Saturday, December 28, 2013

Notes from the Underground, III : La Fin

Chicago Airport, December 21st

A girl to her mother: "You don't even listen to what I say."
The sound of ESPN announcers. A hoot and holler when we landed.
The feeling of American ease, of the relaxed disinterest in judgement. Baseball caps and yoga pants and chicken wings and coffee in to-go cups and open, boisterous laughter, anger, annoyance. Nothing held back.
We are ourselves. And that's what makes us so damn lovely to come home to.
I don't know how I did it. It's been so long.

Maybe the chapter of this book is over. Page flipped, get back to a strange familiarity outside of Parisian streets and galleries and metros and planes.

I am not the same.

It was everything. A beginning and an ending and an everything. Love and tears and laughs and thoughts, musings, worries, ecstasies, wonder.

The lights of the tarmac are my stars.

I'm going home.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Inexhaustible Variety of Life

12/20 Bench of Eiffel Tower

This is it.

To start, Eiffel. The start and the end and the one who saw it all unfold with a confident gaze.
I never had a bad day. I barely had a bad moment. The sun glows across the Champs de Mars on the tourists and the foreign businessmen wander the park. The grass sparkles with the dew. Birds chirp. I always miss that sound from home.
I have
I found my faith again: I feel full now when I think of God. I found nana reincarnate sitting in a covered chair, hands folded, mind sometimes elsewhere and sometimes so attuned to my nervous phrases. The way one eye shuts in an almost wink, blue twinkling, her wrinkles so beautiful. Her husband looked like a real good fellow, derpy and laid back and handsome - she said she had been lucky. I was lucky.
Tears. For time well spent, for money cascaded away in gifts and memories. Tears for moments.
Ruthie - she was it. Her eyes unwilling to cry, yet still filled, her little bundled self in my arms. We ate and laughed and flew together. We all did.
I had my Paris more separate, busier, than others. It doesn't make me better, it is simply what I needed to do to make sure I would have no regrets.
loved every person I met on this trip. Maybe just for a few moments, or for a quick glance on the metro. But I have tried to be the positive, pure, free spirit that I always wanted to be.
And now the only regret I have is the shortness of time.

Time to head up. Time to say goodbye.


She did not smile because of the sun, the warmth sinking through all black, nor the drip of the fountain or crunch of a multitude of footsteps, the clash of languages and camera clicks and poses made. The smile came from knowing with every moment, she was that much closer to immortality in a place like this. Her soul glowed.

We all love foolishly. She loves a fool, but that does not make her foolish. It means her heart is willing to give without anticipation. A front that stands with no expectation.

She waited not for the earth to spin but for the stars to catch up with her fleeting steps.

12/21 On flight

I had dinner with her family. I finally met the people I had heard so much about. It was rather intimidating, especially when I saw all their 500-euro leather shoes and I had walked in with pink socks. They drank champagne and whiskey and wine and ate meat and cheese and cake, but food and drink were never the focus. They talked over each other, across the table, in constant motion. The wife whisper to her husband when she wanted to leave. The kids not wanting Madame to fuss over the table or the fact that she wouldn't sit still for a minute. Gossiping about dramatic cousins, politics, family origins.
My family.

Cleaning up with Madame for the last time, shaking out the tablecloth on the balcony, handing her dishes and pushing her cart back into the kitchen. Giving her the letter I wrote and letting the tears fall. She said I was marvelous, that she knew no other student like me in all the years she's hosted kids, that her husband would have loved me, how much she loves what I do and who I am.
"Should we sleep?" she said. "Or shall we sit? Let's sit. One last night." Until 1 am, we talked about our holiday traditions and laughed together.
She drove me in the morning to a bus stop, past the Eiffel Tower turned off for the night. Shaded for my departure. She kissed and embraced me and waited until the bus left to furiously wave goodbye, still in her pajama gown with wild white hair.
The orange light of dawn over Sacre Coeur.
I hate goodbyes. But the fact that it kills makes me know I fully lived.
I don't know if I'll see her again. I don't know the future, what I will see or do or fall in love with. But I will always have her wave goodbye and her mousey reddened eyes and her love. And like we both believe, we will see each other again, no matter what.
The Eiffel Tower in the morning, staring at the streets now etched in my heart, was just what I needed to see.

It was all just what I needed.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Stand Up to Go

Those in this city that are ignored. I noticed you.

