Lounging in London

Last weekend, I went to London to be a complete tourist and to visit Logan (you remember, the convict who convinced me to break into a villa). On Thursday afternoon, after a long week of business presentations and schoolwork, I flew from Nice and traveled backwards in time to London, landing in a new country just 45 minutes later. When I first arrived, I was pleased by (1) the cute British accents everywhere, and (2) the amount of English being spoken. Finally, I was able to eavesdrop on conversations in English!

I spent Friday afternoon with Gianna & Michelle – two exchange students from France – to catch lunch at Ed’s, a 50’s diner, and to walk around Camden Town. For those of you who don’t know, Camden Town is a section of  NW London with a distinct “alternative” flavor. Here, indie rockers with 2-foot spiked mohawks sit on the curb smoking cigarettes, punks with stud belts abound, and tattoo/piercing parlors make up nearly every other store. It’s a cool place to be, with vintage markets and an underground feel. Gianna, a student of London, showed us a famous clothing shop, Cyberdog, which is more of a techno rave than a clothing store. Inside, dance electronica blares, employees with blue hair fold clothes, and dancers in elevated cages rock out. We got our taste of futuristic fashion and headed outside for something a little more subdued, mulled wine.

After getting my fill of urban streetkids, I walked to Regent’s Park to meet Logan. He had been rehearsing his Shakespeare drama in the park earlier that morning (while I was in Camden), but now I waited for him to get out of acting class. Logan forgot to mention that the park gates lock after sundown, so I conveniently got trapped inside Regent’s Park. Don’t worry, I broke out of there real quick (I’ve gotten used to hopping fences over the past few months), and met Logan coyly standing across the street. We walked the 45 minutes to dinner, but let me say, Chipotle was the burrito at the end of my tunnel. Later that night, I met Logan’s friends from the British American Drama Academy (BADA) and together we went out to Pacha, a nightclub near Marble Arch. Unexpectedly, I saw my first fashion show and, on the catwalk, we danced the night away.

Saturday was a day full of sight-seeing. Within a span of a few blocks, I saw the Big Ben, the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace. It felt like everything iconic to London was clumped in one quarter, right along the Thames River, there for the (picture) taking! It was a typically brisk winter day, but the sun was still shining and led us to St. James Park. We smiled at the people playing fetch with their dogs; laughed at the people being attacked by enormous swans, geese, and pelicans; and carved our initials into a tree in Green Park. It was the only tree in the entire park with its leaves still in full bloom.

When my unusually small legs could no longer bare the strenuous walking, we took a respite and grabbed a cup of jo at Caffè Nero. Rachel, a friend from AU and student of BADA, came to meet us in Trafalgar Square. We admired the massive Christmas tree in the center of the square, as well as the odd street performers behind it, and entered the National Gallery. The National Gallery houses an extraordinary collection of Western European artists — including Turner, Cezanne, Renoir, Monet, Degas, Manet, and Van Gogh — free of charge.

Later that night, over fish & chips and Strongbow cider, I was able to reunite with Eric and Jose, two of my boys from OASN, our a cappella group. It felt so right. Back at Eric’s flat, I kicked some people’s ass at pool and foosball (not really) and caught up with yet another friend AU, Andrew. From there, we went out to another club, got our groove on, and befriended a Scottish transvestite. Lizzie, if you’re reading, I think you rock too!

Overall, London was a whirlwind of a trip. It’s a real cosmopolitan city with so much going on and so many different walks of life. As the largest city of Europe, it’s no wonder everyone finds a place here. But what’s more, London teems with a regal essence. It’s like you’re walking on history. Certainly, London is one place to keep your eyes open. And as long as you look the right way, you’ll see that double-decker bus coming your way.

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Musings of Thanksgiving

I’ve been terrible about updating this lately, but lately I’ve been busy with schoolwork and real people shit. Last week we had our best attempt at bringing a very American Thanksgiving to the South of France. Just in case you were wondering, the French have no idea what Thanksgiving is. “You killed your natives and then ate their food,” most thought. Others had a cursory knowledge from South Park.

