Armchair Travel Blog

Adventures from Paris onwards circa 2012

Month: May, 2012

London 2012

So now I know an honest-to-god olympian. He fences at the Rueil Fencing Club and made it both onto the men’s individual and team fencing teams for men’s foil. (Wow if that sentence wasn’t the teensiest bit redundant) And even beyond that, there was an National France competition this past weekend for all of the clubs in France and you wouldn’t believe me – hell I wouldn’t believe me if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes – that the three top place winners all came from the club.

So that’s just to illustrate the club that I landed myself in, and the level of intensity and dedication that the foil team applies. Frankly I’m just super stoked that I can say I know an Olympian and World Champion and even toasted to his continued good fortune.

Anyhow there is a club competition of sorts for us epees on Saturday afternoon – 2pm imagine that – and while I haven’t the faintest hope of winning more than 3 bouts – if that – it will provide a good oportunity to work on my recouperation and how to handle my body under the circumstances. Phillipe is even helping me prepare and is looking into what I need to eat before hand.

Of course it’s a game, but it will also provide opportunities to take pictures, and even though I may be all red faced and sweaty, of course I will put them up here because the people are absolute dolls and I am sad that my time with them is ending.

In other news, my sister seems to be better about the stomach, so that means hopefully Bruges will go off without a hitch, and today he friend flies in, and we – she – will be spending the afternoon with him. (I may spend the time in a park with friends of my own or working on my french culinary skills)

And then within 11 days – for today is the last day of May, I shall be off quick as a whip to Budapest.

Always I manage to book the earliest flights, fun as that may be.

I do promise that reflections on Mont Saint Michel are forthcoming. (Haven’t I said that somwhere else too before)

Now, however, breakfast.

Mont Saint Michel

On summer:

A quick note: 

Mont Saint Michel pictures coming

Reflections on Mont Saint Michel

Brussels/Italy forthcoming

This weekend’s sunning

As it’s now 2am, I’ve no intention to start. But consider this a checklist or a promise of posts to come.

She Sells Sea Shells By The Sea Shore

I would buy a house, maybe a cottage by the seaside. I would wake up every morning breathing the fresh salt air and feeling the wind whipping my face and the sun beating my face until it feels tight in strange places, a soft shade of red; chameleon skin when pressed with gentle fingers.

Little flakes of skin peeling around shoulders

and only soothed with a thick lotion, serving as a reminder of the importance of SPF.

I would keep goats because they are my favorite domesticated animals and maybe a few chickens.

It would be salty and wild and sunny and beautiful. Toes would dig into warmed sand and life would take on a different pace than what one finds in the city. I could even see the stars. Map out constellations of galaxies as far away and endless as the ocean before me.

Saint Malo is absolutely beautiful. And I mean that in the most sincere way. The ocean is as deep and blue as perhaps a lover’s eyes, and given that it was reconstructed entirely after the second world war, is beautiful. It is the land of great tides and great crepes. Bretagne, with a fierce proud heritage and salty air.

We took the train, my sister and I, 7 am early on Tuesday and by lunchtime we were already digging into a pizza hastily kicking off our shoes. Coming from Paris, where there has been nay a week of sunshine for the entire month, it was fantastic to be able to pull off all the coats and simply just lie there in the sand soaking up sun as we raced against the low tide lapping at the shore’s edge.

Saint Malo is a small town, and clearly a vacation spot – although why there were so many Germans (or at least I think they were Germans; perhaps they were Dutch) at this exact spot on that exact day is a little beyond me.

I digress.

So even though our hotel was a 20 minute walk from the train station, it was really only about 5 minutes to the seashore, which suited me just fine as the sea-fronted hotels were upwards of 100 Euro a night.

The sun beat down and the sea water got into our hair as sand dug its way under our toes in the colder-than-you’d-expect ocean. And the tides! Oh how the tides change! Nothing like those back at home where the difference is a mere 2-3 meters between low and high tide; these waters come rushing up and swallow the entire beach profoundly changing the scenery. Within an hour it’s not the same beach that it was before and the sea is merciless as it beats against the limestone walls, spraying up onto thoe who would venture too close. The big warning signs are well deserved.

People had told me about it, but I didn’t believe until I saw it with my own eyes.

I hear that it makes for wonderful sailing conditions however.

It’s the sort of thing that makes getting up at 5:30am worth it. And I would see it over and over again because it’s never the same thing twice. The seagulls fly over head and the sun sinks, engulfed by the ocean, and somehow the time has slipped through fingers because when I went  to check the clock again it was already well past 9pm.

