Tuesday, January 26, 2016

joie de vivre

This beautiful French phrase literally means "joy of living." It describes a zest and happiness for life itself. Something has changed this month for me. I know we are in the midst of winter, but the promise of spring and new life, making new friends, and continuing to check items off my list of to-dos while living here, have slowly but surely been fanning into flame a joie de vivre that has ignited inside of me.

There are songs I can’t seem to get out of my head, and every time I start singing them to myself I can’t help but smile. One in particular that seems to penetrate even the coldest days to warm my heart and soul is Never Come Back Again by Austin Plaine. This song was written for wanderlusters, such as myself, and has the ability to bring me back to reality and really appreciate just how remarkable it is that I am actually living outside of the U.S. I don’t think I’m taking it for granted, but after 4 months here, it still doesn’t feel real. I feel like when I get home and have a job and my own home again, I’m going to have to look through my thousands of photos to actually believe it happened. The fact that I could be visiting neighboring countries very soon, and that I’ve already planned out what is sure to be a spectacular day in Iceland on my way home to the States, I literally just cannot believe this is my life and this is really happening. For so long…SO LONG…I wanted to just pick up and go somewhere new. I had been to 8 countries prior to arriving in France, but it had been several years since my last trip out of the country. That yearning to travel and have new experiences is what has pulled me along through this entire adventure like an unstoppable force.

Since my last post, I’ve been able to check off a few more items on my very long list of must-do items. On Saturday, me and my friend A made our way to the southeastern corner of Paris to the Cinémathèque Française. Basically, it is a museum of the history of cinema, including a library of books on cinema and movies you could check out, and there was an exposition on Martin Scorsese and his contributions to film. All of it was truly amazing. The museum part of the building had cameras and gadgets from 100 to 200 years old, old film reels were playing everywhere, and there were even some incredible movie props that we were surprised to see there, including the head of Norman Bates’s mother from Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Psycho, as well as the mechanical man from the movie Hugo on display in the Martin Scorsese expo. I still haven’t seen Psycho, which I am told I absolutely need to do. As fascinating as it was, I think my favorite part was seeing my friend in this place. It was on her list of must-do items before she came here. She worked in the cinema industry in Columbia and I didn’t realize just how much she knew about all of it until we got here. Every corner we turned, her eyes would light up and she would get so excited about everything she was seeing. I think my favorite reaction was when she saw the head from Psycho. Her hand flew over her mouth, her eyes bugged out of her head, and she just pointed and squealed. It was entertaining in the best way possible, and thanks to her, I learned a lot about cinema that day.

On Sunday, I left the house to head to church, and forgot that the RER A was not running in my town. After consulting my handy RATP app to find an alternative route, all of which took 3 times longer than normal, I realized that I would miss church entirely no matter what I did. So I decided to visit Musée de l'Orangerie which is located in Jardin des Tuileries. A smaller museum by far compared to the others I’ve been to, but this one had more of Claude Monet’s work than any of the others. The entire top floor is dedicated to his Water Lilies collection, even though many more paintings from this collection exist in other museums. But the top floor had two large, oval rooms with a long painting on each of the four walls in each room. Benches in the middle allowed you to sit and enjoy the paintings. Normally, I don’t linger too long and stare at paintings, but for these I made an exception. These were so beautiful. They all had the same theme, but were all unique. I love gardens and landscapes. Anything that shows the beauty of nature. His work is breathtaking.

