Wednesday, October 22, 2008

travels resume

well I´m back on the road again...surprise, of course ;)
For those of you who don´t know, I´m spending 8 weeks in Europe this summer. The *purpose* is to practice spanish, so I will be taking language classes for 5 weeks in San Sebastian. Beyond that, there will be some traveling, visiting friends, eating rididulous amounts of ice cream and ´festivaling´ in Spain.
I started out in Paris--just flew in 4 days ago. I thought I´d actually beat the jet-lag because the first day I managed to keep a normal schedule. but no, i´m still suffering random sleeping--awake from 3am to 7am every day and then sleep til noon. yep, random. But I made the most of those awake hours..walked through paris til i thought my legs would buckle and i would fall into the Seine. I decided to try as hard as possible not to be a tourist in Paris, so instead I just wandered...through the latin quartier, along the Seine, out behind the Louvre. Actually i´m not sure where i ended up most days, which made it somewhat difficult to find my way home :) but made for good sightseeing. For one month in the summer the mayor in Paris (who happens to be gay--i heard many, many times...) has been running a big river party called Paris Plage--basically they´ve set up a beach along the Seine, with sprinklers, sand, beach chairs and scarily tanned 70 year old men and women. I walked along there my first day--86 degrees and humid--and then my last night as well. It´s actually wonderful--during the day lots of families with kids and at night people come with their guitars, bottles of beer and laugh, sing, roll around and generally be happy :)
Every morning I would wake up (bear in mind--morning for me meant 1 in the afternoon) ramble through the streets until I found a patisserie and awkwardly order a pain au chocolat and cafe espresso. I still--after 562 times pronouncing it under my breath--cannot say pain au chocolat. someday--I will conquer it. for now, the french will chuckle at the foreign girl and repeat it to me correctly at least 3 times. At night I went bike-riding with some new-found friends. We would rent bikes through the city´s new public bike system, called Velib. It´s something like 29 euro a year to have a membership and there are bike caches all over the city to pick up and drop off a bike. Everywhere you go you see the grey Velib bicycles with the occasional tourist getting dangerously in the way of oncoming Smart cars and mopeds--amusing, and then afterwards you worry a bit that they might actually get hit (especially when YOU are the occasional tourist...).
Lemme see...what else? The Eifel Tower is lit up blue right now--for the next 6 months it will be this way, to honor France´s role as the current head of the EU. Then at night, every hour on the hour, it sparkles for a few minutes like a big firework. No matter how many times I see this, I can´t get over it. It´s beautiful.
The rest of my time was spent wandering down side streets, taking photos of sushi restaurants, fruit and seafood markets, posters for gospel music concerts--you know, the normal parisian things. Actually, I was trying as hard as possible to see the most non-typical paris possible. I still walked along the river every day--and loved it--and ate baguette sandwiches and went shopping in little boutiques. And then checked out french comic shops, watched salsa dancing in a plaza along the Seine, and heard a pop remix of one of my favorite musicians (Sean Hayes--for anyone who knows, this guy is NOT someone I would expect to hear in paris...i´ve never heard him on the radio in seattle!)
And so went Paris...I left this morning via train for northern Spain. luckily I was early (for the 7th time in my life) to the train station because it actually did take the hour those early-type people recommend to sort out my ticket. Then 5 1/2 hours of french countryside...white stone houses, red tiled roofs, cows, sheep, bycyclists, gardens, hay rolls, and--the best. my favorite--field after field of sunflowers. Much like the eifel tower sparkling at night, i cannot get over fields of sunflowers. I love the way they bow their heads at night, and then lift them slowly but boldly as the sun passes through the sky each day. I love knowing that they are planted not to harvest, and not because they make one ridiulously happy to see them, but because in the process of growing and decaying they enrich the soil, filling the field with nutrients for the next crop that will be planted. yes--a magical plant.
So, here I am in northern Spain--Basque country, San Sebastian, Donostia--many names. Basically I´m on the north coast, 15 minutes from France and in the midst of thousands of summering spaniards. I moved into my apartment today--I live with a Spanish girl and a german girl, both living here--and spent the afternoon walking around town and remembering this town from my visit 6 years ago. It´s pretty incredible how familiar it all still feels--the old town with its churches and narrow streets filled with bars, slabs of cured ham hanging from the tavern ceilings, and the harbor full of fishing boats with big green hills beyond.

I wrote all that a couple of days´s from my journal that night:

I walked home tonight and stopped along the bridge which separates the old city from the new--the last bridge on the canal before all of San Sebastian opens itself to the Cantabrian Sea. The tide rushed out beneath me, flowing swiftly over concrete pilings and making ripples with its exit. The gentle, salty wind came up around me, rolling along the skin on my arms and ruffling the curls around my face. My stroll continued home, along the boardwalk, until I couldn´t resist the mix of sand, waves and night-time that called me in...I kicked off my sandals and was soon ankle deep in warm ocean--stars above me, green hills flanking both sides. I closed my eyes, smiled and said a prayer of thanks for all of it.

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