Those who limp and frown and come from
doorways covered in white ash, who sell soft
apples with cardboard signs and gnarled feet,
who heat up dough from frozen packets and
jingle plastic lights and sleep in doorways and
benches in airports and metro corners, on church steps
and in makeshift tents with strung Christmas lights,
walking on metros for a cheque diner, selling roses in
les cafes, roasting corn by leather bags and 20 euro boots,
finding not the magic but the distress,
the cry of a baby and a stale pain au chocolat;
only the glow of the neon cafe lights on
their scarved heads and unfinished bottles, all incomplete.

12/18 Port de Dauphine

I miss them all back home but there is a part of me they will never see. The roar of cars and taxis and rumble of the metro has transformed the shy and passive me into a confidence-laden gal who knows what she wants and is not afraid to love and lose to get it. I am better.

It's okay to say goodbye.

I have taken the moments and wrapped them each with care, and they are mine and they are good and they are true. I can escape here, in my mind, when all else fails me. I can walk along the bridge to the Eiffel Tower, hear music by St. Louis, the chants of nuns, the smell of cheese and chocolate-glazed croissants and steaming coffee, pounding music and pounding heart, the stillness of rue de Vaugrigard on a Tuesday night. The peace of kids playing i the main promenade of the Luxembourg gardens. Reading in the lounge with Madame. Laughing with her. Falling in love with her. A bike ride under the stars, embraces in the metro, kisses in cars and stairwells. An openness.
I've become free.

She gets lost in the seduction of everything she can never be.

There's a woman very sad and tired with a Coke. I've never been sad holding a Coke. A guy has a Burger King crown on. A woman stares, wondering what I write.
Sometimes the humanness of it all is astounding.


I cry to see my parents, yet I look at the tourists and that damn tower and I cry because of the familiarity of it, the calmness and serenity in my heart when I stare at it, the way I feel walking on every avenue in this goddamn beautiful city and I am torn to pieces. I want to embrace them but I can't let go of this. I can't let go of her or these buildings or the kids on scooters or the man in all white plaster coming from a truck or the lonely on the metro or the people laughing in boucheries or in restaurants talking about life or teenagers sounding eloquent and eating a baguette and cheese in the Marais as I trip off a curb.

12/19 Luxembourg

The sun has never shone so bright. If only. I'm sure the magic would fade, but for me, there is no end. It would be nice if I felt like I had seen it all and was satisfied. But I could take the same steps for another year and still not be satisfied. Too goddamn magical.
The cascading fountain, the squall of seagulls. Tourists come and they leave and live happily, maybe never to return. So can I.
On y va, right?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

She's Dancing a Polka


Did they watch the sun set and think
there was any beauty in the fire of His light?
Or can light only be seen by those
with light remaining?

About Auschwitz. When we were there, the sun set in the most dazzling of colors. They must have seen the same thing I did. I wish I knew what they had felt.
12/3 Flight from Krakow to Paris

The mountains of Poland are cloud-covered, dark stone peaks emerging from constancy. I am only now realizing how far I am from home.
“The world is so magnificent, humans have ingeniously created so much – why do we need God? When we have this paradise we’ve been a part of making, why do we need to give a false figurehead to it all?”
Yet. There is beauty beneath, within the core of those massive beings rising through rings of creamy smoke. I admire the opinions of an atheist, even though believing in nothing is the scariest life to live. Wicked fear in contrast to perhaps an ignorant enlightenment, a manhandled concept of simply doing good – and of trying to grasp what is always farthest from our reach.
I felt her. Walking through the Christmas market, the Polish carolers swaying with bells from their elaborate shawls jingling along to the call of the trumpeter. In the smell of smoked sausage and stewed cabbage and hot wine and loaves of bread covered with onions and vegetables and mugs of cider and a guitarist in a corner and the feeling that I was tapping into a spirit of who I am, my heritage, my true origin. It might all be false. But to grasp my nana’s chain sitting in a mass listening to the Germanic Czech r’s and sh’s of Polish, looking at children on little bikes in the nearby park, to walk over and along the river… I felt her, I felt it, I felt so alive.
To arrive with no language on my side, to walk by fields and small dedications to Mary along the road, to sit on the bus and eat a jelly pastry. To see old synagogues and squares and feel the brisk air of this new land. To walk through what the Jews of the ghetto had, to cry at the paths of stone, at the thought of Germans breaking into a café of musicians, a meeting place of light and culture and friendship, tearing them away from making beauty.
Actively seeking to end the virtuosity of hands, of lips, of souls that awoke to the sounds of Chopin or Bach. Destroying the ultimate escape from the terrors of our days. Not only that, but the classroom where students were taken. Students, professors. Some captured from their secret schools where all they sought was to never let knowledge die with the hope of a nation.

