I made this tote bag for my cousin. She just went on a lifelong dream vacation to New Zealand (home of Middle Earth filming) and her boyfriend proposed in a very Lord of the Rings themed way. I figured I would be on-brand and make something showing off a quote that she associates with the story.
Last fall, Chris and I went to Northampton, MA for a mini vacation. We stopped by a comic book shop and I was immediately attracted to Tillie Walden's graphic memoir, Spinning. After reading it a week later, I did some research and found that she had attended the Center for Cartoon Studies, same as Lucy Knisley. I poked around on their website and realized that they do weeklong summer workshops. Since my summer is panning out to be far less busy than last summer, I figured I would take the plunge! Excited to try and take this project to the next level! I need an extra kick in the butt.
All travel stress aside, Paris was great. After all the traveling and work, I spent a lot of time that Friday in my hotel room, catching up on some drawings and listening to TV dubbed in French, with the tall windows thrown open to let in the fresh air and sunlight. I can’t believe how early spring came in Paris, compared to New England.
When I did venture out the remaining days, I was overwhelmed by all the spring buds, tulips, and blossoms in every courtyard, garden, and neatly manicured tree. It felt like May, not the first week of April. It was so nice to walk around and not need a coat!
The first evening, after I cleaned up following a long day of travel, I met up with Dave Douglas, one of my best friends, and a world traveler and talented painter. He and his husband have moved around a few times; they started in Chile, spent several years in Haiti, and just got stationed in Paris (tough gig!) Dave’s husband is a Chilean ambassador, so they move around every few years. At this point I think Dave knows Hebrew, Spanish, Creole, and French. Not bad!
That first night, we went to one of the best restaurants in the Marais, Chez Marianne, and ordered as much as we could off of the menu. It was so nice to kick back and hear what Dave had been up to over the last year, and to just spend time together like we used to back in college in between studio classes. We both ordered a Coke - looking to indulge in an innocent way after all the moving around (they were still staying in an Airbnb shopping for apartments after only moving to France the week before). So a nice cold, fizzy, sugary soda was exactly what we needed with our Mediterranean smorgasbord. One of the funnest parts of hanging out with Dave is that we will riff on a funny idea until it becomes completely outrageous and we break into uncontrollable giggles. At one point this was when we discussed what would happen if, when a server came to collect unfinished food, we ignorantly pretended that they actually wanted to eat our leftovers. So when they ask, “Are you all set?” say, “That’s all you, dude.” or “Killlll it!” This doesn’t make any sense and would actually be incredibly rude in practice, but we couldn’t stop laughing.
Other activities that we did together were getting ice cream with Dave’s husband on Saturday afternoon and then hitting up BHV for various purchases, shopping at the Sunday market at Bastille and then checking out a gallery in the Marais, getting crêpes, and shooting the shit on Monday night (my last night there), with (more) crêpes and making fun of the punks zigzagging around on electric scooters. It was so much fun to connect in a place that Dave and I both know intimately, but from different times. I lived in the Marais in the winter/spring of 2011 while I was studying there through Wells College, and Dave spent the better part of a year in the same neighborhood only a year later, doing a residency, where he first met his husband. We had talked about a lot of the same things, and had also discovered some of the same things independently, but had never experienced them together. It was also just refreshing because traveling internationally can be stressful, especially for work and with multiple countries in one trip, so spending time with a familiar face helped me see Paris in a different kind of familiar way.
Dave was also starting an intensive French language course, so during the day, when I wasn’t in the hotel, I ventured out to some of my favorite spots, mostly on foot. I did a long walk by the river on Friday afternoon/evening, and definitely walked along rue du Rivoli for way too long thinking it was parallel to the Seine and planning to cut over to Notre Dame, when I realized I was very far off track and had to make a sharp left. Along the road toward the cathedral, I grabbed a caprese sandwich, had it heated up, and then sat in front of Notre Dame admiring the view at dusk. On a whim, I decided to go inside. There was a service in process, so I only took a couple of covert photos and otherwise just listened and admired.
Another day, I took the train out to Père Lachaise, walked by my old language school, and parked myself in the cemetery to do a drawing for several hours.
On the way home, since I had finally figured out my Navigo pass and had unlimited rides for the week, I got off at Palais Royale/Musée du Louvre. Palais Royale is one of my favorite spots, and it was bumping with frolicking Parisians and tourists alike. I did another drawing, from the vertical striped pillar sculptures, though it got quite chilly and my hands started shaking. On the way home, I soaked up an amazing red sunset, on the river and by the Louvre. From there I headed back to the hotel on the train.
