dolls, dreams, and death

cabbage patch kids

I got back to Senegal from Sierra Leone on Sunday, and no sooner had I unpacked my bags then I started repacking them for my return trip to New York on Thursday. The second time leaving this country is just as emotionally difficult as the first, and maybe that contributed to the dream I had last night.

In it, my parents were moving out of my childhood home, where they have lived for more than 35 years. I looked into the living room and noticed for the first time, now that it was empty, surprisingly lovely molding (that does not actually exist in real life). Then I saw two big trash bags of my sister’s and my dolls – one was filled with dolls to throw away and one was filled with dolls to keep.

I saw my Baby Brite lying near the top of the throwaway bag and panicked. My sister was there, and apparently it was she who had done the sorting. I protested that we could not just toss out our dolls – we thought of them as our babies once, and they were still alive in my heart.

My sister stoically responded with something to the effect of, “How many years must they live before they live out their years?” I started crying at how easily my sister dispensed of her youth, and it quickly turned into uncontrollable sobbing. The thought that as adults we were so distant and disconnected from our childhood selves broke my heart.

I was so upset in my dream that I woke myself up, only to feel real tears running down my cheeks. And not just a few – I was actively crying. Never in my life has that happened to me before.

I do often wake up with a lingering sense of whatever I was feeling in my dream world, and this morning I woke up feeling bereft. It called to mind the utterly gutting scene in “Inside Out” in which the imaginary friend, Bing Bong, sacrifices himself – and most tragically, also the memory of his existence – to save his beloved adolescent owner’s identity. Thinking of that made me even sadder.

It was like five o’clock in the morning so I quickly drifted back to sleep and woke up again a few hours later only vaguely holding on to the memory of the dream and its associated despair. But I’ve been pondering its meaning all day.

I heard about three deaths yesterday, and each one was somebody very close to somebody I myself am close to in one way or another. One was an older brother, one was a beloved Senegalese musician, and one was somebody “Papa” Lo knew. So I’m sure that that, in addition to my imminent departure, influenced my dreams last night.

I now want to go back to New Jersey ASAP to take a full inventory of all my dolls, hug them tightly, and assure them that I will never throw them or the memory of them away, as long as we both shall live.

a new year’s non-reflection

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It’s the cusp of the new year and after a few weeks of burning the candle at both ends, I’m looking forward to ringing in 2019 on the couch, lazing about.

The change of year does not really inspire deep reflection in me the way it seems to for so many others. I don’t do much soul searching, and I certainly don’t make any resolutions. So, I have nothing profound to share here before the countdown to midnight. On the contrary, I have only one shallow musing to post, and then I plan to return to watching Netflix.

A few days ago I checked my blog stats and was delighted to see that in the past year, it has been read by people in almost 150 countries. And in the five years that I’ve been writing on this site, people in about 175 countries have visited.

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screencapture-wordpress-stats-day-countryviews-talkforeigntome-com-2018-12-31-18_45_35Considering that there are 195 countries in the world, give or take, those numbers blow my mind. I’ve got a United Nations of blog readers. Someone in Brunei has read my blog! French Polynesia! Kuwait!

As I said, I have no resolutions for 2019, but one of my goals is to get someone from Suriname to read my blog. Also Guyana and French Guiana. Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea, too. Madagascar. Etc. It would be really, really cool if in 2019 I could say that every country in the world has visited my blog.

On that note, THANK YOU SO MUCH for taking an interest in my little corner of the internet this year. Even though this post does not make a good case for it, you are all so much more than numbers to me. I am very grateful for every post you’ve read, “like” you’ve given, and comment you’ve left. It makes me feel seen – as strange as that may seem for someone who a. barely posts pictures of herself and b. is deeply cynical about the digital world.

Anyway…

Happy new year! I hope 2019 brings you much joy, laughter, and magic.

 

fa la la la la, la la la la

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I only have a handful of days left in New York before I fly to Dakar in the new year. Yesterday I had a doctor’s appointment in the Woolworth Building (above) and I realized that the last time I was there – nearly three year ago – was also right before leaving for Dakar.

Things are different now. I’m not going indefinitely this time, or even for long enough to count it as a relocation. I’ll just spend two or three months there for work, and then I’ll come back. At this point in my life, that’s the perfect set-up.

