How to be French pt. 9: It's Okay to be in Awe (and to not be French)

We actually came THIS close to missing our bus to Spain. I swear, I will never understand the French logic when it comes to transportation. In short, the type of bus we were supposed to take was actually different from what our tickets told us. And it took frantically asking about four different people in our best French, and madly pointing at our tickets then to the bus that was about to leave, to determined this.

As Moriah and I collapsed into our seats on the bus, we burst out laughing, drawing attention from the other tired-looking travelers en route to Spain. We were destined to always be those Americans who were too loud and too lost (and maybe too happy?). But by now, we are okay with that.

I sat across from Moriah on the bus, both of us shuffling through our backpacks for our thrifted French novellas from an outdoor market in Tours. Moriah had also scored a an old film camera. The French couple she’d bought it from was sweet enough to forgive our limited vocabulary. Moriah’s accent was better than mine so I let her do most of the talking.

But if France taught me anything,  it’s that you truly can’t take the country or the cultural (or the absurd ability to get lost) out of the girl. But you sure can take the girl out of the country. My first few weeks in Europe, I despised how loud our group always was going anywhere, or how much we talked or how loudly we laughed. We got so many looks. The kind of looks that made me believe we had the word AMERICAN in flashing neon lights above our heads at all times. It hasn’t been until recent that I realized I actually really love this about myself and my fellow Americans. I don’t know what changed, but I have a feeling it’s the beginning of truly appreciating who I am and where I come from. I find myself laughing more loudly when someone struggles with opening the bottle of wine or reading the map wrong. We all laugh a little louder, I think, totally and completely aware that we are getting glares from the primly-dressed couple sitting one bench over. I’m more than okay if we smile or laugh more than some people.

In fact, I don’t think we can help it.

We can’t help who we are because we just are. Nor can we help our joy and wonder when we see something as incredible as Versailles. So, in actuality, it’s the monument’s fault for provoking our American-ness. But what can we say to the wonder or the joy that we feel?

Nothing can steal our joy.

There was a moment while wandering up the stairs of Shakespeare & Co. for the first time in Paris. I found a typewriter sitting unoccupied just begging someone to clack away at it’s ancient keys. There was paper in it, so I hastily looked left and right to make sure the coast was clear, no one coming up the stairs and no one reading one room over. I didn’t want to draw more attention to myself than I already did just by being constantly in awe of the place . . . but then again, what can be said of awe when it’s as raw as the night sky or shelves upon shelves of dusty books, or a city humming with life and poetry?

Awe is simply a state of being when you are a twentysomething and have absolutely no idea how you ended up in Paris or how you end up anywhere for that matter. It’s a state of pleasant uncertainty that comes with giving up on trying to figure out how things work.

So what, then, can be said of awe?

I sat down and began to type out my favorite quote by Hemingway.

“Live the full life of the mind . . .” clack . . .clack . . .clack.

I peeked my head around the corner of the little alcove where I sat. Someone had wandered up the stairs, but I kept typing.

Clack. . . “Exhilarated by new ideas . . .” clack.

This stranger was poking around in the section labeled “Poetry” so I figured if I was quoting Hemingway, no matter how noisy it might have been, they would want me to finish the quote.

“Intoxicated by the . . .” Clack . . .Clack.

I was so focused on how loud the typewriter was that I did not hear the stranger approach and look over my shoulder.  

“Romance of the unusual,” someone said behind me. I nearly jumped off the little bench before the typewriter as the stranger from the poetry section finished the quote out loud, and rather close to my ear. I spun around to find a man who could have been 100 -years -old.

He wore spectacles and a black beret, cocked slightly to the right on his head. His denim jacket was two sizes too big and his pants were hiked up by a pair of black suspenders. An unlit cigar sat promptly in his jacket pocket. A pink carnation was pinned to his collar. He could have been Hemingway, himself.

“Sorry, if I disturbed you!” I said almost mechanically in French. I had gotten used to saying it, since I always seemed to be turning the pages too loud or eating my toast wrong.

“Pff! It’s a typewriter, madame. I’m 92. It’s a sweet sound,” the old man said, smiling, his French clear as a bell. I was happy I understood him.  

 

He held what looked to be a book of poetry by Jacques Prevert in shaky hands. He fiddled with his spectacles to get a better look at what I had typed. “Hemingway knew the truth about life,” he said.

I looked at him, intrigued. He looked and sounded like he walked straight out of one of Hemingway’s books---maybe a character from The Sun Also Rises, off to run with the bulls.

“He really did,” I agreed.

The old man looked at me and then at the typewriter again. “Never apologize for how you experience the world,” he said to me, in English this time.  

I blinked and swallowed hard because that’s what it had felt like the last few days, constantly apologizing for how we Americans experienced awe.

“Who said that?” I asked.

“You better type that one up too,” he said, tipping his head in my direction. A small bluebird had been embroidered on the front of his beret.

I looked back at the typewriter and then went to ask him again, but he was already making his steady way down the stairs. I quickly typed up the sentence, in hopes that if I could see it in front of me, I could make it more real.

