An Open Letter

Dear Friends,

I’ve told my parents, so now I can tell all of you that I’m pregnant. Come on, let’s get real. I’ve told them, and now I’m telling you that I’m leaving Paris at the end of the month, because I’ve accepted a job in Tokyo. A lot less dramatic, right?

France, my other heart, has failed me on the job front, but Japan has beckoned and delivered. To be honest, I applied for teaching jobs on http://www.tefl.com/  on a lark. I never intended to live in Asia, as I’d always considered it just “too far away.” After applying and being contacted for interviews from multiple schools in Japan and one in Singapore, I asked my eldest brother’s advice (that never happens) on Japan vs. Singapore. He had much to say (he gets paid to talk I think). He’s been an expat in Hong Kong for seventeen years, and not only is he familiar with the region, but he can spout wisdom sometimes. Rare, but it happens.

He gave me facts and opinions, research from the internet, and even opinions of friends that he has living in both places. He could’ve done more… but I digress. One thing in particular struck me, he said that if he were making the choice, he’d do something that challenged him, that helped him grow, that opened up new windows in the mind (paraphrasing a bit). His words were a lightning rod, because that’s exactly what I want in my life: challenges. I want to be tested. I want to move freely in countries where I don’t speak the language (and have done so in Brazil and France); I want to learn and see new things everyday; I want to live and dream with new lenses.

(* The top photo is my brothers and me, after Thanksgiving dinner, looking so high that I now believe my mother drugged the turkey).

What else tipped me, besides the chance for development both personally and professionally? The chance to save for “the future” that my father keeps talking about, the fact that I appreciate Japanese culture, and the repetition from many that I wouldn’t really like it. It’s amazing how quickly a year passes, so why worry about such things?

So, here I am with just over three weeks left in Paris. My love. My greatest wish realized. What I’ll do besides get my food on, last minute sightseeing (all the things I thought I had so much time to do), and bidding farewell to my lovely neighborhood of Jourdain? Well, first things first, I must visit Amsterdam while still in Europe. My mother’s great advice was “forget shoes, forget clothes; you’re in Europe, travel. Go now!” And so, I went straight to www.eurolines.com and booked myself a four day trip to Amsterdam for next week. I will go now.

Take care,

Val

p.s I forgot to tell you– the onsite TEFL course that I’d registered for for the month of September, I transferred to an online course (in November). Better, no?

Letter from Marseille: Marseille, the Marvelous

Dear Friends,

The number 50 bus leaves from Aix-en-Provence to Marseille every ten minutes, and arrives at St. Charles terminal twenty-five minutes after one has boarded. For only five euros, one can ride in comfort from Aix-en-Provence to the second largest city in France (Paris is the largest).

 *Create your own caption, but this man could’ve driven me anywhere.

Though the bus terminal in Marseille is quite impressive, the surrounding area was a bit grimy. My airbnb host Christa had warned me that the area was a tad run down, and that I should just walk downhill from the terminal to the harbor.

On my way, I wondered if I was on the right path, as all seemed deserted. There was no one around, but I hadn’t accounted for the fact that it was too early on a Saturday morning for people to be up and about. Then, I saw the landmarks of civilization: H&M, Mango, Zara, Promod, and I knew the harbor was near.

* Sweet salesgirl Sandra… don’t judge me, because I shopped a bit.

At the end of Rue de la Republique, the harbor presents itself, resplendent in seagulls and sailboats. To be simple, it’s beautiful/splendid/delightful/marvelous. Ok, now there’s that Mediterranean feel.

When one makes a right at the end of Rue de la Republique, there are a number of cafes facing the water. Side by side on Quai du Port, restaurants offer mussels and fries, pizza, steaks, hamburgers, hot dogs, seafood and ice-cream. Le Petit Pernod was the goldilocks of cafes: not too expensive, not too cheap, not too pretentious, and not at all fast-foody (a la McDonalds and Quick burger).

* Please notice the guy in the hat is wearing an orange napkin bib, and his companion has a flap where a nose used to be. I had to eat where they were eating. Who wouldn’t?

At the moment, I’m reading Adelle Davis’s Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit, so my eyes went
straight to the meat section (gotta pack in the protein).

* This guy may very well be my soulmate. He was eating alone, and ordered the same dessert as me. Not enough?

Stuffed and satisfied, I crossed the street to where the trams were lined up and paid seven euros for a tour of Marseille. What’d I learn? Um, it’s a very old place. Doesn’t it only matter that it’s gorgeous?

The child that lives within us all isn’t far from the surface. Why else would so many of us get excited to be on an open tram? To dip our toes in the ocean? To smile for photos? To “make-believe?”

* This little boy hugged his brother at every amazing sight.

* Notre Dame de la Garde… a high point, literally and figuratively.

