Tag Archives: adventure

How to Adventure in an Accidental Manner

I chose the name Accidental Adventurer for the blog shortly after my college graduation, when the inevitable stream of questions started up.

“So what now?”

“I’m headed to camp to work as a horse wrangler for the summer and in the fall I move to Spain.”

“Have you ever worked with horses before?”

“No.”

“Do you speak Spanish?”

“No.”

The next question is easy to guess: how did you get from where you are to where you’re going? And the answer: purely by accident.

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The upside to always traveling (besides the fact that you’re always traveling) is that you make friends everywhere. So when I needed a place to stay in Portland for the night, I hit up a friend from Spain who’s from the area who texted her friend who let me crash on their living room floor and wake up to this view.

As a kid, I always knew I wanted to travel, I just figured it’d be a little more planned out: I thought I’d spend months saving and counting down days and then I’d go for maybe a weekend and then come home to my normal life.

I never planned on moving to Spain (as evidenced by the fact that I promptly forgot all of my high school Spanish before I’d even finished with the class). Before I’d landed up in Spain, I’d been in the process of applying for the Peace Corps, planning to be placed in some African country where I could put my years of college French to practice. And then, seemingly by accident and with no planning at all, I was headed to Spain.

A year later, I came back, torn between wanting things to be normal and not knowing what that even looked like. After a month in Texas, for lack of anything better to do, I moved out to California. And four months later, for lack of anywhere better to go, I’m moving back to Texas.

San Francisco says goodbye with a beautiful sunrise over the bay.

San Francisco says goodbye with a beautiful sunrise over the bay.

“But what are you going to do when you get back?”

Hell if I know. But, like the time that my aunt and I went through the usual post-grad script and I explained my plans and she asked me the follow-up questions and then snorted and said, “So how are you going to do this?” (this being ride horses and speak Spanish), and I said, “I don’t know, I’ll figure it out I guess,” I guess I’m just gonna figure out what happens next.

I never planned these adventures, not the way I imagined as a kid when I thought I would have more than a few months or weeks to process my spur-of-the-moment decision (“I want to go to Montana.” “I’m moving to Spain.” “I’d like to be a horse wrangler.” “I need to quit my job.”) but they happened and, despite the outcome, good or bad, I’ve got to figure it out.

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The road north.

One of the good things that has come out of my sudden decision to depart from California was my equally sudden and equally emphatic decision to spend a week in the north before I relocate to the South. Moments are I realized, “I have to quit my job,” I realized, “I’m going to go to Seattle.”

So here I am, on the floor of my college friend Caraline’s room, day 1 of a week long adventure that is entirely accidental. And in a week, a drive back to Texas. And then a week after that, a move to Dallas. And then a week later or maybe two or maybe ten, another plan and another adventure.

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See you in Seattle!

If you’d like to follow along with the adventure in progress, be sure to check out the old Insta, lapetitemadelyne, or any of my other forms of social media, links to which can be found on the Contact page.

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Ex-Pat Games

In honor of my flight to Italy being cancelled THREE DAYS before I was supposed to leave, while I’m scrambling to find some travel alternatives, I thought I’d enlighten you on some games that us young ex-pats like to play whilst abroad.

How Can I Get There for Very Cheap Game

Objectives: Get there for very cheap.

Rules: Pay little to no money.

Directions: Employ every method you have in your arsenal: Skyscanner.com, Hostels.com, Alsa, BlahBlahCar, basic human interaction. Fly Ryanair. Buy a suitcase that fits their stringent luggage requirements, then load that baby down and take it everywhere. Speak the language when necessary, play the mute card when necessary.

Be flexible. The cheapest flights are usually the ones that no one wants, i.e. early in the morning, or too late to make sense. Prepare for 4 AM check-ins.

And, if your flight gets cancelled three days before you’re supposed to leave for a week in Italy and the only other available flight means that you have to leave TOMORROW, book it.

Guess What Nationality I Am Game

Objective: Guess my nationality. (I’m like the Lily’s dad from HIMYM of board game titles)

Rules: Don’t ask, just assume.

Directions: Identify the person as non-Spaniard, guess every nationality that doesn’t make sense and then some. I have been identified as French, German, some kind of Scandinavian, British, and Australian multiple times, but never American. Have you heard my accent?

Sunday Night Dinner Game, Or, Alternatively, The Saturday Night Mercadona Game

Objective: Feed yourself on Sunday.

Rules: Everything is closed on Sunday.

Directions: Depending on your plans for the weekend affects how you play this game. If you stay in your hometown, then choose the Saturday night version. If you’ve spent the weekend away and are only returning on Sunday night, please select the Sunday night version.

SATURDAY NIGHT VERSION: Lounge about your room/apartment/village until the last possible minute. Realize that the grocery closes in 30 minutes. Grab your shopping bag and wallet, make a dash to the Dia/Mercadona/Lidl/Carrefour of your choice. Have absolutely no plan so that, when you arrive at the store, you buy things like spicy mustard and chicken seasoning, but nothing that makes sense like cheese and water and bread. Wait for Sunday, wonder what you’ve done and why you have nothing to eat.

SUNDAY NIGHT VERSION: Return to your home, collapse in your bed and lay there with your computer propped on your boobs watching SNL until hunger prompts you from your nest. Realize that you have nothing edible or easily prepared. Create a masterpiece that would make your drunk, college-self proud. Recent hits include:

-egg, beef, pepper, onion, rice, or, as I later realized, essentially a breakfast taco

-marinera, greek yogurt, and mayonnaise for pasta sauce (created by Laurel Hess)

-toast and ali-oli

Meet the American Game

Objectives: Introduce an American to all of your friends and family

Rules: Must be Spanish.

Directions: If you’re the American, you don’t really do much. Besitos, smile, basic Spanish greetings. Answer the same questions over and over. This is actually usually a really fun, if exhausting game. People are so nice and, usually, considerate enough to speak slow enough for you to follow. Sometimes, they tell the same story over and over, and if they’re 83 year old Spanish grandpas named Pablo and the story is, “En ingles, me llamo Peter,” well, then, it’s just downright adorable.

Street-Crossing Game

Objectives: Cross a street without a crosswalk sign.

