“Out of my country and myself, I go”

January 2, 2015


Train selfie!

Here I am, on the train from London to Paris (the “chunnel” as it’s called, because it goes through a tunnel under the English channel to reach France) near the very end of our trip.  Just one more night in Paris and we’re Hawai’i-bound.  And I am sad.  It’s been such a lovely trip.  A bit stressful at times, as traveling always is (most especially in a foreign country), but full of fun and discovery and all-things-travel-worthy.  I have been meaning to write the entire trip, but every time I found myself in a writing sort of atmosphere, such as sitting in a Paris café sipping café crèmeblog 4, I instead always got distracted by the people and scenery around me.  A chic French Mom and her daughter practicing counting to 20 in English, an older Frenchman playing the accordion outside the café (yes, that really happens), 2 tipsy Frenchmen having a pint midday on their lunch break, or just talking to Joe about what was unfolding before us; the cultural differences we observed and what it would like to pick up and move abroad again.  And so, my laptop remained firmly in its little cat-with-sunglasses case.  I do not blog often and in fact this has probably been my longest dry spell.  The last time I blogged was the last time I was abroad, living in the Philippines.  Perhaps my everyday life is just not exciting enough to write about?  But after the trip synopsis, I promise to write a few updates on my boring American life…

blog7Joe and I have been talking about a big trip for over a year.  We’ve really tried to make travel more of a priority over the last 3 years.  When you live on a teeny island in the middle of the Pacific, it can be a little harder, but it is important to us. We committed ourselves to doing it as much as possible. We’ve had a very difficult year.  We were struggling in our marriage and in our relationship and eventually decided that we needed some serious time together.  We both LOVE to travel, and since my job ended in November and I would not start teaching again until January, it seemed the perfect time to take off.  We have always talked about Paris, as it has long been in Joe’s top 5 places to visit.  We thought that a romantic city like Paris, all decorated with twinkly Christmas lights, might be just the thing to help us to reconnect.  I have long been fascinated with Morocco (and it has been in MY top 5), so we agreed to take a week there as well, infusing the trip with both the adventure and difficulty (and reward!) of traveling in a developing country, but also with the sophistication and elegance of France.

blog 3We spent our first 2 weeks in Paris, in an area called Montmarte.  It’s sort of old world Paris and I recommend it to anyone who wants the “real” non-touristy Paris.  People still wear berets (not ironically) and play “La Vie En Rose” on the accordion on the sidewalks.  The cafes are splendid and the streets beautiful and ornate.  Everything in Paris is eye candy.  Every blog 5building is old and intricate and even the streetlamps are spectacularly ornate.  Every door is enormous and grand and every window is filled with artistic flourishes.  Women and men are dressed spectacularly with chic scarves and tailored clothing, leaving Joe and I looking like endlessly frumpy Americans.  No one wears sweat pants.  French women ROCK bright red lipstick, which looks so blog9lovely and sharp against their pale skin.  Every meal is sublime and every patisserie filled with delicious, colorful confections.  We were enchanted. We spent our days in Paris the way we always travel, simply absorbing and seeing the city and the people in it.  Of course we hit major Parisian attractions like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, and the Champs Elysees, but we spent a large amount of our time simply walking through the streets of different arrondissements, stopping when we were

blog6weary to have a glass of wine or perhaps a tartine and a coffee, always choosing a window seat so we could people watch while we rested.  I adore that we both travel this way, with no strict itinerary in mind, just a desire to really witness the culture.  We both like quirky, off-the-beaten-path kind of adventures, so we chose these whenever possible.  We explored the dark, somber tombs of the Catacombs, which sort of shocked me.  I thought it would be one of those strange little travel adventures, and it was, but depressingly so.  We walked through dark corridors of underground tunnels, which lead to curved pathways full of skulls and bones.  If you know nothing about the catacombs, read here, as my limited knowledge will likely confuse you and embarrass me.  As we walked further and further in, viewing bones stacked on top of blog10bones, I felt myself growing somber and mournful. How many people it was…how many lives, spirits.  Children, women, men. How many dreams dashed and bodies riddled with disease and bones cracked from undernourishment?  I  got more and more quiet as we walked along, thinking of the many people stacked like stones.  It put me in a dark place, sorting out in my mind that this is what becomes of us when we leave this earth.  It still affects me as I write about it.  What a strange experience.  It took awhile to shake that one off.  Apparently it was a morbid kind of day, because afterward we walked to Montparnasse Cemeterie where many famous writers and philosophers are buried.  Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir, Emile Durkheim,  Gustav Khan…and many many more.  I’ve long lovedblog8 Simone de Beauvoir, so we stopped by her grave, where she is buried with her longtime lover, Sartre. There were kisses on the grave from people paying tribute, which we both thought was touching.  Later that week, we sought out Les Deux Maggots, a famous cafe where Hemmingway, Sartre, and Gertrude Stein would stew in their own brilliance, writing.

