Of note, started writing this the day I got back yet finished it later.
I opened the blinds today to let light pour into my apartment in San Diego. I just got back from Paris last night and my body currently thinks it’s 9:30PM. I’m not sure if it was the inordinate amount of wine and bread, the fact that I didn’t work for two weeks straight, the incredible art I was able to witness in Paris, or the healing power of being around people who know and love you for you but… my heart is so full. Writing that feels like an understatement but it’s all I can offer right now on a jet-lagged brain.
I opened the blinds today without real thought. I opened the blinds today the second I woke up. I return to that because it’s ridiculously important. For months I’ve jumped back and forth living in San Diego as my home base. For months, I had forgotten to open up the blinds. Nearly an entire day would pass before I’d think to open them. It’s a symptom of a larger problem of still feeling shut down and worn down. It was a habit of openness that I lost and had to be intentional about. Something clicked while in France and this habit of vulnerability that I nearly lost this past year and that used to be so easy for me feels easy once more. I opened the blinds and was excited for the day ahead.
Growing up I went on mission trips with the church I used to be a part of. There was always talk about how these trips will leave you in a “high” of sorts after the fact only for those habits, lessons, and moments you had to slowly fade as time moved on. “You’ll want to sell all your clothes and sign up to be a nun”. I stubbornly fought against forgetting by keeping in touch with folks I met abroad and on the trip. I wrote pages of journal entries. I properly processed and still reference lessons I learned there. I did the hard work of remembering and not forgetting. I credit that in large part to why I’m likely a minimalist now. It’s hard to want to fill a closet with clothes when you wake up to the fact of how much you have compared to others. It’s easy to remember the power of community when that’s the main focus of a gathering.
I feel that same “mission trip hangover” after this trip. I’m a bit in shock at how much I was able to experience and how different I feel. Each day I woke up knowing this was exactly where I wanted to be. Each day I practiced vulnerability in exploring a brand new place and diving deeper into a very long friendship I’ve had with my travel buddy.
I feel so lucky. I’ll never forget this trip. My thoughts are so scattered as I process it all.
The night we decided to stay in, drink wine, talk, and dance. We blasted music. Played old songs and new songs. Tried to waltz with each other. Danced with chairs goofily. Laughed. Spilled wine. Cleaned up wine. Lost track of time.
Sitting on the 5th floor of the Musée d’Orsay staring for 30 minutes at a whole row of Monet’s paintings in disbelief. The day prior we had been to Monet’s house. We pondered what angle he might have painted the two paintings on the right. We hoped we’d be able to see another he painted the following day in Rouen (we did). 4 hours passed in an instant being there. We stayed until it closed. We lost our minds when we left overwhelmed by how beautiful it all was.
We set out to find arc de triomphe one day only to learn we could climb to the top of it. In true tourist fashion, we did. As we reached the top and looked out at the eiffel tower, it suddenly began to sparkle. We found out later that the tower is covered in lights that bring the monument to life for 5 minutes every hour on the hour. It was a touristy goldmine but, more importantly, standing up there brought home the very real fact of where we were.
On the steps outside of sacre coeur, we befriended two random British folks and a random French woman being harassed by a very annoying singing guitar player. After she initially brushed him off twice, he returned. It was the final straw for Chelsea, my travel companion, and me as we rushed down the steps telling him to get lost. He continued to be annoying which only connected us more with the British folks sitting behind us on the steps. They offered us beer. We sat together talking about street harassment. Later, the French woman stopped to say thanks and we all sat together cobbling together English & French words to learn about each other.
After going to so many amazing museums, I was determined to draw. We ripped out some empty pages from a notebook, grabbed pens, and headed to one of 23928539 cute cafes in France. As we sat down to begin drawing, a cat came out of nowhere and curled up right into my lap. I could hardly believe it as the cat quickly fell asleep soon after. Cut to about an hour and a half later, when the same cat screamed at me, scared the shit out of us, then refused to leave to my horror. We laughed. We squealed. We begged the cat to leave. The cat returned repeatedly almost as if to torture us. Eventually, it fell back asleep next to me and we made our escape.
The first night I arrived, we headed off to wander the streets of Paris. We came upon the Louvre and, in the distance, heard music playing. We came upon a man playing cello beautifully. We sat. We listened. We silently looked at each other nodding before leaving.
It’s 9pm and the museum of modern art is closing. We’ve barely scratched the surface of this massive building. Apparently, when the French list closing times you should always subtract an hour as this consistently happened to us. We panicked. We nearly ran from room to room opening our eyes as wide as we could to try to soak up as much of the incredible art as we could. At a certain point, I snagged Chelsea, “Let’s come back tomorrow”. She looked distressed. There was a desperation in our desire to see so many beautiful things back to back. Needless to say, we returned the next day and, at one point, spent over an hour sitting in a dark room absorbed in a visual/auditory mind trip of an exhibit.
The last day we were in France, we opted to walk the whole day instead of taking the subway as the weather was divine. On the long journey, we stumbled upon this incredible little park. Essentially, the park sunk into itself with a massive hill right in the middle almost like the reverse of a donut. We walked all over marveling as we went and wanting to catch every angle. We came back later to marvel at the setting sun.
