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Month: December 2014

Taylor Thewes | Prague, Czech Republic | Post 4

Taylor Thewes | Prague, Czech Republic | Post 4

After this past weekend, I am pretty much done with my semester abroad in terms of academia. I have just under two weeks left, and really, there is not much left that I am required to do. It is increasingly becoming a weird feeling. I see my parents for the first time in months, and many of the people here I may never see again. The end crept up so fast, as I assume it did for everyone else abroad. If I were to guess, just as the JYA office had once mentioned, it is not until you get fully integrated into the culture, a few months in, that you lose track of time and realize that it is time to go home.

These next two weeks will be spent trying to successfully balance returning to all my favorite places around Prague for nostalgia and to experience all the eventful opportunities Prague offers that I have so far failed to incorporate into my time spent here. I want to go to the zoo for sure. Hopefully, it is still open during these cold, harsh times. I know zoos are not totally ethically acceptable, but I would at least like to make one trip to the Prague Zoo to make sure the animals are living somewhat well. Also, there are a bunch of amazing pubs that I still need to swarm around, talk to some pretty birds and ruminate with some theater types. You know the form.

Then comes editing my film. I just spent the last week putting the finishing touches on it and actually filming it which proved to be one of the most mentally and physically exhausting experiences of my life. Incidentally, it will hopefully be one of the most rewarding as well; I receive my processed film tomorrow from the studio. I am sure editing will keep my film partner Hudson and me up late at nights, but for me, it is such an easy, creative, and mostly calm way to end the hectic process of making a film.

That hectic process I am talking about made the past week my favorite time spent in Prague during the whole semester. My entire semester was basically preparing me to shoot this film, and those days on set were so fulfilling, fast-paced, and extremely fun as I finally got to apply everything I had learned.

The last day of filming could not have been more perfect, either. Offsetting the aching pain of waking up at 5 in the morning was a bevy of breakfast food and an assortment of espresso and juice drinks for the cast and crew’s consumption courtesy of the wonderful catering on set. The food they prepared throughout the entire day was actually so delectable that it happened to be the best thing I had all semester, narrowly beating out my preferred ramen. The best part of the day was obviously filming, but by the end of it, I was admittedly very tired.

However, I was not going to give into my exhaustion to sleep, and pass up what was occurring at night. My school, FAMU, held its annual Christmas party. This was no ordinary Christmas party, though. In the massive six floor behemoth of a building that FAMU inhabits, another four schools from around the city were invited with a plus one. I do not know how many students that entails, but it was an overwhelming amount. Then there were three musical acts dispersed amongst each floor, which when you count the two set ups in the basement, came out to about twenty musical acts. There were two makeshift bars on each floor and a trove of buzzed professors to go along with them. For me, I enjoyed frolicking around the entire building, bumping into dear friends and admired acquaintances, and dancing my tush off to nearly every single beat to ooze through my ear canal. I really do not feel like I did that much at the party, but by 4am, I came to realize that time had rapidly flown by. In a rare moment of contemplative contrast and questionable feelings, I must say that the best party of the year had indeed taken place in my school.

That was my past week. It was undoubtedly the best time spent abroad for me. I have one more week left. Let’s hope it proves to be just as special.

Mija Lieberman | Madrid, Spain | Post 5

Mija Lieberman | Madrid, Spain | Post 5

In less than 10 days I will be leaving Madrid. I can’t believe how quickly this semester has gone by. I can’t say that I’m not excited to be going home, though. I’m leaving Spain when the program ends on December 20th like everyone else, and then I fly out of London on Christmas Eve and arrive home to California that same evening because of the time difference. This is the longest I have ever been away from home and not seeing my family, and I miss them so much. I’ll have about a month at home before heading back to Vassar to move in all my things for spring semester. During that time I plan on sleeping, working, binge watching TV, spending quality time with my family, seeing friends, working (not academic), playing with my dog, and eating lots of amazing Berkeley food. I also want to detox my body from all of the coffee and alcohol I’ve been drinking here and readjust to American mealtimes.