Yesterday, we had the nicest day we’ve had in I don’t know how many weeks. Since November, maybe? It was 55 degrees, clear blue skies, and barely any wind. It was wonderful. There was no way I was spending the day inside, so I ventured out to a massive park that I had been meaning to check out, but it’s just been so cold. Bois de Boulogne is located just across the Seine from the 16th arrondissement. If you pull up a map, it’s the biggest green space in or near Paris. I had seen pictures online of a lake there, and I knew that’s where I wanted to go. So I picked up a ham and cheese (jambon et fromage) baguette and took my journal to see if it was as beautiful in real life as it was in pictures. It was better than I imagined. I can only picture what it will look like when the trees bloom and there are flowers there. I can’t wait to see it. As soon as I saw the water, I couldn’t stop smiling I was so happy. Happy to see a forest, to see a lake, just smiling from the inside out, and taking tons of pictures. I walked about halfway down one side and found this little path I actually walked past at first. It was a short path to a concrete platform right on the water with two benches that were hidden from view of the main path. It had a perfect vantage point to enjoy the islands in the middle and the footbridge that connected them. There were dozens of white boats docked underneath, and more geese, swans, and ducks than I could count happily enjoying the warm sunny day. It was gorgeous, and I was on cloud 9. Perfect spot to journal and take photos. Thankfully, everyone that started to walk down the path turned around when they saw this small area was occupied, so it was the perfect space for some privacy and quiet reflection. It is now my favorite spot in the entire city, and I am literally giddy thinking of how beautiful it will be in the spring.

I’ve seen beauty wherever I turn lately. I’ve seen it in history, in art, in people, in nature. But I’ve asked myself why these last few weeks have felt different. I’ve seen all of those things since the day I arrived in France exactly 4 months ago today. So what changed? For me, that answer is simple, but it’s not simple to explain. It’s my perspective that has changed. There’s no person, place, or thing in Paris that has brought me to the brink of joie de vivre.

Before I arrived, before I even knew I would leave my full time job, my house, my friends and family to come to France, I was just not happy with life. My life had reached a new level of boring. I was trying to move, desperately applying for jobs in North Carolina, and every rejection felt like a blow to my confidence. I never met anyone new, and most of my friends couldn’t just hang out on one day’s notice. There were no new places to go, nothing new to see, and I spent most of my days at home watching Netflix wondering when my life would take a turn for the better, if it would ever feel exciting, or if I would just continue on the conveyer belt of going to work every day, coming home, going to sleep, waking up, repeat. I thought the answer was a new job and new city. I wanted a new adventure. When I decided to be an au pair, and everything began to snowball into place to make it happen, I thought now…now my life will be great. Now I will be happy. It’s new, and living overseas was something I have dreamt of doing my entire life, but never thought I actually would see that dream become a reality. As the waiting began for when I would finally be on a plane, I remember thinking I just need to leave everything behind and be on this adventure. Then I’ll be happy.

I arrived in France. It had its ups and downs, just as I knew it would. In the last 4 months, I’ve been pushed and stretched to the breaking point of my comfort zone. I’ve had to overcome fear and I’ve had to put myself out there to make friends. I’ve hit points where I’ve felt so unlike myself, so out of my element, to the point where I did not recognize who I was and that scared me. Then I went home for Christmas, and I thought ok now…now I’ll be ok. I saw my family and my best friend and was able to recharge, and I returned to France refreshed and happier than I was before I left. And still, I had tough days. I don’t want to wish away my time, and some may think I’m crazy for this, but there were and still are days when I long for the day I return to America to get back in the working world, have my own place, and feel at home again. But once again, in the last few weeks, I’ve asked myself, is that what will finally make me happy? Why am I still searching? What is the problem? Why am I still not completely happy with life? Why does it feel like I am just waiting for the next thing on the horizon instead of living today?

I’ll tell you, because I knew all along what the real issue was. I wasn’t happy…I lost my joie de vivre for so long because I wasn’t trusting the source of true joy. I have so many unknowns in my life right now. Enough unknowns that could cause a planner such as myself to freak out and panic. I was confident before coming that this journey was exactly what I was supposed to do, and all the cards fell into perfect place. Not one detail was a coincidence. God has shown me over and over that He will take care of me and has proven time and time again that His ways are greater than any I could have chosen for myself. I still have unknowns, many outstanding prayers that don’t have answers, still more insecurities about a job when I get home. It was the anxiety and worry that were blocking my joy. I don’t know when or how, I just know that at some point this month, God has brought me to a point of trust and peace. That doesn’t mean I don’t still doubt or pray or cry. But it’s different kind of praying and crying. A kind that is saying I know, Lord. I know I can trust you, but I also know You still care and You still want to hear my hurts and doubts and fears. There’s a verse that actually comes to mind in moments like these that has stuck with me. Mark 9:24 says “I do believe; help my unbelief.” Story of my life. My head and heart know that God will never fail, that He is trustworthy, faithful, that He is doing great things in my life, and that He loves me immeasurably more than I can wrap my mind around. I know this. But I’m still prone to doubt, fear, anxiety, anger, uncertainty, and unbelief. I’m so thankful that He is patient and kind, and that He is present in every circumstance of my life. My best friend. My peace in the midst of the storm.

