While this trend is predicted to continue, I wonder, whilst sitting in a living room whose décor bears a striking resemblance to the ’70s, if religion is another aspect of culture that will come and go out of style through the years.
Still, whenever I travel, I find myself stopping in churches, and not just to see if there’s a public toilet. It seems a lot of people do the same.
The Notre Dame may be closed for reconstruction, but it is not short of any visitors around its perimeter. Meanwhile, the Sacré-Coeur Basilica has taken its place as the most-visited church in France. The exteriors of these places seem fair game for pomp and circumstance, with couples often flying in to take wedding photos and many a tourist picnicking upon their grounds. Within the walls of less famed churches, our modality is often different.
The non-parishioner enters delicately. The door is opened with care, voice drops, gait softens, eyes draw up to the ceiling almost instantly, battling the Darwinian phone gaze. Religious or not, its scale and age seems to make even the most obnoxious of personalities feel small, humble, insignificant. This smallness, a feeling which we’re often made to associate with inadequacy, somehow sits more securely within us at church.
Whilst tourists strut down the Champ de Mars like they’re #LivingTheirBestLife, that energy seems to make one met de l’eau dans son vin amidst a place of worship. Whether you are with Jesus, fully irreligious, or looking for a belief system after the past two years of…what the f*ck was that even? Church seems to makes all of us less obsessed with ourselves, even if for a second.
You don’t see anyone snapping at their family cameraman for taking a photo at a ‘bad’ angle, reading Google reviews, or vainly wondering if they are walking around with red wine-stained lips. It’s a place where we can at least pretend to feel a little less insignificant amidst the tumult of our modernity, and the heavens and hells of being human.
So, I went to church. And it made me think about things that are bigger than myself. Whether that is god, the weather, time, or an age before phones and selfies.
I don’t know what place religion has in my life. But, I’ll be back again.
Recently, I relocated from London to Paris with my family.
The old chestnut, ‘tired of London, tired of life,’ could not have been truer. I was tired. Really tired. F*cking exhausted.
After 2 years in the world of Covid, taking Zoom calls from my bedroom dresser-turned-desk, spending more time with my dear husband than either of us had intended when we’d said ‘I do,’ a pregnancy, and getting to grips with newfound parenthood as an expat couple, I welcomed any change of pace.
Paris immediately felt more relaxed. Within days of arriving, I didn’t stress over steering my massive pram down the street or fighting for a spot in the queue at the supermarket. I enjoyed reasserting my humanity by making eye contact and saying ‘bonjour‘ to strangers, and, for the first time months, I was prompted to prepare a real meal.
The preceding months were filled with a fair share of ready meals and take-outs, throwing together a sandwich if I really felt like getting creative. I made sure the fridge was stocked with yogurt and that we were never without bananas, to at least encourage that whole ‘balance’ thing. I’m a healthy eater. I love my veggies and fish and whole grains and all of that stuff. I was just a tired mom. A tired human.
So, there I was in the kitchen. I grabbed a couple of bowls and added some random market veggies I’d previously sliced into kid-friendly pieces and steamed. I threw in some leftover salmon and some quinoa for substance. Finally, I mixed some mashed avocado with yogurt and the juice from a remaining lemon wedge to make a sort of ‘dressing.’
It took me all of 10 minutes.
Bringing the dish to the table, my husband joked, ‘it looks like a French poké bowl.’
He was kind of right – I grew up in the US, where ‘salad’ is usually an enormous bed of leaves with cold cukes and tomatoes thrown in, a bit of protein, and a hefty coating of dressing. As ‘tossing’ is often part of the preparation, there’s no dipping or combining flavours as you eat. Whether good or bad, each bite tastes the same. When I lived in the UK, I found much of the same case, though with different flavour combinations (note to self: never got to try the classic tuna-sweetcorn-mayo combo…pity).
After a month in Paris, I could enter the supermarché without being overwhelmed of its newness, and leave without wondering where the past hour went (I only needed 2 things, damnit!). I’ve became more familiar with the products at my disposal, and look forward to getting my produce on our local market day twice a week. And so, my French poké bowls levelled up even more.
The French, with all the glory of their culinary tradition, are pragmatic cooks at home. They’ve figured out what’s worth spending time on, and what’s worth a shortcut. The average French meal – the type you’d find in one’s home, not a brasserie – is simple.
