Update from Chelsea Prax in Paris and Morocco!

27 May 2007

Hello all,

Today I write from a tiny little villa next to the hotel in Fes,
Morocco. There is a man slowly strumming a guitar and laughing
wholeheartedly with another man in Arabic … waiting for the rain to
stop. It’s about 50 degrees – colder than I thought it would be, but I
suppose we are right next to the mountains.

Fes leaves a large impression on the olfactory senses. The first
night, driving from the airport to the hotel smelled strongly of car
exhaust – thick and inevitable on the roads here from tons of bright
red ‘petit taxis’ which hold three people in addition to the driver.
That same night, the walk around our little square – both to orient
ourselves and to find an ATM to take out dirhams (about an 8/dollar
exchange rate) – lingered with the smell of jasmine (intertwined in
all the orange trees), lemon, rose and mint tea that has been too
strongly sweetened. Meals smell like light curry and a total of 47
other spices that make up the local ‘specialty flavor.’ My breakfasts
smell like the vanilla yogurt I eat and mostly flavorless coffee that
you can almost chew. My room smells like mountain side, bottled water
(you can’t drink from the fountains for at least the first week – and
never in the old city, or the medina) and Hannah Ebner (my roommate’s)
hand lotion. The medina, which has existed practically unchanged and
untouched for centuries, smells like leather being dyed in animal
juices, donkeys carrying amazingly heavy loads of handwoven rugs and
the plastic bags that everything gets tucked into.

Arabic decorates the days. Laces through the rain-heavy air and seems
to sway with the broken sidewalks. The occasional European or South
American tourist/Arabic student, complete with Justin Timberlake as
the soundtrack to your winding steps through an impossibly navigable
(for me) medina recalls a world you can’t see, smell or taste – but
hear in the little boys who yell ‘Hi’ and the men who say ‘Welcome’
instead of ‘Bienvenue’ or ‘ssalaamo aalaykom’ when you walk into the
local grocery.

I am mistaken here, even in this group of 19 other Carleton comrades,
for Moroccan. A twinge of disappointment appears between eyebrows when
I greet new people in French and not in Arabic …

We have had a few classes (or conferences, as the schedule calls
them). One on Moroccan cultural customs, for which we received a very
traditional, conservative approach. The assistant director of the
Language Institute, Sidi Bagdadi, later told us that he couldn’t care
less about some of the ‘unbreakable rules’ earlier imparted. We had a
two hour introduction to Arabic, which leaves me excited to start
Arabic at Carleton in the fall (I hope the rumor is true! – Dana said
the department is finally underway of development). We also had a
class about Islam in the country, which talked about the different
factions that are cropping up, and some of the dissention in /fatois/
that appear within the country, but are generally hidden from the
outside world in order to present a unified front. We wandered through
the medina with a guide who took us to a rug merchant, leather
merchant, spice merchant and finally to a gorgeous view above the
city. We ate at the house of a local Haj, with no real interaction
with his family. Actually, his colleauge, Sidi Bagdadi, was the real
liaison in the conversation. The wife and children of the family were
heard but not seen. I would have liked very much to try out the
pitiful few Arabic phrases we learned, as well as to have a genuine
conversation with non-Carls.

For next Tuesday, four of us have plans to learn to cook couscous,
tagine and perhaps a vegetable dish with lala Laila, the head cook at
the villa, or the apartments for some American students we met earlier
in the trip. Tomorrow we are going to Meknes to visit a school and the
ruins of Volubilis. After, depending on the weather, we might go to
Rabat for the weekend to hopefully meet up with Fouzia’s niece, Rabia.
We also want to spend much more time in the medina and perhaps find a
traditional bath to enjoy.

All that I can think of to impart for now… I hope my description was
sufficient to take you from your computer (or the snow falling
outside, for some – sorry)

Paris will be quite a jolt after this. I will be happy to be able to
go back to Fouzia, where everything I say will be not news, but memory
to her – I hope that will make things easier.

LOVE to all. Please send me your news as well!

Chelsea Rae


I apologize ahead of time – this will be obnoxiously long.

