world and heart, explorer slender; tracing lines both true and tender

erstwhile & anon

Posted on May 8, 2015

As usual of late, my brain flits like a hummingbird over a thousand blooming thoughts. Sometimes I wish that I could simply take all the things that I’m holding, undam them like an exhale, and you could catch it all up and know everything. Afterwards, we could take a nap.

There has been a distinct change in the air. Lima has dipped under autumn’s gentle sloping roof, on its way to the valley where gray lingers, the nights are cooler. I knew it was coming. I’ve spent many moments with my cheeks pressed towards the sun and wishing it was here to be mine forever. But still, I don’t regret the sudden inclination to wear flannels and drink tea. There is something about being chilled that I associate with a sort of strange, sweet autonomy.

And me, I’ve seasoned, too. I think I was holding onto a bit of skepticism and reserve, but I have since found a deep joy in my daily Peruvian life.

Going to Machu Picchu was, unmistakably, a turning point for me. It was last minute, makeshift, rife with harrowing issues, and it was unequivocally amazing. Something about the soft rain and damp dripping down yellow buildings and shiny green leaves. It was nice to be in my own headspace, it was nice to greet my backpack like a good friend. And, then of course, there is the Amazon, the crown on the top of my wayfaring glory, a reverie realized. Mostly, though, I am tremendously relieved to have stumbled into parts of Peru that resonate with me. A complete indifference to Lima has been a weight on me these months. And, even such brief jaunts into adventure and extraordinary, unbelievable beauty has made my crappy job completely worth it.

Words can hardly express how deeply and thoroughly I adore my roommates. We are a triple venn diagram of distinct colors, overlapping enough to create gorgeous new shades of common ground. We don’t have to spend every waking moment together, but we choose to, because we are lucky and we want to. There flows an incessant volley of wisecracks, bright ideas, dirty jokes, devotion, confessions, and counsel in our life shared round the clock. I like how they ask me for things. I like how I don’t ask for things and they don’t get mad when I take them. We tremble with our mouths covered, shaking with laughter over secret chat rooms at work, two feet away from each other. We make up names, take naps in the park, recline over coffee and indulgent food. We daily tease, spin tales, plan exploits, bare hearts. One makes farting noises in the stall next to the second, and all three dissolve into hysterics of different pitches. Pink post-it notes scrawled with affection and encouragement appear in hidden pockets. We clink glasses brimming with sticky, tropical concoctions; we curl up on the couch in nightly, girly unanimity. Trouble-making and peacemaking ensue with equal solidarity.

I am happy. It is an incessantly beautiful thing. In many ways, I look in the mirror and feel as though I have finally arrived. Not in the sense that everything in my life is idyllic — quite the opposite, in fact. And not in the sense that I have abandoned my eternal exertion towards betterment. But first and perhaps foremost, I look and see a woman, one that finally holds some of the womanly qualities revered in the heart of a girl who has felt perpetually young.

There are other things, too. I have been gently cultivating small, humble habits that bring me disproportionate amounts of gratification: I am learning the art of cooking for one, and have found it to be surprisingly satisfactory. I floss every night. I set goals for myself and inch towards them. Sometimes I workout until I am panting, and then later I will see real progress. I try to drink at least a liter of water each day, if not two. I may despise my job, but at the very least, I have finally nailed down the difference between affect and effect, and how to spell exercise correctly, the first time. I have come to even small terms with the question mark of my future. I read my bible each night and feel its vast gravity —  as a thing in and of itself, and on me.

I am deeply pleased, presently, as a whole. When I pull it apart, as I always do, and examine why, I think it would be this — that I have somehow accidentally struck balance, as haphazard and valuable to me as striking gold. Because I am rectified with my past and hopeful about the future, I can look straight across the expanse of the present and feel contentment well up within me, even if here isn’t quite it, yet. Think of it like this — if even one of these is heavier than the other, how hard it is to walk in a straight line! No wonder it’s so easy to lose one’s way. This, and, I think I am coming to decide that happiness isn’t quite what I thought it was, after all.