Never apologize for how you experience the world.

Never feel the need to subdue your smile when you witness something beautiful. Never contain your laughter when you get hopelessly lost in the streets of Pamplona and end up finding the best bar for tapas. Never apologize for your wonder at how gorgeous the Eiffel Tower is when it sparkles at the top of the hour. Never feel shame for skipping through the Luxembourg Gardens because all of the fallen orange and yellow leaves make you happy. Never apologize for how you experience the awe that lies around every corner of the world.

So to all of France, if we ever made you exasperated with our rowdiness over the best cappuccinos we’ve ever tasted, I can not apologize. If we ever made you roll your eyes because we could not believe the rainbow colors of the stained glass in Sainte Chapelle, I can not argue. If we ever offended you by being too in awe of your country, I am not sorry.

I can’t apologize for how we’ve experience this world.

How to be French pt. 8: Rue St. Maur

“He has the saddest eyes,” Harry said, crossing his arms over his chest and staring hard at the self portrait of Vincent Van Gogh.

I hadn’t noticed his eyes yet, as I was a little preoccupied trying to contain my astonishment at beholding the self-portrait of Mr. Van Gogh. All I could do was keep praying that I was actually there, standing before one of the most beloved artist in history.

“He’s never looking at you, like he’s trying to avoid eye contact,” Harry continued. I went and stood next Harry to see his perspective. The blue and white patterns of the self-portrait matched his sad eyes, and I found Harry to be correct. The portrait didn’t pierce my soul or see right through me as some self-portraits seem to. Van Gogh was avoiding my eyes even though I couldn’t seem to tear my gaze from his.

We stood in front of Van Gogh’s self-portrait for ten minutes maybe, longer than some other tourists who came and held their smartphones right up to Van Gogh’s sad eyes, snapped a picture, and continued.

How could something so magnificently beautiful make me so sad? It was like I could feel for Van Gogh and the thoughts going through his head. But maybe that was what made it magnificent: this man’s oil-painted eyes refused to meet my gaze and that drew something out of me. Frustration, maybe? Or something resembling my own sadness for his wondering eyes.

It was only our second full day in Paris and I had already felt like we had become accomplished art snobs just by spending a few hours in Musee d’Orsay. D’Orsay used to be a train station, which added a certain modern charm to the place. The other exhibits were beautiful, but honestly, I think we were only there to see the Impressionist exhibit: Monet, Cezanne, Degas, Pissarro, and Renoir. Van Gogh, however, was on a whole other level---somewhere between painting emotion and depicting the world in such a way that made everything dance. There should be an “ism”  for that.

We had a week to see everything we possibly could and we were off to a fantastic start. The day before, we had climbed the Eiffel Tower in heavy fog. It felt like a dream, standing at the top and trying to see Paris below. We were truly lost in the clouds above the city and it was eerie and exciting all at the same time.

We saw countless pieces of art: “La Joconde” (Mona Lisa) by daVinci, “Liberty Leading the People” by Delacroix at Le Louvre, where we also got hopelessly lost and probably spent the second half of our time there trying to find our way out. There was “Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies” by Monet, Van Gogh’s sunflowers and self-portrait at d’Orsay. My art-loving soul actually could not handle it and by the end of our museum escapade, we collapsed in a heap of colorful history, too tired to even be young and free and go wander the City of Light at night. But we were satisfied and felt accomplished, and had increased our art history trivia ability tenfold. We were also happy to be breathing air that moved and was not completely museum-stagnant.

After getting our dose of art history, it was time to hit the books: Shakespeare & Co. was calling our names.

If there ever is a bookstore in heaven, this is what it would be like. It’s charmingly small and so stuffed with books that you can practically see the poetry and the paragraphs leaking from the windowsills and coming up from the floorboards. Upstair there’s a piano and more books and a typewriter. All of which combine to make one of the sweetest melodies that only someone who has spent half their life lost in a book can hear.

Someone was playing a composition I was not familiar with when we walked up upstairs, but it was a little sad and beautiful, reminding me of Van Gogh. Someone else sat at the typewriter, clacking away at some poetry. There was the quiet shuffle of footsteps on the staircase and the turning of pages. See? How sweet a song is that? All that was missing was the hiss of espresso, BUT there was a cafe next door so that meant this really was heaven.  

We sat for a little while in the small room with the piano. Harry had picked a book about Irish Folklore to skim through---very fitting for him. I had picked up a book of different love poems, also very fitting.

Our goal at Shakespeare & Co., aside from becoming literature buffs, was to find a book for the other. It took me almost an hour to decide on which book I thought Harry would enjoy. We had the same taste---anything by Tolkein or C.S. Lewis or some other glorious fairytale was always a good bet.

I settled on The Song of Middle Earth by David Harvey. It was the one book about Tolkien I was sure he had not read.

We bought our books and got our official Shakespeare & Co. stamps and practically skipped out into the street. We chose the Luxembourg Gardens to enjoy our books.