When books and music are taken away, we have nothing.

I ate pierogis in a Christmas market in Krakow. Potato pancakes and chocolate pastries and apple pie hot cocoa and sausage and sweet coffee always warm, always comforting. Churches of wood carvings, gilded everything, statues and photos of Mary and her babe in gold or black or brown. All ages coming in, and after their first step, they fall to their knees on cold marble and pray in the isles, walkways, corners. They had the old style of receiving communion, where I feel too humble in place to make eye contact with the priest.
Conversations never cease here, especially with one’s family. The people have an inner defiance to them, a confidence in their happiness.
I’ve met young people from Australia, New Zealand, Montreal and London. All gathered around a table, laughing and drinking and sharing stories and dancing to a connecting pulse until our tired feet maneuvered back to our beds as the sun rose above the church peaks and red bricked roofs. The connection of travel, of vibrant spontaneity, of simply smiling and looking at each other and knowing we are but a flash in each other’s lives, but it is one of the best flashes we have seen. I will not forget them or their kindness.
Returning. My heart is still in its right place in the labyrinth.
The plane sets down over shimmering sparkles of blue, grey outlines of hills reaching above the clouds again. The beauty of life is an intricacy I can never unweave.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Notes from the Underground, II

The most intimate moment is when we first
awake and meet another's eyes. Our whole
conscious, unprotected and clear, is visible, and
the other can mold at will
whether our eyes illuminate or are adorned in darkness.


Who am I to think I can control my recklessness here. Who am I to think I can say no. But yet. Who does not want to give the utmost respect to the heart they know best, their own? I do not mind such adventures, such irregularity. But I saw the vespers of Notre Dame and a man playing piano through a smoky window in his apartment, with books everywhere and life strewn and abandoned for music. I saw a French field trip with kids excited about their souvenir shop purchases.
I see so much and there’s so much more and I cannot deal with the weight of my heart.


Subway. A lost half hour because I got lost and procrastinated. Quick decisions. An uneasy feeling tonight that will only be fulfilled by tea and words.
I love hearing this language. Even if they're insulting tourists and the media (the subject of conversation of two men with laptop bags on the metro).
Hot wine with friends. Listening to intelligent debate on the metro, contrary to the 2 dolled-up girls with their diamond boots and aloof confidence in the same metro car.


Shaking cold in every part of me. But the music. The rock of his bow, his fingers so numb with cold yet still searching for their note partner in the fray of sound. People watch with eyes closed, all basking in the sound. I felt at peace, even if there was somewhat of a bizarre contrast between the church and the power of his music. A competition of sanctity.
I think people only smile on the metro when they are in love or listening to their favorite song.
I eat out, walk around, talk to strangers, see concerts, make few or no insulting comments. I want to talk about art and politics and poetry, not bitch about personalities or discuss drunken escapades. Eating is never a priority over adventure. Money is little concern but I won't spend uselessly.

My lips were on His crown. The total powerless power, the inward quivering, the completeness of faith. A feeling that life was at a peak and it would be difficult to get to that moment spiritually again. Rocking back and forth with tears. He was just so there, so present to me.
Oh the beauty of language. Chinese music and French conversation and my scratching pencil and the smell of Thai food and the sound of their language coming from a small window in back. So at home when I'm alone. Or maybe it is just my love of listening. Jasmine tea and a full stomach and French warmth.
I knew day one that this was a 'me' experience. I never realized how content I would become by it. Madame called me "petite cherie" this morning, saying last night as we watched the ballet, "Sleep later! This is worth more than that." She loves and cares and is fiery and passionate. She stays active and pushes through sadness and lets life keep moving her along. She lives the best I can imagine.
When I'm back at school, I'm promising myself this, in writing. I will wake every morning early to go and read and study and learn. Art one week, architecture the next, Dickens, Spanish. There is no need to have a placid mind.

Love in her soft eyes. Amused, content love.
So at peace with being here. The familiarity of individuality that I do not want and will not lose when I return to the soil of my past mistakes.
Wrapped up in my own ownness.


