(This post was originally published on my personal blog, Of Postcards & Ink, between 2015-2016.)
Hello from the other side (because this song just lends itself far too well to casual allusions) of March and April, friends! It’s been quite a while since I last blogged and I’m sorry about that. Over the course of the last couple of months, I’ve found it far easier to talk and think myself out of writing than to actually allow (but also force) myself to reduce my raw experiences and feelings into refined words and emotionally-intelligent conclusions, with little beyond captured photographs left to remind me of what’s filled my days and weeks. Maybe, in some ways, it was a sign that life here had well and truly become my new norm. Because when something becomes the norm, it feels a little odd and almost unnecessary to document one’s constant comings and goings, particularly when I’ve still been able to keep in touch with so many loved ones through other means as well. Whether or not that was the case, the last couple of months have been filled to the brim with moments and milestones, big and small. At the risk of sounding like a child sheepishly trying to conjure a legitimate excuse, I feel as though I’ve just been too busy living life.
At the same time, taking a semi-unintentional break has helped me to appreciate and be reminded of the therapeutic nature of this outlet. The creative and self-reflective process of writing a post and collating photographed moments throughout the past nine months has given me a tangible means of understanding, growing and moving on through all that I’ve been experiencing. Sadly though, even as I sit here writing this now, the words aren’t coming to me nearly as easily as they used to and it’s with the renewed uncertainty of someone who’s taken a long hiatus from their trade that I’m attempting to salvage my mind’s fading recollection of the last two months in all of their beauty, struggle, joy and fragility. So, as spring’s promises of new beginnings have also begun to tinge Paris with a dance of light, blossoms and sunshine and with all of that said, I thought that this might be a fitting time to breathe some life back into this space.
March began with the semester’s mid-sem break, during which Miri and I watched the grey and rainy clouds of Paris disappearing behind us as we made our way to the south of France for the week. We stopped by the cities of Nice, Marseille and Montpellier and soaked in the rest and refreshment that came from taking a break from the busy-ness and intensity of Parisian city life.
Nice was a picture perfect city – perpetually golden and kept in a perfect state of undone luxury and aged Italian architecture for the benefit of the visitors and holiday-ers (both French and foreign) who frequent her pastel-coloured streets lined with idyllic palm trees and the pebble beaches that reflect the sparkling turquoise of the Mediterranean Sea. As soon as we exited Nice’s airport, we couldn’t help but feel the palpably carefree air of this quintessential holiday town. It felt as though Miri and I came to know Nice quite well and the relaxed sense of feeling at ease wandering through the city centre and old town without Google Maps constantly open made our few days there all the more pleasant. We also took a day trip out to Saint-Paul-de-Vence, a quaint little medieval village situated along the French Riviera. Walking along the sun-kissed cobblestone streets with vines and flowers blossoming up the walls and coloured shirts suspended out of windows and blowing gently in the wind made for such a refreshing and warmth-filled day. During our time in Nice, whether we were sitting in a little restaurant over dinner, seated on the beach shore at golden hour, having a Suits marathon in French accompanied by chocolate fondue or wandering along the hillside edge of the Mediterranean Sea at dusk, we shared so many precious conversations and plenty of moments of hilarity too.
From there, we went on to Marseille and watched the glistening vastness of the sea fill our line of vision as our train zipped along the Mediterranean coastline. Now, it must be said that Marseille gets a pretty bad wrap. Particularly among Parisians. Stories of the mafia, high risks of being mugged and new levels of verbal street harassment sat warily in the back of our minds, but our experience of Marseille was fortunately largely untainted by such negative experiences and I’m glad we got to taste this corner of France that was quite different to the rest of the country. It was a little sad to see how this city – steeped in a rich and proud history as having once been the most important trade and mercantile centre of the French Empire – is now spoken of with disdain by many of its northern counterparts because of its high immigrant population. What stood out to us about Marseille though, was her vibrant and buzzing local character and we tried to make the most of the beautiful (albeit windy!) weather that week by doing a lot of walking – particularly around the famous port, up the cathedral hill and through the sprawling and endearingly pastel-coloured streets of Panier area. We also took a boat out to the Îles du Frioul (“Wild Islands”) and spent a day exploring the famous calanques and rocky archipelago, once home to a fortress and now peacefully housing little bays and lagoons filled with wild flora and fauna.
Our last stop was Montpellier, which almost felt like a happy medium between her two predecessors. With an architectural style that was equal parts elegant and quietly colourful, Montpellier had an easy-going and graceful air about her. One of my favourite afternoons was spent venturing out to the wonderfully peaceful (and not pebbly!) beach and enjoying a picnic lunch and meringue on the sand while families and teenagers strolled along nearby or, for the latter, started playing beach tennis along the water’s edge. Back in the city centre of Montpellier, we discovered some lovely bunting-covered streets and paid homage to Miri’s quasi-rule of visiting the Opera in every city that she visits by making sure we dropped by. On one of the afternoons, we took shelter from an unexpected cold change in the air in a little cafe near the main square and unexpectedly ended up talking about everything from ballet to theatre, the former being something that is very close to Miri’s heart and the latter, close to mine. One of my favourite things is being able to spend time with loved ones and hear them talk about something that they’re passionate about. There’s a light that captures their eyes and the words that they just can’t contain are filled with a simultaneous free-flowing abandonment and careful curation, almost as if they’re spilling secrets from this corner of their soul that might not often be given a chance to be done justice. It’s wonderful :) And so after one last day in Montpellier, it was with a heavy sense of reluctance that we arrived back in Paris at the end of the break (me with an 8am class to look forward to the following day), but I’m so incredibly thankful for God’s immense grace in blessing us with memories and experiences like these, enriching a friendship that is rooted in eternity.
