Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Small satisfactions

l'Abbaye de Saint Pierre, along the Saint James Way

Conversing comfortably with a group of French cyclists touring the countryside ("Bienvenue!")

Ploughing through a 472-page novel (when was the last time I read? Uninterrupted, for hours?)




Enjoying Skype visits with friends and family, so good to see you!

Teaching an Alexander Technique lesson in French

l'Abbaye along le chemin de Saint Jacques de Compostelle



Appreciating five different bottles of wine in a single evening (wowza), with much food and conversation

Taking a starry-skied solo walk through a quiet village on a warm April evening



Saturday, 27 April 2013

Not so fast

Door in Marcilhac-sur-Célé

Well ha ha, this joke's on me. My teacher Abe says to give thanks when things show up not to your liking, because they're helping to refine your preferences. And if you can stay focused on appreciating the clarity provided by the experience, the details of the current situation won't linger too long.

Sooo, I have been deliberately attempting to give thanks for the opportunity to contemplate what I would prefer, but not successfully alleviating a somewhat frequent feeling of annoyance. See, my lovely Host left on Wednesday for time at the beach with her grandson, leaving me and the other Helper to weed and mow and tidy. I want to give this English bloke credit for trying to be genial, but it's not my idea of a good time to belabor the idiosyncrasies of English versus American phrasing and culture. I'm in France, and I'd like to speak French (even if I do feel a surge of relief when my partner in conversation pauses to translate the latest exchange... At least I get the thrill of novelty!). It could be worse, we could have gone days without any humor or generosity, which we did have - so for that I'm glad.

Door in Cajarc
Market flowers

But today his delicate digestive system cut short my market day, and I'm kinda peeved.

All week I've been enjoying the quiet seclusion of this home and the nearby village of 80 inhabitants (containing a stately old abbey on the Way of St. James, boulangerie, and post office; the two restaurants aren't open yet for the season). I've weeded a garden of spring bulbs and wildflowers, admired distant views of rock face and green field, sat calm and silent at the shadowy cave entrance up the hill, listened for church bells to tell me the hour. It's been slow and steady, just like I wanted.

But the moment our car arrived at the Saturday marché this afternoon, I got really excited about perusing the produce and sampling the saucissons. Alas pilgrim, not today. I will have to wait until next Saturday - unless I'm already en route to my next Host - to tease out the secret aromas of weirdly colored aged cheese, suck on sweets made with lemon verbena, and tear into a baguette spread with pâté de tête.

Ah well, "carry on" they say in merry old England, right?

Hearth at my host's home


Monday, 22 April 2013

Onward and upward

Les Invalides

Things really did start looking up for me in the big city, just as I was getting ready to leave (maybe because of it - know how those things work?) and my last two days were the best. I negotiated a haircut with a French stylist, shopped for makeup, and spent Friday afternoon exchanging work with a colleague and new friend, Katri-Mari, whom I met at the convention in Ireland. I lingered into early evening, reviewing maps and sharing wine with her and her husband in their sunny apartment overlooking Napleon's tomb, the (startlingly gold) Les Invalides. Our conversation reminded me how much freedom I have, and how wonderful it is to make friends in faraway places

Sara, Benoit, Ulysses, Thomas

I headed next to dinner with more colleagues from the first training course I visited. A beautifully simple and delicious meal of roasted vegetables, salad, and soup accompanied by homemade berry liqueur mixed with champagne, and of course wine. I'll tell you, it is pretty darn satisfying to keep up with a table of French conversation, and even venture into the philosophy of Alexander Technique with my garbled grasp of the language!

The evening's host, Benoit, invited me to attend a rehearsal of his baroque ensemble the next morning at the Paris Conservatory. "Dix heures moins dix," he repeated, be there at ten o'clock minus ten. Apparently my brain was on translation overload... "Ten o'clock" is what I kept repeating to myself, which is when I left to catch the metro... Oops. Another opportunity to marvel at the helpfulness of people, as phone calls from the Conservatory desk to our multilingual friend resulted in a personal escort to the intimate rehearsal already an hour underway (there were TWO of us listening). And wow!! I totally got the musical experience I was wishing for! Way better than a cathedral, which is fine for organ but actually sucks for strings. Listen to 30 seconds here:

One final visit to a park to write postcards, then cleaning up and packing to depart. The Lindy Hop friend I met at the Jazz Roots Festival invited me dancing, so I got to conclude my final night with some excellent blues dance at a small studio in a quieter neighborhood. Ahh.

Sunday morning I caught the train (with time to spare! No running this time - so proud of myself :-) to the Dordogne region of France, south of Limoges. I found myself grinning from ear to ear as I passed rolling hillsides, rocky outcroppings, blooming trees, and fields of dandelions. I even saw paragliders swinging gently over the countryside. I'm gonna do that!

