When writing down your story that includes some difficult experiences to recount, and thus to re-live, it is advisable to nourish your body with good-tasting and pretty-looking food, while feeding your soul with inspirational sites, experiences, and chance-encounters. A box of tissue and bouquet of flowers, too, are essential. Changing physical locations, moving the body, and getting some fresh air: these also help lubricate the creative channels in the mind.
Over my jet lag now, I try out various workspaces around Paris. Frequenting cafés not being in my bones, I do try out this ancient French tradition. Sipping verveine-menthe infusion (mint verbena herbal tea) and tearing at a buttery croissant, I spend one morning writing at a café around the corner from my Paris apartment. It is perhaps too early still for the barrage of Parisian smokers to spoil the tranquility of the semi-outdoors patio; yet, the servers silently wonder at my intermittently reddening eyes as words pour onto my keyboard from my fingers.
Writing from my Paris apartment, I surround myself with flowers, various snacks, and a constant flow of tea. It is summer in Paris, yet temperatures are low and skies often grey. I envelop myself in a cheerful quilt and try to keep my shoulders from rising. My 3-5 minute morning Pilates routine of plank, 5 full and 5 demi-pumps, shoulder “protraction and retraction” while in plank, and occasionally the side plank (now that I can do one after nearly 2 years of practicing), helps me develop the muscle strength and habit to keep my shoulder blades drawn back and down, thus reducing the pain in my neck and back. While in Paris, I have managed to keep up with my Pilates classes as well, with the little added challenge of them being in French! But my Pilates instructor in Vancouver is an excellent teacher, so I managed my two weekly classes in le quartier du Montparnasse (see location map for photos). I have now learned to breathe in French: inspirer et expirer (to inhale and exhale), and very importantly: reposer (to rest) my arms and legs. In these terms, Pilates seems much simpler in French after all. And when in Montparnasse, it is recommended to take some crêpes for dinner at Crêperie Josselin immediately after your Pilates class, taking the Vélib bike-share to and from, of course.
Returning once more to Cimetière Père Lachaise, I seek solace and inspiration among those who came before us, and from the alluring commemoration of their bodies in the tombs raised among the trees over the ages. Having on previous visits, in 2009 and ten years earlier, too, sought out the resting places of Jim Morisson of The Doors, of writer and poet Oscar Wilde, and Polish piano composer Fryderyk Chopin, this time I look for the joint tomb of the 12th century French star-crossed lovers, Hèloïse et Abélard.
With a mini-picnic of wine, apple, chocolate and almonds sharing space with my netbook in my backpack, I head to the top of the mound, where I have picnicked before with a loved one, and I recount into words on my screen a time of turmoil and difficult decision from my teenage years. Chased away by an impending thunderstorm and threat of falling branches, as to avoid permanently joining the ones remaining, I return home and write, well into the evening, that story of an irrefutably right decision, which would determine the course of my life.
Changing to more lively company, I arrange a rendez-vous with my Parisian host’s colleague, who is also a writer. We all meet over lunch, and at first, exchange summaries and some challenges and successes in French, switching to English when I begin to feel a little too lost. Recounting my story in French, explaining my motives for sharing it now in a book, is quite interesting for me, and rewarding as well. My French lessons, will to practice, and desire to learn better my third language now that I am better able to, appear to be paying off. Confirming it in English, I had well understood, that my new writing colleague is writing a biography of a 20th century female Russian communism activist, Angelica Balabanoff, the challenges she is having with telling the story, and her motivations for undertaking this endeavour. Partly in French, but mainly in English, I share some insights from my experience and readings about moving forward in the writing process. The overview of my own story, told at first in French, is received with much expression of interest, accompanied by suggestions of which details of my story would find more general interest among readers. Details are important, we both agree, and later I read the same in “The Artist’s Way”.
My French is put to the test, though, at a soirée of about 20 at a friend’s of my Parisian host. One-on-one conversations in French go not too badly, even while needing to block out the background noise, concentrate on hearing my conversational partner, and not try too much to make myself be heard and understood. Listening to group conversation, I feel I don’t stand a chance. Yet, I have done this before when I was child, as have many others even at my age – learn a new language.
I change my French immersion surroundings again, this time for the company of tourists and their café servers, as I take sweetened mint tea at the Paris Mosque and mount Montmartre, with its steep, narrow streets. In a side courtyard café at the foot of Sacre Coeur basilica, I enjoy a canard (duck) dish and a dessert crêpe with my Parisian host and excellent French teacher.
To round out the week, I make Special Dish for the Week: Eggplant, Lentil, Tomato and Cashew Curry, and mid-week a second Special Dish for the Week: Mushroom, Beet, and Parmesan Cheese with a Lentil and Quinoa.