The Prodigal Child Returns
So, this is embarrassing. Truly. For you see, having recently spent a month traveling around Northern Europe, I have been horribly, inexcusably and detrimentally amiss at updating you on these travels. For what reason this, I’m still not entirely sure.
Here are a few theories:
1. My Severus Snape-like creative writing professor (though I would venture to say that’s too flattering a comparison) has seriously damaged my writing mojo with comments that would make any decent writer second guess their ability to create even a simple sentence structure. Though, it wouldn’t be fair to really blame it on a 2nd party…
2….it’s more likely emanating from me, myself and I. It could be that after having to write 11 essays in one week for finals, taking a break from the writing realm of things was long due. This just happened to be a rather lengthy pause.
3. Being an only child, I tend to have rather selfish tendencies (fact) and wish to keep all these experiences I’ve had whilst voyaging through some pretty magnificent countries all to my lonely self. Because, of course, I am the only person who has ever visited the vast, barren wastelands of Sweden, Scotland and Ireland. Trust me they are terrible places, simply awful. Best advised to stay away. HaHA! More for meeeee!
4. Having been in America for a few weeks now, I am horribly distressed that my travels have gone so fast. The deep, nauseating homesickness that I feel for Europe has prevented me from writing anything that would remind me of its near perfection for fear that I would collapse in a miserable heap of self-pity. (Hey at least, I’m honest.)
5. The places and experiences that I have had even within the past 5 months have been positively inexplicable. No writer, not Keats or Shelly, or even Shakespeare could hope to capture what I’ve experienced lately. Whislt these nations are everything a poem, a word, a novel, a history book or a travel magazine has ever described. They transcend the imagination and sensory perception. They magnify the fact that the people, animals, and places of this world are so magnificently structured that they elude any word, phrase or paragraph ever attempted. I can only do what most writers life spend their lives ceaselessly laboring over, to make the exquisite nature of reality unseen, and unexperienced by the masses, tangible.
That being said, the episodes of writing that may, or may not (sincerely hoping for the former) follow this post will not even begin to cover it all.
But then, I think that is the nature of writing, if only to tease the senses.
Dearest audience, whoever the heck you may be, here is my message to you:
If you have any inclination or even if you don’t, travel, experience and live your life with childish enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter if you are young or old, if you have work or if you don’t have enough money. If there is a will, there is a way.
Put your textbooks and your novels away, folks. The real classroom is the world.
The Last Escalator Ride
It doesn’t seem real.
Just like that, it’s over.
I still can’t find my words to write a blog eloquent enough to summarize a completely non-summarizable experience. I will have to trust that with time speech will find my mind and my fingers. My writing abilities will return (perhaps during my three week stay in Sweden).
However, for now I must learn to say farewell to London—a city that appears understated but yet so multi-dimensional, whose beauty isn’t necessarily atmospheric and overly apparent as in Paris, but that peaks its head at the most unexpected moments.
Forget me not London, city of pristine regularity and nonchalant vibrancy. For I will find it most impossible to ever forget you.
|My closet is staring at me.|
|My clothes are threatening to manifest them in to a Bedknobs and Broomsticks-esque ghost of Christmas future.|
|I can't leave London.|
|I think you should stay|
|obviously the universe is telling you the same thing|
|This is true.|
|It's not often that my bras give me verbal warning about things.|
|It's definitely a sign.|
|Damn, you take advantage of this place while you're here, k?|
|I sort of forgot how amazing was for a while.|
|I'll do my best|
|As I gaze into the future I see full-on 100%, ultra-violet culture shock (or at least that's what my gladiator sandals told me).|
|I'll stop now. I just thought it was important to let you know of closet conversations.|
|And that the "No day but today" policy doesn't only apply to Rent characters.|
|I really should blog.|
|have you slept lately?|
My dear audience, whoever you might be, I am terribly sorry. I have been amiss at updating you lately.
This is for several reasons:
1. I’ve gotten a bit burnt out from writing due to the five books and (at least) one paper I have to read and write each week. Needless to say, I shall not be taking five literature classes at the same time ever again.
2. London has become so familiar to me. In fact it has served as more of a home than most places I’ve been. I’ve often found that it’s hard to write about your home unless you’re away from it.
3. Writing about London means having to admit that in a week, I will no longer be here and this is a truly disparaging thought.
That being said, I promise I will update you at some point, or at least attempt to try and summarize my experience. But right now, I’m still going through denial. I’ve never wanted to stay in a place and time more than I do right now.
However, I realize it would be awfully rude to leave you with nothing. So I will supply you with a bit of umm, poetry, bits of information and things I felt necessary to write down in my little red journal whilst riding on the tube. Nothing very good at all (in fact, if you didn’t know me already you will begin to realize that I am a very silly person), just some observances.
I think I’ve spent more time on the tube here than actually above ground (London is a massive city and you’ve got to allot at least an hours time to get anywhere).
So here you go:
I got stuck in an elevator, gulped some Guinness, trudged through Hampstead, witnessed Harold Pinter, Met my new family, experienced rude customer service, and ate clotted (arterie) cream. Seems I might be in London or something.
Mind the Damn Gap
The announcer is particularly rude at Embankment station. But then, the gap is also particularly wide at Embankment.
It is not a crime to be alone. One is hardly in the wrong when one is alone. Then why is it that when one is alone, all one can feel is guilt for one’s lonliness?
In a Crisp White Shirt
A Man with tatoos. Her son perhaps. He’s cleaned up quite a bit.
Minding More than the Gap
“Mind the steps, love” the man in the brown cap told me. He touched my arm. I felt tears for his warmth.
Then I saw a woman. She had fallen down the escalator. She sobbed and there was red splashed on the metal.
Northern Line to High Barnet
The stares are menacing here
But the problems are
spoken as if I can’t hear.
Saw the boots with the laces.
They seemed friendly enough.
Not like the blank glares I get
if I glance for too long.
The yellow lilies
sweeten up the train quickly.
The owner, crying.
A Lover’s Quarrel
She quivers with the knowledge
that he is breaking her to crumbles
when she once was the foundation
that held him up.
Breakaway girl, Breakaway.
Mr. Darcy at Holborn
Long-haired and carefree, the first who’s looked at me.
I winced and rejoiced simultaneously.
Next Station: Camden Town
The squeaking and squaking, tumbling
and roaring like some belching
beast filled with strange
They are silent but they moan and
creak on the inside, just like
the vessel in which they are riding.
What is it wit dem Europe women
and dem slimmy-slim-legs?
Butter and cheese never go
to their thighs and squeezing
in clothes doesn’t ‘appen.
Damned be dese Europeleg women.
Where does it go—da cream,
da chocolate, and da pint-of-ale
Dey must have a pocket, a drawer
of some sort, where all of da
junk goes without need of sport.
Oh Europeleg women,
tell me your secret
For your legs I want
but know not how to get.
Stop this gliding and sliding
rumbling and moaning.
When I hear you’re on,
my work I’m postponing
You’re so sleek, so chic
Even your rumble rolls its “r’s”
I’ll mount your strong frame
for this day is ours.
I’d take you for a cafe noissette
Stop looking at me like that, you little coquette!
Coffee’d be followed by a Croque Monsieur
You’d watch me eating, looking oh so demure.
Next we’d go by the sea on the winding hills
Marseilles is like Paris but without all the frills.
Then it’d be time to take you home
I’d drop you off soon to be all on your own
But tomorrow I’ll see you,
you chic little thing,
I’ll turn my key in you,
then hear Vespa sing.
Paris, Ma Ville Natale: Part Deux
Bonjour mes amis!
I do apologize for the long delay in the second episode of my Parisian adventures. However, I have successfully written a ten page paper concerning Shakespeare’s brilliance (not that needed to be proved…)
In any case, on to day two of Paris—the love of my life.
Daylight savings time is pretty great…if it’s Fall and you get an extra hour of sleep and life. However, I must say, Spring forward is a rather cruel invention—especially when you have recently landed in a foreign country that is already an hour ahead of the one you came from.
