|Live, live, live
Steenie put me on the train to Paris on the 23rd, on my way to Jean Marc’s for the next ten days. The contrast of my confidence level and ease in returning to Paris by train and Metro now compared to four months ago was a pleasant shock to me. When I left Jean Marc and Anita in August, at the very beginning of my European travels, they had driven me to a Metro station so I wouldn’t have any Metro line changes before I got to the Train station, they had bought my tickets and helped me carry my luggage up the stairs and basically treated me like the helpless American that I was. But today, as Steenie dropped me at the train station near the chateau, and waved goodbye, I had no trepidation whatsoever. I had already downloaded the Paris Metro App to my phone, knew which Metro’s to catch, where to change stations-I knew now how to figure it out. I was also much lighter, having pared down quite a lot since August, both physically and luggage wise. The 10,000 steps I climbed, the multitude of hikes, and daily walking, plus my 20 minutes a day of exercising, had gradually strengthened me so that carrying my big backpack up and down the subway stairs didn’t even wind me at all anymore.
Christmas was a whirlwind, spent with my very loving, large, boisterous second French family, the ones that belong to Jean Marc. The traditions are basically the same here as in the US, with Pere Noel, or Papa Noel, visiting homes in France on Christmas Eve while good boys and girls are asleep, just as he does throughout the world. I spent the 24th with Jean Marc’s daughter Julie, and her two brothers, Max and Bertrand, and their Mom, Genevieve, with the spouses, and four small children. Fred, Julie’s partner, was the chef for Christmas Eve dinner and everyone worked in the small kitchen all afternoon while I entertained the children. We began eating dinner at about 9:30pm and at 1:00am, I gave up and went to bed before dessert was served. For big nights like this one, eating this late this is very common. We started with an aperitif of champagne served with a variety of canapes, all created by hand, then moved to the table and had a smoked salmon starter followed by steamed shrimp along with fresh oysters on the half shell, which Bertrand had spent two hours shucking. Pantade farcie, stuffed guinea as the main course, served with sides of vegetables and potatoes, then the cheese course, fruit and chocolate cake. This is a fairly traditional Christmas meal, very tasty, and just as much work as an American Christmas dinner.
On Christmas morning, even the children didn’t wake up until 8:30am, but weren’t allowed to open the presents until everyone was up and had eaten petit dejeuner, breakfast. Four people had slept on two pullout couches in the living room, and the four upstairs bedrooms were packed to the gills as well, so by the time everyone was up and fed, it was almost 10am. The children handled it very well, I was really impressed. I bought some Jack Daniel’s Black at the airport when I arrived in Paris from Croatia and had been lugging the bottles around waiting for today. All the people I know in France love Jack Daniel’s, something to keep in mind if you plan a visit here, and it made shopping easy. It was a busy day, and I loved watching everyone open their presents, particularly the children, and it reminded me of my childhood, with eight of us tearing into gifts, talking all at once, general mayhem the ruling the day. While I did think of Michael, I wasn’t sad at all and didn’t miss the mass of presents that I usually got on Christmas day. He would shop for me for months, and I always had dozens of packages to unwrap but today, I had two, an elegant silver bracelet from Julie and some French bonbons, and I was thrilled with that very thoughtful gesture. I missed Christmas with my step-children and my grandchildren, but again, I wasn’t sad, I was grateful to spend this day with a family that I loved. Some people don’t even have one family to be with, and I have two.
Later that night, we drove to Jean Marc and Anita’s for Christmas dinner. He and Anita had gone to Anita’s daughter for dinner the night before, and today was their day with Jean Marc’s children, spouses and grandkids. Jean Marc’s apartment is small but we all fit in and had a feast prepared by he and Anita in the tiny kitchen. We began with carefully prepared canapes, toast points topped with either smoked salmon or foie gras, with a champagne aperitif, followed by a first course of Quiche au St. Jacques, then a delicious stuffed veal roast called Veau Orloff, and a side of Ecrasee de bintges et celeri rave gratinee au cantal,(a type of celery mixed with potato and cheese), followed by the cheese course, and a Nougat Glace for dessert. We opened presents after dinner at about midnight, and Jean Marc and Anita gave me a lovely silver grenouille (frog) brooch to remind me of France. I went to bed after that but the kids and spouses stayed until about 2am.
