Monday, August 27, 2012

I Saw London, I Saw France

PHRASE OF THE DAY
l'expression du jour: phrase of the day

OH MY GOD.

I FINALLY HAVE INTERNET AGAIN.

Well, UT internet, at least. This has been one of the most hectic, panicky, stressful, adulty weeks of my life. Chock full of foreclosure, new leases, vet bills, bank accounts, moving trucks, column writing, and laundry. I'm about sick of it. Stupid adulthood. Bein' all present.

In addition to the stress, this is also one of the saddest moments of my life.

Here I am. Sittin' in the library. Doin' the "Pooh think."

Think, think, think...

To say I have Writer's Block would be doing my Writer's Man-Crushing Boulder an injustice.

I don't know where to start. I don't know how to finish. I don't know how to start to finish or how to finish what I start. (And other more confusing variations of that.)

So to that I say "Oh bother" and move forward with Part 2 of my "goodbye" series with something I'm sure you were probably expecting.

I now present to you the second in a series of two, ladies and gentlemen:

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DAVID LETTERMAN'S 'TOP TEN' LIST
"WORLD'S BEST STUDY ABROAD MOMENTS"

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(in a similarly particular order)

#10. Trust me, this is a shortcut.

Famous last words, right?

But, despite what pop culture would lead you to believe, every once in a while this statement garners some truth.

As you may well know (and if you don't I sincerely question your literacy), toward the end of my stay in France, I breached the northern US border and found myself some super awesome Canadians. 

The only thing Dudley Do-Wrong with this situation was that, though we went to the same university, we did not live in the same residence. While I lived up in the somewhat sketchy student housing behind the faculté de lettres, my Canadians lived in an EXTRA nice apartment building down by the Promenade. About a 30 minute trek. (Or so I thought . . . )

So my first "thank you" goes out to Alan, a very friendly Irishman with wit to spare, for showing me the shortcut through some condo-y neighborhood, cutting about 10 minutes off the journey if you walk fast.

In fact, because of you, Alan, I even made it to the bus stop after I got a text message saying the bus to go zip-lining was leaving in 20 minutes, an unwelcome shock to a pajama-wearing co-ed, flopped haphazardly across her bed. Couldn't've done it without ya, buddy.

#9. 42 across: father --> D_DDY

Okay, so "super-confession-time." This is something I was jokingly embarrassed to reveal pretty much up til right now.

Whenever my dad and I get bored, we like to have Sudoku battles.

No, it's exactly what you're thinking.

We print off sheets that we made ourselves in Microsoft Word, replicate the puzzle, and spar.

(They're double-sided for maximum paper efficiency.)

It was hilarious how easily I found these in my house.

While I was in France, he would mail me cards every month or so with folded up Sudokus and NY Times crosswords in them. Eventually the cards stopped, but the puzzles kept coming, oftentimes attached to a post-it with some variation of competitive trash talk because he knows how much better I am at Sudoku and tries to lift himself up by bringing others down.

My dad and I have a funny relationship. Oh wait, I misspelled awesome.

#8. Misery loves company.

The weary traveler is often faced with a variety obstacles that he or she must hurdle to emerge unscathed and unbankrupt.

In my case, this involved spending a not-so-luxurious night or two in the all too purgatorious Geneva airport.

Now I could go on and on about how miserably miserable those nights were. I could tell you that the heat went out sometime around 2am, leaving us frozen to our places. I could tell you that I semiconsciously resolved that sleeping with my legs in the air was somehow most comfortable. I could tell you that a tile floor is, contrary to popular belief, not an adequate substitute for a Tempur-Pedic.

But if I told you all these things, I imagine it would encourage feelings similar to pity or pathetic sympathy. And that's not what I want you to feel.

Though I'm pretty sure the sandman stopped by and beat me with an ugly stick, that night really helped bond me and my Canadians together. Very almost literally. (You know, body heat and all.)

Don't get me wrong. I had a really bad case of sleep anger when
I woke up. You know when you're so sleepy that your anger is
magnified by like a thousand. It goes away. But it's real dramatic.

#7. Erasmus

When I made the decision to study abroad, I didn't really do a whole lot of shopping around for different programs. I discovered pretty early on there was a program called ISEP that would give me the full immersion experience while still allowing me to keep my university scholarships. Being the Frugal Franny that I am, my initial and maintained response was "THAT. I WANT TO DO THAT."

What I didn't know was that the ISEP program operates from a distance. It was the neglectful parent I never had, supporting me by simply existing. They'll help you with anything you need help with, except not.

This is my impression of the ISEP program: "Hello. Welcome to France. Please don't email me at this email address anymore."

And, like, that's totally fine. For people who like feeling like they don't belong anywhere.

So this is where I'd like to thank the Erasmus program.

Even though I made the decision to spend my 9 months without any sort of guidance because I hate comfort and happiness, most of my friends were studying with the inter-Europe program Erasmus. There were soirées and outings, trips and adventures. All planned by Erasmus. For Erasmus.

Erasmus was a coddler. And to my satisfaction, a mollycoddler.

I was able to attend some of these events and met a lot of other students from all over Europe who were feeling similarly lost and purposeless.


