Thursday, June 10, 2010

“A nomad I will remain for life, in love with distant and uncharted places” –Isabella Eberhardt

Although I wasn’t particularly ready to leave Paris when the time finally came, as soon as Maria and I stepped onto the train I got that familiar excited, apprehensive, giddy feeling I get every time I leave for a new destination. Packing the past five months away in my suitcases was a rollercoaster of emotions, and an ordeal to say the least. Sorting through all my things brought back floods of memories, which brought back some tears, but mostly smiles. As I had been mentally preparing for my departure for weeks, when the time finally arrived I felt surprisingly ready to face it. The train for Florence left at 6:50pm from the Bercy station in Paris, so after taking my last final and collecting my bags, Maria and I met with Gabi, Carolin, and Emily at Bercy for one last lunch. True to form, we spent more than 2 and half hours eating, chatting, reminiscing, and reflecting. After eating every last morsel of food, and recalling every last memory, we knew that it was time to really say good-bye. The parting of ways was a mix of melancholy for what we were leaving behind and happiness for what we’d experienced together. The combination made for long, drawn out hugs with tears, laughter, and final words of encouragement and love. Finally I was able to walk away, ready for the next chapter, the next adventure.

Then next adventure began shortly thereafter upon boarding our overnight train to Italy. After inspection of our tickets, the conductor found it fitting to take our passports with him as he walked away without any explanation. Never, during any of my travels has anyone insisted that they keep my passport. Having heard horror stories about European trains and their sometimes crooked employees, I was extremely skeptical. I leapt out of my top bunk and speaking frantic French, chased after the conductor. Despite the fact that we were technically still in Paris, the man spoke no French and seemingly no English either. He instead scolded me in Italian saying we would get out passports back in the morning. I nervously called Christelle and Gabriel to ask if this was something I should worry about. Finally Christelle called me back and assured me that this was in fact normal and was because we would be traveling through Switzerland during the night. The ride was off to a great start. The 4 American girls sharing our cabin did not do much to make the journey more enjoyable as they sang and complained loudly throughout most of the evening. At 7:15 in the morning both Maria and I were very ready to get off that train. As it rolled into the station, we experienced the Italian countryside for the first time. Rumor had it that Italy is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, and I have to say from what we saw, Rumor was right.

Upon arriving in Florence, we promptly got lost in the maze of tangled streets that made up the city center. We finally stumbled across a couple speaking English in front of a café with a map who were able to point us in the right direction. We had walked about 20 minutes in the exact opposite direction of our hostel, so we had to retrace our steps and walk another 15 minutes from where we started in order to reach the hostel. After setting down our bags, already exhausted, we tried to check in only to find that we had in fact walked to the sister hostel and that our hostel was 10 minutes away on foot. So once again we picked up our backpacks and headed out into the city. Finally, more than 2 hours after leaving the train station, we were all checked in and ready to explore the city without our excessively heavy backpacks weighing us down.
The city of Florence was everything I imagined an Italian city to be—an endless web of winding streets and alleyways filled with covered markets, spectacular architecture, quaint restaurants, and hidden treasures galore. The Mercato Centrale was a blast to explore. It was a large indoor market filled with Italian delicacies, dried fruit, cured meats, cheese, olive oils, Tuscan wines, balsamic vinegars, and enough bustling activity to keep us people watching for hours. The neighboring outdoor covered market sold jewelry, leather purses, jackets, bound books, and shoes. It spilled out at the façade of the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, the impressive cathedral in Florence, with evident North African influences. That’s one thing I love about traveling around, I absolutely love to see how very unique different places are, but seeing how much they have influenced one another. For instance, after visiting Morocco, it’s so much easier to recognize the Arab influences on cuisine, culture, and architecture in southern European countries…it makes the world seem a whole lot smaller.

