I don’t even know who I am out here…but maybe that’s a good thing

It “only” took 10 weeks for me to get sick of the overgrown-bushy-unkempt eyebrow look I’ve unsuccessfully tried to to turn into a thing here in Paris, out of, mainly, sheer laziness and lack of interest. I took an hour-and-a-half trip (each way) on the rer/metro today to have the extra hair whacked off with threads. I feel weirdly naked. But, when I look in the mirror, I feel more like myself than I have in weeks.

Being abroad has left me strangely vacant and more than a little off-kilter, in ways that I can’t fully articulate. (In some ways I can, see previous posts.) I have become fond of the phrase “I don’t even know who I am out here,” or, sometimes, “I don’t even know who I am anymore.”

a spectacular view of paris from the the tippy-top of montmartre.

a spectacular view of paris from the the tippy-top of montmartre.

I haven’t painted my nails in weeks. I rarely do anything to my hair, which used to be really fun for me. I never seem to know what clothes to wear anymore. And it’s not just physical. I’ve read two books in the past two weeks, which is more than I’ve read this entire year. (I usually read a lot.) I don’t talk to my family and friends as much as I thought I would, mainly thanks to the time difference and the demands on my time here in Paris. I’m often left feeling that the day has escaped me, even as I try to recap what I’ve spent the past 12 or so hours doing. I spend/waste way too much time online.

I just feel…off.

It’s wrecked havoc on my diet, too, which I’d worked really hard for the past three years to overhaul. I’m constantly reaching for comfort food. And even when I’m not, it’s common for Parisian diets to be full of bread and ham and sugary fruit juices and pasta and beef and crêpes.

the best crêpes (aka your belly's worst enemy) in paris—that I've had so far. from a street vender in le marais.

the best crêpes (aka your belly’s worst enemy) in paris—that I’ve had so far. from a street vender in le marais.

I’m having to contend with a version of myself that is unfamiliar and, in some ways, unpleasant, physically and otherwise.

Today, though, I had a thought. Maybe this is what it’s all about. Maybe all the talk about travel and change and growth and blah and yadda and whatever. Maybe it’s this. This weird feeling that you are not who you are accustomed to being. That you have changed, maybe temporarily, maybe permanently, and you will have to reconstruct what it means to be you at some later date.

Or, maybe not. Maybe so much change and newness has kicked me into some sort of mental lapse that’s not good at all.

Only more living will tell. For now, I’m happy that at least I’m more myself from the nose up.

[Note: I won’t be in France much longer—another month, probably. I’m looking to move on to either another country or back to the States for more adventures. Therefore, I really want to change my blog tagline and the accompanying photo. Something that encapsulates my vision for this year, to travel and learn and grow and not be defined by a job. Ideas? Creative types want to help? Lemme know!]

four days, two countries: what we could learn from europe’s smaller cities

something north americans never do at home: travel to two different countries in a matter of hours. that’s exactly what I did last weekend, when I took a night bus from paris to amsterdam (highly recommended, for longer bus rides) then, two days later, hopped on a three-hour bus to brussels before finally heading back to paris.

amsterdam, is, obviously amazing. beyond it’s famous, umm, physical pleasures, it’s a beautiful city with tons of great museums, friendly people and good food.

this cute little piece of branding is found behind Rijksmuseum, Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam, Netherlands

this cute little piece of branding is found behind Rijksmuseum, Museumstraat 1, 1071 XX Amsterdam, Netherlands

one of the city's many bridges. one of europe's three canal cities (venice and bruges are the other two), there's water everywhere in amsterdam.

one of the city’s many bridges. one of europe’s three canal cities (venice and bruges are the other two), there’s water everywhere in amsterdam.

coffeeshops also sell baked goods laced with marijuana.

coffeeshops also sell baked goods laced with marijuana.

dutch pancakes are somewhere in between an american pancake and crepes. you can get them with all kinds of stuff cooked inside, namely meats and cheeses.

dutch pancakes are somewhere in between an american pancake and crepes. you can get them with all kinds of stuff cooked inside, namely meats and cheeses. this one was from pancakes! amsterdam, berenstraat 38, 1016 gh amsterdam, netherlands.