(ISEP: thank you for being inexpensive. I suppose you deserve some recognition.)

#6. Snaps for Elizabeth

Remember that poetry slam thing I went to what seems like eons ago? Well, there's a second part to that story I never finished. A wonderful second part to that story. The best part of that story, if I may be so bold.

But first, let me refresh your memory.

So the poetry slam was truly a gathering of Nice's finest member states, some more memorable than others.

There was the bejeweled and bespectacled lady who seemed to be the only soldier in a laughing war, whose hair had reached that precarious point just past "long and flowy" and straight into "oh dear god her hair is cat-lady long."


There was the mustachioed baritone, the failed actor who most likely moonlights as a guidance counselor and most definitely feels his work simply isn't appreciated in his own time.


And last, but certainly not least, there was the barkeep, a seemingly ancient crone of a human, equal parts skeletal and generous. A free dusty glass for every poet.


But alas, this lovable band of heroes is not why this activity rose to the #6 spot on my TOP TEN list.

Despite my best efforts to experience new experiences as frequently as possible, I managed to remain hermitly bound to my dorm room instead of attending my 3rd and final slam before departing at the end of May.

I was sad.

Then, one night, after my friend Kendra's birthday dinner, I was chatting with Elizabeth, and we realized that we were both really sad we'd missed le slam.

Welp, SURPRISE! We decided to host one of our own! Just a lil ole thang.

So, in the middle of the night, in the middle of a birthday party, in the middle of Adrien's living room, we semi-circled ourselves on the floor and sacrificed our words to the culture gods. Because we are truly so fancy.

Several recitations, an epic African tale, and many bared emotions later, the night evolved into a very emotional love-fest. Elizabeth, in particular, took it upon herself to reenact that sad part at the end of F*R*I*E*N*D*S when Rachel takes everybody one by one and tells them how much she loves them and how much she's gonna miss them.


It was such a memorable night. I'll never forget it. (Because that's what memorable means.)

#5. "Hello, My Name Is Grown Up"

Hello, my name is Grown Up.
It's so nice to meet you here
At this Grown Up world convention
After such a Grown Up year.

I can't even express to you
The Grown Up that's in store,
For today's Official-Grown-Up-Day
Three hundred fifty four.

I've had to do some Grown Up things
That I've heard Grown Ups do,
So here in my most Grown Up voice
I'll share a few with you.

I moved into a country
Where I didn't know a soul,
Brand new responsibilities,
A brand new Grown Up role.

I got a Grown Up bank account,
Not quite sure how that happened.
I signed a 2-year phone contract
That I was almost trapped in.

I planned some trips to foreign lands,
That part was pretty hard.
I even somehow got my hands on
A French Social Security card.

And in my very Grown Up way,
In perfect Grown up form,
I'm still unsure, but there's a chance
That I insured my dorm.

And now I'm back in Tennessee
After all this Grown Up change
To tell you I'm a Grown Up,
But it still feels really strange.

#4. Er Mer Gerd Blerg

If you're reading this, then you know that I kept a blog while I was in France. I started it somewhat half-heartedly, as any study abroad blogger would care to admit. I knew I wanted to keep it up, but I feared it would soon die, alongside countless other study abroad blogs who perished before it.

But I found the weekly, sometimes daily, detailed descriptioning of my life to be very cathartic. It helped me sort through my thoughts and . . . um . . . feelings . . . without being all sappy in a stupid pink journal.

And, you know, the fact that other people wanted to read it too was simply an added bonus.

So thank you, blog. With the risk of sounding Norman Bates-y, you were my most reliable "friend" last year. I could write anything to you, no matter how depressing, and you would somehow find a way to make it funny. And I suppose that's a good thing.

#3. A Close Call

Dear Mme McAlpin,

Thank you. Thank you so much. Not only are you my advisor back at UT (undoubtedly helping me with advisor-y stuff), but you were the one who convinced me to study abroad for the whole year instead of just a semester. *Not that I needed a whole lot of convincing . . .

You told me I would've just started settling in in December, so going for the year made so much more sense. Being the youth that I am, I'm very well aware that I'm invincible. So I was pretty sure she was bluffing, or at least over-preparing me.

No. Not at all.

In fact, it took me about 2 months *more* than that to finally catch my breath and feel like I was actually, more or less, assimilating.

(Yeah, I move slowly. Back up off me.)

And I mean, I would've never even *met* my Canadians if I had left in December.

Which brings me to #2 . . .

#2. The Butterfly Effect

butterfly effect (n.): the phenomenon whereby a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere, e.g., a butterfly flapping its wings in Rio de Janeiro might change the weather in Chicago.

This is probably the scariest one when I think about it too much.

You know my Canadians that I've told you so much about? Well, I almost didn't even meet *any* of them. In fact, I owe all of those really awesome friendships and memories to my horrible sleep schedule.

Why? Well,

In my first semester, I was in a Phonetics class with 3 of my Canadians. Didn't know them. Didn't really sit with them. Sort of scared of them. Social anxiety. Blegh.