As for the rest of it, the yes, but, the and?, it always seems to come back to writing. I am an island of hopes and potential bobbing in a sea of questions and fears and false starts. But, I am coaxing myself into composure, and more importantly, realization. As it pertains to you, I hope to say that you’ll be hearing from me again very soon, sooner than a eighty-eight day drought.

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so far

Posted on February 9, 2015

Lima is an undulating surface, a breathing organism composed of a thousand tiny parts. On a map, the size of Lima is dwarfed by the enormity of the country, of the continent itself, kind of like an ant hill in the scope of a desert (in fact, Lima is in the middle of a desert—it is the second largest desert city in the world, behind Cairo). Bend down and close one eye, however, scrunch up your nose as you take a closer look, and the city focuses into a vast, teeming world of bodies. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around, when I stop to try. That driving down the Pan-American Highway along the jagged, cloudy coast from one end of the Lima province to the other would take the greater part of two hours, no traffic. That in the States, you can get to whole new cities within the same amount of time; in Europe, whole new countries. That the largest district alone is home to one million inhabitants, five times the size of my own beloved metropolis.

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The city feels like a contradiction, much of the time. It is vast here, and crowded, a fact that inevitably ushers in predictable side effects, but Lima somehow remains impervious to overarching stereotypes. The walk to work in the morning is a cacophony of brain-jarring honking, the language drivers use to communicate their impatience, their friendly greetings, their malevolent greetings, their boredom. But I can stroll through a maze of streets in various neighborhoods and not see a soul, lights quiet in every building. Where is everyone? I think. Where are 9 million people, if not here? There is an atmosphere of dirtiness that hovers over just about everything, and yet the sidewalks and parks of my district are very consciously immaculate: flowers bloom in unnecessary, though appreciated diamond shapes in the middle of highway islands; grass is trim and perfectly angular around every edge of landscape; city workers take their time painstakingly scrubbing out trash cans and raking fallen twigs. The water here is a terrifying, living fiend, a silent powerhouse roiling with enough force to immobilize grown men, but the fruits of this country are bright and huge, bursting with color and juice and flavor, unhampered by GMOs. I’ve seen slums pushing up the sides of distant hills, so poor that even public education is out of reach, and I’ve seen five story malls made of glass or built into cliffsides overlooking coastal vistas.

Lima confuses me with its absence of smokers and beggars. It surprises me with the sudden appearance of construction sites in the middle of a now-gaping sidewalk (construction that often continues well under a midnight moon). It frustrates me with its magic act inventory—my favorite grocery store items stocked for a few days and then suddenly gone for weeks at a time, only to show up on the shelves later, unabashed. I will become a quick-handed hoarder, stashing absurd amounts of lemons and soy milk.

I think what catches me the most is the general apathy of Limans. I do admire how laid-back they are about everything; when they honk at impossible traffic, they don’t honk with anger, it is the simple and calm stating of a fact: I am here, I am not slowing down, I would really rather you didn’t cut me off but it is expected and I will remain unsurprised, unfazed. They ride on overflowing buses decades old, or perhaps they walk; they show up each day at jobs they like or they hate. They go out to eat and lounge in parks and swarm the beach. They live and die in Lima. But it doesn’t strike me as a positive kind of relaxed, a hippy or surfer or rasta go-with-the-flow. It feels more like a grim acceptance, a lazy contentment, a firm stoicism. I am perfectly willing to concede that I haven’t, after all, hung out intimately with very many Peruvians. But so strikes me the heartbeat of Lima.

