What Happens After…

imageI’ve realized something over the last week. People here think of Paris as a woman -a beautiful woman. And it feels more like someone attacked a friend of ours than a city. They harmed her, and we grieve for her. It’s personal for us. But we’re working our way through it.

You know, when something terrible happens (a death in the family, any tragedy, really) initially, there’s a huge wave of sympathy, of love and attention. There are phone calls, emails, notes and messages of support. And then after a while, all of that stops, and you realize that you are alone in this thing that you are facing. You must work your way through the gauntlet of loss and anger, fear and depression, before you can come out the other side.

I think it’s good that you have to process this stuff by yourself. It’s a hero’s journey. And because it’s so difficult, it makes you realize that you are stronger than you think. It makes you aware that you are smarter, braver, more powerful than you thought you were. You come to the realization that this tragedy doesn’t define who you are. You realize that you’re bigger than that. You find your new normal, and adjust to it.

We’re still gun-shy here. Sirens make us cringe even now. And I think it’s safe to say that all of us are still jumpy and a little depressed. But, we’re walking our way through all of these feelings, and we know we’ll make it to the other side.

Paris is still Paris. She is still beautiful…and charming and special. The Christmas bazaars all are open again. Lights are twinkling all over the city. People are coming out more – stepping back into the world. The streets aren’t nearly as deserted as they once were. Now, when you go out in the evening, it feels like a lovely, quiet night, instead of a ghost town. And I’ve noticed that people here seem softer and more gentle with each other. When our eyes connect, there’s an extra moment of recognition for what we’ve been through. We appreciate each other more.

There’s this cashier-lady at Monoprix who always says hello to me. She wasn’t at work after the attacks, not Saturday or Sunday or Monday. In fact, I didn’t see her until Wednesday of last week. By then, I was very afraid that something had happened to her or someone she loved. When I walked in to the store on Wednesday, she came around the counter to hug me and give me two kisses as only the French can. I told her that I was so grateful that she was alright, and she said the same of me.

The attack on Paris made people here feel more connected to each other. When we pass on the street, there’s a common experience that binds us together. We are united in our grief and sadness for those we lost and for what Paris lost. We love her and we grieve for her, our beautiful city of light. For us, it’s personal.

13, November, 2015


I’ve been trying to think of what to say about what happened in Paris last Friday night. I know whatever I put down here will never be adequate.

Terrorists attacked the city.  I hate calling them terrorists. It feels like it gives them some sort of status…like I’m buying into their propaganda. I prefer to call them what they are…murderers.  Whatever we choose to call them, these people laid siege to the city for just over two hours and forty minutes and left 129 people dead and over 350 injured.

At first, we were all just in shock. Numb. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing on the news. We felt helpless, trapped, afraid. Next came an almost palpable sadness…a citywide despair that is just now transitioning into resolution, determination and strength.

Surprisingly absent was any feeling of rage. How do you feel rage at these pathetic, brainwashed kids? They’re nothing more than attack dogs. They were twisted and manipulated by a few power-hungry zealots, who gleefully sacrifice the lives of children in order to further their own ambitions. My anger is reserved for them and them alone.

There is one thing that has become so clear to me – one thing I feel right to my bones. And it has brought me a huge amount of comfort. It’s deceptively simple, so much so that it sounds naive or annoyingly optimistic, but it’s not. Here it is.  LOVE ALWAYS WINS.

My husband and I had so many people trying to find us, to see if we were safe, sending us their prayers, their love, worrying about us. I was humbled by the river of love that flooded our way. I thought to myself, most people never know how much they mean to the rest of us. For some reason, we tend to save that for funerals. Why? I wonder.

I read a 22-year-old girl’s account of her being held hostage in that concert hall on Friday night. She said that the terrorists were executing people as fast as they could. She lay among the dead and dying for over an hour, pretending to be dead herself, hoping that they wouldn’t see her breathing, hoping that she wouldn’t be next.

