Tag Archives: Exploration

A Day in the Life

The morning birds sing sweetly into four ears, their owners my charge and me, listening together with two words to describe the artists. I say bird, and Victoire says oisseau, but we both agree that we love their sound. “J’adore le chanson de la matin.”

Her tiny legs wrap around my waist as she takes her perch, and I take us through the slow-swung gate to school. Here, she greets her friends, Brune, Leon-Paul, et Margot, as they hold their parent’s hands and greet me with “salut la nunu de Victoire.” 

“Bonjour,” I say, “vous etes pret pour l’ecole?” 

“Oui oui,” they say reluctantly, slipping out of their jackets and reaching high enough to stuff their scarves into their cubbies. 

I give Victoire a hug and an “au revoir, I’ll see you later,” before I leave her, waving once more through the window, then I am all mine again. At least for the next six hours. 

At this nearly nine am moment, I always debate my immediate future. The promise I made myself at seven to return to sleep seems less important now that the sun has risen. Perhaps yoga, a happy medium between the meditation of sleep and the rising crack of tired bones saluting the sun, will take its place. 

It is this peace that I missed during my time in America. This soft entrance of sun passes through my window and yellows the wooden floor under my pink-striped mat. 

Downward facing dog folds me into two sides of a triangle, then a chaturanga into an upward-facing dog pulls my heart through my planted hands. 

A few warrior flows later, I bend over my folded knees and press flat hands into each other for a namaste. 

Now it is time to check the bus intervals, which one arrives in which ten minutes, and I pack my ambitions into the yellow side bag my mom gifted me for Christmas. I choose my French workbook, throw in my Virginia Woolf, laptop, and notebook.

Trust Issues

Arriving in five minutes

and the station is a three-minute walk

but does that mean from my room and down the stairs

or from these floating coordinates to the next

and by that time, will the bus be passing or stopping

in this delicate interval.

Like the negotiations of a love affair

I don’t want to be too early, too desperate, 

left in the cold, waiting.

And what if it doesn’t come?

Or it stops too long at a different stop, 

and I look a fool for counting 

on the virtual promise it tells my phone.

I can’t trust anything behind a screen.

What lies my apps believe.

What time stamps pass with minutes ago that never came. 

So when I dress and bundle and pose, 

and the wide window winds the corner

I sign in my cold relief

and raise my hand to say- take me!
Yet my chest still tightens 

until the doors stop rolling and open

just for me.

I flow through a dozen or so pages of Mrs. Dalloway as the bus rolls through the twenty-minute ride, and as always, I jolt up at the last moment when I realize the mass of people descending past me. 

Republique, the center stop of Rennes, swells with the crowd and observes bursting flocks of birds that fan out like open arms and circle above.

While this crowd walks in universal black jackets, I miss the bright orange puffer I left in San Diego. Today I don my yellow race jacket, the left breast labeling me correctly with “Maxwell” under a yellow car patched over a neon orange stripe as a callback. 

It may be conceited, but I cannot help but derive pleasure from the clinging looks of passers-by. I suppose that is my downfall, wanting to be seen in a crowd, yet I also believe it is my power. Without this desire, my life across seas would be exponentially more frustrating. 

There are plenty of people looking when I settle in and open my French workbook.

They say that when you begin to speak another language, you start to develop an alternate personality. Not entirely, of course, but you are not quite at ease as you are in your mother tongue. Thus, you pay more attention to what you say and what others say; you don’t act and react with nothing but that single and between them. You pause, think, digest. You speak, however incorrectly, with more intention.

A friend of mine tells me she likes her English personality more; she feels sweeter, more endearing with her words. For me, speaking French means experiencing social anxiety for quite nearly the first time. 

This foreign feeling hovers around my lips as I speak a word, and worry I will not be understood or seen as rude for the words I blurt out unexpectedly. It is a strange one, this feeling, and one that I am grateful for experiencing. 

Before entering France and trying to live among the French comme ca, of course, I was sympathetic to the plight of immigrants and foreigners, but it was the type of sympathy that hollows without understanding. Not forming into arrogance or disdain, but in a dismal overlooking of the intricacies and everyday difficulties that face those living in a country that speaks their second language (or third, or fourth).

Since arriving here, I feel the gravity of every interaction. I notice conversations in a way I never have before. I appreciate everyone who speaks with me with love akin to that I feel for my friends, even if it is simply the girl at the bus stop asking me if her bus has passed or the person sitting next to me with a tattoo I can compliment. 

I feel like a child, and everything is brilliant and bright; it can be glaring sometimes, but it fills me with an unquantifiable wonder. The whole world extends beyond my fingertip in colors I have forgotten vibrancy in.

It is a new world, unlocked inside me just as much as it is out. 

I only wish my love for the language meant I could learn it faster, but alas, the world is still the world, and my intelligence measures the same in France as in America.

The World our Mind Conceives.

Are we infinite in quantity, and

is it in quality that we deplete?

Are we thus lessened by our lessons

the lectures we copy through eyelids, and 

do the synapses snap ancient electricity

trading the colors of that one unimportant Fall,

for the words that make this one

in parallel life. 

Tell me if it is true, 

that memories pixel from HD to SD

each time we take a new face

and hold its picture inside.

And if this is true, are we different models?

Do some of us come with more storage?

And as babies, we lie there,

crying because all we have is empty space

and we are hungry to have enough to choose what we keep.

But then, do we have a choice 

what has and holds us?

What haunts us in new dreams we remember

in faces that burn into our brains?

