No Turning Back

Today I worked really hard. I woke up early, walked Loulou, and worked with digging, shoveling, and raking soil for hours until my hands had blisters that will soon turn into callouses I can pass off as rowing callouses (as a friend of mine informed me). I worked until I was hungry enough to eat, and then wrote a bit in the afternoon, leaving time to walk to town to mail a few letters and then wait for the arrival of Ruby and her boyfriend. Ruby worked for Zaza two years ago and came back to visit once for a week and is now here visiting with her boyfriend from London. In the evening I took her to the goat farm where we saw Samuel milk the goats and then make cheese, a process which was so simple, lovely, and where each goat was treated like their pet dogs. And then we walked back home, where we had fresh goat cheese to eat with bread and wine and veggies cooked by Tanya in the wok.

I had a really lovely conversation this evening with Tanya, sitting at the dinner table, drinking wine. She asked me if I wanted to learn any other languages, and naturally my answer was yes. Languages make me want to travel but travelling only fuels the desire to learn even more languages, to communicate with even more communities abroad and in other places with other cultures. And then she looked at me and told me about her education, her three degrees, her life teaching young Russian children how to read and write, and how she was sure I would have a good future. She said she saw in me a great path ahead because she could tell I had plans and that I wanted to do things. It sounds like a cliché but I had no idea how much I needed to hear that. In the past few days I have been more than a little stuck with writing, and thinking, and thinking about what to write and if this was ever going to get easier or work out. With my final college year coming up, I have been becoming both excitd and anxious at the prospect of going out and realizing I may love doing this but the crapshoot of it and my abilities might not take me far enough, that, in simpler terms, I won’t make it. And in talking about “it” that I don’t even know what that actually is.

Watching Samuel tend to the goats, he said he had been working with the goats for 37 years, his entire life. How quickly a life goes by, and how possible it is to stay in one place for so long and be content, or not be? I’m not sure what I want anymore, and what the trajectory after school will be. Travelling is an escape, and also a destination, and neither seem right at the moment. These days I no longer know whether to say I study theatre, that I do theatre, or that I am a writer or an actor. Am I real enough to say I am doing it or child enough to say I have not embarked on the path to do it yet? It feels like limbo, in a way I am not entirely comfortable with and am not sure I want to settle down in.

Home and Herbs

Today has been my favorite day here thus far. From waking up rested to cleaning a disgusting pool of festering frogs and bugs and drinking wine between bucketfuls of feces, biking to buy two huge baguettes for the day in town to cooking Taiwanese beef noodle soup for a table of ten, reserving my spot at nine different hostels for my last hike in France on the Chemin de Robert Louis Stevenson to my sixty-six year-old host lady offering me a joint after dinner, it has been quite the day. Today I have laughed more than the entire week combined and I have felt at home.

The first few days here I thought I had to pay for my stay, with work and obedience and cultural contribution at meals, but today I finally realized most of the time Zza just wants company, and new experiences she cannot have by travelling anymore because of her age and limitations. So when she asked me to cook dinner tonight I thought it would just be for the four of us when it ended up being ten of us, sitting outside in the garden, eating bowls of Chinese noodles I cooked for five hours, and which everyone seemed to enjoy! We had been cleaning the pool all afternoon, and I had already been laughing through the mud and yuck of festering bugs and other things in the water because I had relegated myself to needing a shower. I wasn’t even really listening when Zza said to a friend, “je pense que Stefani n’a pas entendu,’ (I think Stefani didn’t hear) but I knew she was talking about smoking weed. I started laughing; I said I had nothing to say, and then following dinner she passed me her joint, stumbling over her feet saying she was drunk. And then she fell on a table of potted plants and had the whole dinner table helping her up, including her two twin sons. It was quite the spectacle. Messiness is always the most genuine kind of home. One of the sons helped me serve all of the dinner and the other stayed behind to chat with me and offered to take me to see some of the football games and go to a party this weekend in Montaren, which was really nice of him since most of what I do here is sleep right after dinner when Zaza does! (When either of them ask me what I will be up to after dinner I always just laugh and say spend time with their mom, which for the most part just means sleep). I’m really glad to be staying here for a while, so that the people I meet aren’t just passing through my line of vision once, and that I can establish “future activities” with these people, and look forward to spending time here with them, eating, laughing, cleaning gunk, and feeling more and more at home.