Such was it last Sunday when we planned to get up early to catch a service at Notre Dame. In order to shower and catch breakfast, we had to wake up at 6:30. Now this wouldn’t have been quite so painful if it weren’t actually 4:30 in our minds…
However, we remained strong, resolute, determined and shot out of bed (well that’s a lie, but a good image nonetheless) and prepared ourselves for our second and final day in this beautiful city.
We arrived at Notre Dame and I was though it was drizzling and burbling rain clouds hovered threateningly over our heads, seeing the building after years of longing to visit the place (partially due to a previous disney Hunchback of Notre Dame obsession) I was overwhelmed with awe.
You see it on postcards, hear it referenced in famous novels but nothing compares to actually standing in front of its massive entrance.
I took a few pictures but I fear I cannot hope to do it justice. Still, for your viewing pleasure:
As we stood rather breathlessly outside, we saw a small crowd of people gathered towards the entrance picking-up olive branches and entering the cathedral.
We had indeed arrived early enough to catch part of the service. Eagerly, we hustled our way into what was to be the second most spiritually enriching experience of my life in two days.
Unfortunately, flash photography was not explicitly outlawed and thus, moments of calm and tranquility heightened by the chill-raising archbishop and choir’s chants and hymns and the sheer grandness of it all, were somewhat diminished.
However, perhaps it was due to me always secretly wanting to be Esmerelda in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and make great prayers in the cathedral itself. I decided to light a candle.
I desperately hope that God won’t smite me for not being catholic and participating in some catholic ritual. But it was too beautiful, even if only symbolically, to pass up.
I lit a candle, placed it with the hundreds already lit and let my soul pour forth into prayer. It really is a beautiful notion, prayer, when you think about it. And in this place of fantastical reverence, it only felt right.
As we strolled silently around the interior, I refused to take any flash photography but I managed to take a few shots (sans flash), if only to remember what little I could of this incredible experience.
The back of the alter
Saint toes. :)
Knowing, we had to move on with the day, we spent a few more crystalline moments standing, and soaking before heading out into the real world once more.
Once we saw the queue starting to form outside the entrance, we were quite glad we had suffered an early morning to witness what we did and not have to wait in line.
However, we would soon have to experience a line wait but for something well worth it.
We headed to the side of the cathedral to experience a view from the bell-tower—once the highest point in Paris. We did end up waiting for about an hour and worried about the 10 euro admission. However at the ticket booth, I pulled out the very best French I could and let him know we were students. He asked where we were students and knowing London was not part of the EU I felt sure he wasn’t going to let us in for free. However, I told him where we were studying and voila! Gratuit! Free admission! I’m glad my French skills were getting us somewhere.
After climbing a ridiculous and I mean RIDICULOUS amount of steps we reached the top. Oh mon dieu, what a view! And gargoyles too!
After burning 5 million calories on some serious stair endeavors (Quasimodo must have had buns of steel), we descended once more in favor of finding some food.
However we passed this sign which still perplexes us. Anyone got any ideas?:
One side was this:
The other side:
1. You are not allowed to hold hands past this point
2. If you have a child either you or your child can go past this point, not the both of you.
3. Or no pedestrians past this point (when a pedestrian sidewalk was clearly indicated so it seems unlikely…)
In any case, we restrained ourselves from holding hands or acting like children just in case…
On to lunch.
Finding lunch was a bit of an adventure. Originally we were planning on going to a creperie where Evie’s parents had gone a few years prior and had become good friends with the owner. So we took the metro across town to get there. Alas, it had been taken over by another restaurant. A bit crestfallen, we took the metro once again to Les Halles or the area just north of Notre Dame to seek out food. But not before stumbling upon this:
La Place de Bastille is a monument marking the place where the famed storming of a prison took place a few centuries ago, sparking on the French revolution. All I could think of was Les Miserables playing on repeat in my head…”One day more…”
Finally we came across a cheap sandwich, falafal place with a particularly flirtatious and fun Parisian who insisted on calling us “Les belle filles” (beautiful girls). Now mind you, if this were London I wouldn’t have even considered staying in a sandwich shop with some creeper bothering me. In France however, they are much more open about everything—an aspect of life which I found overwhelmingly refreshing after dealing with the sexually suppressed English. So feeling excited by the prospect of actually attempting French conversation and with a cute French guy, we managed to talk a bit throughout our meal.
Alright here it is, a note on the French: whoever proclaimed that the French were a rude lot must have been insane because during this entire trip we experience nothing but genuine, and I mean genuine warmth and kindness. Every time we’ve been lost or confused, we didn’t even have to ask anybody for help. They came to us and helped us. It was incredible. I don’t think I’ve ever met such hospitable people before. I think perhaps those who have judged the French as rude fail to recognize a pinnacle value of their culture: straightforwardness. If something is good, they’ll let you know, if they think you are beautiful, they’ll let you know, if they have an opinion on religion, they’ll let you know, if they’re coffee is not strong enough, they will let you know. It’s really not that bad of a trait when you think about it. Perhaps it could get tiring after a while, but at least you aren’t constantly having to live in the world of subtext and underlying meaning like the English and sometimes Americans do. Sometimes it’s nice to have it all out on the plate and to know exactly what you are dealing with.
Another Note: I think perhaps one of the reasons they were so friendly to us was the fact that I spoke to them (or at least attempted to) in their native language. The French are very proud of their mother tongue and rightly so. It is a fantastically delicate language that slips off the tongue so gracefully. I read an article in the Evening Standard a few days ago saying that the French government is attempting to put a stop to English slang infiltrating their language by creating competitions amongst young people to come up with French slang equivalents. While this may seem rather extreme to us Americans who have an entirely different relationship with our government, I can understand why they are doing this. There is something completely magical and enchanting about Paris, Parisians, France and the French language that I’ve not found anywhere else I’ve ever been before. Despite a huge flux of immigrants in the past few years they have managed to hold on to their charmant (charming) culture. All the more power to them. They have something worth preserving in my opinion…
Well, enough of that and back to our story.
We finished up a deeply satisfying lunch said “Au revoir” to our friendly French friend That’s another thing. Store/cafe workers always greet you when you enter and say goodbye when you leave. This never happens in England.
With bellies full, we set off to explore the area a bit, with no particular plan in mind (which is sometimes the best way to travel in my opinion.) Took some pictures for you:
We quite often don’t exactly know what we are taking pictures of, but it’s pretty…so why not?
I’ve realize that if I could have my dream life, it would involve a dashing French boyfriend (who doesn’t smoke…a tall order indeed), who owns a vespa and would take me everywhere, then back to our apartment in Monmartre…
Basically I just want to be Amelie.
So many things in Paris are just so…French!
I could live here. No seriously. One day I will.
The Hotel de Ville and not as in Cruela. However, I’d imagine you’d probably have to be as rich as her to stay here.
After walking around for a fair amount, I spotted a sign saying “Centre de Pompidou.” Now having been through many French classes in which this iconic Parisian location is pictured in texbooks, I felt I might as well go check it out. So we did.
It was in fact, just as bizarre and fantastic as I’d imagined it to be:
The basic architectural idea is to have a building inside out…
Nearby and with its juxtaposing backdrop of an old church, lies the famous fountain itself.
By this time, our feet were complaining a bit and our appetite had once more appeared. We decided it was about time to find a place for some refreshments. So we headed across the river…
…saw some pretty flowers…
…and a boat.
We then participated in what I think was one of the best moments of our trip.
Jumping into the nearest cafe across the river, we knew we were in need of some caffeine. We entered and awkwardly stood as we weren’t sure what was the custom, to seat ourselves or to have someone seat us…
Then as fortune would have it, a French lady approached us and pointed a cozy spot in the corner with this as it’s view:
The Parisian god of fate never seemed to fail us. Parfait, non?
And so, we sat ourselves down. Ordered some good strong coffee and did the best thing you can do in a French cafe as a foreigner: wrote postcards.
My drink: Cafe Noisette. Basically like an uber strong hazelnut latte that’s about 70 times as delicious.
Ev had asked me a few questions about French spelling and I wrote them on our receipt that I didn’t realize was our receipt. Thus our waiter ended up with the message “Quasimodo, I love you.” :)
Feeling quite a rejuvenated, we headed out to explore the Latin quarter and came across a lovely little park.
