Archive for the 'Out and About' Category

Small Gifts, Big Gratitude (2015 in Review; Welcome the New Year Ahead)

One of my favorite shots from a 2015 photo session with my super talented friend Jade of Tripshooter.com

One of my favorite shots from a 2015 photo session with my super talented friend Jade of Tripshooter.com

Most places in Paris were closed today – shops, markets, museums.

Out on the street by 9 am (early for me on a normal day, unheard of the morning after New Year’s Eve), I walked several quiet blocks before another person even crossed my path. After a winter so far blessed by soft temperatures and sun, clouds and cold have returned to the city. But the still, chilled air warmed me. Everything was calm. All was peace.

Though still dreaming of the *warm* peace in Greece.

Though still dreaming of *this* kind of peace in Greece.

By a couple hours later, my neighborhood had yawned awake. Regulars traded stories over coffee at my corner café, rows of fruit beckoned from the fronts of a few epiceries, the rogue bakery near the metro displayed sandwiches and sweet treats. Their goods are not the best, but their weird hours comfort me – one can sometimes forgive a greasy pain au chocolat when it’s possible to procure the pastry at midnight. Or on New Year’s Day.

I also went to Zurich, though that wasn't nearly as exciting (random lamps in the park, notwithstanding).

I also went to Zurich, though that wasn’t nearly as exciting (random lamps in the park, notwithstanding).

The majority of stores were shuttered, mind you, but these signs of life made me smile. I love the laid-back nature of my neighborhood. More of these open pockets exist when so much else is closed.

To my surprise, I stumbled across a Franprix that was also open. Score. Who ever expected to get groceries on January 1? Unprepared to do a big shop, I corralled a modest number of items up to checkout. “16.56€” the cashier said, “though you have 15.26€ on your carte de fidelité.”

“As in, I can use the 15.26 to pay?”

(A loyalty card shouldn’t warrant much confusion – a straightforward concept, yes – but at the Franprix I normally frequent, they don’t seem to understand how their system works. I’ve stymied more than one employee when trying to employ my accrued points. Once when I handed over a 5€ off coupon that the store had given me on my previous trip, the cashier looked bewildered, then annoyed, then asked “qu’est-ce que c’est ce truc?” What is this thing. A manager had to be called).

So yeah, I was delighted when this cashier-angel announced I could immediately apply the credit to my purchase.

“That leaves 1.30€ due,” she said.

“It’s like a gift!” I said.

“It is,” she agreed. “Bonne année!

I saw magical trees in the small village of Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre this summer.

I saw magical trees in the small village of Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre this summer.

Waltzing out with my happy new year’s bounty  – (almost) free food is enough to make me giddy – I continued on my journey. Rounding the corner on Boulevard de Charonne, I suddenly saw a Christmas tree falling from the sky. I couldn’t say whether its descent was fast or slow – it seemed both, really. An elegant dive.

A pleasing spectacle, an unexpected pine tree cutting through the air, but I did think quite clearly: “wow, that’s dangerous sport throwing a tree out a window.” Slow day notwithstanding, it’s usually a busy street.

For some reason, I hardly slowed though I was heading straight toward the event. The tree landed with a simple whoosh and I realized I’d been holding my breath waiting to discover what kind of sound a dropped tree from that height would make. Then a redheaded man picked up the sapin and pulled it to the curb. Ah, the lookout! I was relieved.

I caught his eye and he shrugged amiably and offered a sheepish smile.

“It’s faster that way,” he said.

Indeed. The tree looked to have been launched from the 6th or 7th floor at least.

Feel free here.

Feel free here.

Just steps later, now near Pere Lachaise, an older man walked by briskly. He seemed to be looking at me, though whether he was a bit unstable or another nice surprise awaited I couldn’t quite tell. All I could make out was the word “cadeau” repeated over and over again. Gift. Gift. Gift. 

Or present, present, present, if you prefer.

I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions; I often just feel my way toward a theme or a vague longing at the most. This year, several people have suggested picking one word, which sounded intriguing, though I found myself resisting that slightly, as well.

But something about these small encounters crystallized into my New Year’s wish. On my walk I had been pondering how “intention” seemed to be the one word growing brighter. Sometimes it’s unclear just what my intentions are so the prospect can get hazy, but that was just it: I want more of my energy to be directed. I want to work with purpose and intent.