I think the Luxembourg Gardens are my favorite. I have never seen such a dramatic change in the color of the leaves, as I did there. Brilliantly yellow leaves littered every inch of the ground. I had to subdue my childish instinct to reach down, grab a massive handful of leaves, and throw them at Harry. There was a fountain with a crowd of little kids racing small toy sailboats, and I think it almost killed Harry to not participate. We watched the little boats delicately catch the wind and glide across the water, kids shouting cheerfully as their boat made it across the entire fountain.

But we were in Paris, after all, so the most civilized thing to do seemed to be find a decent place to read our books. We tore ourselves from the excitement and sat down in light green lawn chairs with a nice view of the palace and the boats. A little  hesitantly we exchanged books because books can reveal a lot about someone.

Harry presented me with The Subject Tonight is Love: 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz. Hafiz was a Persian poet who wrote much about God and love, so naturally, it was the perfect book for me. I have not been able to put it down since I started reading it in the park, and I am pleased to say that Harry was equally as excited about his book on Middle Earth.

We sat in the park for an hour maybe, enjoying the chilliness and reading aloud some of the poems and bits of our new found treasures. I can’t think of a better way to spend a week is Paris, getting lost in the art and the words of it all. I was sad to leave the park, mostly because it was hard to determine when I would get to go back. But it was one of those perfect days that you don’t wish to spoil with thoughts of tomorrow or with petty worries of the future.

So we left the park that was still perfect in the moments of the falling leaves and the laughter of children, of poetry and of boats gliding across the water. We would let that moment be, let it breathe in the fall air, as we went in search of some coffee to keep our hands warm.



 

How to be French pt. 7: Thursdays are for mountains

Every morning my host mom, Marie-Jo, gets up around 7 and does her Sudoku while sipping some coffee. I usually stumble down around 7:45 after the coffee smell has wafted up to my room and I have hit snooze about four times. She always greets me so cheerfully, as if she has been up for hours. I greatly admire this about her and wish I could be this stoked about early mornings.

Thursday mornings are a little different. I didn’t know it was possible for Marie-Jo to be even more cheerful, but she always is on Thursday mornings. Why? It’s simple.

Thursdays are for mountains.

I praise God all the time for Marie-Jo because she loves the mountains just as much as I do. It’s one the thing I can also really talk about in French without stumbling into English because I truly want to be able to connect with her on this topic.

On Wednesday nights Marie-Jo turns up the volume extra loud when le meteo comes on so she can see what the mountains will be like the next day. As I write this now actually, she is just now getting home from an excursion because it’s Thursday. I love the way she sweeps in through the front door, backpack halfway off and sunhat askew, as she exclaims with much vigor, C’etait magnifique!

On Saturday and Sunday of last weekend, it was my turn to take on the mountains. To say I was in need of some alpine air was an understatement and I could not wait to feel the crunch of my shoes on some trail.

Gavarnie was our destination that Saturday, and let me tell you, to call it grand would not do it justice.

Gavarnie lies in the southern border of Pyrenees National Park. Spain was just over the tips of the mountains that soared far above our heads. Hopping off the bus for the first time, I was happily surprised to find myself pulling my windbreaker tighter around my neck and shoulders. It was nippy.

One of my favorite feelings is being chilly (like really chilly) even when the sun is out. I love the briskness of the wind that turns my nose red and makes for a great excuse to cozy up with some coffee and a book. Brisk is a great way to describe the weather that day. It was the first time in years I truly felt like l was walking through the right season at the right time. In California, October tends to be our summer since the months of June and July are fogged in and strangely cold on the coast. October can be gorgeously (and sometimes uncomfortably) hot, and we give up the feelings of Fall for an extended summer.

But walking through the meadows of Gavarnie, Fall was apparent in the air and the mountains were capped with fresh snow. Bernard, our mountain guide, talked enthusiastically of the horses that roamed in the fields here and how he used to be in charge of corralling them in at the end of the day when he was our age. He walked patiently and did not seem least bit stressed about guiding 40 people on a hike. He smiled and waited for all of us to clumsily make our way, our eyes constantly tilted up to gaze at the towering cliffs. I loved watching the snow being dusted off the peaks, forming quick swirls and patterns that danced in the wind.

We came to the highest waterfall in Europe. It was situated what seemed to be perfectly below the middle of the cliffs and fell without a sound. It looked like a white ribbon that wound it’s way off the mountain, letting its falls be whipped by the wind. Everyone pulled their beanies tighter over their ears and noses turned pink in the cold as we stood in the shade of the mountains.

Sunday was a little different. I went on a (real) hike with a group of French, German, and a handful of students from the U.S., also in Pyrenees National Park. Bernard was our guide once again, and since some of us had been on the hike the day before, I think he wanted to up the difficulty. Our destination was Pic d’Ossau that sat high above Vallee d’Aspe. We set off at a quicker pace, all of us surprised again by the cold.

I couldn’t get over how much I loved the cold. I couldn’t believe how much I adored having my nose run and drip from the chilliness. The cold made me feel alive and the wind was there to remind me of who truly towered over us with those peaks.