No self-walking dogs allowed!
We then found one of the most famous bookstores in the world, the local haunt of Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway: Shakespeare and Company.
So as some of you know, both Ev and I are ardent book lovers and so this adventure would prove to be most dangerous. We could’ve easily spent the rest of our trip just walking around looking at books…
Portraying some of its most famous frequenters and ex-patriots.
One of the best words in the English language.
Also, just for your information, Shakespeare and Company has both a piano that customers may play at will (a bit out of tune but wonderful nonetheless) and a typewriter in which you may leave messages, prose or poems for future visitors. Loved. This. Place.
Well then, after tearing ourselves away from book heaven, we decided it was about time we have a real Parisian crepe experience. Only a few blocks away was a creperie and so two scrumptiously spongey dribbling with nutella crepes were made and gratefully consumed by us as we began to make our way through the Latin Quarter (or the student area of Paris). We stumbled upon a street in which several moderately priced restaurants were located and marked this for later.
We wandered for a good while and saw:
La Sorbonne is pretty much THE university to go to for the French speaking world. A bit like Oxford or Cambridge, really.
Oh hey! Look familiar? Well it would because this is the Pantheon, or the place where Victor Hugo, Voltaire, Descartes, and Marie Curie are buried AND what our US capital was modeled after. Yes, we are more attached to the French than you think.
We looked at our clocks and by this time we thought it appropriate to head over to something that simply can’t be missed when you’re in Paris:
Yes, indeed. Despite the cloudy day, we wanted to see if we could catch it during sunset and after when it lit up and sparkled hourly.
In the meantime we took a few pictures, like you do.
Wanting to kill some time and not kill our feet, we sat down for a bit and ate the leftover brie and grapes from the night before, reflecting on our trip so far. We concluded the following:
1. We had covered a shockingly HUGE amount of Paris for being there only two days.
2. We didn’t feel like we were rushed.
3. We were glad about getting up early that morning.
4. The only money we spent was on food and souvenirs and we only stood in line once
5. We planned both touristy and nontouristy things perfectly.
6. We love traveling with one another. I play the uber control freak, have things organized, do my research role and Ev plays the relaxed, chill out, have fun role. We keep each other in check
7. We love Paris. I love Paris. I mean in a deep sort of longing way that I can’t describe. I am seriously considering living here one day.
8. We love Parisians and their way of life, the carefree, happy, food consuming, step climbing, openly flirting people that they were.
9. The jazz clarinettist who had spontaneously serenaded us on the metro would not ever do that in London, New York, or Chicago. That Paris was beautiful, and he was simply a representation of it.
10. That this had literally been one of the best weekends of both our lives.
Having had a lovely talk and a bit of cheese, we ambled on. Taking more photos of course:
And then just like that, it lit up!
We waited for a while for it to start sparkling, but to no avail. It was getting late and we knew we needed to get back to the Latin Quarter to eat dinner before the metro stopped running.
So we hurried back to the metro station and in our rush took the wrong train. “Oh no!” you say. Yes indeed, we panicked for a second but managed to get off at the next stop to correct our mistake. Then in another moment of absolute fortune, we turned around to see a view of the Eifel tower itself sparkling and glimmering like it does every hour.
If we hadn’t gone the wrong way by mistake, we wouldn’t have gotten to witness it. Sometimes I can’t help but believe in some benevolent Parisian deity. :)
In any case, we made it to the restaurant: Les Chats de Tango (Tangoing Cats) and ordered a grand three course meal and wine for only 24 euros. Well, it was supposed to be 24 euros. However, after having a rather event filled day, my French was a bit off and there was a small miscommunication between the (adorable and Paul Giamatti resembling) waiter and myself. However, we did manage to order wine and a three course meal.
I ordered the following: Reisling from Alsace:**** (4 out of 5 star rating, definitely one of the better wines I’ve tasted in my life) Saunte!
Escargot…hold up. What? You say. Katrina, you ate WHAT? Yes. I did. I did it. I ate snails. And here’s the proof:
Oh no. Am I really going to do this?
The deed is done.
They actually weren’t half bad. Very garlic and buttery. Although there was a bit of an unnerving earthy after-taste. In any case. I ended up eating the entire portion (12 in all). Aren’t you all proud? I gave myself a bit of a pat on the back.
Then for the next course, I had Raclette. Now I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with the small frying surface and oven that had been placed on the table and the cheeze, pickles and potatoes next to it. So I hesitantly placed on of the potatoes on the hot surface and the dear, dear waiter came around and saw what I was doing.
“Non, non…” He exclaimed politely and proceeded to show me how to make raclette. Eating French food is quite complicated, you see (it took me a good 15 minutes to figure out how exactly to get the snail out of the escargot shell.) Apparently you place a strip of long delicious raclette cheese on the hot surface, wait till it bubbles, then scrape it off onto your potatoes and eat. The result? Absolute cheesy potato perfection! In any case, it was really sweet for the waiter to show us. He was quite possibly one of the sweetest people we’d encountered yet. He didn’t speak a word of English, yet tried every bit to give us the best service possible.
Dessert was the next course. I couldn’t help but order Creme brulee. And oh how magnifique! Perfectly burnt on top and deliciously light yet substantial custard below. Yum.
Unfortunately, we had to rather rush dessert since we had to catch the metro before it stopped running and by this time it was about 11:00 PM (an entirely appropriate time to be finishing off dinner in Paris).
However, by this time, the rather strong French wine had had it’s effects on us and we were quite a bit goofier than normal.
Apparently, there was a bit of a miscommunication concerning the wine we bought as it was not included in the package total like I thought it was. However, at this point, we were both to happy and tipsy to care. So we ended up paying a few extra euro, but happily flounced out of the restaurant, stomachs full and brains whirling.
We walked down the damp Parisian streets, arm in arm, giggling and stumbling a bit. Caught one of the last metros and made it home safely.
It was perfect. Absolument parfait.
I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better trip.
However, my relationship with Paris is not over—that I can guarantee. I have fallen too in love to never go back. In fact, I know for sure that I could live there happily for a good while.
I will be back—soon I hope.
Gertrude Stein once said: “America is my country and Paris is my hometown.”
I couldn’t agree with her more.
Paris, Ma Ville Natale
I will candidly admit that I have never been in love before. Not really anyway.
However, what I felt and still feel for Paris is the closest thing I think I’ve ever experienced to true love.
Even before I arrived in London, I knew I would kick myself if I didn’t visit the city of light and love. So Evie and I planned this weekend trip which turned out to be one of the most magical weekends I have ever experienced.
Four o’clock AM on Saturday morning. Yes 4:00. Usually I would be slightly be-groggled and grumpy. However, now I had Paris ahead of me. So I slipped on my leather jacket and scarf, flashed myself an excited smile in the mirror and headed out the door to meet Evie at the train station.
We went through an uneventful check-in (the French are rather lax on who they let into the country and my customs officer barely even glanced at my passport). This was only a small precursor to the refreshingly carefree and easygoing nature of the Parisians I was soon to experience.
In any case, we went under the ocean and into La France. As we stepped out of the train, we were blasted by the exciting and nerve-wracking symphony of French speaking people. I tried to cling onto conversations nearby in attempt to remember the bit of French I’d learned in high school and freshman year of college.
However, after a bout of post-country-transfer-disorientation, Ev and I managed to climb aboard the metro and head to our hostel—both a bit nervous and terribly excited by our foreign surroundings.
Now a word on the Metro: This is quite possibly the only complaint about my French experience (and a miniscule one at that). Perhaps it’s because I’m used to the enclosed and practically antiseptic tube stations that are completely sans graffiti but hopping boarding the metro was a bit alarming. First off, the trains are MASSIVE. Sometimes I worry for the safety/comfort of tall people in London. The tube isn’t very friendly to those with a few extra inches. Secondly, there is a bit of a stink. I’ve heard that the Metro runs quite close to several sewer lines and that was quite apparent in my experience. Third, Parisians have apparently taken their artistic talents to the metro windows as there are all sorts of interesting images and words scratched into them…
In any case, I knew that I wasn’t in Kansas anymore. Gone were the sickly pale beings who barely saw the sun and here were the beautiful dark and olive skinned residents of a mysterious and beautiful country. For the first time since I’ve been in Europe, I definitely felt physically out of place.
