England

Bristol

Hugo’s friends from the year he worked here feel like fast friends to me. After all the French modesty, I’m happy to meet a girl with pink hair and a guy wearing Minnie Mouse ears in earnest. People who know Wondershowzen and listen to Hot Chip and have no money. A small gathering develops at the apartment. We order a pizza and drink cheap wine from the corner store.

I helped decorate eggs as an awkward birthday present for someone I would never meet.

It’s so nice to be in England. Everyone calls you darling or love, the weather is crisp and cool in August, the buildings are gilded with history, and curls of spray paint whisper against the alleyways and into the night, “Fuck cops, fuck cops…”

Devon

The English countryside is incredibly gorgeous. There are goats on the hills. There are goats in the pie. The streets are only wide enough for one car, and the damp greenery is in the process of eating them. We sneak into something referred to simply as “the show.” Crouching in the back of a truck saves us 15 pounds we didn’t have. This show turns out to be little more than some horses walking in circles and locals in Hunter boots milling around booths of jam and whatever. Every variety of fancy dog is represented. I talk to a stone cutter and resist asking if anyone takes him for granite.

Despite weather that only gets darker and windier through the afternoon, we make the trek up to Tintagel Castle, which has disintegrated so much that the castle isn’t really the point. The point is to get into some Mordor-type shit by climbing countless steep, slippery stairs to the top of the cliff. The reward is an amazing view of the sea, unobscured and blurring into the horizon. The view is called “the end of the world.”

  

Tintagel Castle: It blew me away.

Example of the wind factor: This hairstyle started out as a sleek topknot.

The evening passes slowly with tea and beer and cider, hellos and goodbyes. People’s homes and pubs that are like homes. My evaluation of British people is that they’re all hilarious and kind. Can I move here?

 Bath

The Roman baths aren’t as grand as I had perhaps hoped. The stone is crumbled to stumps and the water is an off-putting green. All the tourists bump into each other in the dim and dampness, clutching at audio guides. Still, some of the Roman sculptures are neat, and I’m particularly amused by the curses (requests for the gods to punish enemies, passionately engraved in metal and thrown into the public pool…)

Then I’m in a French restaurant in England, trying to figure out why I want to stay in my country. I love it, I miss it already, but here’s the truth: America eats its children.

The news and the conversations I’ve been having suggest that times are hard everywhere. Aquaintences who’d recently been to Spain and Greece attest that there are far worse places to be. But are there better ones?

Seems that no matter where you go, there will be posters for Batman and radios playing Usher, McDonalds and Starbucks, blah blah blah. You can live in America, or you can live in syndicated America.

When I later explain the types of and paths to higher education in the U.S.  to Clément and Sylvia (both engineers), talking though it gets me seething. In France, college is free. Choosing to go to a special private school sets you back less than a Texas community college.

My generation is like a bunch of pilgrims who spent our life savings (and our parents’) on boat tickets to a new country. We sailed through universities. When we arrive with our sea legs and sunken hearts, there’s nothing left. No easy answers, no El Dorado, just enough intelligence to be indignant about it.

Everyone’s overeducated for his underemployment. Everyone is in debt. But this is the state of the whole developed world, more or less. As years pass, the world gets smaller and smaller. I’m hungry and I’m looking around. What can I pillage? Where is there to run to?

Bristol, Again

Back at the apartment, three types of homemade curry are laid on the table (carpenters of the group muse over what sort of wood it’s made of) to gather around, lining our stomachs for the night ahead. We carefully tape on used staff wristbands for the See No Evil party.

Bristol knows how to have a weekend. Lines are cut, pills are tossed like party favors. On the sidewalk, people are selling balloons full of laughing gas for £1. A pub called the Pipe and Slippers is full to the brim. The girls wear big hoop earrings, voluminous hair, leggings, and sneakers. Somehow they make it look better than it sounds. I kind of wish I spent my teenage years here, Skins style.