“Well, not exactly,” we explained. It’s mostly about friends and family and food. So, we organized a Thanksgiving party/dinner at my friends’ flat and told everyone to bring a dish. Turkey is sort of impossible to find in France. So we feasted on rotisserie chicken, barbecue chicken, sweet potato casserole, and a range of other delicious dishes. One dish I was quite impressed with was Trina’s made-from-scratch pumpkin pie. She actually bought a pumpkin to carve and cook and used graham cracker to make a crust. I made banana bread from scratch, it was a smash!

But as much as I loved the typically American dishes, I was entertained by the fact that some of the non-American students – French and otherwise – brought their own country’s food. Adriana made guacamole, someone brought egg rolls, and there was plenty of French wine and baguettes to go around. Hey, if we’re gonna bring American traditions to France, they’re gonna make us either their food, right? Thank you to Brian and Michelle for hosting a very unconventional Thanksgiving in all the best ways.

But I also appreciated celebrating Thanksgiving with good people and new friends abroad. To think that I came to France knowing no one is sort of staggering. I’ve become close with many new people and I’m particularly thankful for this. And it made me think about my family back at home, who for the first time are celebrating Thanksgiving without me.

I was riding in the car the other day when suddenly I got very nostalgic. Seeing my friends excited to return to their homes for the holidays made me lugubrious. I’m excited to be planing my winter break (and mini-tour of Europe), but am still telepathically sending airwaves home. I think of my friends and family and miss them. It’s funny, heh? You know, as much as I feel brave coming here, the really brave ones are the people at home who are still leaving a place for me. Thanks for not moving on. Thanks for supporting me while I’m away. And just thanks for being in my life.

It made me think of this quote:

“Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to.”  ~John Ed Pearce

 

Planting Roots

“Human nature will not flourish, any more than a potato, if it be planted and replanted, for too long a series of generations, in the same worn-out soil. My children have had other birthplaces, and, so far as their fortunes may be within my control, shall strike their roots into unaccustomed earth.”   

– Nathaniel Hawthorne

This quote has been swirling my head all day. It fits so perfectly with my experience abroad and my newfound philosophy of travel. As I think about the process involved with installing myself in France, I realize more and more what I’m doing is setting roots.

It’s been quite the process settling here – from the initial paperwork at my home university, to the procedures for a long-stay visa… Yesterday I completed the final step in becoming an official resident of France. I made the formidable trek to the Office Français de l’Immigration et de l’Intégration. After enduring the 2 hour wait and a scrupulous investigation of my lungs and eyes, I was granted the official carte de séjour (residence permit) to stay in France until the end of the schoolyear. Seeing my passport grow fuller makes me smile.

The life of an expat is one that elicits a curious mix of mercy and respect. The mercy of not knowing the people, the language, the country; but the respect to persevere. The fear of losing my place in The States comes and goes, but I’ve realized that I can plant roots in many places without losing sight of where I came from.

Pictured above: Then & Now, a view from the top of Nice.

Autumn in Paris

Paris. A city so entrenched in history and beauty that you can feeling it oozing from the town walls. The “City of Light.” A place where culture and art abound, where the stench of romance fills the air and where lovers walk Seine-side arm in arm.

When I was a junior in high school I visited Paris for the first time. I was 16-years-old and it was my first time out of the country. Nervous but excited, I was ripe to see something besides my small hometown. I still remember that warm feeling when I first stepped out of the French Club bus onto the little Parisian streets. It’s the same feeling you get when you’re riding a rollercoaster and your stomach drops for a second, and instantaneously you feel a little more alive. I thought I would never feel like that again, but then I came to Paris… again.

