Tag: ex-pat

“French Family” Reunion, Flute playing and good Fun

Blog #5

Last weekend, I visited my French Family after 15 years. I was a fille-au-pair for a family of 5 that soon became 6 from January 1999 – August 1999. Granted, 5 out of the 6, visited me in Canada a few years ago, but the visit back to growing children – young adults (ahem!), and house renovations certainly felt like time did march on, yet froze at the same time. Hard to explain. It was fun to see the view from my old room I had daily when I lived there for 8 months, the relatives I met back then, to the mural I painted as a teen (which, to my surprise is still there!). I was visiting for the weekend to celebrate the youngest’s (child #4) Holy Sacrament of Confirmation and have a little reunion!

The journey to Alsace began earlier than expected when a declared National Train Strike interrupted my carefully planned… leaving on Thursday, bought – 2 months ago, 1st class, free wifi, on-sale, solo seat, with no rescheduling in sight,…trip that was, as you can only imagine – cancelled. I urgently went into creating a back-up plan, researching other ways to get from Paris to Mulhouse, Alsace, then to Sierentz. I found a seat riding with 2 other passengers plus driver through Blah-Blah’s covoiturage system (Blah-Blah actually exists, I’m not making this up), and finally booked a seat in the car for Friday, arriving in the afternoon. We met early in the morning, loaded up the car, and after I finally took my seat behind the driver, the other two men kindly decided their placement and we were off! After 7 hours (took a while to get out of Paris), in a non-AC car (I was stunningly beautiful upon arrival), I was picked up at the train station and brought back to the house, to hang with two out of the four kids who were feet taller than I. Quite the change from when they were 1 ½ and 4 years old. We toured the house and made conversation about the changes, talked about life, and even saw some old pictures including one of my ‘Masterpiece’ and I, a mural I painted in the last month I lived in Sierentz (August 1999). More on that later!  So the 2nd oldest and I made crepe batter, sweet and savory. I should re-phrase. I mean, I supervised making crepe batter. We had a joking Chef Ramsay thing going on, where I was the chef, and he the sous-chef. “We” even made fresh raspberry sorbet for dessert. Oh, and because the crepes were good, apparently I got the credit even though I didn’t touch them, but it was made clear that if they were bad my ‘sous-chef’ would get the blame – doesn’t seem fair ;). Soon we were ready, van packed up with all the equipment and we raced to the choir rehearsal where my flute would make its come back appearance after many moons. Not only that, but I was delighted to play with my fellow seat partner from 15 years ago when we were with the Orchestre de Sierentz. The idea of full circle, was continuously flashing in my mind.

Once rehearsal was over, it was back to the house for a little World Cup Soccer, oh excuser moi, Le Foot, to watch the rest of the Netherland/Spain game. Very fun. So after rising at 4:30 am to get to my covoiturage meeting spot, by midnight, it felt more like 3am and it definitely time for bed. The morning came too soon with the church bells at 6:30am playing many, many minutes of the Call to Worship – a longstanding tradition that I really don’t remember from 15 years ago. How did I forget that!? It’s not quiet and subtle – it’s an up and at ’em’ sort of thing. Once I was up and a little coffee hit the system, it was off to food shop with the eldest where we caught up a little, then back to the house for prepping, and eating, more prepping, organizing, and then dashing to change quickly before leaving for one final rehearsal before the Confirmation. It was a lovely ceremony and although not my most flawless performance on the flute – I had fun reliving that ‘thing” when you play with a group/ensemble. Some pieces really evoked much passion and unity, for which I had many goosebump moments. Sidenote, they remember me translating ‘goosebumps’ in French back then, and the final result apparently involved the word chicken and points – really?. How did they remember this – how!? We all had a good laugh.  The ceremony came to a close and we were headed back to the house for le fete. On route, walking back to the house, a young lady asked me if I remembered her, and I was sad to say that I didn’t. She was afterall 5 years old when I met her the first time. She remembered me teaching her and the eldest child how to make rice krispie squares. My mom’s staple at birthday parties. She remembers that vividly. How cool is that!?

Upon arriving back to the house for ‘le fete’, I made a quick wardrobe change as the wind picked up with gusto and on the deck with the aperos, my skirt plus wind did not create a great Marilyn Monroe moment, so luckily I quickly dashed off to save my reputation.

