Thirteen

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Like bugs in amber, the first and last time we saw each other is one and the same. Your gaze makes people move like molasses. One eye speaks volumes while the other hides your true intentions : cruel, cunning, and credible, to boost your street cred, of course. The things that phase you come from another planet, where half the time your gaps are hidden by the perpetual cloud of smoke forming a halo above your blond curls. Haziness leads to clarity, builds respect, forms more than just chemical bonds.  They know you are one of them now. The clothed masses are a single blob in a grey urban jungle. Splashing through the rain puddles scattered amongst  the curving cobblestone streets, you see your reflection rippled in the muddy rain waters, the grimy shop windows, the steaming espresso that won’t talk to you no matter how much you want it to.

Like the Pied Piper, you are a natural-born leader. Whether coming or going, the crowd runs after you like lemmings scurry off of cliffs. Even when you’re absent you’re more present than ever. Eyes scan the musty darkness for cobalt lasers, but all they see are the distortions of the disco ball, spinning round and round mercilessly to the back beat. Bones crumble into a fine powder in frigid temperatures, but your reserve stays solid–these walls are never coming down, not as long as you can help it. Your soul’s very own Iron Curtain. Outward positivity is a Venetian mask to be worn at all social occasions, save for funerals and business negotiations. Emotion is weakness, is servility to power. If you show it you’re a slave for life.

Except the evil ones are inside of you already, the demons have claimed your mind and they’re coming after your heart next–that pulsating stone of silver that never seems to quiver, no matter how cold you are. Before you fall victim to your own shadow, tell the blob why it should care. Use the most powerful tool in your temple to spread your gospel, even if it cancels out your transparent halo. Time stops every time you speak, and these rare, spare moments are the gems of existence.

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Twelve

Aside

Some people go their whole lives without ever questioning their consumption habits—Whatever floats your boat, right ?  I’m not one of those people. Every morning I drink at least two cups of black coffee and proceed to think about what I could do differently on this new European day. The three C’s of my diet are Café, Cannelle, and Cornflakes, all mixed up together in a cereal bowl. It wasn’t until recently that I had to give up coffee, and the experience has been both mentally and physically jarring.

One of the many mistakes we made during our sejour in Italy had to do with transportation. Instead of taking the Eurostar from Rome to Florence, my friends and I took the Italian equivalent of the RER (American equivalent of the Metra) and saw our travel time hit three and a half hours instead of the planned ninety minutes. As I stretched my legs in our unexpectedly first class train car, I watched the rolling hills of the Italian countryside fly by my window while nomming on a fresh green vegetable with ridges all over it. For only sixty cents, I was supporting local business in Rome and giving myself the opportunity to try something new. Little did I know that the pomodoro I had purchased earlier that day was actually a tomato-pepper, and that it would ruin the lining of my esophagus for days to come. Just seconds after finishing it, the two inch periphery that surrounds my mouth became inflamed. I gasped at my reflection in the mirror; the female version of Bozo the clown had finally come to life. My friends giggled in a cavalier fashion, but between the pepper and the prosciutto, I knew something had gone very wrong.

When we arrived at the Emerald Palace hostel in Florence, I had two cups of organic onion soup I had bought at the international market in Vatican City and went to bed almost immediately, spent after a long day of walking and travelling. I was jolted awake in the middle of the night by a strong burning sensation in my chest, as if I were regurgitating red-hot coals to build my own pizza oven in the corner of the room. I realized that for the first time in my life, and much too early at that, I was experiencing symptoms of acid reflux disease. I did some quick research and discovered that virtually everything I had been consuming in Italy was contributing to my heartburn, namely : tomato sauce, onions, vinegar, peppers, citrus, wine, tea, and–my all-time favorite–coffee. I went the next day drinking only one cup of coffee and felt like something was missing in my life. Today I had no coffee, and I couldn’t leave the hostel due to sheer fatigue and an overwhelming feeling that my life had no purpose. My addiction to coffee (not just caffeine, for tea never quite does the trick) has become more obvious than ever. I can’t imagine doing work without the stuff, much less getting through long, monotonous days or the inevitable, universal late-afternoon slump.

