One year (later), a video flipbook

Scroll to the bottom for the video, because why wait a moment longer?

Most of my creative pursuits seem to end up in a state of perpetual incompleteness, which is why it is such a pleasant surprise to me that, just this once, I completed something – and only fourteen months later than anticipated. From the time that I started this project on May 2, 2013, days before I closed the book on my TAPIF year, to the same day in 2014, I recorded a one second video clip each day.

A lot happened: I destroyed my computer, crossing my fingers as I salvaged months of shoulda-woulda-coulda been lost footage; I struggled with the limitations of iMovie, screamed at every spontaneous shutdown, made myself a snack each time it froze, and powered through clunky workarounds (365 times, no less). And that’s just the technical side of things! It says nothing of all the moments that actually made the days worth recording in the first place, from the exceptional (touring the falls at Plitvice) to the ordinary (time spent with friends).

A one-second clip on its own isn’t particularly interesting it turns out and it wasn’t until I strung together about sixty of them that I started to see anything at all. Half a dozen times I have tried to take a photo a day and I’ve never made it more than a week; to think I’d have a different experience with moving pictures (a medium with which I had much less practice) seemed like I was setting myself up for disappointment.

But I did it. Every day. Sometimes not until moments before the clock struck midnight, but I did it all the same. Not every day was photogenic, and there are way too many clips highlighting what I had to eat for dinner that night (like a horrible, foodie instagram come to life!), but it certainly paints an accurate portrait of the year. Even the bad stuff, like an angsty evening scribbling in a journal, and the aftermath of a bicycle accident, my worst injury to date.

If there is anything that I would want to change, though, it’s not any of the moments themselves, but rather how I captured them. In still photography, I am hopelessly shy about working with human subjects – friends or strangers, and while I was more confident when my images were moving, I could have pushed myself to invite more animate subjects into the frame.

But in the end, I really enjoyed the process of making my little film, and am so happy with the final result. I’m a better videographer for it! Most importantly, a big thank you to all who got in front of the camera; I always tried my best to make you look good (it was easy). Glad you’re in my life.

Let’s end the text before I get too nostalgic…I thought the point of a video was that I could avoid having to write! Oh well…I’m done! Action!

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Guatemala: los primeros pasos

How did Phillip and I end up in Guatemala in early January? Well, it was a combination of good timing, peer pressure, nervous energy, a malfunctioning furnace, and an imminent lack of responsibilities. Conditions were perfect.

December in Seattle: Phil and I resigned from our jobs, we were moving to California before the end of the year, our apartment did not have a reliable heat source, and we were seated around a big table with friends. The conversation quickly turned to our plans for California – Where would we live? Where would we work? My response was lackluster – I dunno. What I wanted to do was travel. An often pragmatic bunch, I was hardly expecting our friends to laud us for a great idea – of course we should travel! We’re both unemployed! We’re both homeless! Suddenly I felt excited to be so clueless!

We started dreaming…somewhere warm, somewhere new, somewhere adventurous. Phil’s brother had the answer right away: Guatemala. He had spent several years traveling up and down the whole of Central America, living in trees, sleeping under the stars, and taking Spanish lessons. A-ha! The desire to learn Spanish would guide this trip; a bit of linguistic tourism. I would get to travel, but I would also develop an important skill. Phillip was on board. ¡Ya está!

Once we packed up and made the drive to California, we crashed at my parents’ house, bought a ticket and left three days later. A red-eye out of San Francisco, a brief stopover in Mexico City, and we were waking up in Guatemala. Stumbling through customs and out of the airport, we were greeted by a line of Guatemaltecos waiting for family members and a couple of shuttle drivers who eagerly pushed through the throng to offer us a ride to Antigua. Ten dollars American and we were on our way – coincidentally, the most expensive transport of the trip but by far the most comfortable.

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We knew we were in Antigua, Guatemala’s former capital, when the driver slowed to a near stop and the van dropped down about a foot onto some very rustic cobbled streets, narrow and uneven, bumping all the way to the tourism office. With no reservation for lodging made, we pulled out our guide book and found a nearby hostel to drop our backpacks. Our bodies longed to lay down in our bunks, but we thought it better to find something to eat before turning in for the night; it was barely 3 p.m. local time.