Rules: Don’t die?

Directions: Prepare yourself. Bounce on the balls of your feet. Look left, look right, even if it’s a one-way street. Be confident, swagger if possible. Move so slowly that it appears you’re about to be hit by that car that just stepped on the gas to hit you, let it graze your leg, leap the last few inches to the other side, triumphant. It’s a rite of passage and you’re not really Spanish until you recklessly cross a street.

This game is, obviously, played in other countries to varying degrees. Check your local listings for appropriate rules and directions.

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My sidekick for the next week, apparently starting tomorrow.

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“Not all who wander are lost…”

On my very first day in Huercal, my home for the next nine months, I got lost. I was trying to find the school where I would be teaching so that I could meet the principal. I followed the directions given to me by Google maps using the address sent to me by my new principal and I landed up maybe 20 minutes from where I was supposed to be: Huercal-Overa, the pueblo so tiny that Google Maps doesn’t even bother getting it right. It turns out that the street that I was on, Guillermo Reina, is actually 2 different streets. Let me repeat that: there are 2 different 35 Calle Guillermo Reinas in my town. I happened to stumble upon the one that was someone’s private residence.

So I decamped to the cafe across the street where I bought a croissant coated in sugar for 40 centimos and bummed off their wifi to try and communicate with my future employer. I waited for about an hour and finished The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, started and finished the short story Eve in Hollywood by Amor Towles, and began another, Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple. I bought a pizza baguette and gave up on hearing back from my principal (later, I found out that she came into the cafe only ten minutes after I had left. I was sitting underneath her apartment and she received my e-mail and stopped to pick me up on her way from lunch. The shop attendants informed her that, yes, there had been a blonde American waiting for some time but that, unfortunately, Laura had just missed me).

I strolled down the imposter Guillermo Reina and found a British goods shop where, miracle of miracles, they spoke English and sold Dr. Pepper. I kind of lurked by the pastry case just marveling in my good luck and letting the accents wash over me. I bought a bottle of water and a Dr. Pepper to go with my pizza, paid for my purchases, and left again.

Unknowingly, I found my way to the real Calle Guillermo Reina, passed the school that was, by now, baffled about how they lost one American girl in a town that only has 18,000 people (less than half of the total number of students at my alma mater and I still ran into a surprising number of familiar faces within the space of a day), and found a park. Or a zoo. After 4 months, I’m still unclear which it is. Locals just call it the park with the animals but it also involves pens and recently open a bar and I think they might be trying to add a water feature.

I found a park bench in the sun (I’m practically a lizard) and, in the space of a few hours, finished Where’d You Go Bernadette?devoured my pizza and sipped my blissful way through a Dr. Pepper that, after Shiner Bock, is the drink of my people. I still had a lot of problems: I had nowhere to live, I didn’t speak the language, all of the friends I had made over the last 3 weeks had scattered to the far reaches of Andalucia, and I had just finished an amazing novel and had nothing to read next. But, sitting there, lost in a foreign country, I realized that I could see myself living there (which was good because I really didn’t have much of a choice).

Four months later, I go to that park as often as I can. I’ve written odes to that park and the peacocks that sneak up behind me, investigate what I’m writing, then shuffle along, leaving me with an increased heart rate and a sense of blessing for my unconventional editors.

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Is it a zoo? Is it a park? Is it a bar? The answer is yes to all of these things!

I’m not saying that I’m not lost. In fact, most of the time, I am. That probably defeats the purpose of the quote and the prompt but I embrace my lost-ness for the accidental adventure that it is. My favorite thing to do in a new city is set out with a vague idea of where I’m going and then get lost along the way. Some of my best finds, my best stories, my best memories, have come from this method. No good or interesting story started with, “So I had the whole thing planned out and then nothing went wrong.”

Is it still considered being lost if you willing lead yourself astray? Looking back, I don’t think that I was lost. Sure, I had no clue what street, what park, what place I was in, but I think I was where I was supposed to be. When I’m feeling lost, I walk back to the park and sit in the sunshine and drink a Dr. Pepper and remind myself of the time that I knew that it was all going to be okay.

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13 Miles Later

Whenever I have to plan a trip that involves more than a one-way flight home, I get anxious. I’m like that hobbit (dwarf? Troll?) who doesn’t want to leave New Zealand (this might actually be an incorrect metaphor; I never saw the movie). A better metaphor is that my life aspiration is to be a crotchety old grandpa. I love that I get to travel as much as I do and have these awesome adventures, but I am also really looking forward to the day when I can settle down and yell at kids to keep off of my lawn and read things like Nanotechnology for Dummies ’cause I got nothin’ but time.

Sometimes, my mind gets the better of me. It’s like when you go grocery shopping on an empty stomach and your eyes are bigger than your belly and you land up spending $300 on candy and ham and fresh-baked bread, only I’m doing my grocery shopping on Skyscanner, Renfe, and Alsa. I’ll be tumblrin’ along when I’ll come across a post-card quality photo of fog on a lake in the mountain of northern Italy and think, ‘Man, it’d sure be swell if I could go there.’ Some shoddily down research and a Skype call home to Mama (“Ma, I’m going to Italy? I think? I mean, is that crazy?”) later and I have a 30 € plane ticket to Milan and I’m familiarizing myself with Trenitalia’s website.

And then, two days before I depart for Ireland or England or Italy or Portugal, I start to think about all of the work it’s going to take to get there–a bus to Almeria, a different bus to Malaga, a train to the airport, a plane to my destination country, another bus from that airport into the city, a metro from the bus stop to the hostel–and I think, ‘Wouldn’t it just be better if I stay home?’

(The answer is, obviously, of course not, but, for the sake of the story, let’s pretend like this is an actual struggle and I really am contemplating giving up a week in Dublin to just stay home.)

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Cabo de Gata coastline.

So you guys know by now that I don’t run. Despite the language barrier at my new gimnasio, I’m sure to let my instructor know how I feel about the more bouncy of our activities in Bodypump, like running in place or jumping jacks, by either making a really gross face in the mirror or just by not doing it. I’m not about that up-and-down, lots of fast-paced movement life BUT, put me on a treadmill set to a high incline and a low speed, and I can walk for days. This weekend I got to put that theory to test.

