Posts Tagged 'new year'

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.

(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’

To the New Year

A bit of poetry to start the new year…

To the New Year by W.S. Merwin

With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as though they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning

so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hears it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible

One Year

My friend Sarah's cat. His name is Little. He's big. I did a fair bit of lounging myself since we last spoke!

Hello, friends!

I know; it’s been awhile. I stumbled back into Paris yesterday just as I left it a month ago: racing against a snowstorm. The East Coast of the US got slammed and I escaped by just a hair. I’ve come back to rain and gray skies – the normal Paris winter, if you will. A fresh, warm baguette upon arrival made me forgive the city for such a soggy welcome.

Vermont College of Fine Arts on New Year's Eve

Funny, how the markers of “home” have changed for me. Between Christmas gifts, books, and a new pair of boots (I’m a sucker for boots), I had zero room for the little treats I usually bring back from the States: mac & cheese, peanut butter, black beans, Trader Joe’s chocolate-covered pretzels. (We can talk later about my random selection, if you want).

But coming back to Paris, changing trains at Gare du Nord and being taken in by the smell of pastries (gosh, even in a dingy train station the pastries smell good!), getting off at my metro stop, Alexandre Dumas, and rolling my suitcase through the outdoor market, I marveled: wow, actually, *this* is home. I think I might just make it this stretch without my home comfort food. Seems as soon as I popped into my bakery I was reminded I’ve found comfort right here in the City of Light.

I love being Tata Sion

A month away is a lot to recap, so I won’t really do that here. Only to say it was a bit of a blur between friends, family, school. I rode Amtrak for nearly 14 hours (DC to Vermont), played in the snow, met some amazing writers, watched my niece walk and run everywhere when last I saw her she was only crawling. I stocked up on hugs (as the French kisses don’t always do it for me, you might remember), brushed up on my English (true! The longer I live in France, the worse my English gets – not so hot for a writer, eh?), and pondered, as I always do, this life between here and there.

I wish you all a Bonne Annee. I know it’s late, but I’ve stumbled into 2011 a bit like I’ve stumbled back to Paris: a little disoriented, but full of hope, happy to see what lies ahead.

On this day, one year ago, I started this blog on something of a whim. I had just come home from a reading, it was snowing outside then, too. I had no idea how many awesome folks like you I’d meet along the way, that Paris, however (im)perfect, would become ever more rich and interesting to me, the more I explored. It’s a blog birthday, but more than that – I’m raising a toast to another great year for all of us.

The wall at Mama's Restaurant in NYC

Cheers and thanks!


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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