23 February, 2011

Lesson 2: How To Get Lost In Style

Every time I leave my neighborhood of Belleville here in Paris, I get lost.
No exceptions.
It is always the same. Take, for example, my quest for Shakespeare and Co last week. First, I should give a little background on this temple of awesomeness. The independent bookstore, located in the 5th Arrondissment/Left-Bank/Latin-Quarter, has quite the detailed history, both classic and romantic. Founded by an American expatriate in the beginning of the 20th century, it was a place of inspiration for both the "Lost Generation" and the "Beat Generation", and was once stated to be "a socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore." It's aim now is basically to maintain the culture that is so specific to the Left Bank, and to act as a home-away-from-home for thousands of artists from all over the globe. Filled with bunks for passing writer/artists to crash on, Shakespeare and Co. is the backpacking, starving artist's dream. It draws me in, in part simply because it's comforting to be in an English environment; it truly does feel like a home-away-from-home to hear other English speakers, making jokes that make sense, using slang that I can understand, etc. This little haven also appeals to me because of the beautiful piano tucked away upstairs that calls my name from all the way across this city.

Anyway, back to me and my wandering.

I generally look at my destination on a map before I leave my flat, get a vague idea of where I'm headed, and proceed to not write down directions or even the address of where I'm going (always my biggest regret, "what street was it on again?"). Once I walk up the stairs from the metro and surface on the rue, I'm always surprised to find that I have no real clue as to what direction to go.

Aside from when I first set out on my adventures, I try to not even look at a map. Pride issue--I don't want to seem like a stupid tourist, even though I am.

I tend to walk in circles, though unlike most people, I find this to be productive. Gradually, I start to recognize cheap crêpe-stands and street-vendors that sell seemingly pointless knickknacks and that neat little crack in those stairs over there and those hobos that seem sort of happy...It's only natural that I would recognize these landmarks, considering after roughly an hour of strolling along I will have walked by each spot anywhere from 3-6 times.

**This would be a good time to mention I had been to this bookstore before with my brother Barnabas. That made my trek even more interesting, as I was recognizing things my brain had processed years before! I really did have a "déjà-vu" experience, when I found myself drawn to the same corner cafe that I had bought an overpriced sandwich at almost exactly three years ago. It was really strange to stand in the same spot on the sidewalk, feeling like a totally different woman...in a good way.**

Oh, also, on this particular day it had started raining, and I of course was unprepared and without any kind of protection. Side note :)


After a good hour and a half of walking in a purposeful zig-zag fashion, I found a trail that I felt right about, and BOOM!, stood in front of the most beautiful site I had ever found, simply gazing in awe...ok, not entirely true. I wish I could say it was that grandiose when I finally reached my destination, but it wasn't. I wasn't even thinking about the depth of my voyage, how I got there and the symbology (yes, it's a word) of my choices. Nope. In real-life, I frantically pushed my way through some people jabbering in German (blocking the door, I might add) because I was SO cold and ready to get in and maybe find that book I was looking for...

Most people reading this probably think I really am an ass, considering the entire route itself is 20minutes total, not two hours. BUT, in recognizing and registering the arbitrary things that I passed by numerous times that afternoon, I began to familiarize myself with that specific set of streets, which enlarged my understanding of that specific arrondissement,
which has thusly brought me one small step (or one "afternoon's worth of walking") closer to understanding this enormous and mysterious city.


Now during afternoons like the aforementioned, I think about what it would be like to start writing down bloody directions; to somehow start mapping out my plans. I could get a lot more done, appear more productive on paper--and, to use a cliche, "keep my eyes on the prize."

I'm sure anyone who knows me can see where I'm going with this.

In speaking to something larger than simply my quirks in exploring a city, in my own way of doing life,
I don't tend to make big plans,
or map out where I'm going,
or follow a set of directions.
Sometimes I listen to what others tell me. Sometimes I trust my instincts. Sometimes I use reason...
each situation is different from the next.

The one thing I rarely do, however, is to follow a way of life that keeps me so narrowly focused on one destination that I don't notice the guy who works at the cafe on the corner from open until close, or the Chinese prostitutes that are out on the street every hour of every day that I walk down the hill to get Lilia, or the homeless man that had his entire life on that sidewalk before they ordered him to move, or the lady that gives me a discount on my baguette every morning, or the sidewalk that I stood on three years ago, having no idea what life was yet to come. What is the purpose of getting to all the "places" I'm looking for, if I miss all that I pass by?

Even though I don't know what city I'm going to be living in six months from now, what job I'll have, what school I'll study at, or what people I will sip my morning coffee with, I choose not to lose sight of the LIFE that is going on around me constantly. I choose to say "yes" to really seeing people everyday, and to truly loving what I get to see. Even if that means I get to the bookstore a little late.

(This ^^ is the cafe I had re-found. Recognize it Barnabas?)

This is Shakespeare and Co.
(photo by Jake Heinitz)

17 February, 2011

Mornings ♥

Sucking our thumbs...or rather, sucking each others' thumbs.
Giggly girls
She's pretty amazed how weird I am...