The rest of the first week in Morocco passed with little note. We had
some conferences, a class with Dana, fabulous lunches at ALIF
(Arabic/American Language Institute in Fes) and uneventful nights at
the local restaurant, where we had both fabulous and crazy waiters.

Friday we spent the day driving a lot! We took a car and bus to the
ruins of Volubilis, an ancient Roman site dating back to the 7th (this
may be wrong) century. We also stopped in Meknes, and found the medina
there to be much more accesible than that of Fes. It does not in any
way impart the same feeling, though. We visited an underground prison,
which had been completely hidden by the royal family. Many Spanish and
Italian prisoners were kept there, bound vertically hand and foot to
walls with absolutely no light … the guide kept stressing that it
was right below the king’s garden of reception – whenever he had
visitors, they walked over the prison without knowing anything. The
way to get in was inside the palace through a secret underground
passageway. In Meknes, I bought a teapot. It’s very old, silver and
traditional Berber. (To greatly simplify) the Berbers are the
indigenous group to Morocco; they contributed greatly to what are now
considered cultural mainstays in the country, as well as the dialectal
Arabic of Morocco. I made friends with the bus driver, who spoke
French with a thick accent and not a word of English. We bonded over
the radio (2M, a very popular channel that is also a television
station). We translated some things for each other; he turned it up
whenever I demonstrated that I liked the song … he even honked to
the beat when I sang some Shakira.

For the weekend, John, Hannah, Julianna and I decided to stay in Fes
and try to make the most of the medina. We had only been once as of
last Friday, and it was guided with a focus on monuments and historic
sites, not really on personal interaction. Saturday, upon our arrival
at the medina, we were immediately attacked by a number of guides.
Every direction we turned, there was a different young man waiting for
us. On top of that, it was clear that we didn’t know where we were
going – we just wanted to explore independently, get lost if it came
to that, and try to do a class assignment, based on book we had of the
medina, which was supposed to tell us somewhat where to go – it didn’t
help! Finally, we shook them and managed to begin walking through the
medina … well, at that point, I was hobbling. I twisted my ankle
sometime ago and I am still waiting to find out what I can do about it
… The end of the day was the best part. We stopped to rest at prayer
time and ended up making silent friends with many children. Two boys
sat and whispered nonsense syllables at us; one little girl of about 2
years old came up to Julianna, said, “Pardon,” and gave her bisoux
(the cheek-cheek kiss the French are famous for); another little girl
commenced to jump rope right next to us – the smile on her face was so
enchanting. She looked so pleased to be in our presence – what a gift!

Sunday was by far the most eventful day of all. The four of us toyed
with the idea of trying to find a taxi to visit Meknes again, but
decided to return to the Fes medina and do the best we could to shake
any persistent guides. We went in the Bab (port of entrance) we had
left the day before, as it had been relatively lowkey and there hadn’t
seemed to be the same ‘tourist trap’ as the first Bab we had chosen.
Right away when we got there, we hit a clothing and shoe bazaar. We
started talking with a young man who seemed eager to practice his
English. Then we came to an older man who also spoke English, but with
colloquialisms straight out of the 70s. They battled for a while in
English, trying to prove that one knew better slang than the other.
The older man won out with ‘Black Power Supa Fly’ directed without
introduction at yours truly. We started to walk away, but he went
around another way and found us at the door of the next shop. He
invited us in for tea, which we decided to do … two-ish hours later,
we were ready to go. In the meantime, we had enjoyed some fabulous
mint tea; the company of Hashmi (the toothless old man); his nephew,
Abdellah (or Abidine, his Berber name); photos of the family,
including a wedding, and desert excursions that Abdellah makes every
year with some friends of his from Japan in the summer to film; three
communal hits of hash and finally photos of John in Hashmi’s djllaba
(robe).

