Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summer Solstice Shining



My Sister lives on a Christmas tree farm. And while last Monday was the polar opposite to the 25th of December, as I set out on my late afternoon walk, alone, I could feel the happy ghosts of holidays past around me, the slight echo of delight as families decided, "Yes, this one. This tree will come home with us!"


Visions of snow melted away in the heat of the sun, gold, as I followed the path up a slight incline as it snaked unknowingly out of sight. I stayed on the path as I have stayed on the path. It has been a time of feeling forward blind but my eyes were kissed with beauty at every step on this Summer Solstice day, the longest of the year and one brimming with good intentions.


I had been reading a bit of astrology - whispering to the mystical to come back in to hold me up if it could, just like it did in childhood - about this event punctuated with the second consecutive full moon in Sagittarius, not only a blue moon but a Strawberry one, previously so called by the Algonquin people as they were able to pick the sweet fruit under its soft glare. This conjuncture - the first during my lifetime - was predicted to be the end of a chapter, not only delineating the final phase of what has been a challenging first half of 2016, but to something greater within ourselves. 


My senses were on high. It felt so expansive to be out in the country, breathing deeply. How could I not feel a surge of joy? I withdrew the newly repaired iphone out of my pocket again and again, framing with decisiveness then to photograph, "Yes, this one. This I will take home with me." Dust on my toes, heel slapping flip-flops with the occasional vague swipe to clinging bits of pollen across my bare legs. Warmth spread around me without the sweat, no pain just a floating fearless fine being.


As I crested the hill, I caught at the breeze with outstretched fingers and began my descent, careful to crunch a little more quietly as I came towards the opening where my Sister had mentioned that deer could sometimes be caught unaware. No, today it was just the fields and me. I paused to look down at the patterns in the dust, fallen branches and traces of previous passerby, myself included. "I was here then and I am today." Click, click and click.



The shade beckoned, as did the promise of the creek that was my destination. Bubbling water holds an inexplicable draw - maybe for hopscotching back to memories of chasing crawdads or maybe with the promise of what it could carry swiftly away in its current.



Stepping onto the gray wooden slats of the open bridge, I heard a crash to my right and froze. Snaps of grass breaking drew my gaze downstream then up to the ridge directly noon in front of me where a deer - a young buck? - was bounding away. Mid-gasp of surprise, I heard the sound and saw the movement repeated as a second followed, fleeing, with a white undertail flipping goodbye. I reached to follow them with my camera, so late, having been paralyzed by their effortless grace. ("How can I describe the way that they leaped and hung in the air?" I asked my Sister the next day, knowing I wanted to write about them. "A jété?" she suggested and we both nodded in agreement.) The afternoon draped languidly across the treetops and the world seemed a bit proud of itself, this Summer Solstice shining so brightly with gifts given and the receiving of pure joy.

             (Click to enlarge and then look in the middle of the path)

I shook my head slowly, a smile lifting my lips and turned back towards the comfort of my Sister's floorboard creaking Victorian house, lighter than when I started out, buoyed with quiet if completely unspecific relief. The day played itself out with the lacsidaisical shuffle of an old-school card game. Me, I was waiting for the moon. I love la belle lune and always have.


With night finally ascending, I let the screen door sigh shut behind me and headed out, hunting. Through the stolid shelter of the pines, I could see a light and headed towards it...but it was no moon. Across the indigo sky a massive storm cloud surged, blotting out the stars. Within it, lightning snapped laterally, playing tag with pockets of humidity until the mottled gray throbbed, pulsing. But the pines sighed comfortingly and so I watched, open-mouth gazing without a worry that a stray bolt could find me until the game was no longer so amusing.


I know that I have mentioned Tara Brach quite a lot recently. Her talks and writing are what have helped me the most (along with my walking and walking) during these past few months. When so much of one's world has disappeared with a magician's puff of smoke, thoughts can take a "pride of place" in the mind, shouting out in otherwise empty rooms. Now, that can lean in the direction of obsession or make the place for change.