Does it take us til 80 to run out of space? And for some

is it earlier? And only then there is too much

and we record over parts of ourselves,

sacrificing our grandchildren’s names 

for our father’s smile, but starting 

with an x over yesterday

and a perfect transcript of prom. 

Or, somehow, is the mind simply a home 

filled with furniture we’ve built or inherited,

creaking frames that sound but remain soft,

warm and known as we sink deeper.

A cafe, latte, and croissant later, I have scrawled my mind through more than my diary and close my eyes to the headache my French practice invites. 

Before long, it is time to return to school and my Victoire. The 3h35 gate opens with a hum, spilling forth with children hungry and excited to return home. 

Victoire asks me again to carry her home, and I say yes because she is a free weight at the gym I conceive through my day. 

We walk through her day, coloring between stenciled animals, carrots at the cantine, and cache-cache with Leon-Paul while I pair her sentences with their English counterparts.

She asks what I have done, and I continue this balancing game, finding the quality of English she will learn without crying and nodding through the exchanges we have that live on one side. 

Thoughts Over the Atlantic

Here I am, post-Christmas, post-New Years, post-America. All over again.

The complimentary Cabernet Sauvignon bitterly minces with the dry American Airlines pretzels that are currently clinging to my gums. Dégoûtant- Je sais. 

I am always so ambitious on airplanes. I am going to write a blog post, finish my french workbook, crochet a sweater or arm warmers, read a few chapters of L’Age de Raison (a translated version of Bridget Jones Diary)- but god are these pretzels stale, and all I am doing is rambling over a page. 

So, if I am not to unfurl from seat 14B some gorgeous musing on my time in America and my gracious return to France, I’ll simply line my thoughts for you. I’ll cue my (surely devout) audience into 2023’s perspective. 

So here I go.

I am ready to re-embrace the city that I grew so used to calling home. It is strange how much it feels like I am flying home right now, hands itching to retrace the corners and crannies of the attic sanctuary I have learned like another limb. 

I miss leaning backward out of my slanted and screenless window, the sharp breeze that used to crisp my cheeks pink. Angled lines and the swelling sound of ambient words too far away to understand. 

Cesson-Sevigne has oxidized into my heart, and Rennes has seeped into my skin. Tight runs over bare knees peaking from side-swept skirts. A pause before placing my order. Spilled coffee on tote bags. Home. 

It is home. I have lived here for three months and I will for another three. Though undeniably exciting, my life no longer feels like a free-for-all adventure, which means nothing more than I am comfortable. This time, this comfort does not coincide with an excess of funds. 

Thus, my next adventure lies in the discovery of a job. It’s time for me to put all this practice to good use and actually get paid for my writing. 

Whether I start working freelance, tie myself to a marketing firm as I have in the past, or find some new box to fit in will all be made clear in the next few months. Unfortunately, this needs to be my priority. 

That is not to say that I will not continue my posts and collections, for writing is the same as breathing. However, I can no longer tackle NomadicThread as the main project in my schedule.

It is with great sadness that I admit this change, but still, I look forward to the posts I will inevitably discover in my last few months in France. 

Much love to those who are reading this, and don’t worry, you’ll still read me around:)

A tout a l’heure: Nuit à Paris

C’est le dernier jour de mon grand voyage depuis que j’ai tout laissé derrière moi. Je suis tellement heureux que cela ait été possible et je suis toujours excité pour mon retour à Rennes dans la nouvelle année.

Ces derniers mois, j’étais en Allemagne, en Autriche et évidemment en France. J’ai appris le français au lycée, mais vraiment je n’aurais jamais pensé que je serais ici. C’est un rêve incroyable à réaliser. Malgré les montagnes difficiles des barrières linguistiques et la communication avec la famille et les amis, je suis ici et je poursuivrai mes études de français au-delà de l’école. J’aimerais être parfaite dans la langue mais je sais que j’ai un long chemin à parcourir.

Aujourd’hui, j’ai dit <<au revoir>> à ma famille française, et elle va me manquer. Ça va parce que je vais voir ma vraie famille et ensuite je vais rentrer en France. Il me reste trois mois dans la nouvelle année.

Je ne sais pas ce que je vais faire à la fin de l’année prochaine mais je sais avec confiance que je serai bon.

L’Allemagne me manque, c’est vrai, mais je pense que je préfère la France maintenant. C’est peut-être parce que la langue est plus facile pour moi. Quoi qu’il en soit, je suis en France et j’ai tous mes rêves.

A Paris, c’est trop cher comme toutes les autres grandes villes. J’ai trouvé un bar qui s’appelle <<La Robe et La Mousse>> et je viens de m’asseoir. Les murs sont turquoises sur des morceaux de vieilles pierres. Les lampes sont circulaires et montrent leur éclat dans de petits mondes de lumière.

Je suis content de la vie que j’ai dessinée ici. Tout dépend de moi, et calme quand je le veux. Mais d’un autre côté, c’est excitant quand je le veux.

C’est parfait pour moi, mais quand même, je n’ai jamais de contentement longtemps. Je ne l’ai jamais fait.

Je suis allé à Paris plus de cinq fois cette année mais je n’ai jamais eu le temps de voir la ville sereinement depuis 2019 où j’y suis allé avec mes parents. C’est très différent maintenant et plus libre, mais je suis hanté par les ombres des souvenirs de notre temps ici. Je vois encore et encore le même restaurant.

 A ce bar maintenant, je peux voir que le serveur n’est pas francais. C’est très bizarre quand je sais les différences de parler tandis que je ne suis pas française non plus et que ma française n’est pas bien. Mais je remarque et je pense que c’est un bon signe pour mes études. 