Although quite cold in the cool wind, we all hung out for a long while, which coincidentally inspired dialogue by a couple wanting to discuss Canada’s weather, well, our reputation for limited degrees of heat, to their knowledge. You can see where I am going with this. So, I dispelled many a myths about ‘Canada’ and our COLD. I tried to keep it light as innocent questions about living in freezing temperatures for most of the year, on a country wide spectrum were asked. I kindly said that Vancouver/Victoria varies from say, Montreal (IN THE WINTER, especially), and how, although I finally have some decent bear stories after last Fall (serious I do, I befriended 3 bears daily for a week!), that we Canadians don’t typically see or defend ourselves from bears daily.  Well, at least from my city experiences.

Soon, a lovely dinner was served and some chatting about this or that happened until the wee-hours.  It was fun being in a tri-lingual crowd and feeling like I could understand German at times. Or maybe my experience as a wild arm gesturing half Italian has truly paid off and I’m now an arm reader. I’m going with the latter.

The next day, we all gathered at the house again for one last meal together, relaxing outside on a slightly warmer day. With the train strike still in full swing, it was hectic making and re-making alternate arrangements for some, while my ride back to Paris via Fountainbleau to Bry-sur-Marne was set. Before leaving, a family member happened to bring his violin and asked me to join him and the two middle boys to play as quartet. We were 2 violins, 1 piano and moi, la flute! I had fun sight reading two classical pieces and goofing up, but it was lovely to ‘jam’ and create yet another memory over this short weekend.  Before leaving, the boys thought it was imperative to recreate the photo of me and my oeuvre from 1999, (when I get the ‘15 years later photo’ – I’ll attach both pictures) and so they moved tables and chairs, plants and whatever else they could move to reset the stage for a 15 year later shot. I was deeply touched that they went to that trouble to make that happen. In fact, they told me that my painting is still a topic of conversation all these years.

I feel incredibly blessed to have connected and stayed in touch my French family, when I can assume this is not the case for many fille-au-pairs and their families. I am part of a success story, a truly amazing connection that still has me in awe. We have stayed in touch over the years which helped bridge our official reunion in France.  I still feel like I am a part of their family, and they apart of mine.

Journeying and adventuring continues (à Paris)!

Welcome to Blog #3… This blog is focused on the happenings of my declared ‘birthday week’ as a new ex-pat in Paris. What happened, you ask? I took a Patisserie class, went to the Opera, visited the Eiffel Tower, attended a night of classical music, went to a Yin yoga workshop, was offered a fantastic new job, and last but not least, attended a popular networking meet-up group called: the Paris Women of Success!

Jumping right in….

I had just said to a new Paris friend of mine, that one day I want to take a cooking course or lesson at the Cordon Bleu in Paris!  Are you familiar with that timeless classic movie, ‘Sabrina’, starring Audrey Hepburn? Maybe it’s because I’ve seen the movie, (ahem), a few times, but truthfully, I have always wanted to have the Parisian cooking school experience where she: “learn how to ‘crackk an-egg’” (I can hear that French chef’s accent now), all the way to making a killer soufflé. So, when I got the call to fill in for my friend’s mom at the last minute, I jumped at the chance!

It was a 3-hour course at La Cuisine Paris https://www.facebook.com/LaCuisineParis  where I learned how to make the Croissant and other breakfast patisseries. Before getting into a few details about the course, I just have to say that La Cuisine Paris runs a pretty tight ship and from the service, the experience, the ingredients, the magic dishwasher, and the nice coffee at the end to go with our well deserved creations, I welcome you to check them out!!

The infamous Croissant. It was the most challenging of the patisseries to make – and after making the Croissant in its entirety, with the exception of waiting overnight for the yeast to rise, my respect for those who make home made (sans machine) Croissants, has gone up by a factor of, about a million. We made 2 versions of our ‘pate’ called: pâte levée feuilletée, learning how to properly blend, fold and delicately, yet firmly, roll the dough and butter together. Sounds easy right? Because the temperature in the room was warm and there wasn’t time to refrigerate the dough at each stage, we were at the mercy of the butter. The exquisite butter was being unwieldy, wanting to tear through the delicate dough, and escape! How dare it!  I’m mean it was submission time, obviously not for the butter, but for us dough-eyed learners. (Excuse the pun). While rolling, it was sticking to the marble, when the goal was to get our dough thinner (by another half) and in theory, unstuck from the table – ha! Flour was our friend (eventhough it added to the denseness of the dough). Meanwhile, our instructor mentioned why pastry chefs wear white and why in the class description online they advised that we wear white also. Did I miss reading that part in my excitement? I showed up wearing black…need I say more? We did however wear these clever plastic aprons that allowed us to write our names on it, and gave us the freedom to practice flour tossing onto the marble countertop, just like the pros…(I still have to work on my elbow action).

