The First Couple Weeks Back in Europe

…have been really fucking intense. Like, Jesus Christ, has it always been this bad? No cheeky tongue-in-said-cheek artsy-ass way to convolute it: the past few weeks have just been an adventure.

My original plan coming back to Europe before starting school in Dublin on September 11 was to go and WWOOF (organic farm labor in exchange for food and housing) near Paris for about a week and a half, move to Dublin, get a phone/housing/bank account/etc etc, and start school. I found an orchard just a train ride out of Paris that looked quite lovely, and the host and I set up the ten-day arrangement for mid-August.

Starting at the Chicago Airport on my way to Paris, things already went awry when I had paid for two checked bags that somehow didn’t show up on my ticket (calling Kiwi did nothing, by the way), and I dealt with it simply by weeping at the check-in lady until she let both on the plane.

Then, at the orchard, I was (somehow) surprised to find that the host was a single old man retired from a career as a lawyer. Without thinking, I had just assumed it would be like the last three times I had WWOOFed where it had always been a family with at least one other WWOOFer. A little nervous about this set-up, I went along with it for four days that, I found, just got creepier and creepier. The man complimented me consistently on everything from my French to my personality to (especially) my looks. One night, I couldn’t get away from him to go to sleep because he wanted to talk to me about how a smile like mine was a gift to the world for fifteen minutes straight. I had read his reviews on the WWOOFing website and they had all been very positive, so I stayed thinking that it was probably just me being overly sensitive. However, one day, he took me with him to the grocery store, and, when he asked me if there was anything French I particularly missed, and I said the Trésor cereal, he bought it and said I could maybe thank him with a kiss. When I recoiled a little, not sure what to say, he said “no, maybe not here” and then gave me a big speech in the car ride home about how it was more important to give than to receive. Upon talking to the boy I had dated in France this past year—who now lives in Brussels—about it, he told me I needed to leave, and that I was welcome at his for the next seven days before I left for Dublin.

I booked the bus. Unsure of what to tell my WWOOFing host, I said I was going to Brussels for the weekend and just needed to take all of my things with me because I owed my friend a lot of books and instruments. He believed me for a few hours, but then got suspicious and demanded over and over that I tell him the truth. When eventually I said I was going to Brussels for good, he yelled at me that I was a coward and a liar all the way from packing up my things to carrying them all the way across his gravel driveway in the pouring rain to the gate out of his property. It was insane. If you are thinking of WWOOFing, it is absolutely wonderful (usually), but BE CAREFUL and make sure you will not be alone!

This past week in Brussels was nice, but certainly intense in its own way due to spending more time with my ex-boyfriend than we probably ever did while we were actually dating. I had nothing to do (why I had wanted to use this time for WWOOFing in the first place) and picked fights. Alcohol is cheap in Belgium, and we probably drank a little too much. Then, two days ago, the Fella got in a bike accident that sent him over the handles of his bike and into the street. Although he did not go to the doctor and says he’s getting better, he’s been in pain and unable to move his right arm since.

I almost fell for a housing scam in Dublin yesterday.

Currently, I am sitting in the Paris Beauvais Airport for the next nine hours after having already been travelling for eleven hours straight because, due to a string of unfortunate events, I missed my flight to Dublin by fourteen minutes.

I hate to believe in luck and, if there is such a thing, I know that I have an obnoxious amount of it. But I still can’t help but wonder if I am momentarily cursed, and when it will lift (I had just gotten in a car accident and, separately, a flat-tire on the freeway the week before coming to Europe).

I keep beating myself up for being here, and, as always, reading about what’s crumbling to pieces at home.

I hope these weeks have not been a reflection of what this year is to hold. I am incredibly, beyond excited to live in one of my favorite cities in the world, but, after all this, I am honestly feeling discouraged and a little out of my depth.

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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