Language is, unsurprisingly, where it’s at for me. The corner of my paper brain has been dipped into a pool of new language and I am predictably and serenely gathering it into my fibers. I could sit in that stifling box of a room at the Spanish house and turn out little kid exercises complete with cartoons and dialogue bubbles for hours. I pepper my short, middle-aged, and excitable Peruvian tutor with questions, and, happy to oblige, he jumps up from his chair and scribbles vocabulary and pronunciations on the white board, giggling and apologizing all the while for his corny jokes. Then we sit and drink anise or coca tea, and sometimes he’ll ask us about our lives or philosophies, slowly and in Spanish. I know that in part, he’s encouraging us to use the few words we’ve stockpiled, but I can also tell he likes us and simply wants to know. His tone is professional and casual, but I never miss the curiosity that tilts his chin, the inquiry brightening his eyes, the high peak of the question mark at the end of his sentence.

I like when he gets shy about using what little English he knows; his voice gets softer and quiet. He’ll turn turn to us, lean in close and almost whisper the elusive word with his eyebrows hunched in uncertainty. My favorite is when he asks us to repeat difficult pronunciations like follow and humor and scrutinizes our lips. He claps and rejoices if he understands or learns something new, and shakes his head at confusing things like homophones (piece and peace). I’ve come to realize that if I had students like him, or a class like ours, I would find incredible satisfaction from teaching English. I love this damn language to a delirious depth. Or any language, for that matter.

I wish that I could report that I liked my job, my raison d’être ici, if you will. As I sit on a blanket in the grass and eat my lunch every day next to my roommates who preen and nap in the sun, I think about how disappointing it is that the reason I chose to go down this road is the very worst part of the trek. It is simply a matter of switching perspectives, I suppose, but it doesn’t make the fact that this is necessary any less regrettable. One month in, and this gig has perhaps sunk the final nail into my 9 – 5 (or rather, 8 – 6) coffin. It’s not the worst thing in the world; my optimism and practicality reign supreme in the darkest of hours, regardless, and there are many things about my life here that I deem satisfactory, if not wholly awesome. I am, after all, in South America. I still like to zoom out on the map in my brain and watch my little black dot, my minuscule silhouette poking around south of the Equator.

And then of course, there is Spanish, and there are my friends. Language and people, the two largest motivating factors behind my existence, my real raisons d’être. Communication and sharing, you could call them. Empathy and generosity. Understanding and love. I like to don rose-colored glasses against the harsh glare of disillusionment, especially when it blazes fifty long hours each week, to hold out in the hope that I don’t fully understand all the reasons why I’m here, but I will, sometime.

introduction

Posted on January 19, 2015

I am a coastal summer baby, I am a magic act. Nails sunset orange, hair stiff from salt, the days slip by and my skin constantly blooms deeper shades of pink like a photo in the darkroom: who knows where color will splash, what shapes will emerge with enough patience and prayer? Here, the sun comes and goes with frequency, but when it’s out it is as warm and strong as the arms that used to wrap my grateful, shivering little 8-year-old body towel-tight. It would be impossible for me to disassociate warmth from being tucked in, from being secure and content.

My hands smell like char from the burnt piece of cardboard I was using to light the oven pilot, though I have given up and instead opened a bottle of Chilean wine (Peruvian is, sadly, far too sweet). Much of this city is in a similar state as my apartment: well taken care of, but ancient—on the verge of being obsolete. I can’t say it isn’t charming, however. Why does retro ever have to regress? May your scripty fonts and cool color palettes live on forever.

Life in Lima isn’t too far of a stretch from life anywhere else; you acclimate to the oddities—to the incessant honking and suicidal traffic; the universal, resolute ban on toilet paper in the toilet; the hazy tint of polluted atmosphere that invariably accumulates from a population 9.5 million strong and hemmed in by mountains—and then continue on in the regular, upward pursuit of being a better (or perhaps just happy?) human. You learn to boil your water as quickly as you learn enough Spanish to get by in a city that has neither clean taps nor English speakers.