There are good days and bad days ahead, but my joy of living, my joie de vivre, isn’t in the days to come, and I’ve finally realized this. It’s not only longing for the days when favor and abundance run rampant and particularly difficult storms are just memories of lessons learned. It starts here in the unknown, staring out at the dark sky and not knowing when the dawn is coming, but knowing it will come, that the sun will rise, and I’m not standing alone. I can simply allow Christ to hold my hand, and we can stare together at the night sky, appreciating the incredible beauty that can only be seen in the darkest hour.  

Monday, January 18, 2016

Catacombs, d'Orsay, friends, and frigid weather

It seems like winter has finally arrived in the City of Light. Until now, there have been a smattering of cold days here and there, but for the most part, being outside was fairly tolerable with the right outerwear. But this past week, like the rest of the world it seems, it's been frigid and intolerable. I even saw a puddle that had been frozen over the other day on my way to the RER station. First time it's been cold enough to freeze water. This past Friday was so cold, that when my host parents got home from work, I didn't even want to go into the city. I was quite content to stay warm in my pjs. But I'm only living in Paris one time in my life, so the next morning, I begrudgingly layered on clothes and my parka, and headed into the city for the day.

I was meeting a new friend from Russia and her friend from Croatia, and we spent the day getting lunch, eating gelato (in a very warm shop, not outside in the freezing cold), and wandering around Bastille, République, and the area near Notre Dame. This new friend was wearing holey jeans, sneakers with ankle socks, and a jacket not nearly as thick as my parka, and she didn't seem particularly bothered by the icy temperatures. Meanwhile, I'm trying not to picture myself on a Caribbean beach and how wonderful the sun would feel beating down on my skin. If the wind wasn't blowing and we were walking, it wasn't horrible. But for those who know me well and know my disdain for all things cold and winter, you would probably be surprised to have seen me wondering outside all day on Saturday. That evening, I said goodbye to my warm blooded friends, and made my way to the apartment of the friend I met at Hillsong. She and I had dinner last week after meeting at church, and this time we met at her place near the northeast side of Paris. This is as far east as I have been so far within the city. I've really enjoyed getting to know her though. Sometimes you just know you were meant to meet someone, and I know it wasn't an accident that I went to Hillsong church on that random day and sat in that random seat. Definitely wasn't just a coincidence. Her boyfriend lives in Germany and she invited me along for a weekend next time she goes. They are also planning a trip to the US late this summer, so it would be really fun if they were able to visit me.

Since my last post, I've really made an effort to check items off of my list of must-do items while I'm here in France. I don't always have people to go with, so getting motivated to head out into the cold weather by myself is hard sometimes. When the warm weather rolls in and everything starts to bloom, I'll probably never see the inside of my house until it's time for me to go to bed. But for now, it requires an extra boost of energy and a desire to make sure I do everything I want to do.

A couple of weekends ago, I set out for the Catacombs of Paris and Musée d'Orsay. The catacombs are the final resting place of about 6 million Parisians due to the limits of space in graveyards at the time. You can read more about the history on their official website. It was really interesting. I opted for the audio guide which was a few euros more than the ticket to enter. The catacombs are about 5 stories underground, and actually lie below the level of the metro. However, the tunnels were not nearly as dark and dank as I was expecting. At 5'6", I could walk the entire length of the tunnel without ducking, although at some points, the ceiling was about 6 inches above my head. People close to or over 6 feet tall might not find it as comfortable since there would be a lot of ducking in some areas. But the entire tunnel was well lit, and there were a lot of people walking through, so was it scary? No, not at all. Although, some might find it creepy that the bones were generally arranged in decorative ways. The entire length of the tunnel had a black line painted on the ceiling. Since the catacombs are a labyrinth of tunnels (most of which are closed so people don't get lost and die...which did happen originally), the line on the ceiling was to guide people through without getting lost. I took a lot of photos, but here are a few.

