Monthly Archives: June 2012

Dublin, oh Dublin.

First off, I’d like to apologize to everyone who’s been reading my blog and hoping for more (I’m looking at you, Mom and Grandma!) Over the past few weeks I’ve just been so busy with everything that I haven’t had time to sit down and actually write about it. Moreover, I haven’t particularly wanted to because my mood has been so erratic. It’s fluctuated between happy and miserable – I wish I could tell you definitively which one was the predominate emotion, but I can’t.

I’m going to leave out telling everyone about Cirque de Gavarnie, a small French village I visited a few weeks ago with USAC, because words literally cannot do justice to that beautiful place. If you have a moment, look it up on Google. It is honestly the most breathtaking town I’ve ever seen, and I cannot believe there is a place on earth that actually looks like that. We were lucky to go on a sunny day, and I would do anything to have my camera’s memory card be compatible with my computer so I could share the incredible photos I took from horseback.

Yes, horseback. It could not have been more surreal.

Anyway, the main point of this blog post is about what I’ve been doing for the past week. Between the sessions, USAC gave us a week off from classes, in which most of the group went to Paris. When I was paying for the program, I was super strapped for cash, so I didn’t want to pay the extra $600. I figured I could go to Paris on my own for cheaper. I was dead wrong about that, unfortunately, but it is what it is. My plans for this week shifted around a bit – for a while, I thought I’d go to Germany, then I thought Italy, and then I realized I don’t speak either of those languages at all so travelling there alone would be an incredibly stupid idea. Where to, then?

The answer came naturally: Ireland. Dublin, once I’d read more on the various cities in Ireland (as well as the travel expenses…), would be my destination. I could not have picked a better city.

For those of you who haven’t been here, you need to come. Especially the members of my family. It is absolutely remarkable how much the Grady family looks like every other person in Ireland. I’ve seen people on the street I could easily mistake for my grandfather, cousins, uncles, aunts, father… We are truly Irish people. Take one look at the streets of Dublin and you know that for sure. The Maphet gene pool is a bit harder to come by, at least here, but I’ve seen the similar dark hair and pale eyes that characterizes the maternal side of my family.

I wish I had the words to write down everything I’ve seen and done here, but I don’t. Storytelling is an oral exercise when done properly, so give me a call when I’m back in the States and I’ll regale you with little inane memories for hours. A list, for now, will have to suffice. I’ve seen Trinity College and the Book of Kell; I’ve read The Dubliners while actually in Dublin; I’ve gone on a horse-drawn carriage ride through the city; I’ve walked on the Cliffs of Moher (and nearly fallen off – you should never let someone prone to tripping so close to a devastatingly high drop); I’ve discovered that cabbage isn’t so bad with a little butter and salt; I’ve drank Guinness in the factory where it was first brewed. I’ve slept in a hostel and befriended some French people (bien sur); I’ve realized that Americans aren’t hated everywhere outside of America; I’ve found a place where I can feel slightly normal again.

That’s not to say, really, that I haven’t warmed up to France. I have. Pau is beautiful, and I’ll miss it when I leave. French comes easier to me than it did before, and my speaking has substantially improved. But I’ve also been forced to come to terms with the reality of the place I dreamed about my whole life. I’m not French. No matter what I do, French will always be my second language, and I doubt I could ever be truly bilingual. I can love and appreciate French and the French culture in all of its beautiful idiosyncrasies, but I can never live there for any extended period of time. To be frank, I stick out like a sore thumb.

I’m not Irish either, but I at least have the enormous advantage of being able to communicate. My accent has yet to offend someone, mostly because I’m not accidentally saying things I don’t mean. I love being funny again; I love making people laugh with my stupid jokes and the like. I haven’t been able to do that in France – make a stranger laugh with me, in their own language.

It’s been nice to strike up conversations with strangers again. Sometimes, I like doing that. The gentleman I sat next to on the plane was very kind. His name was Paddy, and he asked me why I was going to Ireland. I said my ancestors were from here, and I was eager to see it. We chatted a bit – he asked me about my surname, and laughed when I told him Grady, and that I’m from Boston. It was a refreshing change of pace. I quite liked it. 

