life of m

Sustaining the Self and Beyond


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It’s about the adventure

In my life after being a park ranger, I have become a kind of Renaissance woman, cobbling together a humble living as an editor, yoga instructor, and songwriter (the latter has been mostly pro bono since moving to Belgium). Editing tends to be slower in the summer, as the bulk of my work comes from students during the fall and spring semesters of the academic year.

 

To keep myself busy, I pore over animal adoption sites in search of a dog I might be able to convince my husband to let me bring home. I study texts about philosophy and the path to enlightenment, I practice handstands at the wall, and I go for walks. I also do a lot of writing.

 

Since we are on a limited budget with my work being part-time and even less than that during the summer months, I have also begun researching different foods that I would like to be able to eat but cannot really order at restaurants, essentially because we don’t ever go to restaurants in order to save money. My most recent epiphany was that I should try to make dim sum. This revelation came when our favorite couscous stand was absent from the Sunday market in Boitsfort, so we opted for Thai and Balinese. Both were super overpriced, which completely bummed me out. The Thai food was disappointing all around, especially toward the end when I found a hair in mine (this is never fun). My husband suggested that I pretend I didn’t see it, but I was not very successful in this endeavor. The dumplings from the Balinese stand cost 8 euros for four tiny morsels. The shrimp dumplings were amazing, but the friend sesame ones filled with red bean paste were pretty sad.

 

All told, we spent 7 euros for the sad Thai noodles, 8 euro for the dumplings, and 5 euros for two glasses of white wine. The wine won on all fronts.

 

Maybe, I could just figure out how to make the foods I love to eat? I suggested to my husband.

 

Go for it, he acquiesced.

 

Ok, so 20 euros on the Sunday market lunch was nothing when compared with the small fortune I spent at three different Asian markets and two western grocery stores this morning and afternoon. My morning trip was shared with all of the adorable, old ladies of Watermael-Boitsfort, who left their carts sitting in the middle of the aisles so it took me a while to wind my way from one end of the store to the other.

 

My day of adventuring began with a visit to an Optician for an eye exam. Learning about inner workings of the health care system in Belgium is also a challenge, particularly when French is not my native tongue. I had a lovely time visiting with the Optician and asking all kinds of questions about the machines and method he used, all the while trying to decipher the code and meaning of his explanations, which were, of course, all in French. It turned out that I had gone about the eye care process in reverse, as most people began with a visit to an Ophthalmologist to test for tension in the eyes, glaucoma, and an overall medical exam, which an Optician could not provide. (At least, the eye exam was free!)

 

Learning the ins and outs of a foreign culture is an exhausting adventure, which requires figuring out public transit systems, following maps to find venues that Google claims exist but in actuality have long since closed, and beyond. My stamina is not what it was ten more more years ago when I last lived in a foreign land; however, I somehow made it through an eye exam and a visit to five different grocery stores (the sixth had come up as an Asian market but did not look like through the windows, so I didn’t go in because at that point I was beyond exhausted). The final stop of my day was also the highlight. I found the Alimentation Asiatique and quickly befriended the owner.

 

His name was Wang, and he was delighted when I asked if he could help me find some items.

 

Do you like Chinese food? He asked me.

 

I do! And I love trying new things.

 

Then you must try the radish. I just opened some. You can try first before you decide to buy it.

 

He went into the back and brought out a pair of chopsticks and bowl of radish coated in something red, which looked spicy and dangerous for my sensibilities.

 

Can you use chopsticks?

 

I can, but I am not sure I hold them correctly.

 

I modeled my chopstick holding stance.

 

Good enough, he said. He was now speaking in English, explaining that he spent three years studying in New York. Apparently, most of the English speakers who came into the shop had British accents and had a hard time understanding his English.

 

I have a hard time understanding a British accent.

 

Me, too, but it’s so wonderful.

 

It is! I love British English accents, I agreed.

 

I gingerly picked up a piece of the radish, brought it to my mouth, and smiled.

 

It’s so good! Definitely spicy.