I’ve finished two finals so far and have two more to go next week. Academics have been the most frustrating part of my study abroad experience, mainly because I’m not used to the Spanish school system. But apart from that, this semester has been an overall great experience. I’d never been to Europe before and got to visit 10 countries, including Spain, which is more than I’d ever been to before. I was also able to visit over a dozen Spanish cities, including Madrid. Tomorrow we have a final group excursion to Alcalá de Henares. There, we’ll get to see everyone one last time over lunch and talk about some aspects of going home like culture shock. The places I went that I haven’t written about in previous blog posts are Berlin, Granada, and Amsterdam.

I had a really fun weekend in Berlin, where I traveled on my own and stayed with a friend from high school. It’s a city full of history and art, and the city pleasantly surprised me. We went to a of couple art museums, a museum and memorial site for the Holocaust, locations where the Berlin Wall used to stand, and some cool outdoor markets. I got to try bratwurst and currywurst (sausages) and ate a lot of doner kebab. One of my favorite (yet very random) things I got to do was see an opera of West Side Story, in which all of the songs were still English and there was a translation of German dialogue. The following weekend I went to Granada on a trip arranged by the Spanish university I attend. Though it was a really long ride from Madrid, I’m very happy I got to see the Alhambra, which is apparently the most visited tourist sight in Spain.

This past weekend I got to go to Amsterdam, which is probably the most expensive trip I’ve taken but also one of the most fun. We were a group of eight, which was the perfect number to have the hostel room to ourselves. There were actually four other Vassar students from Madrid in Amsterdam that weekend, whom we of course ran into. We went to the Anne Frank House, and some of us went to the Rijksmuseum while others went to the Van Gough Museum. We also went on a beautiful river cruise and went into a lot of coffee shops (which don’t actually sell coffee). This is my last weekend in Madrid, and then next weekend I head to London for a few days. I only got to go there for about a day and half last time, so I’m excited to be able to go back, especially when everything will be decorated for the holidays.

I still need to buy Christmas/Hanukkah presents for all of my family members because I have no shopping time when I get home. I also want to get a going away present for my host family. There are a couple flea markets I want to visit this weekend if I have time with all the studying I need to do. Once I’m done with my finals, I’ll need to pack everything and make sure that my bag weighs no more than 20kg (around 45 lbs). I’ve already thrown out some things such as items of clothing that have ripped and recycled my notes from classes I’m done with. I definitely over packed as usual but I think I still have enough room for souvenirs. This last week is all about spending some time with my host family and doing some final things in Madrid. I finally got to go to my first soccer game a few days ago. I still want to go to a certain club with some friends and eat all of my favorite Spanish foods one last time.

Zach Rippe | London, England | Post 4

Zach Rippe | London, England | Post 4

So I guess this is it. My time abroad is pretty much over. For the past two weeks, I’ve been sitting in my room, writing my papers, and trying not to reflect on a trip, a semester, a “stage of my life” that hasn’t actually ended yet. Going abroad really has been puzzling for me. And to reinforce the cliché, it’s not just where I am, but the people I’ve surrounded myself with and the lifestyle that I have crafted that have come to define my time here. The notion that I am alone, making my own decisions and reflecting on things during such a perplexing and tense time in my life and in the world around me has been quite jarring. I have done quite a bit here, much of which I am not at liberty to speak about in this blog post. But it has all helped me figure myself out and gain some perspective on where I live, where I come from, and how others navigate through life according to their own experiences and perspectives.

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I guess the word I’ve been using and feeling quite a bit over the past few weeks is tension. This tension is present in my life, in my relationships, and most certainly in the world. It’s hard to come to grips with what is going on in my immediate life, life at Vassar, and in America, when I feel removed to the degree I do right now. But maybe that’s a good thing. I’ve had many a day (and the occasional night) where I walk around the city alone, taking in people and spaces, and thinking, noticing, and experiencing more than I have in the past. I’ve written quite a bit, pushed myself out of my social comfort zone, and even constructed a paper about comedy duo Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim. The “sights” have become secondary and at times irrelevant, making the already short days (the sun could set any time after 4 pm) feel even shorter and more isolating. But despite this seemingly grim outlook, I leave London ready to take on the next stage of my life.