Lately, I hum an unbroken tune of appreciation, a sustained note of acknowledgement. It’s remarkable how different your headspace is when your clothes live in drawers instead of packing cubes. Even two weeks in, the roiling pot of life calms to a manageable simmer and things become more clear. I am continuously reminded that I have, indeed, passed some of the lines I drew for myself, and that I am, perhaps, a version of the woman I’ve always wanted to be after all. Even little things take my breath away sometimes. I also know that I have never gotten anywhere single-handedly, and that I am unequivocally lucky. It’s possible that I am repeating old sentiments, but I promise you, the view from this side does not get stale.

I like the grind, the in and out of days. Traveling certainly allows for the reinventing of self; living a daily life puts a patent on the new you, if you want it to. And gee wiz, do I ever want it to. I take advantage of a quotidian existence by tucking fragile, fair-haired hopes into the folds of my free hours. My time here has, and will continue to have some major drawbacks, but I never expected perfection when I took this internship; I wished only for progress. The fact that I might get friendship under a golden sun is as sweet and unexpected as the summer in January.

respite

Posted on November 19, 2014

It’s been five months and fifteen days since I boarded a transatlantic flight. Open your palm and grab a handful of time, that’s how long it feels like it’s been. I am sitting on a couch in the living room of a hostel I have called home for the past three weeks; Cat, the confoundingly altruistic owner, is gone for a few days and asked me to watch the desk. Since my people are on other adventures, I have been spending the evenings watching Gone With the Wind, listening to Nick Drake and Copeland and Fleetwood Mac and Ella Fitzgerald, sewing the holes in my pants, and drinking hot chocolate.

I’ve been wishing that I had something definitive and profound to tell you in these last weeks, but I have to admit that my brain’s been somewhat muddled lately. Between gobs of work in France, next to no alone time, the drug of Balkanism, and the impending doom of the end of this trip, I am, embarrassingly, a mortar and pestle mash of thought.

It’s weird thinking about France after having left, after this time of living in Bosnia. Sarajevo is like a warm bath for sinking into with slowness, compliance and rapture; it is comfortable and you often think with regret of the moment in the future when you’ll have to get out. The warm steam of life wafting up around this city makes it hard to look out at past or future. I digress.

France was a home, France was a dream, France was the blink of an eye. It was a world and a life so wholly unto itself; my memory of it is encased in a see-through bubble, some dreamlike snow globe. And because even up there, perched on the hillside in the Alps, each moment was new and unpredictable and strange. Constancy is such a rare commodity when you’re on the road, even when you get off it for six weeks.

Looking back on it is a lucid and quiet slide show. I see and feel the upward slope of the wooden floorboards in the kitchen, the particular smell of the neighbor’s house that sometimes still teases me from mugs of tea or old clothes, the eternal awe of high peaks, the exultation and indulgence of eating elaborate meals after working to the bone. Mostly I see shafts of yellow sunlight streaming through the kitchen window and coming to rest on the wood of the kitchen table; here, there is a blue glass of spoons, half-eaten circles of cheese, the absent-minded spray of loose tobacco. I think: boxed wine, music upon music, hands stained orange from fruit juice, black fleece, sea salted butter, burred puppy fur, floor mattresses.

The vast majority of our time was spent working, and working rigorously. But oddly enough, that’s not what’s left over when memory is sifted through the strainer of time. It’s certainly not as though it didn’t happen; I have the thighs to prove my time of carrying crates of fruit twenty kilos strong up an incline, the biceps to prove lifting and dumping them into a crusher. We were tired, but we were happy. Our satisfaction came instead from the magnetism between kindred spirits and the knowledge that our presence was a blessing. From the start, we fit in; from the start, we were enchanted.