No one is baking their own bread or spit-roasting their own chicken, because they know where to get it from someone who does it well. A chain store, Picard, only sells frozen food, from stews to pastries. It is damned good and damned popular. In the supermarché, there are several prepared salads of grated carrots, beans, and cubed beetroot dressed in vinegar and mustard. There are pouches of prepared quinoa and lentils à la microwaveable rice, flavoured with herbs and vegetables and cheeses. If you search for salad dressing, it’s either olive oil, balsamic reduction, or a vinaigrette à la moutarde – things that flavour a dish without overpowering its ingredients. Entire aisles are stocked with so many jars of ratatouille that I wonder if any French person has ever actually made the dish from scratch. Perhaps, it’s not worth it.
Maybe the true joy of food culture is not spending hours in the kitchen to have a reliably good meal. Maybe, it’s to make that reliably good meal with as little fuss as possible, and maybe, more importantly, to have the time to share that meal with someone.
I haven’t ordered take-out or eaten a meal away from the table in months. Much like wearing sweatpants in Paris, it feels wrong. Better yet, I’m enjoying sitting down with my family and helping my 7-month-old daughter discover the true joy of food through a variety of flavours…whilst hiding the pâtisserie for myself. For now.
For someone who enjoys exercise as much as I do now, it certainly hasn’t always been that way.
Perhaps it’s a 21st century American norm, but regular movement wasn’t encouraged outside of competitive sport or organised activities. To boot, trying out for sports always yielded the same results – a combination of poor hand-eye coordination, undiagnosed nearsightedness, and general shitness in athletic ability did not bode well for me; thus, here I am writing a blog post instead of showing you a cool football trick.
As such, I’d found professional athletes truly inspiring. Their strong physiques and incredible talent seemed so otherworldy to me that I found my younger self wrought with both envy and obsession every time the Olympics rolled around. Now, not so much.
2008, 6th grade. I’d been signed off from participating in gym class for being underweight. As an alternative assignment to running laps and jumping rope, I wrote an essay on caloric needs and energy expenditure. That summer, there wasn’t a single tabloid that didn’t have Michael Phelps’ 12,000-calorie-a-day diet emblazoned upon its cover. As much buzz as that questionable journalism story incited, I, a dainty 12-year-old girl, was much more interested in gymnastics, a sport I’d dabbled in previously (recall my previous comments about general athletic shitness). I watched Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin perform in Beijing and idolised them – how awesome it must’ve been to be two of the best in the world, to be fit and talented and perfect. My research on their diets yielded some generic comments like eating lots of fruits and veg, protein, and carb-loading the night before a meet. I handed in the paper without revelation about energy needs, if anything wondering how girls who were 5 years older than me could weigh the same and be considered ‘healthy.’ I continued to perceive them as perfection.
In 2012, I fell into the same mania. The US women’s gymnastics team was hyped to the max as they were expected to do well in London. Sure enough, they did, and my idea of perfection was exacerbated by the media’s fulfilment of that same message – from ad campaigns, to meeting the president, to being as fit as fit can be – these girls were perfect.
In 2016, I found myself way more interested in attending music festivals barefoot than watching professional sport (there’s that hippie phase that seems to creep its way into every one of my posts…).
And this year, in 2021, I couldn’t have cared less about the Olympics. However, being 8 months pregnant and sleeping horrendously, I’d occasionally throw it on in the early mornings for background noise, as Covid-era London at 6:30 am seems to have earned the moniker ‘the city that always sleeps.’ I caught snippets of the lot – taekwondo, cycling, weightlifting, gymnastics – finding myself increasingly disinterested by the sport I used to idolise in comparison to other events. I couldn’t help but suspect the petite figures in shiny leotards were a façade. This time, I felt pity.
With age comes wisdom, and with that wisdom, realising that nobody’s perfect. However, it still came as a shock to me when Shawn Johnson came forward in 2015 and shared that in 2008, she’d been restricting herself to 700 calories a day, and that following the Olympics, she’d been abusing Adderall. Gymnastics seemed a little less glamorous.
I was even more shocked when Aly Raisman came forward with her allegations against Larry Nassar in 2017. She’d been out of sight, out of mind to me in the 5 years following her Olympic performance. I never expected the next time I’d see her would be a broadcast of her testimony in a courtroom, one of which personally elicited a rush of tears.
