2021, Friend Prompts, Travel, Uncategorized

Paris for a Layover: A (Cliched?) Homage to my Favorite City

My friend Erin issued me this challenge: You are in Paris for a 24 hour layover. What do you do?

I am not sure a more difficult challenge could be issued to me, and I only mean that a little bombastically. Paris is one of my favorite places on earth. I know it well–it’s definitely the place outside of the USA where I’ve spent the most time. On the other hand, it never ceases to surprise me, it is never the same, but is always familiar. I know it’s cliche to be that bougie American bitch who loves Paris, but I like to think that my relationship with the city is not a superficial one. 

January 2004: Look at little baby Charlotte standing in front of Les Invalides.

There are so many different ways that I could pass a day in Paris. It could be a nostalgia walk—in areas that remind me of people and times that I love and cherish. It could be a museum day, where I visit some of my favorite museums, the ones that led me to my love of art and history. It could be an architecture walk, visiting some of the best Paris has to offer. It could be a food tour—hitting up some of my best and favorite places to grab some French treats. Honestly, it really has to be all of the above. 

Let’s set the stage. I am off on a trip and I have a layover at CDG, where I have enough time to go into the city for the day. I’m going to pretend that customs and security lines don’t last forever. I’ll arrive in the city proper at 9 AM and my flight leaves at midnight, so I’ll need to RER to the airport at like…9 PM. TWELVE hours in Paris. I am able to leave my stuff in the airport so no chucking around luggage (phew). I am imagining that this day is in the springtime, still chilly, but comfortable. 

Mission 1: Prend un café crème et un chausson aux pommes. 

I will probably, owing to habit, take the RER to the Luxembourg station, disembarking there and finding a place near the Luxembourg gardens to eat my breakfast. For that breakfast, I will consume a cafe creme and a pastry, probably one of my favorites, the chausson aux pommes. Yes, I will be hungry in less than an hour, but this is my French petit-dejeuner of champions. A cafe crème is similar to a cappuccino or a cafe au lait, but with a little bit less milk. I might go back and forth between a cafe crème and a noisette (a macchiato)—or heck, go for both. 

This is a chausson aux pommes, my friends. Drool.

But the real treat will be the pastry. If you google “chausson aux pommes” you will see english results that call it a “French apple turnover” with pictures of triangular pastries. I feel like this is a description that loses something in translation. There is no triangular shape, but a semi-circular pastry with scalloped edges that show off the intensely laminated layers to perfection. On chaussons, there is no crunchy sugar topping, or even worse, some kind of icing drizzle. Filled with an apple compote, the texture of the chausson aux pommes is ridiculously delicious in its simplicity. 

I will eat my petit dej, while enjoying the sounds of a city coming alive. I love Paris to such a degree that even just existing within its arrondissements makes me a happy girl. It has its own smell (there’s one stretch of metro that you could take me to blindfolded and I could tell you where we are immediately) and its own feeling and I love it so, even when it’s mildly (or egregiously) disgusting. 

Jardin du Luxembourg in 2018.

At that cafe, preferably in outdoor seating, I’d spend about 45 minutes to an hour sipping my cafe creme and eating my chausson and reading some kind of trashy novel–likely ordering une noisette after I finished my cafe creme. At the 45 minute mark, I know I’d be hesitant to get going, but simultaneously anxious to do so. Getting up, I’d do a little stretch and leave the little bit of comfort that the table and this spot provided. It was mine for breakfast, and I’ll leave it to someone else to enjoy. 

Mission 2: Morning Walk through the center of touristy Paris

Me and some of mes amies de Paris in 2005 in front of the Pantheon.

Given my choice to breakfast near Luxembourg Gardens, I’ve set myself up for an exemplary walkabout in some of my favorite areas of Paris. This walkabout is NOT for the weary. I’d walk my way up the Rue Sufflot and say hello to the Pantheon and St. Etienne. I’d maybe walk toward Rue Mouffetard and Place de la Contrescarpe, reveling in memories of my misspent youth. That sounds poetic doesn’t it? It really wasn’t that misspent, but I did traipse about with a backpack full of cheap wine, beer, and liege waffles for nights of youthful exuberant fun with mes amis de Paris. 

Fontaine St. Michel, 2017.

Then, I’d wind my way back to the Rue Saint Michel and the Seine. I have oddly affectionate memories of Place St. Michel. At this intersection, there are several French bookstores that I might wind my way through for a hot second maybe picking up some postcards and bric a brac. I’d turn my sights toward the Seine and move toward Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame de Paris. I haven’t seen the cathedral since it caught on fire in 2019, so I’m sure I’d spent some time inspecting the structure to the degree that I am able. After finishing up with NDdP, I would think about going to see Ste. Chapelle, but then remember that it costs something absurd like 10 euro to go in and tell myself I’d go the next time I’m in town. I’d hie over to the Rive Doite and take in the Hotel de Ville. From there I would likely decide do I head east toward the Marais? Or west toward the Louvre? 

Holding tight to the touristy center ce matin!

I think heading west would win out. I’d walk along the Seine until I get to the westernmost bit of the Louvre. I’d go and check on my Napoleonic arches. La Grande Arche only from a distance; it’s too far out to really pay attention to today, but I can at least see it down that fine Hausmannian road. Nevertheless I’d pay attention to the Arc du Carrousel for many minutes and enjoying one of my favorite prospects, les Jardin des Tuileries. I’d cut back over the Seine, and keep walking. This walk would allow me to glimpse sights of some of my favorite Parisian buildings, most of them stereotypical touristy items like the Tour Eiffel, the Musee D’Orsay, the Academie Francaise. I’d conclude at the Tuileries. I’d hop on the Metro, ligne 1, en direction de Porte de Vincennes. I’d disembark in the Marais at the station St. Paul. 

