Resting months

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Image by Emily Chapman. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

It is somewhat distressing to me that being happy has significantly reduced the amount of things I have to blog about. Working overnight is no longer making me hallucinate bugs on my wall. My remaining parent is in good health, except for a knee thing from him working out All the Time. Not a single child has recently pelted me with rocks while yelling slurs at me.

Y’all, it is difficult to make a narrative out of “this weekend I ate a lot of cheese toast and watched roller derby and read Holidays on Ice and Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.” I did do those things! They were wonderful! I have a lot of feelings about the differences between the novel and the film version of N&N. One is of course the  Levithan-iest thing to ever Levithan, which—he seems really nice, and I enjoyed watching him speak at Decatur Book Festival last year, but many of his books read a little bit like fanfiction, in terms of the long, long sentences, and that’s not bad but it is jarring to read in published work. I enjoyed the book a very great deal. The film has my favorite sex scene ever, and a deeply charming turn by Michael Cera, and I made my sister watch it while I was in London with her because I am the sort of mildly-obnoxious human who will take advantage of international travel to work around her own country’s licensing restrictions. Continue reading

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Deep in the heart of Texas

A picture of the South Congress Cafe in Austin, Tx.

Image courtesy of Shu Tu, licensed under CC 2.0 BY SA.

As happens every few years or so, I spent this past weekend in Austin, Texas. (Austin is, of course, the only part of Texas that anyone in my family will admit to going to. We spit at Houston.)

Rather than being down there to hone my South by South Best* skills, I was in town courtesy of my cousin, who–kindly–agreed to be bat mitzvahed*, so that I might eat many breakfast tacos and migas.

She, like her brother a few years ago, interpreted a portion of Leviticus in a way that made my heart swell. Leviticus, for those who are unaware, is mostly full of rules that most folks in the family flavor of Judaism don’t really follow, as mixed fibers are great and smiting is not so much. It takes some skill to really consider what that means for a modern reform Jew, and of course my cousin was great and at the end we got to pelt her with marshmallows. (Ritual pelting = my favorite quality in a faith.)

So that was great.

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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 Continues to Improve

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

So today’s Paris adventure was a marked improvement over the last two days, in no small part because Paris stopped trying to kill me with its weather. Huzzah! As a result, my body could go back to doing what it normally does and try to implode itself. Literally every single muscle in my legs, feet, and shoulders hurts right now, and I’m pretty sure I have given myself some sort of butt rash from a combination of excessive sweating and being gross. (Fellas.) So, you know, the accumulated mass of my various travel injuries should cause me to keel over at around 4 pm tomorrow. I’ll let you know.*

But at least if my injuries will end me, I’m going out on a good note. Today was a great Paris day, tourist-wise. (Minus the six different couples that I saw dry hump in public today. Jesus, people.)

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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Notes from Barcelona

This is an actual thing that I saw!

So, Barcelona? Was kind of excellent. Both for reasons I expected (it’s Europe), and reasons I didn’t (I really liked not being the translator anymore). Because I’m terrible at keeping track of things in a linear fashion (particularly when on enough Senegalese sudafed to take down a small horse, because—of course—I’m sick again), here is a set of things that I remember from the trip, in no order except for the one my brain tosses them out in.

The last night we got dinner, we went to a tapas sports bar, which combined two of my favorite things—tiny food and cute waiters—into one. The tapas were served in what is apparently a standard fashion there. Partially to make things easier for the bartender and partially to make it so that the drunk people/me eat lots of tiny things, all of the tapas are the same price. You grab as many as you want and when you pay, the waiter counts the number of toothpicks on your plate. Clever! Delicious! One of the tapas available at this particular bar was basically two inches of cream cheese with jam and toast, which is in no way authentic but is in all ways delicious. So that was awesome.

On the cute waiter front, the guy who took our drink orders was a) maybe 19 and b) learning job-specific English in an excellent fashion. He, like everyone in the Barcelonan service industry, as far as I can tell, spoke perfectly good English. However, he had apparently not heard many people order “cider” in English (I’m better at consuming fermented juice than I am at learning Spanish), and so as he wandered away he was muttering “cider” to himself in order to memorize the English pronunciation, as far as I can tell. Adorable? Adorable.

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Mo’ Money, No Problems (and a Return to Dakar)

I love these carts so much.

You guys, I have a new theory: the ratio of happiness gained per dollar spent? (The mo’ money, no problems quotient, as it were.) It is far and away highest in the airport.

You laugh*, but it’s totally true. Take, for example, my trip through Dakar via Paris. Because I was scared that my debit card wouldn’t be approved in a foreign country/I wanted to save money, I refused to buy wireless coverage, real honest-to-god restaurant food, or booze. I wound up sweaty, exhausted, and near tears in the airport bathroom, ready to keel over from exhaustion. Continue reading

My Pre-Travel Process Has Taught Me Some Uncomfortable Truths

See, he has TWO passports.

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I have high hopes for my study abroad experience. If it’s anything like I’ve been told it will be, I’m in for several months of horizon-broadening, soul-searching, and digestive issues that will make for hilarious stories when I’m slightly removed from the whole experience. I am looking forward to it.

But what I had not anticipated was just how much I was going to learn from the pre-travel experience. I had naively assumed that—since I left for my holiday travels with everything sort of in check—I was more or less set to go already. This was incorrect.

For example, I’ve learned that getting anti-malarial medication that does not make you prone to hallucinations (possibly cool, but not recommended for the morose) or yeast infections (the seriousness of which the male doctor completely discounted and female nurse practitioner was completely conscious of) is crazy-making should you want to a) avoid spending $350 b) want to go abroad for more than 90 days. I have spent so much time on the phone shuttling my poor malarone prescription around digital pharmacies that the nurse at my travel clinic is now on a first name basis with me. If I get malaria, I plan to blame the people behind my prescription drug plan.*

I’ve also learned that the footwear that any individual possesses will be considered completely inadequate by everyone else she meets, even if she is traveling to an urban area and unlikely to be doing nature hikes. In my case, this resulted in a peer pressured (and somewhat panicked) eBay purchase of the sort of mary janes that have arch support and can best be described as “not offensively ugly.” They are the sort of shoes that one might wear with an a-line khaki skirt with some cargo pockets and a muted long-sleeve t-shirt from REI. The fact that I own neither of those articles of clothing did not stop me from buying the shoes.

But perhaps most importantly, the pre-travel process gives you some insight into yourself. Like, for example, knowledge of whether you’re the sort of person who will talk herself into a panic attack because TravelVisa sent her passport a week ago via USPS** and it hasn’t arrived at the house and what is going to happen if I don’t have my passport and my visa, I won’t be able to leave the country. For example.

I mean, it’s probably just delayed in the mail. Right? Nothing to worry about.***

* I have also learned that if you are uninsured, travel to a malaria-prone region is financially almost impossible. My drugs were going to be $350 as a copay.

** No, really. Yes, I know.

*** Totally something to worry about. It could have been lost or eaten by mail goblins, and you know how long it takes to get a new passport oh my god I am so screwed.