Enter: Paris

europe 2019, into my world

I’ve now passed my first week in Paris.

It both is and isn’t a big deal. After all, I’ve been away from home now for coming up on two months, living among francophones and trying to blend in. And the fact of the matter is, I don’t think I can. 

I love Paris. It’s a cool city. It’s big, of course, but it’s beautiful and old and full of interesting things to explore. Every corner whispers of some thing that’s happened, some life that’s passed. There are churches and saints everywhere–I mean, half the streets seem to be named after Saint So-and-so. It’s a place where people come, and have spent generations coming, to be inspired. And my host mom is both very kind and absolutely hilarious.

There are four stages of culture shock: the honeymoon stage, frustration, adjustment, and acceptance. 

I don’t know if I’m in stage three or stage four.

It varies from day to day. This city, this country, is beautiful and very cool, but it’s also simply not home. I have to practice the phrasing at least a dozen times in my head before I ask a question. You go to half-a-dozen different stores to buy all your groceries. And there are little things that drive me insane, little idiosyncrasies (most of which are bureaucratic) that make me want to tear my hair out. 

I actually kind of like the specialization of stores.

Paris is really cool, but this is really hard. 

I don’t have friends yet. I’ve started making them, but I’m (1) only three days into school and (2) relearning how to make friends. It’s harder when you’re working in a different language. Most people speak English–and fairly well, too–but I want to make friends with natives and practice, well, French. 

This is neither long nor well-written, but it’s what I’m working with right now. I’ve got some amicable prospects and fun future plans, but my current goal, besides surviving French grammar and becoming okay with being foreign (because, let’s face it, I am foreign and I have an accent and I am, as a person, a lot more culturally laid-back than Parisians), is to make some friends.

If nothing else, I’m done eating alone.

(far from) home

europe 2019, into my world, summer 2019

I’ve tried—and failed—to write this multiple times now, so perhaps it’s time to face facts: I’m homesick and a little bit lonely. There. I said it.

I knew that it would take me some time to really realize that I’m in another country, in a different time zone, surrounded by a different language. Different parts of this multifaceted reality hit at different times. French hit me in the face before I even stepped onto the tarmac; the timezone sunk in as I texted friends and family… and had to do math to know when to reasonably expect a response. But the reality of being away from home, from friends and family, pounced last week. 

I’d known it was stalking me, but Switzerland looks just enough like the Willamette Valley that I was able to ignore it, fend it off. But last week, as I was listening to country music-— “Country Roads, Take Me Home,” specifically—it hit me. I’m far away. And I’m going to stay that way for quite a long time.

I haven’t really missed home in a long time—but I also haven’t been at home for a long time. This summer was the first time since I graduated from high school that I lived with my parents for more than Christmas break, and while it was hard in some ways (because I’d gotten used to doing what I wanted, when I wanted), it was also really fun. I got to go on trips, watch movies, take part in Friday night pizza night—just laughing at and with people that I love. 

And so, like that first summer away from home, I went into withdrawal again. 

This post isn’t particularly long because there isn’t that much to say. I’m having a good time, but I miss people my age. I miss having a travel buddy to create trashy, very niche memes with about our experiences there. I miss English, spoken with native speakers. I miss my family. I miss my friends. 

I just miss home—both with my parents and at Fox. And I’m looking forward to France (I leave for France next week!), but France means school. 

This whole experience is so cool, but there are moments where I pause—and just miss. Europe is cool, but it isn’t home.

(Even if some of those churches feel pretty darn close.)

Eating Well


While my life has hardly been dull recently, I had a difficult time choosing a topic to write about this week. True, I went to church for the first time since I’ve been in Europe (that is, an actual church service; I’ve spent plenty of time in churches, but I went to an Anglican service with a Scottish priest, and it was excellent), as well as popped in and out of museums and landmarks. I finished Sense and Sensibility. I actually prayed the rosary. But those are experiences that still feel too open-ended, too underprocessed.