 

And it’s very cheap. Everything here is much less expensive than other places because we sell to restaurants.

 

He continued: Where are you from?

 

The United States.

 

Where?

 

Arizona, but I have lived all over. I started listed states on my fingers.

 

You are very nice. You smile all the time. I can tell it is because you travel a lot.

 

Well, not everyone who travels is nice.

 

True, but we can ignore the people who aren’t nice.

 

Yes, we can.

 

I went through my ingredients list, asking about different items. When I asked him if he had red bean paste, he lit up, handed me a can, and told me how his mom would put red bean paste into things she cooked as a treat for him when was a child.

 

We then spoke about our moms and how their cooking is wonderful and full of love.

 

My mom lives far away, so now I have to try cooking things myself, I said.

 

Wang was all about helping simplify my cooking experience. He suggested that I buy frozen dumpling wrappers and already made ravioli.

 

I explained that I really wanted to try making the recipes myself but that I would buy some ready made to put in the oven if I failed so I could pretend that I had made perfect ones.

 

When I asked about bamboo steamers, he said not to waste my money and drew me a picture for how I could put water in a pot and place another bowl inside, covering the pot so the boiling water would create vapors to steam the dumplings.

 

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Later in the evening, when I had spent hours attempting to make the ravioli with the flour I used because I couldn’t find wheat starch, I told my husband that I probably should have listened to Wang.

 

He laughed.

 

We had a good time trying everything. While the proverbial fruits of my labor were a far cry from the photos in the recipes online I had been following, I felt pretty good about my first effort.

 

It’s all about the adventure, my husband said. You should be getting out there, exploring and meeting people.

 

It’s true, I said. Thank you for braving my most recent adventure!

 

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Nothin’s gonna stop the ‘fro

I have had more than a few days where I walk out the front door and, regardless of how I felt when I got dressed, I wind up feeling like the biggest frump in Brussels. Every person I pass seems so put together and stylish, like they intrinsically understand how to pair articles of clothing, footwear, jewelry, and accessories.

Given the choice, I have pretty much always chosen function and affordability to haute couture. For this reason, I am often loath to walk into a fancy boutique. I do sometimes wonder what would happen if I walked into a clothing store and ask for the person to pick out clothing for me. They may tell me that they are not personal shoppers, but perhaps they will take pity on the poor American who has zero understanding of fashion sense.

I am pretty sure that if I invited them into my home, they would take one look at my closet and set a torch to it. No more comfortable sneakers, no more threadbare shirts, no more hooded sweatshirts.

What then? Panty hose that cannot possibly keep me warm in the wind, rain, and hail of balmy winter in Brussels? (Forget the fact that pantyhose would be lucky to last five minutes before my propensity for clumsiness led to their demise.)

I’m sorry, but freezing for pantyhose will never be my slogan.

So, when I don my quick drying stretchy yoga pants, t-shirt, sweatshirt, winter coat, and sneakers for a walk through the forest, I walk past many pairs of heels and pointy leather boots on my way. Even in the sanctuary of the forest by our apartment, I pass people dressed I would refer to as one’s Sunday best. Every day must be Sunday in Brussels.

My reticence is not limited to clothing stores. I have a universal ominous foreboding before entering any kind of hair salon, be it in the United States or Europe. If I don’t get dressed up to go for a walk in forest, rain or shine, why would I spiffy up to get my haircut? I am just going to come home and take a shower to wash away all those irritating tiny hairs that tickle my neck.

Apparently, not all days are equal for getting your hair cut in Brussels. Friday and Saturday are fancier (aka, more expensive). At least, this was the case when I walked down to Boitsfort proper to search out a place to get my hair trimmed this afternoon in my usual black stretchy yoga pants, 15-year-old pink Mazama goat t-shirt just barely holding on to existence, and my five ten sneakers.

I asked the woman at the register if I needed to make an appointment. She had blonde, sort of curly, sort of straight hair, and I couldn’t tell if it was wet or dry but thought the wet appearance may be from the bottle of gel she must have used to create the façade of curls. If my hair was straight, I would just dance for sheer joy rather than wasting my money on gel, but they say the grass is always greener.