Anyway, one day I missed class. Because I didn't wake up to my alarm. Because my alarm has psychic powers and knew what was best for me.

Nevertheless, I missed class. So I asked one of my Canadians to borrow her notes.

And the rest is history.

(I don't like thinking about the alternate reality where I *did* wake up for class. Surely that is the worst reality.)

Forever one of my favorites.

#1. . . is the loneliest number . . .

Social norms are the worst.

They really are.

After living with myself pretty much my whole life, I've more or less figured me out. I am what you would call an extroverted introvert, ie. an introvert who works really hard to fool you into thinking she's extroverted.

Why does she do this? She's not duplicitous. She doesn't hate you.

She does this because society demonizes introversion. Consciously or unconsciously she knows that solitude is wrongitude. More friends equals more happiness.

Now, I love people. I really do. I love being around them. I love talking to them. Blah bler blah.

*BUT*

The time I spent by myself in Europe, what I may have previously referred to as "the Dark Ages," was by far the most important part of my study abroad experience. Sure, at the time it sucked more than a dehydrated monkey with a crazy straw.

Spending that much-needed and much-afforded time alone really helped me . . . uh . . . find myself? (Oh god, please pardon the cheese.)

Solitude lets you think. Solitude lets you figure out just how weird your mind really is. Solitude might even make you start narrating your life in your head. But that's okay.

There's definitely something to be said for the fact that a large portion of our greatest artists, writers, and musicians were more or less on the loopy side of introversion.

Creativity flows organically. Which made blogging easier than a Monday crossword.

I noticed things. I started seeing the "stuff" around me just a little bit differently.


Anyway. The point: isolation is good (to a certain degree). Loneliness is cathartic. And quality time with Molly is always fun.

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And now it's time to end this. Whatever "this" is.

Maybe for you this was a way to keep up with me while I was gone.
Maybe it was a nice healthy dose of internet procrastination.
Maybe you're a little bit creepy and don't even really know me.
Maybe it gave you a good laugh or two.
Maybe you're secretly in love with me and want to stare at my face all the time.
Maybe you stumbled upon this accidentally and you're panicking cos you can't find the close button, and now you're worried cos I'm totally reading you're mind.

For me, it was all of these things. Yes, all of them.

So whatever it was you were looking for when you took that daily afternoon creep on my very public life, I hope you found it.

But for now I wish you well.

I love you all.

Surely this can't be the end.

Shirley: "Oh, but it is."

Amitiés :)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Life's Tough, Get a Helmet: Bottom Ten

PHRASE OF THE DAY
Près de la fin: close to the end

Okay. Okay. Okay, so. Okay.

So now that Governor's School is over, now that I've been back in the states for over a month, now that I've had some time to "reflect" and "recuperate," now that I've officially put this blog on the procrastination burner for about a week, I remind myself that it really is about time I wrapped this thing up.

As I draw my blog to a close, many moons later than you probably would have expected, I knew I wanted to round it out with some sort of overarching conclusion. Something I had learned that I could feed to you as an intellectual after-dinner mint to cleanse your palette after a rather bittersweet 9-months. Some knowledgeable tidbit from an enlightened individual to her huddled masses of internet followers.

But alas, I have yet to reach enlightenment. I'm still here. I'm still sort of the same as I was when I left. But I'd like to think I may have learned a thing or two along the way.

So I decided to formulate a kind of "goodbye" series. A way to provide a semblance of summation for this motley mish mash of my memory melting pot.

So here goes nothin'. I now present to you the first in a series of two, ladies and gentlemen:

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DAVID LETTERMAN'S 'TOP BOTTOM TEN' LIST:
"WORLD'S WORST STUDY ABROAD MOMENTS."

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(in no particular order . . . )

(Well, maybe we'll start with the lighter stuff. Ease our way into my inner turmoils and personal demons.)

(so . . . in a slightly particular order . . . )

#10. "Which way did he go, George? Which way did he go?"

If you've ever traveled with me--in any shape, form, or fashion--I mean, seriously, if we've ever been in transit together at all ever, then you probably saw #10 coming. I am the worst at following directions, road or otherwise. I would blame it on the fact that I just get super spacey whenever I'm in a car, but that creates a faux-ami (a false friend), leading you to believe I might have a good sense of spacial reasoning, and I simply do not.

I know my parents were very concerned I would simply wander off into the sunset and lose my way straight through the Alps to a foreign land probably inhabited by some variation of the Dutch. And honestly I can't say I blame them. Knowing where I am in space stresses me out.

My parents had their reasons. Their wholly justified reasons.

But I'm proud to say that I didn't once get unfixably misplaced. Yes, I frequently found myself gayly strolling down an unfamiliar street or two or five, but I always managed to wander dutifully back to the herd. How did I do it? I . . . I have no idea. Maps helped, for sure. And those weird mappy signs in London were equal parts necessary and incredible. (They were increcessary.)

But, despite everything I've said, I found this strange lack of space-awareness to have created a very "happenstance-led" travel experience, as many of my more interesting adventures were caused by being just a little bit lost all of the time.

