26 July, 2009

Day 5: In which I try (and fail) to write like Seth Stevenson

3 July 2009...........................................................................................10:20 PM Aurelia's house

I neglected to mention that last night was a company picnic of sorts for Sinequa (Aurelia's company, and the one for which I am now temporarily employed). It was a lot of fun. Very French--everyone sitting on the ground in suits and dresses, eating cheese and drinking wine. When Cyrill, the man with who I "negotiated" my "contract" offered me some wine and I declined, saying I wasn't thirsty, he said (in English): "Oh, you are Mormon?" How the heck did he know that? Then I realized: I will never be able to keep my religion on the down-low at my workplace. One, I graduated from Brigham Young University. Two, I served abroad as an LDS missionary. Good-bye, under the radar. Hello, walking "It's About Time" ad.

Anyway, today was my first day of work. My "training" if you will. It went well. I really like the work, and I really like the company. I never thought this was possible, but maybe computational linguistics could be my thing after all. My new fantasy is officially going to be Sinequa offering me a job when I graduate. Equals packing up and moving Sego and I to Paris. Hey, it could happen.

So I've been meaning to write some more "travel-writer-style" stuff instead of just all me, all the time. So now, allow me to present two lists. One, things you hear about Paris that aren't true. And two, my super-cool personalized travel tips for Paris. Premierement:

1. You may have heard that French women are the unshorn heathen of the Apocalypse. In other words, that the women here don't shave. Au contraire! I was the most clothed woman in this entire city who was not wearing the hijab these past few days, and I have yet to see an unshaved pit. Hungary has France beat in the unsightly body hair department. Which makes sense, if you think about how France is way ahead of Hungary in the whole "looking to the USA for guidance" thing.

2. You have also probably heard that French people are rude--probably from the same person who told you item one. Seriously, who have you been talking to? Listen to me now: French people want your money as badly as anyone else. They will not be intentionally rude to you unless you are rude first. If you're from a place where people are naturally gregarious even with strangers, like, for example, Texas, you might find the French a little standoffish. But if you're from Seattle, you'll be fine.

3. You may have heard that a hunchbacked man rings the bells of Notre Dame. Nope. I checked.

4. You may not have heard this, but personally I have always got the idea (from movies and such) that Paris was sort of sedate and tranquil, and that's what made it so romantic. It's really not. Paris is definitely a city. My room shares the courtyard with a restaurant, and I hear people laughing and clanking dishes for most of the night (Luckily, my personality is such that I find this soothing). Paris is romantic, but not because it's quiet.

That said, to contradict Collin, one does NOT need a lover to visit Paris. I toured the city alone, and had a blast. Here are my tips for your own one-person (or you know, whatever) Romantic Getaway:

1. As soon as you arrive in Paris, I don't care how tired you are, go to the nearest corner grocery store and buy yourself some French grapes. The fat, round, violet ones. Oh my. (Pause to eat grapes).

2. Do what I did, and leave your iPod at home. Hardly anyone here sports them, and a big part of the fun in Paris is soaking in the sounds of the city and eavesdropping on French conversations you can't understand.

3. Along the same lines, learn French. Any French is better than none, which is what I was armed with, and it was sometimes limiting. It's hard to get off the beaten path if you can't communicate with anyone. So learn some French. Or better yet, have a French parent, so you'll be fluent.

4. Notre Dame? Totally worth fighting the crowds. Also free this time of year. I recommend forking over the three-euro donation (Yes, it's a donation, but you better pay it, you cheap bastard!) and getting one of the little candles that says Notre Dame on it. More interesting than the kitschy junk at the gift shop, and cheaper too.

5. Also, don't just walk through Notre Dame. Sit. Think. Hum to yourself the soundtrack from Disney's Hunchback of Notre Dame. It's a really cool place to hang out if you give it a chance. Plus it's a church. It's meant to be sat in, not walked through.

6. The Louvre? Also worth a look. But don't bother standing in the ridiculous line for a glance at the Mona Lisa. It takes forever and you don't get that close anyway. I highly recommend the exhibits with the Greek and Roman statues. Particularly the many manifestations of Venus. I was so in awe of the skin and figures of said incarnations that I left the Louvre with half a mind to name my firstborn daughter Venus. Chalk it up to temporary insanity.