Ever since I was young, older and very old women have been telling me to thank my lucky stars for my frizz, but I must not be old enough yet to agree.

Of course, I still have such a baby face that most people think I am still a teenager (I am super jazzed when someone guesses 22 instead of 14, especially when it is an old man hitting on me. Seriously, if you think I look 14, what are you doing flirting with me, creeper?). Suffice it to say that women with straight hair and/or new perms like to gush over my hair.

I will trade you, I respond to the little old lady getting her hair permed, and she shrieks with laughter, winks, and waves her hair at me in an Oh, you joker gesture.

What? I was totally serious!

I also have come to realize that looking young means it takes something extra for people to take me seriously, be it sarcasm, attitude, or talking about my PhD research. Would Europeans get a Doogie Howser reference?

Well, there were two older ladies at the hair salon this afternoon, but they didn’t pay any attention to me.

Blondie at the register told me a hair cut cost 42 euros. I asked if I could skip the shampoo, and she looked at me like I was insane and explained that it was included.

I sat down on a chair by the shampooing sink and waited while the woman next to me had her hair conditioned and temples massaged. Maybe getting a shampoo wasn’t so bad after all. If the extra cost went toward a scalp massage, I could dig it.

My turn came for a shampoo, but it was anything but relaxing. The woman gave me a brief scalp scratching and asked if I wanted conditioner, which I refused because it was un supplement (aka, an additional fee). Seriously? This isn’t Paris. How does a 42-euro haircut include shampoo but not conditioner? Had she not seen the state of my hair when I took out my ponytail holder? You don’t voluntarily get my hair wet without conditioner somewhere nearby. Oh well, I figured she would put some leave-in conditioner after she cut it.

She rinsed my hair, filling both ears with a cascade of water, and I cringed until it was over. I was directed to a chair, and my hair was brushed minus any kind of conditioner with a large-toothed comb. To give her some credit, the woman did apologize, though I could have explained to her that nothing she could do could hurt my skull, which had been thickened by over three decades of life with tangles (Johnson’s No More Tangles has got nothing on this head of hair). I think my nerve endings have lost their will to live from so much yanking and pulling. I figured out several years ago that my mom didn’t keep my hair an inch long when I was little just because it looked cute (which it did) but for her and my sanity. Every few months when my hair was long, she would have to corner me, and I would scream and cry while she tried to untangle the bird’s nest my afro had become. Seriously, if there is a god in this world, they have a sadistic sense of humor, and I am not sure what I did in my past lives to deserve a life of frizz.

At one point while she was clawing through my wet hair, she made a face, picked something out, and flicked it aside. It kind of reminded me of a wildlife documentary with monkeys picking insects out of each other’s hair. I tried to imagine the David Attenborough narrative.

Here in the chair sits a specimen that is the result of genetic experimentation with the texture and shape of body hair. Beside her stands a superior genetic conglomeration. They are engaged together here in a kind of interchange. Notice the look of disgust on the face of the other homo sapiens as she performs a kind of cleansing ritual.

When I looked at her questioningly, she responded, pélicule. I raised my eyebrows?

Qu’est-ce que c’est pélicule? She called out to wet-dry straight-curly hair blondie, who was blow drying the hair of woman a few chairs down (at least she got to sit down for this humiliation).

Je ne said pas, came the response.

Ça veut dire que c’est sec? I asked and pointed to my scalp.

Oui.

J’utilise shampoo pour ça.

She smiled.

Lovely, now I was not only frumpy and unfashionable with unkempt hair, but I also had my dandruff on display.

But I digress.

Salon woman asked me to stand up and walk behind the chair.

What, I can’t even be comfortable for this torture? I thought.

Apparently not, but for the 42 euros must be charged by the second because it was literally the shortest haircut I had ever experienced. I think it took less than five minutes for her to cut my hair. No putting it up in a clip and taking some down to cut one section at a time.

It was like a hit and run with scissors.

