Saturday, July 24, 2010

Au revoir, Paris. Hello, London!

St. Paul’s Churchyard, London

Our week in Paris culminated with an eight hour Louvre visit. We saw the famous greats, lesser-known greats, and the generally boring. Ok, I know it’s sacrilege to call anything in the Louvre boring, but glass work just doesn’t blow my skirt up. The fancy floor vents do, and they beckon to the tired, the sore footed and the super sweaty like myself. We watched the sunset over the glass pyramid and had one last dinner by the Seine. I actually saw a real French woman wearing a beret. It was electric blue and set off her red hair, navy jacket and khaki pants. I have now seen it all. This morning after a brief hostage crisis with the hotel safe, which refused to cough up our Eurostar tickets, we crossed the channel with happy memories of Paris.

I find myself giddy with excitement each and every time I enter London. I hop on a tourist bus and see all the famous sights with first time visitors. As my knowledge of British history grows, my appreciation of this ancient powerhouse deepens. The Romans built a fishing village on the Thames and called it Londinium. A thousand years later, Edward the Confessor built Westminster Abbey in the quarter of London that has housed kings and parliament ever since. William the Bastard (that’s what they called him in Normandy) changed the course of history when he invaded Britain and established the Anglo-Norman culture we know today. They built the tower of London, established British legal code and introduced surnames to the Anglo Saxon population who had before gone by names like “Edward of London, son of Hengist.”

So why is all this history enough to make me giddy as a kipper? Perhaps it is because I am in the capitol of the English-speaking world. Maybe it’s because my ancestors walked these streets. (One of them was a stonecutter who worked on St. Paul’s Cathedral, where I now sit). Or possibly it’s because the UK is where I want to be. I feel like London is just up the street from home. And I’ve just had the best chai in my life.

Above: St. Paul's Cathedral, London. Below: the Eiffel tower at night, sunset at the Louvre

Monday, July 19, 2010

Oils, Moyls and Whales . . . in Paris

Levi and I visited the Jewish Museum in Paris today. Tucked away in the historic Marais district far form tourist crowds, the museum chronicles the history of Europe’s Jews from medieval times through today. We saw Renaissance paintings of Venetian Jews enjoying a wedding and a bris. We marveled at magnificent and sacred relics wholly removed form those well known Christian works that draw crowds from the Vatican to St. Paul’s.

Viewing these sacred objects that are off the well trodden path was a rich and world-broadening experience.

My favorite pieces were the Hanukah menorahs, each elaborately decorative. One striking menorah featured a figure holding a sword atop the shemash (middle candle, used to light the others). Levi made an observation that started a rather unorthodox conversation.

“It must be oil.”

“That’s not a moyl.”


“It could be Judah the Macabee, the hero of the Hanukah story. Moyls don’t use swords.”

“What does that have to do with oil?”


“Yeah, see – it burns oil instead of candles.”

“Oh, I thought you said he was a moyl and that his sword was for circumcisions.”

I was then accused of inventing moyls where none existed and spending precious (and lately, rare) mental energy on infant genital torture. I pointed out another stunning menorah.

“No moyls there.”

“Whales? Where?”

We have become like crotchety old people, tottering around museums and arguing about oils, moyls and whales. Oy vey!

It’s evening now and Levi is scaling the dome of Sacre Coer while I marvel at the cathedral from the ground. Three hundred treacherous, winding stairs = Kimberly breaking her face. I opt instead to enjoy the city views laid out all around Montmartre, the one time residence of Degas, Monet, Van Gough, Picasso and Dali. It now hosts throngs of art-loving tourists who sit for street painters and slurp gelato while climbing up and down the steep streets in search of the homes of famous artists.

I take a moment to reflect on the last three days of non-stop action. Yesterday we attended mass at Notre Dame (you don’t need a secret catholic password) so as to enjoy the cathedral in its intended setting. The smells and bells don’t get any better than that! Statues of Biblical kings line the fa├žade of the church dedicated to Our Lady. The kings of Notre Dame lost their heads during the French revolution when patriots worshiped at the feet of Madame Guillotine and the people had no kings before god (especially since they mistakenly believed the statues to be French kings). A local man rescued these priceless works of art, secretly moving all of the multi-ton heads to his garden, where they were discovered in the 1970’s. We had the privilege of viewing the original heads of Notre Dame, now on display at the Cluny Museum. It was perhaps ironic foreshadowing that medieval Parisians chose the headless Saint Dennis at their patron. Matryed by decapitation in the third century, he supposedly picked up his head and kept going. Tres Parisian.

