A clarinet or two… or eight

The rains are continuing to pour down in Paris this week. Our umbrellas are barely keeping up, the fall sweaters and winter coats are seeing some action, and it’s all comfort food all the time: soup, fondue, duck confit… I feel like I should be out Christmas shopping.

Plenty of rain means finding indoor things to do: how about catching a concert with a clarinet octet? Why not!

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We heard this group at Église Saint-Roch not far from the Louvre, a church  I’ve stopped by to visit a few times. Notice how you can see a sculpture of the nativity as well as one of the crucifixion in another chapel beyond. It’s like foreshadowing in stone!

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We arrived a touch after they started (which was no doubt promptly at 12:30). As we walked to the back of the church, the sound of eight clarinets of various sizes playing together was almost organ-like.

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The free lunchtime concert included pieces by Handel, Mozart, Bartok, and more. A lovely way to spend an hour out of the rain.

 

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Picnic and tragedy

A lovely Parisian picnic in the park on Saturday with friends: chicken skewers and salad, good cheese with a tasty baguette, a delicious home-made apple cake—what could be better? Fifteen minutes after we left, lightning struck a birthday party of nine-year-olds in that same park.

We’d hoped to go visit the medieval town of Provins on Saturday with some friends with a car, but due to the crazy strikes and fuel shortages, we scrapped those plans for fear we might not be able to get gas to make it back home. So, Plan B: a picnic in the city. All week my weather app had been predicting afternoon thunderstorms, and all week they hadn’t come. It was the same on Saturday. Would the weather hold? Hard to say, but what’s the worst that could happen?

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Kill your darlings

Sometimes it’s not how many words you write, it’s how many you cut.

Now, there’s no doubt about it: it feels more fulfilling–and it’s more fun–to rack up big word counts of shiny new words. 1,000 words written? Yeah, not bad. 1,500? Right on. 2,000 or more? Now we’re talking’! But writing is more than churning stuff out. Writing also means revising and editing, rewriting and proof reading. And it means cutting.

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A lot of red ink. Some rewriting, a few word changes, but mostly just hacking out stuff that was slowing the story down.

Today was all about the cutting. Over the last few weeks I’ve taken a break from my novel to work on some short stories–to clear my head, get a little perspective, and have some fun whipping out some stuff I can finish in short order. One of them I drafted  entirely in longhand before typing it up, which was a nice breather away from the computer. Going through it a few times now, I’ve managed to hack out 450 words (about 5% of the total) and I hope to cut at least that much more. Already it’s leaner, tighter–and better. Sometimes less really is more.

Not to get overly spiritual, but–actually, let me just dive right in: this is a spiritual thing. In the Gospel of John,  Jesus compares himself to a vine, his disciples to branches of the vine, and God the Father to the gardener. He says that God prunes the branches that bear fruit so that they will be even more fruitful. He prunes the good ones, the fruitful ones.

Whether it’s a story or our lives, pruning means cutting away at good stuff so it will be even better. And it’s not easy. With the story, it means cutting away stuff I spent time on. A lot of time. Stuff I like. Stuff that I think is pretty well written–but that needs to go so that the whole piece will be better. (It’s called “killing your darlings” here in the land of writing.)

The same is true of our lives. More isn’t always better. Trying to do everything usually means not doing anything very well. “A mile wide and an inch deep” isn’t a good thing. We have to be willing to be pruned (probably in lots of ways).

The pruning of my story isn’t done. I’ll be doing another round of it tomorrow, trying to get those next 500 words cut. It’s not going to be easy; after all, pruning well is pretty much just as hard as getting the words down to begin with. But the pages are printed–and the red pen is ready.

Secret gardens and secluded courtyards

Some friends are visiting us in Paris, so that means getting out and seeing the sights, including parks that are hidden away in corners that you only find if you wander off the beaten path.

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Square George Cain in the Marais district.

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All the rain we’ve been having means spring is here! Flowers in Square George Cain.