Ce restaurant est bon, il n’y a pas beaucoup de gens et le serveur est gentil. La seule chose que je n’aime pas est mon chapeau rose. Je ne suis pas confortable comme ça mais il n’y en a pas beaucoup pour moi a fait. 

Bientôt, je vais aller à San Diego et le froid sera derrière moi. 

j’ai peur de perdre mes progrès en français mais j’ai décidé de continuer à lire, écrire, et étudier pendant que je suis là. Une des choses qui m’excitent pour les Etats Unis est le changement de mes vêtements. Le style est important pour moi, la mode est tout. 

Pendant que je suis en Europe, j’ai choisi mes tenues dans mes deux valises. C’était terrible, mais ce n’est pas la fin du monde. Quoi qu’il en soit, j’ai hâte de choisir parmi un placard agrandi. Ce sera une sensation incroyable après tout ce temps.

De même, j’ai hâte de manger de la nourriture mexicaine. Cette cuisine se sent toujours comme à la maison. C’est vrai que j’adore la cuisine française, mais vraiment mexicaine c’est mieux.

Ma famille et mes amis m’attendent à l’autre bout du monde, mais je serai là tout de suite.

Après tous mes voyages, je ne suis pas prêt de dire <<au revoir>> aux autres pays. Je vais dire <<à plus tard>> mais je reviendrai. C’est une promesse.

A plus tard France, tu vas me manquer ainsi que toutes les personnes que j’ai rencontrées. (Et désolé pour les mots que j’ai mal compris, je vais réessayer.)

Tout mon amour,

Caroline

Cesson Saturday Marche

and the beauty of saying goodbye.

No Feelings Involved.

As soon as it touches my tips

I’d do anything for it.

Just another wisp of that feeling.

Not feeling- that flavor of feeling.

The nudging more

unfurling blank white maps

under the nearest pen. 

That embrace, embrace me,

push more of that cyclical urge

give me more of my closest vice.

Crash whichever wave can burrow a rabbit hole,

dealer’s choice.

Drink on that beating music,

that bass that thinks 

“Am I only two letters to you?”

Fall into the fragile and feminine feeling.

The simple word

I’ll say it a million times

because it never stays that same shade of same.

Close, but no cigar.

I don’t see lingering smoke

not quite like the fresh puff

the starting spark

the way I drag my hand across the page.

Red pen, bleeding, even though you prefer blue.

Maybe because you like to keep it inside,

so do it again,

oxidize it. 

Each Saturday, vendors by the dozen drive their trucks and trailers to Cesson’s old town center. They open their pop-ups to the waiting crowd of weekend shoppers that disperse, filling each row in the Church parking lot. 

Families stride along the older generation’s wheeled sacks with paper cups of espresso and the tin foil that rounds galettes. This Brittany staple is my first objective upon entering the colored maze. 

The rye flour crepe is flipped and wrapped around a saucisse with your choice of mustard or ketchup. I opted for mustard, obviously, and exchanged two euros eighty for my breakfast. 

It only took a few minutes before my gloved hand was unwrapped and replaced by the warmth of my galette saucisse. 

Biting through the layers, I wandered shop to shop, quickly realizing that though the market certainly covers the expected assortment of vegetables, fruit, bread, coffee, meat, and your other weekly necessities, it also hosts a vast array of ulterior vendors. 

These sellers propagate their stands with everything from locks to scarves and a/c units to handmade cutlery. 

I walked, in wonder, thinking about the assortment of lives that must exist behind each tent and trailer. 

Each Week

We do the same.

See the same,

Talk the same,

Breathe the same.

The same people greet us, don’t they?

With the same assortment of coins. 

I wind violet scarves around dainty necks

and these pale-faced women reflect

pretending like they want to take them home

this week, or maybe next, though really, they shouldn’t.

I stuff their husbands with stuffed sausage,

stabbed samples in not-quite-the-same size,

and they act like an absence of splinters would change their mind. 

We do the same.

Stop breathing the same.

Choke sounds the same,

The same eyes fade before mine, don’t they?

When I’ve sufficiently stalked the most interesting perimeters of these pop-up shops, I cross the slow-moving street. Opposite the market’s occupation of the old church parking lot grows a lush garden of flowers, even in this Winter’s early days. 

Pink bursts in roses and green vines wind their way down the manicured maze that tracks visitors through each end of the garden. I let my eyes wander this landscape, pausing on purple and fluttering over yellow flowers. I found my favorite space nestled in the marriage of two stone walls, just beyond a row of trees that break for a full view of the garden’s expanse. 

The wind’s lagging gusts set the pace, and I finish my saucisse slowly. Despite the cold, I am in no rush. I only have one more Saturday market before I break from this French alternate life and return to my America for nearly a month. 

It is bittersweet, splitting my heart between what I know and what I’ve come to know. I don’t know how it will feel, but I do know part of me will stay here—nestled among the fleurs and arching arbres of this French fantasy. 

Coming Home.

It’s so exciting, isn’t it?

Laying your new silhouette over your old outline. 

Seeing what parts of you still fit.

Maybe you will feel the same as you always have. 

Too big here, too small there.

To everyone else, you look the same. Beautiful, even.

But you’ve outgrown this box of beauty. 

The word means something else now. 

You know too much about yourself,

because now you know nothing. 

You know too much about this place,

because each minute change slaps your skin

like a new floater on the glass of your eye. 

