How many times can I use the word “change” in one post…

It has now been almost 4 months since I’ve left Paris. And an entire year since I first began my semester in Madagascar. Facts that are literally incomprehensible to me now as I think back to these places and the freshness of their memories. I think I’m finally starting to truly grasp the whole concept of time moving faster at an accelerated pace as you get older thing. I also haven’t written a post in several months.  There had been several occasions where I had begun a post-Paris one and somehow just failed to find the drive and reason really to finish it. The main motivation, in fact, was simply the memory of my post-Madagascar experience and the feeling that I should be feeling at least some sort of reverse-culture shock after Paris, nowhere near equivalent to my Madagascar one of course, but deserving of a blog post at the very least. I loved every aspect of Paris as a city and all the wonderful experiences I had/people I met there, and yet somehow, as much as my brain was able to recognize this fact and as much as I wanted to feel something more as a result of it, these thoughts essentially remained as simply that: thoughts. It was more so that I wanted to feel more sad, more reminiscent, more emotionally affected by the return home than I actually did. So much so, in fact, that I’m pretty sure I felt more sadness and disappointment by the fact that I didn’t feel anything after leaving Paris than by the act of leaving itself. My mind and heart just refused to converge.

But anyways, now, for whatever reason, I finally feel enough “emotion” to supply me with the motivation to write a post. It is in part related to Paris, but really, it has more to do with just overall change in general. (so I apologize to those who are reading this only to hear something about Paris or some other exciting country). I’ve realized that this whole entire year, really, has essentially been a quest for change and subsequently, a continuous process of me trying to assess my own level of change along the way. Both study abroad and college are constantly framed as some of the most life-changing periods in a person’s life. You will change. No matter who you are or what expectations you have, you will. There is no question about it. This is the general attitude that I have come across at least prior to undergoing these experiences – whether it was from college counselors, professors, recent graduates, or really anyone else who had gone through them. So, naturally, I felt somewhat inclined to measure my own experiences against such standards, constantly wondering, “So have I changed yet? According to what everyone says, I should be changed by now. Sure I’ve experienced a lot of new things, but does that mean I’ve changed as a person? And if there are some things different about my attitudes now, when are they different enough to be considered change?”

I still don’t really have an answer to these questions, and actually, don’t even really think they matter in the grand scope of things, but in any case, have without a doubt come to a certain point in my life where I can make the conclusion that I am no longer the person that I was at the beginning of college. Whether or not I’ve “changed” as a person, there is absolutely no way I can discount the amount that has happened between then and now to pretend that something has not changed. And maybe the most concrete aspect of self-change I can measure is my own evolution with regards to my reaction to change. Basically, this whole year has been nothing but constant change and learning how to adapt and cope with that change. Living in Chicago the months prior to Madagascar, moving in with 3 different families in Madagascar, going back to Evanston and living on my own in Evanston for a month, starting a life in Paris for 4 months, returning home to my family’s new home in New Mexico for a few weeks, then going off to DC and starting a new life there for 3 months. Such geographical movement in itself would easily serve as a means of inspiring change in a person, but combined with the drastically-widened scope of the kinds of people I had the opportunity to meet as a result of it, the variation of experiences I’ve been able to have over these past months has been all the more influential.

I just realized that I am sort of going absolutely nowhere with this blog post and making no real point whatsoever, but all this is really just to say that while I have changed, and largely due to the simple fact that I’ve had to learn to adapt to a large amount of change in the process, I feel like the greatest thing that has been a source of inspiration or mind-altering-ness for me this whole year has just been all the people I’ve gotten to meet from it. And that this is what I love most about getting to meet new people: the great potential inherent within each person to have such great influences on other people; if nothing else, just by being diverse – by having different opinions, different ideas, different values, different experiences, different cultures…different anything really. And, it is for this reason, that whether or not I am able to muster up certain feelings towards some study abroad experience or other college experience and ascertain how this or that experience has changed me, I can most certainly measure the ways in which every single person I’ve met over the years has changed me.

