Posts Tagged 'paris'

Writing in Famous Authors’ Homes – The Mount, The Kerouac House, plus Film + Event News!

The Mount, Edith Wharton's house in Lenox, MA

The Mount, Edith Wharton’s house in Lenox, MA

Friends, do you remember my happy stint as the writer-in-residence at the Kerouac House a few years ago?

Sitting on the porch of Jack's house.

Sitting on the porch of Jack’s house.

This spring, I’ve been having a similar experience, this time in the Berkshires.

Reindeer sighting early in my stay!

Reindeer sighting early in my stay!

Since mid-February I’ve been staying in a sweet 1-bedroom apartment on Stockbridge, MA’s Main Street (a site captured forever in Norman Rockwell paintings), teaching a twice-weekly creative writing class at the local Waldorf high school, and luxuriating in time to focus on my own writing as the Stone Court Writer-in-Residence.

It’s funny how I thought I would hide away here and pile up the pages. While I have gotten a lot of work done, it hit me soon after arriving that it can be hard to hermit in a town of less than 2,000 inhabitants. Just heading out my door to go for a walk I’m sure to run into someone I know. It’s a delight. Paris undoubtedly has pleasures galore, but there are many to be found in small town life, too.

Shutters at The Mount

Shutters at The Mount

The biggest surprise and fortune has been making a connection with The Mount, Edith Wharton’s elegant country home in Lenox, MA. I admit before my residency, the extent of my Wharton knowledge was the required reading of Ethan Frome in high school, a bleak experience that did not exactly leave me clamoring to seek out more of the author’s work.

Garden path at The Mount

Garden path at The Mount

But from the moment I stepped inside The Mount, I felt a magical energy. And by some further magic – and the very real generosity of the incredibly kind staff – I was allowed to spend nearly a month writing there each day. WOW!

Look there in the corner. That's me writing in Edith Wharton's bedroom!

Look there in the corner. That’s me writing in Edith Wharton’s bedroom!

Continue reading ‘Writing in Famous Authors’ Homes – The Mount, The Kerouac House, plus Film + Event News!’

“In Another Life” – Author Interview with Julie Christine Johnson (+ GIVEAWAY!)

InAnotherLife_CoverHistorian Lia Carrer has finally decided to return to southwestern France to rebuild her life after her husband’s death. But instead of finding solace in the rural hills and medieval ruins, she becomes entangled in the echoes of an ancient murder and falls for a man whose very existence challenges all she knows.

Told in dual past and present narration – early 13th-century and today – In Another Life is a literary page turner that explores love, loss, and the ghosts that never let us go. The debut novel, released in February from Sourcebooks Landmark, has received much praise, including a starred review from Library Journal.

I am so excited to welcome Julie Christine Johnson, author of In Another Life, to the blog – and to offer a free giveaway of her book! It’s always a thrill to get caught up in a good novel. Even more so when it’s written by a cherished friend.

Julie and I “met” in an online writer’s group; we’ve never met face to face. Yet her warmth and wisdom were immediately evident in her thoughtful messages, in her lyrical ruminations on her blog Chalk the Sun. We formed a rapport that has only grown deeper. And I confess to finding myself choked up when I finished her book – for the feat that she had accomplished creating such a rich story. And to find my name in the acknowledgments! I am truly in awe and so grateful to have such intelligent, generous people in my life – and to be thought of as a writing peer.

Author Julie Christine Johnson

Author Julie Christine Johnson

Julie’s short stories and essays have appeared in several journals, including Emerge Literary Journal, Mud Season Review, Cirque: A Literary Journal of the North Pacific Rim, Cobalt, River Poets Journal, in the print anthologies Stories for Sendai, Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers, and Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss, as well as being featured on the flash fiction podcast No Extra Words. She leads writing workshops and seminars and offers story/developmental editing and writer coaching services. A hiker, yogi, and wine geek, Julie makes her home on the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington state.

Without further ado, here’s my interview with Julie. Details on the giveaway at the end of the post!

In Another Life is set in France’s Languedoc region (with a foray into Paris, too!). Your lyrical prose delights in lush descriptions and details – we see the landscape clearly through your word paintings, can almost taste the food and wine (your previous job as a wine buyer must have aided in the latter, I assume!) I know you have a long history with France – your undergraduate degree is in French and you have had extended stays in l’Hexagone for over a quarter century. What draws you so deeply to this country? Did it feel natural to have your first book bloom from your connection? Why here, in other words?

Minerve

Minerve

Why France, indeed? I had to sit with this question a bit. Yes, I’ve been enthralled with France for nearly thirty years, since deciding to become a French major—even before I spent a year at the University of Chambèry as a college senior. But why? What began this love affair with a place, a culture, a people?

It started with the language. I enrolled in French as a college freshman to fulfill general requirements and by the end of the first quarter, something had opened up inside me. For me, learning a language went beyond syntax and grammar; it transformed the formation of my thoughts. Articulating in French changed my relationship to the learning process by tapping into an active creativity I didn’t realize I possessed.