Drunk portraiture

Walking through the streets, I finally get my humble wish of spotting a Banksy. A certain nook of the city is filled with great street art and a lot of spray painters at work. It all feels permissive enough to kill the spirit of graffiti, but it makes sense later.

A long line looks stagnant outside the rave (yes, “rave”). We bypass it with the staff wristbands and go merrily on our way to the bar.

I generally prefer music events where there are guitars and guitarists, where I can participate by tapping my heel on beat looking cool and bored. But sometimes one must hit a dance floor.

I dance around to mediocre electro, uninhibited. I’m in another country. Tomorrow morning, I’m getting on a plane. And these people are apparently on ketamine.

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Paris

Paris, dinner party

Ambulance sirens and graffiti thicken upon approaching Paris.

I’m staying in the attic of Hugo and Jon’s uncle’s house. Their cousin Clément and his girlfriend Sylvia are living here currently. The place is a dream. You can tell the family has been here for a long time. The walls are insulated by paintings and piles of books. There are two floors, the attic, and a basement filled with aquariums, all connected by creaky spiral staircases. A friendly cat lives in the garden and apples fall from the tree when the wind blows.

We barely have time to throw back some Indian tonic before walking to the top-floor flat of another cousin. A table on the balcony is set for dinner. More food and alcohol keep arriving to the table. Everyone speaks a little English, so I don’t feel too excluded from the conversation. They laugh so hard and often that I want to understand every word. Far below us, a car crashes into another. I get quizzed by a French nationalist who (playfully?) wants to pin me as a dumb American. Thankfully, I know Sarcozy from Hollande and the corresponding scandals. They know more about American TV than me.

Several blocks away, another complex is on fire, plumes of black smoke snarling against the twilight. They are reasons to cringe, but we have so many distractions. Cocktails, olives, roasted black-eyed peas, salad, curry, baguette, chocolate, espresso, wine, rum, strawberries, cheese…

Paris, tourisme

Sunday mornings are for flea markets. The first one is typical, with vendors hawking the costume jewelry of deceased grandmothers. I leave with a yellow pleated sundress for €5.

The next market has an amazing assortment of antique and mid-century furniture. I feel like I’ve died, been mistaken for Jane Aldridge’s mom, and gone to heaven. There’s even a shop tucked into a corner that’s full of vintage Chanel and other designer clothing. I spot a white leather Versace motorcycle jacket that makes my knees shake. I nearly try on an ancient Dior dress, but the price tag has too many digits for me to risk breaking a zipper. I settle for a few vintage postcards.

I hope I never make enough money to afford all the taxidermic animals I want.

After a “quick lunch” (I learn there is no such thing in France), we’re ready to take the metropolitan downtown.

From the city’s intestines I climb out, into the blitz of it, hoping for vin, vie, and verisimilitude.

Here comes the double entendre: I could get lost here…

My obligatory Eiffel Tower portraits turned out completely bleached. We’ll call it artistic.

How long can anything in the world be beautiful before the pickpockets and cotton candy arrive? Still, the Eiffel Tower is magnifique. The neighboring museum hosts an exhibit of great architecture spanning the ages.

Some statues were like…

Then I was like…

And then we high-fived.

On the Champs-Elysees, a small glass of soda costs about $7. There aren’t many shops I desire to visit or can afford. Judging by the line, everyone has the same idea: Save your money for a box of pastel macarons from La Durée.

Along the Seine, a few couples sit with picnics (some with wine and sushi, others with beer and Pringles). Small apartments overlooking the admittedly beautiful river of mostly sewage go for about €2,000 a month. I stare into the murk and wonder what it would be like to call Paris home. What would you pay to have your real life and all its monotonous moments framed by famous stuff and caught in tourists’ frames?

Rennes and St. Malo

Rennes, arrival 

There should be a word for that feeling when one sees a familiar face after a day of being shuffled around with massive amounts of complete strangers. Relief comes close. Hugo picked me up at the Rennes airport after my 18 hours of travel. It had been an awkward ballet of failed sleeping positions with no intermission.

