Notre Dame de Paris

My feelings after seeing the news that Notre Dame de Paris was on fire on April 15 are still quite raw and I have been finding it difficult to write this post. Even now I’m hesitating, because how can you wrap up your words in one not overdone package after decades of happily creating memories that have grown deep roots?

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw the headlines. You think of Notre Dame and you see soaring, stalwart stone walls and towers that have stood the test of time. You remember the overwhelming impact of history, architecture and beauty that the cathedral produces and simply assume that it will always be there. Of course I know that buildings are not going to be around forever and things can happen. They have happened. But we reach out towards that which stays, welcomes, remains, inspires. And that is one of the reasons why what happened to Notre Dame de Paris is so incredibly sad.

Buildings do not speak, but they make us speak because they are witnesses to time. Anyone can walk in, sit down, look around, take pictures, take away impressions, read up on historic structures and open up stories of the people connected to them. Whether you are religious or not, a cathedral like Notre Dame de Paris, aside from obviously being a landmark of enormous cultural, historical and architectural significance, is a place of gathering. Not just inside the building, but around it – in the little square nearby with Paris’ oldest tree and metal arches covered with roses in the springtime, in front of the two-tower facade everyone recognizes and tries to take the best picture of.

Way back in the day my sister and I first visited Notre Dame de Paris on the heels of multiple viewings of Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. We knew all the songs by heart and we even knew about Victor Hugo’s novel, even if we were too young to read it. Feeling quite prepared with our knowledge, we were very eager to go inside and as high as possible. We wanted to follow Quasimodo’s footsteps and see it all: the bells, the stained-glass windows, the gargoyle statues, the view of Paris from above. I remember that afterwards, full to bursting with all our impressions, we went around a corner to get some ice-cream (mais oui) and there was a beautiful mime dressed as Esmeralda who pretended to read my palm. The experience was complete. As kids, we couldn’t have asked for more.

Since then I have been fortunate enough to go to Paris a lot and almost every time I stopped by Notre Dame, wherever I was coming from. Whether it was a longer sit-down with some relaxed people-watching or just a brief look, it has always been a part of my Paris. It was touching to see the same sentiments expressed online by people around the world, and the crowd singing Ave Maria as the cathedral burned is something that I don’t think I will ever forget. No riots, no violence, no fights, no pushing, shouting or discord of any kind (for a change), and thankfully no fatalities during the fire. Just pure, sincere acknowledgement of sadness and respect.

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Nice Things People Ask or Say to You When They Find Out You’re Russian

Because they do! And while I have previously truthfully listed the rather typical things they ask (which tickle all my sarcastic scribbling instincts and love of the ridiculous hidden between the lines), I do always veer towards being positive in the end.

So, that conversation happens where you reveal the R word when people ask you where you’re from (sometimes they insistently ask you where you’re from “originally”, because your name sounds different, regardless of how long you’ve been living in your current non-Russian city). And you might hear one of the following:

Wow! That is a big country! (Yes. Depending on my mood, I might respond with, “Indeed, we have a lot of room” or “Go big or go home!”)

I love that stew, what’s it called…borscht! (Actually it’s pronounced borSCH, without a “t”, but I appreciate the effort and I have to restrain myself from asking if you’ve seen Miss Congeniality and if you might remember that scene in the dingy Russian restaurant, with Gracie Hart complimenting the waitress on that very stew…I’m getting carried away.)

What are those pretty Russian wooden dolls called, the ones you can stack up in each other? (Matryoshka. NOT babushka.)

 

Do you know that animated film, Anastasia? (Yes, I do, and I love it, though before you can ask, I’ll say myself that it’s a rather liberal interpretation of the Russian Revolution and the following years!)

I think you’re the first Russian I’ve ever met. (Honoured! Prepare to be amazed…)

 

 

The See-Through Bag: Why?

I’m seeing them everywhere: a stylishly cut bag of a nice rectangular shape with good straps, roomy enough to fit all your daily necessities, as well as a tablet or small laptop. I’d grab one myself. But here’s the thing: they are transparent. Yes, I don’t know the girl in the pretty trenchcoat standing next to me by the traffic light, and I’ll probably never see her again, but I will remember every item in her bag, since I’ve had time to scrutinize it in conveniently visible detail.