Suffice it to say, I wasn’t surprised when Simone Biles withdrew from her event last month. Was I impressed with her courage in being honest with her struggles? Hell yes. But surprised? I really can’t say I was. Clearly to be a professional athlete is to be under immense pressure, and considering the conversation sparked among other athletes resounding their own struggles following Simone’s statement, this isn’t solely an issue of women’s gymnastics. However, I can’t help but consider that from performance to physical appearance and feminine objectification, the sport encourages a unique toxicity.
I’m glad these athletes have come forward in truthfulness following their competitive years to dispel what is just another projection of perfection in the media. I’m glad that the few who have shared their struggles will only encourage honest discourse to continue. And personally, I’m glad to be an average gal who gets to spend an hour of ‘me’ time in the gym – I’m not sure I’d like to be an Olympian.
Crappy 10-second video clips from a concert. Middle school alum pitching yet another MLM post for some bullsh*t hair or diet product. Unqualified individual who thinks wearing Gymshark gives them the same credibility as a personal trainer. Holier-than-thou woke white culture. Both poorly and well-executed DIY projects. The list of goes on.
Remember me? I’ve been MIA from my social channels lately, and not gonna lie, it’s been… pretty great.
In my last post I talked about dissociation and winter depression, which is something very real that I experience this time of year. In addition to being self-aware of the symptoms associated with that (and since it ain’t my first rodeo with depression), I try not to wallow and take proactive steps in promoting mental wellbeing. Lemme tell y’all something – deleting social media has been a massive relief.
I’ve gone through bouts in the past where I’ve deleted my social media apps for a couple weeks when I thought I was using them too much or they were negatively affecting me. Seven weeks ago, I deleted my Instagram and deactivated my Facebook (honesty check: I did cheat *once* over the past two months and posted one photo on my personal account before swiftly deleting the app again). I can tell you from the bottom of my heart that I do not miss these things at all, and being free of them makes me think, what purpose do these darn things serve?
For a long time, I rationalised having social media as keeping me in touch with my family and friends whilst living in a different country. The truth? That’s bogus! If I want to get in contact with my friends and family, I’ll contact them, or they’ll contact me. If Covid has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t need to frequent social media to stay connected to our loved ones. We can be personal and, y’know, contact those people directly by sending a message instead of liking a photo. Crazy, right?
We can’t discuss social media without recognising comparison. We often call these channels a ‘blog’ or ‘networking platform,’ but we’re kidding ourselves if we don’t consider these descriptors a guise for what we all know is a glorified d*ck measuring contest.* There is a spectrum here – from incessant to sporadic posters, from thirst-traps to those who genuinely want to show something ‘post-worthy’ they’ve seen or experienced. I, like many of us, have several personal achievements in my life, of which I’ve worked really hard for and am proud. Why do I need to post these things? Why can’t they simply exist in my own, personal life? Do I need to share the too-pretty-to-eat meal I ate in a restaurant? Do I need to show off my abs with a sweaty gym selfie? F*ck no! Ready for this wild concept – it’s totally cool and just as satisfying to accomplish and enjoy things for yourself, not for an audience.
If I ever felt tempted to re-download these channels, the ire I’ve felt in writing this post is enough to sustain putting me off. Appreciate the people around you, stop comparing yourself to someone else’s life/body/brunch, get off your phone, and live for yourself – not an app.
*I googled ‘thesaurus d*ck measuring contest’ and was not satisfied with the results. If you know a more eloquent way of communicating what I’m trying to say here, please let me know 🙂
I’ve struggled to find the motivation to write the past couple of weeks, and when considering what to finally write for this piece, I toyed with a few fluffier topics before thinking…why not go for what’s relevant at this moment?
As November creeps up on us each year, I sure as heck begin to feel the onset of seasonal blues. Days get darker and the weather gets colder (in the northern hemisphere, at least – I struggle to accept the fact that my January birthday makes me a summer baby in Australia). That being said, it can understandably be harder to find the energy and motivation that might come more easily when the sun is shining and trees are green.
When it comes to not feeling our ‘best’, the behaviours that commonly come to mind are withdrawing from socialising or other activities, a lack of physical and mental energy, insomnia, eating or sleeping too much or too little. What’s less talked about, but still very real, is dissociation.