Everything hovers, holding same 

by holding the nature it never quite stays.

Like a city can get botox, 

self-tanner on the same performative parts,

Angelina’s leg buffed and bold. 

You see this now, as you saw it before

and the same sad sticks to your wave-washed feet

salt for the wounds of constant summer. 

The sun reds your nose rather than the burn of snow

and there is just something about the way

you could change forever

and still come home. 

Courting Cambridge

I am running. Face twisted with concern, yet with each step the muscles find slack. I thank the border control woman in every language I know.

I showed her my train ticket fifteen minutes ago, and without her kind decision, I would still be standing deep in the inching queue, sweating inside instead of out.

The officer who stamped my passport didn’t even meet my eye, pressing ink over my niceties, and I didn’t mind, not if he let me go.

I slide through the train’s chomping portal with mere seconds to spare and swear I can feel the metallic bite of air behind me.

I have been traveling since 3:30 am this morning, and my day’s journey is not yet over. Planes, trains, and automobiles, so the story goes, have carried me across the kiss of Anglo-French air. Now, my body can rest beyond another transfer as I sail over iron tracks on my way to the next station.

I have not slept, but the weekend was worth it.

Tracing Tracks

Can you still miss your train if you can see it leaving?
You can’t miss something you never truly had.
You can hold this idea of a train ride,
this ticket stub of intention,
but reality was all too real for a dream.
Your real steps couldn’t keep up,
not with the way your fingers flicked through each screen.
You don’t have to slide plastic
through its arrowed cousin anymore.
Memorize the numbers on your credit card,
so you can keep charging yourself
for things without touching them.
You can toss your money to the wind
without rouging with the sting of scattered coins.
You don’t have to feel something
to wish it was yours.
But typing a thing and doing it
are not the same.
I would know,
I miss your train every time.

My long weekend in Cambridge came unexpected; an Instagram message from an old friend turned into a real plane ticket, crossing our ironic European proximity.

It must have been four or five years since we had last seen each other, and never without the family context of PC childishness and parental supervision. But we aren’t children anymore.

Seeing her was melting a younger (older) version of myself into my skin, rediscovering a girl with stories and jokes long forgotten.

The two-hour drive from Heathrow to her home just out of Cambridge was filled with endless chatter and a spinning web of memory. We tied 2010s trips through the California-Nevada desert, filling in each other’s gaps and planning our next-day hello to the larger city.

Saturday drove us on the wrong side of the road to Cambridge’s center. We walked the outline of the Grand Arcade mall, took lattes for takeaway, and indulged in Nando’s peri-peri before meandering our way to the city’s botanical garden.

Fall had crisped green into orange-yellow and scattered this over evergreen grass in nature’s layers.

We abandoned the map’s predetermined path for our own, dipping into the damp greenhouse to see tropical plants wind around each other in humid reflections. Baked by the focus of sun-lit windows, we traced plants from each part of the world until the archway released us. Outside, the simple grounds of the garden’s deepest boundaries came in shallow hills swelling in slight curves as the dirt-carved path snaked through trees and around flower beds.

The mild day cooled us enough to pull jackets back around our bodies, and by 3 pm, we had finished our tour. While we departed, time set fire’s arch, keeping it until the next morning.

This time a friend of a friend was behind the wheel, and we parked at the Grand Arcade, over-indulging in tights and knit sweaters. Soon my caffeine headache dragged us to the TikTok (and city) famous Fitzbilles for their highly-praised Chelsea buns and the cold coffee ordered only by Americans.

We unboxed our buns on the way back and stickied our fingers with the maple syrup that replaced creamed icing on the classic cinnamon rolls we were used to.

Still good, but different. Not as sticky sweet, but coating us in sugar just the same.

Edits.


You can’t unlove a city
unlove the swarm that rounds out its voices
different from yours. You can’t
unknow the train lines, the rusted bus stops,
rain-soaked metal awnings.
Cities have veins
and we are white blood cells;
there are too many of us bleeding onto the street,
running out of ways to heal ourselves.
It’s not healthy to erase memory,
to erase this metro matrix other fingers
have lined on your body.
Abandoned buildings are still buildings,
even when they’ve lost life.
You can’t untangle the strands
she left on your pillow,
not without smelling me.
Just as I can’t smell my own sweater,
without the threads reminding me
I used to love you.
I can’t unlove the way it felt to love,
even if I don’t love you anymore.

Meg, Margot, and St. Michel

I think about Maleficent’s thorny throne, Phillip chopping through hardened stems, severing rose bud necks, and drawing shallow red rivulets over his cheek, but as we conquer these steep steps, it is clear that here, the vines are nuns and monks, rose buds are stone busts, and their thorns are Christian judgment. 

Le Mont St. Michel stands impressive and imposing. Man’s stone on nature’s rock, here, predates the middle ages. It is said that in 708, Saint Aubert, bishop of Avranches, built the first religious sanctuary on the former Mont Tombe. 

Ever the saint, he believed that this vision did not come from his mind but from a divine decree, and he was simply fulfilling the wishes of the archangel Michael. Saint Aubert claimed the angel had appeared to him thrice in his dreams, enlightening him to Mont Tombe’s future. This initial sanctuary remained atop the rock for over 200 years until a community of Benedicts built its first church in 966. 

It was in the 10th century that construction began on the still-standing abbey of Mont St. Michel, but this period of construction was not completed until the 19th century. Over its 1300 years of history, St. Michel endured the passage of religious pilgrims, a long stint as a prison, an impregnable fortress during France’s Hundred Years War with England, and a return to its initial purpose as an Abbey. 