We also made, Le Pain au chocolate (yum!), Le Pain Swisse, Le Pain au Raisin, La Crème pâtissière and made 2 little pastries with jam inside (the exact names are alluding me), and with the little bit of left over dough, we made little tiny cinnamon buns. Nothing was wasted and there were lots of goodies at the end! I learned many little tricks of the trade and lots of great techniques. Notably, I learned that a real croissant made with butter is perfectly straight, while ones made with margarine have that famous curve. Now you know…go for the croissant that looks straight!   In all this butter glory, I couldn’t help but think of Julia Child; especially, her legacy and her relationship to butter and her inexhaustible connection and love for Paris.  At times during the class, I truly felt like I was in a movie and would quietly chuckle under my breath at the thought.

Right after that class, I zoomed to the Yoga Studio where I’m working in exchange for yoga classes. As I bounced my way from Patisserie class to the yoga studio, I wondered if the hint of delicious baked goods would follow me in – nope, the aroma graced the metro as I could tell these curious glances in my direction had nothing to do with the remaining flour on my black shirt.

The next day, I was at L’Opera National de Paris as an early birthday present where I saw The Italian Girl in Algeria by Rossini at the gorgeous Palais Garnier. The Italian Girl in Algeria was also the very first Opera I ever saw in Elementary school in Victoria, BC and was pivotal in my desire to later study singing at University.  I enjoyed very much the historic and decadent decor of the Palais Garnier, soaking up the history before the Opera started. As I stepped into narrow hallway leading to the box seats behind door number 14, I thought about all those who had walked the same path since 1875. Keeping all this rich history in mind, I was in one of ‘my happy places’ listening to the beautiful orchestra and the extraordinary singers who made singing Rossini’s acrobatic arias sound way to easy! Bravo!  I am looking forward to many more musical experiences in this amazing city!

Saturday was my birthday and I spent much of it walking in the rain, the first almost full day of rain since arriving March 9th.. I had to smile. It reminded me of Vancouver quite a bit. The city got a nice rinse, as did the air – and for that, I’m grateful! That night, a friend of mine and I went to St. Paul’s church (gorgeous!) to listen to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Pachelbel’s Canon and some gorgeous songs sang by an impressive counter-tenor. There wasn’t a program so I can’t really tell you what he sang – however, I can tell you that the music was lovely and brought me back to my ‘strings’ days in elementary and in junior high school. The church was packed and the music filled every corner of this majestic church.

The day after (Sunday), I headed to my yoga studio to attend a Yin Yoga workshop, given by a fellow Canadian. I really didn’t know much about it prior to going, so this was a perfect introduction. Yin Yoga is a more relaxed type of Yoga, where there is emphasis on ‘being’ and feeling the ‘stillness’ (ahem, I need to do that!), while stretching (called: “stressing” – the healthy kind) the body.  It is a good compliment to all the Yang Yoga Practices (like Ashtanga, and Vinyasa etc). I dare say this type of Yoga is kinda perfect for me right now.

What a week, but it didn’t end there!

Monday, I was delighted and excited to be offered a contract working 4-days a week for this amazing American company called Paris Muse. They provide educational, high-quality private Museum and Walking Tours in Paris, given by highly qualified docents (expert art historians). I’m really looking forward to starting with them in a few weeks!  I welcome you to check out their website: www.parismuse.com and Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Paris-Muse/110823521586

Tuesday, I was happy to join a large group of ambitious and super talented women, mostly all entrepreneurs, rocking their businesses here in Paris. It was an empowering and welcoming environment and pending my work schedule, I hope to go as often as I can.  Cool fact: a number of them collaborated and have published a book coming out this May called: My Paris Story – Living, Loving and Leaping without a net. I am so looking forward to reading this book! (I’m sure their stories will resonate with everyone, no matter where you live). Please check out their Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/myparisstory?fref=nf

I’ve joined a long and continuing legacy of ex-pats living in Paris and to quote the fabulous Audrey Hepburn: “Paris is always a good idea”.  Whether visiting or living – this city of lights is really beyond description, it’s mostly a feeling. And I’m feeling pretty darn good about it!

