Paris

The Hotel de Ville

A Tricolore thread winds through the weave of my life, and on the periphery of my awareness hangs Paris, a once possible alternate reality. Living there permanently was the dream I couldn’t quite pull off, but I’ve returned to visit time and time again. During the past few weeks however, Paris has held a different place in my mind and heart. This time, it’s not due to my familiarity with the city or that it still holds me under its spell. This time, since the November 13 bombings, Paris has held my attention with a special urgency.

I sat down to write tonight not to share stories and images recently collected while wandering through the Marais or in the Luxembourg gardens but because I have a burning concern and words that I’m not hearing spoken by the world’s most powerful leaders and I want to know why. It seems like simple logic to me.

I want to know why Obama isn’t saying, “There is no other issue but Climate Change. If we don’t take dramatic and urgent measures to address runaway CO2 emissions, nothing else matters. Nothing… period.” I want to hear him say, “If you care about immigration, refugees, guns, food, agriculture, health, gender and/or race issues, look deeper at climate change. Its all tied together in a big fat mess and we will never untangle it without addressing the climate.”

You will say, “He can’t say that. He has to be careful with his language. He has to be diplomatic. There are allies and coalitions of power that he’s working on subtly, out of our view.” I get it… He’s making deals. But what I also get is that there’s still only one issue. Climate Change trumps everything else, including the antics of the caricature pseudo-politician who goes by that name.

I also want to know why everyone who loves this big beautiful earth and all of its creatures isn’t having a fit right now. If you follow me elsewhere on social media, you might be tired of my fit, tired of me going on about the climate, tired of my posting petitions and begging you to sign them. I’m not going to pipe down about it. This is a big deal. I want you to join me. I want you to make a big deal out of it too. I want you to do whatever you think is your part to do so that we can enjoy this incredible place called earth a little longer.

I understand that it doesn’t seem like you can do anything about it, just you, personally. This thing is too big and too scary and there’s too little leadership. But that thinking only leads one way, to inaction.

We can change the direction of this runaway train. Each one of us can do something every day. At the very least we can lend our support, the very real and very powerful things we each have called attention and intention to the movement. We can start by asking ourselves every day, “Can I do this differently? Do I really need to fire up my car? Do I need to go on that business trip? Can we have this meeting via Skype?” If not, “is that because I can’t change the situation or because I don’t know how… yet?” But we can’t change it if walk around with our heads in the clouds because its too hard, or unpleasant or inconvenient to change our lives. We want someone else to lead. Well its too late. This is our planet and its changing so fast that within our lifetimes, and I’m 54, we won’t recognize it as the same place.

This week, record rainfall fell outside my window, again. This summer, it was record draught. The maritime Pacific Northwest is traditionally known for its green landscapes and gray skies, by relatively high precipitation, long, cool summers and somewhat mild winters. In places where high temperatures and draught already hold sway, and where flooding already threatens, exaggeration of these native conditions means unlivable conditions. Here in the PNW, we have no idea what that might be like. For us, climate change is causing inconveniences like no ski season last winter, and we can still pretend. But this week was different in Beijing, Norway and Cumbria. In Beijing, even breathing the air is dangerous. How is that even living? In Brazil, women in certain areas are being warned not to have babies because of the insect borne zika virus, which causes microcephaly (a neurological disorder that stunts the growth of the baby’s cranium) in developing fetuses. Warmer temperatures and frequent downpours speed up the breeding cycles of the insects, so during the summer months, they’re simply advising women not to conceive.

I’m writing tonight because I’m disturbed and I want to disturb your peace of mind too. I want to shake you up a bit. I want my friends and neighbors to get a little bit upset about this, because I am and I think you should be too.

Quai du Seine and Notre Dame

Its almost morning in Paris. If they haven’t been working all night, the delegates from hundreds of countries will soon reconvene for the last time. The talks end tomorrow and tomorrow is almost here. The agreement won’t be enough to turn back the tide, but it might be enough to gain a little time. Whatever the governments of the world decide, it will be up to each one us to hold them to it. What kind of a world do we want for our children and grandchildren and what are we willing to do for it?

The climate movement is gifted with talented artists from every discipline. They are poets and musicians and painters and performers. They are protestors and climate activists and they’re making art and making a ruckus in the streets of Paris. They’ve staged impromptu concerts and performances and built massive installations. Every day, I’m awed by the ingenuity and camaraderie I see via my screen. One might almost think its a festival, but the urgency and tension in the faces and air belie the seriousness of their endeavor. We all have something to offer this movement.