Alors (French saying sort of akin to “and so”…you’ll have to forgive the French interspersed in this blog and I can’t seem to get it out of my head yet), after possibly heading the wrong way and getting lost for a while once we ascended the metro, we finally found our Hostel: Le D’Artangan (as in the Muskateer). This is how we felt:
We dropped off our belongings. And then…well what’s the first thing you do when you go to Paris?
Go see dead people of course!
Off we went to one of the most famous cemeteries in the world—Pere Lachaise. Some of its residents include: Rossini, Bizet, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf, Chopin, and Jim Morrison—just to name a few…So we wandered for a bit—taking pictures, marveling at the sheer size of the place, and feeling relieved after a harried metro exchange/nearly getting lost.
“Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again” scene, much?
It fits him well, I think.
Some of these sculptures were exquisitely somber.
We chose a good season to go to Paris.
I prayed that one day he would turn me into a beautiful and dark seductive mezzo so that I could play Carmen…
This was one of my favorites…that moss!
A much loved Mr. Wilde, that’s who./Anybody who has seen Paris Je t’aime, you might understand why I was really excited.
When we were here, somebody was playing a recording of her singing La Vie En Rose. It was a really beautiful moment…
After walking around for a good hour or so, both of us were starving and were ready to grab food wherever we could find any. So we hopped across the street to a small, VERY French cafe. Knowing that I would be in charge of us getting the right food and ordering correctly with my far from perfect French, I was a bit nervous. However, when the waiter arrived—a bustling middle aged gentleman with an excellent sense of humor—I was able to tell him that we were both vegetarians and wished to get the omelette without meat and a bottle of non-sparking water. Phew! He then asked jokingly if we wanted the water to be vegetarian as well. Surprised and pleased that I got his joke, I believe we established a good waiter-customer relationship which is what I was worried the most about on this trip. So we ate our simple but delicious meal…
French food pictures: always necessary…
And so, first French conversational and food encounter, a success!
Next on the Parisian adventures list: Monmartre and La Sacre Coeur.
So we hopped in the metro and headed across town, got off and saw this:
Tres belle, non?
But first we had to get through this:
Being the street savvy travelers that we were, we made our way through the souvenir crowds, holding tight to our purses (this was pick-pocket heaven I’m sure). Finally we reached the start of the 300 some stairs we would have to climb to get to la Sacre Coeur.
Just what I had always imagined to be in Monmartre—a live statue that changes positions when you pay him. Such a quintessential thing.
Another quintessentially Monmatre-esque aspect though not quite as cool were the people who went around tying strings around people’s hands and wouldn’t release their them until their victims paid them. I remembered hearing this a long time ago from a friend and thus Ev and I were able to avoid all hand tying thievery. Tip for those of you whoever go to Paris if there is one thing to know how to say, it’s: “No, merci” as street vendors and all sorts of people will approach you ceaselessly asking to buy their products.
But we were there, it was beautiful and we were quite happy about it.
Always street performers in front of the Sacre Coeur. Always…
Now dearest readers, I am terribly sorry to disappoint but I have no pictures of the interior as photography is strictly forbidden.
I am glad of this.
Walking into la Sacre Coeur was the most profoundly religious experience I’ve ever had. Actually, as I’m not particularly religious, I’d have to say perhaps, the most profound spiritual experience. It wasn’t cold and imposing like most places of worship I’ve been, rather it was warm and comforting, exquisite and nearly unearthly. It’s name is quite appropriate I think—“the sacred heart.” There is a soft pulse within the building that gives reverence to life and love. It was almost enough convert me into a Catholic. Then I think that there are so many religious places of worship around the world that must have the same feeling, mosques, temples, hashrams. I walked around soaking up the flickering silence, tears rolling down my cheeks. A place has never effected me so.
I wish all holy places did not allow photography.
The spell was broken as we slipped outside once more into the storm of music and street vendors. The culture of Monmartre and La Sacre Coeur are in such opposition to one another, it makes me wonder how they survive so closely to one another. Yet, I suppose it is beautiful that each celebrates life in their own way…
We descended the steps and perhaps partook in some essential souvenir shopping—berets and scarves included, (me making my entire purchase in French and feeling quite proud of myself) bought a baguette to be consumed for dinner that night and felt very french indeed…
Then we headed towards another part of Monmartre where, another French value is highly celebrated…
Yes. That says what you think it says. Also, we found it vaguely disturbing that all of the signs on the particularly sleezy looking stores were in English…hmm.
In any case, we soon found what we were looking for.
Just kidding, and I wish.
Nope, we found the famous dance hall itself, sadlysans Ewan McGreggor singing us sweet love songs…
Then saw that the price of seeing a show there was something like 100 Euro. No thank you…
Nonetheless, we were happy to be there…
Then thinking that it was sunny out and what a better place to walk around in than Monmatre, we explored a bit and I began to fall in love with the cobblestoned, window paned, quaintness of the area. I could only imagine Degas, Renoir and the crew hanging out and drinking coffee at small cafes like this one:
A rather obvious choice, but you never know…
Evanie’s idea. The artistic credit goes to her…
These were some WONDERFUL street musicians playing what else but the American invention that the French are obsessed with—jazz. As they were playing an old couple began dancing with one another and a mother and her baby were equally involved with the music. After living in cold, stoic, London, this sweetness of music and love made my heart leap with delight. Paris really is the city of love. Love of many kinds.
I spotted a rather small shoe shop situated behind the musicians in this picture named Souliers Sylvia. We headed across the street and into the shop its self and I kid you not, these shoes were the shoes I have dreamed about all my life, oxfords in every color, lace-up heeled boots and my favorite: the oxford, Victoraian boot, in multi color. Sadly the least expensive pair was 60 Euros so no shoe purchases but I am determined that when if I ever become well to do, I will go back to Paris and visit Le Souliers Sylvia and make a wee purchase. Sadly no pictures were taken with my camera as I was too enamored to pay attention to silly photography, Ev however did capture my reaction and probably will post it soon on her blog or facebook…
Well I’m sure you’re done with hearing about my shoe lust so I will continue on…
Having picked up some Brie from a local Fromagerie, we headed back to the Hostel, feet aching and positively deflated from walking around all day. No wonder these bloody French look as skinny as they do and still manage to eat whatever they like. It’s as though I could feel the weight slipping off me when I was there…
We made it to the Hostel which inside resembled something of a neon lit nightclub with odd lighting and brightly painted walls. This was the hall to our room:
Unfortunately our Baguette broke itself in half after surviving the long trip home under my arm. However, this proved to be strangely fortuitous as it was a perfect half, one for each of us. This was just one of the many small fortunate happenings that occurred this trip…more to come on that.
Having only my Swiss army knife to assist in Brie/bread consumption, our dinner proved to be quite interesting. However, there is something strangely satisfying about ripping bread and squishing some cheese on it when you are hungry. Thus we ripped, spread and ate almost noiselessly. Wearily climbed into our PJs and fell into a long and satisfying slumber. The hour? 10:00 PM. (By now the most of the country was about half way through their dinner meal…)
Dearest readers, Regrettably, I do have a ten page paper due tomorrow that I must write and so I will have to hold off on this blog until most likely Thursday or Friday but I can guarantee you that the best is yet to come. Keep an eye out…
La Belgique: Tragique et Manifique
I’ve been learning a lot about these strange creatures as of late. Perhaps that’s what traveling does to you. In fact, I believe it to be rather inevitable when thrown into a culture so different from one’s own.
It was on a two day excursion to Belgium that my humanly inherent blinders were peeled back and both horrified, and exhilarated, I caught a glimpse of what lies within all.
We keep forgetting that we belong to the same species. We are these exquisitely complex bi-peds capable of the most atrocious and the most gracious acts…
As most of these adventures begin, I rolled out of bed at 4:00 AM last friday to catch a coach headed for Dover. Both delirious from the lack of sleep and excited for some new experiences, I spent the bus ride with closed eyes but without much rest.