Go to it, Go for it, Go live it! (Allison-ism continues)

Lots of Love and Light.

 

Allison

Bonjour Paris! The new chapter begins

April 6, 2014

I’m in the basement of a popular Starbucks location here near the Metro St. Paul, in Paris. Yes, it took a month before I did the North American ‘thang’ and visited the familiar. I have to say that I missed, juste un petit, the consistent marketing, the familiarity and the peace in being able to sit down for how ever long I want without feeling like I have to keep ordering or leave. (No gold card presence here at all – for you Starbucks devotees)

Where a Grande Americano (by the way, it tastes different than in North America) is 3.35 Euros…I justified the expense in exchange for soliciting a comfy workspace and using Wi-Fi (called wee-fee), while enjoying a hot beverage.

It won’t be the norm, but for today, c’est parfait!

In my first blog I want to share a little about my ‘first chapter’ (a.k.a first month-ish) since moving to Paris.

 

I believe my current French experience began at Naples Airport, March 9, 2014, at the Air France check-in counter. After spending a month in Italy, and only really reusing the same 30 Italian words over and over again, I attempted to speak French (which almost eluded me) and without even knowing it, would start a sentence in French and half way through change to Italian/Napolitano. Say What!!? I couldn’t believe my ears! And after a delightful conversation with the agent who asked about my flute on the side of my backpack, what Vancouver was like, why I was going to Paris, I spent the remaining moments before customs with my family, who kindly drove me to the airport, and you got it, continued to speak something resembling Italian. I thought the day would never come where I would subconsciously speak ‘my way Italian’. It was my cousin Giovanna who, with enormous patience, helped me build confidence in ‘my way Italian’. Currently, Giovanna and I use Viber now, and so my education in Italian and Google translate continues!

 

My new life in Paris started off with a bang, a good one! After Louise and her husband kindly picked me up from the airport, and after we caught up a little, Louise and I went a ‘repete’, where she and some friends jam together, and I braved a couple of songs delicately and shyly. The following day, gorgeous weather and all, I unpacked a little, enjoyed their cute garden outside and soaked in the fact that I am in France, yes, I’m here – it’s not a ‘will happen’, it happened, I’m here, let the pinching myself begin!

The next day, Tuesday, I got my SIM card sorted, purchased some metro tickets to get me started, and by 5pm, I was in the area where I was to volunteer for Mastin Kipp and his ‘Enter the Heart Tour – Event’ from 6-11pm.

The evening began with a long and beautiful Kundalini Yoga class, in a room filled with expats and bilingual locals (the event was in English) where we then segued to Mastin’s fun coaching-honesty talk (with some pretty incredible tweet-able awesome moments), until ‘my moment’. Long story short, I was the THE ‘volunteer’, where I had a one-on-one experience with Mastin, in front of everyone. I am thankful for the feedback he provided like: being called out on my ‘counselling-like’ verbiage instead of using and saying ‘real’ words to describe or express, emotions and feelings. Merci for all his genuine feedback and support

Soon after discussing some personal issues, he facilitated a heart exercise that was very beautiful, and as I still sat in front ‘of the class’, answering the questions outloud, others were reflecting inwardly, answering their own respective questions about what their hearts were telling them. I could feel the tangible, emotionally charged air pulsating, but I also felt this overwhelming peace at the same time. What he was teaching was how to connect and listen to our hearts for responses or answers to questions. When is the last time you let your heart give the answer to a question instead of your head?

But what brought my experience to a rushing surprisingly heartfelt, super deliciously rich moment was experiencing an enormous group hug, where I was the guest of honour. In that moment, I soon became tearful, and could have down right exploded in sobbing; but I was able to let it flow naturally and bank a little for later. It really is beyond words and beyond expression to attempt to describe that moment, the beauty of it – except for gratitude. In that moment, and for hours later, I had to check in with myself numerous times to really process what had actually happened. I volunteered for the event to welcome and assist, and really, I ended up volunteering my vulnerability and openness with a group of strangers – my second day in Paris.

As we wrapped up and prepared to leave, I was fortunate to receive some contact information for a dozen or so fabulous women – a huge and unexpected blessing from that event. In fact, about 8 or 10 of us had a lovely dinner out at a great restaurant in the Marais where we all chatted and connected. We are an awesome TDL Paris tribe, and I’m so grateful to know and get to know these women!