#9. "Alllll byyyyy myyyyseeeeeeelf"

I am by no means the most adventurous and gregarious little social butterfly who requires social interaction and FRIENDS FRIENDS FRIENDS to keep herself from going completely and totally bonkers, buuuuut I would be remiss not to mention this in my "Bottom Ten" list. One of the hardest things about living in France was my living situation itself: no roommates. Kessler, party of one. So I was very much alone about 80% of the time.

To quote one of the most poignant and poetic lyricists of our generation, Jason Derulo:

"I'm solo, I'm ridin' solo,
I'm ridin' solo, I'm ridin' solo, solo"

But unlike Mr. Derulo, this solo setup was not for me. After having spent a year constantly surrounded by some of my best friends pretty much all the time at UT, it was definitely a shock to have so much time alone. Like, if I didn't want to see people all day, all I had to do was nothing, and poof, social interaction terminated. This had a tendency to morph into a moderately depressing dorm situation.

My solution? Okay, so you know how Tom Hanks had that volleyball in the movie Castaway? (Bear with me.) So I developed an only slightly unhealthy habit of talking to myself. But, like, not just asking myself where I'd left my hairbrush or acknowledging that I was hungry. Liiiike, sometimes existential conversations, or going over potential social situations out loud for, I don't know, preparation maybe? But then also, uh, so I also had this full length mirror. (Bear with me.) And eventually I started . . . talking to myself. Like at my mirror self. Like my reflection.

Don't worry though. No one ever responded.

This was where I did make some of my biggest self-discoveries. It only became a nuisance when I unconsciously mistook a public setting for the privacy of my bedroom and conversed with myself in the grocery store. On a scale from 1 to crazy, this did not help me make friends.

#8. "Terminator 4: Molly's MacBook Pro Goes 'Progue'"

So in keeping with the whole "feeling scared and alone" theme I seem to have started, I should mention the communication crutch that the Internet becomes when you go overseas. Sort of like a reverse tumor. You become so dependent on your computer and the Internet as a very almost literal window to the outside world, you thrive on being able to keep up with friends and family back home.

That being said, when the Internet is less than adequate, as it is in much of Europe (particularly dorm room 136 of bâtiment B of my residence hall), wifi signal is as precious and rare as a person who is at the same time French and obese.

I think my computer started fearing my codependency, causing him to jump off my bed in attempted suicide in the fall (please overlook the obvious pun). Though we were able to revive him, the Internet connection never proved totally dependable. And it was maybe the most frustrating thing ever.

#7. "I am zee French. I am zee 'orreeble stereotype."

Stop me if you've heard this one:

How do you kill a Frenchman?
Shoot 15 centimeters above his head, right in his superiority complex.

Or what about this one:

After God created France, he thought it was the most beautiful country in the world. People were going to get jealous, so, to make things fair, he decided to create the French.


4 out of 5 dentists recommend maintaining a very wide margin between yourself and any Frenchman. But why? What has people thinking these individuals are such high-minded chain-smokers cursed with unfailing pride and stinky cheese?

Well, like most stereotypes, it comes down to the minority, the ungrateful few who ruin it for the rest of us. (Except the smoking part. Literally everybody does that.) Because from my experience, French people are actually quite pleasant. Sure they're proud of their language and won't hesitate to correct you if you end a sentence with a preposition or say "We're going to war" instead of "We're going to the train station," but rarely is it in malice. So they're not as warm to new people and ideas as their Italian neighbors to the east, does that make them bad people? No. It doesn't.

They're proud of their language, they're proud of their culture, and they're really proud of that cheese.

Okay, so, yes, maybe I did have some rotten French experiences. Like the time the director of my residence hall snapped at me condescendingly for asking a second time (for clarification) if they had sheets for "rent" at the dorm. Or the time my Sociolinguistics teacher (who was completely and totally insane) pulled me to the front of the class to pronounce something in English only to laugh mockingly back at the class saying "Well, that's not Queen's English." (No, it's not Queen's English, moron. It's American English. And this case study is from New York anyway! What is wrong with you?!) So much. So much was wrong with her.

But I wouldn't call her the rule. Nor would I lie and say my dorm director was nasty to me for the whole year. These things happen. And they make life mind-numbingly difficult. C'est la vie, même en France.

#6. "Bla bla bluu bla bleubleubleu."

Remaining for a moment in that vein of miscommunication and constant confusion, let me segue quite fluidly into the #6 difficulty: speaking French. Up until the moment the plane left the Niçois airport early the morning of May 26th, I struggled time and time again to achieve a seemingly unachievable level of fluency and competence in a language I foolishly thought I mastered back in high school.

The funny thing about language and fluency is that the more you learn, the more you realize you don't actually know. (There's a chance this principle applies to life in general, but this is a travel blog, and those existential conversations will have to be researched elsewhere, or discussed in the privacy of your dorm room with your reflection. I reserve judgement.)

But the fluency question is actually very important. And it caused me lots of grief. While, yes, I can express an idea using standard verbs and phrases, and if I can't think of a specific word I need I can usually find a way to "circumlocute" it. But when you're speaking French for extended periods of time, circumlocution becomes tedious, and you realize just how little you actually know.

True story.

