A New Perspective on Thanksgiving

“Do you like Thanksgiving?” a co-worker asked recently, after admitting that she wasn’t too fond of the holiday.

I was taken aback at first. I didn’t think that Thanksgiving needed to be defended. What’s not to like about an excuse to gather together and eat wonderful seasonal one-offs like sweet potato casserole and pecan pie, and, being a conversation set in America - get one (and often two) whole days off?? 

But as I headed home, I reflected and realized that while I’ve always enjoyed Thanksgiving as an opportunity to spend time with my family, I never loved it until I moved to France.

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Canvas-Worthy Paris, 2014 edition

{Canvas-worthy} A characteristic bestowed to a photograph of exceptional quality to indicate it might be pleasing enough to consider making into a canvas and hanging on the wall. See additional notes in the Canvas-Worthy Paris post of 2013.

Example: Michael: Look at the photo I just took of the Eiffel Tower!
                   Sara: Wow, that one might be canvas-worthy!

This year I was much less discriminate when it came to narrowing down my favorite photos Michael and I have taken in Paris (18 instead of last year’s 10!). Thankfully, I am only committing to sharing them with you and not actually purchasing canvases for my home yet. So take a look and help weigh in on which were the best of 2014! (Or else I’m going to need to save up a lot more for a larger house with more wall space!)

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FIAC 2014

Paris had a lot of art to see. There’s a reason that the Musée du Louvre is just a synonymous as the Eiffel Tower in evoking images of the city of Paris. Art is important to French culture, and there’s plenty of it to go around.

One thing I appreciate about Paris is that while there are numerous art museums throughout the city that charge an entrance fee, there also is a spirit to make art accessible to everyone. This manifests itself in a variety of ways, but one is the cultural events the city sponsors. 

Autumn brings about one of those events to town, called FIAC (Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain). This international art festival holds its main event in the Grand Palais (which took place this year from October 23-26). I’ve never been inside for the event because the hefty 35 euro entry fee is a bit steep for me. Luckily though, the festivities are accessible for those unable or unwilling to cough up the dough. The festival exhibits installations “hors les murs” (outside the walls) namely in the Jardin des Tuileries, Jardin des Plantes, and a few other locations throughout the city that are free for the public to see and enjoy.

Last year I absolutely loved exploring the Jardin des Tuileries and admiring all the artwork on display. This year, the festival raised a fuss when the unveiling of the installation in Place Vendome created quite the scandal. (Read more on the outrage over the green “Christmas tree” on France 24’s news article here, and why the artist got slapped in the face three times...)

Controversial art aside, this year I honestly wasn’t as impressed with the art I saw during my walks through the Jardin des Plantes and Jardin des Tuileries. But I still want to share with you some of my favorites. And even though I didn’t find the selection of art as interesting this year, I do have to credit the event for getting me out on a lovely afternoon just to enjoy Paris in autumn, and also gave me the motivation to see two beautiful sunsets.

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La Toussaint at Cimetière du Montparnasse

As you might have already guessed, Halloween isn’t really a big thing over here in France. You can find a few pumpkin decorations in stores (mainly in chocolate shops) and a few costume parties but it’s nothing to the extent in the US.

I've been told that Halloween did have a few years of popularity in France, but it was followed by a backlash that squelched the holiday. Some say it’s because it was deemed to be “too American.” And I’ve heard others say it’s because it interfered with the French holiday that occurs the very next day on November 1st: La Toussaint (All Saints’ Day).

The truth is probably a mix of both, but I can attest that it is possible to attend an epic Halloween party one night and still crawl out of bed to make it to the cemetery the next day. (And whoever says that French people don’t get into dressing up for Halloween have not seen the level of detail and intricacy of the costumes I saw - they all upstaged me! But that’s for another time…) Why the cemetery? Because La Toussaint is a day to visit the graves of relatives and pay respects.

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Happy November!

Bon lundi!

Isn't it easy to become busy? For the longest time, I've wanted to believe busyness is a result of circumstances. Where I'm from in the northeastern US, it's entirely too easy to become sucked into cramming more into a day. I thought that a change of scenery to a more laid-back Europe would help free myself of busyness. I thought leaving a traditional 9-5 job would provide lots of free time and space.

And you know what? I still find my days packed full, and I still can feel stressed out about completing everything I want to accomplish. I can't blame circumstances anymore for this, so it's clearly something I can control if I make the effort. 

I'm still working hard over here, but one thing I'm learning these days is to grant myself some space. A little time to just be and enjoy, guilt-free. No pressure to be busy or productive or checking off boxes on a list. We've been gifted a phenomenally gorgeous autumn so far in Paris, and a lovely start to November. So I decided that make sure to take some time to appreciate the beauty around me for the sheer joy of having the opportunity to do so.

Take a seat at Jardin des Plantes, Paris

I hope you are having a wonderful start to your November, and are taking some time to embrace it as well! What do you do to manage "busyness" and work/life balance?

Autumn Colors in Jardin du Luxembourg

Bon lundi!

