Posts in France
Escaping The American Dream

May 2, 2014

10:00 am European Time

Paris, France


Butterflies tumbled over each other in her stomach, racing to get out of the plane as it landed, unsure of what to expect but anxious to arrive nevertheless. All the sounds hit her at once, swirling streams of French flowing about her head like a swarm of gnats, dodging smells of croissants, sweat and coffee, each new sensation swallowing her whole, and suddenly she felt like she was drowning or floating, she couldn’t tell which. Bumping into and off of travelers like one in a thousand inside a pinball machine, the weight of her backpack controlling her movements, swaying her into and away from those she passed. Heart racing and hands sweating, she raced to the closest bathroom, dropped her bag and sat on the covered toilet. Head in hands and two deep breaths, she let herself accept what she had just done. She had left. Escaped. She was alone. This was happening. A woman knocked on the bathroom door but she didn’t answer, she just let the stranger keep fumbling with the locked door. One more moment of peace before she entered the chaos and the unknown. Breathe. 1,2,3 … she was gone.

There are a thousand moments in life whizzing by you, missed opportunities, mistakes, chances … they fly past you at the speed of light like a galaxy of unrecognized stars, blurring into background noise. One can grasp them, take hold and take flight, or ignore them all together. Some are monumental and some insignificant, but moments all the same, choices to be taken or passed up. But some moments change the course of a life. Some stars, previously seeming so far from reach, are only caught with a massive leap, without knowing for certain if you’ll catch them at all, and even if you do, whether you’ll be able to hold on through the ride. Those are the chances that most of the world passes by, the stars too fast, too bright, too high and too far to grab hold of. Most of the people stop recognizing them all together. But those are the stars that can change everything. And this was one of those moments.

Something happened with mankind between the time civilians built pyramids and towers to reach the gods in the sky, and the place where they unknowingly put a ceiling in that sky, masked as the “American Dream,” a way to reach the top. Somewhere between 5 and 10 years old, I realized that the “you can be anyone or anything you want to be,” motto of our culture was a scam. What they really meant was, be anything you want to be within this box that we have defined as America, reach for the stars, but wait … no, not that star … these stars, down here. Follow the sequence, fall in line, be a productive member of society, but dream big.

And by 10 years old, the facade began to crumble already, and my tiny prepubescent brain found the first holes in this lie that I had been told. By 17, the amount of reachable stars became even smaller, and by 21, they were borderline chosen for you. Here are 5 stars you can ride; here are the steps to get there. An artist? That’s interesting, but what’s your real job? How are you advancing? How will you reach the top. Art could never get you the American Dream. An actress, a musician, a writer … they got you a pat on the head and a sympathetic, patronizing smile - that’s a nice hobby, keep it up, but don’t quit your day job.

It was early on that I felt jipped, betrayed and lied to by all those encouraging adults and parents who had raised me. How dare they tell me to dream big and then box me into confines once I did? This is not what I was promised. This was not freedom. This was not the land of the free that I had been taught, where possibilities were endless. It was a billion tiny ants racing and climbing atop and smothering one another up the mountain to reach the peak first. Each of them knew there wasn’t enough room there on top for all of us. But if you “dreamt big” and “worked hard” and “played by the rules,” maybe you’d be one of the lucky few who surpassed the rest. This, is by no means, any dream at all.

I have a hard time believing our forefathers foresaw this when empty land and unchartered possibilities were vast. But there was no more room for everyone to profit, no more room for artists and dreamers who sought beyond what was put in front of them. Money. Money got you the American Dream. And what sort of dream was it anyhow? Get good grades in school, do extracurricular activities not for the joy of them, but for what they will get you in the next stage, get into an elite college, make connections, score a coveted internship, go to graduate school, get your masters, get in with a good company, hospital or firm, marry the person who comes at that precise stage where society has told you that you should be married, but make sure you’ve accomplished the aforementioned tasks beforehand, God forbid you don’t have a secure career and a comfy nest egg before you bring life into this world. Plan out the lives that you will bring in and how many according to your income, abort the lives that do not coincide with this plan or may cause it to fail. Throw yourself into your job until you’ve reached the top, and then climb higher. It doesn’t matter if you enjoy what you're doing - you’ll have time to enjoy life later- when your money and your children have grown. Retire comfortably and then seek out your heart’s desires. At this point, the sky is the limit- whatever your 70 year old bones could want. Look back on your life and know that you’ve have done well.

Something about the whole script just didn’t sit well with me. It never had but I couldn’t figure out why I seemed to be the only one who realized this flaw, this grotesque injustice, the only one who felt betrayed and lied to - told to dream as big and far as I could fathom, and then told to reign it back in with a pitying and condescending smile. And as much as I tried at times to mainstream myself into accepting it, into following the steps I was meant to take, achieve the milestones at the precise times laid out for me, tick off the boxes, complete the checklist, I just couldn’t accept that this was the “Dream,” that this is what people fled from countries across the sea to obtain. It wasn’t a dream, it was a paint-by-number staircase with footprints to follow. It wasn’t big, or bold; it wasn’t limitless or life-giving. It was calculated, planned, all lined up for you. A “How-To-Guide” to life, an all-you-can-eat buffet with 3 options, a beautiful brochure with fine print. You can have anything you want. You can do anything, be anyone. The sky is the limit. Your life is yours to create (*Please see fine print for details: You're choices range from A-Z but please choose one of the following options- A, B, or C. We are currently out of stock on D-Z.)

Now, wait a second … this is not what I signed up for. This is not what I was promised. Why didn’t anyone read me the fine print when I was 5 years old on Daddy’s knee listening to him tell me to be all that I could be. I felt crazy, like the only one who had found the holes in this blueprint. Everyone else went along, filing in two by two, ready to take the next step. And that's when I knew. I had to go. At 25, the only thing I was entirely sure of in my small life was that I would regret it forever if I did not at least find out. And the only thing I feared more than leaving itself, was never leaving at all. 

Fear, Love and Magic

February 9, 2015

kris fear love .png

There is an extreme distinctness about this that feels crazy, a deja vu, a primordial warning ... the tired kind that still hasn't relented after all this time, sighing and flagging the situation, in vain, as dangerous, knowing all the while that I will walk right into it anyhow. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I asked myself what the fuck I was doing, at least 57 times on that drive.

The French back country road wound around and between the trees like a rubber band, slinging us forward into the darkness; the night ominous and vacant, the chill of midnight February air held still - all of our surroundings in a time capsule, frozen at bay. The remnants of what could hardly be classified as a town, scattered and long since abandoned. With no street lamps, the only movement - the stark shadows of tall trees cast in the car’s high beams before us as we crept onward.

