Friday, November 13, 2015

Marked For Death: A Homosexual's Rant to His Would Be Executioners!

The story and its accompanying video first came to my attention, as so many factoids and headlines do these days, through my Facebook news feed. To say that I was surprised by the content would make me a fool.

It seems Pastor Kevin Swanson of the Reformation Church of Elizabeth, Colorado, went on quite a tear this past weekend at the National Religious Liberties Conference held in Des Moines, Iowa. He said:

"There are instances in which both the Old and New Testament speak to the matter with unbelievable clarity. You know what that sin is--it's the sin of homosexuality. In fact in Romans 1 Paul affirms that this particular sin is worthy of death. The Old and New Testament, I believe both speak with authority and we outta receive it."

Give me a Wow, an Ouch, and an Oh My on that one. I found myself shaking my head in disbelief that yet another pastor--a professed Christian in a leadership position--believes that homosexual people should be put to death. The other (one in a long line of many, I'm sure) is Arizona pastor Steven Anderson who back in December 2014 said the cure for AIDS was right there in the Bible all along. He turned to Leviticus 20:13 and read this cure: "If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them," He suggested that if people followed God's word and "executed the homos" we could be free of AIDS or at least "90something%" free of AIDS by Christmas 2014.

That's some radical thinking you've got going on there pastors Swanson and Anderson.

Here's where it gets personal. Those two pastors are talking about me. Even though I'm HIV negative I'm still a homosexual that would be executed if either of these men had their way. They're chips off Hitler's block.


You see that picture above this paragraph? That's me. I'm a person. I'm someone's child, someone's brother, someone's uncle. I'm a cousin, a nephew, a friend. I'm a human being. I deserve to live my life to the fullest just like anybody else.

The scary thing about people like these pastors is that, while they individually may not be the voice of the masses, they each have followers who are listening to their hateful words...and agreeing. Maybe you're saying: I don't feel like that but I agree that homosexuality is wrong. Hooray for you! And even if you don't believe in their extremes yet you choose to believe what the Bible says about homosexuality over say, your own homosexual child, that doesn't change the fact that these men are out there in the world spouting this garbage. One bad apple spoils the whole bunch, right? It's hard to get past the stench of those who continue to vomit such disgusting exhortations.

To boil this down in simple terms, they would have ME put to death. ME. The guy in the picture above. They don't even know me and yet because I'm a man who is homosexual they believe I should be put to death.

My existence as a human being--a homosexual, a man--is worthy of life, worthy of breath, worthy of opportunity to live and thrive and create and love and fight back against these men in leadership positions who would take it all away from me because they believe my life--my very existence--is worthy of nothing more than death. And all because the writer Paul says so in the book of Romans in the Bible, which should not be cited for making laws in this country.

When I saw the piece on Mr. Swanson (and the politicians' names connected to it) I couldn't stop myself from taking to Facebook, posting the following status: "As a human being who had the great fortune of being born gay, I find it terribly distressing that there's even a remote possibility that Cruz, Huckabee, or Jindal could be President of my country. #equality #LGBTQ"

This is America. Land of the free. Home of the brave. We are so blessed here with the freedom of speech and the freedom of (or from) religion. Thank goodness. Because you know why? Men have taken it upon themselves to interpret the Bible to fulfill their own discriminatory, fear-inducing needs. I wasn't at the National Religious Liberties Conference, but do you know who was reportedly there? Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, and Bobby Jindal. Those stalwart American politicians who want to be President of this great nation called America. (Hence the Facebook status). Again, I shake my head.

I am never more angry when religion and sexuality collide than when self-righteous Christian leaders spout death to the homosexuals from their pulpits to a congregation of blind faith followers who simply choose to agree rather than call them out on their acerbic hate speech!

What can I say that hasn't already been said by me and multitudes of others about the picking and choosing of verses in the Bible--verses which many Christians believe should be law and followed to the letter? Nothing new. What I can do is ask: How can anyone call himself a Christian and be so filled with hate for a minority of human beings? How can he stand in front of people--impressionistic children, for instance--and spew such rhetoric? I was one of those children. I'm still trying to live a life that isn't consumed with the fear of fire and brimstone. It's not an easy lesson to unlearn when it's been drilled into one's head at such an early age. Words that heinous make me very angry.

Not one more child should have to hear words like the above preached from the pulpit in his church. Not one more child should have to grow up with the fear of burning in hell for eternity because of the way he was born. Not one more child should be afraid to be himself. Not one more child should feel less than anyone else. Not one more child should be subjected to this kind of mental abuse. Oh yes, it's definitely harmful, injurious, offensive i.e. abuse.

Here's another question I could pose: Are there instances where homosexuals are standing on platforms in front of people saying that Christians should be put to death? Are there? I haven't witnessed that either in person or in print or via video. Yet I've seen the video proof more than once of professed Christians calling for the death of homosexuals.


"Death doesn't discriminate between the sinners and the saints." So says the brilliant lyric from the song "Wait For It" from the even more brilliant musical Hamilton. (For the record, there's no distinction between the sinners and the saints in this story). There's truth in those nine words. Death doesn't discriminate. But man discriminates. And he discriminates until he feels he's high enough on his pedestal to sit in judgment of anyone who doesn't agree with him; anyone he feels doesn't deserve to breathe the air that for some reason he has deemed only worthy of consumption by the godly, the righteous, the morally superior.

