New York City
City of Dreams
Serendipity took me by the hand the moment I stepped out the door. My train to the airport arrived just as I stepped onto the platform. After landing in Toronto, I walked in daze through the airport until it dawned on me that I didn’t know the gate number of my connecting flight to New York. I looked up at that moment to find I was standing right in front of it. As the plane en route to NYC lifted off the ground (to the tune of Empire State of Mind ) it carried every sensation of my body with it. I was positively giddy. The smile planted firmly on my face remained there for the entire flight. I’m sure the guy next to me thought I was insane. As I made my way to Grand Central Station, shit-eating grin still firmly intact, I thought to myself that I could imagine living here only to look out the window at a billboard that read “Made for New York” [que jaw drop]. Inside the station the world was spinning around me as I looked up to discover an entire galaxy where the ceiling ought to be. I felt like I could go anywhere, do anything.
The next day, Sarah and I arrived in Times Square at 11:59AM and stared up at the clock. Just then, I started a ten second countdown out loud ... the clock switched to noon at the second I predicted it would. With wide eyes, we looked at each other and started to laugh. This world was ours. We then stepped out into a city filled wondrously with my desires: historic streets lined with exquisite buildings housing shops of the finest character and quality; hidden bookstores arranged perfectly amidst french decor and the scent of freshly cut flowers; bakeries on every corner, each boasting the best cookies in the city and a cozy corner spot waiting patiently in the sun. Every coffee shop unique, every restaurant sensational, every lounge from another place in time. There was nowhere in the world I felt I needed to be but here.
Later that day, our meanderings lead us to Brooklyn Vintiques, a funky shop carrying a variety of nostalgic treasures. Amongst these treasures, we discovered a tin filled with old maps from various places around the world. A tingle ran down my spine as I drew one from the middle. I knew before I’d even looked down which map I would find: France. I gushed with excitement, which caught the owner’s attention and lead him to share a beautiful story of his time living in Paris in 1972. Although it was more than forty years ago he recited his memories in incredible detail, describing his experience as one of “stepping into an impressionist painting”. I had stars in my eyes as Sarah explained that France had been calling me for quite some time. He turned to me, and with firm conviction, said: answer.
In New York City my most elusive and elaborate desires floated generously at the surface of my experience. While meandering, I imagined shopping my heart out on Bleecker street, dining in style at the Plaza, drinking champagne at book signings in Greenwich Village and wandering aimlessly down the streets of Chelsea. I saw myself in every bustling hotspot in the East and West Village and making myself at home in a chic Tribeca loft. I dreamed of endlessly exploring streets that seemed to continuously reinvent themselves with newness and potential.
I could have stayed forever, experiencing life in just this way.
I walk slowly up the front steps of my lovely Mount Pleasant home. I’m soaking wet because it’s raining and I simply can’t be bothered with my umbrella. The lights are on and I know my roommate is inside, eagerly anticipating my return with dinner and a bottle of wine. She might imagine, as I often had, that we will excitedly embrace, squealing with glee, before plunging into hours of long-overdue catching up. Without my keys, I ring the doorbell and hear her feet pounding down the stairs. She opens the door, I see her face, and burst into tears. I’ve lost my luggage, my sanity, and a sizeable piece of my heart.
La Vie En Rose
- dinner with Stephanie at her artists studio and home, offered to her because she has been an artist for years, not because she had a lot of money
- wandering around Paris, near the Champs de lysee
- that moment when Amber and I both turned around to see the Eiffel tower for the first time
- champagne under the Eiffel tower
- cafe de flore
Avignon, Southern France
We got off to a bit of challenging start here in Avignon! As soon as we arrived we rented a Fiat and took off into the city, down the narrow and winding streets in search of our hotel. At some point we needed to turn around which was when we discovered that it was impossible to put the car in reverse. We very nearly blocked off traffic but managed to weasel our way out of the situation and into a parking lot. Calling the dealership was no help they had no suggestions aside from bringing it back which at this point was impossible to do as I had parked facing a wall. We struggled to sort it out on our own for some time before I confessed that in times like these I'd like to just call my dad. And so I did. We we're back on the road in no time and for the next week my dad declared himself "superdad".
Arriving in the town centre of Avignon felt as though we had made our way onto the pages of a storybook. There is an an incredible castle at the heart of the city which was fully enclosed by the foreboding walls of centuries past, still fully intact. As we wandered around the caste and looked out past the surrounding river, you could feel the presence of the incredible figures who once walked these same paths. On our first night we had dinner at [???} the atmosphere was divine and the food was superb. Luckily Amber and I are in wholehearted agreement that a good meal is worth what some (most) would consider to be unreasonable. Dining here in France is how I believe it should always be: a multi-course, multi-hour event that takes you on a sensory journey. The food melts gently on your tongue and each course blends so naturally with the next. We dine for hours each night and there is nowhere I would rather be. Our days have been spent venturing to nearby villages to wander the lively streets and explore their nooks and treasures. The markets are even better than I'd imagined, winding streets filled with goods that fill my heart with glee. One day we packed a picnic to enjoy in the steep red hills of Roussillon, the next we rented bikes, stopping to sit curb side to snack on pain au chocolat while enjoying our favourite song busking in the street. We rode through the Provençal countryside past olive groves that steeped generously in the sun and stopping in historic villages and hillside markets that boasted the most incredible display of fine crafted food and artistry. We pulled off down near an old stonewalled church to enjoy our lunch, ditching our bikes on the road that appeared to lead nowhere. We soon learned that we had been mistaken though, as a enraged french woman came storming up the drive, yelling words we didn't understand. Amber was incredibly apologetic, I was delighted to find that even being yelled is better en francais.
