Paris – Day 5

Sunday was our planned day trip to Versailles, so Rachel and I got up early and started our morning at Kozy, a breakfast cafe she’d found on Yelp. It was unremarkable and fairly westernized, with hipster chalkboard menus hung on the walls and written entirely in English. Regardless, any morning begun with a latte and chocolate croissant is a good morning!

We finished breakfast, walked to the Metro, bought our RER C tickets and got on the train for the anticipated hour-long ride. At the Javel stop, we were surprised to spot the original Statue of Liberty out the window. Pretty cool.

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Once at Versailles, we found it to be beautiful but crowded. Our Paris Museum Passes were supposed to gain us entrance to the Palace and Gardens, but at the gate to the gardens, we were told we had to buy an additional ticket for entry since the water show would be held later that evening. I argued with the attendant that their website said water shows were only on Saturdays (it was Sunday), and anyway, that day’s show was at 8:30 PM and it was only 10:00 AM. We would be long gone by the time the water show started.

The ticket puncher wouldn’t budge, so Rachel and I went to the nearby Versailles Cafe to burn off some steam. But the line was out the door. So we went to the Versailles Laduree. They would only sell a minimum of six macaroons at a time; customers had to buy an entire box at once. Beaten down, we got in line for the Palace. Over an hour later, we made it inside, where we waited in yet another line to go through security.

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The Palace was ornate but, in my opinion, not worth waiting for. Even the Hall of Mirrors – the entire reason I wanted to visit Versailles – was so full of people that the effect of the potential majesty was lost. The grandeur of the famous glass and crystal hall was diminished by all the madding crowds.

I also made the observation that all the paintings were of wars, French nobility or Greek mythology. One of the rooms is even called the Apollo room, but there is nothing remotely biblical throughout the Versailles Palace, at least not that I could see. I found that curious, considering how prominent biblical paintings and sculptures are throughout the rest of Europe, regardless of what the current inhabitants believe.

Ready to leave Versailles the instant the tour was over, Rachel and I took the train back into town and had lunch on Rue Cler. I ordered a Cobb Salad from Cafe Central; then we both got Nutella ice cream cones, which we took to a nearby park where little French children were playing, climbing trees and splashing water on each other from the fountainhead. It was interesting watching the French children play; they were very adventurous and active (and frequently without pants…?). Although we were in the midst of Paris, they acted like rural kids would in the States.

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We continued on to the grassy area around Les Invalides, where I laid in the grass for a while before putting in earbuds and walking around the park, quietly singing worship music over the people there. I felt the void of having missed my church community that morning, and I longed for God to be praised in this place.

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It was a beautiful day – sunny and 75 – so Rachel and I walked to Place de la Concorde; then through the Carrousel Garden and Tuileries Garden. We made it back to the greenery around the Louvre, where we were joined by Thomas and sat talking for a while before heading home to our Airbnb. As before, the Metro skipped over our Passy stop (perhaps it only stops at certain stations after a certain hour of the evening?), so we again walked home from Trocadero, rewarding ourselves with much-needed hot showers after climbing the 127 steps to our shared room. And then? Sweet sleep.

Authentically Aurora

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Three Men & Their Friends

Coffee Shop illustration

I spend entirely too much money on coffee. A year ago, I spent an average of $20/month on coffee. These days, it’s four times that amount. I know this because, in addition to being a voracious coffee drinker, I am also a nerd who maintains a monthly personal expense report.

I am not so basic as to spend all my coffee budget on Starbucks every month. It’s true that many a business meeting takes place over a cup of Starbucks coffee, but as much as I can, I like to get my lattes from Black Gold Coffee, a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop with a hipster vibe.

Black Gold is nestled between a couple of boutiques on a tree-lined historic avenue in a run-down part of town in the process of being gentrified. The artwork on the walls of the coffee shop is always changing as local artists take their turns displaying their latest masterpieces for sale.

About a month ago, after placing my order with a Black Gold barista, I perched on a bar stool while waiting for my iced latte. An attractive brunette gentleman sat a couple of seats down, clicking away on his laptop where I could see that he was editing photos. “Are you a Canon or Nikon man?” I asked him, striking up a conversation. Daniel, as he introduced himself, is a Canon photographer as well as an aspiring writer.

