05 August 2014

How to Pack for a Place You've Never Been

Montreal. That's cold, right? It's a magic word, Montreal. Say it and the other person shivers on cue. 

So you fold up your sweaters and you sit on them, because without those vacuum-seal bags as seen on TV, ass will have to do. You fold up your underwear and your bras, because even seals and polar bears have a skeleton beneath all that blubber. You too will need one under layers of down and wool to prop you upright like a human being. 

What else? Your suitcase is small and yet your life, even just a year of it, demands much.

Your gray peacoat with the puffy shoulders may have done well for the cold and rainy North of France, but it won't hold up to - shiver. You fold it up anyway in anticipation of the sliver of time just before first snowfall. 

Leather jacket, for transitioning autumn days. For walking down streets hazy with the cloud of unfamiliarity. For faking it 'til you make it, or 'til the cold stiffens up the sleeves and chases the leathery blend of polyester and sweatshop essence to the back of your tiny closet. Whichever comes first. 

A pot. A knife. Even Robinson Crusoe needed one of those. Your passport and documents. Skirts upon skirts upon dresses. If you're going to look like a marshmallow for six months, you may as well be a delicate flower underneath. You'll wear them just for yourself, you say, in the way some girls wear underwear emblazoned with the days of the week. That is, as a reminder of your femininity. Try saying that five times fast come January. 

The orphaned polar bear figurine from your last stop-motion short. Polar bears belong in the cold, don't they? It only seems right after you tossed his mother in the trash earlier this year. Three, four months from now, in the throes of the harsh Canadian winter, you might wonder, what is the point, at which point you need only gaze upon the yellowing cub and feel the artistic inspiration of twelve nine-year-olds flood back into your veins. 

And let's not forget your biography of Lincoln, half-finished and half the size of your head. You always feel immense guilt about not finishing the books you buy. If you bring it, you'll definitely finish it. Imagine a snowy Sunday morning, curled up on your lumpy couch (it came with the apartment), getting to know the 16th president, flakes falling aimlessly just outside the window. Look at it. It's so dense it'll last you the whole year. You're saving the space of three other books, really. 

At last, there is nothing left to pack. The animals have entered the ark. You grasp the two sides of the case: now kiss. But like tortoises in captivity, they refuse to meet. Though you summon your ass once more, it doesn't work the same magic on plastic shells as it does on sweaters. 

So you haul everything out. Yes, even the sweaters. And you start again. Just how many sweaters do you really need anyway? If you don't leave the warmth of the house two days out of seven, that leaves...five sweaters. You don't have five, you have four. A couple of tank tops should make up for the fifth. 

...And why don't you throw in those suede flats for good measure?


24 July 2014

Inside Out at the Palais du Tau

Now that I've been home for about a month, the 30 kilos of clothing, books, and savon marseillaise* I brought home have largely been scattered throughout the house. But there's one thing that has remained propped up against my suitcase in the far corner of the living room, and it's my face.
Before I left France, I sold my toaster and oven, donated my books to the school library and clothes to charity, threw out all my pots and utensils, dumped a bottle of that coveted Bioderma micellar water in the midst of airport “ma’am your suitcase is seven kilos overweight” panic, but one thing I kept and that is my face, blown up in black and white on a sheet of butcher paper that is as long as I am tall. I have to raise my arms above my head in order to unfurl this monstrosity.

Months and months ago, I saw that French street artist JR would be stopping in Reims as part of his “Inside Out” project. So when the time came, I dragged a friend with me to the Palais du Tau, where his photo truck was parked. A queue stretched from one end of the courtyard to the other, but it looked manageable enough. We were also on our way to dinner at a friend’s flat, so I had a head of lettuce in my backpack. We did not end up using the lettuce.
As part of some modern art exhibition at the Palais, two mannequins, covered in light plastic sheets, had been placed at the entrance to the inner courtyard. They had been hooked up to some sort of sound system and whispered incantations with increasing urgency. As the hours passed, we inched from one screeching mannequin to the other, wondering if this was really worth the wait. It hadn’t looked like that many people when we entered the line, but I was starting to suspect photography hadn’t improved since the Victorian era. Not to mention it was a cold, windy day in Northern France and I had been carrying a head of lettuce for the last five hours.