Also wanted to share some videos that capture Lilia's full-personality :)

11 February, 2011

Cher-Cher Lilia, Sacré-Cœur, Montmartre, Moulin Rouge, Café des Deux Moulins (Amelie's Cafe)

Not much to write tonight folks. Loads going on here--physically, emotionally, spiritually. Just wanted to share some photos with you. Had a nice couple of days exploring with Lilia and Claire this week :)

Moulin Rouge (clearly)
This is Café des Deux Moulins, the cafe Amelie worked at.
A random street in Montmartre, with some random lovers highlighted :)
Lilia and I at Sacré-Cœur together
Claire and Lilia on the rue of street art
This street for the street artists is just a couple blocks down from my apartment.
This is Lilia, the cher cher I get to spend time with :)
Doesn't she just have the best smile?
She is already such a dancer too!
C'est tout. Bonne nuit.

07 February, 2011

67 Rue de Belleville; Beaucoup de Langues

(That's ^ my address for now. If you would write me, which I would love, be sure to send to "JEM Paris (attn: Hannah Birkeland)" as my name is not on the post box. Also the zip is 75019. So here's the spot, in its entirety:

JEM Paris (Attn: Hannah Birkeland)
67 Rue de Belleville
Paris, France

Right now as I write this, my roommate Marthe is running around our room on the phone with her mother, laughing and shouting in Dutch, her native tongue. In the hallway, Kindra (another flatmate) and Richard (our visitor of the week) are joking in Spanish, as the former is from Spain and the latter is from Venezuela. Ida is in the kitchen, and though she is quiet tonight, she is often heard speaking her native tongue of Norwegian, as she hails from Norway.
(my room)
Can you believe how rich this environment is? I am surrounded so intimately by such different cultures...we all have so much to learn from each other. Around Belleville (my "village" so-to-speak here in Paris) I have been doing my best to keep up with the French. Due to the beautiful and illuminating diversity I am surrounded by in my flat, I don't hear a lot of French when I'm sitting at home (which does not happen frequently). This has definitely saved me from that immediate head-ache that I find always accompanies one's first bit of time in a foreign country, where the native tongue is not one's own. But that being said, improving my French is a significant intention of mine whilst here, so I sort of wish for the head-ache. Lucky for me, Claire (I'll introduce her in the following paragraph) is from Paris, so she speaks perfectly clear and articulate French, and I have asked her to speak to me in French as much as she can remember when we are together. Already in our two days of time together she has taught me more than she knows.(the view from my bedroom window)

I am here for loads of reasons, all of which are derived from the fact that I simply am (there's that abstract brain-vomit...*refer to post #1). My primary duty right now is to take care of Lilia, the 19-month-old daughter of Jono and Claire Bevan, the couple that are in charge of Kiwizine (the community-operated restaurant/art-gallery that brought me here). This will be my main responsibility for the next three months, at which point the Bevans will be moving to Vietnam and my duties will clearly change. Thus, my secondary duty for the time being is to be trained by Claire, to replace Claire for the period in which she is not here. I am excited about this, as Kiwizine is just fabulous and I absolutely feel at home being a part of it. But there are definitely nerves associated with this as well, considering I will be the main person serving and dealing with our customer's questions (about the food, the cafe, our group, etc.)...all of whom only speak French. Oh la la!
Jono is Claire's husband, and he has already become a dear friend to me. From New Zealand, he has come from a whole other culture, but gets on here in Paris quite naturally. Jono is an excellent chef, and is the leader of all the goings-on of JEM Paris. At this point I am not quite sure who will step up for his role when they depart...

I do not have much else to report about the experience so far. I have been here only three and a half days, so there is a whole lot more to come.

As far as my psycho-spiritual analysis of the situation and my new life here, well of course there has been a lot of that ;)
Immediately upon my arrival I was struck by a feeling of lonesomeness that definitely surprised me. Not because I think I'm above feeling lonely, for I have definitely spent my fair share of time in solitude, but simply because I have never experienced the emotions that would naturally accompany a move such as I just made. It was a pretty intense consciousness to be made aware of that huge 4,000 mile gap, which separates me from everyone who knows me. A couple nights ago I couldnot sleep, and after the standard methods of attempting it (counting sheep/counting blessings, reading a book, writing a journal entry, mindlessly surfing Facebook, chatting with loved ones), I found myself still wide awake at 4:30am. My last resort (I don't know why I always wait last minute to do what I know will work) was to do my dance practice. I did an hour-long dance, in the dark, in my apartment, with the windows open, watching people walk through the street (NO idea what they were all doing out at 4:30...maybe same as me?) and started to feel better. Grounding myself is near impossible (in my life, so of course in my dance), but as there are four other people living in this apartment, and these floor boards creak like they're doing a dance on their own, I was literally FORCED to keep my feet in one spot, whilst my upper body did its natural chaos dance. If anyone could have seen it, it must have been entertaining to say the least, but therapeutic for me.

Through the embodiment and sequencing that occurs whenever I enter into the dance, I was able to come back to myself, and remember that really, I am home.

This temple is my home, and that memory is the greatest comfort my Creator has given me.

Things are always a stitch difficult for a while, in every new place I find myself.

Before long, I adjust.
I fall in love easily.
Then the time comes to return "home", and though I'm usually ready, I always know I'll miss this most recent place and way of life intensely.

It has become clear that no matter what I do or where I go, I will be more than taken care of; more than satisfied.
(view from the park across my street)

(l'entree of my first night at the restaurant)
(I got to snip and gut all these little guys)
(and the finished product !)

(this is the kitchen of Kiwizine)
(this is Kiwizine)