“Um,” I leant forward to better see the driver’s GPS from the back seat, squinting in the blackness to make out the directions, and then up towards the eerie abyss in front of us. “It’s saying that the house is just up this road a bit, right?” I bit my lip, glancing nervously at the calm faces of the strangers beside me as the silver four door sedan climbed forward.

A German, an Austrian, an Indonesian and an American. All strangers headed to different places in the name of some common direction, inhabiting the same car, brought together by chance and convenience. I had shared cars with so many strangers before but on this February midnight on this uninhabited, pitch black country road, I wondered again if this was all some elaborate scam to kidnap and eat me. I looked down at my dead phone, pressing the center button repeatedly and willing it to come alive. Dead. I was alone.

I had never met the woman they were delivering me to, and the notion that they were all in on the scheme together crept its way up the back of my throat. Maybe there would be a ritualistic sacrifice and field burning and I’d melt away into a pile of smoke and ashes without anyone knowing where I had disappeared to. I would never be found again.

I thought of Steve, having only left him 8 hours ago in Paris, of his gloved hands on my cheeks, his misty blue eyes, holding tears captive behind a penetrable film of glass, piercing right into mine. I had stood for a long while on the corner of that street in the grey morning, after our goodbye, watching the blue double decker bus that ripped us apart, taking him back to London and leaving me to head south- further into the belly of France. The warm face I had come to know so well disappeared behind black tinted windows as his bus rolled forward, but I could feel his palm pressed against the window looking back out at me, and the tears ran down my wind burned cheeks, freezing against cracked skin as soon as they slipped.

Sometimes you fall in love all at once - reckless and face first. But most of the time, you fall slowly - a collection of moments, a tangle of yarn starting with a simple twist, braided strands weaving together, until you wake to find that you are so completely knotted in one another that there's no foreseeable way to pull back apart. And that’s how it was for me with him. Slowly but inevitably, like the trickling of a downward stream.

The right side of my head, pressed to the cool back seat window, left a foggy halo of condensed haze against the glass. Rolling, French hills raced past us; the cacophony of German, Austrian, and Indonesian language hummed about the car, a swirling buzz, leaving me in a dazed sort of state outside of time. Beyond the glass, the world outside was magic. It was one of those setting skies that seizes you whole instantly. The kind of light that pierces the clouds tangibly, forcing you to resist every urge to reach out and touch it. And you just know that Heaven is looking down upon you in that glow. Someone has to be. The metal windmills, scattered across vacant fields, churned on in its presence and it struck me as odd that we would ever think to harness such forces with something as powerful as that sky so far from our control. I didn’t reach for my camera or my journal. I just sat, inevitably going south as Steve traveled north, watching those three fluorescent vapor trails scorching the sky. Tiny but powerful like rockets blazing on. And I knew wherever he was, he was watching them too.

“I think this is it,” The driver, Phillip, announces as the wheels slow in a steady rumble against the gravel.

Fingers on the door handle, I squinted out into the darkness as the sedan came to a halt, and could just make out the silhouette of two figures aside the road waving, a weak light straining through tall hedges behind them, casting warped, slender, giant-like shadows stretching out towards us against the road. Taking a deep breath, I thank these strange travelers, open the backseat door and get out.

Phillip follows first, exiting the driver side door, making his way to the trunk. Startled, I turn back to the car as the passenger door opens, as well as the remaining backseat door. Exit the German, the Indonesian, and the Austrian. This was it- they were all in on it - this plan to burn me alive. One by one, they each hugged the strange French woman who I was about to spend the next few months of my life with, took my bags from the trunk and gathered round her and her boyfriend like they were saying goodbye to old relatives. (Or Hello to partners in crime.) I thanked them each again, kindly and urgently, willing them to go before this did in fact turn into some ancient deity sacrifice. They seemed hesitant to leave and I wasn’t sure which I was supposed to be more afraid of - my deliverers or my welcomers...

Italia Bound

I don't want to leave my cloud this morning, or ever for that matter, but I'm buzzing for Italy and my brother, John to meet me there. The breakfast chatter and birds have woken me and the fairy god mothers have left my laundry folded outside my door with a note reading: "Chambre 20" and a heart drawn next to it. I pack my bag and wait in the garden for the taxi. Everyone seems so sad for me that I didn't have a car to see the rest of Corsica and I don't have the words to explain to them that I never desired to venture anywhere from right here in this perfect little haven of rest. 

Of course, I get the same taxi driver as I had on the way up. Now that I can see him in the light, he looks rather harmless - maybe in his 30's, skinny with thin hair that's balding around the center of his odd shaped head. We drive in silence all the way down the mountain. Once in town, he slows and pulls beside every other taxi driver we pass, yelling his greetings to them and then adding, "Americano!" as he blatantly points towards or nudges me. Each driver lowers his shades for a good view in my open window, smiles with a reassuring nod, and spits some French/Corse/Italian nonsense. By taxi number three, I want this seat to open up and swallow me whole and I am visibly shrinnking to sink lower down below the window. 

The ferry to Livorno is a quick four hours and I wish I could only travel by boat forever.The sun on the deck is hot and the breeze is light. I sit right at the back over the wake and watch the Corsican mountains fade beneathe the waving Italian flag on our ship. I am so excited to see John and sitting dangerously close to the edge of the boat. It's all I can do not to fling myself off into the sea to release some of this unruly anticipation. 

Italy was my first traveling love and it's been six years since I left. Having fallen head over heels and completely captivated by the place, I left a part of my heart there that I never got back. My whole world had opened and changed while living there and I simply had to see the rest of this beautiful earth afterwards. Six years later, unable to supress that thirsty desire, that is exactly what I am doing and I have this country entirely to thank (or blame, depending on who you're talking to) for where I am today. 

The anticipation of standing on Italian soil once again can only be described as seeing your first love after years of being apart, wondering if all the same emotions and passions will still be there. No more than five minutes of stepping off in the port of Livorno, that beautiful familiar language rushing in and singing all around me, I smiled knowing that my dear Italia was exactly as I had left her and everything I remembered, with every old, familiar feeling washing over me and filling me just as before. 

Waking with the Sun

I awake fairly early as the sun pierces through my bedroom curtains and get up from my white, fluffy cloud and walk to the window. Rubbing my eyes and yawning, I push the curtains aside and fling open large double windows. Gasping, I am frozen still in silence before I start laughing in disbelief. It is the most unexpected and breathtaking view of my lifetime to date. I am somewhere up in the sky, between two lush, green mountains, scattered with tiny pink villages below around them and opening up to the vast blue sea. I hadn't been able to see any of this last night, coming in blind with no idea where I was. 

Every morning, breakfast is served out on the terrace - an assortment of breads, cheeses and charcuterie. My usual routine becomes sitting out in the garden or swimming in the pool for awhile afterwards, before drifting back to sleep in my cloud back in the room. (I simply cannot even sit on this bed without falling asleep.) That first afternoon, I wake up from a nap with church bells ringing off the mountains and delicately making their way through my open bedroom window. This has to be the quietest, most peaceful place I have ever been. 