We continued to meander through the lovely Italian passageways chatting away and soaking it all in. We sampled the wines of Tuscany, ate endless amounts of bruschetta, walked up and down the river, explored the gelato festival, and mostly just reveled in each other’s company. One the things I loved most about my trip with Maria was realizing how well we travel together. Our adventure was the perfect blend of exploration and relaxation and I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. We decided to rent bikes in order to experience more of the city and to ride across town to watch the sunset. Riding bikes throughout Florence was probably one of my favorite parts of our European tour--it was absolutely delightful. The sunset was beautiful, and the atmosphere of the streets at night was completely different than the feeling during the day but both were equally as enjoyable. Florence at night reminded me of Spain, the city was alive.

For me discovering new places is intoxicating and addictive. This trip has made me sure that travel will always be an integral part of my life. These new places spark a curiosity about the rest of the world and spur my imagination. Although I am very much looking forward to coming home and staying in one place for a while, I know I’ll always dream of far off places and wonder. I know some day I’ll have to travel less, or differently, but I hope I never, ever lose my hunger for new things and new experiences. There will always be something mysterious and inexplicably alluring about the undiscovered.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

For Good

“Later that day I got to thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging, and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you that you love, well, that’s just fabulous.”

Since I’ve arrived in Paris, I have to say I feel as though I’ve learned quite a lot. I’ve learned the ins and outs of French grammar, crucial travel survival skills, how to live in another country, and how to be happy on my own. I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve learned a lot about people. If I had to choose one thing, if I had to choose the most important thing that I’ve taken away from all of this, I would say I’ve come to appreciate just how big of a role relationships play in life. The people that I’ve come into contact with here have shaped my life in ways that I never anticipated. In saying good-bye I realized how deeply attached to these people I am. With Carolin, Emily, and Gabi this realization came as no surprise. I did not, however, expect to feel so torn about parting with Mme Dugan, or the ISA staff, or my classmates, or even casual friends that I may never see again. These people are just as crucial to my experience as my closest friends are.

Nearing the end, I can’t help but think about the conversations I had with friends back in the States upon my arrival in Paris. During my first bouts of homesickness I was so doubtful that Paris would ever feel like a real home. I was so doubtful that I would never become close to all the new people I was meeting. I remember being told to wait it out, to calm down, being told that eventually these friends would feel like home. I was reminded of my initial panic upon moving away to college, and look at how wonderfully that turned out. Ultimately everything my friends and family told me ended up being true. Ma vie parisienne is everything I hoped it would be, filled with great experiences, beautiful memories, and meaningful friendships that have given me enough happiness to last a lifetime.

Buckling down to study during finals week here, was no easy feat. The weather was finally warm and all the four of us wanted to do was soak up every last minute we had together. We resorted to studying in parks and cafes with one another trying to bring together all the French we’d learned in the last 4 months. We took lots of walks attempting to imprint the memory of our magical city in our minds. Gabi and I took our last walks to Bastille and to Parc de la Villette. I wandered aimlessly throughout the Latin Quarter. We explored Buttes Chaumont, the exposition outside Les Jardins de Luxembourg, and Palais Tokyo. We got a little too acquainted with the inside of one tiniest elevators I’ve ever seen in Europe (the four of us exceeded the weight limit, got stuck, and had to be rescued by the French Pompiers—a process that took well over an hour). We had our last Crous lunch together. All of it was impossibly bittersweet.

On Tuesday I picked Maria up from Charles de Gaulle airport bright and early in the morning. I proudly bought my metro and RER tickets, arrived at the airport, took the shuttle bus to the proper terminal, and waited at the gate that I was sure she was coming out of. It was such a stark contrast to three years ago when I had attempted to make the same journey to meet Aunt Mary at that same gate in that same damn airport. The girl waiting for Aunt Mary was pathetically lost, not at all confident in her abilities to speak French, and was at the verge of bursting into hysterics at any given moment. I’m happy to say the girl waiting for Maria had no resemblance to that girl from three years ago at all.

Seeing Maria again was everything I’d hoped it would be. Within 30 seconds after the initial giddiness of seeing one another again had subsided, we picked up right where we left of 4 months ago, talking eagerly about all that we had been doing since we last saw each other. I was so excited to show someone from home my life in Paris. And if anyone could understand by desire for a nomadic life, and my love of travel and of other countries, it’s Maria. Ours is one of those “old and familiar” relationships that never fails in bringing us “far from where we started.” The adventures we’ve had together, and will have together are innumerable.