One of the themes that she touches upon repeatedly (and often with humor) is a gentle reminder that thoughts "are real but not true" and that with compassionate reflection we can trace back those of the consistently negative variety to our core beliefs about ourselves. While waiting for the devilish storm to pass and lifted with courage from the simple splendor of the day, I felt safe enough to admit my old ones deep - like worry beads rolled between my fingers - which keep me seprarate within our amazing world; those that declare "I am unlovable" and "There is something wrong with me/ I don't belong." But somehow, I was no longer afraid of those ideas anymore. I stepped back outside to find my friend.


The moon had risen, the storm passed on. There was mon copain, playing cache-cache behind the trees. "Move further back, out into the open," it said; so I did and was flooded in its rays that reached through to my bones, sweeping me clean. As I stood there on the grass, the light shown into the darkness of my misconceptions and told me that I was very much a part of our complex world, that I had an important place in it just as we all do. That while I have my faults, I am not broken and in that moment I felt very connected to everyone and everything and in so being, felt very loved. And loving too.

"I am grateful, grateful, grateful," I sang to the moon, the sun and the hope that a new chapter had just begun.

 ****


 Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.
I am heading back out to my Sister's where I have less time on the internet - and yes, that is a good thing - so I hope you will pardon me if I am not as present here in the next few days.
Be well,
Heather

Friday, June 17, 2016

Little by little, the bird makes its nest



I walk in the mornings. Somehow I knew that it would save me, my body moving forward in space while my heart was reaching back over the ocean. My shoes are old but barely used, bought on an assignment with Remi in Vancouver many years ago with the aim of exploring further afield. 

I follow the sidewalk circling the blocks of the subdivision, fast-paced, arms swinging. It is a movement I remember from my past, even further ago, when, penniless, I would head up through Central Park for an hour and a half, chasing the chimera of an adult self not yet born. The houses I pass these days are closed up. I can never understand it for they are all lived in. For some reason, people seem to want to say, "We aren't home." It is the opposite of what I want. 

When I first arrived back to the States, I brushed snow out of my eyes, then the crocuses rose; now the trees wave and I swipe away the heat. It is Monday and I am listening to Tara Brach speak calming words in a podcast, spooling out a future of possibilities, through borrowed headphones. Buddhist insights mixed with pragmatic psychology. I am so focused that I nearly crush the little half moon on the sidewalk, blowing sideways, tumbleweed. Pause pressed, I bend down, sunglasses lowered, to see.

It is a fallen birds nest. I straighten back up, hand perplexedly on hip, to discern from which tree. But it is stolidly in the middle of a nowhere. My nowhere. I crouch back and pick it up, unthinkingly. Now it is scented with me. 

It must have been quite comfortable with its lining of cotton, puffed and shredded, a true find for a mama bird, welcoming. This light thing, so fragile in my hands. Grass carefully bended and pecked into shape. "Little by little, the bird makes its nest." This is a phrase that Remi and I shared so often, almost like a code. "Petit à petit, l'oiseau fait son nid." We built our lives over fifteen years and did so with such pride that only the first three words were needed to be uttered for an understanding to be passed between us like a wink. 

I let my heart fall into the softness between the twigs to rest, put the nest down and kept walking, my face whipped taught like a sheet. "Little by little"..."little by little"..."little by little" on Monday morning.

And then that rhythm of thought and footfall, repeating like a dance or pulsing like lights in the nightclub, one filled with bodies twisting joyfully. Friends and loves, flirtations and fantasy projecting into a future too, one stretching towards a weekend feel of forever, also with such pride, also solid yet free, but sucked so quickly into the void, bullet-snuffed.

"Petit à petit" my tears could fall, sliding down my chin to tap the concrete. 

It didn't make sense but it did to me, that eventually - not immediately but eventually - I changed my steps stumbling to come back to that nest. I chose a tree, the one with the right branches and tucked it up as high as I could reach. It was too late, too late for so many things but I wanted it to be safe. So that maybe, somehow, one day those possibilities that I had held between within my fingers could be wishing true fulfilled.



I check on the nest every day when I pass by just to make sure it is still there and am thinking of it now, looking out the window as an early summer rain comes down. Because it is so fragile. As we are, yet strong enough to make a home out of the best in us. And we do.

I am sending so much Love and Strength to the families, friends and loved ones of the victims of the terrorist attack in Orlando.


Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A perfect vacation rental in Saint Germain des Prés - Paris!



Are you ready to dream a little dream with me? And to perhaps make that dream a reality?

