(get over the) hump day inspiration: Tennessee Williams edition

TennesseeWilliamsQuoteI haven’t posted an encouraging quote for awhile but I crossed paths with this one via Brain Pickings a couple of days ago and it seems eminently appropriate for the times we’re living in. To say the zeitgeist has been getting me down is an understatement. I keep coming back to the conviction that community, connection, and love is the only thing that can save me – us – from chaos and despair.

I have been saying it to myself in much less poetic and profound ways than Tennessee Williams does here, though. This is a beautifully wrapped reminder of what it means to be human.

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My gray places

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Much as I wish I were a laid-back person who could live easily with uncertainty, I am not. Though theoretically wonderful, in practice I don’t like gray areas of any kind. One of the gray zones I am most annoyed by is the one created by layovers in states or countries I’ve never been. Having touched down on Chilean tarmac and spent three hours in the Santiago airport en route to Buenos Aires, for example, I might claim to have been to Chile. But having never actually stepped foot on Chilean soil or breathed in fresh Chilean air, I don’t feel that I can. Instead, I imagine myself occupying an uncomfortable liminal state between having been and not having been, that must be rectified by going on a real visit to Chile as soon as possible. Most people could shelve that feeling, or would not have it in the first place. But I like things black and white, and so it nags at me.

Here are my gray area places. Fortunately, I actually do want to visit most of them. Unfortunately, I don’t have plans to do so anytime soon. As the list grows, so does my discomfort.

Countries:

Chile

(The most notable detail of my layover was when a woman in the bathroom stall next to me puked all over the floor and it started seeping into my view. How can I have not truly been to Chile when I was traumatized by an experience I had there? It’s a paradox.)

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Mali

(Below, a view of Bamako, where I spent an hour sitting on a plane with the doors wide open, troubling my “no fresh air” rule.)

bamako from the air

Monaco

(I took a train from Nice to Rome and it went underground through the entire tiny country of Monaco in less than twenty minutes. I only saw a glimpse of it out the rear view mirror from Italy, so to speak.)

U.S. States:

Georgia

(I’ve been through the Atlanta airport twice. Georgia remains the only state on the East Coast that I haven’t officially visited.)

Ohio / Kentucky 

(This one is a double whammy because I flew through the Cincinnati, Ohio airport only to later learn it’s technically in northern Kentucky, which means I now have to visit both states to put the discomfort to bed…)

…Or I could just learn to live with the gray areas of through-travel, and life in general.

Does anyone else have this particular brand of neurosis or am I the only one wasting brain space on it?

 

 

Allez les Lions! (Also, Vamos, vamos Argentina!)

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Less than a year and a half ago, I boarded a plane in Dakar bound for New York. As I stepped off the collapsible staircase and through the door of the plane, I realized that I had effectively left Senegalese soil and I had to hold back tears. A few drops squeezed out despite my best efforts and as they slowly rolled down my cheeks, I imagined that I must look like a spoof of a French new wave film.

Before I realized that the cabin crew was 100% American, I apologetically explained to the flight attendant whose eye I had accidentally caught, “Je pars…,” and then I trailed off sheepishly. She smiled at me with the truly soft and sympathetic look of someone who has borne witness to this scene a million times, and she said simply, “I know.” I am not sure she did actually know what I had said, but she knew what my tears meant. I am leaving. I don’t know when I’ll be back. And it feels like I’m leaving a bit of my heart behind.

I thought of that moment on Tuesday evening as I crossed over the East River from Manhattan into Brooklyn. The sun was setting, and New York was at its most beautiful. Earlier that morning I had been briefly and emotionally reunited with the country I hadn’t been ready to leave, and it was wonderful.

That’s all a very melodramatic way to say that I watched the Senegal v. Poland game from a Senegalese cafe in Crown Heights, and I ate Senegalese food for the first time since being in-country, and I heard Wolof and West African-accented French all around me, and when Senegal won I may as well have been in Dakar for all the joy in me and surrounding me.

I am so thankful that New York is a city where you can experience a little bit of the magic of every other country on earth. And it is especially magical at World Cup time.

I’m going back to the cafe on Sunday for the Senegal v. Japan game and what I hope is a repeat of the euphoria of victory. (I won’t even get into the sadness of the Argentina v. Croatia game. I’m hoping for a miraculous turnaround that allows Argentina to advance and Messi to stop looking so forlorn.)

As we go into the weekend, I leave you with a few moments of Team Senegal adorableness.

This is why I ride with Senegal, indeed.