Thankfully, I opened my eyes just in time to see this:
Granted, it was terribly foggy, but my heart leapt at the sight. Yes indeed, there they were. The very glistening (though not exactly in this moment) cliffs that have evoked countless poets to scribble away at poems concerning English identity and pride.
They really are quite magnificent, even in the fog.
Waving goodbye to the isle of the Angles, I hopped upon a ferry and headed across the channel.
Now for a note on ferries. I’ve never been on a cruise ship before, but hearing from my friends who had, this ferry was not dissimilar. It had three levels of cafes, restaurants, and cafeterias, a casino, an arcade, a mall and my favorite: a store that sold books, booze, and chocolate. Obviously these people have their priorities straight. Apparently, this wasn’t a luxury liner, but a rather run of the mill ferry that one would take if they were to commute between England and France.
I knew these Europeans were cool.
In any case, we arrived in France about an hour and a half later, boarded the coach which was on the lower deck of the ferry (convenient, eh?) and drove off the dock and onto the right hand side of the road (our bus driver was obviously a bad-ass).
As we were driving on the right hand side, I gazed around at the (French!!!) scenery and felt strangely at home.
With the rather flat and dull land, and farmed fields, I felt as if just for an instant that I was driving on I-25, on my way to Fort Collins. (Colorado people you understand). In any case, perhaps it was due to its familiar landscape or the fact that as I read the signs along the highway, I was excited my ability to understand a foreign language, I got a good feeling off of France.
Then of course, we veered off into Belgium. The landscape changed a bit as the soil appeared more clay-like and the signs said things like: “Welkom!” (welcome) and “Een Openbaar Toilet” (Public bathroom). Ah, Flemish.
About an hour later, we arrived in beautiful Ieper, what I had assumed to be a medieval city due to the architecture and cobbled streets.
(For Mom) :)
Of course, what’s the first thing you do when you arrive in Belgium? Try a Belgian waffle of course!
Dropping off our belongings at the hostel, we hastily scooted out onto the streets to hunt down this delicacy. Our determined search payed off as in only a few minutes, we stumbled upon a waffle seller and proceed to partake in one of the most memorable culinary experiences ever.
When I took my first bite of nutella, banana, sticky waffle glory, my heart nearly stopped. This may be due to it shivering in fear of the great cholesterol, artery clogging masterpiece in front of me, and/or because each perfectly constructed glutinous particle melted in my mouth like warm butter.
I will never be able to eat a waffle in the states, EVER again. I now have very high waffle expectations…
Of course as if waffles weren’t enough, my buddies and I proceeded to stroll around Ieper, popping into chocolate shops here and there. In fact, the very first one we entered the sales woman sidled up to us (unusual for European customer service in which if you want help you’ve got to ask for it) and asked us if we were with the American group. After we had confirmed this, she started listing off all the chocolate we could get for 10 euro. This included, hand made chocolates of different shapes, sizes and flavors, truffles, catfingers, and enormous chocolate eggs. So, blinded by the magnificence of the chocolate atmosphere, I decided to go with it, ending up with four huge boxes of chocolate. I was definitely going to have to pawn some off on people when I got back to England…
So apparently they knew about us Americans coming because every single chocolate shop that we entered afterwards gave us stellar offers. One even included some locally brewed Belgian beer. Perhaps like I said, it was the general Willy Wonka atmosphere that possessed me or the fact that I had 75 euro in my pocket (or so I thought) but I decided to buy me some brew. (It was only 3E for two bottles).
However, when I approached the purchasing counter and slapped down a big fat twenty, the chocolatress gave me a rather puzzled look, shouted a few phrases in Flemish to her fellow worker who came over and proceeded to gaze at the money that I had put down on the counter.
“What kind of currency is this?” She asked with a thick loopy accent. To my horror, I realized that I had brought 15 Euro with me (previously spent on chocolate and waffle) and this beautifully colored piece of currency was not infact a Euro but a Swedish Krona.
Apparently, I had not exactly looked very closely at the money that I had brought with me, thinking that it was colorful and the same size, therefore it had to be Euros. But in fact, I was wrong. The 60 Krona had been bestowed upon me by my mother before I ran off to England and somehow gotten mixed up with other currency.
Whoops. Moral of that story: Do not assume that all colorful currency is the same.
Not to worry though, a friend spotted me for the beer that is now sitting bashfully on my counter, waiting to be consumed on some celebratory occasion…
This whirlwind of delicious delirium was to contrast sharply with our next set of activities that day.
Our next stop was the Flanders Fields museum. Apparently, it was most recently voted the best museum in Europe so we were eager to take a look. The actual building is quite magnificent:
What’s this? You say…A beautiful medieval structure? That was my thought as well. However, much to my shock, I learned that this building and all the others that I had seen, all the chocolate shops I had entered, each cobblestone that I had tread upon had not existed a century ago.
It had been blown to bits during WWI. This entire time, I had been walking through a town of ghosts.
This, was just the first of many facts I would soon come to understand about this seemingly sweet little town.
As we entered the museum, we were each handed a card with the name of a previous Ieper resident…pre-WWI. I was Pierre Van Damme, a weaver and upholster who was very much in love with the beautiful Augusta and wished to marry her. However, soon the war was upon them and Pierre felt obligated to join his fellow comrades to protect his homeland. Augusta and Pierre did not marry but remained engaged, writing letters to one another.
I was terribly worried for Pierre’s safety though for as I meandered further into the museum the war seemed to get grislier and grislier.
If you can’t read it: “Every intelligent person in the world knew this disaster was impending and knew no way to avoid it.” H.G. Wells
Faces of the war and a map of battles in Europe.
The famous poem itself.
If you haven’t already heard of this incredible happening, please look it up.
Christmas 1915, an unintentional truce took place between the German and French sides as Christmas songs were sung on both sides and slowly soldiers crossed over nomansland to greet each other, the people who only the day before had been trying to murder one another came together in common humanity to provide light in the darkness.
People would not believe this story for the longest time, but now they have found enough evidence, songs, stories and accounts to know of it’s truth.
This gives me hope.
I could not bear to take any more pictures for the duration of our museum visit. The next chamber that we entered, gas masks floated eerily on strings while the room filled with green gas, simulating what a gas attack would have been like. While real live accounts were whispered around us.