An enticing paragraph led us to La Canche, a small shop across from the Iglesia de La Merced. It was so unassuming that we walked by a few times before deciding that it was the right spot. The front room is tiny, its one table surrounded by Antigüeños, its cabinets full of bread and packaged snacks. “La Canche,” we later learned, refers to its original blonde proprietress, a women in her seventies who still stands behind the counter welcoming guests, including us on this sunny afternoon.

Phillip and I strung together a few words, intending to ask for a bite to eat. La Canche responded enthusiastically enough, it seemed, though we could only pick out the word “dentro” as being one of a long list of prepositions we had yet to master. Somehow we came to the conclusion that where we were invited to eat was located in a secondary location, to be accessed by exiting the room and walking around the corner, down the block to a back door. We thanked La Canche over and over again before turning on our heels and leaving. Once outside, realizing no “back door” existed, I looked up “dentro” in a phrasebook – “inside.” A-ha! So, a dear elderly woman invites us into her restaurant to eat, we indicate that we very much would like to eat at her restaurant, and then we immediately leave without so much as a goodbye. Muy, muy educados, nosotros…

We sat in the park in front of the restaurant for five minutes, debating on whether the embarrassment that we felt was great enough to keep us from going in and eating what we suspected to be a very special meal. It wasn’t. We went back in and again La Canche was as gracious a host as before. This time we took her up on her invitation and followed her back into the dining room – windowless, dark, and with remnants of Christmas decorations still hanging from the ceiling.

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A woman that we suspected was La Canche’s daughter greeted us, her young son peeking out from behind her legs. She asked us what we wanted to eat, though we had not been given a menu. “¿Caldo de res?” she suggested; she didn’t need to ask twice. Before we could meet our rich, meaty bowls of broth, La Canche made another appearance, this time to drop off a basket of thick, chewy tortillas and two avocados, which she sliced in half and dropped on the table. “¡Que aproveche!” she wished us, shuffling back to her counter.

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Then came the caldo: hot and hearty, with a carrot, potato, güisquil (chayote), corn, rice, and chunk of beef on the side. We tucked in right away, finally feeling hunger after a long day of meager airport offerings and skipped snack times. The broth was thick, the tortillas salty, and humble as it was, that sup of soup felt more like an arrival in Guatemala than getting through customs or withdrawing our first Quetzales. For our first meal on our first day in Central America, we felt all too lucky to be starting such a loosely planned trip in such a serendipitous way: a seat at La Canche’s table and the best bowl of caldo in Antigua.

Riding the Amtrak Cascades

As I mentioned, back in April, Phillip and I hopped on the Amtrak Cascades, a train route that spans the entire Pacific Northwest coast, all the way into the lower mainland of Canada. We boarded in Seattle and detrained in Bellingham just in time for Easter breakfast, a two-hour journey.  Though, if you’ve got a bit more time and a passport handy, you could ride the train in its entirety from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, British Columbia. I can assure you it is a beautiful way to travel.

That being said, if time is of the essence, I have heard that the most scenic passage is between Seattle and Bellingham, as it offers the most extensive view of the Puget Sound. At times, the tracks run right along the shore for unobstructed visibility that is second to none. The morning of our trip started out a bit gray and overcast – as typical as any day in April in the North West, but that only served to authenticate the experience for me. I had been raring to ride the rails for months! Not to mention, a dreary early-morning often means a sunny late-morning in the PNW. Good news for us!

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In a blink of an eye, we’d pulled out of Seattle’s King Street Station in the International District and found ourselves chugging past the sprawling and industrial city of Everett, before cruising further north into lush, verdant Skagit County, already a favorite Washington locale of mine. The Cascades’ path parallels Interstate 5, a road we know all too well after countless jaunts up to Bellingham, so we were pleased with our new westwardly vantage point, as well as the comfort of traveling by train (coffee in the bistro car, oh but of course).