He took me to the apartment where I’d be staying, which used to be a suite in a very old hotel right next to the city center. I spent the afternoon fighting off jet lag, reading and touring Rennes on foot.

For a day, I felt sick to my stomach and could barely eat anything. I slowly replaced my bloodstream with Coca-Cola Light (suspicious of the tap water by this point) and some God-given medicine called “Spasmocalm.”

Sounds dumb, but really: It hits like a drug, the realization of how far away I was from anything I knew.

 

St. Malo, beach

There is so much mica that the beach looks like two parts sand to one part glitter. Rows of algae coated tree trunks stand ready to break breaking waves that could wash over the street. The ocean is freezing, but it’s a welcome jolt after the long walk from the only quasi-legal parking spot left thanks to hoards of French folks ready to bask in the high temperatures.

Vintage sunglasses and earrings, A wear sweater, American Apparel shorts, Bisou Bisou bikini

 

Seagulls swoop, I read a few chapters of Into the Wild, get covered in sand and freckles, etc.

I wish I could claim responsibility for this sand fortress.

In the time it takes to walk into the city, peruse shops, eat two crepes (one crispy, with finely chopped vegetables wrapped in a black flour pancake, one sweet with a caramel unique to the Brittany region), and saunter along stone walkways, the shoreline has receded 50 meters, accommodating more sun bathers.

If the sea can come so close to lapping at the city streets, only to take it all back, I’ll be a little fickle, too.

Fort St. Pere, music festival

La Route Du Rock has a pretty great set-up. The music runs from about 6 p.m. to 3 a.m. Who shows up to these things at noon, anyway? It helps that noise ordinances mustn’t have been too strict at the makeshift venue, which was accessible by long dirt roads through wheat fields. The camping area had rental huts with locks available to patrons with interests such as sex and not being stolen from. The first few hours were shadeless and therefor kind of miserable. I heard it would be cold here. The first band is some bad electro group that America back-washed. In fact, all the music (except for an excessive set by Dominique A) is in English. Alt-J puts on the best show.

Here’s some good footage from Rennes TV, though I can always do without musicians denying they have a genre and analyzing the “internet age.”

 

Between sets, I affectionately watch the interactions of a group of drunk teenagers. The most outgoing girl kisses everyone, but saves the public make-out session for the boy she (presumably) likes most. They grope in a sunny, open area right by the stage. I’m smiling to myself, but the next time I look over, a visibly wasted girl has taken their place and is trying to vomit with the disturbingly involved encouragement of two friends. Maybe 18 is a bit young for the legal drinking age, after all.

As soon as the sun sets, it gets very cold and I can’t ignore how exhausted I feel. A photographer comes by. I smile broadly because I like the idea of looking ecstatic in a French magazine I’ll never see.

France, Part One

I’ve been on vacation for nearly two weeks now, resisting online updates in order to, you know, actually experience stuff. I’ve been writing summaries and taking lots of photos, though, so prepare for the barrage.

Packing for three weeks was a challenge, especially since I’m between apartments and everything was boxed up.

At the Airport: One needs an outfits that says, “Yes, I’m sleeping in public,” in that classy, business casual way…

Dress- Forever 21

Necklace-gift

Bag- Mulberry for Target 

On Pins and Needles

Is acupuncture just a series of really pointy placebos?

***

Photo by Deborah Leigh

 

Well, I did it. I got my first acupuncture treatment almost entirely for kicks.

An alternative medicine specialist once gave a lecture on the topic during a class I took on the drug industry. She admitted that the main demographic for therapeutic pin-pricking was “bougie chicks.” I decided to give it a try, since I like to self-identify as bourgeoisie whenever I’m not busy purchasing Ramen noodles or stealing hotel soap.

What better way to medicate beyond my means than with a Groupon? For $30, I bought myself and hour and a half long appointment.