In a way having Maria in Paris is a symbolic merging of my two lives. When I finally return home, I’m going to have to find a way to live my old life while still keeping Paris and all its lessons with me. It’s a new chapter I’m looking forward to starting. Maria is my bridge, she makes leaving Paris more bearable because she reminds me of home and what’s waiting for me there. Plus I’ll always be in touch with my friends here; their presence and our memories will stay with me wherever I go. We’ve been with each other through such an intense, concentrated period of growth, and it’s impossible not to influence each other. Emily has taught me to, no matter what, unabashedly be who you are, and to be honest with yourself and with others at all times. Carolin has taught me to appreciate people, to be more loving, to always try to give a little more, and to constantly remind the people that matter just how important they are. Alex has taught me that humor can get you through pretty much any situation, and to never take life to seriously. Mme Dugan, in her absolute pessimism, has reminded me to always remain optimistic. And Gabi. Gabi has taught me to go in the direction of your dreams confidently no matter what it costs you, and that there is no end to the adventures you can have in any setting that you find yourself. We’re all leaving each other a little bit different than when we met, and I couldn’t be happier for it.

“Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better? I do believe I have been changed for the better—but, because I knew you, I have been changed for good.” …A la prochaine mes amours

Monday, May 3, 2010

Oh, the Places You'll Go

"Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads." -Doc Brown

On Friday morning we explored the Medina in Fes, which is one of the largest medinas in the entire world. It consists of 12,000 winding alleyways lined with shops selling everything imaginable--spices, fruit, scarves, extravagant lamps, hand-woven rugs, leather goods, olives, flowers, vibrant ceramics, handmade jewelry, everything you can think of. How anyone manages to navigate this market is beyond me; some of the passageways are expansive and open to the sky, some are narrow and covered and require single file lines, some are straight and dark, some curve in circles, and none of them have names. There is not a single map in the world of this place. It is a flood of smells, sights, and noises. Men leading donkeys that are carrying the products yell "Balak " as they descend down the alleys. Stray cats and dogs litter the streets. The strong Moroccan spices fill the air along with the overwhelming smell of the tanneries.

One thing you don't see in the medina are women. We are the exception because we are tourists, but we're still gawked at and called out to. Even when we see children laughing a playing, we never see a girl older than 5. North African countries are renowned for the lattice work on their windows. This actually cultural and is so the women can sit in their homes and watch but not be seen. It's harder to appreciate the beauty knowing the purpose they serve. But that's also what's so great about traveling here--I'm experiencing a culture that is completely unlike any that I've ever known before, and although it's not the life that I would chose, it is "normal" for a large population of the world.

After blindly wandering in the Medina for a bit, we stopped for lunch at a traditional Moroccan restaurant. One thing we learned very quickly is that even if you think you've eaten enough food to constitute an entire meal, the meal is never over until AFTER they bring out the tagine. And there is always a tagine. The rest of our journey through the Medina consisted of a visit to a traditional rug making store, a spice/medicinal shop, a tannery, and finally a ceramics store. Of course I made sure I bought a tagine and some spices so that I can bring a taste of Morocco back to the States :)

On Saturday we started the trek down to the Sahara desert which took a little over 7 hours by bus, a long journey none of us were particularly eager to sit through. However, the bus ride was surprisingly entertaining largely due to the ever-changing landscape and the excellent company. We finally reached Erfoud, a small village at the edge of the Sahara. From there we couldn't continue in the bus because of the lack of roads. So we continued on in 4 by 4's for close to an hour just watching the sand dunes pass by. We arrived at the haiimas (tents) shortly after dusk. And we found ourselves quite literally in the middle of nowhere.

Once I finally collected myself and recovered from the bumpy desert ride, I stopped and actually looked at where I was. I couldn't see much landscape because of the sheer blackness that surrounded me. There was not a light in sight which was actually slightly unsettling and a bit eerie for someone who is very accustomed to the constant city sounds and brightness. But then I looked up. This sky was unlike anything I have ever seen before. I felt like I could physically reach my hand out and touch the stars--I could have grabbed a whole handful and there still would have been millions and millions more. As soon as I became aware of what was above me, I felt the indescribable need to lay down in the sand and just try to soak it all up, to take it all in. When you lay down and look up, the sky extends all around you. The only place where there are no stars is in the sand underneath you…other than that, you're engulfed.