Mission 3: Lunch at L’As du Falafel OU un sandwich jambon beurre 

Unsurprisingly, my chausson aux pommes would have long since left my memory during this jaunt around Paris. After getting off the metro at St. Paul, I’d head toward L’As du Falafel to get some of my favorite food to eat in Paris, the sandwich grecque, done, or falafel, whatever you want to call it. There are so many of these little shops and restaurants in Paris that sell the delicious doner kebab and its variants that to me, it’s one of the most dependable foods that I can always rely on to be cheap, fast, and filling when I’m traveling in Europe. It’s never led me astray and always satisfied me. This place, however, is *good*. It’s in the Marais, a neighborhood that is traditionally Jewish and still has a very strong Jewish presence (this is where you would go in  Paris to find a bagel!). Given this fact, it is one of the only restaurants open on Saturdays in the area and is often overwhelmed with customers. Still, I’ve never seen it without a line. This day, since it’s my perfect day, is not going to be a Saturday. I will order a sandwich with frites, and literally shove it in my face with glee.

L’As du Falafel, 2017. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

 As tempting as this food will be, there is a good chance that hunger might drive me to seek sustenance elsewhere if faced with a substantial line at L’As du Falafel. In that case, I’d seek out the simplest and best of the French repasts, the sandwich jambon beurre. The smooth, rich saltiness of the French butter on that crunch, bien cuite, fresh baguette with the not-as-salty-as-in-the-US ham is just one of my favorite, favorite sandwiches that I cannot replicate aux Etats Unis, as much as I might (and I have) tried. My disappointment at not finding a smaller line at L’As du Falafel will not last long. 

Whatever my lunch choice, I am also confident I would acquire a Fanta au citron and guzzle it down. I would be in a state of complete and utter happiness and exhaustion, but fortified to move on to the next mission. 

Mission 4: Macarons from Pierre Hermé

Pierre Hermé, 2017.

Ah, the macaron. The crisp meringue cookies sandwich delightfully flavored buttercream. Rich and indulgent, these are among some of my favorite French sweets. Not too far from L’As du Falafel is one of the best establishments to get macarons, Pierre Hermé. No, not Hermès. Ladurée is great in a pinch (and available in the US, though only in NYC, DC, Florida, and California).* I’d hustle over there and pick up a box of these confections and eat them throughout the rest of the day. 

Per usual, I’d choose my favorite parfums: vanille, café, pistache, and framboise (raspberry), and perhaps I’d try some more adventurous flavors. After getting my loot, I’d choose one to eat, and pocket the rest in my bag to be enjoyed later. 

* There is also a Pierre Hermé in the US, but only one in Saks 5th Ave in NYC.  

Mission 5: Une musée! 

This is a hard decision to make. I must go to a museum while I was in Paris. As much as I would long to go visit the oodles and oodles of Roman statuary at the Louvre or the architectural awesomeness of the Musee D’Orsay, that’s just too much. For this single day of awesome, these museums take up too much time and energy. So I’d likely choose between a few of my favorites, which are all smaller, but stellar, museums. 

Spiral staircase at the musee gustave moreau
The spiral staircase at the Musee Gustav Moreau; Nico Paix, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

  • Musee Marmottan Monet: Massive collection of Monet including one of the most famous Impression, soleil levant, as well as other works that date from the medieval to the modern eras. 
  • Musee Gustave Moreau: Not going to lie, this is one of my favs but not for the collections, which are exceptional. The former home of Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau, this museum preserves his home and workshops which he left to the state at his death. It also happens to contain one of the most magnificent staircases of all time. The entire edifice just screams Belle Époque to me and I love every bit of it. 
  • Musee Rodin: Housed in the Chateau Biron, a building in which Auguste Rodin, one of the best sculptors since Bernini, used several rooms as his studio space, this museum is a treat. The museum’s collection is composed of lots of his works, in addition to works that he collected, including a room dedicated to sculptures by Camille Claudel. Best of all, this museum is both indoors and out with sculptures in the well-manicured gardens, including a cast of his remarkable La Porte d’Enfer and iconic Le Penseur
  • Musee Carnavalet: This is the museum dedicated to the history of the city of Paris. Not going to lie, this is the one that will probably win out amongst the others. For one, it isn’t too far from Pierre Herme. However, it’s also just an awesome museum that occupies two hotels particuliers. The Musee Carnavalet just opened after a large renovation in May of 2021, so of course I’d have to check out the changes, if my poor memory can fully recall what it was before. This museum’s collection goes well beyond painting and objets d’art, though it certainly contains oodles and oodles. 
The Musee Carnavalet, © Antoine Mercusot – Chatillon Architectes

Mission 6: Confit de canard

After hours of museum going, I know my appetite would be demanding for some noms. I’d walk around a little bit more, probably in a direction that would let me accomplish goal number 8 (see below). The goal for dinner will be to find a classic French bistro that’s not toooooo touristy to eat my favorite French dinner. Confit de canard, crispy potatoes, and a salad with a lemony vinaigrette that I have not yet figured out how to make. I would probably glance at the dessert menu, but forcefully say no—there are better treats to be had elsewhere. 

Mission 7: Trouvez des carambars fruits et des gaufres

The timing of this particular mission is inconsequential and should be based entirely upon opportunity. Carambar fruits are manna from heaven. They are what Starburts should aim to be. There are several varieties of carambar. The original flavor is a kind of a caramel chocolate tootsie roll that is *very* chewy—could pull your tooth straight out of your head if you were not careful. The fruit versions come in four parfums: orange, citron, fraise, and framboise. Unlike starbursts which are so sweet they hurt your teeth, these aren’t as sweet and they’re much softer in texture and less waxy. They’re my absolute favorite candy of all time. 

Mission 8: See the Tour Eiffel sparkle 

A very not-expert shot taken by me in 2005. Still obsessed with that sparkle.

