looking back: paris

March 14, 2014

SONY DSCAfter my longest hiatus yet from the blog, a post.

Don’t be fooled: reverse culture shock has quite possibly been a greater transition/difficulty for me than moving to Moscow. Though I’m finally coming out of it, understanding holistically why moving back was so difficult (and not just pinpointing elements of a larger difficulty) is still foggy, not yet something I’m ready to write about.

Words to describe the last six months: transition. growth. stagnancy. mourning. joy. thankfulness.

Confused? Yeah, me too.

Reflection comes naturally for me, and I’m often painfully aware of time and its passing. Every day for the last six months, I’ve asked myself “Where was I last year at this time?” The answers are: The opera. An expat Thanksgiving feast. The outdoor swimming pool. My parents’ basement Christmas night, terrified of my January return. My school, surrounded by Russian English teachers. A cafe with Sveta. The metro with Sveta. Everywhere with Sveta. Moscow. Russia. SONY DSC

Not here.

I think about what the weather is like, what it smells like outside of my apartment building, how to get to my metro station. I think about what we ate for lunch, what kind of tea Sveta and I finally decided on, paths through the forest, my favorite type of cheese, what the people wore on the metro. I try to remember faces places sounds. Sometimes, I can’t. I search my email inbox, hoping I wrote someone the details.

SONY DSCI’ve dreaded the end of February and first half of March all winter, because when I ask “Where was I last year at this time?” the answer is, in short, “low.” Or better yet, “the lowest.”

One year ago, I suspected that something was wrong because everything was hard. I blamed Moscow. I drank coffee and took Vitamin D. I surrounded myself with people, both in real life and over Skype. I both feared and coveted time alone. Then I went to Paris–my first trip to Europe–and confirmed what I feared.

I didn’t enjoy Paris. This not only made me feel ungrateful, but it freaked me out.For the first time in my life, I couldn’t pull myself out of it; changing location and busying myself didn’t change anything. SONY DSC

Of course, I liked it: I stood in awe, took photos and savored the food. I saw everything. In fact, I saw more things than I saw in any of the other places I visited, likely an attempt to distract myself, to keep moving. I was, however, incredibly aware of being unhappy and of being there alone. I appear in few photos, but now, I avoid looking at the ones I do because it’s clear that I’m trying to like it.

I became enamored with Notre Dame, visiting every day of my weekend trip, usually at night, ignoring the crowds because it felt like mine. I didn’t feel happy there, but comfortable, calm. I took photos from every angle. On my last night, I chose a cafe across the street from it, requested a window booth, and ate creme brulee facing it.

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There were other good things. A friend from my school in Moscow set me up in an apartment with her friends. I slept on a couch in the playroom and each morning, I was awakened by three kids playing dress up in French. After I showered, the oldest would bring me a croissant and orange juice on a tray, smile because we couldn’t talk, and then exit shyly.

My friend also put me in contact with her friend’s mother, a woman in her sixties named Christine. Christine wore her blonde hair in a high bun, a white coat with fur around the collar, boots with heels, and make up. Christine was beautiful, mostly because she smiled constantly, so content that she bounced when she walked. She smiled sometimes because she couldn’t understand me, sometimes so the parking garage attendants would let her park her small black car in a spot it barely fit, but normally, it seemed like it was because she was happy and thankful. SONY DSC

I don’t remember what Christine did for work. I don’t remember what we talked about. But I do remember that I felt able to talk to her in a way I couldn’t others. I remember that she took me to the spot with the most beautiful view I saw in all of Paris. And that there, we had a hot chocolate unlike anything I’ve had before.

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 And so I’ve dreaded February/March,  worrying that those feelings would return. That whatever it was in Moscow, whatever it was about the middle of winter, would become a yearly thing, would become a statement I’d make when talking to strangers at parties with no explanation: “I just can’t do February/March.”

But it didn’t. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s nothing like last year. Instead, the opposite: an inexplicable, overwhelming sense of thankfulness and joy. Not thankfulness that I’m not in Moscow anymore, as that experience is the best decision I’ve ever made (at this point in my life anyway). Not that winter is over. But that I made it through that part of Moscow. And that Moscow got so much better. And that eventually, this transition back to the US will also be “a year ago.” And coupled with that, an overwhelming sense of awe that my perspective has changed so drastically in one year. I can only imagine the place I was a year ago because I’ve been there, not because I’m there anymore.

There is one Paris photo where I’m not faking it. Christine took it from her car when she drove me to the Arc de Triomphe and instructed me to run out into the center of the crosswalk to take the best photo. She showed it to me before dropping me off at the Louvre.”I love photos in motion,” she said. “And look at you in Paris. You look perfect.”

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About a month ago, boyfriend Jack graduated from law school. Five days after that, he came to Moscow, and though he’s been back in KS for a few weeks now, I’m incredibly happy and thankful about his 2.5 week visit here. Obviously, I’ve been incredibly happy and thankful for all my visitors, but because of some visa complications, I thought boyfriend Jack wasn’t going to make it here…or at least not on time. In a nutshell, the travel service we used for his visa lost all of his application materials (including his passport).

