You may say I’m a dreamer

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but I’m not the only one…

I know this to be true because of the incredible number of people I’ve connected with in the aftermath of the recent election. I have not been to this page in quite a while—nor, I’m afraid, have I devoted as much time to my novel as I’d intended to—and that’s because I’ve been spending a lot of time with the group I started, Action and Empathy. I don’t think the link will work if you’re not on Facebook, and for this reason and many more we are building an external site that will hopefully accomplish the same goals as the existing page.

I started the page a few days after the election because I, and most of the people in my life, were angry, disappointed, worried, depressed—all the stages of sudden grief in no particular order—and I wanted to create a space that was about action, not just ranting. There was plenty of ranting going on on Social Media, traditional media, and in person. I wanted a space where we could take action against perceived injustices and conflicts of interest and all the rest AND where we could express our empathy by actively supporting the groups that will need it most under this impending administration: women, immigrants, Muslim-Americans, people of color, the LGBTQ community, tax-paying New Yorkers, people on Medicare, the press, and on and on and on.

And I’m thrilled that the small part I am taking in all of this is having any impact at all. What began as a group of about 7 of us has grown to over 900 members, most of whom I don’t know. I’ve gotten letters of appreciation from people I’ve never met and that is enormously validating.

I have been complacent for most of my life, and this time around I had no choice but to change that. In a strange way I feel as though I am finally finding my purpose in life. I know my strengths and talents, but purpose is an entirely different thing. My other purpose, at present, is to finish my novel, and that I will do. Creating this network has taken priority.

This will be a long road and will begin in earnest after January 20. And while it’s been argued that these forms of silent and vocal protests won’t change things, in fact they will. They will prove to the world that not all Americans accept what this administration intends for this country. This will get many of us involved on the smallest, most local levels such that we can change the course of things from the bottom up. We will all pay a lot of attention to the 2018 elections. And we will support one another, we will do everything  we can to maintain the things that make this country beautiful, and those include its ethnic , religious, and cultural diversity. Those include freedoms that are now being directly threatened.

I’ve been accused of co-opting other people’s causes. I am not doing this. I am simply doing my best to do my part, and I mean it when I say that I am learning on the spot. I will make mistakes and I will seek the knowledge of others, as I’ve been doing all along.

Today is Christmas and I am with family and loved ones in Paris. Despite all that this city and country have been through in recent years and despite its current political strife, Paris still offers me the timeless beauty and romance that claimed me the first time I visited.

The Seine still flows, the Eiffel Tower still sparkles at night, the gryphons and gargoyles still guard Notre Dame. The sights and sounds and smells and tastes that I associate with this city remain, and this is very comforting.

Peace on earth is a tall order these days. So instead I will strive for as much inner-peace as I can, and though there will be slip-ups along the way, I will remain on an upward swing. I wish the same for all of you, wherever you are, whatever you celebrate and, whatever ideals you most value.

On the topic of tranquility, which is one of my favorite words, the British philosopher James Allen said,

Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom.

Whatever calmness of mind means for you, I urge you to practice it in the coming year. My goal for the new year is to become stronger and wiser.

Whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Ramadan, Diwali, Kwanzaa, none of the above, all of the above, I wish you peace and joy.

Until soon, my friends.

And you wanted to dance so I asked you to dance

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It’s been suggested that I increase my social media footprint so as to amass legions and legions of followers who will bode  well for the potential publication of this book. Ergo (yes I did), if we run in the same circles on Twitter and Snapchat and Friendster and Grindr and What’s App, you may find me repeating myself. Find me repeating myself.

Last night I had dinner with good friends who live down here. When we made this plan a couple weeks ago, they mentioned that friends were playing at One Eyed Jacks. It came up a couple more times with no more specificity. I was on the fence about going out after dinner and they added that, oh yeah, their friends are Eagles of Death Metal.

Talk about burying the lead.

