Category Archives: France

Attitude of Gratitude–Day 19: Bittersweet Transitions

There are multiple moments in my life where transitioning from something comfortable into the unknown has been electrifying, yet all together bittersweet. Leaving behind people and places in order to embrace the unfamiliar is never easy, and I have done this multiple times throughout my late teens and early twenties as I moved away from home and subsequently made my way all around the world.

Though I feel that this transition into some semblance of an “adult” life is well underway, it has brought up lots of of reflections on all the people and places in my life that were once brand new– all the strangers that became friends, places that became home.

I always think back on these people and places in fond reminiscence, and there are so many little triggers that quickly jog my memory of them. I can smell Burkina Faso. I can dance San Francisco. I can drink France. I can hear Morocco. I can walk Spain. These small things, which act as portals and transport me through time, if only for a minute or two, so that I can relive a beautiful moment, in a beautiful setting, surrounded by beautiful friends. And when I come back to the present, it’s always with a smile and a sigh. A smile of thanks for all the day’s that have been seized, and for all of the amazing people whose presence has graced my life. But also, a sigh of longing for the days gone by,and the people who are now so far away.

Thus, today I am thankful for the smiles and sighs, because I have been blessed with countless opportunities to discover the world and to befriend genuinely amazing people. They are a reminder that each one of my fond memories was once an uncomfortable new beginning, which blossomed into something worth longing for when it passed.

And if I am able to remain aware through discomfort of the new life chapter I’ve begun, I can let the wave of bittersweet memories wash up on the shore of the present moment, and offer up some gratitude to those people and places who have made my life so meaningful.  I must continue to breathe myself back into the present moment, so that I am able to create new memories here and now that will ultimately be worthy of a smile and a sigh sometime down the road.  There-were-some-memories-1024x884

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Attitude of Gratitude — Day 9 : Wine

There is nothing quite so appealing as coming home after a long day and having a nice class of wine. Today, I bought new glasses to enjoy my wine in and I am so thoroughly happy to slowly sip a glass…or two… with my dinner.

I. Love. Wine.

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Why?

Because it makes me feel like a grown up.

Because it reminds me of cooking with my best friend.

AND

Because wine is so French, and I love everything French.

So, today, though it’s a little (wine and)cheesy, I am grateful for wine and for the time to un(wine)d.

And for really bad, tipsy puns.

Cheers,

Lizzie

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Le Métro

Paris, the city of lights, home to a thousand and one monuments, cemeteries, fountains, museums, parks, and cafés. A city that boast two thousand years of history, a who has population that eats more bread than cake and who crisscross the town from morning to night in the most fascinating spectacle of all—Le Métro.

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While visiting Paris, my most preferred moments of sightseeing took place underground. As a tourist I can stomach 3 days (max) of lines and tour groups, of paying ridiculous prices at mediocre restaurants, and posing for that forced awkward picture in front of that historical monument…just in case someone doesn’t believe that I was there. For three days it’s cool, necessary even. But after 3 days, I want to dig a little deeper; I want to get under the skin of the city. I want to know what the people who live there do. I want the underground scoop.

Crowd in front of Mona Lisa

The crowd in front of the Mona Lisa is more exciting than the (tiny) painting itself…

Where do you go for the underground scoop? Well, that’s not always the easiest to find. Lucky for me, my gal pal happens to be a Parisian implant and has got a good handle on the scoop. So that was cool. But if you don’t happen to have a friend with an “in,” I highly recommend you take the metro. Not only will it bring you to places your feet couldn’t imagine walking, but also you will have a brief (yet complete) cultural immersion like none other.