Soon there was a group of us all laying down, all experiencing the same awe, and people started excitedly pointing out constellations. Personally, I've never been able to see much more than the big dipper and that's usually only if someone points me in the right direction. To me the stars looks completely random and I have a difficult time finding any pattern in them. It makes me wonder about people that use the sky as a map. To them the constellations are roads that help them navigate. I can't imagine that for myself--navigating the endless sand using the stars alone to guide you. I'm overwhelmed just thinking about it.

I went to bed in that night thinking about all the different circumstances that had carried me to such a spectacularly new place. All the different roads I've taken. I wouldn't take back a single one, because all of my different paths somehow combined to take me on an amazing journey and to amazing places that I could have never foreseen. And that's the great thing about traveling, and the great thing about life, you never in your wildest dreams can begin to predict where you'll end up.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Close your Eyes, Clear your Heart

"Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." Mark Twain

To do anything, there is no time like the present. Had I not decided to fork over the money to take the trip to Morocco, I don't know that I ever would have made it to Africa for the rest of my life. It's too easy to put things aside and say, someday I'll get to it, someday when the timing's better, or the money's better, or whatever the case may be. It's always someday. For me, someday was last Thursday. Last Thursday beginning at 4:30 am I started my journey to Morocco, to a country that was unlike any I had ever traveled to before. The night before Gabi and I repeated to each other I don't know how many times "We're going to Africa. Is this really happening?" Packing was an interesting adventure, because while it was going to be hot in Morocco, we knew that as women we would have to stay covered up. We also had to make sure that we remembered things like flashlights, aquatabs, high protective sunscreen, hand santizer, and toilet paper.

In the grand scheme of things I know very little about Morocco as a country. The more I travel the more I realize my own ignorance. So honestly, I had no idea what to expect for this trip. We flew from Paris to Casablanca and started the tour right away. The first thing that strikes me about Morocco is the abundance of wildflowers. Beautiful, vibrant wildflowers. There are fields of lavender, pale yellow, and bright red. It's a beautiful country, there's no denying that. As we drive from the airport into the city, we're all glued to our respective windows just attempting to take it all in.

We drive around Casablanca and stop at Le Mosquee Mohammad V which is the 3rd largest mosque in the world and the tallest religious structure in the world. The architecture in this place is absolutely phenomenal. The Mosque was constructed right on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean which allows for an amazing backdrop to an amazing Mosque. Before entering we all have to remove our shoes and carry them with us. When you walk in we're bombarded with fantastic colors and huge lighted doors, keyhole windows opening to the ocean, and huge chandeliers. It's much more aesthetically pleasing than most Christian churches or cathedrals. But for me it evokes some of the exact same feelings. It's one of those places where, as Emily likes to say, you just get it. It's awe-inspiring and incredible.

After touring the mosque and the surrounding area, we met back at the bus and had lunch in Casablanca before moving on to Fes. The bus ride to Fes was a little over 3 hours long, and in those three hours I think we saw every different type of landscape imaginable. The countryside changes so rapidly. Fes, from what we can tell of it around 7 at night, is a fairly large city. It's a city that really, really likes fountains--the main boulevard was covered with them. We were warned not to leave the hotel, especially the girls, but we were all so exhausted anyway that it didn't much matter. So we ate dinner at the hotel, carefully avoiding anything that resembled fruits or vegetables so as not to get sick. This is much more difficult than you might think. One of the things that I loved most about the trip to Morocco was that it allowed me, Carolin, Emily, and Gabi to have plenty of time just the four of us. We stayed a dinner chatting away until we realized we were the only ones still left in the restaurant and that the waiters wanted to clean our table. So we then moved our talk to one of our bedrooms before finally heading off to bed.

