazing year, I catch myself making mental lists of things I miss about home. And lists of things I will miss when I leave here.  These are some of them, in no particular order.

What I miss about home:

  • Friends. (That includes you, family). When it comes to reducing stress, talking with friends produces better results than Valium, therapy, exercise, meditation, yoga, or a stiff drink. And I had it in spades. I was surrounded by amazing people (some from a physical distance, but at least they had good internet and phone service which I’ve had only sporadically this year). And I miss them more than anything. Dreamboat has been a trooper, but I’m sure he’s ready for me to start sharing my thoughts and dreams and fears and and hopes and menu and frustrations and laundry dread, and the list goes on, with several someones other than him. And, if I ask him, even one more time, what he’s thinking, this trip may be over. Today.
  • Plumbing that is made to handle toilet paper. I miss this one a lot. Every day.
  • Whole Foods and Trader Joes, and the easy availability of healthy foods. And that food packaging is printed in English. And that I had a car to drive to the stores and didn’t have to walk up to eight miles to get there. (I know this one sounds snarky, and it is. But, it’s also true.)
  • The lack of ear-piercing car alarms, constant honking, trucks rumbling, music blaring, combined into noise pollution that never stops. This week, I heard a car’s reverse beep (not enough for only the large-sized trucks to have them here in Lima), to the tune of J Lo’s “On the Floor.” Swear.  I love the energy of a big city, but now, I crave me some stillness and peace.
  • Matching glasses (stemware). A full set of silverware. Cloth napkins. Pretty, shiny, things.
  • Not living out of a suitcase. And with only the clothes, and the shoes (especially the limited shoes), that I can fit into one suitcase.
  • Time alone that doesn’t equate to all five of us at a Starbucks, with everyone having received orders to READ and BE QUIET, to give me some uninterrupted thinking. Or a nap. Either would be fine.
  • My kids’ teachers. God BLESS them.  There are times, ok – they’re fleeting (or maybe not), when I long for having to go in to the office, for some kid-free time.
  • People Magazine (which I know is full of trash, and now has great, new trash on people I’ve not heard about after being away for so long), and Marie Claire (which has amazing fashion which I can no longer afford since I’ve not worked in so long), and House Beautiful (which is just silly as I’ve not been in a house in almost nine months, and my house is rented through the end of the year, and, once again, I can’t hire one of those amazing designers to come add their creativity and beauty to my home). But, I miss each and every one of these publications nonetheless. And, at every airport and kiosk and bookstore and checkout counter, I look for them. Finally, in Spain, six MONTHS into this trip, I gave away the Marie Claire I had brought from home. It still pains me to think about not having it.
  • Going to the movies. If I’m being totally honest, which of course I am, we didn’t often go to movies before we left home. There were the rare girls-night-out, or movie dates with Dreamboat. But, it had been months since I’d been to a movie before we left, and it has been the ENTIRE nine months of our trip so far, since I’ve seen a new release. I don’t even know what I’ve missed. But here’s the secret, when I was trying not to get buried under the stress of life, sometimes, without telling anyone, I would go to a matinee and just escape to be entertained and laugh or cry or dig my nails into the arm rests.  I loved the escapism and perspective it brought. The reality of my life was always better than the movie I saw. (By the way, you’d be surprised who is watching movies at 2:00pm on a Monday.)

What I will miss when I’m home:

  • Time. Time with the kids. Time with Dreamboat. Time to workout. Time to volunteer. Time to explore and learn. Time for naps. Time to write. Time that is all mine to spend as I wish, unencumbered by school and sports schedules, commitments, or work. The beauty and joy, from life without the morning rush to get everyone fed and dressed and out the door on time.
  • Knowing I’m following my dreams. Knowing I’m making a difference, every day, in my life, and the lives of my kids, and the lives of those less fortunate.
  • Low cost of living!  Cheap housing. Cheap food. Cheap wine. Affordability ROCKS.
  • Sunshine all year long! As we intentionally followed the sun, except for a freak snowstorm, we got to skip winter. After living in Seattle for 6 years, this girl has been soaking up the happiness of daily vitamin D.
  • Always being just a little off-kilter from being in a foreign place. Being ‘new’ which has kept me aware, learning, on the edge. And, more sensitive to others who are new, and able to reach out and make them feel welcome.
  • The lack of Hallmark Holidays and the freedom from the production of having to decorate and celebrate for every. Single. One. As much as I love my kids’ schools and their teachers (and believe me, I love them a LOT), there will be many times (every single holiday), when I’ll wish to be back in Africa and free of the guilt-inducing celebrations that require planning, effort, midnight runs to the store for materials, and time-off-work to attend. If I were to have more children, they’d have to draw straws to see who gets to have mama attend their event.
  • The intentionality of teaching and modeling the character I want to nourish in my kids. The daily challenges and lessons we have faced ‘on the road’ which serve as reminders that success is waking up every morning with your soul at peace. Of teaching them that compassion takes energy and attention, but is not hard. So if they’re not being kind, they’re just being lazy. And selfish.
  • Seeing poverty every day. And the joy of those living in it. And being reminded everywhere I look, that happiness is a choice, not dependent on our circumstances.
  • Surfing. And the sound of the waves. And the view of the ocean (not the one in Conakry with all the floating trash and the rotting fish, but the pristine one in Spain).

