joie de vivre

LES sunlight.jpgApparently the unexplainable feeling of wellbeing I found in Paris last fall was not city-specific. I am very grateful that it has stuck with me in New York, despite the fact that I am cold and penniless. The other day I sat down on a bench at the intersection above, spread my arms out like a preacher, and started smiling maniacally about how gloriously bright it was. For perhaps the first time in my adult life, I seem to be carrying this good feeling around inside of me like Baby Brute in the little Brute family.

It is surely chemically enhanced but it is authentic nonetheless.

The sun helps, of course. There is so much more of it here than in Paris. Knowing when to quit does, too.

My usual tendency is to behave like I’m living in an environment of scarcity. I hold on to every good person, place, or plan as though it’s the last of its kind. When they run their course and come to an end, it kills me. I expected to feel awful about leaving Europe before I was ready to. But I think I have finally internalized that there are opportunities for me around every corner, so I can more gracefully let go of things that just didn’t work out despite my best efforts.  

It helps that the universe is now smiling upon me after months of shit storms. The luckiest break is that I’m off to Vietnam this Friday for a shoot. I’ll be M.I.A. here for two weeks, but then I’ll have lots of photos to share from foreign lands. (I also have a one-day stopover in Hong Kong, which I am super psyched about.)

See you in a few…


on French doctors

hotel dieu.jpg

I’ve met my fair share of French doctors. This is unfortunate not because they are particularly awful but because I’ve had to see them in the first place. For someone who only lived in France for nine months, I spent an inordinate amount of time  in bad health and navigating the healthcare system.

You start to pick up on cultural clues when you interact with the same type of person or bureaucracy over and over again in a relatively short space of time.

Here are a few experiences I found illuminating:

The first time I visited a French doctor, I made an appointment online and showed up a few hours later. The office was on the ground floor of an apartment building. A woman came to the door and told me to sit in a living room-like waiting area. When that same woman came back and led me into another room ten minutes later, I assumed she’d then leave and get the doctor. But she was the doctor. Her exam area was a converted sitting room. Between the fireplace, the crown molding, and the oil paintings in gilded frames, the exam table seemed a little out of place.

The doctor told me to take off everything below the waist, and then she stood there. I was afraid I had misunderstood her French and would scandalize her if I proceeded to strip in front of her. So I confirmed – everything? Yes, everything. She continued to stand there. I pulled first my pants and then my underwear off, not knowing exactly where to hold my gaze. Then I awkwardly scrambled onto the exam table. She did a quick exam, made a diagnosis, and sat down at her desk to do the billing while I put my clothes back on. 

As this was happening, a call came in. Someone wanted to have a discussion about lab results but the doctor said she was busy and told her to make an online appointment to come in. Then she hung up and told me apologetically that because I didn’t have any social security coverage, the charge would be 30 Euros. I shook my head in wonder, and as I handed over the cash, I couldn’t help but gush about how the French health care system is humane and wonderful and a million times better than the American one, which the GOP was attempting to dismantle that very week.

Then the phone rang again. It was the same woman as before, insisting on a phone consultation. The woman raised her voice and the doctor lost her patience. The two started shouting at each other while I sat and waited. Suddenly, the doctor hung up on the woman, turned to me, and muttered, “The United States, huh? I would LOVE to be a doctor in the United States. You see the way we get treated here?”

Later I visited a GP who got into a screaming match with a patient because she came in for an emergency appointment but didn’t have an official emergency. He told her she had to wait for a regular visit like everyone else and she refused to comply. He, too, did not have a receptionist and had to handle the dirty work himself. He, too, seemed to be operating out of a dedicated area of his own apartment. And he, too, told me to take my shirt off for the exam and then stood there looking at me expectantly. While I found it a little unnerving, it did made me wonder why it matters if a doctor walks out of the room and gives you privacy while you’re changing, if in the end they see you naked anyway. 

Then there was the psychiatrist at a reputable hospital who, after advising me to leave France (I had not asked for his advice), told me that I’d have to be crazy to want to live in a country where x, y, and z were wrong. I pointed out that things weren’t much better in the United States and he conceded, “Well, yes, of course Donald Trump is completely insane.” If he had been joking I would have found it funny, but he was 100% unaware that he was taking liberties with his profession’s terms of art. I thought about all the American psychiatrists who have steadfastly refused to diagnose Trump’s mental health from a distance, and I was suddenly thankful for this one’s lack of tact.

There are lots of other differences between French and American healthcare workers that I noticed, but my friend’s story is the one I like best:

She hadn’t had a teeth cleaning in more than two years and felt gross about it. When she went to the dentist, he looked in her mouth and told her that her teeth were fine, and he flat out refused to treat her even though she expressed a strong desire for a cleaning. I can imagine him explaining in a very dignified way that he could not possibly accept her money for a service that wasn’t necessary. On the contrary, I could not in a million years imagine an American dentist refusing my money – or thinking that two years’ worth of plaque buildup was no big deal. In fact, the last time I went to the dentist he tried to convince me that I urgently needed $600 worth of veneers. (I didn’t.)