And, finally, the aspect of this realization that I think had actually inspired me to write this post in the first place and ironically also functions as the one way in which I have not managed to change at all throughout this time is my inability to cope with separation from the people I meet. I’ve mentioned this in a previous post about missing people, and I also realize this is not something abnormal or interesting to write about, but nonetheless, I feel like it’s the one thing that keeps happening again and again and ceases to lose its effect. Getting ready to head back to Evanston in the next few days and thus wrapping up another chapter in my life (the DC Baha’i internship/Maryland craigslist group house-living chapter), I am hit with fresh feelings of this unfortunate phenomena – which, every time it occurs, not only incites reflection and reminiscing for those I’ve encountered in the most recent place, but also each one that has come before it, so that now, I am simultaneously missing probably a good 50 people spanning from the remote villages of Madagascar to the Baha’i volunteer sites of my earlier youth to the unexpected friendships formed in recent months. Perhaps in this way, having too much appreciation for the true value of each person and the ways in which each has inspired me is not necessarily a good thing when it means I end up missing people I know I shouldn’t be wasting time and emotional energy on. Not that the people themselves aren’t worth it, but just that I know I wasn’t even close enough to many of them to warrant me still missing them now. I feel like I should only miss those people who I actually had a close enough connection to or long enough relationship with that keeping in touch is actually a reasonable option. Instead, I feel like I miss every single person who I end up liking or seeing something wonderful in. And as attempting to keep in touch with every cool person you meet and get to know for a brief amount of time is highly impractical (and probably creepy and weird to the other person if you were never even that great of friends), I hope I can one day learn how and when to miss people and not let it become a source of sadness at any point in time.

And that’s that. A rather pointless post mostly all to say that once again, I miss people. I don’t like that feeling. I feel like I have grown and changed this year and come to thrive upon change even more so than before, but at the same time, feel crippled over and over again by the inevitable aspect of meeting and leaving new people that will always be a part of change. And yet, all I want to do in looking towards the future is live in new places and meet new people, and never be confined to any one location or one group of people. Which of course will mean more I’ll-probably-never-see-you-again goodbyes to deal with and move on from. So if anyone has some magical solution to my [dumb and irrational yet still unfortunately debilitating] problem, please let me know.

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A Touch of Mystery: Fes

As mentioned in my previous post, I had intended on following it up with one about the remainder of my Moroccan spring break adventures in Fes and Tangers long ago but time just flew by ridiculously fast once I returned to Paris. But really, what kind of program puts spring break a week before finals and two weeks before the end of the program -_-.  So even though its been over a month, its hard to resist saying at least a few things about Fes…and perhaps a few words about Tangier:

Fes. An absolutely incredible city, full of rich history and tradition as one of the oldest in Africa. Looking out from the gorgeous rooftop terrace of our hostel and seeing miles and miles of beige stone walls, interrupted only by the occasional splash of color from the rooftop of a tall mosque, and the green rolling hills just beyond them, it was like we had traveled back in time (with the exception of the large satellite dishes that stood perched atop nearly every building….which according to our tour guide, were a big deal cuz Moroccans value the opportunity to have over one thousand channels).

In this way, the whole city was such an interesting combination of tradition and modernity — walking through the medina, or old town, and squeezing between the narrow alleyways created by the close proximity of the ancient stone walls, sometimes barely even 2 feet wide (which our guide had later told us he only took us down after making sure that we were all “good sizes” and not like “the fat Dutch tourists” that he had to take down a different route), it literally felt as if we were walking through the streets as they were hundreds of years ago. From the traditional Moroccan “taxis”, otherwise known as donkeys, casually hanging out in the streets, to hidden enclaves where you’ll find public baths still widely used by the locals and their heating sources nearby: a man hunched over a fire pit, methodically tossing coal upon a sparking flames all day long, to the arches and curves of the medieval doorways and the ancient stones themselves, to the men and women still struggling to make their livelihoods with their loom and fabrics, creating beautiful and intricate rugs just as their ancestors before them, it was not difficult to get lost in the richness of the history and feel as though  you yourself had entered some other era.

My favorite part of Fes, however, did not lie in the ancient aura and rich history that characterized all that was visible from the quaint narrow streets and pathways, but the magic that lay behind the endless sea of beige and stone. For wandering amidst the stone ruins, your eyes being adjusted to the monotone color of the old town, you were all the more blown away by the real treasure that lay within: after crouching beneath an arched doorway and entering one of the dwellings behind the stone, your eyes fall upon a courtyard lined with intricate tile patterns and every color imaginable surrounding a majestic bubbling fountain or decorative pool reflecting the image of the tiles and magnifying their beauty. Interspersed between the handmade colors and patterns, you find the natural vibrant reds and purples of flowers and plants placed thoughtfully throughout courtyard gardens, complemented by the lush green of palm trees or orange trees and the sweet scent given off by their blossoms.

In this way, hidden behind plain walls and dirty streets, such magnificent displays of beauty became much more than simply a pleasant site for your eyes, but something of a magical and unexpected discovery, a mysterious treasure to be found within an ancient and remarkable land. Perhaps this description sounds a bit exaggerated or romanticized in this way, but for me personally, I could not help but feel enthralled by this mystery, this juxtaposition of an ancient beauty visible in crumbling stones, bustling markets full of people, donkeys, and chickens, and the loud smells of spices, pungent leather, and raw meat, with the quiet, hidden beauty of an oasis on the one hand screaming with color and pattern while on the other, gently drawing your attention towards all that it possessed, gradually revealing the full effect of its magic with nothing more than a soft murmur, towards which you couldn’t help but devote all your senses to fully take in.