Two days after the event marked the next pivotal moment. (Don’t worry; this blog is not a day-to-day account). Aside from meeting, chatting, and hanging out with a new friend of a friend (now a friend) for 9 hours, enjoying a wonderful first meeting– my immune system crashed and a super bug/pollution/allergy related meteorite of an illness took over (Some visible/audible symptoms and some invisible, but deeply felt).

I had no idea at the time, that it would take over 3 ½ weeks, to return to something resembling and FEELING like the girl who woke up one day in November 2013 and said: “What if…(I moved to France), who sold or gave away almost all her ‘stuff’ before hopping on a plane – One Way! That girl had plans – and as soon as I got sick, there were no more ‘checked boxes’ on the to-do list to be had for a while – but c’est la vie!

Only last Monday did the job search truly begin; I felt stronger and well enough to put myself out there (and my new resumes and cover letters were in a better place just days before).

The same day I sent out some resumes, I received call-backs from one hotel spa and one by a company that manages 20+ five star hotel spas for free-lance practitioners. The catch – needing to become an ‘auto-entrepreneur’. Not a bad idea, but feeling slightly overwhelmed by this deviation in my grand plan, not to mention additional French bureaucracy, I had to ponder. I have decided to pursue this avenue, but it’s going to take some time as super supportive friends help me navigate the ins and outs of this new employment stream.

In the meantime, I decided to apply to some language schools and will continue to challenge myself in thinking creatively and outside the box in my search.

I was fortunate to have a telephone conversation just this past Friday with a coach who runs programs for people who are unemployed. He is French, but used to live in Canada and the UK and is a wealth of knowledge. He said many times that he completely understands how overwhelming it is to move to this country and jumping through numerous hoops, dealing quirkiness and bureaucracy (I don’t think quirkiness and bureaucracy belong in the same sentence either!). He gave me a list of things to take care of (aside from finding work) and I will be embarking on these things, this week.

I’ve been navigating a lot of unexpected, mixed emotions for whatever reasons – which are not important. On a ‘not-feeling-so-hot’ day’ a friend of mine from Vancouver reminded me that I’m living the dream – I am, but at the time, I was struggling with reconciling the dream with circumstances that are truthfully, temporary. That is comforting thought and belief, and an important fact to remember when in the ‘thick’ of your own ‘stuff’.

For years now, I have and will continue to serve as ‘The Go To Girl’ of solicited and unsolicited advice, to and for others about any life challenges – no matter the real-looking-illusions and/or self-limited belief thoughts and systems. And moving overseas has presented new opportunities (I originally wrote, ‘challenges’, ha!) to continue to walk my talk. It’s an opportunity on a new scale to see my potential and to check-in with myself more deeply where ‘still in progress’ signs, are currently posted. So, I’m practicing, stumbling, and rising to the philosophies I practice, and without a doubt am grateful for the abundant support from people, whether they realize it or not. The power of genuine and un-conditional love (true connection with another or others) is undoubtedly, a ‘knock-out’, powerful elixir of anyone’s rise.  I’m SO grateful to have a wonderful group of super-supportive people in my world. I feel incredibly blessed!

Yes, since arriving, I have hit places within me where I wondered how I did this when I was 18/19 years old…really? – was I in denial, or do I have some pretty incredible selective memory? But while I navigate this new chapter, I promise myself to continue to walk this new chapter bravely, and practice receiving the goodness, miracles and blessings everyday, while I see my highest intentions unfold.

What I know for sure is that I’m meant to be here. Paris feels good – it feels like home. It also doesn’t hurt that the weather has been incredible since the day I got here. Paris, France, and Europe, in general, is a hot spot for my soul and I’m looking forward to all the adventures in creating, experiencing love and joy, having fun and being the change I want to see in the world.

Lastly, I do want to be real and express that I miss Vancouver’s air quality, my ‘clan’, and the abundant nature that BC and the North West has to offer. It’s a blessing and I hope that eventhough Vancouverites (and others in surrounding areas) are notorious for complaining about the weather, or the state of province or country, from whatever issue(s) your passionate soapbox boasts – that you will pause often to be grateful for all that is, even for the rain.

So, Go to it, go for it, and go live it! (New Allison-ism)

Yours truly,

Your go to girl!

Allison