Why no day 11? Because yesterday my day consisted primarily of going to a Greek épicerie (Kilikio) to buy some olive oil – and if you read my post on the Peloponnese, you will know that I am very particular about my olive oil.
So on to day 12.
Next to summer, I think fall is my favorite season (and honestly, sometimes it gets very close to edging the former out for the top spot). Something about the warm colors of the leaves, the crispness in the air, and the fact that I can go back to wearing as much black as possible makes the fact that vacation is over a little more bearable. And as I am still running on an academic calendar, fall is also a season of new beginnings, chances to start fresh.
And so my back to school shopping this year included a haircut.
I think many people would agree with me when I say that finding the right hair salon – or even stylist – can be a somewhat stressful experience. Compound this with living in a foreign country where vocabulary used in such settings is not necessarily part of your arsenal and you’ve got a situation that almost makes you never want to get your hair done again. Thankfully, during the first year of my Masters in 2013, I went through that gauntlet, and after having an exceptionally ‘meh’ haircut thanks to a Groupon, I managed to find what I think might not just be my favorite salon in Paris but my favorite salon anywhere.
The salon Messieurs-Dames, located in the upper Marais is excellent for many reasons, but two in particular stand out. One : they are bilingual, and although my communication with my stylist both this visit as well as my previous one almost four years ago was in French, it’s nice to know that you can drop in some English here and there to really clarify what it is that you want. Two : they cut the hair while it’s dry. The benefit of this is that you can actually get a better idea of what the finished result is going to look like, and for someone with wavy hair (like me), there is a certain peace of mind that comes with knowing what your hair is likely to look like when you do it at home, especially when you’re rather low-maintenance with it.
Oh and a final bonus : my stylist dried my hair with the curl/wave intact instead of straightening it. “Natural, but better,” he said. And because I really only treat myself to a haircut once (maybe twice) a year, a little primping was more than perfect.
In terms of pricing, the salon is about mid-range, with prices varying depending on the stylist (although average price is about 60eu). As I mentioned, frequent hair appointments are not something I regularly budget for, so I tend to chalk up my semi-annual visits as part of my ‘treat yourself’ budget.
And I know that there’s this sort of stereotypical idea that post-breakup haircuts are usually very dramatic, but for me, I think what I really needed was something that I knew would make me feel good when I looked in the mirror. I take risks in plenty of other areas in my life. Right now, what I want – what I need – is to wake up in the morning, take a look at myself and say “Damn. I look fucking good,” and believe it.
So here’s to haircuts and the power of letting go, of feeling light again, of casting off the weight of 6+ inches of hair and maybe of a few other things as well.
I want to get back to the whole ‘recording mini successes’ idea I had a few weeks ago because I think today’s success merits it.
I finally have hot sauce again.
Granted, I had to shell out about 9.50eu for it at Lafayette Gourmet, but when your grocery store shelves are not lined with an abundance of different hot sauce brands, you kind of take what you can get. And it’s worth it. I still need to add a (giant) bottle of Siracha to my collection, but as I have yet to make a trip to Tang Frères in the 13th – where I am almost certain I will be able to find it at a decent, if not still somewhat annoying, price – its designated spot in my pantry remains empty.
And because multiple successes are also better than just one, I’ll add a trip to Pizzeria Popolare (of the Big Mamma restaurant group) for dinner to my list. Locals and visitors who have eaten (or attempted) to have eaten at one of the Big Mamma restaurants know that due to their policy of not taking reservations, the lines can stretch around the block, with wait times at some of the restos at times exceeding two hours. General wisdom suggests to arrive a bit before opening time to make sure you are seated right away, but luckily, this being a Tuesday, my mom and I managed to get in after only ten minutes of waiting after arriving thirty minutes after the restaurant opened. This speedy entry may also have had to do with the number of large (think 4-5 people) though incomplete parties ahead of us, but I’ll just go ahead and add tonight’s experience to my list of reasons as to why it benefits to dine solo (or à deux) in Paris.
Oh and the pizza? It was delicious, and at only 5eu for a Margherita pizza (what I ended up ordering) incredibly wallet-friendly.