These tiny surprises that shook me today, though – they were enchanting. They were joyful. Serendipity is necessary, too.

The memorial at one of the sites of violence, La Belle Equipe.

The memorial at one of the sites of violence, La Belle Equipe.

2015 was a year bookended by horrors in Paris – in my very arrondissement, the 11th, where I live. Just one week into the new year and the killings at Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket shocked the country. Then this November the coordinated terror attacks on Friday the 13th slayed so many more.

In between, I watched news in my other home, the States, and saw more violence, by police with unchecked power, hateful political speech, and in a year with more than one mass shooting per day, by too many people armed to the teeth.

Back in Europe a massive refugee crisis saw wave after wave of suffering people wash up onto these shores. And all around, everywhere – from university students gunned down in Garisa to bombs in Beirut – so much sorrow and death.

I lost my words for awhile. What to do in the face of so much pain? These huge issues left me feeling lost and bereft.

But on the personal side, I experienced wonderful things. Two of my dreams even came true.

  • My first novel found a publisher. Yes, four years after I first announced it as finished on this here blog (ahem, watch those optimistic claims, and whoa, how the years careen!), my book finally found a fine home with Queen’s Ferry Press. I am (a wee bit terrified, but mostly, overwhelmingly) thrilled.  There’s now more of a wait (pub date is April 2017!), but I’ve grown pretty patient, I must say. I will share more with you when we’re closer and there’s more news to tell!
I gave this as my current photo when the press asked for one, but I think I'm going to smile in my next one ;)

I gave this as my current photo when the press asked for one, but I think I’m going to smile bigger in my next one.

 

  • I became a dual national. Friends, I never thought I’d get to say this, but it’s true: I am French. After a long process (see patience evoked above), I acquired French nationality in 2015. My naturalization ceremony was held in November – just one week after the attacks. A poignant fact: there were 64 of us newly naturalized citizens at the ceremony. We came from 30 different countries.Vive la France.

    Naturalization collage
    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    On Christmas Eve, I defrosted my fridge and deep cleaned my bathroom – part of my preparation for starting the new year fresh. Then my beau came over with Thai takeout and we watched the film “Tomorrowland.” So simple. So easy. The no-stress holiday. “It’s one of the most beautiful Christmases I’ve ever spent,” he said.

    This is it. Tiny pleasures. Love. What gifts.

    “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” wrote Annie Dillard.

    What if we focused on these gifts, on love, on what we are doing every day?

    What if we stayed awake, stayed alive to all the small beauties surrounding us?

    Flying trees, yummy takeout food, butterfly kisses, and so many things I cannot yet conceive.

    Intention: big gratitude.

    Present, present, present, said the man on the street today.

    I’ll stay present in the moment, in this world.

    With these hopes I welcome 2016.

    Peace, love, and light to you.

    Gift, gift, gift.

Aeroflorale Flying Greenhouse Machine! (Do you Believe?)

A canicule across France this week with temperatures topping 100 degrees. People may be near hallucinating from the heat, but certainly I did not hallucinate this.

Aeroflore

Today, I lunched along the Canal de L’ourcq at an impossibly cute venue (possible post later) with friends from NYC passing through town. After, despite the chaleur, I decided to stroll my old ‘hood while they went in search of air conditioning.

As I approached the Villette, I saw first one, then another adolescent jump into the canal. Green, and with bits of garbage floating in it, the questionable nature of the water proved no deterrent for energetic teen boys needing to cool off.

I don’t wilt easily in heat, but I was feeling faint and knew it was time to head home. How happy I was to cut through the park and come upon a scene!

First view AerofloreYou can see for yourself the immense installation, an industrial-chic structure adorned all around with plants.

Several people in khaki uniforms were scaling and rappelling (!) from it, and naturally, a small crowd was gathered.

Qu’est-ce que c’est ce truc? I wondered who I could ask what this thing was, but I waited patiently in the sun to learn more.

One of the uniformed people was making a show with a separate contraption. Affixed to the contraption were regular party balloons, which it seemed he wanted to launch into space using the strange device. After much ta-do and several turnings of wheels…a cord snapped and instead of being launched, the balloons stayed right where they were.

actor aeroflorale

“That’s never happened before!” he said.

More adjustments were made, and finally he freed the balloons from the machine with a scissors. He held the balloons aloft then let them go. They floated into the sky. The audience applauded.

(Um, that guy simply let regular balloons fly away. Is that really a feat?)Actor Aeroflorale

What’s going on here? I have a new question now, and I scan the crowd for someone who seems most likely to have answers. I see a white-haired woman speaking to a few teenagers. She’s nodding confidently. I scoot closer to her. She looks like one of those people who makes it her business to know other people’s business. Just the kind of person I’m seeking.

“…it was in Madagascar,” she’s saying, as I slide closer to her.

“No!” says a young woman. “That’s where I’m from. That’s far away!”

“And it will fly to Iceland next,” she continues.

Two young men laugh good-naturedly. “No, Madame. That’s not possible.”

“That’s what they said. I live right across the street. I didn’t see it one night. Then the next morning, it was here! It landed!”

“No,” look at it. “It’s decor, Madame. Decoration!”

Continue reading ‘Aeroflorale Flying Greenhouse Machine! (Do you Believe?)’

Hot Diggity: Sun Therapy & L’atypique

Rue Alexandre Dumas - springA surreal Sunday scene: I’m walking down Rue Alexandre Dumas, my familiar street made new when it’s washed in spring’s bright light. I fall behind two young French girls – they couldn’t have been more than 9 or 10 – on the corner near Conforama. One has an iPhone pressed to her ear, her blond tresses nearly covering the device. She’s speaking into it seriously, while her friend patiently waits.

When her serious talk is through she hangs up and becomes lighthearted again, and the two friends begin chatting and laughing. By this time, I’ve passed them, my long legs carrying me much faster than theirs.

Then, from behind me, I hear:

“I like the way you work it. No diggity, I got to bag it up, bag it up
I like the way you work it. No diggity, I got to bag it up…”

And the girls are singing along! When Dr. Dre starts rapping, they even keep pace with that, too.

A deep look of confusion has overtaken my face, then my lips spread into a huge grin, even while I’m shaking my head. How in the world do these little French girls 1) know this song twice as old as they are (1996, baby!) 2) keep up with the lyrics (do they have any idea what they’re saying?). I’m surprised and slightly disconcerted, too.

They cross the street and I lose the Blackstreet song and their voices rising to meet it. I continue on my way.

La Jardin de la Folie Titon

La Jardin de la Folie Titon

The lawn of the Jardin de la Folie Titon

We’ve been basking in a whole string of warm, sunny days. Sun therapy isn’t reliably available in Paris, but my, no better option exists if you can get it. The default belief that the sunshine won’t last (the sky here so much more accustomed to a palate of grays), promises outsized excitement with its appearance. Each day for a couple weeks now, it seems, I wake and look out the window. It’s sunny…again? I simply can’t believe the good fortune. It’s impossible to ever take for granted the sun.

Church near the jardin de la folie titon

I’ve been making daily trips to a neighborhood park – my destination when I ran into the rapping girls – and I even made a recent trip to my favorite Parisian outpost, Buttes Chaumont. Another flashback to earlier times. It had been so long since I’d seen the Sybil Temple above the lake, and laid on its sloping hills.

Chilling in Buttes Chaumont

Chilling in Buttes Chaumont

I usually stick closer to home, though; I like anywhere I can walk. Yesterday, on my way back from sunbathing, I noticed a shop, its window crowded with colorful clothes and vintage jewelry, shoes and boots. How is it possible to follow the same route over and over and still discover you’ve completely missed something right in front of you?

window of the l'atypique

“Are you open?” I peek my head into the door, already ajar. Sunday, sunny, open store? It did not compute.

Continue reading ‘Hot Diggity: Sun Therapy & L’atypique’

A Week Later: Sorrow and Sparkle

Street art, angel on its kneesIt has been exactly one week since 12 journalists, cartoonists, and police were killed in an attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The 2 following days brought more violence, ending in a dramatic dual hostage situation and 5 more people dead.

There have been countless articles, op-eds, and analysis of this wave of terror. I don’t have much to offer in the way of that. I have listened to news non-stop, read many different perspectives, mourned, thought. I am still mourning. I am still thinking.

Here I simply share some photos from the historic march on Sunday following these events. 3.7 million people are said to have assembled across France, 1.5 million in the streets of Paris alone. It was the largest march in France’s history.

Continue reading ‘A Week Later: Sorrow and Sparkle’

(Extra)Ordinary New Year

Bare winter tree created from dirt on a wall in the 11th

Bare winter tree created from dirt on a wall in the 11th

After the warmest year on record in France, a cold front has moved in. My apartment relies on individual electric heat – piddly little units to warm each room. Penny pincher that I am, I rotate: turning the one on in the living room where I work during the day; switching on the one in my room at night.

That leaves the hallway, kitchen, and bathroom to glacial conditions. This does little to motivate me to start cooking more, though it’s perpetually on my to-do list. And going to the bathroom feels like a courageous expedition. Seriously, I don’t think ice in the toilet bowl would surprise me.

(These rooms, of course, do have their own little heating units. The one winter I treated myself to a toasty apartment, my astronomic electric bill made my blood run cold in my warm body so I reverted back to piecemeal heating and bulky sweaters).

If it's going to be cold, might as well wear funky tights.

If it’s going to be cold, might as well wear funky tights.

Still, I’m not minding this winter so much. The sun shines much more frequently than I ever remember. This is the season that habitually conjures the dreaded grisaille (unending gray skies), yet here we are often with sun! I like the artificial light lamp I gifted myself for my birthday, but honestly, there’s been enough of the natural stuff that I’m not certain I needed it.

Tonight I took a brisk walk to the butcher’s. I called around 4:30 just to check they were open – one never knows during this holiday season. I reserved a roasted chicken (yes! I’ve just learned recently to reserve coveted items at the butcher and boulangerie ahead of time so they set them aside!)

I headed out the door soon after to catch the last light of the day; some stunning pink played across the baby blue sky.

When I arrived at the butcher’s 15 minutes later, there was already a small line. But I was asked immediately what I needed.

“I called and reserved a poulet roti?” I said. (Even after all these years, many of my statements still come out sounding like questions in French. Will I ever be sure?)

“Oh.” the butcher says. “There’s a problem.”

Continue reading ‘(Extra)Ordinary New Year’

Paris Street Art Tour + Happy Holidays

An iconic, long-standing work of street art by Jean Le Gac in Belleville

An iconic, long-standing work of street art by Jean Le Gac in Belleville

For the past six and a half years, I’ve lived on the border of the 11th and the 20th arrondissements. I’ve long known that these 2 districts have the highest concentration of street art in Paris.

But my specific neighborhood isn’t the hot center for seeking out these ephemeral works. For that, I need only hop on the metro a few stops. Yesterday, I did just that to join a street art tour.

Led by photographer and poet Richard Beban (and husband of my new writer friend Kaaren Kitchell; the pair produce the blog Paris Play), the tour began on rue Oberkampf.

La Maison de la Plage is an arts collective on Paris' most famous street for street art, Rue Denoyez.

La Maison de la Plage is an arts collective on Paris’ most famous free zone for street art, Rue Denoyez.

A cold December day, we spent a little too long at the outset standing in one place. It was easy to understand why, though. Richard is a font of knowledge and provided an excellent historical overview of why this particular area birthed the street art movement, backed by rich Paris history.

Once we got moving, we covered a lot of ground. Some works I’d seen before, but a great many were new to me. Of course, the very nature of street art means the landscape constantly changes. Weather, the elements, other people or the city itself covering up the works are just a few reasons works disappear from view. (A landlord can ask the city to paint over anything from ground level up to 3 meters high. Anything higher is at the landlord’s expense to cover. A reason many artists aim above the 3 meter mark).

IMG_0846

IMG_0905

What a great boon to have an expert guide for mapping a lively itinerary and offering valuable background information. I learned so much about the different artists and the context, including political roots. And we were led to some incredible surprises!

Continue reading ‘Paris Street Art Tour + Happy Holidays’

Paris to Ferguson Protest at Trocadero

Paris to Ferguson rallyAs photographers, tourists and anyone else wanting to see the Iron Lady in all her glory know, Trocadero offers Paris’ best viewing spot of the Eiffel Tower.

Trocadero is also site of the Palais de Chaillot where in December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed by the United Nations.

This confluence of the scenic and the symbolic serves as a compelling assembly point for many gatherings.

On Saturday I learned at the last minute about a peaceful protest called Paris to Ferguson organized to show solidarity with those speaking out against police brutality. I hesitated for just a second – my thoughts, my heart, have been tuned to the events happening in the United States. Does it matter to hold signs and raise voices here in the City of Light?

Continue reading ‘Paris to Ferguson Protest at Trocadero’


paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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