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But the real draw is its Puget Sound views, and there is no shortage of crashing waves, ragged coves, rocky shores, and piney, wooded islands. It is a spectacular tour of what makes this part of the country so special and I would recommend it to visitors to the area and locals alike – after all, I lived in Seattle for four years prior to booking my ticket!

Here are a couple of tips for making the most of your ride on the Amtrak Cascades:

1. Run straight to the bistro car to be first in line for coffee and to grab a seat at one of its booths or its counter of outward-facing stools. If everyone gets a window seat, then everyone wins!

2. Buy your ticket in advance. This is particularly important in the summer, when tourists opt to spend the day on the train as an attraction in and of itself. Additionally, Amtrak rewards the forward-thinking by frequently offering discounts on trips booked two or more weeks out.

3. Finally, though it goes without saying, if you’re traveling on Easter, do be sure to stuff your bag full of jelly bean-filled plastic eggs in a variety of pastel colors. Obviously.

All aboard!

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2014 en sommaire

Hi, again.  It’s (mid-)February 2015; 2014 was a year of only thirteen posts, compared to twenty-three in 2013, so if that rate of attrition were to continue, I may only manage to squeak out seven or so posts in 2015, but I am really hoping that’s not the case. I’m looking forward to 2015 – and it’s been great so far!

But I shouldn’t get ahead of myself as 2014 was good, too, a year of some noticeable “firsts.” All a part of growing up, I suppose.

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January – Let’s start with the worst part of the year, shall we?  Toward the end of the month, I found myself in the hospital after an unnecessary and unexpected episode of David and Goliath. Only I lost: part of a tooth, a lot of blood, and a beloved bicycle.  Gained: facial scars, physical therapy appointments, medical bills, a lawyer… But before that mess, I climbed two new peaks.  The first was Mount Si, just outside of Seattle, quickly followed by an ascent of the tallest peak in my hometown for the first time in a decade.

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February – Snow made its annual appearance in Seattle, but no Seattleite even noticed the cold because those Seahawks sure were hot, hot, hot, amiright?  In some skittles-fueled daze of fair-weather fandom, I actually followed American football for about two weeks (Geaux Hawques!), even choosing to brave the throngs of “twelfth men” as the Super Bowl Parade wound its way down 4th Avenue.

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March – The start of spring brought some lovely and familiar sights to Seattle, such as the blooming of the cherry blossom trees at the University of Washington. However, I also finally got to see a new and not-so-fragrant side of Seattle – the underside.  The Underground Tour ranks as one of the city’s best and I’m surprised that it took me four years of walking around above ground before getting to know an earlier and more lowly (pun intended) version of Seattle and its peculiar style of city planning.

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April – On Easter morning, Phillip and I woke up early to ride the Amtrak Cascades to Bellingham, a two-hour trip that offers a continuous front-row view of the Puget Sound. As a huge fan of train travel, I was not left wanting; we grabbed some coffee in the bistro car and window-gazed all the way to Whatcom County.  Not to mention, it was in this month that we began taking pottery classes, and I came down with a case of tulip fever.

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May – I rang in my twenty-fifth birthday with friends in the backyard. My wonderful friend Britland presented me with my first shot (see here…very sophisticated), a milestone I somehow had never reached despite having been twenty-one for a fleeting moment.  But more important than my “silver jubilee,” was an inaugural trip to Boston for both me and Phillip, to celebrate his sister’s graduation from law school.  (Congratulations Andrea!)

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June – Seattle summertime finally in full swing, I made sure to show up early to be first in line for pancakes and lingonberry jam at the Swedish Cultural Center, and lined North 34th Street to catch an eyeful of the Naked Bike Ride, the Fremont Solstice Parade’s headlining event.  I made my first ever fruit tart and basked in the sun at Gas Works Park most afternoons.

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July – In another moment of culinary achievement, I made my first pie – a raspberry pie!  Raspberries I hand-picked in Arlington, Washington!  And I made strawberry shortcake!  To counter all these sweet treats I had been eating, for the Fourth of July, Phillip and I, along with some friends drove north to the beautiful Ross Lake, where we canoed and camped and hiked on-and-off for four days. Also, I had my first s’more cooked over a campfire!  All in all, a good month for sugar consumption.