She had me sit down, and I figured this would be where she would put something in it so it would dry nicely. Instead, she blow-dried the front and left the back half dry so I left looking like a weird frizzy cactus. I know cactus paraphernalia seems to be a thing in Brussels (I have seen stuffed cactus at Ikea, clubs called Le Cactus, and there is even a sugary beverage that is likely some kind of prickly pear mixed with lemonade), but I didn’t realize it was trendy to dress like one.

When she had finished my cactus do, a man sitting in a chair on the other side of the salon called out in a heavy French accent, dandruff?

Eh? Oh.

The hairdresser walked over to look at the man’s phone.

Oui. C’est ça.

She came back.

Et là, tout le monde le sait/And now, everyone knows I have dandruff.

She thought this was the funniest thing ever and repeated it back to me. Tout le monde le sait. Chuckle chuckle. As always, I am happy to entertain. I am Jewish, after all.

Another time in my life, I might have been horrified and humiliated beyond reason. This time, I just thought the whole thing was ridiculous. Clearly dandruff is not so unusual or they wouldn’t sell so many hair products for those who suffer from it. I’m only human, and my skin gets dry. So sue me!

As we neared the end of our time together, I braced myself for her to recommend one or more expensive products, but she didn’t even try to sell me anything. Perhaps, in her eye was a hopeless cause.

I stood up, and she removed the black smock I had been wearing. I looked in the mirror for a moment and then turned to follow her to the front of the salon. She took my sweatshirt out of the coat closet and handed it to me (at least, she didn’t hold it like she had picked it up out of a gutter somewhere).

When I paid, she explained that Friday and Saturday cost 42 euros while every other day cost 33. Great, so I got to pay extra for my humiliation. Good deal. At least if I were planning on pay for public humiliation, I could have gone on bargain day. (Note: Jews also really like to get things on sale.)

The best deal was that it really didn’t matter to me. Just like most haircuts I have had in the US, she cut more than I had asked for and overcharged me for the experience, but I didn’t feel bothered. I guess I really am growing up. That, or I am a hopeless fashion cause. Either way, I am what I am, and it is a person I have grown rather fond of over the years.


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Karma Sutra

For much of February, I have been experiencing a deep and aching longing. Some mornings, I wake up feeling such intense heartache and homesickness that only the prospect of a hot cup of coffee can get me out of bed.

 

Brussels is much like western Washington and southeast Alaska in winter: grey, overcast skies mixed with intermittent, driving wind and rain. So great! That hail and horizontal rain sure helps you feel more alive as you running from the metro to the front door. What’s not to love, right?

 

A dear ranger friend from the North Cascades used to say: There’s no such thing as bad weather. While I am not sure I agree with this statement as I am not a husky or bear, I do make sure to venture outside every day, regardless of the temperature. I listen to books while I walk through civilized woods near our apartment in the commune of Watermael-Boitsfort (boitsfort translates quite literally from French to English as strong [fort] woods [boits]), and I take photographs of faces and hearts I find in the rocks, stones, and leaves and in the patterns of bark on smooth, tall trunks of trees.

The woods are lovely, albeit not so dark and deep as those from Frost. Even still, I long for large cottonwood trees and the tiny birds who live among them. I miss giant rocky outcroppings that I used to climb with my dog. I miss the descending faery call of the canyon wren, echoing through the granite dells I once called home.

 

I live an urban existence in Europe. In hindsight, I don’t think I appreciated how difficult it would be to leave a land of wide, open spaces and endless vistas, despite the lure of fresh baked baguettes and patisserie. A sip from the cactus lemon drink my husband recently discovered, however, transports me instantly to the porch of our Arizona home, where we would sit in the twilight, watching the sun go down while sipping cocktails made with prickly pear and grapefruit vodka.

 

One cannot have it all, and I know that even with my heartache I have so much more than many. I have begun volunteering every Monday afternoon at a refugee asylum center in Brussels. There I have met mostly men, some of whom have been living at the center for over a year, and all of whom have traveled alone and survived harrowing trauma. Some whisper pieces of their story to me, and I try not to stand slack jawed while their words penetrate instantly to my own heart. They smile and laugh and even sing the words and phrases we write on long pieces of paper taped to one of the many brick walls of the center.

