To the Mediterranean Sea,

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There is nowhere I feel more myself then in your glassy folds, reflecting sunlight on a bright June morning.

I am your daughter.

There in the middle of the planet, in between two worlds, I feel your strength and your ease. Like the comfort a child feels when they hear their mother’s call, I feel at home when I hear your waves crashing around me.

You are majestic, but we wouldn’t know by how peaceful you look from atop. It’s funny how I always seem to come back to you at the end of the season. Your inviting waters provide the freedom from everything I’ve left. I could lay on your shores and listen to your roar hour after hour, day after day into eternity. This is my ode to you, oh sea.

Like the bee who collects nectar from the honeysuckle flowers, you sweeten my mind with words to write and rhythms to play. It’s not curious at all that such a force could make me feel so alive. If could I would sail your waves forever in that little sailboat of mine.

There’s something about going back to you that makes me feel like I’m coming into my own. Maybe it’s something that has to do with my skin bronzing to it’s natural olive underneath your scintillating sun. Maybe it’s the blue in your waters that light my eyes into icy green flames. Probably, it’s your salty mist that tangles my hair into uncontrollable waves.

I think it’s your magic. I always comment as I cross your waters near dusk that I hear voices in the distance and something calling from the water. I joke that it must be the Odysseus’s sirens calling from the little alcoves, but I know I shouldn’t joke. There is definitely music, and if you listen close enough, it will spontaneously begin to play underneath your waves.

Yearning for you,

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To my future happy place,

I do not want to limit these letters to just people. I think doing so would force me to capture only a small part of an intricate spectrum of things that have shaped me. And so, I’d like to begin this letter by saying:

Dear happy place,

I don’t really know how to describe you. That is, I don’t really know what or where you are. Maybe you don’t exist. But here are some hopes and dreams I want to put out regarding you.

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Sometimes I think of you as the shade under a fig tree with the nearby Mediterranean sea breeze picking my hair apart in tangles. The climb to the top of Anacapri, to the vista alongside thousand year old statues of Caesar and the Sphinx, where you’ll find me sitting with a glass of limoncello. Perhaps you are the Blue Grotto, alit with an electrifying blue, and the thrill when I jump into your magical azure on a whim.

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Perhaps you are the warm cobblestones of Florence, that delicious pappa al pomodoro that I would forever call the best thing I ever ate. Perhaps you are all the museums, the mausoleums, the marble floors, the art, and the thick romance of the Italian air. Perhaps you are the ambrosial Roman sunsets.

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Sometimes you are the thunder I hear under the ground at the base of Mount Aragats or the view from Charents’ Arch looking towards Ararat; a dule of doves fly through the arch and towards their redemption–the fruit trees lining the narrow path up to Khor Virap. Perhaps you are the red poppies draping the hills of Artaz.

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Sometimes you are the blasting cold of the Northern Sea at the edge of St Abb’s Head, the sharp cliffs falling hundreds of feet below into a salt mist. Perhaps you are the rolling hills of the Highlands, the sound of wild sheep bleating, the hooves of red deer passing before the hunt, the golden eagle’s cry. Sometimes you are the ripples in the faerie pools at the Isle of Skye and the roar of the waves against the bluffs in the Hebrides.

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Sometimes you are Paris; tucked in a corner cafe across the Eiffel Tower at precisely 11 o’clock in the evening. Perhaps you are the green leather chairs at La Dome or some side bar in the Latin Quarter, still selling absinthe in old wine bottles. Perhaps you are the flower markets of Nice in the full plight of summer; the tourists past by your stand, but I know better.

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Perhaps you are the great alps of Switzerland; the train ride up to Mürren, the North Face trail winding around towards the Eiger. Perhaps you are that one hotel in Zermatt, where I wake up and see the Matterhorn just outside our bedroom window. Perhaps you are the winding trails and little hostels down the mountain that host funny travelers.

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Perhaps you are all the places I have ever been at once. You are all the feelings, the touches, the scents, the sights, the sounds.

Dear happy place, we will meet. If not all at once, I hope to capture as much of your magic in what little ways I can.