I’m going to get a bit political for this last success, but only because I have been asked recently what it’s like living abroad when there is so much turmoil going on at home. This success is courtesy of my phone plan, which allows me to call the US for free while in France. It’s very easy at times to forget your position as a voter while being so far removed, but voters abroad are not insignificant in number and our voices do – and will – count if we make ourselves heard. So when, for example, news started trickling in late Monday night (early Tuesday morning for me) about the impending end of DACA, I felt confident knowing that my call to my rep’s answering machine would not only not cost an arm and a leg but that I could make as many as I theoretically want. Travel is a privilege. And especially for those (like me) who have dual citizenship (US-EU in my case), the fact that I can move freely without worrying about where my home will be, or if I will even have one to return to, is something that can very easily be taken for granted, as are the numerous benefits this movement will bring to my education and future career opportunities. Travel itself may not necessarily be at the center of the conversation around DACA, but movement is. And the sudden restriction and hyper surveillance of movement of thousands of individuals – who were already under some level of constant watch – is irresponsible and inhumaine.
So if you are abroad and your phone plan (and your finances if international calls are not included) allow it, call your representatives.
Truly, there is nothing quite like an overcast sky to remind you that summer vacation is indeed over.
At least I have this new piece to add a pop of color to the walls of my apartment :
As it is La Rentrée, I will soon have the unenviable task of contacting the university I’m to be attached to in order to finish my inscription administrative. An unexpected benefit of this is that my primary source of stress and frustration has been diverted from my breakup to the inevitable encounter of some (or several) university employees who will insist they no, they are not the ones who I am meant to turn some form or other to but at the same time only give me just barely enough information as to who I am to see next.
After having done this multiple times the last years I lived here, I am convinced that this inscription merry-go-round is nothing more than a way to remind students that those days (or weeks) spent doing nothing are now effectively done with.
Every year, almost without fail, one or more of the following messages will show up in my inbox/messenger :
“Hey, I’m heading to Greece! What should I do?”
Usually, these requests are followed up by questions almost exclusively about the islands, with one or two inquiries about Athens (because of course one must trek up to the Acropolis at least once), and although I’ve been to several islands and enjoyed my visits there, my heart still lies firmly in that large peninsula to the south : the Peloponnese. I suppose it partly has to do with the fact that both my parents grew up/have roots here – my mom comes from a small village near Kalamata, and my dad, although he grew up in Athens, spent a good part of his childhood in the seaside town of Finikounda – , and consequently, my trips to Greece when I was younger were almost exclusively confined there. But with the financial crisis, as well as the many conversations around tourism in Greece that it inspired, I felt my affinity for the region grow stronger.
Because although the islands – especially this year – are boasting record levels in tourism, the mainland has sort of crept along slowly, seemingly left behind for promises of wild parties, picturesque white houses, and idyllic beaches, which is a shame.
And so, I’ve sort of taken it upon myself to try and convince as many people as possible to stay on the mainland a while.
Although summer 2017 is coming to a close, I figured I’d write a “Peloponnese appreciation” post anyway, partly to convince people to reconsider just sticking to the islands, partly because every year – and especially this year – that I come here, I always leave with a new sense of vigor, the kind of calm yet present energy that only comes after you’ve disconnected from the world for a while. Or, in my case, after you’ve been almost obligated to withdraw into yourself for a bit and just let the world encompass you, interact with you, make its presence felt on you.
The Peloponnese I know and tangentially grew up with has two faces. On the one are the mountains, basically the cradle of the Greek Revolution. The villages used to be more lively here, but what with many families having left – opting either for a life in Athens or, as with my family, in America – over the years, things are pretty quiet. The landscape is wild, rugged, with hills that almost dare you to climb them, and the occasional monastery that seems to be hanging on to the side of a cliff within an inch of its life.
Oh and the olive oil. You can’t really go wrong with some excellent, cold-pressed olive oil from Kalamata. If we can talk about terroir (a taste of place) with wine, then we certainly should be talking about it when it comes to olive oil, and especially Greek olive oil. I have a soft spot for oil from Kalamata. It’s slight greenish tinge and olive flavor is pronounced where others are neutralized. Let me put it this way : when I step outside in my mom’s village in the late afternoon, there’s a certain crisp, comforting smell of dry grass, pine, and a hint of oregano in the air. If I can taste that in my olive oil, I know I’ve found a good one.
