Sea Fruit

Contrary to popular belief (or, perhaps, directly in support of popular belief–I don’t presume to have a solid grasp on the beliefs of everyone in the world, and should probably have chosen a more honest introductory phrase), being a vegetarian is not very hard. It’s not even hard to be a vegetarian in France, as long as you have the wherewithal to say “je suis végetarienne.” I do hear the occasional “so what do you eat?” from the bleakly unimaginative, and have twice received a bowl of uncooked radishes, offered with the same smile you see when someone gives a child a gift, knowing only their basic interests. I make it even easier on people because I will also eat fish. This allows me a sense of moral superiority over the meat-eaters, and makes me a point of ridicule in the vegetarian community. ‘Pescetarian’ however, requires an explanation, followed by a lot of unanswerable ethical questions that I’d rather not get into, so I just stick with vegetarian.

One evening, my host family brought me to dinner at the house of a family friend–a homeopath and her boyfriend. They would have felt right at home in Ashland, Oregon, what with their woodland elf figurines and their pellet stove. Needless to say, in this house I felt very comfortable with my dietary restrictions. I spent a good deal of time smiling at the marine life in their living room aquarium, watching the fish dance about each other in what I perceived to be joy. If only I had seen the terror in their unblinking eyes.

The appetizer was a charming offering of ginger cookies, tapenade, carrot slices, and a french kombucha-like drink made from fermented fungus. After a healthy chastising of the yellow fever vaccine I’d received that morning in preparation for my trip to Senegal, we dined.

When my host family told them I didn’t eat meat, only seafood, I believe they took it to mean seafood is the only thing I would eat. The entire table was laden with what looked like the supporting cast of the little mermaid. What I had first thought were capers were actually the shriveled grey eyes of of fully intact giant prawns, whose limp antennae rested on what looked like a bowl of their children. The french call these ‘grey shrimp’, which only adds to the appeal of the little creatures staring up at you from a glistening mound of corpses. There was also a plate of crab legs, a platter of oysters (gummy, grey insides gleaming in puddles of seawater), and two dishes of sea snails. These were not escargot, I was told firmly, although I don’t remember what they were actually called because I was too busy digesting the fact that I would have to digest what I’m sure were a tight-knit group of friends back when they were underwater.

Don’t get me wrong, I love seafood. In moderation. A plate of fish and chips, sushi, some batter-fried shrimp, crab with lemon and melted butter–that’s the kind of thing I can really get jazzed about. But I’ve never seen anything like this. The sheer amount of it all. And it was cold. I guess I don’t know how these little bottom-scuttlers are usually served up, but crab, lemon, and butter do not evoke the same pleasure when chewed below room temperature. I’m sure it was my fault for trying to mix solid butter into the mush, but what are we without dreams?

The feast was surreal. It was as if the table had been plunged into slow motion. Open mouths crackling fibers in the prawns; the mucousy slurp of of an oyster as a trickle of sea water descended a chin; throaty french laughter echoing from crab-filled maws framed by stubble and fragmented shell. The french talk with their mouths full. That’s not a judgment or even an observation. It’s a fact relayed to me by host father. They speak through their food so as not to limit the the natural flow of conversation, which I can by all means support in any other setting. Nevertheless, I find it impossible to listen to the curative powers of geraniums while the words are passed through the pulverized body of a snail. Watching the rubbery lump flatten under teeth, only to resume its twisted grey shape as they released it, over and over until it finally succumbs to the esophagus, battered, but still whole.

This, I knew, was my punishment. Witnessing the people I’d grown to love and understand, devouring the contents of a tide pool with a primal ferocity. This was my moment of retribution for devaluing the lives of sea creatures. They were taking their revenge. I knew it was either sink or swim–though I feared either would put me at risk for becoming dessert. I began steeling myself for the task at hand when, from my right, a crack wrought the air. My host mother had broken into a crab leg, and the resulting spurt of juices struck me in the face. We all shared a hearty chortle and I shredded the napkin in my lap. Ultimately though, I allowed my animal hunger to take me. There wasn’t a mirror, but I think my eyes rolled back in my head and I’m pretty sure my teeth sharpened. They howled in approval as I joined the fray of slippery crunching, snapping their jaws and stamping their hooves. Or something like that.