So instead, I’ll tell you about something close to my heart and fully digested: food. My host dad is a farmer, vintner, and the cook of the house, so between the magnificent meals we have for lunch and the few meals I’ve treated myself to on the weekends, my diet has been a thing of beauty. Here are a few highlights from the last week.

  1. Cheese. I’m already sad, thinking about returning to America and pasteurization and whatnot. Could some of this cheese kind of punch you in the face? Maybe, but only when you first try it. Once you’re used to it—wow. There’s one cheese, whose name I forget (though I think it’s a cow cheese), and it’s my absolute favorite. It has a lovely herbed rind, so the actual cheese is creamy and strong but with a lovely, infused rosemary flavor. And with a little bread or oil? Life-changing.
  2. Pâté. Pâté, which is an uncooked meat patty, is, in fact, amazing. I tend towards fish pâté myself, because 1) I love fish, 2) I’m very used to eating raw fish (love you, late-night sushi runs!), and 3) the idea of eating other kinds of raw meats still feels a little odd. Of course, by other kinds of raw meats, I really only mean beef, but still! I had an especially lovely salmon pâté on Sunday at this adorable restaurant called Brasserie Lipp. It was a place kind of hidden—you had to go up a hill in Geneva and then down this staircase to find it—but I sat at a white-linened table under the cream white umbrellas, tout seul, and enjoyed rather fancier meal than I usually have. (There were multiple garnishes!) A summer storm threatened overhead, and I was delighted to watch the family across from me and the young couple kitty-corner and maybe read a few pages of Sense and Sensibility
    1. I should note that beef pâté is, in fact, very good. I tried a bit when my host dad ordered it, and while eating an entire serving of beef pâté, as it is usually served, would be a little overwhelming, the dish is very pleasant.
  3. Mussels! I’d never had them before, but my host dad made them for lunch (the largest meal of the day here) and I was very excited, if for no other reason that I could eat them with my hands in polite company. (I’ve yet to recover from the amused shock of watching a hamburger be eaten with a fork and knife.) My excitement was well-founded, though: he cooked them in white-wine and cream and scallions and they were absolutely delicious. Of course, I love seafood in general, but these were a delight unto themselves. Even the girls, who can be difficult eaters sometimes, were happy to dig in. And these is something very satisfying about slurping little bits of meat from their shells and then mixing the leftover sauce with pasta.

And these were only a few of my favorite things I’ve eaten recently—note that they’re all things I’d almost certainly not get at home. Honorable mentions include some amazing sets of ribs (my host dad could give Texas a run for its money, actually), lamb shank, and a custard-y apricot cake.

So, on that note: santé and bon appetit!

A Tale of Three Churches

europe 2019, into my world

If you know me, you know how much I love old churches. They’ve got a lovely mix of art, history, and prayer—the communion of saints feels much more present when you walk into a space where people have been praying for hundreds, if not thousands, of years before you were born. Their prayers are still echoing there.

Also, I love gothic architecture.

Geneva is a fascinating city, historically, being in many ways the birthplace and seat of the Reformation. Switzerland as a country has (to me) a fascinating relationship with religion in general (separation of church and state, who?), but the odd, almost lopsided relationship between the two is most obviously present in Geneva. Publically, the state embraces Christians and Christianity; I lost track of how many streets were named after some (mostly Protestant) theologian or another. But there’s also a sense in which the devotion is lacking. 

I went to three churches while I was in Geneva—I want to call them cathedrals, as they look like cathedrals, but I’ve recently learned that such buildings can only be called cathedrals if they’re the seat of the bishop of that diocese (fun fact!). So the first church I wandered into was Basilica Notre Dame of Geneva. Her bells were ringing and I was drawn into the sanctum. It was cooler inside and smelled of time and tears. I stayed there for a long time, praying and journaling and wavering and watching. The place was practically bejewelled with stained-glass saints and prophets and candles burning in prayer. I was not at all alone. Later, I read that the Basilica is actually a pilgrimage spot for Mary (as in the Mother of God), who also happens to be the patron of la basilique

I lit a candle, bought a rosary, and got directions from one of the caretakers of the Basilica to the nearest bookstore which would have a decent religious section. (I’ve spent the last few weeks missing my Book of Common Prayer, but have yet to find a replacement.)