And that’s Fes for you. As far as Tangier (referred to by some as “Tangier Danger” as we later discovered), the final city of our journey and where I technically only spent one day, I will simply leave you with the words of one of our Paris program directors who shared with us his personal insights on Morocco before we embarked on our journey:

“Tangier. Not the sexiest city in Morocco.”

….Make of that as you will.

On the other hand, though, about an hour’s drive from Tangier is a quaint little coast town called Asilah, which, despite being somewhat of a ghost town when we went, definitely had its charms:

The walls all over the town beautifully bear witness to the art festival that was once held here.

So in terms of Morocco as a whole, I can absolutely say that I have no regrets and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a new and unique place to explore. My only criticism would be that it further kindled my desire to see more of the world…a desire my wallet unfortunately doesn’t approve of.

An Awakening of the Senses: Marrakech

So I had initially settled on not writing a post about my week-long Spring Break adventure in Morocco, partly out of laziness, partly after going through a (super early) mid-life crisis where I decided with certainty that I would probably fail to find a job after graduation next year and end up living on the streets and that any time wasted doing non-resume-building activities like writing a blog post could only further ensure my path to failure and homelessness.

I still haven’t come to my senses on the whole mid-life crisis thing, but I’ve decided I owe it to Morocco to at least write something about it. Especially in realizing just how much I suck at describing amazing things in person. After having been asked about my break now by several people, I’m pretty sure most of my answers have consisted of “It was cool…there were lots of things…it was really pretty…we rode camels.” Really though…that’s almost like word for word how I’ve described it a few times.

So, with that said, I figure I’d at least mention some of the highlights of the places we visited/why they’re awesome…or interesting at the very least.

Marrakech.

If you have ever wanted to be in a place where every single one of your senses is stimulated to the absolute maximum extent possible all at once, the main square/market area of Marrakech, Djemma El Fna, is probably your best bet. For some, this may be a bit overwhelming/best appreciated in small doses. Personally though, this setting was kind of exactly what I had been craving. Something about needing to be constantly alert and aware of everything around you while also trying to take in all the new sights, sounds, colors, and people, all while not getting pickpocketed, making eye-contact with a creepy man, or (probably most challenging of all) not getting run over by a motorcycle, bike, or donkey, is just so invigorating. To give you a better picture…

Sight.

A large, bustling square lined with vendors of everything from orange-juice and dried fruit to miniature leather camels, flooded with women porting veils and dresses of all patterns and colors, men in casual western attire or starkly-contrasted long-hooded robes, tourists of all sorts with Moroccan relics in their hands and awed looks on their faces, beautiful wide-eyed Moroccan children, snake charmers, drum beaters, and performers of all sorts. All this interspersed with donkeys dragging along carts with people and goods, men and women in traditional Muslim attire zooming along on little motorcycles, sometimes with a child clutching onto their backs, and treating any spot of land as if it were part of an actual road, swerving constantly around the people all around and just barely avoiding collisions at every moment.

In the distance, a tall and magnificent rose-tinted minaret piercing the sky and in the opposite direction, arched passageways leading into narrow winding streets lined with every possible product imaginable and flooded with an even greater concentration of locals and tourists squeezed between cars and motorcycles. Entering deeper into the heart of these Souks, you find your eyes greeted with the most incredible display of colorful leather shoes dangling from storefronts in rather artsy configurations, shops gleaming with the reflection of jeweled candles and lanterns lining every inch of wall available, just about every shape, size, and pattern of leather bag imaginable, and intricate detail in just about everything around you, from the doors or arches on the streets to the rugs and wood carvings sold in the shops, so wonderfully reflecting the decorative charm that is so uniquely Moroccan.

Sound.