My last and final mission is a silly and sentimental one. Every night, on the hour, the Tour Eiffel sparkles for five minutes. It’s a sight that never fails to bring a smile, however small, to my face. I can’t deny that part of my love of Paris is its tendency to hit all of my favorite whimsical and romantic notes. I fell in love with Paris before I ever visited. My grandparents traveled a bunch and my grandpa would put together scrapbooks of their trips, with matchbooks, pictures, tickets, napkins, menus, all of the random things you collect while traveling. In addition they had all of these guidebooks. Whenever I visited, I would pore over them. The pictures, the history, the food, the cafes! Paris just seemed to have this aura that I wanted to revel in. It would have been hard for me to pick a favorite of their scrapbooks (one which I very much wish I had), I know I probably spent most of my time in their Paris albums and their Ireland albums. Taking French in high school and in college only pushed my love of Paris further. I finally got to meet Paris in 2004, for a 3-week trip for January term. 

Little glimpse of sparkle from one of my BFF’s apartments.

I was 18, and it was my first trip outside of the United States. I was lonely (definitely the only dork on the trip more interested in France than drinking), experiencing some unexpected travel shock, and my camera had broken on our first outing. I had been approaching Notre Dame for the first time—its size shocked me and it seemed unreal. I tried to snap a pic on my point and shoot (ugh, I’m ancient) and it just wouldn’t forward the film. I nearly cried. So later that day, when I saw the Eiffel Tower sparkle (which I’m not even sure I knew it could do until that moment), I just remember that feeling of contentment and disbelief that I was actually there, in Paris, in France across the ocean from my home overwhelming me. The bright sparkling lights brought joy and excitement for that trip and that experience back to my mind. Ever since, it’s moments like those that I try and chase that deep-seated contentment with the view in front of you and the experience at hand. A sparkly tour Eiffel now has the benefit of memory accrual—it brings to mind all of the wonderful memories I have when the tour was sparkling. 

Not sparkling here, but from my Airbnb in 2018.

After winding my way through the city and my memories, my belly full of duck and potatoes, I’d probably try to find a crepe au sucre just to round out the culinary delights of the day. I’d head to the Pont des Arts before needing to catch the RER back to the airport. On the Pont des Arts, I’d feel that same feeling I felt in 2004, that deep-seated feeling of rightness. I can’t believe I am here in this city that I love, how lucky am I to be here. How lucky am I to return. And then the tour will sparkle. 

2021, Personal, Uncategorized

“Pay Attention to What You Pay Attention To”

This blog has no thesis. It started as a travelogue, to keep interested parties updated with my travels during my PhD work. My travels were many, but the blogging was hard–I have a backlog of some 15+ entries to work through, but some of the motivation has faded as time has passed. At its inception, I thought this website could also serve as a professional portfolio as I went on the academic job market and (hopefully) became a professor. That ship has sailed, and thus the professional portfolio became irrelevant. Then, I decided to have bariatric surgery and this seemed a useful vehicle to keep interested folks updated easily. I have absolutely no interest, however, in making my surgery or my body the primary topic of discussion on this blog.

I’ve spent so much of my life writing, it feels like my natural state!

I still have the impulse to write. I no longer think that an academic setting is the path that I want to take. It doesn’t mean that I think my previous work was unimportant or has no teeth, I am just not sure that I want my work to exist and develop in and around a system that doesn’t have room to employ the scholars it turns out; can’t compensate me (and others) for my research; and for which I have to use my own precious free time and resources to accomplish. It’s a scenario in which I am doomed to be playing catch up. However, I will never say never.

Thus, the idea of branching out in my writing is also attractive. I love a good memoir and I love fiction. Am I capable of writing either? Who knows! Could I be an author of popular non-fiction? I don’t know! I haven’t tried. I’m not ignorant of the fact that all genres of writing require time and effort to get right. (Also, some academics have written some truly terrible fictional works…not all of us are Umberto Eco who can do both. I really, really don’t want to be THAT academic.) However, I don’t know that a public blog is the place to practice fiction writing and I’m not sure I would subject anyone to those attempts. (You’re welcome.)

In John Green’s latest book, The Anthropocene Reviewed, he quotes a writer friend of his, Amy Krause Rosenthal, who said, “For anyone trying to discern what to do with their life, pay attention to what you pay attention to. That’s pretty much all the info you need.”

Everyone should read this book!

This sentence stuck with me and I ruminate on it often still. The things that come to mind when I think of this approach are abstractions and not things for which you can be compensated nor or they ones on which you can (easily?) make a living. That’s okay for me though. I choose to interpret these words to mean what to do with your life not what to do for your work. They are not the same thing.

For now, I think this blog will take as its focus the things to which I pay attention. Crafting? Yep, probably. Random thoughts? Oh most definitely. Semi-academic explorations of mundane things? You can place your bets. Gushing and nostalgic book reviews? The odds are in your favor. Other here-to-unforeseen forays into randomness? Indubitably. Travel blogs? Yep, can’t stray too far from my origins and I can’t wait to travel once more.

Whatever this space winds up being, I hope you’ll join me for the ride.

2021, Personal, Weight Loss Surgery

Post-Moving Surgery Update: Hardest Stretch So Far

Since moving, I’ve gotten a few inquiries on what my progress and timeline toward surgery is now. For those of you that don’t know, in October of 2020, I started the process of getting approved for bariatric surgery. All went really well, and had I not gotten a new job and moved to Nashville, I’d have had my surgery in Summer of 2021. The idea was, once I got settled, I’d get in touch with a new surgeon and get the process rolling, which my previous surgeon told me should be fairly easy.

While not being *wrong*, the process has not been as straightforward as simply having the doctor’s look at my file and send it to insurance. On the whole, I would argue that this part of the process has been the hardest. I don’t feel like I am making progress or moving forward and I feel a little stalled. Most of the time, I know that it’s not true, but it’s hard in difficult moments to keep perspective.

Sometimes I can still see my progress in pix, other times, I feel like I am where I started. I think I can see my progress in this pic.**

I made an appointment in August for October 27 (exactly one year since my first appointment). When October 27th came, I was a little frustrated and ready to get started—I also wished I had not scheduled my appointment so late. Moving had proven to be a very big shakeup to my routine. This was expected to some degree, but there’s so many new temptations and things to try, I definitely allowed myself to engage in some bad habits and was not as rigorous about the food that I was consuming as I had been.