After locating the bookstore (where Lewis, Eckhart, Austen, and Keats were acquired for my European library) and a taking leisurely lunch at a darling little Italian place, I wandered into Saint Peter’s Cathedral. Once a Roman Catholic cathedral, Saint Peter’s was overtaken by the Reformers and became the adopted home church of John Calvin himself and seat of the Reformation. (I mean this literally and figuratively. Calvin’s chair is still there, serving as a relic of sorts.) It’s not my first time at this cathedral; I visited a little over two years ago with my mom. 

The place is striking, because not only is it big, but it is blank. When the Reformers seized the cathedral, they stripped it of its color. There are still stained glass windows, and the Chapel of the Maccabees is stunning (seriously, google it), but other than that, the place is bare. The Reformation’s hatred (fear? misconceptions?) of iconography scraped the walls, ceilings, and floor clean. The place was full of tourists. I bought several postcards, sat on the same pew as the last time I visited, and wrote to my mom. My new rosary was wrapped around my right hand.

“It’s like an overcast day,” I wrote, “especially after Notre Dame… it feels like something’s missing.”

The last church I visited, I’ve forgotten the name of. On approach, I thought it might be Lutheran—something about the cross on top of the building suggested Luther to me. Upon entry, I discovered that I was very incorrect.

It was another Catholic church—this one clearly more modern than the first, but still old by American standards—and people were scattered throughout the pews, praying. I squeaked into a pew, whispered the Lord’s Prayer (they had it up in French, bless them), and then, after inspecting their assortment of stained-glass saints and the beautiful crucifix which inhabited a back chapel, left.

I’ve spent the last eight months or so in an interesting sort of theological limbo. College has done a lot for my faith—pushing it, building it, changing it—and at this point, I’m sitting in a narrow place where I’m not sure if I’ll stay Protestant (probably Anglican) or become Catholic. This teetering is one of the reasons I was excited to come to Europe: where better to ask such questions than places where so many of the authors who have challenged my faith themselves lived and argued and prayed?

Perhaps, then, it was the presence of Calvin that bothered me during this most recent visit to Saint Peter’s Cathedral. (I read a hefty chunk of his work in Honors. We didn’t get on well.)

Notre Dame Basilica had a wooden carving of some saint or other—I forget who because it was impossible to see his face. The carving had been in Saint Peter’s and was defaced during the Reformation takeover. Sitting in Saint Peter’s, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The ornate choir stalls, which had remained intact, reminded me of it. They were what had been—and they were another thing no longer fulfilling their original purpose. From where I sat in the cathedral, I couldn’t tell that it was still in use as a church. It felt like a tourist destination.

I couldn’t decide if I was deeply grieved by the split or deeply embittered at the irony.

I haven’t used the rosary yet, besides clutching it as I walked around Geneva. And I missed mass that Saturday night, though only by about three minutes.

We’ll see.

Eight-and-a-Half Days

into my world, Uncategorized

That’s how long I’ve been in Switzerland now. Molly told me before I ;eft that she thought it would be about two weeks before I fully realized that I’m in Europe and not at home. Thus far, her prediction seems to be correct. This part of Europe, both in climate and general topography, looks very much like home, besides the French everything and old, old, old homes. And perhaps I just… haven’t thought about the fact that I’m not at home very much. Not thought about it emotionally, that is.

In an attempt to both stimulate this realization in myself and provide some snapshots from my first eight-and-a-half days in Switzerland (and France, for half a day!), I have–surprise, surprise–compiled a list. These snapshots are in no particular order, but all blow my mind, to some extent.

1. I have eaten more apricots in the past week than I have in my entire life. This is not something that I am complaining about–I’m just not certain I’d ever had a non-dried, non-jam apricot before. They taste like sunshine.