Read your Bible's, pastors. Peter writes in Acts 10:34 that God was no respecter of persons. That means God (unlike man) shows no one favoritism over the other. Even the Declaration of Independence says, "All men are created equal."

Join us in the 21st Century, on the right side of history, ye condemners of death to the homosexuals. If you can't, at least wash the reek of manure off your shoes where you keep digging in your heels.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The American Political Stage: A Theatrical Extravaganza

When did religious views and opinions become the standard political platform for the GOP? When did believing in the God of the Bible and following what the Bible says become the one and only right way to live ones life? This is America, right? Freedom of (from) religion!! Has it always been this way? Or is it now simply more pronounced than ever before? When did shouting your religious views from the rooftops become as second nature as, say, who you're attracted to? 

Remember when discussing politics and/or religion was simply not gauche? We kept our views to ourselves or at least we only shared them when we were in the right setting. Sure, there were instances where coherent, informative discussions with differing opinions could be had then walked away from without one party dismissing the others opinions as ignorant and uninformed. But for the most part I remember people keeping most of those thoughts to themselves. 

In today's high-trafficked internet world, one can't seem to escape the constant barrage of I'm-right-you're-wrong rhetoric spewed from the asshole's of opinionated people (myself included) that becomes more blah, blah, blah than useful information. The news cycle, which is now endless, is filled with politicians who use strong, conservative, Christian views to pander to the religious right merely to gain voter support. Many of those politicians are off-their-rocker Christians themselves who want the laws of our land to reflect the laws of a book written for a different time. We progress. We change. Stop standing in the way. Broaden your mind to the possibilities and changes or step aside.

Many of our politicians don't have the rights, fair treatment, and just concerns of our nation's citizens in their best interests. They have their own wants, desires, and agendas in their best interests. 

Abortion, same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act should all be moot points at this point, but no, they are used to rile the conservative masses almost daily, be it through interviews, political debates, or rallies held around the country. This season's targets seem to be Planned Parenthood and Immigration. Again, pandering to the morals and fears of the Right.

How is it possible that a woman can blatantly break the law in this country, keep her job, and be considered a hero by so many? How is it possible that a former congresswoman can continue to spread fear, suggesting God will destroy our nation because our Supreme Court voted for equality? (As if we're the ONLY nation in the world who believes in equal rights for all!) How is it possible that a former Governor (and beauty queen) still has a platform in this country for her incoherent, uninformed ramblings that stoke the fires of the lowest common denominator? How does a crass, no-filter billionaire with no real political background become the front runner for the GOP Presidential nomination? Answer for all: by catering to the morality police and conservative Christians! It's a fuck-everyone-else, I'm-right-and-you're-wrong mentality. These people are filling their followers' heads with lies and no one knows what lies at the bottom of that rabbit hole, yet so many are blindly jumping in. No thanks!

And for that matter, how is it possible we live in a country where men and women would rather shut down the government than hammer out the details in a compromise that could and should benefit all people? Who shuts down the government? Two years ago when our government shut down I was stunned. And now we're on the verge again. Figure it out people! We put our trust in you, voted to elect you to lead us, and many of you are too busy playing childish games, making the political stage look like one hell of a theatrical production. When is the Phantom going to make the chandelier crash down in the middle of congress? Seriously! I want my money's worth. 

The conservative right will say the country has lost its way. I beg to differ. The country hasn't lost its way, but many have forgotten "All men are created equal" and many of those with this memory loss wish to keep those of us they don't agree with -- those of us they find less than, those of us they find morally bankrupt (according to the laws of their God) -- held under foot so we have no voice. To quote from the fantastic new musical Hamilton let me say that we continue to "Rise Up" and we refuse to not be seen and heard. "We hold these truths to be self-evident." 

Many of our leaders today are on the wrong side of history. Time will validate same-sex marriage as the best thing to happen in 2015. Time will prove that we can all live together with differing political and religious views (as we've been doing for years) if we love, support, and respect one another without the "I'm right and you're wrong" attitude. 

Grow up. Stop quibbling over not getting your way. Be leaders. Stop acting like children who never learned the basic principle of sharing. 

Sunday, September 13, 2015

"Chaque petit détail joue un rôle"

The gray clouds purged themselves once more today as the City of Lights remained dimmed and dampened by the rain that, like me, hung around for another day.  

The chill of fall was in the air as the breeze blew through the City, no sun to warm it's gentle Scarves and trench coats were as normal a sight as, say, long lines at the Eiffel Tower. 

Aside from the positive aspect of getting to spend an extra day in Paris, there was the excitement of what that extra meant for me. If you've kept up with these adventures of a solo traveler (I finished reading The Phantom of the Opera during my crépe and cafè crème this morning), you know that the Water Lillies rooms in the Musée de l'Orangerie were closed through 12 Septembre. If you've seen your calendar today you know it's 13 Septembre. That guessed it...I got to see the Water Lillies. As frustrating as a cancelled flight can be, this circumstance certainly had more than one upside. 