On the whole, however, I haven’t gained weight, and more than anything, I have been in a super consistent work out routine. I see that as a huge win because ultimately, I don’t care about the number on the scale as much as I do being healthy and in control. While physically I may not see progress on the scale, I do think it’s resulted in me becoming a little more trim and compact. (I’ve never measured inches so it’s hard to say). It’s a balance and it’s a process. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will my bad habits be overridden in a day.

At the appointment, I mentioned to the new surgeon what my previous one had said, about it being relatively easy to transfer. The new surgeon smiled and said, ”well, it’s easy to say it’s easy to transfer.” Unfortunately, she hasn’t been wrong. While yes I did complete strict insurance requirements, my new insurance measures things differently. Previously my insurance required 6 visits spread over 6 months. My new insurance requires 12 distinct visits and some of those are required to have a certain amount of time between them. Fortunately, my old appointments count to this number and I have subsequently squeezed in several more. In addition, this program has different requirements itself, whose requirements I also have to meet. It’s not going to take as long as it did before to get from the beginning point to the end, but it does feel a little like starting over. And that is frustrating.

So right now, I’m trying to finish up these old/new requirements. After I finish up all of the steps, my file will be sent to my insurance for approval. Once we have insurance approval surgery will be scheduled. Not really too sure what that timeline looks like; my general guess is sometime in spring, March-ish seems likely.

This period has also been the one that’s made me question why I am doing this surgery. I believe that body positivity is really important—and this includes loving and appreciating fat bodies and not seeing them as broken or less-than. I have ALWAYS been fat, so what will it mean when I am no longer fat and that part of my identity is no more? Will I recognize myself? What if I don’t like the ”new” me or miss the ”old” one?

This picture is on that shocked me because to my own eye I even seemed smaller, even potentially “normal fat.” Most importantly, however, I felt great and I spent an entire day outside chasing a toddler without feeling (totally) wiped.**

For example, I had an experience at the gym where a fellow big girl approached me and asked if the class I had been taking was hard for big girls. We chatted and exchanged info, and most importantly, encouragement. I realized in that moment that I like being a safe space for fellow fat people in gyms—one of the scariest spaces for someone with a fat body to occupy. But, when I go through with surgery, there will come a time when my support is no longer desired and will likely be unwelcome. I will be a “former fat,” not an “always fat.” It’s hard for me to imagine that person.

It is good to remember why I am doing this though. I am doing it because my relationship with food is not healthy. I am doing this because if I continue down the path I was on, it is almost a given that I will have an unhealthy future with type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and other health ailments. If I don’t do something to change, I could end up dead at the relatively young age of 59 like my mom did from obesity related issues. And I wish more than anything that she had done bariatric surgery and were here today. I have plans, and all of them involve me being alive and active. There are people I love who I want to spend as much time as humanely possible. They mean more to me than food.

**I hesitated to share pix because I think it perpetuates the idea that before is “better” and after is “worse.” I like to think that I was pretty before and after–I am still me. I share only as a mark of visual change. This is probably definitely not for everyone, but I’m a visual person. I find that a better indicator than the number on the scale. Ultimately, the best indicator is how I feel.

2021, Move 2021, Uncategorized

Moving Day–Six months later

Clearly this cat had feelings.

Unsurprisingly, my blog backlog has grown since moving. Thus, this blog is…old news, but a day I want to remember nonetheless. Who says blogs have to be timely?

On June 21, 2021, I said goodbye to my home of 9 years, Bloomington, Indiana. I woke up very early thanks to my cat, Fitz, who cried nearly the entire night. The movers and truck arrived at 8 AM, and before I knew it all of my stuff had been loaded up and was on its way to Nashville–not too much longer after that, I–along with my two cats–was on my way, too. 

The drive was tough. Emotionally, I was a little wrecked. I was leaving people I loved dearly to live in a new city, for a new job, a new adventure. Yet, even with so much in store in Nashville, on my way out of town, I mostly just felt a deep sense of loss. Not long after we crossed into Kentucky and left Indiana, Mother Nature decided to put on her own show–it rained and rained and rained. The really heavy kind where the only thing is to put on your blinkers and drive 30 mph while 18-wheelers SOMEHOW drive by going full tilt.  Low on sleep and emotional resilience, I couldn’t wait to get to Nashville and my new apartment. 

The first smile of the drive happened when I rolled into town. In a total cliche move, the clouds parted, the rain stopped, and the sun shone exactly as Nashville’s skyline rolled into view. I grinned. YES, I was saying goodbye to Bloomington and closing a door, shutting the book on that part of my life. The people I would miss, but I know better than most that geographic distance is nothing between true friends. 

All of my stuff was in the new apartment and I was T I R E D.

I had rented my apartment sight unseen, which is always nerve wracking. Everything was as promised. The truck had arrived before we had. My cats were firmly ensconced inside the apartment when the movers showed up (my greatest fear was them getting out). The vise around my chest that I had been holding since I left Bloomington started to loosen a little. With each box and piece of furniture, I began to relax even more. 

One of the movers recommended Martin’s BBQ “as the best in town,” so when I went to get my internet kit, we grabbed our dinner. It was good BBQ but I definitely thought Nashville probably has better to offer (it does, can confirm). 

Exhausted, finally a little excited for the possibilities Nashville would offer and all of the adventures that I would have, I went to bed. I expected to have a wonderful night’s sleep, but my Fitzwilliam again had different plans. I started my day as I began it, listening to my cat sing me the song of his suffering, tired, grateful, excited, hopeful, sad, and just generally full of emotion. 