As you probably know, Eagles of Death Metal are the band that was playing the Bataclan in Paris during the horrendous events of last November 13. I was not at all familiar with the band or their music, but of course I knew of them, and of course I felt some kind of self-indulgent kinship toward them because of the whole Paris thing. And the whole human thing. I didn’t know that they had ties to New Orleans, too, but there you go.

Eagles of Death Metal and I have so much in common.

So we went to the show after dinner and we were on the list and we got to hang out upstairs and visit with my friends’ friend – the handsome fellow 0n the left – and the show was excellent.

It had never occurred to me that I might see them someday, and I’m grateful that the fates allowed me to.

Today I got a friends and family discount because I recognized the woman at the shop from the show last night

Eagles of Death Metal basically bought me a lipstick.

More music tonight, more book tomorrow.

Laissez les bons temps, etcetera.

 

May the road rise with you

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I have started new posts many times since the last one, and each time I’ve gotten distracted or had to leave for an appointment or started to stress about freelance work and abandoned my thoughts mid-stream. And then by the time I returned to them, new things had happened to me and to the world and whatever I’d written was rendered obsolete or seemed petty in light of, say, the most recent spate of shootings in this country or the news I’d just learned from a friend or the brilliant revelations I’d made that morning over coffee, while talking to the dog.

And now this … now this thing has happened that is an enormous game changer. Yes, the game was changed a long, long time ago, and massacres even bigger than what happened on Friday have taken place all over the world and have affected far more lives and cultures and countries than I’ve paid “enough” attention to. Right or wrong, Friday was different. For a great many reasons.

My friend Holly articulated it better than I will in this piece, and prior to her writing this she taught me the term “emotional proximity”. That’s at the heart of why what happened in Paris on Friday has affected so many of us so much more than what happens daily elsewhere.

A lot of people are criticizing the blue-white-and-redding of Facebook and the horror and shock that Americans are finally feeling. I’ve seen posts mocking the people who feel “entitled” to their emotions because they’ve been to Paris once or studied French in high school or whatever their perceived connection.

We are all entitled to our emotions, perhaps more than we are to anything else. They are organic. They are hard to fabricate. They do not translate directly into how we choose to respond or react, though they can.

If you’re reading this you probably know me and if you know me you probably know that I do have a connection to Paris; it’s a city I’ve spent a fair amount of time in over the years and one that I love deeply. I have friends and family there. I speak French.  Am I claiming ownership over this tragedy, claiming to be more affected than people who’ve not been there? Of course not. The hierarchy of pain is fluid. But yes, I do know the neighborhood where some of this happened and it’s not far from our place and a family friend lives on the block those restaurants are on (and she frequents them; she was out of town) and I know someone who knows someone who was shot at the Bataclan and I love Paris and blah blah blah this is not my tragedy, it is all of ours.

I have never been to Lebanon. Some years ago I edited a novella that takes place in Beirut and I learned, then, that Beirut was once considered “the Paris of the Middle East” and that it is a beautiful, multi-cultural, and religiously diverse city. I know Lebanese people and I’ve eaten in Lebanese restaurants and this is the extent of my tangible connection to Beirut and Lebanon.

The tragedy there is no less tragic than the one in Paris, or the one in Aleppo or elsewhere in Syria or in Kenya or anywhere else in this beautiful, damaged world.

It doesn’t matter how many times we’ve visited a place or if we have at all; if we have context for it, if we romanticize or vilify it, we have a connection to it. If it affects lives, it affects us all, whether or not we have a visceral response.

Longwinded way of saying that whatever we are feeling about any of this is valid and don’t let Facebook monitors or righteous opiners belittle your emotions and expressions of grief and concern.

Vive la France. Vive le monde.

 

When it drizzles

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Good job on the weather front, Paris … it’s raining now, a light, steady rain that woke me up and is beautiful to listen to. Perhaps this will cool things down to a crisp 85 degrees (celsius folk: je m’excuse). I was mid-dream that I was organizing Christmas decorations under my bed. I need to clear a lot of clutter when I get home. And other things I’ve been saying for decades.