The French Don’t Go Blind on Sunday Afternoons 

I just spent the past 10 minutes staring into the snack cubby wondering if I should get another cookie and also thinking about how good that caption is for a poem or something. Except it’s very much true, because today I went to visit Avignon, the city where the pope resided for about nine decades when France was at war with Italy and the pope happened to be French and did not want to live in Italy, and I went blind, briefly. I had just visited the palais des papes, and then the pont d’avignon, and had taken a lovley free ferry across the rhônes. I found a nice spot under a tree, ate a chicken salad sandwich I had gotten before the boat trip and was writing a bit when I started rubbing my eye and had to take my contact out. And then I couldn’t see anymore. My eye burned, even without the contact, and it felt like it was both throbbing and being stabbed with sharp needles here and there. I tried opening my eyes and it watered up, just as a group of middle-aged friends seemed to be having an emotional high school reunion of some sort. So all of us were crying. And then I spent the rest of the next four hours walking across bridges and streets, and eventually finding my way to the hospital blind because my eyes refused to open. (Note: said photo was taken pre-blinding)

It should have been rather simple. A trip to a doctor might even have been severe; because it is Sunday, however, no pharmacies were open. Zero. Nada. So I called the emergency number which told me to call SAMU which told me to take a cab to the hospital, which told me when I arrived that the hospital is closed on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Closed? I rubbed my eye to make it cry more. Then what do I do? Come back tomorrow. I had just spent 10 euros on a cab and was not going to be in Avignon tomorrow. So she sent me to the emergency room, which sent me to the emergency clinic downstairs, which sent me to the emergency pharmacy in a cab that never came so I ended up in a stranger’s car because she so kindly said she could take me with her since she was on her way there too.

I have never had much of an issue with France. I still think Brexit is and was an idiotic move. All I have to say is that the French apparently don’t go blind the way I do on Sunday afternoons (or Saturdays for that matter). It’s probably the wine. Or the cheese. Or the smoking, delaying hunger and decreasing lung capacity for blindness and all. Judging by the line at the ER though, there’s enough other stuff to go around.

Yogurt is for Women

Good thing I saved my writing for after dinner because I had the most appalling non-conversation with the 15 year old Russian boy living here for the next week or so. We were sitting at the dinner table, eating a lovely meal that Zaza prepared, his mother helped set, and I helped plate. Then Zaza asked if he liked yogurt or cheese and he said something strange in French about him having tried yogurt but that he couldn’t say he didn’t like it. So she pushed him, asking if his mom bought yogurt for the house, and his mother laughed, having understood the question in chopped up English phrases. “My sons and husband like meat and potatoes, that is all.” And then came gold, slow and steady in French: “Je pense que je mange pas de yaout parce que le yaout est…” he struggled, and I knew what was coming, “une chose pour les femmes.”

I do not eat yogurt because it is a thing for women. I had had a glass of wine by this point and exploded, along with Zaza about the ridiculous nature of the statement. And then the meal ended, he retreated to his phone and what he defined as Russian social media, and left us women to do the dishes, clean, and clean up after him. This is how sexism goes, taught young, institutionalized, and which exhibits itself most of all in the daily interactions we, but mostly they, find mundane, funny, and mostly unimportant.

The problem is that I have been susceptible to it too. Most of us recall the ad about “throwing like a girl” by Nike, but this entire week with the boy I have been watching him squirm at the sight of bugs, sit down when it gets hot, rest in the shade after lifting a spadeful of dirt, while I chugged along, lugging heavier things faster without gloves and full of cobwebs. The first day or so, I thought, “God, he’s even worse than a girl.” But I had to stop myself, each and every time. I have never been weak, I am stronger than most boys my age or otherwise, and I am very much a girl, and I eat a shit ton of yogurt and so what?Before the boy arrived we had gone shopping because she felt boys would eat more but he eats much less than I do and no yogurt at that. This entire week Zaza has watched me eat firsts, seconds, and thirds at every meal and she comments each time, “c’est incroyable, ce que tu peux manger!” (it’s incredible, what you can eat!) and the first time I felt ashamed, but the next I grinned, and the next I got another helping for the heck of it. I intend to continue doing this regardless of how may pasty white boys comment on my food, or yogurt, consumption, however woman I am.

Cuts, Secret Outings, and Adulthood

Today I messed up, big time.

  1. Instead of weeding, I chopped two of Zaza’s favourite little trees down which were just beginning to flower.
  2. I went on a two-hour bike trip that miraculously turned into four hours of me wobbling along the road.
  3. I got a gash across my calf and then while biking I also tumbled off and hit the side of my left ribcage.

I started complaining about this to Kristy, who then said to me, “treasure it – cuts, bruises, falls, biking in the sun – all of it, it sounds like childhood and in five years you won’t have anything like it anymore, in all likelihood.” And then I stopped complaining.

I kept beating myself up for the little trees, though I have learned the French, though they are not politely nice when they are upset, forgive easily. I had to keep reminding myself that I am not being graded. There is no end-of-term evaluation where the tree will take a toll on my GPA or my career opportunities. Heck, do I even know what opportunities I am looking for while I work in the countryside in the south of France?

Today I decided to bike to Pont du Gard, which amounted to a 30 km bike road and by the time I arrived at the UNESCO Heritage site, I was exhausted, had a bike even though I wanted to walk around and explore, and didn’t bring a bathing suit that I could jump into the cool-looking water under the bridge. And so when I came back home and Zaza qsked me where I had been I didn’t mention exactly where I had cycled to so that I would have an excuse for her to take me again one day when I could explore and swim next time around.