From the window, I see a small stone village with a church and about seven other buildings so I set out to explore. I walk down the winding gravel road as light as ever and the last time I can remember feeling this carefree, I was about seven

years old, singing while stealing flowers from neighbors' gardens. My headphones are blasting the most beautiful flute melody that feels like it was born here and everything is giving me chills despite the warm sun kissing my face and shoulders - the music, the view, the air. The beauty of this place is staggering. Water and mountains are the only things around me; and flowers are everywhere blowing in the breeze - pink, violet, yellow, coral, white - of every shape and size. Butterflies flutter past me from every direction. I'm singing now and laughing out loud, twirling in my dress as I walk, and I feel about five years old. 

I sit outside on a cliff terrace overlooking the valley and the sea and have a glass of sparkling Corsican wine. I am so high up that I am closer to the clouds than anything else and they dance around the mountain tops in whisps as the sun pierces through. A flock of joyful, singing swallows swoop down and fly past, so close to me that I think I could reach out and catch one. And I feel so light that I might inevitably take flight and join them.


(Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the most generous person I know, who booked this hotel for me and wouldn't take no for an answer. You know who you are.)

Journeys to Corsica

So here we are again, phone dead, new country, and hotel address written on my arm. Sitting on the ground outside the Bastia port, I await a taxi. It takes forever, but a car finally pulls up and I get in. 

The driver doesn't speak any English, so I show him my inner arm with the address and he laughs and setting his head back a bit to examine me, looks at me funny. We pull from the port and start climbing the unlit, winding roads up the mountain. Further and further we drive and I have one of those fears again that this guy may not be a taxi driver at all (suddenly realizing there is no meter) and he could just disappear with me into this darkness with my dead phone and my belongings. 

He notices me looking out the window down the edge of the cliff at the city lights below and pulls the car to a stop on the side of the road. Motioning to the view, he gets out, opens my door, and puts his hand out. (And now I know I am most likely not going to my hotel and this is most likely not a taxi driver.) I get out and look at the view with him, but all I can see are lights. Every thing else is blackness and I really can't appreciate it anyhow because my brain is now looking at fight or flight options. I back away from the ledge and get back in the car and he follows. We drive in silence the rest of the way. Up, up, up. Darker and darker. 

Just as the court room inside my head is ruling the verdict, I finally make out a wooden sign that reads "La Canoriche," and let out a huge breath that I hadn't realized I'd been holding. I go to give him the 20 euros as I had been told, but he shakes his head and motions to 30. I try to haggle and explain, but now he's laughing at me because I'm speaking Spanish and we are on a French island. I hand him the 30 and get out. 

It's so dark, I can't see a thing but the lantern under the doorway. I get into my room, take the first bath I've had in months and sink into sleep in the most comfortable bed thus far. 

23 Things I learned in France

... in no particular order. 


#1. Probably plan out your entire journey before entering the country... i.e. where you are staying, what you want to visit, what times, etc. France is not one for improv.

#2. It has become strinkingly apparent to me that those who can only speak one language are inexcusably lacking. We are. Learn French. (or any other language at all). 

#3. Spoiler Alert: A "salted pancake" is dissappointingly, merely a lesser version of a quesadilla. 

#4. Heaven forbid you have a flat, car break down, or coronary heart failure, make sure it is either before or after lunch. Otherwise, don't hold your breath. 

#5. Don't pay for wine tastings. You can learn more in the cellar of a small family winery than you can in ten world renowned chateaus. (But, do call ahead. Refer to #4.)

#6. If Northern France is Miss Prim & Proper, turning her nose up at nude shoulders and thighs, than the South of France is her slutty little sister. (Topless grandmas everywhere.)

#7. I am almost positive that France will be the first country to go, if not solely due to lung cancer. Everyone smokes here. Every single person. It's like they haven't figured out it's not cool anymore. 

#8. People look at you like you have 5 heads when you tell them you are driving 7 hours to the other side of the country instead of flying. Your country is the size of Texas, people. We take 10 hour road trips across states without a second thought where I come from. 

#9. Eat at the right times. Walking into a restaurant asking to eat at 5pm is inconceivable. Of course they don't have food again until 7:00 ... what were you thinking? Also, don't ask for just a drink at a restaurant. That's what bars are for. You come to the restaurant, you eat. 

#10. Train stations are extremely diverse. One will have a pianist serenading you on a baby grande and your 3 hour lay over at the next station will not have any working bathrooms. 

#11. 100% set out to get lost in every new city you come to. Turn down street corners just because. Sit at outdoor cafes with no clue how far your place is from there or how to get back. It does wonders for the soul. 

#12. The mystery of French McDonalds'... 

a.) Certain ingredients that McDonalds cooks with in America are illegal to use in France, resulting in far less greasy and salty food. (Side note: two of my Parisian friends actually threw up the first time they had McDonalds in the States.) They have ... wait for it ... Deluxe Potatoes, which are in fact the most wonderous of things. They have weird sauces like "Creamy Chips Sauce", "Curry",  "Dressing oil Hazelnut", or "Saffron Maple."

b.) Contrary to one's plausible assumptions, they do not overwhelmingly love Americans here. Even though, WE invented McDonalds. 

c.) There is an abnormal amount of cute, young girls working in these places (as well as grocery stores). Haven't quite figured that one out yet. 

#13. No one knows where Maryland is so just tell them you are from New York. They will immediately treat you like you are a star. (Just tell them you are when they ask. No harm done. Their dreams come true; your dreams come true. Everybody wins.)

#14. Little kids are extremely entertaining to talk to. They will spill out a litany of, I'm sure, utterly cute things, to which you will not understand. When you attempt to answer them in English, their faces contort in incomprehensible horror like everything they knew was a lie. They will stand there for awhile, blinking violently at you as you watch them question their own sanity and then run away and never come back. 

#15. Check out is at 7 am and the maids come in at 8 am whether you are dressed or not.

#16. There is too much good wine in this country to comprehend. It is mind bendingly overwhelming and paralyzing.

#17. Don't assume someone understands you if they smile and nod at your yes or no question. They don't. The answer is not yes.

#18. Common misconception tells us that the French smell due to lack of hygiene. They do, in fact, smell, however, I believe the fault may lie in the deodorant companies because the stuff simply does not work.

#19. Serrano ham (Jambon) is everywhere which is needless to say, awesome! That being said, if it's on a menu and you can't physically see it, you might just get plain old, slimy ham. Oh, and bacon, is just ham. So before your morning is ruined, don't get your hopes up when you see it on the menu.