Their insistence on holding on to hope reminds me of all I have to be grateful for in my own life. Even if it’s covered in mold that makes me endlessly phlegmy, I have a roof over my head. I have love in my life from two- and four-legged beings.

 

The Sanskrit word sutra means string or thread. In Sanskrit literature, a sutra can be a law or philosophy. I wonder about the sutras or philosophies and laws that comprise my life. What are my vows for the way I will walk through this world each moment of every day? I continue to reflect on my ever shifting perspective, the idea of karma, and my small role in a great universe. I don’t quite understand how karma works or what the universe has been trying to tell me these past several years or especially in the past couple of months.

 

Does the universe wish for me to continue practicing non-attachment by the theft of my precious collection of photos from my childhood and the violation and destruction of off-limit space by our now former tenant?

 

It seems clear that the universe wishes to add some levity and humor into the mix. You might recall a post I wrote some time ago about our neighbors in the Dells dramatically auditory and regular sex life? It appears that my karma sutra has returned once more with yet more scintillating sounds echoing between the walls of my old house and those around us. Should this episode prove similar to the previous one in Arizona, nine months to a year from now these will be replaced with sounds akin to the biological repercussions of the former audio track. All I can say right now is thank goodness for the invention of earplugs!

 

Perhaps, the universe is teaching me, through one ridiculous and often difficult lesson at a time, to weave together the energies and meanings I receive from each moment into a life sutra that mirrors my path through this life.

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Creating community in foreign lands

I officially began a new chapter of my life in Brussels, Belgium on December 2, 2016, and it has been a bit of a bumpy introduction thus far. Since I graduated high school, I have moved as often as every few months to one to two years. In this transient life, I often experience a kind of push and pull for change. While I may feel the draw to spread my wings and fly, I feel an equal desire to put down roots and be a part of a place.

 

Each time I move, I experience waves of repercussions in mind, body, and soul. There is grief, curiosity, joy, pain, and a haunting feeling. It is like I have left behind a ghost of my Self in each place I have left, and this ghost version of me checks in periodically to let me know how things are going in the communities I once called home. It’s not always a pretty report, and these ghosts seem to multiply with each uprooting.

 

A friend confided in me recently, I completely resonate with BOTH your missing the Arizona sunshine, and your feelings about uprooting and moving to a new place again…Isn’t it funny the nomad in us that desires this experience, and at the same time we can recognize the challenges that come in the change and solitude. And it takes a lot of intention to build and develop a new community in each and every place we call home.

 

In my years of wandering, I have learned a great deal about my Self and how I create community. As a homebody and introvert, creating community can present a bit of a challenge. I am a musician, so I look for places that host open mics. I have met remarkable and encouraging artists and friends at open mics in Gustavus, Alaska and Lowell, Massachusetts. In these sacred spaces, I have watched little ones take their first steps, found my inner voice and courage to get up on stage, and developed an identity as a performer and member of a musical community.

 

The challenge for me in being a musician is that I like to be in my pjs and cozy on the couch with my sweetie in the evenings. It can take a lot of effort for me to motivate and go out on the town at night. Since arriving in Brussels, I have struggled with Bronchitis and a pretty nasty allergy to mold, so my lung capacity and ability to sing without coughing has been pretty negligible.

 

Another place I have found sanctuary and community has been in a yoga studio. In Lowell, I literally lived across the street from a yoga studio, but I never quite made it to a class. I was working full-time and developing a persona and business as a songwriter and musician. When I moved to Arizona, I felt my Self a drift. I had left my permanent job and identity as a park ranger. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do with my life and I was equally less certain of how to take the first steps on thi path.

 

I went to a talk by a Prescott College alumnus, who had recently returned from three years, three months, and three days of silent retreat in the Chiricahua Mountains of Southeast Arizona. He was inspiring and hilarious. His partner, too, had been on retreat and stayed in a neighboring cabin. Since it was a silent retreat, they didn’t speak to each other.