A constant backdrop of a steady drumbeat by some performers in the square, accompanied by the high pitched and windingly frantic tones of the oboe-like instrument, a sound that seems to rise, fall, and slither like the snakes it often aims to charm. The hypnotic, unceasing sounds of the snake-charmers-music that takes hold of your senses and pulls you along into its trance, while the persistent beating of the drums fill the air with a spirit of celebration, only gaining in volume and force with the setting of the sun and continuing on into the early hours of the morning. An onslaught of voices and calls to you as you walk through the streets, reminding you of your tourist status but also just the nature of your current surroundings: whistles and calls from vendors trying to grab your attention and desperately imploring you to notice their goods, catcalls and cheesy, often-rhyming, English pick-up lines from men on  stools, in stores, or on the streets, delivered in impossibly strong Arabic accents and sometimes in song, often humorous, but sometimes abrasive. “Hey! Hello! Hey!”s in squeaky, aggressive calls coming from the black-covered figures of women from whom only slits of eyes are exposed, competing with the multitude of vendors, restaurant workers, and performers trying to steal your attention  and attain your business. And finally, the victor of all the sounds, the one that effortlessly rises above the rest and never fails to capture your attention: the call to prayer. A sudden, booming voice emitted from the speakers atop the tall minarets around the city, five times throughout the day, breaking the air with a powerful “Allah-u-akbar” and leading into a drawn out chant of Arabic words of prayer and supplication, oftentimes all the more loudly as each speaker attempts to be heard over the others all calling out simultaneously to the Muslim people.

Smell.

Billows of smoke emanating from grills lined with skewered meats and vegetables and giving off smoky, roasted scents of savory cuisines. Piles upon piles of oranges lined up on stands at every corner, awaiting their turn to be squeezed of their sweet-scented juices, orange trees all over the city, full of fruit and delicate orange blossom flowers, adding a light citrusy fragrant to the air around them. Shops with spices of every color and purpose, arranged into perfectly molded cylindrical cone shaped stacks and giving off an orchestra of sweet, tangy, spicy, savory, and every other type of scent. The ever-present smell of freshly-tanned leather and dyes, woods and paints, and other lingering traces of recently-crafted materials filling the narrow streets of the Souks. And of course, the characteristic scent of Morocco from the abundance of its famous “Moroccan whisky”, better known as mint tea. A simple combination of mint leaves and sugar, united by the power of boiling water, resulting in a soothingly steamy and simultaneously refreshing minty aroma from which one does not want to part.

(For the sake of time, I’m not gonna go into detail about taste and touch. Just leave you with these visuals and let you make up the rest with your imagination:)

Taste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Touch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Despite the charm and excitement of the sort of highly-stimulating, bustling, and lively environment of the main square and medina area of Marrakech, there was also an interesting contrast of spaces with a completely opposite vibe. Quiet spaces with awe-inspiring beauty to leave you in silence and grant you the opportunity to retreat from the chaos outside simply to appreciate the site before you and marvel at the thought and detail that went into the creation of such spaces. This description was specifically applicable to the Medersa Ben Youssef and Jardin Majorelle that we visited:

The Medersa (used to be used as a school for studying the Quran):

Jardin Majorelle (a garden eventually owned by Yves Saint Laurent): A place best summed up as paradise. Definitely one of the most beautiful and vibrant gardens I’ve ever seen.

And I’ve decided I’ll save Fez and Tanger for another post. So, to be continued…

Le Fabuleaux Destin…

It’s funny what random things strike a cord in us and bring us to our senses at times when we don’t even realize we’re in need of being brought to them. Today, that thing for me was Amélie Poulain.

In glancing at the syllabus before my Cinema & Society class to see what we’d be watching for the day and beholding the words Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain (2000), you could not imagine the joy that possessed me in realizing that I would not have to spend the next hour and a half of my life in my exhausted late-afternoon, post-internship state struggling to keep my eyes open through yet another black and white “classic” with incomprehensible French and non-relatable characters. (At this point of the semester, I figure there is no point of pretending any longer that I possess any sense of cinematic sophistication that will allow me to appreciate the majority of the films considered “classic”…and by classic, I prettymuch mean anything before 1980. If a cinema class in Paris taught by a marvelous French professor with incredible insight can’t make me enjoy old films, it probably isn’t going to happen.) So of course, on discovering that we not only were going to be watching a film from this millennium but one that I also happen to love, I was beyond pleased.

Although I’ve seen the movie several times in the past, this viewing  took on a much different significance for me. This was largely a combination of my now having been to most of the places shown in the film and the commentary of my professor on some of the deeper elements to be found in its content. As you probably could guess from my lack of taste when it comes to classics, I am not the biggest movie person, and it’s pretty rare that a movie will be anything more to me than a few hours of leisure/pleasure/catharsis/etc. (not counting documentaries). The thing that makes this movie so significant in the context of my current setting, however, is that in many ways, it has always sort of been the basis for the idealized Paris residing in the back of my mind, even after having been immersed in the real thing. If you haven’t seen the film, one way to describe it would be a moving collage of beautiful, unnaturally vibrant and colorful, artsily-composed photographs of stereotypical Parisian settings put to the magical soundtrack of happy-thought-inducing accordion/piano music. It’s kind of like Paris but on crack…the kind of crack that magnifies the beauty in daily surroundings, make colors more vibrant, and places certain images in focus while placing backgrounds perfectly out of focus. (Yeah…I don’t really know how crack works, but it’s just an expression).