Today, I am very, very excited to share with you what I think is the perfect apartment vacation rental in the best neighborhood that Paris has to offer...Saint Germain des Prés.


What makes this particular apartment so special to me is that it is the home of someone whose taste quite a few of you have come to know and admire...that of my friend Anthony.


For Paris is where Anthony and his partner hang their hats - that is when they are not in Provence working on their amazing home renovation project

As they have only very recently decided to start renting out their apartment, you will be one of the first to know of this address...one that Anthony calls a "petit endroit secret sous les toits de Paris" - yes, indeed...


I have long been a believer of renting out apartments rather than camping out at hotels. It gives you, the visitor, the opportunity to live entirely on your own schedule and more importantly, to have the irreplaceable experience of tapping into the usually unknown life of a local. As a travel writer, this was always my goal, to discover the true "esprit du lieu"...or spirit of place.


And what a spirit! Their apartment covers the entire top floor of a 17th century hôtel particulier (not to worry, each floor is private) in the heart of the 7th arrondissement.


Are you starting to get the sense that this is an exceptional pied à terre for all of your Paris sojourns? Good! Because it truly is...save that in France, pied à terre is usually a code-word for "tiny" and this apartment is an incredibly spacious 75 square meters (over 800 square feet)! Considering that many Parisian hotel rooms run in at around 15 square meters...well, you are smart enough to figure that one out on your own. ;)


There is everything that is needed in a true home away from home...wifi, full kitchen, dishwasher and laundry.


I know first-hand from when Anthony was renting out his previous village house that he prepares fantastically helpful lists of suggestions...you will have the key to hidden spots in the neighborhood that even Parisians don't know about! Plus, there is family just at hand should you need extra help. This is an extremely safe area and there is a digicode for entry to the building as well.


All one needs to do is just walk out the front door and enjoy - there is even a great antiquaire in the courtyard below. The Seine is a one and a half minute walk in one direction (!) with the Louvre and the Jardins des Tuileries just beyond. My personal "nothing bad could ever happen to you here" Le Bon Marché is a quick stroll in the opposite direction with Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots at a three minute hop! You could go every day...


And if you really felt the need to leave the cartier for some strange reason ;) the metro and bus are a five-minute walk away. Oh, and the bus is direct to both the Gare de Lyon and the Gare Montparnasse for those coming/going further afield.


The apartment is perfect for two people. There is one bedroom but also an office that is open to the living area and kitchen. A baby bed or small mattress can be set up in the office as needed but this will be not as comfortable as the fluffy bed in the main bedroom.


The design is a mix of antiques and modern - Anthony and his partner's signature. I think that the photos speak for themselves on that point, non? I will add that the beautiful original tomettes are quite unusual (this is Paris not Provence after all) and I love the texture of the wooden beams plus the sloped ceilings. The apartment is filled with light, has spectacular (and rare) views and is very quiet.


"Oh my," you might be thinking. "This all has to be wildly expensive." Now, really. Would I do that to you? That is not my style. And that is why I am so thrilled to share this address with you.


 For you see, the Secret Paris in the 7th apartment is available to rent for 140 Euros ($160 USD at the time of writing) per night.


Is there a catch? That depends on how you look at it.

I did mention that the apartment is on the top of the building, yes? So that would be the sixth floor and there is not an elevator in this formerly private mansion. But...as anyone knows who loves Paris, if you want the views and if you want the light (crucial in la cité de la lumière!), then you have to be willing to walk a bit. Anthony has assured me that the flights are not too steep. And just think, it would be a carte blanche to have all of the croissants and Montrarchet Grand Cru (perhaps just not together) that you could desire! Trust me, it is worth it...


...because at the end of an amazing day in Paris, you could rest your weary but memory-filled head here while looking beyond to the night sky floating over the rooftops of your dreams...

****

If you are interested in renting this little bit of heaven, please contact Anthony directly at: anthonyleewatson@hotmail.com for further information and availability.
 
Yes, he speaks English et mais bien sûr, il parle bien français.

****

As always, I am only sharing this with you because I believe that it is amazing, just as I feel strongly that anyone who gets to have such a true Parisian experience is very fortunate. Enjoy and feel free to pass this along!

All photos courtesy of Anthony Lee Watson