Friday, November 29, 2013

last but not least

Thanksgiving is, quite literally, a foreign concept to the French. The same goes for most Europeans and the British. So, this past week has been spent explaining the holiday to my colleagues :) and I really hope I did it justice. Not just the mythical story per se—Pilgrims, poor harvest, generous Native Americans, and a idyllic shared feast—but what Thanksgiving is really all about.
{Belleville street art - Paris, France}
Though shamelessly commercialized, each year I am still touched at how much my favorite holiday encourages giving and gratitude as it should. And as I pondered my “thankful list” yesterday, it occurred to me I may never understand its breadth. I’ve had my fair share of struggles and setbacks, but in the grand scheme of life, I've suffered very little. Then I read this New York Times article:
“While we celebrate Thanksgiving, let’s remember that the difference between being surrounded by a loving family or being homeless on the street is determined not just by our own level of virtue or self-discipline, but also by an inextricable mix of luck, biography, brain chemistry and genetics.”
This compassion (or lack thereof) Nicholas Kristof describes is “a mark of civilization” unfortunately being lost in the States. On a policy level, it’s a concept we could borrow from our European neighbors; Scandinavian countries especially: "modern social democratic states where wealth is more evenly distributed, education is typically free up through university, and the social safety net allows women to comfortably work and raise a family.” As individuals, we could afford to be kinder, too. I urge you to read this viral essay. So much of the reality she speaks of is chilling, but “we will never feel hopeful," struck me especially. I immediately and without intention thought to the plague of endless possibilities that too often keep me up at night with anxiety. Are they not what lets me be grateful and give? They should be. If nothing else then for the fact that expressions of gratitude make us feel socially valued. And everyone deserves at least that much. Post-Thanksgiving food for thought, I suppose. Hope your holiday was happy and full :).

Wednesday, November 27, 2013


They say your twenties are for being selfish. They fail to mention, however, how much living abroad amplifies the tendency. As much as it embarrasses me to admit, I'm not entirely looking forward to going home. I'm afraid to face the imperfections of the rest of my reality with the research timer on my master's thesis set and my Parisian life on pause. But, on particular days like this one, I'm especially reminded to appreciate these self-centered concerns. Because, really... how blessed can someone be to have loved ones unconditionally support her ambitions, to enjoy time and space to study her passions, to belong to more than one place? And, to celebrate her favoritest holiday multiple times before reuniting with family for the next two in New York. I'm thinking, very.
I met Phil and Tiphaine once, at the Kinfolk gathering; and for some reason they were kind enough to invite me to join in their Thanksgivukkah! Last Saturday, Sandra and I adventured south of Paris for a most unforgettable Franco-American feast:
Upon arrival, they served home-barrel-aged cocktails: a warm autumn punch made with bourbon and cider (my pick), and a seasonally spiced Negroni. Guests trickled in from near and far as the buffet table crowded with their generous contributions. To nibble during meets and greets, we helped ourselves to endive with blue cheese and local walnuts and wild rabbit rillette on toast.
Eventually, the Thanksgiving-Hannukah meal was served: green salads, latkes with apple sauce, deep fried/smoked turkey, stuffing (southernly referred to as "dressing" because it was prepared outside the bird), green bean casserole, lobster macaroni and cheese.
We digested with re-pours of wine until we were ready for dessert. My Belgian chocolate was nothing compared to the homemade pecan pie, chou au chantilly et potiron (pumpkin cream puffs), and an unexpected berry cake. Coffee, champagne, and a local porter aged on Fernet Branca barrel chips were served alongside. Phil and Tiphaine are obviously the best hosts in the whole wide world.
Eight hours later, I headed back to Paris with plenty of gratitude and leftovers. And I'm already excited for tomorrow's "Anksgeeving" dinner with grad school friends. Although I'm most definitely sad to miss my family's annual fête, I'm thankful for this new tradition, too. Oh! By the way, obrigado is Portuguese for "thank you." I'm especially fond of it because it's so similar to the Spanish abrigo (coat) and abrazo (hug). Happy Thanksgiving, friends! Let's embrace all that significance and share our gratitude generously:

Friday, November 22, 2013

bad day remedies

Who said "a bad day in Paris is better than a good day anywhere else”? After a bleak morning for reasons beyond the ever-gray sky, having half your lunch (an overpriced butternut squash soup from the café across the street) spill in its entirety just five minutes before it had the chance to redeem your afternoon... still sucks. Feelings are only so affected by the places they're experienced in.
But, this isn’t meant to be a pity party. I recognize there are a few distinctly Parisian ways to add optimistic sparkle to each day.
Take the “Champagne Social”. Lisa organized the event to celebrate Cara’s first visit and the City of Lights itself. Habitat Parisien provided the gorgeous loft space. Lauren brought her creative talent to the fabulous decor. It was an evening of inspiring conversation, amazing home videos, and one incredible sing-along dance party. Oh, there was champagne, too. Obviously...
{Photo credit: Tricia Rosas}
{Photo credit: Tricia Rosas}
{Photo credit: Tricia Rosas}
{Photo credit: Tricia Rosas}
Remember: research has proven that the bubbles in champagne really do go "straight to your head." Thanks to Tricia for the photographic evidence of Daisy and I's tipsy fun in le gran bain. And merci, Lisa for the great night ! Also, I brought lunch today.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