The days after Christmas were spent mainly visiting and resting and we only went into the city once, to visit the Pere La Chaise Cimetiere, a cemetery in the heart of the city, where dozens of famous French people are buried, along with Jim Morrison. The gravestones are crowded in, butting right next to each other, with almost no grass or space between, the tree roots wreaking havoc among the tombs. I have always found cemeteries to be peaceful, beautiful, fascinating places of history and this was no exception.
On Sunday evening, I was attending an 8pm dinner that I had read about in a New York Times article. An American expat, Jim Haynes, threw a dinner party every Sunday night and had been doing so since the early 70’s. It was by reservation only, with a suggested “donation” of 30 Euro’s and I was guaranteed to meet people from all over the world, it was a meet and greet type of event for tourists and locals as well. I arranged to meet with an American student I had met in Dubrovnik, to spend the afternoon exploring the catacombs underneath Paris before I went off to my dinner. Josh and I had been emailing each other and we happened to be in the city at the same time, so we arranged to meet at the Denfert Metro Station, but without making a Plan B. I arrived 15 minutes early and remembered that every Metro has at least two exits, sometimes four or more, and this one was no exception. I walked around the block trying to find the other exits, scanning all the faces in the large crowd of people, back and forth in front of my exit for 45 minutes before I gave up and went to join the long line for the catacombs. A guide standing near the end of the line told me that the wait was three hours and there was no guarantee I would get in since the last tour started at 4pm and it was now 1:30. It was a rare sunny day in Paris in December, and there was no way I was standing in this line all afternoon to possibly go underground in such lovely weather, so I took off for the Jardin du Luxembourg, then Notre Dame and the Left Bank of the Seine.
I arrived at Jim’s about 8:15 and the small place was packed with people. The host introduced me to some of them but they just said “Hi”, then turned away. I grabbed a plastic cup of red wine and a bowl of soup, trying to figure out how to eat soup and hold onto my wine while standing up. I finally found a vacant stool and took a seat in front of a long white couch. There was an older Italian couple from Rome and a young man and woman deep in conversation to their left. I talked briefly to the Italians but the conversation wasn’t flowing, and then the young woman finished her conversation and said hello to me. She was an American from New York City, she said her work was “arranging spaces”, kind of like feng shui. She asked me how long I was in Europe and what I was doing here. I don’t immediately tell people I’m a widow on a trip to heal and grow, but after she continued to ask me questions, I told her about Michael and she laughed and said, “Ohhhh, so you’re why I’m here.” She doesn’t tell perfect strangers this, but she is a psychic and she said, “I was wondering who that was hanging around you. Is your husband a big guy?”
“Well, he’s standing right behind you and I keep seeing his hands on your shoulders. I also sense that he is often at your back.”
It sounded exactly like the picture I have on the main page of my blog, and I told her he used to love to spoon me as we fell asleep at night. I told her I’ve woken up many nights and felt him spooned against my back.
“That’s exactly what I see. He’s full of color, like sparkly colors that I can’t describe, they don’t really exist here, and he’s very joyful. He keeps telling me he wants you to live, live, live and he’s happy that you’re on this trip.”
She also saw him tousling a small blond boys hair, I’m sure it was our grandson Mack.
Carey and I talked the rest of the night, I didn’t even bother mingling. We both felt we were here for each other. She had lost her father three years before and we talked about that, and how long she’d been seeing the things she sees, her work, my work, just chattering on like old friends catching up.
We left together to walk to the Metro at about 10:30 and discovered we were riding the same line for a while. As we walked, she told me she saw a man coming into my life, someone unexpected that would show up when I wasn’t looking and that I would know immediately that he was the one. I’m OK with that, it confirmed what I’ve been feeling, and feel more ready every day. If God could do it once, bringing Michael to me when I wasn’t looking or expecting to fall in love, I’m sure he could do that again. But the totally cool thing is, I’m OK if someone doesn’t come along. I love my life, I love being with people, but I actually enjoy being alone now too. I’m comfortable in my own skin, and I like me. I think this crazy dream trip of mine is working!