Sitting near Notre Dame, we ate this amazing vegetable stew and sipped on lattes as we waited to meet up with Maylis, a French friend who played rugby with me at UNC as an international student. I joked she would appear in high heels to Chelsea and, in true Maylis fashion, she did not disappoint. Even though it had been 4 years since we had seen each other, it felt like no time had passed. Like lost puppies, we followed Maylis in search of a true local experience to this incredibly nerdy bar (no – really – read this). Over numerous drinks, we scratched the surface of catching up before calling it a night.
No trip to Paris is complete without some time spent gazing at the Eiffel Tower up close. The first Saturday we were there, we headed out albeit a bit later than we intended after a night of talking and wine drinking. Right next to the Eiffel Tower, we met up with Maylis who proceeded to buy us crepes and show us where French people go to lounge. Another round of crepes later, we sat on the grass talking and staring at the Eiffel Tower for hours. At one point, Chelsea snuck away only to return with wine as a belated birthday celebration. It was perfect. At one point, we talked about tattoos. I shared that if I had to get one, I’d likely get “What a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t happened yet”. If you had told me a year ago, I’d be having so many “best days” back to back I wouldn’t have believed you.
Each neighborhood we went through, we noticed themes with stickers scattering the walls. One neighborhood had a ton of j’existe stickers (I exist). Another was littered with ones about nuclear warfare. Another had stickers saying ABOVE and the tag of another graffiti artist at every corner. What do they all mean? What does this say about the neighborhood we’re in? We weren’t entirely sure.
Did you know Picasso’s first muse was named Olga and that when their marriage fell apart it’s reflected in his art? I didn’t before this trip. Walking through heartbreak in the Picasso museum was wild. To see so many pieces of art from such a famous artist in such a large quantity was inherently overwhelming. I found myself collapsing with my hands on my knees as if I had just been winded from sprints while walking through the museum.
We met up for drinks and dinner with Maylis again one night. After unnecessarily chugging beers to get into a place to eat (and to pee), we quickly dove into ever deeper conversation. The topic of keeping in touch, letting go, holding on, blah blah came up and soon I was in tears. I sat by a random river in Paris refusing wine and crying over how much my heart hurts over being separated from those I love. I was sitting across from two of them. One who I hadn’t spoken much to in 4 years. The other who I hadn’t had true quality time with in about the same amount of time. They looked at me almost bewildered. My brain works in weird ways and sometimes my heart just hurts even when I’m sitting with people I love happy as can be. Chelsea and I walked arm in arm home that night.
Wandering near Sacre Coure, Chelsea led us to the “Wall of love“. It’s a wall that has “I love you” written on it in all sorts of languages. As we arrived, a hoard of school children quickly joined us. At the demand of their teacher, they slowly gathered in front of it with looks on their faces that asked, “What’s the big deal about this love thing?!” A large amount of grumbling later, the picture was snapped. Chelsea and I joked about scaring the children with our own heartbreak stories – “RUN AWAY, DEAR CHILDREN. Save yourself from this love thing!”. At the top of the wall, it says roughly “Love is a disorder… still we love.” Yes, still we love.
The last night there, Chelsea and I agreed an early night was in order. We solemnly agreed we didn’t want to risk missing any flights or trains. Jump to 3am and I’m dumping the remaining euros I have shoved in my pockets onto the bar of an Irish pub asking one of Maylis’s friends to order whatever she can get with it. Praise the gods for taxi drivers who drive late into the night and for responsible people who put the drunk, lost American ones in cabs. After a night of dancing, drinking, and talking, we barely made it home at 5:30AM. I stumbled (literally) into the shower at 8am and, somehow despite both of us still being drunk, Chelsea and I managed to get to the train station to part ways a few hours later. We hugged and held each other, “I love you”. As I headed towards my train, we both turned back to wave again and again.
It’s not so much what we did but who I was with. I’ve seen old cathedrals before. I’ve danced late at night (surprisingly). I’ve had wine. I’ve had bread. I’ve seen amazing art all over the world. I’ve had late night conversations. To immerse myself in two weeks where I only touched my computer for around an hour, spent most of the day outdoors, gazed upon countless works of art, bore my soul to those I love, and witnessed the reciprocal vulnerability… I don’t have words. The combination of everything together over such a long period of time was so damn healing.
If I had one word to describe the experience, that would be it: “healing”. My edges feel rounded out. The depth of my soul feels more at ease and more accessible even to myself. I laugh and breath a bit easier now. I wake up without anxiety and ready to go. I know how I want to spend my time, money, and energy. I feel a renewed sense of wanting to learn and grow. I want to freaking draw and try something incredibly outside of my comfort zone.
As I flew back from Paris, I paused as I always do asking myself, “If I died on this flight, would I be happy?” The answer was a resounding yes.
I open blinds now. I went for an hour long walk by the water yesterday just to get outside more. I woke up at 6:30AM this morning and jumped into work. I’ve written 15 postcards since I returned sending out love in every direction I can. I’m overflowing.
I got new glasses today. I’ve been needing new glasses for almost 4 years but just haven’t had the mental space to do it. I do now – less than 48 hours home and I have new glasses.
I am already planning my next adventure. My soul is full and I am happy.