As the valley grew small far below us and we continued to climb up and up, I was beginning to wonder if Bernard was secretly carrying krampons for thirty people with him because at this rate, we would be dancing in the snow. The minute I thought we were at the top, we kept getting higher. The grass grew longer and waved in the wind, the peaks that rose up around us sang. They are always singing to me and I was tempted to sing back like Julie Andrews.  

Reaching the top of Pic d’Ossau, I felt the strongest wind I have ever felt. I almost lost my hat, as we ascended. Bernard held up his hands above him at the top as if he were being welcomed back by some old (mountainous) friends. We spotted a mountain goat dashing off nervously over the hills at the sound of us coming. It was one of the most dramatic sites I have ever been a part of---the peaks in the distance looking ominous and craggy, capped with tons of snow. It was cloudy and the wind howled. I wanted to howl back.

Feeling the wind toss us around at the top and being so cold, but not even noticing because we couldn’t get over how incredible it felt to be apart of something so grand, now THAT was being alive. Sometimes I need reminding that  I am small, but I can be a part of something magnificent. I also need to be reminded of what it means to truly be alive. This could explain my love for the freezing ocean water at home---even on foggy days, you better believe we’ll be paddling out. That shock to the system, when embraced with a good attitude, can act the best reminder of what we are meant to feel.

We sat down in the long grass at the top to eat our snacks. I watched Bernard and the way he didn’t seem the least bit cold. It wasn’t until I sat down and tore my gaze from the peaks that I realized I was cold and shivering. But for once, I wasn’t going to let my being uncomfortable, put a damper on the experience. In fact, it was a part of the experience, and I was going to feel every moment with it: freezing hands, pink cheeks from the wind, and hysterical laughter at the constant reminder that I was alive in such a grand place.

How to be French pt. 6: Heart-check in Hossegor

Don’t worry, my heart is fine. After running a 4 miles in about 30 minutes, I would definitely say my heart is good to go.

Last weekend, my friend Kristin and I made our way to Hossegor, France to run in a Roxy Fitness race and enjoy the surf competition that was going down. To say I was stoked would be a sorry understatement because running and surfing and John John Florence . . . well, you do the math. It was a weekend of activities that I knew would make my heart so happy. To be near the ocean again and witness some of the greatest surfers of today shred was more than I could imagine.

After we ran on Sunday, Kristin and I grabbed burgers (OMG PRAISE GOD WE FOUND BURGERS IN FRANCE BECAUSE I MISS BURGERS), and made our way down to the beach to relax.

The vastness of the shore reminded me so much of California and if I closed my eyes, I could have been sitting on Carmel Beach. But I wasn’t going to sink into nostalgia again this time. I was going to enjoy every minute of this beautiful beach (and beautiful surfers). After finishing my food, I hopped up to run down to the surf competition because I hadn’t run enough that day and nothing could stop me from watching Tyler Wright and John John Florence compete. And so I started jogging easily along the tide, letting the water come lap up against my ankles.

I was not going to miss home right now, I told myself. I was going to take in this experience deeply. That’s something I have been keen on lately, after my little bout with nostalgia at Cap d’Agde. I wanted to redeem myself. I know it’s okay to miss home, but this beach and this sunshine were not going to let me.

I tried to keep jogging but of course had to stop every two seconds to pick up a sea shell or a pretty rock. As I did so, I tried to be as aware as I could of my senses and what I was feeling.

My heart was beating fast. The wind whipped my hair about my face. The smoothness of the stone in my hands was oddly satisfying. My feet sank deep into the sand with every step. The ocean was so grand. And I was significantly small.

I thought in that moment, how silly my nostalgia must be to God. That was seriously all I had to be worried about these last few weeks and I let it get the best of me. I am small and so are my problems and God is so big.

I stopped walking for a moment and sat down in the sand, determined to evaluate the condition of my heart. This was something I rarely did, but am trying to do more . . . seeing that I tend benefit so much and it allowed me to recenter on what’s important. Looking at the summer, after a serious reevaluation of where my heart was, it was evident I needed to put it in a different place.

My heart beat fast. Good. I liked it that way, exhausted and quick from running. But I didn’t like living that way, exhausted and tired from thinking too much. I decided right there, as I let the waves hit my feet again, that I couldn’t over-think anymore. My heart could not afford to. I had to be more decisive, more sure of who I was, and more honest with myself about my heart.

Geez. All this from simply letting myself JUST ENJOY the moment and not worry about the past or what was to come. I’m telling you, the ocean air has that effect on me.

My heart was in the right place. I came to France for the right reasons. But now that I had been here for sometime, I couldn’t let things fall into routine or keep longing for home. This was my time to be who I was and not think too much and simply be free in that.

Hossegor let me fall in love again with surfing and be re-enchanted with my heart’s reasons for being in France. Those reasons are to learn (always learn), become acquainted with I truly am, and cling to Jesus, not the experience or home or the people I meet.

So my question to you is, where is your heart? Is it stuck on something . . . or someone? Does worry have a tight grip on your heartstrings? Are you taking a moment to reevaluate what’s been on your heart for last week and why? Do yourself a favor and check your heart. You’ll be happy you did.