Yesterday we dined on escargot, croque madame, foie gras, steak tartar and cold strawberry soup which blew this strawberry lover’s wine-soaked mind. The strawberries here are actually red – and ripe! The French look down on what they call “plastic strawberries,” which are imported and white in the middle. I learned that raw beef actually tastes good (in France, where the meat can be trusted. Do NOT try this at home). If you’ve read nasty things about foie gras, check out this article about how the French treat their geese. I’d say we could take a lesson or two form our friends here.

This is my second time in Paris and it has only grown on me. From the old shoe salesman who babbled away in French to the obviously bewildered Levi to the flower draped balconies, this city does not disappoint. More to come. Au revior!

Song of the Day: Quelqu'un m'a dit by French First Lady Carla Bruni (back when she was a lowly supermodel)

Photos: Hunukah Menorah at the Jewish museum, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, Levi eats escargot

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Friday, July 16, 2010

A Fond Farewell

Today’s the day! I fly to Paris tonight to begin my 6 week backpacking trip before settling in Aberdeen at the end of August. Tomorrow I become a European resident.

I am filled with so much love for the family and friends I leave behind. It seems that I have gained an entire network of love and support in the Austin area in just the last year (not to mention my dear ones around the country!) I will miss you all more than I can ever say.

Thank you for inspiring me to listen to my heart and follow my dream. Thank you for your enthusiastic support of those dreams even when it meant imminent separation. Your love has made me who I am.

This one is for y’all!

The Parting Glass (Traditional Irish song)
Performed by the Wailin’ Jennys
Click here to listen in Youtube.

Of all the money that ere I had, I spent it in good company.
And of all the harm that ere I've done, alas was done to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit, to memory now I cannot recall.
So fill me to the parting glass. Goodnight and joy be with you all.

Of all the comrades that ere I had, they're sorry for my going away,
And of all the sweethearts that ere I had , they wish me one more day to stay,
But since it falls unto my lot that I should rise while you should not,
I will gently rise and I'll softly call, "Goodnight and joy be with you all!"

Monday, July 12, 2010

Chasing Pirates

“I try not to dream but them impossible schemes swim around, wanna drown me in synch, and I don’t know how to slow it down. My mind’s racing from chasing pirates.”

Norah Jones

The mental pirates have taken me hostage. Want to put your brain on overload? Try preparing to move to another country. I feel like I’m doing more planning than a wedding coordinator. The endless to-do lists are getting out of control, not to mention the pressure to have extra quality time with my family.

This is not to say that I am anything less than thrilled about my impending move. The daydreams about my new life make up a third of the chaos. The final pirate wreaking havoc in my brain is my old friend Captain Insomnia. He adds an extra layer of inebriation to my daydreams and chore lists.

A friend who has suffered with bouts of insomnia for years recently told me that those periods are when she has the most clarity of purpose. She’s spot on about that. It’s like I have put on superpower glasses that filter out everything unimportant. I don’t have a spare minute to feel insecure about the coming changes or dwell on regrets from my five years in Georgetown. I have just enough energy to process the most important things: cherish the moments with friends I won’t see for a long time, let go of the fears and weaknesses that have kept me in my hometown so long, and eat a real hamburger (‘cause those do NOT exist where I’m going).

I suppose I should thank those pirates for keeping me hostage long enough to sort out what’s important.

Click to Listen to Chasing Pirates by Norah Jones

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Old Photos . . .

Here are a few of the places that inspired this move. From left to right, top to bottom:

1. Tokavaig, Isle of Skye
2. Stenness Stones, Orkney
3. Beach at Skara Brae, Orkney
4. Eilean Donnan Castle, near Skye
5. Unknown bridge, Scottish Highlands
6. Art Gallery, Isle of Skye
7. Slains Castle, Cruden Bay
8. Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

Get the Hell out of Dodge, Cowgirl

July 11, 2010

Round Rock, Texas

Lately it seems that everything in my hometown is letting go of me, reinforcing my resolute belief that I’m making the best decision. My car has been crunched, job unmade, and the very weather seems bent on my destruction via pollen and mold surges. I think I might have been switched with a Scottish lassie at birth and Texas is demanding her return, making every attempt to oust the impostor. Here are just a few of the many reasons for this most incredible life change.

