Month: May 2013

So you’re coming to Paris, huh?

As I’ve said before, there’s something mythical about Paris. Whether it be the picture of the Eiffel tower pasted on everything that says “travel” or the whoring out of (faux) French culture spread through the world, everyone feels entitled to this city.

Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysées…
All tours take you there- all tourists want to see it.

Oh, for fuck’s sake.

This is not Paris, you fools!

You’re telling me that you’re hopping on a jet plane for (what I’m assuming it’s HOURS) to get to a foreign land, to ride a bus without a roof to go see something that is not at all representative of anything here?
I want to yell and scream at silly tourists who just come to duckface under the tower.

THIS. IS. NOT. PARIS.

People come here to get awed, no?
Well, awe is not elbowing your way through a mass of Asian tourists, it’s not riding the silly bateaux mouche (though it it is kind of nice), or dining atop the Eiffel Tower (you actually lose perspective of the city because you’re so high up).
You want to be truly awed? You want to experience something cool- something different?Look beyond your own nose!(!!!)

I’m just going to take a small example here: Notre Dame. The big, imposing Cathedral that dominates Île de la cité is incredible, however(!), its surroundings are just as beautiful and interesting. Odds are you’re coming to see it from the Saint-Michel area, and if so, you will most likely hit this tiny, non-descript church on the corner beforehand. Well, this church’s name is Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre, and it is built on foundations older than Notre Dame itself by almost 5 centuries. Yeah, you’re welcome.

Also, there’s a park right on the grounds of the church, Place René Viviani. A lot of people go there for the great Notre Dame shots, but they fail to see what I believe is what makes the park (and the reason I like it so much): A monument to the jewish children of the arrondissement who were deported during the Vichy government. Before the names and ages of the children are listed, the glass memorial asks for one thing: “Passerby read their names for your memory is their only sepulcher”.

If that’s not a tangible piece of history, I don’t know what is!

You’re going to see Place de la Concorde? When you get off the métro, look behind you, at Hotel Carillon and look at the doormen- their outfits are beautiful!

You finally went in and want to take a picture of the Rose Window at Notre Dame? Go for it, but save your camera memory for the chapel all the way in the back, dedicated to the Crown of Thorns. Better yet, attend service. Even if you’re not Catholic or don’t even believe in anything, the experience is incredible.

You want to take a picture at the Eiffel Tower? Take it from Passy, an affluent residential neighborhood right by the tower (line 6, stop Passy. Boom).

The real charm to Paris- the real­ Paris lies in its tiny, winding alleyways. The best way to truly get to know the city? Go off the stupid tourist trail, and get lost on foot in these passages.

You want to experience French fine dining? Why? You’re not even going to like the escargots you will most likely order, you will most likely get overcharged, tip like the tourist you are, and leave the establishment as hungry as you came in.
My advice? Eat in the streets or at mom and pop places.
Eat a “grec” (gyro) at Rue Saint-Severin. Look for the guy that looks like Anthony Bourdain- he makes the best ones. Eat a panini or a crêpe at Génia, right next to the big McDonald’s at the Cluny-La Sorbonne metro station. My girl Zoyla will hook yo hungry ass up.

You want to go ape-shit at the Louvre? Do please, by all means! But remember there is also Musée d’Orsay, Musée du Moyen Âge, free expos at Hôtel de Ville…

The list of things to do in Paris is endless! ENDLESS!!

Also, do please have a level of decency!
Expect to get pushed and shoved if you decide to open your map in the middle of a sidewalk. If you take the escalator because you’re too tired/lazy to walk, keep to your right. It’s like the highway- the left lane is the fast lane. People (power)walk/run on the left and they will be rude if you’re blocking them.
The trick to Parisians is to at least say hello in their language (and I know you know how to say this!). Do it with a smile, and they will most likely be civil to you. Overall, though, I find it that they will go out of their way to help you.

Paris is a big city, just like New York or Chicago. People are on a schedule, so just keep that in mind.

Also another tip, Concorde is the absolutely worst place in the world to buy métro tickets. So, don’t.

I know this is a very passive-aggressive post, but believe you me, I do it with all my love. It really does irk me when people pay incredible amounts of money to come here and they don’t even see a hundredth of what the city truly has to offer. It’s not the Eiffel Tower that matters- it’s the city around it that makes it what it is!

Paris is magical, specially as a traveler. Do not dilly-dally so much with the small stuff- get out there and explore!

