I am feeling enormous gratitude as I sit here writing. Today was a “work day” and I feel so fortunate to be able to do my work in such a beautiful setting, and in a way that suits me. To wake up when I felt like it, to have had a breakfast just the way I wanted it, and to have been able to sit in Annie’s lovely dining room, with the sunshine streaming through her windows, planting seeds for upcoming tours, was a real gift. With Jesse by my side. When I left in the morning to get some items from the market, I noticed a spring in my step. Part of me was thinking about all of the things on my agenda for the day, and a tiny bit of overwhelm crept up, but then I took a deep breath and thought, “I’m walking to the organic market in Paris! The sun is shining! I get to do my work in one of the coolest cities in the world and life is good!” Spring is a time of rebirth, and I felt this energy very much as I made my way down the little street. It feels good to be alive, to be healthy, and to be doing what I love.
In the late afternoon, I took Jesse to get a shave and a haircut at a nearby shop - his first shave with a straight razor. Exhilarating, I hear! This was followed by a walk in the nearby park, which included a fairly intense “discussion” about work. Life is not perfect in the relative, but even in its imperfection, we find that perfection exists in the absolute sense. Moments when we are frustrated with each other are few and far between, and in the end, we use these situations to learn and grow closer.
At night we went to Martine’s house in nearby Herblay, where we spent time with her and her husband, their son, daughter in law, and grandson. We had another chance to really test our French, and the evening was very warm and sweet with a lot of laughter and good feelings. Speaking and comprehending another language is quite exhausting! I will sleep well tonight…
March 5 & 6:
Wednesday began with getting some gluten free bread at a bakery in Paris. As we made our way through town, we also picked up some cheese to enjoy for lunch later on. We then headed to the Eiffel Tower! I have of course seen it so many times on television and in photos, but it is another thing entirely to visit it in real life. It is so massive! The day was gorgeous, and so many people were out enjoying the sun, and thus it was very busy at the Eiffel Tower, with long lines to “go up it” as we have begun to say (there are many places in Europe where you can “go up it” to see incredible views of whatever city you are in!). We walked all around the area, then headed across town past Hôtel des Invalides on our way to the left bank. Somewhere along the way, we sat in a park and enjoyed a very French lunch - baguette, cheese and red wine. Mmmmm. Once we reached the area of the left bank, we just meandered around enjoying the people, the scenery, the landmarks and the famous book-stands along the Seine. We then went back to Levallois, where we had a very special dinner with Annie’s brother Michel. It was so fun hanging out with everyone. Jesse had not seen Michel since the early 1990s, so they had some catching up to do!
Today (Thursday) we planned to get up early, but we are not good at this lately! No matter - when we were ready, we made our way to the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile. Because it was another very gorgeous day, there were many people about, and people generally seemed quite giddy about the weather so the energy was magnetic! We then strolled down the Champs-Élysées, past the cafes, cabarets, cinemas, and many shops. We then spent much time in the Jardin des Tuileries, where many people were also about, enjoying the sun and lounging by the fountains. I liked looking at the many statues and watching an old man sail his boat in one of the little fountains. The park ends at the Louvre museum, where many art treasures live. The iconic triangular glass structure is a very interesting site amongst the old buildings. We couldn’t bear to spend such a lovely day indoors, so we enjoyed it from the outside and went on our merry way. We then went to the steps of the Opera for a little snack, and enjoyed the beautiful piano playing of a street performer. I do not know how he wheeled his piano there, but he apparently did it on a dolly! Next up was the Île de la Cité which is one of two remaining natural islands in Paris, and which is home to the Notre-Dame de Paris, the famous catholic cathedral. We went inside, but did not “go up it”. It was beautiful, but unfortunately, folks were not respecting the signs that request silence, so it wasn’t quite the “cathedral” experience. Jesse says he is a sucker for stained glass and the silence of a cathedral, so at least he got one out of two - the stained glass was marvelous! We then decided it was time for dinner so we made our way to a little organic cafe via Île Saint-Louis, the other of the two islands in Paris, and very sweet and idyllic. We’d love to return. Now it’s 9PM and we are so exhausted! We thought we’d get some work done tonight but I think it’s PJs and movies in bed for us!
We had every intention of finding ourselves in Paris proper early today, but we were off to a rocky start with me feeling very sick with monthly womanly ickies. It was particularly bad this month, and Jesse was my real and true hero helping me through the whole ordeal. It is interesting that there is an added melancholy because it means we didn’t get pregnant this month. It’s ok - I know it will happen with perfect timing, but there’s a little sense of loss. And also interesting the change of attitude. Many years trying NOT to get pregnant, and now the whole thing is reversed!