At this point in the journey, I still have no idea what the rest of the week is going to hold. Morocco kicks off the start of my spring break tour, which is a way is the beginning of the end of my study abroad experience. Upon returning to Paris I will have approximately 3 weeks left in the city that I've called home for the past 4 months. I have so many mixed feelings about this. Being in Morocco gives me the travel bug and I'm eager to move. But at the same time, being away makes me realize how much I miss Paris and how much it has become a true "home" for me. In January my safe harbor was the States and Paris was an unknown adventure. Somehow in this short span of time, Paris has turned into my safe harbor. Morocco and other parts of Europe are now my adventure. So even though sometimes I crave my niche that I've created in France, I also know that right now…it's time to explore.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

There are too many unanswered questions

"Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am...Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, you daily routines, your refrigerator full of your food, your closet full of your clothes, you are forced into direct experience. Such direct experience inevitably makes you aware of who it is that is having the experience. That's not always comfortable, but it's always invigorating" Michael Crichton, Travels

For some reason this quote really speaks to me, but I'm having a difficult time articulating how exactly. It's true, when traveling you find yourself confronting completely new and different people and situations every single day. And these new situations really do force you into direct experience. At home it's very easy for me to create my bubble of comfort and familiarity. I surround myself with people who are similar to me and this, I think, is human nature. We want to be understood and accepted, so it makes sense that we seek people with similar life experiences, goals, ideals, etc. And while there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, sometimes it's good to be shaken up a bit and thrown out of the comfort zone. It forces reevaluation. Every day here I am constantly coming into contact with people and with a society that has different ways of thinking, different social norms, different priorities, different everything. It puts my world and my self in a different context.

But I still don't know what it is I'm trying to say. I guess in a nutshell, what I'm describing is culture shock, but in a good way and on a huge scale. It's not just French culture shock. I am still constantly surprised and oftentimes baffled by the different sub-cultures of the United States. And in my classes there are students from literally all over the world. There is a girl Sara who sits next to me in Cours Practique who is from Iran. I can't even begin to imagine how different our lives before Paris were. And yet we're friends, we laugh at the mistakes we make, talk about French culture, complain about the metro strikes, share stories about our weekend, the same things I would do with any of the rest of my friends. But in a different context.

The other day Sara asked me before class "Why are you in Paris?" Well wasn't that obvious? "To study French," I responded unsure of why she asked such a silly question in the first place. Exasperated she said "Yes, but why Paris? And why French? Why are you here? What do you want?" They were simple questions, yet I had a very hard time coming up with the answers to them. No one had ever asked me before. Oh sure before I left I had plenty of people who commented Oh Paris, why would you want to go to Paris, they don't even like us there. And I've taken my fair share of criticism for choosing to study French--But Spanish is so much more useful, What are you even going to do with French besides teach, or my personal favorite, But everyone speaks English now so why even bother? But Sara wasn't trying to criticize me, she too has obviously chosen to study French in Paris, her question was much more personal. After some reflecting I finally responded "Because I love it. Because I'm a city girl, because I love analyzing languages, because I connect with this culture, and I love it." Et c'est tout.

On Saturday night Gabi and I stayed in largely due to the rain and also because we were visiting Le Musee Des Arts et Metiers as well as making a day trip to Champagne on Sunday. But for some reason we were still antsy, so we decided during one of the breaks between downpours to try to find a Monoprix (French Target more or less) to buy hair dye to dye my hair. I'd been contemplating a change in hair color for a few weeks and finally just decided I was bored with the blonde. Unfortunately we could not find a Monoprix that was open past 10, so we decided the hair dying would have to wait for another day. On Sunday morning during breakfast Mme Dugan asked about our night and I explained the Monoprix excursion. She looked at me with that bewildered stare that she has and demanded "But WHY would you want to dye your hair?" I shrugged and tried to explain that I just wanted something different. Apparently this was not the correct response. After a 5 minute lecture as to why I should not act on this whim that I was having, we agreed to disagree.

The next night at dinner she asked what I had decided. I told her I still wanted to dye it and explained that I had dyed my hair dark before and that I had been perfectly happy with it. So she of course asked to see pictures, which I showed her. She reluctantly shook her head and said "Ouai, ouai ca marche …" After stumbling across a picture in which my hair was in an awkward in between shade of blonde and brown she exclaimed "Ah mais ca c'est moche ca! Ah ouai mais franchement." Frankly that is ugly. Oh, no but really that is ugly. Ohh the French.