I was not prepared for the beauty that awaited me just beyond the concrete opening that led to the two oval rooms that housed the Lillies. The cold gray of the sky -- and the structure's interior -- gave way to the delicate warmth of Monet's Water Lillies as they hung, panoramic around the rooms, forever caught in their tranquil grace. Morning. Afternoon. Evening. There is color. And then there is Monet's use of color. Dark purples, sea green-blues, blue-greens, sea foam green, burgundy, brilliant blue, pink, yellow. Blends. Swirls. Up close you can see the brush strokes and maybe not quite put into focus the picture. But stepping away brings it all together. One can actually see ripples in the water. There's truth, illusion, and beauty from a distance. 

I was like a child on Christmas morning; running into the family room, starring at all the packages under the tree. I walked round and round the oval rooms, marveling at what hung in front of me. My eyes observed and absorbed. I soaked in it and soaked it in. Does it get any better than seeing art hanging in the rooms it which it was designed to hang? The scope and size of these paintings was unlike anything I can recall seeing before. I've seen large painings, but nothing quite as majestic. Even with the lack of skylight illumination (gray skies be damned) they were stunning.

Downstairs there was a long wall full of Renoir. That place. That museum. It was the one that inspired me. The pieces were hung in the open (no protective glass Mona) for close examination (no protective stanchions, Venus). The paintings seemed truly to be art for the people; for us, the visitors, to admire and enjoy. 

Matisse was there. And Picasso; Cézanne. Works by great artists that were close enough to touch. (That action would be discouraged and frowned upon.) 

I often find myself wondering why some art is considered so fabulous or important. Then I remember beauty is in the eye of the beholder and an artist's particular style can change the art form. Not everyone can do what some of these artists did. Not everyone can sing, dance, act, or write. Not everyone can paint. Not everyone can be a creative artist. 

To be an artist takes vulnerability. One has to put himself -- his vision, his point of view -- on display for all the world to admire, gawk at, or possibly, loathe. We humans are fickle, opinionated creatures. We can love you one minute then leave you the next. We might then have a change of heart and find a reason you were important all along. Or maybe we just pretend you never really mattered at all. Beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder. And opinions, positive and negative, really don't matter as long as the artist is pleased with his finished product.

Upon exiting Musée de l'Orangerie, the sun had broken through the gray clouds. Even as sprinkles continued to fall from the stranglers, patches of blue sky were beginning to reveal themselves, daring you not to see them. "Look up! Look. Up."

Art dares you to see it. It challenges you. It makes you question what you're seeing, reading, watching. It begs you to feel something. Like any artist, the Universe is no different. It begs you to open your eyes and see, inhale deeply and smell, savor the taste of the wine, hear the music in the sounds around you.

I accepted your challenge, dear Universe. I survived the rain and smiled at the sunshine and blue sky. I saw it. I knew how happy I should be and I was. I listened, and I savored. 

Merci, Paris pour le plaisir de votre compagnie.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

"Il est notre temps ici-bas."

The sound of the steamer heating the milk was loud. Almost overwhelming. Yet perfect noise for the scene in which I was a background player. The setting: a café in Paris (Café du Marche des Enfants Rouges). The time: a Septembre day in the 21st Century. 

The solo traveler took himself on a stroll down the rain soaked streets of Paris in search of a neighborhood café to enjoy a bit of vin rouge and fromage. The rain fell in fits and spurts from the gray clouds that hovered above the City of Lights. 

It was all about atmosphere. The rain. The café. Paris. It was all about being alive in that particular moment and being aware of how happy I was. I was eating cheese, drinking wine, and (still) reading The Phantom of the Opera. It was heaven on Earth. Time didn't matter. There was no where to be; no work to be done; no appointments to keep; no agenda whatsoever. This was my time. To quote from The Goonies: "It's our time down here." 

What led me to that moment in the café was something that would normally have sent me down a panic spiral, but ended up being something that I had to Be An Adult and handle. And once it was "...handled" (thank you, Olivia Pope) I was able to relax and enjoy the time still in front of me.

This morning I woke up around 8am and had an alert from Expedia that I could now check in for my flight. Departing Paris tomorrow afternoon (Sunday, 9/13 @ 2pm) en route to JFK in New York City. The check in went beautifully; smoothe. Passport number entered. Name confirmed. Flight number and time confirmed. Boarding pass sent to mobile. I was checked in. It was time to get up and get on with my final day in Paris. 

I showered and dressed and took myself out into the sprinkling rain of the morning on a journey toward Père Lachaise Cemetery. As you know, a Metro snafu and a stop at Hermès deterred me long enough to miss my opportunity to walk through Père Lachaise yesterday. No regrets!! Those Hermès purchases were so worth it! So today, even though it was raining, I was determined to walk through this City of the Dead. Honestly, it was a pretty cool idea to me to walk through the cemetery under the cover of gray rain clouds. It seemed the right atmospheric setting for an eerie mood of melancholy. About halfway to the cemetery -- a near two mile walk -- I received an email from Air France followed quickly by an email from Expedia. I didn't think anything about either email. I was checked in; confirmed. The flight was scheduled to depart on time. Eventually, however, something told me to look at the email. "Following an operational problem, we regret to inform you that we were not able to accommodate you on your original flight. We sincerely apologize for the inconvenience." Well, those are not the words a man wants to hear in a foreign country, so far from home, on the day before his departure back to home, while trying to enjoy his cafè crème and stay under his umbrella at the same time. I felt the panic rise. Then I realized I needed to take care of this situation. According to the email, I was already booked on another flight departing on Monday morning. Okay. So I didn't need to panic about that. And on the plus side, I was getting one more day in Paris. I continued walking toward Père Lachaise Cemetery until I realized that I would not enjoy the stroll at all until this extra day wrench that was thrown into my spinning wheel of life was taken care of completely. I immediately turned around and walked back to the hotel. Today didn't seem to be the day to commune with the dead either. I had to find out if the hotel could accommodate me for one more night. I had to notify the private car service scheduled to transfer me to the airport tomorrow morning. Changes had to be made. The largest one -- the flight -- having already been changed for me. 