Eventually I felt well enough to hit the streets, and we essentially spent ten hours walking around Paris. Wow! We began with a detour from our planned route, going to Père-Lachaise, the wonderful, old and gigantic cemetery that is home to many famous people. Since we did not have a map of the cemetery, we chose our most desirable graves to visit and made little handwritten maps, based on the large stationary map at the entrance, so that we could find them. This, after discovering that “just wandering around and trying to find them” would not do. So we saw the resting place of Chopin, Jim Morrison and Edith Piaf, as well as many people we did not know. The graves were all very cool. Jesse was disappointed that there was a barricade around Jim Morrison’s site, which had not been there the other times he visited. There was also a distinct lack of partying around his grave, which Jesse had also expected. Père-Lachaise is very beautiful and mysterious. There are grave sites of all sizes and shapes, many of which are very old and moss-covered. Cobblestones “streets” wind through the grave yard, and it is quite possible to lose your way as your imagination takes over and you wander…You could spend an entire day there! It was a nice day to visit, with the sun popping through the clouds frequently to light up the cemetery with a magical glow.
We were hungry for lunch after this, and learned again that we cannot expect to have a late afternoon lunch in Paris. The restaurants are all closed down until dinner time, which is often not until 7:30PM. We had to be content to stop at a pâtisserie for some bread and, um… other stuff. Being wheat-free is not possible in France! I don’t have it in me!!!
After which we went to check out Place des Vosges, a park that remains one of Jesse’s favorite places to visit in France, and which has been the screen saver on our computer for months, acting as inspiration and encouragement. Victor Hugo’s home is also nearby, thought we did not see it. We sat on a bench for a while and watched the goings on in the park, especially the activity of dogs and children.
We then made our way to Centre Pompidou, which houses a library and modern art gallery, and which we understood to be a great way to get a (free) elevated view of Paris. Alas, it was closed and we had no way of enjoying the museum or the view. It is possible we will return when they are open, but who knows. There is so much to do in Paris!
We wrapped up the evening by going to the Jewish quarter nearby, where we chose a few nice bottles of wine in a wine store and had “the best falafel in the world” (not nearly the best really, but quite good anyway…) at Chez H’anna, an Israeli restaurant. The trek back to Levallois took us past the city hall, called Hôtel de Ville, which was beautiful all lit up at night. And the sliver of moon above it was a gorgeous cherry on top. Or more like a tiny banana.
So I am snuggled up in bed, trying to shake a bit of a chill. This morning we awoke in Gometz le Chatel and had a relaxing few hours with our host Véronique. We looked out the huge picture windows and wondered about what the weather would do. Rain! She dropped us at a nearby Metro station, and we easily made our way back to Levallois, where I was able to do some laundry, go to the bio market, and make a nice little lunch before Annie’s sister Martine arrived to share some time with us. What a lovely lady! In fact, this entire family is so wonderful, I am in love with them already! We talked for a while, made plans for a longer visit, and also got Martine’s recommendations for our day on the streets of Paris tomorrow. We decided that because of the rain it would be wise to spend the rest of the day catching up on work, so that is just what we did. Ducks in a row and all that. In the early evening I decided I had to move my body, and the rain seemed to have ceased, so Jesse and I left the house to walk to the Seine, hoping to also visit the park and see the city hall building. Alas! It began to rain heavily by the time we reached the river, and we got drenched on our way back, and did not stop at the park or the city hall. This feels like the deep sort of wet that goes into your bones, and I am attempting coziness to warm up. The delicious soup that Annie made for dinner helped a little bit, and I am ready to sink into relaxation mode, with dreams of our day tomorrow in Paris, a day that I hear tell will be sunny!
Day 40?? Day 40. Amazing. This tour is going by so fast I can hardly believe it! Jesse and I awoke this morning and lounge around until it was time to be picked up by our house concert host Véronique. She came at 2PM and took us to her friend Michel’s house, where we chose a keyboard for the show and enjoyed a cup of coffee with him and his family. Michel is hosting a house concert with us next Sunday, and he is the reason we connected with Véronique in the first place so we’re very grateful to him. He is very kind and supportive, and we will likely stay with him for a few days later in the week in order to give our friends in Levallois a little rest and also so that we can spend a few days in the beautiful countryside. I’m sure this area (Orsay) is very desirable, because although it has a country feel, it is still very close to Paris. If I was living here, I would want the best of both worlds too!
When we got to Véronique's house, which is in a breathtakingly beautiful village near Orsay called Gometz le Chatel, we set up and did a quick sound check and then Jesse took a walk with Véronique while I rested. Even writing this now, I feel a bit sad that I missed that walk, but my priority right now is getting the rest I need no matter what. When I awoke it was time for the party! And what a party it was. I thought of it like “Welcome to France, Take Two!” Spectacular breads, cheeses, wines and cakes, and lovely, passionate music provided by Genna & Jesse. Following the concert we had the pleasure of talking with many of the guests, which is always one of the best parts. We made some new friends and were given many ideas about where to play on our return. France is not one of the places where we have a lot of shows on this tour, but our aim in the less-booked areas was always to make connections in order to build something for next time (and the next and the next…) and that’s exactly what is happening. How awesome it feels to experience the manifestations of these dreams and intentions! Coming to Paris has always been a dream of mine, and one that I kind of thought would never happen. Well, now it is happening. A dream come true!