I will let you draw your own conclusions about these interactions, if you’d like. I prefer to keep mine to myself, because if I’ve learned anything during my travels it’s that just when you think you have enough evidence to come to an understanding about a foreign culture, your assumptions are upended and you feel like a fool for judging too soon.

[The beautiful garden in the photo above is in the courtyard of the oldest hospital in Paris, founded in the 7th century, though the current building is from the late 1800s. Not your average NYC hospital.]

My Dakar places


On Valentine’s Day two years ago, I flew to Dakar. So much has happened since then that it feels more like a decade.

It also feels like I left Dakar ages ago, but it’s actually only been eleven months, which is so unbelievable to me that I redid the math twice. Still, eleven months is long enough to lose touch with a place, and the list I’m about to post may be a little outdated. But I’ve been promising it to myself and others for too long to let it evaporate. And things change far more slowly in Dakar than in New York, so even though there are surely new places to discover, almost all of these old places could still be going strong. (I’ll edit the post accordingly if I learn differently.)

Without further ado, and in no particular order, my favorite places in Dakar… Continue reading

stream of consciousness googling


It started with this article, which described an initiative to sell houses in the Sardinian town of Ollolai for 1 Euro:

…which led me to this website, with information in Italian about the sale:

…which led me to realize that a. between my advanced French and rudimentary Spanish, I can decipher quite a bit of Italian, and that b. there are similar initiatives for other Italian towns, including one in Tuscany:

…which led me to realize that my destiny is to buy a 1 Euro house in breathtakingly stunning Montieri, spend $25,000 renovating it, and let the rest of my life fall into place around this one pivotal act.

…which led me to second-guess my ability to learn Italian and wonder whether there might not be a similar scheme in France, which led me to discover that yes, there is, but of course it’s in the dreary North:

…which led me to google “cheap property South of France” and find this charming “fixer-upper:”

…which led me here:

From 1 Euro homes to 31 million Euro (price reduced!) French chateaux in under ten minutes.

all of digital life is a foreign country

R.E.M. ticket stub Monster tour.jpg

I haven’t had much time to devote to this blog since being back in New York, but I recently found a nearly complete post that I wrote two or three years ago in my drafts folder. I dusted it off, and here it is for your reading pleasure until I have time to write something new:

The online sale for an in-demand concert was about to begin, and I knew it would be tough to snag tickets. As I waited anxiously, itchy trigger finger hovering over the Return key until the appointed moment to click furiously and hope for a miracle, a memory came rushing back.

Continue reading

belated links of interest

french word of the year word cloud

I meant to post these links on Friday and never got around to it…

20 forgotten English words that would be useful today. 

A world map with countries’ names in their official languages.

New State Department travel advisories make it easier to see how they rate a country’s safety. (Note: I would take them with a grain of salt; their travel advice tends to be about as risk-averse as your average Jewish mother’s.)

The New York Times’ first “52 Places” traveler answers questions. She sounds great, and I love her answer to, “What is your greatest hope for the trip?”

Want to learn French animal sounds? Here you go.

And, an older article I don’t think I ever shared here: a heart-wrenching story of theimpending extinction of an Amazonian language and the pain felt by its last speaker.

Also late, Le Parisien’s words of the year word cloud, in the photos above and below. I found it an interesting window onto French culture. french word cloud

And really, really late (18 years to be exact), an old This American Life program I recently revisited, about Americans in Paris, featuring a hilarious-as-usual David Sedaris. I have a new appreciation for this episode since being an American in Paris myself.

Happy Monday… I will try to post an actual piece of writing this week…

back in New York Village

womens march nyc

Two weekends ago when I came into the city for a 24-hour visit, I went out to lunch on the Upper West Side. Within a minute of my first gulp of NYC air, I crossed paths with someone I knew. While stepping into the restaurant, a man I had had a nice conversation with nearly ten years ago walked out. He had been the executive director of a non-profit I greatly admire, and I still remember his face.

