Archive for July, 2012

 Francine

 May of 2010, I drew Francine’s name and address through the random pot luck of postcrossing.com.  She didn’t say much in her profile other than stating her preference for art cards and including a link to her blog where I saw some pictures of her  beautiful hand knitted creations. I chose two postcards for her: The first was a collage I made from a magazine model and a mistakenly decapitated live orchid bloom.  The second was a favorite painting from The Art Institute of Chicago called “A Vision” by Joseph  Stella.

I wrote Francine about my clumsy orchid killing accident and the bloom’s fate to be immortalized as a hat. Then I talked about “The Vision” and how I wished I could  sprout from a shell,  swaddled in orange cloth reborn each morning. When she received the cards she sent a nice message of thanks.  I thought that was that,  but then several months later she wrote back and there began our journey down the pen pal path.

Marie-Anne Foucart “Dans mes filets” March 2009

The above message in a bottle reading mermaid was one of the cards that made it’s way from Provence to Chicago.  I already shared  some special mermaid history with two close friends so this card has been display prominently since it’s arrival! Along with this card came a CD of her favorite music and some notations of associated memories.  I thought this was such an interesting way to get a feel for an unmet friend.

Another great card was this painting with view of  Sainte-Victoire  by Paul Cézanne. Francine wrote: “….On my way to work, I see it and it reminds me how lucky I am to have such a beautiful view to look at every day.”  I’m sure it was right then that I started thinking how lucky I’d be to get invited to Provence!

Francine was a soon to be retired English teacher and her partner Jean-Pierre,  a physics teacher and violin player.  They have a creative bunch of kids and she sent some pictures through email of her  family. I think I was a little star stuck.  Confession:  I have sort of  had a crush on France, French culture,  French accents and French people since my first trip to Paris. When I looked at those pictures,  I latched on to some myth from within and stereotyped them as way cooler than myself. But still….and yet….I invited myself to France. Why? Coz that’s what I do!  I may have said I want to travel to France and Francine may have graciously insisted I come visit. I can’t remember but however it came to be, in May of 2011,  I spent 9 days (one of which was my birthday!) in their lovely home in Puyricard , near Aix-en-Provence.

I stayed in her son’s former bedroom and next to the bed was a big mural of a lion painted by friends for a birthday present.   On arrival (after a nap) I was greeted with cocktails and snacks featuring Rum punch, a Caribbean thing, with Francine and her friend Cathy. The highlight was listening to them practice singing for choir.  They both had beautiful voices but most striking was their personal transformation. Their faces changed, as if  illuminated by the sheer joy of singing. It was an amazing and relaxing way to get introduced into a day in the life of my pen pal! Later that week, I went along for the official choir practice.  I witnessed 40 mostly white French people singing American gospel music! They were great and I loved it but wow, what a surprise. That’s just not something a Chicago girl expects to find in France!

The vibe in their house was most harmonious.  All pre conceived “cooler then me” notions were eradicated. Both my hosts were completely down to earth and sincerely welcoming. In the day, while they were at work I wandered in different directions on foot or by bus. I had a really nice time exploring Marseille and taking a boat ride to Chateau D’If , from Count of Monte Cristo fame. On the days they were off work, Francine and JP took me by car to see a giant flea market in L’Isle sur Sorgue , Oppède and the best was a long hike along the cliffs of Cap Canaille near Cassis.

 

 

Most nights Francine would come home from work and whip together a great dinner that we’d eat leisurely while chatting and drinking wine.  I’ve always enjoyed eating out in different countries but there is much to be said for the comfort and intimacy of a home cooked meal and I really appreciated it. I also felt really spoiled and possibly unworthy. I couldn’t think of any way to reciprocate properly other than trying to entice them to come visit Chicago and since thus far no pen friends had made the journey  I wasn’t counting on that happening.

Ha! I underestimated my friend because come November,  I was picking her up at the airport in Chicago.  I was so excited to show her my favorite things, introduce her to friends,  and even better, she was here for her birthday!  Sadly, Jean Pierre couldn’t come but there’s always next time!  Also… always I dream of France and with me, travel dreams cannot help but come true.

Gratitude: Another independence day story

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I received this postcard from Marta in New York City after writing my last post. On the same day I was having my lakefront Independence day experience she had drawn my name from postcrossing.com and sat down to write what falls into my top ten best messages on a card!

Marta wishes me a happy 4th of July and as she writes the fireworks are scaring her cat. She is was born and raised in Poland but moved to NYC 18 years ago. She loves New York and feels that living there is a dream.  On the way to work she passes the Statue of Liberty and can’t help but tell her “Good morning” each day. She jokes with her 12-year-old son about how different his life would be if he was born in communist Poland and she is happy to see that he appreciates his country as much as she loves her new homeland. She signs off expressing the profound effect that this day of independence has for her.