2021, Move 2021, Non-Travel Charlotte Thoughts

Bloomington: the Early Years, 2012-2015

My years in Bloomington are obviously some of the most significant of my life. I learned so much during this years– stuff about myself, art history, the world, everything really. It will be hard to say goodbye. Or, see ya later, because really, there will always be a next time. Deep breaths. There’s no crying in baseball. My time in Bloomington can be pretty easily divided into 3 distinct parts. The Early Years (2012-2015, comprising coursework and quals); Dissertating (2015-2019, comprising proposal, all sorts of travel, and my mom’s death), and Post-PhD (2019-2021, IAS and Pandemic). I’m going to write a post about all three. Why not?

When I moved to Bloomington in 2012, I had never stepped foot in the state of Indiana. I had some half-baked notions of what I would find–a blend of vague ideas about the US west of the Appalachians and stereotypes from Parks and Rec. Indiana (my part of it anyway) was NOT barren, flat prairie, but rather with rocky rolling hills. Most people do have a weird story about John Cougar Mellencamp (or his kids). Cities and towns do have really ornate courthouses (of COURSE made of Indiana limestone). There ARE a lot of raccoons. To be fair though, I’ve seen more skunk. (I have a long-standing theory that Bloomington *is* Pawnee. Yes, I know Bloomington pops up in the show, and no, that doesn’t matter to my theory.) Anyway. I digress.

It would be impossible for me to formulate a clear narrative of the first few years, so I’m going to hit the highlights. I know I’m missing things–critical important events and people–but at this moment, the things listed below are what categorized my early time in Bloomington.


Starting a Solo Adventure

I moved to Bloomington after what had been a rough couple of years. From 2010 to 2011, I lived with my grandfather while doing my MA and working a few jobs. My family had moved far away, then after my grandfather’s health declined, he moved to Texas to live with my uncle. It was rough, and I felt rather…adrift, but stuck both in terms of geography and situation. I was independent, but not. On a path, but not a certain one. I knew I wanted to go to get my PhD, but it wasn’t a guaranteed outcome. Thankfully, I was accepted to IU and the adventure could begin.

Driving to Indiana with my seeester!

After a summer of fun, concerts with my BFF, visits to quintessential Virginia sites, I packed up all of my stuff, and moved to Indiana with the help of my Dad and siblings. It was mildly terrifying to move to a town and state I’d never been to before, where I did not know a single person, but it was also thrilling to be on this adventure because it was was entirely my own. I was in Bloomington because I chose to go to IU. I was at IU because I chose to study art history. I wasn’t sure it would all work out the way I wanted–with a tenure-track job at a small liberal arts school–but at least I was taking concrete steps to make that happen.

Part of my orientation materials, from the now defunct Henry Radford Hope School of Fine Arts. (I still have this notebook cover, because I am that person.

It wasn’t easy. The first semester was kind of rough. I was one of 2 PhD students and lived farther way than I had intended (the risk of renting online with a NoVA definition of commute). Everyone else was an MA student and grouped together a little easier because of the classes they took (or so I felt!).My expectations and hopes had to confront reality, and that always requires a little adjustment. I found my feet and my people eventually and it was seriously one of the happiest times in my life.

Loving Bloomington and IU

Bloomington seemed like a perfect little pleasantville, microcosm of a place. After living on the 95 corridor literally my entire life, it was refreshing to have real boundaries to a space (literally, you can tell the moment you leave “town,” still). After the sprawl of northern Virginia/DC, it was charming. An actually ‘main’ street/downtown area, with adjoining campus felt so novel too after George Mason.

The interior of the Rose Well House from my first walk around campus,

CAMPUS itself was gorgeous. Both my undergrad and my MA were entirely different from IU’s. Randolph-Macon was small and quaint, beautiful, but definitely not really that impressive architecturally. Mason had a fine campus and was a huge school, but it was all very 1960s and 1970s (understandably). IU has a much more unified campus that is without a doubt, one of the prettiest in the nation. The landscaping is always great. The trees are always incredible in almost any season.

Kirkwood Hall. Legit favorite door on IU’s campus.

The architecture on campus fueled my excitement for scholarly pursuits. The gothic and romanesque influence *clearly* were meant to inspire Deep Thoughts unlike the boring brutalist stuff at Mason. Even better IU had an amazing museum and attached fine arts library in the same building as the art history department. It was THE LIFE.

My carrel, number 4, my favorite number, right under that weird painting with SPQR. It felt pre-ordained. RIP FAL.
Perfect atmosphere for some thinking. RIP FAL.
The foyer of the IU Art Museum (now the Eskenazi Museum of Art).
Paired busts of the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus and his wife Julia Domna in their old arrangement at the IUAM.

Meeting So Many of “My” People

This one is it. Really, what made Bloomington was the people. In the first 2 years in Bloomington, I met more people who would become absolutely critical humans to my life. There are so many. Almost all art historians. I don’t take pictures of people (ugh) so I don’t have much to share here. All I have to say is I feel very lucky. I had opera buddies. Ice cream buddies. Art museum buddies (duh). Movie night buddies. Game night buddies. ALL SORTS OF BUDDIES.

There’s my friend L who I have been lucky enough to visit several times abroad and visit some really cool places. The first person to welcome me to IU, and who I would literally walk over the coals for.

Then there’s S&J who had become quick friends during our orientation, but then quickly welcomed me into their little group when it was clear I needed a friend. I spent literally so many wonderful moments with these two; they’ll always be my badass humans.

Year 2 brought three incredible humans, E, H, and K. I was so pleased to have found so many great people in Year 1, imagine my surprise when year 2 brought just as many amazing people.

Seriously, yo, when I count my blessings, it’s insane to think of how many of these blessings were introduced to me in this short window of time. In the art history department of IU, in Bloomington, Indiana of all places, no less!

The way it works in Bloomington though is that most everyone leaves. I’ve had to watch people I really care about move on to new and exciting things. What’s crazy to me is that I’ve managed to stay in touch with many who have moved away, some even thousands of miles away across the globe. But they leave and you stay. It’s hard watching them leave and not knowing when it will be your turn.