Daniel and I spoke for a few minutes while I waited for my coffee. When it arrived in all its caffeinated goodness, I started to bid Daniel adieu, but he stopped me and asked if he could take me on a date sometime. Surprised that this soft-spoken poetic man would also be so courageous, I smiled and thanked him but explained that I am fasting from dating for a while. I left and thought nothing more of the conversation.

A few days later found me back at Black Gold, this time sipping a hot milk-and-honey latte while reading a book. When the sound of laughter permeated my internal movie scene as I lived my book along with its characters, I glanced up from the worn pages to see a Boromir look-alike standing a few tables away. I went back to my book, but as I got up to leave a while later, I stopped by Boromir’s table and asked, “Has anyone ever told you that you look just like -”

“Sean Bean,” he finished the sentence for me, naming the actor who played the red-headed friend of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings movies.

“Oh. I guess so,” I laughed, embarrassed. But the doppelganger struck up a friendly conversation with me, and I found out that he was yet another photographer. Boromir (real name Simon) was working on his macro photography, and he invited me to join him shooting butterflies at a local arboretum later that week. I’d been wanting to work on my own macro game, so I enthusiastically agreed.

Simon and I had a great time shooting butterflies that weekend, but it was soon evident that he was romantically interested in me, so when we went out for dinner after the photo shoot, I figured it was time for me to set him straight on my intentions. I let Simon pick the restaurant, and to my relief, he picked a casual burger joint.

Simon and I were laughing when we walked into the mom-and-pop restaurant, but I stopped mid-giggle when I looked up to see Daniel standing behind the cash register. How must this look to Daniel? Just a week ago, I turned down his offer of a date, telling him that I’m not dating right now. And here I am, walking into a restaurant – a restaurant he apparently works at! – laughing with another man. This totally looks like a date. He’s going to think I lied. He’s going to think I made up some excuse. I need to find a way to explain myself!

Simon saw my reaction and asked, “Oh, you know Daniel?”

My eyes widened. “YOU know Daniel?!”

Simon nodded, misreading my expression. “Yeah, we’re really good friends. That’s why I picked this place. I eat here all the time. Daniel and I go shooting together sometimes; then sit and edit our photos together at Black Gold.”

Of course they do. This is my life after all. Two photographers who I met at the same coffee shop? Of course they’re friends. And of course they both asked me out. And of course I managed to get myself into a sticky situation. Why would I expect any different from my life? I am Madame Rom-Com!

Fortunately, I have lots of experience explaining myself and disentangling myself from the ridiculous messes I seem to unintentionally create. So I told Simon I wasn’t interested, that I was fasting from dating, that Daniel had asked me out, and that Daniel was probably misinterpreting our hamburger hangout. Simon was understanding, agreed to set Daniel straight on what was happening, and we’ve all actually managed to stay friends and gone shooting again since then. Victory.

About a week after the photography almost-fiasco, I caught Ashley up on my non-love life. She goes to Black Gold even more often than I do, so she knows all the baristas and frequent patrons. When she heard about Simon, she asked, “Is he the one who sits in the back corner most mornings?”

“No… he’s usually there in the evening.” I showed her a photo of Simon, and she laughed.

“He looks just like the early morning barista!” Ashley and I can be creepy together, embracing the Facebook-stalking culture of our generation, so she pulled up a picture of another man who looked remarkably like Simon, which is weird since Simon is a long-haired red-headed man in a fairly conservative city.

“It’s Boromir #2!!!” we cried together, erupting into laughter.

Ironically (or predictably, since it is my life, after all), Simon sent me a text the very next day asking what I thought of Donny. “Donny? Who is Donny?” I texted back.

Simon sent me a photo of Boromir #2 sitting with his hands wrapped around a latte. Of course. Of course Boromir #1 (Simon) knows Boromir #2 (Donny).

“I don’t know,” I typed back. “I’ve never had a real conversation with him.”

“He says he tried to ask you out one time,” Simon wrote back.

“What?!”

“Yeah, he saw me with you the other day at Black Gold and asked if we were dating. He said one time when you were ordering a drink, he tried to ask you out.”

“Well he must have been very subtle, because I have no recollection of any attempt on his part to ask me out.”