My Help Exchange host Brigitte picked me up and brought me home to a picnic - what a welcome! Fine food and even finer company. After a leisurely afternoon at the table, we hiked up the hillside for my first glimpse into the magnificent caves of the area. Our flashlight was dim, so the full expedition would have to wait, but I am so excited to explore. My dad told me that he remembered (from a past life) living in an ancient cave in France. I feel contented here.

Brigette's yard
Brigette's yard


Sunday, 21 April 2013

Paris Portes

I'm not the first to be enchanted by the doors in Paris, specifically in the Marais neighborhood where I spent the last three weeks. It was fun to admire so many, and make collages of my favorites.

I guess I'm intrigued by the symbolism of doorways / portals / gateways. My chosen name (Theta) is the Greek letter that begins the word Thanatos, which means death... the gate we all pass through - after birth of course!

But more than one person has reminded me lately that theta also begins Theos, from which we get enthusiasm - another portal of sorts, where we ourselves become an entryway for inspiration and joy.

Aspects of both these interpretations appeal to me as I consider my time in Paris. I feel I've really stepped through into a new phase of recognizing what makes a good life for me. Some old ideas needed to be buried and new ones needed life breathed into them.

Paris was an entryway not only into France and French culture, but an access point for enthusiasm. And let me tell you (in my next post).... WOW! It feels so good to feel excited!! Stay tuned for details....


Thursday, 18 April 2013

Through other eyes

Door at Notre Dame

There's an Alexander Technique concept that illuminates our tendency to misinterpret our perceptions. We may believe we think we know what's going on, but really we're just limited to perceiving what we already believe. An outsider, having different beliefs, can often see things differently. The real work is in allowing ourselves to see through another's eyes; to deliberately suspend belief in our own perception, to test if maybe another interpretation is available -- so we have more choices.

Exterior at Notre Dame

I've been attempting on a daily basis to find things to think positively about (and too often failing miserably). But I was heartened to notice that although I personally have been feeling run over by the enormity of Paris, its noise and intensity and hordes of people leaving me drained and despairing, I managed to hang out last night with someone who is thrilled to be here. It was worth the tired feet - ! - to see the city at night, to hear stories and enthusiasm about the hidden passages, the gatherings of friends by water and wine, the history and architecture, the beauty and romance of the city on a perfect spring evening.

Notre Dame at night

So even though what has me really happy right now is the prospect of leaving as soon as possible for the countryside, I'm thankful I got a good dose of appreciation for majestic Paree. I take it as evidence that something's going right if, even though I'm feeling doubtful about finding satisfaction and enjoyment in my surroundings, at least I can be around someone else who does! So thank you, Kent, for sharing your adoration of Paris. It gives me faith that I will soon be as content and challenged in equal measure as you are :-)

Jardin de Tour Saint Jacques

I had many reasons for coming here; to have time and space alone, to eat gloriously decadent food, to assert my ability to navigate a major metropolis in French, no less!, and to connect with my family's history. Success all around. The time alone has highlighted all those patterns I hold so dear -- ripening them for release; eating all the bread and sweets has me feeling like crap; and I'm not afraid to walk or take the metro anywhere. I am chagrined to confess that I didn't connect with my distant relatives before coming to France. Naively, I just assumed they'd continue to be where they've always been whenever they've called or written. But now it appears the phone numbers I have don't work, and astonishingly enough, they are not online. I admit I have no intentions of scouring the countryside looking for them. I hope they, and my grandmother - whose hometown I am neglecting to visit - will forgive me. This trip is evolving in other directions.

My great-great-grandparents marriage certificate: 1853
Eglise de Saint Nicholas-du-Chardonnet

I did pay a visit to the church where my great-great-grandparents were married in 1853. I even wandered unwittingly past both their family homes (they lived around the corner from each other!). And on the walk there, I passed an older man whose smiling eyes gave me a flash of my father's eyes. I felt a little tender all afternoon.

Of the soaring vault of Notre Dame, my favorite part was the stars painted on the chapel ceiling. Soon I'll be seeing the real thing.

Starry skies at Notre Dame


Monday, 15 April 2013

In like a lion, out like a lamb

Although I haven't yet managed to lucid dream, I have recorded numerous nighttime visions since I've been in Paris. A little background on my philosophy of dreaming: I believe that a) all the characters in a dream are aspects of myself, b) during sleep and dreamtime I release everyday thoughts and resistance to my True Nature, and am thus more available to insight and guidance, and c) even more important than the visuals or action of a dream are its emotional messages, which are a preview of whatever thought/emotion patterns I've had going on, and where they're likely to lead (unless I change them). Helpful, to say the least.

This past weekend was difficult for me. Turning forty was a big deal (I say from the other side!!), and I struggled with a lot of fears and concerns: What am I doing in Paris, what am I doing with my life, what's up with my Alexander teaching, why am I so harsh with myself, when will I quit these mean thought patterns, it's freaking dreary grey and raining here in Paris - this is why I moved to the SOUTH where at least I can reasonably hope for a little blue sky in April... you get the gist.