To start, I switched off the part of the brain that prevents you from eating erasers and then sucked down a snail. It wasn’t the sensation of chewing on hardened fat that got me, or the stiff, brittle sucker-piece, or even the squelching noise the thing made as it untwirled from its shell; it was the grains of sand. That is one aspect of seafood that I have never understood. How can one enjoy a scallop when small rocks chip away their teeth at every bite? Why not save a few bucks and roll a damp marshmallow in rock salt? The oysters fascinated me because after they scoop the sorry creature into their mouths with a knife, they tip the shell and drink the seawater. I was always taught not to let dogs drink water at the beach or they’d get diarrhea, so this really felt like tempting fate. I, personally, was content with politely tipping the water onto my plate that was slowly filling with carcass parts. That’t another facet of seafood that I find completely backwards. The more you eat, the more you’re left with, and by the end of the meal your plate is completely full. Eyes, shells, antennae, and exoskeletons stacked like a pyramid of trophies to show the other cavepeople who is the most fertile. They’re defense mechanisms against one another, but that armor gave them no protection as we tore into their weird little bodies.

The french call this massacre ‘fruits de mer‘ or ‘fruits of the sea’. It’s a sweet thought as you rip the tiny legs off of something with a face. Speaking of which, I really got the hang of prawn peeling, though my pride was tainted in part by the growing number of eyes glaring up at me from my plate. Every time I glanced their way, my small and large intestines would switch places, so I took to covering them up with bits of fibery husks from their disemboweled comrades. The concealment worked, but there was no escaping my sins. For the next two days my fingers smelled like I’d just stepped off an Olivia Cruise.

I could hardly believe that the next course they brought out was a salad, and not, as I had originally thought, a terrified manatee calf served in the skull of its mother. Whatever had awakened inside of me yearned for blood, but I pushed it back down and we resumed the airs of polite society. All of the brine had left me parched, and I wanted to clear my mouth of the PeTA-sanctioned hate crime, but they didn’t have any water–only white wine and a bottle of lemonade. I hate lemonade, but, for lack of a better alternative, asked for some anyway. They laughed gaily, saying it was just water in a lemonade bottle, but assured me not to worry, as they would fetch me some lemon drink in a flash. I tried pleading with her–water was fine, preferred actually; scrambling in vain to explain the horrible mistake. Unfortunately, my hurried, broken french fell on deaf ears as she, ever the hostess, told me it was no trouble, and zipped off to grab an unopened bottle of sugary lemon-water.

“All for you!” she stated proudly, her wide grin echoed around me by each guest. I returned their smiles, hoping to convey mirth instead of revulsion, and got started on the 1.5 liters I was now compelled to drink.

Hours later, crustacean and lemonade sloshing through me with every waddle toward the door, I whispered a quiet “desolée” to the fish in the tank.

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We are Amused

“This is a silly country.” The words my travelling companion must have heard over a dozen times. Every day we walked the boroughs of London, I’d find yet another clue that this was, truly, a very silly country. England is weird. There’s no getting around it. They’re as weird as their sky is grey. Looking over my visit, it’s hard to decide where to begin, but I suppose there’s no beginning like the beginning, so I’ll start with my voyage from Heathrow. I took the ever so famous Underground, or “Tube”. Technically they call it the “tchube”, because, as I’ve said, they are a silly people. My first laugh, after popping a squat on the surprisingly comfy, cushioned public transport seat, was conjured by the cool female voice that rang through the Tewb:

“This is the Picadilly Line service to Cockfosters.”