The thing that struck me most about her story wasn’t her descriptions of the violence, although those were horrifying. The part I will always remember – was what she said about the last moments of the people around her. She heard a young couple whispering “I love you” to each other as they both bled out on the floor. She spoke of a man, who risked his life to crawl over and cover her face while she lay whimpering, so the terrorists wouldn’t see that she was still alive.

And absolutely sure that she was going to die herself, she said that it was almost like there was a video playing in her head non-stop – of the people she loved. She kept seeing them in her mind’s eye, one at a time, and whispering to each of them, “I love you, I love you, I love you.” I pray that each of the victims were comforted by those same thoughts in their final moments – those same images running through their heads. I hope with all my heart that the people they loved were there with them – at the end.

After I read her story, I remembered the phone messages from the people in the World Trade Center on 9/11. They were the same. Hundreds of people, knowing that they weren’t going to make it out alive, calling their wives, husbands, children, parents…to say “I love you” one last time. Their last thoughts were of love…not terrorists.

I don’t think saying “Love Always Wins” makes me naive or weak. That declaration makes me feel strong. It makes me feel powerful and courageous. Love, is how I fiercely defend myself against hatred. And love requires much more strength, especially at times like these.

There will always be bullies in this world…thugs…punks. And when they attack you, hate isn’t what gives you the courage to fight back. Love is. You have to love yourself enough to stand up and defend what matters. That’s what Paris will do. That’s what the world has always done.

The morning after this attack in Paris, I reminded my friends that terrorism has a 100% failure rate. It always strengthens what it tries to destroy. Always.

Sunday, the churches in Paris were standing room only. We prayed for those who were murdered, for those who were injured, and for the doctors who treated them. We prayed with gratitude – that love existed in the midst of the horror. We prayed to be better people.

I pray we will all be better people. I pray that we will use this atrocity as a lesson – to tell the people we love how much they mean to us every chance we get. I pray we will learn to love better. I pray we will remember that LOVE ALWAYS WINS.

We could allow ourselves to be afraid, to cower from these pathetic, little people who try to make their God as small and petty as they are. They believe God is a vindictive war-monger who enjoys murder as sport. But, they’re wrong.  And I’m not going to cower. Paris…isn’t going to cower. Paris is going to live, and laugh, and love, and be grateful for every moment we have.

“Life is not waiting for the storm to stop, life is learning how to dance in the rain.”

We choose to dance.

Autumn In Paris

Autumn in ParisEveryone knows about April in Paris. They’ve even written a song about it. But, autumn in Paris has a glory all its own.

There’s a bit of crispness in the air. The weather gets cooler and you can almost see the briskness start to wake everybody up. The trees turn gorgeous shades of red and golden yellow. Small children jump & kick their way through piles of leaves everywhere you look.

The parks all around the city are still filled with people, but the demographic seems to change as summer shuffles into fall. Instead of hundreds of 20-somethings, lying on the grass, soaking up as much of the sun as they can, you start seeing parents taking their kids on pony rides, young couples strolling hand in hand, while their dogs try to wriggle over and kiss everyone they meet. You see old folks dressed up in suits, sitting on benches and chatting with each other about life. And as always, the littlest ones are riding the antique carousels, pretending to be hot air balloon pilots or princesses riding swans.  It’s nothing short of heaven.

There’s a shift in the energy around town as well. A relaxed country gets even more relaxed if that’s possible. As the end of the year draws closer, the French philosophy of “Slow down and take a moment” transitions into “Go ahead…Take all day.”  Personally, I love this change. I love the “sitting, reading, watching the pony rides” thing.

But the best part about autumn is that the city starts to dress up for Christmas. Around the second week in November, lights and decorations go up all over Paris, and that turns a gorgeous city into a magical one.