#20. Nothing is pronounced how it is spelled which makes sounding out the words utterly worthless. Not to mention, you look like a complete fool if you even try. If you do make friends in France (good luck with that one), you will never know their names because no matter how many times they repeat it, it just sounds like a beautiful river of flowing sounds. You will evidently butcher it repeadetly if you remember it at all. (Write it out for me man, now look at it... write it out again how it sounds. You tell me how I was supposed to know!) 

#21. The most culturally diverse town in France is, without a doubt, Lourdes. It is a very powerful thing to witness so many people who can't understand each other come together over the one Faith that unites them.  Every single language, every single country .... without any chaos at all. It might be the most peaceful place I have ever been. 

That being said, I must point out my regular strange observances: There is an overwhelming amount of Italians. So much so, that people say Lourdes is actually an Italian town and not a French one. No one thinks it is comically absurd to have a conversation with 3 Guiseppes at the same time except for you, so don't laugh in their faces when they introduce themselves. They will only stare back at you with blank faces. Every restaurant is Italian even if it is run by the French and there is an entire quater that only Italian pilgrims are allowed to stay in. And never will you see so many of the exact same stores back to back as in Lourdes. It's like 58 Sunsations for Mary in a row. 

#22. And this one I cannot stress enough .... these people CANNOT drive. And I CANNOT drive in their country. If you do decide to rent a car, and even if for only one day, get insurance!! Hence, Joffre's flat tire and the night rider who blew through Megane's (pronounced Meh-jah-nay, second car) side mirror while I was sleeping. 

#23. It's oui, not wi. Mind officialy blown. 

The Old Mercer Bridge

Although, I was thoroughly ready to leave France, I had one more pit stop before Spain - Bayonne, a small commerce city by the sea. Two more days to taste France before it was gone and I wasn't about to waste that. 

It's strikingly alarming what a little sunshine and warm weather does to me after four very cold and very rainy days. The Ibis Budget Hotel was souless and unremarkable, aside from the pleasant desk clerk, but it did what it claimed to do. Not knowing what I would do with two days here, I took a taxi into town that night. My first impression of Bayonne as a dull and colorless town surrounded by commercial hotels, jiffy lube type garages, and a KFC, was instantly replaced by an ever-renewed joyful wonder as I crossed the old city bridge. The sun gilstened off the water and the air was light with laughter. It was nearly 8:00 pm but the sun felt like 5:00. 

As I crossed over the middle of the bridge, my feet light again, I saw a tiny thing of a woman, ancient as they come, with two ski poles for walking sticks, straining to peer over the bridge. She couldn't have been more than 4 feet tall and the stone railing nearly reached her chin. Just as I neared her, she spun around and began to speak to me as if she had been awaiting my arrival, or anyone's for that matter. She spoke to me in French but I had the distinct notion that she had just started in the middle of a sentence. I apologized and told her that I did not speak French. 

"Oh heavens, dear. I'm an English woman," she replied in a British sing song way that only they are capable of. "Do you know what these are for?" She said scruitinizing the ground, tapping one of her ski poles against a line of metal grooves in the bridge's sidewalk. 

I suspected she was going to go into one of those old woman tales where they tell you the history and origin of the bridge and precisely the purpose the metal grooves served so very long ago. I shook my head, no, I didn't know. 

She glanced back over the side of the bridge again to the water beneath it. "It simply does not make any sense." She looked back at the metal grooves. "They look like tram tracks but they just stop here. What on earth would a tram need tracks for coming in from the sky?" She looked back at me. 

I had never felt so monstrous as I had then, looking down on this small creature. Her red and white ski poles looked like the newest arodynamic prototype in olympic skiing and downright comical with her shin-length brown skirt and soft pink sweater. I glanced down at the tracks as she had instructed, and then the road where they stopped, and then to the other side of the walk way where they picked back up again, perfectly in line with this side. 

"Well, I don't know." I said charmingly, returning my eyes to her with a smile.

"See if you can get a good look down there, honey," She nudged my bum with her ski pole, pushing me to the bridge's wall. "And see if you can figure it out for us."

I pursed my lips in a smile. She was serious about solving this mystery. Craining over the side of the bridge, looking down at the stone supports coming out of the water, I really did try to figure it out ... suddenly intrigued. 

"A draw bridge, maybe?" I asked looking back over my shoulder at her. 

"No, no, see they don't cross the road." She pointed to the street with her pole again. 

"Well, I believe the bridge has stumped the both of us." I said returning upright and facing her. 

"Where do you come from child?"  She smiled up at me. 

I have this bad habit of not knowing what to do with my eyes or where to look when people are wearing sunglasses. (How are you supposed to have a conversation with someone while looking at your own reflection?) I scanned the little white tuft whilting on the top of her head, looking for a spot, and then settled my gaze on her mouth. Her teeth had clearly began giving up on life long before she did. Browning from the bottoms up, I thought if I stood here long enough, I could watch them decay all the way to the gums. But she was English and we can't blame them for terrible dentisitry, right? Only America manufactures smiles. 

"The U.S. ... America." I answered, watching her mouth as it twitched into a crooked grin.

"Oh! Do tell where!" She responded. 

I had gotten used to Maryland being a dead end answer, but I said it anyway and went into my air diagram of where it was in relation to New York. 

She interupted with a laugh. "Yes, yes! I have family there. That city ... the one with the B."

"Baltimore." I answered.

"Yes, that's where they live."

"Oh, wow, most people don't ..." I began. 

"Or is it Boston?" She looked down at the ground and scratched her chin with the wrist strap on the top of her ski pole. "Wait a minute. It's Boston."

I smiled and began again, "Oh, Bost...."

"Birmingham? I think it's Birmingham. Yes, is that in Maryland?" She looked back up at me.

"Maybe." I smiled.

We carried on in that way, as if she was certain I had been her granddaughter in another life (although she did not propose the idea). So much so, that I considered I may have been. People passed by, strolling baby carriages, walking dogs, laughing ... because that's what people did on bridges - they crossed over; they didn't have family reunions. She caught me up on her life presently as if I already knew the first 70 years of it. I implored further. She had fallen for a French man, "by no fault of my own," she added, while traveling when she was young. They fell in love and married and he moved to England for the better part of his life to be with her. Now retired, he had insisted that it was his turn and so they returned to France. 

"We moved to {a town whose name I have no recollection of}, but Henry said to me 'Well this is just as much damned fog and rain as England! I won't have it,' so we went south and here I am." She smiled as if she had just announced herself. 

I was surprised that she lived nearby. With the curiosity that she took with the bridge, I had assumed she was on vaccation. Sadly, I wonderd if she had stood here before, maybe many times and tried to solve the same puzzle like it was the first time these tracks had stumped her ... every time. The conversation flowed with ease and we were genuinely interested in each other. She was so tiny and cute, I wanted to fold her up and put her in my pocket, so that I could pull her out whenever I felt particularly curious about something. Not so that she could give me the answers, but merely so she could demand them with me. 