 

I turned to my partner, who had been my reason for uprooting my Self from my life, job, and community in Massachusetts, and said,

 

I am definitely not ready to be on silent retreat with you.

 

I may not have been ready for a three-year retreat, but I was seeking to do some serious self-work and find direction. I felt a longing for the kind of revelations and grounding that often arise from following this kind of spiritual path, but I had no idea where to begin.

 

After the talk, I looked up the speaker’s website and found that he had a background in yoga and teaching yoga. I also had a friend who had just completed a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) in India, who told me that it was so much more than learning asana (poses). Perhaps, I thought, this might be a good place to start.

 

I found a studio that was offering a 200-hour YTT. Even though I hadn’t practiced yoga for years, I decided to dive in. I joined nine other women and several teachers. It is a unique experience to step into a space with other people and to feel completed accepted and embraced for who I am. From the beginning, I felt a complete and all-encompassing feeling of invitation and love from my yoga community. I also felt encouraged and supported in taking steps toward finding clarity in my own path.

 

Being relatively new to yoga, I could have just taken a class to begin meeting people. However, I have found that I stretch my Self more when I dive very deeply into certain realms of life that seem to warrant extra attention. It was the reason I went through a PhD program in sustainability education and also the reason I left my job to move to Arizona for love.

 

I was lucky in that I found a yoga studio created by a remarkable individual. My teacher offered incredibly depth of knowledge and wisdom and also created a safe space where we could be vulnerable and open ourselves completely to transformation in whatever forms it took. I finished the training and felt at once full, sad, and uncertain of my next steps. I knew that I wanted the feeling of deep self-exploration to continue, but I found my life in limbo once again as my husband began to pursue changes in his own life and career. I wanted to move on to a 300-hour YTT. I also wanted to pursue the school of yoga my main teacher had been most influenced by in her career: Anusara. My husband suggested that I wait and be patient before diving in to another training, especially since we might move at any time. Patience is not my virtue, but I waited.

 

Synchronicity often appears at the most unexpected and most needed of times. I spent a lot of time researching Anusara trainings around the world. When we finally decided we would be moving to Brussels, I did not anticipate that I would find a 200-hour Anusara training taking place at the exact right time within public transit distance from our home.

 

After a month of being sick and relegated to my bed or the couch in our apartment, I nervously stepped onto a tram in the darkness of a January morning and followed my GPS to the Tree of Life Yoga Studio in Tervuren, Belgium. I had no idea what to expect, but I knew that I wanted to feel that magical sense of belonging I had felt when I stepped into the Lotus Bloom Yoga Studio in Prescott, Arizona.

 

I turned left and entered a side street alley and tentatively began walking in the direction suggested by my GPS. I stopped in front of a small brick building with a green sign with a white tree painted on it. I opened the door, and I was instantly welcomed by the warm, smiling face of the studio owner.

 

Relief cascaded over me as I closed the door behind me.

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Where are we going?

I asked my husband this morning if he had read my post about going to Belgium.

 

He read it.

 

Did you like it? I asked.

 

I did. It seems like you could have added more context on Brussels, thought, came his response.

 

So, I need to add more context on how we came to choose Brussels as our intended destination for the next four years and possibly beyond. There is so much to share that I have been searching for the right order with which to unload the events of the past several months.

 

I will start by saying that Belgium was not a part of the dialogue for quite a while. It began with my husband (remember, he is R) researching possible doctoral programs in France and contacting faculty at each institution.

 

R spent hours each day searching for possible programs at French universities. This meant trying to navigate some fairly hopelessly labyrinthine university websites and trying to understand the French university system (bonne chance!).

 

Our first destination became Metz or Nancy in the northeast corner of France, where a couple of faculty responded enthusiastically to the possibility of working with my husband. My husband emailed back and forth with both professors, revising his research proposal to meet their requirements until they sent a message saying that it had changed too much to fit with their research lab.

 

Huh. We were both perplexed, to say the least, but it seems that there is much that becomes lost in cultural translation, particularly when communication happens predominantly via email.