My mom’s particular village is located in the region of Arcadia, where the closest city of note (other than maybe Kalamata), is Sparta. While I would not necessarily enthousiastically recommend anyone visit Sparta – the Spartans, as their name suggests, did not leave much behind in the way of ruins or artefacts -, if you are ever lucky enough to be invited to a village panigyri (celebration) in the immediate area, and especially for one held on or around August 15, go. Stuff your face full of salad, cheese (usually graviera but sometimes feta), and the ubiquitous roast pig that always accompanies the August festivities. Yes, contrary to popular belief, Greeks eat a good amount of pork. The souvlaki pictured above? Pork. Indeed, pork souvlaki and gyros are pretty much standard here, with chicken oftentimes being the only alternative option.
After you’ve had your fill of pork, cheese, salad and beer comes the dancing where you can work all of it off. If you’re lucky, there will be a live band. Unfortunately, this year our village had to make due with a DJ, although this did mean we got a quick, if very random, disco break a little after midnight (prepare yourselves, these things can go until 2 or 3 in the morning).
The second face of the Peloponnese is one that is perhaps more in line with the clichéd, though not entirely fictitious, images of Greece that dot tourists’ imaginations. It’s where the ‘fingers’ of the Peloponnese reach out and meet the Aegean Sea, that impossibly blue body of water where I honed my swimming and sandcastle building skills, where I got lost in Hemingway, Vonnegut, Genet, and Hugo, and where I developed a seasonal addiction to atherina – small white bait that’s fried and eaten whole like french fries. Pop a couple in your mouth, crunch the thin, flimsy bones down, and take a sip of ouzo. All thoughts of those emails you really need to send out (at some point) eventually begin to fade away.
And of course, the advantage of having our summer home where we do – at least for me – is its proximity to the ancient theatre at Epidauros. Now, this may come as a surprise to some of you, but even as someone who studies contemporary French theatre, I have never been to the famous summer theatre festival at Avignon (yes, I know, shame on me). Why? Because I’ve always been here, in Epidauros, watching performances in a theatre that was initially built as a sort of therapeutic outlet for patients at the nearby hospital (yes, even the ancient Greeks had the sense to realize theatre’s potential positive effects on mental health, although their citing of it as a cure for physical ailments is…dubious). Performances are held here on Friday and Saturday evenings during the summer Athens/Epidaurus theatre festival, but even the tours during the day/off season are worth it for a chance to explore the space and witness first hand its amazing acoustics (yes, you really can hear a pin drop on the center of the stage even if you’re sitting on the top row). If you do choose to see a performance here, know that they can be hit or miss depending on the play/company performing, but friendly ticket prices means you won’t be grumbling about having had to throw down $100+ for a dud. Another plus is that surtitles in English have become standard at Epidaurus in the last few years, so don’t worry about not being able to follow along (although, if the performance is exceptionally good, you might just end up ignoring them). We were lucky this year in that the show we saw – Aeschylus’ The Persians – was an incredibly engaging, well-paced, production, whose recalling of an almost ritualized performance style served to create an almost trance-like environment where I found myself at once wanting to draw closer to the center of the stage, into the actors’ energy, as well as acutely aware of the scent and rustling of the surrounding pine trees, nature cocooning and encroaching on us. A final bit of advice though : see a tragedy. Comedy, even when done well, can very much get lost in translation, and when done poorly (looking at you, 2012 production of The Clouds) can be so dull it almost makes you wish you were watching a rock grow. Not grass. A rock.
But before I end this somewhat rambling post, I want to go back to the sea. There’s something rather special about the particular beach I grew up going to. It’s not the sand, nor the warm, calm waters, nor the fact that it was (and still somewhat is) a locals only spot. It’s the fact that I can walk about 50 yards – yes half a football field – before I have to start treading water. And I’m 5’3″. I generally feel very comfortable swimming out in open water in the Agean, but here it’s almost like being home again. There’s a certain freedom that comes with diving down under water and instead of tiles all you see is sand and a tantalizing expanse of gradiante blue. It almost makes you want to float on your back and let the sea carry you where it may, dropping below the surface every so often just to catch a glimpse of that impossible blue color again.
Because then your stomach rumbles. And you remember there may be atherina or at least a choriatiki or ‘village’ salad waiting.
At the time of writing this, I’m winding down on my time here, as well as a little over one month out from the official split. To be honest, this vacation was not nearly as carefree as my trips to Greece usually are, nor was I expecting it to be. There were enough high points to counteract the (very) low ones, and though I am not magically healed, I can at least feel myself working towards something that could be called ‘healing’. Time is helping. Distance, perhaps even more so. There is still a feeling of dread that creeps in every so often, but it’s starting to grow fainter.