We walked across the Seine to Shakespeare and Company, the old famous blog11bookstore where Hemmingway would “borrow” English novels that Sylvia Beach assured were fodder for inspiration.  We then found Hemmingway and Hadley’s first Parisian apartment at 74 Rue de Cardinal Lemoine. We stood outside and marveled at the fact that someone actually lives in that space and maybe sits in front of the fireplace that he describes in A Moveable Feast.

We were lucky enough to reunite with our friend Kelly, who lives in London but occasionally works in Paris (hard life, right?  Just hop a train andblog12 boom!  You are in Parisian heaven).  Kelly and I met in Hawai’i about 6 years ago and it was lovely to catch up with her. We lunched and met at the Musee de L’orangerie, then walked along the Paris Christmas markets and had hot wine (who knew?) and gingerbread.  Great to see you, friend!  We also shopped at the biggest antique/flea market in Europe, ate the best fondue of my life in the Latin Quarter, enjoyed the incomparable Louvre and Musee D’Orsay (our favorite Museum!), ran all over Montmarte in the chilly Parisian mornings,blog14 read the quirky and sentimental “love locks” on the famous bridge (and no, we did not put on our own since we read that the weight of the locks is causing the bridge to collapse) and explored the many gorgeous cathedrals and neighborhoods of Paris.  And much, much more of course.  Below, a photo collage of some of our Parisian awesomeness.

My Slidely Collage (1)

As many of you know, I have lived abroad in two other countries, Argentina and the Philippines.  I believe it is because of this that I had far more confidence to try and speak the language than I have ever had before.  The French are notorious (in America anyway) for being snooty and snobby about the language.  I did not find this to be true, at all.  They were alwaysblog13 very kind and gently corrected me with a smile.  When living abroad, it can be hugely intimidating to try to speak to locals in their native tongue.  You feel like a royal moron.  Even if I know EXACTLY what I am supposed to say, when the time comes I inevitably get nervous and sweaty and end up butchering it.  Then I feel embarrassed and shameful.  But most of learning a language is practicing it and being willing to look like a damn fool.  You just have to get over that debilitating fear of looking so very stupid.  I went for it in France.  I just went for it.  And I think it served me well.  It’s also worth noting that I think some of the stereotype of French snootiness comes from the basic cultural differences of the service industry.  In France, waiters do not hover around you constantly refilling glasses or asking if you need anything else…that type of behavior is considered rude.  Of course in America, it is the opposite.  I can see how looking strictly from an American standpoint, some of the bartenders or waiters could be misconstrued as rude, but as soon as I smiled or engaged them at all, they were instantly very charming.  It’s just yet another reason to travel, as it moves you outside of yourself and the small confines of your own upbringing and culture.

blog16 Paris was most certainly a turning point for us.  Meaning, it got us back to an “us.” You may think it strange that I talk about our relationship this way…so publicly, I mean.  But I wish to remain as transparent as possible when it comes to my life and the things I find challenging.  I feel that people, and even especially women, do each other a great disservice by not talking honestly and openly to other women about how hard marriage can be.  It’s like we sometimes have this secret desire to keep the fairy tale ideablog17 alive. This, in my mind, can become detrimental because it makes women who do NOT have the fairy tale marriage (read: pretty much everyone) feel like something is wrong, something is missing.  I love my husband with all of my little heart.  I even love being married.  But that does not mean it is always easy or that our relationship is always as close as it should be.  I think some of this is exacerbated by our easy consumption of social media, as well.  We post adorable pictures and report what charming or sweet things our husbands have done for us, but do we post about how MUCH we want to STRANGLE our spouse sometimes?  HOW IF HE DOESN’T SWEEP AND MOP THE DAMN FLOOR BECAUSE I’VE ASKED HIM NICELY 10 TIMES I might just Lose. My. Shit?  Of course not.

Hmmm.  I have gotten off track here.  Shocking, I know.

