Back to L.A.

By the time that you read this, I will be back in Los Angeles. It is the night before I make a sort-of-a-surprise trip down to L.A. to see my friends and see my campus who I haven’t seen for a very long time. And it’s more or less overwhelming. I spent much of my first semester dreaming about seeing UCLA again. I would take walks through south campus in my head during archaeology class. I would imagine tasting the first, hot bite of a Cafe 1919 pizette when I was hungry. If I was feeling especially fragile, I would look up UCLA’s campus on Google Maps and sit on street view, gazing at Royce Hall while my eyes got fuzzier and fuzzier.

But I haven’t felt like that in a long, long while. Sure, there was a time that going back was all I wished for. Food was better back home, memories were better, the earth was prettier. But second semester wasn’t like that. Walking around Lyon felt like walking in a giant house, everything was comfy like being indoors. I missed UCLA, sure, and my friends of course, but I was thriving without them. My mind had replaced the bricks of north campus with the intricate rooftops of France. My heart found the Red Bridge on the Soane and allowed it to take the botanical garden’s place, if only for those few months.

And so now it is the night before I get on a plane that will drop me in LAX in the hottest weather I will have experienced in over nine months. And I will hop onto the blue Flyaway bus and make my way to Westwood, which I’m sure will seem as strange to me as France did when I first arrived. I mean, of course I expect to be overcome by happiness the moment on walk on campus and see the neuroscience building towering proudly above me. And I know that I will swoon at my first stop by the south campus student center. I’ll be taking every one of my favorite walks, and I will, I know, be absolutely adoring it. But if the “reverse culture shock” that I encounter when I get down there is anything like what I experienced coming home to the Bay Area, I also have to be prepared for the inevitable alienation that will happen when I am about to face.

They always talked about coming back and being blown away by how the familiarity seems so foreign, but before you experience it firsthand, there is no way of knowing exactly what it feels like. I wait in a confusing and surreal anticipation for my reunion with the place that I have missed and loved and not been to for the past nine months. I hope everything turns out OK, even though I know it will. And it will, especially after my mind is able to grab hold of those lovely north campus bricks. It won’t be until I’m there that I know I am back.

Pizza Quotas

 

In the midst of furiously editing a paper I was writing yesterday, I decided to take a break from using my brain to go grab some dinner. My friend Josephine and I took a walk over to Lyon’s seventh arrondissement where we decided on eating at a pizza place where we had gone earlier in the semester. And even though the pizza was as delicious as it was the first time, leaving the restaurant I knew that I would never come back. I had reached my quota for “that pizza place in the seventh.”

But that isn’t to say that I have totally reached my quota on pizza. About a week ago, my friends and I were talking about how completely over pizza we were, just absolutely done. We could wait until California to get a slice of Hawaiian  and for now we needed to get our fix for melted cheese elsewhere. But two days later I found myself excitedly digging into a calzone at a restaurant that overlooks one of Lyon’s rivers. Apparently my palate was still accepting pizza.

Pizza has been a standard part of my weekly diet this semester. Josephine and I made a deal back in January that we would have weekly dinner dates that switched between eating pizza and  eating burgers and that we would carefully make our way through all of the establishments in Lyon that served these delicious (American) staples. Just as it was for certain pizzerias, I have reached my quota on several of the burger joints I’ve been to. One place I refuse to eat another burger at, and I will only return for their Thursday night deals (where you can buy a pound of french fries for three euros).

But I have to wonder why I run into these quotas. Is it because I want to try as many restaurants as possible? Is having delicious food or a cute ambience not enough? For some places, a limit for visits does not exist. There is a cupcake place here in the city that I’ve been to more times than I can count, and I have eaten Vietnamese food at Petit Grain on many occasions. There are also places I strive to go to often, even if I can’t always find a reason to. I walk past my favorite boulangerie on a weekly basis just to say hi even if I am not going in to buy a baguette. There is a cafe a couple streets over that I wish I had made my regular lunch spot, but I discovered it too late in the semester, so now I try to go as often as I can. There are, too, places for which my desired number of visits is “once.” There’s a bar that I spent a lovely night at, huddled outside under blankets sitting next to a tree that was growing up through the terrace, but as much as I adored the bar, going that one time was enough. Why do some places beckon me back while others outlive their allure? Why do I have my “favorite cafe” or “regular joint” when at the same time I am so interested in trying a new restaurant whenever I go out for lunch?

I’ve had a heck of a time walking the streets of the Lyonnais peninsula searching for new pubs and new restaurants  and for the most part I’ve been able to try the ones I want to try. But sometimes it is worth it to forgo testing that new kebab place and instead snuggling up in the familiar environment of the cupcake bakery?