I got up from my spot in the sand. That was enough thinking for one day. I HAD to find John John Florence and enjoy every wave of this weekend.

Did I mention JJF gave me high-five and I nearly died of joy? Yep. He did. My heart is full.

How to be French pt. 5: Be like the Blue Seaglass

Our pockets were heavy with treasures. And thinking about it now, it was more than the absurd amounts of sea glass and swirly shells we had collected that weekend.

Nadia and I were giddy for a solid five minutes as we took our first steps onto the beach at Cap d’Agde, a quaint town and fishing port on the Mediterranean Sea. The smell of salt in the air that was flung off the waves teased me and made me think of California.

While we probably spent a grand majority of our time hunting for mermaid treasures, there was a lot of time to be still and just breathe in as many happy endorphins as we could from the fresh sea air. I can hardly find the words to describe what it was like to dive head first into the Mediterranean for the first time. I stood in the waves for a moment before jumping in, completely in awe of how great a moment this was---I had only ever read about this sea in (most likely) hundreds of books and had only imagined what it would be like to experience it.

And that’s what this trip is proving to me over and over again: You don’t have to just read about these places and call it quits. The pictures I have stared at in travel guides, in National Geographic, in films, and on maps, are all REAL places just asking for me to explore . . . well, don’t mind if I do.

I had a lot of time to think at Cap d’Adge. The ocean air has that effect on me.

After we had finished sea shell hunting that morning, I sat in the sand with my book and tried to read. I got through about two sentences when the sound of a ski boat zipping by the shore made me look up. I smiled, thinking that the last time I heard that sound, I was at Shasta. My heart ached only for a moment for the mountains and those I worked with over the summer.

The waves that lapped the shore and threatened to overtake my pleasant spot in the sand sounded like home.

The surfers I spotted hopping out of the water, boards securely under their arms looked like home.

The coconut smell of the my sunscreen smelled like home.

Well, shoot. What the heck was happening?

I breathed deeply the smell of salt and cleared my head, not wanting to sink into nostalgia or the past. Looking out at the sea, it felt like I would be there for the rest of my life because what really was home anymore?

Nadia came back from collecting more sea treasures and she asked me if I wanted anymore seaglass.

I looked away from the salty horizon reluctantly, unsure of how long I had been staring at it utterly lost inside myself.

"I think I’m okay,” I said, laughing a little at my own growing collection of shells and green and brown glass wrapped in my sweater.

“You sure?” Nadia asked again.

I nodded and looked back down at my book. I tried to start reading again when Nadia tossed something onto the pages I held in front of me.

It was blue seaglass. HOLY MOLY it was blue seaglass.

If you knew how much I had always longed to find a piece of blue seaglass, you would understand the rush of joy that swelled up inside me too fast for me to remember now.

I looked at Nadia in disbelief and she just smiled.

“What . . . where did you . . .,” I couldn’t even form my words. And then, “Are you sure you don’t want to keep it?” I asked her.

“No way,” she said. “It’s yours.”

And just like that, as I determined what kind of necklace I would make with this gorgeous piece, I knew what it meant it feel at home, to feel like I belonged somewhere.

Gazing out at the vast ocean, I felt small and detached, aloof, even. I had often made my definition of home a combination of comfortability and relationships, never so much a feeling. I looked at the piece of blue sea glass in my hands and felt overwhelmed with a sense of belonging. How was that possible?

This blue sea glass had been detached from it’s source of belonging, just as I had. But as I held the glass in my hands, it had a home---it belonged to my growing collection of treasures now.

I am held in the hands of the Creator just as reverently, often detached from where I feel like I belong. But the more I try and attach myself to people and places that I feel bring me comfort and a sense of “home,” the harder it is to find myself in the unfamiliar and feel like I belong. In God’s hands, no matter how lost, I always have a home. In my hands, no matter how detached, this piece of blue seaglass had a home.

It’s hilarious to me that it’s taken traveling across the world for me to understand this about my sense of belonging. How backwards it seems that I would discover that in the most unfamiliar place. But what I have concluded is that I am put in these exact situations of being uncomfortable and uncertain all the time so I can keep returning to the One who’s home is truly where my heart is.

I recently finished reading the book of Hosea---all I have to say is, WOW, what a douzy. I would seriously hate to be the city of Israel in this book...But then again, I am constantly playing the part of Israel whether I know it or not, trying to find a sense of belonging and love from things that could never satisfy me.

Hosea 6:1 reads, “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds.” This theme of being “torn to piece” has been a recurrence in my life lately, but in the best way. All that is familiar, all that is comfortable, all that I thought I was, has been drastically changed and “torn” from me in a sense. Coming to France has played huge part in literally being taken out of what I find comfort in. But it is in these times that I have realized that the whole point is to return to God. Because the God that I know does not want bits of me at a time, uncommitted and afraid.He wants all of me, returning to Him constantly in pieces that have been scattered to the ends of my being and back again.

“He has torn us to pieces.” That will always be hard. But letting God strip me of false loves and silly idols will force me to return to Him for comfort. Just like that beautiful piece of blue sea glass, I come in pieces to the One who will make me whole again and give me a home to return to.