I wish I could add the correct inflection, because after hearing that eighteen times in the course of an hour, I have it perfectly memorized. Needless to say, I giggled all the way to the Jubilee connection. The silly names didn’t stop there, heavens no. You know all the famous ones of course: Buckingham (Bucking-’em), Kensington, Hackney, Tottenham (Tot-in-’em), Wimbledon, and Westminster; but have you ever come across Upminster? What about Cricklewood? It helps if you imagine them said in the voice of an old British man. Wembley? Walthanstow? Finchley? Uxbridge? No? Well surely you’re familiar with Southwark? No, not ‘south-wark’; ‘Suthock’! They confiscate phonetics at customs if you have over 100ml. I could go on with the funny names–and I will. Teddington. Twickenham. Berrylands. Long Ditton. Norbiton. Coombe. Cheam. North Cheam. Penge. Orpington. Stoke Newington. Sewardstonebury. Kew. Chigwell. Molesley. And, of course, Tooting. These are just the names visible on the zoomed out view of the map. You can give two millennia of history, beheadings, and conquerings to a place, but as long as you can visit an Orpington, it will always be ridiculous. As I’ve said: England = Silly

This observation does nothing to to lessen the grandeur of the place. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am, indeed, a very silly girl. Just recently I bought a pair of earmuffs and a cloak. This whimsical, pretentious humour is right up my alley. I am enamored with the capricious pretension, and the whole country for that matter. I much prefer the awkward, polite, albeit contemptuous nature of the British to the loud, pushy general public I encountered in Italy (though, in respect to food, Italy isn’t even in the same galaxy).

Even the advertisements are cheeky, hilarious, and molly-coddling.
Look at this PSA:
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How sweet is that?
And let’s not forget:
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That’s a term I will be using a lot. There’s also this gem that I found on the Czube, and cannot for the life of me figure out what it’s trying to say:
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Look at this man:
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He is a Royal Guard. He is called a Beefeater and he looks ridiculous.

I found this on the side of the road:
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I guess a brunch ended early.

I also came across these little ditties:

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As well as these charming personalities that were adhered to public transport:
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Well, do you know your puffs and pumps?

In case you’re still not convinced, keep in mind that this is a country with septagonal coins.
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That’s a shape you don’t see every day. Unless you’re a silly Brit, in which case yes, you do.

And look at the sheer size that was apparently necessary to allot to their two pence coin. A double A battery is next to it for reference:
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That’s a lot of copper for
two whole pence.

My closing argument for the case that England is simply a smattering of oddities, is their manner of speaking. Don’t get me wrong, their vernacular has me well chuffed (which is a good thing, apparently). As I was walking home one night, I overheard a man say, “Barbecue’s the latest pop-craze, i’ntit?”

An old woman on the Chube said, partially to her son, mostly to herself, “Are we getting off here, are we? Alright then.”

A man at the airport told me “you’ll come and ask if you have any questions then, won’t you, love.”
Syntactically speaking it was a question, but it was very clearly not a question. It was an order, and quite possibly a slight to my intelligence, but I can’t be sure. Everything is phrased as a question and it’s all very passive aggressive and I love it.

If it were not for the enormity of the city, I would say I’ve found my home. Really though, London is far too big for me. It’s a sprawling, beautiful mess that requires three separate modes of public transportation, and nothing is close enough to hoof it. The search continues. Maybe Edinburgh. I’ll sign off here, as I need to meet my doctor about getting rid of this chuffing grumble I picked up in the UK. Cheerio!

G

P.S. I visited the crown jewels. They’re kept in the Tower of London, along with a history of animal cruelty. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures of the treasures, but lucky for you, google images exists, so have at it. Now, I am not one for glamorous things. Give me fun over fancy. I don’t care much for luxury. However. The crown jewels inspired a covetous greed I didn’t even know I possessed. Diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but who needs friends when you’ve got a diamond the size of an egg. These are the kinds of rocks you’d use to hurt someone. I’d say that I’d sell my first born for those glittering wonders, but it’s a bit presumptuous to think I could produce anything grander than the Cullinan Diamond. If anyone is interested, I am now accepting applicants for an Oceans 11 type heist.