Poison gas or “soul-hunting fog” as they used to call it would act upon the lungs, making the lung tissue deteriorate and the soldiers would literally drown in themselves. While in the chamber, I read this poem.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. —Wilfred Owen, “Dulce Et Decorum Est”, 1917 I could not stay long in the next room as unbelievably realistic sounds of explosive shells sounded and the floor lit up, showing muddy slush in wish scattered body parts, bits of wood, and scampering rats were shown. At this point, my body was covered in goosebumps and I had to sit down. I’m not entirely sure what came over me. I know that these things usually affect me greatly, but I have never felt so intimately connected with a past event before. It was quite strange. The museum did an excellent job. There is good news though. Pierre came out alive and in one piece, married Augusta and lived a generally happy life. Pierre was pretty darn lucky though. In Iepres alone, nearly a quarter of a million people perished. As later I learned, that was about 30 people per square meter that we now stood upon. Bit of a reality check if I’ve ever had one. In any case, by this time we needed to grab dinner so we headed out for a traditional meal of chicken and chips (fries). Belgium of course, if you know your culinary history, is where the french fry was invented. Thus, they turned out to be rather delicious. As for the chicken, I obviously didn’t eat one, instead they gave me a delicious fried potato, something or other. In any case, I enjoyed it. Then after our well deserved nutritional interlude, it was onto more WWI exploration. Every night since WWI came to an end, rain or shine, no fail, there has been a ceremony conducted in Iepres under their magnificent arch memorial in which the streets are closed down and a traditional bugle is sounded, to accompany soldiers and families of the deceased hanging poppy (Flanders flower and a symbol of WWI if you couldn’t already guess) wreaths by the memorial its self. Names upon names upon names of the deceased. The grand arch, built in a neoclassical style—a style considered the only style that is timeless and therefore appropriate to honor the dead forever. The band marching by like ghosts. All the band members were about my age and younger, representing perhaps the inexcusable age at which many young men joined the great war. The actual bugle, I caught on film and will be posting that separately but it was an incredibly moving ceremony, filled both with regality and despair. Our guide was this fantastically knowledgeable man whose Flemish accent only heightened his inflections as he told us of the great war. However, after the ceremony ended, he indicated that our tour was not yet over, hinting that he would show us some places to go in Ieper to experience a bit of night life. All of us eager American puppy dogs trotted along behind him until he stopped outside of a bar and smiled at all of us. It seemed the formerly somber mood of the ceremony was slowly breaking away. “You cannot be Belgian” he proclaimed “and not drink beer.” He held up a menu of beers in front of him explaining to all of us which ones were good, what they tasted like and most importantly that Belgian beer tended to be rather strong (10%) and meant to be sipped rather than chugged (a philosophy I’ve always gone by anyway.) What he said next left us all a bit shocked “IES has agreed to supply me with the money to buy you all your first drink in Belgium!” And so it was, that an educational institution supplied us with alcohol. It is interesting that us Americans would rejoice in this so. However, I must remind you dear readers that Europeans view alcohol much differently. The taboo that is usually associated with alcohol, perhaps due to previous Prohibition attempts, does not exist to that extent. It is a part of culture, a casual thing, it is expected that you drink. Now a distinction calls to be made here: you do not drink to get drunk although sometimes that happens, you drink with the intention of having fun with friends and enjoying a good beverage. Thus, my friends and I sat down with the most delicious (I hope I’m not getting redundant in adjectives describing food in this country) beer I have ever had. Refreshing, tangy, dark, yet almost sweet I sipped my St. Bernardis for a good hour and it was lovely. Cheers! To our great surprise, the music in the bar suddenly switched to great American anthems like “American Pie” and Simon and Garfunkel. The bartender smiled at us, the rowdy ones. He let us have fun. What wonderful hospitable people. Of course, an hour later and after sampling a Cherry Kriek (an equally strong beverage that tastes dangerously like a Shirley Temple) we took this picture. Enough said. :) The next morning we woke up early as we were the only Americans who had listened to the guide and drank in moderation. The rest of the crowd wasn’t so inclined to get up. However, we were glad we did because we caught the Ieper market which was pretty awesome. I managed to purchase a rather beautiful necklace for 2 euro reasoning that I didn’t just want to bring home consumable items as souvenirs from Belgium. Soon after, we headed out for another day of educational experiences. Our first stop was a wartime cemetery on the British/French side that included a reconstructed trench. So many unknown soldiers are buried here. As our guide told us, for every body that is buried right now, there are still two more left in the fields that have not been found yet. From the trenches where they shot across nomansland. Our next stop was a cemetery on the German side. Here it was confirmed that I have long known to be true. In war, there are no good guys and bad guys. Everyone is a good and bad. It’s was a really beautiful cemetery if one can call it that. However, the story behind this place was not so pleasant. In an attempt to halt the war hundreds of German students around my age gathered together arm in arm, singing songs, white flags in hand and attempted to cross over nomansland in an act of peace. Did the British cease their shooting and pause to think of their act? Unfortunately, no. As in so many horrific acts of war, these unarmed students were machine gunned down by the hundreds. Like I said, no good guys and no bad guys. In fact, the patch of grass in the middle of the cemetery was a mass grave. Hundreds of kids, dead. This shook me to the core. It was years later before the start of WWII that Hitler claimed that he had been one of these students and survived the attack. This, of course was not true but he visited the cemetery and there is a famous picture of him pausing before one of the graves. I did not know this until my tour guide approached me and told me that I was standing in the exact spot where not so many years ago a figure of ugliness stood. The guide showed me the picture which made it so much more real. As you might be able to imagine, I left early and escaped to the bus rather hastily after that. The last place that we visited is the largest cemetery around the Ieper area, Tyne Cot. It was by far the most pristine one we’d been to. After paying our respects, our next stop was the town of Poppel. Since Poppel was behind the lines, it served as a sort of haven for soldiers to eat, drink, be entertained go to religious services and converse with friends. However it was also a place where deserters were executed. Britain’s own men were killed by their friends for the simple act of running away, of not wanting to murder. This was of course common amongst all countries during the war, but no other country executed more of its own men than Britain. Hundreds were killed on this wall, and nearly six thousand during the entire war. After having such a weary day I turned to one of my friends and asked her. “God, why is it that humans do such shitty things to one another?” She replied: “When humans are desperate, they do mad things.” And she is right. It’s a terrifying thought, but a good one to be reminded of. To keep grounded. Thankfully the rest of the Poppel tour was much more light-hearted. We visited Talbot house built specifically to host soldiers, to entertain, wine and dine them. It even included the worlds smallest chapel in the attic to which old stairs that look as though they may give out any instant lead. Bravely we trekked up them to take a peek. It was quite lovely. Apparently the Queen was here. :) We wandered around town a bit before heading off home, found this shop (for you Mom): As we headed home, my bag was full of chocolate and beer, and my head full of thoughts and reflections. It had been a good trip. One that was necessary, not just of course for the food, but for understanding more about human nature. For waking up from this dream I’ve been living in. To know that terror and beauty are very real things. As we arrived back in port in Dover and I saw the cliffs once more, Matthew Arnold seemed to whisper in my ear with what I think quite accurately sums it all up. The sea is calm to-night. Sophocles long ago The Sea of Faith
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.
Heard it on the A gaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling, Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime… Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
—Wilfred Owen, “Dulce Et Decorum Est”, 1917
I could not stay long in the next room as unbelievably realistic sounds of explosive shells sounded and the floor lit up, showing muddy slush in wish scattered body parts, bits of wood, and scampering rats were shown.
At this point, my body was covered in goosebumps and I had to sit down. I’m not entirely sure what came over me. I know that these things usually affect me greatly, but I have never felt so intimately connected with a past event before. It was quite strange. The museum did an excellent job.
There is good news though. Pierre came out alive and in one piece, married Augusta and lived a generally happy life.
Pierre was pretty darn lucky though. In Iepres alone, nearly a quarter of a million people perished. As later I learned, that was about 30 people per square meter that we now stood upon.
Bit of a reality check if I’ve ever had one.
In any case, by this time we needed to grab dinner so we headed out for a traditional meal of chicken and chips (fries). Belgium of course, if you know your culinary history, is where the french fry was invented. Thus, they turned out to be rather delicious. As for the chicken, I obviously didn’t eat one, instead they gave me a delicious fried potato, something or other. In any case, I enjoyed it.
Then after our well deserved nutritional interlude, it was onto more WWI exploration.
Every night since WWI came to an end, rain or shine, no fail, there has been a ceremony conducted in Iepres under their magnificent arch memorial in which the streets are closed down and a traditional bugle is sounded, to accompany soldiers and families of the deceased hanging poppy (Flanders flower and a symbol of WWI if you couldn’t already guess) wreaths by the memorial its self.
Names upon names upon names of the deceased.
The grand arch, built in a neoclassical style—a style considered the only style that is timeless and therefore appropriate to honor the dead forever.
The band marching by like ghosts.
All the band members were about my age and younger, representing perhaps the inexcusable age at which many young men joined the great war.
The actual bugle, I caught on film and will be posting that separately but it was an incredibly moving ceremony, filled both with regality and despair.
Our guide was this fantastically knowledgeable man whose Flemish accent only heightened his inflections as he told us of the great war. However, after the ceremony ended, he indicated that our tour was not yet over, hinting that he would show us some places to go in Ieper to experience a bit of night life. All of us eager American puppy dogs trotted along behind him until he stopped outside of a bar and smiled at all of us. It seemed the formerly somber mood of the ceremony was slowly breaking away.
“You cannot be Belgian” he proclaimed “and not drink beer.” He held up a menu of beers in front of him explaining to all of us which ones were good, what they tasted like and most importantly that Belgian beer tended to be rather strong (10%) and meant to be sipped rather than chugged (a philosophy I’ve always gone by anyway.)
What he said next left us all a bit shocked “IES has agreed to supply me with the money to buy you all your first drink in Belgium!” And so it was, that an educational institution supplied us with alcohol. It is interesting that us Americans would rejoice in this so. However, I must remind you dear readers that Europeans view alcohol much differently. The taboo that is usually associated with alcohol, perhaps due to previous Prohibition attempts, does not exist to that extent. It is a part of culture, a casual thing, it is expected that you drink. Now a distinction calls to be made here: you do not drink to get drunk although sometimes that happens, you drink with the intention of having fun with friends and enjoying a good beverage.