Skin feeling a little salty and the shops are closed we walked back to the hotel, which was surprisingly easy to find and took a shower in what has to be the best shower (and fanciest too) stall that I’ve ever seen. Odd to find it in such a small hotel/bar locale.

But the beach wears one out and so I slept soundly to wake up early and head into Mont Saint Michel early the next day, dreaming of cottages by the shore. The salt was still in my hair and I dreamt that if I were to ever but a house it had better be well near the ocean because I don’t think I can go so long again without seeing the sea.

St. Malo

“Love is where…

“Love is where you find it.” – Kurt VonnegutSlapstick (1976)

If you listen carefully, you might be able to hear, in the hazy moments of the dawn creeping in when the world is still quiet, and half-asleep, in between two breaths, the sound of my heart breaking.

I have irrevocably fallen in love with a city, with a culture, with a people, with a food, a language, a life. It has been a dream these last few months and it is slowly breaking my heart to know that I am running out of time. 

Don’t go looking for love, allow it to creep in slowly, inhale it into the deepest part of your soul, and with eyes wide open you will find it. This is the gift that Paris has given to me. I have lived, and gambled to win, and taken advantage of opportunities, and thrown caution to the wind, because I can, because I am here, because I want to. Because because because.

And it is enough.

And it is not enough, not yet.

Perhaps not ever.

I wouldn’t trade it for the world, I wouldn’t want to. 

My sister arrives in Paris today, and as such this leg – this chapter – of this story is now ending. And so soon we will be two. This is not to say that I don’t love nor treasure my sister, but allow me to be selfish for a moment.

There is less than a month left in Paris, and while there is plenty and enough time to do everything that I want or yet to do, I now will have my sister at my side. Everything takes on a new perspective a new dynamic, something subtly shifts in the universe and there is no going back. We wake up from our dreams, we grow up; there is no Peter Pan at our window. (This doesn’t stop me from wishing in my heart of hearts however) We move on, we learn to love and live and breathe again. 

Paris.

Paris.

Paris. 

People say,”You’ll come back to Paris”, but how true is that really? Life is a crazy roller coaster of a ride and while I can never hope to adequately nor precisely sum up what these past few months has meant to me outside of someone who has shared my experiences, I can only hope that in a future life I will return. 

I know that many of the kids that I met at the Alliance Francaise I will never see again – many I hope to – and yet even in the few hours that we spent, inside the classroom or outside, I have loved them well and wish them the best in their endeavours. Yesterday was my last class, and when I went to fencing practice my heart was already breaking at the thought that I won’t see many of them again. Gentle and wonderful people, always greeting with a smile and a kiss, and already I am thinking of how to say goodbye. I will take a picture of my club, and try to get as many of them in the picture as possible. 

Goodbyes are hard. But perhaps it is not goodbye so much as “Au Revoir”.

And so my time in Paris alone concludes. Yet I wait for whatever adventures the next corner may bring. There is still a month in Paris – and whatever trips out of there we may make, Budapest, Italy, etc.

Surely they will be as wonderful as my time here has proven to be. And now I’ve the added pleasure of my sister’s company to enjoy.

While I wait for the hour to strike to leave to get her, I will watch the Cannes Film Festival coverage.

To Mothers Everywhere:

Happy Mother’s Day! I know here in France it may not be the holiday, but to those who find themselves stateside, thank you for countless and tireless hours, of raising us brats.

I love my mother dearly, more than perhaps words can express, and I hope she reads this and knows that neigh a day goes by that I don’t think about her, even from half a world away.

The lessons she taught me carries with me, and she has helped mold me into the person that I am today. I can only hope that I am an upstanding citizen and that I have done her proud.

Simply put,

I love you mom.

We’ll skype tonight.

Lions! Tigers! Bears! Oh My!

We went to the circus yesterday, and it was the first time in AGES. Years, even. I had seen a poster advertising that the circus would be in town, and because I am a seven year old at heart, immediately requested that Phillipe accompany me to said circus.

Le Cirque De Venise is as traditional as a circus as you can get. Not one for bells and whistles this one ring big top boasted a myriad of animals and acts that were as conventional as they were charming. It was a family run operation; or at least the side of it that we saw, with grandparents and their grandchildren alike participating in the show.

Of course running a circus, even a small one is not cheap, but I was happy to spend the money on an absolutely warm and perfect afternoon.

Besides, it’s not every day that you get to see 8 lions and tigers – 4 of each, respectively – from so close.