What is dissociation, you ask? Allow me…
There are two different types of dissociation, depersonalisation and derealisation – the former being detachment from oneself (think, feeling like an observer of yourself), and the latter being detachment from your environment (think, feeling displaced from your reality). I have never experienced the former, but am familiar with the latter.
I walk. A lot. I’ve touched on this before, but it’s embedded in my day-to-day. While life in the country or ‘burbs might mean you don’t leave your property for a few days at times, leaving the house is critical facet of city life. Every fall, the first sign that indicates the onset of my seasonal blues is usually the feeling that I’m walking around an uncanny version of my environment. My surroundings are recognisable and look exactly as they always have (well, maybe the trees are barer), yet I feel an inkling of something that’s not quite right, as if it’s a copy of my ‘normal’ world.
If it was my first time experiencing this, I might understandably be…scared sh*tless. Much like the first time people experience a panic attack or mood swing, unfamiliarity is what makes the feeling so intense. As I’ve grown to be aware of my emotions, recognising what is happening makes the whole feeling just as real, but a lot less daunting. When we are aware of our emotions, they can feel a lot more manageable. Heck – some people even self-induce dissociation as a coping mechanism. Ever watch mind-numbing TV, have an extra-large glass of wine, or throw yourself into the world of a good book, to escape your own reality? Yep, folks, that’s also dissociating. When I experience this feeling now, I stay in, bake something, read, or snuggle with my dog, and guess what? Within a few days, the feeling passes.
Though you might not have known the name for it, the onset of Covid and lockdown life roused a wave of dissociation over many of us. Even those who don’t normally struggle with their mental health may have found themselves feeling as though reality was akin to being in a movie or dream-state. The new way of the world is certainly not without a new set of psychological stresses, but it can help to know you’re not alone, and you’re not crazy.
Life is full of ‘off’ days (heck – weeks, months, the rest of the Friends theme song) for each and every one of us. We can’t be or feel at the top of our game all the time, and that’s OK. Whether it’s bout of stress, anxiety, depression, or a natural ebb in our cognitive ability, these things happen, and you’re no less of a person for it.
I feel like I’ve been everything – a homebody, a (wannabe) raver, a hippie, an emo, a Debbie Downer, Miss Positivity…the list goes on. And this sh*t started early.
When I was in 6th grade, some emo chick on my school bus asked me, ‘how can you be wearing Hot Topic yesterday and Hollister today?’ While I don’t think the comment was meant to be offensive, my enlightened response today would be something along the lines of, ‘I, uh, changed.’ At the time though, I just shrugged, not really having or knowing the answer other than yesterday I felt like wearing a Jack Skellington t-shirt with fingerless gloves, and today I was feeling this babydoll top layered over a lace cami.
Identity is a tricky one. Some of us know our crowd early on, fostering an identity that fits into an existing mould, thus giving way to a sense of community and belonging. Jocks hang out with jocks. Skater dudes hang out with skater dudes. Bitches hang out with bitches. Christians hang out with Christians. In turn, this results in confidence by knowing who you are, what you do and don’t like, with whom you would and wouldn’t socialise. Feeling assured in such factors confirms one’s sense of self. Those of us who know ourselves and our ‘mould’ are less likely to second-guess our identities. ‘Who am I?’ or ‘is this me?’ or ‘do I like this?’ are not likely to be regular reflections. In knowing and being comfortable with oneself, there’s not much reason to ask these sorts of questions.
I used to view indecision as abnormal. I was too conforming to be a punk, yet too non-conforming – and nauseated at the thought of being – a prep. My music tastes included modern indie and R&B stuff, 90s emo, classic rock (‘classic’ at the time being 60s & 70s), and 80s dance music. Some days I dressed on trend, other days I was bohemian or tomboyish. I might do a full face of makeup, or I might not even run a brush through my hair. Not vibing with most people in my school, I thought inconsistency was to blame – I didn’t fit anywhere. I had eclectic tastes, and therefore I wasn’t deserving to fit anywhere. Who would want to hang out with someone who makes, like, no sense?
Guess what, homies? Plenty of people! And by plenty I really mean only a handful, but let me tell you, that handful is comprised of a few gems. It really is quality over quantity.