We were so engrossed in one another that I had hardly noticed the woman who had stopped and was facing us on the sidewalk, mumbling some French nonsense. She got a bit louder and I turned to her and said,  "I don't speak French, I'm sorry," and then returned my eyes to the old woman's cracked lipstick mouth which hadn't stopped speaking. I didn't know if she was ignoring the stranger or was simply on the verge of going blind and deaf. 

"I speak English," the crazy woman slurred at the sides of our faces. "I need money. I'm saving the world." She stumbled closer with her hand out and my gaze met her again.

She had hair the color of straw that stuck out like it had been pressed by an iron every day of her 45 year old life. She wore a coat made for a Mt. McKinley voyager, and had 5 scarfs on, all of different colors, shapes and sizes. Her teeth made Miss Ski Poles look like Mono Lisa and she had two different shoes on. I could hear Ski Poles effortlessly continuing her story without having missed a beat. 

"I don't have any cash. I'm sorry," I looked back at the minature woman, trying to concentrate on her tale and pick up what I had missed, while minding this narcotic nutcase encroaching on my right. 

"You don't understand. I. Am. Going. To Save. The World," She said indefinitely. The words came out messy, coated in slime, with the stench of a frat house after week old kegger.

"Yes. Yes. Well go, on now then. Go save it," The old woman said in that same upbeat British song that makes it impossible to differentiate between scold and praise. She waved her pole at the woman's legs, shooing her away and returned to me, picking up the sentence as if she hadn't ever broken it. 

A few more slurs on her way out and the woman retreated. I tried to surpress my amusement as the woman carried on her tale, unaffected. I bit down on my lip to keep attentive, but my eyes betrayed me and I could feel them laughing.  

"What's your name?" I asked when she finished. It seemed inconceivable that I didn't know it. We had been friends for years. But I had learned that in France, people don't feel the need to introduce themselves on the way in or the way out.

"Mercer. Betty Mercer," She answered.

I smiled. "Well, it was very nice to meet you, Betty."

"You too dear. I'll be going now." She flashed me surely an award winning smile in the dead teeth category and scurried along on her ski poles, never caring for my name. 

I couldn't stop myself from smiling as I left her, each of us going in opposite directions. I looked back over my shoulder to watch her hobble along, searching the sky for a tram to reclaim it's tracks on the bridge. I wondered how simple and delightful the world might be if everyone was as trusting and easily trusted as Betty Mercer. A world full of candid, curious Betty Mercers. I laughed. What a wonderful place that would be. 

I realized then, that even if she had stopped on that bridge a thousand times before with the same new sense of curiosity, her life was better for it. Anyone's would be. The city, despite how long she had been there, had not been dulled down for her. Time had not succeeded. Ever captivated by those infinite possibilites that we all feel creep up within us again in a new and beautiful place. Perhaps that was life's gift to her at the end of her story. A ceaseless spirit of childish wonder. I couldn't fathom a more wonderful way to live. 

Road Trips with Joffre: Part 3

DISCLAIMER: Dad, I didn't write this one either. Probably, just don't read any posts involving cars or road trips. 


The Final Chapter : Bonnieux to Bordeaux

Someone really should have taught me how to change a flat tire BEFORE I left the country. And while I was at it, I probably should have learned French as well. Two skills seemingly unrelated, however, as it came to be, I was in need of both of them at the exact same time.

The morning started off more than fine, with the smell of excitement and promise in the air. Putting on my favorite gypsy dress in order to coax that joyful freedom out of me (as I often did) for this 7 hour road trip, I set off from Bonnieux with Bordeaux in my horizons. Joffre and I were getting along quite well and I gave him a pat, the way you would an unreliable horse, to let him know that he was doing a good job and in hopes that this reassurance would keep him from bucking you off in the near future. Cursing him for his foolish errors and apologizing for mine, our usual banter carried on much the way it always did for the first hour of the trip.

No sooner had I settled into confidence with Joffre, he decided to crap out on me. Waiting at a red light, as he had instructed me to do, I then inched forward as it turned green (never truly sure who had the right of way, where I was turning, etc.) A loud, startling explosion noise, sounding much like a race car junkie with a crap car flexing his muscles through his exhaust pipe, had me searching behind and around me as I slammed on my breaks. I saw a motorcycle stopped at the red light next to me, but he was looking at me?

I carried on slowly making the left as Joffre had told me, and felt the road rumbling underneath of me. Well, I was either on the rockiest main road that ever was, or that explosion had been one of my tires. The rumbling didn’t stop and I saw more passerbys starring at me, so I pulled off onto the side of the road. It wasn’t by any stretch of the imagination a beautiful road, nor did it carry any clues that I was in France. Plain low cement buildings on either side with small inner city looking store fronts. I got out of my car, suddenly completely conscious that my gypsy dress and headband did not help me fit in in this town.

It was the front right tire. Completely flat. With no clue how to find a spare or fix the flat when I did, I opened the trunk and started pulling on the different levers to try to open up the floor. It wouldn’t budge. I scanned around me and immediately caught the eyes of a Mexican-looking guy (are there Mexicans in France?) smoking a cigarette and watching me amusingly. He was sitting in a plastic blue chair that looked like it belonged in a kindergarten classroom, outside of what looked like a tiny 711 knock off, with tobacco and keno posters covering the windows. I walked towards him silently repeating the mantra in my head I always did when I desperately needed someone to speak English (please speak English, please speak English, please don’t be a serial killer, please speak English.) He did speak a bit of English, but barely. His genuine smile was reassuring and he nodded at my hand gestures and failed attempts to explain that I didn’t know how to change a tire. Nodding surely because he had been watching me and clearly this crazy American girl dressed in outlandish gypsy garb could not know how to do such a thing.

He looked at the tire and then opened the trunk as I had done, trying to open the floor. Stopping, and glancing under the car, he said, “No tire,” with the cigarette still in his mouth. My jaw dropped. Well, apparently rental cars in France do not come with spare tires, among other things, because that makes perfect sense. The man, his name was Momo, (which I pronounced as Mohamed the entire time until he wrote it down for me when I left), gestured me to follow him while he called the rental company for me. It seemed that they had told him that they would come in 10 minutes, which is what I believed, but looking back, that couldn’t have possibly been what Momo had said.

After 25 minutes, Momo called again for me. But being 12:15 now, the French were eating lunch and everyone else, stranded or not, would just have to wait. I wondered if the police and hospitals here had that same policy. Everyone seemed to. So, I sat with Momo outside of his shop in a blue plastic chair with strawberry cartoons on it, and looked out on to one of the ugliest streets I had seen in France yet, smiling at every passerby that looked at me, as if this was exactly where I always spent my afternoons; with Momo outside of his shop, and yes, I always came dressed like this. We couldn’t understand much of each other, but Momo understood that I needed help and I understood that he was kind and that was enough. So, we faked the rest and laughed at each other’s jokes pretending that we understood them and hoping that they were indeed jokes.