February 28 & March 1
Bonjour from France! It is really fun to be here, and I am amazed that the language I studied so many years ago is still inside my head! The human brain is pretty amazing. Do I speak perfectly? Not by a long shot. Can I carry on a conversation with a French person? If they don’t speak too quickly, and if they are patient with me, the answer is yes! I have become very inspired to study French when I return to the US, because I feel sure that I can progress quite rapidly if I dedicate a little bit of time to it each day. Thank you, oh people of France, for being kind enough to get me feeling inspired instead of frustrated.
Lille was rainy, and challenging on several levels, but despite that, we met some amazing new friends at our show who will support us in getting better gigs when we return, and we made the best of our day off in this beautiful city in northern France. Because of the rain, we decided a museum was the best choice. I get museum fatigue quite easily, so I knew that I wanted to choose a place that was very manageable in a few hours. We chose the natural history museum, and this was a perfect idea! It is quite a small museum, filled with taxidermy animals of all kinds, rocks and minerals, and even some exhibits with live animals. The collection of birds was amazing - thousands of them! I spent the most time looking at an exhibit that featured real ants creating some sort of a nest together with leaves. All day long they march back and forth from the tree to the nest with incredible determination. They were even sometimes funny in their behavior, and Jesse and I enjoyed narrating their activity. I was also very happy to get the opportunity to discover that I could understand most of the descriptive plaques at the museum, which boosted my confidence further!
The evening found us getting on a train to Paris, and we arrived at our friend’s house around 11PM. After a bit of conversation, we all went to bed. It was a long day and it felt so good to be dry and warm and cozy!
We rested a lot in the earlier part of the day. We also walked to the Bio Market in Kraainem to get some staples, which allowed us to see more of the town. Our show was in Brussels proper at a club called La Porte Noire - very old and very cool, like a stone cellar. We arrived early because Damien dropped us off on his way to a concert, and so we decided to walk around the city center. We had seen parts of it during the day, but what a beautiful thing to see it at night! Despite there not being tons of people out, there was an aliveness we could feel, and the lights made everything quite magical. The show was challenging because we had been told we had to play all-acoustic, and it just wasn’t the room for that. Then, after we played two sets of music, basically shouting to try to be heard, the bar manager arrived and asked us why we weren’t using their sound system. WHAT?? We were pretty bummed, and he was furious with his staff for dropping the ball. I didn’t feel they deserved it, as we had been told well in advance by the booker that they didn’t have any equipment. But he wasn’t around to incur the wrath of his boss, so the others took the heat. We will definitely return to La Porte Noire, fully amplified next time. After the show, Jesse and I really wanted some frites. Damien had been singing the praises of frites earlier in the evening and now we wanted to sample them. He and Cecile had arrived for our second set, and we were all to return to Kraainem together, but not before we went on a search for frites! In the end, this hour-long search ended up being a bit of a historical tour of Brussels. “Historical Tour of Brussels By Way of Closed Frites Shops”!!! It was a lot of fun, but did not get us our good Belgian frites. We ended up at a dive that was open very late, and though we got frites, they were not likely the best that Brussels has to offer. It’s ok though because we had a blast!
We slept late today! Down in the basement of Damien’s house, we have our own little apartment, which is so nice. But you definitely cannot tell when the sun comes up, and so we sleep and sleep. And it feels so good! In the early afternoon Jesse and I learned a Belgian song called “What’s a Woman,” so that we could sing it at the house concert. We also walked around the town we are in called Kraainem, which is a suburb of Brussels. The neighborhoods are a bit confusing as the buildings, most constructed in the 60s, all sort of look the same. Add to that the fact that we did not know Damien’s address, and it is not hard to imagine that we got a tiny bit lost. After wandering around for a while, I suddenly had the idea to head toward the Metro station, knowing I could for sure get us back to his house from there, but Jesse didn’t like the idea of going so out of our way just to get back to Damien’s, so we persisted and eventually found his place. In the end, I told Jesse it was fun getting lost because that feeling of finally finding his house was so exhilarating!
When we got back, everyone was just finishing with setting up for the concert, so Damien decided it would be great to go to a nearby Flemish town called Leuven. He felt we really must see both the French-speaking and Flemish parts while here, and since we would not be able to do Ghent or Bruges this time around, he felt this was a very good option. Even though we were only able to spend about 30 minutes in this little town, we were so glad we made the trip. The Gothic Flemish architecture is so extraordinary, and the town had a fantastic feel to it. So many people on bicycles - amazing! Beautiful cobblestone streets, sweet little restaurants and markets, interesting statues throughout town… Damien said that not many tourists go to this town because it’s not as well-known as Ghent or Bruges, so we benefited from that as well.