I don’t know. But for now, I guess I will try not to worry too much about quotas and pizzas and novelty. That is until I get back to UCLA where Los Angeles has more bars and restaurants to try than there are days in the academic year. Here’s to hoping my experience in Lyon prepares me for the food uncertainty I face in the future.

Spring is here!

For the past several months I have been wearing long underwear beneath my jeans. My mom brought me two pairs when she visited in November, and I haven’t taken them off since.  This winter has been the coldest I’ve ever endured, especially coming from California where I am used to trips to the beach in the days following New Year’s. These longjohns have been my savior, staving off hypothermia, always giving my freezing legs a nice, warm, comforting hug. I’ve developed quite a relationship with these guys.

But last week, the strangest thing happened. I went outside, and I was hot. I walked through the streets confused, completely unable to run my errands like I planned. I looked into the reflections of storefront windows to see if I was accidentally wearing many more clothes than I thought. But it wasn’t the clothes, it was the sun. The sun had somehow actually managed to raise the surrounding temperature to a livable 53 degrees. I let out a deep sigh in disbelief (finally, a sigh I couldn’t see).

I immediately walked very quickly back to my house and up to my room where I ripped off all of my clothes, including my long underwear. I stared at their limp, hollow form for a good two minutes before looking into the mirror at my pale, naked legs. I was free. These underwear that had been a miracle for so long were suddenly totally obsolete. I started to put back on my clothes. I opted not to grab the extra jacket, I wore sandals, and my wrists were left exposed.

The walk downstairs out of my apartment building into the open air was full of apprehension. Had I imagined the sun? Were the sandals overly optimistic?

I stepped outside and was overcome with an intense happiness, one that only exists in the company of short sleeves. Without thinking, I skipped over to the bike lock-up station, took out a bike, hopped on and skidded off towards the river. I pulled my bike down the nearest set of stairs to get to the water. I rode north along the bank, passing brightly-dressed families, shirtless French men, kids with ice cream. Every seat along the water was suddenly filled with people, the warm weather having pulled us all out of our houses. Everyone was smiling, and as I biked I let out silly, giggly laughs. Giddiness was splashing about everywhere. It was spilling out of the cold drinks of the people sitting at the riverboat cafes. Romance was falling from the trees.

Suddenly, spring had sprung. Lyon was no longer trapped in the cold, keeping its people holed up in their bedrooms or hiding behind scarves. I made my way to park, my legs sore from biking for the first time in a long while and my cheeks sore from smiling. I had a little glass of sangria. I took a ride on a paddle boat. It was perfect.

Now, with a little over a month left here, I plan on participating fully in this French springtime. More ice cream! More walks! More smiles! And no more long underwear.

Feeling Frenchie

Finally, after spending a semester in France, I’m starting to feel very very French, and I am very, very happy about it. When I first got here in September I tried all kinds of things to make myself feel more French. I ate lots of pastries, I didn’t cringe when I inhaled second-hand smoke, I took long leisurely strolls through the park, I didn’t buy deodorant, I wore striped shirts, the list goes on. But all of it somehow didn’t quite make me feel French, more just like a smelly, stripey, well-fed boy.

But things have changed. Of course, I have still kept up my butter-based eating habits and sailor-like outfits, but now it’s less of a charade and more of a real-live life. This semester I moved out of my homestay in the the neighboring city of Villeurbanne and moved into an apartment in the middle of the Lyonnais peninsula. So now, instead of making a half-hour commute into town to meet my friends, everything fun is at my fingertips. Long park strolls are now just a bike ride away, and I have an endless supply of seriously cute boulangeries within three blocks of my house. I walk almost everywhere, even when it’s raining, and constantly say, “it’s so pretty here” in quick, short, labored bursts (something I haven’t done since walking around the UCLA campus).

I cook for myself now, for the first time in my life. Every dish has ham or blonde lentils, and when I eat I get to gaze out of my window (with shutters and a scalloped awning) to the moss-covered buildings across the courtyard. My shower doesn’t have a shower head holder, so every time I bathe I have to hold the sprayer above my head and soap up one-handedly. A tour through my neighborhood features a 12th century basilica, an old-timey pharmacy, a classic bouchon, and lots and lots of cobblestones. Essentially, every aspect of my life has just become hyper French. I hang my clothes up to dry, I have empty wine bottles in my room, I see the world in different shades of bleu, blanc, and rouge.