OMG. This filled me with complete happiness. Every time I tried to read it to friends my voice was wobbly, choking back tears! I love that almost every morning in NYC there is a woman who says good morning to Liberty and takes that time to be grateful. I wish I could shove that postcard in the face of every person that I hear complaining about those “damn immigrants” for the rest of my life. After all, at some point in our lineage we were all immigrants.

This is just another example of the power of a message from a stranger. Her expression of gratitude made me want to be grateful. Now I’m sending it out on the internet magic carpet ride to all of you who will read it. Let’s spread it, like a good virus so we can all be the person we ought to be.

Heat, Hatred and Independence on the Lakefront


“All I’m saying is simply this, that all life is interrelated, that somehow we’re caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

On the Fourth of July,  I decided to ride the bike path to Navy Pier before the heat rose to its full 101 potential. At 9:45 AM there  were lot’s of people out claiming their plot of lakefront land to barbecue and view fireworks. I passed two of the usual suspects: The lady with curly red hair that exercises by taking a million tiny sideways steps with hand weights. The tall skinny old guy in a  tiny speedo and giant sombrero-like straw hat. He faces the bike path with an assortment of work out paraphernalia as if performing for an olympic audience. It would be really funny if I was on someone else’s list of crazy looking characters they see on the bike path.

I am starting to slow down by the time I get to Belmont harbor because it’s so damn hot. Because of this heat, I am actually wearing a bathing suit (never happens) with shorts while dreaming of jumping in the water (also never happens) at Oak St. That wet dream is crushed by the reality of what I’m gonna do with my wallet and phone. Crap.

There was a lot of bad behavior on the bike path, making it difficult to pass without fear of collision. I came upon this young African-America man who seemed to be deliberately riding in on coming traffic, yelling something about white people and then swerving back in front of me. I was right behind him trying to figure how to pass when he turned his head and asked if I was following him. I said “No, I just want to pass” and did so. Then he said something about me having a nice ass. I was pissed, as I always am when guys say that kind of thing, but I kept riding and imagined all the things I would like to say to him to make him feel stupid.

I got to my turn around point and stopped to get a drink. My water bottle was hot enough to brew some coffee so I dumped it on my head, refilled at a fountain and started riding back home. Then I saw that guy again and as we passed each other he yelled “Why don’t you ride your bike into the lake and kill yourself?”  Circling around I said “Whoaaa! What is your problem and why would you say that to me ?” He replied that he hates all white people. I asked “Did I do something to disrespect you?” He answered “No, you didn’t do anything but all white people in Chicago are racists and they deserve to die.” Well, what do you say to that? I turned and rode off. I felt like crying but I always tend to take things too personally.

You can say he must have been crazy. I mean, who goes on a July 4th hate tour of the lakefront just to tell every white person on the path they should die? Therefore I should dismiss him along with all the other crazies I’ve passed and already forgotten. And yet… I can’t stop thinking about him and imagining this conversation where he sits quietly and listens to me while I tell him the way it is my world. I explain to him very eloquently and in great detail the law of attraction:  Life serves you up all that you believe. Kind of like all those people who go to Paris believing that all French hate all Americans. They brace themselves for the legendary rudeness and inevitably that is exactly what they get. Another person that leaves those pre-conceived notions behind will discover warmth and kindness. But I don’t give him the Paris analogy as I’m sure it would inspire supreme hatred of my privileged (nice) ass. I just know that all that hatred cannot be serving him well. He couldn’t be happy. He couldn’t have noticed how beautiful it was to ride a bike next to the lake in the summertime while regurgitating all that prejudice.  There can’t be any space for joy in a heart so full of misery. When I’m done with my lecture, he admits that maybe he should rethink his philosophy on life. We shake hands and he rides off  stunned and exhausted with all negativity spent.

Unlikely for sure but it’s my dream and it feels better to work it out this way instead of dwelling on the sad reality. I wonder if anyone else replied to his comments that day at the lake? I might have been the only one that challenged him and honestly I think he may have hated me a little less because of my question. He had to think about the fact that I had never done a bad thing to him. In a sea of generic white faces I spoke out for myself and who knows? Maybe after we rode our separate ways he stopped his rant for the day.

Finally in regards to the beautiful M. L. King postcard that leads off this post: I hesitated to use it for fear of appearing to sell myself as overly righteous. I’m not the political volunteering type nor am I one that marches for causes. I rarely  listen or read  the news because I find it so depressing. I do however make an effort to go out in the world  with a positive attitude and hope to spread a little peace and love on my path. And if this story of mine was in a Woody Allen movie I’d  just happened to have some  inspirational Martin Luther quotes that I pull from my pocket and give the kid before he rides away.