southbound, and summer will come one day soon

For a second, I think I forgot that February anywhere is a terrible sort of month. But then! But then-

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Seaside in Monaco

But then all of a sudden, there’s sunshine. I’m bitter for a half a second because the rain and cold stopped me yesterday from jumping into the sea with my semi-game Austrian friend, then it made us into human slushies of silly string, confetti and Carnaval music. We wind along the Côte d’Azur and it’s Sunday and it’s morning and there’s sunlight and I’m in between Nice and Monaco and I realize that winter can be a state of mind erased in the shock of the seaside in sunlight, the moment of “Oh, I’m here.”

I’m bowled over with gratitude and speechless for a moment- how can I really see everything if I’m talking? – and when we finally arrive in Monaco for the afternoon I find myself full of sun and clouds, trailing up through the old city, ignoring the tourist shops, eating obligatory crepes and learning about life in Austria from new friends. I’m still amazed that places like this exist and that I am here to see it all. I forget the rain, the cold, the wet socks, and instead am just eyes-wide-open-present. The sharp wind makes my eyes water, makes me blink more, makes me see everything clearly.

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Dreamy socca in Nice

As usual, no visit to a new place here is complete without trawling through a new marketplace. The central Niçois market was rainy, was full of flowers and over-priced fruit, soaps from Marseille and some radishes that thrilled my friend and confused me. Open minds! but the shining moment was tasting real socca- chickpea flatbread that I’ve got a habit of making with excellent company in Montreal. Thereza made it over a metal barrel filled with hot coals and gave me probably a quarter of that whole pan. Thank you, you made my weekend.

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For my hungry wallflower: Mama Thereza told me that this was the best piece.

This weekend, I glimpsed what warmth will be like in this country. For a moment, I peeled back snow and frost from the landscape and saw, nestled below, castle ruins and a brand-new seaside, pebbly beaches and flowers trawling over ancient fortified walls. When the snow melts for good, I will come back to these places, so famous for their sunshine, to sit on the beach and eat more of Thereza’s socca, walk up to the ruins, jump in the sea, hike the summer Alps, walk to Spain if I’m industrious, and swim swim swim…

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The mediterranean! in the middle of winter, in the middle of rainfall, and look how glorious

I’m so happy to know that it’s almost March; soon the sun will come out and I’ll be here when it does. I’m coming back for these big beautiful mountains, those yawning oceans, for the figs and soap stands and lavender fields and the vineyards and the forest walks.

In the meantime, it’s winter vacation for me and I’m heading off for a week of relaxing and laundry and catching up on class work (maybe) then Switzerland and finally, surprise! a few days on a small farm in the Haute-Savoie region just east of Lyon. For now though, just laundry…

The weekend! The weekend. It began in the Alps (or, the pre-Alps, I think) (I think an excellent weekend should try to begin there) in Chartreuse, where I went snowshoeing for the first time. Merci les Forges! We were around 30, I think, and spent three hours traipsing around the mountains. Snowshoeing is a soft rhythmic powdery thing and it felt like waking up after and wrapping a blanket tightly around you, feeling snug- though perhaps that’s my three pairs of socks talking.

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Spending more time alone than I’ve spent in longer than I can remember, I’ve gotten used to different sorts of silence, whether it’s mental or physical: external, internal. There in the mountains I found that perfect kind of serenity that I missed and forgot about missing so much- where things are snow-muffled and white and dangerous and quiet and I’m falling into a rhythm of swish-swishing that came after I overcame a few seconds of awkward snowshoe-fumbling.

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It felt nice to breathe in something other than city air again. In the midst of the new-home excitement, I forgot to expect missing big snow and tall mountains.

And of course, I was lucky enough to try two new things: one called une tartiflette,

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and then le boudin (noir). I wasn’t allowed to know what was in the boudin before I tried it, and I was therefore unsurprised to learn that it’s mostly blood, cream, and intestine. Vegetarianism was never anything I truly identified with, after all.

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I’m grateful to have people so close by who are so kind to take me on adventures like these. Though the longer I’m here, the more I wish that I hadn’t had any expectations about coming to a new place and learning- or continuing to learn – a language. What a process! For me, it has not happened just naturally. I think it would be possible to simply understand a language like that, to reach a point where you comprehend most things and are quick with a grammatically correct response- but is that really knowing a language? I am not thrilled with passive learning and now that I’ve gotten my bearings, I’m taking myself back to school although without obligatory homework here I certainly don’t have to. I have re-discovered how much I love language: writing, grammar, semantics, phonetics – and now I am living somewhere where I have the choice to delve into these things. Yes, I could continue on without truly understanding, by listening and repeating alone. But I’m choosing to work for this language because I love it and it would be a horrible miss not to do so. It sounds dramatic! But it’s a revelation, and that’s a dramatic concept to begin with.

…..Finally,

it is of course worth mentioning that the propensity for trying new food runs in the family. Thank you for eating that gluten-free pizza, kiddos.

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This weekend, I went to Paris again to visit two friends. I walked through gardens and went to Musée de l’Organgerie, I ate chocolate-covered olives and went to brunch at Tuck Shop (where I spent an hour staring at the all-female, undercut-bearing trio of Australian owners and wondered how hard it is, really, to open a brunch spot in a country that’s so obsessed with the idea of adding a new meal to their repertoire that ‘le brunch new yorkais’ is acceptable to see on a menu)… I went to a yoga class taught by four teachers in two languages, I had duckling and escargot for my friend’s birthday, I ate une crêpe on la chandeleur (a real holiday), and I was content to return to Lyon, knowing perhaps better now why I’m happy to be here.

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At tuck shop – du pain sportif avec beurre d’amande  Sunday brunch! (Almost finished.)

This week is growing into something good – I’m settling my classes and planning a small spring break trip, doing battle with McGill over course credits and spending more time in internet cafes than I’d like to admit.

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These tasted like olives in the way tempura shrimp taste like shrimp. you know? They didn’t.

Right now it feels like I’m sitting in one of those diagrams that science teachers drew for us in middle school when they were explaining the difference between potential and kinetic energy. Can you tell where I am?