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La dernière

Last night when I was sitting on the terrace to watch the sun set on Paris one last time, thinking a dozen thoughts, I saw that the sunset was softer than it usually was. It spilled baby blue, lavender, pink, and pastel orange onto the sky, and I felt a deep sadness sweeping over me. The colors got darker and filled the sky long after the sun dipped below the horizon. My camera couldn’t capture the view, and so all I have left of that sunset is what’s remaining in my memory. It was the most beautiful sunset I had seen throughout my stay in Paris.

While here, I have learned so many things about myself, other people, and the world. Some of these things can’t be put into words eloquently enough, but those that can, I’ll detail here:

1. French people are nice – if you are nice. If you walk into a shop and don’t greet the sales representative, complain that no one speaks English, or just act entitled in general, don’t expect to be treated like royalty. And even a little French (merci, au revoir) goes a long way, because once you get through to them, French people are incredibly kind. They will go completely out of their way to help you, something I have never experienced with an American.

2. I’ve learned how to dress well (a whole post about how to dress like the French is coming up soon).

3. As famous as France is for its food, it cannot produce anything but French food. I’ve eaten two Italian meals here, and both were dismal. If they can’t even cook food from Italy right, which is a bordering country, how can they hope to attempt other, more difficult cuisines? The problem is that the French are too set in their ways. I blame Louis XIV. Him, and the dozens of foreign countries that have invaded France over the years, instilling in every French person a deep-set xenophobia that, no matter how hard you try, you will never truly rid them of.

4. Finding peace with myself means that I can be just as comfortable in a group of people as I am by myself.

5. History matters. Just look at France’s history with the arts and education, and how that is reflected in today’s society. But think about America’s beginnings. Everyone started off the same way, and everyone was in the same boat (quite literally) to begin with. To succeed, it wouldn’t matter if you were educated or talented, because that wouldn’t make you successful. Hard work made you successful, and that’s why the USA values hard work, and has such a strong work ethic. France values talent and intelligence for reasons of her own.

6. Art should make you feel something (even anger, sometimes).

7. Sometimes, it’s okay to not obsessively plan, and to be spontaneous instead. You hear this a lot, but it’s totally different coming from me, because I usually plan everything down to the tee. But while it can be helpful to try to control everything, sometimes you just need to take life as it comes.

8. People are nice. Other people are not as nice, but I’ve learned when to let it go, rather than get angry.

I am excited to see my family, but sad to leave because I don’t know when I will be back. All I know is that Paris has left an indelible mark on my soul and changed me in a way that I would have never expected. Maybe someday I will come back here and be able to share my love for this city with my family, or my dear friends. But I don’t know when I will return, and so now I must say goodbye. À la prochaine.

Until then, we’ll always have Paris.

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A Fairytale in Provins

Yesterday I, along with my friend, took a train that took me away from Paris, and back in time to the medieval city of Provins. As we got further away from Paris, the buildings got smaller and smaller until they disappeared altogether.

When we got off the train station, we were at the edge of the city, and had to find our way to the center of town. I had counted on being able to use GoogleMaps to find my way around, but my phone seemed to think we were still in Paris. So we had to use the Caesar Tower as a kind of north star to orient ourselves. As we walked, we had no destination in mind just yet – we were pulled into the roads that seemed as though they had been there the longest. After getting sidetracked (more than once) we found our way to a market in the center of town, where we bought cheese and fruit for a picnic lunch. We followed signs that said “Rosarie” to a small garden with a watermill, rose bushes, and swans. Yes, swans. We had stepped into a fairytale, it seemed (the young knight in shining armor was to appear later on in the story).

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At this point, we decided it would be a good idea to stop wandering and start making our way towards the medieval city, starting with the ancient city walls. As soon as we walked past the ramparts, towards the wall, and through the archway, everything stopped – time, sound, and civilization. For miles and miles all that could be seen were fields of wheat and grass. And off in the distance I saw a woman standing outside a small cottage with her dog, hair blowing in the wind. All I could think was that in another life, that could have been me. How different my life would have been.

I stopped fantasizing and snapped back into the present, as we headed back into the city. At one point we walked by an interesting door that said “Banquet des Troubadors.” Peeking in, I could see stone walls, and a smoking cauldron with something purple bubbling up inside. We were intrigued. We descended the steep stairs and saw tables lined end to end with place settings, in a room that looked like a mix between a Gothic church and palace dungeons. A dashing young man in a tunic and jester’s shoes came out from behind a curtain to greet us. He explained to us that they put on a medieval banquet every Saturday, complete with a five course meal and entertainment from jugglers, musicians, and troubadours. Before we could express our excitement that we were in Provins on the very day that there was a banquet, he told us that it was completely booked for that night. We were sad, but talked to him for a while longer, telling him where we were from, and hearing that he is a student in Brussels. After thanking him for his kindness, we climbed out of the hall, a little flushed, both thinking the same thing.

“We don’t even know his name!” my friend said. How stupid, to not even ask his name.

The evening went by quickly. We tasted rose jam, rose soda, and rose ice cream (apparently rose is popular in places other than the Middle East). We danced at a concert held at the town square. We wandered through the charming streets and took pictures with several cats.