at the café from the movie

So in seeing this Paris once again but with the added dimension of having actually seen the real-life version of much of it, I found it interesting to compare my emotional reaction and allure to this thing intended to represent an actual thing in the world and artistically embody all of its enchantment. I found myself deeply drawn into this charming Parisian world exuding passion (a deliberate intent of the filmmakers by making every scene some combination of red and green, colors supposed to represent passion), mystery (following Amélie on her wanderings through all of the out-of-the-beaten path canals, streets, bridges, and nooks of Paris), and most of all, beauty. In the midst of finding myself so deeply enraptured by these images and sounds of Paris on the screen before me, however, I was hit with the realization that I was currently living in it. Sure I don’t have a constant soundtrack of beautiful accordion music playing in the background (although sometimes a hobo will have an accordion on the metro) or see everything around me in shades of red and green or live next door to a fragile old painter with a closet full of Renoir masterpieces and a tendency to make deep and symbolic remarks about life from time to time, but I do live in the same city that inspired this film.

In seeing this movie again through a new lens and shifted point of view, I found one of my professor’s comments particularly eye-opening. There is a scene in the film where Amélie, in her quest to change the lives of the people around her in whatever small ways she could think of, takes a blind man by the arm and quickly begins leading him through a crowded street while narrating the details of everything around him, from the outfit of a woman to a dog staring at a roast chicken. After Amélie parts  from the man, he looks up at the sky as a golden glow and dramatic sound effect surround his being, indicating the significance of the moment for him in having had the chance to “see” in a sense. The scene in many ways acts as an overall symbol for the movie as a whole and an important theme it attempts to convey. As poetically iterated by my professor:

“Nous sommes tous les aveugles. Il faut apprendre régarder.”

We are all blind and must learn/be taught how to see. In the film, Amélie is the one to act as the guide, seeking out the details that no one ever thinks of and fully taking in and perceiving Paris as the enchanting city that it is. I think this idea specifically struck a cord in me just because of how applicable it is to where I am right now, both physically and otherwise. I’ve realized that I am constantly going through days where I am blown away by everything around me followed by days where I am almost somewhat living in a daze and going through motions absolutely devoid of passion or wonder. This idea that we all must learn how to see just seems to so perfectly illustrate the unstable nature of perception. So many of us want to constantly derive pleasure from our surroundings but don’t realize just how much our sight, our perception, relies on our own efforts to shape and mold it how we’d like. In a sense, we must “teach” ourselves how to see on a daily basis. The Paris of Amélie Poulain, while in some ways achieved through the magic of cinema, is no less achievable through the magic of one’s own effort to seek out the mystery, passion, and wonder in the things around them and discover daily  inspiration therefrom.

And with all that said, I figure I’d follow up with a few of the things in Paris that make me feel all inspired. Also, I highly recommend watching this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3heoAMuyH4.

Flower markets.

Flowers in general.

Covered passages.

Bridges.

The Seine.

Book vendors along the Seine.

Parisian balconies.

History everywhere.

Pleasant surprises around each corner.

Charming spaces.

Art in unexpected places.

An Incurable Case

I’m not sure whether I should blame the new Facebook timeline, the old photo albums on my computer, or just being in Paris, but it seems I’ve been hit with a bad case of nostalgia lately. The symptoms usually appear in the form of  unexpected, sharp pangs of missing, sometimes induced by photos but more often just upon random occasions. Once started, the effects can last anywhere from minutes to days and leave an unpleasant, lingering aftertaste of reminiscing. Treatment is rather tricky and in most cases, the symptoms may only be reduced or suppressed for certain periods of time. The only discovered cure at this time is not having emotions.

(Please excuse my feeble attempt at cleverness with my little disease metaphor. I realize I’m not clever. But once I start I just can’t help myself…)

Anyways, like I said, I’ve been randomly missing a bunch of people lately. And when I say a bunch of people and randomly, I literally mean like a bunch of really random people, so random that I’m sure most of them have no idea that I even miss them or have even thought of them recently for that matter. But I have, and I do (In fact, whoever you are reading this right now, I’m sure I’ve missed you at some point…cuz it’s really to that extent). All this has just made me realize the extreme pros and cons of temporary experiences that involve opportunities to meet people from diverse places and backgrounds: the pros are endless of course and tend to be the parts of the experience that occupy your mind during the period in which you are with the people and perhaps a little afterwards during your continued correspondence with them. The cons on the other hand are something that don’t usually hit you until the end of your experience draws near or once it is finished for good: essentially just the fact that you may very well never see these people again. Ever.

