2012 Wrap Up

This was written a few weeks ago in preparation for my trip to Boston, where I am at this very moment ringing in the new year while being terribly, terribly cold. Enjoy!

In the shower today, I was thinking about this past year. There are some years where you can’t really remember what happened in them–they’re a pretty standard accumulation of the component parts that make up most of your life. This was not one of those.

This time last year, I was preparing to go to Dakar. I spent January through May of 2012 in West Africa, with a stopover in Barcelona and Paris. I had never been out of the country for that long, and I had never been to Africa or to Europe.

While in Dakar, I got used to taking cold showers and malaria pills. I sweated a lot. I drank in parks and was mopey and climbed inside a baobab tree and on a termite mound. I learned how to carry money, ID, and my phone tucked away in my bra after I had my phone stolen on my birthday. I was homesick. My dog died.

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Museum Brochures and Crying with Voltaire

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While I was in Paris I didn’t have access to wifi. I still blogged, though! This entry dates from Thursday, the fourth (and last full) day I was in town.

I think today was probably my favorite of the trip, in no small part because the weather was intensely excellent. (The day didn’t even involve any human remains!)

I started the morning off at the Orsay, which I wound up going to mostly as an afterthought to the Louvre yesterday. I don’t care about Impressionist art that much (yes, I am going to hell), at least not when marketed as such–and that’s what the Orsay’s writeups draw attention to. They need to hire new brochure people and reframe it as what it is: a fabulously well-curated collection of really accessibly famous art in a beautiful building.

As stated before, I know very little about art history, but I literally had a moment of, “Oh, wait, those Tahitian paintings that I had to do a presentation on in French class? Those are all here!” There were Degas and a whole room of Toulousse-Lautrec and the original of a Van Gough print my grandmother had on her wall for years, and that was just two random rooms that I stepped into. In addition, there was a great cross-continent look at art nouveau (my favorite!) and the modernist response to it.

I left the Louvre feeling like I had gotten some mildly unpleasant obligation over with. I left the Orsay feeling refreshed. This might have something to do with the Orsay’s beautiful, well-lit building, which used to be a train station. There’s a lot of clock faces and marble and a lot less of the painted Baroque ceilings of glowering allegories of eternity going on. Also, there was basically no one in the museum.

Basically, A+ to the Orsay. Unexpected success!

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Paris is My Fitzwilliam Darcy

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While I was in Paris I didn’t have access to wifi. I still blogged, though! This entry dates from Tuesday, the second day I was in town.

So I’m pretty sure that I am one of those people who is Supposed to Like Paris. I’m sullen and brunette and like stripes. I am at this moment wearing a boat neck top. La Belle France is the place for me.

I was thinking about this at 2 pm the day that I arrived here, as I stood–feet numb from soaked shoes, being made fun of by some high school student because her very midwestern mother tried to help me with my bag–in the world’s longest taxi line outside of the Gare du Nord.

If Paris is supposed to be my great love, we’re starting out on Darcy and Lizzy Bennett footing. (Barcelona, in contrast, was like a drunken bar fling. I have no idea what anyone was saying, but it was beautiful and fun and full of sangria.*)

The leadup to the world’s worst day was pretty much my fault, sadly. Two things happened: I took the redeye in from Dakar, and I forgot that weather exists. As a result, I was stranded when the woman whose flat I’m staying in got stuck in a meeting, and I was wearing Dakar-appropriate summer clothing when Paris was 50 degrees and pouring rain. I like my $6 Senegalese espadrilles a lot, but they’re basically made of hope and a scrap of fabric–it’s been a day and a half now and they’re still wet from the trip.

Because I got in four hours later and 200% sadder than expected, I gave up on my first day plans of seeing the Pantheon and Saint Chapelle. Instead, I spent the afternoon walking around the neighborhood and taking pictures. I’m in the very heavily West African neighborhood of Paris, which means that I saw eight tailors with wax print in their window and got (charmingly) hit on in the street by two Senegalese men. It was kind of a great bit of weirdness. (Unlike in Dakar, these dudes accepted it when I turned down their invitations for coffee, I wished them a good day, and we parted ways. Yay!) It was nice just to see the neighborhood here, and I stopped in my obligatory paper goods/hipster curio boutique to buy some souvenirs.

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On Leaving Dakar

So this is my third attempt to write my leaving Dakar post. The last two were whiny and introspective (I mean, as is like 90% of the rest of my blog), and went to weird places where I was talking about living a life of obligation (draft one) and the study abroad industrial complex (draft two).

But basically, they came down to the same thing: I don’t know how this experience is going to be written into my life history, yet. It was frequently unpleasant, but some really cool things happened to me here. I’m fairly certain that it was a valuable four months.

So, instead of talking about the experience, I’m going to jot down advice for study abroad kids in places like Dakar. Learn from my errors, blog readership.

Really consider why you picked the home stay: I chose a home stay because my dad lived in a home stay for his time abroad. This is literally it. In retrospect, this was stupid: I can go about a week into living with my actual family before I want to murder them, despite the fact that I love them more than words. This feeling is only amplified when you’re in a house full of people that didn’t feed you when you were a newborn. My home stay is the source for my deepest relationships with Senegalese people (and I do like my family a lot), but it was really, really stressful. If you pick the home stay option, write down why you’re doing it and paste that somewhere prominent in your room. That way, after your host mom makes you cry (again), you can remind yourself why you’re doing this to yourself.

Place yourself in a house with kids: Even if you don’t like kids. I don’t, but when my various nieces and nephews (aged 2-8) were here, life was so much easier. For one, kids are way more tolerant of you being an idiot. They’ll laugh at you, but they will not make cutting remarks to your face, because they know that if they do that you will probably not play with them. (And they want you to play with them, because the rest of their family is probably going to ignore them because they’re not new anymore.) In addition, small children are still being explicitly taught the rules of social conduct by the rest of the family, and if you pay attention you can often get explanations for behavior that’s confusing or that your family expects you to know how to do without being told, because you’re 21 and not 3. Also, kids are cute and will cuddle with you. Which brings us to our next tip–

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