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August – I was stunned to receive this beautiful 1980s Nikon FE2 from my uncle – my first film camera that wasn’t a disposable Fujifilm Quicksnap!  I’ve been prudent about what photos I take with this camera so far, but I should really take the few rolls that I have shot to the developer already. Desserts attempted in August: peach cobbler & a rustic plum tart.  Desserts perfected in August: the very same.

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September – The month started with a west coast road trip, the goal of which was to acquire a motorized vehicle; predictably enough, Phillip and I had some car troubles along the way (that’s nothing new to us).  We luckily were able to salvage a few of our original plans, which included a Shakespearean play and an evening at a hot springs that had only existed in my dreams. Later in the month, we took to the sky in a private four-seater airplane captained by my former boss; destination: Roche Harbor on San Juan Island. We couldn’t have asked for a better day or a more charming locale.

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October – We celebrated Halloween at our house, for which Phillip made sweet potato pies and the most dangerously delicious scratch margaritas ever. My contribution to the evening: caramel corn and the heavy-on-the-funk playlist. I had the honor of cross-dressing as the completely fabulous Prince, featuring my very first pair of gold lamé hot pants. Obviously.

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November – On an increasingly rare sunny day in Washington, we headed down south to Elma where most of Phillip’s fondest stories have taken place: the family farm. Though it is no longer occupied, I had been anxious for a chance to visit the farmhouse and wander around its marshy pastures. Back in Seattle, we rode the Centennial Trail and tried our hand at fermenting our own kimchi.

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December – On the first of the month we found ourselves in unfamiliarly warm climes in Kauai, Hawaii; equally nice was a bracing hike in snowshoes (a life-long dream of mine) at Mount Baker Ski Area later in the month. December, the pies were plentiful, the bike rides pastoral, and the goodbyes bittersweet. We gave a long, hard look at the beauty and friendship around us, because just before 2014 came to a close…

We moved!  After a very happy year in Washington State, we loaded up our freshly-repaired Subaru and drove fourteen hours south, back to my San Francisco Bay Area home – My first time living in California since high school, and Phillip’s first time to ever call the golden state home!  If there is anything to be sure of, it’s that 2015 will be an unpredictable year.  January is already proof of that, but I’ll get to that soon.  A bientôt!

The Subaru

I’m traveling home to California tonight to spend some time with my parents and to participate in a very ceremonial rite of passage: the handing over of the keys.  That’s right, the car that used to drive me to soccer practice and school dances, will now be driven by me – to pottery class, to the mountains, but first, it’ll take Phillip and I all the way back to Seattle on an end-of-summer road trip.  We’ve planned to ramble our way north over the course of a week, but other than that, we’ve only marked our map with some mighty fine looking bakeries, as well as wild hot springs far up winding dirt roads.

My forest green Subaru Legacy Outback will be in fine company with all of the other forest green Subaru Legacy Outbacks that line the streets of Seattle.  I haven’t had much desire to share pictures of the glorified tin can on wheels we’ve been driving since last November (but really, I do love that shabby thing), though some of the stories of its various breakdowns may make good blog fodder one day.  The Subaru will be the first car that I have owned in the United States, and only the second one I have owned in my life, after my dear Peugeot in France last year.  I’m excited for my own set of wheels…and the adventures that await us this week and in the months (and miles) to come!  C’est parti!

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La Dune du Pyla

A few days ago while perusing the Flickr Blog, I came across some stunning photos of a place that I recognized instantly: La Dune du Pyla – Europe’s largest sand dune.  I had a chance to visit last February, a rare winter day with springtime temperatures – I’ll give all the credit to Rosie and her expert planning.  Early one Sunday morning, we boarded a train to Bordeaux, we did NOT stop to smell the canelés, and we took a second brief train trip to Arcachon on the Atlantic coast.  After several landlocked months in the Dordogne, the ocean air was a refreshing change.  We lingered just long enough at the Jetée Thiers to get perfectly-windswept beach hair (ou pas) and strike a surfing pose, then we continued on to our main attraction.  In typical French fashion, Sunday bus service was nonexistent, so we waited our turn for what seemed to be the only taxi that serves the Bassin d’Arcachon.