The office’s secretary asked me to fill out a 10-page packet beforehand that consisted of humorously personal questions and about 34,523 little boxes I could check off if their corresponding ailments applied to me. Turns out acupuncture can be the answer to just about anything. And who doesn’t “feel tired” or “sneeze occasionally” (only a minor exaggeration…)?

I suffer subtly from what I’m  going to call the Trifecta of Ugh: stress, allergies, and fatigue. The doctor, who unfortunately wasn’t an ancient Chinese man, addressed this.

He incompletely explained that allergies result from problems with “the gut” (I thought it was mold and pollen this whole time…), but since putting tablets of Zyrtec in my gut seems to control them effectively if not naturally, I moved on to the other Ughs.

As far as stress goes, my hopes were limited. If someone wants to hand me a diploma and a few thousand dollars, I’ll be golden. The doctor was formerly a UT student, too, but referred to my “college life” in a way that I registered as patronizing. He warned that life will only get much harder when I get a real job instead of working at my current job AND full-time load of disparate studies.

He had a real suggestion for my fatigue, though: quit the sugar and carbohydrates. This is good advice, except he really did mean quit them just short of my body going into ketosis. I love cereal too much to die of avoiding it. I’ll stick to my reduced sugar and whole grains goal, thanks. He kind of scoffed when I told him I studied nutritional science and that maaaybe my iron deficiency was to blame, too.

He said he doesn’t trust dieticians.

Awkward consultation complete. It was time to lay on the massage table and trade prodding questions for… prodding.

He tried to distract me with  a story about how much he loves the band U2 while inserting the thin needles in a quick, precise tapping motion. I had several pins in my cushioning: 2 in my biceps, forearms, the webbing of my hands, a couple in my shins and feet, one in the top of my head, and one right between my eyes. It was a good look.

Then I laid there for an hour, staring at the ceiling, listening to New Age flute music from a boombox and trying not to move. My limbs felt achy and I was so bored that it felt more like punishment than therapy.

Next time I’ll try recreational chiropractics for more excitement.

I left feeling just as one does upon quickly rejoining the world after a nap: hazy, slightly self-conscious, and probably unfit to turn left  onto a busy multi-lane street. For the rest of the afternoon I tried to perceive an improvement in my mind or body. But I didn’t feel any different. In fact, I had an awful headache. A week has passed, and I’ve noted no long-term benefits, either.

A couple friends have reminded me that believing wholeheartedly in the procedure probably helps it yield better results. Yet I was quite open to seeing it work some magic.

The list of people who shouldn’t get poked grows:

1. The squeamish

2. The broke

3. The skeptics

4. The reasonably healthy who just want to try things for the hell of it and then blog about it later.

Beginners’ Luck

Beginners is an expert level love story.  Director Mike Mills’ latest movie follows 38-year-old Oliver (Ewan McGregor), whose father comes out of the closet shortly  after a long heterosexual marriage and shortly before dying of cancer. Lonely and trying to make sense of the family life he’s lost, his only motivations are to create hilariously depressing sketches and graffiti or talk to his jack russel terrier.  Then comes Anna, an actress played by actress Melanie Laurent.  She’s someone to roller skate through hotel hallways with, but a relationship is a tall order for the two masters of self-sabotage. A good romance captures all the realistic quirks and nuances between two people. This one achieves that and more by addressing the interplay of love with the whole of one’s rich and traumatic life separate from that love.

The way that Anna and Oliver first meet is a perfect metaphor: They are introduced at the costume party of life, stand together before the bathroom mirror of interpersonal exploration, take off their wigs, and sooner or later get to make out.

McGregor does the whole lovable sad-sack thing well, looking cute even in a Sigmund Freud Halloween costume. And Laurent is entirely sexy in that unwashed-hair- and-little-makeup kind of way. You can tell the director was obsessed because there was one of those montages that’s just a series of tight shots of her earlobes and ankles and stuff (500 Days of Summer, anyone?). Can’t blame him. Her allure, like that of the movie, is in its refusal to be overdone.

