Sunday, July 27, 2014

our deepest fear

One of my favorite passages of all time comes from "A Return to Love", a book by Marianne Williamson:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

When reflecting on the passage, I like to equate the idea of letting my light shine with that of loving myself.  And that said, the suggestion that my deepest fear is that of loving myself is one that disgusts me.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

"french people are rude"

Or so it is said.

Of course, French people are not rude.  But you would probably think that they were if you were expecting them to be polite.

So expect things other than politeness from the French and you'd see them differently.  Better yet, expect greater.

In my own personal experience, French people have been many things.  Passionate, hypocritical, curious, resentful, resourceful, and stressed are only but a few of the traits that I've witnessed so far.  Nothing extraordinary, right?  Naturally, I find some of these flavors more pleasing than the others.  What's more, the presence of each of them varies from person to person and from time to time.  And all this would be normal, given the complex beings we humans are.

Above all, I saw the French not as rude, but as discreet.  Discreet in the sense that they tended to keep to themselves and to people that they already knew.  This discretion is of a highly subjective nature.  Arriving as a shy, English-speaking foreigner in the capital of a country with a strong cultural identity like France, I was assuming that I would be welcomed by the local community.  But no.  Nevertheless, I held on to my big dreams of making it as a Parisian, so I sought to practice savoir-vivre, improve my French, communicate only in French at soirées entre amis, increase my culture générale, appreciate wine, cheese, and other iconic French matters, and so on.  All that so that I could fit in better.  But no.  It seemed to me that most of the French people that I had met had a stable company of friends and that they did not need to bother anyone else.  Fortunately for me, I was able to find support in a couple of special people, friends and colleagues, some of whom were French or French-speaking but the most of whom were foreigners.  Yet outside of this group and sometimes within it, the feeling of lacking strong ties to the larger social environment remained with me.

Today, after seven years in Paris, I still do not see the French as rude.  My perception of them being discreet persists for the most part, but it bothers me less these days.  Looking back, perhaps this sense of discretion was a result of the culture shock that I was experiencing while settling in France.  But I now believe that it was mostly fed by my own past experiences.  In other words, it was me who was discreet.  It was me who had placed a barrier between himself and people.  It was me who chose not to bother anyone.  And it was me who saw a problem in all that.  That is why I have chosen since to love Paris, to invest in Paris and to improve my social skills while I live in Paris.

That said, if I must be dead honest, I cannot be sure that I'll make lifelong friends in Paris, in spite of my efforts.  Life is full of unexpected events and the people that I confide in could change their minds or their nature at any moment that seemed suitable to them.  I am myself also capable of botching up a relationship with a close friend if, for example, I suddenly decide to go in one direction whereas he is going in another.  Besides, since it takes two to tango as they say, I can only do so much.  And so much I will do, because of the great value that true friendship offers.  However, I accept the fact that there are some things that I cannot control.

What is more in my control, however, is being a better person.  Better as in less discreet especially.  And to do this, while I live in Paris, I will count on the help of the French people, be they rude, discreet, or whatever else is said of them.

We don't see things as they are.  We see them as we are.

Anaïs Nin

Sunday, July 6, 2014

why i love paris (5)

On Sunday, May 25, 2014, I joined other members of the Paris Sketchers crew in the 14th arrondissement of Paris to celebrate la Fête de la Nature (Nature Day).  The outing was a convergence of three separate plans.  First, there was Sigrid, an urban sketcher from Vancouver, who had informed us some months earlier about her visit to Paris in hopes to draw with us.  Then, there was Charlotte, a local urban sketcher and president of "Le Lapin Ouvrier", an association that manages a shared garden in the 14th arrondissement, who had invited us to visit her garden during the fête and ultimately sketch there.  Finally, there was Marion, another local urban sketcher, who had told us about a group of drawing enthusiasts visiting from Puerto Rico that were interested in sketching with others in Paris.  In light of these different contexts, the Sunday was bound to be one that would be not only rich in sights, sketches, and sunshine, but also rich in shared experiences.