One of the lovely side effects of travel is that one (this one, anyway) can’t help but hit a re-set button; it offers a break from the day-to-day we get so caught up in that we can’t imagine finding time to implement much needed changes. Both of my travel companions have made resolutions of sorts on this trip, and I have too though I’ve not yet articulated them. But, basically, all the stuff that I’ve been avoiding starting and ending because it’s simply been easier not to needs to be addressed, and so it will.

In a few hours, hopefully after I’ve slept some more, we will go to the Musee d’Orsay, another of my favorite places here. When I spent the semester here I took an art history course and spent a lot of time there “studying”. My final paper was on Seurat; I remember writing it (by hand) in the kitchen chez Madame Francoise, the woman I rented a room from while I was here. It was a much different time; calling home meant waiting outside of phone booths and then trying to get everything into a conversation before impatient Parisians informed me that my time was up. I wrote, and received, so many letters then; the handwritten letter — what a quaint concept. I miss those crazy things. I’ve said this here before.

If anyone wants to write me a letter, I promise I’ll write back.

The light is changing and I’m tempted to take more photos. This city is relentlessly photogenic, from every angle, from the grand, recognizable monuments to the arbitrary side streets, the rooftops and courtyards and food and dogs and people.

Another amazing meal last night, at La Rôtisserie de la Tour, which is the sister restaurant to La Tour d’Argent … and is affordable, where it’s world-famous, Michelin-starred older sister isn’t. We shared everything, and had (vegans, stop reading): amuses bouches of duck pâté en croute, sautéed mushrooms a la Provencale (I’ve had this here before; it is difficult to put into words how sumptuous this chef is able to make a plate of mushrooms), escargots, confit de canard, ile flottante, and mousse au chocolat. Pretty standard fare that, in the right hands, is art.

The richness of the cuisine we are eating here is almost offset by the amount of walking we are doing. Almost.

Back to bed for a few. À bientôt, mes amis.

In the summer, when it sizzles

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This’ll be the first time I’m returning from Paris with what S called “a killer tan”. They were right; it’s hot here in August! But it’s not unbearable, and the mornings and evenings remain cool.

Having a lovely time, wish you were here.

S asked me if I mind playing tour guide and trip planner when I’m here and I don’t; I love that I get to share the tiny bits of this town that I know with the people in my life, and each time I’ve been has been different — though, of course, some things are fairly consistent, like a first-day visit to Notre Dame, a trip to l’Orangerie to see the water lilies, an aperitif at Les Deux Magots and a pain au chocolat anywhere.

Saturday night we celebrated E’s birthday (and S’s impending nuptials) with a wonderful dinner at Mon Vieil Ami … highly recommend; it’s on the Ile St. Louis and the food is delicious, the fresh vegetables and fruits plentiful, the service excellent. They were even pleasant to the diners behind us who loudly and repeatedly requested steak sauce. After dinner we went to Caveau de la Huchette, a jazz club in the Latin Quarter located in what was apparently a prison during the French Revolution. I love this place — the music is always fantastique and the people-watching sublime. People swing dance here and on Saturday the crowd looked as though they’ve been gathering every Saturday since the place opened in the 40s … we invented back stories for everyone down to poor Blanche, who sat out many a dance looking very depressed, like a woman who’d wandered into a Toulouse-Lautrec painting and drank too much Absinthe, until someone finally asked her to take a spin.

That was a long-ass run-on sentence. Wow.

I’ve not been writing enough since I’ve been here and this has been weighing on me. It’s a very inspiring city but when you are (happily) playing tour guide and walking your minimal allotment of 10,000 steps per day and dining out and meditating for twenty minutes, twice a day … writing takes more of a back seat than it should. I did, however, make some major decisions for the last 20ish pages of my draft, so that’s something. I look forward to diving back into it.

