Olargues and Bédarieux

For my last week in France, my fella decided to show me the village Olargues, a village officially listed as one of les plus beaux villages de France, with a stop by Bédarieux on the way home. I seem to be having some luck with forecasted rain and surprise sunny, perfect days, as was the case when I went to St Guilhem le Désert for my birthday Thursday, and again in this instance. We wandered some streets, explored some castle ruins on a hill, sat on a bridge, had coffee at the most adorable organic marché/café in Bédarieux. Despite my hesitancy, we hitchhiked home in the perfect weather, and it was just magical walking along the road in the sunshine between rides.

Pour ma dernière semaine en France, mon gar a decide de me montrer la village d’Olargues, une village connue officiallement comme une des plus beaux villages de France, avec un arrêt à Bédarieux en route chez-moi. J’ai la chance récement avec les prévisions météorologiques pour la pluie qui résultent en les journées ensoleillées et parfaits, comme quand je suis allée à St. Guilhèm le Désert pour mon anniversaire juedi, et encore dans ce cas. Nous avons balladé quelques rues, exploré quelques ruines d’un château, assis sur un pont, pris du café à la bio-marché/café la plus adorable à Bédarieux. Malgré mon hesitation, nous avons fait l’auto-stop jusqu’à chez-moi en le météo parfait, et c’était simplement la magique en promenant la rue dans le soleil entre les trajets.

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35mm

As a Christmas/New Year’s/Getting-In-To-Grad-School gift to myself back in December, I got a Pentax Spotmatic film camera off of Le Bon Coin and I absolutely adore it. Here are a few pictures from around the region, namely Pezenas (my town), Castelnau-Le-Lez, Mèze, and Montpellier. (These are pictures of the pictures taken by my digital camera woops).

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A Guide to Resting your Tired Dogs whilst doing the Self-Discovery Thing: or, my February Vacation Travels to Stockholm, Amsterdam, and Brussels

[S]leeping can be a form of emotional escape and can with sustained effort be abused…[G]ambling can be an abusable escape, too, and work, shopping, and shoplifting, and sex, and masturbation, and food, and exercise…[A]nonymous generosity, too, can be abused. Having sex with someone you do not care for feels lonelier than not having sex in the first place afterward. It is permissible to want.

Infinite Jest
David Foster Wallace

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Brussels, Belgium

If, at some point, you find yourself in a position where you are Twenty-Two-Years-Old and Fresh-Out-Of-College and, on top of all that, say, an English teaching assistant in Middle of Nowhere, France, you may find yourself perpetually on two-week vacations from the usual grueling Twelve-Hour Work Week you normally have to endure of miming the English language at classrooms of bored French students while pretending you Didn’t Know You Weren’t Supposed to Give Political Standpoints in the French school system because your Académie never actually gave you any formal training anyway. Luckily, in Middle of Nowhere, France, you may also be that One Lucky Bastard in your Académie who lives in a high school without rent, and, since you are Young and wanting to do the whole Self Discovery Thing, you are now afforded to leave said high school in order to Travel Europe for the two week “Winter Break” period in February that is a thinly laïc-veiled disguise for Lent.

Because, I mean, the apartment in the high school in the Middle of Nowhere is great, and probably the best place you’ll get for some time, but you really have to ask yourself sometimes what the history of your current fucking mattress could be. How it could possibly be as lumpy and painfully uncomfortable as it is. Why there’s that one perfect, lipped canyon running right down its middle that, if you accidentally roll into, has you suddenly touching its back side. Why, if you put too much weight on one end, the whole thing completely flips over and throws you out. It smells bad; you know why, but it’s still disconcerting.

You want to escape from this mattress.

You want to escape from this Middle of Nowhere. Even if just for a little.

You start by escaping to Stockholm, Sweden where one of your friends from the aforementioned recently-left college back in the US has recently moved to start an internship. In Sweden, you may sleep on a twin-sized mattress that is more comfortable than a piggy-back ride on God’s fecklessly smooth back-skin. The sun is gone most of the time up there too, and your friend and yours’s version of tourism mostly consists of large consumptions of alcohol over gossip and bitching and, later, when you are both reasonably comfortable being bad tourists, The Bachelor. These factors help foster the deepest cocoon of sleep you’ve had in ages, and help you trudge around Sweden’s dark, snowy cold to look at palaces and fjords and squares that you’re sure must be quite pleasant in the summer. You will try to buy food in Swedish, but spoken with a Danish accent that makes them just give you meat regardless of what you tried to ask for. As a vegetarian, this will make you uncomfortable in an accepting, polite kind of way that rips apart your digestive system. Sweden will make you miss the year you studied abroad in Denmark. Not the country of Denmark itself, but the time itself. Europe is teaching you, this time around, that your obsession with place is a misconstrued projection of experience, and that the two are not necessarily the same.