What I will not miss, ever, is a Hammam. I like to think of myself as stubborn, and anything but a quitter. I’m game to try most anything once. But, I quit the local Hammam mid-experience. After I had talked a friend into joining me and we were both stripped down our underwear, and had made it through the two outer chambers and into the, what was supposed to be, ‘hot’ room, to find myself chilled, grossed out by the slime and smell and wishing I could hide from the big, naked lady approaching with a dark brown fatty substance that looked like axel grease, I turned and walked back to the locker rooms (wet room with hooks lining two walls and a bench I wouldn’t set Peanut’s poopy bottom on), unconcerned with any semblance of dignity, and got dressed while all the women, in various stages of undress, sat and ate and watched us. Nope. Anything resembling a Turkish Bath, and I’m heading the other way, while spraying Lysol over my shoulder. No matter what country I’m in.

This year has enriched my life in more ways than I can name. And, is cutting out chunks of my heart, to leave behind in each of the incredible places I’ve come to know and love.

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Filed under May 2013

Paris etiquette

If anything, I have been wonderfully spoiled by all the places I have visited. There are little facets in each of the different countries that I wholly adore, and I always wonder if I can find a single place in the world that has all of these benefits. In Paris, it’s the food. Always, amazing food. The change is noticeable the minute you arrive. Even in the train station. The French, and Parisians in particular, love to eat well. And they do.

But, Parisian manners are not so simple. I think I’d leave them out of my imaginary, utopian place. It’s not all bad–just not easy. There’s a complex set of codes to navigating Parisian etiquette. And, they’re not written down. Nor are they followed by all Parisians. Saying bonjour at every encounter, peppered with lots of merci’s, will break through much of the Parisian, often snooty, façade.

We had some successes and failures. Here’s an assorted list.

 

I walked up to the counter at the museum café, and asked for the coffee I’d paid for, but forgotten to collect.

“That’s because it’s for after lunch”, the cashier said.

When I thanked her, and reiterated I paid for a café crème, she said, “We don’t have any cream. You may have an espresso.” Which I did.

 

While waiting at the post office, to send home the heavy boxes we were struggling to hold, a man walked directly in front of us, and took his place in the front of the line. As we’d already been in Paris a week and learned some of the ropes, Dreamboat walked around him, and began conversing with the cashier. The man apologized, smiled, and fell in behind.

 

Little boys here, just like little boys in a mountain village in Spain, a dusty road in Guinea, or an indoor field in Seattle, love to play soccer. You don’t have to be good, or speak the language, to be welcomed into their games.

 

Lots of people speak English in Paris. Often they’re happy to practice their language skills, especially if you or the children have made an effort to communicate in French. Sometimes, if their table is only an inch away in the crowded restaurant, and your seven-year-old has just asked about penises and vaginas, they will giggle and smirk and snort their coffee, while staring straight ahead.

 

Even if you’ve selected a table out of the way (so as not to overly burden the wait staff), and have made sure to order a dish and beverage for every member of the family (so as not to offend or short-change the establishment), you may not have a variation on a listed menu item. Even if the item is listed as part of another menu item. It is not possible. Not even for an extra charge.

Ce n’est pas fait”, (it isn’t done).

 

When in the middle of a grocery store, and the cashier looks over, and thinks your stroller is facing the wrong way, they will leave their till (and line of waiting customers) and come over to move the baby, you, and offending stroller, to face a different direction.

 

If your child runs wild (like a Cirque du Soleil clown sent out to work up the crowd) in a stately, walled, garden, no-one will notice. Unless he tries to leave through the gate, then all the adults will whip their heads in his direction, jump to attention, and rush to his rescue. All while glaring at his incompetent, albeit fashionably dressed, maman.

 

Street vendors gather around the outskirts of the Saint-Ouen flea market, to ply potential buyers with knock-off belts, bags, and other items. It’s best to avoid looking in their direction, to avoid any pushy, aggressive behavior. If you don’t have Dreamboat along to simply say, in his deep, gravelly voice,

“I believe the lady said ‘No’.”

Then there’s no more hassle. None.

Only a sweet “Merci” while they quietly back away.

 

Sitting in a sidewalk café, sipping coffee, really does make one feel more chic and intelligent, at least until the coffee is gone. And, if the wait staff is rude, it just makes the experience feel that much more authentic.

 

Sidewalk café living

 

 

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Filed under March 2013