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I’ve met some incredible people, from Vassar alone, and could not be happier for the time I’ve gotten to spend with them. I’ve seen facets of London that I could have never imagined, racing down the streets to bombard rare book shops and their posh, older customers with Professor Bob DeMaria one minute, and stepping into a not-so-great bar by myself on a Monday night to chat with some struggling stand-up comedians the next. I’ve mastered the underground tube system (really more of a personal goal) and developed an affinity for maps. I even cried over a map once, but that’s a story for a different kind of blog. In many ways London doesn’t even feel like Europe, whatever that means, but I continue to find myself baffled when it comes to people, spaces, social perceptions, and the workings of “life” independent of fixed societal constraints in general.

I don’t know if this post means I should be writing about how much tea I drank (not a lot) or all of the London slang I picked up (also not a lot), or if I met the Queen (haha). I went on a day trip by myself to Stonehenge and Bath one day. Was Stonehenge an incredible mystery that I spent days pondering? Not really. Not for me at least. I did a lot of walking, sight seeing and exploring that day. But the highlight of my trip was getting drunk in a pub with a 40-year-old South African man as we stared out the window, watching our bus to make sure it didn’t leave without us. (It didn’t, but the drivers were not too happy.) He had also apparently bought some beer at a rest stop at 9 in the morning and kept them in the bus fridge the whole day. He gave me one on the way home and we talked about life in South Africa for a while.

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I could write in depth about riding a bike through Regent’s park, or walking down the immensely crowded street to look at the Christmas decorations, riding the London Eye, or even about the great pub-crawl I went on this past weekend, but it’s never really been the sightseeing itself that’s done it for me. When my little sister visited about a month ago, we constructed long, grueling itineraries and spent copious amounts of money. Still, it wasn’t that which brought us together or became a highlight of my trip. It was the little moments, the nuances of every day life within the city that didn’t involve the Queen or famous monuments and places that came to define my experience. To be blunt, there were times when it was hard here. I felt isolated, removed from the city itself, as I would wander to class, coup myself in my room to write a paper, and completely obliterate my sleep schedule. I attempted to play basketball and rugby, but let them fall by the wayside as I carefully examined every facet of my experience in order to extract as much from “London” as I possibly could.

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Still, there is so much I will miss. London is a “world city,” but maintains its rich history and diversity. As I waltzed down the streets of Central London on my own, it full with hoards of businessmen, all young, attractive, and nearly identical, gathering outside pubs for a drink and a smoke after their long day at the office. There seems to be the need to fit into a high, royal society that parts of London want to evoke and perpetuate. Yet at other times they seem miniscule. The rich culture in museums, on streets, and in people themselves was something I told myself to grab a hold of at all costs. I was able to absorb some humor through conversation and my independent project. It took me a long time to wrap my head around the London “book world” and the fact that such a thing did indeed exist to the extent that it does.

I hope there aren’t people who think I did this experience “wrong.” I certainly don’t think so. I don’t regret any of it. I think I’m ready to come home now. I’m happy I came here. I’m happy I experienced what I did, met who I did, and learnt the things I did. I just don’t want to reflect anymore. At least not yet.

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Camille Delgado | Rome, Italy | Post 4

Camille Delgado | Rome, Italy | Post 4

I’ve come to my last blog post and realize that I’ve had yet to post about the beautiful city, which I’ve lived in these past four months. Roma, Italy is a place I’ve grown to love, not for the wonderful historical and tourist-heavy opportunities it promises, but for its God-awful bus service, businesses that are never open between the hours of 12pm-3pm, crazy Italians, crazy Americans, aggressive selfie-stick vendors, and the food. The food the food the food.

I won’t lie, having pizza and pasta for just about every meal, every day of the week, takes its toll on a person; I do not think I will be having Italian food for a very long time, though I will miss pizza al taglio (pizza by the cut), where they use scissors to cut your desired piece, and you pay by weight. I don’t think I’ll be able to enjoy American (or Filipino) pizza to quite the same extent again.

Just to give a brief overview of the program I’m on for the budding classics majors out there (get out while you still have a chance at a career): the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies is an all inclusive academic package designed to fully integrate the young historian with various rock piles and funerary inscriptions. You, and about 30-35 other students from universities around the U.S.A., are crammed together in one ex-nunnery where you sleep, eat, and work as a happy little unit. You spend most of your class life on-site (or in the Library); all the City Course lectures and most of the Art History ones are in front of, or in, the monuments/buildings/pieces your teacher or professor are telling you about. It is actually rather fantastic, though exhausting. You do, however, learn how to write standing up pretty quickly and/or which sections of ancient monument you’re allowed to reasonably perch on.