It turned out that the hotel could accommodate me even though it meant switching rooms for the last night. That's not really that big of a deal. So, I checked that off the list. The concierge at my hotel called my car service for me and told them of my change and ended the call with a "Merci" to them and a "You're all set" to me. Of course, I emailed the car service anyway just to give the details in writing and to have a confirmation of the change myself. I'm used to having everything in writing. It's hard to trust that it's just going to happen. Yes, I have trust issues. "Who are you to judge me?" (Yes, I'm using the Dorothy Zbornak quote a second time this week.) 

New flight booked: check. One more night at the hotel reserved: check. Car service pick up day and time changed: check. An extra day in Paris: OUI!

Hence the cafè, the vin rouge, the fromage, and The Phantom

To sit in a café in Paris and read or write is a most exhilarating experience for me. Neither seems out of place surrounded by conversations, laughter, wine and coffee consumption. And the cigarette smoke. I can't leave out the smokers. They are part of the Paris café atmosphere; the fabric of the City. Without them sitting at the café tables that line the sidewalks of the café fronts, the cafés wouldn't quit feel the same. This normal part of life in Paris would be so detested and frowned upon in New York City. I can hear the old men complaining now. How is it that the French smoke more and enjoy more wine than we Americans yet live longer? Maybe they've got it right. Eat, drink, and be merry...and work less. Enjoy life! Yes, maybe they've figured something out that we're too busy working to realize.  

One of my favorite people in the world -- a former roommate, and teacher when I was in desperate need of emotional growth -- moved to Washington D. C. seven years ago. I don't think we've seen each other since. We live four hours apart and never see each other. How ridiculous is that? She saw one of my Facebook posts this week about Paris and realized I was actually currently on holiday there. She reached out with a comment on a picture I'd posted that she was traveling to Paris by speed train from Barcelona the next day. What are the odds? This beautiful, young-spirited, wise, centered, happy, spiritual woman and I got to reconnect in Paris over dinner and a bottle of wine. As we played catch up after seven years (it didn't even seem like a day we fell back into our flow so quickly) I became aware of the signage outside the window across the street. We could have been getting reacquainted in the West Village for the way the street looked. But we weren't. We were around the world, on another continent, in a bistro in Paris. Two old (don't get snarky) friends telling stories about life as it is and life as we knew it.

The day that could have been didn't end up being the day that was. The crises were averted. The rain eventually ended. Words were read, written, and spoken. Time was enjoyed, not wasted, in a café. And divine intervention brought someone back into my life at a moment when I least expected it. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Où le Bossu sonne le glas et la couleur du luxe est orange

A feeling of contentment washed over me as I waited in line to buy a ticket to go inside Notre-Dame. It was peaceful in the shade as I leaned up against the concrete that held the spike-topped wrought iron fence surrounding the Cathedral. Tourists were wandering around looking at their maps. Locals were going about their afternoon business. I stood observing. Life was hustle, bustle, and wait in line in my vicinity. A beggar woman straight out of that other Disney film, Beauty and the Beast, hobbled by with her crutch and cup, begging for change. The sounds of City life were alive all around me: sirens, traffic, chatter, Cathedral bells. After four days, I know where I am when I wake up, but it still seems so surreal to be here. 

Italian speakers to my left. Spanish speakers to my right. I recognized their language as they spoke to each other, but none of us spoke each other's. Gestures and single words helped us find common ground for communication. You know, you can't just speak louder to try to communicate. You've got to break it down and find other ways. It's a challenge. I did my best to figure out how. I was outside of my box; my comfort zone. It's supposed to be a good thing. It's supposed to help me grow. I think it has. I've tried to take stock every now and then and assess myself: how is my patience; tolerance; courage? Is my fuse quick or slow? At home I would say my fuse is much quicker than it has been here. I'm much quicker to lose patience there. In my line of work, I will be interested to see how this vacation translates when I'm back behind that glass selling those tickets to people who are visiting, merely trying to enjoy their experience in New York City. The amount of people I've encountered who have shown me kindness have greatly added to my experience. Hopefully I'll carry that home with me and remember the people who helped with a smile instead of doing it begrudgingly.

