Les Bas Sablons, Saint Malo.

 

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Saint Malo.

Is it a consolation to feel there are so many places in this world where you could easily live, even though you know quite well you never will? The consolation in seeing the richness of this world, I guess, feeling like home is a moving concept, even for those of us who aren’t constantly moving. Why so many of those seem to be in France for me?

First, I fell in love with Paris, of course, then came its Mediterranean coast, but in the last three years I’ve discovered a whole new territory on the Atlantic. Normandy is my regular getaway, La Rochelle was a sweet haven, and now there is Bretagne. Maybe, it’s the magic of the tide that has something to do with it : so weird for an Adriatic girl like me to see an island in the morning and walk to it in the afternoon, the subtle danger it implies. Or the wind, stronger here, so much every thought flies right out of your head, and even reading seems impressively challenging. If the delicious galettes de blé noir and cider weren’t enough, perhaps I could be fed by those views, the long promenades and hidden beaches, the nature whose character is somewhat rebellious and wild here, in a heavier sense than in the South (it suits the drama queen part of me).

So, the old town itself was the last thing I did here, although I appreciated its streets immensely, because the surroundings were calling loudly. I’m not sure I broke my record of kilometres walked per day, but I think I came quite close the first day. Aren’t those the best – lovely little towns, beautiful in themselves, where there is an awesome walk waiting for you, no matter the direction you choose, or almost? That’s where I would want to live.

To another life, perhaps.

Blue is the colour.

Saint Malo.

Looking through photos of my recent trip (first and definitely not last!) to Bretagne, I realized those of blue doors were among my favourites. First, I wondered why, then I remembered blue is the colour of the sea and of the sky. And that is exactly the sight I was looking for on my short escapade to another French region I can now be in love with, for love at first sight it was.

Ce toit tranquille, où marchent des colombes,
Entre les pins palpite, entre les tombes ;
Midi le juste y compose de feux
La mer, la mer, toujours recommencée !
O récompense après une pensée
Qu’un long regard sur le calme des dieux !

This quiet roof, where dove-sails saunter by,
Between the pines, the tombs, throbs visibly.
Impartial noon patterns the sea in flame —
That sea forever starting and re-starting.
When thought has had its hour, oh how rewarding
Are the long vistas of celestial calm!

Paul Valery, Le cimetière marin (The Graveyard By The Sea)*

 

*Not this one, but a writer was born and has a grave by the sea here (a spot all for himself on a little island with the best possible view) that made me think of this poem. (Hint hint to the last door.)

Strasbourg.

Flâner. Maybe one of the most important words I’ve ever learned in French. It must have made a lightbulb effect in the moment, the discovery of that territory beyond just marcher or se promener. This floating feeling to it that makes it sound so free – and that’s exactly what it is. The space it leaves in your spirit for it to really roam.

It was in Strasbourg I realized how little I actually do it lately, though, always walking around with a purpose, the modern-day woman that I’m supposed to be. Even when I’m strolling I always do it at least with a bookshop as a destination in mind. But that smoothly clear early Spring day when I left Paris for a day, I wasn’t. And it felt so good. Just walking, even if it’s in circles after a while, until your feet get sore, letting things pop up in your mind and let them go with the next step. Finally feeling the anxiety and the sadness for some really particular reason and let it melt in the joy of wandering. I only once looked at a map and almost immediately closed it because it just messed up my intuitive orientation. The one relying on the high cathedral’s towers and — well those circles I kept on making and which soon started resembling spirals and those eternal 8s, turning into a beautiful flower pattern.

I don’t have the slightest idea what one has to see in this charming but not overwhelmingly beautiful town, but I believe the really important stuff is hard to miss. The cathedral, that is. The absolutely stunningly magnificent one that, as my colleague warned me and I now must sadly agree, is a very serious (winning) competition to Notre-Dame.

The rest was up to the sunlit banks, beer and spätzle. Oh and the friendly dog owners and flirtatious waiters.

 

A Dreamy Road Ahead

Ilha Deserta, Faro.

For Friendly Friday Challenge, hosted by Snow Melts Somewhere.

There are two kinds of dreamy in our lives, aren’t there? The one we can see in our everyday, simple, but meaningful scenes, like that pinkish sky sunset paints for us after a long day at work, almost making us feel grateful we had to stay there till so late, because otherwise we wouldn’t see this view. Beauty is always dreamy for me, even when it grounds me in the present.

And then, there is the other one, the one making us dream about the future, about the open road ahead we might walk someday, even if we already rambled on some of them, even if some of them are circles, bringing us back to where we started. There are still countless possibilities of what might happen in-between the taken steps.

And I need one just as much as the other.

 

 

Revisiting the views

Corsica.

For Friendly Friday Challenge, hosted by Something to Ponder About.

There was a truck driving by the exit door at work today with a huge CORSICA tag on it and yet again I fell back to reminiscing. Must be some kind of a torture device, this vehicle passing our Parisian winter frowns, reminding us of these magnificent open horizons on such a gray day as today. Nah, it’s actually quite pleasant to think some day soon maybe I might go back to this little paradise-like island and revisit its fresh air and pure sea and starry sky. Hell, it’s soothing to revisit all that just in mind, too. To look at some pictures and think about all the good stuff, existing in this world. Do you know I can’t help myself – thinking about food every time I think about this place… It’s an automatic reaction, an associative thought I can’t escape: ”And my oh my we ate so well there!” And that always brings a smile to my face, the grimaces I was making, digging into the refreshing desserts and pizzas with all of my favorite ingredients and grilled aubergine and … ah enough.

Deserted Island.

Ilha Deserta, Faro.

I’m not ashamed to admit there always comes a point in my travels when despite all the awesome people I might meet I need to get myself some alone time. I was lucky enough to spend one of those on my last day in Portugal in a nice little place that is appropriately enough called ”deserted” . As coincidentally it was the last day of my last year’s summer, some beach time was most welcome, too. And what a beach, nothing else but sand and sea and sun and wind, nothing more than my towel, hat, sunglasses, the last pages of a good book and the sound of waves. Exactly the kind of day you think about while looking at forecasts of snow, putting on your long coat and an additional sweater or two underneath… No, we need to see the beauty in all seasons, right! Still, thinking about this island now, I must say it (most joyfully) surprised me. Sitting on the ferry, departing from Faro, it could seem its name sounded a bit ironic now, all these tourists flooding it every day. But once I was there, letting myself go further and further away from the only restaurant on the island, the beaches didn’t seem to be that crowded at all (the season was slowing down at that point, true, plus I just came back from the ones in Lagos!). After a short walk on the hot sand I could easily find my own nice little spot, with a most amazingly magnificent view, nothing but the blue sky and the never-ending sea before me. I somehow managed to bring myself to tear my ass away from it to take the path all around the island’s flora, and again the impression of being alone in the midst of beautiful nature won me over. Sometimes, the top-things-to-do-lists are there for a reason and we might just be lucky enough to have the perfect timing.