Afterwards, you will go to Amsterdam, specifically for the Vincent van Gogh Museum, because you bought a book of his letters in London and they really fucking spoke to you, man. In trying to get to your Dutch mattress late the first night, you will realize that you booked a hostel an hour outside of Amsterdam itself and struggle to follow its directions to “go to the lighthouse” in a country whose language sounds like a Sims dialect. You will wander around in the snow for an hour with all your luggage until somebody at the gas station gives you directions. You will find that the tourists in the Netherlands really like their mattresses too: in an All Day Long kind of way that makes it so you don’t really make the normal hostel friends that you might otherwise. The beds, to be fair, are terribly comfortable, if a little smelly and rattled by club music all night long. But you are exhausted from Amsterdam anyway. You will lose your first day in the van Gogh Museum and the Stedelijk Museum in an engrossing, inspiring way that makes you forget that you only have two days there. Van Gogh will be crowded, and you will be more into watching the security guards fight the tourists to stop taking Selfies and try to teach them that Technology is an Affront to Art (actual security guard comments) than perhaps the paintings themselves, even if you cry at the crows (which you clearly remember described in the letters as “vast stretches of wheat under troubled skies, and I didn’t have to put myself out very much in order to try and express sadness and extreme loneliness.”) The second day, you will go on a walking tour in the pouring snow and feel ashamed for not being able to take anything away from it save the memory of being desperately cold and fighting off the advances of an Australian who really wanted to go on a canal tour with you. Afterwards, you will think about buying drugs, but go and read in the library where it is warm for hours and hours instead. In the end, Jean Tinguely from the Stedelijk is This Trip’s Discovery: an artist who focuses on machines, movement, and modernism. His letters, in French, are on display about how love is an act of movement, how life is an act of movement, and they are moving in a way that stays with you, even as you say Goodbye to Another City That Must Be Lovely In The Summer and move on to Brussels.

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Snow on the beach in Noordwijk, The Netherlands

Whose mattress is also quite nice, but whose pillow is of lesser quality than Amsterdam’s or Stockholm’s. You like Brussels immediately for being beautiful in a way you can tell doesn’t take itself too seriously. You will go to a Lenten church service in German for some familiar, High Mass Smells. You will be told “vous êtes belle” by a stranger who seemed sincere– and not drunk– on its steps outside. You will get film developed in what turns out to be a man’s living room. You will drink beer and eat chocolate. You will gawk at the beautiful Art Nouveau architecture everywhere. You will figure out why \it is an Art Nouveau City on a walking tour that teaches you that Belgium earned its wealth by killing half the population of The Congo at the turn of the century, when Art Nouveau was at its height. You will go to a Musical Instrument Museum that is actually not as good as the one in Phoenix. You will go to the Magritte Museum on surrealist painter René Magritte and realize that surrealism makes so much more sense when you read poetry, like you recently started regularly practicing. You will spend Valentine’s Day drinking alone, nostalgically, on the cold, hard cobblestones of Le Grand Place, and make a brief cameo on Brussels News for doing so.

In the Netherlands, you will subsist on Dutch Chocolate when you get hungry.

In Belgium, you will subsist on Belgian Waffles when you get hungry.

You will not feel very well.

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Brussels, Belgium

You will, most importantly, take a wide and varying combination of planes, trains, and God Awful Overnight Buses to traverse Europe, and will fall deeply asleep on every single one of them. You will practice finagling your body into contortions your mattress in Middle of Nowhere, France does not ask of you in order to sleep, and your Morning Body will come to grips with an ache it almost never knows. It will just want to get to a hostel’s bed, or, even, back to the Familiar Discomfort nestled in the Middle of Nowhere’s lumpy mattress.

You will learn, here, what it means to Rest. Learn what it means to live in this Work of Escaping from Work and Adulthood, from the Real World and Home and the USA, you Twenty-Two-Year-Old Self-Discovery Stuffer.  Learn that Escape gives you that ache that only comes with travel, the kind that wants nothing but Arrival.