From a personal standpoint, on this particular day, I was looking to draw my a-- off.  I had just returned from vacation overseas, and since I did not sketch a whole lot during the time away, I had fallen behind my weekly quota.  So I had some catching up to do in order to restore the balance.  Having taken account of the work already done, I figured that it would suffice to do 8 sketches with each requiring 30 minutes or less in the 3 or 4 hours before everyone got together for the usual drinks after drawing.  As you can imagine, this plan would leave little time to reflect on finished drawings or to engage anyone in a conversation, which were two things that I usually did.  Eight sketches in a few hours.  A goal that I had never attempted before, not even at SketchCrawls, where sketchers gather in different parts of the world to spend a whole day on a particular site doing nothing but sketches.

In the end, I could managed only 7 sketches, which was 5 more than my previous high.  Even though I succeeded in keeping my pen on the pages of my drawing book for (almost) three and a half hours, the time spent was marked by some pleasant distractions every now and then.


After arriving at Place de la Garenne and saying quick hellos to Marion and Jean-Marc, both of whom were already at work, I went to unfold my stool in a corner of the square where I got warmed up by making the sketch below.

I found the view below of the Jardin de la ZAC Didot it interesting, so I started scribbling.  At some point, I noticed a group of about 10 people pass from the garden to the square with Charlotte and then walk over to where Marion was sitting.  They were the sketchers from Puerto Rico.  Afterwards, they came with Charlotte to say hello to me.  I stopped drawing for a chat with them, using the occasion to resurrect my Spanish with little success.  Fortunately for me, the group organizer spoke French.

Sometime later, Sigrid arrived, by bicycle.  I got to meet her and found greater ease speaking with her in English after we started off in French.

Things got interesting once I entered the garden.  Unlike the quiet and empty square, the garden with rather lively, with kids playing all over the place and curious adults peeking here and there.  I soon spotted Charlotte, who gave me the warmest and most animated welcome ever.  She then explained to me how the shared garden concept worked and even offered me a very raw taste of a few herbs grown there, notably thyme and tarragon.  After a while, when I was seriously itching to resume drawing, Charlotte found me a discreet spot under the shade in the middle of a enclosure that contained plants and a few trees.  I could not have asked for a better location.  From there, I found an interesting scene, except that Sigrid and Marion were in it, busy sketching away.  Even though I preferred to avoid drawing people, I felt that I had no other choice but to include the two ladies in the picture.

I needed one more sketch in the garden before moving on and quickly settled on the one below.  While I was drawing, Charlotte came to offer me some syrup made from quinces cultivated in the garden.  How kind!  At some point, Marion started announcing that we would be going shortly to Rue des Thermopyles, which was nearby. I had never been there, but I figured that it was a remarkable place.  I kept that in mind and raced to wrap up my sketch.

I joined in the walk over to Rue des Thermopyles.  Within a few minutes, we ended up on this mostly straight and narrow street that had a countryside vibe to it.  But what I found most striking ‒ and I am sure others can say the same ‒ was the extensive plant decor on facades of the buildings bordering the street.  There was even a thick bundle of leafy branches that traveled from one facade to the one across it, forming an arch of plants for people and cars to pass through.  It was all a sight to behold.  With great delight, I began to capture the view towards one end of the street, only to end up less than five minutes later with the view obstructed by a sketcher from Puerto Rico.  I was not sure of what she was doing since her back was directly in front of me, but as she did not leave the spot, I figured that she was sketching.  And she was.  At that point, I felt that there was no other solution but to put her in the sketch. I even had to draw her over the initial line I had traced to mark the edge of the left sidewalk.

I sought another view nearby that had nothing to do with the perspective of a straight and narrow street.  I found one simply by looking in the opposite direction.  There, Luis Alfonso, who led the group of sketchers from Puerto Rico, Marie-Odile, a local sketcher, and a sketcher from Puerto Rico were sitting on the sidewalk, filling in their sketchbooks.

Shortly after I had begun yet another sketch on Rue des Thermopyles, Marion was leading the group to go have drinks in a neighborhood cafe, which generally signaled the end of sketching activity.  I was determined to carry out my plan to finish, so when the group was getting ready to leave, I kept drawing, albeit more hastily.  After 20 minutes in a newfound solitude, I was done.  Sketch No. 8 was going to happen but on another day, since I was eager to reunite with the group.  Besides, I was also spent and my drawing arm needed to rest for a long while.  So I got up, folded my stool one last time, and set off in the direction of the garden that we had arrived from, very content with the efforts that I had produced, in the company of twenty other sketchers, some from Paris, others from farther away.