Thousands of white tents come out, marking the beginning of the Christmas bazaars that spring up along the Champs Élysées, La Defense and Saint-Germain. Tent after tent of nougats, wines, cognacs, crepes, antiques, jewelry, scarves, gifts…it’s a carnival of delights.

As for decorations, Notre Dame Cathedral gets an enormous Christmas tree every year. The tree is covered in thousands of blue and white lights and stands almost half the height of the famous 200-foot tall bell towers. Not to be outdone, the Champs Élysées transforms itself as well.  All of those gorgeous, square trees that line either side of the avenue get sprinkled with millions of fairy lights. It’s simply beautiful here.

Galeries Lafayette and Printemps get all of their big picture windows decked out with animated Christmas displays. No matter how grown up you are, standing in front of those windows makes you feel like a kid again. Each one is magical…and so different from the next. The stores even place cool, little viewing platforms right up front for the kids, so they don’t have trouble seeing everything when a scrum of tourists crowds up next to the window to get a good look.

My husband and I have a new ritual now. Every Saturday morning, we sleep late. Then we take a nice, slow walk down to our favorite coffee place, and we sit together at one of the tables outside, just petting the dogs and enjoying each other’s company. There’s nothing like it: sitting outside in the crisp autumn air, sipping on a gigantic cappuccino and munching an almond croissant while you watch the world go by for an hour or so. Every time we do this, I think to myself “Life just doesn’t get any better than this.”

It Takes A Village, People…

I know it has taken me a long time to get this blog on its feet, but I’m not very tech savvy. (My husband is probably laughing hysterically by now.) Writing is always intimidating to me. Facing a blank page and creating something out of nothing is a Herculean task – especially if I know that other people will eventually read it. But I finally got to the point where I thought, I want a journal of my time here, and I don’t want to bore my friends on Facebook with story after story. Thus, the blog idea.

The Search for a Blog Title: My friend Wendy came up with the official title: “Graceful Paris.” Genius, since my name is Grace. And I wanted to add the second part, “The Accidental Parisian” because moving to Paris has felt like a phenomenal, wonderful, happy accident…total kismet. I still wake up and think to myself “How on EARTH did I get here?!?”

So here’s how it went…

My husband, Leon, and I left Texas last year to spend the Christmas holiday in Paris and the Netherlands. We found out the day after we left for vacation that some big deal got signed with his company, and they wanted Leon (and therefore, me) living in Paris the day AFTER we got back home from vacation.  God has a fantastic sense of humor.

After hearing the news, we celebrated at the George V with two cups of hot chocolate (30 Euros each…I’m not kidding.) It was there that we struck up our plan for the move. The day after we landed in Dallas, Leon would fly back to Paris, start work and look for an apartment. Meanwhile, I would handle all of the details of our move from Texas.

I began to freak out over how much I would actually have to deal with on my own during that six weeks. Not only would I have to interview and find movers and a storage facility. I would have to pack up everything in our 4-bedroom house, find renters and a property manager, get the dogs approved for international travel and see all of my MANY doctors, and a bunch of other stuff that would take far too long to list. Anyway, before I could completely lose it,  one of my friends talked me off the ledge. Her name is Leesy. She is a sweetheart and a true best friend. I don’t know if you have a friend like her, but I pray that you do. Anyway, Leesy said that while we were still on vacation over Christmas and New Year’s, she would start packing up our house so I wouldn’t have to face it all alone when I got back.

Can you even wrap your brain around that? Offering to pack someone’s home for them…by yourself…over Christmas and New Year’s? Let me also say, that if it were anyone other than Leesy, I couldn’t have handled the stress. You see, I am a control freak at heart. (I know that will come to a huge shock to all of my former students.) But, Leesy just knows how to do things the way I would. She can actually DO that…think the way I think. Weird, but great. So, she and I talked on the phone every morning and every night, going through what Leon and I might need in Paris and what she could safely  pack away for storage. And thus, my nervous breakdown was avoided. She packed our entire kitchen, two guest rooms and all of our books and keepsakes. Way to go, Leesy!