Mainly, I just want to say that if you want honesty, you’ll get it here.  Always.  🙂

Anyway…France, relationship, marriage.  Okay.  Joe and I have always traveled well together.  We enjoy the same things and really just enjoy each other.  I always say that I don’t only love my husband, I actually like him.  It always shocks me that some couples may have love for each other, but very little actual fondness for each other.  This time together was really important.blog18  It reminded us of why we are married, why we fall in love over and over, and why we chose each other to be life partners.  I am not naïve enough to say that we’ll always be together FOREVER (though of course I hope this is so), but I love that 11 years down the line, we can still renew that sweetness and love for each other.  It is not a fairy tale, but it is definitely love.  🙂

After 2 weeks of roaming around Paris, we hopped a train to Aix en blog19Provence, a town in the South of France.  This was my first time on an actual train, and I found I had WILDLY romanticized it in my mind.  I had visions of a grand dining cart with white linens and tea served in delicate tea cups (à la old movies and Anne of Green Gables), but instead I was met with cramped stool seating in a diner-like car, with paper cups filled with terrible instant coffee.  Image shattered.

The South of France was INCREDIBLE.  I dare say it was even more impressive than Paris, as its uniqueness was even more surprising.  We rentedblog20 an incredible flat in Old Town (check out that view!), and spent 3 days exploring old, winding, cobblestone streets.  It reminded me of Hemmingway’s Paris…what Paris used to look like long ago.  There were amazing markets and beautiful old fountains on what seemed like every corner.  Bright red geraniums hung from gorgeously ornate window boxes on 15th century blog21buildings.  We were in Aix for Thanksgiving and had a fancy dinner in Old Town, staying out late drinking wine and talking.  I ran (and got lost!) in all of the old winding streets every morning, but enjoyed every minute. We wandered and bought Christmas presents and ate more than I care to admit.  I cannot express how much we adored Provence. The pictures certainly don’t do it justice (as is always the case).

A few days later, we rented a car and headed further into Provence, drivingblog22 through the gorgeous and charming French countryside, which was filled with olive groves, vineyards, and old stone houses with grazing goats.  Our next stop was the tiny town of Lourmarin.  I had read it was the named the “2nd prettiest town in France” (after Gordes, which we also explored) by multiple websites and travel blogs.  It did NOT disappoint.  The town was probably one of the most beautiful and delightful places I’ve ever seen.  Flowers and bright trees everywhere. Tons of art galleries and cafes and weird little shops line the tiny cobblestone blog23streets and on a random Tuesday, there was tango in the town square. We toured an old castle and tried local wine made from the grapes in the town vineyard. It was like a dream.  We stayed in an old B&B run by an older French woman that was quite possibly the most charming place I have ever stayed. As she served us tartines with confiture and cafe, she told us (in a mixture of French and broken English…Franglish) about opening up the place 30 years ago with her husband and how she’s been featured in numerous travel magazines (which she of course showed us), only to be

blog25interrupted by a phone call from the daughter of Albert Camus, a hugely famous writer and philosopher that had once lived in Lourmarin.  We adored her.  Lourmarin is straight out of a fairytale.  If you ever get the chance to go there, seize it.  Just do it.

blog26The next day we moved on to Bonnieux and Gordes, two truly midevil towns.  I honestly did not know that places like this still existed in the world.  We were enamored.  We had so much fun walking through the amazingly winding streets; imagining men delivering milk from carts drawnblog27 by mules many years prior.  These two towns were BEAUTIFUL, but very quiet as it was not tourist season.  This made us take on a shushed sort of presence while we were there, as if we did not wish to disturb the beautiful stillness.  We found ourselves whispering to each other, which would make us giggle.  We explored all day, marveling at every turn.  We had wine and cheese in a gorgeous mountaintop café and talked to some local women in blog28broken French about their town.
After we hit up these 3 little Provencial towns, we headed to Les Village Des Bories, a historic village in Provence that dates back to the 7th century.  This is something we just happened to stumble upon, but we wereblog29 mesmerized.  A perfectly preserved village made entirely of stone without mortar.  Of course Joe the Engineer was truly fascinated.  🙂  We ended that night in L’Isle Sur la Sorgue, an adorable town with a river running through and known for its amazing antique markets.  Because I took SOOO many pictures in the South of France, here is another lovely little photo collage!

My Slidely Collage (2)

Our time in France was ending and we prepared to continue on to Morocco (another blog because that trip deserves its own).  It’s amazing how quickly 3 weeks can fly by.  We both felt we made the right choice with France.  We longed for loveliness, romance, and beauty.  I love traveling and am excited to go just about anywhere, but at this point in our lives and in our marriage, it was the salve we needed for our relationship.  It brought us together, challenged us, and reminded us of how lucky we are to travel and to see the many, MANY wonderful places in the world.  I am convinced that very few things can teach you as much as traveling; about humanity and about yourself.  As the title of this blog states and as Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, “Out of my country and myself, I go.”


One Response to ““Out of my country and myself, I go””

  1. Barry said

    Great post Katie. You lovers looked like having fun in the wine country. Glad you made the trip and connected. love you both, dado


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