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we want immortality

She came to Paris with dreams of escape. She thought that perhaps the city of Love would present something different from the world she had always longed to escape. She longed to shed the skin of a blue blood Princess and metamorphasize into the silks and perfumes of a coarse French madam. They were always the beautiful ones, at the end of the story. She ached to be beautiful.

He was sleeping quietly, spent from her work. A faint odor of cigarettes and sweat lingered in the air, and while it might have made her nose crinkle delicately a few short weeks ago, it now felt like home. She slipped away from his clumsy, half-hearted embrace: of course, he did not notice. The floor felt like ice, despite the unseasonably warm March weather, and she shivered a bit as she pulled the flimsy cotton robe around herself before moving to the balcony.

Almost without thinking, she lit a cigarette and drew it to her lips. The first breath of harsh smoke felt like coming home again as it curled down her throat and expanded in her lungs. In the distance, the Eiffel tower winked in its glorified pattern, a distant beacon of hope for so many girls like her. Unfortunately, seeing it every day diminished its beauty. The pictures made it seem larger than life. In reality, it was just a twisted mass of steel and rust. It was a proud beacon of human arrogance – how had she ever thought differently?

She’d come to escape the ringing laughter of the New England upper-crust.  She’d spent her whole life with a fake smile plastered on her face, dressed slowly in the white cotton and beige khaki that was expected from people like her. She’d come to escape the headbands and the ice-cold lemonade on a warm July day. She’d come to escape the beach, the sound of seagulls, the weight of expectations. She’d come to prove that she could do this on her own. She’d come to be happy.

Naturally, of course, that was an idle dream of a wistful girl, long dead. She should have realized long ago that when you stand on the outskirts of any social group, an awkward and reluctant smile on your face, it is not the fault of the country. She had always been an outsider, an eternal observer consistently on the fringe of things. It was never exclusion – that was taboo, for someone of her social breeding – but rather a quiet understanding that she did not truly belong. It was a startling realization, when she finally came to it, yet oddly comforting.

She hadn’t told anyone she was leaving. It was a decision she made privately, perhaps the first one that had ever truly been hers. She’d carried that small, private knowledge with her like a precious gift, and it warmed her from within. The comments were obvious. She looked happier, she looked healthier – was she engaged? Questions were met with equally polite answers, of course, and she let them suffer their happy delusion of her finally finding a place in their world.

But her world had never been that one.

She arrived expecting cobblestone, and removed her shoes accordingly. It was raining that day in Paris as she stepped away from Charles de Gaulle and into the unfortunate roar of traffic. French rain, it seemed, felt no different from the unpleasant sheets that fell in Falmouth. Cement smelled the same, regardless of language’s dividing arch. It was then that she realized she would miss him.

Nobody had ever taken them seriously, least of all him. She missed the feeling of his skin, stretched beneath her fingers, like velvet covering something darker and more innate. She’d never grasped the essence of him, but damn if she hadn’t loved those perfect lips. There had always been a distance between them, the same one that bridged the dark abyss between her and what seemed to be the rest of the world. And yet she had been comfortable in this division, happy to know that he was waiting on the other side, hand outstretched just enough so their fingers could brush and their hands occasionally clasp. Those brief moments, when they understood each other enough to hold, were the ones she lived for.

Oh yes, she would miss him. More than she would miss anyone else. He was the only one she ever felt close to. The danger of young love.

Cement felt rough under her bare toes, and cold. She hadn’t made plans to get into the heart of Paris, but a walk in the rain might be nice. Along a highway, not so much. But the dirtier she was, the more she would resemble the girl she’d come here to be.

As she walked, she reached into her small black purse and ran deep red lipstick across her slightly chapped lips. Her mother had always told her it made her look like a harlot – she supposed that was the general goal this time around. The girl, soon to be turned woman, slipped easily into her newly assumed role, and eyes that did not understand followed her as she walked into the city.