I don’t want to know she has extra socks with her, even if I admire her for it. I am not interested in her make-up, and if I should suddenly lean that way, there are more than plenty of people on Instagram and YouTube telling me about their choices. I might have asked her about the book she’s reading, but I would actually have felt like it was more appropriate to do so if she was reading it on the bus in front of me. And the stray hairs littering the bottom of the bag from all those hairbands and scrunchies are just too much information for my morning.

The year before I started high school, most of the girls in my class seemed to have suddenly cloned the way they would bring things to school. You’d stuff pens, pencils, erasers, a bus pass and maybe the lipstick you stole from your mother into a handbag the size of a small notebook (making sure to take out only the lipstick with a flourish once in class, and not draw attention to the rest), then carry it in one hand and a plastic bag with your books in the other. If you did did things differently (a backpack, gasp!), you were suspiciously stared at.

But it couldn’t be just any plastic bag – it had to aspire to be chic, preferably with some non-supermarket logo, and then you were all set. It didn’t matter if the bag was bulging or weighing you down. It didn’t matter if this bag was transparent. Heck, it didn’t even matter if it tore and your books fell through the bottom right in to a puddle of autumn/ winter slush.  The main thing was, at 12 years old you retained your freshly discovered womanly dignity in your too-small handbag. This life challenge followed you through high school.

Fast forward we won’t say how many years, and enter the transparent bag. Shops and supermarkets have long since graduated to paper bags, but we’ll save those for shopping only.

Are even handbags being stripped (no pun intended) of privacy these days? Blocking the contents of a bag from being seen while out and about is one of the things in life we can actually control, choosing what to share and what not to about our daily routines and plans, saving ourselves at least a little of plenty of inevitable judging and misinterpretations from others. And there are so many lovely bags to enjoy carrying, surely it’s a shame not to get to play around with styles and colours? Isn’t it more convenient to store your dental floss in a small inner zip-up pocket than get another container or holder for it to put in the look-in-here bag? But wait, maybe the point is for people to see your dental floss. So they can remember to buy their own?

Aside from all these deep philosophical discussions, here’s a plain, practical question: do we seriously want to make it easier for muggers and pickpockets?

I just don’t get it.

 

Things People Say to You When You’re Tall

Disclaimer: in this case, by “people” I mean almost strangers, unfamiliar or mildly disliked colleagues, short-term acquaintances, random party or bar/café/ restaurant/ shopping encounters, dreaded guests at family reunions or birthday celebrations and creepy short guys spread out across the world.

Second disclaimer: the creepy short guys are creepy because they are creepy, not because they are short.

They like to Captain Obvious you:

You’re tall!

Wow, you’re tall!

You’re really tall!

But you’re so tall!

You’re a tall woman!

Hello, tall woman, beautiful woman!

Such a big woman!

When you’re wearing heels:

Wow, you’re even taller today!

Something’s different about you…

You’re wearing heels? Why? Aren’t you already tall enough?

I admire your confidence.

Are you worried about being taller than men you meet?

Wow, you sure like shoes, don’t you?

If the conversation turns to dating and love (usually initiated by other people):

You won’t be able to wear heels if you date a shorter guy (cue unsolicited opinion and insulting non-shallow men everywhere).

I guess it’s hard to meet men?

I guess it’s hard to meet men taller than you?

So you want to date a tall guy, right? And he should be taller than you?

But how will he kiss you if you’re taller than him?

I’m sure I’ll find a way…

 

 

 

 

Chapters: My Growth as a Writer by Lois Duncan

Lois Duncan is one of my favourite writers and I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned her on my blog yet! It’s time.

Last year I was fired up and researching whether writers I loved had written autobiographies or memoirs, hoping very much that they had, because one is curious about the person behind the magic pages that pulled you in, about their insights on writing and life, the experiences that shaped them, and you’re expecting their memoirs to be as engaging as their fiction. I don’t rush with this, because I’m usually involved in some extensive reading first, especially if the writer has been around a while and achieved a lengthy bibliography. Then there’s some digesting and thinking time after finishing a novel. It’s almost like I need to sit with the characters I met for a while before I move on to words directly from the life of the person who created them.