We left in good spirits and ready to greet a totally different day in
the medina. We stopped to buy some dates, some lkhobz (bread) and to
take photos of some dappled sunlight coming in from the woven roof
over a medina main road. Shortly thereafter, we stopped in a shop with
pretty earrings. The prices were introduced as fabulous, so we decided
to spend more time there looking at other things. John sat down to
some apple shisha (hookah) and the brothers invited us to stay in the
back of the store for some tea – not mint, which is rare to find – but
a specialty of the family. We ended up sitting with them, enjoying the
shisha and tea for about an hour. Fouad and Samir also dressed us all
up for “pictures to show our mothers.” That was by far the best part
of our time with them. They gave us their card so we can send them
copies of all the photos and we promised to try to come back to see
them.

Leaving the brothers, we came upon a shoe salesman who was offering
great prices, and who assured us that we made a good choice not to
follow a guide (like Hashmi, who walked by as we stood there buying
some things). Apparently with guides, the prices are always more
expensive. Hannah and John stopped after that to buy some teapots, for
which John got a ‘because you’re a man’ discount, which was novel. I
got a marriage proposal … we stopped to buy a tagine (no
translation, really) … and the day was getting late so we returned
to the hotel via taxi. Hannah and John shared a ‘petit taxi,’ and
apparently had a driver who wouldn’t stop for anything – he took them
around the entire medina and then to the hotel, so they had a
harrowing adventure and gaunt faces upon their return. Julianna,
Hannah and I set up a date with two of the doormen at the hotel,
though Hannah had no intention of going.

The date was at first a bust, as our class took us unexpectedly to the
medina, but we rescheduled for another day. The date ended up being at
a local shisha bar – we walked there in pouring rain, which was
interesting enough to begin with … the language barrier was also
stronger than I had originally imagined. Rachid understands only
10-20% of what I say … Aziz understands more but conjugates
everything with one subject, ‘il’ (that’s like always using ‘he’ for
‘I, we, they’ …) Our questions about their past were always
interpreted about the future, as well. It’s funny to see what people
will do when they can’t use speech to communicate.

We had our cooking lesson on Tuesday with lalla Laila, a woman who
works at the student lodging for ALIF. She speaks English fairly well,
but little French, so we had a fun time with her. The recipe was easy,
and fabulous when we were done. We also found that leftover
(well-flavored) cold couscous tastes great as dip for paprika potato
chips.

Thursday night, we visited a Berber village and the house of a local
government minister to enjoy some traditional Berber dancing and
music. There was a thunderstorm, which gave the whole night an eery
air, but it was great. Upon our return to the hotel, I had a message
from the old girlfriend of the friend of my host father (Fatima) …
we had accidentally missed a rendezvous with her because of class
being much later than we had expected. The woman working the phones
loved my tunic – said it was the first thing she saw when I arrived.
Luckily for her, I had two – now I have a Moroccan twin!

I’m back in Paris avoiding the little homework I have left for
Tuesday’s class. The weather is gorgeous!

The first ‘tour’ of voting is today in France. By tonight, the 12
candidates will be narrowed down to 2. It will likely be between
Nicolas Sarkozy and Segolène Royal (the first possible woman president
of France!). The only other viable option, short of a huge surprise,
is François Bayrou … we’ll see tonight. Patrick, my host father, is
president of the voting office for the area, so we shall see how this
all goes down.

Last piece of news … I don’t have a digital camera, but I have
access to the photos of another student …

Morocco is available at

http://blog.blueplazma.org/photos/album/morocco-07/

and Paris at

http://blog.blueplazma.org/photos/album/paris-07/.

That’s enough for the moment! Congratulations if you read it all 🙂

LOVE. Chelsea Rae


I spent one of my long weekends with the family, family friends and
a-girlfriend-of-family-friend at the family estate in Cabourg.

To begin at the beginning, Patrick originally told me we would leave
on a Friday. Fouzia and Scherezade spent the night dancing until the
wee hours (I think it was 4am?) of the morning. I packed all my bags
and then watched a film, “Les Soeurs Fachées” with teh family turtle,
Carolina (according to Alexandre), Aicha (according to Fouzia) or the
nameless (according to Antoine), for company. (Scherezade is a family
friend who is from Algeria. SHe has also lived in Russia and Canada.
She’s in Paris now to finish up her studies in dentistry and I believe
her plan is to return to Algeria when she’s done. She is very close to
Rabia, Fouzia’s niece who recently moved back to Morocco, as they have
studied together for a long time.)