Beginners opens Friday and will be playing at the Arbor and Alamo South.

Here are a few things Anna would dig:

Bumble & Bumble Surf Spray, $23

Mary Green “Pascal” silk georgette kimono robe, $110

 

Fred Flare hotel key necklace, $14.99

Madewell summer henley, 39.50

Sid Vicious’ Suicide Note

(pic source)

We made a death pact, and I have to accomplish my part of the bargain.

Please bury me next to my baby in my leather jacket, jeans and motorcycle boots.

Goodbye.

Frye Harness 12R motorcycle boots, $218

Rock idols may be short lived, but Frye boots are forever.

Simply Vera by Vera Wang faux leather jacket, on sale at Kohl’s for $39

This is perhaps the only cool thing at Kohl’s.

Obesity and Speed crop tee, $85

Acne’s Hex jeans in the new black, $269

These jeans have a “stay black” wash so the color doesn’t fade over time. Take it to the grave.

Chloe Paddington necklace, $215

Just like his ever-present padlock necklace, except delicate, designer and incredibly feminine. At least it involves leather.

Tokyomilk’s Dark perfume in Tainted Love, $38

Tainted love is waking from a heroin haze to find your girlfriend stabbed in the hotel bathroom. True love is the quirky and long-lasting scents by Tokyomilk. Cover up that tainted smell of being punk with this blend of dark vanilla beans, orchid and white tea.

Skincare to Keep your Face from Blowing Away

It’s a snow day! This arctic blast has reduced my fashion musings to “How many pairs of tights can I fit under my jeans?” and “How can I make a hijab out of a scarf?”

I’ve been slightly more successful with finding good winter skincare.

Something changed after high school — bills, maturity, blah blah…and my no-longer-shiny face knows what season it is. When temperatures drop, my face and hands get terribly dry. Here are several  (mostly drugstore!) products I can actually vouch for:

Garnier Moisture Rescue Fresh Cleansing Foam, $6

Misleading name because no foam is involved, but this cream removes makeup and grime without sucking away your face’s natural oils. You only need to use a little, so the tube lasts approximately 100 years.

Burt’s Bees Citrus Facial Scrub, $8

They say God made all things. I’m pretty sure he made this delicious-smelling scrub. You mix a pinch of it with water, scrub off all your flakiness, and then feel how absurdly smooth it leaves your skin. It’s “99.94 percent natural” and made with ground-up almonds and pecans, ideal for those who get snowed in and must resort to eating bath products to survive. The rest of us can simply enjoy the closest a sane person will get to the pleasure of rubbing pumpkin pie all over one’s face.

Urban Decay All Nighter Makeup Setting Spray, $9 for travel size at Ulta, $29 for full size

I’ve reviewed this stuff before because it’s awesome. Powder looks too, um, powdery on dry skin, so I set my makeup with a few spritzes of this and touch-ups become optional. It also comes in a moisturizing formula (“Dew Me”) and an oil-reducing one (“De-Slick”) that will probably be perfect come summertime. Oh summer, what an abstract idea…

Elizabeth Arden 8 Hour Cream, $17

This was invented in 1930, and it’s still one of the most powerful moisturizers out there. Ms. Arden is said to have used it on the legs of her thoroughbred horses. All my many  racehorses are doing okay without $10-an-ounce lotion (and hopefully the Perrier in their troughs hasn’t frozen!), so I just use this on my hands at night. The smell can be described as medicinal or industrial, but it gets the job done.

And now for the cheapest thrill:

Johnson’s Lavender Baby Oil, $3.79 for 14 ounces

Not just for babies! This is a lovely winter alternative to perfume/lotions because you can slather your whole body with it and still not smell overpowering. Plus, wherever your gentleman’s nose may fall, your skin will smell supernaturally nice.  Lavender is a male aphrodisiac and a calming aroma-therapeutic for all. Boom. Baby oil is grown up.

Stay warm, friends!