7. Buy a metro pass for as many days as you will be there. Should I repeat myself for emphasis? BUY A METRO PASS FOR AS MANY DAYS AS YOU WILL BE THERE. Paris is a big city, and although walking can be a pleasant experience, there WILL be days in which you spend all day walking and a three-kilometer walk back to where you are staying will seem like an insurmountable task. Also, riding the metro is a BLAST and a great chance to people-watch (re: check out French men). So buy a metro pass. It's worth every penny.

8. I am now going to say something potentially controversial. I would say if you are anything like me, and will be in Paris for a week or less, don't bother buying a museum pass. They are a good deal in the sense that that for 60 bucks or so they get you in free to like 60 museums and attractions. But they are a waste of money in the sense that no human being could see that many tourist attractions in three days. Although I am the kind of person who takes it slow, I'll admit. I spent a few hours in Notre Dame, a whole afternoon in the Louvre, and a whole evening at the Pimpidou (more on that in a minute). But if you're more of a whirlwind tour kind of gal or guy, maybe it would be worth the money for you. For me, however, it would have been cheaper to just buy individual tickets (esp. considering that Notre Dame was free...and the Musee de l'Erotique is NOT included).

9. If you get sushi in Paris, an eight-piece roll is quite small. It will not fill you up.

10. I highly recommend the giant ferris wheel.

11. I shrug my thick American shoulders at the Eiffel tower.

12. During the course of your trip, you will, every day, see AT LEAST one woman (or man) that looks EXACTLY like Liza Minelli. Don't be fooled! It is not. Stop dreaming.

13. You must spend a few hours at the Pimpidou if you like modern art. Especially the exhibit they have right now about female artists. Their collection is MIND-BLOWING. Beware, though, that it's a MODERN art museum, so if you're squeamish/easily offended/Wills, you might want to be careful, or take someone like me with you so she can go first into each room and make sure it's safe.

Day 4: Job interviews and Hammer pants

2 July 2009..................................................................................................................A park

The interview went really well, and I got the job. They're paying me more than twice what I expected, and I think the project is going to be really fun. I think it's a good omen that I found an Indian restaurant nearby. I'm going to go there later this afternoon.

2 July 2009.........................................................................................................On the metro

I'm actually pretty proud of myself re: how quickly I figured out the metro system here. It's only been two days and I already feel like I could get anywhere in the city I needed to. This may say more about the metro system than about me. But some of us take whatever praise we can get.

My gosh the men here are so handsome. I don't know how, if I should, to elaborate on that. It's just true. France has simply beautiful specimens of both genders. I'm glad I didn't serve my mission here.

Today was a very slow day to make up for the fact that I lived yesterday at an absolutely breakneck pace. After my job interview, I went to a park and sat for awhile, then I just walked around the streets for awhile, occasionally entering stores that looked interesting. There is a style of pants that is stylish here that I really want to buy. They are linen, capri length, and look like the lovechild of a gathered skirt and Aladdin pants. They are awesome. I'm not sure where to look for them though. I'll have to ask Aurelia.

2 July 2009.....................................................................................Still on the metro

So I've got the metro figured out, but not the commuter trains.

15 July, 2009

Day 3: Catholicism, the unimpressive Mona Lisa and the rather impressive Sufjan

1 July 2009............................................................................Afternoon, Notre Dame cathedral

I am sitting in the back of Notre Dame in a small enclave flanked by stained glass. The area is marked "reserved for silent prayer and services," but since to me, contemplation is a form of prayer, and the rest of the cathedral is a little loud and crowded for my taste, I feel OK about being here. If I concentrate, the shuffling of feet and unintelligible mumbling becomes like white noise, and I can feel alone and sort of contemplative.

There are four of us in this enclave. I am the only white person. There's a black woman who is rocking slightly and mouthing prayers to herself, and two men who are just sitting quietly, one Indian, the other of dark and ambiguous ethnicity (Romany maybe?). A Hispanic woman just walked in, and there you have it. A veritable rainbow of Catholicism.

I've spoken too soon. Three South American nuns just walked in, in traditional habitry no less. They sat for only a minute or so before walking out. I hope they don't think I'm blaspheming by writing in here. For all they know I could be writing devotions to God, or at least St. Augustine.

I've always felt that were I to be a practicing one, I would be one of those weirdly devoted Catholics, the kind who is only comfortable in Italy or parts of South America. Going to mass multiple times a week like my grandmother did. THAT level of piety. I find a lot of comfort in the rituals of Catholicism now that I'm old enough to participate in them without feeling like a traitor. I like lighting candles and touching the feet of statues and fingering rosary beads and dipping my fingers in holy water and crossing myself. I dig symbolism. Which I suppose is why I like the temple so much.