I live in, undoubtedly, one of the prettiest parts of Spain. Situated along the Mediterranean coast, we’ve got mountains, we’ve got beaches, we’ve got Moorish culture; it’s sort of like the Florida of Europe for those of you well-versed in the American culture of geriatric snowbirds. Andalucía is divided into 8 provinces and I live in the province of Almeria in a pueblo at the easternmost part of the easternmost province. The south of the province abuts the Mediterranean and houses the capital of the province, Almeria City, as well as Cabo de Gata National Park (traveler tip: it is not Cabo de Gato National Park as a gato is a cat and a gata, whatever it is, is not that).

My friend Kristen, blogger/marketing/tech-and-travel-savvy guru that she is, found the blog of a fellow Southern Spain adventurer where he regales his audience with the tale of the hike through Cabo de Gata.

(Before we get too deep into this, I’d like to make it clear that Cabo de Gata refers to three things: it is a pueblo, it is a beach, and it is also the name of the national park. All clear? Story time re-commence.)

Anyways, Kristen finds this blog post and expresses interest in hiking along the majestic coastline of Andalucía. As her fellow auxiliars, always up for new experiences, particularly ones off the beaten path, we are likewise intrigued by this opportunity to do some recreational hiking.

“It’s 4 miles,” Kristen tells us. “Easy peasy.” (She might not have said ‘easy peasy.’ When I retell stories I like to use super-hip slang like ‘swell,’ ‘hella fresh,’ and ‘easy peasy’ for dramatic, storytelling effect. Sorry for putting out-of-date, cheesy words in your mouth, Kris.)

She pulls out a map and points to the bus stop in Cabo de Gata, then wiggles her finger along the coastline. It is, on the map, a hop, skip, and a jump from Cabo de Gata (the city) to Cabo de Gata (the beach) and then straight through Cabo de Gata (the park) to reach San Jose. We’re set to arrive in Cabo de Gata by noon and to reach San Jose by 3 or 4.

Kristen, Kellie, Colin, Macy, Sarah, and Laurel did an abbreviated version of this hike back in the fall when they traveled (and got lost; honestly, this should have been foreshadowing) from San Jose to Playa de Monsul. Their expertise covered the latter half of the journey and I myself had made the trek from Cabo de Gata (the town), along Cabo de Gata (the beach), and up to the Mirador de las Sirenas in a car with my parents when they visited in December. Together, we covered the first and last third of the journey with some vague notions of what the middle held for us.

I’ll spare you the gory details—the trekking along the beach, the first mountain with the one-lane road and the sheer drop on the other side of a barely-there guardrail, busting out I’ll Make a Man Out of You at the front of the pack with Kellie and Macy, some frolicking around the mirador (breathtaking views)—and cut straight to the Big Climb.

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This is the frolicking part of the journey.

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Me, frolicking, on the far left about 2/3 up.

 

There are switchbacks up this mountain and, at the very top, a gap wide enough for a road to pass through and take us to the other side with the promised land of beaches and a downhill slope. We are maybe a quarter of the way up, all of us puzzling what those white specks on that cliff up there might be (MOUNTAIN GOATS!!) and why the hell is this taking so damn long, when Kristen does some fancy tippy-tapping on her iPhone and informs the group that this is not actually a 4-mile hike but a 12-mile hike. We have only gone 6 miles; we have another 7 to go.

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At the top of Realization Mountain.

Needless to say, we make it up the mountain. We make it down the mountain. We slay a dragon and fight some trolls and trek through a valley and see the same car full of attractive Spaniards that passed us on our first mountain (“Venga! Venga!”) and consider stopping to die on the side of the road. We make it to San Jose where our friend Christina, the dear, has been waiting for us since 3 p.m.—it is now 6:30—and has called the hostel where we’d planned on staying, which was closed for the winter, and gotten the proprietor to open it up for a group of 8 weary, foot-and-heart sore Americans and one kid from New Zealand (guys! I learned so much about New Zealand on this hike!).

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It eventually flattened out so that’s nice, I guess.

And it wouldn’t be an ex-pat backpacking trip if we didn’t find the nearest convenience store and stock up on the essentials like giant bottles of water, shampoo and conditioner for much-needed and not-anticipated showers, and an 8-pack of Heineken each.

Alas, our plans for debauchery and drinking were not to be. Sunburn and surprise 13-mile hikes strike again! After dinner in town, we pulled three extra mattresses into a 6-person room and barely made it through our first beer before drifting off like a pack of babes, all tuckered out by some sun and a few sips of beer.

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Tuckered out babes.

At some point in my younger, formative years, I came up with this theory that, if you don’t move, if you hold your breath and do the right thing like go to work and study hard in school and stay at home on Saturday nights, nothing bad can happen to you. Routine is safe, change is scary, and normal is aspirational. I even went through a phase my sophomore year of college where I was literally too scared to leave my dorm room.

But bad things happen everywhere. They happen when you’re standing still and holding your breath, they happen when you’re walking down the street and when you’re exploring new countries. They happen to good people and bad people and scared people and brave people and people who definitely don’t deserve it. Bad things happen every day.

Sometimes the bad thing that happens is standing still and missing out on the potential to push yourself. Ever since that semester of Multiple Phone Calls Home a Day While Crying & Binge Watching Grey’s Anatomy While Knitting (lots of crying, all the Grey’s Anatomy), I push myself. I push myself past what is comfortable and what is familiar because bad things happen. And you can’t hide from that. But when you embrace it, when you charge on regardless, you find that it’s worth it. There is always another mountain. There are always another seven miles.

But there are eight other people on this mountain with me. At the end of the hike, we make it to the beach in San Jose to watch the sunset and collapse on a blanket that Kristen was wise enough to think of bringing. We all throw our goods into a pile in the middle—potato chips, tostadas, strawberries, cheese, oranges and apples and granola bars, chocolate chip cookies—and have a feast. We stay out until the sun is gone and the wind picks up and people are starting to complain of cold. We limp up to the hostel (after a pit stop for necessary goods) and we run around the empty hostel like kids left unsupervised for the first time. And we are happy.