For example, you know how to express movement. Different styles of movement, even. You can say "I go" and "I walk" and "I run" and "I jump," but you learn that there are actually different words in French to express "happily strolling without a place to be," "wandering around having ignorantly forgotten where you're supposed to be," "moseying along because you don't particularly care where you're supposed to be," and so on and so forth. But now you can only remember "je flâne" because it was the happy one, and your brain just gives up and explodes because there are simply too many verbs to describe too many individually precise things.

In French there is always a right way to say something. The standard French abides by a nationally accepted set of standards and rules prescribed by oldish texts. Everyone follows these rules. This is why foreign French speakers are so easy to spot. This is why there's very little geographical deviation in the language. And this is why French is like skiing. It's easy to learn, but terribly difficult to master.

#5. "Latent peer pressure"

video

This one is pretty self-explanatory. I would argue that 85% of my friends were smokers (the other 15% consisting almost exclusively of my Canadians and Elizabeth). And by smokers I mean chain smokers. Now I'm not a judgmental person, so I harbor no resentment toward these chimney-people, but I will say that I became uncomfortable with how comfortable I became around cigarette smoke.

A picture of me and my friends at that cool café down the street.

#4. "[Insert sleazy indiscernible pick-up line here]"

So I won't go into too much detail, as I'm not entirely sure who my audience includes, but let me just say that Nice (verrry specifically) has a big big problem. And, no, it doesn't have anything to do with more cowbell, though I don't doubt that would help. The problem is verbal harassment.

If I can be serious just for a moment, I promise we'll get back to our regularly scheduled programming soon. But I feel like I can't sit here and talk about the hard times in Nice and ignore the city's rampant creeper problem. I honestly can't think of an instance when I left my dorm/campus area and didn't experience some sort of abuse because of my gender--whether it was an uncomfortable stare, a snide comment, a kissing noise, a blatant approach, casual pointing, a failed attempt at English shouting, or the less frequent but immensely more inappropriate physical contact.

(One time we even had a guy honk his car horn then lick the window. That was weird.)

But personal anecdotes aside, I don't see how this is an unaddressed issue. These men are in their 40s (more or less) preying on teenagers and a 20-something with no self-defense training who arms herself with a room key and a witty comeback delivered in English 30 minutes later.

They pack in herds on the streets. Just sitting there. Doing literally nothing. I'm pretty sure most of them either don't have jobs or frequently choose not to do them. With their athletic pants, matching track jackets, and greased up hair spikes. It's a recipe for disaster.

I can't offer a solution right now, and I don't know what that would be for the future. But I think the simple task of acknowledging that these men are crossing a very very clearly marked big ole red line is the first step to getting them to stop being so icky.

I generally don't like feeling like I need boys around to protect me, but by the end of my stay in France, after having finally made a large handful of guy-friends, I will say I definitely felt safer.

Thanks, guys.

#3. "One of these things is not like the other."

So if you haven't already guessed, I thrive on being weird. (See above, re: "mirror.") It's actually the most fun pastime ever. In fact, I would argue vehemently that looking stupid and laughing about it is the most important thing a person can ever do. Even more than remembering to rewind the VHS before you put it back in the case.

Much to my chagrin, however, this outlook on life was not shared in the Niçois community. Simply from an observational standpoint, I found the people of Nice to be very concerned with normalcy, excluding the select few that I would identify as public displays of actual crazy. The individuals I met and observed (particularly the girls) strove valiantly to be the same as everyone else--wore the same outfits, carried the same purses, donned the same haircuts, ate the same nothing, and just generally acted the same way. Sure, they were stylish. They were all stylish. Similarly.

So I automatically felt tragically out of place with my bohemian skirts, clumsy demeanor, and involuntary Target Lady impressions. Something told me they would not be well received. Something was right.

Those French girls kind of look like Gene Simmons.
French KISS!

The university and residence hall felt like a high school I didn't go to but have seen portrayed countless times in the moving pictures. I felt judged every time I left my room for what I was wearing and my general "I-just-woke-up-and-then-someone-took-my-backpack-and-beat-me-with-it" appearance. I learned quickly that backpacks were for Americans and homeless people. In France they carry satchels. And by satchels I mean purses. Purses for everyone.

I wouldn't say my personality was crushed. And I wouldn't say I changed much about myself to "fit in." But I dealt with the high school crap by sort of keeping quiet. It was dumb, I know.

Oh god I was the emo kid.

WAAHAHAAAH

Thankfully, I eventually found the exchange students. This brings me to #2 . . .

#2. "I can be your friend, la la la."

One purpose of studying abroad is to present you with challenges and obstacles that you probably wouldn't normally face back home. Right? Right. "So, like, maybe I'll have to eat an octopus. Orrr maybe I'll get on the wrong bus and end up halfway across Belarus. Oh! Maybe a peculiar race of aliens that only speak in American idioms will attack, and I'll have to translate to save the planet!"

It never once crossed my mind that the act of making friends would be so utterly debilitating that when the alien race did show up, I was simply too exhausted to offer my assistance.


