how to build a community wherever you go

I have friends scattered across the world, from completely and utterly disparate walks of life. most of us do. it’s in our nature to chat up other people, reveal something about ourselves, keep a secret, rag on a shared hated person, form a bond. basically, become friends. co-workers, classmates, friends of friends, friends of family members, a favorite bartender at a favorite restaurant. we’re always bumping into people we like and finding a reason to talk to them or see them again.

that’s the beauty of humans, right? we crave community and we find ways to create it all the time.

I’m a top-notch friend maker. and, save for a few notable exceptional periods in my life, I always have been. keeping friends and keeping in touch with friends is where I absolutely fall apart. but, making them, I can do, with relative ease. and it’s not that I’m a super-outgoing person. I’m not particularly funny (unless 101 different iterations on why my friends are gay makes you laugh, then, yes, I am a riot.) I can be chatty, if I like someone, but not always. however, I do have some things that I do continuously that I think have helped me make a network of different friends in different cities and situations.

friendly gymnastics competition in barcelona

friendly gymnastics competition in barcelona

 

1. reach out to folks. this may seem simple, but it’s not always that easy. if you want to make friends in a new place, you have to meet them first. go where your people go! this, at 28, is much, much easier for me than it was at, say, 18, because I know who I am and what kinds of people I like. I love artists and activists and dreamers and funny people. when I went to dallas to spend time with family before going to paris, I immediately sought out a writers group. when I went to paris, I did the same. neither of those particular groups yielded any friends (others did, though), but you get the idea—find your people. meetup, yelp and facebook groups makes it pretty easy these days to find people who have interests that are similar to yours.

when I found myself in dc after a lot of my older friends had moved away—more on that below—I joined a ton of “afterschool” activities to make new friends. I found them by asking people that I liked what they did outside of work.

2. be yourself. again, sounds simple. but it’s not. it’s so hard to not be tempted to become the better, cooler, skinnier version of yourself with more interesting stories when you meet new people. I remember being a freshman in college, absolutely desperate to make the best friends of my life and being so completely petrified that my own life wasn’t as cool as everyone else’s that I was damn-near frozen in the middle of every conversation on my dorm hall. needless to say, I didn’t become lifelong friends with any of the girls I met during that period. if you’re shy, be shy. If you’re funny, be funny. we all don’t have to be the same and no one is looking to be friends with perfect people anyway. get all sesame street and embrace whatever it is that makes you you, and others will gravitate to you. (I think.)

3. seal the deal. my best friend and I were in a bit of weird situation a few years ago. we were absolutely madly in love with each, platonically. we did everything together. we had the most fun together all the time. our mutual friends joked that we were never to be seen without each other. it was quite the bubble, our friendship. one day we wanted to plan a party. we realized that the only people we consistently hung out with were—you guessed it—each other. we decided to make new friends, since a lot of our college friends had moved away or gotten married and fallen off the face of the earth. that’s when it hit us—it’s really hard to make friends as a working adult. you don’t have those built-in networks of school or close-by family.

look at us! don't we look like complete lovebirds?

look at us! don’t we look like complete lovebirds?

we deduced, rightfully, that making new friends when you’re over-21 and out of school is about as hard as dating. and you’ve got to treat it as such.

all of this to say, when you do reach out to people who are like you and dazzle them with your amazing personality, you can’t leave the friendship to chance. seal the deal—ask to add them on facebook, exchange numbers or email addresses, make a specific date to hang out. you aren’t being pushy, you’re just being the assertive one, since someone has to do it.

4. make time for your new friends/community. this one is so hard in our modern, over-worked and competitively scheduled lives. but, again with the dating analogy, you wouldn’t call someone your significant other if you only saw them once a month. in paris, I had a lot of regularly scheduled friend time that helped to foster those relationships—regular, wednesday lunch with one friend; saturday afternoon picnics with another; first sunday museum days with someone else. pick a new friend date night and stick to it every week if you can.

that’s what I know so far. what do you know about making friends and forming a community in a new place  when you’re not in school??? tell me!

the completely non-definitive guide to paris museums (louvre optional)

the louvre is a feat of beauty and architecture, yes, but it's not the only great museum in paris.

the louvre is a feat of beauty and architecture, yes, but it’s not the only great museum in paris.

I love museums. Always have. My favorite field trips as a kid were when we got to spend all day marveling at things and learing, otherwise known as visiting museums. As an adult, part of the reason I loved living in Washington, DC was the access to tons of free knowledge via The Smithsonian Institute and its cadre of museums about everything from sea life to American wars.

A big part of visiting any major city is experiencing the museums and Paris is no different. There are tons of famous ones in the City of Light, but none as famous as Le Musée du Louvre, where the famous Mona Lisa sits. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t all that impressed with the piece and the louvre isn’t my favorite museum in Paris. So, I decided to give a brief rundown of the museums I love in Paris, in the hopes that it might give someone the confidence to skip some of the more famous ones and spend some time at the lesser-known, but very awesome museums.