Bad things happen. Good things happen, too. And good things can be scary. Staying still seems safe. If you stay still, nothing can happen, good or bad. I’d like to take my chances with normal, to stand still and enjoy life on a routine, but, at the end of the day, I’m more scared of what happens if I don’t get on that bus/train/plane/horse/scooter/bike/various other modes of transportation, than what happens if I do.

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Post-trek, re-fueling exhaustion.

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Thankfulness

You’ve never experienced being thankful until you’re in a foreign country, you haven’t seen your family in three months, and someone shows up with a can of cranberries.

Once you sit down and it’s time for a round of “This year I’m thankful for…” someone always covers the basics in the first minute: family, food, friends, shelter, a job, etc, etc. The words are mostly true; at some point in the past year, I’m sure I’ve been thankful for my family, but usually, it’s just another thing I take for granted. Each year, I say the things I know I will get in trouble with my mother if I don’t. But this year my mother wasn’t there to judge and I still don’t think I’ve ever been half this thankful. You don’t really know thankfulness until you leave all that you love and all that is familiar and you start over in a foreign country with a foreign language and, after resigning yourself to the fact that this will be the first Thanksgiving in 22 years that you won’t have cranberries, someone shows up with a can of cranberries.

These are the things I’m thankful for.

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#expatthanksgiving
(Not featured: #expatwasted)

This program, These People, This City

I love Almeria. It’s not the prettiest or the biggest or the oldest of the grandest of cities along the Mediterranean coast but it has kind people who’ve opened their apartments to me so many times. It’s simple and it’s home.

Chris said it first at dinner but it rings so true for all of us: I’m so grateful I took the chance and applied for this program and said yes and moved to Spain and had these adventures.

Dev’n sent me this on Sunday afternoon, reminding me of a talk we had two days after I arrived in Spain:

Hey! Remember when you told me how nervous you were about coming late and us already having developed friendships. I saw some great photos this weekend that showcased how awesome you are as a person- people don’t need a long time, your greatness shines through from the beginning and we’re smart enough not to miss out. Hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

How did I get so lucky with these people? What started out as a family of necessity–people to travel with so you wouldn’t be completely alone during the holidays–turned into an actual family. On Sunday, after leftovers and brunch, it hit me that I would never have become friends with half of these people if we hadn’t all made the simultaneous choice to use this program in this country at this time. The people in this program, we’ve become an unlikely family of sorts, bound together by necessity, citizenship, and a shared language. I wouldn’t have met any of these people if I’d stayed in the States, let alone become as close as I am with most of them. That makes me really anxious about what happens when we all return to real life, but it also makes me extra thankful that we at least got these 10 months together.

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Hangin’ out, bein’ thankful

Traditions: Drinking Games, & Discotecas

Traditions, the kind you bring–the recipes, the being thankful, the twenty minute heated arguments (topic notwithstanding though I have to say that’s the first time I’ve ever born witness to that impassioned of a debate over rhyming), lazy Saturdays–and the kind you make–telephone pictionary and King’s Cup, Sunday morning brunch, not having the need for a kid’s table (what do you mean I sit with the adults? What do you mean we’re the adults?). Wherever I am next year, I’m not sure how it’s going to compare to rounds of drinking games, telephone pictionary, and a (seemingly) endless supply of alcohol (seemingly until, suddenly, it’s Sunday morning and everyone’s ready to cry uncle).

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Cranberries

And Americans who are resourceful enough to find them and pay extra.

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Leftover from #expatthanksgiving

Sundays

Brunch on Sunday in yesterday’s clothes and last night’s hangovers, spending the afternoon playing rounds of Telephone Pictionary, then walking down to the beach, stopping to play on swing sets, sending people off to the bus station, ending with an impromptu kabob dinner in the sand watching the sun set.

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The Brunch Club

Goodbyes

Whenever I go to the bus station, I remind myself not to but always land up staring at the couples and families saying goodbye. It’s that interaction, so simple and sweet, that I’ve been away from for so long that I can’t help but gawk. So when it comes to say our goodbyes for the weekend, I insist on walking to the bus station. I insist on seeing them off at their gate. I insist on hugs and get a giddy thrill at the exchange of “See you in Dublin!”s. I insist on waiting until they’re on the bus and waving until they leave. Yeah, goodbyes suck, but isn’t it kind of neat that you have someone who means enough to you that saying goodbye isn’t easy?

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See you in Dublin!

All these things and a few extra:

swing sets, sour cream, H&M, first impressions, Saved by the Bell on Netflix, ALSA buses, 24-hr LSD, and, most importantly, boats that are metaphors of life (I didn’t understand the metaphor, much like life, and maybe that’s the metaphor?).

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I’m pretty gosh darn thankful for this view.

OH! And being a legal temporary resident of Spain! DEF thankful for that.

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NIE!

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Grow Up

I need to accept the permanence of my situation: I am living abroad. I am alive in another country different from the one that I was born in, where they speak another language that is not my own, where I pay for things in amounts of money based on a conversion rate I’m not sure I fully understand. I have an apartment and a washing machine and this evening I looked in my fridge, found some things, and COOKED DINNER BECAUSE I AM A GROWN WOMAN AND THESE ARE THE THINGS YOU DO (still trying to wrap my head around it) (also, it was delicious).

I keep finding these articles–25 Things Every Woman Needs to Know, 20 Things Every Twentysomething Should Know How to Do, 10 Trips to Take in Your 20s, 28.5 Outfits You Will Want But Can Never Afford Because You Decided to Spend All of Your As of Yet Unreceived Paycheck on a New Year’s Trip to Paris (oh that last one is just me? Well, can’t say I’m complaining except whenever I start to think about how I will pay rent in November)–almost entirely by accident. As I start to think about it, maybe it is less coincidental than previously assumed since most of my friends are in the same postgrad, twentysomething boat.

But wait! I’m in Spain! I’m on a semi-permanent, 9 month, work-type vacation! Surely I can’t be facing the same listless ennui that faces any postgrad after they’re forced to encounter the real world?

And my situation is different, I agree, but in the end, I’m still just a kid trying to figure out what it means to grow up.