The evening was filled with house concert activities. It was a really fun show - great people. great food, great music. Just a month ago, this show was not on the books, and we are so grateful that Damien found us (thanks Couchsurfing.com!) and wanted to host a show for us. We have definitely found new friends. In fact, Cecile, who is from Toulon on the sea in southern France, wants to do a house concert with us on her beach in the Fall!
This was a fun day in Brussels, spent walking around, eating Belgian things, and visiting the MIM, (Musican Instrument Museum) where our host Damien works. At the museum we had the good fortune to experience an exhibition that was part Brussels’ Week of the Sound, a festival that aims to educate people about field recording and sound engineering in general. The exhibit we saw (and heard) included four old-fashioned hair dryer chairs with audio coming through the dryer “hats”. One could surround themselves with sounds recorded all over Europe as well as soundscapes that were inspired by visual art. Very cool! After a little lunch and some more walking around, Jesse and I returned to the museum and were guided around by Damien, who was able to show us all of his favorite exhibits. I really wished my dad was with us, because the featured exhibit was about Adolphe Sax, inventor of many instruments, but most notably the saxophone. It was a really fascinating exhibit. We loved it!
During the evening, we all hung out at Damien’s. After a great dinner (Damien loves to cook!) Jesse and I spent some time Skype-ing with his mom, and then we all reconvened and were introduced to real Belgian music! Damien has quite a collection of old 45s, and we went through them, choosing which ones we wanted to hear, usually motivated by the cover art - Of course! It was so fun and we had lots of laughs. Jesse and I intend to learn one of the songs for our Belgium concerts, knowing it will mean a lot to the attendees that we know one of their hits!
We had another National Lampoon’s European Vacation-esque morning trying to return our rental car in time to make our train to Brussels. Every once in a while, when we’re stressed, Jesse and I begin to work against each other instead of with each other. Never a nice thing. But fortunately, we know how to pause, refresh, and begin again as a team. What was so cool this morning was that as soon as we did that, near miracles occurred! We hustled and worked in tandem and in the end made it to our train with time to spare. On the train ride to Brussels, we watched the film “In Bruges” together on our computer. I had seen it before, but it seemed extra funny to me this time around. It also made me want to visit Bruges, which we decided not to do this time. In the end, there is more than enough to do in Brussels, and we want to conserve our energy as well. I’ve been extra tired lately, which is completely fine, but I want to always honor my energy, and not overdo things at the expense of my sense of well being.
Once in Brussels, we walked (uphill!) with all of our luggage in order to meet our host Damien at his workplace, which is Musée des instruments de musique (Musical Instruments Museum). What a cool place to work! I don’t know if he feels this way, but we do. We were feeling very dirty and hungry, so after we dropped our stuff off with him at the museum, we walked downhill to the city center to have some lunch and meander around. Because it is a very touristy area, we could not avoid a fairly touristy lunch, but it was pretty good and included the Belgian specialties - frites and waffles! Then we just wandered for a while, which is easy to do in this beautiful city. We also attempted to find a post office which proved impossible for some reason. I can’t claim to understand Belgian culture, so I don’t know what was going on exactly, but the people we encountered and tried to question about the post office were rather cold in their demeanor. I’m not brilliant in speaking French, but I’m certainly more adept at French than German, and yet I was met with completely blank expressions when I asked politely, and in French, if the people in question spoke English. We were then, in succession, given three completely different directions to the post office, none of which actually landed us at a post office. Ugh. I found these interactions incredibly different from the ones we had with the German people, who were consistently very kind to us despite our lack of knowledge of their language. I tried to remind myself at each turn not to allow my feelings to be hurt by what I perceived as meanness, but I suppose I’m a sensitive creature after all!
Most importantly, our host, his wife, their two little boys and their friend Cecile, who is also staying with them for a few days, are all very, very kind people. When we returned to Damien’s home, we all shared a beautiful dinner, and Jesse and I enjoyed trying to talk to the boys, who do not know English. They are really cute. Jules is 4 years old and Tom is 5. They wanted to know where we were from, and why our French speaking was so funny! Jules was teasing my for the way I said “au revoir” when we said goodnight, and tried to show me the correct way to say it. To my ear, I was saying it just the same way that he said it, but clearly I don’t have the nuances. He was giggling, so finally I said, “How about if I just say ‘bonne nuit’? That’s not so hard!” Everybody thought that was very funny. But the best part of my entire day was when these little boys came to me and gave me very sweet little boy goodnight kisses. My heart just melted. I can’t explain it, but these might have been the most special kisses I’ve ever received!