At some point, I sat by my old apartment building and did a drawing of the old water fountain at Square Charles Victor Langlois. Doing a drawing there has become a bit of a tradition. It’s part ritual, and part hope that I will run into my apartment host from back in the day. I always note that her lacy curtains are still in the living room window, but have yet to see her. I lost her contact info, and while I have sent her multiple letters, have not heard anything back. I suppose this is one reason to keep going back to visit the city :)
On Sunday night, I had spent quite a lot of time in the evening working on some drawings and photos, so decided I should go out for dinner. I was a bit homesick by that point, so I went to Breakfast in America, which as you might guess, is a diner based on the American breakfast. They play American rock and roll and have what you’d expect: pancakes, milkshakes, and burgers. I got pancakes and ate by myself, perhaps more quickly than necessary. I was a bit anxious because I didn’t really know what I should speak - English? or French? - and because I was one of only two customers and I hadn’t brought much to keep myself occupied. But it was still good to fill up my stomach and take a break in a place where I could feel some muscle memory.
On my last day in Paris, I had a goal in mind. There are so many parts of Parisian culture that are all about etiquette, and despite having spent 6 months living there at various times, I have never quite mastered the art of cafe culture. There is something very intimidating to me about sitting down at an outdoor table and expecting service, when there are so many little things to mix up. To build my confidence, I read through an article written by a Parisian about all the things to make sure to do and to make sure to avoid, and then decided to test it out at a café down the road from where I used to live, where I had dined several times in a group but never solo. On the way, I bought several postcards, and then made a beeline for a seat that appeared open and set for dining. It’s important to choose a seat that is set with flatware if you are expecting to eat, and not a table set only for only drinks.
Luckily the server was incredibly kind and patient, and he did not once take pity on me and switch to English. At this point, my pronunciation is decent, but my listening comprehension is pretty spotty, so it’s pretty common for someone to expect that I am more fluent than I am, and then the conversation comes to a halt when I have to admit, “Pardon… plus lentement, s’il vous plait?” But getting through the entire transaction without a bump was very reassuring to a person who has not had the occasion to speak French consistently since my last brief stay in France, four years ago. Still got it!
After that, I went back to BHV and bought some colored pencils for Dave and me, and then sat in Place des Vosges and drew one of the fountains until the park closed. It was a whirlwind 2.5 weeks, but by that final evening, I have to admit that I have rarely felt so at peace with where I am, and so sad to be leaving to go home.
Dave and I had our final crêpe that evening, and then said goodbye. I packed up while chatting with Chris over Skype, and then called it quits because I had to leave for the airport at 4:30am. By the way, the prevalence of video calling these days is such a blessing. When I was studying abroad, my family and boyfriend at the time used AOL instant messenger’s video chat feature. This was almost 10 years ago. But it was always such a relief to have and rely on. Throughout this trip, I used Skype in the same way. I looked forward to hearing what was going on at home, and to see Chris every night, hanging out in our living room or lounging on the bed. That level of connection kept me sane even when I was stressed and feeling unusually anxious with all of the pressure of work and solo travel.
The flights home were less stressful than some of the earlier legs of the trip, aside from having trouble updating my family where I was during a layover in Lisbon. This was also my first time in Portugal! I looked for a Harry Potter book in Portuguese in one of the shops but was not successful. The views from the plane were astounding - so many cliffs along the ocean! I’ll have to actually visit one day.
I’m back home now, and unpacked, and happy to be home. Another travel chapter comes to a close!
Also, for sketchbook pages, please click here.
Rotterdam was lots of fun, though rather rushed. My coworkers and I flew out of Warsaw Sunday night, and arrived at our Airbnb around 10pm. We worked the next three days, and then left Thursday morning.
The Airbnb was very sweet; a charming Dutch home with lots of eco-friendly touches, a cozy living room nook, steep stairs, and several bedrooms. There was even a back patio, but it was quite cold while we were there, and we often weren’t back until after dark.
One thing that was interesting to compare between Dutch and American culture is that Dutch shops are often not open after 5pm, and many restaurants are not open until lunch time (especially on Monay morning). We figured we might find a restaurant that morning to grab a snack before work (we hadn't had dinner the night before), but nothing was open. I kind of like this - it means the people who are staffing these places are not expected to get to work super early, or stay late after normal business hours.