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Who needs isolation and a writing schedule in a tiny mountain town when you can have city views like this?

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How to decorate like a poor person: utilize things you already have since you only brought one suitcase with you to Spain and even that was still overweight.

I went to Almeria last Friday to apply for my residency while I’m here in Spain. I don’t know where I thought they were sending me to (some special rainbow filled place akin to a college admissions office because in my head I’m still 18?) but I was surprised when I arrived at the equivalent of an immigration office. And when I say equivalent I mean that it was the immigration office.

It is possible that I might have PTSD from the disastrous experience (mostly my own fault) I had when applying for my visa. I was a nervous wreck waiting to be called back because I knew with 87% certainty I was going to be yelled at in Spanish. When my fingerprints were taken, forms were stamped, and I was wished a nice day, I almost cried. And then, like the girl that I am, I found a cab to my friends’ apartment where we changed for the beach. It was a beautiful day and I wanted to scream “I AM AN ADULT. I AM AN (ALMOST) LEGAL IMMIGRANT. I CAN DO THINGS.” at the top of my lungs but I didn’t because of all of the reasons I just listed.

It’s not an internship or a step in the direction of the career I want to one day finance my borderline alcoholism and rampant book buying problem but it is me, growing up.

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This isn’t vacation. This is real life and sometimes it is really hard, like when I get lost in my own town (with only 17,000 people HOW/WHY does this keep happening?) or when I get on the wrong bus and then panic and get off at the wrong stop in maybe the wrong city (it was the right city, everything else was wrong) or when a student asks me to explain why America has so many school shootings, and that’s when I remember: this is my life and this is really happening.

I came on this trip moved to Spain for a lot of reasons. I came to write, I came to teach, I came to travel, I came to learn Spanish, I came to grow up. I don’t know what you (or I) were thinking–that somehow life could be put on pause and I might be exempt from the pop quiz on How to Pay Your Bills and Cook Your Food At Home Because If You Eat Out One More Time Dammit You Won’t Have Enough Money to Afford a Roof–but it ain’t true, even if you change continents.

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Things for Which I Feel Equal Parts Regret and Pride: eating the last piece of pizza, going for a run, Montana, agreeing to get on this ride.

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Don’t Ever Ride Something Called Caballo Loco Even if Children Are Already On It (akapoordecisions.jpg)

 

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The Hemingway Diaries

I think it’s safe to say that I’m obsessed with the ex-pats of Paris in the 20s. It started with Midnight in Paris, was fueled by Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, and was brought to fruition by The Paris Wife. I’ve read a few of the actual works from that period but what I’m more interested in, what I’ve always been more interested in, are the people behind the story.

I was riding the bus the other day and I started thinking about Zelda Fitzgerald and I started tearing up. And then I realized how incredibly absurd that is and I pulled myself together. It was the most pathetic, indiscriminate thing in the world: I am crying on a bus, in the south of Spain, over a woman I’ve never met, have no connection to, who died over 65 years ago.

Maybe it’s because it’s F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s birthday today (which I didn’t know until after I got home). Maybe it’s because I’m really really homesick (I’m not and I don’t know why Zelda Fitzgerald would be the thing to make me cry). Maybe it’s because I’m scared that the lessons of her life apply to me personally. Maybe it’s because I’m an ex-pat myself (albeit only for a bit).

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The road ends and then there are mountains. I keep getting lost and finding myself at the edge of town.

In the morning, I sit at the bus station and eat oranges. I’ve long since thought that oranges to be the most literary and romantic of all the fruit ever since I learned what a vignette was in 11th grade English when we read Ode to an Orange. I think I’m more taken by the act of peeling and eating the orange than I am by the actual taste of the orange. Even now I feel ulcers forming at the back of my mouth from the citric acid, caused by eating oranges for five straight mornings at the bus station just for the romance of it.

I like the involvement of the process, the chalky residue and sticky fingers that signify a job well done. I feel like a surgeon, sitting in the crisp air of mountain morning, fingers moving deftly to separate skin from pulp. Strawberries, peaches, grapes all come prepared for the teeth. Bananas might as well come with their own pair of safety scissors for following the dotted line practically inscribed upon the peel.

But oranges: dig in with one thumb, deep but not too much so that you end up knuckle-deep in the meat of the fruit. Then push, gliding fingers with the slightest, lightest of pressures until the peel gives way. I drop orange peelings amidst stamped out cigarette butts, eating them like they’re killing me.

Once, in college, the night before I woke up with the flu, I ate half a dozen oranges. I knew I was coming down with something but I didn’t know it’d be that bad. For the rest of the week I’d look at my trashcan and see orange peels buried among the ever-growing detritus of used Kleenex and empty medicine wrappers. The oranges hadn’t saved me but, then, a metaphor for a life raft doesn’t keep you from drowning.

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Breathtakingly blue.

I’ve come to the conclusion that my problems lie in an excess of wanting. To travel, to read, to write, to love. So I spend too much money on books, I leave home, I have more ideas for novels that I can ever hope to have come to fruition, I fall for the wrong people. And I do it over and over again because I want more. But more than I want more, I want the one thing that people always want when it is intrinsically against their nature: I want enough.

After reading The Paris Wife about Hadley Hemingway, and Z about Zelda Fitzgerald, I’m enchanted by these women. How do I be one of them and yet avoid their mistakes? I wanted a love like my parents because it is not tragic. It is ordinary and that is exceptional and they are happy. And yet, as much as I want that to be enough, something inside says that I want more.

I want my trip to mean something so badly that it hurts. Not in a romantic, relationship way like everyone keeps telling me is going to happen, but in a I-learn-or-do-something-no-one-ever-expected, creative work sort of way. I don’t want it to be enough that I say I went to Spain; I want to prove it. Hemingway proved he went to Spain by writing about it.

I want to be Hadley and Hemingway. I want to be the lover and the writer.

I am troubled by an excess of wanting.

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Home, for the next 8 months.

I keep a list of the things that, if someone were to ask me to write about my time in Spain, I never want to forget. Scenes that could be turned into vignettes, souvenirs that only I can create and disperse, more unique than noodle art and more authentic than flamenco costumes.