Don’t get me wrong, though–the acid reflux diet has its benefits. Cutting out spicy foods, acidic vegetables, and caffeine is giving me the chance to go back to the blander food groups I liked before the age of eleven. This alimentary regression has enabled me to tap in to my child mind and enjoy the travelling experience at a more basic level. I’ve also been adhering to the traditional Mediterranean diet in which spicy food is practically non-existent. Unfortunately, almost everything in Italy has tomato sauce, and the coffee here is the best I’ve ever tasted. I imagine this is what it feels like when a sober person walks past a bar and sees all the shiny bottles of alcohol, or when someone with Celiac’s disease walks past a bakery and wishes those rolls looked just as good on her body as in the shop window.

Regardless, health comes first. That tomato-pepper may have eroded my esophagus, but it did not spoil my spirit. After seven days with no coffee, I will have achieved what I once thought was impossible, and that is the best part of this whole situation. Don’t tell me it’s impossible, tell me it’s never been done before. In the meantime, Viva Italia

Eleven

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Those with the most discriminating taste buds swear that Lyon is the foodie capital of Europe, or that Italian cuisine is the most refined. I am here to tell you that the food in Amsterdam is the bomb diggity, not because I was ripped like something awful, but because I ventured out of my comfort zone to try new things, such as :

1) Croquettesen – Breaded cylinders shaped like egg rolls, these delightful treats are often fried and are filled with either meat or peanut satay sauce. Why peanut, you ask ? Well, Indonesia was a Dutch colony way back in the day, and peanuts are apparently abundant there. The ones I had were savory and peanutastic, and I sincerely hope to find them here in France, if not back in the States this summer.

2) Pancakes – I know what you’re thinking–that’s SO AMERICAN. Yes, pancakes are American– but these were super pancakes. And actually, pancakes originated in medieval Europe, so props to the Old World on this clever creation. I got a Chilean pancake and had to restrain myself from worshipping the table. Although the portion was way too big, the spices were incredible, and I highly suggest you go to the Pancake Bakery if you’re ever in Amsterdam wandering around the 9 streets of Jordaan.

3) Stroopwafel – Effectively the Oreos of the Netherlands. I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but these round wafers have either honey or caramel in the middle–sometimes both–and are enough to make any salt lover savor the flavor. Dangerously addictive for sugar lovers. Dip them in your coffee for an enhanced experience.

4) Rendang Groeten – The owner of the local Indonesian restaurant suggested this dish to my friend when she asked for something spicy and coconutty. She decided on something else with a thousand year-old egg in it, but I felt bad letting such a brilliant idea go to waste; I ordered the beef Rendang. I won. The fire in my mouth after the fifth bite was priceless. This, ladies and gentlemen, is how taste buds get desensitized.

5) Kip – This chicken sausage was in my going-home salad, and it made me not want to go home. I’ve never been one to rave about meat, but this one’s for the meat lovers : A smoked sausage flavor that still manages to pass for chicken and doesn’t overpower the other flavors on your palate. Substantive and light, kip goes well with a light meal or a traditional German meat and potatoes production. After all, Dutch culture is heavily influenced by the Germans.

kip with curry sauce

kip with curry sauce

It’s been said that food is a great way to immerse oneself in an unknown culture, and I can vouch for that. I may not be a food connoisseur, but I do know what I want out of my culinary and gastronomical experiences, and that is one simple thing : diversity. I don’t like the concept of staying within one cuisine, and that is what I love about Amsterdam. The multiculturalism, the tolerance, and the acceptance of all tastes, no matter if they are savory, sweet, spicy, or smoked (sometimes too much). If you ever make it out there, don’t be afraid to throw caution to the winds and explore the world of food.

“Vrij zijn in Amsterdam” – be free in Amsterdam

Ten

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Today begins like any other weekday. I rise up from a deep slumber to a tinny ringtone coming from the first Nokia device ever made–a cell phone that I am proud to claim as my own.