(Recommendations of places upon request! :D)

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What I have learned (so far) at 25

(In no particular order)

Really, truly love yourself, otherwise you will never be able to fully love others.

Do not be so quick to speak, judge or jump to conclusion. The nuances of gray are infinite.

It’s not the end of the world if something goes wrong. As a matter of fact, a situation gone awry can open many doors to wonderful new adventures!

Everything is relative and only you have control on how much a situation grows. Play it down- don’t sweat the small stuff.

The first step is always the hardest part. Once you get over that, it all suddenly switches over to cruise control.

I am a bad test taker.

There will never, ever, be any pleasing me.

A girl doesn’t have to know how to flirt. She just has to walk through a crowd with her head held high and a smile to command attention (I’m 5’1, non-descript and I have to swat them away like flies).

There’s a difference between loving someone and knowing how to love them. And if they don’t want your love, you must walk away.

A lady knows when to fade away.

Envy is poison.

I am appealing! And so are you!

Hang on through the tough times because even if you’re facing the most difficult thing you have ever gone through to date, everything always turns out to work out for the better.

I really do hate going to the movies.

I feel embarrassed when men wear heels that click-clack while I wear rubber-soled flats.

Black women have the most beautiful skin!

There’s nothing I love more than being independent.

I feel really awkward when people try to grab my hand. Don’t touch me.

I can be cruel/condescending without meaning to.

Helping everyone is not good.

If anyone wants to see you/hang out with you/be with you (period) they will make the time.

Those that have the least give out the most.

Approach new friendships slowly.

Being a girl is preeeetty awesome.

You wanna look like a hoe at the club? Remember you will walk back home alone. Hm!

Why I choose to believe

Uh-oh, does the topic of religion make you uncomfortable? Does it make you inwardly groan with foreboding and dread? Do you kind of get nervous every time someone decides to bring up God into the mix?
ME TOO!
I’m not about to bible thump here, nor explain whatever mysteries lie in our great universe like “why do the good ones die before their time?” or “why are there so many wars?”

I’m just here to share with you what happened to me and why it leads me to, personally, believe there is a helping hand out there.
I come from a mostly secular family. I never quite read the bible, and I am absolute crap at remembering feast days and holidays…save for Christmas- haaayyyy!
My maternal grandmother was perhaps my biggest influence when it came to religion, but it always felt like punishment to go church. Services were dull and boring and I would space out.
I waged a little religious war inside my head (and my heart, for that matter) for a veeeery long time. I believed because I was told to believe, but I never really belived anything. I questioned whether God existed (à la “turn off the light if you’re there”), and to be honest, I only pray on airplanes.
Then came an interesting period in my life that showed me I was not as strong as I thought I was. I found myself without a job, without any prospects for my academic future and in the throes of disappointed…lust.
I felt really, really lost.
My grandmother would always say that whenever the going got rough, to pray to either the souls in purgatory, or the Sacred Heart.
Yeahsureokgrandma. Your 1930’s ways will not interfere with my 21st century lifestyle. Pft.
But then, I found myself lighting a little candle every night. I would ask for guidance, for patience.

Now, it could have just been coincidence, or one of those things “The Secret” talks about, but what a happy turnout of events that a few days after I started this, things set in motion and my life changed.
I got word, albeit late, that I was fulfilling a personal goal: moving to France to pursue my studies. When the dust settled and I started freaking out about the financial aspect of it, I got a phonecall from the company I interned for, asking me to start working for them that very week.
In the coming months, things started falling into place as if by magic.
The Universe was on my side- surely.
One can say that it was a series of mathematical events, some struck of luck, the fruit of my hard work….but thinking that there was a universal force, a God, helping me through it, felt more accurate in my heart.
Then came the day of my departure. The first time I ever left home! I was very nervous. I was off to start my first semester in Middlebury, Vermont, near Canada, before getting shipped off to France. I had a crippling knot in my stomach and I was very apprehensive about the decision I had made. Was it the correct one?
Oh, sweet Lord Baby Jesus give me a sign.
Right before takeoff, the empty seat next to me was taken by a very pompous-looking man. He didn’t even say good morning as he sat down. But because I cannot keep my mouth shut, we began to chat after takeoff. He asked me what I was doing in Boston and I explained to him that I was on my way to start my master program in Linguistics in Vermont.
“Linguistics, huh?”, he said.
“Yeah…”. I felt a little awkward, a little stupid. No one knows linguistics.
“You know, I moved to the States from Egypt twenty years ago to study linguistics.”
What are the odds that I would be sitting down, at 8am, on a flight from Miami to Boston next to a fellow linguist?
I get it. I’m supposed to be here.
Fast forward to January.
After a very rough time in Paris, I went home for the holidays but now it was time to come back. I cried and cried. I was so unhappy here. I felt alone, I had gone through some major disappointments. The thought of coming back made me nauseous. But again, I found myself on an airplane, zipping over the Atlantic, en route to face my demons.
God, dude, just show me that this is where I am supposed to be. Please.
About an hour into the flight, the man sitting behind me offered to switch seats with the man next to me so he could be with his boyfriend (you read right). This new plane buddy was an American living in Paris as well. There was a comforting aspect to this man- a fatherly vibe, almost, which was very reassuring. We exchanged pleasentries before getting into the whole “well, what are you in for?” topic.
“A masters in linguistics”, I said flatly.
“I did my undergrad in linguistics. As a matter of fact, I came to Europe on exchange and after I finished school, I came back to stay twenty years ago”, he replied.
Boston, Paris. Ok, ok. I get it.
Again, call it coincidence, or call it paranoia but, to me, the message was loud and clear. You’re supposed to be here. You’re not alone.