After leaving the catacombs, I headed to Musée d'Orsay. Most of the time, the lines for museums are pretty long. But I was pleasantly surprised when I got out of the RER and saw that I could walk right into the building. The museum is beautiful on the inside. The main part of the museum is open with rooms around the outer edges which display permanent paintings and other art. There was even another mini Statue of Liberty where the sculptures were located.

I really wanted to see the paintings of Monet and Van Gogh first. The impressionist section of the museum was on the 5th floor. 5th? Where is there a 5th floor? I was so confused, but turns out, there is no 3rd or 4th floor to visit. Instead, when you walk to the back of the museum, there is an escalator that takes you to the very top, in a separate wing of the museum. It was here that I got to see the work of Monet, Van Gogh, Degas, Renoir, and many more I wasn't as familiar with. I am no art expert, nor do I feel the need to sit on a bench and stare at a single painting for half an hour. But I can still appreciate the beauty of the work I was able to see, and it felt surreal to see paintings firsthand of artists I've heard about my entire life. Here are a few of the ones I saw.

Renoir (this one reminds me of the painting in an episode of Gilmore Girls. Kristy, if you're reading, the exact one from GG is in Boston, so go find it!)

Monet, from his "Water Lillies" collection.

Monet, the bridge at Giverny that I cannot wait to visit this spring.

Degas, whose work primarily consisted of paintings of dancers.

Van Gogh

Van Gogh

I forgot to take a picture of the artist's name for this one, I just really liked it with the French flag.

They also had an exhibit in the back of the museum of Charles Garnier's famous opera house, better known as Palais Garnier. They had a huge model of the opera house, but cut in half to display the interior layout. They also had a model of the city near Opera under a glass floor that you could walk on. I wasn't entirely sure of the purpose of this, but it was pretty cool. I kind of wish they would have hidden a little Phantom of the Opera in there somewhere. Would have made me laugh.

Last week, my old roommate happened to be in Paris. She is a professor at my alma mater, Liberty University, and will be leading a trip of students to eastern Europe this spring. In order to be a leader, the tour company requires an orientation. So she and a few other profs from LU came to town this weekend. Katy came alone a few days early to have more time to explore the city. She even brought me some American goodies that are priceless commodities on this side of the pond: Jif peanut butter and Utz crab chips. I was thrilled, and have eaten peanut butter toast every morning since. Last night, I made my host mom try a small spoonful of peanut butter. She said they had seen peanut butter on American tv before, but she had never tried it. She looked at it apprehensively, then took a bite. Her face was pleasantly surprised, and I got a C'est bon! (It's good!). So I considered that a victory. I explained that peanut butter and chocolate were basically a staple in American baking, and told her I'd find a recipe for peanut butter chocolate cookies and make them. G tried my crab chips (my host mom wouldn't touch them) and gagged. I made his older brother try a couple too, and he said "It's weird." I went on to explain that not everyone in America liked crab chips or Old Bay, and it was a pretty "Maryland" specific taste.

I had fun showing her around the city, even though our time was limited. But I did get to cross something off my to-do list while she was here. My host mom had told me to visit Tour Montparnasse, which is a skyscraper that overlooks the entire city of Paris. 56 floors up, the views were incredible. It was cold and windy, but not a bad day to visit. It rained for a few minutes, and we went to the inside of the top floor to seek refuge and noticed that a rainbow was spreading across the city. Excited, we sprinted back up to the outside deck and took a bunch of pictures. What was really awesome was seeing the rain behind the Eiffel Tower. The rain in the photo was situated right over my suburb, Houilles, and sure enough, when I got back home it had rained there. I thought that was so cool to have seen it rain in my town from so far away.


Rainbow over Jardin du Luxembourg.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica in Montmarte in the distance, and the Louvre toward the bottom of the picture.

Awful shadow over my face, but oh well.