I stumble downstairs to have breakfast à la Française–a little French baguette soaked in black coffee and yogurt cushioned with a bed of honey on the bottom. This is all doused in cinnamon, of course.  My host sister comes down to eat with me and we discuss my cinema and literature class at the Sorbonne. I’ve been having trouble appreciating this class purely because of the time-frame, the prof, and the lack of friendly students. Welcome to Paris. All of my speculation leads her to ask me the simple question of whether or not I think of movies as fully anchored in reality or not, to which I respond ‘yes’. This petite breakfast club session makes me re-evaluate cinema’s place in my life. I realize that this class I’m in is actually giving me cultural reference and connecting me to people who have good taste. That’s not so bad.

Next, I work on a cover letter for an internship and head out to Bastille to meet up with a friend for lunch. We eat at a café/bistro while sitting outside in the surprisingly scorching sun until my quiche Lorraine looks like it’s about to refry itself on my plate. It’s a relaxing French meal (read : not a lot of food consumed in an hour) and the walk home consists of a discussion about identity and the intersection between theory and practice. I come to the conclusion that in order for me to live better, I need a delicate balance between the two.

I run upstairs to change my coat because it’s sunny and hot outside while I stroll down the boulevard to get to my Geography class at l’Institut Catholique de Paris.  The building itself is old, yet the kids are hip chain smokers whose parents drop mad cash for this very private, very expensive university in the heart of the city of lights. Basically, ICP is the French version of DePaul, my soon-to-be alma mater. Our airhead teacher is late per usual, and I half-listen to two student presentations–one on Colombia and one on Brazil–as I daydream about the possibilities of mixing cobalt and jade. After class, I partake in a cloppe session with some classmates and take the metro to the Latin Quarter for babysitting at 4:30.

I accidentally take the train one stop too far. The bus outside helps me backtrack, and as I walk onto the Place St. Michel from the metro, I see a small young man playing a grand old piano right in front of the gargantuan fountain. Entranced by the melodic purity of it all, I stay until he finishes the overture. I clap sincerely. It’s during the short duration of time that it takes for me to wait for the crosswalk signal to turn green that a scarf-clad French man wearing Gucci shades tells me that he also loved the piano man and that I look elegant today. Awkward. I spot a classmate of mine just behind him, and I walk over to her side and start chatting her up. Success : the creeper is out of sight.

fontaine st. michel

fontaine st. michel

The two of us spend a few minutes looking at clothes before I excuse myself to meet Madeleine, the seven year old girl I watch and speak English with, at her school. The kid and I mosey on over to the park across the street, which happens to be right in front of the famous Sorbonne. I meet a man on the bench next to me who speaks near-perfect English with an American accent, and I ask him why he doesn’t speak with a posh British accent like most of the other Parisians I’ve met. He tells me it’s because he’s got a musical ear. Turns out he’s in the movie industry.  He gives me some useful tips on screenwriting and teaches me new French words, supporting my conviction that anti-American sentiments in France are exaggerated.  After the park, we go back to the house and Madeleine’s dad, the jolly plastic surgeon, is already there. I’m free as a bird, and I take the bus home to take care of business, eat dinner, and write this blog post.

Freedom : what does it really mean ? After all, Article 4 in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man (why man ?) says :

La liberté consiste à pouvoir faire tout ce qui ne nuit pas à autrui : ainsi l’exercice des droits naturels de chaque homme n’a de bornes que celles qui assurent aux autres Membres de la Société, la jouissance de ces mêmes droits. Ces bornes ne peuvent être déterminées que par la Loi.

HUMAN RIGHTS

HUMAN RIGHTS

This passage effectively states that we all have the right to do anything that does not hurt any other person, and that your liberty cannot stop others from exercising these same rights as human beings. Right on.