This time, it felt like coming home. As Ernest Hemingway once said, “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” A little older and hardly wiser this time, during this go-around I was on no schedule, had no arranged itinerary to follow, but rather wandered the city for hours each day. I travelled to Paris with a few friends, met up with others, and together we ascended the Eiffel Tower, climbed the Arc de Triomphe, toured the Notre Dame, admired the Musee d’Orsay, and explored the Latin Quarter. And in Hemingway’s terms, we kept the feast going. Literally. Everyday we tried a new bistro, eating local cuisine and drinking French wine or bottled cider –with a café au lait to cap each meal.

The notable difference, however, between my trip when I was sixteen and the one last weekend was that this time things came together by happenstance. Accidents led us to great things. On Saturday, we stumbled into a feminist rally while getting lost on the way to the Pantheon. On Sunday, we mounted the Sacre Coeur as an after-dinner walk and ended up finding ourselves in the middle of a Sunday evening mass. By chance, Logan and Amy were in Paris at the same time, and together we shared a lovely dinner amongst old and new friends. And as luck would have it, my friend Anthony from SKEMA was celebrating his birthday that weekend with his family in Paris. On Friday night, he invited me to Shabbat at his mother’s house — an honorable invitation in itself — and here I felt solidly accomplished for taking part in this rich Jewish tradition entirely in French. Some say that it’s a small world after all. In this spirit, I can feel my world colliding together like a thousand puzzle pieces.

Autumn in Paris is like none other. Little treasures lie hidden in every meter of the city — from the ivy-creeping walls, to the breakdancers on the Champs Elysées, to the padlock fence of love. There a certain urban grit to the city that is almost noble. It’s hard not to be inspired. One day when I am older, I think I would like to own a small bookstore here. Like Friedrich Nietzsche said, “An artist has no home in Europe except in Paris.” 

Breaking and Entering

Logan, a friend from AU, came to visit me this weekend in France. After showing him around the old town, eating pastries, and walking along the seawall, we were looking for a little more adventure! We weren’t quite prepared for what followed, though…

On Sunday, I wanted to take Logan cliff-diving on the Cap. We walked the 50 minutes there, consulting my map along the way to make sure we were headed the right way. We weren’t. We ended up at in front of a huge private villa with a 20 foot black fence. Logan and I turn to each other and said, “Wanna do it?” What follows is a typical Sunday afternoon of two ex-convicts…

So, after deciding that we were going to hop some billionaire’s fence, we put our plan into action. We closed the lid of a dumpster and hoped on top, climbing over the prongs of the gate, and jumped down to the other side. Inside the property of the huge mansion, we started walking down a path, got about halfway down, when all of a sudden sirens started blaring from the villa. Clearly we had set off some security alarm. We were scared shitlessly, fearful that the next thing to happen would be a fleet of attack dogs or a firing squad. Luckily there weren’t any dogs; but unluckily there was the sound of helicopters swirling overhead! In all likelihood, the choppers weren’t coming for us, but it was enough to nearly give us an aneurysm. As Logan said, “Add ‘fly a helicopter over two scared trespassers escaping from sirens’ to my bucket list of practical jokes.”

In an adrenaline-fueled state of panic, I screamed, “RUN!” and we started sprinting down this rocky path. We got to the edge of the path where it turned into a vertical cliff that violently dropped into the sea below. I saw a boat coming towards us and for a split second the driver of the boat made eye contact with me. So there we are, trapped on either side of the property by a cliff and a 20 foot fence. Logan and I tried to regroup for a second, but we ended up running back to the front gate where we first entered. We climbed on top of a garden shed to get out, where Logan accidentally kicked off a shingle. The sound of it shattering below us scared us half to death. Fueled by fear, we climbed a tree closest to the gate, threw ourselves back over the fence, and escaped mildly unscarred. We fled the scene of the crime, still panting, lucky to have escaped our deport-worthy fate. “You still wanna go cliff-diving?” I asked Logan.