Although it was absolutely beautiful up there during the day, I can't wait to visit again at night and see the city lights. Although, the one downside to this particular visit is it will forever be the location I found out Alan Rickman (our beloved Severus Snape) died. Thanks Soph.

As far as updates on my French, I was able to set up private lessons, and I will start those in March. They are more expensive, so based on what I've already paid, I will only be able to do 1 per week over 8 weeks. That's ok though. It'll give me more time to do other things in Paris. I have to say though, most people here speak some level of English, particularly people my age. Learning English is required in the public school system here, and even G has some English vocabulary to learn from time to time. This is why G's older brother who goes to university speaks such good English. I'm sure some Parisians may be less inclined to be helpful, but everyone I've met so far has been very gracious about the language barrier. There have been a couple of times when I went to Chipotle where I walked in intending to attempt to order in French. They speak English well there, so I tend to use that as a crutch. But the first time I resolved not to speak English, I walk in and say one word: assiette. This doesn't translate to the word "bowl," but rather "plate" or "dish," but it is the equivalent of ordering a burrito bowl. The first time this happened, as soon as I said this one word, the response was a friendly "ok, white or brown rice?" Alright then. So I proceeded to order in English. I get to the cashier, and we had a funny moment where she meant to ask if I wanted water, but she said "agua" (Spanish for water), then shook her head and apologized then said "water." Then after I paid, she says a friendly "Bon appetit! Whoops, sorry, I mean, enjoy!" I walked away laughing to myself because a French girl just apologized to me for using French in her own country. The second time I attempted to walk in and order the same thing, I said the same word again: assiette. And I got the same reaction of asking if I wanted white or brown rice in English. There was no one behind me in line, so I started laughing with the girls asking what gave me away, and that I would come in to try to order in French and somehow I seemed very American. They laughed and said that it was my accent. I told them I was trying, and I'd have to work on that. I really enjoy going there, not just because it's Chipotle, one of my favorites, but because they are so fun and friendly. Although, I guess I have to work on my accent when speaking French.

I have to say, this week I have been thinking a lot about how frequently I meet new people from all over the world. I remember being in Lynchburg and sitting in my house with just wishing I could meet new and interesting people. I was at the point where I was just bored with life until I came here. Now, it seems like a distant memory that I ever was bored or had a lack of new people in my life. This weekend alone I hung out with 4 new people over a period of a couple days, and that's not including those I met in the last couple of weeks. I love it. I love hearing about someone's life that was not in the same bubble that I have been in for the last 11 years. It's just a really exciting time in my life, and I'm so thankful for it. I may be cold, but I'm never bored, and as of late, the loneliness I had been feeling before the holidays has subsided greatly. Now if it would just get warm outside ASAP, then life will just really be awesome.

Until next time!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Marie's Estate, New Year's Eve, and Hillsong Paris

Why is it that the days leading up to my Christmas break in the U.S. seemed to crawl by at a snail's pace, but somehow I blinked and I've already been home for 10 days? It feels way longer than 10 days. And we're already nearly a week into the new year. Time is a funny thing. Wish for it to speed up, and it'll feel like the clock is standing still. Lose track of time because of busy schedules and what not, and all of the sudden you're scratching your head and wondering how on earth you've been living in France for 3 and a half months already. Je ne sais pas. 

When I got back to Paris last week (last week? seriously? it was just last week?), my poor host mom was super sick and ended up staying home for a couple days. By day 2, she was feeling better, but still took the day off work, so she gave me the day off. I took the opportunity to head out to Versailles again with the intention of visiting the palace that day since it is indoors and it has been cold outside. However, I get there, and I see this...

Are you kidding me? Yes, this is in fact the line to get into the palace. Did I miss something? It's a Tuesday afternoon for crying out loud, why are all these people here?! I thought about turning around and leaving, but Versailles isn't the easiest place to get to from my suburb, so I just decided to suck it up and visit the extensive grounds instead. The last time I came in early October, I just bought a ticket to the gardens, which are directly behind the palace. But the grounds are huuuuuge and go way past the gardens. So I took the little "Petit Train" out to the Grand Trianon, the Petit Trianon, and Marie Antionette's estate, which includes her hamlet (her little village she had built) and her farm and the grounds beyond it. This area was only 10 euro to visit, and the gardens were open to the public that day.