And I’m not sure, but I think that it may have something to do with the fact that I was in the ‘homeland’ for a month.
So due to a weird mixup on someone’s (mine, maybe? Who knows) part, my mom’s flight was actually scheduled for today instead of tomorrow. After a quick rush to Châtelet to see her off on the RER on the way to the airport, I went back home to actually get some version of put together before I set out for the day. And since I had an unexpected day to myself, of course I spent the majority of it walking.
Oh, and buying books.
Behold the official reading list for Greece summer 2017. The bottom two books are new additions, the top left a gift from (and written by) a friend, and Genet is there because of course he is. I’m feeling the pull towards his particular brand of sublime destruction at the moment.
Since I am leaving to spend the next month in warmer climates tomorrow, meals had to be strategized today. I wanted to get a jumpstart on all the healthy eating I’m about to do – as well as to counteract all the pastries I’ve been eating – but choices were somewhat limited, given how the whole city seemingly shuts down in August. Thankfully, Wild & the Moon was open, and as the weather today more closely resembled fall than summer, I opted for a bowl of their stew of the day. Today it was a Thai-style curry.
Granted, this move towards healthier eating was later practically nullified with a piece of apricot-pistachio tart at Le Loir dans la Théière (accompanied by a pot of Darjeeling tea), but I think the 2.5 mile walk home made up for that.
And now here I am. Alone in this apartment that I will have to fill with myself until the time comes that the lack of his presence no longer affects the way I move through it. There is a certain potentiality for creativity in that though, and the optimistic side of me wants to keep that alive and present.
Because I am here.
Because I can move through things on my terms, heal on my terms.
A month away should – will – be good. I still have a dissertation to tackle after all.
First piece of apartment decor is up. Coincidentally, there is an inherent blend of ‘old v new’ in the display, what with the little pots I made in Cambridge holding up the piece I bought here.
There are so many blank walls in this space. So much white space to fill up, and I feel both a rush of excitement and a pang of…regret?…at the thought of doing it alone. Of choosing what to place where, of defining my unshared living area. It’s times like this when it’s hard not to slip back into thoughts of what should have happened, of what was supposed to happen, especially when you’re still teetering a bit after the rug’s been pulled out from under you. I suppose the only thing that can be done now is to try and find the beauty in the blank space, the space ready to be ‘marked’, ready to evolve with you and ‘as’ you.
And if not that, there are always small successes like trips to Glace Bachir near the still chaotic mess that is Les Halles for a scoop of their signature achta ice cream – it’s got orange flower water as well as masticha in it, a reminder of my Greek homeland I’m due to visit in a couple days – covered in chopped pistachios. Funnily enough, I used to hate masticha when I was younger; now I can’t seem to get enough of it.
Going back to the whole ‘mini successes’ thing today because this evening I treated my mom to her first tasting menu experience as a thank you for helping me move (hauling 5 suitcases up six flights of stairs is not easy, even with two people).
I chose to take her to Le Chateaubriand partly because as far as tasting menus go, this one is pretty affordable – although there is no conceivable way I’d ever be able to make it a regular thing anyway, at least in the immediate future – and partly because I had been wanting to go back since my first visit there four years ago. There’s almost no point in going through what we ate in detail since the menu changes daily, but the basic structure is that there is a set menu of five starters, followed by a first course, a fish course, a meat course, and two desserts (although one could also choose to substitute a cheese plate here). The option for wine pairings with each course at an extra charge is also available – and which I did the first time I ate here – , but we chose instead to stick to just one glass each.
I remember the first time I came here, I mentioned to our waiter (after he had asked about any potential allergies or food aversions) that I did not like eggs*, a fact that still stands to this day. I don’t quite know why I did not bother to do the same this time around – perhaps I did not expect to see this dessert placed in front of me again – but the end of the meal saw me face to face with my nemesis the egg yolk.
But unlike during my first visit, this time I actually popped the thing in my mouth in one bite – as instructed by our server – and to my surprise, I found myself actually quite enjoying it. Maybe it was the fact that I got the yolk down first before tasting the rest of the components, or maybe it was the fact that it tasted remarkably like an exceptionally creamy crème brûlée, but I wasn’t having an averse reaction to it like I thought I would.
So I guess that’s another success for the day. I ate an egg yolk and was fine with it. This does not mean that I am ready to graduate to omelettes quite yet. Got to have some principles after all.