So, I don’t have any of the bittersweet preemptive nostalgia for the city that I had last time around. Still, since the Woolworth Building reminded me of my imminent departure, and since I was just a couple of blocks away from a stunning hotel, I decided to have an espresso at the hotel bar instead of at the midtown coffee shop across from work.

On my way, I passed another gorgeous building that I swear I’ve never seen before… though in reality I must have.

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Also this beautiful ghost signage.

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And here’s my destination, the Beekman Hotel.

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I have been to both the hotel’s bar and its restaurant before, but I’d never been inside Augustine, its French-style bistro. It was just as stunning as the rest of the place.

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I had the best $6 espresso I’ve ever had, both because I’ve never paid $6 for an espresso before and because it was delicious, and then I passed other lovely buildings I’ve never considered for long enough, on my way back to the subway and my everyday office life.

The whole detour lasted maybe forty minutes but made me feel a certain sense of wonder the rest of the day.

Grab those little moments to be a tourist in your own city, people! It has a disproportionately beneficial effect on your mental health.

A moment of thanksgiving

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When I arrived at my childhood home on the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving, my mother had France24’s English-language news on. I joked that France24 should be boycotted in her house, since they turned her daughter down for a job. She was perplexed – I guess I hadn’t told her that a little over a year ago, I interviewed – in French! – for an entry-level job on the English language desk of France24’s news bureau. Remarkably, I passed that interview with flying colors. After we talked, the Human Resources manager thought I was such a shoo-in that she took me on an extra tour of the newsroom and introduced me to everyone there. Then she brought me back to her office, sat me in front of a computer, and told me that the next step was to take a timed news quiz, which my would-be boss would assess before inviting me back for a second interview.

I bombed that quiz in a way I haven’t bombed anything since getting a 43% on a chemistry test in tenth grade. In the first part, I had to identify eight political figures with two or three sentences each. I got Bashar al-Assad and Robert Mugabe correct but drew a blank on the one American and five European names. Apparently most were members of various EU government bodies. I can’t even keep track of what the various EU government bodies are called, let alone who their members are.

I don’t think I did as awfully on the rest of the quiz as I did on the first part, but who knows. I had to create a headline and write a script and translate a French article into English, and it all seemed a little too easy, so maybe I didn’t fully understand the assignment. In any case, I did badly enough that the head of the English-language desk did not even want to interview me – for an entry-level position editing footage from the field and archive into simple news packages.

On Wednesday night, I told my mother this story and concluded, “That was my last shot at a decent paying job in France and had I gotten it, I would probably still be living there.” And then my mind boggled. While at the time it felt like a tragedy to lose that job opportunity, not one thing about my life would have been better than it is now, had I stayed in France. Yes, I’d be speaking better French, but at what cost? I’d be working in news – which is clearly not my thing – rather than documentary, I’d be working in an entry-level poorly paid position, and who knows what kind of hovel I’d be living in. I’d have foregone the countless hours of time with dear family and friends that have sustained me since I’ve been back in the United States. And I’d have failed to reroute myself in a direction that makes any sense at all for my future or my mental health. It would have been fun in the short term but a dead end in the long term, prolonging my weird European stasis indefinitely.

The timing of this realization was perfect. It happened almost exactly one year after I heard back from France24 with the news that I wouldn’t be receiving a follow-up interview, and it happened right before a holiday that is all about gratitude.

So I began Thanksgiving counting my blessings. Thank goodness I failed that news quiz. It cleared the way for the rest of my life to begin.

[The photo is from the Hilma af Klint exhibit at the Guggenheim, one of the things I’m so glad I was back in New York to see.]

stream of consciousness googling

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

https://www.curbed.com/2018/1/31/16954322/ollolai-sardinia-1-euro-homes

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

https://casea1euro.it/ollolai-informazioni/

…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:

https://casea1euro.it/case-a-1-euro-a-montieri/

…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.

https://www.google.com/search?q=montieri&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjzrNiMq4jZAhWGuVkKHSQ5CpsQ_AUICygC&biw=1170&bih=551

…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:

https://www.thelocal.fr/20171006/your-chance-to-buy-a-house-in-france-for-a-euro-but-theres-a-catch

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

http://www.forgottenfrance.com/french-properties-for-sale-in-south-west-france/under-100-000/najac-renovation-project-a-centuries-old-stone-house-with-enclosed-character-courtyard-/

…which led me here:

https://www.prestigeproperty.co.uk/castles-for-sale-138/

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