I had a conversation with my mom about putting my love in the right place when got to France. It’s something I have only recently understood I struggle with. I told her I was excited to be away from distractions, like relationships and messy break ups, the petty drama of life, etc. I was so excited to give this trip my full attention and love. She stopped me quickly and said, “See? That’s what you do. You can’t cling to the experience.”

It wasn’t that I couldn’t love this experience. It was that I could not cling to it and expect it to give me life and an escape from everything. I was in desperate need of returning to the Lord, the One who I could not run from, and the one who demands my full attention.

I must cling to Jesus, not the experience. I must return to Him over and over again, even when I come in shredded pieces of heartbreak and uncertainty and a longing to belong.

Comparing myself to seaglass seems silly now, after rereading this post. But in reality, that’s all I really am to my God---a little blue piece of seaglass, who has does not have to search any farther for loving hands to give me a home and make me into something beautiful.

How to be French (Basque?) Part 4: San Sebastian

"An ivory tower should be built to protect the Basque people and their language, to ensure that this jewel does not disappear." // Niko Marr, Georgian writer and philosoper

“That doesn’t sound like Spanish,” a friend of mine said to me, as we walked along the crowded streets of San Sebastian, or Donoastia, as it is known in the Basque language. We listened in to the snippets of conversations that weaved in and out of the vibrant-colored buildings, unable to determine what language some of these people were speaking.

It’s amazing what happened when we crossed the border between France and Spain. I don’t think any of us knew what it was we were crossing into. It’s been said today and hundreds of years ago, that Africa begins after the Pyrenees mountains. Which geographically makes no sense, but to some living in France, that is more than the case.

What comes after the Pyrenees mountains is not Africa, but Spain. I’m taking an intercultural communications class during my time here and we had a discussion about this mindset. This is not an uncommon thought of some who live in France today and those who lived so many years ago. What comes after the Pyrenees is definitely not Africa, but a country full of unhindered blues and rusty reds that decorate the shudders of every window. It’s a place where the ocean meets the sea wall of a city bustling with some of the most lively people I have ever met.

It’s also place where the Basque language thrives, along with the Basque people. Spain may never sleep, and might make a little more noise than France, but from what I experienced, it is sophisticated in its own little ways. From the culture of eating pintxos late into the night, to the busy fishing port that reminds me of home, Spain has its act together in a very beautiful and unique way.

The Basque language, or Euskara, is the only surviving non-Indo European language in Western Europe.

Let’s just process that for a moment. It has been isolated in its own little paradise since the Romanization of Europe, and even before that. It’s origins are a debated topic, but nonetheless, it remains a language that branches from no other, or at the very least, from the unknown.

How wild is that? And to think I had the chance to explore that region and that language if only for a weekend.

I got up to watch the sunrise and sketch a little on Sunday morning in Donoastia. I wandered to this small alcove that was built on top of the sea wall. A few surfers drifted in and out of small sets that rolled in, along with the moored boats that dotted the bay. There was some weather moving in and I wrapped my scarf around me like a blanket.

I, like the Basque language, have found myself a little isolated at times since arriving in France. It’s the first time I have been anywhere I was not a little familiar with---no origins, no ties, no acquaintances to find comfort in.

But at the same time, like the Basque language, I want to be able to thrive in the unknown and the uncomfortable.

Looking back on my time here thus far, I am proud of myself for taking advantage of the uncomfortable to learn more about myself and why I am here. I know that I was not put here on this earth to live in a constant state of comfort, but rather to grow where I am planted and find joy in the unknown.

Grow where I am planted: that statement has never made more sense to me than it does now. I look at the Basque Country, all of the culture and the language and the people, and just marvel at how it did exactly that in Spain. It grew where it was planted and was made beautiful in the most vibrant and unique ways because it endured and still endures today.

I will not let the unknown or the uncomfortable steal my joy while I learn to grow where I am planted. I want to be in a constant state of joy even in the hardest things, just as Donoastia seemed to be well into the small hours of the morning.

So while this little life lesson was not learned in France, I now know how to be Basque to some degree: vibrantly full of life and unencumbered by the unknown.

 

How to be French pt. 3: vie est toujours belle

Marie-Jo, my host mom, is currently waltzing around the house to a version of the song “Hallelujah” by a French musician she loves. She talks on the phone to her daughter as well, her voice fluctuating beautifully with each change of phrase.

“Vraiment?!” she exclaims, as her dog, Groubille, watches her curiously from his perch on the stairs. “C’est tres bien,” she says to her daughter. Her voice is animated and sweet sounding.

The rain has not stopped since I came home from school. I opened my window, with its charming white and red curtains catching the wind, to let the smell of the fresh weather wander in. I haven’t heard such pleasant sounding rain in ages.