*exceptions to the egg-hating include things like quiche, frittata, and strata – where you really cannot taste the egg at all – as well as things that involve egg in the preparation but it’s not the star of the show.
A note to anyone who has ever thought ‘hmm I think I might want to pay Effie a visit in Paris. Surely that will be a swell, relaxing time…’ : be prepared to walk. Everywhere. All the time.
You will walk until you think you can no longer stand on your own two feet.
You will walk until the brink of delirium.
You will walk until you start to legitimately consider the merits of a Segway.
I’m pretty sure I walked my mom to the limits of her sanity today, but I firmly believe that one of the best ways to explore this city is on foot. And considering that, despite the rather ominous-looking clouds, the day was promising to be dry, I figured why not take advantage of it before the unpredictability of fall really kicks in.
And so we walked from Hôtel de Ville to the Eiffel Tower and back again, ticking off the usual sites while soaking in the almost uncanniness of Paris in August. I have only spent one August here – in 2013 when I was finishing my 1st Master’s thesis -, and back then I was so absorbed in crafting that beast of a paper that I barely noticed how quiet things got, how even with the constant stream of tourists there were these pockets, these empty spaces that were opening up. That the city seemed to oscillate constantly between activity and dormancy, never quite reaching either but performing a strange sort of balancing act, cognizant all the same of this bubble of energy growing – somewhere – underneath.
I’m still of the opinion that it was rather fortuitous of me to come here when I did, under my current circumstances. Sometimes I feel as though I am standing on the edge of a precipice dreading but also desperately wishing for that inevitable plunge into the unknown. Those who have listened to me ramble about my research interests know how much I invest in the meaning of space, its charged nature, the fact that it is constantly ‘marked’ not just by our presence but by the presence – and absence – of those who occupied it at the same moment we have. The first time I lived in Paris, I was single. When I came back, I had him. Now it’s as though I’ve entered a process of coming full circle, approaching completion but never quite getting there – because can you truly ever come full circle when you’ve been so changed, when you walk through familiar spaces juggling two different versions of yourself all while wondering where this new one fits in? I am in flux. The more my memories pull, the more I want to at once keep them and burst out of them
Then again, this could all just be the steak-frites talking. Or the wine.
Roaming around the kitchenware section of a department store is pretty much a recipe for disaster for me because 1) I want everything and 2) I immediately remember the limits of my budget (also, does one really need a spiralizer?).
On the plus side, I did manage to snag (among a couple other things) a filter coffee maker – because there are some American things that cannot be given up, apparently – and a small kitchen scale for when the inevitable urge to bake hits (as well as for my daily coffee measuring. Again, habits).
This evening I met up with an acquaintance at the Canal, and during the course of our conversation, the subject of what we were planning to do after finishing our respective PhDs inevitably came up. Maybe it’s cliché, but every time I get asked this question, I can’t help but think of the opening of The Graduate when everyone is hounding Ben about his ‘future’.
(Side note : this is also the film that inspired my affinity for bourbon because if, as a woman, you’re going to take inspiration on how to live your best life, why not take it from Mrs. Robinson?)
I mentioned that I had been considering getting back to writing again, specifically for theatre. I haven’t written a full play since high school, but I have little free-form sketches and imagined dialogues scattered amongst the pages of countless notebooks stored mostly in my parents’ house in California (if not lost forever). Part of me thinks I should just buckle down and make something out of them – especially in Paris, which up to this point has been one of the few places where I’ve felt an insatiable itch to write – but there’s this nagging fear in the back of my head of putting out something in the world that I consider to be an intimate part of myself. Maybe I just set too high expectations for myself for what I consider to be ‘worthy’ for public consumption. Aren’t we all our own worst critics, after all?
Speaking of books, I’m leaving for my annual visit to the homeland (Greece) soon, and am looking for book recommendations since I pretty much sped through the one I was hoping to save for the trip (final side note : everyone should read Wajdi Mouawad’s Anima. Non-French speakers, I’m not sure if there is an English translation available, but if there is, get it. Now. Seriously. It’s that good. TW : I should note that it gets very intense/violent at times, so it might not be the best read for everyone), and now I’m very close to just bringing my copy of A Thousand Plateaus with me.
So, any recommendations, friends and readers? I’m open to pretty much anything and everything. To give an idea, past summer beach reads have included the following :
War and Peace (this one being a particularly hilarious choice, given that a large part of it takes place in the dead of Russian winter).