Getting goodbye to Algarve in style, indeed. Quite in love, too…

 

 

 

 

Life is in the streets.

Bonifacio, Corsica.

What I love about summer and miss dearly in winter is the liveliness of the streets, how half of our lives seem to move outside with first warm sun rays. Even in the biggest cities we search for every possible opportunity to drink our coffees outdoors, spend our post-work hours in parks, maybe even walk a part of the way home (yes, our lazy asses sometimes actually think of that semi-replacement for fitness). But as my co-worker joyfully reminded me today, with the new year we can solace ourselves we might have only two harsh months of winter left to survive, if we’re lucky! Fingers crossed for nice early-springish weather in March. Till then, I’ll try to keep up with my autumn resolution of going off the metro two stations before my stop and walk the rest of the way – the lovely playful atmosphere at République, there thanks to the regular skaters and children’s corner or just someone always doing something, reminds me of those summery moments that always (can’t help it and won’t) take me back South somewhere. (I get so dreamy I become a serious threat to the taxi drivers’ nerves, like a child I’m re-learning to check twice before crossing the road.) So, I’m leaving you with two photos of one of my favourite places I discovered last year and let you dream with me a little.

Oh and happy new year – let’s make it a beautiful one! 😉

 

 

Tavira.

On a day trip to this charming town, in-between cups of coffee, glasses of rosé (just because it was too hot for red wine), a delicious cheese and figs tart, ice-cream, browsing through mini cork backpacks, chatting with polyglot waiters and benches with a chilling view, I found some pretty doors, too, the favourite, life-worn ones, before taking the bus back and wondering what it is about those rides I appreciate so much. The pause? The feel of moving? The sense of purpose? Just all the flashes of the world, unraveling like a movie before my eyes, as the best instant music video for the sounds coming from my headphones? I always experience a pinch of regret when I step off it again and onto the stable ground, no matter the destination. At least until the feel of moving gets deep into my feet and the streets open up their theatre for me, I guess. Off we go, again.

Faro.

in three separate days

28.8.18 : The first taste of this town is sweet. Because it’s kind and discreet, warm and agreeable. The South which always pleases. The white houses and strong sun switching with strong wind once in a while, mediterranean food, the oranges and the figs, perky birds, the soothing sea and sunsets at the pier. I can’t get out of the clichés because I appreciate them too much, need them too much right now maybe. They might get me through the blues.

I feel I turn in weird circles in little towns, walking through them quick, checking out all the streets, views, bistros and benches in the shade, round and round, going a bit further every time, but not too far, so I can get back on foot if tired (forgetting this isn’t Paris). Done within an hour, and giving up at some point and just sit down somewhere, ordering coffee or a glass of wine (depends on the time). Maybe, that’s the point. To sit down and watch. Absorb the spirit, and not just rush through it.

30.8.18 : This region suits me so well. All the good wine, all the good food, all the cheap coffee, all the good music (a music festival was waiting for me here), all the beautiful people, nice people. (Half of them are French, too, so I’m not even missing out on speaking in my favourite language.) So many of them, I started missing spending time on my own, the inspiration and the spontaneity of alone-ness, the freedom of getting lost, but never losing time, and taking trips on your own schedule.

5.9.18 : Another randomly awesome day, before I leave. Oh the joy. Chilling on the desert island, reading on the sand, turning pages with the help of the wind, a walk in the middle of nothing, talking with complete strangers (really, how could I guess they were French?). Then, finishing up my stay with a late jam session, so I can get my stolen hat back. This country has a positive effect on me, with its ease and randomness, the good life I somehow have to translate into my every-day. There is nothing dramatic about endings, nothing final, nothing hopeless in uncertainty, I wrote. Just let random things happen outside the bubble, too.

Lagos.

Sometimes, the town you’re in loses all importance and allure the very first night, and that is a good thing. It takes care of the necessary bed in an awesome hostel, watery morning coffee, food in one of those too many restaurants of the crowded touristy streets, late night sangria and a shower, and lets the essence of your stay to its surroundings. Oh the beaches around Lagos, the path along the cliffs enchanted me quite enough for a couple of days, making me feel lazy about any trips to the nearby towns for the famous caves… No, didn’t make it.

I let myself be charmed by the little nude beaches where you have to climb slippery slopes of sand to get to their rocky embrace, by the never-ending waves inviting you to use your own body as a surf and just let yourself play with them or them with you, by the free feet massage every time you decide to take a walk you somehow end with a bottle of (cheap!) white wine, sharing it with straws because glasses were redundant.

The little things that create the ultimate bubble of ease I just didn’t want to burst until reality inevitably had to kick in and I was left with the pictures of the solitary sunset that greeted my arrival and the sun-lit clouds at the lighthouse that closed up my stay, the animated conversations, juggling between English and French, and the improvised dinners and the very much approved combination of red wine and chocolate, and the laughs, the long, uncontrolled, loud laughs on the hostel rooftop.

I’ll come back every time you’ll have me.

Enter the green, the red and the blue

Faro.

I’m sharing my love for Algarve drop by drop. I can’t believe it’s been a month since I came back from Portugal and my Parisian life has already gifted me with new turns. I still sigh when I remember these streets, though, their sun bathed, time-worn stones and… the loveliest colourful doors! The best part of my collection is from a nearby town, but let’s start at the beginning, in this town where airplanes keep flying low over your head, fish joyously jump out of the water, with their bellies towards the sky (yes, they do), and where you definitely don’t get away from French … I mean, you know I love you, mon vieux peuple, but do you have to be so omni-present on my vacation? Well I guess I don’t mind as much as I whine about it.

Sagres.

I might as well start at the end. Quite close to it, at least. This is the nearest I’ve come to the end of the world (ok, our old continent), even made a walk, a little tour around its edges, but left the peak of it for next time. And it’s not even scary. Nope. Mighty it is, though, awe-inspiring and beautifully so. I think we’re going to be alright. Still, I did have the feeling there was nothing else to do than just observe and let it be, leaving any survival-mode items I might have in my backpack in there, only letting myself to snap a few photos, then absorbing what we’ve all come to realize is my favourite setting. Cliffs, edges, these boundaries I might any second now slip through.

There is something so poetic about it and while I was sitting on the rocks with the most magnificent view, dewy-eyed in the setting of inspirational music of the waves, crushing in, and the wind, whooshing by, I kept thinking about this song with its name as the title. When I listened to it back at the hostel it just seemed so appropriate for an almost-the-last day in a region, in a country that yet again got my heart. (Portugal, why it’s always you catching me in crucial moments of my life? I’m gonna stop believing it’s a coincidence…)

little screams into the wonder
and a wild set of rides… *

You bet it was.

 

* Tallest Man On Earth, Sagres (from the album : Dark Bird Is Home, 2015)

Piece by piece

What is it about that bubble we create when we get to another place? The combination of the distance from the familiar and the newness of circumstances, conditions that make grow different aspects of ourselves. Some we knew existed silently, some we ignored. During every trip, longer than a single weekend, something in me moves towards a certain direction, builds up another foundation in me, brick by brick, an understanding enriches its effects. Yet, I find it hard to pinpoint what exactly that means.