When the dye job was finally complete, she asked me in the morning "Well..?" She then proceeded to carefully inspect my hair, lift practically every strand, circle me, ask me to stand in the sunlight, ask me to stand further away, all while clicking her tongue and muttering under her breath. Finally she proclaimed. "Oui. Ah oui ca marche" Yes, yes this works. Well Hallelujah, I never knew dying one's hair could be such a production. I think she was more invested in the end result than I was. But the French take this approach to practically everything. They take some time to make a decision and once they decide, that's it-their mind is made up and they will argue about it incessantly. And they are honest, brutally, and painfully honest about everything. So here, you have to know where you stand on everything, from the metro strikes, to hair color, to the new health care bill, to how you take your coffee. You will not only be asked your stance on all this things, but you better be prepared to defend your answer. These answers almost always beg the question "Why?" Why do you feel this way? Why do you want to do you want to dye your hair? Why did you choose Paris? Mais pourquoi? And that opens a new can of worms entirely.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The tango with chance

"We live in a world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open." Jawaharial Nehru

Sometimes it takes a change of place to draw out curiosity and sense of adventure. Paris is, without a doubt, succeeding in doing this to me. I want to do everything, because everything is alluring. But, I'm also aware now more than ever that the time is flying. Spring is without a doubt here (finally!) which makes it all the more real that we've been here through a season already. And the warm weather makes the city come alive.

On Monday we took advantage of the weather and met up near Les Jardins des Plantes after class. Gabi, Emily, Carolin, and I sipped on mint tea and ate turkish pastries on the terrace of the Cafe Mosque. Unfortunately with warm weather and outdoor snacks come even more pigeons. Maybe the next three months here will rid me of my fear of birds (an irrational fear according to Mme Dugan), but I'm not too confident in that. After the Mosque we wandered through the gardens for a bit and explored the shrub labyrinth while chatting away. There's such a comfortable dynamic between the four of us; it feels like we've known each other for years.

By mid-week, my mind was on French overload. 7 hours of class on Wednesdays always keeps my head spinning in different languages, but in addition to class, the four of us also went to a play in French. We had acquired cheap tickets through Crous and had jumped at the opportunity to see a play at La Comedie Francaise without a second glance at the play that was being put on. We grew apprehensive when we couldn't find much of a synopsis of it online at all and became a bit nervous that the entire production would fly straight over our heads. Much to our surprise, it was hilarious, and fairly easy to follow (or as easy as any play in another language is to a foreigner). But I think we left the theater in a sort of daze...9 straight hours of another language is exhausting.

Thursday was one of those funk days that happens every once in awhile no matter what setting you find yourself in. There's a certain amount of frustration that is absolutely inevitable when acclimating to a different culture. The culture will not change for you, you have to bend in every which way to accommodate it. It was a frustration that was particularly strong for all four of us on Thursday. In an attempt to combat this, Gabi, Emily, Carolin, and I all met at the Tuilerie Gardens after class, each of us armed with a different component to a Parisian picnic. Ingredients included: wine, camembert cheese, baguettes, gardettos, thin mints, gouda cheese, and plenty of topics of conversation. It was the perfect remedy for our grievances.

Next on the to-do list was Pere Lachaise cemetery which we were able to cross off as of Friday afternoon. There is something oddly peaceful about that place, not particularly eerie, just very calm. But we didn't get to see any of the "famous" graves that were there, so we're definitely going to have to make a return visit. Friday night after dinner Gabi and I met up with some friends at our favorite bar (mostly for the cheap cocktails) near Grands Boulevards. From there we made our way to Oberkampf for some late night dancing. It was a great way to end a very tiring week.

Tomorrow Gabi and I are making a day trip to Champagne and meeting up with her Dad. I'm so glad that I finally feel like I'm really using the time I have here to the fullest. Initially I was overwhelmed with the possibilities and comforted by the fact that I would be here for such an extended period of time. Now I'm starting to plan what I want to do and really use every day. It's made me that much more aware of all there is to do, and that much more excited for everything the next few months have in store.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I've gotten so much braver, Can you tell?