I’d write about the man at the kabob shop in Vera, the way he shaved and clipped the meat with the precision of a barber.

I’d write about the view from my bed in my Spanish piso, the way the cotton sheets are worn so thin they’re softer than silk. I’d write about my curtains, the way they’re only a hair thicker than my sheets and how they flap and blow in a languid, untroubled manner, causing my neighbors to say, “That’s the American’s apartment, the one who’s in love with her curtains.”

I’d write about being on a train in the south of Spain at sunrise, how everything looks exactly like you’d imagine for a train in the south of Spain at sunrise to look. I’d write about wanting to live on a train in the south of Spain at sunrise forever; there’s so much space, both physically (you could practically do a tango in the bathroom alone) and in terms of possibility.

I’d write about Elizabeth, the British woman recovering from a stroke who spent 7 years in Morocco, living in a house with her musician husband, Collin, within sight of the Straight of Gibraltar and listening to her stories of meeting the king of Morocco.

I’d write about making friends with the little Spanish girl who lives in the ground floor apartment of my building, listening to her parents read her bedtime stories and telling her to go to sleep when she sticks her head out of her bedroom window and waves up to us.

I’d write about the park, with the peacocks that sit and watch me read my book or write in my notebook as I eat pipas and drink cola and make me feel like Flannery O’Connor.

I’d write about eating oranges at a bus station in the morning.

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Writing in Spain.

This is actually why I came to Spain. I tell some people that it’s because I wanted to travel, I tell others that it’s because I didn’t want to join the Peace Corps. I tell myself that it’s because I wanted to write. I wanted to isolate myself, force myself to give up all other distractions (like friends, Hulu, and English). I know myself: I write when I’m miserable. I put myself into exile in the hopes that it’d make me a better person and, more importantly, a better writer.

So here’s to the next 8 months.

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The view from the end of the world, or so it seems.

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Victor the Crazy Italian

I arrived at my señora´s on Friday. I will be staying at her apartment in Triana for the next two weeks. I felt a bit like a puppy when it´s first brought home: she walked me through everything, speaking slowly and with hand gestures in very rough Spanglish, after which she left me to my own devices which included wandering around the space and sniffing all the shoes.

She´s a sweet lady, single, a lawyer (I think), in her late forties (I´m guessing), and likes Brad Pitt. This last fact is nothing I have to guess at because he, Brad Pitt, is watching over me now as I type this (she doesn´t have wifi but is kind enough to let me use the computer in her office); there are two pictures of him taped on the wall of her office (there´s also one of George Clooney but it´s in the corner by the door.). After lunch, she left me to my siesta until 6 or 7 when we went to the supermercado. Again, I pulled the awkward puppy routine where I just followed her around the store speaking broken Spanish. I´m her overgrown, late-in-life, awkward American child.

 

Guard towers on the Triana side of my bridge to El Centro.

Guard towers on the Triana side of my bridge to El Centro.

 

Parroquia on the corner of San Jacinto y Pages del Corro in Triana, AKA everyday sights on my way to the city.

Parroquia on the corner of San Jacinto y Pages del Corro in Triana, AKA everyday sights on my way to the city.

On Saturday, though, I pulled out my bulky All-in-One Learn Spanish Rápido 500-page workbook, looked up a few key words, and roughly conveyed the fact that I was going out for a día de excursión. She gave me directions, which I followed correctly, (1 point for mi español!) and traipsed across the bridge to el centro. I was on my own but, bumming off Starbucks´ wifi, I found out some people from my group were meeting up at the cathedral at noon. At 11:50 I got directions (IN ESPAÑOL! 2 points!) and made it to the cathedral to meet up with Abby, Chris, Kara, Macy, Kellie, and Emily. Trading stories about our señoras, we skipped the line at the cathedral and made for the Parque de Maria Luisa and the Plaza de España.

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Plaza de España. No words, only beauty.

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Moats around the Plaza de España.

When we first walked up, we saw the guy renting out rowboats on a stretch of water that was no bigger than a standard swimming pool and we laughed. But, the building or palace or whatever it is of the plaza makes a huge half-circle. The moat runs along the front of the building under several bridges, each bridge representing the nations of Spain or something (we only eavesdropped on the guided tour for a little bit). Read more (and see better pictures) of the Plaza here.

We broke for lunch and siesta and made plans to meet up around 5 at Plaza Nueva to go see some museums. Instead of the museums, we landed up at the top of Las Setas, these mushroom-shaped waffle cones that give you a view of the Sevilla skyline. 50 pictures later (all located on my computer that is unable to connect to wifi), we were down the elevator and strolling around the shops.

We broke for dinner with plans to meet back at Las Seta at 10 to take advantage of their 5 beers for 3 euros special. Our big plan for the evening was to make it to the disco but in Spain, the clubs don´t open until 2 and most bars close at midnight. We hung around Las Setas, drinking and being that loud American group under a giant mushroom, until midnight, then hustled outta there for Alfalfa, where the bars stay open until 2. This is where the story begins.

Anybody who has done a bar crawl, particularly a bar crawl in a city where you can drink in the streets, knows that a group of partygoers is like an amoeba (I´m not sure if amoeba is the correct metaphor for this particular situation, I just know that I graduated with a degree in Liberal Arts and stopped paying attention to science after I passed my Honey Bee Biology class junior year). It shrinks and grows and reforms and comes back together and sometimes picks up other crazy, Italian-shaped amoebas.

Outside of this bar where we got antifreeze-green drinks for 5 euros, I meet Victor (meet is used in the loosest sense of the term). Victor runs up to me and says, “You are American, no? I am Victor, I am from Italy.”

English is spoken so I assume English he knows. I am incorrect. “Please to meet you, Victor,” I say. “What are you doing in Sevilla?”

¨No, no Sevilla, Italy!” He thumps his chest proudly. “I am italiano.”

Victor only gets crazier from there. Crazy Victor knows about 20 words in English but, surprise! He speaks French! I still don´t know what Victor is doing in Sevilla, but he was on Alfalfa with three of his friends, one who was definitely Italian but spoke only Spanish and Italian; someone who may have been Italian and was quite excited when he saw my tattoos, attempting to share his enthusiasm with the other Italians by showing my forearms to all of his foreign friends; and Alejandro, who is a Spaniard studying law in Sevilla but is from the province where I´ll be moving in 2 weeks, Almería. Looking back, I suspect that Alejandro might have just been another victim like the Americans who Victor roped in and entertained for an hour on a crowded street in front of a bar on Alfalfa.