In my first area, we were meeting with a new investigator who showed me a rosary she had recently received as a gift. At the end of the lesson my trainer, who, bless her heart, was not exactly master of tact, made a snide comment about how her "pretty necklace" wasn't going to get her into Heaven. I never stood up to my trainer because I was so afraid of her, but at that point I almost bit her head off. I was pissed. I think because I see a lot of value in those rituals even though they are a little unnecessary. That's why I still cross myself when I see an ambulance or a car accident: because although it's not a prayer, it reminds me of God. It reminds me to thank Him for things, or ask for His protection.

On the other hand, though, my friend Kevin said something to me once when we were touring a cathedral in Hungary that made more sense than any anti-Catholic rhetoric I've ever heard from anyone. In the vast halls and various traditions of Catholicism, I often feel in awe of God, but I never feel like a child of God. The high ceilings and huge paintings, the epicness of everything, makes me feel like a bug. Which makes sense if you're a theocracy trying to control people. But doesn't if you're trying to help people understand their potential. So I love and appreciate the Catholic church for what it has given me, but I'm grateful I've found something better.

1 July 2009 ...................................................................................................On the street

French police uniforms are ridiculous. They make it look like they're all sticking their butts out. Or maybe they all just are.

1 July 2009 ...............................................................Courtyard outside the Louvre

The highlight of my trip so far is sitting here and putting my feet in this marble fountain. Pure sensual delight. For those of you who say I came an awfully long way to get my feet wet, so to speak: shut up.

Also, I just gave some crackers to a Bosnian kid who held a postcard in my face asking for money. It stunk of a scam but even if his mother wasn't actually dead and his father wasn't actually in the hospital, he was probably actually hungry.

1 July 2009..................................................................................................8:55 PM my room

Remember how I said one of the hardest things I can imagine was finding someone you haven't seen in ten years in a crowded train station where you don't speak the language? Here is something even harder: getting out of the Louvre. I was there for a solid four hours today. Three of those hours were spent admiring the Greek statues, the medieval paintings, making a cursory stop near the Mona Lisa (not my favorite painting), checking out the cool Egyptian artifacts etc. The final hour was spent figuring out how to leave. Every time I thought I had found an exit, it turned out to be an emergency exit for emergencies only, or I just plain never found it, even though the signs indicated that there ought to be one. It was like being at Hogwarts in the midst of a massive practical joke. Anyway, I pondered giving up, eating dinner at the Louvre and possibly hunkering down there for the rest of my life, when I finally found a usable exit. C'est good nekem!*

*For those unfamiliar, this is Frangarian, the language I speak whenever I try to communicate with a French person. It's a combination of English, French and Hungarian, which I suppose would make it part of the Romance-Ugric language family.

Anyway, by the time I got out of there I was STARVING. Another daunting task of today: finding a restaurant with ONE vegetarian item (besides alcohol or ice cream). I walked around for, yes, another hour, and NOTHING. There was ONE Japanese restaurant that has vegetable tempura, but they were closed. Finally, I did give up and bought some grapes (Mmmmm ... French grapes) and apple juice, and sat on the steps with some homeless people and ate it. I also had some roasted nuts (Not sure what kind, look up "arachides"--translation = spiders. Just kidding! It's peanuts.) While I was eating said nuts, I dropped one and a skinny little pigeon came and ate it. He swallowed it whole! I was impressed. I then dropped a grape because I thought it would be cute to watch a pigeon peck open a grape. But he completely ignored it. Finicky little bugger.

After dinner the Eiffel Tower started to sound very crowded and very far away, and I began to be aware of just how tired I was and just how sore my legs and feet were. Then I devised a plan: right by the Louvre is a HUGE ferris wheel. I could ride on that, see the Eiffel Tower, and call it a day. Is seeing the famed monument as good as going there? (Contrary to popular movies, the Eiffel Tower is NOT clearly visible from every window is Paris?? I know, right?) The answer, for me at least, was: you betcha.

The ferris wheel had over twenty compartments that sat four people each, and there were only four of us in line so I would figured I would get my own compartment. Not so: they put us all in one: me, a woman of about sixty in a fabulous white lace hat/dress ensemble, one whom I presumed to be her son, a middle-aged guy in an unbuttoned to mid-chest Hawaiian shirt, and his four year-old son,who was certifiably adorable. The grandma was excited when I got in the compartment with them instead of being miffed that I was crashing their family moment, so I knew she was cool. She ended up talking the whole time. She would yell/whoop with delight every time the ferris wheel moved, and kept making comments to the little boy such as "Isn't this fun?" or "Look at this view! Isn't it magnificent?" She was pretty much my favorite old lady of all time. I hated to get off. And the view of Paris was, for the record, truly magnificent.