Though Le Mont has held fast to its French authority throughout these conflicts, discourse remains as to which region Le Mont belongs to. Situated between the border of Normandy and Brittany, the island technically lies within Normandy’s domain, but that does not stop Brittany loyals from claiming the island. 

What they are having.

I’ll take a toke,

a drink or a puff,

a bump or a smoke. 

What is it this time?

What Gods live here?

Are we visiting or being visited

by the angels that lie between tabs of acid?

They must be real

if we can see them in mushroom meals

or drink them in the nature of peyote. 

Should we tell them? The others? The ones who believe us?

Or should we keep this divinity for ourselves?

Roll Jesus in a joint and tell them what we remember.

Crush Abraham with the flat of our fist,

he coats our nostrils with his heavenly fire. 

I won’t tell, as long as you give me a line. 

They can think angels live in the sky,

and we can sit in chapel circles, 

passing our God,

telling each other what we see,

denying the reality of darkness,

and calming overdoses of thought with stories.

Bundled in borrowed green and crocheted yellow, I wove my gaze between bus seats as Le Mont St. Michel came into view. Pointed, the Abbey invites the imagination to see stone join sky as the steeple pierces the clouds. 

Our first order of business, braving the chill that exits the bus, was lunch. We followed the upward trend of foot traffic, the path that passed gift shops and tourist traps between overpriced restaurants. 

After passing on a few 36 euro meals, we found a cute creperie with everything we needed. 

The small eatery, Le Chapeau Rouge, fell back from the street and the tight-knit tables allowed for only a narrow squeeze to our corner. 

Filling into our seats, it wasn’t long before we were ordering galettes complet to quell the rumble of our hunger. Ham, egg, and rye crepe came quickly, and we ate just as fast, ordering a second crepe for dessert. These crepes au citron shortly followed, and we rolled the bittersweet lemon over our tongues. 

Plier

the french word for fold is plier. 

like a ballerina

they make halves.

gentle fingers crease gentler messages,

papers plie for their envelopes

& flattened batter folds around a metal spatula

in fourths.

i try to bend with this elegance too,

but my hands don’t move with the same grace.

mine graze over sloping beauty

cursive intentions crease pages with an alibi.

my body curls in on itself,

in a c, not a plie,

& all these french faces know

i am not one of their own.

Braving the sea-breeze outside of the creperie, we renewed our hike to the Abbey carved into the mount of Mont St. Michel. Staccato steps faltered over cracks and traipsed through the stoney wonderland of souvenir shops and medieval tourist traps. 

Joan, the one of the Arc, stands as a statue halfway up the island in all her romantic and religious armor. 

The sole woman among thousands of men, immortalized in this same fashion. The only indication of her feminine figure was the two rounded plates bonded to her chest plate. 

Gift shops boast this same Joan in plastic figurines for children, but most flock to the crowded walls of synthetic swords and painted gold shields. Toddlers point with sticky fingers, and parents fall prey to the out-of-town prices. 

At last, through the sea of open doors, we reached the Abbey in all its gray and godly glory. 

I expected this catholic monument to come colorful and adorned in stained glass light and devoted strokes of paint. St. Michel did not deliver on this front, but as we followed the preconceived order of rooms, I was overwhelmed by the dull gray of its stone. It was rare for color to peak through rudimentary windows, and the bleak ceilings hung heavy without the lift of paint. 

The immense building, anywhere else, would be a complete disappointment. Its size and echoed halls are nothing without its perfect placement on the mont’s original rock. 

That is the point. 

Constructed under the supervision of monks and nuns of the Catholic faith, the abbey lets the island’s natural beauty speak for itself. Unadorned windows are blown open by the ocean’s breath, the payoff of seemingly endless steps and steep cliffs. 

Our legs continued to climb, pulling muscle tight with each step and loose behind our eyes as we adjusted to this brand of beauty. Sand, tan and damp, extends infinitely from the circumference of the mont. Waves kiss this intersection and draw their body back out to sea. 

Close your eyes and breathe salt, learn what beauty can exist behind shut lids, and smell the simplicity of what the monks call “god’s work.”

Living in Le Douillet

All noise disappears as we find our way out of Rennes and into the simple fields of the Normandy countryside. My new friend, Megan, her girlfriend Margot, and I rode as passengers in the back of a small gray sedan dubbed Cleo.

Our tightly packed car wound down these dirt roads and up the slightly swollen plateau at the town’s center. We parked between Gorron’s Le Marie and La Cuisine de Bubba, the Pizzaria owned by Megan’s family.

The slightly fogged windows called us to warmth, and we quickly slipped into the cozy restaurant. Despite pizza’s Italian roots, the Hearn family brings a slice of English culture to the small French town.

Voices ring through the open hall in English tones, serving the spirited regulars oven-baked pies with a fair share of beer and wine.

We collapsed into the first open booth, finding space for our bags behind the bar. As I ordered my “hot & spicy” pizza and watched Margot take orders, I felt familiarity cover my limbs like I was back on my old neighborhood hill in San Diego.

Passers-by called to Megan, and tables sent hugs to the whole family before ducking through the door into dusk. Tipping hats with neighborly affection.

Truman

So many weekends away
Always away
Where I know nothing and no one
But it’s only a matter of time.
You can burrow a home anywhere
Nuzzle your crown into broken twigs
Soon enough they’ll turn green again.
Another safety net sprouts
Familiar faces hold your gaze
And mouths will say words you finally understand.
But my mind hasn’t learned the difference
Between an embrace and a chokehold.
White knuckles cant soothe me, racing
Head spinning and turning
The same panorama burned like a silver CD
Behind my eyes.
Playing like a skipping tape
Over and over the same sky.
Each day, a groundhog peaks out of a hole
Surveys his surroundings
And I scream.