Sweet, poetic Daniel must have gotten all the boldness in this group of friends. He stated his intentions of asking me on a date within five minutes of meeting me. Simon tried a sneak-a-date, and Donny was so shy and subtle that I completely missed his come-on.

I know it’s bad form to date best friends, but what about unintentionally non-dating three guys who you didn’t know were friends?!

Welcome to my life.

Authentically Aurora

Saffron & Sassafras, the Glitter Lions

Glitter Lion

Quirky friends are the best. You can be your own quirky self around them, and together your joint weirdness ceases to be weirdness and is transformed into pure awesomeness instead.

I have a dear friend like this – Sophia. We probably never would have met if we didn’t work for the same company. She’s twenty years older than I am, was raised in Bangladesh, lives across town, practices Buddhism and has two daughters nearing college age. We are of different generations, come from different backgrounds and are in different seasons of life. But she’s quirky, and I adore her.

A few years ago, we took a business trip together to San Diego. On that trip, she gave me lots of advice, like that I should marry Matt Bomer (who turned out to be gay) and that I should name my first child Sassafras (after a street name we passed in our taxi on the way to the airport). Clearly she gives questionable advice (questionable but hilarious).

Today I read an article about the best Hipster baby names, and at the top of the list was Saffron. Naturally, I sent the article to Sophia and said simply, “I read this article today and thought of you!” I knew she’d know what I was referencing.

Sure enough, though we haven’t talked about it in years, she wrote back: “Saffron….lol….I still remember this….we were in San Diego and drove by Sassafras St….

I’d told Sophia earlier this week that lately I feel like a lion pacing in a cage, so she added in her email, “Your description of Lion in a Cage….that is exactly how I feel some days, but more like a Glitter Lion.

Yes, she is rather bright, loud and shiny.

I wrote back: “Dear Glitter Lion, I’m so glad you knew my email was referencing our Sassafras adventures!

She replied with encouragement and better advice than she’s given me in ages: “Do not — (I repeat)— DO NOT change the essence of who you are….you are wondrous and magical all in one package… Be who you are.  But if you cannot be who you are right now, be a Glitter Lion until you can again.  RAWR!”

See why we’re friends?

Authentically Aurora

London: Motherland of Magic

HP WorldAshley and I have gone to Harry Potter World every year for the past three years – without small children in tow as an excuse for our unbridled enthusiasm. We unreservedly embrace our inner nerdiness. Especially since, with the coinage of the term “hipster”, nerdy is the new cool. I didn’t have it so good in junior high. But I digress…

Last year, I wore this shirt around Universal Studios all day:

Harry Potter Grumpy CatAshley was still willing to be seen with me and even take pictures with me. I am sure there is now no doubt as to why she is my best friend.

This year, we decided to change it up and go directly to London, Motherland of Magic. United Airlines will serve as our portkey to the UK.

Ashley and I are convinced that the only reason we remain stuck as Muggles is that Voldemort was in power during each of our 11th birthdays, so we never received our Hogwarts letters. We’re headed to the heart of magic to see the Headmaster himself about either adult admission or use of a Time Turner. The official Pottermore quiz has already declared that I am, without a doubt, intended for Gryffindor.

While we’re in London, we will surely stop by Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. When I was in elementary school, my mom wouldn’t let me have the Sonic Sleuth Bionic Ear (something about eavesdropping being rude?), so I was thinking about getting a magical Extendable Ear – that is, until my full physical earlier this week.

The technician administering the hearing test had a look of awe on his face when I exited the hearing machine. “Wow. That is the best hearing test result I have ever seen!” He looked at me in wonderment. “What do you do again?”

So. Extendable Ears? Not needed. Born with ’em! But I could be talked into picking up one of those love potions…

amortentia

Authentically Aurora

Teaching Math to Hoodlums

Latte ArtI love math.

And coffee.

And when the two come together for an afternoon of pure, unexpected awesomeness.

For about a month now, I have been coaching a junior high Math Club. Every Thursday afternoon, I leave work a little bit early to drive to a local middle school and teach Number Sense (competitive mental math) to about a dozen 7th and 8th graders.

Yes, I was a nerdy Mathlete once upon a time, spending my Saturdays at math competitions. Fortunately for American society, I now teach other young, impressionable children to be equally as nerdy. Luckily for these kids, some brilliant fashionista coined the term “hipster” so they have a chance to be cool while being smart. I cannot say I was so fortunate back in my day.