Why do I like the metro so much? Here are some of my observations:

  1. It’s the essential veins that circulate the lifeblood to and from the heart of the city. It keeps the body functioning properly. When there is a problem on or with the metro that keeps it from running, the chaos of changing lines, and reorganizing one’s route is, at the very least, a small pain. Sometimes, the cause of a cardio-vascular breakdown. A healthy functioning metro is a key ingredient in a happy and well-oiled society.
  2. A lonely traveller is never alone on the metro. There are plenty of people to watch, and oh how I love to watch people! All walks of life pass through the metro—businessmen and women, mothers with strollers, thieves, partygoers, lost tourists, musicians. The old the young, the crème de la crème and down and out. You name it and it’s there. I could ride across town and back just observing everyone’s mannerisms, outfits, and eavesdropping on their conversations.
  3. It’s the great equalizer. A place where all different kinds of people stand, for one stop or many, as an equal with those around them. That’s not to say that the metro is a holy place of tolerance and peace…not quite. However, it’s a place that encourages the mingling of age, race, class, and religion. Where nobody is better than the other and the 1.30 Euro ticket of admission serves as a theoretical basis for equality.

A crowded Paris metro platform

One doesn’t have to live in Paris to discover the joys of the underground. The next time you ride a metro, whether your in Paris or New York or London or Tokyo or wherever, take some time to look around you and see the extraordinary mixture of people riding with you, and appreciate that for a short moment in time you are all headed in the same direction.

Ici, on parle français

Upon leaving Morocco and landing in France, I found myself stumbling to produce the appropriate words to complete my sentences. There were instances when my vocabulary would scramble, for instance, shukran to replace merci or feen? to replace où?  There were also the cultural slip of the tongues, so to speak. Expressions that had become commonplace in my speech, such as the humdillahs and inshallahs, used to express gratitude and uncertainty respectively, which would smuggle their way into my sentences.

For a few days my brain seemed like it was totally scrambled and confused, and to add a degree or two of socio-political unease, the current relationship between Maghreban immigrants in France and the French could be described, from my point of view, as “rather intolerant.” Thus, I was a loaded gun ready to offend not only the French with my shukrans, but also the Maghrebans who would inevitably look at me and assume my mix up was mockery. Awesome.

It raised some rather poignant questions for me, however, about the fluidity of languages across borders, especially concerning the hot topic—immigration. As a third party, neither French nor Arab, how would those around me take my use of the Arabic language? Would it be taken with malice? How would my Caucasian appearance play a role? What is it like for immigrants and their descendants living in France? What languages do they speak? Where? When? And WHY?

A small anecdote so as to not bore you with my linguistic identity obsession:

While riding the metro I witnessed a rather loud disagreement take place in Arabic. Admittedly, it’s rather annoying in any circumstance to listen to people shout at each other in a confined space, but this peaked my interest the moment it became a attack on the two Arab men’s choice of language. From the other side of the train a man shouted aggressively,

“Ey oh, on est en France, ici on parle français!”

“Hey, we’re in France, here we speak French.”

This marks the stereotypical viewpoint of the French towards foreign languages in their country, especially towards immigrants from the developing countries of North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa.

To be specific, I don’t claim to be a specialist on matters of European immigration. My interest is merely how people identify themselves by their language, and how we (and others) identity our social status within society based on our language. But as our world becomes increasingly more globalized, it is inevitable that we will hear Arabic in France, Wolof in Morocco, and Spanish in the USA… Our borders are porous, and as much as that might dismay some, it’s the future and we better get ready to embrace these cross-cultural/linguistic exchanges as opportunities for learning and growth.

Perhaps the publicity for the Paris Museum of Immigration says it best,

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Our ancestors were not all Gaulois.

We are who we are, and should be allowed to identify freely without fear or hesitation and with respect for all peoples and all languages.

*So much to catch up on! More to come very soon!

En silence avec ton ombre

A friend recently passed on a piece of advice: Fuis ton ombre, il te suit. Suit ton ombre, il te fuit. Flee your shadow and it will follow. Follow your shadow, and it will flee. 

The symbolic meaning of the shadow has been a cognitive presence in my life  since it first came to me in a dream back in 2009. I have never forgotten the power of that dream, in which a voice urged me to beware of my shadow. I have returned to this dream time and again seeking to analyze and re-analyze its meaning. According to psychologist Carl Jung, the shadow represents our dark side and our instinctual self. Though it often appears in nightmares, its presence in deeply valuable. The shadow has been said to represent a goal that you harbor, and its primal energy will help you conquer obstacles. Therefore, my dream was not as I first perceived it–a warning–but rather, it was telling me to cultivate an acute awareness of my inner most desires and goals.