Ah, my desk in the grad office. Since I don’t have pictures of people (really), I’ll let this stand in for the place where I got to know so many people that I care about. RIP Grad office (yes, I was on facebook, hahahaha).

Discovering Drag Queens

In the grad office up there, one of my dearest amies introduced me to this little show called “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” You may have heard of it. This may sound random, but I have so many great memories connected to this show. I feel like it drew together many things I loved, provided some excellent stress relief, and much-needed inspiration, for some really difficult moments that would unfold over the next couple years.

Plus, I got to experience the much-beloved and unique, Uncle Elizabeth’s, which hosted drag shows in Bloomington before it folded.

I don’t have great images for the drag shows at Uncle E’s, but they were nothing but pure wonderful adrenaline.

Adopting Livia

In 2013, I finally got what I had wanted for so very long. A little baby kitty cat of my own. It was not an impulse decision, but it was still nerve wracking. I’d never owned an animal of my own before. It was a big responsibility. But oy! It was near instantaneous love. I went to the shelter wanting to get a male black and white cat, that I would name Gus. I left with a girl, grey and white that I named Livia. None of the boy kittens struck my fancy–there weren’t many. My friend L scooped up a girl baby and handed her to me. The first girl was too freaked out. L then scooped up 2nd girl baby, named “Eartha Kitt” and I didn’t put her down again until it was time to take her home. She was my baby. She loves me more than anyone else on earth and is my sweet perfect baby angel, even though she is a born crank, as evidenced by the picture below.

The curmudgeon is strong with this one. Livia, May 2013.

For those of you who were in Bloomington in 2012-2015, what did I miss? What were your critical Bloomington moments during these years?

2021, Uncategorized, Weight Loss Surgery

Surgery Detour

In April, I had my last supervised weight loss appointment. I completed 6 months of ‘supervised weight loss’ losing 60 pounds since I started the program in October. I passed the program with flying colors. After completing the program, the next steps are insurance approval, then scheduling the surgery, then surgery. However, LIFE happened.

Left: April 2021 compared to (right) July 2020 at my heaviest. Difference of 60 lbs.

In short, I got a new job! One that requires me to move to a new city! Get new insurance! Switch doctors! This move is great for me both personally and professionally, but it does require me to revise my timeline for surgery for a bit, while I settle into a whole lotta new. Instead of having surgery in June/July, I will be moving.

Fortunately, I knew this was a possibility at my last appointment and discussed that option with my surgeon. The timing to switch was really perfect. I completed the strictest pre-surgery requirements (as required by most insurances), and the results of that were good for a period of 2 years. So basically, all I need to do once I get settled is find a surgeon I like, have them contact my previous office, and schedule my surgery.

Until then, I’m in a holding pattern. The goal is to continue my weight loss and stick to the food plan. So far so good! I haven’t lost a lot in the past month, but it follows the basic trend of the previous few months of slow and steady forward movement. I suspect that there will be hard moments, particularly as it becomes less and less convenient to cook as I move, but I am hoping that the process of moving won’t be too disruptive to my overall trajectory.

General feels right now: I feel GREAT. Losing 60+ lbs does wonders for your energy levels. I can move and be flexible again in ways I hadn’t realized had diminished. At my heaviest, I felt so uncomfortable in my skin, but in a way that is constant so you can’t really articulate exactly what that discomfort is. The absence of that discomfort is WONDERFUL. Clothes either fit better or are now too big. I move with greater ease and comfort and power. I do not get winded nearly as often. I *feel* so much better. The number on the scale right now is just one single metric of many.

My passport photo taken in early 2015, nowhere near my heaviest (this was pre-mom’s death and dissertating!) and May 2021 65 lbs down.

2021, Mom thoughts, Weight Loss Surgery

A new kind of adventure in 2021

2020. Unlike most years, I’m not really interested in doing much ruminating on 2020. It was a rollercoaster, one I don’t care to ride ever again. While I totally get that many of the problems we faced in 2020 aren’t magically gone, I am super ready to take reset that a new year offers (even if it’s only a placebo).

2021 will hold a pretty big adventure for me, one that I’ve been wanting to do for a while, and now I’m at a place (read: not a grad student) to do it. If all goes to plan, I will be having gastric bypass surgery in 2021.

I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go public with this info. There are stigma associated with bariatric surgery. There’s a belief among some that it’s “cheating” or for people that don’t have the willpower to lose weight “correctly.” There are others that believe that weight-loss surgery is fatphobic and irreparably alters a healthy body for no reason, putting thinness ahead of health. Neither of these things are true.* To do my part in breaking down that stigma, I’ve decided to be open about what I’m doing to people in my orbit.

I am doing this surgery because I have always been obese, for as long as I can remember. I am not doing the surgery to lose weight, but rather to keep it off. I also am hoping to stave off type 2 diabetes and high-blood pressure, for which I am particularly high risk owing to family history.

I am doing the surgery because I wonder every day how my life would be different right now if my mom had had the surgical intervention. Would she have died at the age of 59 from a pulmonary embolism (a pretty direct consequence of being obese)? Would she have been happier? Would she have been able to do things with us in the last few years of her life? It is true that skinny does not equal healthy, while it is similarly true that morbid obesity (the worst term) is a deadly state.

I don’t want to wonder those questions about me. I am taking a proactive stance, and trying to prolong my current health for as long as possible. That’s the primary reason why I’m doing this.

It would be wrong for me to say that I am not looking forward to no longer sticking out like a sore thumb. To no longer see people’s eyes rolling when they see that their seat on the airplane is next to mine. To little kids, well-meaning dears who really don’t know better, asking if there’s a baby in my belly. To seeing people’s eyes look you up and down and know that they’re forming some assessment of your interior worth because of the exterior of your body.

Right now, I’m in the pre-op stage, which is dictated by my insurance. In order to qualify for them to cover the surgery, I have to have 6 consecutive months of weigh-ins where I either lose or maintain my weight, pass a series of medical pre-checks, and take several classes. My surgeon requested that I lose 20-25 pounds before surgery and I was put on a diet that’s called a “liver reduction diet” that reduces my carb intake in order to make my liver as small as possible for the surgery.