It was in the 50s and mostly sunny, so while it was a little chilly, it was actually a pretty pleasant day to stroll around. The more I walked, the more I fell in love with the place. I have to go back when it is warmer and rent a bike to ride around. If it is as beautiful as it was in the winter when the trees are bare and no flowers are in bloom, I can't imagine how lovely it is in the spring. Part of me can't really blame Marie for wanting to escape palace life and instead building her quaint little village to spend lazy days. But as the Queen of France, shirking her responsibilities wasn't really a luxury she could afford, and she lost her head because of it. The farm had live animals, and for the first time in my life, I heard a rooster crow in person. It was hard to believe I was at a tourist location, because it was easy to just walk along the paths and be completely separated from anyone else. I did a giant loop and ended up back at the Grand Trianon near the Grand Canal. I still didn't cover all the grounds, because the estate is just that big. I walked along the canal all the way up to the palace and by that point, it was about to close for the day. Not a bad way to spend a Tuesday. Here are a few of my favorite pics of the day.

Grand Trianon

Petit Trianon

Oh hey, Marie! Thanks for inviting me to check out your place.

Marie's Hamlet and Estate

(ignore the random people at the front door taking a smoke break and ruining my picture)

Sunset over the Grand Canal

After leaving Versailles, I headed out to Garches, which is nestled between Versailles and my suburb. I was invited to dinner by one of my closest friends here in Paris, but I had never been there before. I mostly use the RER and Metro, but the SNCF trains, which mostly travel outside of the city, are not as familiar to me. But I found my way there, and was able to navigate to their apartment with no issues. I love their family. My friend A and her hubs and 3 adorable kids have been so welcoming and I’ve been so grateful for that. One of the first things A asks when I get there is if I like chicken tacos. Umm…I love Mexican food and you just made my entire night. While she’s getting dinner ready, the kids take me back and show me their rooms. The oldest two decide that we are going to play Monopoly, so before and after dinner, that’s what we did. Somewhere, they found a version of Monopoly that looked old school, but was in French, and the names of the properties were all streets in Paris. I gotta get me one of those. I hate to brag, but I'm good at this game, and I did end up winning. However, it was down to me and their 9 year old son, and though he landed on my hotel-laden properties 3 TIMES, the kid held his own until the very end. It was pretty impressive. What’s more impressive about their oldest two kids (9 and 7. The youngest is 2.) is that they already speak French quite well. The kids went to French immersion school in D.C. for 3 years, so when the husband was relocated to Paris for work, the kids were enrolled in French public school. A and I have chatted about how jealous we are at the opportunities theirs kids have, and how learning a language at that age is something we wish we could have done. So I may have beaten him in Monopoly, but he’s winning at learning French. We had to have him read a lot of the Chance cards for us. #jealous

Since we’re on the topic of French, mine is not coming along as well as I’d like. Not having been in class or looking at my notebook for nearly a month was stupid of me. I should have been periodically glancing over my notes, and now I feel like everything fell out of my head. This past Monday was my first day back in classes, and this time I was in a different class. It didn’t go well. I’m not good at the oral exercises. In fact, I suck at them. Maybe a lot of that is my confidence, and maybe it’s just that I know when others around me are better at something. The people in my class are mostly college age, which means they have just come from studying French and it is fresher in their minds. I studied it 10 years ago in college, and retained none of it. I basically was starting from scratch, even though I knew a few things I tried to teach myself over the years. I felt so crappy about myself on Monday, that I ended up leaving early with the intention of going to the school’s office to talk about alternatives, because the classroom just isn’t working for me. 

In college, I studied business. Business is a lot of theory, not rogue memorization, so in those types of classes, I need to be in a classroom. It’s how I learn best. Learning online or on my own for those types of courses just didn’t cut it for me. But learning French, this is basically memorization, and I just can’t do that in a classroom. I have to be alone with my notes, I have to really think about it, organize it in my notebook and visualize it. Then, I can collect my thoughts and speak the words I am then confident I know. But being in the classroom and being put on the spot has put me in stressful and at times embarrassing situations, and while my instructors and classmates have never made me feel uncomfortable, I just feel like an idiot. I know it’s in my head. But it’s too expensive to keep paying for these classes if my learning isn’t coming directly from the lessons, but when I’m studying the lessons on my own later. 