The plan then became to leave Paris at around 2pm on Saturday. At 2,
we were still waiting for Scherezade to arrive. Then at around 2:30,
we started waiting for Patrice (a friend of Patrick – they used to
work together). We asked Menhel, the local radiologist, if he wanted
to come along, as his roommate had just moved back to Syria and he was
lonely, but he didn’t want to come … At around 3, we heard that
Patrice’s girlfriend would not be arriving at our house, but that we
had to go pick her up … so we left the road in front of the house at
around 4. By 5 we were on the way. We listened to a lovely mix of
French pop from the 60s and Arabic dance music from the 90s all the
way there – constant compromise between Fouzia and Patrick. and I
think we arrived in Normandy around 9pm. Then Alexandre (my host
brother who lives in Normandy) and Aurore (his girlfriend) arrived.

Finding a conversational subject to occupy and interest the whole of
the party was indeed a trying experience, but politics quickly took
over as the presidential elections were at the time still between the
1st and 2nd tour. Somehow we also ended up talking about the
evolutionary tendencies of Arabs towards cold and ended up discussing
contemporary revolutionaries. Patrice, who loves to hear himself talk,
droned on about his ‘personal’ (this is fabricated, more felt than
actual) relationship with Ché Guevara and I was then pressed to
explain the importance and historical presence of Malcolm X, though
more than half in attendance didn’t know who he was. At some point,
there was also a sort of ‘question-answer session’ with me concerning
the US and its myths. That was very interesting, as the information
imparted by translated television and dubbed films understandably
misses some things. Patrice had me laughing with all the
contradictions he tried to make – he seems to think that his having
spent some time in New York in 1986 means that he understands the
‘American mentality’ better than those who have lived there for their
lives since then (ie: me).

Sometime that night, Ralid popped in … he’s a local Moroccan who
owns an eatery and creperie. He reappeared many times during the
weekend, to have a chance to speak Arabic, to enjoy the company of so
many new faces, and on the last day, to annoy Patrick by insisting on
giving me bisoux about 25 times more than he needed to.

To complete the scene, some details of the madness are helpful.
Patrice and Anny commenced drinking wine from the moment we arrived.
With the exception of the the ‘morning’ (read: before about 10:30ish),
the drank wine non-stop. Aurore doesn’t speak to anyone – she brings
out her two mangy, tiny black kittens from time to time and traps them
on their leashes only to let them go again, whereby they trap
themselves under furniture. Alexandre seems to want to talk with me
but we can’t seem to find topics that both of us are interested in or
that I have enough vocabulary for. He is delightfully sarcastic, with
‘un humour fin, très fin,’ (a refined sense of humor) according to
Fouzia. Patrick is obsessed with Segolène Royal and won’t stop talking
about how the country will turn out if one or the other candidates
wins. Socialist, Marxist and Anarchist ideology runs rampant between
Patrick, Anny and Patrice. They enjoy arguing among themselves about
which ideology should push forward the agenda of left-wing France
after the elections have finished. Patrice, between trying to prove
that he knows everything and everyone there is to know significant,
loves making crude sexual jokes to his new girlfriend, completely in
the ‘public eye.’From a 62 year old man who has been a professor
around the world, it is hard to swallow in that it’s completely
without charm but fascinating as he seems so preoccupied with the
topic of himself and his ‘talents.’Scherezade for a day and a half
refused ‘tutoyer’ Anny, which means to establish the informal ‘you’
form in conversation. She insisted that it was due to the size of the
group, the French language and her habits … but she had tutoyé(d)
(yay, franglais!) everyone else.