As for living in Rome itself…I could never have picked a better place to spend my semester abroad. Sure, nothing works here, but I also grew up in the Philippines, and the fact that I can actually use public transportation without worrying about anything other than the fact that there may be a strike again, is huge. As long as you go into situations with an open mind and a good sense of humor, then you will be fine. The Italians do not disappoint on the entertainment front.

I was on the 75 heading down from the Gianicolo (largest hill in Rome — I live right at the very top) and the bus lurched to a crashing stop. I watched in shock as the lady standing at the back of the bus made good, solid contact with the windshield; a puppy literally went flying into my chest (best surprise ever); somebody’s shopping bag attacked the shell-shocked passengers with a barrage of fresh fruit; and a carton of ACE juice – the most genius invention yet – successfully knocked the glasses right off of my friend.

camille1 camille2After these two or three seconds of complete chaos, we heard a round of cursing coming from the driver’s seat. He threw open the door and soon, bits and pieces of the story begin presenting itself. An old man had, I think, been trying to pull out of his parallel parking slot on the downhill curve of the road, just as the bus was barreling around the turn — oh yes, Italians drive and park horribly. I couldn’t quite get all of what they were yelling, but I did get to watch gleefully as our bus driver began to chase the old man around our bus, while the old man stomped around waving his hubcap in our driver’s face. They eventually changed directions and the old man started chasing our driver around our bus. We didn’t really get it. The Italians on the bus were less amused, though, because they had a very busy schedule to uphold and if this bus screwed with their naptime, there would be definite hell to pay.

This almost compares to the other time on the bus when I watched a small child puke all over their father. Or when a couple got into an intense marital spat and got off at different stops.

Italian public transportation is full of little gems if you look out for them, but don’t expect anything reliable because it will fail you in that respect. Generally, once you’re on the bus, you’re going to get where you want to go — considering it hasn’t down-poured and ruined the route, or the bus doesn’t break down. Also, expect moments where you wait about 20-30 minutes for a bus, then have all four of the buses running on that line, in that direction, show up at the same time. Or when they don’t show up at all because of some strike or another.

I could go on about the monuments, the gorgeous churches, or the fascinating ruins, but those you can read about in a guidebook. Ancient Rome seems to be just a part of the city, built into the daily routine of any Italian living here. If anything, it gets to be such a nuisance. I knew I was jaded when I was stuck in traffic, in a bus, trying to get to class, and thought to myself, “somebody needs to move this damned monument.” It was the Colosseum. The traffic surrounding that monstrosity is absolutely ridiculous. Regardless, monuments and public transportation have not been the defining moments of my experience.

Some of the highlights of my time in Roma have been the nights out with my friends in Trastevere. The nightlife here is incredible; it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, either in college, or back at home. Here, the Romans generally have aperativo (pre-dinner drinks and snacks) at around 6:30 or so, then dinner at 8:30. It’s only sometime after dinner that they make their way over to the bars, and by about midnight, things are filling up.

Now, I don’t believe it is illegal to drink in public, as everybody spills out onto the streets. The night scene isn’t localized in one area, at least not in Trastevere. Everybody hangs out in a piazza, or the streets outside of the bar, or a big set of stairs (normally those ones are just high schoolers who think they’re being cool). Sure, there are a lot of American-oriented bars (G-Bar. Hah). for the hundreds upon hundreds of study abroad students (see: Temple, John Cabot, American University of Rome, some UCalifornia program, Kenyon in Rome, etc. etc.), but just stay away from Campo (de’ Fiori) and the Piazza Navona area, and you’ve eliminated a good chunk of them.

I know this isn’t a very well written blog post, and I am sure that I will read it and cringe, but I’m writing this at a time when I’m getting ready to leave. It’s been a tough few months, and looking back at the time I’ve spent here, the flashbacks aren’t entirely coherent or well organized. The traveling I’ve been able to do, the things I’ve been able to see— all of these memories are tangled with stress, joy, frustration, giddiness, wonder, exhaustion, excitement, and disbelief. Disbelief at this opportunity, disbelief at the remnants of history, disbelief at how quickly time has passed.