Not to sound all dramatic and depressing with this reality but its just something I feel like I keep having to learn to cope with over and over again. On the one hand, I absolutely love all the incredible opportunities I’ve had to meet so many people from so many places at so many points in my life. Each one of these people have clearly left lasting impacts on my life, even some whom thinking back on it now, I may have actually only known for periods of a few weeks or even days but with whom I had the chance to form meaningful connections with nonetheless. In a way, such opportunities are in fact one of the things I love the most in life.

At the same time, though, I worry that having gone through so many situations that were amazing yet temporary in nature has led me to just start to cling to a state of detachment. For instance, I will admit to the fact that I’ve spoken the words, “I don’t really miss people” and that most of my closest friends are under the impression that I have no emotions…but really, the fact is that if I know someone will continue to be in my life, that I will undoubtedly see them at some point in the future no matter how far from now that may be, I honestly don’t “miss” them in the typical sense of the word. Instead, more often, the people I end up really painfully missing are the people who weren’t the closest in my life, the people who I became attached to for whatever limited period of time I had with them but whom I know I will likely never ever see again. I realize there’s such a thing as keeping in touch with people, but honestly, there’s only so long that you can do that with so many people.

Perhaps these feelings of “missing” are simply stronger because they are combined with certain feelings of loss. Loss in the sense that while I got to form a wonderful friendship with this wonderful person, all I really have left of them are my memories. I can attempt to keep in contact with them in whatever way possible but there is only so long I can fight to hold back the inevitable effects of time, distance, and just simply life. It is not a loss altogether because I had the opportunity to know the person, but just a loss in the sense that I won’t have the opportunity to keep them in my life, continue to develop our relationship together, and profit from their company the way I do with those who are around me on a daily or continued basis.

My fear is that after going through these feelings of “missing” over and over again, I have begun to just try not getting so attached to people and approaching each new situation with the mindset that it will eventually end. (Describing all this sort of reminds me of how Stephan decided to turn off his humanity/ability to feel in the Vampire Diaries cuz it “hurt too much” to feel. Yes, this is a Vampire Diaries reference. No, I’m not ashamed. Sorry I’m not sorry that I just used it.) Not saying that my situation is quite as extreme as a hot vampire led to switch off all his emotions as a result of his inner turmoil over his love for a girl and deep guilt over being a cold-blooded murder, but more just that I sometimes prefer to distance myself from a situation and remind myself not to get too attached to it when I will have to deal with the aftereffects later.

Perhaps this approach is reflective of my maturing attitude towards evolving life situations as I enter the ever-shifting world of adulthood, but more likely, it’s just evidence of the fact that I detest the feeling of missing people and don’t really know how else to deal with it.

Parlez-vous anglais?

Today at dinner, my host-mom asked me if I was looking forward to going home soon. Attempting to find an honest response to her question, I paused for a second to take a brief mental inventory of the things that would await me upon my return home, another to draw up all the mental images and overall essence of Paris that first came to mind, and one final moment to put the two side by side and make a general comparison, finally resulting in the fairly thought-out response of, “No… not really.” Only later, upon further instances of over-thinking, did this response strike me as something potentially and slightly worrisome. Not so much by the fact that I was essentially choosing Paris over the United States, a choice I’m sure has been made plenty of times in the past, but more so by the things that flashed through my mind in comparing the two places during those brief moments of thought.

In thinking about the U.S. I would be coming home to, I thought about not yet having a place to stay for the summer, about needing to somehow arrange to get my wisdom teeth taken out without going broke from it, about having to decide whether going home to see my family for a few weeks would be worth it when I already can barely afford to live somewhere if I end up doing a summer internship, about the fact that I haven’t even seen my family in over a year now and no longer associate “home” with an actual home in the U.S., and of course, about my college life, except now with the odd twist of appearing in my mind as a time of preparation leading to ever more uncertainties and the drastic need to find a means of living rather than the old straightforward mental image of books, classes, clubs, sports, friends, and frat parties. (Yeah, I realize the whole dinner scenario only really lasted a few seconds and every one of these elaborate points probably did not actually go through my mind at the time, but it was still generally something along these lines.)

And then, Paris. At which, thoughts of Spring, blooming flowers, and beautiful buildings came to mind, but swiftly accompanied by thoughts of all the essays, readings, and homework I’ve put off until now and the fact that my time left to do them is actually starting to run out…which is a problem considering it also means my time to do all the things I actually came to Paris to do (essentially anything that doesn’t involve pencils, books, or being inside) but waited until it became warm and Spring-like to do is also running out, and that any time spent doing schoolwork is time away from the precious moments I have left to fully explore every last inch of this city I’ve come to call home.