Finding and making friends has never been a big stress in my life. Not that it's always come easily to me, but, yeah, it's always sort of come pretty easily to me. I'm a likable person, what can I say? So the fact that I was struggling so much to find people with interests even remotely similar to my own was really really scary. And exponentially sadder.

But I did eventually meet people. And by the witching hour the night before my final departure, I realized I was leaving some of my closest friends, many of whom I hadn't even met until March.

So why did it take so freaking long for me to meet people? Lord knows I tried. I remember stepping forward to help that guy carry his suitcases up the hill back in August. I remember shoving my terror away and introducing myself to him. I remember blogging about it. And I remember that he never spoke to me again. Because he sucks.

I'll admit the language was a barrier at first. But I wonder why people couldn't just love me because I was constantly adorably confused. I think a lot of people just thought I was stupid. Which, I suppose when you ask, "Hey, Chimène, what does stuff mean? I hear people saying that word a lot," there's very few directions you can go with that.

But I regret nothing. Well, maybe that I wasn't better friends with Chimène. She was the one who loved me because I was always confused. Nevertheless, the time I spent traipsing about without any help or camaraderie really helped me grow up. But not in a bad way. In an "I-can-do-this-by-myself-but-still-acknowledge-that-that-street-cleaner-looks-like-that-weird-sucky-thing-from-the-Teletubbies" kind of way.

#1. "I'll never let go, Jack."

A big part of growing up is learning to let go. To let go of sadness and anger, grudges and stereotypes. Now I will argue that sometimes letting go is very much the opposite of what you should do, especially when you swear up and down that you won't (*cough* Rose Dawson *cough*), but for me, in my journey toward enlightenment, I had to learn to let a few things fly away to oblivion.

When I started studying abroad, I had simultaneously a very specific and a very nonspecific plan of how I thought the year would progress. I had seen pictures and heard stories of other students long before me who had traveled across Europe, explored new heights, frequented hostels and train stations alike. And I was completely convinced that this was how it was supposed to be done.

Had I any clue how to do any of those things? No. Not a one.

Had I any companions willing to do this for me? Nope. For most of my European stay, not a one.

This realization became very clear very fast. Panic soon followed.

Maybe if I sit here motionless the universe will get confused
and spit me into nothingness. That'd be fun, right?

I worried a lot about doing everything I could all the time, about whether or not I was traveling enough, about making sure I finished the year with NO REGRETS. That type of thinking can lend itself to a very unhappy existence. I was constantly a ball of stress, worried that I wasn't taking advantage of the time I had. I was in pre-regret mode, which is almost as bad as regret-mode, but without the sense of forced acceptance. And it was slowly eating me alive.

If my life were a movie, I would give you a detailed description of the moment I realized that there is no shame in spending time alone. In fact it's something I would recommend to anyone who asked. The moment you become reliant on others to keep you from floating away into nothingness, you've relinquished your happiness to the whims and wills of other people. You've essentially given the house keys to your own happiness to everyone that isn't you, and then you ask yourself why you aren't happy.

It's easy to be happy.

But, alas, my life is not a movie (no matter what Calvin says), so I'll just tell you it was a process.

Every study abroad experience is.

Amitiés :)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

I think I Cannes

PHRASE OF THE DAY
Oh mon dieu, c'est Zac Efron: Oh my god, it's Zac Efron.

Toward the end of my stint in Europe, I was reminded how insignificant I am. Why Cannes't I get all gussied up and hair-sprayed and trot about as if the very skin under my feet were made of diamond-encrusted velveteen rabbit fur? Why Cannes't I hire someone to buy my clothes and then immediately sell them on ebay when I tire of them? Why Cannes't I be verbally harassed by manic hordes of screaming would-be photogs weeping my name through fistfuls of their own hair?

Some people have all the luck.

As you may have guessed, I am referring to the ever-celebrated annual Cannes Film Festival and the famous red carpet crawlers that emerge from their lives of bug-eyed sunglasses, oversized hats, and an unrelenting air of aggravated recognition to grace the common people with their presence.

We wound up actually going to the festival twice: once with very little success, and once with torrential rain and gale force winds that nearly Mary Poppins-ed me straight out of the crowd and high above the riviera boardwalk.

Our first team expedition to Cannes yielded the latter. And it was only sort of really miserable.

We went to find celebrities out in the open, in their natural habitat (unless you argue that the red carpet is their natural habitat which would be a very valid argument), because there were no premieres to attend. Unfortunately, due to the weather, no one in their right mind should have been outside, let alone anyone famous.
Wet.

So very wet.

So we wandered around, carried by our whims and the winds, ultimately landing in a moderately expensive resto, drifting to the festival souvenir shop, and returning to the train almost as soon as we had arrived.

"I'm going to meet Johnny Depp, and he'll see
my Helena Botham Carter bangs and my
Sweeney Todd tights, and he'll fall madly
in love with me." --Elizabeth

One of the benefits of an empty festival: prime pictures.

So that was attempt number one. "Unsuccessful" only begins to describe it.

But we had fun. I am the master of turning crappy situations
into wonderful adventures. Not sure what title that allots me.