It can’t be a coincidence that Marseille and marvelous start with the same letters.

* I figured that although I’d already eaten dessert, if they’d been in business since 1947, they must know a thing or two about ice-cream. Who am I to deny the experts?

* Very wise decision!

* The cop on the left told me his name was George, George Clooney. For the record, they approached me at the ATM to make an “arrest” (hence the wallet in hand).

 * Lest you forget you’re in France, there’s the random carousel. I’m thinking that they love their kids more in France.

A bientot,

Val

p.s Marseille, a mariner’s dream, washed in soft sunlight…

Letter from Aix-en-Provence: Bonjour!

Thursday, August 25

Dear Friends,

The TGV train from Paris to Marseille scheduled to leave Gare du Lyon train station at 9:15am, left on the dot and it was exciting to be aboard in second class, seat 78.

 * On the train, four strangers sit facing each other. Thankfully, I wasn’t sitting across from another tall person. Is there more leg room in first class?

* They come to you with the croissants, juices, sodas, and chocolate. Are there different refreshments in first class?

The ride from Paris to Aix-en-Provence, the penultimate stop, takes only three hours, and I slept for all but twenty minutes of the one hundred and eighty. I’ll tell you why—I haven’t woken up at 7am in the last six weeks.

The apartment in which I’m spending three days was found on www.airbnb.com (Airbnb is a traveler’s best friend– in addition to a valid passport and an open mind). My host Christa is a sweet German woman, who’s been living in Aix-en-Provence for thirty-something years. She offered to pick me up at the train station, which was quite unexpected and greatly appreciated.

Friends, I was under the false impression that I would be staying in Marseille, since I’d found the accommodations under the Marseille section of airbnb; however, Christa lives in Tholonet, a small town twenty minutes from the center of Aix-en-Provence, which is 30km away from Marseille. No worries, I’ve learned that Aix-en-Provence was the birthplace and home of Cezanne, and I’ve welcomed the re-direction .

When we arrived at her apartment, Christa prepared a delicious Niçoise salad, which we ate with a whole wheat baguette (first time eating one of those, and for the record I prefer the unhealthier version). After lunch, she suggested that I cool down with a shower and take a nap to beat the midday heat (it’s in the mid-nineties at the moment). Though my trip altogether was less than four hours, who am I to resist a cool bath and a recommended siesta?

* The dining area in the apt. All the curtains are drawn until 7pm to keep the place cool. The tree growing in her apartment spreads across the entire wall.

* My room, darkened and comfortable.

 Do you ever have those days when you think “I must’ve done something right at sometime, somewhere?”  That’s how I felt after my three hour nap.

At 5:10pm I entered the living room where Christa was watching a documentary on wildlife (actually, I think it was the birds that pricked my unconscious). She informed me that if I was interested in going to the center of town, a bus would be arriving at the bus stop in thirty minutes. Being all napped out, off I went ….

In Aix-en-Provence, many of the buildings are a peach-mustard color, which is a noticeable difference from Paris where all are beige-vanilla. Walking through town, at times it would seem that it was deserted, and another street would lead to a hubbub of activity. Like Paris, there are numerous gelaterias, bakeries, fresh-fruit markets, pharmacies, cafes, random carousels, and brasseries, but the mood differs. There’s the
relaxed, “just taking it easy” vibe that comes with a small town.

* Fact: Chocolatiers prove that “heaven is a place on earth.”

* Check this out: It’d be great to be hypnotized to get rid of fear, addictions and phobias… esp in French.

* The fountain in the center of town, La Rotonde.

* These carts will drive you around town for eighty cents.

* Lining the Cours Mirabeau are vendors selling jewelry, books, and knick-knacks.

* There are only three things in the world better than cotton candy on a summer evening.

You know the feeling when it’s 82 degrees; you’ve had a good home-cooked meal, two glasses of wine; there’s a playful breeze on your face;  you hear trickling water in the background, a fountain perhaps; there’s a yawn behind your smile; lavender scents tease your nose, and there’s a hammock just waiting for you? That’s the feeling I have
right now.

Bises x,

Val

p.s Tomorrow, I’ll visit Cezanne’s atelier, maybe a museum (doubtful), take a ride in one of the carts, then Saturday, it’ll be Marseille.

p.p.s all things Cezanne.

Letter from Paris: Paris Plages (Paris Beaches)

Dear Friends,

Along the Seine River from July 21- August 21, Parisians and
tourists alike were able to revel in the sun at Paris Plages. For those
who couldn’t traipse to the south of France, the beach came to the city. Sand
pits were set up for games of volleyball and bocce ball; gelato stands dotted
the walkways; sunbathers lined the cobbled banks; sprinklers sprayed passers-by
(very welcome on 90 degree days); entertainers on rollerblades danced to
Edith Piaf; big kids and little kids enjoyed themselves thoroughly; and on Sunday, we
collectively mourned summer’s end.