The rest of March saw the weekly guarantees of uni, church, baby-sitting, Bible study and catch-ups come and go, but the month ended with the beautiful experience of celebrating Easter with my church family here in Paris. It’s been such a joy to share in fellowship, growth and worship with Christians here and in mid-April, this took on much larger proportions when I went along to an all-day women’s conference organised by Chrétiennes Engagées and spent the better part of my Saturday hearing God’s word preached and singing praises to Him alongside over 250 women who are His daughters living in this corner of the world too. I couldn’t help but tear up when we sang the final few songs and as I heard this incredible choir of voices lifting praises to God and reverberating off the church’s high ceilings and stained-glass windows. What an incredible testament to the work that God is doing in France.
April was a busy, busy month. With exams, essays and assignments left, right and centre, the last four weeks of the semester culminated in a seemingly never-ending to-do list and frightening clusters of assessment dates and deadlines suspending most Sciences Po students in a state of perpetual nervousness and stress. I’ll spare you the details, but one of the more interesting things that I spent the month doing was scripting, filming and editing a mini-documentary on French national identity for one of my courses with two other girls in my Multiculturalisme et égalités des chances class (admittedly the least IR/Law-related course that I was taking). In lieu of writing a thirty-page paper, we opted to spend time interviewing a range of particular families and individuals with franco-français, migrant and bi-national backgrounds living in the banlieues of Paris to consider the chasm that exists between national identity as it’s experienced and cultivated on the ground and the formal nationalist discourse disseminated at a political level. Despite having to juggle the stress of impending deadlines between the three of us, it was such a great and fascinating project. One of the main things that has stayed with me is the memory of the warmth, generosity and hospitality of all of the families that we interviewed and I feel like I really got to experience a different, quotidien side of French life and was enriched by the mere experience of meeting these different people and hearing their diverse stories. This, alongside the highly amusing Knesset (Israeli parliament) simulated debate that I did in my Israël : Géopolitique d’un Etat proche-oriental class (taught by the guy who wrote most of the French literature on Israel) were probably highlights.
In less-academic news, since finishing my classes for the semester, I’ve also been trying to make the most of the tentatively warmer temperatures and the shy sunshine and have gotten back into running. There’s something rather novel about having a running route that traverses Paris’ two little islands and along the Seine past Notre Dame, the Louvre, Jardin des Tuileries, Musée d’Orsay and Place de la Concorde. Each run is like a game of monument bingo. It’s been months and months since I last ran (I let the long winter get the better of me!) and now that I’m back in the swing of things, I’m absolutely loving it. There’s something special about running past families, lovers and friends going about their days in Paris or nonchalantly soaking up the sunshine and (occasional) blue skies along the Seine that I feel has added a little something extra to my experience of life in this city. In a very small way too, it’s been a tangible manifestation of how comfortable I’ve come to feel in this city – traversing the diameter of the main arrondissements without feeling at all concerned that I’ll get lost #smallvictories. I’ve also started listening to the Serial podcast (finally, after having been recommended it by a ridiculous number of people for months) while running and that’s been great for engaging my mind as the kilometres pass, while simultaneously indulging in a little Law student nerdy fascination. In short, it’s been great.
So with all of that said and done, here we are at the beginning of May (and it’s finally starting to feel like spring after what’s felt like the longest winter of my life – as it turns out, seasons here aren’t actually all three months long!). And although most days, it’s felt like summer in the sun and winter in the shade, with persistent but unpredictable bouts of rain punctuating the already-bizarre exchange, that’s okay. In this last month and a half here, I’m reminding myself that there’s a beauty in the inconsistency and unpredictability as well, for something will grow from all that you are going through. And it will be you.
Thank God for rest. I finished up my classes last week and have really appreciated the greater amount of free time I’ve had recently to plan things (in anticipation of my mum’s arrival and also for me return to Sydney), to enjoy Paris and to spend quality time with friends here.
Linked with this is my overwhelming thankfulness for the blossoming and deepening friendships that I’ve particularly seen the fruit of over the past few months. From board game nights to cosy dinners to afternoons spent together over coffee/tea, I’ve been so thankful for the quality time I’ve had spent sharing and reflecting with friends from church on how God’s been working in our lives in one-to-one and smaller group contexts. Despite the many moments of discontentment and frustration with my own ability to control these sorts of things, I can now see so clearly the goodness of God’s timing and His graciousness in blessing me with wonderful relationships despite my weaknesses and for how He’s used people here as instruments of His grace in my life, even though the process of friendship building might take longer than I might naturally desire. Please pray that I might seek to invest in their lives wholeheartedly and to love them well, despite my looming departure date.
More generally as well, I’d love continued prayer that I might use what’s left of my exchange wisely and in a way that makes the most of the gospel opportunities that arise. Time often feels very relative when I discuss it with friends and family, but whether it feels like a long or short period of time, my time left in Paris is clicking over to around a month and a half! There are some days when that shrinking number fills me with sadness and other days when it fills me with a sense of peace and joy, since saying goodbye to people here will mean saying hello to people back home but also vice versa. Please pray that God might shape my desires and actions by how the truth of the gospel calls me to live, and not my ever-shifting emotions.
Thank you so much for your prayers. It’s been amazing to reflect on how God has been answering them and I’m so thankful to be able to celebrate His promises and blessings with you! As always, I would love to know how you’re faring and what God’s been teaching you recently, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch :) Talk soon x
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