Aurélie owns a juicing business. Her particular plot of Alps was rife with fruit: apples, pears, grapes so native and so old that no one knows the strain, the elusive quince. She is a shrewd, quixotic, and absolute human being, unlike anyone I’ve so far met. Her respect first, and then her friendship, was gratification of the highest order. Even then I remember feeling the jealous privilege of understanding who she was, and the bitter regret that she would change the moment I left and I would again know nothing. She is a volatile spinning universe attached to nothing; she is gravity and change incarnate.

Our days off were spent in bed, or hiking, respectively. We delighted in food and cooked incessantly, filling the kitchen with fresh picked tomatoes, a thousand types of cheese, chocolate and peanut butter, pasta and shrimp and pie and curry and ham. Every morning we woke up to a loaf of bread on the windowsill, left in the early hours by the baker in town. We put butter on everything. We never stopped drinking wine.

Life there is a tangled web. There are people in and out, always, and they are the type of people as unexpected as a midnight doorbell. You get used to things changing on a dime. We had barbecues with the neighbors, we drove for miles through the mountains, we stuttered our way through French. There were marijuana plants taller than me in the gardens, there were affairs and triangles, there was family love and family fight. Our nails stained dark brown on the first day, and stayed that way until the last. In the basement we found wine barrels carved with dates from 1647. During pressing hours we dunked glasses into whole barrels of fresh juice; our clothes were so sticky that the bees followed us around in reminiscence of plague days. We never dreamed from fatigue, but we stayed up late watching movies under the blankets.

I am pleased that I got to share time there with Caroline and Sean. Looking back, I think I would say that it was a thing that needed to be shared, that certain truths were meant to be unearthed together. I’ve grown and solidified and become newly self-aware during my time in Europe and my time alone, but it doesn’t make the challenge and gift of friendship during such intensive experiences any less worthwhile. I am humbled by and grateful for the unfolding of growth in front of me by my friends, and of their input into my life.

When I think about who I am and where I stand, I feel level and at peace. This is remarkable and brings me to my metaphorical knees in thanks and awe. At first, I wondered if such a thing would last. These days, I wonder where it will take me. When I think about the end of six months, I feel a grief that stems only from the joy of having lived, and lived well. In such cases, you can’t use the definition of regret or hunger; it is simply a deep and thorough acknowledgment. When I think about the future, about Peru, I feel only a calm and almost uncurious readiness, which I ascribe to a profound faith in certain things that stretch across realm and reason.

In my right hand I grasp nostalgia and gratitude, the gift of a season; my left holds up the hope and riddle of the future. The rest of me is submerged and dispersed in the sea of the present, a pretty place indeed.

mountains and valleys

Posted on September 17, 2014

Sarajevo is another bright, clear moment shining out amidst the whirlwind of travel. Sean and I had been trudging our way down the sticky, crowded coast of Croatia when we decided to head inland on a whim, in order to meet up with a friend Sean had made at a hostel the week prior. Saša is a beautiful man, his family unusually warm, and together they have built a life that is stunning in its uniqueness. The constant realization of how lucky we were to be staying with them made Sean and me keep whispering and motioning to each other behind their backs about how awesome this was.

The city itself is small and sweet, like a candy I could pop in my mouth and savor for days on end. The general remarks about it revolve around the weirdness of seeing bullet-studded communist buildings in the foreground of a towering glass mall, modern and black and huge. But I was more interested in the compact old town where Turkish vibes of coffee and tobacco and silver and textiles intoxicated my senses. Sarajevo is a perfect blend of history and mystery, East and West.

I know I’ve been harping on how much I’ve been eating in Europe, but that particular week takes the cake, pun intended. I’ve heard that skinny people can eat more, because they have more room to expand; perhaps I am walking proof. I felt like the girl who blew up like a blueberry and had to be rolled out of Willy Wonka’s factory, in every good way possible. We ate Eastern Europe’s best ćevapčići with pita and yogurt, Belgian waffles topped with ice cream and berries and nutella, sweet roasted nuts and Turkish delight. We found a somewhat rare microbrewery and quenched our thirst with homemade red beer. Saša’s parents, who are earthy, fun-loving, and intelligent people, bought and prepared for us an enormous traditional Bosnian lunch, complete with hot soup with homemade noodles; shopska salata; roasted potatoes and carrots and roast pork with real, thick-cut bacon; sautéed mushrooms; and finished with dense, sticky baklava. Every day we sampled a new regional wine from the cozy, tasteful wine shop that their family owns.