It’s a bit embarrassing for me to admit this. I wouldn’t consider myself a quitter, especially at something I’ve wanted to do my entire life. But I just need to find a way to learn the language that works for me. So Tuesday morning, I didn’t go to class. Instead, I emailed the school and explained why I didn’t think the classroom was working for me, and asked about private lessons. The one on one lessons are more expensive, yes, but if they have a spot and I could use the money I’ve already paid through the end of the year to do maybe one lesson a week, then study on my own the rest of the time, I think that would alleviate the pressure, stress, and whatever is blocking my head from being able to just grasp this language the way I want. The school emailed me back and said they were going to review my request (and they also said not to be so hard on myself). So we’ll see. If this doesn’t work out, I don’t know what my next option would be. A lot of people quit coming to language school, even if it is required for their visa. From what I can tell, the only way it would be an issue if I stopped attending all together would be if I wanted to come back next year and needed to renew my visa. Then, I would have to prove I stayed for the year. That would obviously not be a problem since I won’t be coming back for another year. But I still don’t want to quit. I’m here to learn French among other things. I just need to put my money to good use and make sure I’m learning the way I need to learn.

But back to last week. New Years Eve was the most fun I've had in a long long time. I don't know about you, but whenever I think about what NYE should be, I think huge party, dancing, and just a level of energy that can't be contained. I've seen parties like that on TV or in Times Square my entire life, and to be honest, for the last I don't know how many years, I've spent NYE alone. Why? Idk...I guess because no one I knew was doing anything and no one was assertive enough to put something together. So a year ago, I sat on my couch alone watching the ball drop in NYC on TV, then went to bed at some point after that. Not very exciting. Just another night that happened to start a brand new year. Big deal. But if you were to tell me then that one year from that night I would be getting ready to party in the new year in Paris, I'd have thought you were out of your mind. 

The night started out by meeting my friends at our friend J's apartment who happened to be out of town (sad). We planned to all spend the night there so we didn't have to go back to our homes super late, and we could just sleep in. So we went to a local grocery store, bought some cheap food for dinner and went back to the apartment to get ready to go out. I had Googled things to do in Paris on NYE, and found this website with about 20 different parties you could buy tickets for. Each party had a certain number of tickets available, so we picked the cheapest one which had a limit of 1500 people. So that is where we headed around 10:30 PM. After hopping the metro, we get out of the station, which is right along the Seine (very pretty at night), and see this super long line coming out of the venue. Ugh. By this time, we had about an hour till midnight, and we were just hoping we'd get inside and not be in this line when the new year began. With about 15 minutes to spare, we make it into the door and through security, got our drink tickets, checked out coats, and made it onto the dance floor. For an event with 1500 tickets sold, it was surprisingly not crazy crowded. There was plenty of room to dance, and the venue was beautiful with two huge dance floors, one upstairs and one downstairs. The only unbelievably crowded area was near the bar. I think we counted 4 bartenders total for I don't even know how many people. It was crazy and very squished. We were in line hoping to have champagne in hand when the clock struck midnight, but we didn't quite make it. At least we had made it inside though. With a minute left of 2015, the dance music stopped and the DJ began the countdown. It got darker and darker until finally 2016 was here and the place went crazy. I can't even describe that moment, other than to say it was so. much. freaking. fun. People are dancing, kissing, jumping up and down, screaming, hugging, the music is blaring, and I'm jumping up and down just so excited we had found such an awesome place to spend NYE. You can see a video of it on my Instagram. 10 minutes later, we finally had champagne in hand, and toasted the new year. I'm so thankful to have had the opportunity to come to Paris and meet friends from all over the world. The girl on the left is from Ukraine and the one on the right is from Columbia. Super fun girls and I am so happy I got to spend NYE dancing and having the time of our lives with them.
The rest of the night was just non-stop dancing. The music was mostly in English, with a few other songs thrown in, so me and my friends are dancing and singing to everything from a dance version of Adele's "Hello" to "Wannabe" by the Spice Girls. At some point, a group of French guys joined us, and I end up dancing most of the night with one of them. And when I say dancing, I mean like legit dancing, where he is teaching me some of his fancy footwork and spinning me around all over the place like he's from the cast of Dancing with the Stars. We were out until 6 AM, and here I was thinking I'd be tired by then, but nope. I could have stayed out longer, but the event was coming to an end. Sad day. We hopped on the metro back to our friend's apartment and all 3 of us passed out on her bed. An excellent New Year's Eve. I doubt any NYE will ever come close to that one.