Chapters: My Growth as a Writer is a gem for many reasons. One of them is that between Lois Duncan’s memories and accounts of her writing, which are all absorbing in their own right, the book is basically an anthology of her riveting short stories (none of which I had read before!). She uses them to illustrate her growth and career, and while each point she makes comes across loud and clear, the stories themselves are a fantastic read, showcasing the incredible talent evident since Lois Duncan’s early years. They contain that unique suspense building up from the everyday experiences we can all relate to that is characteristic of her novels. What will happen? Will it be something bad? are the questions we keep asking ourselves when we read.

Visions of a woman’s life in a 1950s-60s America emerge, as a teenager, a young woman, a wife, a mother. The expectations, the preconceived societal ideas, the sexism, the condescension, the inevitable revolt against attempts, however small, to diminish a creative identity – unfortunately, some of it still exists today. One scene in which Lois Duncan describes her statement that she is a self-employed professional writer, while her conversation partner firmly insists it’s a hobby and not a “real” job is simply priceless.

Just like her novels, this memoir is a reminder that Lois Duncan was so much more than, as often mentioned in news headlines, the author of I Know What You Did Last Summer. She was a gifted writer, an attentive and precise observer and an amazing, engaging storyteller. She drew on and never disregarded her own experiences, more than proving the “Write what you  know” maxim, and she worked hard. She knew how to tap into that which scared us, young and old, what made us laugh in-between and how to grasp a life-changing moment, whether big or small, then put all this into written words.

13 Going on 30 Nostalgia

It’s 15 years old?!

“Thirty, flirty and thriving!” Great mild tongue twister and English class exercise, by the way. This heartwarming movie is, to this day, a wonderful story about not forgetting what your childhood and youth bring to your life for years to come, and what it means to be not just grown up, but mature.

But this fifteenth birthday has me feeling sentimental, so I’m reeling off my favourite things about 13 Going on 30.

Listening to Love is a Battlefield by Pat Benatar will forever be linked to Jenna’s slumber party dance-off.

Sometimes the truth needs to be said in no uncertain terms, without any embellishment, like kids tend to do.

One of the best tear-jerking mom wisdom moments ever.

Bitches are forever, and just because you’ve moved on doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you!

Sure we’re crying because we’re happy!

Here’s to the next 15 years!

Zumba Zingers

Because, you know, it’s just what I do now, and I just mention it in conversation like any regular thing, “Oh, just going to zumba tonight, didn’t get to go last week and I’m REALLY looking forward to it, I just feel like something’s off when I miss a class, you know?” This is all true – thanks to a good friend I felt brave enough to try out zumba and discovered I liked it. It always feels good to come back and it’s fun to see myself in the gym’s mirror:

I don’t move with the same speed or energy as our trainer, but then I’m NOT the trainer, so that’s fine. Whenever she praises us and tells us how wonderfully we did, I want to hug her and tell her how nice she is. But she seems to know it’s about the smiles each woman eventually has for herself during the class, and not just about the individual ways in which we all interpret the moves we’re shown.

However, we do need her guidance. Recently she’s been attempting to show us the moves and the choreography, subsequently doing one sequence with us and then stopping, perhaps for a well-deserved break, letting us follow the choreo (watch me drop the slang like nobody’s business) on our own. The moment she stopped moving, things unraveled like a rolling ball of yarn.

And then each one of us, being ready to jump back to being the individuals we all are when there is no supervision, starts doing her own thing. It looks like this:

Our trainer rightly identifies the potential for disaster and steps in once again. She doubles her speed and I just skip in place like an overgrown toddler, minus the cuteness. I do love the bent forward, backwards running, booty-shaking part, though. We’re all good at it and it creates a strong tribe vibe (rhyme alert). I’m not saying squad, because I haven’t researched if that’s still trendy nowadays, plus we don’t know each other.

We finish the last routine before the last relaxing sequence, the trainer giving it her all, while I stay true to myself.