As my friend recounted this tid-bit of Jungian wisdom to me, she explained that it applied in all aspects of life including money, relationships, and your life’s purpose. At first I wasn’t sure if I agreed. How can people succeed if they do not actively pursue their dreams? However, as I’ve pondered this a bit more, I’ve begun to find some logic in her statement. This does not mean that I believe in lethargy, but that I find  something must be said about an unnaturally forced pursuit. Just as we can’t catch our shadow, neither can we chase down something that is not meant to be. If we are forcing something to happen for the sake of satisfying our ego, we will not attain what we desire.  What I did not agree with, however, was the idea of fleeing from our shadow. To flee is to deny, and to deny will only generate negativity. What I believe is that in stillness we gather all the clues we need in order to be fully present and aware in our bodies. If we can sit  in silence and cultivate awareness towards our life’s purpose, our inner most desires and our goals, the universe will naturally conspire to help us attain them. It is when  you are still that you can be one with your shadow, and you are capable of dialoguing with it.

In suit, here are some photographs of the Medina in Salé, Morocco. On the day I shot these photos I sought to capture glimpses of my shadow and the shadows of others.

Amen, Right On, Shalom, Saalam, Namaste,

Liz

Sur le train; (PDA) public displays of alcoholism and a prepositional tirade

The end of my time in France is approaching as fast as a TGV… so readers, eloignez vous du bordure du quai. Le TGV 8932 en provenance de Sète et destination New York entrer en gare. These musical words, tinged with the sadness of departure, are permanently seared into that spot of your brain where one retains language. Seriously though, SNCF announcements are so catchy and repetitive that most of this country can repeat them by heart. However, for those of you unfamiliar with the doo doo doo-doo ringing from SNCF train stations across France fret not, this post is an hommage to the train system and to the slew of prepositions I have yet to master. *Mutters* …and who make me want to go absolutely mother effing ballistic on whoever created these tiny demon words.

Bref. The other day I was going to Montpellier to see a concert with some friends and we decided to take our apéro on the train with us. This is a fancy way of saying we were drinking on public trainsportation (pun intended). Public consummation of alcohol makes my American self uneasy…so as we walked past the police station on our way to catch the train (beers in hand) I made rookie mistake #1… as most Americans would. I tried to  discretely hold my beer to the side hoping the police wouldn’t notice, obviously not taking the note from my French friends who were quite nonchalant. The police did notice our PDA (public display of alcohol) however, they merely greeted us and told us to have a fun party. Reason number 345 why I don’t want to leave France…drinking openly and gaily is not at all looked down up or taboo. It is, rather, normal and encouraged by the law enforcement.

We arrived at the train station (beers in hand, more in our backpack), and this is where I made rookie mistake #2 of questioning whether or not is is OK for us to have alcohol on the train …apparently it is also appropriate to drink on French public transport. This question, however, which I asked in French, was my catalyst for this blog. I asked, “Est-ce qu’on peut boire sur le train?” — direct translation — “can we drink on the train?” This question,  demonstrates how with one teeny tiny word I can give away my anglophone origins to a native frog like this *snaps fingers*  What is this word, you ask? It is sur, which means on. Apparently under these specific circumstances sur means, can we drink ON the train. But like, literally, ON TOP of the mother#$%^&*@ train! Summon images of Slumdog Millionaire…no wait, I’ll do it for you: Image

These guys are “sur le train.” Me and my beer drinking friends? Oh no, we were DANS le train — In the train — obviously.

Now I will give myself some credit, because in 7 months I have gone from a blabbering nonsensical idiot to a decent conversationalist. Excluding the occasional confusion over a historical or pop culture reference and feminine/masculine articles, I’ve gotten pretty good at this language. The one thing, however, that I have not been able to wrap my brain around has been these stupid prepositions. This is because there is no rule to learning them… you just need to memorize them and use them until they are as natural to you as they are to a native speaker.