When I think of inconsistency regarding my adolescent identity, what I can now identify is a fear of confinement. I was afraid to ascribe any labels to myself, because labels can be, well, limiting. I’d rather be my weird self in pursuit of several odd interests than sticking with a uniform way of socialisation, identity, and interests. I’m Stephanie! Sardonically upbeat, conformer with a rebellious streak, stupidly predictable and yet full of surprises. Nowadays, I’m cool with that.
As it turns out, that whole ‘knowing and being comfortable with oneself’ thing I mentioned earlier is totally achievable for those with eclectic tastes. Not always knowing what you like, and using that as the rationale for continuous exploration, can be just as comfortable as predictably knowing what you like. There is beauty in being open to new experiences and having varied tastes that don’t necessarily make ‘sense.’ And who knows – the hipster chick might blast pop music in her car, and the nerd might love reality TV. We are all capable of variety.
For the first twenty-something years of my life, I was never big into exercise. I’d played lacrosse briefly, danced for several years, followed yoga videos on YouTube every now and again, and went for the occasional morning run (usually out of guilt for eating ‘too many’ carbs the night before). Exercise was never something that was sold to me an activity that was possible to be enjoyable. Instead, I viewed it as punishment.
Welp, a couple of years ago I started exercising regularly to get in shape for my wedding, and that’s when my outlook shifted. I gradually became less intimidated by the gym, eventually branching out and trying different workouts and classes. What amazed me is how varied workout experiences can be in terms of their mental and emotional effects; a run, yoga class, and weightlifting session will each yield different effects on your mind.
Disclaimer that this is purely based on my personal experiences. Different exercises do different things for different people…if it wasn’t that way, then we’d all be doing the same thing or wouldn’t switch things up for variety.
Expect to potentially have some sh*t come up – you do a lot of work that involves opening up the hips which is where we store our delightful friend, trauma. The first couple times I went, I cried as I walked home after class – not because I was in physical pain per se, but because I was releasing tension from an area which I’d probably been protectively storing trauma for…years. After a Pilates class, I feel more reflective and proud than I do ‘refreshed’ or buzzing with endorphins, but that doesn’t make it less beneficial.
Ah, cardio. I’ve both laughed and teared up while running. It is variably exhilarating. Sometimes I feel like I’m raving, other times I feel like I am literally running away from my problems. You’ll often people say some shit along the lines of ‘I’m going on a run to clear my mind.’ Much like meditation, going for a run doesn’t actually wipe the slate clean. The ‘clearing of the mind’ that people are referring to is more like meditation – your thoughts come up, you recognise them, and as you push through your run/jog/bike ride, you push through those thoughts. Capeesh?
Not that all exercise doesn’t require balance or focus, but there is a particular focus on those elements with yoga. Perhaps it’s because an instructor is speaking to you throughout the practice, rather than listening to music in other workouts. It demands mindfulness, balance, and focused breathwork throughout the entire class, in a way that differs to rep-based workouts. It can be strenuous, but in, like, a zen way. For example, with weight-lifting, movements are generally a simple press-and-release. Movements in yoga are continuous and compounded sequences (the word ‘flow’ sound familiar?), thus requiring a more focused attention. It’s kind of like talking to your body.
Kind of like a cross between the effects of cardio and weights. The moves tend to be more bodyweight or lighter-weight focused, though still demand our friends focus and breathwork. HIIT’s all well and good – definitely on trend and an ‘effective’ workout, but it’s personally not my favorite. To me, it feels rushed and thus lacking in the mindfulness department. After 15 minutes of HIIT, I can’t wait for the workout to be over and my mind starts going other places.
Identify the toughest times of your life. Now, imagine being able to beat the sh*t out of them. I got into weights because once I finally obtained abs (which, by the way, weren’t as life-changing as I thought they’d be), my motivations around exercise changed. I didn’t want to do it for the aesthetics anymore. Instead, I wanted to be strong. Weights require focus, form, and breathing. The feeling of pushing your body to its limits in those last few killer reps is f*cking tough, but simultaneously a means of freeing yourself of any aggression, anger, hurt, stress, whatever it may be that ails ya. With every workout, you come out stronger – physically and emotionally.
Lo and behold, exercise can be pretty freakin’ life-changing. While my motivations for getting into it were initially to, y’know, look good, the reason I stick with exercise now is for the mental and emotional benefits. I’d always thought my anxiety and depression were here to stay, but as it turns out, activity dramatically lessens them.