Something in me awakened early in my childhood in one of those semi-exotic settings when my family took off to a non-European destination. Maybe, it was just the first taste of wanderlust. The first time, though, I felt what I now call a bubble was in Paris, 10 years ago. A bubble of new environment, new people, new language you now have to communicate in, new food even, new bed, and a new taste of tap water, all of those things that made the factual number of kilometres, the physical distance from home, felt on an emotional level.

And it wasn’t scary, it was comforting. It became my bubble I kept coming back to, every two years, until I decided to transform it into an everyday one. All because it allowed me to be a different me, a me I chose to be.

Of course, I didn’t change dramatically, overturned everything I had ever thought or done. It just enhanced a part I had neglected. What I’ve noticed since then (which might be a self-evident truth to some of you) is that each place connects you to a different part of who you are.

In Atacama, I felt a peace in me I couldn’t ever in Europe, a dimension of my soul and being I had never touched before, or at least too briefly, the South of France automatically turns up the joie-de-vivre part of me like crazy, and Portugal, oh Portugal always ensures me in my self-reliance, self-grounded-ness (and in that it always has such perfect timing…). Of course, these are just forced outlines, but you get the picture.

So, wandering anywhere lately seems to me like playing with puzzles. Not just we get to find and see another piece of this planet, we might often be able to put another piece into a picture of who we are, too. Some are bigger than others, sure, but none is irrelevant.

This is me, trying to get back into blogging mode – I have a lot of love to share with you from a recent trip to Algarve … 

Dieppe.

Normandy.

Nothing like Normandy, to escape Paris for a day. This little town doesn’t disappoint with its charm, perfect for a crêpe or a gelato if sea food is not your thing. I will always choose Etretat for the cliffs, though, these here don’t have enough of a display to appreciate them fully. Still, sea air always does. Plus, I captured a few lovely doors.

Bonifacio.

Corsica, the beloved.

Besides the occasional (delicious!) dinner and ice-cream at Porto Vecchio, this was the only Corsican town I can honestly say I visited. I mean, storm-drenched Zonza only half-counts, it seemed to rush us out with all the hard rain and made for the first picnic in the car (the view wasn’t bad at all, though). But, Bonifacio, oh Bonifacio, graced us with the loveliest of days. We decided to take the road because the weather was supposed to be not-beach-appropriate that day, yet the winds of the sea cleared the skies enough even before we got there. As they so often do, here, capriciously and good-heartedly. I preciously guarded the parking spot at the top when we finally found it, since we hadn’t follow everyone stopping at the marina and climbing up from there. We had soon understood why we should have, waiting too long and not being able to turn back, yet only regretted it for the first couple of minutes, our own parking being so close to town. Instead of smart, we got lucky.

And off we went (after a couple of laughs with the fellow French strangers that made me wonder again why we foreigners find them so cold and distant sometimes, while in fact they are the most charming people), starting our trip at the fortress and slowly, one view at the time, making our way inwards. What is so amazing about visiting a place like this, is that the streets themselves are nice and worth the walk, and sitting in cafés and taking the narrow alleys, and getting to the end of them to see the perfectly extending sea, still what’s the best of it all is just outside of its walls. Or under them. Taking the notorious hundred steps to be under the cliffs was literally breathtaking and legs-aching on the way back up, but young and in shape as we are we soon took another long path along the coast, breathing in the friendly sea and the fierce wind, exchanging silent ohs and ahs. Because every time we turned around, the view was just getting more and more fabulous. So, we continued, pretty much until it was time to head back to our temporary home, chatting joyfully, now.

Three days in our vacation and it was already our favourite day.

La Corse.

Maybe, the reason why I needed so much time to sit down and write a post about Corsica, besides basic procrastination, is a certain kind of feeling I admit I don’t get often. If I did, I surely wouldn’t start a blog. A feeling of wanting to keep a place to myself. Sounds ridiculous for a place, crowded with tourists in summer months, but I wanted to keep it as my little secret, my little haven. The weary unreasonable ways of our brain. Truth is I visited it at the best possible moment, probably, not yet high season, without unbearable heat and sea of people, certain stretches of beaches with only you gracing them with your presence, but already warm and sunny weather, appropriate for a swim, everything green as can be, enough shops and restaurants open to keep you yumming.

All French must feel that way, though. It’s the place everyone dreams about, and it certainly doesn’t need extra advertising. With its position of being disconnected from the continent, yet still not far, it understands well its benefits of an island, soaks in its pride. Ask the Corsican people and they will talk about it as a country of its own, about French as if it wasn’t their own nation, laugh hardest and most heartedly at stories of those French coming here, buying their land, being all righteous about it, but eventually being hunted right out. Not literally, though you sometimes wonder. Yet, what touched me is that this pride shows real appreciation, and more than that, genuine care for their own little paradise. They know what they have on their hands and don’t squash it inattentively. Try trash it and you’ll get their anger on your back. I wish Croatian coast would be as clean as theirs, remembering whole stashes of cans, bottles and cheap plastic bags on one of the Southern islands of our Mediterranean neighbour.

So, what you do here first is breathe in the air, salty, clean, oxygen full and smog free, air, then you watch green flashing in different colour palettes with the wind and the sun, immerse in it completely, watch the blueness of the sky that can only compare with that of the sea, although they are not really comparable, the sea with its turquoise and the sky with its azure. And then the night comes, and your friend calls you while you’re brushing your teeth ”Come out for a minute!” and you do after and he only points to the sky with its finger and your jaw drops. When was the last time you saw these many stars, finally seeing they’re not as lonely as they seem in Paris? It was surely in the middle of the desert. Little by little, your whole body starts opening up, making you suspect the city you call your home is a jail cell, suffocating it, and it seriously needed this injection of nature.

No, I won’t do a list of top things to do here. I mean, if you need it, you already missed the point. Just take a ride or two on the stomach-not-friendly roads, admiring the view, find your own favourite beach, and be sure to go inland, too, to see the more mountainous landscape and capricious weather. You’ll learn to trust them soon, the always changing, usually for the better, clouds, and the winding, never-ending roads.

Twisted paths

Tenerife.

I could write a sentence or two about how these twisted steps and roads we took at Tenerife, and which later on Corsica almost made me forget I am not a ten-year-old with a quickly-to-be-upset stomach, is a metaphor for life, really. But I don’t feel like it, to be honest.

Especially, after hearing these are probably the last photos I’m publishing under the Daily Post’s Weekly Photo Challenge. I’ll miss it, as many others, because they so often made me see my photos and hence memories from a different angle, made sure I didn’t miss out on tiny treasures, hidden deep in my library, learning to share those moments and go out for the search of the new – not just my own, but those of other participants, some I might not discover otherwise. So long, then, it was a good one, and now, I feel like we all have to grow up as bloggers and find our own ways to keep up with it. I think we’re up for it.