I enjoy being free, so naturally I like this article. For anyone who speaks French, it’s a spectacularly written declaration. Still, reading it makes me wonder about how free we all really are. One thing leads to another, and my day has turned into a big jumble of connect-the-dots–seemingly unrelated events that I have to think about in order to find causalities.

Still, causality ≠ correlation.

If my head hadn’t been in the clouds, would I have taken the metro one stop too far earlier today ? Would I have evaded being hit on by Fonzie, spent time with my classmate, or sat on the same bench as the French man with the musical ear ?

An insect flaps its wings and a tsunami happens on the other side of the world.

My daydreams are like butterflies, and the chaos that is Paris is beautiful.

Nine

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Transfixed by your gaze and the possibilities it implies, I silently wonder how many hopeful souls those blue-grey daggers have slaughtered. A crooked look, nose like a hook, and skin as clear as a Swiss mountain spring. What seethes below the surface I can only guess, but judging from your forced conviviality and your smoking habit, it can’t be that deep inside of you. Trillions of swarms of people fly by me, and all I see is your lanky gait–inaperçu, not quite in full form, and glazed with understated, subtle tones of confidence. You wear your clothes, but you wouldn’t dare let them wear you. Shabby chic, you are your hometown at its best. On rainy days, those cobalt knives blend in with the gloom and sparkle with a wit you reserve for the few skins that can withstand the bite.

 

Ever since you were born they told you that you were handsome, raised you like a charming gentleman, even though you haven’t always acted that way. Spoiled with compliments and starving for luxury, you slowly turned in to what they needed and you wanted–a fearless leader and a scapegoat, all at the same time. Your views are met with indignant competition, a sure sign of respect and admiration. You feel like utter royalty sometimes but you don’t let your actions reflect your perceived status, because you’re not even halfway down your path to fame and fortune. You want hot cars, steep cliffs, and women that glow like fire, keeping you warm at night.

 

You need space like you need air. Isolation is your catharsis. After the little death, you proceed to switch haystacks and make like a life-sized snowflake, your frosty cold exterior melting quickly under an uneven layer of grey down. To warm yourself by the fire would break you slowly, then build you back up again. All things considered, you wouldn’t mind being remade. The embers are dim, but still alive in the creeping crepuscule. The occasional flame or two sheds light on the lingering memory of a warm pouch–the absent presence, the rouge on your collar. They say that you bear the brunt of mutability and mirrors in her life, assuming and reflecting for the female Narcissus, just like you were made to do. Your oceans are thousands of fathoms deep and you don’t even know it, so you carry them with you to every time you slither away to your lair.

 

The darkness gives you shelter. It reveals all the lusts you’ve bottled up, the pens you’ve stolen, and the people you miss. Corks bobbing in the murky waters, your stretching grasp just pushes them further out of reach. It’s all happening from a distance inside your head, and you are safe. Night’s opaqueness protects your walls and shields you from the rippling horizons of Tomorrow. And it’s only a day away

Eight

Aside

Does travel cause a loss of self-identity ? Or can travel help you find yourself while being lost in a foreign culture ? The musing lends itself to scrutiny as I look back on the countries and states I’ve visited in the past several years. Countless paychecks and plane rides later, I can safely say that I’ve discovered more of myself and the world around me, but I don’t think that I’ve grown, per say. Physically and mentally, I’ve been more or less the same size for years. That being said, I’ve learned more and started using more of my brain–in other words, my potential was unbeknownst to myself. I hesitate to say that I grew because I’ve had it in me all along. We all do.

It all comes with the right kind of support. The fact is that people need others around them egging them on, praising them, and yelling at them when they mess up. A person’s potential will stagger because of the unfavorable environment in which his or her lack of motivation is being reinforced.