The one ring allows for your entire concentration to be upon the act and I think you get more enjoyment than trying to divide your time between three rings. And at 2 1/2 hrs, I can’t complain. It was also wonderful that we were within spitting distance of the ring, and we could see every muscle of the animals, and every toe stretched carefully along the high-wire.

Of course we were among – perhaps the only – ones there without a little child hugging our legs, but I couldn’t be bothered because I firmly believe that you should do what you want when you want an not let societal norms or pressures steer you away from something so special as a circus.

The most special thing of course, were the tigers. Beautiful, powerful animals, the tamer had them do all sorts of funny tricks, and growling as they were with him, they were never aggressive with him any more than a few bared canines. (Which to me is aggressive enough, and I’d rather not make a tasty snack). But of course he never hits the animals with his whip, and always rewarded the ones with a nice piece of meat for a job well done.

The grunts bellows and chuffaws and growls are absolutely amazing. The muscle in the showers and sheer paw strength of the animals as they leap-frogged over each other, walked on their hind legs, and jumped through hoops of fire, were spectacular.

Beautiful animals, with their stripes as unique as finger prints, and their long whiskers as they sat on their stools waiting to be called.

We saw ostriches, llamas, zebras – an absolutely hilarious animal up close – and a bull with a horn span longer than I am tall. (I have no idea how they transport that animal, much less how it eats or how heavy those horns must be) The dogs were absolutely charming, and comical, jumping and twirling, and the horses lean as they were trotted beautifully in front of us, and the camel with his two humps begrudgingly doing what the woman asked of him.

The tight-rope walker, the fearless gymnast acrobats, the clown and his son, it all came together absolutely wonderfully. Hanging in mid-air enough to make my stomach turn somersaults as they twirl and climb and flip with all of the greatest of ease and I’m only calm when they’re on the ground, no matter how muscled the people may be.

The spoke in their weird little Italian-French way, where it sounded at once where I knew exactly what they were saying, as in a song, and the just as suddenly, not at all. Italian is like singing, so different from French and Spanish, with a rhythm all its own, it falls pleasantly on the ears like waves crashing gently on a shore.

After the show, we got to see the animals up close, and they had more that the didn’t show; leopards, and monkeys, more dogs and more zebras than the ones they trotted out.

And I thought, how much work goes into a circus. For only a week, to set up all the pens, and then the issue of feeding the animals! The lions and tigers get 5-7 kilos of food a day. The bales of hay that go towards the camels, horses, goats, zebras, and then the keeping of the cages clean. How they must have to exercise the animals, so they don’t go crazy. To build trust between a predator that large, can be a daunting task. And ultimately it is an animal, one with the capacity to maul, if it so chooses.

To set up the big tent, to find a suitable location, to set up the bleachers upon which we sat, trailers and costumes to change into. How much equipment, and food, and sweat must go into running a circus.

In a way, the behind the scenes are better than the show it self for it is a well run machine, a tightly knit community, and everyone must do their share of the work.  And to think that they stay in one place for only a week! It is an incredible effort and must be an amazing way to see the world.

So many faces, so many places.

We were the last ones to leave the circus, long after the crowd had filtered out, endlessly fascinated by the color of the big cat’s eyes, and the way they would correct one another, and how the men would come and tickle the cats through the cages as they set up a bigger space for them for the night. The cats love the men, as cats can do, and they knew dinner was coming as they head the rumble of the tractor coming to life, and their ears perked, a cat smile on their faces.

And then the zebras, who I’d never seen up close like that, close enough to touch, but not daring, and their funny stripes and funny manes, with their big horse teeth and camel bellies. What an odd funny creature, and not in any way worried about the loud growls that come from the cages not ten meters away from them.

I would go back, a hundred times, I would want to see the dusty grey elephants of different circuses (if there’s such a thing anymore, as circus elephants) and I would want to see the acrobats and tight-rope walkers as they go with a collected calm flying through the air, with practiced patience and perfect trust in themselves, and their partners. I would go every time a circus came into town, simply because it is magical, in a way that rekindles the childlike wonderment and joy in every one of us, and it sparks the imagination.

That is what makes a good circus.

Last night I dreamt of the tigers and lions, and of the circus.

What it must be like to run a circus, in today’s technologically driven world, and how happy I was to see that it was alive, and well, worn in like a favorite pair of jeans. It had its own heart beat and there were plenty of children there with eyes wide, licking cotton candy clean from sticky fingers. It was a circus of children, of times past, of a world that many don’t see, and it wasn’t out to out shine or out do any one else with any bigger, better, flashier tricks.