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After being dumped out onto the Route de Biscarrosse, our excitement only grew as we walked closer and closer to the dune.  But first, photographic instruction from Rosie: “Pretend to be apathetic teenagers!”

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Then we gleefully scurried up the dune!  Usually there is a staircase poking out of the dune, however, winds had all but completely covered them for our visit.  Up and up, some stairs would really have been nice as La Grande Dune stands about 110 meters tall.  To the east, a dense, dry forest.  To the west?  We still had some climbing to do first…

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Once you start seeing mirages and messages in the sand, you know you must be close to the top.  And what a view to be had!  Deep, blue Atlantic spreading our before us for as far as the eye could see.

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Click here for a panorama of the dune!

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Time for a break! A gâteau basque filled with almond paste and un bon cidre on the sand.

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With our bodies re-energized and our heads a bit hazy from the sun and the cidre, what came next was natural: running as fast as we could, jumping as high as we could, and landing as hard as we could.  All caught on camera.  What fun these Périgordingues had!

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Such fun, we didn’t even want to leave.  Not to mention, the walk down the dune was difficult in its own right – when the ground is falling out from under you, you may find yourself falling down a lot.  Mais ce qui est important, c’est d’esquisser toujours un sourire charmant!

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No sandy buns here!  My shoes, on the other hand were so stuffed full of sand, my foot popped out of them a couple of times during the descent.  After what felt like minutes of pouring, my shoes had emptied, we took the same cab back to Arcachon, and we hesitantly started the trip back home.

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Bonjour mademoiselle: Part 1

In November of my TAPIF year I had the pleasure and honor of hosting Jin, my friend and former high school debate rival on her first (first!) trip to Europe.  And what a great place to start…la Dordogne!  Back from Northern Spain, we decided to start our tour in the scenic Périgord Noir, famous for beaux villages and truffles – in fact, on one of Jin’s first nights in town we packed her into the Peug’ and shoved her into the Périgordine darkness to sniff out poisonous mushrooms.

However, I soon realized that wandering around picturesque towns on cobbled streets was only half of the experience for Jin.  After all, this was her first time in France, and France can be a strange place à première vue!  Phillip and I, each having had year-long stints in France as students before moving to Périgueux, had grown accustomed to much of what American travelers find confusing about France. Gone were the days that we entered a store without giving a personal bonjour to each employee; that we batted un œil when something was canceled, closed, or rescheduled unexpectedly; that we recoiled at an incoming bise.  Driving in roundabouts?  Pas de souci.  Breast-laden shampoo commercials?  Allez-y!  Train strike?  Tram strike?  Airport strike?  Trash strike?  N’importe quoi.

But for Jin, taking but the premier pas, some explanation of life and culture in the Hexagone was clearly due.  So we did just that, describing and shrugging our shoulders and anecdoting our way through our adopted culture, at its best: charming and warm and rich; at it’s worst: skeptical, archaic, a bureaucratic nightmare.  Though to some extent, every country has a similar kind of dichotomy – le bon et le mauvais.  But before I delve any further into what would surely become a longwinded political discussion, let’s turn our focus to some of the stranger sights one sees in France, at the first stop of our Tour de la Dordogne, Sarlat-la-Canéda.

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My first reaction to this cherry-picker levitating in the air: why add complexity to something as simple as putting up Christmas decorations? But a second look and something even more typically French becomes apparent – A service truck blocking the entirety of a one-lane road. A car parked just next to the aforementioned truck, blocking the only way another car could possibly get around this bouchon, whose owner just moments ago, turned on the emergency lights and walked inside the tabac for a newspaper and a chat of indeterminable duration. Typique.