Contrary to popular belief, personality and environment are the two most important factors in identity formation. I’m lucky enough to still have both of my parents, but some people are not so lucky. Their personalities are formed with gaps and holes, and their identities become amalgamated through the lacks and the surpluses with which they were raised. My gaps and holes are a mystery to all but a trusted few. But imagine what it would be like to have your life broadcasted in tabloids and celebrity news channels like E! and VH1… You would probably go on coke binges and shave your head too. Britney, I don’t blame you.

righteous

Shoddy journalism still makes money off of people who fiend for base gossip and speculation. I’ve known so many otherwise cultured people that go one of two ways : they either immerse themselves in politics, sociology, art, and heaviness, or they distance themselves from their high-charged careers at any possible moment by watching romantic comedies and reading People Magazine in their spare time. Clearly, the demographic for this type of writing is pretty broad and is vaguely defined by people who want to tune out for a minute. Personally, the lightness of being gets to be a little much at times when I pick the latter option, so keeping a healthy balance is what I live for most of the time. Whatever floats your boat.

We’re all only as strong as we think we are. Therefore, the man who shoots you down could be your impetus for change or your bullet to the head. There’s a lot less to it than meets the eye. In some instances, going through the motions in life is the path of least resistance, while for others it’s a path that’s met with resistance. Day-to-day, we’re faced with millions of decisions. We make most of them without even thinking about it, but the decision-making process can require a lot of energy. If decisions are particularly difficult for you, you may just decide that going with the flow is the best option. But how are you benefitting from life if you don’t make the most out of everything ? If you look at your environment as a big, round orange, you should ideally be trying to squeeze that orange dry with all of your actions and decisions. “When life gives you lemons, you paint that shit gold”. Slug’s right about one thing, which is that gold is a lot more useful than a bunch of fruit…. At least in the modern society we live in. I guess if we still depended on livelihood and bartering, lemons would be useful, the internet would be obsolete, and this blog would be useless.

If there’s anything traveling has schooled me on, it’s that boredom is just a state of mind, not a state of being. Being bored in a big city signifies a lack of interest, not a lack of activities. Every minute you spend thinking about doing something is a minute wasted not actually doing it. What’s horrible about laziness is that it’s mental paralysis. Stuck in between two greys, you are going nowhere, and fast. That sedentary lifestyle becomes the norm, and so does your indecisiveness. You’re stuck in purgatory, but only you have the key. That being said, laziness is relative, and all religions and ways of life are just different paths to the same thing. Everyone’s on the pursuit of happiness.

Sidenote : “Vagabond” by The King’s Parade encapsulates the short journeys and fathomless solitude that make up the life of a restless soul.

Travelling has simultaneously opened my spirit and disappointed me. There is no ideal place to go, no ideal living situation, and no ideal traveling buddy. Life is imperfect no matter where you go, and no place is a promised land–not Paris, not Salt Lake City, not even New York. These stories are the same as the ones people told the poor immigrants about the streets of America. They packed up their lives to come to Ellis Island and found that the streets were not, in fact, paved with gold. If you really immerse yourself where you are, you’ll see that there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. Layer after layer, you’ll discover the various facets that make up a city, culture, village, society. Taxes, death, violence, and illness are everywhere if you look hard enough, but so are the things that make life worth it. The diamonds in the ruff.

onions have layers

The openness to new experience that comes with travelling is more of an awareness of the things around you rather than a gain. I read somewhere that we only use a small percentage of our brains as adults, and that certain people use more than others. I wonder if people who have had the opportunity to travel use more of their brains than the others…. that hypothesis has yet to be tested. That’s what I mean when I say that travel hasn’t made me grow–it just raised my awareness and tested me in ways the Institution never could have. Travel : the practical component of a global education.

Seven

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As a continuation on my last post, the exception to the moderation rule seems to be McDonald’s. Lovingly called Mack Dough by the Froggies, these establishments are more like three star restaurants than greasy fast-food joints. Glistening tables and well-groomed employees give way to a stellar food menu that forms a solid first impression on foreigners entering a French McDonald’s. The chevre (goat cheese) wrap is particularly tempting, as it is glazed in a honey sauce and topped with toasted dill flakes. I don’t eat McDonald’s regardless of which country I’m in, but I guess if I didn’t grow up in a culture that raised me to be afraid of meat, I, too, would visit this magnificent mecca of American commercial culture to sup with Ronald by my side on the reg.