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A hidden garden across the street from Square George Cain. There were signs for some museum accessed from (or near) the garden, but looking it up on Google maps, I couldn’t find it or even any reference to this space. Truly a secret garden…

We also visited the Carnavalet Museum, a wonderful free museum focused on the history of Paris and especially the French Revolution. It has plenty of fascinating objects, such as historic merchant signs, furniture, and artwork. We’ve been before, and it’s a good thing: the entire wing devoted to the Revolution is closed for renovation until the end of 2019! So this time we enjoyed what we could, checked out the gift shop and headed to lunch.

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A view of the courtyard at the Carnavalet. One of our friends is really into black and white photography right now, so I had to take a few as well.

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Another shot of the courtyard. Too bad it’s so hard to find anything worth taking a picture of in Paris. 

The Marais is always worth a visit. We’ll definitely be visiting more than a few times before our time here is up.

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A real “changing of the guard”

Recently I witnessed the ceremonial changing of the guard in Monaco. You can see such ceremonies lots of places, and it always amazes me how much attention they attract and how people like to get pictures (and yes, I took some as well).

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A few days before that in Prague, I didn’t catch the changing of the guard happen, but I saw them at the castle, standing before their little guard huts with their rifles. I don’t even know if they’re real guns, but I know this for sure: the guy in fatigues nearby was the real deal. He’s not standing at attention in front of a hut. He’s not getting his picture taken with tourists. He’s pacing with his weapon, looking all around, watching everything.

Today I saw a real, non-ceremonial changing of the guard just down the street from our apartment.

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98 days…

Fewer than a hundred days. That’s all we have left of our time living in Paris. To be precise, in 98 days we’ll be back in Seattle. It’ll go quickly, I have no doubt. Visitors, day trips, gigs, trying to see all the things we haven’t seen yet… the time will be gone before we know it.

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This weekend has been another long one for the girls due to Ascension, which meant no school Thursday or Friday. And right after two weeks of spring break! And they get the Monday for Pentecost off as well. (The schedule here really is ridiculous. And it’s amusing to me how the French are very adamant about their separation of church and state and their secular ideals–my French teacher has mentioned how important this value is a number of times–and yet they get boatloads of days off for religious holidays.)

Over the past few days we picnicked in some parks and took in the Foundation Louis Vuitton (a modern art gallery, and where I took all these pictures). Tomorrow the Champs-Elysées will be closed to car traffic, which means I’m actually interested in going there! They did the same thing last September and it was a fun time.

 

Step away from my crêpe and nobody gets hurt

Sometimes you want your crêpe and you want it now. Chalk this up as one of the many things I’ll miss when we go back to the States (and that day will be here before we know it): ready-made crêpes from the grocery store.

I’ve made crêpes from scratch, and from scratch is obviously a great way to go… but these are just so freaking easy and good. I suppose getting them made hot and fresh at the corner crêperie is even easier, but having them at home has its own virtues.

A few nights ago it was ham, swiss and mushrooms. Classic. This morning it was smoked ham, swiss and egg for two of us and nutella and banana for another. More classics. Isn’t it great how crêpes are perfect for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert? Why yes, yes it is.

Getting older in Paris

It’s been a great day for a birthday in Paris. Sunshine all around, coffee with friends, a writing session (with more coffee) with my writing group, a great morning with my prayer group, more writing in a park, and seeing Eddie the Eagle with my kids. But definitely the award for the most unexpected feature of celebrating another year gone by goes to… picking a place for a birthday lunch.

That’s right. A couple of days ago I texted a friend–also named Matt–about getting together. Last night I thought I’d better confirm we were on. And since Matt’s lived here far longer than I have and knows a thing or two about Paris, I was hoping he’d have an idea  of somewhere to go. Little did I know what I was getting into…

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Right on. I knew he’d be up to the task. But he was just getting started. Never in all my days have I ever experienced such a thorough process of picking a restaurant that took into account every possible preference variable. Time to buckle up!

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(He doesn’t think I can handle the spice? I think he’s on to me…)

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Adventure? Vacation? Colors? Movies? And if you asked me a different day, I’d give you five different movies… Is this all for real? Yes. But we’re not done yet!

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The computer apparently crunched all night. Not sure how much coffee it required. But in the morning, the verdict was in.