It took me a few days to get my sleep schedule back on track after that night. On Sunday, I went to church, then took my Kindle and got some lunch and some coffee. I was killing time until 4:30, because I had found out that Hillsong church had a campus in Paris. For those that don't know, Hillsong is a huge church based out of Australia that has campuses all over the world. They are most well-known for the worship music they write and produce. A lot of churches use their music during their own services. I'll be completely honest, I kind of had a few expectations when I went, and it ended up being exactly what I was picturing. I don't want to come off like I'm being critical, but I'm definitely used to a more simple type of church where the sermons go deep into the Word, and this was not quite along those lines. The energy in the room reminded me of Wednesday night campus church services at Liberty University when I was in college. 

Instead of elaborating much on what wasn't really my cup of tea, and yes there were several things I could list, I want to name a few things that I thought were particularly awesome. Since I'm in Paris, the service is obviously not entirely in English. They go back and forth between English and French songs during worship, but they have both translations on the screen so you can know what it is you are singing. It was really cool singing these songs in French, when I don't speak the language well, but seeing the translation of the words pouring out of my mouth. The sermon was tag-teamed by the pastor, who is Australian, and a translator. So he would basically say something, and she'd repeat it in French. At first, I thought this would be distracting, but it was actually kind of cool to hear him say something, and then hear what it would sound like in French. I was trying to record a clip of this, but some church worker creeped up behind me, made me practically jump out of my skin, and told me it was prohibited because people will record it and put it online. I wanted to say, "yeah that's exactly what I planned to do, what's the big deal?" but I didn't. I guess because it's Hillsong, they are afraid of copyright stuff. Whatevs. Lame. The other awesome thing that happened was meeting the girl that was sitting next to me. I walk in, and found a seat in the back row of the front section, and a girl came in and sat down next to me. We started chatting and 2 minutes later, we're exchanging phone numbers and she says we should meet for a cup of coffee and she could help me with my French. Ok then. Didn't take long to make a friend here. Just goes back to what I said in a previous post about the church in general. It's instant community, and I love it. I will probably go back to the Hillsong service, but it definitely won't replace the church I go to on Sunday mornings. I have to say though, even going to 2 different churches this past Sunday, it made me miss Gospel Community in Lynchburg even more. So much so, that I spent yesterday catching up on some of GCC's sermons. No church is perfect, but it was exactly the right fit for me, and after spending nearly 6 years there, it was home. I miss the people, the worship, and the sermons so much.

This week has been back to a normal routine. Last week, G still had school holidays, but this week was back to walking him to school and picking him up in the evenings. It's been nice to have some alone time during the day, and just catch up on rest. Now that it's after Christmas, it feels like my time here has sped up. It was easy to think of all the things I still want to do while I'm in France and think "oh I have plenty of time, Christmas isn't even here yet." But now that I've actually created a list (in Microsoft Excel...because I'm a nerd), it's like "oh crap...I need to start scheduling these things out to make sure I can fit them all in." Most of them I'm going to want to do in warmer months anyway, so that's not a huge stretch of time to fit them all in. I need to get the indoorsy things out of the way during these cold months. I do have more time during the weeks now though, so hopefully I will start checking things off left and right. I started researching something else I'm really excited about that I hope to do in the next few months, but I'm going to keep that a secret for the time being. But it would be so much fun if I can do it.

Well, this was a long one, and I appreciate you taking the time to catch up on my adventures!

Bonne année!