Maybe there will be a guy one day who sees me go to mass and wants to join, or thinks a great Saturday night is happy hour and a Fred Astaire movie. Or maybe I'm pressing my luck.
I think, or I thought, sitting in a cafe, watching the men work and people talk about the issues in Central Afrique and gossiping, two girls being petty and smoking like American students, that we are all the same.

That is what I love here. The realness of a child's face, of the girl shouting "Mouton!" (sheep) and playing peekaboo in the ditch of Marie Antoinette's hamlet. Seeing sunlight on St. Sulpice church. The beauty of artificial light on an angel's wings.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Cafe Revelations: Thanksgiving

I didn’t come to Paris to run away. Or so I like to think. It would be nice to have the comfort of knowing I came with no knotted braids linking my naïve heart. But then again, I am nineteen, and the depths of a nineteen-year old heart sometimes are shallower than I remember.

Was the magic in the glances? The quick flutter of eye meeting eye, of the whisper of eyelashes and mirror of color, the sense that there is all apathy and empathy within the glare of shimmering blues or hazels or the coolness of grey.
Or maybe it was within the bâtiments, the curled and jutting balconies with elegant rives and glossy black against sandy stone. Sots of hazelnut, of a rustic ivy, of a faded plaque, statue of Mary solemnly dozing in a cranny of concrete. Doors of etched initials and brick fences and baskets of young flowers struggling to remain vibrant with the cool breezes, stale clouds, the pit and pat of smoky rain. Color against a smothered yawn, a weak pink and orange against a dusting of history.

Or, maybe, the magic was in my fluttering heart.

I did not come to walk down the streets with remorse, with fallen dreams, with hopes that some attention would fall back upon me. I came because there is a sensuality of darkness, of not knowing. The appeal of running away. Of putting expected meetings on hold, of taking the rush of maintaining relationships and tossing it to the sea. It felt beyond good, too good, to step on that plane, to say goodbye.

I know I would not be the same and I did not want to be the same.

I was too expectant, too anxious, too dependent, too hot-headed, too ignorant. I was breathing in life on the hills of my town but with people it was stale. Or I sold myself too much to the will of others.
That is no way to live.
I have sold myself to a selfless love of the moment. I walked through the misting rain, lost, amidst dusty streets and the stale air of cars and laundry mats and pharmacies. Yet. A monastery in the mist. Children on a pile of leaves. The wonderful feeling of being beautifully distant.

It’s Thanksgiving.

I miss my family because I spoke to them. I remember what it’s like to talk with no filter. I’m so difficult with friends, with not peeling back my layers to be completely real, completely relaxed.
But I fear the nothing, the emptiness of others. Being absorbed by their hollowness. I fear losing myself and my integrity when I’m around other girls. I don’t want to lose my personal beat to their stiff apathetic nonsense.
How can I balance it? Dignity versus empathy. Attention is too sweet, even when one can be fulfilled by anything but that in a place like this, when one runs away from the chamber of their heart.
Take the warm voice of a father/owner in a café and take his grey fluff of a mustache and his rosy cheeks and capture it. Capture all.
The flicker of candlelight, warmth of spiced foam, the roll off cette langue, mon sang est tiède avec l’esprit du nature drôle de ce café. Mon âme est en train de d’allumer. Puis-je rester ici pour ma vie?
Fluttering mind.
Playing “Play That Funky Music” with the warmth of a family. The girl is sad over a garcon. They discuss the news, the events of Paris, over wine and coffee and light.
Their words embrace.

 “Bon courage.”

Find the strength to tear yourself from this place; and when you are ready again to reinvent your soul, when you’ve lost all again, when love has fluttered into ash and your pen no longer flows, when your eyes slip closed too easily, too frequently... go back to Paris.

Go back to where your soul burned and you burst from the shell of conformity.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Shy Light

 11/25 Flight from Helsinki to Paris

I am so very deeply in love with the rosy sunset and the awaiting dawn.