but, while visiting my fifth european city this year, I couldn’t help but draw some comparisons between the great cities of europe and of america, both big and small. there’s a lot that I wish were more american about europe—a heightened sense of customer service at restaurants being number one—but there’s also a lot that I wish america had picked up from our western brethren.

number one: my god, man, why is our transportation network so far behind?!?!

the metro in amsterdam, a city of less than 800,000 people (according to UN data) has its own independent subway system. no city in texas, where at least five are more populous than amsterdam, has an underground, high-speed metro.

the metro in amsterdam, a city of less than 800,000 people (according to UN data) has its own independent subway system. no city in texas, where at least five are more populous than amsterdam, has an underground, high-speed metro.

now, this has been said. and said again. and reiterated. the old europe-vs-america transit argument was probably written inside of an Egyptian pyramid in hieroglyphics centuries ago. it’s an old, battered and tired argument. but that doesn’t make it any less true. I’m guessing that the car lobby isn’t as strong in places like amsterdam, but it’s a little baffling to an american when you visit big cities and small towns alike to never, ever have to step foot in a car.

another observation? multiple ways to get around in a socially acceptable fashion.

walking. people walk a lot more in europe than in the average american city. (obvs. there are walkable exceptions like several east coast cities including new york and dc)

walking. people walk a lot more in europe than in the average american city. (obvs. there are walkable exceptions like several east coast cities including new york and dc)

bikes, everywhere. I read somewhere that about 70 percent of all trips in amsterdam are taken by bike. astounding.

bikes, everywhere. I read somewhere that about 70 percent of all trips in amsterdam are taken by bike. astounding.

also, skateboards, scooters, motorized scooters seem to be much more popular in the european cities I’ve visited than in the american cities where I’ve visited or lived. not all european cities are created equally, though, as amsterdam is, by far, the most bikeable city I’ve ever experienced. bikers have the right of way on roads and there are real bike lanes everywhere (not the skinny portion of car-road that bikers are given in dc and new york).

brussels and ghent, where I visited in belgium, were also incredibly bikeable places where cars seemed more scarce.

a parking lot for bikes in ghent. I have never seen anything like it!

a parking lot for bikes in ghent. I have never seen anything like it!

 

two months in, I am absolutely missing my beautiful america (and anxiously awaiting a possible early return—more on that later, though). but, I do wish that I could bring some aspects of european life back to the states with me.

some other random pics:

hot dog stands all over amsterdam.

hot dog stands all over amsterdam.

as a native english speaker, I was unexpectedly happy to see so many w's and k's while in a dutch-speaking country.

as a native english speaker, I was unexpectedly happy to see so many w’s and k’s while in a dutch-speaking country.

downtown brussels is pretty cool!

downtown brussels is pretty cool!

random words in dutch—so cool-looking!

random words in dutch—so cool-looking!

what being a baby must feel like

here’s the thing—there are a ton of words in any language. take english for example. how many words do we have to describe the item of clothing that covers your bottom half—pants, slacks, jeans, bottoms, shorts, culottes, whatever. and that’s not including all the slang terms or weird combination words.

therefore, a non-native speaker of any language is constantly confronted with words they don’t know. obviously. but, not really that obvious. having never spent this much time in a place where english is not the dominant language, I have been shocked to see how slowly progress comes when trying to understand and speak another language.

a part of me, honestly, has given up. not given up in the sense of “oh gosh, I’ll never learn french.” but, rather, that I will not learn french in the short amount of time that I will be in france. I am getting better and I’m learning, but it will take many more months and years to speak the language with relative ease.

the outside of my favorite museum in paris: the cité nationale de l'histoire de l'immigration at 293 avenue daumesnil

the outside of my favorite museum in paris: the cité nationale de l’histoire de l’immigration at 293 avenue daumesnil

this slacker mentality is very freeing, really. I get my life back, a little. I can ride the subway without spending, seriously, eight minutes trying to interpret signs. I can listen to lots of and lots of conversations at starbucks and not lose my mind straining to hear, only to be disappointed when I can only ascertain that someone is using the past tense of some verb I don’t understand, or maybe, kind of, realize that someone is talking about a book they read.