If you’re a complete and utter Paris-o-phile, try Musée Carnavalet. This relatively tiny, free museum in the middle of the coolest neighborhood in town was really fun for me, as someone who is enamored with both style and history. It traces the history of the city of Paris all the way back to its BC roots. There are beautiful rooms recreated in the styles of the day, from the 17th century forward.

Statue of Louis XIV in front of Musée Carnivalet. #hewokelikedis

Statue of Louis XIV in front of Musée Carnivalet. #hewokelikedis

Thing I didn’t like: Everything was in French! A friend told me that there is a booklet you can get with English explanations to guide you, so look for that if you go.

Selfie in one of the beautiful re-created rooms of Musée Carnivalet.

Selfie in one of the beautiful re-created rooms of Musée Carnivalet.

My favorite part of this museum, the sign out front that says "Not all of our ancestors were Gauls."

My favorite part of this museum, the sign out front that says “Not all of our ancestors were Gauls.”

If you love immigration, migration and learning about the movement of people, try Cite Nationale de l’Historie de l’Immigration. It’s 10 euros unless you go in the winter on the first Sunday of month (aka free museum day), but well worth the money. It’s a museum with a story that is wonderfully told through images, sound, re-creations and text. For me, the subject matter in this museum (immigration and all of the non-Gallic people who have populated Paris, including lots of African-Americans) is the most interesting of all the museums in the city. You really get a feel for the different groups of people who have  made the city what it is today—diverse, modern, smart, fashionable and ever-changing.

Things I didn’t like: Nothing. Seriously, my favorite museum in the city.

If you love modern art and photography, try Centre Pompidou. I can’t really say a lot about this museum because, unfortunately, I never got to go. It was always on my list because while I am not a lover of art, the art that I kind of like is modern. However, I’ve heard nothing but good things about this place and it is included in the free, first Sunday admission during winter months. Go and let me know what you think!

If you love classical art, architecture and tons of statues, try Musée D’Orsay (11 euros) or Musée du Louvre (12 euros). Honestly, I can only take so many classical statues until they all start to look the same. I can “oooh” and “aaahh” over the first, maybe, three. After that, I’m ready to see some variety. So, I am not the best person to talk about classical art museums.

Look at that beautiful museum behind me! Like, really, breathtaking.

Look at that beautiful museum behind me! Like, really, breathtaking.

However, I will say that both of these museums are lovely in their own right. My personal favorite was Musée D’Orsay because the building is absolutely beautiful and there’s a great view from the top. Le Louvre is, obviously, a fantastic bit of architecture and the collections are amazing. If you’ve been to Paris already, chances are you’ve seen the Louvre. If that’s the case, skip it and see Musée D’Orsay. If you haven’t seen the Louvre, I’m sorry, but you kind of have to experience it. It’s one of those over-hyped tourist things that is actually worth it.

Both are free the first Sunday of the month in the winter. (Plan to wait three or four hours for the Louvre if it’s free. Plan about an hour if it’s not free on a weekend.)

 

If you love culture, history and don’t mind a teeny dose of colonialist curation, try Musée Quai du Branly (9 euros). I really enjoyed certain aspects of this museum, which offers a very, very generalized rundown of native and primitive cultures on all seven continents. It was the first museum in Paris I visited that wasn’t an art museum, so there was some initial relief in not having to find beauty in stuff. It’s very neatly divided into rooms that represent the big regions of the world—Six continents and then Australia and New Zealand are grouped together, I believe. There’s information about how early cultures expressed themselves—artisan objects, dress, tiles, jewelry, that kind of stuff—and its pretty interesting to walk around and check it out, although nothing is really amazingly insightful or different from the things you’ve learned about these cultures already.

Things I didn’t like: There is a lot of “Oh, how primitive! How unsophisticated!”in the tone of the museum, which is why there was a bit of backlash when it re-branded. (It originally started as a museum about the good of colonialism and how the French were saving people from themselves and has tried, successfully, to let go of that thinking of that style of curation though it is a bit European supremacist, still.)

If you’re really into ancient depictions of Mary and Jesus and/or tapestries, try Musée de Cluny (8 euros) (formerly known as the Museum of the Middle Ages/Musée du Moyen Age).

Honestly, a huge letdown. I have no idea what I expected from a museum dedicated to the middle ages, but I got a TON TON TON TON TON of carvings of Jesus on the cross, an equal measure of Mary and Jesus as a baby and lots of rugs and urns. It felt very much like the same thing over and over (with the “thing” being insanely recognizable and unoriginal already). I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t very, very, very interested in Jesus statues.