Bear in mind that if you find an exercise you really truly enjoy, you probably won’t mind spending 45 min or an hour doing a workout. It doesn’t always have to be an ‘ugh, let’s just get this done and over with’ situation. It doesn’t have to be punishment. It doesn’t have to be obligatory. Find what works for you, dedicate the time, and ‘wow’ yourself with what you’re capable of – that’s self-care.
Three years ago this weekend, I moved to London. While there were several cultural changes I had to attentively adapt to, one that’s happened perhaps subconsciously over the years is the adaptation of British English into my language. I haven’t adopted an accent, but there are several tidbits that have snuck their way into my vernacular…
Ah, life; it is full of haves and have nots…especially when speaking British English. In the US, I might ask, ‘Did you make dinner?,’ but now, I’ll ask, ‘Have you made dinner?’
Similarly, there’s ‘have got.’ Before my husband and I leave the house, I might ask, ‘Have you got a mask?,’ whereas in the US I’d probably ask, ‘Do you have a mask?’
If I speak with friends and fam from the US like this, I’d probably sound like a pompous ass…but somehow, it flows naturally here.
Nope, it doesn’t mean angry! If someone asks if you’re ‘pissed’ or ‘on the piss,’ they’re wondering if you’ve had one too many pints. Think of it this way: if you’re ‘pissed,’ you might piss yourself. But let’s hope you don’t.
3. Taking the piss
What? More piss? This one’s tricky to ‘translate,’ but there’s a couple interpretations. One, to push one’s buttons/joke around – if I’m making fun of someone, they might say ‘are you taking the piss (out of me).’ Two, to slack off/take advantage of – if someone’s always calling in to work sick because their half-sister’s cousin is having their wisdom teeth removed again, you might say ‘they’re taking the piss.’
Not just for toasting! I admit I do everything in my power to avoid saying this one if I can. It just doesn’t sound or feel natural coming out of my mouth. Meaning ‘thanks,’ I’ll say it if I’ve already exhausted several other ways of saying ‘thank you.’ For example, if someone else is just a step ahead of me as I walk into a building, I’ll say, ‘thank you’ for the first door, ‘thanks’ for the second door, ‘cheers’ for the third door, and pray there’s not a fourth door. This is, of course, based on the assumption that someone a step ahead of me would hold open the door. If not, I have a slightly different approach where I’ll scoff and say ‘f*ck you’ with my face. I’m good with expressions.
Ah, this one comes in handy. Similar to ‘I don’t give a f*ck’ but for some reason, using the word ‘can’t’ makes the f-bomb sound…less offensive? Just as ‘IDGAF’ is a thing, you can be hip and abbreviate it to ‘CBF.’ Alternates include CBA (‘can’t be assed’), or, if expletives aren’t your thing, and ‘can’t be bothered.’ Wholesome, but still gets the point across.
Fancy, high(er)-end, sophisticated. In the US, I think we say ‘nice’ in most cases – having a meal at a nice restaurant, owning a nice pair of shoes. Though, ‘nice’ probably isn’t the best translation as a descriptor of people, cos it seems as though many ‘posh’ people are…not nice? Idk. Think Posh Spice, the poor soul who seems never to smile…not exactly an embodiment of ‘nice.’
OK, so I only say this one here and there. When I first started dating my husband, I told him “I need to get a proper winter coat. Wait – did I just say ‘proper’?” He laughed and told me you’re fully integrated once you start saying stuff like ‘that was a proper night out.’ Welp, I’ve said that now. When my family came to visit us, I gave my mom a bag of Proper Corn and she started pissing herself laughing at the name of it, which then made me realise how foreign this word was before I moved here. Thanks, mom.
Hi, have I mentioned I’m an English grad? Newsflash – we write a lot of papers, so I immediately had to adjust my spelling of oh-so-many types of words. From the ‘o’ to ‘ou’ (think ‘colour’ or ‘behaviour’), changing my zees – pardon, zeds – to esses (‘recognise,’ ‘realisation’). There was an adjustment period here for sure, but now it’s become normalised in my writing. Bonus, it’s given way to a few humorous equivalents. My personal favourite? The UK spelling of ‘skeptic’ being ‘sceptic,’ which reminds me of sh*t tanks.