The sun was rising, now. How strange – she’d wasted the night staring at the Eiffel Tower and its blinking ludicrousness. The smells from the bakery downstairs wafted through the quiet apartment she found herself in – it made her mouth water. She’d thought she could never tire of French croissants and the flaky deliciousness that could not be recreated in the United States. For the first several days, she’d gorged herself on them. Unfortunately, such quick consumption meant she quickly lost her taste for them as well. But they were cheap – eighty cents – and she could not afford the richer tastes of breakfast Paris had to offer.

She let the long dead cigarette slip from her fingers, and she walked away from it without care. This man, this buyer of women’s bodies, would not have the delicacy to notice the end of one cigarette. There were others, and the red kiss of lipstick told her they were from other girls like her. Without fail, this realization would always humble her. She was not the only one. She was not special.

Of course, the man was still sleeping. She pulled on the ostentatious clothes of her profession and stepped quietly from the room, satisfied in the quiet click that echoed briefly in the air behind her. One night, finished. Money in her pocket. What a glamorous life she led.

The bakery was open, oddly enough. She would never get used to the strange hours the French held, but it was nice to know she would at least have something to eat.

“Bonjour,” she murmured to the woman in the store, who looked shocked to see an American so early in the morning. The baker nodded her head curtly and looked at the girl with the expectant eyes. “Je voudrais un croissant, s’il vous plait. Et, une chocolatine, s’il vous plait.”

The words sounded rough, but the baker understood. Money was money, after all, even if it meant dealing with Americans.

my reality: a tale of two languages

I think if someone were to take my brain out of my skull right now, it would come out soaked in color and memory.

I’ve been holding the strangest things so close to me over the past several weeks, none of which are physically tangible. I’ve been clinging on to what I can remember and what I’m scared two months will take away from me – the people I love. It’s almost shameful to admit, but my worst fears right now involve someone I love being seriously injured while I’m overseas. There’s no way I’d be able to get to them in time, if things were truly bad – at minimum, the travel time is 10 hours, and that’s if I can get a flight out of Pau directly to Paris. How would I ever be able to forgive myself? Part of me suddenly feels so selfish for coming here instead of staying with my family. I have always known that I love my family more than anything in the entire world, but it’s never been such a factor in my day-to-day life until now.

When I lie in bed and try to sleep at night – I’m not usually very successful – I pass the time by pouring over my memories of home. I miss everyone, so much, but the harder I try to conjure up the memory of a hug the more difficult it becomes. It’s when I’m not trying, when I’m just letting myself live, that I can actually feel normal again.

God, it sounds like someone died, the way I’m writing. My poor mind has never been this out of place. I think my subconscious has jumped out the proverbial window. My entire being no longer has any idea what to do with itself. Wonderful.

Perhaps I’m stating the obvious, but I think a big barrier that’s preventing me from connecting with the French is the language. For the most part, I know what they’re saying – it’s responding that’s nearly impossible for me. But even just walking down the cobblestoned streets of Pau, it’s hard for me to comprehend that, to a passerby, everything is different. Where I see a tree, the person next to me likely sees “un arbe”. Simple, but it changes the way the whole world is perceived. A tree is a tree is a tree, to me at least, but to a French person the word “tree” is simply not the true name for something. No, that particular honor belongs to the words un arbe. What is true to one is not even approaching reality for another.

My mother has always spoken wistfully of a universal language. I, personally, have never been in favor of the idea. It would make my life a hell of a lot easier right now, but I’ve always held a deep appreciation for the nuances between cultures. It’s what makes people unique, but it’s also what separates people. Growing up in the United States, I’ve never really fully comprehended this. I can travel across an entire continent and expect to hear the same language from sea to shining sea. The French don’t have this luxury. If I drive a little less than an hour to the south, there’s an entirely different language. Six hours to the east, another one as well. My poor, memory and color soaked mind can’t understand it. English is its reality. Being shown an entirely new one is an extreme and abrasive adjustment that its rather reluctant to make. I’ve had to coax it gradually from its corner. I suppose it’s coming along.