And it was perfect.

It is a job of course, one that merits a lot of sweat, practice and work, but I feel that when the make-up and costumes come on and there are the bright lights of the big top – warming the skin of everyone – that the applause makes it worth it.

Certainly, for me, the tigers would.

Aquí No Hablamos Inglés pt.2

So of course when I write “this evening”, what I mean to say is “when ever it conveniences me, probably a surmisable amount of time later”

It’s also somewhat difficult to force myself to sit down and write, but that may have something to do with the age in which I was spawned and my generations ever shortening attention span. It’s not that I don’t want to do it, nor that I don’t have the time, but something always pops up on the seemingly endless Internet, and so here we are: two weeks later with only this to show for it.

Yet here’s the rub: The longer that I put this off, the harder it begins to recall the exact specific memories of what happened, and as such now I am some what rushed off to document my Spain trip, both for now, and potentially five years down the road, when I would like to re-reflect on such a sunny week.

As long at the days were in Seville, with admittedly little to no sleep, what I was not prepared for was my body jerking awake at 8am after a night out at the Feria, and looking at my iPod, realizing through blurry eyes and a slight headaches what time it was. Suddenly I snapped to attention, because my flight would leave in an hour. Thoughts ranging from No, no, no! to more PG-13 words were flitting through my mind as I did my best jumping one pant leg at a time into my clothes trying not to make too much noise as to wake the others in the room. 

Sprinting down the big avenida at 8:07 in the morning to catch the 8:15 bus is something that will set your heartbeat racing. Of course, with Seville being as small as a city as it is, the airport is not far and even as such I was able to comfortably check-in and even have 15 minutes to catch my breath and even take a cat nap before boarding. I would chalk it up as a win.

Madrid at 10 in the morning was drizzly, but by noon it had cleared up, and if I’ve ever had a bad word to say about Socialist governmental models, forget it, for as an under-26/student, nearly everything was for free or at a reduced price. 

Getting to see the Spanish painters, the likes of Velazquez, El Greco, Goya, and so forth, was nice, for a cultured person is an interesting one. While I would brag a little and say that without a doubt the Paris museums are bigger, shiner, and in some ways better, certainly I spent two hours easily at the paintings, and while I may not know all the stories or names behind the paintings, now I can say that I’ve at least seen them and picked out my favourites. (El Greco’s self portraits slay me)

I found myself a lunch in a small tucked away restaurant right off one of the main roads, and after some small talk with the shop owner, I settled into my jambon and fries meal, and even managed to get a free tea out of it, but perhaps I was not hiding the exhaustion riddled on my skin as well as I thought I was.

I got to see Picasso’s Guernica up close – and if the thing is grotesque in paintings, it’s no where near as gruesome as the thing is up close and live. Fitting, I would say considering the history and the circumstances under which Picasso painted. Spanish Civil Wars and Franco and wars and suffering and death. It’s the sort of thing that strikes a chord that resonates with you, as you think back and reflect on it. So I’m not one much for modern art, yet understanding Guernica as a living breathing painting; it’s something that you carry with you, arguably for your life.

I’m glad that I took the nap at the hostel when I did, because at night I figured that one week was all that I was going to get and damned if my body couldn’t take the beating, hopped up on caffeine and booze. So that meant that I would start to meet the people in the hostel and we would go out to bar crawl, and stay out dancing, with live music, and the occasional drink until 5 am.

Aquí No Hablamos Inglés pt.1

I’m absolutely terrible at this, I know.

It’s been three days since my return from Andalusia and nothing more than the fleeting moments caught on photograph to show for it on the blog.

I would like to say that I’ve excuses, but not really aside from me being in a bit of a writers block and not being quite sure where to start. So in an attempt to remedy such a situation I will invoke the tried and true method of a stream of consciousness narrative structure.

In the week since Kelsey’s arrival to Paris, not only has the weather incredibly turned around as if to say that yes, the month of April would be wet, but May will only be sunshine, but I had also spent many hours awake on exhausted feet and aching joints, pushing forward for a week that was destined to be memorable for one reason or another.

As I may have mentioned before – if not, here I am mentioning it – I was the first in my family to ever travel to Spain. Because Kelsey was/is doing a study abroad in Seville, when she first approached me about possibly coming for a visit to Paris, I thought it a most opportune moment to jump back to Spain with her, as Spain has always been on my ‘Places to Travel’ list (I need to return to see Barcelona) She of course invited me to Spain, and while I am not adverse to travelling alone – indeed I spent most of my time in Madrid alone – it is always more pleasant to have company, or at least someone to receive you.