After dinner walk

As Paris awakens, I’m off to bed, but I hope that tomorrow I’ll awaken to a world united behind a common goal. Please join me.

 

Lyon

As a 17 year old, I spent part of a school year homesick and lonely in Lyon, largely missing the city’s charms. Living with a French family who spoke no english and attending a local “lycée”, I was so far out of my comfort zone that I truly couldn’t appreciate it. I arrived just after Christmas to snow on the ground, which, in Seattle, is a rather rare treat. In Lyon however, the snow sat on the pavement of the sidewalks and streets getting filthy and smelly (think lots of dogs, few parks and lots of poop mixed with melting snow on the sidewalks). It was cold and gross and I had no one to talk to as I walked to and from school trying not to slip in the brown slush. With only two years of high school french under my belt, I sat through eight hours of philosophy a week, falling asleep in class nearly every day from the sheer exhaustion of trying to understand what was being said.

Returning to Lyon as an adult, I’m always surprised at how much it offers. For the last 20 years one of my Irish cousins and her husband have lived just outside the city, giving me reason to come back on several occasions. Usually, its been a stopover to meet her and her family to head off on some crazy adventure with our combined lot of six children. But this time, with the kids all well on their way to grown, I arrived to spend some time with her, her husband and sister. It had been over 10 years since I’d seen any of them, so we had a lot to catch up on. No grand adventures were planned, just being together.

Mornings usually found us long at the kitchen table munching croissants and drinking coffee regardless of the schemes concocted the night before. Whatever it was seemed to take on less urgency on the heels of yet another 2am bedtime. Some time after noon, we’d all of a sudden realize that the day was escaping and come up with an improvised plan based on how many hours remained until dinner. On one outing into town we checked out an area called “the docks” – previously warehouses along the river – which is being completely redone to house clubs, cutting edge furniture and interior design stores that cater to a hip, young, multi-cultural, international set.

An orange cube building initially caught my attention, but at further inspection, the buildings on either side matched the orange cube with their own innovative but less outrageously colorful elements.

We wandered through the medieval warren, “Vieux Lyon”, with its narrow alleys, covered walkways, and secret passages built to protect bolts of silk, (an industry for which Lyon was known up until some time in the 19th century). Theoretically, we were trying to decide where to eat dinner but got sidetracked by ice cream in a central plaza near the river, which gave us the opportunity to spend more time teasing each other, laughing and telling stories. But this is Lyon, and meals are serious business here, so after wandering and window shopping a little more, we retrieved warmer clothing to ward off the evening chill and launched ourselves into the evening’s next culinary adventure.

Some time since 1979, Lyon became home to a collective of artists who paint giant murals on the walls of the very ordinary urban residential buildings that line the banks of the Rhone and Saône rivers. Now, every other block sports a building or two painted with elaborate trompe l’oeil designs and enormous pictures of life in Lyon. I’d seen a few small, decrepit versions of these in the old part of town, but crossing the river, I looked up, stunned to see the playful, colorful paintings ornamenting the same buildings I had trudged by daily lamenting to myself the dreariness of this town where I’d landed.

After four days of hanging out with cousins, exploring the country lanes near their home as well as the contrasting newer and older parts of Lyon, I headed off on an early morning train to Italy, the second leg of my pilgrimage to reconnect with people I hadn’t seen in too long.

Saying goodbye, we vowed to do this again sooner. It was a new way of being together for all of us. No major plans, no destinations, no need to entertain young children, just hanging out, talking, eating and being. As I’ve said, I’m still learning how to do this thing, and I can’t say that there weren’t moments when I looked at the clock and thought, “Are we going to do anything today?” without an accompanying feeling of anxiety that indeed, we might not! In retrospect, I look back and think how silly that thought was. The idea behind it is that “if I’m all the way over here in France, shouldn’t I be doing something?” And being all the way over here in Seattle, I look at that and think, “how ridiculous.” Those memories of watching the royal wedding at 1am after finishing dinner somewhere close to midnight, sitting at breakfast until after noon and grilling steaks in the back yard are the ones that will stick with me long after I’ve forgotten the images from the cool trompe l’oeil paintings.