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Foie gras is nothing short of a way of life in France.  The Dordogne is a particularly popular spot for the fatty, livery, ducky or goosey delicacy – 90% is made by les Périgordins!  Albeit a strange practice (the moral dimensions of which I will not discuss right now), the production and consumption of foie gras epitomizes something very special about the French – their dedication to gastronomic tradition and the lengths they’ll go to find their favorite snacks – foody pilgrimages! It’s like the Camino de Santiago, only instead of salvation, your goal is to attain a belly full of the most perfect mirabelles, the cheesiest tartiflette, the whitest asparagus, the springiest frog legs.  Of course there is a Route du foie gras!

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Just as beloved to the French as the corn-fattened liver of poultry is the art of inconvenience. All around Sarlat, Jin started noticing signs in shop windows: “fermeture exceptionnelle,” “fermeture annuelle,” “en congé.” In France, one must equip oneself with the emotional wherewithal to arrive at an intended destination only to find said destination with its blinds drawn and a crudely written note tacked to the door: closed for a day, closed just one more week, closed until next year – I’ve seen them all. Though I don’t think it’s what was meant the first time “laissez-faire” was uttered, the ability to gracefully change plans in spite of the Frenchy “forces that be” is critical to one’s survival here. Why is everything closed? It’s a question best left unasked.

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You see?  There is a part of American culture that is wholly embraced by the French!  Grâce à la famille Simpson!  « Haw ! Haw ! »

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Last but not least: an eyeful of waxy mannequin flesh.  Simultaneously celebrated and feared by outsiders, the French have a particular comfort with the human form, be it tucked precariously into a striped speedo, sculpted in marble, or selling body wash during the evening news.  Sure, one’s first undressing à la française is memorable, if not traumatic, but once the novelty wears off, France starts feeling less like a plage de nudistes, and more like home.

With all the important lessons taught for the day, Jin, Phillip and I could finally spend the day exploring the whole of the Périgord Noir…

How to get a free* hot shower in France

Though by early December, we had become well-accustomed to cold, rainy Périgourdin days, the morning of the the third was bright and my classes didn’t start until the afternoon.  So Phillip decided to come along with me, north into Périgord vert, so we could have lunch in one of the little towns along the route of my thrice-weekly commute.  The tiny village of Bourdeilles looked promising – a Renaissance château dominating the hillside, the Dronne River running peacefully through the town center.  We left the car and walked down to the river bank to take photos.

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I took three.  And this was the last one that I took.  For so banal a subject as my feet, it is important to note that both of them are planted firmly on the ground.

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Because moments after this was taken, my feet were in the river, my knees muddied, and blood was dripping around the curve of my ear.

A tree stump covered in a lovely layer of moss had caught my attention, and I thought I could get a nice picture of town atop it.  For most, I imagine that a combination of wet bark, thick moss-growth and leather-soled shoes would trigger some sort of “hey, wait a minute…” reflex, but at the time, this was a sensability that I did not possess so I bounded toward it like a puppy, getting about half of my right foot on top of it before my inevitable fall.

I landed squarely on my back, limbs splayed in jumping-jack position.  And then, in an even more interesting turn of events (“somersault” might be more appropriate), I started rolling backwards off the stump, in a way that Phillip has described as “very strange” and “very slow.”  I thunked my head on a rock and kept tumbling, my bag falling from my shoulder and my left foot plunging into the Dronne.

I got up and brushed myself off quickly, feeling only embarrassment, until I reached up to touch the top of my head and felt warm, sticky blood.  Then my adrenaline started pumping and I was talking in circles.  When I called my school to tell them I wouldn’t be coming in, I’m not sure if I made a word of sense, but they told me to go to the doctor to have my head examined.

Easier said than done.  My injury was poorly-placed and poorly-timed.  There was no doctor in Bourdeilles and in nearby Brantôme, the doctor was out to lunch.