One more story of note for today. I got hit on by my first French guy. I decided to take the metro home, seeing as I was hot and tired, and as I was walking into the underground tunnel I paused to dig through my bag to find my metro ticket. As I was standing there a young guy also paused to dig through his bag for his pass, and he turned to me and said something. He actually said like a whole paragraph before he asked a question (I actually thought he was asking me if I had an extra ticket) and I responded (In English) "I'm sorry, I don't speak French." To which he apologized and backed off. However, when I was standing by the map trying to figure out what line to take, he appeared again and helped me figure out which line to take. I guess he kinda liked the damsel in distress thing I had going on. He was cute but his English was lousy. By combining his lousy English and my lousy French, I learned that:

1. His name was Sufjan (But he had never heard of Sufjan Stevens).
2. He was from Algeria.
3. He works as a cook at an elementary school.
4. He likes Paris a lot.
5. He has never been to the United States.
6. He wants to learn English but needs motivation.
7. He thinks I am very nice and pretty.

He ended up walking me on the two metro lines and all the way back to my street. He offered to buy me dinner but I politely declined. He also bumblingly asked for my phone number, which I did not give him, but I did give him my email address. In different circumstances this probably would have seemed really shady, but I listened to my instincts and I am truly convinced that he really was just a nice guy who wanted to help me navigate the subway and was dazzled by my beauty. And really, who can blame him?*

Oh yeah. I forgot to mention that he gave me a piece of gum on the metro, but I waited until he put HIS piece in his mouth before I opened mine. I may be sexy, but I'm not stupid.**


**That was also a joke, except for the part about me not being stupid. I'm really not.

09 July, 2009

Day 2: In which I display some symptoms of latent Patriotism

30 June 2009 ...................................................On the flight to Amsterdam, one hour from landing

Local time: 9:30 AM. Time from origin: 3:30 AM, and since Cincinnati is one or two hours ahead of Salt Lake that means it's about four or five in the morning for me right now? However, this is a nine hour flight and I've slept for most of it, so I don't feel that bad. Red-eye transatlantic is definitely the way to go.

Here are the blessings from this flight:

1. I am alone in my row of three seats. Meaning, I get two pillows, two blankets (I feel greedy using three) and I can lie down to sleep.

2. I totally forgot to call ahead and request a vegetarian meal and I was so desperately hungry when I got on the flight I was open to eating pretty much anything. However, for the first time in my life, one of the two entree options was vegetarian: some sort of ravioli with a very weak pesto and undercooked pine nuts. Not fabulous. But still vegetarian.

3. One of the TV options on the flight was an episode of the "This American Life" TV show, which I am now officially fond of.

4. They also have "Lisa the Iconoclast," a Simpsons episode I am particularly fond of.

5. The stewardesses on this flight are nice and of the non-meddlesome variety. For example, while I was lying down trying to sleep we hit some very mild turbulence. The intercom asked us to put on our seatbelts, but I decided (as I am prone to do) that I was not getting up unless someone asked me to. No one did, even though they walked by me once or twice. Thanks, girls.

6. I forgot how much I love sleeping on a moving vehicle. It's like being rocked to sleep.

7. The stewardesses gave me water with breakfast since I didn't want coffee or tea and I drank it in one motion. This is a major accomplishment.

I was going to make a list of things that are bad/annoying, but now I can't think of anything. Except it's possible that I snored, but that's only annoying to others, not to me. Plus we're right about the wheels so it's really loud.

30 July 2009 ...............................................................................................@ the Schiphol Airport

The train station is, in fact, attached to the airport, so no worries about missing my train--it leaves at 2:20 and it's only 11:20. I'm not hungry enough to eat, not tired enough to sleep, and not really interested in shopping. All the stores here are American institutions: Burger King, Starbucks, the Body Shop, etc. I might look for an internet cafe so I can email Dad and let him know I'm alive, and I should also probably hit up an ATM. But right now I feel like people-watching.

I'm surprised how similar the people look here. Not to each other, to Americans. the men are a little more ruggedly handsome than I've grown used to in Utah, but the women pretty much look like me: dyed hair, no make-up, slightly haggard and only slightly more dressed up than the average American is while traveling. I brushed my teeth so I don't feel disgusting, but my shirt is covered with lint.

