Thursday, May 26, 2011


The station harbored a crowded rush hour. Something surged inside of me, an excitement unmatched by anything else. I zigzagged my way to the number one, the red line, the NYC subway. Moving around, transferring to the Times Square Shuttle, and then the Uptown 6, was all instinct. I didn't even bat an eyelash to get to my destination on the Upper East Side. Only years of living in one place, can things be done with such ease. It was a comfort I needed so much, a comfort I missed dearly.

Going back home, after such a short period in Paris, was full of ambivalence. Was it too soon? Should I postpone? I remember boarding the plane from Charles De Gaulle, the intro to P. Diddy's song “Coming Home” played in my head. Friends and Family were waiting for me. My daughter eager to see her grandmother, her BFF- Sophie, and all else she left back in her “other home far away”, as she puts it. Still, I was unsure.

The first night back, I had dinner with a friend, an outright All-American and a real blonde to boot. We laughed as we always did because that's mostly what we do when we are together, just laugh about anything & everything. As much fun as I was having, something still felt absent. Thereafter, all my subsequent reunions with friends I've missed so so much, felt pretty much the same, great but something amiss. Towards the end of my second week, I saw my All-American friend again along with our other good friend, the trio was reunited. We hung out, laughed, ate sushi, laughed, drank beer, laughed, and then I sadly left. At some point during our evening, one of them said to me, “Isn't it weird? You don't live here anymore.” I didn't live here anymore. New York was no longer my home. I no longer had a key to my front door. I no longer had the front door. I no longer lived in this place, meaning New York, a place that held so much of my identity, my life. When I thought of France, technically my new home, it didn't feel quite right either. I had a nice new apartment, made some wonderful new friends, and my husband was back in his homeland but where did that leave me...

After spending a final day in Manhattan before returning to Paris, I sat on the LIRR train ready to head back to my mom's in Great Neck. As I sat there listening to the noises of a bustling rush hour train at Penn Station, 9to5ers getting their alcoholic beverage on the platform before heading to their families, I felt pang in my chest. I knew that feeling all too well, only in times of great emotions did my heart feel that heavy. I tired to fight back tears by placing on my headphones and turning on my IPod. As I secluded myself listening to Mumford & Sons, I realized that I was still looking around at my old life. Although I had moved away from Long Island around the same time I got married, I looked at all the people who stilled called it home. So, I simply closed my eyes.

The music didn't help either. My mind raced, making it harder to fight back the urge to break. I did not do so when I left New York in February. I did not do so even in my most solemn states of homesickness in those first few weeks in Paris. I did not even break when I came back to NY almost two weeks ago. Why now? Why was it so hard to fight back those inevitable tears? I had enough, I had had my fair share of grief, and that is exactly what I had not wanted to admit to myself... I had held off the grieving long enough. I momentarily opened my eyes to see who took the adjacent seat to mine. A young Asian looking man, listening to his own IPod. He quickly smiled without making much eye contact, whipping out a newspaper. I turned to look out the window. The train was pulling out of the station with the platform speeding away, we entered the tunnel. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a tissue, turned my body towards the black window and wiped my tears.

Back in February, I read a book called, Almost French by Sarah Turnbull, an expat living in Paris. She recounts when tears took her by surprise as the plane left her native Australia, heading back to Paris. “But Australia is the home of homesickness and my history – a powerful whirlpool of family and friends, memories and daily trivia that I used to take for granted but now seem remarkable... I could drop my guard I didn’t even know I'd been carrying.” In that moment, I understood her words, felt their weight, and knew things were never going to be the same for me.

Now being back in France, seems harder than ever, monumental. Even hearing the word “Bonjour” sounds like an insult, a mockery on some days. It's more than being outside of my element, being the odd man out, that would not be a new role for me. Again as Ms Turnbull so well put it, “Living in Paris requires constant effort: effort to make myself understood, effort to understand & be alert for those cultural intricacies...” and at times it is downright exhausting!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Finding My Inner Pigeon

Beginnings are always exciting, full of anticipation, followed by the need for things to be perfect... much like a first date or the potential of a new friendship. So you can only imagine how excited I was for my second meet-up - a children's music session- with the English Speaking Mums of Paris (the new name to my Meet-up group, previously British Mums & Babies Coffee Morning). Not my first venture into the centre of Paris but first to Montparnasse, the home to the tower that can virtually be seen from anywhere in the city. Just keep in my mind, I am completely naïve to the new obstacles that present themselves in this new city of mine.