P.S.S. here are my favorite snapchats from the voyage:

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Pimp My Crypt: and Other Ancient Things

Something remarkable about the old country: it’s old. As such, there are many old things here, pretty much all over. I guess that’s what happens when people live in the same place for tens of thousands of years–they leave their crap everywhere. Have you ever heard the phrase “take only pictures, leave only footprints”? Well, neither have the French. There are decrepit churches scattered ad nauseaum throughout the countryside. Ancient, majestic spires towering out of nothing and nowhere. While on the train to Paris (how snotty and cosmopolitan does that sound?) I looked out my window to see an enormous gothic turret. I say gothic because I know next to nothing about ancient architecture, and I don’t have a picture for you to prove me wrong. It really was a beautiful relic, jutting straight out of a tiny, sprawling hick town. I know for a fact that it was a hick town because directly in front of the steeple was a large billboard reading “Leroy-Merlin”, and if that doesn’t conjure up an image of a used car dealership, I don’t know what does. That’s how Europe operates. They have lasting memories of long-dead civilizations that they’re not allowed to tear down, so they build their junk around them. It’s certainly an improvement to the United States. At the epicenter of our parking lots, we just have more strip malls.

As I mentioned, I went to Paris. Because I’m classy. I won’t bore you with the details; you’ve seen The Aristocats, you know what the Eiffel Tower looks like. Paris in the rain, yadda yadda. Well, somewhere in the 10 miles of walking per day, we visited a little hole-in-the-wall local favorite called the Notre Dame Cathedral. You’ve probably seen it in that Disney film about the wide-eyed, physically remarkable dreamer who wasn’t allowed outside, but finally escaped to see a festival. I think it was called Tangled. It was pretty impressive, how old and big it was. I especially liked the stained glass windows. I found it a little hypocritical how they kept shushing all of us, and had signs reading “silence please”, when they rang these obnoxiously loud bells every hour, on the hour. No one complained about that ruckus, but whatever. My favorite part of the cathedral was definitely the gift shop, situated right between the pews and the Chapel of Our Lady of Guadeloupe. Here’s a picture:

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I forget, who was the Patron Saint of Tchotchkies?

I even got this neato souvenir coin. One side has Pope Francis, and the other has Jean-Paul:

Pretty sweet, right? This little number cost me 2 euro. I guess not even the Papacy can resist the cold allure of capitalism.

We didn’t have time to check out the catacombs this go about Paris, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t seen my fair share of “bone”-hommes. Hardy har har. That sentence was humerus because it was a play on the French phrase “bonshommes,” meaning good men, and the English word “bone”, meaning what your skeleton is made out of. That sentence is humorous because the humerus is a bone. Comedy. Recently I took a tour of the Crypte Saint Laurent, in my very own Grenoble. It was a charming little arrangement of scaffolding suspended over the skinless remains of who knows how many dead people. Here are some of the friends I made there:

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They don’t speak much, but they’re great listeners. My classmates and I argued over whether or not they were real bones. They were skeptical that anyone would leave real corpses within poking distance, but I figure that Europe is lousy with disturbed burial sites. They’ve got more exposed remains than they know what to do with, so they might as well make some money off of them. I think it’s great. These poor souls never got the chance to make a facebook, but now they get the opportunity to feature in countless selfies. A really cool feature of this crumbling church was the ceiling adorned with sweet little swastikas:

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Being half-Jewish, this put just enough fear in me to really appreciate life, which is more than I can say for these puppies:

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I think I’m starting to notice a trend here… When I was in the Louvre I saw a beautiful arrangement of sarcophagi. There must have been 50 of them, There was even a mummy:

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I may be mistaken, but I’m pretty sure this is how you get cursed. Oh well, Europeans just can’t resist violating personal space.

French cuisine tip: Did you know that when eating escargot, you’re supposed to cook the snails first? Well I didn’t, so I need to make a quick trip to the toilet.

Until next time!

G

Writings on the Stalls

Here’s something odd about French Universities: Bathrooms. Pardon me, toilets. Because in France, the bathroom and the toilet are two separate rooms, sometimes connected, but more often separated by a hallway. That’s a lot of door-handles to touch before washing your hands. For whatever reason, the administration doesn’t believe in toilet seats. I don’t know if it’s political or religious, but you’re lucky if you can find more than two beseated toilets per building. Stranger still, there are still the broken remnants of long-forgotten seats, still fixed to the porcelain bases, begging the question: who took them? Where are they now? Quite frankly, the situation works for me, as I much prefer to squat and pee anyway. Keeps me svelte.