There are a lot of Americans here. Also a lot of stewardesses, who wear primary blue polyester suits that look so 60s I wonder if it's the same pattern from the airline's original uniform. I'm happy not to have a backpack, which seems to mark one not necessarily as an American, but definitely as a tourist. I don't like traveling with backpacks, because I hate what they do to my posture, I feel silly doing the "swing and snap" maneuver that is required when donning a large heavy pack (except when I'm backpacking, of course) and I'm paranoid about getting robbed, even though the only thing I'm carrying that is worth any money is my passport. My carry-on bag is a little heavy so it does make me slump to one side like a Hungarian grandmother, but the important thing is that I'm carrying no backpack. No backpack here, Hans!

30 June 2009 ............................................................................................About 45 minutes later

Did I mention I came to Europe for the food? It's true. Architecture is nice but peripheral. Culture? Meh. Art, well, okay, I like that too. But I just went to the grocery store in this little mall that I am stuck in for the next few hours, and purchased the following items: 1. a chocolate croissant 2. some European juice (passion fruit ... delicious, but not too sweet, just the way I like it) 3. a small block of cheese, made better because it is European, and 4. a pear, made better because etc. (see #3). Six euros only. And it's all fabulous. I could die right now. Which would be silly because I've still only seen the airport.

30 July 2009 .........................................................Ten minutes later after I got bored with eating

I realize that my above comment might make me sound hipster and snobbish, like I think EVERYTHING in Europe is better by virtue of the fact that it is European. Not so! I will now amuse myself by coming up with a list of things that America does better.

1. Pizza. I have sampled the pizza of three continents, and thus can say with some authority that American pizza is superior to everything except possibly Italian pizza, which I have never tried.

2. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. One in Japan simply isn't the same. Not that this is a great shock or anything like that.

3. Celebrities. Our famous people may not be classier, but they are, in fact, better at being famous. I mean, look at Orlando Bloom. Seriously, what the hell.

4. Rock music. European rock music is funnier, but it has no soul.

5. Ditto hip hop.

6. Customer service. I can't count how many times in Hungary I wanted to grab a store clerk by the neck and scream "I AM TRYING TO GIVE YOU MONEY IN EXCHANGE FOR GOODS AND/OR SERVICES!!!" only to have him/her continue to file her nails/ talk on the phone/avoid eye contact as of he/she enjoyed standing at a counter with a fat frumpy American standing idly by, clearing her throat uncertainly.

7. Infant and child safety standards. I haven't researched this, but some of these strollers do not look safe.

8. Flip flops. The ones here look stiff and uncomfortable.

I'm not trying to make myself homesick or anything. That's all I got for now, though.

30 June 2009..................................................................................................... Train to Paris

Sheesh, I'm tired. I was able to sleep until we reached Antwerp but now the train is much too crowded.

30 June 2009.................................................................................................. 4 hours later

French men are not at all shy about staring. They stare long and hard and smirkily (that's not a word). If I weren't traveling alone I would find it flattering.

30 June 2009.................................................................................................. 9:30 PM Aurelia's house

Want to know a fun game? Trying to find a person you haven't seen in ten years at a crowded train station in a country where you do not speak the language. Good times, I tell you.

So somehow Aurelia and I found each other at the train station and we took the bus to her awesome flat where she lives with her "husband" (the quotes are hers) and their four year-old daughter Liv.

Fact: French women are gorgeous, and I don't mean fashion-wise necessarily. They have lovely skin and long necks and are generally lithe and effortlessly beautiful. I spent the entire bus ride staring at the other passengers (the women and the men ... especially the black men ... whoa) and feeling like a hag. I heard from some people that French women are always dressed up, but they didn't seem dressed up to me. Then again, I live in Provo, where women wear high heels to the library. Anyway, not to self: make an effort w/ appearance tomorrow to compensate for lack of natural beauty.

Aurelia's husband, Renaud, is a handsome 40 year-old philosophy teacher (be still, Ashley Mackay's heart). He was surprised when I politely refused his offer of beer or wine, but was pleased when I liked the French cheese he offered (tomme deau savoie-savoie if I remember correctly). Both speak excellent English, but I still feel humiliated at my inability to speak French with them, mostly because their daughter is adorable and I'd like to talk with her. I can come up with words but not sentences. I guess now I know how my dad felt when he lived abroad.