 

My husband wrote back to thank them for their time and also to communicate his surprise at their response. After he had contacted several professors at other institutions, he eventually received an email from the Metz faculty, stating that they would still like to work with him but it might be only one of them rather than both. By that point, we had already moved on to Paris, Lille, or Brussels.

 

R found a professor at a university in Brussels who had written a book he had found in his research and who was a member of a global media ecology network. And so, Brussels entered the scene.

 

The short list soon became Paris or Brussels, and we went back and forth each day on where we might wind up. Writing about it now, it seems a fairly mundane exercise, but at the time the limbo nearly drove me insane from the stress. I live in limbo a lot in my life. Life itself is a state of limbo, and I do my best to practice acceptance of the unknown. However, choosing to actively live in a place of limbo that goes beyond the daily vicissitudes represents a different level of madness. It was in the plane of madness that R and I took up residence until finally deciding on Brussels.

 

How did we decide?

 

Funding was a big issue. If you are over 31 and not a member of an EU country, it is very difficult to get funding for doctoral students in Belgium. While the Brussels program and faculty seemed a better fit than other possible programs, this initial discovery pushed us closer to Paris, where a university in Le Marais arrondissement (neighborhood) of the city had invited R to compete for a scholarship that would provide nearly $2k euro/month for the three years of the program. While Paris was much higher on the list than Brussels of most expensive cities to live in, we could not ignore the relief that a monthly scholarship could bring to our soon-to-be poor graduate student economic status.

 

R spent several more hours preparing a presentation for the scholarship competition and then flew to France (using my miles, I might add….not resentment there).

 

My nerves were nearly shot that week, while I waited in Arizona for news from Paris. R met with one professor whose research seemed a good fit for his interests. She spoke English a bit better than he spoke French, and his description their meeting at a burger joint in Paris was pretty hilarious.

 

She sat there rolling cigarette after cigarette and smoking in the restaurant, he told me. It was so funny. So French!

 

They really hit it off, and she asked R to keep her informed on his decision-making process. He had missed the initial scholarship deadline for the university where she worked in Paris, but sometimes scholarships were not all handed out in the first round and would become available later in the summer/fall.

 

The next day, R gave his presentation to a committee at the CNAM (Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers). He was one of five presenters for four scholarships.

 

In the end, the committee only wound up giving out three scholarships, and my husband was not one of the recipients. The professor he had been working with was not pleased after he spoke with members of the committee. It turned out that the committee members did not think my husband, the research librarian, had included enough research in his presentation. They also seemed to think he was only pursuing a possible paid ride to live in Paris for three years.

 

We were horrified. How could they have such a low opinion of my husband, who had spent hours creating a presentation and flown all the way to France! R was told by his professor and a colleague, who had also been interested in working with him, that ego played a large role in the committee’s decision-making process.

 

In order to demonstrate their point, one of them shared a metaphor about having to shoot a Frenchman several inches above his head because that was where his sense of self existed.

 

R was encouraged to write a letter requesting the committee to rethink their choice to withhold a scholarship for him, but in the end it did not make any difference. We decided that it was a sign from the universe that we were meant to go to Brussels.

 

R traveled to Brussels from Paris, where he spent a couple of days of reconnaissance. He met with professor Yani at the university he would eventually wind up choosing to pursue his doctoral studies. He ate frites and watched the Euro Cup. No waffles were sampled. Shocking, I know!

 

Brussels felt good. R described it as having a very international feel. It was more casual than Paris, and when he spoke French, the people responded in French. The city felt less chaotic and busy than Paris, which he thought might be a good fit for us since we tended to enjoy peaceful quiet.

 

By the time my husband returned home, it seemed that Brussels had risen to the top of the list. Gradually, we were moving through limbo to a state of some certainty.

 

Hip hip, hurray!

 

The process for getting there would prove to be yet another hurdle in our “Europe or Bust” adventure, but that is a story for another day.

 

Stay tuned for musings on the visa application process, which instruments to bring, and what to do with the furry four-leggeds!

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