When Jack called to inquire (multiple times a day for weeks), they said “We’ll call back” and then never did. I thought I might be able to help from Moscow, thinking that maybe the moral support and more “forceful” communication style of the three Russian women digitally and physically with me (Russia bestie Sveta, boss/friend Olga, and travel coordinator Oxana) would help. Below is the conversation I had with the travel company (tc):

tc: “Uh…Ma’am, we’re currently looking for that application.”

kb: “What do you mean you’re ‘looking for it’?”

tc: “Well, just that.”

*Silence*

SONY DSCAnyone who has traveled to Russia (or any other country requiring a visa) will tell you that visa stuff is frustrating and difficult and that no matter what you do, you will probably make a mistake. I made a mistake in my visa that caused me to come to Russia a week late in August; bestie Molly had to resubmit her application; and the Pfeiffers had to wait a long, long time for theirs to arrive. This was the worst problem I’d encountered though…and there wasn’t much we could do about it.

They eventually found it (four days before his flight)–it had apparently gone from the Russian consultant in Washington DC to the Russian consulate in Seattle without anyone really making note of that.

*Silence*

The consulate requested a new document from Russia, and Oxana got that within two hours (even though it was already 8 pm in Moscow). Sveta was even willing to forge documents, though she may not admit it now. Jack and I prayed a lot. And the visa arrived two days before his flight.

I say all that to say:

1. When you think your boyfriend you haven’t seen for almost five months isn’t going to get to come to Moscow, you are sad. When you find out that said boyfriend does in fact get to come and then you actually see him in the airport–in real life 3D and not through a Google+ Hangout–you are thankful and relieved and though you have to work during the days, you take him to all the Moscow places and make him pose for photos in the evenings. SONY DSC

2. You bring him to work with you the first few days because even though he can’t really do anything there and you are busy, you just. can’t. bear. to. be. apart. Plus, you’ve told all these great stories about people at work and you’ve complained so much about the stairwell with the tiles that are coming unglued and you’ve said zapekanka is so so good that you want him to meet these people and see these things and try this food. So, he sits outside of your office and contentedly reads and plays Solitaire, and your Russian friends are more hospitable to him than you are, because you know he is totally happy, but it is in their nature to continually ask if he is comfortable or hungry or thirsty.

3. You cook for him a lot because you are happy and because you realize you’ve gotten lazy with meals in the last few months. You assume he won’t want to have scrambled eggs both for breakfast and dinner, so you decide on spaghetti. The two of you can’t find garlic, but you improvise cheese bread and the whole meal is actually quite good. He insists on moving the tiny table from the kitchen to the living room so you can sit across from one another, and though it blocks the doorway to the kitchen and makes getting anything from the kitchen difficult (because your apartment is real small) it ends up being a great idea so you do it for every meal. You both decide that successful meals, even simple ones, taste better in Russia because they’re harder to make.  And then the sunsets around 10:30 pm. SONY DSC

4. He cooks for you, too, normally breakfast. On your birthday, he goes to the grocery store alone and comes back with keifer instead of milk, which is not what you use for French toast, so you go back to the store with him. 995676_974705989582_2074914979_n

5. You also realize that it’s pretty awesome to be treated on your birthday. After church, he takes you out for coffee and cake and then Georgian food with your friends and buys you a ukulele and flowers.  SONY DSC

6. You try new things. You want to take him golfing. To get there you have to confront one of your greatest fears–the bus–and it only ends up being a little scary. Even though you stare at the Moscow map on your tablet and then check street names out the window the whole time because you are just that nervous about getting lost (or perhaps because you check the street names with the Moscow map on your tablet the whole time), you don’t get lost. SONY DSC

You were never afraid of the ice cream stand, but you go there for the first time and discover the Maxibon (a Nestle crunch ice cream bar plus an ice cream sandwich). He convinces you that the Maxibon can serve as lunch. Some days you have two. SONY DSC

7. You also might travel. But that’s another blog.

 

 

 

Writers need to catch readers’ attention. Additionally, as a nonfiction writer, I am compelled to tell the truth.

I assume that the title of the blog entry caught your attention–can you imagine me functioning without the community garden? The title is not only eye-catching, but also true. For a moment in time last week, I seriously believed that we may lose the garden.

Our story: We (the other community gardeners and I) received a bizarre email from a guy claiming he owned the land where the community garden is, and that the city threatened to take the land away from him. He said he didn’t want to do this, but that we needed to contact him within 24 hours so he could help. Also, the email was sent from a Kansas City business–a pawn shop.

I was confused. You’ll remember that two men who live in Kansas City own the land the community garden is on. You’ll also remember that last fall,  I met one of the men who owns the land. I thought they were both lawyers, so the fact that a pawn shop owner was contacting us was sketchy. The email was also super vague, most specifically in that it gave no reason for the city taking the garden away. I envisioned those scam phone calls from foreign countries asking for money or bank accounts or credit cards, though I wasn’t sure how they were going to scam us by threatening to get rid of the garden.

Despite my skepticism about the email’s validity, I imagined the rest of Lawrence summer sans garden. And then I stopped; I hated it.