Coming to know what I know about this city the way I have, which is by no means anywhere near exhaustive, will stay with me forever. I will never forget this experience; I will never forget Rome. So here’s where I leave you with a collection of photos in no particular order that, I hope, will give the sense of Roman grandeur that I have not properly been able to communicate.

Ciao, Roma.

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The view from the Castel Sant’Angelo.

 

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Michaelangelo’s Moses, Church of S. Pietro in Vincoli.

 

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Imperial Fora, entrance by special permission.

 

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Villa Farnese, Caprarola (Papal Palace; though, granted, not strictly in Rome).

 

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Bernini’s Ecstasy of Sta. Teresa, in the Santa Maria della Vittoria.

 

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Laocoon and His Sons, Vatican Museum.

 

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Michaelangelo’s painted ceiling in the Sistine Chapel.

 

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Villa of the Quintilii.

 

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The Vatican.
Lily Elbaum | Edinburgh, Scotland | Post 4

Lily Elbaum | Edinburgh, Scotland | Post 4

It’s now December, which means that winter has officially settled on the city, which means drinking more tea and whiskey to warm up. Fortunately, there are plenty of tea shops and pubs to accommodate pretty much everyone in the city, even if every person spontaneously decided to get tea or whiskey at the exact same moment. Scotland really likes its tea and whiskey. I’ve become addicted to tea and biscuits, which I think is a promising sign of assimilating to the delightful Scottish culture. Winter provides a great excuse to indulge. The only downside of winter in Edinburgh is a lack of snow. It doesn’t get quite cold enough for rain to turn to snow here, so the only precipitation has been some nice cold rain that freezes on the ground, turning the sidewalks into slippery deathtraps. It almost makes me miss the days of tramping through foot-high snow on the quad. Almost.

A couple weeks ago, before it got really cold, I took a trip down to Portugal and Spain with my flatmate. I got to really appreciate not only how convenient travel is in Europe, but also how much warmer it is there. Even though it still rained some of the time, it was beautiful for a couple of days and one day it got up to 30 degrees Celsius. It was an absolutely amazing trip, and it surprised me how different it was from the rest of Europe. It’s much more tropical, and there’s a much stronger Islamic influence, even though the occupation ended more than a millennium ago. The architecture still strongly reflects it though, except maybe in the much more heavily urbanized city of Barcelona. Lisbon felt worlds away from Barcelona, especially with the tiled buildings that characterize Portuguese architecture. Another advantage was getting to use some of the knowledge from an architecture class I had previously thought relatively useless and boring. You learn things even when you think you’re not paying attention. But architecture aside, it’s a surprisingly lively culture despite the decidedly slower pace of life there. Although that just leads to longer nights — when my flatmate and I arrived in Sevilla at five in the morning on a Sunday after taking an overnight bus, we saw people still out from the night before.

Upon arriving back in Edinburgh, I made the sad discovery that while I was gone, the city had entered the time of year when you can see your breath. Happily, that same time of year meant that the Christmas Market had come to town. I finally got around to visiting, and I realized that Christmas Markets are not overrated at all. They are utterly delightful. The Edinburgh Christmas Market is relatively new compared to other European markets, but it gets an A for effort! It certainly felt like Christmastime with all the places selling mulled cider, beer, and delicious things to eat like crepes and bratwurst. Naturally, I had to try a few things out, just to see if they tasted as good as they looked and smelled. They did. I don’t know why this tradition hasn’t spread to the US, because it really should. There’s just something really charming about wandering down a little avenue of booths selling things you know you don’t need but want to buy anyway.

Sadly, this time of year is also finals time. Even though classes here ended ridiculously early, back in November, finals go on until almost Christmas. I’m lucky enough not to have a final that late. So now instead of wandering the streets enjoying the delights of  the city while pinching my ears to see if they’re numb (to which the answer is usually yes), I have to sit inside staring at books and endless powerpoint slides. At least I know that I’m in the same boat as everyone else, here and back at Vassar. And the rainy weather makes the delights of the city a little less appealing.

At this point in the year, as many of the exchange students I know are preparing to return home in as little as two weeks, I am glad I chose to stay for a year. Because I know that I have more time, both in Scotland and abroad. I have more time to meet people, more time to explore, more time to travel, and more time to soak in the experience. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder what I’m missing back at Vassar. Still, I know when I go back that I’ll have plenty of stories to tell.