I’m living the life of a baby, really. I recognize that something is what it is by sight, not because I’m reading the package, which I did—package reading—incessantly in the States. I move through spaces and trust that I’m going the right way because I really can’t ask for directions. I visit museums and I purely enjoy the sartorial aspect of the exhibition, not the accompanying words, because I can’t understand them. I don’t know what the subway people are saying over the loudspeaker, but I know when a train is randomly offloading when I see lots of people exiting.

I have a theory that when I go somewhere where english is the dominant language, I will be overwhelmed by words and sounds that I actually understand. true sensory overload. I watched indiana jones in english last night and it was very trippy. I saw a sign that said “attention” and assumed it was a french word that I didn’t understand, even though a part of my brain registered that it was english. the accents of harrison ford and shia labeouf sounded garish to me, for some reason—all those hard “r”s (that I use on a regular basis).

baby-living is fine for a short time. it’s certainly preferable to the constant frustration that I felt before when I was insistent on being the same person here that I was in America. I’m more quiet, which is also fine, and I’m less anxious. I don’t worry about whether I’ll be able to communication with someone, because I have the historical certainty that some way, with some combination of hand gestures, head nods and my limited vocabulary, I will.

tour eiffel: because I’ve taken a million pics

the eiffel tower (tour eiffel en français) is more french than baguettes. well, maybe not. but it’s up there. it’s so french, so parisian, in fact, that I’ve seen it a million times and taken a bunch of pics of it. this is significant because I don’t normally care for trite, tourist-y representations of a city. (I never saw the white house in the seven-plus years I lived in washington, dc and I never even went close to the statue of liberty when I lived in new york.)

the eiffel tower, however, is right in the center of paris and can be seen from a bajillion places near and far. you can’t help but notice it. yes, it’s tourist-y. but it’s also symbolic (it was built to commemorate the french revolution) and makes the city’s landscape instantly recognizable.

some of the pics I’ve taken so far:

la tour eiffel! taken from near the trocadéro metro on mardi gras.

la tour eiffel! taken from near the trocadéro metro on mardi gras.

 

as seen from a descending plane!

as seen from a descending plane!

taken from the seine river, during a cruise on valentine's day.

taken from the seine river, during a cruise on valentine’s day.

one of my faves. taken from near the alma marceau metro before a trip to the quai branley museum.

one of my faves. taken from near the alma marceau metro before a trip to the quai branley museum.

old orléans: chez jeanne d’arc

for the second week of holiday, a couple of other americans and I decided to take a day trip out to orléans, a smaller town about an hour from paris, by train. it was a super-fun day filled with more joan of arc (in french: jeanne d’arc) knowledge than I ever knew existed or cared to know.

a brief synopsis: orléans was the site of joan’s big battle that essentially saved france. the town is still very grateful and there are multiple statues, museums and general arc-ness all over the city.

check out the highlights:

orleans cathedral

orleans cathedral

the loire, the longest river in france

the loire, the longest river in france

a pretty garden!

a pretty garden!

one of the joan of arc statues in orleans

one of the joan of arc statues in orleans

pralines (or praslines, in french) are just as big in orléans as they are in new orleans.

pralines (or praslines, in french) are just as big in orléans as they are in new orleans.

formidable+other european songs I’m obsessed with

you know immediately disappointed me, like, literally less than an hour into arriving in france? how american music is all over the radio. I love music, like most human beings, and I was really looking forward to being exposed to music that I wouldn’t listen to at home.

it took a little while, but I’ve slowly been listening to more francophone artists, or at least non-american anglophones.

“formidable” by stromae

I should actually apologize for not alerting you to this person sooner. he was the first francophone artist I heard here, just a few days after I arrived, since he was covering psychologies magazine at the time. he’s awesome and sort of like the french drake—moody and intent on bringing you down as you party. he’s already crazy famous in france, though, and americans do seem to be catching on.

“someday” by tinie tempah

this dude is also like drake, but in the uk. he’s crazy popular and has been for years, but I never hear people talking about him in the states. he’s pretty popular in every country except the united states, it seems, so I feel super late being like “oh, there’s this guy who’s super famous that I just discovered!”

“I’ve got that tune” by chinese man

this group is out of the south of france and they have also been around for forever. their songs are a cool mash up of vintage visuals and vintage-sounding lyrics with some classic hip-hop record scratching.

what should I be listening to here?