Once back in Paris, the going got tough again, as I suspected it would. The days were cold and gray, I reached a new point in loneliness. It was hard for me to believe that what I was doing was right. Maybe I was going crazy, and convinced myself those “signs” were just my desperation.

One day, I felt particularly low. I was going to the library to turn in some books and walked by one of my local churches: Saint-Germain-des-Prés (est. 990AC). I decided that after I left the library, I would drop by and light a candle, something I had not done in a very long time.
As I made my way back to the church, I could not, for the life of me, figure out where the door was. I squinted and looked around as I approached it but there was no visible door.
A girl in a bright red trench coat ran past me and disappeared into the church. The image has stayed with me because, in a sea of black and gray, her red jacket stood out quite vibrantly. This stranger does not know that she, in fact, guided me to the door I could not find.

I pushed the church doors open right as mass was beginning.

Never alone. Always with me.

When I thought my hole could not get any deeper, it did. I went through an even more terrible series of events that left me an empty carcass, rotting away in a foreing city.
This time, I begged the big guns for help. I ended up in the basilica of the Sacred Heart, atop Montmartre. There, I found myself praying- nay- begging for a new heart. I walked out, hoping my prayers would go answered.
The road to recovery eventually began, and it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do to date. It took me months, and a lot of anxiety attacks and endless battles with bouts of sever depression, to get to where I am today.

For mother’s day, I went to Montmartre again, and visited the church. I stumbled upon the statue of the Sacred Heart I once prayed to and the relief and the gratitude overwhelmed me. Perhaps my grandmother had been right all along. I had asked for a new heart, and I got it.

Even yesterday, I felt particularly inspired to go to church, even if only to plead for a passing grade in my thesis. Then, as I’m sitting there, looking over the shoulder of the lady in front of me to see what the Notre Dame program, I had to smile: it was Pentecost* service.

Today, things have come full circle and God never abandoned me. Not even in my darkest hour.

*For those of you who are not familiar with this, Pentecost is the commemoration of the day the Holy Spirit came down to Earth, after the death of Jesus Christ, and gave the apostles the gift of languages/tongues (in the form of fire! Don’t ever underestimate us Catholics and our dramatic ways!), so they could go and spread the message of God across the world.

The Day Richard Gere Fixed My Toilet (and gave me a history lesson)

Bathrooms are a funny thing in Europe. That is, if you have the good fortune of living somewhere that actually HAS a bathroom.
You know you’ve heard it- that horror story your mom’s friend’s cousin’s sister-in-law told at some dinner party a few years ago about her travels through Europe and how sometimes you come (hopefully not) face-to-face with a gaping hole in the floor. How barbaric must it be to squat and go back to nature, right?
Actually, yes.
(A thousand times yes!!)

Once upon a time, my toilet stopped working.
Not a big deal, right? Just use the plunger and let Jesus take the wheel.
Don’t forget I’m in France, though. My toilet is not a regular toilet. As a matter of fact, my toilet has an plug that is to be plugged in to wall for the engine to work to flush it.
A plunger is irrelevant in my life.

After letting out a cry of despair, I had to do what I had been dreading most of my stay: use the latrine in the hallway. Which belonged to my neighbors from across the hall. And smelled like dirty cat litter. I mean this thing is worse than the girl’s bathroom at the club after 3am.
Justpopthatsquatanddontlookdowndontlookdowndontlookdown.
I pulled on the lever to flush and down came the walls of the Hoover Dam.
I don’t think I’ve ever run so fast in my life. Faster than I do when I flush an airplane toilet. Did I even undo the lock?