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Noura–a Lebanese restaurant–turned out to be a great place. Skewers of lamb, beef, and chicken. Hummus. Tabouli. Other tasty stuff. Baklava. Coffee (of course). Matt didn’t steer me wrong! And not only was the food good, but so was the company, as we covered everything from the Paris cinema scene to the best way to tour Normandy and the D-day sites (which we’re planning on doing in June).

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But what about all those questions–were they for real? On the walk over I got to pick Matt’s brain. Turns out even the throwaway, just for fun questions played into his restaurant selection equation. Really, even favorite color? Green is my favorite, but I threw in “jewel tones” just for fun (though I do like them). That made him think of the purple of Noura’s decor. Favorite movie? I mentioned Lawrence of Arabia. I’d already said ethnic, and that movie led him away from Vietnamese and toward Lebanese or Moroccan. Wanting to visit Turkey ruled out Moroccan and put things firmly in the Lebanese realm. Not sure if my favorite vacation had anything to do with anything, but then again, Matt doesn’t reveal all of his secrets.

I took a lousy selfie of us, but this is a better picture from another time:

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All in all, a birthday to remember. I think I’ll end it with a chocolate (or two) from the nice box I got from my kids!

 

Love and beauty… on the métro?

Everyone has a story about riding the métro in Paris.

It’s convenient, efficient, and can get you all over the city. I’ve seen wonderful musicians playing on the trains and in the corridors. But it can be dirty and often smells. Sometimes passed-out drunks practically have entire cars to themselves as their stench wards people off. Four times I’ve witnessed, in the words of a friend here, “the infamous métro puppet show” that a certain guy puts on at the end of the car with his ratty puppets, a curtain held up with a bungee cord, and an ancient crackling boombox. I’ve even seen a guy grab a woman’s cell phone and make a run for it.

And then there was the crazy experience of not understanding the announcement from the driver, not realizing everyone had to get off, and before I knew it the train had left the station and pulled into a holding area to park! Fortunately I wasn’t the only unaware idiot and enough of us made enough of a racket, pounding on the doors, that the driver finally drove the train ahead to a platform to let us out.

But today, I share a different kind of métro story from my friend Samantha, another expat at my church here in Paris. A story of beauty. Of humanity. Of love. Here are her words:

I was riding the metro and watched as a blind woman was helped inside by another woman. Her stop was the same as mine and I watched again as the other woman told the blind woman when to get off and which direction to go for the connecting metro. I wanted to help her, but was held back by my lack of confidence in French. However, seconds later, I watched as an older gentleman walking the same direction asked the young blind woman if he could guide her to the next metro. They walked arm in arm the whole way there. The blind woman and myself got off at the same stop again. I considered trying to help her, but couldn’t remember any of the French words I needed to use. Sure enough, I watched another woman approach her and offer to guide her.

Watching this blind woman being passed from person to person was one of the most beautiful displays of love I’ve ever seen. There are a lot of bad things happening in our world right now, but there are a lot of really amazing things happening too.

So true.

I, for one, will miss the métro when we move back to Seattle.

Can you break a fifty?

When buying something in a shop with cash, the French love it when you can pay in such a way so as to get the fewest coins or bills back in change. As far as their favorite things go, it’s right up there with brown paper packages tied up with string.

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If you buy some croissants at the bakery and it comes to 3.30 euros, and you pull out a five euro note, they will always ask if you have some coins so they can give you back the simplest change possible. I recently went to a museum where two tickets cost sixteen euros; I handed the man a twenty and sure enough, he asked if I had a one euro coin so he could give me a five back instead of a couple of two euro coins. Because a single fiver is obviously much simpler than two pesky coins. I did, and he was clearly happier for it.

In America, whenever I buy something that costs $12.45 (for example) and I give them a twenty and a couple of quarters, the cashier is sure to give me that stupefied, are-you-from-another-planet-and-what-in-the-world-am-I-supposed-to-do-with-these-quarters look. Especially if they’ve already punched twenty bucks into their till before noticing the quarters. They see those coins, they see the readout on their screen, and I can see their internal processor seizing up: Continue reading