Today makes it two weeks since I arrived in France and I have learned more about myself and my ability to adapt than I could have ever anticipated. For one, I am not as timid and shy as I thought when it comes to getting the most out of my experience here. Le semaine prochaine, Marie-Jo was kind enough to drive two of my friends and I to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, a gorgeous seaside town in Basque Country. Yesterday, my classmates and I went cheese-tasting at rural farm in the foothills of Pyrenees. How wild is that? The authenticity of these places has been wonderfully refreshing and incredible. This upcoming weekend, we are headed to San Sebastian. I can’t begin to contain my excitement about adding a new stamp to my passport and experiencing a new place.

As for my French-speaking ability, it’s been better and I can not wait to have a conversation with Marie-Jo without having to pause and think about how to conjugate a verb before I speak.

With the language and adventure aside, and all of the plans everyone wants to make to travel and get the most out of living here for three months, I have fallen hopelessly in love with this new hometown of mine.

I have also realized what it truly means to explore.

I may be abroad in a new country, but that doesn’t make me an explorer. I may have a passport, and speak a bit of French, and have a ridiculous desire to camp in the Pyrenees for the rest of my time here, but that doesn’t make me adventurous.

In an article from one of my favorite blogs, she-explores.com, artist Jess Gibbs, who is currently living on the road, talks about these same understandings.

She says, “‘I do have a van... but that’s not what you need to actually explore. What you need is open eyes and a desire to see the beauty that really does surround you.’”

I’ll admit, noticing the beauty around me has been tough lately with this whole culture shock thing making itself very real in my life. But with that, I discovered the joy of getting to know Pau better, and how to have an open mind about everything (including escargot).

The first step to becoming an explorer is to be open and understanding of the beauty in the different. It’s also harboring that longing to find the beauty in the seemingly insignificant things that surround you. You don’t even have to go to a different country to become an explorer or to be adventurous. Having the desire to simply notice the beauty in the mundane, or in my case, the culturally uncomfortable and new, makes you an explorer.

An adventure can do wonders for the soul, but to get the most out of that adventure developing the mindset of openness to see the beauty in the different or even in the challenging has to come first. Nothing is “worse” or “weird” here, it’s simply different. And with that kind of different comes beauty only if you have the desire to notice it.

I can hear the bells of a nearby church that seem to ring whenever they feel so inclined. Sounds of plates and silverware are coming up from the kitchen and Marie-Jo is still singing along to her music.

Groubille, her adorable dog, now sits on my feet, looking up at me expectantly, as I write this.

The rain is still falling and the curtains of my window are still billowing delicately in the cool breeze of a fast-approaching fall.

I am still figuring out how to be French and the world is still beautiful, even if I can’t see it all the time.

How to be French pt. 2: Fleurs & Femmes

I must have flowers, always, and always. // Claude  Monet

The light sank below the city and fell across the faces of Parisians laughing with glasses of wine in their hands. They laughed beautiful laughs and talked beautiful talk and smoked their tragic cigarettes. I sat with two friends, eating the greatest tasting cheese crepe in the whole world. We sipped our own small cups of wine, celebrating our last night in Paris. I will spare you the incredibly embarrassing story of how we destroyed the cork of the wine bottle by trying to open it with a cheap corkscrew from a tiny souvenir shop because, according to the French, we don’t think things through anyway. And we are American. We were trying really hard to blend in and we managed to get the bottle open, and it was an even more celebratory night because of it. We sat next to the Seine, waving to all of the river boats that passed by, sort of starting to feel like we fit in, if only just a little. 

The cigarette haze tends to hang over busier parts of the city, but so does the smell of fresh bread and the least-bitter cappuccinos I have tasted. It’s one of the most dazzling of combinations to wake up to in the morning. Along with the sound of the steady hum of bustling traffic and the unmistakable hum of life, bursting at the cracks in each gorgeously old building, Paris is a city of otherworldly wonder. 

Van Gogh once said “There is but one Paris and however hard living may be here, and if it became worse and harder even—the French air clears up the brain and does good—a world of good.” 

While the air here is a little questionable, it does do you some good. Walking through the streets of this history-clad wonderland, I began to notice more than the monuments or city lights. I noticed the people and how beautifully they carry themselves and interact. Whether it’s a kiss on the cheek to greet a friend or a fashionable woman sipping delicately on her expresso, there is a certain dignity and sophistication about this city. It makes me want to be more confident in how I carry my own self and how I sip my coffee. It makes me want to write novels and know everything about Ernest Hemingway and Victor Hugo. 

Yeah, the air has done some good, 

But with that said, Paris has also taught me something else. Something rather contradictory of this. 

Today, we visited Versailles. It’s stunning and aesthetically dignified just as the Parisians are. The gardens stole my heart, though. I could have spent all day feasting my art-hungry, flower-loving soul on the beauty of the fountains and the wonders of the green labyrinths of shrubs and hedges. While I was walking through part of the labyrinth of shrubbery, listening to the classical music echoing throughout the gardens, I felt compelled to go explore a little on my own. To take this all in as I wanted to without the distraction of my peers. I knew if I stayed with them I would be tempted to go along with what they wanted to do, which I knew would be fun. But at the same time, this was my experience too. 