Our banal conversation takes on a curious multilingual complexity.
Everyone of course speaks French, but also thrown in during random
moments of muttering to oneself or attempts to share other languages
are Russian (Scherezade lived there for 10 years and Patrice knows
about 20 words), Italian (Anny is a French-born Italienne who loves to
ask simple questions in the language of her father), Spanish (Patrice
taught for 4 years in and around South America and likes to confound
those of us who don’t speak it and/or try to get Aurore to talk),
English (Fouzia, Scherezade, Alexandre, Patrick and Patrice are all at
different levels of efficacy and like to practice with me), Arabic
(spoken between Fouzia, Scherezade, Ralid when he is there, and
understood by Alexandre, Patrick and Patrice) and German (between
Patrick and Alexandre). I felt like I was living in the middle of
‘L’Auberge Espagnol’ (for those who haven’t seen the film, I strongly
recommend it!).

The next morning, I met Patrick’s father. He is an elderly man,
difficult to understand and full of questions and facts. He and
Patrick don’t resemble each other at all – in act or physicality. We
went to his apartment in a neighboring town a few days later to change
the light bulb and he practically trapped me in the kitchen for
conversation. There we have completed our character list…

To set the stage, the house… reminds me of the game Clue. Like a
murder mystery should take place within and any of us would be equally
strange suspects in the crime. Instead of conservatories, studies and
libraries there are only bedrooms. Three floors, all decorated à la
Maroccaine, with divans and scarves everywhere in soft lighting
inviting naps. The architecture is reminiscent of dollhouses, with
doors and windows that look too small for real people. All the walls
are covered in horrible flashy floral or striped wallpaper. Like a
dollhouse, there are all sorts of trinkets in the rooms – colorful
brooches, antique-store-worthy perfume bottles and coral cameos; old
photos without captions or smiles; stuffy, heavy fabric on the
furniture; a dining room that connects to the first floor bathroom.
Everything has been draped with Morocco to comfort Fouzia into feeling
like she is home. Nestled next to dusty geisha dolls with distorted
faces and shapeless hats with rolled brims is jewellry from the
medina. The kitschy lamps and fake flowers are wrapped with scarves or
sitting on handwoven Berber rugs. The organization of the house is
undeniably ‘Normandy,’ making the stack of books in Arabic, a poufe, a
peeking geometric pattern, the necklaces hanging from haphazardly
oriented nails in the walls and the stack of babouches when you come
into the house from the kitchen feel like an interesting blend.

The region feels like small town appeal + wealth, though Patrick tells
me the locals aren’t at all wealthy. That’s apparently more the
Parisiens who come up whenever they feel the urge. Yachts, horse
racing, tennis, weekend property with beach front access and small
town closeness characterizes what I saw. White wooden doors and thick
casing distinguish the houses from each other. Cobblestone entries and
walkways connect the city built on clay.

We spent the weekend enjoying the sun when it came out, trying to
enjoy the beach (it’s considerably more windy that at the house, which
is about 10 minutes walking distance), eating chocolate, dancing to
the salsa and meringue that Patrice brought to get himself ready for
his upcoming trip to Costa Rica and napping. Patrick also took me on a
tour of the region by car. We passed a few castles, dropped by the
D-Day (or J-Jour) Memorial, and passed many a small cluster of homes.

Next installation … London and Liverpool.

Chelly Rae


I went to the United Kingdom … I left Paris on the 3 May and
returned on the 8.

The train left Paris about 5pm, arriving in the London station about
8, their time (you gain one hour during travel). I spent most of the
train ride catching up on reading, listening to music and admiring the
French countryside at a speed of about 185 miles per hour. I was under
the ocean for only about 30 minutes. Upon arrival, I met up with
Maureen Barradas, a friend from Carleton. She is on a similar program
with Carleton in London for the same amount of time, staying in a
hostel and taking in enough theatre to make anyone jealous of her
opportunities. The night was uneventful, a blustery, cool Thursday
evening. We enjoyed some Thai at a local restaurant and stayed up
talking about our relative Europes. For example, the first thing I
asked upon arrival in London was “What are the rules on eye contact
here?” which seemed to shock Mo, as there are none that she could
note. I, on the other hand, have grown rather accustomed to sneaking
glances at others in the public of Paris, avoiding eye contact at
almost any cost. Even when the person is intimately pressed against
you in the metro, the bus or a ticket line, you look casually at your
shoes or fiddle with your jewelry or something.

