Back From the Dead Zone

And by dead zone I mean my blatant absence from blogging.

It all started with preparations for departure on a trip to France and Italy. Too excited and busy to write, I let it slide. And while there I only wrote in notebooks. Since returning, it’s been a transitionary phase. Transitioning from travel, transitioning to a new job (really kind of an old job to which I returned. Nonetheless, transition I must!).

It has been three weeks since my return. Three good weeks, yet I feel homesick for Italy. And Paris. Can you feel homesick for places you don’t live? Regardless, I think upon the entire country of Italy and the few spots in France I’ve visited and feel sick not knowing when I will return. Some places just reach inside your heart and camp there. They put permanent stakes in and become a part of you as sure as your arms and legs and head are a part of you.

Italy and Paris are embedded in my heartstrings forevermore.

Upon my departure from Europe, I teared up a bit. I cried at Charles de Gaulle and cried again when I landed at Salt Lake International. I’m not talking heaving sobs, here. Merely stinging eyes and a few solitary drops. It felt like I was leaving home, taking off from Paris that morning. Don’t ask for a logical reason for why this happened. I don’t have a logical explanation. It is what it is.

I want to talk about Paris for a bit.

I know multiple people who don’t like Paris. Or France. Or the French. I don’t understand it. I’ve never encountered a rude French person. Granted, I don’t speak fluent French so the few times random locals spoke to me for all I know it could have been insults. But even if that is the case, there are rude people everywhere. Most French people I have met are wonderful. Doesn’t it take a wonderful person to give a visitor a free macaron? Doesn’t it? (Side story: I bought two macarons at a patisserie in le Marais. The guy working there threw in an extra one. It was nice. And yummy.)

Perhaps people don’t love Paris because so many visitors mainly hit the high spots? The main tourist attractions? If you only visit those parts of Paris you probably won’t love Paris. Too many people, too many gimmicks, too many vendors hawking their goods, sometimes including an umbrella for fifteen euro at the sudden change in weather.

The historical and cultural attractions like the Eiffel Tower and Le Louvre and Le Champs Elysees are worth the visit. They have power and meaning. But they are not the “real Paris.”

One of my favorite things to do in Paris is to get lost. Just wander around looking at shops and bakeries. Finding the street musicians and listening. The details of Paris. That’s Paris.

This is going to sound completely full of snobbery, but I think if you come away from France and Paris thinking the French are rude and Paris is terrible, you probably had your eyes closed the entire time. That’s not to say everyone has to think of Paris as their most cherished place in the world. But to completely hate it and dislike the French… I just don’t see how that’s possible if you are truly absorbing the place and interacting with the people.

One thing about traveling in Europe is I often feel embarrassed. Embarrassed that I don’t speak the languages better. I always attempt to speak the local language and speak it as much as I can, but without fluency I am limited. However, most Italians and Parisians seem to speak a little bit of English. “A little bit of English” really means way more English than my Italian or French. It’s somewhat amusing. I’m trying to be considerate, in addition to practicing my language skills. They in turn are also trying to be considerate by speaking what English they know. Well, that and simply trying to get through to the ignorant tourist.

I always appreciate when locals let me run the course of my local language skills before they chime in with English. It lets me practice what I do know, which only helps me to learn more.

So what did I learn this trip?

Always eat the brie when it is nice and warm. Warm to the point of oozing. That is some delicious cheese.

If you are in Italy at a restaurant and they bring you a bread basket and some oil and vinegar, DON’T dribble the oil and vinegar on the bread. That’s not the intention. Use the bread to clean the sauces from your plate. Use the vinegar and oil to add any seasoning to your dishes.

The machines at the airport aren’t the only place to buy an RER ticket. Seems so obvious now…

In Paris at least, you can order a pitcher of water for free instead of buying mineral water.

The metro is great, but often it is just nicer to walk.

Piazzas can be at their most pleasant at night.

Don’t hesitate to go into the vintage stores. Do it NOW, when you see it. Planning to return often doesn’t pan out because there’s so much to do.

Don’t bother packing any scarves. You’ll just buy more.

The best olive oil comes from a little stand by the side of the road near a tiny localita, where only Italian is spoken.

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