On January 1, 2012, I made a vision board. That's right, along with a burning candle and a dear friend, I cut out phrases and images from countless magazines and mounted them on a rigid piece of poster board. These pasted words and photos were strategically placed to create an image of what I wanted my life to look and feel like this year. I thought somehow that looking at it daily would help me identify those things -- opportunities, people, moments -- as they come into my life. It's so easy for them to occur without us noticing. So it was no surprise last week that I was on my way to Paris -- a theme that dominated my 2012 vision board.
My love affair with the Paris I dreamed of (you'll realize later why I don't just say "Paris") began ages ago and was solidified by Woody Allen's 2011 film "Midnight in Paris," which I watched religiously in the theater -- making excuses to see it again (and again) by going with friends who hadn't yet (and convincing them they HAD to).
The stars aligned for me and Paris when I learned that the ESRS sleep medicine conference would be in Paris at the same time as the launch of our French site's (Le Huffington Post) lifestyle section, called "C'est la vie." And so, the trip was planned.
There I was at the Charlotte, NC, airport after spending two weeks creating content out of our HuffPost Oasis at the RNC and DNC -- a spa-of-sorts for convention attendees and their guests to unplug and recharge. I was exhausted, and Paris was the Oasis I moved toward -- every day, methodically. It was my recharge.
The festivities began after rushing to the airport from the DNC in Charlotte, only to find out my flight to JFK was canceled. Thankfully, they rerouted me three hours later through the beautiful city of Detroit (the Paris of Michigan). But I didn't care. I was headed for Paris, France! On landing, Air France lost my baggage for three hours at the airport, told me it was in Charlotte, and then found it at the airport: "Oops!"
Then I went to the Airbnb apartment I rented in the ninth arrondissement and hauled my giant bag -- because I am away for a month -- up the nine flights of stairs (I did it in three trips, sweating and coughing).
The apartment was terrible (smelled like old cigarettes) and had the insulation of a light bulb (I could just about hear the neighbors breathing through the paper-thin walls). So I emailed the woman asking her if I could leave early. She protested and then agreed.
The next day I asked to stay a night longer, but apparently my phone service (AT&T) stinks here, so the confirmation of a second night never went through. While I was at dinner, the girl came to her apartment and took my laptop and money and held it hostage. I didn't know that though, and so when I came back from dinner and found the light switched off and my stuff gone, I thought I had been robbed. Naturally I called the Paris police and, naturally, they didn't come.
As I was packing up my bag (I thought I was going to die if I stayed in that apartment for another night -- for sure the robbers or the woman would come and get me) she texted me saying she had my things and if I give her the keys she'd give it back to me -- I guess she was afraid I was going to cheat her and not pay. I was so angry that I REFUSED to stay there a second night, so I lugged my stuff down the stairs again (did it in two trips this time! tres efficient!) and made my way out into the center of the Paris streets at 1 a.m.
The women said she was an hour away and wouldn't tell me her location, only that she would meet me the next morning at 11:30 a.m. I couldn't find a hotel with an open room, so I begged, did my sob story song and dance (came [ ] this close to refusing to leave one of the couches in the lobby) and finally gave away a bottle of rose wine to a man who drove me to his friend's hotel. During this, the woman had a change of heart and told me her boyfriend agreed to drive her back to Paris to exchange my possessions for her keys.
Ten minutes after arriving at the hotel she came to do the exchange following which the French doorman (after first soothing me with a cup of tea) propositioned me -- literally. "Want to make love?" he asked. How French! "No, merci!" But still, I woke up sick and rushed to get ready for the ESRS sleep conference I came to Paris for in the first place (and which I had completely missed due to my flight delays and baggage situation)! As luck would have it when I arrived the next day, it was FIVE minutes before the END of the conference. They were mid-clap as I was clipping on my nametag. So ... that was a bust.
I finally moved hotels to a lovely place in Le Marais -- a ton more money, but you cannot put a price on this. Stupidly I thought I was settled -- nice hotel (ish) safe neighborhood (ish) -- what could go wrong? I went out to have a drink, a panache: some kind of beer/lemonade blend the women here love. I had the best conversation of my entire trip via Google Translate with a deaf Frenchman and returned to my hotel after grabbing a shitty banana chocolate crepe at the only spot open late enough to throw crap on a stove.
Arriving at my hotel later, my room key did not work. When I brought it to the front desk the attendant asked, "Is this the first time?" Um. Yes? Does this happen often?
Later, sound asleep, I woke up to a jarring buzzing -- someone decided to smoke at 6 a.m. in the nonsmoking hotel and set off the smoke alarms (by the way the French smoke cigarettes in place of food). The ENTIRE hotel was evacuated. I found myself at the reception desk wearing pajamas, the cold floor on my bare feet, thinking I could really use a cigarette. It's stressful thinking you're dying -- and this was my second time in five days!
Thus here is the beginning to my first novel:
Don't Eat, Don't Pray, Don't Love
(But if you must ... do it in America)
Now, I live and die for croissants and chocolate mousse, but there's not enough in this whole city to make up for the HELL of the last few days. The hassles of my trip to Africa (which included having stones thrown at me in the very religious Muslim town of Isiolo) pale in comparison to how NOT chic my time here has been.
My "do not disturb" sign at my hotel was ignored and my room was ... disturbed. But yesterday the only thing that went wrong was that someone drove their car into my tour bus. And to think a day could go by unblemished!
As I sit here in Le Huffington Post's Paris office at an hour I am sure no one else in France is working, I thought about Elizabeth Gilbert's travels through Italy, India and Bali. I thought about how many women she inspired to go on their own world tours and follow their dreams. Then, I realized my story was kind of the opposite. But it all came to a head when -- in an attempt to connect my experience with another person -- I ended up having to explain what "Eat, Pray, Love" is to the French lifestyle editor... C'est la vie! (Coincidentally, the phrase -- not the book title -- is also the name of the new section). Check it out. It's what I came here to do.