For WPC: Twisted.

Tenerife.

What struck me on Tenerife was the contrast between the North and the South.

Soon after you land at the Tenerife Sur, you realize two things: the bareness of the landscape and the multitude of hotels. There is no way around it. Twenty years ago, they say, there was nothing here, now, buildings spread like vultures. Hotels, resorts, apartments, shopping centres, restaurants, fake charming markets. I never saw a place designed solely for tourists before and the feeling is, least to say, bizarre. Of course, the beaches are lovely, sandy, but not white due to the volcanic nature, with the beautifully blue sea, though cold and mostly agitated. Even some hotels are looking quite finely attractive as buildings (ours was quite fabulous actually with a lovely room view and almost uncomfortably kind staff), yet there is literally nothing substantial here. When we asked for a nearest town to stroll around, they just advised us : ”You better rent a car and head North.”

If we hadn’t, our perception of the island would sure be more than a little distorted. Luckily, we are at least a semi-adventurous family.

Two days to explore the island is a minimum. But hey – the week was still supposed to be a vacation. When it comes to towns, there are two that stayed most in my mind. San Cristóbal de La Laguna, which really seems like nothing special, relaxed and residential, but somehow super lovely. Although we only took a quick walk and lunch there (accompanied with live music, always a plus), I could see myself venturing around its streets through the afternoon. La Orotava, on the other hand, seemed to be the historical or the cultural one, not that it looks super old, but you feel its roots and its individual story more strongly on its hilly streets. The thing I loved the most, though, was the small, super bushy botanical garden we almost didn’t see the entrance of.

Yet, it is not the towns that enchant you here. First, there is the almost desert-like landscape of the South, the dark tanned stones, cliffs and beaches, the thirsty plants, then you start to climb your way up to the volcano and you gradually surround yourself with luscious green and the reddish soil, cruise on the winding roads, aligned by trees, until you turn onto the lava dominated territory and it transforms again.

Yet, the favourites… For that, you have to go to the actual North, to the even more winding roads among a different green and a different kind of magic taken you over the views. Right down to the beaches that have nothing to do with the ones at your hotel. Brave driving’s worth it – not that I, licence-free, would know. We were so much more delightfully enchanted, because we hadn’t known this had been waiting for us all along. It made me wonder if there are people coming to the island and only staying in their hotels or (a bit fake) comfort of the South and what on Earth are they thinking?! I very much appreciated the chill moments at my hotel, the effortless fun and smiles and all the cocktails, the priceless family time in a calm, lazy-like, environment, but not seeing the magnificient nature outside of it would seem like such a waste of a week. I somehow took that contrast and its reflection with me on my next trip, but more on that later…

The over-flowing magic

Palombaggia, Corsica.

It was quite ridiculous how little I read during the week on Corsica, not even 150 pages (flights, however short, included)! I mean, I usually even read more during my work weeks. And I managed to finish two books during my stay on Tenerife. How could I reach my bottom record ever? I know why. Mostly, I didn’t feel like doing anything else than just watch, listen, taste the sea, the perfect turquoise sea, or just stand in it for long periods of time, cooling me while the sun was painting my skin to a perfect tan and the wind was opening up my stuffed Parisian nostrils (no, it’ll take more than just a couple of posts for me to get over the air pollution, the contrast I experienced on my return)… The sea is something that hits you most when you arrive on the beach for the first time or take the first curvy ride on its roads overseeing the coast, its clarity, its truly amazing colours that can’t be translated into a photo.

So, I realized again and again, like so many probably during this week’s challenge, the healing power of water, that special magic of the sea and its waves, the waves that had already enchanted me two weeks before on the sandy beaches of Tenerife.

For WPC: Liquid.

Tenerife (Sur).

In the search of it

Bonifacio, Corsica.

For WPC: Place in the World.

Several years ago, the choice for this post would have been so easy, some Seine riverside photo or other, Pont Neuf, or a random Parisian street. Today, though, my place in the world seems to be transforming constantly. Home is a feeling, not a place, anyway. Not that I don’t feel like belonging to my favorite city anymore, I still very much do, I still adore its streets and its banks as much as always, I still get the sweet aching sting in my chest every time I leave it. Yet, the older(?) I get, the more I feel like the stuffy city air, the absence of true green colour, the noise, are getting to me … and the more I feel at home at the Southern part of France. The more I appreciate that special easy charm, worn out and lively, the clearing wind rushing through. And the closeness of salty air, hitting your stuffed nostrils, those narrow paths among the bushes and the flowers, with such stunning views on the majesty of the world you have to actually catch your breath again.

In the words of my friend, on our last day on this magnificent island, a country of its own, really : ”What are we waiting for?” – to change our homes into a place where we can breathe and walk freely, where there is everything you need to build your own little paradise.

Would I last here, though, wouldn’t I miss the other side? Maybe, there is never just one place where we belong, there always have to be more, complementing each other in their contrasts.

Puertas puertas puertas

Before I officially gather together the impressions of my family vacation on Tenerife, here’s a quick one, a specific selection from a bunch of photos, the focused attention in the town streets — the doors, again!

La Orotava.

Candelaria. & San Cristóbal de La Laguna.

The poetics of the streets

Montpellier.

I rarely search for art in the streets. But, I guess that’s because I never have to. The best moments, those pleasant surprises, happen when you don’t look or expect much, anyway. I sincerely didn’t in Montpellier. Still, I found the best kind, I found poetry beneath my footsteps… Oh so poetic in itself, combining random wandering with my other favourite art. Reminded me of how the first time I fell for street art, that altered, rebelled life of a simple wall, was in France, although London followed soon after and the city that later won the game for now was on the other side of the globe. (I truly miss you, Valparaiso. I never quite got the pieces of my heart I had lost there back. No worries, I’m already thinking of coming back to lose some more.)

Doesn’t just mentioning South, either of France or of America, automatically bring a smile on our faces, regardless of pretty images and lovely words on its charming narrow streets? Maybe, it’s only this long winter and timid spring… Yet, truth be told, we’re going to escape there in the summer, too, let’s just admit it and hope it’s coming soon…

For WPC: Smile.

I fell for doors, too.

Montpellier, France.

I guess all of those Thursday posts got to me. I had begun to notice doors around me more and more, seeing how some are just pretty, how others seem to carry a story, or more precisely guard it, maybe. Then, the trip to this Southern town happened and I just couldn’t ignore how many amazing entrances (or closures, depends on how you want to look at them) it had. Some were those typical French half-broken ones that were offering a peek to a cold dark hallway and its mailboxes, so real life looking and belonging to the neighbourhood I couldn’t get myself to take a photo of them, being sure someone was about to come out every second now. Others were more solid and sturdy, more colourful, too. I didn’t even document a third of all of those I admired. I think my best friend had quite a good laugh about my new obsession, yet eventually she was the one saying : ”Look at these!” Making sure, of course, I don’t neglect any. Why not throw in some windows, too! And my favourite, although I’m not sure why, that little door, just the height of my friend, shoved in a corner, surely leading to a cellar…

Montpellier.