Saša is the definitive expert of all things most awesome and excellent in Sarajevo, and he took us places we would have never otherwise found. These places included a small tea shop on a quiet road, right around the corner from the bustle of the main square, reminiscent of Teavana except more local, humble, and just all around better. It is owned by a German man with the gentlest eyes you have ever seen, and not one day passed where I didn’t spend hours drinking his potions and listening to classical music. The three of us also had a date at a restaurant owned by a friend of Saša’s, where we whiled away the evening learning how to swirl, smell, and taste our way through each glass of Eastern European wine—wine supplied by Saša’s family store. But of course, the owner and chef brought us two veal specialties, one tenderly topped with mozzarella and tomato, and the other warmly roasted with potatoes. Another night we walked through dark streets void of humans and up to a seemingly innocuous door, which swung open suddenly to a magical and humming dining room with a cobblestone floor, a roof open to the starry sky and walls completely covered with vibrant plants and Bosnian trinkets. Here, we ate cheese and bread and small bites of fried chicken, lucky to even find somewhere to sit on a weekday night.

I don’t think there was one moment that wasn’t beautiful and marvelous and pleasing. We chuckled together to the old classic Donnie Brasco, hoofed it up an enormous hill to regard the stunning valley below, drank Bosnian coffee and smoked watermelon hookah. I marveled at the way Saša’s father doted on his mother; at their warm, elegant home in which we were wholly welcomed; and how the three of them have built a beautiful and thriving business, defying the relative poverty of their country and the complacency of its citizens. Between our laughter and our Brooklyn-Italian accents, I found joy and satisfaction in watching Saša let himself completely loose inside a glass of wine, in hearing his knowledge and well-wrought opinions, in making another friend that makes life worth living.

After that, Sean and I unexpectedly decided to go our separate ways, and I continued back to Croatia solo on my way to Italy. Dubrovnik was the last main city I had yet to visit on my coastal tour, but sightseeing by that point had gotten a little stale, so instead I hung out with new friends, went kayaking across the sea to an island, and jumped off rocks and swam until my feet went numb. On the ferry over the Adriatic to Italy, I bumped into some delightful Finnish girls that I had met in the city and we spent the night eating nutella and pringles and playing cards. I taught them how to play Go Fish; they were tickled.

Now that Italy has come and gone, I have somewhat mixed feelings about the place. Couch surfing was pretty much completely out as an option, lest I drown amidst the seedy romantic invites of clamoring middle-aged Italians. I did spend a great week in the mountains between Rome and Naples, volunteering on a farm and guesthouse. It’s funny how different every experience can be; this one was so much more about the relationships I made and not about the work or knowledge gleaned. Don’t get me wrong—hauling wood and pruning fruit trees with a sparky old man that doesn’t speak English taught me more Italian than I ever expected to learn and I am well grateful, but there was something especially remarkable about accidentally staying up late every night and discussing politics, the existence of free will, and boys with your three roommates and girlfriends—one each from Brussels, England, and Australia.