One has to accept himself. One has to be able to see the reflection in the mirror and stare into the eyes staring back at him and accept the failings, shortcomings, successes, idiosyncrasies that he knows are hidden beneath the surface. Sometimes I see him and I accept him even though I don't like him. Other times I stare at him and only see the superficial. I'm a tourist in a foreign country...alone. As strange as it sounds, I always try to look like I belong wherever I am even though one of my strongest desires is to stand out from the crowd. I like to be noticed; to be different than everyone else; to be chic, stylish, and unique. However, I have had to fight to accept that what makes me stand out in Paris is the fact that I am a tourist...well, my clothes, shoes, accessories, and personality do come into play also, but... I haven't really figured out what makes me so uncomfortable with being perceived as a tourist. Guess it's that not being in control of the unknown thing that plays hard and fast with my ability to function. My name is Michael and I'm a tourist. This City is filled with us. "Soap opera says One Life To Live." I'm living, I'm living!! To accept this me who is experiencing himself as a solo traveler is a challenge I've taken on even if I don't always like the result of my actions.

Two hours of observing, pondering, and sitting with myself (and my non English speaking companions) later I was finally at the front the line and my passage into the "symbol of medieval Paris" was about to begin. 

The views were, in a word, breathtaking. So were the stairs that I had to climb to get to the top so I could see those views. Merde! I don't know that any amount of physical training would prepare one for those stairs that spiraled to the top, getting more and more narrow the higher I went. I was breathless for two reasons (the views, the stairs). Merde! (It bears repeating). The view of Paris from atop Notre-Dame was C'est magnifique!! I marveled at the City laid out before me. I guess I've done the same thing anytime I've been high enough to see NYC spread out in all of her concrete and steel glory. For this view, however, the pinpoints of the Chrysler Building and One World Trade were replaced by the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Sacré-Coeur, and the Seine. "Spectacular Spectacular"! 

The spiral back down was less of a workout for the legs, although my right one was quivering a bit (this vacation has include a lot of walking. "Who are you to judge me?"). I stopped across the street for a tourist-priced café crème and my first street vendor crépe made with what all you people kept telling me to try...Nutella! Mon Dieu! (OMG for the Anglophiles.) It was amazing: rich, creamy, almost too much so to consume. Fear not. I ate the whole thing. "He likes it. Hey Mikey!" Sitting outside at the café, I met a lovely couple from Texas, Karen and Kent, who had enjoyed an early morning bike tour around Paris. They were kind and open and I'm so glad that I introduced myself after hearing their English. It was nice to have a conversation without worrying about the translation. 

I next set off to visit the dead at Père Lachaise Cemetery. After visiting a church, a cemetery seemed liked the logical sequel. The final resting place of Edith Piaf, Gertrude Stein (with the unmarked grave of her lover Alice B. Toklas next to her), Chopin, Colette, Molière, even Jim Morrison, was a must see on my list the minute I knew I was going to visit Paris. It may seem macabre for some, but for me a cemetery is one of the most interesting places to wander/wonder in. Take a stroll through one and look at the age of the stones, how long the people lived, how long they've been dead. There is so much history right there beneath your feet. I was never one for history in school, but walking through a cemetery can open your eyes to the the lives of people who arrived and left before you got here. Cemeteries really are quite beautiful Cities of the Dead.

I didn't make it to Père Lachaise Cemetery next, however. I made a snafu that I still haven't quite figured out with the Metro after I finished the crêpe. I started walking in the direction of my hotel and found myself lost then back on track then right near a Metro stop. Even though I was now back on the right track I thought that instead of walking back to the hotel I should save a little time and get on the Metro and take myself nearer to Père Lachaise Cemetery. It seemed a better choice than if I walked back to the hotel and then navigated from there. I still don't know what coordinates I put into my Paris Metro app, but I followed them to the tee and found myself smack in the middle of Avenue des Champs-Élysées. Seriously?!? I couldn't imagine this location was going to have me anywhere near a cemetery even if I had to walk a short distance. Can you imagine a cemetery just off Fifth or Madison? Or, God forbid, 42nd Street? I couldn't get my Google maps app to load my route (Verizon has not made me a happy customer during this trip) so I was kind of stuck wondering what to do, where to go from there. Then it struck me. I wanted to find Hermès. I hadn't found it the day I'd wondered down the Champs-Élysées. One of my map apps was working and told me it was merely across the street and down a side road. I quickly forgot about my trip to see where the dead were resting and made my way toward the gleaming orange of luxury leather goods...and scarves. 

There was no champagne offered to me at Hermès Paris like at Saint Laurent Paris, but that didn't change the fantastic experience one bit. Alexandra was perfect for me. She spoke a bit of English and not once made me feel inadequate when I used my French with her. Okay, some might say it's her job to be nice because she's working on commission. Who cares. I connected with her and she connected to my excitement at being in the store and we fit together like Cinderella and that glass slipper. On a side note: there were some beautiful men, in suits (IN SUITS!) working, whose attention I would have enjoyed, but knowing myself as I do (remember I'm looking at the eyes staring back at me in that mirror) I know I would have been a little timid, a little coquettish with them. Handsome men in suits put me a flutter in all kinds of ways. So while I was happy to be able to observe them while I waited, Alexandra was perfect for me. 

I knew I wanted the classic "H" belt buckle. It screams Hermès to me. When I see it, I know. The only choice, for me, was silver for the buckle. Classic. I wanted something in Hermès-orange and would have purchased the reversible orange/black if they had had my size. Alas, they did not. What I went for was a beautiful blue, that should coordinate beautifully with my Cole Haan blue Chukkas, which reverses to black. I have a black belt already and also a blue belt, so I didn't really need this belt. But it's a beautiful belt and the leather is in a word...supple. And it has the status symbol "H" buckle. And it's pretty! Hi, my name is Michael and I'm a label whore. 

