Thing one: I was overjoyed to learn that — if we can look at the glass half-full for a moment — the damage to Notre-Dame was much more limited than it could have been:
- Even though I saw a bunch of disheartening photos of windows missing their glass, CNN reported that all three of the massive rose windows from the 13th century along with many of the other stained glass panels survived the fire. I was sure the glass would all melt away, and I am so happy to know that much of it held out.
- The organ was also spared, as was much of the artwork.
- Many of the statues had been removed just days before, in preparation for the renovation work, so they weren’t caught in the fire.
- A bunch of priceless artifacts were rescued before they were destroyed, including the crown of thorns that means so much to Catholics.
- Had the fire reached the towers, the whole thing would have come down soon after. It didn’t, and that seems miraculous.
- According to the New York Times, almost 850 million Euros has already been raised towards rebuilding, which seems so fitting for Notre-Dame’s 850 years of history. Some have asked why money can be raised so much more easily for a cathedral in need than for people in need, but I choose to focus on the fact that there is a need and it’s being met. I think that is a wonderful thing.
Thing two: I realized that I had inadvertently already donated to the Notre-Dame rebuilding fund by responding to the World Monuments Fund‘s annual membership call the day before the fire. I gave $45 to become an Explorer-level member (usually $50 but there was a deal during the pledge drive). This means that a. I will receive a yearly magazine about the organization’s fascinating and important work to save and restore humanity’s architectural heritage, and that b. I have contributed to that work. You can, too!
Thing three: I just learned that the 2020 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. will “celebrate (and complicate) connections between Benin, Brazil, and the United States” through an exploration of their voodoo-inflected musical and cultural traditions. You know what that means?! If you can’t bring the girl back to the Vodoun Festival, you can bring the Vodoun festival back to the girl. See you in 2020, D.C.!
Thing four: The day before I left Senegal, I had breakfast with a French-Guinean journalist friend, Sarah. We caught each other up on where our respective lives had led us over the two years since we had last seen each other, and we exchanged our conjectures and semi-formed visions about where the future might take us. At some point we realized that we were both in a similar place of finally enjoying the present moment and accepting that life was not going according to our preconceived plans, but that it was working out really well anyway. Then she casually dropped the pearliest pearl of wisdom: “Life has more imagination than we do.”
I found it so profound and thought that only someone speaking a non-native language could express themselves so poetically in casual conversation. She later told me that she had actually heard the words from a friend many years ago, had held on to them, and had passed them on to me in that very apropos moment. Regardless of who said the words first, I now think of her as a poet-journalist.
I meant to post the quote sooner because I love it so much, but I’m glad I didn’t get around to it until now so that I could apply it to the horror-turned-to-wonder of Notre-Dame surviving a blaze that could have burnt it all down.
Four years ago, after staying up all night wandering around Tokyo in a state of near constant euphoria, this occurred to me: when you’re curious about people and open to experiences, you bring the party with you. I used to think of it the other way around – that when I went out in search of good times, novelty, or adventure, I needed to find it rather than to create the optimal mental conditions to foster it. In Japan I realized that being in the right place at the right time is much less important than being in the right frame of mind to share the dormant party always living inside me with the people I meet, and to encourage them to share the party they bring along within them as well.
The most memorable example of this in Japan was when my colleague and I were having a pretty underwhelming time belting out pop songs at 2am in a karaoke room all by ourselves. As we were leaving, I ignored the voice in my head telling me that I might deeply embarrass myself, knocked on the door of a private room across the hall, and asked the handful of Japanese hipsters inside if we could join them for a song or two. They said yes and one of the most joyful ten minutes of my life followed.
I haven’t posted an encouraging quote for awhile but I crossed paths with this one via Brain Pickings a couple of days ago and it seems eminently appropriate for the times we’re living in. To say the zeitgeist has been getting me down is an understatement. I keep coming back to the conviction that community, connection, and love is the only thing that can save me – us – from chaos and despair.
I have been saying it to myself in much less poetic and profound ways than Tennessee Williams does here, though. This is a beautifully wrapped reminder of what it means to be human.
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?
‘Tis the season…
I wouldn’t call a list of books a holiday gift guide per se, but all of these would make lovely presents for the voyager or language enthusiast in your life (or for you!)…
Today I am feeling like this meme; just replace 2016 with 2012.
I have another blog, which I’ve kept up for ten years now. At this point it functions more as a private journal than a public site. The other day, I was searching for something there, and I got caught up reading old posts that I had long ago forgotten. I stopped short at one that I wrote just over five years ago. It was my five year plan. Continue reading
This is the song that floored me at the first Youssou N’Dour concert
that I went to in Dakar. The song and the voice are among the most beautiful I’ve ever heard.
Missing Senegal something awful after hearing this again today.
But… in relation to Senegal and many other things, I’m reminding myself of the wise words Cheryl Strayed shared in a recent “Dear Sugars”
column in the New York Times:
“We have the strength to let go of even the things we treasure. Other treasures eventually replace them.”
Such a beautiful way to express something that is so hard to do.