Missing the bus from my home, the first step in delving into public transportation, was the first sample of my day. Waiting for the next bus would make too late, so I ended up walking to the RER station. I had the genius idea of a shortcut which tacked on another 20 minutes, as I got horribly lost. Nothing in France is simple, especially the street layouts... not at all like the NYC grid, and even most surrounding suburbs. However, I did befriend a nice Brit who helped me get back on track. She looked a little Asian like me, so we had an instant kinship, but that’s besides the point.

The easiest part I will say was the Paris metro. Hey, once you study the ain't really all that scary. The Tour Montparnasse told me I was in the right place. I grabbed my new Android phone as I felt quite clever using its GPS to lead me the rest of the way. It informed me I was about three metro stops short of my final destination. That can't be right. So, I tucked it back in my pocket, deciding to wing it, and thinking technology ain't all what its cracked up to be. My inner pigeon has never steered me wrong... never.

Winging it always brought me back to my point of origin, the Montparnasse Tower. After about 25 minutes, I was beginning to develop a great dislike for this Parisian landmark. My fidgety child strapped in her stroller just wanted to get out for the merry-go-round at the foot of this edifice. Knowing I was in trouble, I decided to call one of my new mates. Unfortunately, she is not very good at giving directions, she said so herself. About four calls later, I was getting closer but no cigar. I refused to call a fifth time. A woman with three small children was standing on a corner, so I asked her in the best French I know... which isn't saying much. The only words that registered were “deux cent metres” with a finger pointing down the street. Okay, 200 meters to an American can translate into “200 shimmies or 200 winkydinks”. It means exactly nothing. So instead, I followed the direction of her finger.

Realizing that my inner pigeon is only as good as the city it comes from, I was overwhelmed with the feeling of complete ineptness. But I knew I was in the right vicinity, so a glimmer of hope still shone. As I walked along the street, I spotted a stranger halfway down the block. Please don't move, please don't move, I thought. Exhausted and already beaten down by the hot sun, I couldn't walk any faster than I was. With each step I prepped my question in French. The address I sought, was near the post office so all I needed to know is where that was. As I got closer, I could almost taste the triumph. It wouldn't be long now. I walked up to him, he didn't look at me. And just as I opened my mouth to ask, I happen to look down. He was holding a long white stick in front of him... he was blind. Okay, that would explain the sunglasses. It was sunny so I didn't think anything of it. I debated about whether asking him anyway. Can you ask a blind man for directions? Would he tell me how many steps to go and then make a left and another some odd steps and a right? With my French being so poor, I opted against it thinking it might bring me to a new realm I wasn't ready to enter.

I continued to march down the street until I found the bright yellow sign, “La Poste” on a perpendicular street. Jackpot! The gate was right next to it, but of course... I had the access code wrong. So, I made the fifth call that I so much wanted to avoid to save what little was left of my dignity. Needless to say I was late, miffed and rattled, missing all but the last 5 minutes of the after-class lunch. My inner pigeon had failed me tremendously, a first in my book. I'll be damned if I declare my trip a total disaster. I came to meet people and cultivate some friendships, for goodness sakes! So I lingered until there were only a few of us left and proposed a little impromptu excursion in the neighborhood. We went out for a stroll and to a cafe for some drinks. I could now go home feeling somewhat accomplished. Good company always helps.

On the way home, I hopped back on the metro. About three stations before my final stop, a blind man taps me on the shoulder... yes another blind person... and proceeds to ask me if this was so and so stop and if the following stop was so and so. Just my luck or should I say his. Fortunately, my understanding of French tends to be better than my actual ability to speak. I mustered a oui to his questions. I noticed his brows furrow as my answers could have been more articulate but hey, he got the answer which is all that matters.

I vowed that would be the last time I would feel so lost, anywhere. Although I can’t guarantee, I can certainly try. But every time we have a meet-up somewhere new... I shake in my boots!