Thus, I have arrived at the most frustrating part of learning a foreign language — the fine tuning. I am comprehensible to a French person, but my minute grammar mistakes are enough to take them out of the conversation we are having and to remark (whether to themselves or out loud…usually out loud) that I have made a mistake. This is killing me softly. However, after making leaps and bounds with this wonderful language, I now need to get down to the nitty-gritty to work out the kinks. Time and practice will eventually give me fluency in the French language that I have desired since I was 15 years old.

So where next? What francophone country will be hosting this nomad come October?

Sète, ici Sète

Prochain arrêt ….

Menu du Jour

Time has slipped away from me and as the days grow longer here in the South of France, my time here is inevitably is getting shorter. I want so badly to fill you all in on the happenings of my life since my last blog post, but that seems like an impossible feat as I’ve also let my posts fall by the wayside.  Here’s a quick update:

February passed quickly, as I returned home on a last minute whim to visit with my aunt who was living out her final days here on this earth.  I made the right decision to come home when I did. I saw her on an upswing and we thought that maybe she would have a few more months in her, but sadly she passed away last week. I spent most of this month traveling between New Jersey, Massachusetts and Vermont. I was happy to catch up with friends and family and it was a much-welcomed time to reboot my system after a dull and freezing January here in Sete. The winter blues and the fact that you could see your breath in our apartment had gotten the best of me, thus the beautiful and unseasonably warm weather on the East Coast was perfect for my mental health.

I’m happy to say that my rejuvenation period did me well, and I’m quite content to be back here in Sete. I’ve had visitors for almost 3 weeks straight now, and it is quite fun to play tour guide around my town. The sixth month mark here was a huge turning point for me. The language is now under my belt. I have enough control over it now to feel as though I can manipulate my words in order show some semblance of my personality that kept getting lost in translation.

I realized how at ease I felt with French when I traveled to Barcelona this past weekend. Let’s face it; being mute has never been something I’ve been good at. Alas, that is how I felt the whole time. Not only do Barcelonan’s not speak French, they don’t even really speak Spanish. Catalan, with its lispy sounds and different vocabulary is a far cry from the south of the border Mexican Spanish we are so accustomed to. I could conjure up only a few useless phrases such as “una cerveza por favor,” and “dame mas gasolina”   ….  before defaulting to some bastardized form of English or French that tumbled around in my head and stuttered off my tongue. Nonetheless, Emily, my partner in crime, and I had a ridiculously good time in Barca. Though the language was unavailable to us, we knew well enough to try and immerse ourselves into the Spanish culture, so we ate 10pm dinners and partied til 6:30 in the morning. We dragged our tired bodies around the most architecturally ridiculous city (!) and marveled at Gaudi’s masterpiece, la Sagrada Familia. Then we took a siesta to ward off the fatigue and hangover from the night before and had easy second night, stuffing ourselves full with paella, listening to some great Spanish music and hitting the sack at the early 3:30 mark.

Tonight I am going to try my hand at some typical Setoise Cuisine. For the sake of my dining partners, let’s hope that these muscles cooked in a white wine and heavy cream sauce turn out well. If not, well, we’ll just drink the wine. Either way it’s a win/win.

All my love,

Ps. check out these awesome French DJ’s I saw live in Montpellier last night!

Aix en Provence

A pictorial glimpse at my weekend in Aix.

Stay tuned ! bisous !

Home again, home again jiggity jig

I’ve been told that the sense of smell has an incredibly strong connection with the part of the brain that evokes memories. As I deeply inhaled the crisp Mediterranean air, I found myself thinking that it smelled like Christmas. It was mostly the smell of burning firewood that brought on this memory, but as I looked around I realized that the setting has slowly been changing around me. The Christmas lights have been hung and the temperature has dropped into what I like to call “the milds” — surely not as cold as an East Coast winter, but cold enough for me to complain. The Christmas season has always been a time for family and friends, hearty meals, warm apple cider, and snow boots…these are a few of my favorite things…when the dog bites, when the bee stings…ok I’ll stop, but seriously, If I could throw up a gang sign for the Trapp Family right now, I’d be representin’.  All of these things bring back cozy memories of winter in Vermont–my first home, but not my only home.