Alexandra helped me figure out the perfect size belt. Then she helped me choose the perfect colored enamel bracelet. I didn't want black or brown. I wanted orange. Hermès-orange! The orange one was a little too tight on my wrist, though. Not to be deterred, Alexandra brought out a beautiful deep red-colored enamel bracelet with a more modern "H" clasp than the classic "H" of the buckle. It was brushed silver instead of shiny. I would have taken the shiny in a heartbeat, but as I said it didn't fit. Alexandra had one more thought. I was finding the idea of the deep red enamel intriguing, but she wanted to check her inventory for the possible arrival of the more pumpkin shaded orange-colored enamel with the brushed silver clasp. While she was checking the inventory I met a lovely couple from North Carolina. The accent was unmistakably from "back home" and I couldn't resist an introduction. Super nice people. Again, so glad I said hello.

I had resigned myself to the idea of buying the deep red-colored enamel bracelet if the more muted orange one was not in stock. I needn't have worried at all. It was in stock. She came back to me wearing a large smile and I knew. It was the perfect choice. Alexandra, the belt, the buckle, the bracelet...all things meant for Michael at that particular moment. 

I might never have purchased a piece of Hermès in New York City no matter how badly I wanted to. But in Paris, the only option was immediately clear. I provided the man at the register with my Venture card and signed my name to the slip. 

The list of things I wanted to see on this trip included touristy things: Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Élysées, Versailles, Notre Dame, Palaise Garnier, Père Lachaise Cemetery (ok, maybe that last one's not for every tourist, but it is listed in my guidebook). But it also included Louis Vuitton, Ladurée, Chanel, Dior, and Hermès. As I review the week so far, I seem to have put a check mark next to all but one of these. 

Maybe I'll see that city of the dead tomorrow if it doesn't rain. As for tonight, I tried foie gras. Si bon!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Marcher où les rois (et reines) ont Tread

I find that the more I'm in a routine the more I feel part of the fabric, the world, the community. I don't feel Parisian. That's not what I'm saying. That would be laughable after three days. But I do feel more confident in my choices and abilities now after those three days. At least more so than when I arrived, a wide-eyed American, fresh off the plane for his first visit to Europe. 

I walk to the same Metro stop every day. I can connect to anywhere I want to go from that stop. I walk the same path, pass the same shops, and many of the same people each day. (Sounds a little bit like home, non?) I haven't started saying Bonjour on the street (I'm not sure that would seem anything but an intrusion), but with the recognition comes a comfort, a confidence...all gained by my routine. Of course, routines can be bad. They can be safe. They can mean you're in a rut. They might show you that you're too comfortable and need to shake things up a bit. 

I tend to need to shake things up a little more than a bit. I've travelled to Paris alone so I think I'm shaking...maybe even stirring...things up a lot. But in the shaking I've found a routine that gives me a sense of comfort and the necessary confidence to move forward with this experience. I guess sometimes we all need a routine. 

All that said, today was a day for trying, yet again, something new. This vacation might have its routines, but there is also something new, with total uncertainty, thrown in every day. I feel secure enough in my ability to navigate the Metro now. (The MTA should take some lessons in cleanliness, punctuality, regularity, and general efficiency from the French.) So today was the day I challenged myself to the RER (the French version of NYC's Metro North or LIRR) and took a trip outside of the City to Versailles. 

Do you ever look around and take notice of the people on the plane with you? Or the train when you're on vacation where the public transportation is a subway system? They are your unknown traveling companions. They're on the journey with you. As for the people on my RER today, many of them were on their way to experience Versailles, along with me, for the first time. Many of us were sharing an experience without even sharing a language.  

Those of you Keeping Up With this non Kardashian know that I had a dilemma with the ticket line at the Louvre yesterday. Well, today I asked the question and joined the line. It seems, however that I asked the wrong question. I asked if I was in the line for entrance to the Palace. The reply from my very-little-English-speaking responder was, "Yes." What I should have asked was if the people in the line already had tickets. I was in the line for entrance to the Palace, however, I was in the line with people who already had tickets. We couldn't buy  tickets once we got to the front. It wasn't a complete waste of time. I ran quickly to the short line for buying tickets, met some lovely people from Canada who had done the same thing as I, bought my ticket, then bypassed the long line with a VIP pass given to me by a lovely Palace security employee when she saw that I had waited in the wrong line. Score! Viva la France!

If I thought the Palaise Garnier was opulent and grand that was before I visited the Palace of Versailles. To live in this Palace as royalty, or family of (King's mother, sir?), or companions of (Ladies in Waiting, queens?), with grace and manners, and a bit of intrigue and mischief on the side, must have been, well, normal, I guess for the people who lived there. I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like to attend a party at the Palace let alone live there. 