I guess we have a winner.

To be honest, I didn’t really feel that excited about going to Montpellier. I had seen a couple of unattractive photos ages ago, and somehow it had always seemed to be someone else’s town. I had that attitude of just letting other people have it, still mixed with a feeling I would someday go there myself. And lately, the more I thought about moving South, the more it kept popping up in my head as the most appropriate option, because of its size right in the middle, its location not far from the sea, its youthful spirit and cultural happenings – all so rational…

So, I went, finally, took that 3 hours and a half train from Gare de Lyon, with a little encouragement from my best friend who wasn’t particularly interested in staying in the centre of France and in its bad weather during the whole of her visit. We oblige to guest’s commands, of course, and sometimes it’s for the better.

Instantly, and I mean literally instantly, we both felt a connection to this city. We both felt a pleasant surprise. We both fell for its streets and its atmosphere, swept off our feet by the narrowness, the mood, the colours, the labyrinths, the corners, the painted sidewalks — I mean, putting poetry on my walking path is a good way to get to me, and putting palm trees in my friend’s first view from the train station is a good way to get to her, and putting nice little (hidden) cafés on our route after a couple of turnings is a pretty sure way to get to us both.

We both kept saying: ”Why do I like this town so much? What’s up with that? I like it sort of too much… I don’t understand.” I even ended up sending a text to a friend who used to be a Montpellier resident who much I adored it. (I’m sure he smirked a little.) And believe it or not, we only had 6 hours in total, so all we did was walk around the old town, giving up the idea of going to the coast after the first 20 minutes. We knew it was a good call when we arrived at the arch and the wind almost blew us away – literally this time.

My mentioned friend could only comment: ”But you didn’t see anything!” And we could only reply ”So, there is more?” Well, yes, there is, they say there are nice little villages not far away, not even mentioning the nature, the sea, the marshlands … And of course, we only really saw one district, so… A decent excuse for a next time if that delicious lemon and rasberry cakes weren’t enough and the fact that half the stuff seemed closed till April. We sort of have to see it in summer, right?

I will stop now.

Just one more thing. Maybe, it was the appreciation of the company of my best friend who always makes me feel so much more myself and balanced and, should I say it, empowered, because she allows me to be exactly who I am or want to be, but I felt butterflies in my stomach, knowing this place now has a place in my soul or heart or whatever. When we were leaving on the train, sentimental as it is, I had the same feeling as I did 4 years ago, taking the first walk in my beloved 11th arrondissement and knowing I would someday live there. Things sometimes just aren’t rational.

So, now there is no more questions. South it is, sooner or later. (My friend, I think, is enthusiastically rooting for sooner. — Yes, I got your hint, stopping in front of every possible real estate agency, no worries. — Truth be told, even I do, if only I get my life together soon.)

 

 

 

More of this please

Abbey Bookshop, librairie canadienne.

This week, I was a lucky girl. All of those woulda, coulda, shoulda wishes I usually have, bustling through the work week, became a part of its reality.

(That first photo was actually taken by my mom during their last visit, but I think she won’t blame me. At least, it represents I’d rather be spending time with my family part, too.)

I’d rather be exploring some bookstore’s shelves… Well, on Tuesday, after my best friend had already given up on me for the day, having taken care of the second coffee, even stronger than the first, yet still seeing my eyes numbly looking around, we crossed a bookstore. Somehow, my tired eyes saw a book title, stopped my legs and directed my body towards the pile of 2€ offers. I ended up buying four of them, those badass French classics I now am able to read in their own language (hopefully haha), and soon I was hopping like a happy bunny on some weird psychedelic drugs. She just laughed ”Guees you didn’t need coffee, but books. Should have known!”

I’d rather be roaming the streets of Paris… Every time I get too caught up with the everyday life, I tend to forget they are right there for me. It always makes me be grateful for visitors, they remind us to re-explore what we are already supposed to know. Like the Latin Quarter. I mean you could used to be sure to find me there at any given day, now it seems it’s been months… Oh well I guess my own neighbourhood ain’t that bad neither.

I’d rather be taking a train to the South… Winter made me say that a lot. On Monday, I actually did. And the weather goddesses were with me this time! More on it later. Still, don’t you just love the Montpellier’s train station!

For WPC: I’d rather be…

Avignon.

Should I hide that my trip to Avignon was somehow not just a casual weekend away? It was the first in my series of discovering French South anew to see if I could move there sometime soon, and I’m not even kidding. (No verdict yet about that, though.) Or maybe, that was just a really good excuse after a long Parisian numbness. Unfortunately for me, I was greeted with strong winds and what I hope is an unusual cold weather for the region. So much for the South’s warm sun, right?

Therefore, my plans for the day, which mostly included walking through all the old charming streets possible in two halves of a day, just getting a feel of the place, got messed up with a whole lot of coffee shop / tea room / bistro visits. Fortunately, one of the highlights happened during one of those…

The first being the view from my hostel room (the one below). I think it could be my second favorite ever.

Then there were those prolonged minutes of warm sun on a bench at the top of Rocher des Doms, finding a place with no wind. I felt like a plant, absorbing its rays till the very last drop, starved for months. Maybe, I got to be sunshine flower for a moment.

And finally, there was this lovely little place, called Theias, where I might have eaten the best (vegan) cheesecake of my life, with coconut and lime. I savoured every tiny piece of it like I was tasting heaven.

Who cares about Palais des Papes, then? And Pont d’Avignon and the greenery across were quite nice to look at from afar, but I didn’t want to get blown away like a balloon so… Next time. If I ever move there, I’ll have all the time in the world, anyway.

Still, I admit my feel of the place is sort of blurred, because of the emptiness of the town, it only comes close to Lyon when it cames to that dead atmosphere. How to not let it get you all judgemental and not let that be the main piece of an impression you keep? How to say it’s just a phase, that in summer it’s got to be another place all together?

Oh well the series to be continued next week, if all goes well, fingers crossed the weather goddesses are with me this time.

P.S.: Happy women’s day to all my fellow female travelers, adventurers and bloggers! Keep rocking 🙂

In and out, close and far

Paris Plage.

Maybe, what I miss most about summer is not just street walks whose existence is barely touched in the cold, but sitting down on a bench or a sidewalk and observe or read, for as long as you like, warm air embracing you and sun rays caressing you through the branches. Melting into your own world in the middle of the city’s sea of people. Reading outside is somehow not the same as in that enclosing space of your own room, although I’m not sure why I prefer parks to my sofa. Maybe, appreciating the inner and the outer world is inter-connected.

No matter the season though, I realized I have a growing affinity for anonymous city readers, which are nowadays mostly my fellow metro passengers. That summer day, it was this girl meters away from me, but somehow close in her attentive leaning posture. I was wondering what she was reading, while I was sadly finishing Anaïs Nin’s early diary… Oh that fever of living.