Our second attempt at fame and fortune and everlasting life yielded a somewhat more positive result. I say "somewhat" because it was very different than I was expecting. (I suppose my expectations were slightly too high, and I take the blame for that. But this, this was sheer mania.)

The day started out already in better shape than the previous trip as the weather was sunny and we were headed to an actual movie premiere (for The Paper Boy I think?). So we were guaranteed some celebrity sightings, red carpet or not. Or so I thought.

Once we arrived at the red carpet, we found some standing room behind the marked barrier for fans and onlookers. Sure it was kind of far from the carpet itself, but I found the curb of the road and stood so I could see over the heads of the herd of people in front of me. Perfect. Now I can see everything all the time. I am sooo smart.

False. Not smart. Horribly unsmart. You see, what I didn't know was that crazy-manic-psycho-fan logic is very very opposite of all other logic. So instead of letting regular-sized people stand in the front of the giant step-ladder people, the step-ladder people monopolized all sight to be had. They climbed on these towers of obnoxious self-importance and essentially formed a blockade between myself and the beautiful people.

Some of the beautiful people present were Nicole Kidman, Zac Efron, John Cusack, Matthew McConaughey, Macy Gray, Heidi Klum, Antonio Banderas, and I may or may not have seen the northwest corner of John Legend's head. May or may not.

From where I was standing, the only way I knew someone famous was arriving was that I could see even less of nothing. You'd think it would be impossible to see less than nothing, but I have seen it.

Left: no famous people, Right: OMIGOD FAMOUS SCREAM SCREEEAM

Elizabeth sneakily found herself atop one of the step ladders (you SNEAKY Elizabeth), so she was able to actually get photos, good or otherwise. So most of these photos are hers. I was content to photograph some could-be celebrity look-alikes. Like this security guard.

Isaac C. Singleton Jr. (or the "TOO LONG!" pirate from Pirates of the Caribbean)

I have circled the beautiful people in Elizabeth's photos, if you may have missed them, which really shouldn't happen, as their beauty conspicu-izes them.

Nicole Kidman

Macy Gray

Zac Efron

Heidi Klum

John Cusack, Matthew McConaughey, Nicole Kidman, ?,
Zac Efron, ?, Macy Gray

While we were trotting around town, we tried to trick people into thinking we were important. So Elizabeth, the fanciest of us all, put on her sunglasses, paired with her fancy dress and too high heels, and tried to walk . . . importantly. My wardrobe will always look not so much like a celebrity but rather more like a somewhat fashionable personal assistant, so I matched accordingly.

Tip #485 for being famous:
Never hold your own umbrella.

All in all, the experience was very fun, regardless of whether or not I had the opportunity to find Hugh Jackman and woo him. And we would live happily ever after.
Please note the yachts.
Dear beautiful people, you are not very good at hide and seek.
Amitiés :)

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Definition: "la" (n.): a note to follow "so"

WORD OF THE DAY
le paradis: heaven

While studying in a place like the south of France, there are 2 things I learned to be true. 1) Everything was beautiful all the time. 2) I felt nothing.

I knew I was surrounded by beauty, and I knew I should be appreciating just how freaking gorgeous everything really was. But for some reason, I could look at the oceanside view of Monaco from the vantage point of Princess Grace's palace towering overhead right before sunset, and I just couldn't see it.

For the longest time I was pretty convinced something was wrong with me. Surely I must have some mental defect or maybe an earwig infestation if I felt no sense of wonder and awe when the veins of evening sunlight tickled the water as it danced around my feet beneath the majestic shadow of the Negresco.

I realize now these were all meaningless mind nuggets.

Why the change of heart?

One word.

Salzburg.

About a week ago I returned from my 3-day Austrian expedition, and, friends, I felt something.

If I had my way I would flee my life of remote controls and fish-shaped crackers and head for the Alpy hills of Austria, forever to live a life of hermitude with German-speaking mountain goats as my only source of companionship and my imagination as my only window to the outside world. In a heartbeat, I would.

The grassy Sound of Music fields juxtaposed with the towering grandeur of the Untersberg mountain provided the perfect setting for my final European excursion and let me know that the beauty confusion I'd been experiencing in the riviera wasn't my fault.

Ich belong in the mountains.

Day 1

I flew into Salzburg atop a majestic eagle early in the morning and quickly realized I would experience slight language difficulties. As I don't speak German. Like not even a little bit.

At the hostel I met an Australian girl named Hannah who led me to the Festung Hohensalzburg, the fortress overlooking the city. There wasn't really anything super interesting within the fortress. A pretty standard fortress. But the surrounding views took my breath and sold it on ebay.


That evening I attended the nightly 7 o'clock showing of The Sound of Music in my hostel. It was fantastic. And prepared me for the days ahead . . .

Day 2

Rain rain go away.
Come again another day.
Little Molly wants to play.
Rain rain go away.

No? No, you're . . . you're gonna stay? Really? Even after I sang to you?

Dear rain,
You are an inconvenience to me.
Sincerely, I'm invisible and I'm wet.

Well despite the rain and severe overcast, I still managed to make it to my guided bus tour through Salzburg and the surrounding area. And yes. It was a Sound of Music tour. Did I forget to mention that?