Then, last Thursday afternoon, I made my move back to the city. The following morning, I was watching the NY1 morning show and a story came on about the rapid development of Long Island City, a neighborhood in Queens. I did a double take at one of the people who was interviewed for the “man on the street” soundbites. It was Charlie, a window washer in the skyscraper where I worked for five years until 2015. He is the friendliest guy and I used to love asking him questions about his craft, which consists of dangling out of windows forty stories high to clean the glass. Funnily enough, I also spotted him one summer many years ago, on Orchard Beach in the Bronx (far, far away from both Long Island City and midtown Manhattan where our building was). He was walking around with a boombox, shirtless and glistening in the sun, and I pretended not to see him because I didn’t want to snap him out of his leisure element.

womens march 4

Then, the very next day, I went to the women’s march with my high school friends. The streets were packed with people – the New York Times estimated that 200,000 people were there. My friends and I wedged ourselves into the sea of marchers and started inching our way along. After about a block, I looked directly to my right and noticed that I had been walking alongside a freelance filmmaker with whom I have worked on several video projects (for the same organization that was housed in the building where Charlie worked). We jumped in recognition and shock – what were the chances?

And what were the chances that I’d run into (slash spot on TV) three people I know over the course of my first four days in one of the world’s biggest cities? It heartened me, maybe even more than the joyous, raucous march (during which we happened to get into formation behind the Rude Mechanicals marching band, who provided an amazing soundtrack for our six miles of dance-walking). womens march 3

Perhaps I have (much) more to look forward to in New York than I give it credit for. womens march nyc 2

things I’m looking forward to in NYC


I am moving back to New York on Thursday and I’m excited to (re)start there with a bang: a social gathering, a party, and a protest all within the first weekend. But beyond that, I can’t say I’m enthused about heading back. In fact, I was in the city overnight last weekend and though I was very happy to hang out with friends, New York itself did nothing for me. I did not feel even a slight thrill to be back amongst the skyscrapers and yellow cabs and sidewalks overflowing with people. Just a resigned, “Alright, fine, let’s do this.”

So… clearly I need an attitude adjustment and to remind myself of what I have to look forward to in the city. Off the top of my head:

  • Being close to my friends and family and being able to squeeze my niece and nephew, who live an hour away.
  • Picking out books at Albertine, the lovely French bookstore, and at my favorite used bookstore in Prospect Heights.
  • Having fewer language-based misunderstandings than in Senegal or France.
  • Visiting the next exhibit at the Met’s Costume Institute, which opens in May.
  • Storing my bike at my friend’s place in the Bronx so we can go on impromptu adventures together.
  • Having hundreds of movies to choose from in theaters, and not having to confirm that they’re not overdubbed in French.
  • Being eligible for the jobs I most want. (In Paris I did not even bother trying to break into the French documentary industry because I was too intimidated by my imperfect French.)
  • The ubiquity of clean and well-equipped public bathrooms – as well as private ones you can easily sneak into – so that you need never walk around with a full bladder or pay to pee.
  • The Lower East Side Tenement Museum, my soul mate institution.
  • Gluten-free pizza is relatively abundant.
  • There’s a volunteer oral history recording project I’m excited to get involved in.
  • I can become more deeply involved in the “Resistance,” as the expat Americans activist group I was part of in Paris calls it.
  • Weaving classes at Brooklyn Brainery (I decided I wanted to learn to weave while living two blocks from this studio and never went. Senegal re-inspired me, and I finally took a class last year in London and loved it.)
  • Driving my parents’ cars when I’m in the suburbs – it’s been way too long since I’ve been behind the wheel.
  • Picking back up where I left off with my Spanish learning and being able to practice with NYC residents.
  • Going back to New York as a French speaker and someone who, on a good day, can call myself bilingual.

I suppose that was somewhat refreshing…

I won’t bother listing what I’m not looking forward to – what’s the point of being negative about it?

so this is the new year

cherry hill.JPG

It won’t take me long to fill you in on what I’ve been doing in 2018. I got sick within hours of stepping off the plane on New Year’s Eve and spent the following week on my parents’ couch in the suburbs. I find it ironic that after months of saying I could not wait to close the door on 2017, I started the year in the least fresh way possible, dragging all of last year’s germs into 2018 with me.

Oh well.

I’m feeling better now, though my brain turns to mush in New Jersey and it seems like I have to wade through life force quicksand to get anything done.

Case in point, this post took me like six hours to write, over the course of two days. And it doesn’t even have a point, except to say hello after a few weeks of silence.

So… Hello! I hope your new years are off to wonderful starts.

I’ll be back when I remember how to string words together into sentences.




I’ll always have Paris

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I cannot tell you how many times over the past nine months I was about to quit Paris. I was only originally supposed to stay for a month, and then one month morphed into two after I was given an amazing Montmartre house-sitting offer I couldn’t refuse. And then two months turned into four when I had no better plans and found a cool place to stay in Belleville. And then four turned into five when the house-sitting opportunity came up again… And so on and so forth, and now here I am on month nine. It feels like an eternity since I arrived.

Back in the day, i.e. around month three, I would joke about the probability that in 30 years I would find myself still living in a country I never really liked and never really chose, through stasis alone. As it turns out, the universe had a different ironic twist in store: I fell in love with the city I hated just as I realized I would soon be forced to leave. Continue reading