Though it did make it hard for me to go on a mission to find the Harry Potter series in Dutch :D I ended up ducking out during lunch on Wednesday to find a book shop. I had also hoped to find Chris a Virgil van Dijk national jersey (he plays for Liverpool FC), but it was tricky to find a shop that sold jerseys that was open after work. I did get the books, but not the jersey. I’ll have to write a separate post about my growing multilingual Harry Potter library.
On Monday night, we went to an excellent restaurant close to work called Mangiare (we’re in Groothandelsgabouw, next to Centraal Station). They don’t have menus, and just share what they’re making given the ingredients that are in season and available. I immediately was taken by this mouth-watering process being done over and over: putting freshly cooked pasta onto a giant wheel of cheese, swirling it around to absorb the cheese, and then serving it. I did not hesitate with my order. We also got a vegetable appetizer, wine, and I had a chocolate lava cake for dessert.
On Wednesday morning, I also went for an early morning walk to the kubuswoningen (cube houses) and Markthal (Market Hall), which was a refreshing way to start the day. I was able to get a few photos of the architecture not at night. I am also flummoxed by the cube houses. It seems like there must be a lot of underutilized space along the sloping walls? But it still seems really neat all the same. Like, you could attach a chunk of wood at the base of a wall that is sloping outward, and stack/lean books along the wall (until you get to a point that is out of reach).
That evening, we explored the interior of Market Hall and had dinner, interestingly at an American restaurant. My coworkers are Polish, and the server happened to be Polish as well, but a lot of things around us were in Dutch, and I was heading to France the following day, so I was very disoriented.
On Thursday morning, we left our Airbnb and carried our luggage to Cafe Booon, where we had pastries before hopping a train to Amsterdam. We were very down to the wire with timing, and just barely made it onto a train in time to still check in and make our flights. I got on the train very sweaty and uncomfortable and irritable, but a nice ride through the Dutch countryside, passing windmills and farmland, was helpful in cooling me down.
I parted ways with my coworkers after checking in (they were flying back to Warsaw), and picked up a couple of souvenirs for my niece at one of the airport shops. I actually almost missed the flight because I got distracted writing work emails and only heard them calling my name over the speakers as they were closing the gate. Oops. We had a really time-sensitive interview process happening back in the States, and I was putting some finishing touches on that before the US team arrived at work.
I did some drawing on the plane, and then when I arrived in Paris, got pretty turned around. I have a terrible sense of direction, and although I had brought my Navigo card (reloadable train pass), I couldn’t get it to register at the airport kiosk, so I just purchased paper tickets. It’s always a bummer when you feel like you should know something by now, a local sees you struggling, and then helps you. (This is what happened.) I think it’s less the language barrier, and more that I am terrible with trains and maps. I’ve definitely gotten lost in NYC and Boston and Warsaw, not just Paris...
I got off at Gare du Nord, and let me tell you, if you’ve never felt the panic of feeling trapped *inside* a train station, then you haven’t known panic. This would only happen to me, mind you. I did several laps of the entire shopping area, trying to find a kiosk to buy tickets for the regular train, but kept running up against the turnstiles that require you to validate a pass before passing through. I was ready to hop something and make a run for the street level, and just lug my terribly heavy luggage a couple miles to Bastille (where I'm staying), when I made a breakthrough. Really I just discovered an escalator that led to a ticket kiosk.
I had also remembered that Parisian train stations almost never have escalators. While this shows how old the city is, it is not accessible to people with different levels of mobility. Another fun note: I was wearing heeled boots and a giant sweater and coat because my suitcase was so filled with books by this point that I could no longer fit my clothes. It was also a beautiful spring day, about 70 degrees. So by the time I had lugged my luggage up and down and up again (btw it was rush hour at this point), I was extremely sweaty and miserable.
When I arrived at my hotel, the person at the reception desk could not find my name in the reservations, and I had a moment of further panic where I thought I didn’t even have a place to stay. But luckily, with me trying to explain the best I could in my rusty French, we located what was needed. The key wasn’t ready, but I was able to conduct a successful conversation with the manager on the phone later on (second languages get way harder when you’re problem solving) and get one set up. PHEW!
I’ll leave the rest of the Paris trip for another post, but figured the split Rotterdam/Paris day was a bit of a blend so that should stay together.
Sketchbook pages here!
"Hallo Juliette! My name is Fynn and I am so excited to finally meet you!"
These illustrations are all part of a writing project that my dad is taking on! I only shared some brief excerpts of his writing, but it's the sweetest children's story I've ever read (and based on real life)!
All writing is ©2019 Ed Dunscombe.
Hannah Dunscombe is a painter and portrait artist based out of Mansfield, MA.