2. I watched my host dad eat a burger with a fork and knife instead of using his hands as God intended. I did not realize this was happening until I was halfway through my own (beautifully prepared) meal. By then, it was too late. There was nothing to do but watch in horror.

3. The restaurant where the burger was consumed had outdoor seating about twenty yards from a church that had been there since about 1100. Said restaurant also had a view of France–France being just on the other side of the roundabout, as the town was half in France and half in Switzerland.

4. Going from country to country is like going from state to state in America. This is common knowledge, but experiencing it is bizarre.

5. Police are almost disturbingly helpful. We were coming back from visiting my host mom’s parents in France (casually) and our car broke down. In the middle of an off-ramp on what is effectively one of their main highways (although the largest I’ve seen any highway is three small lanes across, and that was only for a few kilometers). With traffic already backed up two kilometers on said highway thanks to the added traffic of a music festival. And what happened? Quickly, a (very attractive) police officer arrived on a motorbike, figured out what was wrong, and directed traffic around us while calling for backup. And what was the backup? Two more police officers with a vehicle to tow our car back to our home (which was only a kilometer or two away, but still!). It was wild.

6. The food is very, very, very good. I am living my best foodie life and will not go into details (because this post would get very long, very quickly), but rest assured that I am very happy indeed. I mean, the cheese alone–

7. French is hard. My brain is very tired. And I’m not even forced to speak that much, as my family does speak English, but I’m already daydreaming about popping by England, if only for the delight of seeing all the signs in a language I can read without thinking. Also, I really need to brush up on my verbs.

There’s much more I could say–about my family and the girls I’m watching, our escapades, the music festival and the DJ who taught said girls to beatbox using the phrase “biscuit, petite biscuit”–but I won’t. Just know that all is well and pray for patience. Because the girls I’m watching are cute–but oh! am I tested. Lord have mercy (and all is and will be well).

A bientot!

Mother’s Day, 2019

food, food, food, into my world, summer 2019

Mother’s Day has been a bit rough for my family for the past few years. Nothing bad has happened, but ever since we moved North—away from my grandparents—we’ve had to celebrate Mother’s Day on our own. And because my family doesn’t really like to go out for food (“They want how much? For that?!“), we went from going to my grandparents’ house, where my grandpa and dad could join forces to make lunch, to being on our own, meal-wise.  For the record, it’s not that we’re stingy; we can just make food (for cheaper, yes) that’s as good or better than what we’d buy at a restaurant, so going out doesn’t make any sense.

Car Doors and Sunflowers

from the vault, into my world

Note: This essay was written for a class & is a segmented essay. Intentionally.

I’m generally not a fan of car floors. There’s a reason my mother would pay us twice as much to clean the inside of the car as the outside: the inside of the average vehicle is a gross place, gathering dirt, hair, and the crumbs of hastily eaten Subway sandwiches and granola bars.

Minivans seem to attract even more of these elements than a tame four-door five-seater, and after two weeks of the six of us more or less living in our minivan, its rugs had little to recommend itself as a floor, let alone a bed.

And yet, there I was, lying on the floor of our minivan in a sleeping bag, pressed between Chloe, my smallest sister, and the back of the driver’s seat, trying not to think about how many pairs of dirty shoes had rested where I was trying to sleep. The skies to the South and to the East of Badlands National Park were bright with lightning, an unwanted nightlight. Thunder grumbled in the distance. I glared at the ceiling and felt my sister’s hot breath on my neck, thinking enviously of my parents sleeping in the cool evening outside.

I wished that this campsite at least had running water so we could’ve washed our feet before bed.

October 9, 2018

from the vault, into my world

Last night was my mother’s birthday. And, like everything else my family does, it was messy.

My family decided to drive down and have dinner in Newberg because I don’t have a car, which makes going north difficult. This would be an excellent idea, except that I let my dad choose the restaurant based only on reviews–and not the actual setting of the restaurant. And I the only Mexican restaurant in Newberg that I can visualize is the bakery, so I didn’t realize which restaurant he was talking about until I was standing in front of it.