So, the museums that I know about. Not comprehensive or definitive, but maybe helpful? You tell me.

What are your favorite museums in Paris and why?

colonialism: the big elephant in the room (aka on posing with statues of people who probably hated me)

it started with columbus. barcelona, a city within a nation that owes a lot to the exploits of christopher columbus, has an expansive, beautiful monument to that person and I wanted to pose with one of the lions featured. I’ve always loved/intensely feared lions. I dream about them constantly. those dreams turn into nightmares frequently. I low-key believe in reincarnation and I am certain that in one of my past lives I was a male lion.

anyway, I love lions. but I hate european imperialism. and colonialism. and the fact that millions of people across continents are organized around a handful of european languages—spanish and english, mainly.

the lion near the statue to columbus in barcelona.

the lion near the statue to columbus in barcelona.

 

so, after I took my picture with one of christopher’s lions, I felt really dirty. like, why am I supporting, in my own way, the violence and thievery and misery that this nation, aided by this man, wrought in north and south america?

there’s a lot of those emotions for me, a black american, traveling in europe.

for every beautiful structure, every magnificent statue, there’s a nagging sense that I shouldn’t worship these cultures that have taught the world to worship them. that there’s a very ugly past to every great empire, france and its idealistic revolution included.

in berlin, which is one of the few western european countries to even attempt to deal with its legacy of systemic and state-sanctioned racism in any sort of public and meaningful way, it struck me that the majority of tourists were from places that had been colonized and from cultures that had survived a forceful diaspora.

we, people who could not, in any sort of way, inherit in any meaningful way, the dynastic power embodied by big, classical buildings and important looking white dudes, were snapping away with cameras and posing next to figures of people who, at best, didn’t think we were as human as they.

it’s an issue that I haven’t really resolved for myself because its a big, mushy, complicated issue. for me, at least.

what about you: do you ever feel a way about your involvement in the legacy of imperialists?

berlin in pics, part deux

berlin was absolutely beautiful! a week there totally made up for the fact that I didn’t get to see budapest—well, not totally, but helped to numb the pain.

more pics!

the obligatory german beer garden pic. this was at prater biergarten, kastanienallee 7

the obligatory german beer garden pic. this was at prater biergarten, kastanienallee 7

also, beer that's just called bier.

also, beer that’s just called bier.

I think this was in what we'd call a downtown in america

I think this was in what we’d call a downtown in america

more cool street art!

more cool street art!

a dilapidated building that may or may not have been important in some way. (I didn't google to find out.)

a dilapidated building that may or may not have been important in some way. (I didn’t google to find out.)

all of berlin is under construction—maybe that's why it had such an american-ish vibe?

all of berlin is under construction—maybe that’s why it had such an american-ish vibe?

more pics of european subways!

more pics of european subways!

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how pretty, huh? near the east side gallery.

how pretty, huh? near the east side gallery.

parks everywhere!

parks everywhere!

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doing it for the berlin wall.

doing it for the berlin wall.

prague+berlin, part un

I’ve been gone for a while, both from this blog and from paris. Since my homestay situation ended a few weeks ago, I’ve hit the road to discover parts of europe that I hadn’t previously experienced.

the plan was to really dig into central europe: budapest, prague, maybe vienna, then berlin. I am unashamed to admit that I was mainly inspired by wes anderson’s film, the grand budapest hotel, which is so cute and funny and made me want to see central europe. another reason was a roommate of mine at an amsterdam hostel who said that I really shouldn’t leave europe without seeing budapest.

emphasis was placed on the “plan” part because it didn’t work out that way at all. I missed my flight to budapest, thanks to the notoriously janky ryan air. my good deed for the year will be to strongly encourage all of you not to be seduced by their relatively inexpensive prices and instead book your intra-european flights with any other airline in existence.

anyway, I missed my flight to budapest. I had to scramble to figure out how to salvage the rest of my trip with a very limited budget, which meant flying directly to prague and staying there for a week (way too long) then taking the pre-planned bus from prague to berlin for another week.

some photos here, although I have way more to post later.

 

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galerie rudolfinum in prague. super classic and stereotypical central european architecture, no?

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a beautiful park, vojanovy sady, in prague. the city was practically bursting with new springness when I went.

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a neat view of the river and underneath the bridge in prague.

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prague.

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berlin by bus! I’d highly recommend eurolines bus, which I took for almost all of my trips this year.

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about 1/1000th of the cool street art I saw in berlin. this is somewhere in the neighborhood of mitte, in east berlin.

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deutsches historisches museum, or german history museum. Unter den Linden 2, 10117 Berlin, Germany.

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not entirely sure what this is, but it’s really pretty, right? in berlin, near the german history museum. you can see the fernsehturm tower peeking out on the right, too.