If, at some point, you find yourself in this position, where you are Twenty-Two-Years-Old and Fresh-Out-Of-College doing the Whole Self-Discovery Thing, remember that life is an Act in Movement. When you are tired from travelling, ask what Rest you really get from your bed at home? The comfort you chose to leave because it was meant for leaving. Go. Travel.  Get Away from it. All of it. When you get tired, lay down. And see where you got.

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Stockholm, Sweden

Happy New Year from the Hangover

I got to have New Year’s Eve with some lovely Americans running through the streets of Paris in the snow, and here’s a poem that just wants to say happy new year to everybody.

The last time I had a hang
over this bad must have been six months ago in Portland.
When the summer camp counselors gathered together
in that beautiful craftsman home to hang
socks on each other
like wintertime Christmas trees under the blanket
of a slow summer’s night in the thick of the year, and I
woke up under the dining table with a stack of poetry
journals for a pillow, face
to face with a couple spooning against the china.

But poetry is more column than cuddle, a stack of sentences
divided, apart, one atop the other instead
of hooked up side by side.
A book is but a stack of pages bound together for strength.
A year is just a pile of days.
A tree a collection of rings
chasing renewal’s possibilities one year at a time.
Forests an anthology of trunks dizzying themselves with
growing fat round and round and around again the past
until man presses them skinny again
to stamp their faces with his poetry.

and all I see on Paris’s face are circles,
an agglomeration of arrondissements pirouetting around
each other to make a city in Spirograph,
one that is perfect for stumbling through, overjoyed
by the lightest of snows while the minute and second hand
circle around the watch’s face toward midnight to divide
one day from the next
in this business of making new, to say then
and there. Here
and now.

Those were socks
and this is snow.

 

WWOOFing in Ardèche for Christmas

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I am pleased enough with surfaces — in fact they alone seem to me to be of much importance. Such things for example as the grasp of a child’s hand in your own, the flavor of an apple, the embrace of friend or lover, the silk of a girl’s thigh, the sunlight on rock and leaves, the feel of music, the bark of a tree, the abrasion of granite and sand, the plunge of clear water into a pool, the face of the wind — what else is there? What else do we need?

Edward Abbey, “Desert Solitaire”

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Here are some surfaces from my incredible week WWOOFing with a (very) French family in the countryside at their chèverie (goat farm/butcher). The cast is: V, the goat farmer, T, her husband and the butcher, t, their three-year-old son, and M, my fellow WWOOFer originally from Lyon.

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  • Showing up nervous about letting the family know that I’m vegetarian only to be greeted by a pig cut in half and hanging from a tree with three grown men laughing around it. Unwittingly showing up on the traditional “tueaille,” or annual pig-killing/eating day/festival, and immediately deciding to tough it out and eat meat for the week
  • Being plagued with abdominal pain from said meat every afternoonimg_1808
  • Walking through the forest alone singing to myself and taking pictures all afternoon/ every afternoon while listening to the birds sing and the church bell from the village below keep time until V calls in the goats and their bells mean to go to the chèverie for the evening’s workimg_1661
  • t clasping my hand to take him back to the house at the end of a day and, after nearly 24 hours of hitting me and throwing caprices, saying “je t’aime
  • t farting on my lap while I read him storiesimg_1797
  • Petting Miel (“honey” in french) first thing every morning until, by the end of the week, he recognizes me and comes running and squealing for me every time he sees meimg_1669
  • One of the farm’s workers bringing a month-old puppy to the farm to play with a living-room baby goat and letting him lie on my chest to nap
  • Passing the time just after every lunch with bowls of coffee and reading the quotes about happiness from chocolate wrappers to each otherimg_1870
  • A baby goat being born and forgotten in the snow. Rubbing him with a towel for two hours to heat him up. Getting to feel life slowly creep into his small and lifeless body, starting with his humongous ears perking upimg_1835
  • The sadness on Christmas Day when, while babysitting the farm alone while everybody is away visiting family, the same baby goat dies after having just spent the afternoon cuddling my lap like a cat
  • Watching a baby goat take its first breath. Also on Christmas Day
  • The acute boredom that comes with only understanding and expressing the surface of conversation in a foreign language day in and day out with little to no perception of nuance or depth
  • Getting to see the Alpes from afarimg_1862
  • Giving a cat a piggy back ride along a country road
  • The smell of the wood-burning heater img_1815
  • Whittling away the scraps of meat and fat (in the end, 1.2kg’s worth) left on the remains of a pig carcass all evening with T and M, talking about how caring about cooking is a metaphor for enjoying the road to the greater ends in life
  • Taking long sunset walks with Laslo the dogimg_1715
  • Staying up till midnight on M’s last day on the farm talking about how to find happiness in the world (and how crazy it’s becoming) through groups of people that give us a sense of community and remind us that we are not aloneimg_1908

Reflections on France from a Trip to London

“If you were to cut my life in half, you could read it by the rings it would contain. You contain them too: who you used to be is enclosed in who you are. Your old heart is not erased. It’s encased in another heart, another axon-dendrite shell stacked, shellacked atop the old. We are a wasps’ nest of selves, each embedded in the next.”