For WPC: A Face in the Crowd.

Keep still and look on.

Gaspé, Québec.

When we are about to leave a certain place, eyes open up in a different way, thoughts swirl around all the good and the bad, the memories packed up in the back, and then a silence falls, silence that sometimes expresses gratitude, sometimes sadness, usually both, a joy of getting to know something, of getting to know another piece of yourself, maybe a slight regret of overlooking something, a silence with which we say goodbye and till next time. In the next moment, we already look ahead, our next stop is waiting.

For WPC.

Forever opening into a story

La Rochelle.

I can understand people’s obsession with doors we see in all those blog posts collecting the wonder of how people enclose themselves in cities and towns and even small villages. I always fall for the weathered, a proper-doorknob-and-doorbell-missing ones, old and hardly magnificent. Their stories touch me through those small cracks where the Atlantic wind whistles its way in, the shades and the lines written on them by the winter rain and harsh sun. Then, someone even dares to draw their own!

And there was that one on a tower in the middle of a village in Atacama, low and narrow in between the wall’s scars, like a niche entrance into a secret you might never get if you try too much, yet I hope I did. I sensed a treasure, but … ah nevermind.

For WPC.

Bled.

If there is one destination in Slovenia that attracts the curious wondrous foreign eyes, it is lake Bled with its lovely island and proud castle. For me, though, ever since childhood the only thing I could think of instantly was its ugly town. I don’t know why, but that’s how I saw it, hoping every time to move on soon to the neighbouring Bohinj and the omnipresence of nature. Maybe, it’s just the case of it becoming too ordinary over the years, losing the thrill with every passing trip (curiosly, kremšnita – the traditional cream cake, a must – didn’t). Still, countless visits after, it stayed the place to go for a family walk on more or less sunny free afternoons, again so a couple of days before New Year’s eve. Even I have to admit it has some pretty views and some charm when you look for it… The surrounding Alps region with its hills, the cliffs with the castle on top guarding the calm water, the succession of trees and ducks and swans, and the island church that makes a good photo from every possible perspective.

Anyway, I still do recommend the visit, just don’t get too caught on the first impression when you drive into the town. Rather wait for the lake panorama.

P.S.: If you fly into Ljubljana from the right direction, you might see it during the plane’s descent. It’s simple, watch out for a lake with an island, there is only one in Slovenia! Even if you miss it, the landing in (or departure from) Ljubljana is one of the prettiest, in my opinion, with its views on the mountains.

And what if sometimes it is on the outside?

Tadoussac, Québec.

They say the sense of tranquility comes from within, but there were places I saw during my travels that immediately calmed me down, no matter the internal agitation. They demanded absolute admiring attention and silenced or distanced themselves, hence me, from my personal battles. And I’m sure it’s not just about putting things in perspective.

This charming little place had many, yet this solitary bench in the middle of a walking path among the trees and the bushes presents a symbol of sorts for them all. It made my current anxiety a bit more serene somehow just by looking at it on a screen. Because we all need occasional reminders.

Oh the places that mercilessly take a piece of our soul. Though sometimes, I wonder… maybe they add some to it.

For WPC.

They call it Spring.

At the top of Printemps, Boulevard Haussmann.

I’m usually not the one encouraging people to go to department stores and big shopping malls. Not just because I prefer little local boutiques, (yes yes I’m the hipster kind girl), but simply because I’d prefer to avoid consumption and greed and all completely… Yet, Paris always ends up being some kind of exception.

I can laugh at the Chinese coming to Lafayette with actual suitcases, I mean talking about getting your whole wardrobe in Paris… and I can never afford to actually stand in line at Chanel… Still, I recommend a walk through the galeries.

Don’t just look at all those bags and watches and perfumes and dresses, look up from the very first floor. (P.S.: And go out on the last one for the view of Opéra.) Or go to the top in Printemps to see the church-like ceiling…

Building itself and its interiors as much on display as all the products it offers.

Canal Saint Martin.

The place I should be obsessed about, even if only for two cute movies and those iconic scenes capturing the Paris vibes, yet I don’t count it among my absolute favourites. The place where you should go for a walk on sunny winter days or hang out with friends on warm summer nights, yet I always end up there on grey windy mornings. The place right around the corner from me, yet I need visitors to get there and show them/me around. Still, it’s here I admire the coloured shopping windows, brighting up the grim streets. Still, it’s here I had the best brunch with live piano music in the background, watching people whooshing by on their bicycles. Still, it’s not far from here I bought the best goat cheese with a baguette and a bottle of wine for late afternoon lunch.

Maybe, it’s because I feel closer to its continuation. Because it’s up at Jaurès, my familiar cinema spot with the usual late Italian dinner afterwards, and a bit further, my dose of all those memories of the first autumn days (and the first flirts) in the capital…

And yes, I’ll always say yes to a good old walk from Ourcq to République, no matter how long it seems.

Don’t pass them by.

One of the secrets to exploring Paris is to not only take the streets, but to also dive into its passages. In the first and the second arrondissement, at the Grands Boulevards or in the Latin Quarter, I can bet you’ll find them and their boutiques, cafés, bistros, antique shops, bookshops and more or less narrow and crowded corridors in that special dimmed light.

It seems like a trip down memory lane every time.

 

Those peaked days

A part of my summer wanderings in Paris, pretending to be a tourist when I stopped being one 3 years ago (if one ever does, as every ex-pat here doubts…), was this lovely Montmartre museum. More than with the exhibition itself, although I very much enjoyed it, it got me with its little garden, little in the French sense, too – that word they so often add to express loveliness and affection. All one needs: the flowery greenness and bend trees, a cute café, and then a surprising, but not really, sneaky peek of the Montmartre cliché.

The day peaked somewhat numerously with one wonder after another that day…

For WPC.

Otočec.

Sometimes, the most usual family Sunday trip, a place you’ve passed by and seen a thousand times from your early years, surprises you again with a view. Because nature always knows how to do its thing and paint a beautiful scene in a familiar surroundings. Earth itself is the best artist, as the say…

Till Christmas, Slovenia.

Annecy.

Sometimes, it’s good to not have expectations and just go to a place you hear is nice. Not knowing what to do and just taking a walk around to get the impressions first. You might just fall into it like that, slide in like into a perfectly cut jeans. Because the streets suit you, the view from your hotel surprises you, the lake and the mountains get you wondering about the Earth’s stories and the sunny coast vibe tranquilizes your random twisted thoughts. Soak it all up. Lie down on the grass and try to remember to keep your T-shirt on, it’s public property. Get yelled at when you try to sneak in a closed beach and then find a better one a few minutes walk ahead. Take a fancy lemonade at a hotel verandah and go get bored at its casino after a dinner next to the old-town cute canal, when the sun sets and people finally leave their bathing suits behind. Just because that’s what the French do.