I am moderately unsettled by the fact that most of the toilet cubicles come equipped with nifty cages above them, like this one here:

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I suppose they’re to ensure that you don’t accidentally climb out if you get spooked by a loud noise or a capitalist.

Truly though, my favorite alteration to the campus is the graffiti peppering everything in arms’ reach. I can’t speak for other universities in the country, but this one is riddled with whimsical defacements of government property. The missives are most rampant in the toilets/bathrooms, though it seems like a lot of work to squat and write at the same time. They’re tricky, the French. I must say it is a wonderful distraction from your aching hamstrings. I haven’t called any of the numbers, but from what I’ve read, Carlie P knows how to have a great time. The messages vary in eloquence, but they’re all equally charming, as you can see:

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The youth here are so expressive. The best I’ve seen though is definitely this one:

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For those of you who don’t read French, or have difficulty making inferences based on similar sounding latin-rooted words, it says “The chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir beware.” I saw this on my first day of school and I knew that I was home.

Truthfully there’s a lot of writing all over the school. On the walls, the desks, the ground, the vending machines, and such. It’s just like elementary school, except bigger and you get in a lot more trouble when you bite people.

The street art is pretty great too. There are sheep hidden everywhere. Look at these sweet little nuggets:

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I also found a beautiful spray-painted mural of some dancing gazelle covering the side of a building. I forgot to take a picture of it, and all the streets look the same, but if I find it again I’ll take another picture. I’m a fan of the animal graffiti, although I could probably do without the excessive amounts of furries in advertising:

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I’m not really sure what that’s about.

That’s all for now, I think, but I have to get going anyway. The family mime got out again and I have to put him back in his box.

A bientôt,

G

What’s That in My Mouth?

(B)log date: 1/10/2016

It has been six days since my arrival in France. Still no sign of a bidet. I am beginning to question whether they exist at all, however I remain optimistic.

In almost a week of living here in Grenoble, I’ve started to notice some of the vast differences in our cultures. One of the most striking things is the French relationship to alcohol. Not only can teenagers wander into their local pubs, supermarkets, and gas stations to buy a 40 without getting carded, but my university sells beer in their cafeteria. In their cafeteria. Where college students eat. In the daytime. Is that not the most counterintuitive thing you’ve heard all day? What a country. I should probably point out that this doesn’t mean students and professors are drunkenly stumbling to their classes. Hilarious as that might be, the relaxed position of alcohol in Europe results in responsible behavior; having a beer with lunch, a wine with dinner, going about your day in total sobriety.

In a less agreeable light is the French relationship to coffee. Coming from Seattle, I’ve become accustomed to hooking up an IV of Sumatran blend as I do my makeup in the morning, and keeping a few packs of Folgers Instant in my wallet to snort in case of emergency. I need my coffee, and France leaves a lot to be desired in that respect. Yes, they drink it—they don’t call it a French press for nothing—but their cups are tiny. You know those 8oz coffees your mom orders from Starbucks that don’t make any sense and you wonder how she can even keep her eyes open let alone drive to work and pay your tuition? That’s a French cup of coffee. Sure it’s espresso, but that doesn’t mean what you think it means. It has a higher caffeine concentration per volume, but is generally too small to have as much as a standard cup of regular coffee. Thanks Wikipedia. At least they’re cheap. I can down three café au laits or two café crèmes in under 30 seconds. Impressed yet?