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When the sun finally came out after a cloudy day at 7, we made our way back to the train station, walking by the “Banquet des Troubadours.” The gate was locked. A little disheartened, we started to walk away when I suddenly had the brilliant and immature idea to leave a note. So my friend and I, giggling like young schoolgirls, wrote a note for the man we had talked to earlier. Here is what it said:

“Merci pour votre hospitalité. Nous sommes les deux filles de Californie – bonne chance avec vos études! Enchantée de vous rencontrer.”

We’ll never even know if he read the note, but it doesn’t matter; it was a nice way to wrap up a wonderful day in charming Provins. Along with everything else, it will remain in my mind a cherished memory from the medieval town of dreams.

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Artsy Fartsy

You know when you meet someone who loves the same book that you do, and you immediately get excited, talk about that book for ages, and a little spark goes off inside you which tells you that you’re not alone? That’s how I’ve been feeling lately. Only that friend isn’t a person – it’s a city. Paris really gets me.

Whether it’s stumbling upon tiny artists’ studios, admiring the Impressionist works at the Musee D’Orsay, or wine and mingling with fellow book lovers at Shakespeare & Co., I feel like I am always surrounded by kindred souls.

On Sunday, June 6, all museums in Paris were free. So I put on my explorer’s hat (but forgot my umbrella) and headed straight to the Musee D’Orsay, where I waited in the rain for 45 minutes to get inside. When I finally got in, I found myself in paradise. I sat in the Impressionism gallery on the 5th floor in a room filled with works by Monet, Renoir, and Degas, thinking how lovely it would be to have the room all to myself.

What I’ve been experiencing is so much more a feeling than a thought, so it’s hard to put it into words. Instead, I’ll share a few gems from the weekend:

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I keep discovering new places in this city, new things to delight over. I don’t know if I will ever get tired of Paris.

I will leave you with a small story I came across earlier today:
“Now that I have been here for a while, I can say with certainty that I have never been here before.”

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Le Premier

Paris. Lutecia, to the Romans. The City of Love to foreigners today. But La Ville-Lumiére (the city of lights) to those who know and love it best. And to me?

To me it still seems uncertain and murky – my allumeur has not yet arrived. Because at the beginning, it was terrible. I arrived in the city when the sky was overcast and it was raining, and my mood turned dark like the clouds. I repeatedly told myself that I was finally in Paris, that I should lighten up and rejoice. “You’re living a dream!” I tried to tell myself. But it only got worse once I reached the hostel and settled in for the night.

The bed creaked. The pillow was lumpy. The see-through curtains were full of holes. And the repetitive clicking sound coming from the fridge, which I thought would be good white noise to help me sleep, ended up preventing me from falling back asleep when I woke up in the middle of the night, jetlagged. The whole place seemed – and I’m totally setting myself up to sound like a brat, here – unclean.

When I woke up that night at 4:30am, I tried for an hour, to no avail, to fall back asleep. For the next hour I was on my phone, scrolling through Facebook and texting my mom. By 7am, I was crying. I hated this hostel, was disappointed by the city, was worried that all the cool kids were hanging out without me (a legitimate concern), and I wanted to go home.

So a few hours later, when I saw that the sun had come out, I decided to pull myself out of my misery and go outside – my spirits lifted immediately. I got out and explored a little on my own, and jumped at the chance to speak in French with anyone and everyone. I ended up at the Jardin du Luxembourg, where children were yelling and sailing miniature boats in front of the palace. Being there felt so peaceful – not necessarily quiet – just peaceful. There was activity everywhere, and yet the entire garden felt frozen in time and space, like a Renoir painting.

From there it got better. I have been to Paris once before, when I was 9. I was not impressed. This grand city that everyone gushed about just seemed overrated to me. So I was pleasantly surprised when, last night while picnicking by the Seine, I saw the way the light touched the rooftops and transformed the city. All of a sudden, I knew I was in the right place.

And then, just as quickly, it got worse again. I found that as much as I love exploring on my own, I get upset when I find out that the others in the group are doing things without me. I need time to myself, but I also want to meet people here. I can’t go through this entirely alone.

Everyone says that study abroad changed their life, but even after just three days here (has it only been three days?), I’m beginning to see that it may not be one constant whirlwind of adventure. It has its ups and downs, just like anything else in life. And rather than feeling too happy or just depressed, it’s about finding the peaceful moments, learning to accept things you can’t change, and taking risks. And I’m learning that it takes time to adjust.

Baby steps.

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The Best Meals I’ve Ever Had

I’m a vegetarian. I have been ever since I was 12, and my reasons are a combination of religion, belief in animal rights, and taste. But I love food. Like, I really love food. I get sudden cravings at all times of the day, and for something very specific, too, not just “normal” cravings like chocolate or fries. Sometimes it’s spring rolls, sometimes it’s falafel wraps, sometimes it’s gulab jamun.

I’ve had the good fortune to be able to travel around the world and taste the different foods of the world, and I’ve had some truly spectacular meals – some of these stand out in my mind.