Summer’s gonna be gone tomorrow, still these days are ours.

Vrbnik.

Let’s forget the grand cities and go-to destinations. Not just the big avenues and famous monuments, but all those talked-about regions and their villages we are supposed to discover. Let’s go for the not expected modest charms, like this little one on Krk, not-the-prettiest-but-still-pretty Croatian island. I kind of wanted to check out the real estates right away and move into one of those houses on the narrow streets or climb those stairs and camp on one of the terraces for the summer, neverminding the wind, observing the curly sea separating me from the mainland. Eat that sheep cheese and drink vrbnička žlahtina, the local white wine. Plant some herbs and tomatoes to go with it and then just… live the other life.

So, the question I can’t get rid of now is: When do we move to the South?

 

 

My favourite places in Québec

A few of the best spots where those special, magical moments that make a journey worth it happened.

  1. Sunset : Pointe de l’Islet, Tadoussac. I kept coming back to this place, pretty much every day, at different times, thanks to its accessibility and easiness in its air, usually to read or just sit there, sort of meditating. One evening I decided to stay longer than usual, digged up my stubbornness from somewhere deep inside my body and this is what I got…
  2. Reading : Pointe de l’Islet, Tadoussac & Parc de l’Esplanade, Québec City & Canal de Lachine and Parc La Fontaine, Montréal. Just give me a bench or a grassy/rocky spot and I can read. Yet, there are places engraved in my heart, because they somehow add the allure to the books or the act itself (debatable). Because I can lift my head up from the sentences and have a view to rest my mind or eyes. These four were quite nice.
    Canal de Lachine, Montreal.

     

  3. Breakfast : Maison Smith, Place Royale, Québec City. One morning I decided to take breakfast outside the hostel and headed to the cutest square of the cutest quarter. Oh the good decisions. I just sat there appreciating the cinematic like scene and even more – the waiter’s impeccable ability to understand the length of my espresso (”Not Italian short, you know, but not too long neither.”). Thanks for the morning patience!
  4. Chill : Anse à la Barque, Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay (Tadoussac). Probably my favourite place in the whole of Québec. And it’s not an exaggeration. It was on one of my favourite days, too. Whichever hiking path I took that day, I loved it. I wrote about it already, so I’m just going to say that sitting on a rock in this bay, completely alone, except the birds flying around me and a seal at the end of it, was one of the best breaks of my life. That apple in my hand tasted even better than usual somehow.
  5. Lunch : St-Viateur Bagel, Montréal & Café Bohème, Tadoussac. First, was the unimpressive poutine, greasy stuff you eat after a long walk and then you don’t move no more for the day. Then, were the Montreal’s bagels. Well now, now we’re talking real food. I appreciated the bread with a hole much more than I’d expected. Later still, leaving the grand city, I went for the lovely bistros. Tadoussac’s one stayed my favourite of them all. Not sure if it was the home-made raspberry lemonade, the delicious (maple syrup!) marinated tofu burger, decent coffee, or super friendly waitress. All of them, combined.
    At St-Viateur Bagel, Montréal

     

  6. Bus drive : from Rimouski to Gaspé. Most of it was along the coast, so different from the one across, with its scattered rocks and waves rushing towards actual beach-like shores, and water reflecting afternoon sun, the pictoresque villages to cross and many colourful houses overlooking the beaches, and then the forests. The Gaspé peninsula’s charmed me quite quickly, almost immediately after the bus left the shallow Rimouski station. I soon heard the uncomprehensive local accent, too…
  7. Boat trip : Percé and Île-Bonaventure. Because it’s worth seeing the famous rock up close, from every direction, and then from a far in all its glory, only half observable from the coast. And especially, because the island is stunning, its landscape, its cliffs, toped with green, its rocks, nesting sooo many birds and even seals, its emptied houses on friendlier shores (no one lives there nowadays). I wonder what it has to be like to miss the last boat and stay stranded there alone during the night…
  8. Evening : Rue St Jean, Québec. Because the street musicians come out and make it all wonderful.
  9. View : Mont Royal, Montréal & Mont Adéla Lessard, Parc national du Fjord-du-Saguenay (Tadoussac) & Mont Saint-Anne, Percé. There were many. Each time you climb, hike, walk a bit, you’re due to get some. Sometimes, it’s the effort that makes them sweeter, sometimes it’s simply there. These are a few that stayed with me.
    Mont Adéla Lessard.

     

  10. Tree : La Forêt Magique, Percé. Because I think I found my spirit/soul tree in the midst of the magical forest, right there in front of the bench I sat down on for a brief moment.

I wanted to include my favourite streets in Montreal and Québec, too, but realized that, although there were some I really liked, there were none which truly blew me away. So, why force myself then. If you follow the usual instructions and visit the main quarters, you’ll easily find them yourself anyway.

Rudimental

Croatian beaches are not all ideal white sand ones. Maybe, that is why my ideal beach isn’t the white sand one. I even prefer the bare rocks to the pebbles, their more significant earthly presence splashed by the waves and heated by the sun, the wind from the North or the one coming from the South, whistling through. All elements combined in one laid-back moment, observing, or in the other when you try to cruise among the sharp edges to get to the deeper sea, forget the swimmer’s efficiency and spread your fingers to really feel the water’s embrace, all around the curves. Get out and let the breeze and the sun’s fire dry you up drop by drop.

Island Krk.

For WPC.

Percé.

This day gave me the whole package, and with that I mean the whole range of possible weather and the corresponding moods, as well as all the timely intervals in a day of a town.

I arrived super early in the morning, with the fog embracing the main street, neighbouring hills and the coast, so much I hardly saw anything: the sea was mysteriously covered, the mountain tops non-existent and the street far less long than it really was. Plus, it was cold and drizzling. After the first couple of minutes, I already had enough of it. Still, I had to take breakfast first and luckily the nice little place of a bakery I chose (Boulangerie le Fournand) had good coffee – even better it almost took me back to Paris for half an hour with that bleuets pastry and a warm, dry chair. In the first horrible half of all-inclusive day, I walked to the each end of the street, probably spent an hour or two just sitting on different benches to let time pass by, trying to read, but mostly couldn’t, because the wind got to my brain. I even checked out the souvenir shops, which I had completely ignored since tasting maple syrup on my first day in Montreal. (It is to their coziness of the moment my family can thank for bringing something back home.) I was waiting, basically.

Until I had enough, picked some lunch (a very decent pizza in Resto du Village) and much-needed second coffee, and took off for the hikes. Via Mont St-Anne. What can I say, nature’s a healer. As soon as I started my walk, I got my explorer’s motivation back and soon enough, the clouds were beginning to clear away, too. Little by little, the fog lifted and the sun rays pierced through. Going up, I had a view of a covered town, no sign of the houses or famous rocher, let alone the island across. Going down, it was half present, the streets in sight, but just the tip of the rock and only a small portion of the sea. It was due to my stubborness, going up one more time two hours later (taking advantage of the last hour of the park being open), I got the view below. Oh well, now it all seemed worth it and the day transformed into one of my favourites of the journey.