Part of “Inside Out” is for people to paste their portraits in public spaces - he was there at the Palais du Tau with a bucket of glue to cover the courtyard’s cobblestones with smiling faces. The final destination of his truck was the Pantheon in Paris, currently undergoing renovations, where he covered the interior with his favorite portraits.
I…chose to take mine home. And I could try to justify it, but it wouldn’t be very convincing and I’d probably end up showing more ego than I’d like to think I have. But was it worth it? Sometimes I think about pasting my enormous face into the back of my closet and leaving it for the poor unsuspecting individual who next inhabits this house and I think, yes, it was all worth it. My parents, however, may feel differently.

*Okay, one block of soap. I did not bring home 30 kilograms of soap, as I am not about to enter the cutthroat world of soap trafficking**.

**At least if they cut your throat you can easily disinfect the wound.


15 June 2014

First Impressions | Prague

Prague. I was there. It was Prague, land of defenestrations and the epic orchestral piece that is the Moldau (also the river). Where beer is cheaper than water. Old as balls but still keeping pace with the world. 
I had a good time in Prague, not the same kind of good time as everyone refers to with regards to Prague, a knowing look in their eye, but I enjoyed the urban legends and myths behind each building, trying to reconcile what was before me with another time, coming across Refu Fest in Kampa Park and discovering the world in an afternoon, resigning myself to a hot dog only to realize with delight that the Czechs have put their own spin on even the most mundane of foods. It was a good three days. Was it three days? They're starting to run together now...


13 June 2014

First Impressions | Vienna

Some cities you fall in love with, others you can only appreciate. Vienna was one of the latter. The streets are lined with one beautiful facade after another, to be sure, but I found it all a bit distant and untouchable. 
At one point, unsure of what to do with myself, I walked around the Schönnbrunn Palace grounds and felt quite thoroughly unimpressed. I've been to Versailles, and I'm starting to suspect that one decadent palace is enough for my lifetime. 

I just find it difficult to appreciate how fancy some dead guy's life was. The point of half the tourist sites in Europe is "look at how much money these people had and look at the shiny things they made with it!" It's like I've eaten too much candy and now my teeth are numb and I just want to see what ordinary people did and do and how they perceived and interacted with their world. 
So I found Vienna to be mostly that: appreciation of long-ago fanciness. In places like this, the fanciness becomes so sacred it begins to oppress the present and stifle life until people are living in the shadow of some other great era. 
I love birds. I love how they have absolutely no regard for our precious monuments and statues. It's all just another comfy rock to perch on. 


07 June 2014

Patisserie Discoverie | Apfelstrudel

Patisseries - Vienna edition! Does that make it a viennoiserie ohohoho

I have just returned from the depths of Google and I have no answer. As you are by now very aware, I'm not qualified to categorize pastries in any category other than yum and blegh, and there aren't any bakers in this hostel that I know of, so we'll just have to live with not knowing. I know, life isn't fair. 

At the end of my walking tour in Vienna, I stopped at Cafe Central for a coffee break. This is where Freud and co. hung out way back when. I'm skeptical of all these "so-and-so hung out here" claims. I sometimes hang out in the downstairs common area of TDC, doesn't make it worth the trek. How many times does a famous person need to visit a place for it to claim that they hung out there?

My personal standard for strudel has long been that scene in Inglorious Basterds.
So tense. Much acting. Such pacing. But all I can focus on is the strudel. It looks so damn good. This strudel? This strudel was good. But it wasn't wait-for-the-cream good. Still, I can take heart in that the fumes of Freud's breath must have infused into the powdered sugar and elevated the strudel to the next level. Or something. This is how these things work, right?

But what do I know about Austrian cuisine? Is there even such a strudel out there? Or did I fabricate what one tastes like based on ten seconds of film?
Fun Fact! Strudel is derived from Middle High German for whirlpool. There's some appropriately ominous rock music coming out from the basement of this hostel right now. 

It's a layered pastry made of very thin dough, with a filling that can be either sweet or savory. The dough is wrapped around the filling until it has been used up. Apfelstrudel filling usually consists of apples (I should hope so), sugar, cinnamon, raisins, and bread crumbs. It is then sprinkled with powdered sugar and can be served with ice cream, custard, vanilla sauce, and yes, wait for it...cream. 

I don't know, guys. It was a great strudel, it was just shy of the strudel of my dreams. Does that strudel even exist? Or do I settle for ingesting Freud breath-fumes? Will I start obsessing over my father?

The only way to find the strudel of my dreams, I guess, is to eat more strudel until I do.