I hope we meet soon,

The bright-eyed traveler

A Weakness for Beauty

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In his unfinished novel The First Man, Albert Camus wrote “We all have a weakness for beauty.” My favorite absurdist philosopher got it all right. I am fascinated with beauty, absolutely unreservedly fascinated. In fact, my fascination is less of a distraction and more of a purpose. I live to find the beauty in everything. My friends joke and say I am a self-proclaimed aesthetics guru. While hilarious, that’s totally wrong. I am not an expert in beautiful things. That sounds ridiculous to say, probably because beauty is a complicated mess of so many things and values, it’s impossible to find something universally beautiful. What is beautiful is specific to each person, shaped by experience, environment, and the self. Rather, I make a note of scouting out all the things I can. Material things, locations, music, graphic designs, aesthetics, people…they all make up this intricate network and cause for admiration.

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I love to explore locations. I’ve always thought cities operate like clockwork. In my short life, walking cities has always been my favorite thing to do. Even before hitting the tourist spots, the first thing I did in a new place was scour the streets for hidden treasure. And my, did I find gold. One of the first cities I ever got to explore was hilly, dynamic, perennial San Francisco. Right across the bridge from my hometown, I grew up spending many weekends, days, and dinners in that dazzling city by the bay. Before, after, and in-between jobs I took the time to explore its districts. For the longest time I worked on the Embarcadero. Telegraph Hill became my Mount of Olives. I remember the first time I ever climbed up to Coit Tower by myself. My curiosity made me take a second glance at the steep zigzagging steel stairs that trailed into a verdant jungle. I could not see the endpoint, but those stairs had echoes of adventures and I couldn’t resist. As I climbed, locals–presumably the residents to the pastel dotted hill–glided down past me like clouds. 200 steps later and at my breath’s end, I reached the top. It was a quaint one way street with 360 degree vistas. The hill itself smelled of diversity, history, and opportunity. I took the chance, and it was worth it. I had a full two hours before I had to be anywhere, so I spent time going up and down streets one by one and capturing the very best of each apartment, each bus stop, and each corner laundromat. It was interesting to see the city at a quiet time of the day, because it felt like I had been taken back to a time when the city breathed and talked for itself. San Francisco’s architecture has always amazed me. Adjoined victorians and ornate reliefs littered these streets like trash. If you weren’t careful, you could miss the wonders of a century old masterpiece there in front of your eyes. It was a good couple of hours, and led me to take up this practice wherever I may be. There’s something about walking a city and collecting memories with each step. At the end of the day when my feet are swollen and legs hard, I know I’ve collected enough images and ideas.

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I think in order to be a good anything you must be intrepid. There cannot be fear of the unknown; the unknown must only pique your interest and drive you to do what you would not have done before. Climbing up those stairs and not knowing what was on the other side was a bit stupid (of course I made sure it was safe before), but definitely a risk worth taking. In any case, here’s to finding the beauty in all things. Here’s to walking the cities we call home.

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Flâneuse: Book Review

IMG_2351.JPGI recently bought a book by Lauren Elkin, (instagram post here). An American expat in Paris, she talks about the hidden history of women in cities. More specifically, les flâneuses, the women who wander through cities. Flâneur is French slang for someone who wanders aimlessly. The term heralds from the 19th century when women simply were not allowed to walk up and down streets on their own. In fact, most of the word’s history belongs in the realm of men.  But, Elkin goes on to disprove this stereotype. She talks about her own experience as a flâneuse (feminizing the word), and the experiences of many other women in history who explored their cities uninhibited by the “guardianship” of men.

Lauren writes about her own experiences in Tokyo, London, New York, Venice, and of course, Paris. In her book she points out that the flâneuse is not just a wanderer, she is so much more. One quote I loved was, “The flâneur, attuned to the chords that vibrate through his city, knows without knowing” (3). The flâneur carries an intuition, so real and authentic and legitimate that it is often labeled as a kind of magic. How can one know a city so well? How can one be so acclimatized to the undulations of the cobblestone streets? How can one know which direction the water inside a city’s metal pipes flow? At what time does the baker peek out his window? What direction that redolent scent originates?

It is the ultimate native of a city, though she may not even have been born there. She just knows. Paris and I have been in an entangled love story for the past few years. We are no strangers. Elkin writes about my favorite places:

I walked past all the great cafés lining the boulevard, La Rotonde, Le Select, Le Dôme and La Coupole, watering holes to generations of American writers in Paris, whose ghosts hunched under café awnings, unimpressed with the way the twentieth century had turned out. I crossed over the rue Vavin, with its eponymous café, where all the cool lycéens went when they got out of school, assertive cigarette smokers with sleeves too long for their arms, shod in Converse sneakers, boys with dark curls and girls with no make-up. (5)

As you can imagine, reading about Elkin’s time in my filthy, stupefying, ambrosial lover was much more than just a thrill. I am not quite finished with this book, but I was so excited I had to write about it immediately.