Lest you think meeting Victor was just some amusing anecdote of American-Italian interaction, let me assure you that Victor is one of a kind. Even his Italian companions were rolling their eyes and saying, “Victor, why do you do this?” Victor, a native of Sicily, is very proud of his Italian heritage (as he should be). He is even prouder when he discovers one of our number can trace his family back to Napoli, which leads us into a rousing chorus of some song about Napoli (sung in Italian). “This is my brother,” Victor screams.

Victor is also a big fan of Walker, Texas Ranger, and maybe also George Bush? When he found out I was from Texas, he started chanting, “Bush! Bush! Bush!” (This might not mean he´s a fan; Victor does everything with a near inhuman level of enthusiasm). He then introduced me to the other Italians as being from the same land as Chuck Norris.

After a few more songs (he gets all of us to scream the words to New York, New York by Frank Sinatra. The German guys on the corner are staring but I don´t care cause they´re just jealous), Victor announces that it is time to eat. He produces a backpack and, from that backpack, sandwiches, two bags of chips (one bag low-fat: “Mira,” he says to me very solemnly. “Cuarenta por ciento menos grasa.”), and a bag of “pipas”, sunflower seeds rolled in sugar, honey and granola that might explain his energy. We politely decline his food but he insists, blessing each of us with a potato chip before serving it to us, communion style. Victor, the kind-hearted fool he is, attempts to feed the taxi drivers on the street as they roll through the crush of people, but they roll up their windows and drive away.

After a bathroom break, I didn´t see Victor again. The time had come to be baptized in the ways of the discoteca so we left Alfalfa to grab a taxi to Bilindo, a club on the river in the park we´d visited earlier. It was quite the experience but, after Crazy Victor, was a bit of a letdown.But wherever that crazy Italian is, I´m sure he´s happy, forcing his potato chips on unsuspecting Americans and singing Frank Sinatra to his heart´s content.

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Bienvenido a España!

I’m alive! I know, I know, no one is more surprised than my parents.

Since it’s 2 AM here and I have neither the time nor the wit (nor the wifi strength) to give this post my all, we’re going list format. The title of this list is, Things I Have Thought About in the Past 32 Hours:

-British Airways beats Iberia. Iberia sucks. British Airways forever.

-French ruined my Spanish accent. While traveling, and today during my oral test, I switched from Spanish to French just because it was easier. So, big boost to my ego that my French is better than I would’ve thought, big minus that I’m surrounded by only Spanish speakers.

-I like being here for a definite amount of time. When things start to get big and scary (which they do, frequently), I can remind myself, this will all be over in 9 months.

-It’s weird, finally being in a group of peers. In Montana, the average age was a few years older than me. At camp, the average age was a few years younger than me. Here, in Spain, everyone’s more or less on the same page. We’ve all just graduated, we’re all educated (since we just graduated), we all wanted more than the traditional American graduate experience: job, marriage, kids, etc. Is this what being an adult is like? Having peers?

-I had a long chat during a break today with a girl from Maryland named Beatrice. B’s mother is from the Philippines and we were talking about how traveling (me) and being the child of an immigrant (her) have opened our eyes to global citizenship. In America, there’s a lot of pride in your country and you think America is the best and we do everything the best and there is the American way and no other. But, when you travel and interact with people from outside the US, you realize that there are other ways besides the American way, that not everything America does is the best (not everything it does is evil, either), and that it’s important to realize that you are not only a citizen of the country, but a citizen of the world, and to disassociate the two is to do both yourself and your time here on this Earth a disservice.

-Wow, this is really big and scary. Like really big and scary. How did I think I could do this? Why did I think not studying Spanish in preparation for this trip was a good idea? Big. Scary.

-Breathe. Keep moving.

-Remember when everyone told you that you’re going to meet some gorgeous Spanish man and fall in love and want to stay forever and you laughed and said not likely? You were a liar. You just realized it now, but you were lying to yourself.

-As far as the food goes, Spanish food is both lighter and heavier than I expected. So, last night we had tapas. They split us up into our regions that we’d be teaching in and ran us across town to this bar. At the bar we had a couple of pitchers of tinto (not sure on the spelling but it’s wine with limon spritzer and ICE [of all the things I miss most about America, ice tops the list]), sangria, and some big bottles of water. And then the tapas started. We’d get a big plate of some dish and pass it round the table. We started with a sort of potato salad then quickly proceeded through dishes of calamari, roasted veggies, eggplant with basalmic vinaigrette, potatoes with spicy ketchup, chicken, beef, tomatoes with oil and basil, and God knows what else (I tapped out by round 6 or 7 and I think there were 8 dishes). So it’s lighter in that you take a little of everything and fill up with smaller portions, but heavier in that, apparently, potato salad (which is potatoes, mayonnaise, crab, carrots, peas, and anything else they feel like including) is a big thing here.

Overall, it’s good. I’m not dead. I haven’t booked a flight back to America. I haven’t cried myself to sleep (I encourage everyone to take bets on how long before I have an emotional breakdown. It is inevitable. Myself, I’m trying to hold out for a month and a half but it might be sooner. Please place your bets in the comments below. Whoever wins or is closest to the date–and there’ll be a whole post about it, I’m sure–will get a congratulatory postcard from Spain). I’ve talked to non-Americans. I’m planning on going to Portugal next weekend to see the beaches of Lagos. I’ve even spoken a bit of Spanish!

I’m not kidding myself: I miss my family and I miss home and sometimes it’s really frustrating that almost everyone in my group minored or majored in Spanish. But this is part of the whole experience and I am absolutely confidant in the fact that, in 9 months, I will not want to leave and all I will talk about when I return is Spain. If somebody wants to start organizing the betting pool for how long it takes once I’m back in the States to start crying about how much I miss Spain, I’d be glad to throw my hat into the ring.