JUST RUN, BEATRIZ! RUN!

I ran straight to my landlady and begged her to call her plumber.

Twenty-four hours later, I welcomed the man I have been waiting for more than my own Prince Charming: Monsieur Plumber.
But what sight doth met myne eyes when I threw my palace doors open?
Richard Gere.
And I’m not talking about a slight ressemblance. I’m talking Richard Gere, complete with those squinty eyes and white hair.

OMG HIIII!

For a tiny second, I was glad to be living in Paris.

He went into the bathroom for a “diagnostic”. I explained to him what was happening with the toilet. But, of course, as a good French man, he held up his hand and told me “Je sais” (I know). Of course he knew. He’s a plumber. “I installed this bathroom”.
My b!
I should have learned my lesson because I tried to explain to him that I had tried to fix it on my own. Hand up. “There’s a motor. You have to have unmounted the toilet to ‘fix it’.”
I’m sorry, Mr. Gere, sir! I really am! I am woooormmmssss!
After an uncomfortable silence, he asks me what it was like to use the hallway bathroom.
I smiled uneasily (“You Americans…”), but before I could get my answer out, he launched into the most fascinating monologue about shit I have ever heard.

“You know, the Romans already had some pretty advanced bathrooms. They had these long slabs of marble or whatever, with holes in them, and people would just sit down and use them and it was a group activity. They had running water underneath to carry away all the waste. You’d be shitting side to side with your neighbor, your mayor- didn’t matter! Can you imagine? Just farting up a storm and taking a shit next to your boss? That’s the ultimate concept of equality! Oh! Also, did you know that in the Middle Ages people would throw out onto the streets their chamber pots and sometimes people would get drenched in crap and pee!? HAHAHA”.

Thank you, Mr. Gere. What has your plumber taught you?

Degenerate.

The Miracle of Spring

Before moving to Paris, I had only experienced one or two seasons: hot and humid. Except for the little trip here and there, I had never really experienced anything else.
Who knew that this “hot and hotter” combo, would be the defining factor of my atitude towards life as I made my way here!?
I arrived towards the end of summer. Everything was in full bloom, the sun could still do some damage to your skin and all the outdoor terraces were opening and invinting. It was like back home in South Florida, except there was not a lot of humidity (see: none).
Then came the chilly days of autum. The leaves began to fall and the city took on a different look. I did not notice this change much, but all I remember is adding more layers whenever I went out.
Then winter set in.
And it was hell on earth.
To begin with, I didn’t even know how to tie a scarf, how to use a heater- nothing!
The sun would set really early, maybe at around 4-5pm. The nights were long, cold, and sometimes bitter.  The absence of sunlight, slowly but surely, began to take a toll on my health- both physical and mental.
It was then, in the middle of winter, that I lost of control and sunk into a very acute seasonal depression (combined with another major sad event) that led to a very scary time in my life.

While I toughed it out and armed myself with a therapist (yes, a therapist), spring made its glorious arrival.

I believe I now understand why the pagans and all those other ancient peoples worshipped the sun and nature- after being gray for so long, the trees begin to bloom, the flowers come out in full force, the sun comes back from his cigarette break and suddenly, the veil is lifted.
New life, new beginning.

AHHHH!!!!

AHHHH!!!!

This, at least in my case, creates a sort of euphoria. You want to be outside all the time, enjoy the sun and the relative warmth (I’ll take 17ºC over -6ºC any day).
People come out to play- their faces look different! There are smiles! Parisians are somewhat pleasant! The black wardrobes begin to shift, sliding down the color palette until it reaches delicate pastels.
Spring is good.
Spring is wonderful.

Everywhere you turn, there are flowers in full bloom- stores, streets, sidewalks, girls with flowers in their hair. I almost envy those who arrive now in Paris. They will see its most beautiful and coquettish side. I can see why people fall in love with the place. I can see now why I liked this city to begin with- why I chose it over others.

Side wall decoration on the Comtpoir des cotoniers store in Saint-Sulpice

Side wall decoration on the Comtpoir des cotoniers store in Saint-Sulpice

Though my time here is winding down, I almost feel compelled to come back- a huge turnaround from a few months ago when the only reason I did not pack my bags and leave was because I would be disappointing others. I was fine with sending it all to hell, that’s how bad it was.