After 45 minutes, we called the tow company again, but they were still eating, so we were still waiting. Momo’s friends had now joined us and I sat there forcing so much confidence, that I was sure it had turned my skin that Spanish hue, my hair dark, my dress into jeans and my headband into a baseball cap, blending me in to the rest. After previously declining, I motioned to Momo’s cigarette and decided to smoke with the Mexicans in their blue chairs, because, well, when stranded in Avignon with a flat tire and French Mexicans, why would you not smoke cigarettes with strangers in blue chairs? What else are you to do with French Mexicans? We had no other common ground to talk about and it looked like I was here for a while so I had better settle in. So that is exactly what I did, one deep breath and I was perfectly content here with the blue chair gang and their cigarettes. Simply letting the story write itself.

Two hours, two red bulls, and three cigarettes later, the tow truck finally arrived. In that moment, watching Joffre strapped to the gurney, I felt bad for cursing the bastard earlier. It wasn’t his fault – the flat tire at least. Without an ounce of English, he took us back to the garage in silence. 

Through means of translation apps (thank you Steve Jobs), and sign language type reenactments, the garage workers got the car on the lift and Enterprise on the phone. Turned out they didn’t have the correct tire, so I was going to have to pay for the flat, get a taxi to the train station and a replacement car there before the rest of my 6 hour trip. It also seemed that there was no Kristen Thomas in the Enterprise system; either that or there were 200 others like usual (thanks Mom and Dad), so that meant no record of the insurance I had purchased. No daddy or lover to swoop in and sort out the mess, all alone in a foreign land, I was finally going to have to learn to fend entirely for myself. On the edge of panic and the brink of tears, I took a deep breath and decided to embrace it all, choosing to live the chaos and let the book go on as it may.

After many phone calls and what seemed to be hours, they found that I had purchased insurance (thanks to the little voice always in my head that is my Father), and I wouldn’t have to pay for any of it. I packed up all of my things, which were strewn about Joffre’s insides, and we said our last goodbyes. Looks like we couldn’t make it all the way to the end, but we had a good run.


RIP Joffre. 

My Week with Marlboro

:: A Social Experiment ::

I bought my first pack of cigarettes – in my life, to date – in a very tiny, very blue convenience store, while stranded in a very tiny town north of the south of France with a flat tire, no language skills, and a cluster of French Mexicans.

I had been friends with countless numbers of smokers over my 25 years, lived with some and dated others, but never once was I tempted by the notion of smoking cigarettes. It simply had just never appealed to me. But thanks to the aforementioned predicament, I found myself smoking cigarettes with strangers and then in some form of delusional trance, buying a pack to smoke for the remaining 7 hours of my drive cross country.

Everyone smoked in France. Every single person. It was like nobody had told them it wasn’t cool anymore, that the youth had stopped smoking cigarettes back around the time of Y2K. I watched them chain smoke for the past 3 weeks, stayed up for hours with some of them while they emptied entire packs, and not once did I desire to indulge in this ugly habit. But somehow, Joffre, Momo, and that day got to me. (Please reference blog post: Road Trips with Joffre Part III.)

Carrying a cigarette in your hand in France is like putting on an invisibility cloak. Instantly, I was captivated by the magic of it – that this tiny thing can make my Americaness disappear. Suddenly, I am no longer out of place, but blending into the everyday city street traffic of France. Incredible.

Although I couldn’t deny my taste for the head rush, what I really liked was the power it gave me, and that cultural submersion I had been lacking. I felt so … French. Leaning out of my floor to ceiling window in Bordeaux, exhaling the smoke into the lustful French air, it was as if I had always been here. And to the outside observer, I had been. No one stopped me on the streets, no one looked at me as if I had the word TOURIST or AMERICAN tattooed on my forehead as I wandered around like a deer in the headlights. It gave me a mask and a poker face and I walked the streets alone at day or night, unnoticed and unimposing as a French girl who had walked these streets a thousand times before. Men didn’t call out or proposition me; locals didn’t give me dirty looks as I approached them before I even opened my mouth. No one really talked to me at all. And if they did, it was in French … which I noted extremely interesting as it had not been that way before these magical little wands between my fingers.

No one messes with a girl walking or sitting alone while smoking a cigarette. That girl has done stuff. She’s seen stuff. And she has no interest in your bullshit. She is unapproachable. Trust me I know, I’ve seen them and I do not talk to them.

Bordeaux was a gorgeous city, lit up and alive even throughout the night. It was, I thought, a city I could live in (at least for awhile that is). And now I felt a part of it. I could explore the city streets at night alone without anyone suspecting I was doing anything other than walking home from work like I always did. I suppose I could have pretended to smoke cigarettes instead of actually smoking them, but as it were, I came to like the warmth of the nicotine against the brisk chill of the October-like air. I also felt very writeresque leaning out my window in between smoke and scribbling ferociously in my journal. I know, I know, it was all very Carrie Bradshaw meets Ernest Hemmingway but I was doing it anyhow …. 

Saint Emilion Wine

Located 45 minutes from Bordeaux’s city center was St. Emilion – a beautiful and luscious wine region known for it’s red blends of Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Chateaus spread along in between vineyards of every shape and size. I visited Chateau Soutard who literally had cannons posted up for battle surrounding their vineyards ready to shoot ice out of the sky if it attacked and turn it into rain before it could touch the precious vines. Another, Cardinal Villemaurine, located right down the road still used horses to till their soil, expanses of untouched earth below to age their wine, and outdated equipment built into the walls to ferment it.

Chateau Soutard was an expansive and lavishly renovated winery, completed in modern redesign in 2006. Some top French insurance company had purchased it and outdone themselves entirely. I was in an English speaking tour – 2 Ohio residents, a couple from Toronto and a couple from England. The tour guide was young and good-looking – Jacques something or other, but his French accent was thick and his English was quite hard to understand. He would pause awkwardly after each paragraph and just look at us expectantly, like we were supposed to do something. But none of us ever did. I felt for him – it was a tough crowd. After a few very long, silent moments, he would motion us to follow him. Most of what he told us about the wine making process, I already knew, but I jotted down a few differences.

Chateau Soutard grew 80% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc with little Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec scattered sparsely. The earth was made up of limestone with a sandy covered clay overtop. We went through the “old” and “historic” wine cellar, which Jacques claimed had been renovated to look exactly as it had 6 generations ago. I found that hard to believe. By the looks of the place, it was designed as a wedding venue or concert hall (a baby grand piano graced the center) and the 10 by 10 glass elevator that we got into was furnished with glossy benches and satin cushions. We rode the 21st century elevator to the underground cellar which looked entirely too new as well. It was all very wine cave meets 5 star Marriott in Time Square.