What I did during those two hours? I finally looked at the rocher up close and then took the boat trip around it and the magnificient Île-Bonaventure which I definitely recommend. Because I waited for the sun (which I don’t regret, by the way), I took the last afternoon one which unfortunately meant I couldn’t go down to the island… Yet, what I saw already amazed me. So many birds! and such a beautiful coastline. From smiles of the people getting off the island, I suspect it has much in store inland, too. Plus, it was almost a private tour, because all in all we were only three tourists with three guides, explaining everything they had to in such a relaxed way, face to face and not in the mike, showing us photos of fish they had caught and eaten the day before, inviting us to dinner the following day which we couldn’t join, leaving the same evening… All that was left for me now was taking another pathway, to the peaceful meditation/prayer spot, La Grotte, and then watching the sunset of the so-appreciated clear skies. Soupe à l’oignon to warm me up for dinner, before a night promenade and late bus drive back to Gaspé.

The most intensive day ended up being the worst and the best in one.

The feel of sand

Plage de Deauville, Normandie.

Dipping your feet into the hot grainy sand and then into the refreshing ever flowing ocean, let the strong wind mess up your hair and the deceivingly smooth sun redden your skin, why not feel every drop of its moisture. You’re touching summer.

For WPC.

 

Gaspé.

Gaspésie had had a great allure for me before actual arrival, but the very first morning I woke up in Gaspé I felt like nothing was on my side. Like out of all the possible destinations in the amazing region I had picked the wrong one. A boring town in beautiful surroundings, but then I didn’t have a car, did I? Weather was wet and windy and gray, too. Still, I gathered the last remains of my shattered tired will and took some walks, the promenade, the long cycle trail (long if you walk it as I did) to the Haldimand beach, braced myself against the unusual cold, ate well in the local bistros and found some proper coffee in Café des Artistes, enjoyed the strange movie-like feel of my so-typical motel and its diner for breakfast. The quick un-attentive organisation went against me this time, but I managed to gather my lacking skills for a final try and made it, got something out of what nature of the region has to offer in the couple of days there still. Just next time, I’m camping in the middle of a national park, no doubt about it!

Open up

Reflections after my journey through Québec, june 2017, part II

That thing about travel, changing countries and distancing yourself from your own hometown, the change of perspective it entails. More clearly seeing a certain structure, or in this case, a subtle shifting of a mood back home, a shift you had noticed before, but now seems so much more apparent and comprehensible.

We were talking humorously about the stories and old photos of an Indian fellow traveler, our big hostel group returning from a trip to the falls among the Québecois leaving work for the day, him proudly showing the one with dreads, the other shaven, then another one taken somewhere in the Middle East where he would easily pass as one of the locals with his features, covered with a growing beard. The discussion continued and nuanced and detoured and all the while kept the laughing quality. There was no malicious tone in any of the comments, more than anything maybe the admiration of all the lives that he had lived. The moment still came when it paused and rested our smiling jerks for a while. It was here something so on point hit me, when an American girl said: ”I don’t think we could as easily talk and laugh about it across the border in the U.S., not on a public bus, without some sort of edgy response in the air …” Just because certain nationalities were mentioned? Soon, the feeling of nostalgia encompassed us, or at least me and her. ”I still remember those days when we could, though, I’m happy I got to live them, that I know it wasn’t always so, that this was what America was all about.”

You could ask why the feeling of nostalgia grabbed me, too. The last time I visited America was almost 20 years ago and since then TV shows and news are all I know of it. Maybe, that would suffice. However, my feeling came because America isn’t alone in it, because Europe, and France in particular, are sharing the process. Because I remember Paris before the attacks, not perfect and harmonic even back then, true, yet her comment clarified how dramatically, but subtly, the atmosphere changed for us, too. If a society continually moves on a line between openness and enclosed-ness, we are bit by bit approaching the latter, giving it more space, so to speak. (If I got to see that in Canada, it’s because its preoccupations differ, not because there aren’t any. I’m sure it has its own taboos and disturbances that might for someone make its receptivity fake. For me, it showed our own.)

Why do we let it happen? Scream ”Not afraid” just to let fear entrance our everyday lives in a more indirect way, exchange basic human trust and joy and inter-connectivity for anxiety and more or less symbolic walls. Seeing victims and criminals, only knowing how to judge and pity.  Yet, I don’t want to theorize too much about it, because the more I do, the more negatives I use. I prefer to continue to smile and shake hands and share stories and listen and hug and laugh some more, with whoever crosses my way, rather exchange some sort of false political correctness, need for attention and shameless blaming for a solid inter-respect and an open ear.

Laurentides.

It was an hour away from Montreal I finally felt I was in Canada. Canoeing on a small lake with a friend I hadn’t seen in years, observing the charming houses on the coast, resident ones at that, not meant only for vacation, birds on the island and green green everywhere. For the weekend, I was in a home away from home, nurtured by the enormous hospitality, readiness to show me around, the getaways and the mundane villages, where even rich city folks climb a hill or two, or at least take the funicular and then chill in a restaurant. All the while, I was anchored in that real-folks life, peanut butter on toast and filter coffee for breakfast, local beer in the afternoon and sweet cider for the aperitif, home-made dinners and red wine that still came from Italy – ”Don’t get too tempted to try the one from Quebec, hardly drinkable!”. The huge supermarkets, candy bars, hunting stores, dollar stores, mini golf. My first hike of the season on a foggy Saturday, the rewarding clearing right when we got to the peak, the onion soup in the valley afterwards. Everything so easy and without pressure I was glad I was not going back to the city quite yet.

Montréal.

This city is so smooth. It may not overwhelm you, but you will still appreciate its lightness of being. It felt like people here live, with some quality of life that eludes the anxious Europeans. Am I wrong in my intuition? But then, why did I meet so many French, determined to make life for themselves here? Yet, for me, it was too calm still. I came there right before all the festivals and activities, in that period when people are preparing for the summer happenings that are not quite there yet. So, my impression of calm might be premature.

Or maybe, it was what I needed at the time. I could always find something to do instead of preferring to find one greeny chilling/reading spot after another, Ile Sainte-Hélène, Parc La Fontaine, Mont Royal, Canal de Lachine. Or just walk through the old town to get to the view from above where the new one reigns, mix up the hipster streets with getting lost in the residential ones, skip la poutine and go straight for the bagels. If I ever get back there, I’m done being a visitor, exploring every possible district, I will immerse into their life itself. Somehow.

Till then, I have the memories of super sympa Québecois, coffee too mild and watery to have any kind of caffeine effect (how do you function, how the hell you get through your days on that, really?!), that French accent that I hated at first and sort of grew on me later – Parisians even say I adopted it, oh well…, that one museum that occupied one stormy afternoon : MAC!, the grey skies above the tranquil streets where squirrels replace the rats. All in all, the equation is positive.