At a Moorish Castle near Sintra, Portugal.
At a Moorish Castle near Sintra, Portugal.
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The Edinburgh Christmas Market along Princes Street, the Scott Monument is the strange dark, spiky building.
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Cliffs at Cabo da Roca, Portugal, the westernmost point of continental Europe.
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Overlooking Barcelona from Park Guell, a park designed by the architect Gaudi.

 

Sarah King | Bocas del Toro, Panama | Post 4

Sarah King | Bocas del Toro, Panama | Post 4

72 hours until the longest summer of my life is over.

72 hours until I am snuggled in quilts and flannel, protected from the freeze and snow.

72 hours until I am home to Kansas comforts and Mom and Dad.

72 hours until I am separated from my new family of 21 sisters and brothers.

72 hours.

I know I should not measure nor limit these last few moments in numbers but the urgency is overwhelming. This experience that has brought me more then I could ever have predicted is coming to a close, and what will the transition back mean?

The past few weeks I have been learning how much I love everyone here and how much I have changed. Cliche as it is, I have changed so much here. I am discovering new passions for the land and the soil I did not realize were so strong. I am discovering who I truly am and how I react to situations, what I want and what I feel I need.

Instead of rambling too much of my own personal journey, I need to express what Bocas del Toro is and words do not do the justice required. Instead, for my final post, a series of pictures:

 

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Belle Shea | Paris, France | Post 4

Belle Shea | Paris, France | Post 4

A Recipe for Thanksgiving in Paris

 

Wake up on Thanksgiving Day to the distinctive sound of your backup emergency alarm (Demi Lovato). Roll over, reach for your phone through the tangle of your green sheets. It’s just a little before noon. Realize that you have, once more, missed your Thursday morning drawing class. Console yourself with the fact that, as a God-fearing American, no one could possibly expect you to go to class when you should be celebrating the survival of your country’s forefathers. Dress quietly, so as not to disturb the cats with whom you share the apartment, eat yogurt for breakfast. Feel a little weird about eating yogurt at noon on Thanksgiving, as opposed to a cranberry-oriented feast. Decide to apply berry lipstick as a concession to festivity.

Open your computer. Send emails, Facebook messages, and heartfelt snapchats to friends and family, wishing them all a happy holiday. Rejoice in the fact that you are not tied to the hot stove, and are instead free and easy in Paris. Decide that you will be like Chandler from “Friends,” and boycott all the pilgrim holidays from here on out (“every last one of them”). Leave the apartment (forgetting your keys, but you remember just in time) and go out to buy art supplies just in case you ever remember to actually go to drawing on Thursday mornings.

While mulling over paper thickness in the nearby art supply store, be hit by a sudden wave of homesickness, no doubt brought on by the American Christmas music being piped in over the tinny speakers of the otherwise chic art supply store. (Ignore momentarily the fact that you are Jewish. Question briefly why a Parisian art supply store is playing Blue Christmas in November, in English. Decide it must be an ironic statement.) Remember that just yesterday, one of your professors mentioned bike riding in the Bois de Vincennes, a wood on the outskirts of Paris. Your family rides bikes every year down nature trails after the big Thanksgiving meal, and you miss them. Decide it must be a sign. Buy up your notebooks and pastels and hop on the metro down to the Bois de Vincennes.

Get off near the end of the metro line. You have never been here before. It takes a bit of navigating to get to the wooded area, but when you get there you see trails and pine trees and are pleased with your decision. Set off to find the bike rental area that you have been promised.

You are a little further into the woods now. It is a cloudy day, and the sun sets early. It is mid-to-late afternoon. Feel uneasy. Realize you have left without telling anyone where you were going. Look around for other people, see no one but a white-blonde woman walking a dog on a far-off side trail, and someone in a fluorescent yellow shirt (a jogger?) far back. Reassure yourself. You are paranoid. Nonetheless, remove your headphones.

Walk a little further. No sign of the road now. Then, hear someone calling something from a distance. Turn halfway around. See the fluorescent yellow shirt. He is slightly closer now. He is waving. You are unsure if he is waving at you. There is no one else around. Tell yourself it is nothing. Walk slightly faster.