Have a relaxing weekend

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It’s been a while since I’ve checked in here. Every Friday, I mean to post a bunch of ever more belated links to tidbits of interest, but every Friday something gets in the way. This week, I break the cycle! Below, a slew of links that I’ve been stockpiling to share with you. Some of them may be rather old, but they are still quite interesting.

Have a lovely weekend and enjoy the World Cup, if you’re watching! Tomorrow at 9am I start my vigil in front of the TV with the Argentina-Iceland game, and before Tuesday at 11am I have to figure out where to view the Senegal games alongside Senegalese people (even though I watched no more than ten minutes of their soccer team while actually living there). Four years ago I was obsessed with Argentina; this year I’m rooting for Senegal first, Argentina second, and I couldn’t care less who comes in third. It’s silly, but it feels good.

Anyway, here are those links…

We have one man to blame for that annoying English grammar rule that prohibits ending sentences with prepositions.

Sample some entries in “The Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue,” a collection of 18th century working-class London slang.

The Romans would have called me a barbarian.

The obituary for a very unlikely sumo wrestling commentator.

Tales of another sufferfester (here’s the first one I posted about), this time an ocean kayaker. Fascinating to ponder why they do it, and what part of that impulse I have in me, albeit in relatively tiny amounts.

Towns to add to your France bucket list.

And Macron wants baguettes added to another kind of list. 

Terms of endearment from around the world. Some more adorable than others.

There is no cut-off age for learning a foreign language. Just do it.

“I’m not rude; I’m just French.” Hahahahahaha. Not the Onion.

The unspeakable linguistics of camp. 

A cheese-themed theme park. Be still my heart.

Speaking of cheese. “Camembert without Raw Milk? It’s Treason, Connoisseurs Cry.” I love how protective the French are of their gastronomy.

Finally, pix of beautiful Cuban cinemas. And here’s one of my favorites that wasn’t included in the article:

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I’m becoming my mother in the most unexpected way

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It seems I’m in French withdrawal. 

My first weekend back in New York, I went to lunch with my parents and we had a francophone waiter. I knew this not because he spoke anything less than the most perfect English with us, but because I overheard him conversing with his colleague in French by the cash register. Despite telling myself sternly, “Do not be that person, Ruth” some ineffable force compelled me to switch into French and ask him where he was from. Congo, apparently, and his colleague was from Senegal.

Since then, there’s been the father and his two kids on the subway, the vacationing couple at the restaurant in Hanoi, the retirees on the ferry in Hong Kong, the woman looking for a street downtown, the man watching his kids play in Central Park… Every time I hear anyone speak French – or even English with a French accent – I wrack my brain for a way to break into their conversation, en français, without seeming too desperate. Many times I can’t find one, and I am able to keep my mouth shut. But sometimes, my tongue disobeys my brain and follows my heart into the most awkward exchanges. Without fail, I feel silly about it, yet I keep doing it anyway.

I used to be mortified whenever my mother, a Brooklynite who moved to Israel in her 20’s and returned to the States in her 30’s, would butt in on strangers’ conversations after she overheard them speaking Hebrew. We’d be in the middle of the English-speaking world – a mall in New Jersey or a cafe in New York – and this native English speaker would find any excuse to say something to the Israelis in Hebrew. It always seemed that my introverted mother did this not because she truly wanted to engage with other human beings but because she wanted validation of her identity in the kin group. No matter what she said to them, all I ever heard was a pathetic, “Wink wink, I’m one of you!”

Now that I have caught myself pulling the same stunt on multiple occasions, I think of it a little differently. 

I suppose there is a small part of me that has something to prove: that I can still speak the language, or that I belong with the foreigners in my midst. But most of it has nothing to do with pride (which is good because there is nothing ego-boosting about sounding like a complete dope). Instead, the overpowering desire to speak French comes from…wanting to speak French. I have so few opportunities  these days that when I see one, I can’t pass it up.

I don’t really miss France, but I really, really miss French. It’s a beautiful language, and I love it. I guess my mother feels the same way about Hebrew.

So to that I say,

!כל הכבוד*

*Kol hakavod, i.e., “All the honor,” i.e., You go, girl!

[Photo: Rithban]

Vietnam part 4: Trang An

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The day after my Halong Bay trip, I boarded another bus, this time to Ninh Binh Province. I spent the day touring Trang An, a UNESCO World Heritage Site consisting of the Bai Dinh Buddhist temple complex (the largest in Vietnam) and a system of waterways and grottoes in which other temples are hidden.

The landscape was just as beautiful as Halong Bay (in fact it is sometimes described as Halong Bay on land), and the temples were stunning, too. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.  Continue reading