Hope you're enjoying a festive fall like the one we are experiencing in Paris these days! The past few months of cool, wet weather have been replaced at last with a final hurrah before winter sets in: a warm, sunny Indian summer. Like this incredibly beautiful Saturday afternoon in Jardin du Luxembourg complete with summer sunshine and fall mums.

Makes me want to start mixing the pumpkin pancake batter I lugged back from the US (Trader Joe's, of course), along with using copious amounts of cinnamon on everything to celebrate the season! What autumn things are you up to these days?

Stopover in Iceland

Bon lundi!

Sometimes promotions work. It's what got me to Iceland for the first time last year and started my love affair with the island.

You see, Icelandair has a promotion that when you fly with them between Europe and the US/Canada, you can build in a stopover in Iceland for up to seven nights at no extra charge. (Maybe I should interject here that this post is not sponsored by Icelandair, but merely my honest opinion.) Michael proposed trying it out last year for a trip back to the US, and we spent three nights in Iceland on the way to NJ.  (A word of warning I must share: even though the stopover is free, don't expect the trip to be cheap! Just renting a car, filling it with gas, sleeping and eating will easily run $250 per night for 2 people)

Before then, Iceland was never on my radar. It just never really crossed my mind as a travel destination. And then when Michael put it on my radar, I was a bit overwhelmed by how to plan a trip there. (I'm used to navigating cities but the great outdoors, not as much.) But our trip last year to the south part of the island turned out so well that we were more than up for another stopover to discover the northern coast.

There is so much to share and I promise more in the coming week(s) as I gush on and on about just how beautiful the country is. For now, I'll leave you with one picture to illustrate some autumn colors on a cold October afternoon just a few days ago.

Autumn colors by Lake Mývatn (northern Iceland)

Falling in love, or failing to love, Paris

Bon lundi!

I was going to write a typical, short Monday post with a picture to show you just how beautiful Paris is as autumn is settling in. But then a string of incidents hit, and I decided instead to get some things off my chest. If you don’t want to read my embarrassing tale, I included three photos, instead of the standard one, just for you. 

For those who want a laugh, or a Paris-reality check, let’s have a glass of wine and laugh this off together.

The trees of the  Jardin du Palais Royal hanging onto their leaves for just a little longer

I love Paris. But I don’t want to skew reality and portray only la vie en rose. Paris is sunsets at the Seine and picnics in the park, but it’s also crowded metro rides and dog droppings on the sidewalks. If you've been following me on Instagram, did you notice halfway through the summer that I stopped showing picnic pictures on the Île Saint-Louis and relocated to Canal St. Martin? Let’s just say Remy and friends moved in on my spot. But unlike the movie Ratatouille, he isn’t doing the cooking - these rats are waiting for me to bring an extra treat.

Anyway, onto this past week. You need to know the backstory of how I somehow broke a power converter and nearly electrocuted myself on a massive spark. I tripped the circuit breaker and Michael had to leave work early to fix the mess and replace the broken fuse.

Imagine what his coworkers thought the very next day when they heard Michael’s end of another phone conversation: “No, if the carbon monoxide alarm is going off, you MUST leave the apartment. Right now.”

Yup, the carbon monoxide alarm that we hooked up in our apartment went off. And it was loud. Extremely.

Now for a confession. I have a bad habit of drinking coffee and doing work on the couch until I fully wake up, afterwards showering and getting ready for the day. So although it was mid-morning, I was still in my pajamas and about to take a shower. And I certainly didn't have time to deal with a disruption due to the possibility of carbon monoxide poisoning.

I opened the windows, threw on clothes, and left. I then had to stumble my way through an apology to the artisan who has a work space in my building directly under my windows. (I’m telling you, this alarm was BLARING.) Once Michael came home, yet again, to deal with another mess, we determined we had to call the pompiers (firemen) because we had no way of knowing if there really was a problem or not. 

Luckily I support the firemen by buying champagne each year at their ball over Bastille Day weekend. But since this is the second time they've had to come chez moi, I think I owe them a drink next year.

I called, failed at communicating the problem in French, and then tried again in English. Then they showed up….to the wrong address….because apparently I did not make that clear enough. Try #2 they arrived to our house - and where most girls would be thrilled to have three pompiers in her bedroom, I was less enthralled in that moment. It probably had something to do with my bed-head and unbrushed teeth. 

Anyway, despite being a bit confused why we owned a carbon monoxide detector (especially when we only have electric) they gave us the clear. We were not in danger after all of poisoning. So I was good to proceed with getting dressed for the day.

If you ever need an occasion to check yourself and be humbled, just move to a country where you don’t speak the language.  It’s been a rough week (coupled with French bureaucratic paperwork we’ve had to deal with) and it’s been one of those low points of living abroad. But I can be grateful that Paris has been exceptionally beautiful this week (and that I was not harmed by carbon monoxide inhalation), reminding me of why I persevere to live here. And just like that, I’m under Paris’ spell again.

A September day in the Jardin des Tuileries

So...who’s laughing with me? At me?