Hear shouting again. Look back. See that the yellow shirt is closer. He starts to wave again when he sees you turn your head. Whip your head back to face forward. See a trail map approaching, a fork in the path. Decide not to stop and look at the map. Realize that you do not want to appear to be unsure of yourself in any way. Realize that you are afraid.

Reach the path, take the fork. Walk a little ways without turning your head right or left. Know that the man in yellow has also taken the fork. Try to remember when the last time you ran more than just a few feet was, and wonder if you can outrun him. Wonder if it will come to that. Wonder how you know when it comes to that. Hear him calling to you again, closer behind you.

See the white-blonde woman again. Her footpath has joined up with your fork. Approach her. She turns her head apprehensively at hearing footsteps directly behind her, is relieved to see that the denim jacket bearing down on her so quickly is only a girl in a ponytail, carrying art supplies. Ask her in French if you can walk with her. Explain that you are being followed by a man in a yellow shirt. She tells you that she thought he might have been following her earlier, until she lost him by taking a side path. Begin to walk together. Walk a little ways in tense silence, until you hear a shout clearly behind you. Both of you turn. See that the man is now following both of you, closer. He waves at seeing your heads turn. See him smile. The woman turns back to you, and you both momentarily size each other up. Reach another fork in the trail.

Then, hear barking. See that her beagle has run off, and has been joined by another beagle, much bigger and heavier. See two men in hot pursuit of their runaway beagle. One is silver-fox bearded, the other in a sweatshirt. They find the dogs together, and are relieved to have retrieved theirs. They come over to say hi to the other beagle owner, the white-blonde woman. You lurk by the white-blonde woman and beagle-owning men. She is taking her time talking to them, making no attempt to call back her dog. They are Nice Guys, make small talk about how dogs never obey their owners. Discuss canine training schools. They have no idea of the role of rescuer that they are playing. You glance back, see the yellow shirt pacing a little distance away, watching. Catch the white-blonde woman noticing as well. Stretch out the conversation. Minutes pass, the man stalks back and forth on the trail behind you. Still watching. Tries waving once more. Paces. Silver-fox beagle owner catches sight of him. He and Yellow Shirt make brief eye contact. Yellow Shirt paces. Finally, he gives up and leaves, turning down a side trail. Breathe the smallest sigh of relief. White-blonde woman, you, and the two men continue the conversation for a little while longer until she decides that the coast is clear. You trust her. Turn and walk back to the metro with her. She knows a short cut, often walks her dog in this park. Tells you she’s been accosted here before, including once by a man with a knife at dusk on the other side of the park. Says she doesn’t go over there anymore. Asks about your accent, you tell her where you’re from. Make small talk with the nice woman and her beagle until you get back to the metro. Leave each other on a crowded street in the town. Your heart rate slows down. Consider going back into the park from a different entrance, realize the sun will set soon and there is no guarantee of finding the nice Beagle Men again. So much for bike riding.

Hop on any random bus heading back to the center of Paris. You have been followed before, especially abroad, but never while entirely alone. Never while in the middle of the woods on the outskirts of the city. Never without anyone knowing where you are and when you left. Never on Thanksgiving Day. Foreswear all festivities on the long bus ride back. Stupid holiday celebrating genocide of native people anyways.

Relent just a little when you reach the Marais, the hip quarter just next to yours. Remember that another girl mentioned the existence of an American grocery store right around here. Feel nostalgic for home, where bike rides on Thanksgiving Day involve your grandfather and wildflower gathering (and, you know, bikes) instead of strange men following you on foot past every tree-lined bend in the path. On impulse jump off the bus at the next stop, walk to where you seem to recall the Americana shop should be. When you find it, wend your way past displays of pecans, marshmallow fluff, and peanut butter, to find a refrigerator stocked with fresh cranberries, imported from New Hampshire. Pay the exorbitant price. Walk the rest of the way home clutching them to your chest. Make your mom’s cranberry orange relish recipe when you get home. Give thanks for ending this and every day safe and sound. Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Bois de Vincennes.
Bois de Vincennes.

 

Bois de Vincennes
Bois de Vincennes

 

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The American Supply Store

 

 

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Cranberry orange relish, in the making.

 

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The final product.