* The fun started here in front of the Hotel de Ville.

* It’s possible to rent bikes all over Paris; and return them at various docking
stations.

* The line at the ice-cream stand was ridiculous. Twenty minutes for gelato on a
cone… totally worth it.

* Look at this man’s face. He’s seriously struggling, “Strawberry or vanilla for the first lick?”

* A game of bocce ball…. his shirtlessness made observation of this boring game worthwhile. 

* I loved this kid and had to quickly snap the photo before his father saw me. He was reading(!!)… and when he looked up, he asked for a bottle of Perrier! (Perrier, not gelato from the stand directly in front of us). Could his father have been as proud of him as I?

Bises xx,

Valerie

p.s  I refuse to accept the summer’s end, so I’m heading to Marseille on Thursday. Don’t you love life?

Letter from Paris: Life Goulash

Dear Friends,

This post, similar to goulash, is going to have many different things thrown in, so if you need a minute to get a cup of coffee or tea or rum punch, please go ahead.

1) I live at 117 rue de belleville, in the 19th arrondisement (arrondisements are neighborhoods). On my block, there are three cafes, a jeweler, two chocolatiers, one florist, two cellphone companies, a travel agency, a Monoprix (smaller-scaled Kmart), a boys’ school, a pharmacy, a hair salon, an eyeglass shop, an open air market and a bakery. Everything one could possible need is on this street, but the most essential force of the block is leaving tomorrow. The baker. Why couldn’t it be the butcher or the candlestick maker who needed a break from city life?

He told me today that he’ll be away for three weeks, and that someone else will take his place. After that sad announcement, he gave me a free pain au chocolat (buttery croissant with chocolate chips melted inside).

* Why is he smiling at my pain?

* A moment of silence please…for all the baguettes that have come before.

2) When you come to visit, don’t worry about inhaling all the pastries, gelato, warm bread and butter, cheeses, chocolates, because the subway stairs and all the fruit vendors (even inside the station) will get you back on the right track.

3) When you walk down the rue de belleville pass the McDonalds on the way to Republique, the neighborhood noticeably changes into more diverse ethnic groups: Algerians, Malians, Tunisians, Vietnamese and Chinese. There are many restaurants and markets catering to the different groups, and the street often feels like a bazaar. It’s interesting to note that there are two Chinatowns in Paris… the larger one is in the 13th arrondisement.

* There’s an incredible Hello Kitty obsession, but who knows why?

4) Though people may discriminate, mannequins don’t. They don’t discriminate against each other, they often laugh together in Old Navy commercials in the U.S; they don’t discriminate in store windows where they stand side by side and smile at all and sundry; and they certainly don’t discriminate against ugly clothing. On my way to Belleville, I had to stop and capture the essence of hideousness that graced the cream and brown mannequins in this “capital of fashion.”

* Check out the stylized cornrows on this black mannequin.

* This mannequin looked at me defiantly as if to say, “Yes, my clothes are ugly, but I’m getting paid. Are you?”

That mannequin’s sass is a perfect segue: remember that I’d mentioned that I’d applied to schools in France, Spain, Singapore and Japan? Well, one of the schools from Japan and one from Singapore set up interviews with me this week. I have no idea what to do if offered a job in either country, since my dream’s to stay in Paris… But as you know, the pickings are slim here. I’ve been told that being an au pair would be a great option, to improve French language skills, thus making me more marketable. However, I have no desire to be an au pair.

My brother told me on the phone today to “follow my gut.” Friends, if I follow my gut, I may end up on the baker’s vacation, with a restraining order against me.

It appears that my letters from Paris (my new favorite city), may soon become letters from Singapore or Japan. The salaries are comparable… 1) Singapore is sleepy and Tokyo’s alive 2)Japan may have a radiation problem (who knows?) but rich culture and the “lure of the unkown” 3) Singapore has a nice quality of life (never lived in a complex with a gym, pool and tennis court before) 4) They’re both expensive as heck, but they’d both pay enough to save money and move on in a year or two. 5) Neither has cities that are Paris (!), but there are jobs there.

What would you do, if you were me?

I prefer when life’s decisions are along the lines of “liquid , kohl or gel eyeliner?”

Bises xx,

Valerie

p.s At the park, I finally saw why they say, “to get all your ducks in a row.” Who knew?

Letter from Paris: Smorgasbord of Life

Dear Friends,

It’s been exactly two weeks since I landed on the European continent. Fourteen days, I’ve come to learn, is like fourteen minutes when in the company of great people, tremendous feasts, and nothing but time to discover the meaning of pleasure. What’s your pleasure, and when’s the last time you experienced it?

