It’s just so hard for me to comprehend a whole country where the land is mapped out into neat, tiny little quadrants, where the hills and valleys and forests have been tamed into squares bordered by little wooden fences. Continue reading
I have learned an awful lot of things this year. I have learned that the moment you leave your hometown and your mind begins to stretch past the old familiar skylines, the world somehow shrinks to the size of a tennis ball and yet expands until an ocean seems like a lightyear wide, I have learned to savour the bittersweet tang a goodbye leaves in your mouth, I have even – although this took much longer – learned not to flinch when perfect strangers move to kiss my cheeks. But above all the many things I’ve learned this year, I have learned about time.
When you begin to pull together the bricks that make up a new life from nothing, time becomes a strangely malleable shadow to your life: people used to say to me, you’ve got loads of time! But I knew that if time kept charging on the way it had in the first few months, I didn’t have much time at all. Time becomes such an abstract concept – how has it been two months, five months, ten months already? And yet how has it only been months? So much has happened, so much has changed, enough experiences to fill a lifetime in such a short span of time.
I have been trying to write about Grenoble for a while now, but I don’t know that I can. How can I put this city into words? It isn’t my hometown. I do not come from here: I was born in the rain-sodden shadow of the Coastal Mountains and I was raised to the beat of the relentless pounding of waves on beaches of a city far, far away from here. I was not born and raised in Grenoble.
But I left my hometown. I got on a plane and I flew a very long way and before I left everyone said to me, aren’t you scared? And I said, yes, I’m scared! I don’t know where I’m living and I don’t speak the language and I don’t know a single soul in the whole city! Yes, I’m scared!
That was a lie. I wasn’t scared, not even a little bit. In Vancouver I was never able to shake the nagging habit of saying and doing what I vaguely thought was expected of me. If I was honest, I would have said that I didn’t feel anything but this immense kind of calm, like I was back on Kettle River when I was eight, sitting in an inner tube in the Okanagan sunshine being pulled by the current of the river, feeling absolutely and utterly at peace with the world. Continue reading
Barcelona dances. Every city’s got a rhythm, every city’s got a beat, and Barcelona’s is a flamenco dancer: her hips swirl, her feet stamp, she tosses her head and flings back her arms with the kind of effortless grace and artistry people spend their lives searching for. You don’t have to be there long to taste it. The music moves in everything. You feel it as you’re pushed along the river of people on La Rambla, under the warm green light of the poplar trees – you know the kind of light that you think must be warming your soul, it feels so good? That’s the kind of light you get in Barcelona. Continue reading
Budapest isn’t one of those cities you fall in love with straight away, in the blink of an eye, without thought or doubt or hesitation. When you emerge dirty and travel-worn from the mire of Hungarian subway signs, you’re not immediately welcomed with open arms. You’re treated with the courtesy and kindness that is due a guest – but you haven’t come to a city willing to throw itself in your path, the people here will not vie for your attention. Instead, when you first step out of the depths of the train station, they seem to tuck their chins a little deeper into their coat collars: there are too many walls to hide behind. Continue reading
This past weekend, thirty-five of us piled into a bus and drove for three hours deep into the French Alps for a weekend of white-water rafting and randonnée — hiking, the activity this part of the country is famous for.
If you go white-water rafting in this particular part of France, you will float along a river that winds its way through magnificent gorges and past the medieval ruins you can’t escape in Europe, but you won’t really be able to appreciate that because you will be getting pushed into the water every other minute by both the guides and your fellow rafters. Wearing the appropriate safety gear, you’ll live out your childhood dream of becoming a pirate. Yes, it was dangerous. But the air was warm and the waters of the Durance River were benign enough, and quite frankly the French don’t care. Continue reading
To all the people feeling overwhelmed by the number of options in exchanges that they have in Go Global, I’m so envious of you. (I’m supposed to be studying for my exam tomorrow but I’m not. Apparently you still have exams while on exchange??)
I’m so, so envious of you. I remember me at this time last year. I wanted more than anything in the world to go to Sciences Po Paris, and live on Boulevard St Michel, and sleep in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and wander down the Seine every afternoon, and breathe in the same air that Hemingway and Picasso and Chanel and all the others did, once upon a sunny morning. I thought that’s what I’d wanted since I was twelve years old and I fell in the love with that city for the first time. But it’s been exactly four months, 21 days, and eight and a half hours since I arrived in Grenoble. And it’s been four months, 21 days and eight hours since I thought for a single second that going to Grenoble wasn’t absolutely the right decision. I love it here. I love it more than anything else. I never knew the meaning of the word serendipity until I got here. I don’t regret it for a moment, not for a heartbeat. I still don’t know why I chose this tiny little city as my second choice but I’m so inexpressibly glad that I did. What I’m saying is, it doesn’t matter where you go. Continue reading
It’s surprisingly easy to build up a life here on exchange when you know it can never be anything but temporary. Actually I try not to think of it as “exchange” at all; it only reminds me just how impermanent this year really is. It makes the whole affair so much more delicate, fragile: you have to throw yourself into it more, because you know there has a time limit on it. Otherwise it doesn’t seem real and you can’t do that for long, you cannot live in a dream, the two words cancel each other out, don’t they? You have to make it vivid because that’s your way of pinching yourself to keep this real. It is real.
For me – for all of us, here, I think – it’s a dream come true; sometimes it is hard to remind ourselves that is has come true. It feels like a dream, a pause on reality. Our lives here are so completely severed from home. We are so free from constraints. We can be anything. We can do anything. We can hide anything, we can show anything, no one’s known us longer than four months. Is it really any wonder that we become more ourselves here? It’s like we’re drunk, the whole year long. The freedom you feel when your head starts to spin with the wine runs deeper and stronger than ever before and transcends the alcohol and spills over into the raw rub of daytime light. The things we have here bear no connection to our past lives except for us. Continue reading
I got to the lady at the passport desk at Gatwick Airport and it suddenly occured to me that I could talk to her. What a weird feeling. Everything is delayed for me in France: not only do you have to focus and listen to what the other person is saying, but you have to translate that into your own language, come up with a reply, and then translate that back into French. And then somehow get it out of your mouth with some semblance of an accent. All while still paying attention to whatever it is they’re saying. Living in France is wonderful; living in French is hard. Continue reading
It’s very rare to be in a moment and be able to look at it from the outside and say, I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life. Most of the time, the things we remember aren’t really what we expect: they are the little memories, the split seconds in time, that have somehow snagged on the thorns of our minds and stayed there, encapsulated forever. In the river that courses through our heads they’ve been caught by the odd rock jutting out and they’ve floated in the eddies off to the side. You never really know what’s going to stay, and what will drift on past. But then you look back and you think, yes, I remember that. Continue reading