Continue reading ‘“In Another Life” – Author Interview with Julie Christine Johnson (+ GIVEAWAY!)’

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.

Write-in Paris (WIP) !

Boulevard Voltaire. Photo by Sean Fitzroy.

Boulevard Voltaire. Photo by Sean Fitzroy.

Closed shops with handwritten notes on their shuttered doors announcing vacation, emptier streets so tempting the urge to walk in the middle of them sometimes overtakes. Cafes are even more relaxed than usual. Linger, linger.

But crowds still appear in parks with picnic baskets and blankets to watch outdoor movies. Sunny enough this year, too, for Paris Plages (ends this Sunday). The tourist sites must be packed, as well, though I haven’t been anywhere near those for awhile.

It’s August in Paris. A slow, delicious month. Counterintuitively to some, it’s my favorite one. I love working during this time. Less pressure in the air as others holiday, I feel as if I’m getting ahead.

Corner cafe. Photo by Michele Filgate.

Corner cafe. Photo by Michele Filgate.

I’ve come up with an idea, friends, and I’m excited to share. I hope you will join if you can.

Starting in September, I will begin hosting “write-in” sessions in my home. Not a workshop. Not a class. Rather “communal scribble sessions in the City of Light.”

So often, the biggest challenge in writing is the most basic of steps: sitting down and staying there to do it. I think a lot about why it’s so hard to keep one’s butt in the chair – resistance, doubt, distractions, fear.

I know I’m not alone. It’s a solitary act, writing. And yet we, writers, are a tribe.

What if I created a community specifically to foster collective creative energy in a supportive environment? Offered a cozy space to focus on projects, our concentration on solo work buoyed by a group?

WIP websiteI’ve launched Write-In Paris (WIP) and would love for you to take a look. Think of it as a weekly date with your writing in good company. Consider it a membership to a writer’s gym – only this gym is always super fun with like-minded souls. You’ll commit to your writing practice and it’s a promise you’ll want to keep.

I’m looking forward to the rentree now. I can’t wait to put WIP into play!

Please visit the Write-In Paris (WIP) website for full details on schedules and pricing. Then, I hope you sign up!

Thoughts? Ideas? I welcome your suggestions of how to make WIP great and how to spread the word. Thank you!

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’

The Geometry of Love (+ Giveaway!)

GeometryFrontCover2015Last month the American Library of Paris hosted novelist Jessica Levine and her agent April Eberhardt. They had a spirited and honest discussion about the realities of today’s publishing climate and the relationship between writer and agent. I love hearing stories about how books make their way into the world; I appreciated both women’s candor immensely.

My interest was piqued about the book itself, too. The Geometry of Love centers on a love triangle: a poet with writer’s block is torn between a reliable boyfriend and a more passionate, but difficult old flame. How could I resist? I found Jessica after the event and asked if she’d be interested in visiting the blog.

Happily, she said yes! She also agreed to offer a free copy of her novel to one lucky winner. Giveaway details at the end of the post!

Jessica Levine earned a Ph.D. in English Literature at the University of California at Berkeley and has translated several books about architecture and design from French and Italian into English. She also writes a wonderful blog called Paris Regained. In it, she weaves stories from the two years she spent in Paris as a young woman with her thoughts on returning now, decades later, with her husband and two daughters for a sabbatical year. I’m excited Jessica is now part of Paris’ literary community and that she’s here today to answer a few questions about her writing.

The Geometry of Love explores lots of rich territory: love, intimacy, the struggle between heart and mind, and the nature and origin of creative inspiration and production. What compels you to write about these subjects?

My mother once said to me, “Life is hard for women. The trick is to make the right marriage.” I think there’s much truth in that, but one could add, “or not marry at all.” Love has been a fascinating subject for centuries, but for women, since the 1960s, the pull toward love has been set against an increased drive for autonomy. I have seen countless women—my family, friends, therapy clients—unable to figure out just how committed they want to be in relationship. They want intimacy and security, but freedom, too.

As for the creative quest, I started writing at the age of 12 and published my first novel in my fifties so, as you can imagine, I’ve had some obstacles, internal as well as external, along the way. My mother was a graphic designer and painter who saw herself as a failed and frustrated artist. Her self-disparagement left its mark on me, especially as her creative block eventually contributed to her alcoholism.

Author Jessica Levine

Author Jessica Levine

Creativity requires qualities—self-confidence, courage, spontaneity—as well as conditions—time, financial ease, mentorship or positive role models—that are not always available. It took me many years to overcome the destructive inner critic modeled for me by my mother. I should add that I have forgiven her for that negative inheritance, as I came not only to understand it but also to use it as a subject for my writing.

Your first book, Delicate Pursuit, was a nonfiction study of how Henry James and Edith Wharton used discretion to grapple with controversial topics and the influence the French literary tradition had on their treatment of risqué material. I wonder how this background informed your own novel, which deals with issues including infidelity, eroticism and presents some pretty frank sex scenes.

Continue reading ‘The Geometry of Love (+ Giveaway!)’


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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