Naturally, this email set off a chain of emails about what to do. Some thought it was a scam, some seemed legitimately worried, and others mocked pawn shop guy’s grammar (surprisingly, English teacher Kara was not one of those people).

Superhero Michael (no, for real, if you met him you’d agree) called the pawn shop.

The real story: Pawn shop guy is, in fact, co-owner of the land. Apparently, the City of Lawrence drove by the garden one day last month. We hadn’t mowed a tiny patch of grass between the sidewalk and the street. “Nevermind the undergrad neighborhoods filled with post-graduation and summer-celebration PBR cans and red Solo cups,” they must’ve said, “We’ve gotta get this community garden cleaned up.”So, they sent the owners’ lawyer a letter requesting that we mow the area.

If we didn’t mow the grass within a specified time frame, we would be fined. By the time the owner got the letter from his lawyer, the time frame was almost up (hence the 24-hour business). Apparently the man who owns the pawn shop is an older guy and not super great with email/etc, so he kind of freaked out (hence the vague, rushed email).

Superhero Michael biked to City Hall. They said it was no longer an issue. They’d gone by the garden the next week, and since it had been mowed (because we mow the grass), took it off “the list.” However, if we forget to mow again, we’ll be fined.

My analysis (rant): The city’s scolding/threat annoyed me. It’s The Man, man. We work tirelessly to restore and maintain an entire lot in Lawrence. And frankly, we do a pretty good job. It’s beautiful and produces a lot of food. People who live in the neighborhood often stop by and comment on the work we do. Yes, occasionally things get overgrown, but there are worse looking lots in Lawrence, lots that “deserve” to be scolded. If we were a sports team or a fraternity, it would be fine. *Wincing at my own blatant bias* I know that some of you will shake your heads like a parent/grandparent and say “Well, rules are rules,” but I don’t like this rule.

Aside from that debacle, things are going swimmingly in the garden. There’s a bit of summer-time planting to do. And lotsa weeding. And even more harvesting, cooking, eating, and giving food to friends.

The garden feels more manageable now than it did a few weeks ago, too, because we’ve spent some time cleaning things up, drying herbs and tea for later, re-mulching the pathways, and throwing things away that are done (mostly bolted spinach and lettuce).

Perhaps my most important plant related news is that I am in love with peas. IN LOVE. LOVE! It’s officially official. They are doing so well this year.

The offer still stands: if you’d like food, let me know. Those who have visited to pick food haven’t been disappointed. Support the rebellious, countercultural community gardeners. Down with The Man.Huzzah.

I’ve had some obstacles with the fall garden.

First, I’ve already planted it once.

Well, twice.

Okay, three times.

I planted four pumpkin plants. Though they looked quite promising initially, they could not survive the end of summer heat. A bit later, I planted fall lettuce. I think the seeds were real old.

My last attempt was to plant some spinach. That’s really all I want–fall spinach. I watered it almost daily but over three weeks in, no sign of spinach. As an experiment, I also planted some in the communal garden, where I noticed the dirt was much darker than mine. Spinach did come up in the beautiful black soil in the communal space; I realized my soil was tired.

The soil does not look good. It is grey-ish. It is sad. I think about Michael Pollan’s book about gardening and his other books about the way we treat the earth and I feel guilty. I know this is not the same as farmers taking and taking and taking without replenishing, but on a small scale, it’s kind of is.  Soon, I am getting some compost from the city, covering my plot with it, and giving it a much deserved break.

Because I cannot give up on my fall garden dream, I bought some seeds Tuesday–a fourth attempt.

Obstacles continued, though. First, there was the praying mantis on my bike wheel. I am not the type of girl who is afraid of bugs (refer to this blog’s overarching theme). Spiders and I used to have issues, but then I stopped living with my mom and realized that I’d have to deal with them. Praying mantes (I looked this spelling up) do scare me, though. They seem really powerful. And smart. Maybe it’s the way the ladies bite the guys’ heads off.

I tried knocking it off with a leaf. It just lifted up its little praying hands and stared at me. I rolled my bike back and forth, while trying to explain the way a wheel worked–if it stayed there, it would eventually get smashed. To avoid dealing with it, I took that photo. I jumped around a little bit when it seemed like it might touch me. Then, finally I hit it real hard with a stick and it flew on the concrete. I did not check to see if it was okay.

When I got to the garden, I had one more obstacle: where to plant. All the communal space was either filled with other plants, taken over by weeds, or covered in sand in preparation for the winter. This is the time of the year that I attempt to accomplish 1,000 things every day, so I knew I did not have time to clear out an entire section of ground.

Beneath the sand is beautiful black dirt. Our most devoted community gardener put the sand there. The area does not really need to be prepped for next year, though; it is super nutrient-rich right now. Spinach seeds would be so happy there. I started clearing the space. But with each shovelful of sand, I felt guilty, knowing that moving the sand would upset him. I also realized that I had nowhere to store pounds and pounds and pounds of sand without creating a mess for someone else.

So instead, I found this awkward little hole and planted the spinach, bok choi, and kale there. Here’s to hoping.