I’m pleased to report that my interview with writer Janet Skeslien Charles that first appeared on this blog was republished in a neat online literary journal called Travel by the Books.
Literature + travel. What could be better?
Feel free to check it out again if you’d like.
Speaking of travel and literature, it’s my last full week in Paris before flying off to the States for a full month. So I’m leaving my hermitude behind for a bit and getting out and about the city before I leave.
Tonight my friend Christine Buckley read at Shakespeare & Co, along with Michael Scott Moore, who wrote a book on the history of surfing. And guess who I sat next to? Janet Skeslien Charles! Paris is starting to seem very small – in a very good way!
This was a really great evening that gave me warm fuzzies (wow, I’m not sure I’ve ever actually used that term before!) for just that reason: I feel more and more like there is a community of creative folks that I’m getting to know. I love showing up to events and knowing people, meeting friends of friends, and then we all become friends.
After those first few years of struggle, it’s so wonderful to feel that I have a place here. Paris can be a lonely city. Beautiful, but lonely. When you cross over though, and really start to find your people, everything changes.
The reading itself was interesting. I can’t say I’m much of a surfing aficionado, but the first author took us behind some of the cultural history of the movement in France, Germany, and Cuba. (Who knew? Apparently France has the biggest surf scene in Europe).
Christine then read part of her essay in the Best Women’s Travel Writing 2010 anthology and an excerpt from her memoir-in-progress about her Vietnamese family. (She has also co-authored the book Slave Hunter: One Man’s Global Quest to Free Victims of Human Trafficking).
Christine is a hoot. Her essay about finding herself in the middle of Vietnam when she spoke barely any Vietnamese was hilarious. With an old dictionary in hand, she surmised that her Vietnamese name either meant “beautiful velvet” or “lovely young antler.” The misunderstandings continued from there.
I should clarify that Christine is a born and bred New Yorker. When she was 8, her parents adopted two Vietnamese boys who were boat people. Christine later lived in Vietnam and speaks fluent Vietnamese (and French!) now.
Her language skills came in enormously helpful when six of us went out for dinner after the reading at a tiny, tasty Vietnamese restaurant on a side street off the main tourist drag.
The staff loved having Christine, this white Western woman, order food in fluent Vietnamese. The kitchen staff was Vietnamese, but the host Chinese. He spoke to our Chinese friend Leona in Chinese, Christine in Vietnamese, and the rest of us in English and French. His command of all of the languages was amazing. I am really jealous of people who speak so many languages!
We seemed to be a hit at the restaurant (which also only has 16 seats, so we did take up nearly half the place). We all shared dishes that Christine ordered for us; I always defer to expert opinion. (Also, I’ll try just about anything.)
By the end of the night we were being sung Vietnamese lullabies (gorgeous!) and we promised to come back.
But it was the warm conversation above all that made the night. My friends Jenny and Dani are great photographers who have done a lot of traveling themselves. I originally put the two of them in touch. But I met Jenny first through Christine. And it turned out Dani knew Christine through another friend.
It’s that small world feeling again, which I so love. Rounding out the dinner was Leona, a reporter, and Molly whom I just met tonight. She’s originally from Oregon, but finished her studies to be a midwife in France and now has a job here in a maternity ward. I give her major kudos – not only to come to a foreign country, but to learn a new skill and start a new career.
Then again, I guess all of us kind of do that in a way. We reinvent ourselves. In many respects, we have to start from scratch.
Which is why it’s that much sweeter when you realize that you’ve built something here, that you continue to build and grow. Look at these amazing people in my life! In this amazing city! We’re all making it here, in our own way, on our own terms.
Hmm. I should probably get out of the house more often and celebrate.
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