We washed down pizza with a glass of rose until its closing time; then I took my place as a foreign friend in their right-handed car.

It was dark by the time we pulled into their driveway, and the nightly stars did not do the converted cow shed the same justice as dawn’s rise the next morning. Opening the sky over green and growing land, this sun shone through the windowed wall into the kitchen.

Beams held two lofted levels while the kitchen looked up to the original peaked roof. Stainless steel appliances divided this lower floor between living space and tv room. The hearth wafted warmth through hung clothes and clung to the couch’s pillowed blankets.

After drinking my coffee and filling my stomach with Biscoff and toast, Margot, Meg, and I went on a meandering walk of their farmland neighborhood.

Cows stood lazily in fenced fields, and trees made shallow forests between plots of land. Wind lifted our hair in short exhales as we strolled, finding footing over fallen leaves and around muddy tire tracks.

Out to Pasture

Life passes in seasons,
Trees fall without sound
And the deaf breeze paints crinkled leaves across the sky.
A rubber-gloved hand pulls life from inside me
And my underbelly is sore
From new mouths.
Life passes between metal links,
A fenced existence I don’t care to dispute.
At times I drag myself, heavy,
Onto dirt road,
Just to feel something in the seconds before a car downshifts
And hands roughly push me in my tired direction.
Life is in a silver, open cage
And I watch the sky.
Another season comes and so does my cellmate.
Another cell swells inside me,
And this time, I pass life to them.

We crossed the blooming man-made pond and constructed rocky steps that pave the backyard. Running our muddy boots against the rough doormat, we returned to home base.

It was finally time to dress for the Halloween/birthday party hosted that evening. My wardrobe lent itself easily to Jules from Euphoria, so I excitedly smoothed blue tights over my legs and zipped a white and orange swirled skirt over my hips.

A gold chain belt of flowers clipped over these layers, and I doubled up on green with a long-sleeve pattern and simple tank. I linked necklaces over each other and clipped rainbow earrings to my lobes before finishing the material portion of my costume with a borrowed mini backpack.

The final touches were space buns and white ink outlining my eyes, just as Jules would have wanted.

Meg and Margot secured felt petal hats over fairy dresses, becoming two adorable flower fairies before me.

Meg’s sister claimed 18 as the party commenced, and we slurped homemade jello shots from shallow paper scallops in her honor. The disco lights lit our night from the inside, flooding the windows with light that spilled onto the patio.

As we warmed our legs by her father’s bonfire and listened to the youthful music from within, I let the fire hold me, grateful for the kindness of temporary strangers.

Looking Like Rennes

Steve Lacy sings “Bad Habit” to me as I wait at the Cesson bus stop to board my near-daily bus to the center of town.

My eyes dart from this page frequently, expecting the C6 Aeroport to be in view. I can’t tell if they are always late or all early, but the bus always exhales in labored exhaust, sometime between the time you waited for and the next. Either way, I board five past and make it to Republique anyways.

I don’t know how long I have kept to this habit of taking iced coffee at Mokka and observing everyone who passes on the ever-populated Rue de le Bastard.

What I have seen these past weeks comes in a few variations.

Overwhelmingly, black covers the shoulders of these Rennes walkers. All ages seem to have an attachment to this base, the young and feminine accentuating with perhaps a pop of color or contrast of pattern.

Among this swarm, new women dress in black tights, either end landing in boots or under dark skirts. These girls don oversized coats, two buttons unbuttoned as each side hangs open on their first layer. Their breaks in black often come in white or tan, basic color blocking for a population that keeps one toe in homogeny.

Cream-colored sneakers see the world from millennial feet as they walk into light creases against the uneven stone. These women wrap their necks in soft cotton scarves and top their heads with the ascribed bennie. Brown hair curls under and into their XXL button-up sweaters, warm and puffed like shag carpet.

I don’t hate it, though they drone on in the same colors, black, cream, tan, brown, and pink, barely distinguishable from white.

Naturally, within any herd of dressers, the brilliant and beautiful stick out, and Rennes’ diamonds are no exception.

For the older generation of women, most of whom are under the universal urge to chop their hair with the same sharp shortness, these feats of fashion come in coordinated color schemes and fabric attention. As they pass, there is a certainty that even their socks match and mirror what they wear on the surface.

In youth, colored fits find my focus and pull me in pinpointed directions to pink floral buzz cuts and wide-legged denim. Their identity hemorrhages from their patterned skirts and oversized sweaters. Legs slid between thin tights, torn and running, while their canvas-bagged shoulders rock back and forth. Earrings hang heavy from stretched lobes and chart empty spaces on their faces.

And then there are the leather ladies, and I do love them. 20, 30, 40-something girls creaking down the street with arms crossed over silver ornaments in black boots, invariably. Their hair is always pinned and pulled, cheekbones leading their walk.

Made in the USA

When she asks what I want,
I want to tell her
I love the way her nails,
dark green and noir,
match her drawn eyes.
I want to tell her
exactly how much I prepare
just to hear this question.
I want to say
the words I mean, effortlessly,
with the same loose twist of tongue
that comes after I’ve gotten my spirits up.
I want to hold on
to this moment before she knows
my whole truth.
And I can’t tell her,
not without stumbling,
words invariably slurred by my American mouth.
I try anyways,
but it is too early to tell
if she will let me finish.