1. The Salish Lodge, Seattle, Washington – Belgian Waffles with Apple Butter and Cinnamon Whipped Cream, yummm. Oh, lord, what a delight! This was one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in my life.

2. Cafe Amedros, Istanbul, Turkey – the stuffed mushrooms. This whole meal was wonderful, including the dolmas and baklava, but the stuffed mushrooms were the best part.

3. My Mother’s, Capadoccia region, Turkey – I had some of the best vegetable curries here. After a week in Turkey, we were rather tired of some of the generic curries and the odd emphasis on eggplant, but the curries we had at My Mother’s were different and delicious.

4. Santorini, Greece – unfortunately I don’t remember the name of the place, but I do remember that the tomatoes stuffed with rice and vegetables was excellent. The people here were wonderful, and the restaurant was filled with cats.

5. MBK mall, Bangkok, Thailand – it’s a little strange that one of the best meals we had in Thailand was in a mall, but it’s true! It was hard for us, being vegetarians, to find varied meals in an east Asian country, but the food court at this mall had a variety of options available to us. The Thai curry and Pad Thai were particularly delicious.

6. Chokhi Dhani resort, Jaipur, India – koftas in a red curry (I can’t remember the name). The meals here were served in the form of an Indian thali, with a fixed menu every day, and the whole meal was excellent. This is probably the best Indian food I’ve ever had. And that’s saying something because I am Indian!

7. The Lazy Dog, Manali, India – some kind of paratha stuffed with cheese and apple. This is a kashmiri dish, I’m told, and the sweetness of the parathas combined with the more salty and spiced gravy is an absolute treat! We came to this place after a long trek up a hill, so I’m sure our opinions were affected by the fact that we were exhausted and starving!

8. The train station in Florence, Italy – this is even more ridiculous than the mall, and you’re probably laughing at me, I know, but hear me out! They have a wonderful dining section in the train station that serves both fresh food and frozen options. After a disappointing experience the previous day where we payed close to 20 euros for a salad (which wasn’t even good), the food train station was perfect for us. Fast, cheap, and tasty!

My mouth is watering now, remembering all these wonderful meals. I look forward to having more food adventures all over the world!

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Serince, Turkey

Serince: a small village in the district of Sincik, Adiyaman Province, Turkey.

“Hos Geldiniz” says the friendly sign weathered with rust that appears as our car rears up to the peak of the small summit it just climbed. On the left is a small tea shop that boasts of night time wrestling and to our left is a small dirt road, but beyond this there is nothing to indicate that people live here. The car snorts in protest, but we accelerate forward onto the tiny dirt road, maneuvering our way higher up into the clouds. After many hairpin bends and a few near death experiences, we arrive at the Nishanyan Hotel. Looking down, I can finally see the tiny village of Serince, reaching out my hand as though to grasp it, not realizing is much farther away than I can perceive. The crooked path here slopes inwards, so that I have to place my feet in an odd orientation that makes me look like a penguin to make sure I don’t trip.

We walk past a Turkish hamam that hasn’t worked in years and a swimming pool that’s too cold to swim in, only to find a young boy sitting on a chair in front of reception, reading intently. After seeing us out of the corner of his eye, a few seconds too late, judging by the harsh look he is given by the lady behind the counter, presumably his mother, he scrambles out of his seat and smiles up at us. After we exchange greetings there is an awkward pause before he says “I’ll be taking care of you today”

His name is Tevet, he says. He can’t be more than twelve years old. He offers us welcome drinks whose sweetness almost makes me wince. His eyes are a light blue grey, and he has a round nose that reminds me of Caillou. When he talks, the corners of his mouth turn up into a smile, perhaps in satisfaction that the English words that come out make sense to us, foreigners. When we ask how he learned English, he tells us that he learned mainly from the internet – I am both impressed and envious, wishing I had the commitment to learn a language like that. He offers us a menu, telling us that dinner has to be pre-ordered, but after seeing the sky high prices, we decide it would do both us and our wallets good to visit the village to eat.

Standing on top of the hill as we were, looking down on the village made it seem both very close and infinitely far away. It is a small gathering of buildings, all shingle-roofed, deep in a valley, surrounded on all sides by mountains. The paths are cobblestoned, and a silent hush covers the village after 5pm, as the light starts to fade. The only mosque in the village has just a single minaret. Every few streets, the smell of manure and farm animals drifts by, and occasionally one can smell alcohol from the nearby wineries. From the houses around me I can hear Turkish folk music played from an old device which crackles when the music gets louder.

On our way down, we encounter a white scruffy dog that looks lost, and I see him looking wistfully at the people passing by, as though begging for a new friend. I smile at him, and instantly, his wish has been granted. His tail starts wagging furiously and he trots faithfully behind us, allowing us to lead the way. I imagine that in another life I am a Turkish villager, and this dog and I found each other on the street, and became instant companions. My thoughts run wild and I start to fantasize about living in Turkey, learning the culture, and adopting its customs.

Suddenly the dog hears a noise and runs off behind us. I want to call to it but it has lost interest in us. As it runs away, I catch a glimpse of a shiny metal collar jutting out from its fur and I am hit by the sad realization that the dog was never ours, not even for those few moments.

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