But first I must get ready for dinner. À bientôt.

Such a lot of world to see

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I’m traveling, again, one of my greatest joys in life, that which keeps me inspired and optimistic and connected to the world outside of my own. Like many of us, my own world can grow conveniently small and safe. I don’t travel to be unsafe, but I travel to leap into my comfort zone which, oddly, I often feel is anywhere but New York.

I love New York. I have to. I live there and I don’t know that I’ll be leaving it any time soon, much as I would like to think I could. I could.

We are in Paris now, which has become an exotic, much cooler distant cousin to my real home. I’ve the luxury (through no effort of my own) of a consistent place to stay here and one in which I feel very good. I’ve convalesced here. I’ve spent time with family, with friends, with people new to Paris. Sitting in this lovely space, drinking a cup of coffee (that hopefully someone familiar with the metric system made), and reading and looking out at the Seine, this has become a version of Paris that I crave. Along, of course, with the sights and sounds and smells and the music and shops and restaurants and museums and the misjudged directions that lead you down a little street you’d never noticed and into an enclave of Parisian life that has nothing to do with the things your read in books or the things Americans warn you about Parisians (ignore that stuff, stat) – Paris is a beautiful creature with a dark sense of humor.

First we were in Lisbon, my lovely travel companion E and me. This trip was 16 years in the making. We met sixteen years ago this Sunday and our mid-20s friendship grew and we spoke of one day traveling together – now we are doing it. Lisbon: I wanted to visit a place, a country, I’d not yet seen, one where the three days we’d allotted before we had to be in Paris would yield the results of richness and experience that we crave in our adventures. We walked, we ate, we chatted with the locals, we saw some sights, but not too many, we put no pressure on ourselves. And it was perfect. We met Paolo at the wine bar who hails from Sao Paolo and said, “Don’t go to Brazil, it’s dangerous!” to which we replied, “Yes, we hear it can be-” and he said, “It’s dangerous because you’ll want to stay forever.

In Lisbon they took us for native French speakers, which was a fine way to practice before we got to Paris. We had a wine bar across the street and a restaurant right downstairs and around the corner was a venue the musicians we met called “The House of Fado” … Erika needed a night in after dinner and at the last minute I decided to go see what this Fado was all about … “This is the most independent thing I’ve ever done!” I said to Erika as I left, and she knew it was right up there. She checked in with me (What’s App) to make sure I was okay … and I was. I sat and listened to a couple of sets and Eduardo, the Portuguese guitar player (Portuguese guitar is his instrument) took an interest in me in a non-sleazy way – just happy to talk to someone new to the music and to explain it as he could … and it helped me to understand the concept of Fado and it was a really lovely night of music and a new temporary friend … I stayed for a few sets then went back to our apartment and the next day we trekked to the castle where my incessant fear of heights kept me on the ground consulting maps and taking photos of Erika on higher planes … we travel well together, and that’s an amazing thing to realize.

Because sometimes even the people you like most don’t make for the best travel companions; this is not the case.

Now we are in Paris – a sort of home for me though I know the city far less than I should . I’ve spend a lot of time here and it’s all been under very different and very special circumstances. Last time I was here with my darling and we did and saw things I never had before and of course we did and saw things I’ve done many times before, but through new eyes there is always so much to be gained.

Boom we walked by the most awful of awful restaurants on the ile – I will send you a photo.

Now we are in Paris and there’s so much more to say but what it comes down to is that, like any place that matters to you, be it Paris, Rome, Pula, Lisbon, Savannah, Charleston, wherever – magic is everywhere – the magic of realizing a place’s place in the world and in your own. So grateful to be here. So much chatter — I think I’ll go to sleep soon but oy vey I’m glad I’m here and you know what friends? I’d love to live elsewhere sometime. Keep giving me your ideas.