At the end of the day, I know I’m getting used to France. I now expect to order my food in French, and English is a delicious treat I let myself savor for hours after it’s done. Standing outside the chateau a few days ago, I saw a man in a Red Sox hat. Naturally, I said something to myself along the lines of “Oh! Boston!” – how could I not? I didn’t expect him to know what I said, but he turned around and smiled widely at me before moving on with his day. It felt like coming home – something so simple as a Red Sox hat.

thoughts.

For so long, I was restless. I think I still am, but in a different sense of the word.

My entire life, people have told me that I will find a place to fit in. I have always existed as a strange sort of outlier, someone who exists on the fringe of things and emits a strange aura of yearning to fit in, but not quite sure how. I don’t know if this is something I was born with or otherwise, but it has made social situations eternally awkward. How does one overcome the desperate desire to find someplace to belong? When confronted with a group of people, I can only lurk on the slight outside; I have never, and I have come to believe that I will never, simply melded in as part of the group.

It’s a juxtaposition of two strange things. I’ve been told, but I’ll never understand. For some, I’m too intense. Perhaps my stare is too focused, or my reluctance to smile too apparent, but I am by all senses of the word unapproachable. For others, I’m too sensitive. Sticks and stones will break my bones but words can never hurt me – less truthful words have never been spoken. The wrong phrase, casually tossed into the air, can bring me down much more painfully than any sword could ever do. People don’t like that, unfortunately. People prefer laughter, and someone who can understand when it isn’t malicious intent. I have never been that person.

When I was in middle school, they told me I would find my niche in highschool. Perhaps I did, for a while. Then it was college – certainly, I’ll fit in there! And then it was Europe. My problems in social situations, it seemed, were too big for America to handle. No, ship me off to Europe where I’ll fit in among the foreign and the different – a cachet there would certainly exist for me. And yet, here I am, more glaringly an outlier than ever. I have never appreciated home more.

I miss the smell of Draco in the morning and the quiet comfort of knowing I can find a book I understand. I miss the smell of Dunkin Donuts’ large hot hazelnut, extra extra, with a cinnamon raisin bagel, as is. I miss laughter I understand and streets I can navigate without worry they are too narrow for a passing car.

But about the restlessness.

I cannot stand still. I am constantly in motion, even if it seems I haven’t done anything for an entire day. Whether it be my fingers, feet, entire body, or otherwise – I cannot remain still. People have described it as many different things, but the current mot de choix belongs to the umbrella term anxiety. Glamorous, in the mentally deficient sort of way. Not one that I particularly enjoy having attached to my already controversial persona, but I suppose it works.

To someone who does not dwell in my brain on a regular basis, I appear to be rather unattached. Friendly, of course, but as previously stated – on the fringe of things. Happier, maybe, to be on my own. A little snooty, even. I’ve heard these things about myself, and I have assumed them true to a certain degree. And so I always thought that I would want to travel. To come to Europe or parts of the United States I’ve never seen before and get lost in unfamiliar streets. Become acquainted with the flora and the fauna and quietly watch, with a cup of exotic coffee, as people strolled by my quiet stare. To one teacher, I would be writing a novel. Perhaps at one time that might have been something I could have done. Now, I overuse the word perhaps and compose self-pitying blog posts like this one. Such behavior does not a writer make.

But I digress.

This trip, short as it’s been so far, has taught me that sort of restlessness is not the one that resides within me. Perhaps – there’s that word again! – it’s something different. It must be, considering I’m here and all I yearn for is the soft indent on the left side on my bed where I sleep each night at home. I miss the familiar smells, especially. I’ve trashed my dorm room here in France accordingly, so that it might smell like home. I know I’ve done a decent job. The first deep breath in this room after being away for several hours is one of my favorite moments of the day. It smells familiar.

I stood on the beach in Biarritz yesterday, and was nearly overwhelmed by the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean. I could faintly see shapes on the horizon, and for a few minutes I let myself believe they were Boston.