Once we got back from vacation, we hit the ground running. All of our friends offered to help. I don’t know what I would have done without them. Mary Ann & Mark stored our car in their airplane hangar. Other friends volunteered to keep the other things we couldn’t just store in a warehouse: the wine fridge, the 500-pound ceramic grill, the giant safe filled with important papers, outdoor furniture, jewelry, art, even Leon’s pride and joy…his beloved bar. All of it is safely tucked away in homes all around Dallas, awaiting our return.  Just writing this makes me all weepy again. We love our friends, and we are grateful for them. Like I said at the top, it takes a village.

While I was busy at home, Leon was working all week in Paris, and then on the weekends, he would go with a realtor there to look at apartments, skyping me in on the really good ones so we could pick a place together. He found an apartment that was gorgeous…I mean, it looked like Coco Chanel had lived there…seriously.  We signed the contracts and learned the first lesson of real estate in Paris. Even after you’ve agreed on everything and signed the papers, the owner can bail if she thinks she can get more money working with another real estate agent and dumping you. This happened on the Monday before Leon was flying home on Wednesday to pick me up and move us in to our new apartment. So, he booked one last-minute appointment with a realtor, and skyped me for the walk through. The whole thing was over in three minutes.  I basically just asked “Does it have a quiet bedroom?” “Yes,” he said, “It has TWO.” “Does it have closets and a washing machine?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. “Let’s take it,” I said. “OK,” And that was that.

Wow…talk about a happy accident. This is the PERFECT apartment for us. It’s HUGE by Parisian standards, about 1,000 square feet. It has two bedrooms and a completely ridiculous amount of closet space…even for an organizing freak like me. It is a 4-minute walk to the Champs Élysées and a 8-minute walk to my favorite park in the city, Parc Monceau. I ADORE this apartment. Leon adores this apartment. And the dogs love it too.

We knew this move to Paris was a God thing because of this one last detail. Leon proposed to me on the Champs Élysées on Valentines Day, ten years ago. And ten years later TO THE DAY, he moved me here as his wife. We now live about a 10-minute walk from the very spot where he proposed. Now that I think of it, that first trip to Paris is a story all on its own. And it deserves its own telling.  But that’s for another time.

I love the French…

I love France. I love the French. I love Parisians.

Many Americans think that Parisians are snooty or cold. This is patently untrue. Almost without exception, I have found Parisians to be wonderful, warm, funny and kind. In fact, one of the reasons I decided to write this blog was to clear up that misconception. Here’s just one small story to prove my point.

I had been living here about 6 months when my back went out. And Leon was out of town so I was on my own. Well, I had nothing in the fridge to eat, so I went downstairs to find something. But I could hardly make it further than the front door of our building. I knew I was in trouble and I saw a restaurant just a bit down the street called New York Café.  (Here’s the link to their Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/New-York-Café-539415042759964/ And if you come to Paris, you should do yourself a favor and stumble in. They’ll treat you like family. I know, first-hand.)

Anyway, I managed to hobble my way to New York Café with my two dogs – and order a burger to go, so I could eat it back in my bed at home. (Mind you, I had never eaten at this restaurant before…not once.) The chef handed me my burger & fries on a custom china plate, smiled, and said “It will be so much nicer to eat it this way. Just return the plate later – if you can.”  (The burger was delicious, by the way. This photo doesn’t do it justice.)

The next day, Leon came home and I asked him to return the plate for me. He did. Two weeks later, the chef saw me walking the dogs in front of our building and literally yelled down the street, “How are you? Is your back better?” (Again…This was two weeks later!) I replied “Yes, and I wanted you to know that my husband returned your plate the next day.” He just smiled and said, “It’s not important. I am glad you are better. Good afternoon.”

Two days later, he saw me from across the street, walking with my husband, and blew me a kiss.

THESE are the French people I meet over & over in Paris.  These are the people I love.