I feel the tug of my heart. I didn’t take plum tarts and I feel the regret – pathetic but I know its really just I don’t want to leave any part of that country behind. The people were so kind, the land so beautiful, everything so full of nature and health and life and spirit. The family was just beyond generous, it makes me want to cry. They have seen so many things and places and work so diligently; they are intelligent, cook together, play board games together, laugh and watch Jane Austen and play Seven Wonders hundreds of times and take walks and go to saunas and love their dogs and have such pride in their home and hometown.
They want to share.
I ate so many berries I reeked of them. I wore wool socks and ate sesame seed desserts from Israel and dates and gloggi and plum tarts and avocado pasta – made by my awkward hands – and strawberry cereal and porridge with litchenberries and strawberries and cinnamon and peanut butter pancakes and salads and beet cakes and bean salad and berry graham cake with yellow custard and teas of all flavors and strengths, and vegetarian lasagna at a restaurant with a famous man from Finnish TV and carrot cake with thick frosting. It wasn’t even all the deliciousness of the food and drink – berry juice in the sauna – but the company and warmth and laughter.
They cuddle with blankets and cocoa and donuts at 4 pm when the sun goes down with wool socks and the click of Anne Marie knitting and Sufjan Stevens singing while they cook. Victory songs – Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” – when they win a game. Sarcastic jokes and witty remarks.
Churches in Tampere, a man carrying a fallen angel, Josh Graban piano music, a nativity scene for the young to play with. Locks of love and a Christmas donkey and sheep in a stable yard. Running down slippery steps in the bitter wind to splash in ice-cold waters with the moonlight stretching across miles of pine forests. Sweat and steam and waves of heat, laughing at each other with games of 20 Questions by candlelight and feeling so very not self-conscious.

There is nothing more liberating than that split decision to do the seemingly irrational. That moment when the barriers and claws of your mind are ripped away because the heart finally just wants to be released. And a weight is lifted and you take the next step with a brighter smile and a lighter spirit and you are happy. I didn’t want to go into the lake, thinking it was a ridiculous notion. Then when Juho and his friend Stefan went out running, diving, hollering into the darkness and splashing through waves, I thought of the ridiculousness of my resistance. Life is made up of the moments where we resist and when we release and when we take hold and when we let go. Here was one where I just needed to break away, and so I did. And with a crazed grin I rose from heated wood planks and dripped sweat down onto the warm floor, stepping onto hard damp earth and down into the waves.
The heat, the cold, the numbness felt so alive. And after, how cleansed and renewed and awakened I felt was incredible. I would sauna everyday if I could. And just knowing that that is an integral part of their lifestyle shows the ease of the people, the comfort of this home away from home.

Their bright eyes. My desire for more, forever more words and forever and ever more time.

The language as well. Rolling r’s and long phrases and a fluid gentle rocking of sentences. Like putting sprinkles on a warm, chocolate-frosted gingerbread cookie. Warm, mellow, a cushion. A language sounding in love.
Rolling pine forests and soothing plain chapels and Christmas twinkling light. Homemade and natural always more appreciated. A church built from the rock. Ships in the harbor. The cool, fresh, crisp air. No haste. I want to return to the museums, the cafes, the little boutiques. I want a knitted cap and to cut a pine by the lake for a tree for Noel. I want to play rounds and rounds of board games and listen to Nathan speak to the dogs in Finnish. I want to hike and cross-country ski and snowboard in the mountains and have a summer sauna and eat ice cream and glimpse the Northern Lights.
Nathan mentioned my dad growing mad during an intense game of Monopoly they had played years ago. That moment I yearned and ached for my dad. And seeing Christmas things and smell the cinnamon and tea and coffee and just the spirit of the air made me want my mom’s embrace.
Yet there is so much to see.
To Krakow next weekend, which will be life-changing. To see Auschwitz. To hear the tongue of Irene and nana again. To feel wrapped up in her culture for just a few short days. To see a mass in Polish. Buy my mom something else beautiful.
Then in Paris, the museums, the exhibits, the Christmas market, the music, the dancing and drinking. Nicole to speak with, to hear about the war. To study, to read, to write, to see.

The father next to me rubs his daughter’s feet as she falls asleep, after they have eaten and decorated a doll together. Sweet love. 

I want to cry from the beauty being collected in my soul. I never, ever want to lose a drop.

Of course I will be different. I will ache for art and activity and culture. I will ache for new friends in distant places. I will look at a map of the world and feel invincible, capable of seeing and loving it all.
Collected beauty, bundled memories, quiet stars above and twinkling lights below. Tears. God, you have blessed me beyond what I thought was possible. I am yours, and forever grateful.

Love selflessly this breath and this moment amidst the soft blinking away of tears.