Wednesday, May 23, 2012

the cheese incident

I arrived in Vallauris yesterday after spending 5 days in Paris with my pottery posse, Rae, Sara, and Christa. Paris was slightly overwhelming. I was reading The Greater Journey while I was there and that book made me realize I should have made a serious plan in advance.  My laid back California ways basically mean you won't get shit done in a city like Paris, except for whiling away the hours in little wine bars and cafes, walking across a few bridges, and getting lost on charming, narrow, twisty streets.

But I did practice my French. Parisians are very good to practice French with. I say something in French, they answer me in English. I respond in French, and they answer again in English. In this way, we both get to practice, though I'm only good for about two go-rounds in French before I default to English, and they clearly don't need the practice.

The only time I am able to speak French with any flair at all is when I need food. I can ask for a baguette like nobodys business. All I wanted to do in Paris is go to the restaurants and outdoor markets and eat as much possible. I would circle patisseries, fromageries, and charcuteries like I was checking out hot men in clubs. In one fromagerie I went into, I said hello and strung together the longest series of words I had managed thus far:

je voudrais un fromage a manger maintenant ou ce soir.

This means "I would like a cheese to eat now or tonight," and I am not sure if that is the right way to say it, but it gets the hint across to a cheese man about what I need, which is a ripe cheese, something ready to go right now. The cheese man said something incomprehensible to me, and because I was trying very hard to pretend like I knew more French than I do, I shrugged in what I thought could be a Parisian way and said, "un chèvre...ou un bleu!?" Like, convince me cheese man, you are the expert! I could go for a goat cheese, or I could totally go for that cheese covered in mold right there! How bout you figure it out?  He pointed at some stuff, and said some things, and I nodded like I totally got it, and I ended up with two wrapped packages, a small little goat cheese, and a hunk of something that smelled like a goddamn barnyard. Oh, I was happy.

I went on to buy a chunk of duck pate the size of my foot, some olives stuffed with almonds, a teeny little basket of strawberries, and a baguette.  The perfect food for happy hour with my pottery posse. I walked and walked with Sara, and we went to the Louvre.  There were several times where the smell of barnyard would drift up to my nose from the bag I was carrying, and as I gazed at the master works of art ensconced in the Louvre, I though about what a great feast I was bringing my friends that evening.

Later, many hours later, as I was unpacking my bag of goodies, I could not understand why I could not find that giant hunk of cheese that smelled like a barnyard. Let me say that I had several large glasses of wine already, so I was easily confused.  I pulled all of my booty out of the bag, and turned it over several times. Everything was there, but the big hunk of stinky cheese was not there. Then, I looked at the bag that the cheese man put my cheese in.  The cheap, plastic, piece of shit bag that had a hole in the bottom the size of a big hunk of cheese. The cheese slipped out of that hole, and it was gone.

I dont know if you have ever lost your cheese before.  But me, I have lost my cheese. First, I was in disbelief.  I looked in the olive container to see if the cheese was there. It was not there, and I could not believe it. Then I was in denial. The cheese had to be somewhere! I started looking all over the kitchen, even though I had only been in there for 30 seconds and did not have time to do anything but pull it out of the bag. Then, I got angry. I threw the stupid goat cheese I had left. Stupid goat cheese, I can get you anywhere!  Where is the cheese I really wanted! I ran back to the place where Sara and I had those gigantic glasses of wine, and looked everywhere. People helped me when they heard I lost my cheese, but it was not to be found.  I ran to another fromagerie around the corner, but the store was shut tight, as was everything else.  I thought about crying, but that seemed extreme, and maybe a little crazy. So I just got really, really sad. And then I cheered the fuck up, because I was in Paris, with my pottery posse, and I still had that pate. Thank god I did not lose the pate also.

Some favorite pictures from Paris.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

travel jitters

Whenever I'm getting ready to travel, I have to contend with the fact that there is a part of me that hates to travel. Even before the most exciting trips, like the one I'm about to go on, I think that it wouldn't be so bad if the whole thing got cancelled, thereby relieving me of the burden of exiting my familiar and cozy bubble.

 The first major trip I ever took was when I was 22 and I went to Costa Rica for two months. I lived on $50 a week for almost a year to save for that trip, but in the days before departure, I was filled with dread. I didn't want to admit it to anybody, but I did not want to go anymore. I was very disappointed with myself, because I had always imagined that when I grew up, I would work only to save enough money to travel.  I consider myself an explorer, and I thought my whole life would be about traveling and exploring.  I had very romantic notions about what it meant to be a world traveler. I would be full of stories from my encounters with exotic people and lands, my home filled with beautiful trinkets and unusual souvenirs, and I myself would also be slightly exotic after having sailed the seven seas, rubbed shoulders with the natives, and seen things that most could not imagine.

 Despite my foreboding, I pushed on to Costa Rica anyway, secretly convinced I would die in a ridiculous mishap while I was there and never return. And as soon as I arrived, I was fine. When I arrive anywhere, I am fine.  Now I understand it's not the actual travel I dread. It's the anticipation, preparation, and transition. Knowing that I am about to be surrounded with absolutely nothing familiar, except for what I bring along, kicks the little girl inside me back to life, the one who who had to travel back and forth between divorced parents and was constantly coping with missing one parent or the other. It's the insecurity of being alone in the world, one that is assuaged by the familiar things and people I surround myself with.  Travel strips that bare.

I recently read "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed, her account of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail alone at 23 years old, and I was highly amused at her description of her backpack, which she nicknamed "Monster" due its outsize girth and weight. It mirrored exactly the pack I took into Costa Rica with me, which was so outlandishly overweight and wide, grown men who were trying to help me with my luggage would drop my pack and stare at me incredulously.  I never had to worry about someone stealing my pack because you simply could not run with it. My backpack reflected my intense need for familiar comforts, like my 16-oz bottle of hair conditioner (my hair is very thick and requires special maintenance,)  a stash of paint and all kinds of paper for every drawing and writing need (which I am grateful for to this day,) 6 different dresses for 6 different kind of occasions, and a Walkman, Canon camera with two lenses, and tape recorder so I would not forget one fucking thing.

My needs are smaller in some ways now.  I know how much conditioner will actually be required in a 6 week period (approximately 4 oz,) that I will end up sketching and writing more than painting and do not need a full palette of paint, that I only need one dress for walking and looking, another for sitting and looking pretty (attitude makes up for the other four,) and everything that needs to be recorded can be done with one little device.  And while I hate every moment between right now while I'm typing this--tying up my business and loose ends, saying good-bye to my husband, trying to figure out how close I can cut my arrival to the airport that will take me away--I am waiting for that sweet spot when I finally arrive.  And everything is fine.