At times, a young boy strolls by with a matching sweat set in tan, gray, or some other soft color. Most men, on the other hand, stick to their black scripts. They layer t-shirts and sweatshirts, pulling puffers over all of this and ending over black pants that brim their Nike choose-your-own-adventures.

Another look frequents this male population in tan pants and tucked t-shirt. Layered above is a blue or deep green button-up, and over that, a similarly dark sweater. The collar of their ironed blue peaks out from v-neck scoop.

Perhaps, though not necessarily, they don a comfortable jacket and scarf below the rim of their cotton caps. All this over business boots laced up and double tied with stiff hands living outside their week-day keyboard station.

Iced coffee and pen in hand, I turn my pinky to the sky in my version of Rennes’ fashion.

A black base, of course, is worn over my legs in faintly patterned tights and a clingy velvet skirt. I have an aversion to the feel of velvet against my fingers, so I try not to think too much while I snake the zipper over my hip and slip a black and white turtle neck over my head of loose hair. Next, I tie it all away from my face with an orange pop of color. The bright scarf is lined with white strokes that call to their counterparts on my chest.

Secured with four crossed bobby pins, I can fasten the four buttons that fall over my wrists. This final layer comes in a faint cream button-up dotted with a second dollop of cream in polka dots. And, since it is me, my fingers are crowned in gold and silver bands, a brick and a stone of purple, as gold joins the fabric on each wrist.

The remaining hair is tossed over my shoulder as I pull Kyle, Cartman, and Kenny dressed as pirates and vampires over each end of my tights, it is Halloweek after all. Finally, I stomp into my white platform docs and lace them around my South Park secret.

This is my Rennes, or as close to it as my wardrobe allows.

Wet Dog

Are they supposed to see through my grin?
Past the stiff cock of my head to the side?
Or feelings I plaster across my face?

Does my one-handed San Pelligrino sell nativity
or betray my naivety?

I dress in color
because I live in color,
but I don’t have the key
to unlock the glass ceiling
that takes the context out of everything.

Either way, I can’t stop finding people
who want me,
want to strip my words away
see what body is my truth,
like that.

Am I paranoid to think that the table over is talking about me?
They must be,
either blase or smelling it on me,
before I can speak.

Once I open my mouth,
wet dog
damp and almost alright.
Half-way clean,
half-way soiled,
I just don’t have the soap
to wash these abstractions away.

Iced Coffee Escapades pt.2: Cafe Glace S’il Vous Plaît

If you have been following my blog, you know that for me, iced coffee is a must. You have likely read my rants about its scarcity in Europe, and if this is true, then it will be no surprise that I am back with another edition of Iced Coffee Escapades, this time in Rennes.

Mokka

With two locations in Rennes, the house of my go-to iced coffee sits aside the busy foot traffic of Rue le Bastard, just before the craft-store alcove next door.

Black awnings and metal chairs encroach upon the street in a small arrangement while the line snakes and breaks through the afternoon.

Their menu lists many drinks, from green tea to americanos, with an option to make any drink “froid,” or over ice. In addition to its extensive menu, Mokka offers sizes akin to the oversized American standards I am used to. Their large is about 24ounces, more than generous compared to the typical French 6.

For these reasons, Mokka has quickly become a popular stop along my day since I first discovered it with an equally ice-obsessed friend.

Despite my love of Mokka’s cold and convenience, the cafe is more equipped for à emporter than sur place. The wifi has difficulty reaching the end of the patio, and no toilet is tucked in the back, making this cafe less than ideal for an afternoon with a laptop.

Still, I am grateful for Mokka’s no-nonsense iced coffee, and as a misplaced connoisseur, who am I to complain?

Cafe Albertine

For a kitchen-cafe experience, head to Albertine. The mid-sized lounge bridges the gap between cafe and restaurant as wifi and caffeine power patrons through their morning. Its living room style provides a calm workspace that filled each breath with baked aromas.

I found a round table towards the back, with the same friend who introduced me to my beloved Mokka. She told me she had never been here before, and we ordered the same combination of iced latte and cinnamon roll.

The roll was woven like a flower, pieces pulling from doughy center as it unfolded in my hands, the flavor amplified by the cool introduction of espresso and milk on ice.

Music came softly from the cafe’s corners, Cage the Elephant, then Tame Impala filling the space between our words.

Light floods the restaurant as its windows are a clear, looking glass into the morning cold. People line the walls with their laptops and meetings, and it is easy to slip into the tranquility of background conversation.

The clacked exchange between fingers and keys is my white noise, after years spent writing in city cafes. These vibrations lull me to thought and I wonder what my infant self would think if she could see me now.

Lines

Where did I draw the line?
There have been too many revisions,
too many exceptions.
Too much blurred led,
gummed eraser ends,
and holes in the space between.
I feel my origin shrinking,
while my head occupies the same space
above my shoulders,
and my limbs go about their day.
Dragging me along long nights
and moral mistakes,
asking me to forget everything.
I beg my body to take me to myself,
and I look– into the crystal balls that see the world,
and find that momentary grasp of self.
That moment’s recognition before you fade before your own eyes.
The voice I heard as a child has been replaced,
though echoes hear her, sometimes,
when her fists pound against my heavy glass,
and she glares through my eyes
just like I ask her.
Only at night can I crawl back inside,
and find her curled up inside me.
I take her head in my hands and ask her to look.
To remember what I can’t and tell me how we should feel.
Her eyes grow wide each time
as she relives each way my body has danced,
her mouth doesn’t know pride or disappointment,
her breath fogs my eyes, as
her hands hold mine and more freedom.
More than she knew she meant when she screamed,
and I don’t know what to tell her anymore.