So there it was. Two images. The first, prettymuch all just pertaining to money and how much stress it typically causes me. The second, prettymuch revolving around a desperation to make the most out of something I don’t see myself as having the opportunity to repeat in the future. And so, drawing some conclusions about my subconscious state of mind from these brief, first-response thoughts of “home” versus Paris: the U.S. = real-life = worrying about money/finding a way to eventually not have to worry about it. Paris = not real-life/once in a lifetime opportunity/likely one of the last exciting periods of my youth = something I better make the most of now.

Like I said though, these were just my subconscious/irrational views towards these places…not necessarily how I would first describe them or the sum of what I think about them, but just sentiments that seem to linger at the back of my mind and come up to the surface from time to time. So obviously, you could see my worries in realizing that these sorts of thoughts were forming the basis of my response towards why I would prefer one place over another. All this is basically to say that I realized it’s probably time I start making an effort to just stop dividing my life into all these fictitious compartments: youth/adult, beginnings/endings, leisure/responsibilities, learning/working…the list could go on and on. Creating such divisions really only serve to perpetuate unnecessary sentiments of discontentment in feeling that there are certain times or periods of my life that will somehow be better or more exciting than others…which then leads to a never-ending cycle of trying to hold on to something that will pass or underestimating the excitement of what might lie ahead. I just think that adopting a more fluid approach to all the events and turns of my life would be a better way to look at things and perhaps lead to a better internalization of the fact that each new day in my life possesses an equal potential to be exciting or rewarding at the very least if I just choose to see it that way.

super "French"-looking man. note the beret.

But still, with all that said about one possible reason I haven’t been looking forward to returning home, I also just think I’ve gotten to that point of adapting to my new environment where I feel like I’m just finally starting to attach the label of “home” to this city. Obviously I still am a foreigner in every sense and likely come across as such most of the time, but as of recently, I feel like I’ve been hit with an odd, rather strong (and completely delusional) sense of “I’ve lived here for several months. I kinda speak your language. I am one of you. Accept me French people!” I can’t really say exactly when these feelings started, but I just recently began to notice them in subtle daily happenings: going to a store and asking about something in french, having the person respond in english, becoming irrationally furious on the inside at the fact that they knew I wasn’t French and that they thought I needed their english….going to a coffee shop and ordering something in french, having the server respond to me in french, feeling like it was the greatest day of my life cuz a French person believed I was a french-speaker….looking at my closet one day and realizing I haven’t touched at least half of what I brought to Paris in weeks and that I’ve unconsciously only been picking out the things that could possibly pass for Parisian…starting to wear heels again.

Really nothing of great importance, but somewhere along the line, and probably with the knowledge that I will soon be leaving this place I now feel a small sense of mastery over, the idea of being mistaken for a Parisian somehow just became the thing that brought me the greatest feelings of accomplishment. I don’t know how my program director in Madagascar could live in a country for 20 years, speak the language fluently, have a settled life there, and not mind the fact that as a tall, fair-skinned man, he will never be accepted as anything other than a foreigner to the general population. Clearly I do not possess his strength as I have lived in Paris for barely 3 months, speak the language with a horrible accent, go around doing touristy things each weekend, and yet somehow, still feel entitled to a certain level of acceptance (or just not being viewed as foreign) by the Parisian people. And for anyone who’s ever called me a hipster (clearly people who have never come across actual hipsters…), I’d just like to point out that I just spent several paragraphs talking about my attempts to conform to Parisian society. Just saying.

Springtime

I’ve always been one to look forward to winter as the greatest time of the year, but this year, for the first time, spring has somehow come to occupy a new position in my mind as the season of preference. It’s not that I never enjoyed spring, but it’s always sort of just been that middle, transitionary period that I never gave much thought to. This year, however, I have found myself desperately craving and quite regularly fantasizing about this period of new warmth, not to mention the pleasant, flowery, happy-looking Paris I had always pictured in my mind and the ability to actually take it all in without being too cold to enjoy it. (And of course, there’s the whole going to Madagascar at the end of summer, having it suddenly be winter over there, going through their transition into summer, returning suddenly to the middle of winter in the U.S., then soon after coming to Paris for a misleadingly-labeled “spring semester” which really meant a rather drawn-out finish to a confused and temperamental winter battling to hold on to its cold grip over the city, that I’m sure has messed with my body-clock/seasonal-attachment/etc.) Even more than the advent of spring in a literal sense, though, I feel like the concept of spring in its symbolic sense as a time of renewal and new life has just as much come to occupy my thoughts this semester, perhaps more so than any other time in life.