Today I finally reached out to a few beloved mentors and friends to ask for advice about the future, and also about the present, about this play and the one going up this October. Navigating the world of collaboration in the theatre is a whole new thing to me, especially because I’m only realizing now that it is not the theatre that is hard, it is what I, and we, care about that is truly challenging. I keep having to remind myself of the words from a poem by Rupi Kuar, “do not sacrifice honesty/ for relatability.”

Tomorrow the four of us are going to go out for lunch in a restaurant in town, because it’ll be Friday! Cleaning the pool this morning was gross as I waded through dead bugs and maybe maggots, but it ended quickly because the machine wasn’t working. (This was after I killed the trees and felt awful and had zero right to complain about my work tasks.) And then we had a roasted chicken for lunch and lovely raclette for dinner, which was basically just potatoes,melted cheese, and bacon. I miss vegetables, as does my skin, but I’ll try to get her to buy some soon.


Full Moon Woes and Wine

I’ve evidently made progress because

  1. I am starting to use this keyboard without having to constantly look down at my fingers.
  2. Zaza has given me full control of Spotify has her music while she works all day.
  3. Today not only did I help with lunch but she also bought me more greek yogurt and had me cook fried rice for dinner.
  4. And there’s hot water in the showers again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I had gotten so accustomed to showering in cold water my neck was starting to tense up. Tonight we had so much wine at dinner I went on an evening walk with Loulou the dog slightly drunk anyhow. But today I started implementing my sense of routine by waking up, journalling, and reading a chapter of my book on ISIS. I hadn’t slept very well, which I later learned was probably because of the full moon last night. Then I worked by helping shovel dirt throughout the garden, then with breaking up pieces of wood and paper for a bonfire we are creating this very moment. Then we had chickpeas, potatoes, and eggs for lunch, and I took the afternoon to read Room, write, journal, and then went on a long run and got some sun out. I then cooked dinner after some more reading and writing and am absolutely exhausted. I love the summer here with so much daylight I am practically tired out by the light. Zaza’s two sons, the twins, came for dinner and were rather funny. it’s always really nice to have some new company, especially to speak French to.

After dinner I went on a walk with the two Russian workers and we talked about Russian literature, the countryside, about travelling, and visiting Avignon sometime in the next week or two. Takibf my walk around the countryside in my pajamas, braless, in flip flops with the dog off his leash was so nice. I wish the city life could be more like this.

Tomorrow we have to clean the pool together, and i am dreading have to be up to my knees in dirt and mud but the things we dread are probably the best for us, no?

Summersault Dreams in Maursault

Third day’s a charm. I’m finally getting a hang of being here. Or maybe it came with the arrival of two new workers here too. The past two nights here I’ve had really vivid and strange dreams, so much so that I began looking them up. The first night I dreamt of a dolphin and a prolonged interaction and connection with the dolphin, to the point where I started wanting to train to be able to perform and swim with it. And then last night I dreamt of an immense earthquake which killed two of my close friends. Both were jarring because they oscillated between good and bad constantly and I woke up a few times in the night throughout these episodes. So I decided to research.

Like I mentioned in my previous post, I’m trying to figure out the changes I need to make to my life  -and these dreams seem to be indicative of that change. The dolphin and the earthquake are both seen as positive symbols in the dreamscape, symbolizing a sense of freedom, change, social and emotional transitions and relieving of a burden or the anxiety of that change. All this resonated very strongly with me. Today went by quicker than yesterday, and the days started to blend together a little.

I feel more at ease with Zaza too. I went with her to a birthday party today and had lunch with some of the people who worked with her, and though I stayed pretty quiet in the interactions, I absorbed a lot. I couldn’t help but interject in the lunch conversation about religion and the rise of ISIS for example, though it was definitely hard for me to talk about politics and religion in French, especially after two or three glasses of wine.

Later this evening, we went to the town to pick up the two new “recruits,” a Russian schoolteacher and her fifteen year-old son. I was never under the impression 15 year-old were quiet so funny and awkward but I must not remember what I was like back then. I don’t love that they don’ speak much French but they’ also rather stiff, though I don’t want to just assume it comes from the Russian stereotype. Being around two people who are less used to this place and life (though I have only been here two days myself) made it easier to feel like I had an upper-hand (though I am trying to change this about myself too) and made me feel more confident about my French and my living here. I helped them settle in, took them on a walk with the dog, and even volunteered to cook pad thai for dinner (I had no idea I knew how to cook pad thai but heck I can improvise Asian food when there are no experts around and it was a success!) I want to start establishing a routine for myself, either setting aside time in the morning or afternoon to write and read instead of just picking minutes here and there hopefully.