The next day, we took a whirlwind tour of the city, squeezing in more
than I think I’ve done anywhere else ever in an amazingly short amount
of time. Thankfully, Mo knows where she’s going, so we got everywhere
without too much problem … also, the whole country understands you
when you ask a question, and the same “Is this grammatically correct?”
anxiety doesn’t pop into my head when asking things in English. We
managed to get to the British Museum, where there was a beautiful and
somewhat haunting exhibit on the relationship between the Atlantic
slave trade and current practices in Benin with illegal transport of
charred-to-inflation petrol cans. We also stopped by the enormous
section of the museum dedicated to Egyptian history. The Rosetta stone
(the real one) is there, and some fabulous sculptures and
preservations of installations.

We then went to Leicester (read: “Lester”) Square to see Chinatown and
the square, of course… We enjoyed some great food and tea at Wong
Rei and then Mo shared with me a new delicious food discovery – red
bean sesame balls.

We walked to Covent Garden and on the way stopped by a vintage store
full of amazing dresses, hats, and general ensembles. The woman
working really knew how to put things together – of course, the
quality of items corresponded well with the prices (already ridiculous
in Central London, where everything is priced like the dollar, but the
pound equals two dollars …) were beyond my grasp. We left with some
imaginary nostalgia for memories we’ve never had and made it to the
market just in time to see a man put himself into a strait jacket
(with the intention of getting himself out … rather violently, I
might add). We peered into the little ‘shops’ and sought some fudge
that Mo said was incredible, despite being full from lunch and sesame
balls. Fortunately – or perhaps unfortunately – it had moved locations
and so we missed it entirely.

We took the Tube then to Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and took some great
photos. One notably just before we approached Millenium Bridge of the
two of us was taken by a local woman who apparently had no idea how to
use a digital camera, since we were sideways-ish in the photo. We both
got some photos on the River Thames (read: “temms”) off of Millenium
Bridge.

Crossing it, we arrived at the Globe Theatre, the ancient haunt of
Shakespeare. It was closed due to the opening of Othello – I think –
that night. But we still managed some photos outside.

From there, we walked a few yards to the Tate Modern, another museum.
I snuck a photo of a Manet masterpiece, which I was apparently not
supposed to do (they didn’t post it!) The museum is set up to mingle
sculpture, paintings, films, sketches and more all together. Many
famous and some completely unknown (to me) artists were on display …
I remember a really strange film by a woman named Francesca something
or other where she was nude and kept filming herself behind a piece of
white paper on which she would write her name and then break through
the paper. Silent and black and white, made in the 70s, I think…

Upon leaving, into the (now bitter) cold, we took the Tube again to
Westminster Abbey, Parliament Square and Big Ben. Ben is not really
that big, in my opinion. I saw many other clocks that looked to be of
the same-ish size while in the UK… hmmm. Maybe I should learn the
history and not just the title? Parliament Square is pretty… that’s
about all I’ll say. Westminster is gorgeous. Especially if you get
lost behind it and accidentally find yourself in the central courtyard
where school boys are playing soccer with their uniforms still on from
class earlier. We snuck in and ‘stole’ some photos, all the while
watching out for guards or others. We only saw students and a couple
who ‘snuck’ in the same open door we did.

We Tubed home and went to Hummus Bros. (a new chain I highly recommend
to anyone who finds it – completely fresh hummus, warm pita, free
Wi-Fi, and a student discount) for dinner. We got free mint tea for
dessert, though it was sadly nothing like Morocco or Fouzia … a mint
tea bag in a cup with hot water is not longer ‘mint tea.’

We spent some hours back at the hostel relaxing and destressing from
the tension that cold causes. … then we went out to Ruby Blue in
Leicester Square. The music was just what I’ve been looking for (sort
of) in Paris. Danceable, slightly out-of-date hip hop and r&b with
tons of people who can’t dance! I got my picture taken for the
website, but I don’t think I made it into the final cut… oh well. I
had a great time. I even shared some salsa with a French man who had
just moved to London. He appeased my ‘everyone speaks English here!’
anxiety, although I couldn’t hear him very well over the music. We got
back at about 4am and tried to fall asleep, knowing full well that we
(or at least I) needed to be awake at about 8am to check again whether
or not I could get to Liverpool.