So I left them at the entrance and wandered through the gardens by myself, not paying attention to the map. It was one of the most radical feelings to not care so much about what everyone else was doing and focus on what I wanted out of that moment. Before I let myself go into the gardens like that, I cared an awful lot about what others saw on the outside of me: my appearance, how confidently I spoke French, and how I spent my free time. But in those moments of freedom, as I pondered each sculpture, pretending to be une femme d'elegance, admiring the vastness of beauty on the outside of the chateau, I realized it didn’t matter to me what anyone saw on the outside. 

What mattered in those moments was what was happening inside. And let me tell you, something beautiful was stirring in my heart as I gazed out at the art and the wonder of it all: at what the gardens held for me to capture internally, and how flowers made me feel. At what Paris held for me to embody, not just cloak myself in, as the hazy cigarette dust cloaked the streets in the morning. 

What I understood walking through les jardins was that Versaille was much like my struggle with what people saw on the outside, as well as like the lovely people of Paris. Yes, we might appear to have it together on the outside. We probably care a lot about how others perceive us: are we beautiful enough, confident enough?

We don’t always take into account what’s happening on the inside.

Versaille is incredibly grand on the outside. It convinces you that there is nothing more beautiful. The Parisians are wonderfully fashionable and chic, walking down the streets of their city, appearing quite confident on the outside about who they are and their city. 

I might strive to speak French well and appear confident in who I am and what I want. I might be perceived as a generally nice person who enjoys wearing skirts with flowers on them. 

But on the inside of Versaille, chaos in the luxury ran the beauty of it all into the ground. All of those cigarettes that those hip Parisians smoke are indeed tragic to their insides. And me . . . well, I'm work in progress. Just like any other twenty-something who doesn't always know what she wants because she has not had enough time to focus on what's going on inside. 

The gardens of Versaille ironically awoke this realization in me. I love flowers and art, and gosh dang it! I was going to see every inch of that beautiful place because that is what I wanted in that moment. I was focusing on what was happening inside. 

Paris is in fact a place of unreal aesthetic that brings me to tears and makes me emotional more so than I would like. It's art and it's people evoke a certain physical beauty and confidence.

Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast "But Paris was a very old city and we were young and nothing was simple there, not even poverty or sudden money, nor the moonlight, nor right and wrong, nor the breathing of someone who lays besides you in the moonlight." 

Indeed. Nothing is simple here. It is a city of contradictions. But at the same time that's what makes it lovely, in all of its dazzling splendor of people and culture. Versailles, no matter how lovely, is not simple for the exact reason it fell apart with the lavishness and worry over how it appeared. I am not simple. There is so much more I want in life than to look a certain way or to be dignified. 

Charlotte Bronte also wrote, “I would always rather be happy than dignified.” 

If that is the case, than I choose flowers over fashionability, art over aesthetic, and what’s going on inside of me and my heart over what others perceive.


 

How to be French pt. 1: soit brave

September 1, 2016

Queue the soundtrack from “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and send up some prayers for a safe flight(s). After months of planning, France is actually happening. I don’t believe it will actually feel real until I step off the plane at Charles de Gaulle. This trip quite literally means the world to me.

It’s impossible to think that this will be my first time abroad. It feels as if I have already seen the world thanks to the bookshelf of adventures I’ve spent my life reading. As well as to the ridiculous amount of movies I have watched.  And what’s more, I actually get to be the main character of my story for a change. I get to live out all of these adventures I have imagined myself in for years. I get to be Lizzie McGuire scooting around on moped through ancient ruins. I get to frolic through a beautiful city like Audrey Hepburn eating gelato with Gregory Peck. I get to experience the art of getting lost in Paris like Hadley in The Paris Wife, minus the angry Hemingway for a husband. It all feels too good to be true, however nothing is too wonderful for God and nothing is too wonderful for what He has planned for me these next four months.

In the words of Kate Winslet in “The Last Holiday,” ‘You’re suppose to be the leading lady of your own life, for God’s sake!’ Hah, well, I could not agree more. There have been times, especially since I have gotten older, that it feels I’ve been doing too much daydreaming and wishing to be like those women who go and out and live their lives without caring too much about what others think. There hasn’t been enough taking action on my part to make things happen. This is very much one of the first big adventures I have made happen, with lots of help of course, on my terms. And probably hundreds of prayers asking God if this was the right move to make. This adventure is the beginning of someone who I would like to become: the leading lady of my own life, the heroine of my own story, deciding what it is I want exactly out of the time I have been given.

I’m excited to learn what it’s like to not know. Meaning, I’m excited to be out of my comfort zone and have no idea what to expect. I’m excited to adapt and rely wholeheartedly on the One who does know what to expect.

With that, SFO is about four hours away and I have a flight to catch bright and early tomorrow to JFK. It will be a solid day of traveling (on my own for the first time, whoo!) and solid day of practicing what it means to be a woman who relies on God for validation and comfort in times of the unexpected. It is the beginning of a new adventure as the woman I hope to be: one who travels, one who knows a thing or two about the world, and one who is not afraid of navigating an airport on her own . . . we all have to start somewhere.