On the week I started this volunteer work, I allowed a lot of extra time for traffic, not knowing how long it would take me to drive across town. I ended up arriving almost an hour early, so I stopped by a neighboring Starbucks to kill some time while I waited for the after school program to start.

As I climbed out of my car – still in my business suit – and walked up to the door of Starbucks, some teenagers dressed in all black with punk accessories started to catcall me. One in particular, with sunken eyes and an untamed mass of curls, called out, “Hey lady, will you buy me a drink?”

I looked him up and down and asked why I should do that. He said, “Because it’s freezing out here!”

It’s true that it was cold outside, but when I asked, “Why don’t you go inside then?”, he looked dumbfounded for a second; then replied with sass, “I’m so cold, I’m frozen in place!”

I lifted my chin and told him, “Then you’re not smart enough to earn yourself a drink.”

I walked inside, got in line to order, and had a crazy thought. I am an engineer, not a teacher, and it would be nice to run through my lesson plan with a practice audience. The punk kids outside all wanted coffee (and obviously needed some positive adult attention), so I got out of line before I could over think the wild idea.

I popped my head outside and called to the dozen teenagers skulking about, “Hey, anybody who wants a free coffee, come with me! If you are willing to sit and listen to fifteen minutes’ worth of a math lesson, I’ll buy you a drink!”

The curly-haired boy who had asked me for a hot drink only moments earlier gaped at me with wide eyes, astonished. “Are you serious?”

“I sure am. Are you coming?” I held the door open for him as he walked in, along with five of his friends.

They had been angry, aggressive kids outside, wrapped in their claimed misunderstood status, but once in line with me, the transformation in their collective demeanor was astounding. They were all suddenly shy, polite, and sweet.

Every single teen, when he or she got to the front of the line, looked up at me with big eyes and asked shyly, “Does it matter what size I get?” I loved that they asked, and I loved that I could tell them, “Get whatever you want. It’s my treat.”

After the last kid had ordered, and I paid for their drinks along with my tall cafe mocha (with whip, of course), the cashier asked me skeptically, “Is this some kind of community outreach program?”

I laughed, “Nope. This is just me loving on some kids and practicing my math lesson.”

The woman raised her eyebrows and pursed her lips, looking scornfully at the teens behind me. “Well you treat them better than we do.” These kids must be the bane of her existence, always hanging around outside the store, seemingly up to no good.

Once all of the teens were settled with their inevitably Venti-sized drinks in their hands, I started the lesson. I walked them through LIOF and the Rule of 11, first explaining how each mental math trick worked; then talking through examples. I let the kids pick the numbers we used, getting them involved in the exercises. And then I made each of them solve a problem on their own in front of the group.

When my fifteen minutes were almost up, I turned to the curly-haired boy and said, “Okay, you’re the last one. Time to do your sample problem.”

“No, I went at the beginning,” he told me, straight-faced.

“You did?” I asked him.

“No he didn’t!” said the lone girl in the group. “Remember? I went first!”

I raised my eyebrows at the boy and said with a tease in my voice. “This is a Lie-Free Zone. Did you already solve an example for the group?”

He looked down at his shoes. “No,” he told me.

“Alright. Then let’s do one together. I’ll help you. Do you want to do LIOF or the Rule of 11?”

We worked through the problem together, with the other kids surprisingly giving him encouraging comments as he thought through the answer. When he solved the math problem, his eyes lit up. He was so proud of himself that I had to blink quickly to hide the tears welling up in my eyes.

It was an absolute joy to watch the lightbulbs go off in the eyes of these teens; to watch their confidence build over the course of just fifteen minutes. I loved hearing them encourage one another and get excited about learning something new – about math, of all things!

Before long, I had to leave to teach the kids actually involved in Math Club. But I’ve gotta admit, teaching the hoodlums was way more fun. I have been looking for a place to actively volunteer for five years, but organizational bureaucracy or stringent scheduling always has gotten in the way. Maybe I finally found my niche. Maybe it’s time I just start going to different Starbucks and picking out juvenile delinquents to invest in. Math for Mochas. It’s got a nice ring to it.

Authentically Aurora