Leaving Vermont to make a new nest in San Francisco meant leaving the familiar and the comfy, taking risks, being lonely, and discovering some new “favorite things.” Burritos from Papalote’s, babysitting for the Carter Family, Golden Gate Park, the Yoga Garden, nights out in the Mission, and friends who could blackmail me because they know me so well. But settling in SF was not easy for me either, and I recall many nights during my first year where I cried myself to sleep and longed to go home to where it was comfortable, to where I was known and to where I felt important. But as San Francisco became my home, my longing to go back to Vermont lessened and it became the place of my childhood; it’s somewhere to visit, but never again to live.

And now I’ve found myself in France, and I’m wondering again will I ever be so comfortable here that I won’t want to leave this place? I’m starting to get the hang of Sete, its people, its language, its cuisine…and as of very recently I’ve felt like I’m settling in.

C’est tranquil.

Gros bisous,

Lizzie

Octopus Ode

According to my research, aka wikipedia, the octopus is a cephalopod mollusc of the order Octopoda. Octopuses have two eyes and four pairs of arms, and like other cephalopods they are bilaterally symmetric. An octopus has a hard beak, with its mouth at the center point of the arms. Octopuses have no internal or external skeleton allowing them to squeeze through tight places. Octopuses are among the most intelligent and behaviorally flexible of all invertebrates.

If Sète could have a mascot the octopus would be its best representative. Upon arriving in Sète I caught my first glimpse of an octopus swinging from the belt of a scuba clad man walking along the beach. Never having seen an octopus in my life, you can imagine my surprise. As the man walked by I racked my brain for the vocabulary, but unfortunately this was not a word I learned in high school French class. I wanted so badly to start a conversation with this man about his octopus. “Where on earth did you catch that!?” I would have enthousiastically asked. But alas, my mouth just hung agape, and it was only my expression of awe that allowed me to convey my curiosity to this stranger. Returning home that evening, I searched out the word octopus in the dictionary, laughing at myself thinking when will I ever need this word again…it would be sooner rather than later.

The French language, never ceasing to amaze me, has two words for octopus: la pieuvre, if you are referring to the living eight armed creature OR le poulpe, if you are referring to a less happy, yet oh-so-tasty, cooked octopus. (Note the difference in the gender of the nouns… this screws with me ALL the time.) This invertebrate is deeply appreciated here, and it has even brought some culinary fame to this little port town. La tielle Sétoise, is a much more appetizing name than octopus pie, but patatoe-pahtahto. La tielle is a spicy octopus ragoût clothed in a sweet wine-flavored pastry dough, and eating it is a rather religious experience. I had it for dinner the other night, for lunch today and I may go back for more tomorrow.

Furthermore, this sea creature makes a lovely metaphor for my séjour in Sète. As of recent I have been noticing the symmetry between my hometown, Stowe, and Sète. They are both charming and picturesque, dependent on tourism, and containing a deeply proud and unique native population. It might seem like I’m comparing apples with oranges, but fisherman and farmer are not really so different after all. One lives humbly from the sea, the other from the land. Another comparison I’ve drawn between Stowe and Sète is that one person’s business is everyone’s business, and the arrival of a foreigner like myself has not gone unnoticed. It’s not shocking, yet after passing four years disguised in a blanket of San Franciscan fog, my taste for small town fame has faded measurably. This is not to say I’m famous here, but people know I exist. The few French friends that I have made here are local Sétois with expansive networks…what’s more, I work in a well known local bar in centre ville. Meeting someone for the first time here, I am greeted with, “Oh yeah, I’ve heard about you, you’re that American girl.” I didn’t quite know how to handle that at first. It freaked me out wondering what kind of preconceived judgements they had already passed on me. I’ve been counseled not to do anything “too bad” if I’d like to stay out of the spotlight. This advice has been heard and I’m navigating my way cautiously.

With this advice comes my second comparison to the octopus. I’m learning to channel their intelligence. I have to stay concealed enough so that I don’t become someone’s dinner, and flexible enough so that I can adapt to new environments.  I’m learning to squeeze through some metaphorically tight spaces: a new language, a new job, and new friends…it hasn’t all been easy, but  I’m hoping to acclimate elegantly.

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