The first thing was that upon my arrival, it took me a moment for my brain to switch over from French mode into Spanish. For a while I wondered why the words on advertisements were spelled funny and the accents placed all wrong. Of course my French is not fluent, dare I say conversational?, but being subsumed in French culture for as long as I had been, it took a while. (This may or may not have been in part to my lack of sleep upon my arrival to Spain, only to be expounded further into the week)

They have a funny way of talking, in Seville.

They have their dropped vowels and lisps and speak with funny words sometimes. I too of course got laughed for speaking “Mexican”, because it is a misnomer that all Spanish is identical. There are regional dialects and we all understand one another, but it is not the same language, in the way Scottish and American are not the same language. But it was nice for once to talk to people who understood what I was saying, and not have them start to talk to me in English.

For my part I was pleasantly surprised and impressed with Kelsey’s Spanish skills, for as American as her accent is, she speaks absolutely grammatically correct and can explain complicated subjects with fair ease. This of course being a result of her 5 years of Spanish classes. Of course as Irish looking – red hair and all – as she is people would attempt to talk to her in English, but quickly shut up when they realize that her Spanish is infinitely better than their 4th grade English level.

They speak slower, in Seville, and it is an approach to life wholly unlike anything I have ever come across. It is not an exaggeration to say that you literally have to beg them to take your money at the restaurant.

For one, being with Kelsey they know us not to be Spaniards, so they serve us last.

(As in France, tips are factored into the bill, so they don’t care that much.)

When they finally get around to serving us, it is near impossible to get a glass of water, napkin, or salt because you have to ask three waiters who of course nod and say yes but then proceed to do other things, such as wipe down a table at a near empty establishment.

So it’s an “if you want something done right, you must do it yourself attitude” I thought I was bad with my so-called ‘Latin’ time, but I get things done before it comes to the point of sheer absurdity. And so many a time we leave the bill to what we know to be appropriate if we had somewhere to be. Lucky for me, and something that I feel few people in their life get to experience, my arrival in Spain coincided with Seville’s Feria.

A week-long party for the sake of partying – never mind that Spain’s unemployment rate hovers at the 25% mark – it is one of the most marvellous things I have ever witnessed. Thousands if not hundreds of thousands of women get dressed up to the nines in their flamenco dresses, as many patterns, colors, cuts, styles, variations as there are fingerprints in this world – no two the exact same – wearing brightly colored flowers in their hairs and strappy showy sandals.

It defies the imagination and I can only hope that you glean a fraction of what it was like to be surrounded by such colors. Seemingly no one goes undressed, although occassionally there are jeans to be spotted, and no woman, be she old, young, thin, fat, looks bad in a Flamenco dress.

The silhuotte of every woman is beautiful in their dresses – a costly dress too, starting at 100 euro – and the men in their suits matching the color of the ties to the dress.

Sadly the women there are shy about having their pictures taken, so I had to be in stealth mode as I tried to catch the dresses because it was so unique.

Throughout the entire week we were drinking wines mixed with carbonated drinks, rebujillo or tinto de verano, which is sort of like a Sangria but not. It’s the sort of refreshing stuff that makes you drunk without knowing it because you can be sipping it and only after the fact – when you wake up at 8 am for a 9 am flight to Madrid with a slight hangover – do you realize the potency of such drinks.

I saw my first bull fight in Seville too. I know it’s now outlawed in Barcelona, but Seville clings tightly to their traditions and what I saw was not at all gory or a massacre. Indeed the bulls live like kings, only the best lives for them before the show, and they are these beautiful black beasts massive and strong that even after facing six stabs in the back they have enough strength to go another 30 minutes with the torrero. It serves as a reminder of everyone’s mortality, but it is a beautiful dance between torrero’s and bull, and even in the killing of the bull it is done gracefully, in a sense, as if to say the show is over and respect must be paid to the bull. In one moment he is in his glory, strength and power and the next he lays down buckling at the knees and passes into the sleep from which one never wakes. In a sense I prefer it to the way mose commercial meat is killed and raised.

Sadly I could not locate where they sold the meat after the fight, for I really would have loved to have some bull meat; as respect to the animal. I hear the tail is quite tasty.

For now however, I have places to be and as such will continue this later in the evening, for there is much more to tell.