Thus, my friends and I sat down with the most delicious (I hope I’m not getting redundant in adjectives describing food in this country) beer I have ever had. Refreshing, tangy, dark, yet almost sweet I sipped my St. Bernardis for a good hour and it was lovely. Cheers!
To our great surprise, the music in the bar suddenly switched to great American anthems like “American Pie” and Simon and Garfunkel. The bartender smiled at us, the rowdy ones. He let us have fun. What wonderful hospitable people.
Of course, an hour later and after sampling a Cherry Kriek (an equally strong beverage that tastes dangerously like a Shirley Temple) we took this picture.
Enough said. :)
The next morning we woke up early as we were the only Americans who had listened to the guide and drank in moderation. The rest of the crowd wasn’t so inclined to get up. However, we were glad we did because we caught the Ieper market which was pretty awesome.
I managed to purchase a rather beautiful necklace for 2 euro reasoning that I didn’t just want to bring home consumable items as souvenirs from Belgium.
Soon after, we headed out for another day of educational experiences.
Our first stop was a wartime cemetery on the British/French side that included a reconstructed trench.
So many unknown soldiers are buried here. As our guide told us, for every body that is buried right now, there are still two more left in the fields that have not been found yet.
From the trenches where they shot across nomansland.
Our next stop was a cemetery on the German side. Here it was confirmed that I have long known to be true. In war, there are no good guys and bad guys. Everyone is a good and bad.
It’s was a really beautiful cemetery if one can call it that. However, the story behind this place was not so pleasant. In an attempt to halt the war hundreds of German students around my age gathered together arm in arm, singing songs, white flags in hand and attempted to cross over nomansland in an act of peace. Did the British cease their shooting and pause to think of their act? Unfortunately, no. As in so many horrific acts of war, these unarmed students were machine gunned down by the hundreds.
Like I said, no good guys and no bad guys.
In fact, the patch of grass in the middle of the cemetery was a mass grave. Hundreds of kids, dead. This shook me to the core.
It was years later before the start of WWII that Hitler claimed that he had been one of these students and survived the attack. This, of course was not true but he visited the cemetery and there is a famous picture of him pausing before one of the graves. I did not know this until my tour guide approached me and told me that I was standing in the exact spot where not so many years ago a figure of ugliness stood. The guide showed me the picture which made it so much more real. As you might be able to imagine, I left early and escaped to the bus rather hastily after that.
The last place that we visited is the largest cemetery around the Ieper area, Tyne Cot. It was by far the most pristine one we’d been to.
After paying our respects, our next stop was the town of Poppel. Since Poppel was behind the lines, it served as a sort of haven for soldiers to eat, drink, be entertained go to religious services and converse with friends. However it was also a place where deserters were executed. Britain’s own men were killed by their friends for the simple act of running away, of not wanting to murder. This was of course common amongst all countries during the war, but no other country executed more of its own men than Britain. Hundreds were killed on this wall, and nearly six thousand during the entire war.
After having such a weary day I turned to one of my friends and asked her. “God, why is it that humans do such shitty things to one another?”
She replied: “When humans are desperate, they do mad things.”
And she is right. It’s a terrifying thought, but a good one to be reminded of. To keep grounded.
Thankfully the rest of the Poppel tour was much more light-hearted. We visited Talbot house built specifically to host soldiers, to entertain, wine and dine them. It even included the worlds smallest chapel in the attic to which old stairs that look as though they may give out any instant lead. Bravely we trekked up them to take a peek.
It was quite lovely.
Apparently the Queen was here.
We wandered around town a bit before heading off home, found this shop (for you Mom):
As we headed home, my bag was full of chocolate and beer, and my head full of thoughts and reflections. It had been a good trip. One that was necessary, not just of course for the food, but for understanding more about human nature. For waking up from this dream I’ve been living in. To know that terror and beauty are very real things. As we arrived back in port in Dover and I saw the cliffs once more, Matthew Arnold seemed to whisper in my ear with what I think quite accurately sums it all up.
The sea is calm to-night.
Sophocles long ago
The Sea of Faith
What a Loser! Jolly good
Hello dearest comrades. It has been a good while since we last were in contact concerning my reports from the small island in the North Atlantic.
I do apologize for this. But as you might imagine, I have been terribly busy lately. This blog will be dedicated to the events and lessons acquired last week. So they are not terribly fresh in my memory but I will try my upmost to convey them as accurately as I can.
Mind Reading Abilities
Besides being overly occupied with studies and constant exploration of the still alien English territory, there is another reason I have not written in a good while.
After turning in what I had presumed to be a rather decent display of my fictional work, my creative writing professor handed my story back with the following comments splattered over the front pages in mocking red ink: This story does not work. Pretentious, Self indulgent, and Pig-headed.
Now I found this to be rather shocking. If I had ever received an assignment back with any sort of negative comment, I either could foresee it, or understood the reason for the teacher not appreciating it. However, in this case, with this particularly esoteric and unpredictable professor of mine, it remains a mystery.
After receiving these comments, I made the effort to go and speak with my professor, hoping desperately for some sort of explanation. I pointed to the bits which she had seemingly violently crossed out, gracing the sides of the margins with ambiguous remarks like “No.” I proceeded to ask what was wrong with these while there was still one description throughout the entire piece that she had put a small and rather unnoticeable check-mark beside. This apparently constituted as the only decent imagery throughout the story. I wished only to know the difference between this particular description and the rest of the oh-so-terrible ones crowding around it in awe.
My Professor’s response: “Oh, I think you know the answer to that.”
Alright. Even though the purpose for my coming in to speak to her was for that I did not know any explanations to her comments, she felt assured that my mind reading powers were akin to those of Patrick Stewart in X-men.
Admittedly, being American, I’m probably a bit more invested in my ego than my fellow international comrades. However, this suggestion that my general style (when it’s at it’s best) is self-indulgent and too descriptive burned me a bit.
In general, I felt like a bit of a loser.
After feeling a bit crestfallen from the events that week, the brilliant Evanie Parr and I sought out some cultural enrichment—it being readily available in London.
So question: What do you get when you combine Phillip Glass, Opera, Ghandi, Tolstoy, Martin Luther King, and Cirque de Soleil-esque visual stunts?
That’s what, awe.
Satyagraha, Phillip Glass’s most recent creation has burst onto the opera scene, enchanting audiences from New York to London with it’s overwhelming message of compassion, strength, unity and it’s undeniably potent minimalist soundtrack that accompanies the delicate Sanscrit words floating effortlessly out of the singers mouths.
Ok, that was an attempt at explaining it. But really, this production is rather inexplicable; or rather it leaves you with a rather inexplicable feeling.
While the chorus, served not only to flourish and embellish Ghandi’s, message but also physically manifested each delicate sanscrit metaphor displayed in translation across the circular stage, though objects such as newspapers crinckled and molded into shapes and human-oid creatures that danced and fought with one another in an exquisite masquerade.
It was as if the subtexts of every word spoken, were tangible enough to touch.
There were about 15 to 20 minutes in the last act, which will remained ingrained in my mind and being. Martin Luther King stood with his back to the audience on a podium centerstage, raised approximately 20 feet in the air. As he silently indicated his passionate speech, seen in the strength of his gestures and the intention of his body, Ghandi sat downstage in a meditative pose, whilst the repetition of Glass’s soothing orchestra lulled the audience into near mediation—touching upon a shred of enlightenment and feeling strengthened by the very idea of existing in a moment.
My favorite phrase of the production: “With senses freed, the wise man should act, longing to bring about the welfare and coherence of the world. Therefore perform unceasingly the works that must be done, for the man detached who labors onto the highest must win through. This is how the saints attained success. Moreover, you should embrace action for the upholding, the welfare of your own kind. Whatever the noblest does, that too will others do: the standard he sets all the world will follow.”
I’ve never considered myself wise, or particularly intelligent for that matter, but if there is any shred of wisdom, I know that I am obligated to use it for the betterment of humankind in one form or another.