Walking in the same steps (on the staircase, down the hallway, through the rooms) where Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette walked is another surreal moment. It's part of the history of the world. Even if you're familiarity with Marie-Antoinette goes no further than Sophia Coppola's intriguing, fun, exciting film starring Kirsten Dunst, you have to know that this Palace is the stuff of dreams and fantasies. I mean even the word Versailles conjures ideas of some kind of dream world that saying Arlington can't conjure. Go ahead say it. Versailles! It's a little tingly, right? The former inhabitants are now merely images and stories in the pages of history books. And because of that history, walking through the rooms of that Palace was a thrilling moment. So it's 2015 and they've been dead for more than two centuries. So what. They once were there: they lived there, ate there, slept there,...had sex and gave birth there. 

To stroll through the modern day version of the gardens that Marie-Antoinette herself must have strolled through -- wearing her panniers -- brought to mind a stroll through the gardens in which The Marquise de Merteuil and company might have engaged in in Les Liaisons Dangeruese. Effortless late afternoon strolls in the crisp Septembre air to cool oneself after the heat of the day had subsided. Imagine the fanning fans. The perfume wafting on the breeze. Imagine the conversations and laughter; the gossip. Imagine the stolen kisses behind the high hedges that hid one from the prying eyes back at the Palace. I could imagine it all as I sat in the shade of one of those hedges in the Palace gardens. 

The Estate of Versailles -- the Palace, the Petit Trianon, and the Grand Trianon -- was just about too much opulence and French decadence for one to consume in a day. (But I did it!) The music rooms, the bedchambers, the rooms that used to be this but then became that depending on who used them during any given reign. They are beautiful palaces for sure. They reminded me of the White Elephants in Newport, RI, built by the wealthy Americans of the Gilded Age. They're lovely, grand palaces but they aren't very inviting. They're cold. The palaces of Versailles (especially the Petit Trianon) are cold if beautiful structures. They hold no idea of warmth that one might associate with a home. I don't mean literal heat. I mean the comfort and livability of ones home. Imagine going home to the house you grew up in or to visit your grandmother. Now imagine one of these palaces was that place. I guess it's all relative if that's the home you know. I could imagine a fantastic game of hide-and-seek, but running down the halls made of stone in the Petit Trianon would require sock covered feet and absolute silence (no laughing while trying to not be discovered either) otherwise the echo would give you away.

After a slight snafu with the Metro when trying to get back to Paris (the Metro ticket from my carnet (10 Metro tickets) didn't work. Turns out I needed an RER ticket when beginning the journey via RER instead of Metro) I got on the train. It was every-seat-taken-standing-room-only like the LIRR when I get on in Sayville every year when returning from Fire Island. It was, of course, rush hour when I reached the Metro. The first train was incredibly crowded. I decided to wait. (I would never do that in New York City.) Within two minutes there was another train. There's that regularity and efficiency showing itself again. I continued to stand, holding on to the pole supported and surrounded by a car full of Parisians. Most excitingly, many of them were the gorgeous Parisian men that I've become so infatuated with on this trip. Bonjour, Monsieur. 

Maintenant, si cela ne vous dérange pas, mes jambes sont fatiguées et je besoin d'un peu de vin!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Un musée, un jardin et un opéra sans un fantôme

The difference was, instead of mariachi music he played an accordion. The sound immediately Parisian, reminding me of Woody Allan's soundtrack to Midnight in Paris. Somehow, even though it was a morning commute, the sound of the accordion was less irritating than the sound of the mariachi music I so often encounter on the subway in New York City. Of course, observing the faces of the locals, I might conclude that the sound of an accordion in Paris is viewed much the same as the mariachi band that interrupts what might otherwise be a quiet commute in NYC. 

After yesterday's lovely, wandering, stroll of an experience, today begged for a visit to the Louvre. Two days was long enough to wait to say hello to Mona and the Venus de Milo.

The line was long to buy tickets but seemed to move quickly. I'm a New Yorker. I hate waiting in line, but I'm used to it. Today's fun fact about lines is: know what line you're waiting in. I thought I was in the line to buy tickets. I didn't ask anyone, but observed those waiting in the line and made the decision that I had made the correct choice. When I finally got to the stanchions I began to second guess myself. Turns out, I was in the right line. But having abandoned my position to ask if I was in the right line, I had to find myself back at the end of a line that had tripled in length since I first joined it. The lesson here is: either ask first or trust yourself. 

Before actually buying my ticket and entering the famous Musée du Louvre, I had to have coffee. My head was already beginning to pound. I knew I wouldn't enjoy my first time with Mona if I didn't have the coffee to ward off the caffeine headache. Damn caffeine! Throwing all dietary and personal training restrictions aside I had another Pain au chocolat. Remember yesterday? I'm in Paris. I might as well indulge. My trainer wants me too. Of course, he knows he's going to get paid to help me work it off when I get back to the States. Then the Pain won't be chocolat as much as just "pain."

The hum of the milling crowd filled the cavernous space like the sound of worker bees in their hive. All the different languages rising together to blend into one human-made vibration. 

Let me talk about that word cavernous. Has there ever been a truer truth spoken? Especially when referring to the Louvre? I was lost, wandering around in the wrong direction, looping back on myself for the first 15 minutes. If I'd been dropping bread crumbs I would have been seeing them over and over, albeit trampled to flatness by the throng of people wandering about just like I. 