So thank you, Spring, for breathing new life into me, and waking me up from a terrible nightmare.

España, corazón!

Where to begin to describe my love affair with Spain?
I am sometimes hesitant to say that I would love to live here, because vacationing, or staying for short amounts of time, is not the same as having the day-to-day grind somewhere.
I thought I loved Paris, and I thought living there would make me love it even more- that I would never, ever, in a million years, go back to the States. And yet, here I sit, the night before I am to go back to France, feeling nothing but dread and that really annoying knot in my throat.

I have had the incredibly good fortune of always falling into place here in Spain. I have heard it’s a very tight-knit society- closed, even. Perhaps because I already have a “connection” every time I visit that I am welcomed, with open arms and a cold drink waiting for me.
Even when I am back home in the States, I find myself going to flamenco festivals, drinking homemade tinto de verano with friends, day dreaming about past visits. In Paris, when the going gets rough the only thing that can comfort me is a good sevillana.
So how am I not supposed to adore a place where it just so happens that every time I set foot in, people are always eager to share with me what makes up their culture: the food, the drink, the dances. I find it hard to believe that it’s just good luck that, in the five times I have been here, that I always learn copious amounts of new things, make new friends, and always- always- leave wanting more.

If Paris taught me anything, is that I am a creature of tact, of social interaction. I cannot be holed up, isolated from the world. In Paris, this happens to be my life and, to put it simply, it makes me sad.

In Spain I am always carried away by the crowd, by the smiles and the openness of its people. It is here that I learned that it is the simple things that really make life enjoyable: a drink, some simple snacks like ham or olives, and friends. The rest of the world (and the economy!) can wait. Life is happening.

In Andalusia, I got caught up in the preparations for the feria. Everyone in town talked about it, schools let out for a whole week, every bar would host an impromptu song-and-dance moment, people would clap to the rhythm of the music in their own head as they walk down the street. Even the laundromats were chockfull of feria attire- the beautiful, colorful dresses that are finally seeing the light of day after a whole year. As a cherry on top, there is a smell of honeysuckle and oranges that accompanies the light breeze that follows you as you make your way into the center of the city, at least in Jerez.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (Catalunya)

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona (Catalunya)

In Catalunya (sorry guys, I’m using political borders!), I saw another side of Europe I had not yet seen- the colorful, whimsical world of Gaudi and Mirò. My tastebuds had a party when I tried romesco for the first time, and I felt like I was on the happiest of acid trips when I visited Parc Güell. I danced the night away with welcoming strangers, heard the code switching between Spanish and Catalan (which, by the way, is a mindfuck).
In Madrid, I got to experience the holiday of San Isidro. We ate and drank to our heart’s content. “More! More! You must drink more! And try this!” was the phrase that was most used that day. I ate pig ear, pickled vegetables, patatas bravas, shrimp..the list is endless. There’s also a vague memory I have of myself wearing a motorcycle helmet but walking around the city. I was adopted by everyone for a night, a day, a week.
I got a taste of the convivencia in Toledo: Muslims, Christians and Jews living together in harmony a few centuries ago and how enriching it was for the city.
In Segovia, I got lost in an ancient restaurant while going to the bathroom and ended up in the wine cellars. And when I say cellars, picture something like a prison from Pirates of the Caribbean.
In the Basque Country (again, political borders!), I played kinito, I ate pintxos, drank kalimotxo and txakoli. I experienced hospitality first hand when the girl behind the bar (who treated me to the kalimotxo) came out to give me a kiss god-bye on the cheek. I got to experience, in the flesh, the beauty of the Bay of Biscay. I got to finally hear Basque flowing freely in conversation. I saw Real Madrid play against Athletic Bilbao, in the legendary San Mamés Stadium. I saw people of all ages, shapes, and sizes party side to side.

Barrika, near Bilbao (Basque Country).

Barrika, near Bilbao (Basque Country).

That, and so much, much more that I cannot begin to describe or relate because the simple joys in life cannot be explained in words- they need to be lived. And all of these wonderful opportunities came to me because I was a visitor from out of town and because people here always want to share. Because they know how to live and they want to make you a part of it.

Every time I leave, I find myself thinking I want to stay here forever. I want to have this lifestyle, but then again, it could potentially become routine and I could stop seeing the joy in it. Perhaps Spain will only ever get to be my respit, my escape- that secret place where I go to remember how to live.

So, until next time, Spain! I look forward to the day I come back and smile a little broader and laugh a little louder.