In the past 2 months, I’ve lost 25 pounds and I feel great. I’m proud of the steps I’ve taken for my health. I’m excited to see where 2021 takes me with this process. I’ve always felt like I was in a war with food, but in the past 2 months, I’ve felt so in control.

I do have concerns, questions, and anxieties about the risks this process entails, but that is for another post and another day. Today, I am excited about possibilities.

My stats as of January 1, 2021

*I do think the approach to bariatric surgery can vary highly. If your surgeon and practice don’t put health first and privilege the goal weight over the rest, I’d find a new surgeon.

2018, EuroTrip 2018, Uncategorized

Fair Verona

IMG_0325Before I knew it, my time in Germany was over. It had some highs and lows, and I was ready to be in a place that was familiar. Germany and I never meshed in the week that I spent there; perhaps this was because it came on the heels of Denmark where I felt instantly comfortable or maybe I just wasn’t hitting the right spots. I really think the next time I do Germany, I need to do it with someone else who knows it, loves it, and can introduce me what it has to offer.

I was ready for Italy. My first stop of my Italian tour was the fair city of Verona, of Shakespearean fame (for most…it has many other, more remarkable things to be famous for says this ancient art historian). The train ride was long, but beautiful. Through southwestern Germany, Austria and northern Italy we went, winding our way through mountains, finally arriving in Fair Verona.

DSC04177Verona was immediately from the outset, entirely charming. I lucked out with a very nicely located and appointed Airbnb. I did my usually settling in and took my first nighttime walk around Verona. I ate and I grocery shopped, at an Aldi, and came back to plan my one full day in Verona.

Verona has a lot of well-preserved Roman remains, of which I was only able to scratch the surface. I started my day with my traditional Italian breakfast of a cornetto con crema and a cappuccino, then walked to my first destination, the Porta Leone, which was really difficult to photograph, but super fascinating.

A defensive gate dating to around the 1st or 2nd century CE, the Gate of the Lions was incorporated into other buildings as time progressed, preserving basically one side of its facade.  One of my favorite things about Europe is the manner in which archaeological remains have been integrated (even sometimes when done badly or even just haphazardly) with the modern city.

After drinking my fill of the Porta Leone, I walked down one of the main (touristy) drags of the town, ate lunch, bought market fragola, which were the best freaking strawberries I’ve ever eaten. It was such a gorgeous day, the right amount of sun and shade, bustling, but not overcrowded. After some disappointments in Germany, Fair Verona was living up to her name.

I continued to walk around Verona, taking in parts of the city that I knew relatively IMG_0319nothing about. I did some people watching, square sitting, church wandering, and tomb inspecting, as one does. A few churches that I wanted to inspect were closed, but I persisted. I walked by the so-called Houses of Juliet and Romeo; Juliet’s house was overran by tourists, Romeo’s entirely ignored.

I finally drew closer to the reason for my visit in Verona. The Arch of the Gavii. The arch is a curious one–an early quadrifrons monument with no extant sculpture. I did my scholarly thing, inciting the interest of a bunch of Veronese teens that were completely baffled by my interest in the structure that provided a spot for their post-school shenanigans. As an art historian, one who grew up in the relatively uninspiring world dominated by 1980s and 1990s strip malls, it’s always crazy to me to think of growing up amongst centuries after centuries of STUFF built by a city’s previous inhabitants. I was lucky enough to grow up in a state where there certainly is plenty of history, but it very much exists in a separate space from that of daily life, “preserved” for posterity by local, state, and federal municipalities.

IMG_0370 Anyway, a tangent of an American abroad that’s constantly in shock of the material culture of places that aren’t home. I finished my scholarly perusal, visited a few other places that was on the ‘dissertation’ list, then went back to

IMG_0383my airbnb for a siesta. After my nap, I went to dinner, eating in the shadow of Verona’s famous amphitheater, which is so much smaller, but, in my opinion, no less impressive than Flavian amphitheater in Rome. Every summer, Verona’s amphitheater plays host to an incredible opera festival, and I missed performances by just one day. Just think,  I could have seen Puccini in an amphitheater. As was becoming my habit on this Eurotrip, just as I was settling in, it was time to turn my attention to the next city. Next on the stop on the tour was also the first longer stay, and my long awaited return to my darling Roma! 

2018, EuroTrip 2018, Uncategorized

Munich

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Gummy Bären!

After my fiasco in Mainz, I was ready to head to my last stop of my German tour: Munich. The train ride from Mainz to Munich was about 4 hours, and I was very amused to see a candy store in the Mainz train station THAT several people attempted to go into, even though it was obviously closed at 9am in the morning. WHEN YOU NEED GUMMY BEARS, YOU NEED GUMMY BEARS. Needless to say, they were disappointed.

Bavaria is where I’ve always wanted to go in Germany, and I definitely want to go back. My most recent ancestors to immigrate to the US were German, from Bavaria, in the late-19th century. In my mind, what I wanted to see of Bavaria was not in cities like Munich, but instead smaller cities. I was pleasantly surprised by Munich—though of all of my German stops, it was the most touristy spot.

I didn’t have a lot of time in Munich and of all of the places I traveled on the trip, I had the hardest time finding acceptable lodging in the city. BUT I found a hostel by the train station that was okay. Not great. Not terrible, but okay. I took one of my strategic taxi rides to the Siegestor, which was decently far away. A modern rip off of the Arch of Constantine ordered by the Bavarian king Ludwig the I. It took a beating in World War II, but instead it was partially restored to remind viewers of the toll war.

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Siegestor, 1852, Munich Germany, May 2018

After I finished exploring the Siegestor, I walked down Ludwigstraße until I got to the super touristy area of town with the Glockenspiel, Frauenkirche, and many many other things. I walked around a bit, grabbed some dinner, dessert, kept walking and taking in what I could of Munich’s historic center.