The underground limestone tasting cave was too perfect and you could tell it had just been dug out a few years ago, unlike the ancient quarries that ran underneath the rest of the city. Caged rooms held thousands of unlabeled magnum bottles which they used to age the wine because in them, the aging process was more slow and delicate. An oval, translucent table, glowing white from the center of the room, served as a bar and was meant for better inspection of the wine’s color. Jacques said that judging the color with these UV rays would allow us to detect the precise vintage of the wine. We tasted a 2004 and 2007 Grand Cru Classic (tasting notes at the bottom) and here, I did learn some interesting facts new to me about the process.

All of the wine made here was unfiltered and the light from the tables pierced the color in the glass revealing the floating sediment. Jacques said that only in the last 15 years, wineries have started to filter it all out but it was better to allow it to remain in the wine. He told us that the best vintages of Bordeaux in the last 14 years were 2000, 2003, 2005, 2009 and 2010. The St. Emilion wines could be aged for 25 to 30 years. But wines from Medoc (a neighboring region) could be held onto as long as 50. As the years went by for one holding onto a particular bottle, some of the wine would escape from the glass. If someone had purchased say, a bottle of 1979 wine and still had it unopened, they could bring the bottle back to the Chateau and have it topped off and re-corked from the Chateau’s stock cellars, which held spares of every vintage.

An American scientist from Ohio asked Jacques about the present cold, wet weather (a question that I was so tired of hearing that I almost answered it myself for the intrigued doctor) and Jacques told him that out of the whole year, these two weeks were the most important of all. The last time they had four very bad years in a row was 1960 and these years usually tend to work in cycles. After 2011, 2012, and 2013 all turned out to be bad years, they were expecting 2014 to unfortunately be bad as well. Saint Emilion had only harvested 40% of a regular season in 2013 and Bordeaux had only yielded 20% - a very bad year, indeed. I started to zone out from the weather conversation until I heard Jacques tell the scientist about their ice cannons. Should any frost decide to fall at an inopportune time, the cannons were aimed and ready to turn it to rain before it could reach the crops. That was it. Where the hell was I?

After the tour, I chatted with Jacques and found out that he had only been at Soutard for a month and was previously a wine maker in Virgina. He, like all Europeans I had met who visited America, seemed desperate to get back. He said that he much preferred the creativity allowed in American wine making because there weren’t nearly as many laws pertaining to the process as there were in France. I gave him my card and told him to go bother Boordy Vineyards if he wanted to move back.

After I left, I drove in circles trying to find Cardinal Villemaurine, which ended up being located right down the street from Soutard. I had just come from a vineyard with it’s own private fleet of cannons and these guys were out in their fields following 2 giant white horses in between the vineyard rows, tilling the soil with their hooves. I glanced behind me and could still see Soutard. This could not be right.

But it was. This 4th generation family Chateau was the real deal. About 1/20th the size of Soutard above ground, its expanses of underground quarries seemed to be never ending. We must have walked under the vines, the streets, and maybe even the city. I wondered if the roots ever broke through the ceilings of these limestone caves or if they just felt their way around them and down into the walls.

This Chateau had two brands: Cardinal Villemaurine – coming from many of their fields throughout the region, and Clos Villemaurine – coming from the clos on the property with the horses. They were Grand Cru, which meant they had to abide by 3 major guidelines. One: the alcohol content of their wine must be between 12.5% and 13.5%. Two: They must only use oak for aging their wines. And three: the wine must be aged for at least 12 months in barrel. Villemaurine aged their wine for 24 months and it was splendid (tasting notes at the bottom). They use small oak barrels to yield stronger oak flavors and large, burgundian barrels to keep more fruity flavors and then blend the two of them after 18 months for an elegant balance. The wine then returns to barrel to complete the remainder of the 24 month aging process. Like all of the French wineries I have visited, all of the bottles remain unlabeled, stored underground. They are "dressed" as needed when shipping orders come in. The tiny Vietnamease, French woman showed me a room containing all of the 2012 wine, still in barrel. The last blending would be next week and it would be in bottle by July, awaiting release in January of 2015.

The city of St. Emilion was amazing and so interesting. An entire city built out of limestone. They had dug into the earth to find it, leaving 200km of quarries under the city abandoned and unused. Many, many years later, the people realized that they had the perfect conditions for aging wine down there. So the beautiful Merlot and Cabernet Franc wines of St. Emilion lie under the earth, hidden from the city above and covered by the present generations of vines, burrowing their roots deep into the limestone below where their ancestor’s lived. I walked through the city and saw all of the negative space in the limestone caves below turned into its positive counterparts in each building. The rain finally stopped and the sun came out with a vengeance. I walked the streets around nooks and crannies of stone and fell in love. I decided that I simply couldn’t leave yet to go to the next region, so I didn’t.



Chateau Soutard ~

2004 Grand Cru Classic~  65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, & 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Deep purple hue with a lot of sediment. Aromas of vanilla and cherries that later yeilded as more distinctively, white chocolate, raspberry mouse. Fruit bomb flavor. 

2007 Grand Cru Classic~  65% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Franc, & 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Oddly enough, the aroma of this wine instantly made me think of charcuterie and basil. Almost like parmasean cheese. The taste reminded me of spice and pizza which was surprising and strange. I am told the spice comes from the limestone. This wine has high tannins and a very complex flavor. Later, the aromas open up to more fruit. Jacques tells us that it is best to open this bottle and let it breathe 2 hours prior to drinking. If it is a very old vintage - 30 minutes prior and if a very young vintage - 5 hours prior. 

Cardinal Villemaurine~

2011 Cardinal Villemaurine ~ 70% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aroma is reminiscent of Port like chocolate covered raspberries. Dry with red fruity and oaky flavors and light tannins. Very smooth.

2011 Clos Villemaurine ~ 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Franc. Old vines from Clos behind Chateau. Strawberry and cherry on the nose with stronger tannins. 50% aged in new French oak, and 50% in two year old French oak, which gives the wine more structure. Much more characterisitc of a Cabernet Franc despite being primarily Merlot based. 

Salsa with Santos

Julie took me to her favorite spot in Marseille ... the Quartre de Creatres, or the Quarter of Creators, the pulsing artistic square where all of the magic happens. I loved it the second we walked up the steps. There was so much creativity, expression, and life everywhere. Bright greens and yellows and reds were painted right on the stones of the street or walls; men sang regae in the streets and beat on drums and guitars; children danced around firecrackers; laughter bellowed out with young enthusiasts as they stumbled out of bars and danced to the music by the fountains. 

Julie and I sat outside on the patio. We had a few beers, and shared a few secrets, and then decided to wander the streets and find another place to sit. We walked down the side streets, and I was enamored by it all - the music, the crowds, the passion that drummed through everyone I passed. 