Thanks to Satyagraha (translated as “truth insistence”). The truth is needed and Phillip Glass carries on Ghandi’s intent effortlessly.
Ev and I pre-production with our marvelously appropriate Hippie juice.
Ev and I post production—newly enlightened individuals. Can’t you just feel the awe?
Heath Morning- Physical Healing
London is a beautiful city with countless buildings that inspire at least a glance in their direction to admire their architectural magnificence. However, one can have cement pavement in their lives for only so long.
Despite London’s appeal being mostly in its civilization and development of human ideas, my favorite place in this town is not the heart of the city but rather on its outskirts, a natural refuge: The Heath.
For whatever reason, whether it be the overabundance of oxygen present amongst the greenery, or the lack of pavement, the Heath has a healing quality to it.
In someways, the feeling that it gives me, resembles the feeling of being home for Christmas: warmth and safety. Sometimes I wish I could just lay down on the muddy ground and have the earth envelop me in some verdant blanket.
I went there Friday morning, and spent the entire morning, straying from the path, treking through forests by myself, and fondly observing the other Heath visitors with their dogs and children, having a bit of a breather themselves. You want some pictures? I shall grant you with some.
View of London, in the early morning fog. You can see Westminster Abby and the Gherkin towards the middle.
There was this man and his six massive dogs. He made me smile.
Cecil Court-Literary Healing
After Heath adventures had been completed. I decided I was prepared to brave the city. I took the tube to Leicester Square, walked around for a fair bit and stumbled upon this little gem:
You know that little old bookstore that you thought existed in London? The one with three signed copies of Lord of the rings behind glass cases and first editions of Great Expectations on the top shelf? Well multiply that by about 10, add in a couple of antique jewelry, art, and coin stores and you’ve got Cecil Court.
I kid you not friends, I spent about three hours going through these stores and gleefully flipping through books that Jane Austen must have touched at one point. You have no idea how happy this made me as I immersed myself in antique delight.
Cecil Court, you’ve captured my heart…
Aesthetic Addictions-Retail Healing
Rather near Cecil court exists a shop that sells beautiful shoes for unbelievable prices. Now recently I discovered that my once beloved Primark has a history of sketchy dealings with manufacturers including child labour, illegal withdrawal of pay, and under minimum wage working. For more information, check out this excellently written article.
So as tragic as it is, I fear I can no longer shop at Primark with a good moral conscience. Thus, I have been desperately seeking more local shops and other stores that are somewhat cheap but legitimately manufactured.
At discovering this shoe store, I was filled with delight and perhaps due to my mirth, I ended up purchasing some rather marvelous black boots for 10 quid. As usual my financial guilt plagued me afterwards, making snide remarks about my spending habits. However, I managed to shut that out and convince myself that as I am in London, a city very concerned with fashion and rather expert at it, I might add. It was entirely appropriate to treat myself to a small purchase.
However, later that evening I was browsing the internet and stumbled upon a UK fashion website that displayed not terribly expensive apparel. I found this blouse that made my aesthetic barometer positively skyrocket. At this point I was considering the fact that I had already purchased shoes earlier that day and that it would just be a terribly financially irresponsible thing to purchase another article. But after I clicked out of it for a few hours, I couldn’t stop thinking about this bloody shirt.
If you think excessively about a specific article of clothing, long after you have had your first encounter with it, it is in my opinion, an indication that it may need claim ownership of it (especially if it is financially viable, which in this case it was). So yes, I claimed it for my own, proceeding to purchase it, feeling slightly guilty about it until it arrived a few days later and we hit it off, right off the bat.
Now the very idea that I speak of an article of clothing as if it were a potential lover may make me sound a bit materialistic and I admit—One of my inherent flaws is constatly wishing for beautiful things in my life.
But then, I think that Europeans are excellently skilled in gathering beautiful things to surround themselves with. Thus, if there is any way to justify this retail therapy, it was that I was simply doing as the Romans do.
Tower of London-Historical Healing
After our failed attempt at visiting the tower the week before, Ev and I decided it give it another go this past Saturday.
It turned out to be pretty awesome.
The entrance…who knows if we would come out alive.
Apparently, Archers still abound waiting to shoot at unsuspecting tourists.
Now (safely??) inside.
Well that doesn’t bode well…
That’s ok. We’ve got some crown jewels to check out.
The last picture I could legally take before we stepped into a world of sparkling glory.
A note on the crown jewels: There is no other way to describe them other than, sparkly, overwhelming, breathtaking, and completely ruining my future husband’s proposal to me. “What? You mean you didn’t get me that ring with a rock the side of my fist?”
There was a conveyer belt that took awed tourists past crowns, scepters and tiaras so as to not leave them standing there too long and back up the other eager viewers.
Needless to say, Evanie and I rode said conveyer belt three times.
The White tower. Basically where all the armory is still stored. Kind of a quintessential view, I think.
Death sentences were a bit different back in the day. In fact, some poor bloke was sentenced to be drowned in a barrel of wine. I felt a bit uneasy about this.
…as did Ev.
It really is quite beautiful for a place where there was so much death.
Speaking of death. That is in fact what you think it is…
On a more pleasant note, Ev had the opportunity to try on some armor. Personally, I think she should add it to her wardrobe, it’s very flattering.
Meanwhile, I finally found my British lover…
In the courtyard, we stumbled upon a relatively new installment and by new I mean it was built in 2000. It was dedicated to the people who were thought to have been beheaded on this spot including Ann Boleyn and another one of Henry VIII’s (what a charming guy) wives.
We proceeded to head to the prison and review the list of previous prisoners held there. We came across this bloke, obviously proof that Harry Potter exists (a distant relative perhaps…)
The prison window. Not too shabby actually…
Some of the prison graffiti was absolutely exquisite. Who knew prisoners were such skilled artists?
The Tower of London is a really great place to mull around for a few hours especially if you, like myself, are obsessed with the tudor era and everything else English and historical. It really was a lovely day.
Monday, Cody (another buddy from UPS) and I headed out to a Spanish restaurant before seeing the long destined Phantom of the Opera.
The food was DELICIOUS. I’ve never had spanish food before and everything, especially the five quid jug of Sangria was scrumptious to the max.
Did I mention I need to run a marathon to work off all this London food?
Phantom of the Opera was everything I’d hoped it to be. I cried at the end, and it was beautiful.
Then later in the week. IES was nice enough to take myself and a couple other students out for dinner at one of the best Indian restaurants in town.
I have yet to ever have such a chaotic/satisfying food experience in my life.
Eight of us were crowded into a tiny corner whilst plates upon plates upon PLATES of food came out for us, starters, drinks, food, desserts, sides, salads I’ve never had so much food in front of me before. Also, my view on spicy food and been completely transformed. Before this experience, I shied away from any thing that twanged my tongue more than a bit of ginger or curry. However, after eating a bit of fried something or other with pepperpepperpepper and experiencing the sensation of big fat tears rolling down my face from all of my senses being given a good jolt, I feel transformed.
Good spicy indian food doesn’t just give you a burning sensation on your tongue like lot of quote on quote “spicy cuisine” does. It is richer, rounder, and envelops you with this utter feeling of cleansing. I must say, that after this experience, I may be experimenting with the spicier side of life…
The Greatness of Losing
After having had a week full of therapeutic London experiences, I felt refreshed after a rather poisonous professorial meeting. However, it was something that my Shakespeare professor said that really turned me about.
He told us that Americans have this idea that they always must be number one, the best, the top, the cream of the crop and that if they aren’t they simply wallow misery at the sound of delicate egos shattering.
However, the British seem to accept losing as a part of life. In fact the embrace it. Apparently in sport growing up, there are awards for best loser: the one who comes in last but showed good sportsmanship is held in the highest regard.
Of course in America, that would never fly. It would only make one’s pride crumble miserably.
But I am not in America anymore.
So a message to my creative writing professor: You think I am a loser, that my writing style is worthless. I thank you for your highest compliment, and I will continue to write in my upmost loserly way.
So dearest readers, until the next blog, (in which I will detail great amounts of (mostly culinary) adventures in Belgium) Tallyho!