Bonus round! Words that haven’t come out of my mouth ‘cos they feel like speaking an alien language:
One year ago, I was up at the ass crack of dawn to catch a plane from Stansted with my husband. Four hours later, we were on a graffitied metro from Athens’ city outskirts, eating packets of olives and sesame-covered nuts, on our way to Monastiraki. Our reason for coming? Practically, to connect with our families flying in from the US and Australia to catch a local plane to the island we’d be getting married on days later, and willingly, because who wouldn’t want to visit the home of democracy right before saying ‘I do’?
A true millennial, I pride myself on my Airbnb-hunting skills, and I was looking forward to this one. As we made our way down the main street, past buildings in shambles amongst lively markets and cafes, I became uneasy. We’d been travelling for a while (a downside of living and travelling in Europe – anything over 5 hours suddenly feels like a lifetime) and I wanted nothing more than to settle in our accommodation, and what I hoped would be a ‘good’ area. We arrived to a café covered in ivy and coloured streamers near the end of the Monastiraki market, where we were meant to meet our host. Twenty minutes past with no word from him. Starting to panic, I asked my husband to speak broken Greek to the café host to see if she’d seen anyone. Nope. Forty minutes past, and then one hour with no contact. My husband started looking for local hotels on his phone as I spoke to Airbnb customer service, coming to the conclusion that I f*cked up this time. We were scammed.
Enter: young guy wearing a mis-buttoned Hawaiian shirt and rocking some serious bedhead. He pointed to our suitcases. ‘You are coming for apartment?’ It was near 3pm and he looked somewhere between stoned and freshly awoken from a nap. As I tried to make sense of the last hour and a bit, I came to the realisation that…we were now on Greek time – aka, what is time? I quickly said ‘never mind!’ to the customer support rep on the line and hung up. To my pleasant surprise, the apartment boasted an incredible view that overlooked the symphonic market and tavernas below, ruined and refurbished buildings in front of us, and a view of the Acropolis in the distance (though, most things do).
Finally settling in, we embarked on an afternoon exploration of the local area, which turned out to be the most unintentionally trippy place I’ve ever been in my entire life. Lemme clarify – I lived in Washington state. I’ve been to music festivals. I’ve had a hippie phase. While I associate a psychedelic culture with those things, from clothing and art, to community and music, there is more often than not an intent behind that culture, to be, well, trippy. Athens, on the other hand, wasn’t even trying.
Wandering through the streets, we came across skate shops, art shops, and vintage stores, the only consistent theme linking all of them being unparalleled individuality. Our interactions with the shopkeepers were amongst our first with the locals in Athens, and they were truly gracious; the girl in the kilo shop telling me where else I could find vintage clothes like the items I was buying, the man in the wine shop considering our tastes and recommending a bottle cheaper than the one we had picked out – these interactions set the tone for the kind-heartedness and hospitality we’d receive throughout our whole trip.
Just as prominent as these eclectic shops were the ruins – those of capitalism prior to the Greek Debt Crisis (boarded up banks, abandoned chain retail shops, and graffitied streets), and older still, the ruins of, uh, early civilisation. As a result, what can be best described as an atmosphere of contrast, beauty, and defiance of time. Perhaps (OK, definitely) less formal than shops were street stalls selling collections of what I can only describe as aesthetically pleasing sh*t from peoples’ garages. Laid out in wagons and the street itself, the vendors appeared to never make a sale, but at least enjoyed sharing a cigarette (or 10) in each others’ company.
I like to take things slow when I travel, gallivanting around and discovering what may come, as opposed to meticulously planning and loading my days up with walking tours, itemised sightseeing, restaurant reservations, and so on. As high-strung as I may be, travelling is one thing where I like to go with the flow. Luckily, I married someone on the same wavelength (though our preferences for when to get to the airport are a whole ‘nother story…)
So, after a restful sleep, we muster the energy to visit the Acropolis. As much as we typically avoid ‘touristy’ things, you can’t like, go to Athens and not visit the Acropolis.
Leaving our apartment, we weave through the streets on the outskirts of Monastiraki, lined with more vendors on either side selling jewellery, tchotchkes, and Greek souvenirs, their items laid out against colourful facades of the buildings. Nearer to the ascent to the Acropolis, the buildings in question change from the unassuming to the slightly pretentious; fine-dining restaurants for tourists make a point to advertise their view of the Acropolis. