Posts Tagged 'gratitude'

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.

Thanksgiving Love and Tears

A recent fall walk through the Jardin des Plantes.

A recent fall walk through the Jardin des Plantes.

Since living in France, Thanksgiving has always been an improvised affair. Some years I’ve gathered in the apartments of friends who are much braver than me – they hunt down the obscure cranberry, shove large turkeys into tiny Parisian ovens, spend small fortunes on the fixins’, many of which are foreign foods here.

I’ve been to lively potluck parties and more intimate dinners, and sometimes, not even celebrated at all. It is just another Thursday in L’Hexagone.

The past few years, Thanksgiving has unwittingly become an unofficial marker of my relationship, too, though my beau probably knows I think this only now that I write it. A couple years ago, we had only just started seeing each other, so new it was that when people at that Thanksgiving referred to him as my boyfriend, he gently corrected them (but since there’s no French word for dating, I’m not sure what term we were then. Just curious about the other, I guess).les jardins des plantes, close-up

Last year, I was with my family, a rare occasion, and I was grateful to have the time with them. Just before the holiday, though, I got to experience that special bittersweet twinge unique to romantic partings. When I left Paris, it wasn’t just to return home for the long weekend, but to go to a long writing residency at the Kerouac House; my beau and I were saying goodbye for 3 months. I was moved to feel how greatly we’d both miss each other.

Continue reading ‘Thanksgiving Love and Tears’

Gratitude List and the Giving of Thanks

Hot on the heels of Halloween is another holiday American expats have to improvise over here. I like this celebrating of traditions in new ways.

I’ll be heading to a Thanksgiving “apero” on Friday (hey, it’s a cultural melange!), but in the meantime, here is an abbreviated gratitude list. I’ve been incorporating this practice of recognizing life’s bounty into my regular routine anyway; the holiday is just a more formalized chance to say thanks!

I’m thankful that my close friend came through his heart procedure successfully today. I’m thankful for my own open heart.

I’m thankful I can sit with uncertainty, though it can feel scary and hard.

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do,” artist Georgia O’Keeffe once said.

I’m thankful for inspiring quotes. Inspring stories. Inspiring people and lives.

I’m thankful for the proverbs on each sachet of Yogi tea.

I’m thankful for silly status updates from friends far and wide – though I really shouldn’t spend quite so much time online.

Continue reading ‘Gratitude List and the Giving of Thanks’

A Quiet Birthday

Pere Lachaise

Pere Lachaise on a sunny day

The sound of rain woke me before the light had come, but the day gave way to sunshine by afternoon. I stayed in bed late, then read, then rose. It was a tranquil beginning to my quietest birthday yet.

I usually plan a celebration of some sort – I love my birthday! – but this year I didn’t feel that’s what I wanted for some reason. It might have had something to do with the storm – seeing the damage it wrought across much of the Eastern seaboard, but most personally, of course to my beloved New York.

Maybe it had to do with my anxiety over the impending election, too. (Please vote!)

But today there was no sadness. I was happy to face the day on my own terms.

After my languid start, I went to the library to work for a few hours, as has become my habit. Some would say, rest! Don’t work on your birthday! But slowly getting back into a committed writing routine is the gift I’m giving myself.

Continue reading ‘A Quiet Birthday’

Magic Moment: Glen Hansard at Shakespeare & Co

Last Tuesday Glen Hansard played an afternoon acoustic set in Shakespeare & Company bookshop. Hansard is perhaps best known  for his part in the movie “Once,” but he’s a veteran musician (with The Frames and more recently The Swell Season).

What a privilege to be in such an intimate space listening to gorgeous, unadorned music! One voice and a guitar. That’s it.

“Lots of traveling takes a toll on the flesh,” Hansard said, “but not the soul. Voice may sound broken but it’s singing its heart out.”

His voice sure didn’t sound broken to me. Strong, emotional, and yes, full of heart. In an age of cynicism I find Hansard’s earnestness – those life and love songs he belts out at the top of his lungs – so refreshing.

(Poor quality video, but to give you an idea):

Shakespeare & Co’s upstairs library doesn’t hold many people; we packed in as we could. Hansard recounted the first time he came to play in Paris in 1993 or ’94. He heard that Serge Gainsbourg and Samuel Beckett were buried in Montparnasse cemetery near the Irish bar where they were booked. He decided to pay his respects.

Continue reading ‘Magic Moment: Glen Hansard at Shakespeare & Co’

The Good People of Paris

Paris 2012 Tweetup at O Chateau

One of the things I am most grateful for about my life in Paris is all the amazing people I’ve met. Common themes often arise when you ask expats how they ended up in the City of Light – love, work, happy accident.

But it takes a special measure of fortitude and creativity to pick up and move to another country. So it’s no surprise then to run into so many interesting folks. We may not be the “Lost Generation,” but I think there are deep things we have found.

What do I mean by that? Well, last night was the first “Tweetup” of 2012, held at O Chateau. (Jeez there are of a lot of us bloggers/Tweeters! There must have been 40 of us packing the friendly wine bar.) As I chatted my way through the crowd, this reality that so many people have remade their lives here kept coming to the fore.

Continue reading ‘The Good People of Paris’

Happy Thanksgiving!

As we speak, this wonderful, witty woman is making + baking a Thanksgiving feast.

Good times at my birthday

(To avoid confusion, I’m referring to the woman who is not me in the picture, of course. You know by now, yes? I don’t cook or bake. I am very thankful others do!)

Molly is my fabulous American friend who is hosting Thanksgiving dinner tonight with her French partner. I think it will mainly be French people, which is why the feast doesn’t begin until 8 PM. (Don’t they know you’re supposed to eat and drink all day?! Well, it is just a regular Thursday here, I suppose.)

No matter, this allows me more time to reflect on what I am thankful for.

Continue reading ‘Happy Thanksgiving!’


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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