Next on the docket is the French and their food. I’m a vegetarian, but even so, French cuisine really is incredible and blah blah blah, you’ve heard it all before. What I find more interesting are the weird things they do to their food. Have you ever heard of Kinder Surprise? They’re German chocolate eggs, about the same size as Cadbury’s, but instead of a caramel or cream center, they have a little toy inside. Not ringing a bell? That may be because they’re illegal in the United States. Something about parents worried their kids might choke on the little throat-sized hunk of plastic hidden in their delicious chocolate ovoid. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for the French. They up the ante with a little gem called La Galette du Roi. The King Cake. So named after the biblical three kings from the nativity story (who weren’t actually kings, by the way, and were more than likely just travelers—but where’s the mystère in that?). Good on them that they’ve left behind a legacy as distinguished as the Galettes; these harbingers of dental devastation run rampant through France in the time between Christmas and Mardi Gras. They’re very tasty—usually filled with marzipan and sometimes fruit or chocolate fillings—but they have one quirk: a tiny figurine embedded somewhere in their sugary depths. Traditionally, the figurine is a little plastic baby, which is meant to represent Jesus. What’s a better homage to the son of god than accidentally swallowing him in his infancy? These days the festive little choking hazards are less infanticidal, assuming the form of little enamel crowns, or tiny wooden books, or itty bitty porcelain flags. Whoever finds the trinket (la fève) in their cake and manages not to swallow it or asphyxiate, is the king of the feast. It’s a sign of good luck, bestowing upon the king a little crown and the task of honor of purchasing the next galette. Here’s a picture of the porcelain crown on which I chipped a molar at my first meal in the Antoine Saint-Exupery airport. Next to the crown, for size reference, I’ve placed an American penny. You can see Mr. Lincoln, who was kind of a king.

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It must be lucky—my periodontist told me I needed a crown replaced…Badoom-Tss!

Really though, I have my doubts about the fortuity of la fève, considering immediately after that my travelling partner and I missed our shuttle to Grenoble, and subsequently our professor’s free ride from the bus station to the city. Here’s a snapchat of us on the later shuttle:

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We’re smiling, but there is fury in our eyes.

Monoprix, the French equivalent to Target, has a spectacular campaign for their king cakes right now. Instead of a trinket, ten lucky customers across the nation might find a diamond in their bite of cake! I say ‘might’ because anyone who’s ever seen a diamond before knows that they’re not too big. Even the French, savoring each bite as they do, have at least a 20% chance of swallowing that little treasure. But hey, I’d rather pass a diamond than the baby Jesus.

I’d better sign off now. My host family and I are about to go take our baguettes for a walk.

À tout à l’heure,

G

The Great Schlep

Griffin  Hadden

12/28/15

This has been, perhaps, the most practical Christmas I’ve ever had. I’m sure it’s just another sign of getting older, but every year I seem to ask for and receive gifts that are a little less fun and a little more functional. I’m not complaining. Life is expensive, and it takes a lot of concentrated will power to go out and buy yourself a colander when all you really want is a full sized replica of the Triwizard Cup from Harry Potter. Yes, I’ve had to put whimsy on the backburner—this year in particular. For Christmas 2015 I received two suitcases; a secure, under the clothes money pouch; a pocket-sized French to English dictionary; a travel journal; a pair of luggage locks; a sleepsack for hostels; and a European outlet adapter.

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I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, this girl must have a lot of birds.” Wrong! What would give you that idea? What’s really going on is that in just six short days I will be boarding a plane to France. Well, I’ll be boarding a plane to San Francisco, then to Munich, and then to Lyon, where I will take a shuttle to Grenoble. Yes, I am gearing up for what everyone has assured me will be the experience of a lifetime: a six month study abroad in Grenoble, France.

 
For the past few months, the prospect of this voyage has felt like a distant relative. Oh, I know she exists, and I’ve heard all about her, but we’ve never actually met. She doesn’t quite feel real yet. Now though, she’s on her way. She’ll be here soon and we’d better prepare the guest room. Fluff the pillows, clean the bathroom, pull out the leaf in the table. We don’t know what to expect from her, but we know she’ll be different. This analogy is getting away from me, but you get the idea. France is looming before me, hexagonal and mysterious, and all I can do is power through my travelling anxiety. It’s not the prospect of going somewhere new that stresses me out; it’s getting there. I’m being bombarded by a bounty of belligerent budding blunders. What if I miss my flight because I incorrectly set my alarm? (This has happened to me more than once). What if my first flight is delayed and I miss my second? What if in my haste I accidentally pack a switch blade in my carry on? What if they lose my luggage? What if they sit me in between a baby and a judgmental old person? Myriad misgivings. I am not a happy traveler. Whatever happens, as long as I get to France, I’ll consider it a success.

 
Now I have to return to my two suitcases, simultaneously worrying that I have too much and too little, while convincing myself that I am not woefully ill-prepared.

 
Until next time,

G