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The City that Care Forgot

When I would spend the night at my grandmother’s house growing up, I’d beg for a story before bed. It was always the same story but I’d ask for it over and over. The story went something like this: once upon a time a boy met a girl at a grocery store. There was little else to do in their small Louisiana town and shortly thereafter they got married. Then there was a baby girl, followed by six more kids, with birthplaces spread across Texas and Louisiana, tying together a heritage between the two states with more than just the Sabine River.

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“A monument devoted to the best in music, photoplay, and the theatrical arts.” A morning shot from a self-proclaimed architecture nerd.

At the end of each retelling of the story, I’d say, “And then there was me!” The fifth out of the seven was my mother and then my mother met my father and they had five children and the third out of the five was me.

I grew up with a dual-culture citizenship for the two states. My mother’s maiden name was Thibodeaux but I was raised on tortillas and enchiladas and pacifiers dipped in Shiner Boch. For Christmas we had gumbo and tamales. My grandmother taught us rudimentary Cajun French, calling us ‘sha bebe’ and teaching us how to count, but I learned useful phrases in Spanish just by growing up in a town four hours from the border and listening to the radio: “Una más cerveza por favor señor-i-ta?” and “Hey baby, que paso? I thought I was your only vat-o.” I can make an etouffee like nobody’s business and, while I can’t say the same for kolaches, I can call up some Czechs who can make ’em the way their grandmamas did when they came over from Europe.

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The bricks of the courtyard of the oldest building in the Mississippi River Valley. At the Ursuline Convent.

The point of this is, I’ve been to New Orleans. Every couple of years when my family rents out the Church Point Community Center (yes, the Community Center) for family reunions, the Texas relatives usually take a few days after the shindig’s all said and done to road trip a few more hours down the bayou to the Crescent City. And each time I go, I revisit my favorite of the old haunts and try to find something new.

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Meeko (the ghost tour tour guide, not the animated raccoon from Pocahontas) told us to come here for breakfast, so we did. At the Croissant d’Or Patisserie on Ursulines St.

One of my adventures this summer was getting to spend a week in the Big Easy with a bunch of internationals. Hilarity induced by introducing foreign (and familiar) cultures to a foreign culture (New Orleans is it’s own unique culture separate from typical America or Louisiana culture) naturally ensued.

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To avoid nearly drowning in torrential Louisiana downpours, seek refuge in your nearest and dearest, friendly neighborhood hotel bar that is designed to resemble a carousel, complete with moving seats and ask for a Pimm’s Cup. At the Hotel Monteleone on Royal.

“What happens in New Orleans…”

“Stays in New Orleans!”

“No, fools, that shit goes on YouTube.”

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Look at them lights (and that bartender)! At the Hotel Monteleone on Royal.

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At Chartres House there is a mustachioed gentleman with many tattoos. You can tell him I’m coming for him the next time I’m back in town.

So we go in to Chartres House for dinner and all sit down at the table. Our waiter walks up with one of the most impressive handlebar mustaches I’ve ever seen (and you know I google ‘impressive mustaches’ in my spare time because I love me a good ‘stache) and a hush descends upon the table. Behind me I hear someone whisper, “Look at that!” And he’s making small talk, asking us how our night’s going, what’s the occasion. No one can manage to get out more than a few words to answer.

“What’s up? Why are y’all so quiet?” he finally asks.

“Sir,” I pipe up, because like hell I’m going to miss an opportunity the address the glory that is his facial hair. “I think it’s because you mesmerized us with your mustache.”

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Somewhere along a side street in Mid-City looking for the entrance to the Fairgrounds Race Track (and thinking we’re about to be pretty darn lost in a part of NOLA I’ve never been to before) we find this beauty. Julia: “I’m gonna make it look like we’re high fiving!” At No Idea Where We Are.

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Sarah caught me in a moment of rapture with the Mississippi.

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I love old, derelict things and red brick. Racks on racks on racks, man (of dead bodies). At St. Louis Cemetery #1.

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The sort of fairytale I was raised on. At Jackson Square on the river.

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Every time I come to this city–every single time–it rains. At the Hotel St. Marie on Toulouse.

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After a summer spent lifting Western saddles bigger than my torso, the jockey saddles no bigger than my hand (LITERALLY) were a shock. At the Fairgrounds Race Track in Mid-City near Bayou St. John.

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Always have been, always will be, a Catholic schoolgirl at heart. Convents are my stomping ground. At the Ursuline Convent.

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I couldn’t get over the colors in this picture, also this place is amazing. At New Orleans Jazz Natl Historical Park.

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Call me a romantic but I think this is bliss: lying on a park bench in the Louis Armstrong jazz park, listening to La Vie en Rose, and taking pictures of my Chacos (cause I like to document where they go).

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My absolute favorite place in the entire damn city. At Faulkner House Books in Pirate’s Alley.

I don’t remember how I found this place, but I did. It’s this bookstore in Pirate’s Alley, which is this bigger-than-an-alley-smaller-than-a-street-and-only-open-to-foot-traffic pathway beside/behind the cathedral. The building is lemon yellow and was originally owned by William Faulkner. The man who owns it now is a retired lawyer who has a bookstore in the front of the building and lives in apartments in the back. Every time I come to New Orleans, I splurge and by one hardcover (something I never do unless it’s on special at Target or I have a giftcard) and it’s my Faulkner House book and the thing might as well be made of magic. The bookstore itself is a fairly tiny room (for a bookstore) at the front of the building but I can (and have) spent hours in there, picking up 50 books before I find The One.

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Reading on a back patio at a coffee shop in Treme with a sno-ball made from the blood of a watermelon. At Treme Coffeehouse in Treme.

I’m an off-the-beaten path kinda girl. I like public transportation and getting lost. I like doing things like going to a park named after a famous musician and listening to that musicians music on my iPod or getting a sno-ball cause I haven’t had one since that day in high school when I skipped my afternoon classes. I go to the same bookstore like it’s a pilgrimage and sometimes I cry when things seem so perfectly simple or pretty or imperfect or amazing that I can’t even breath. And I curse in Spanish and I count in French and I live in Texas and I love in Louisiana and I ask my grandmother to tell me the story, that one story, just one more time.

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