The director of the EAP program here in Lyon had told me that the second semester was always the better one. She said that there wasn’t any sort of adjustment period, that we would know how to go about choosing our classes and that our French would already be easy to use.

And while all of those things are true – the French comes easier, classes are better, friends are already made – the best thing about second semester abroad is finally feeling like you aren’t visiting but that you are actually living. I am still an extremely obvious (and proud) Californian, but my life looks and feels very, very French.

International (and extremely long) winter break

Normally, winter break at UCLA is a very comfortable three weeks long. Last year, we got a fourth week on account of the new year falling on a Sunday, and the extra time nearly killed me because of the additional gluttony and TV watching. The French school system is set up to give you just a little two week break, which terrified me at the beginning of the semester, but through some freak accident (that I plan on recreating this semester) I took only courses with in-class finals, which all took place in December instead of the middle of January. My break got stretched from a high school-sized two-weeker to a demi-summer break of five weeks. I cannot remember a winter where I have had so much free mental space to think about things besides school and schoolwork and what outfit to wear tomorrow at school.

My break started with a visit from my dear friend Carly who braved two trans-Atlantic plane flights in less than a week and a half just to see me. We spent a few days in Lyon to catch me up on everything happening at UCLA and to let Carly get jealous of my beautiful city. We then sped off to Paris for a whirlwind adventure that included cups and cups of extremely rich hot cocoa, many walks, lots of ice cream, and several visits to Shakespeare and Company (Paris’s English bookshop). Seeing Carly was magical, partly because any amount of time spent in Paris is magic and mostly because Carly is magic. It was like being back at UCLA (and it felt good).

After sending Carly off to the airport, I headed to the Alps for a week of skiing and mountaineer food (think wild deer, boiled chestnuts, lots of melted cheese). If I wasn’t on the slopes getting severely wind-chapped, then I was spending my time reading a book or watching the Alien movies (of which there are four – I started seeing Sigourney Weaver on the ski lifts by the time I was done). The best part of the Alps was having my very first white Christmas, so so picturesque.

I then shot back over to Paris for New Year’s with my friend Sasha. Paris again involved more hot cocoa and more food and a sparkly Eiffel tower to welcome 2013.

To finish up, my friend Gina, who is spending the year studying in Egypt, came for a visit. We went over to London for a week to stay with friends and soak up some English-speaking culture. We got to go look at the Crown Jewels, bounce in and out of pubs, take a tour of Westminster Abbey, see Windsor Castle, and just generally enjoy each others’ company.

I feel completely spoiled by this break, not only because it was so so long or that I got to travel so much but because I got to spend time with some of my best UCLA buddies. But ahhh, now to return to school. I’ll be posting something soon about classes!

Fête des Lumières

It’s wintertime here in Lyon! That means snow, lots of soup in my homestay, and the Fête des Lumières. The Fête des Lumières is a giant festival that happens in the beginning of December every year in Lyon. It draws millions of people from around France and around the world. It last for four days and features ~dazzling~ light shows in different parts of the city.

I went to check things out last night with a group of UC kids. We started in Bellecour, Lyon’s largest square, and made our way up through downtown, over the river to old Lyon, and back to the peninsula.

Each street in downtown has a different theme of hanging lights. There’s a street with floating hearts, one with a glowing cathedral, one with elaborate dangling flowers, and many more. Besides the hanging lights, there were several big light shows projected onto city landmarks. We made our way through a street lit up with big yellow bulbs to get to Place des Terreaux where the first light show was. It started with tiny pictures of the classic Lyonnais tea lights projected onto the faces of three buildings surrounding the square. They started swirling around, videos of dancers appeared on the buildings, things went wild. There were people doing acrobatics, lights flashing around in bunches of different colors, images of the moon and stars, all of which were projected onto these buildings.

After Place des Terreaux, we stopped in another little square to grab some December munchies – candied apples and tartiflette – then made our way to the St. Jean Cathedral in old Lyon for another light show. This one was my favorite. The face of the church has a lot of cool details like statues and stained glass that the light show highlighted in fun ways. There must have been hundreds of different displays that made the church look like it was covered in vines or tapestries or made of gold or melting etc etc etc.

The last light show was on the face of the old theater in downtown Lyon. This show was much more abstract with videos of paint being poured and mixed projected onto the building.

We finished up by strolling around and taking in more of the sights. The whole city was twinkling – and it’s not over! I still have three more nights of fun and lights. Tonight, I think I am going to check out the water show over at the Confluence (where Lyon’s two rivers meet) and look at the enchanted garden in Croix Rousse. Happy winter!