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One of Hemingway’s Parisian apartments

It shocked me to know that, over the past two centuries, so many women were tied to their homes. Many were forced only to take part in marital duties. But some brave heroines refused the hearth and made their homes in the deep veins of a city. We are part of this thread of rebels. We know our cities…albeit through different strategies. Here is to all our intelligent, intuitive, illustrative, ignescent, irresistible, impious, idiosyncratic, international flâneuses who never gave a damn and loved their cities all the more.

And finally, a snippet of Baudelaire’s “Passer-by,” one of my favorite French poems that Elkin puts in her book:

The deafening street roared around me

Tall, sender, in heavy mourning, majestic in her grandeur

A woman walked past me, her sumptuous hand

Lifting and shining her hem as she went.

Swift and graceful, with legs like a statue’s

Twitching like a madman, I drank in

Her eyes, a pallid sky where storms are born

the sweetness that charms and the pleasure that kills.

  • by Charles Baudelaire (1855)

30 Writing Challenge: Day 4 & 5

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s been a ridiculously crazy ride the last few days, and so I haven’t been able to sit down fully awake and write. So, here I am taking  some extra time to catch up on the 30 day writing challenge!

 

Day 4. Write about someone who inspires you.

I sat and thought about who inspires me; both people I know personally and public figures came to mind. However, I decided that could not settle on one single person. So, I’m going to do something a little different and instead write about the qualities all these inspirational people in my life seem to share.

Firstly, my inspirational person is driven by their passions. They know what they love to do, and take that love and make a career and lifestyle out of it. This has most eminently been prominent in people I know who are global leaders working towards human rights causes.

Secondly, these inspirational people are compassionate. They care for those around them, and their love can be seen in their everyday actions. They care for the poor: refugees, the homeless, and the broken. This overwhelming kindness exudes the love of Christ.

And thirdly, they never give up.

Day 5. List five places  you want to visit and why

Oh man, this is really nice.

The Isle of Skye, Glencoe, Scotland region – I’ve always been enamored with this area. Mostly, I believe it has to do with my personality. A part of me wants to just go away, to the open hills and lochs, in the aggressive biting wind and roaring waves just below jagged cliffs. That’s a part of my soul I cannot ignore, and it’s definitely next on my list.

Norway – In keeping with my soul places, Norway is on the top of the list. There’s something about the fjords, the high mountains and the cold sea that gets me so excited. This place screams adventure, and i’m out to go after it.

New Zealand – I bet you can recognize a pattern? Something in me thinks that New Zealand is that finally resting place. It’s landscape has a special place in my heart. When I was little, the Lord of the Rings trilogy were my favorite films. And so, from a young age I daydreamed about these magical places, which happens to actually be New Zealand. Not to mention, at one point local officials were offering money to people to populate this one region on the south island.

Ancient Armenia – More notably Eastern Turkey to the contemporary, I would love to see the land of my ancestors. I particularly  would love to go to the base of Mt. Ararat and sing, dance, and climb. Hopefully one day I can do it, but for now I still cannot because it sits just beyond our modern borders.

Iran – I want to take a trip back to my mother’s homeland and see all the places she spent time at as a child. She’s told me all about her adventures growing up in Tehran, traversing the thick exotic forests by the Caspian Sea, and driving through the Zagros Mountains. I’d love to go somewhere that is so special and so a part of her.

Jitter Feet: The Traveler’s Dilemma

It’s been a long few months since I’ve been on a plane. Even longer since that plane was heading out of the country. For me, traveling is not just a pleasure–it’s a way of life.

My father used to read me the fairytales of Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. I was transported to world’s of adventure and peril. Since then, I’ve craved putting one foot in front of the other and stepping out of the world into new worlds. Andersen summed it up:

“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”

And so, I look back at all the blessings I’ve had. All the magical places I’ve seen and cities I’ve walked. It all seems like another lifetime, because studying at university really limits what you can do.

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And in that moment, you pause to take it in. Because this wall of cool air, the fuzzy warmth of the liquor in your belly, the frozen tips of your fingers; this is all here, right now.

img_4788And so, I wait patiently for the opportunity to make more memories like this. In the meantime, I hold on to the planes of this memory; sight, scent, touch, and taste. Together they create a sixth sense, deep in my soul, where I feel at one with myself in that instant, 14,000 kilometers above the ground, on a range of mountains towering over the rest of the world. And I think, “I’ll be back.”

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