listing & la grande-place

Let's backtrack once more. At the chocolate tasting, I had the opportunity to ask a Bruxelles local what to do in his hometown. His advice: stand in the center of the Grand Place and turn in a complete circle. "Every building you see is from 15th century. They've somewhat miraculously endured the wars since. We think it's the most impressive square in all of Europe." I might have to agree...
But I won't. I don't pick favorites :) even for a square so stunning. In other news, it's been a busy week in Paris. To keep this short:

Eating as many vegetables as possible to balance out lunches with the guys.
Drinking bottomless cups of tea and the occasional hot chocolate.
Practicing gratitude. ‘Tis the season, n’est pas ?
Mastering: transition-induced anxiety.
Learning immigration policies and diversity issues in the UK (thesis prep).
Playing with the French concept of casual dating.
Finishing my internship at PageYourself… and really bummed about it.
Enjoying Paris with the best expat friends.
Walking through Montmartre on my way to PageYourself’s new office.
Needing quality time with my siblings.
Wearing cozy layers.
Cooking comfort food by craving. Most recently, this.
Wondering if I’ll experience reverse culture shock soon. (Hoping not).
Working on pre-research for my thesis.
Travelling back from Brussels (see above), and going home oh-so-soon.
Planning how to best spend two whole months in New York!

The list above was inspired by Tania, inspired by Sydney (and James), and inspired by Pip. Join the blogging community fun?

Monday, November 18, 2013

how to belong

Adaptability. You may have heard that's it's the #1 life skill you learn and practice while studying abroad and/or working in an international environment. It definitely is one of them. I'd argue the ability to create a sense of belonging is even greater though.
It's freaking hard to build relationships with strangers who grew up in a world separate from your own, to observe norms you're not familiar with and then take them on yourself... to thrive as the only American woman in an office of tech-minded French guys. And yet, whether or not I actually have an INFJ personality, doing so has been one of the most rewarding foreign experiences thus far.
I worked from home today, and tomorrow, I'll meet the PageYourself team at our new office in the 18th. Au revoir, Le Réfectoire ! We will no longer have medicore burgers and bomb-a** fries at our disposal. But, for the next two weeks at least, I'll continue enjoying a "male-skewed" lunchtime diet. The sentimentality is already kicking in full throttle. I'm going to miss my coworkers.
How did I get to this point? I "kept on swimming", even if I really wanted to give up sometimes. And honestly, that's the most valuable advice I could give. Adapting is a process of excitement, resentment, and acceptance. Sometimes mojitos help, but maintaining perspective on the impermanence is an even safer bet. Now I just have to remind myself that diving into solitary thesis research doesn't at all mean losing these personal and professional connections. Le sigh. Second transition of the year: go!
"There’s an old adage that says you leave pieces of yourself wherever you go, wherever you’ve called home. And I suppose that’s true. But, it’s kind of bullshit, too, like most old adages and their supposed relative truth. It’s not the pieces themselves that matter. It’s the size of those pieces you leave behind and the size of the hole they’re trying to fill that matter. Because you can have the biggest pieces of yourself that are connected to these places and the sense of belonging that you derive from them and still not manage to fill the hole. Your sense of belonging starts when you stop asking other people and places permission to belong. It’s not about where you “feel like” you should be. It’s about where you are, and you belong wherever you are." -Jon Hamlin

Sunday, November 17, 2013

the beauty of brussels

"Parlez-vous français ? Or English? I'm sorry... we just passed each other in the galerie and I had to tell you... you're beautiful." He went on to ask where we were from, how long we'd be in Brussels, and what we had planned for the rest of the day. This kind of encounter doesn't actually happen in real life. Well, it doesn't unless you're an American visiting from Paris who'd just gotten a fab haircut at Style Pixie. Or so I hear. It was the most genuinely flattering "hit on" (I really dislike that term) experience I've ever had.
And, gosh, the city of Brussels is beautiful, too. I'd always heard it was boring and not necessarily worth the stop, but the Belgian capital hasn't gotten enough credit. It's so much more than waffles, chocolate, and comic books! Take a look for yourself:
Small, yes, but thus made for a weekend getaway. Although Lara and I did spend a fair share of our relaxing in Ixelles, we made it into the center to enjoy a few contemporary gems: Pistolet for a quick breakfast, Mont des Arts for cultural entertainment, the Brussels Palace gardens, Delirium café for a mid-afternoon beer, the Musical Instruments Museum (even just for the exterior architecture), Pierre Marcolini for modern artisanal chocolate, Le Roy d'Espagne for an aperitif, and Monk bar for late night live music. Next time, I'm headed to Pixel for wine and Wittamer for divine chocolate chaud, too. One last Brussels post to come...