As some have noticed, I recently finished 19 days of fasting, abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset, as part of the Baha’i Faith. This period of fast falls before the Baha’i new year, or Naw Ruz, which happens to coincide with the Spring equinox on March 21st. As such, it is essentially a time of spiritual renewal in preparation for the new year; essentially an embodiment of all that can be summed up by the symbol of spring, and appropriately, culminating in the literal commencement of spring.

“This material fast is an outer token of the spiritual fast; it is a symbol of self-restraint, the withholding of oneself from all appetites of the self, taking on the characteristics of the spirit, being carried away by the breathings of heaven and catching fire from the love of God.”

So, with the completion of this fast and the arrival of this new springtime, I figure it’s worth making at least a few reflections on what these past 19 days have been for me. Especially this year, where I feel like I have observed the fast the most thoroughly (without sports or other overly strenuous activities to prevent me from doing so) but also where I have done so without any contact with other Baha’is just simply due to my location, I feel like this period of fasting has felt so much more “personal” I guess you could say than in previous years. One of the manifestations of this “personal” nature of the fast was often a sort of interior dialogue I constantly found occurring in my head. And by dialogue, I literally mean like me talking to myself in my head…which actually was more often chastising. Often consisting of something along the lines of “You’re not thirsty. Stop thinking about being thirsty. The whole point of this is to be detached. You’re not being detached if you’re thinking about the thing you’re trying to avoid.” But then, such moments of weakness could often easily be fixed by prayer or remembrance of the extreme simplicity of the act I was performing.

Simplicity in the sense that so much of being a Baha’i, or fulfilling any meaningful purpose in life just in general, is about serving mankind, but that such a task depends on active and deliberate intention, and most importantly, action. Action. A concept not necessarily overly complicated in itself, but one that often becomes tangled up in all the complications of “will this be meaningful?” “Is this the right thing to do, the best way to do it?” or just simply “what should I do?” –all self-created roadblocks and complications, but complications nonetheless. Fasting, on the other, hand, is simply an act of faith and submission to the will of God and to something ascribed with a spiritual significance far beyond our full comprehension. It is one of those rare times where the physical guidelines are clearly laid out, the intentions clear, with simply the physical compliance necessary to fulfill it. Thinking about all the Baha’is in Iran currently imprisoned or persecuted in a manner shocking for this day and age or even to the martyrdom of Bahai’s as little as a few decades ago,the idea of giving up food for my religion feels like the absolute smallest way I could possibly exercise my faith in God. At the same time though, this aspect of simplicity is not to undermine the significance of the act; just merely a feeling I’ve attached to it in putting it into such perspectives.

Going back to the subject of all my interior dialogue, though, its also led me to reflect some more on the concept of thoughts more generally – specifically the relation between those that come involuntarily and those of a more deliberate nature. To give an example, there is of course the aspect of the fast that calls for not only a detachment from animalistic desires in the physical symbol of food but also in all of one’s thoughts, more powerfully worded as “the withholding of oneself from all appetites of the self”. As such, this ongoing interior dialogue often functioned in such a manner that I felt as though I had two separate people living inside my head. One time, for example, I found myself getting annoyed at another person and starting to think negatively about them. This thought was soon followed however with an interior self-chastisement of “why are you getting annoyed by this person? You have plenty of faults yourself. How would you feel if someone else thought badly about you for your faults? It’s not like this person doesn’t have plenty of good qualities too.” In recognizing the existence of such a dialogue in my head, it just led me to think about the whole concept of “withholding oneself” essentially from one’s own self and what really defines the “self” in the first place. Does one’s virtue or purity, for example, (concepts I realize are already hard enough to define in themselves) lie in his daily mindset and natural reaction towards his surroundings or does it just as equally lie in his possession of thoughts in disagreement with this idea of virtuosity but in which he has the capability of at least recognizing as such and putting forth effort to “withhold” these parts of himself?

…I’m sure these ramblings make no sense, but just in going through this period of fasting and attempting to fulfill its underlying purpose as a time where one must “strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul,” I couldn’t help but reflect on this concept of the “self.” In simply this idea that we even have this capacity to “make readjustments” to this interior part of ourselves or untapped forces latent within us, there is such a powerful image of the complexity of humans as essentially spiritual beings. There will always be the animalistic, material nature of man, but at the same time, a higher, spiritual nature in which he must aspire towards.

“…if the divine power in man, which is his essential perfection, overcomes the satanic power, which is absolute imperfection, he becomes the most excellent among the creatures…”

So, I guess in this context, my constant interior battles simply bear witness to the fact that there are in fact multiple aspects of “self” and that it’s impossible to ever completely avoid or cancel out one’s lower human nature, but that striving to align our thoughts and actions with qualities reflective of this divine perfection is the most we can really hope to achieve as imperfect human beings.