Finally I did what I had to do: ask. I was in the wrong wing of the Musée...completely. I was never going to find Mona in that wing no matter how much I stared at my map and tried to figure out where she was compared to where I was. We would have been two ships that never passed in the night. Once I was in the correct wing it wasn't difficult to find her. There were signs posted with arrows pointing me in her direction. She is pretty popular for a relatively plain girl. I saw the crowds before I actually saw her. I walked past them then turned to join them in their direction of vision. You can't really get close to her. And admiring up close is not really an option. I'll admire my photographs up close. I had been told she would be smaller than I thought. Honestly, she was bigger than I had imagined her smallness to be. She probably would have been exactly the size I imagined if I hadn't expected a tiny portrait that made one question the hype. All of that said, no matter her size, her beauty or plainness, there's something exhilarating about seeing her in person. She doesn't quite breathe, but you get the sense that she was once alive, captured in a moment that countless people, for nearly five centuries have admired. I have always questioned why this piece is so renowned, but really the why doesn't matter. She is and now I've seen her smile. 

Venus de Milo was a little easier to find after I'd gotten acquainted with the signs that pointed attendees in the direction of the most popular pieces of art in the Musée. She was a little more breathtaking. On par with the Eiffel Tower. I turned the corner and there she was. Yes, I gasped! The crowds formed a semi-circle in front of her, but I had no trouble seeing Aphrodite -- who she is believed to be -- in her statuesque, armless beauty. I found myself much more interested in the sculptures than the paintings. Perfect specimen's captured forever in marble. The male statutes were so chiseled: perfect pecs, flat stomach's (some with abs), bubble butts. If there was a Grindr in Ancient Greece, some of these men would have been the belle's of the ball. Seriously. And beautiful, to get back on track. 

Just when I thought I'd actually figured it out, I actually had. I navigated myself straight to the wing that held the Egyptian sarcophagi. With a little patience and little bit a putting myself inside the map (à la Joey on Friends in London) I found what I was looking for all by myself.  

Continuing to walk forward I stumbled upon a treasure trove of histoire magnifique. The objets d'art De Louis XIV à Louis XVI. The furniture, the tapestries, the chandeliers, the harpsichord, the harp, the porcelain, the silver service. The colors and designs opulent and grand. These objets also included pieces of porcelain service, as well as personal effects (like the travel kit), belonging to Queen Marie Antoinette. Marie figgin' Antoinette. Her actual stuff. What? Yo!

My stroll through Le jardin des Tuileries reminded me of strolling the Mall in Central Park: the water sellers were there, the sellers of art (Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe drawings anyone) and selfie sticks. One could even buy a miniature of the Eiffel Tower. There was no tree canopy like the Mall, though. The sun shown down from the blue, nearly cloudless, sky as I walked down the, what shall I call it, pedestrian thoroughfare?, gritty with pummeled rocks and finely milled dirt(?) and sand(?) that left my shoes covered in a layer of dust. It was flanked on either side by lush green lawns and trees with topiary and flowers thrown in the design for color, artistry, and beauty. One could see the tops of what I assume were immeubles d'appartements on either side much like in Central Park. It's that reminder that you're in a large city even though you're surrounded by nature. There was a fountain in the center surrounded by those seeking a respite to enjoy the sunshine. I myself took a small respite after walking around the Louvre for three hours and sat down on an empty chair in the shade of a tree and read about half a chapter in The Phantom Of the Opera. Seems apropos doesn't it? I mean I am in Paris. Oddly enough, I started reading the novel before I even booked my trip; before the trip was even a thought. I've had it since 1993 so I figured it was about time I read the real story instead of allowing Andrew Lloyd Webber's version be the only version I know.   

My visit to Musée de l'Orangerie was a non entry. It seems that the rooms housing Monet's Water Lilies is closed from 31 August through 12 September. I leave on the 13th. Ah well. I guess I'll just have to return to Paris for a peek at the Water Lilies that Monet captured at various times of day and remain his most well known artistic creations. 

Remember the musical Urinetown? The song "It's a Privilege to Pee"? Art imitates life imitates art. At the end of Le jardin des Tuileries there was a toilette. I hadn't had more than my coffee from my pre Louvre entry, but I did need to pee. That'll be ,70€ and the first time I've ever paid for the privilege. It was totally worth it. 

Picture it. Paris. 2015. I'm sitting on the steps of the Palaise Garnier (AKA the Paris Opera House that is the setting for The Phantom of the Opera), reading The Phantom of the Opera. I finished that chapter I started back in the Tuileries. Then...I went inside. That was an unqualified surreal moment. How do I even begin to describe the splendid grandeur? I was speechless. It was C'est magnifique! Regardless of the fictional Phantom of Gaston Leroux's story, one knows that all theatres have their ghosts and I can imagine the Palaise Garnier is no different. If only these walls could talk imagine the stories they could tell. 

I took a 7pm stroll to the Seine. I just sat, observed, and absorbed. There's beauty all around. Of course, I wonder if you live here if you still see it. I find myself, after 18 years, still discovering beauty amidst the mundane in New York City. It's around every corner you don't visit every day. The trick is finding it around those corners too.

Mona wanted to say hi, but all she could do was smile from behind the glass. Aphrodite desperately wanted to wave, but, well, you know how that goes when you have no arms. The walls couldn't talk but thankfully I can type so you get to hear my story. 

Le voyage se poursuit!