Enter Santos ....


Acrobat. Kite Surfer, Jungle Leader. Tarzan in the flesh. Speaker of 9 languages, wilderness hunter, wind surfer, salsa dancer, and self proclaimed spiritual leader, reader and healer. He pointed me out of the crowd and told me that my aura drew him to me. (Well, I had to give the kid points for originality). 

He didn't drink. He didn't smoke. And he did not wear deodorant. But he was spritual and alive in all sorts of ways. A sleevless cut off and jeans with dark skin and muscles he was far too proud of. He was Columbian and Moraccan, but had lived all over the world. (At least he told an interesting tale, if he hadn't.) He had a dangerous yet youthful face that made him look younger than he was and an energy to match. His curly dark hair hung below the nape of his neck in a thick unruly way. He was king of the jungle cats. 

He fervently believed that his spirit animals were not one, but three ... a black panther, a dolphin, and an eagle, but not just any sort of eagle and certainly not a bald eagle, but the most regal of them all. (This guy was 100% serious). Santos sat entirely too close and his eyes peirced you, searching, trying to read you as you spoke.

"You have an emotional burden resting on your left side," he spoke to me as if I would take him seriously. I looked down at my left shoulder which was the only bare shoulder I was showing and looked up at him cryptically. 

"Nope. I don't have any emotional burdens. I just like to wear my shirts like this," I responded.

He seemed flustered and readusted his feather rustling tactic like the peacock he was. He seemed cocky at first and that was because he was but over the night, he became something much more. Deep and spiritual if you could get through the weeds of strangeness. He wanted to take me salsa dancing. I wasn't interested in him romantically in the least bit. But what I was interested in was experiences. Stories. So I went.

There was another guy with us - a Messiah looking character, with hair that hung down his back, who carried a tree branch for a walking stick and was prepared to part the red sea at any moment. Santos was as centered yet ADD as they come. We would be walking along down a corner street and suddenly he'd be gone. Off changing lives. Scanning the area for him, you'd find him talking with a woman on a bike and embracing her as she cried, or with an old man having a deep conversation in German. 

He was an even more intense salsa dancer than he was a person. Whipping you aroud the dance floor in an underground, dark club. He would pull me against him rather forcefully and demand to be looked at in his eyes the entire time. I couldn't hold his gaze and would falter it to the floor as I tripped over his feet. His eyes were burning with an unmasked passion that you don't see on a day to day basis. But Santos was burning with a passion for everything. 

Unfortunately, Santos was a bit too intense and passionate for this world and I spent the next 5 days avoiding him, making up excuses and then telling harsh truths when they didn't work to get out of meeting him. Then bumping into him on the beach the next day and getting told off for my disrespectful declines from his attention. I told Santos that everybody was entitled to change their minds but he did not agree. He stormed off after a few choice words and I never saw him again. 

Star Crossed Paths

There are certain people, I am sure of, that cross your path for a reason. Whatever that reason may be, it matters not. But these people come into your life for a moment and change it indefinitely. Some call this fate, but fate is not what I am talking about. Fate has a preorchestrated conotation to it that leaves us little control over our destinies. What I am talking about is something different. It is being awake. Awake enough to see these persons when they come, embrace every moment when they are there, and then let them go as you both carry on your ways. 

Julie and Dial were such people. And I felt it before I even met them, and knew it beyond doubt once I did. 

Julie was an outrageous and incongruent burst of energy. No sooner had I walked through the door, she was greeting me with hugs and kisses and a smile that engulfed you. Welcoming me much like a great aunt, twice removed, whom you hadn't seen since you were 18 months old and had no memories of, would. But somehow, instantly you felt she had known you her whole life. She wore a bright red polka dot dress and her dark auburn, tightly wound curls sprung fron a short bob behind wide, cat eye glasses. I had no idea how old she was, but she was hilarious. 

We had Bastille (a Mersaille drink) at the bar below her apartment right on the beach and talked with the locals for hours. And by locals, I mean local drunks. Four old men crowded around me at the table, competing in French for my attention. Najib was a self- proclaimed wine conniesueur with a beautiful Indian wife, who schooled me the entire night about Bandol wine and all the wines of the world he had tried. There was a crazy skinny old man with a bad comb over that he had long since given up on and missing teeth. His hair fell stringy and long and he had a lazy eye that would scatter and twinkle after he made a joke. None of which I understood, of course. He seemed to re-forget that I didn’t know French in between drinks. The bartender, who did not look French at all, was a straight up Italian looking Guido from the Jersey Shore. Except without the muscles or the tan. He wore sunglasses the entire night inside the bar and despite the bulging pudge of his stomach under his tight shirt, he was the king of the house.

Julie and I shared her son’s room that night because she had other guests in her room. We ordered pizza, drank wine, and danced all night to all kinds of music. We did all sorts of things that week like exploring the town, hiking mountains to find beautiful hidden coves of crystal blue water, picnicked with jamon and melon, stayed up into the late hours of the night, attended house warming parties for friends which were conducted entirely in French, went salsa dancing with locals and shared stories from all walks of life.

One particular night, over two bottles of wine, Julie told me all about her life and family in Senegal, Africa. When she first arrived, she had all of her money stolen, which she expresses as a divine blessing. She lived in poverty with African families where they didn’t know where their next meal would come from and if lucky, had one plate of rice to share. She washed men’s underwear and clothes all day for 1 euro while they gawked and laughed at the irony of a white woman doing their laundry. She said she had never been so happy in her entire life.

“Africa is happiness,” she says with a joyful glow. “These people have nothing. Not a thing to offer, but their hearts …” She stretches her hands out as if grasping a beach ball in front of her chest, shakes her head and breathes out with misty eyes.

“Their hearts touch you. All the time they dance. They are the happiest people alive,” she finishes in her French accent.

Julie is the most genuine person I have ever met. She is a white, Jewish, French woman and her former husband is an African, Muslim muscian. Their son, Dial, is the beautiful combination of all things. Just 9 years old, he is exceptionally bright and struggles with his identity and lingering racism in school. He idolizes Michael Jackson and can dance just like him. He often asks his mother if he too, should bleach his skin white like Michael so he might also have white babies when he grows up. Julie attempts to explain to her son why his idol tried to appear as a white man and why he probably paid a donor for white children.

The whole thing is a concept so foreign to me that hits me with the weight of an entire building, crashing into me like a wrecking ball and sending my insides spiraling into pieces throughout space. And with every earnest look on Dial’s precious face, I want nothing more than to protect every child in the world from this feeling.

Julie wants me to go to Senegal and experience this way of living with her family there. Although the place frightens me, it intrigues me as well and I am tempted to visit. The three of us eat avocados drizzled in balsamic and more melon with Jambon for dinner, look at pictures of their family trip to Senegal, and dance to Michael Jackson for hours.