St. Malo Saturday

“Want company?”

Of course I did. What better way to explore the small beach town than with friends who knew their way around?

“Yes!” I told my cluster of new friends, and less than 24 hours later, we were riding, five bodies in a small sedan, on our way to St. Malo. The hour drive passed easy, minutes melting away through the countryside until we arrived at the imposing fortress flooded with tourists and weekenders.

The gray stone stacked tall around the central part of the town where obvious vendors and small shops eyed us from street-level glass.

Ice cream was our first objective, and after the cramped ride, I needed it. My companions built a particular ice cream shop, Sanchez L’Artisan Glacier, to be the best in France, and it did not disappoint.

Flavors monopolized two showcase freezers, and each rectangle of ice cream was garnished like a cold cake. There were too many choices, but my allergy to chocolate helped me narrow it down. I decided on hazelnut and pecan, two scoops exchanged for the red token given to me at the register.

Glace

One lick & you open
begin your drip down
& stick to the skin like summer.
I have to keep eating
to stop you from falling apart
all over me & I can’t tell
if you are the real thing.
Not yet. But
there is more to you than I thought
more layers I dissolve so easy,
so sweet. But again,
are these all artificial flavors?
A trick of aspartame or fructose,
but maybe you are really sweet.
Real. Cane sugar in a cup.
Right now, I don’t care.
We play our game
hot & cold & as we kiss I know
you will only reveal the truth
if it hurts
after you are gone.

Five cones and ten scoops came with us on our descent from steep steps to the sand. I breathed in ocean air, and my cone dripped onto the space between my feet.

The breeze, so fresh. So salty and familiar. Yet, I have never been to this side of the sea. I grew up worlds away, numbing my toes in the cool waves of the Pacific. But now I know the Atlantic stings the same ring around ankles as you wade in its waters.

When I asked if sharks ever came close to shore, my friends laughed. “No, what are you talking about? There are no sharks.”

They said it so simply, but my mind was blown. An ocean without sharks? I didn’t know it was possible, but I guess in France, anything is possible.

The shallow water pulled away with the tide as we walked with bare feet on wet sand until we reached the Grand Be island just yards away from St. Malo’s former fortress.

At the top of the island’s rocky swell lies the famous French writer, Francois-Rene de Chateaubriand, buried in 1848. It is rumored that decades after he was laid to rest facing the sea, as per his wishes, an unorthodox and revolutionary thinker peed over his grave. This was an act that he intended to reclaim the serene plot Chateaubriand was allowed by his family’s wealth.

Besides a history of desecration between activists and aristocrats, St. Malo claims a rich backstory of intertwined pirates and royalty. Through the 17th and 18th centuries, the city’s stronghold was home to privateers. These pirates had an arrangement with the king where they would share a portion of their spoils in exchange for immunity for their methods of obtaining this treasure.

This alliance proved violent for more than the ships they attacked for treasure, as the privateers used their position to prompt more destruction of foreign ships for the purpose of fighting in France’s race war that lasted until April 6th,1856.

The Saints of Malo

surround me with stone & mortar
and I will hold you.
soft & strong
we can watch centuries of ships
come & go through our open arms.
the arms that can shut & lock
if we decide they don’t have the right.
we can take then,
take everything below deck worth coin,
his gold,
her virtue, or her life.
whichever is worth more.
and while we do this, they can dance.
they, the Maloins, they can wander & think
of all other things.
like the beauty of the sea,
the strange color red that washes to shore,
or thoughts beyond the grave.
they can write & ponder & prosper,
as we protect their fragile feather quills
that write with a softness only our waves possess.
one may rise, grow notoriety above the rest
until he claims earth,
or sand, just there- just through the window
just beyond the shore.
he can declare our sea view his, for eternity.
& while he is lowered into our mother,
we stay eternal, holding all these centuries together.
we still smell the salt air,
resist its waved erosion,
& remember when we used to be pirates.

Wiping sand off with socks and stepping slightly soggy in our shoes, we made ourselves appropriate for La Java Cafe. My friends called it “doll bar,” and by the time we made it inside, I saw it could go by no other name. Wall to wall, floor to ceiling, were eyes. Open and staring into our souls from round heads attached to limp bodies of all sizes. Doll bar.

I tried to break eye contact as we looked over the menu and placed our order of juice and soda. The doll’s tiny hands prickled my spine as they watched us. Dainty braids and curled locks were woven too real around painted features that coated their heads in faces. There is no word but creepy.

After we were sufficiently creeped out and had sunk our drinks, it was time to take to the sea again. This time with borrowed swimsuits and high hopes that the water wouldn’t chill us to the bone.

We made our way through an almost-ghost town and found another set of stairs leading to an empty beach.

There was nothing left to do but run, and we did. Three out of five of us flailing towards icy waves and convincing ourselves to plunge all the way into its depths.

I felt the water’s resistance around my waist but pushed forward anyways, feet against sand, and accepted the swell that grew to my shoulders.

The last time I felt this same numbness was before I left everything behind. My sister and childhood neighbors walked with me into the San Diego coast, we felt our skin slowly shrivel as our limbs settled into numbness and our minds forcefully forgot the cold.

Now I am numb with people I’ve just met. Diving head-first into coasts I never have before. Speaking words I am on my way to knowing. And despite my body, I feel everything.