Liesl's WEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!

It's a testament to Salzburg's beauty when the horrific weather
conditions don't completely ruin the vistas.

This was the church where Maria and Captain
Von Trapp married in the movie. (In real life
they married at the nunnery.)



I am Kurt. God bless Kurt.

So the bus tour was kind of a flop. (I was made aware of this fact before attending but was unsuccessful in my attempts to cancel the reservation.) It was cool to see the sights and go out as far as the church, but the views weren't great, due in part to the weather, but also because bus tours in general don't really lend themselves to being good sources of pictures and stopping and Molly fun. (Hence the rarity of pictures.)

We did sing though. So that was extra enjoyable for me. Except the woman behind me was incredibly distracting. Either she was unbelievably tone-deaf or she's one of those people that thinks she can harmonize when she can't. Those people are the worst.

After the tour, umbrella in tow, I headed for the Mirabell gardens to do some more Sound of Music sight-seeing. While I was there I happened to meet 2 girls from Canada (the same university as several of my Canadians) who were on the bus tour, and we ultimately joined forces to recreate scenes from the musical on location. This was probably the highest point of my life. Nothing will ever compete. (Sorry future husband and future wedding and future babies. Not gonna happen.)

Mood. Feel free to sing along. Others will join in.

--------------------

GAME TIME, ROUND 1: Can you spot the 5 differences between the photos grouped below?

1.


2.

3.

4.

--------------------

Ultimately we decided photos were not a sufficient log of the reenactments. I pushed for a bit of videography. I don't think you'll be disappointed.


video
From "Do Re Mi"

Right: to appease my freak obsession with VeggieTales.

This is the cemetery that the Hollywood set was based off of. Respect the graves, shmespect the graves.


There are 49 churches in the main Salzburg area. This was the "main" one. The Dom I think? Look! It looks like the angels from the building behind are crowning the lady statue! Art!


video
"I Have Confidence" (with extra confidence)


video
The Mozart bridge--aka. "Do Re Mi"

Then we "hiked" up a hill the the nunnery.

Left: Sister Berthe, Right: Liesl

Later that night, after dinner and dodging the rain, I returned to the hostel, very satisfied with my ever-growing Canadian excursion repertoire.

Day 3

Hannah from Australia had told me about the bike tour she went on and how magical it was. So I decided to try it out, especially since the rain had stopped and the clouds were somewhat lifting.

Pros of the bike tour:
-I lurv biking.
-Cost efficient!
-Nicer weather
-Stopping for pictures

Cons of the bike tour:
-Too awesome

Another pro of this tour was the fact that the group consisted only of myself, my adorable very Austrian tour guide, and a flight attendant from Fort Lauderdale who brought her pet dachshund Nefertiny. Nefertiny the clothing model. Whose closet is bigger and more lavish than my own.

A delicate balance of precious and creepy. Nefertiny, you pull it off well.

I should also tell you how adorable my tour guide was. At one point when she was relaying history stuff to us she translated 1069 AD as "One souzand sixty nine ahfta Jeesus." And it was adorable.

--------------------

GAME TIME, ROUND 2: Can you spot the 5 differences between the photos grouped below?
1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

--------------------

That evening, following the guidance of crazy dog-lady Erica, I attended one of Salzburg's renown marionette shows, The Magic Flute or Die Zauberhausenschlosseryagermanjenson in German (or something like that).


Day 4

The weather decided to give me a break. The sky opened up, the air was crisp, and the mountains more glorious than I could ever describe. Friends, if I had been studying abroad in Salzburg, you can bet you'd never see me again. Unless of course you came and visited me in Salzburg. Because the implication is that I would be living their permanently. In case you didn't catch on.

So since the weather was so amazing, I decided to climb back up to the nunnery and get a proper photo of the mountainy views.


Then I realized you could actually go inside the nunnery grounds themselves. So I did.


I then moseyed around town for a bit.

I found a Papageno statue from The Magic Flute!

Dear Detroit, We appreciate the thought, but
you really didn't have to give us anything.
So please, take it back.
Sincerely, errbody

There's this store in Salzburg that sells these little ornately decorated eggshells. They are so pretty, and there are literally millions of them in this one shop.


Traveler's tip: if you look like you know where you're going,
you can get in pretty much anywhere.
Fancy bathroom plank? Check.

In the early afternoon I still had quite a bit of time to kill before my evening flight, so I decided to use the map my hostel gave me showing a pre-marked "easy" hike up one of the smaller mountainy hills and go exploring. After some confusion trying to find the entrance, I managed to get to the trail. But I will say I was never ever sure where I was because (and I will swear up and down) the map in my hands and the terrain under my feet were not the same thing. It was a map of lies.
First stop, monastery.


But, I mean, the views were impeccable when you could find them.


video
AH LOF EHT.

Because I had nothing else to do, because I am a Kessler, and because I am secretly neurotic, I got to the airport 3 hours early, arriving at the check-in counter about 30 minutes before the people that work at the airport. Eh, whatever.

Right next to the airport. One last ditch effort at keeping me here.
Salzburg, you temptress you.

Amitiés :)
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