We did end up making it to the Cap d’Antibes. Cliff-diving was good fun. An action-packed weekend spent between good friends. Seeing Logan get so excited about the beauty of the Riviera made me take a step back and really take in the town in which I have become so accustomed to living. For a few days I was able to see the Côte d’Azur through his eyes–a town all about hedonism and the pursuit of happiness. Sometimes when you stay in the same place for a while, you start to take it for granted… it temporarily loses some of its magic. The perfect remedy was giving a friend a grand tour of the city that I have come to love — with its massive port and criss-cross of clotheslines. Showing off my town to an outsider made me appreciate it just a bit more. So thank you Logan, for reminding me exactly why I love it here.

How the End of the Island Found Me

Today I went for a walk. The sun wasn’t shining and it wasn’t particularly lovely outside. But tired from the post-midterm blues, I decided to go for a walk to unwind. With a ukulele strapped to my back and my earbuds in, I strolled to the beach. I climbed the stairs that overlook the water, and when I made it to the top I got the most amazing feeling. With some David Matthews in my ears, the wind ripping through the air, and the foggy mountains and sea ahead, I felt infinite. Just for a few seconds I felt bigger, like this everlasting force in a ripcurl of power.

It reminded me of when I was a little kid and my mom would take me to the end of the island after a rough day. Really, it was nothing monumental, but we would drive the few minutes to the edge of Avalon, NJ — where the sea met the city wall — and just sit and think. When I was a teenager, I continued this tradition after a stressful day at work. It became a very spiritual place.

So here I am on the Côte d’Azur, looking out over the water, so glad that the “end of the island” had once again found me… I found a rock to sit on and play some tunes. Let me tell you, playing “Sea of Love” to the sound of the surf can be pretty magical. I swear this place is enchanted.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the daily grind that we forget what’s important. Instead of having these rich, full experiences, we wind up sitting mindlessly on Facebook waiting for the next status update. (I’m a victim of it too, trust me!) Rather than truly relaxing, I end up bumming around online, realizing only hours later that I accomplished nothing. Sometimes the hardest part is stepping out the front door.

What I find is the best remedy to apathy is unplugging, getting some fresh air, and trying to remember why I am here in the first place — to see the world, to experience new things, to push myself into uncomfortable territories. And for any of you wanting to do the same, I urge you: Unplug. Disconnect. Log out of Facebook. Hell, stop reading this blog. Take a breathe, go outside, and live!

Cliff-Diving My Way Through France

Things are quickly getting into full swing here. In addition to midterm assessments at SKEMA, I’ve found the most delicious gelato place in town, enrolled in a local French library, and had 3 sessions of sailing class.

After our most recent sailing class, Laurent, my friend and a South African familiar with the area, drove me and two friends to a secret spot on the Cap d’Antibes. He led us down a dirt path, around a hidden expanse of bush and brush, and finally to the stretch along the Mediterranean. When I saw it, it was the most invigorating sites! Gems like these open my eyes up to a whole new world.

Laurent showed us “The Spot” and dove into the water. Still in our wetsuits, we dove in after him, swam to a massive boulder in the distance, and literally began rock-climbing to the top. Once you make it to the top, there is a flat surface about 2″ wide. It’s like a lily-pad with only enough room for your two feet. (If you look really closely at the photo below you can see to the very top left.)

So there we are, on the top of this jagged cliff, trying to work up the balls to step up to the lily-pad. I brace myself, find my balance, lock my knees… I find solace in a single palm tree on an island in the distance… I take a breath and find a moment of peace. 1, 2, 3 JUUUMMP!!!! From this height you fall about 30 feet (9-10 meters) in 3-4 seconds. I plummet into the water, my heart racing, and am shot back up to the surface. Everything passes in front of your eyes in a flash, and before you know it you are 30 feet below. It was one of the most terrifying, exhilarating experiences of my life. And then we did it all over again.

The same weekend, I showed some more of my friends “The Spot.” We spent that Saturday cliff-diving, listening to the sweet hum of ukelele, and singing into the Mediterranean sunset. As Helen Keller once said, “Life is either one great adventure or nothing.” You only live once; don’t let it pass you by. I’m learning to live for joy everyday.