The family that owns the farm gives off the impression that they are only living together out of familial obligation, and that perhaps ten years of volunteers moving in and out has become a bit tiring. Nonetheless, I found contentment watching the rain and mist move across the solemn mountains from tiny craggy towns; swimming in the iciest, bluest mountain pond; getting caught in a downpour and hitching to town; sharing beer and ice cream at a dusty, plain cafe-bar full of Italian, card-playing men; participating in my very first yoga class; hurtling down curving mountain roads and shouting Italian songs about gelato at the top of our lungs; listening to an orchestra play ‘Figaro’ at a nighttime street festival in the mountains; exploring town on foot, buying market sunglasses and eating ice cream with friends; drinking wine in front of a stone fire; frying zucchini flowers and eggplant with a smiling, toothless Italian man while he riveted me with his life story (the one where he breaks both his legs while drunk in his twenties; quits drinking; finds scuba diving; works with and worships rare, ancient books; travels the world; and now farms around Italy to be near his darling daughter). And between each of these moments, I laughed and told jokes and discussed life with my new friends, pleased as hell.

Rome next, for the express reason of meeting my sister and brother-in-law. There we spent together two and a half beautiful days, not nearly long enough. My sister proved the benefits of doing your homework before you show up; she knew where to find a handful of exceptionally good experiences in the enormous sprawl that is Rome. One food tour, three historical sites, two mouthwatering dinners, and about fourteen cones of authentic gelato later, I am left standing alone on a train station platform, overcome with homesickness. I spent the rest of the week wandering around the city in a considerable haze, sleeping and somewhat disconcerted and realizing I hadn’t spent any time planning my next moves. The combination of having no clear plan or direction and not knowing the next time you are going to see anyone in your family can really set a girl back. For a minute there, I lost almost all of my self-possession. Luckily, I had a few enjoyable moments in good company; the brother of a childhood friend happened to be in Rome after a European tour with his band, so that was cool.

I dunno, I just didn’t have great luck in Italy after that. I was feeling very done with Rome by the time I left, especially after being approached by two different creepy men, getting bed bugs (I counted—well over seventy amazingly itchy bites), catching a ride and then running out of gas, catching another ride that was five hours late, spending more money than I needed and wanted to, being forced to stay up late three nights in a row based on surrounding circumstances, and descending into my rare trifecta of misery (cold, hungry, and exhausted). Not that it was all bad; I spent one relatively pleasant if not awkward evening in Turin, and had a couple enlightening conversations with nice people along the way, but I gotta say, I was immensely pleased to get to Lyon. Almost the moment I left the company of Italians and entered that of the French, my state of affairs spiked upward.

Vive le freaking France. I’m not sure I’m just relieved to be out of Italy, or if anything that strikes me as vaguely familiar feels like balm to my soul at this point in my travels (completely plausible), or if I just really like it here, but everything about my last few days in France has felt incredible. I adore practicing the language, even if my grasp of it is barely loose. Or perhaps it’s the fact that autumn is tumbling across Europe, but there is something in the air here that is making me very happy. It’s giving me the feeling that I would very much like to come back again and explore even further, to stay a while, to live, to learn. I’ve barely been here but I can’t help but feeling like I really like France.

Anyway. These last few days I stayed at an apartment with a handful of French kids and blended in with the comfortable, fun daily routine like I could, or did, belong there. In fact, I didn’t see a lick of Lyon except for a few main drags during two different nights—a shame, since I hear it’s charming. But, I can hardly complain, because I couldn’t have spent a more enjoyable weekend. Thomas (pronounced Toe-mah), my host, has a personality that is both delightfully down-to-earth and funny, and we hit it off immediately. My three days with him and his roommates was pretty much completely comprised of sleeping, eating and drinking. I tried foie gras and French blood sausage, had beer and mussels and fries (moules-frites) at the most idyllic medieval festival you have ever seen, took two naps, won a game of pool, rode rental bikes home at five in the morning, and taught English while lounging in the grass. I am very grateful to those boys for being as hospitable and kind and fun as they were. They brightened my spirits immeasurably.

I am doing well; I have regained the ground under my feet. But as always, ceaselessly I wonder what’s next, what is to become of me? To what will all this lead?

For now, my faithful friends, I have found myself in the Alps on a juice farm that is so picturesque that I’m afraid I’ll never leave. I can’t wait to tell you all about it, next time.