Thankfully, THANKFULLY, I have this amazing team of Beloveds who offer me unparalleled compassion and support. My teacher Abe says this, which is what I aspire to in my teaching, and what Sarah, Luz, and Jack wholeheartedly embodied for me in the last two days: "You’ll have people coming to you saying, 'I don’t know what it is but something about your belief in me has caused me to rise to a new level and I’m so much happier and so much more productive and so much richer for my relationship with you.' And some of them will eventually say, 'What is your secret?' and the simple answer is, 'I knew who you really are and focused incessantly upon that until you became it.'"

So this crazy thing happened with my iPad on Sunday. I've been successfully ignoring its warning that there isn't enough iCloud space to back it up, until it decided - no more! and completely froze up. Uh, say that again?? It was the first beautiful, sunny, warm day and I was without my camera to capture images of the HORDES of people descended upon the lovely Parc des Buttes Chaumont, where I took myself for the afternoon. After twenty minutes lying on a steep grassy hill I was nudged over by an entire French family, and they weren't sharing their quiche and wine. I took the hint and wandered away, naughtily sneaking off the path into a woodsy section and lying under the trees for some actual solitude. There were so many people crowding every single hillside, the drone of all their talking sounded like Wall Street. I'm not kidding.

Home from the Parc with the evening stretching long before me, I attempted in vain to negotiate with Minois (yes, I named my iPad... it means Pretty Face, how's that!). The only operable function was Siri, a voice-activation software. I asked it to "play music," and it did - a random mix from my entire collection. You want to tune into what the Universe has to say to you? Just go for a random sampling of channeled conferences, choral music, Old Crow Medicine Show, Louise Hay, kirtan, emotional freedom technique, and icaros. Ha!

Altogether, the reassurance and sunny day and irony of technology elevated my mood considerably from my birthday doldrums. And I woke this morning from this dream (remember my philosophy, described above):

I am decorating a chocolate frosted birthday cake-slash-pie. I watch my (child) self decorate the bottom half. Then I (a wise consciousness) decorate the top half of the cake. I'm using my right index fingernail to mark little cuts in the icing, telling/teaching her that this is what we do to mark or scuff something up. [Here I think of the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, finding beauty in imperfection, or Tibetan monks creating intricate mandalas and then sweeping them away, pointing to life's impermanence.] Then we dig into the cake with our fingers, and the song "Happy Birthday" is ringing in my ears. There's a crowd nearby and I look over triumphantly, but they're not really watching. It doesn't matter.

What my iPad played to me last night was Abe saying, "Resistance is part of a leading-edge experience. It creates more powerful desire." I am seeing that I came to Paris to bang around a bit, to stir up a little unhappiness in order to generate stronger desire to practice kinder stories about myself and my work, to deliberately choose where I go based on my perfectly justified personal preferences, to tear into my cake and eat it too. And I must be on the right track, because my dream confirmed that I'm understanding the value of messing up, that it's of no consequence if anyone else notices, that I'm being celebrated in ways I can hardly fathom.

To all of my ancestors watching over me, French and otherwise (though let me say I can CLEARLY feel the French ones hanging around!), to all the angels currently incarnated as my friends and family, t h a n k y o u !! You lift me up. I'm glad to be here, receiving your love.



Friday, 12 April 2013

Très Forte, C'est Moi

Shine your light on me...

I'm appreciating the similarity between forty and fort-y; fort meaning (adj.) strong, loud, (adv.) very hard... My dictionary says, vous y aller plus fort conveys, "you are going a bit too far"... Which I have been feeling. As in, sure this Paris business appears exciting, but I wonder -- why the hell did I take myself all the way to a foreign country, alone, to celebrate?? Ah right, that's me: a tad strong, a little much...

Anne et Cecile

Anyway, the abundant Facebook birthday wishes were wonderfully warming in this chilly rain, and I did have a delicious authentic French dinner at Bistro Paul Bert with two Alexander teachers I just met. I didn't photograph our meals, which included crayfish sautéed in butter, poached egg in mushroom-onion broth, lamb liver, andouillette (if you like tripe, which I kinda do, this one's for you), veal, and asparagus.

I did capture dessert: Look at that giant chocolate macaron! And you gotta dig the cheese plate: They just give you the board, you help yourself, and then they bring it to the next patron. We got the last of the goat cheese :-)


When it stopped raining, the light on the buildings was sparkling.


Les Bois de Vincennes

A day ago I noticed that I needed some time in the woods. It took me maybe 20 minutes to get to this park, which still has some definite city elements - like major streets running through a section of it - but I managed to find a more isolated section where the traffic noise was muted by a tremendous assortment of birdcalls. It drizzled and was chilly, but not bad for a quick trip.

The highlight for me was watching a heron and taking a picnic by this little waterfall.