The next day was what I had been waiting for: my reasons for visiting Munich. The Glyptothek and catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in years who was coming to see me from where she was currently living in Germany. I walked to the Glyptothek after enjoying breakfast and a coffee.

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My so-called tour of colonialism continued. The Glyptothek was quiet, I had the place nearly entirely to myself, and I spent as much time as I could in each room. All in all, it wasn’t a terribly large museum, but every room had canonical works of sculpture.

While I was in the museum, it had started to rain, and not just little rain, but hard core pouring down rain. I met up with my friend for lunch, we caught up, walked around as much as we could in the rain, and had a swell time just shooting the breeze. It was fantastic seeing a familiar face attached to someone I hadn’t seen in a while.

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Remembering to snap a selfie while momentarily stranded because of the rain! 

2018, EuroTrip 2018, Uncategorized

My Trip to Mainz: The One Where Everything Went Wrong

Sometimes when traveling things go wrong. Sometimes it’s big. Sometimes it’s little. And sometimes it’s a series of things that just cause you to go mad.

The latter fits my trip to Mainz.

It started with confusing alerts about my trains being cancelled or me being unable to make my connection via the Deutschbahn app. This led me to be super nervous about making my connection in Frankfurt. Mainz is relatively close to Frankfurt so I assumed that it would simply be a matter of catching another local train.

My train left super early and with the confusing alerts, I decided to arrive well ahead of the scheduled time. Fortunately other travelers had decided to do the same. While I was waiting for the train, a man came up to me and asked me a question in broken English about his ticket, which he held out to me. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand his question, the ticket wasn’t for the same train as mine, and I found the German train system a little convoluted. I said, I’m sorry I don’t know. Apparently this response was NOT what they wanted to hear. He started to yell, but again, I couldn’t understand him. Thankfully, a man who was there with his family moved closer to me and stood behind me, gradually shying off the yelling man. This was the third uncomfortable/aggressive interaction I had had with a strange man since being in Germany (Portuguese man on the ferry, then one while I was at the Memorial to the Murder Jews of Europe, then this train guy).

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Minutes before the encounter with an aggressive dude

Next, I ended up sitting in the wrong compartment on the train. The cars, instead of being labeled at the beginning of the car, are labeled at the end. I thought I was in car 12, but I was in car 14 (there was no car 13). After a few minutes I went to go get some food for breakfast, and when I came back there was someone in my seat. I said politely that I think there’s a mistake that I think that’s my seat, not in German of course. The lady of course spoke perfect English but her response was nearly hostile. Eventually, we figured out that I was wrong (it took too long b/c instead of just being like see this is car 14 she wanted to argue and refused to engage). When I finally said, okay but why doesn’t it have it labeled at the beginning of the car and it’s only labelled at the end after you’ve passed through the car, she softened a bit and chuckled and said that, yes, it was confusing.

The rest of the train ride was uneventful. My train arrived in Frankfurt and I was expelled into a mad mess of people. I feel as if I have to explain that I’ve traveled a lot by train. I love train travel. Most of my travel has been in Italy and France–both systems are easily navigable. Germany…I had my ticket, but I couldn’t figure out which number on the ticket my train to Mainz was the one on the departure board. I eventually figured it out and caught my train with no fuss.

I arrived in Mainz, excited to be outside of Berlin and in a different region of Germany. I was only staying in Mainz for one night and I chose a hotel right by the train station, or so I thought. Turns out, no, I kind of did, but it was up an incredibly steep incline that seemed ridiculous with my suitcase and backpack. I took a taxi because I really didn’t want to walk up the mountain and find out I had gone the wrong way.

After checking in at my hotel I rushed down the mountain to the museum I was there to visit and it was SLAMMED with people. I was so surprised to see it was full of people, but there was some exhibition that had a draw to kids. I wandered around the museum and kept expecting to see the stuff I was there for, but it wasn’t there. I was super confused and so I asked. It turns out, the stuff I wanted to see had been moved to another museum, several years ago. The collections still technically belonged to the museum I was visiting, and thus that’s how they were listed in the sources I found it in and nothing on the website indicated they were at another museum. The museum they were currently in, was closed the day I was in Mainz, and it opened after my train left the next day.

I was really mad at myself. I hadn’t considered the possibility that they’d be at a different museum than the one they were cited in. I had gone back and forth about keeping my trip to Mainz so short, and clearly I made the wrong decision. If I just stayed an extra day, there would have been no problem! But alas! This is the difficulty with planing a trip that moves so fast. Shit happens, literally.

So, I said to myself, “that’s okay! There are things OUTSIDE that I want to see. I will go see them.” I took a gander at google maps, assured myself of the coordinates, then walked in the direction of the first monument, and I began to see glimpses of the pretty part of Mainz. Just when I began to arrive near where the first monument, and most important,  was there was a swirl of activity…barricades blocked the road, fences were blocking the park, and about 150 military vans and vehicles with their accompanying personnel. In the distance I saw the monument that I wanted to see, but between me and it, were the barricades, the humvees, the machine guns, and the personnel.

It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was exhausted and about a week into my trip (usually when the first round of tired hits) and I had been going non-stop. Things had not gone my way that day and I had a choice, Mainz wasn’t going to work research wise and all of my things to do in Mainz were for research. I had no plan for other things to do. The tired wore out. I decided to have an off afternoon, a thing I hadn’t had since arriving in Europe.

Ahhh yes, the best of all possible fast foods, ubiquitous in Europe, doner kebab.

Before hiking up to my hotel, I grabbed some doner kebab. The people in this small doner cafe were the warmest I had met in Germany thus far. A few families with small children were there and their antics cheered me. The prospect of doner also didn’t hurt. I ate my doner and headed up the mountain, and took a much-needed nap. I took the gift of a free afternoon, and I needed it sorely.

Fittingly, I only took 2 pictures from my day in Mainz, one in the train station before I got yelled at and then my doner before I ate it. The before and after of the worst day of my trip.