On Vulnerability

Since beginning this post almost two weeks ago, so much has shifted that I’m not sure I know where to start anymore. Yesterday, I sat down to write and got sidetracked reading my friend Jeffrey Chapman’s blog post and the comments following it. What I had already written seemed directly connected to what I was witnessing on Jeffrey’s blog. I was writing about watching Brene Brown’s TED talk on vulnerability prior to my recent travels… that it must have set a tone for the way that I traveled throughout the next three weeks.

Having traveled a fair bit in France and Italy, I have a decent repertoire of memories to draw from. This time, something felt different. It wasn’t until I reflected upon the possibility that I was doing it differently that it all started to make sense.

Jeffrey’s post elicited a landslide of comments. Thoughtful and sensitive, full of depth and very personal, they came from the heart… The original blog post itself was unusual. In it, he was open and vulnerable about personal grief and loss. It was this vulnerability that elicited the ensuing rare conversation, which I found refreshing, exciting and heart-warming.

Waiting for the TGV to Lyon

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Wandering in Paris

Awakening to rain my last morning in Paris with my feet still tender from miles logged the previous 36 hours meant rethinking how I would spend the time remaining until my late afternoon train to Lyon. So after packing up and stashing my packed bags, a buzzing boulangerie around the corner lured me in with the promise of a cafe creme and a pain aux raisins, which provided an excuse to sit and people watch while writing in my journal. As I sat, I flashed back, “Proustian” fashion, to pleasant memories of this very activity. Usually, it wasn’t a way to get out of the rain and decide what to do next, but an end in and of itself.

I felt my body relax and settle into the corner I had chosen, simply enjoying the flow of tourists and neighborhood residents which seems to be characteristic of the Marais. There are other neighborhoods in Paris that have this same feel, and 33 years after first visiting Paris, I still search out the corners of the city where I can sink in and feel what its like to be a part of this flow rather than apart from it. Its easy to go to Paris, or other five star travelers hot spots, and be so intent on seeing what is there to see that one misses this element entirely. You arrive somewhere with a list of “must see and dos” and proceed to check it off, feeling like you’ve failed the place if you fail to see its Mona Lisa. On the heels of this trip, I realized that it is this element of feeling the spirit of a place that draws me. It’s connecting with shopkeepers, street vendors, waiters, and other travelers as well as witnessing the ebb and flow of ordinary people’s lives that draws me to new places at home as well as to foreign lands. I’m not sure I could have iterated that previously, but having the two contrasting experiences back to back on this trip brought it home. Continue reading

Paris Day 1

A little over a year ago, I stopped writing what was intended to be a daily post. Shortly before I stopped writing, a volcano erupted in Iceland. While claiming that the volcano’s eruption bears responsibility for my lack of blogging productivity might be a stretch, its a pretty good story…

In truth, my 365 day project ran out of gas. It might have been different if the volcano had stayed quiet. I was scheduled to fly to Paris on April 18, ultimately making my way to Genoa for an inspiring and challenging week long photography workshop with David DuChemin and Jeffrey Chapman. But I stayed in Seattle. I spent a week with a packed suitcase in the middle of the floor. My morning routine involved drinking a latte with a phone to my ear, trying to find a flight from the west coast of the United States to anywhere in Europe that was operating and wasn’t oversold. It didn’t happen. I finally threw in the towel and called in my travel insurance. A couple months later, CSA sent a check for everything I had spent that wasn’t reimbursed by the airline. In the mean time, I stopped writing daily blog posts and confined my disappointment to the pages of a moleskine. While I appreciated the Seattle’s beauty walking through the Arboretum and along Lake Washington, and I tried really hard to recognize that there is a time and place for everything, I was having a really difficult time finding my daily routine as inspiring as France and Italy.

It took a few days before I was ready to start unpacking that suitcase. I carefully placed the bag with gifts for family and friends on a shelf in my bedroom, not knowing when I would deliver them, but vowing to doing so. The suitcase went back to the storage room in the basement.

Fast forward one year: A rolling duffel bag sat on the floor with piles of clothing and camera gear all around it for a week as I decided what was going and what was staying. I finally took the bag of gifts off the shelf, made a nest for it among my clothes, zipped and locked the bag. The heavy pack containing laptop, external hard drive, camera, lenses and other critical items went on my back.

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