We returned to our hotel gleefully and content, taking our time to prepare for the dinner Amber had reserved for us months prior. Unfortunately we lost track of time and wound up speeding into the city centre in a panic. We ended up coming over the bridge and getting mixed up and sent right back where we came from, twice. Once we made it into the city we came to find that there was absolutely nowhere to park along the tiny streets and amongst the bustling crowds. We finally found a place to park along the castle wall and then hurried to find our restaurant. By the time we did we were nearly an hour late for our reservation, a sign blocked the door but we went in any way, our last shred of hope up for grabs. They turned us a away, we were too late. Devastated, we wandered away and found somewhere to eat that was well below our steep expectations. Our misfortune didn't end there. In our hurried state we forgot to take in our surroundings as we ran away from the car. We didn't have a clue where it was. We found the castle wall and could only guess, left or right. We went left, later to find it was a block to the right. We wandered in the dark for more than an hour, the conversation dwindling to an awkward silence. Out of desperation we accepted a ride from three frenchies who were kind enough to drive us around. A disappointing end to a marvellous adventure in Provence. C'est la vie! Tomorrow, we go on to Paris.
Bordeaux which was the perfect backdrop for our first taste of Europe. It is a beautiful city that shines with elegance and good taste - we were infatuated the moment we stepped onto its cobblestone streets. On our first day, I had arranged a wine tour in the old village of Saint Emilion, a well known wine region and historic gem. Our guide Sophie was fantastic and the group was quite small which made for the perfect day of galavanting along the french countryside, stopping in at chateaus to drink wine and soak it all in. The owner of one of the vineyards was kind enough to give us a tour himself, explaining with incredible detail the history of this place that had been in his family for generations. He taught us that the roses at the end of each row were to indicate the health of the vines and although there were more economical and efficient methods these days, in France they prefer the roses because they are more beautiful. My heart nodded in full agreement. I looked out over the expansive vineyard that sat bathing in the sun, so incredibly pleased that I had made it to this place. That night we dined at Le Bouchon Bordelais, tucked neatly within a quiet side street so that only those who knew it was there would find it. As we indulged in fine wine and several courses of exquisite french cuisine, I sat back to take it all in. The restaurant teemed with le joie de vivre, so much so that it brought tears to my eyes. It was one of those moments where you feel as though you are exactly where you ought to be, and you wouldn't change a thing.
Koh Tao, Thailand
I'm resting in the heat of a tropical sun while on board a boat reminiscent of a pirate ship, looking out over a majestic blue sea. We've moved past drills today to exploring the depths of a world unknown to me. Were it not for the continuous depletion of oxygen in my tank I’d still be down there, endlessly exploring to my heart’s content. Alas, my instructor insists I come up for air. He's french, as is another instructor who I could only assume is a past or present love of his. She embodies self-confidence like a perfectly tailored suit. Her presence alone demands the attention that she so effortlessly dismisses.
Suiting up takes great effort. The equipment is complicated and needs to be setup properly otherwise I’m at risk of sudden death as a result of having my lungs explode upon resurfacing. Not kidding. I have a buddy who checks that I’ve done it properly but I met the dude yesterday, so how invested is he, really? Once that’s done I strap weights onto my hips that will ensure that I’ll sink as I release air from my vest. It turns out that my bones could double as floatation devices as they refuse to sink. This would be incredibly useful in a shipwreck scenario but as a scuba diver it’s not ideal. I wind up wearing twice as many weights than a person my size would normally which means I can barely hold myself up above water as I struggle to carry my own body across the deck. Mission accomplished once I’m in the water, I successfully manage to sink myself to the ocean floor. Survival instincts on high.
Diving is an incredibly sensational experience. Your body feels weightless, as though suspended in space having somehow escaped gravity. The only sound you hear your own breath, a meditative drum beat holding you firmly in the moment. Your eyes are wide with excitements as you strain to take in more of this vibrant orchestra of underwater life. Hundreds of tropical fish dash in and out of the most spectacular coral of every shape, size and colour you can imagine. At each new discovery, you squeal with delight and point soundlessly to your friends as you spot new species of countless things which must go unnamed because you don’t have a clue what they are. You move cautiously and with intention, not wanting to bring chaos to a system so pristine.
While on deck, I spend time getting to know the other foreigners (mostly French) who as fate would have it were lead to this same place. We talk about the places we’ve been and the places we long to go. I’m curious about my new friends as theirs is a culture I know little about. They are from a city called Lyon. I confessed that I had never heard of it and asked whether it was close to Paris. That comment was not received particularly well. They quickly informed me that Lyon is the best city in France and declared that I would visit, fall in love with it and perhaps even live there. I nodded along and allowed myself to imagine momentarily that that were true. It was an odd thing to say to someone with very little interest in even travelling to Europe, let alone France, let alone this city I had never heard of. Crazy frenchies.