So I pressed my gloves harder to the top of my head to stop the bleeding for the drive back to Périgueux.  I walked into the emergency room looking like a little teapot and explained to the receptionist what had happened, gave her my name, and sat down in an empty waiting room.  I stayed there for an hour an a half and heard not so much as a coucou, before I was called back to be examined.  And not by one nurse, but by what slowly grew into a team of six.  They all brushed through my hair, looking for the cut with no success (which obviously had been deemed completely harmless by this point).  Before I even understood what was happening, they shoved a fluffy towel into my arms, a tiny bottle into my hand, and led me down the hall into a big bathroom.  “You can call for us when you’re done showering.  Wash out all of the blood.”

What a wonderful shower it was!  Long and hot and the strongest water pressure in France, I’m sure!  I lathered my head with a thick orange gel that made my hair as dry as straw.

Once escorted back to my hospital bed, the poking and prodding picked up again.  There was pressure on my scalp as a segment of my hair was pulled taut, that pressure then quickly released in time with the metallic sound of scissor blades slicing, and before I had time to react to that, the sound of an electric razor buzzing to life sent a chill down my spine.  My hair!

Luckily the ladies at the hospital made soothing comments to calm me: “Oh, you know really, I always wanted to be a hairdresser” or “I think it’d look really cool if I shaved it here, too,” to name a few.  Merci, les filles…  I would have been happier to participate in amateur comedy hour if only I hadn’t heard one of them whisper: “Ah, there’s no cut where we shaved.”

So after three hours in the hospital, I left.  No concussion, no stitches (the cut on my head was only about a millimeter long, mais ça saigne, hein?), and no bill.  A bit of a bald spot on the left side of my head, which is growing back in rather stupidly, but I had a clear bill of health and Phillip was waiting for me with an onion quiche.

Tout est bien qui finit bien.

*I got a bill in the mail from the hospital a month or two ago.  The correct title of this post should really be “How to get a hot shower in France for 40.38 euros.”

Receso a Pamplona

Pamplona is a small town, but there are lots of cute streets for aimless wandering. That’s exactly how we learned our way around town and how we found the best places to have a snack.  Here are two of our favorites!

Pastas Beatriz: the best sweets in Pamplona!  When we arrived, there was a line of locals out the door, ordering sweets by the kilo.  They were all especially fond of garrotes de chocolate and de crema – flaky pastries wrapped around dark, rich chocolate or sweet, smooth cream.  They were shoveled off of the baking tray into our box, still warm and melting in our mouths.  I can remember the taste now, and also the bellyache afterwards (dulce, dulce)…but if you’re in town, you should absolutely make a stop at Beatriz.

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Café Iruña: Impossible to miss in Plaza del Castillo, we both agreed that this was among the most beautiful of cafés we had ever seen.  Decorated intricately, with embossed wallpaper and sculpted wooden ceilings, we imagined it looking much the same when it opened in 1888 as well as in the early 1920s, when Ernest Hemingway was a frequent patron there.  In fact, much of “The Sun Also Rises” was written here!  The coffee was lovely, and their pintxos were cheap and abundant, but the best thing was to just sit and read, sit and write, and sit and observe.  It was our first stop in Pamplona, as well as our last before returning to France.  Dreaming of going back there now…

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Click above for a panorama!

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After an extremely satisfying jaunt into the Spanish Pyrénées, we felt an impulse to continue on to Pamplona, to get a taste of Basque country.  It reminded me so much of what I loved about Seville, Córdoba, Granada, and Cádiz, when I visited with my parents two years ago.  Relaxed, friendly, warmer than France, and delicious!  We strolled the pedestrian streets, rounding corners and stumbling upon many interesting sights: an antique market, a wedding procession, and a bunch of wonderful pintxos – the Basque version of tapas.  We spent each of our four nights in Pamplona, walking up and down Calle Estafeta, stopping in pintxo bars, ordering a couple of tiny plates from the counter, a teeny glass of beer (or a beautiful glass of Spanish Tempranillo..mmm), then walking a bit further down the street, choosing another pintxo bar, et cetera, et cetera!  It was an activity that all of Pamplona was happy to participate in.  The streets were crowded with people and Pamplonés of all ages were out chatting and drinking and enjoying the cool autumn air.  I think we were both a bit sad to leave.  Guess we’ll just have to make a trip back!

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