chevre wrap

The portions at Mack Dough are significantly smaller than in the United States, and the ‘super size’ option has never existed here. Moderation is in effect–not in the frequency of McDonald’s visits, but rather in the amount of food the establishment designates for one person. http://www.france24.com/en/20110203-fat-patients-force-british-ambulances-supersize

Paris is the fashion capital of the world, but the women’s wear is decidedly more conservative than the places I’ve been in America, save for Amish country. That being said, I have yet to visit Salt Lake City, so I can’t make any generalizations. Skirts and shorts are most often fingers’ length and are worn with tights. When worn without tights, they’re met with scorn and shock from other women who feel bad for the naïve little girl who dares to enter the metro with bare legs– doesn’t she know the unspoken code ? When I visited the biggest mosque in Paris with a guy friend of mine in October, I was wearing shorts without tights (I don’t care) and was forced by the proverbial “bouncer” to put on a long wraparound skirt in order to cover my lascivious legs before entering the premises. It seems that bare legs should be saved for night clubs, but even that is a rarity. Apparently tights just give your outfit that little extra flair, and that’s definitely what Parisians have got going on. The girls have mastered the just-rolled-out-of-bed look replete with bomber jacket, messy hair, combat boots, and cigarette in hand. The men are more or less metrosexual, which has given my already-faulty gaydar a run for its money. A scarf, matching clothes–usually consisting of tweed, corduroy, and/or skinny jeans–and oversized headphones can hip-ify even the homeliest of males.

stylin

I brought my Lacoste shower bag with me thinking it was BCBG (bon chic bon genre,) but it turns out that Lacoste is the thug brand of Europe. Lacoste is to Europe what Rocawear is to the United States. This uninformed mistake has done nothing but boost my street cred, so I’m not too upset about it.

ally

But after reading Crime by Irvine Welsh, I realized that criminals identify more with the little alligator than with the inflated prestige of the brand itself.  Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister & Co. are huge here–flashback to the 1990s ! I tried explaining to multiple French people who were the same age as me that these brands are no longer that popular in the States. This statement was met with a confused stare, and I followed up by explaining that many people try and dress as the Europeans do. This is the biggest conundrum I’ve found so far : America is like Europe’s annoying younger sibling. America is profoundly influenced by Europe’s rich history, but Europe is undoubtedly influenced by America’s creativity and innovation in all things, but especially music and cinema.

The American music is a couple of decades behind the times, but that’s okay. I don’t really mind hearing R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” in a bar, but when it’s followed up with “Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations, I start feeling like maybe the Parisian metro is really a time machine.

Sidenote : Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris is an allegory for the ways in which Paris has retained so many historical qualities, as well as for how French culture preserves old ways of doing things that are stereotypical to what is considered by many as the Old World mentality. He wasn’t actually going back in time, he just felt like he was. I feel like that too sometimes, especially when they play old music and young French people swing dance to it. Yes, this behavior is totally normal at soirees and house parties, and it’s called Le Rock.

One example of the vagueness and disorganization characteristic of French bureaucracy is the lack of courteous people when waiting to be served. The lines here are non-existent. A queue forms inadvertently and resembles a swarm of fleas; there is no linear formation. Rather, people stand in a triangular crowd and elbow each other to get to the tip of the triangle before everyone else does. The movie theaters are a great manifestation of this phenomenon–I remember the first time I walked in to a movie theater. It was a bank holiday, and I was at the back of the triangle. I looked around at the old wall paneling, the grimy carpets, and the paper posters of the features that were playing, and felt as though I had been teleported back to the 1980s. It turned out that Les Intouchables was sold out– I could not have been happier to leave the scene of déjà vu / pre-cell-phone era. I finally saw the movie not long ago, and it probably deserves a blog post of its own at some point. All I will say for now is that I can’t understand how it blew up so big in France but not in the United States. Aren’t affirmative action and lesbian secretaries what make up a progressive young person’s dreams ? …..

good film