“Everything’s Rings” in Letter to a Future Lover by Ander Monson

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Big Ben

Back during Easter week, 2014,  one of my best friends K and I went to London during my year abroad in Aalborg, Denmark. I remember one afternoon while we were walking along Regent’s Canal, we found a giant chalkboard asking people what they wanted to do before they died and, during the brief visit where I found myself falling deeply in love with this city in England, I, for whatever reason, wrote that I wanted to live in France.

It is rather amusing, then, that this next time in London was part of my current job where I, incidentally, get to live in France.

The trip was through the high school’s English classes; I went in order to fill in for a teacher who got sick at the last minute. The group was me, one of the English teachers I work with, a philosophy teacher who didn’t speak English, a history teacher who didn’t speak English, forty-nine varying-levels-of-obnoxious French teenagers, and Jaques, the world’s funniest bus driver. We left on a Sunday and, after hours of broken bus catastrophes, highways, ferries, and bathroom breaks where teachers lit their students’ cigarettes (God France is weird), we made it to London to see Big Ben,

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The London Eye

the bridges, the Globe Theatre, and the TATE Modern where I exhausted-cried at a Monet while the students all napped in a dark corner of the showing of an artsy film. For lodging, we stayed with British host families which, for me, meant Mr. (a silent man) and Mrs. Pope (a Brexit supporter, subtle racist, and all around charming old woman) with Jaques and the philosophy teacher, all of whom I got to try my hand at translation for the first time with (before the next morning where I got to do the same on a slightly more passionate scale concerning a problem between some of the teens and their host family; I was the only English/French speaker present and got to get yelled at in multiple languages). The next day we went to the Imperial War Museum (which is incredibly important and I cannot recommend it enough), the Natural History Museum, Borrough Market, and Camden Market (where I failed to convince the other teachers to pierce their noses like me). The third day, we went to The British Museum (aka, England showing the world “look at what we got to steal back when we ‘owned’ the world”), Covent Garden, and The National Gallery. There was a train strike going on during the whole time, so we spent hours and hours and hours on the bus otherwise. And then we came home.

 

 

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The Natural History Museum

Despite England and France, traditionally, having a reputation of inhabiting a dichotometic sphere, what I will take away from this trip is actually its hand in validating my homing sentiment for my current French life. Surrounded by the French, I ended up speaking more French on this trip than I have in my entire time in France thus far, and, for the first time, I was able to understand French humor across the hurdle of the language barrier. I even acted as a translator (many times), which I still don’t entirely believe are within my capabilities. I was reminded that French is not just a hastle getting in the way of my day, as it so often feels here, but a language that I LOVE speaking. I got to really get to know some of the students at Lycee Jean Moulin (they invited me to eat lunch with them at Burrough Market and told me about their hopes for adulthood; they taught me how to skateboard outside The National Gallery; they argued with me about if I was cool or not for an hour while waiting for the ferry from England to France (I am, it turns out, not cool);

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Harrod’s Department Store

they took turns singing to the whole bus on its microphone while we drove around London), and grew to see them as more than just the blank stares that make my job, from time to time, a bit miserable. I got welcomed into a kind of “teacher’s club” over misery-drinking and student-complaining at the end of some rough days in a way that I don’t entirely feel that I am gruff-and-hardened-enough for yet, but that validated the fact that I am, indeed, a teacher now. Above everything, I even had a few brief moments of homesickness for my life in Pézenas: the things I do here, the people I know here, the day-to-day that I pass here. Like the impressionist paintings I got to see in the beautiful London museums, I got to see the beautiful painting that the loose brushstrokes that my close-up life in France come together to make from the distance of England.

It is strange to look at everything that has happened between that 2013 visit and this one to the same city, especially in terms of the (weirdly unglamorous) filling in of the gap between aspiration and achievement. London has not only reminded me that, before I died, I got to pass some time in France, but that I really, truly am getting to live here as well.

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Trafalgar Square