"And something's odd-within-
The person that I was-
And this One-do not feel the same-
Could it be madness-this?"
Emily Dickinson

Sometimes I feel like this country is slowly driving me towards insanity. I'm getting to the point where I've been here long enough for the newness and excitement to wear off a bit. It's interesting because I've officially hit the end of my sixth week here, which is the exact time I left Spain. So I'm now entering into unknown territory as far as living abroad goes. And don't get me wrong, I still feel like this is exactly where I'm supposed to be and exactly what I'm supposed to be doing right now. But when living in a foreign country, nothing is ever simple. For instance, our host mom apparently does not believe in doing laundry on a regular basis. We've been here for a month and a half and it's only been done twice (we've paid for a laundry service once a week). There are a few things that are awkward about this situation. First and foremost, I'm running out of clothes, and as someone who does laundry only when it is absolutely necessary, this is saying a lot. Secondly, there is no real tactical way to approach Mme Dugan about the subject. Finally, we would go to a laundry mat, but we have no detergent, no money, and no idea how the french laundry system works. I'm not even sure I could approach someone about this subject in English, let alone trying to find the words to express myself politely in French.

This is of course another thing that is so overwhelming about living here-the language barrier. Most of the time it's not too difficult, and I actually surprise myself with how much I am able to communicate. But living in a different language messes with your brain, plain and simple. After a long day of classes I find myself actually thinking in French, and last week I had my first dream in French. This is exciting and slightly exhausting all at the same time. Gabi and I have started mixing our French and English when we talk to each other. If there's a word that better expresses what we want to say in French, we say it in French. I'm afraid when I come back to the States, no one will be able to understand me when I speak!

The French language has started creeping into my English as well. When Gabi asks how many people are coming out with us, I find myself responding with "We will be five." We say things like "I'm going to install myself at this table," or comment how we are "profiting from this experience." Thankfully everyone here is thinking in the same manner and doesn't find these random "frenchisisms" the slightest bit bizarre. It's especially difficult to re-tell things that happened in French, in English. I find myself fumbling for what I want to say, and I end up not being able to express myself in either language because somehow all the words have gotten shuffled around in my brain. When this happens to either me or Gabi (normally after a particularly stressful day for one reason or another) we normally look at one another and very slowly annunciate "I. Can't. Say. What. I. Want. To. Say." This is typically followed by deep breaths and chocolate.

It's also sometimes I little mind-boggling to be living somewhat of a double life. I literally am in a different world here, and therefore am a different person in a lot of ways. They're not necessarily concrete things that I can identify easily. But I'm living a life here that's completely different than the one I'm living back at home. I really enjoy being alone here for some reason. Much more so than at home. I love, love my metro rides in the morning where I can just listen to my music and unwind. I like going for walks by myself, I like going to museums by myself. Sunday morning I went to the Louvre for a bit on my own--it's nice to be able to go at whatever pace you like.

On Saturday I wandered around Le Marais and Hotel De Ville area. I did some shopping and debated going to a museum but decided the Saturday tourist crowds weren't really worth it. So I went back by the Canal and grabbed a sandwich (goat cheese and tomoato) and a pain au chocolat from our favorite boulangerie on Rue de Lancry. I found a bench along the Canal and people watched for a little while. All was well and peaceful until I started eating my pain au chocolat. I was then attacked by at least 10 birds at once. This did not sit well with me in the slightest. I scrambled to pick up all my belongings and ran off in the direction of my apartment cursing up a storm and giving the savage pigeons looks of disgust as if this would teach them a lesson for next time. I'm certainly not holding my breath.

This next week looks like it's shaping up to be a pretty hectic one. As we attempt to finalize spring break plans, we start to realize how quickly the time is passing and how much more we want to do. Gabi and I are always finding opportunities to check more things off our lists. Tomorrow we're meeting Carolin and Emily for some tea and pastries and then exploring a labyrinth. That's one thing, no matter how insane I feel sometimes here, at the very least I have three other people who are feeling just as crazy right along with me. And on some days, that's the only thing keeping me afloat.