The problems with getting transportation to Liverpool abounded… I
had no coins and so couldn’t use the payphone in the hostel. Mo’s cell
phone didn’t have minutes left (so we thought). Everything I could
find for a while was way outside of my budget, considering that I was
planning on spending half Saturday, Sunday and Monday outside of
London. Finally, finding a Megabus fare for only 18.50 pound (37
dollars), we found that the website wouldn’t accept my card. I tried
both of mine, and Mo even tried hers. We finally called the help line,
where they told us that US credit cards were not valid for the
transaction. I managed to get ahold of Sarah (the friend I was trying
to visit) to ask if she couldn’t help me out (this was a stretch, as
she is ALSO American…) but she was willing and able, so tried with
her girlfriend’s card. We had left it at that on Friday, then found
out Friday night that the transaction hadn’t gone through on Sarah’s
end, either…

Here was I Saturday morning, unstable phone connections (the payphone,
when I found coins, didn’t accept calls to the bus line), no ticket,
and having recently found out that the bus I wanted for Monday night
wouldn’t exist because it was a national holiday and I would therefore
have to hurry to get the Tuesday return ticket that got me back to
London in time to take the train back to Paris under the ocean again.
Eventually, Mo discovered that her phone DID actually have minutes, so
we called a different help line where I spoke with a woman about the
problem. She assured me that it was a problem on their end, something
about the mechanism that checks credit cards, which explained why
Sarah’s transaction hadn’t gone through. But I still had no way to
pay, as one is not allowed to pay upon arrival in the London location
… until she decided to give me the voyage for free. At this time,
the cell phone conveniently announced that there was one minute of
service left … so I hurriedly gave her my email address and waited
about 10 minutes to see if the confirmation had arrived in my inbox
… it had. I arrived at the bus stop early, ready to show the bus
driver the scrap of post-it I had scribbled the confirmation number
on. I finally left London at about 5 that afternoon, having left a
message at Sarah’s that I would be arriving in Manchester (not
Liverpool, as thought) at 10, and that I hoped she would do the same.
Luckily, she did. I was therefore able to spend the rest of my time
content with her, Kiera, and Kiera’s family.

The first night in Lydiate (the small town paired with Maghull just
next to Liverpool), I had traditional, proper artery-choking fish and
chips. We spent the next day touring Liverpool a bit, visiting
Liverpool Cathedral (enormous, quite majestic), eating at a restaurant
named the same as a casino in Vegas, and getting generally stopped by
the rain and traffic of the day. The next day, we tried Liverpool
again, this time stopping by the double Liver bird towers, after which
the city is named, shopping a bit for the house that Sarah and Kiera
are moving into soon, and stopping by the World Museum, a combination
science-history museum (it depends on what floor one is on) to check
out myriad of Egyptian artifacts (apparently this is a big theme in
the UK, Kiera says it’s the culture that grade school kids study the
most), the largest seed in the world, an ant farm and more.

I left then next morning from Lydiate at 5:20 and Manchester at 6:45,
with the intention of arriving in London (according to the bus
schedule) at 11:15, with enough time to take the Tube to the train
station to leave for Paris at 12:09. I arrived in London at the
Victoria bus station with about 12 minutes … traffic had been bad.
It turned out that I missed the train by 3 minutes, but the man who
helped me switched my (non-refundable, non-changeable) ticket for 4
that afternoon. I got a lot of homework done in the train station and
eventually arrived back in Paris around 9pm, which surprised Antoine
who hadn’t been expecting me until the next day!

Now I’m back in Paris, enjoying astounding lunches in parks and the
book that Patrick bought me about a woman raised as a man in Morocco.
Details another time …

My last plea to you to send news of yourself – especially if you
haven’t and I won’t see you this summer!

Chelsea Rae

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