(*Dear Nutella, you’re my soulmate. Please rest on my lips.)

The course for which I’m registered at the TEFL Institute starts in two weeks, and I’m not quite sure what I’ll do when I have to wake up at 8am, put on “work-type” clothing, and sit on a seat that’s not a park bench. What’ll I do when I once again have to commute?

More than a week after arriving in Paris, I met my flatmate Z who, sadly, departs for New York tomorrow. I could say many things about Z: her sweet disposition, her fantastic sense of humor, her taste for adventure, but I’d rather discuss the fact that she can throw down in the kitchen. She has been preparing feasts that have not only satisfied, but knocked us out (literally, sprawled on our beds after eating). Feast your eyes on this:

BREAKFAST: Merguez sausage, fried Haloumi cheese, sliced tomatos & Lavash bread

DINNER: Roasted chicken, stuffed zucchini, mixed salad with chevre, and a baguette

* Okay, it would’ve been nice if I’d snapped the photo before Z, Tony and I devoured the chicken, but you get the idea.

And to drink, a bottle of Muscadet and cans of Desperado. A dear friend has coined Desperado “crack in a can,” because of the tequila content:

In between eating and napping, I frequent a park that’s less than ten minutes away, Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Friends, the park is humongous; there’re waterfalls, lakes, ducks, joggers, a few eateries, a bar, a suspension bridge, joggers, babies walking parents, dogs walking humans, too many pigeons to count, gazebos, and people that  could be observed for days. Of course I must tell you that I also take my napping “activity” to the green park benches… Is there anything more pleasurable than sleeping in the sun’s hands, with the wind whispering in your ear, ‘Rest, rest?”

* One of the the park’s many entrances.

* “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both;” but aha friends, here’s where I one up Robert Frost, my roads were green not yellow, and I can travel both, because there’s always tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that.

* I wanted this little girl to teach me French, but she was busy chasing a pigeon.

* A man who wears a blazer to walk Lassie Jr., now that’s classy.

* She had the same idea as me, “Buy some fruit, walk to the park, spend many hours on a bench.” Check, check, check.

* Men in France run in the skimpiest shorts I’ve ever seen…. not complaining, just saying.

* I loved this couple and followed them at a discreet distance… they were at least 80 years old and walking hand in hand.

More park photos:

And that’s where I’ll wrap up. The things that have given me joy: meeting new friends, spending time with old ones, watching lifelong couples walking together, seeing new families doing the same, enjoying the fleeting sun, every second realizing that I’m truly blessed, trying to figure out the next step (okay that last one isn’t giving me joy but agina). It seems that obtaining a French work visa is even more difficult than reported, so in addition to job applications in France, I’ve applied to teaching jobs in other European locales, as well as Asia: Singapore and Japan. Cross your fingers for me, because my tourist visa expires in October…. and there’s no concrete plan after October.

Bises xx,

Valerie

p.s Only this moment, right now, matters.

Letter from Paris: Eat, Drink and Be…

Dear Friends,

*WARNING: If you’re on a diet, or wear skinny jeans, or care anything at all about your waistlines, don’t come to Paris! Better yet, please come, but join a gym the very second you go home…. Wherever home is, I can tell you one thing, the food isn’t this good (and that’s from a woman who just used a pot for the first time in over a year).

**Note: I made this… sure it’s pasta, but it was yummy with its blend of cheeses.

**Note: The baguette’s all mine!… How could I share when I had to eat it in four parts: 1/4 goat cheese, 1/4  Morbier cheese, 1/4 strawberry jam, 1/4 Nutella.

**Note: The lamb knuckle is my friend Tony’s, and it looked exactly like the bone Fred Flintstone loved to munch on. The chicken I ate wasn’t picture worthy.

*WARNING: If you don’t drink alcohol, you’re going to have a problem… it’s cheap, it’s sold on every corner, it’s great with your french fries, good for your health and your outlook on life; so let’s lift those glasses, “Santé!” The most useful thing I’ve seen online is the article on how to toast in fifty languages: http://matadornetwork.com/nights/how-to-say-cheers-in-50-languages/

*WARNING: Be prepared to embrace beauty at every turn, because if you’re not ready for fantastic sights, they’ll sneak up on you and wham you upside the head. BAM!*#!”

*WARNING: Be ready to be wowed. Enchanted. Captivated. Invigorated. Thrilled.  Just relax and be….

*WARNING: If you’re visiting in August, know that many stores will be closed with signs in the window that say, “Be back in two weeks,” or they’ll just be closed for three hours in the afternoon. Ahh no problem, take your beer (or bottle of wine) to the park and wait.

Bises xx,

Valerie

p.s And dear friends, it’s amazing when you’re sitting in a park eating baklava and you look up and see the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Lovely summer!