back in New York Village

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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.

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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

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things I’m looking forward to in NYC

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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

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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

joyeuses fêtes

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Last night I walked ten minutes through the nearly empty streets of Montmartre to experience midnight mass in one of the oldest churches in Paris. Paroisse Saint-Pierre de Montmartre dates from the 12th century and is about 870 years old, which never ceases to amaze me.

I’m not Christian nor a believer in general, but there is something about the loftiness, beauty, age, and cool stone of cathedrals that quiets my mind. And there’s something about midnight mass that I find particularly cozy.

As the organ echoed through the space and the singer’s voice rose to the heavens, I finally felt calm and self-possessed about leaving Paris in a week. The memory of the day I arrived popped into my mind and tears – of wonder, not of sadness – sprung to my eyes. Then an elderly, hard of hearing couple a few rows behind me started muttering about the service.

I moved on to Sacré-Cœur Basilica next door. I noticed camo-clad soldiers with machine guns patrolling the cobblestoned streets, and I had to show the contents of my purse before going inside. There’s the romance of Montmartre and then there’s the reality of life in 2017. 

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While Saint-Pierre was loosely filled with almost 100% locals, Sacré-Cœur was overflowing with both devoted churchgoers and gawkers like me. It was a lot less hushed and still, but when the choir sang “Silent Night” the voices filled the space with as much peace as in the parish church next door. 

I tiptoed out early so that I could have the streets all to myself on the way home. I caught snatches of revelry from open windows here and there. There was a spirited French-accented singalong to “Hit the Road, Jack” that I found particularly adorable.

And then I was back at my apartment that is not really my apartment, in a country that’s not my country, on a holiday that is not my holiday, feeling like a zen ethnographer rather than a lonely stranger. And that was really alright with me.

Merry Christmas / Joyeux Noël to all those celebrating today!

baby steps + giant leaps = post-coma-level skills

me RN.jpgI once read about a man who woke up from a coma speaking fluently in a language he had barely been able to speak before. This phenomena has been documented on multiple occasions, and apart from the brain damage I’ve always been really jealous of those people. Well… as of two weeks ago I may have joined their ranks. Continue reading

a small but significant epiphany

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Since writing my blog post about French new wave music, I must have listened to “Paris” by Taxi Girl a hundred more times. Sometimes I hear it in my head when I’m walking through the streets of Paris and I smile so hard I start to laugh.

I’ve been reflecting upon why I love this song so much, and I think I’ve figured it out. This understanding in turn feels like the missing piece to the puzzle of why I had such a hard time falling for France. Continue reading

Have a fun weekend.

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I have just over two weeks left in Paris. On New Year’s Eve, I’m heading back to New York, because apparently I like symbolic departure dates. (Nearly two years ago, I flew to Dakar on Valentine’s Day.)

I haven’t found a way to make living in France sustainable, and the past eight months have been some of the toughest of my life, for multiple reasons. I need a break, and while NYC is also a struggle for me, it’s my best option right now.

That’s why after months of getting to know Paris at my leisure, I’ve suddenly gone deep into tourist mode and am trying to cross off as many things as I can from my long list of places to see and things to do. Today was fairly epic. Continue reading