Aurelia informed me that the bed I am sleeping in is very creaky and the neighbors can hear it. I don't know if she was implying something or what (my bedroom has its own separate entrance) but never fear. Operation French fling begins tomorrow.

I am kidding, by the way.

06 July, 2009

Day Zero, or, Don't be fooled by the post dates, read the real ones

29 June 2009 Flight from Salt Lake City to Cincinnati

Airplanes are boring. I like trains better. I don't hate flying like some people do, and I relish the time alone to read embarrassing magazines without feeling like there's something much more productive I ought to be doing ... actually, forget what I just said. I'm not bored at all. Just hungry. I don't know what time it is in the sky currently, but by my calculations it's approaching dinnertime. And I'm on a Delta flight, which means food costs money and I'm sure much of it would be inedible (not just for my vegetarian self, for anyone). I finished American Born Chinese and figured out exactly which presentations at the IAFL conference I absolutely MUST attend (3 are about child abuse! I'm excited about that ... Is that weird?) so now it's either nap, which I'd rather not do, or write, which I am currently doing. I'm applauding myself for not bringing my iPod. It makes me feel more present. Also, the three year-old boy in the seat directly in front of me reached out his little hand and put it on my knee a few minutes ago. I couldn't see his face so I'm not sure if it was intentional or not.

Some other things I've noticed so far:

1. The very old man in front of me in line was very nice. His name was Carl. He looked clean but didn't have any luggage, only a plastic grocery bag with his meds in it. He definitely should not have been traveling alone. His flight left ten minutes before mine so I made sure he was ahead of me in the security line so he wouldn't get lost. I hope he made his flight. He had trouble understanding the ticket agent's directions.

2. A woman, also in line in front of me, had a blue canvas bag with a patch on it that said: "Utah Knitters Guild: Wanna make something of it?" along with a picture of some sheep. It reminded me of Olivia.

3. While I was boarding the plane a voice came over the intercom saying there was a "David Koler" who needed to recover some lost property. I immediately texted my brother and told him of the strange coincidence.

4. Ohio looks like an earth-tone patchwork quilt with a long ice cream stain on it (blueberry).

5. I just saw the border that joins Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. Really? Apparently, I don't know the geography of my own homeland at all. Everything between the Intermountain West and the original 13 colonies is just a blur.

6. At the airport in line behind me (until she cut) was a woman with a baby in a sling and a toddler on a leash, accompanied by her own mother. During check-in, Grandma got Leash Duty and the little boy decided he was DONE with this indignity, lay on the ground and refused to get up. Inwardly, I applauded. Leashes are for dogs, not children. Power, miniature brother.

Preamble to a long string of themed posts

To my dear and loyal readers,

Let me just start this off by saying that quite often I remind myself of Howard Hughes, and not in a good way. By that I mean that I fixate on things, sometimes to my detriment. If I get a concept or plan or value in my head, frequently I can think of NOTHING ELSE until either I develop a new fixation or I change my mind and abandon it completely.

In retrospect, it's a wonder I only changed my major four times instead of two hundred.

Sometimes this can be a good thing, because I devote a lot of passion and energy to things (or people) I care about. However, it can be limiting if I'm fixating on one thing and so refuse to participate in another thing that might be equally beneficial or even better. Also, sometimes I fixate on something to the point where I am unfortunately and unnecessarily inflexible.

One of these subjects upon which I fixate is the fact that banana ice cream, when fresh, is the best kind of ice cream in the known universe. No one could possibly convince me otherwise.

My latest victim of fixation is photography. Specifically, my hatred of tourist photography, or rather my hatred of pictures of myself. This is the first time I have travelled abroad without a camera, and I have found that my wish to commemorate my trip in ways that are not visual has made me a much more observant and present sort of traveller. Because really, no one wants to see pictures of me in Paris or Provo. You all know what I look like. And if you wanted to see photos of Paris or Amsterdam, you could find much better ones on the internet. I feel no need to prove to anyone that I actually went to the places I went to. My descriptions of them, if I am as good a writer as some of you think I am, will prove that on their own. I like being able to enjoy and describe where I am without feeling the need to document it through a camera.

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about this, and thus, I spent an inordinate time writing while I was in Paris.

I am in Amsterdam now. But we'll get to that in good time. There must be an order in all things.

I now present to you my first collection of travel essays, tentatively entitled Än American in Paris, which of course is meant to be ironic.

With love and excessive formality,

Elisa A. Koler

P.S. Seriously. This is a TON of writing. Don't say I didn't warn you.