1. I can’t breathe. Seriously, I’m dying here.
Most people around central Texas have allergies in some form. They sneeze, itch or suffer watery eyes a couple times a year when the ragweed or mold is elevated. I, of course, never do anything halfway. When I was tested for allergies, I reacted to the entire panel. All 70 specimens lit me up like a Christmas tree. My allergist suggested that I move away as soon as possible. That was a year and a half ago. I’m on shots, pills, puffers, snorters and local honey. The treatments have been exhausted and I still can’t catch a breath. My lungs shrinking faster than the Texas democratic party war chest. If I stay here I’ll die.

2. Summer Depression - Dying even more
Each summer since I was a teenager I have suffered from severe insomnia. Only this year did I learn that it’s a real condition suffered by approximately 1% of the US population - most living in hot states. Summer Depression is a sub category of Seasonal Affect Disorder, a well known condition which causes depression in dark wintry months. Unlike my chilly friends, I suffer during everyone’s favorite season. The insomnia plays with my brain chemistry and leads to depression of a maddening degree. The prescription? Get out of the hot climate.

3. I’m a Bad Texan
I hate guacamole and country music and rodeos. Budwiser is gross. People who enjoy these things outdoors while it’s 105 degrees are insane. People who do Bikram yoga in Austin are beyond certifiable. Furthermore, I am at a loss to understand why the entire country is so in love with with naval gazing, sweat-ridden, bug infested city. I mean, if you’re a persecuted liberal in the rest of Texas is makes since but why are the people flocking here form California? My friend Levi (who is not a Texan) thinks I’m going to move all the way to Scotland and fall madly in love with someone from Lubbock. Only if God hates me.

4. The Marketing of Religion (Ok, it doesn’t send me packing on it’s own but it’s extremely vexing.)

There’s a woman sitting next to me in Starbucks perfectly illustrating this point. She’s working on her laptop while praying with someone on a cell phone regarding a new market crossover combining missionary work with NASCAR fans, who are all probably practicing or lapsed Pentecostals anyway. I mean, anyone in the American South who isn’t a Christian is either a) from another country and lost b) a Jew and really lost or most likely c) a former Christian who is about as likely to be brought back into the flock as a vegan to the bar-b-que truck. It seems that scores of MBAs have drifted from the ad agencies where they brand Disney cartoons onto bananas to the viral mega church movement where Jesus has serious brand name recognition. How can we cross pollinate the market with Jesus? How about WWJD hunting rifles and Hummers that come with “Real Mean Love Jesus” details custom embossed in paint for an extra $1000?

Despite a bitter post-fundamentalist period in college, I do not hate Christians or organized religion. I have seen faith motivate people to go out and feed the hungry, house the homeless and re-invent themselves for the better. However, I don’t think the Jewish rabbi who lived 2,000 years ago in the middle east was martyred so that you could put his name on your SUV or sell more toys or build a theme park. Why must we trivialize and market everything in this country? Can't anything - especially important things like spirituality - be left free of advertising?

I’m moving somewhere the Cadbury bunny has more branding than the local parish, somewhere that walking by or into a church does not fill me with the same trepidation one experiences when encountering a door to door salesman or telemarketer. There are plenty of doctrines available in the UK, but only if you’re seriously in the market.

5. I belong in Scotland.
I knew it the first time I laid eyes on the Scottish countryside in 2004. Since then, I have schemed and planned to go back and back for vacation, expecting the longing in my heart to wear off. It never did. I belong there and rather than fight against my nature I choose to wholeheartedly embrace it. Each day I get closer to my departure, I feel more and more alive. I have been surrounded with with and support form my friends and family in Texas, all of whom fill me with the courage to set off alone in pursuit of my dream. I leave behind my parents, grandmother, my cat Ezra, and more dear friends than I can count. What I will gain is a new, healthier, happier me. Texas is my disease and Scotland the prescription. Viva la Alba*!

*Alba = Scots Gaelic word for Scotland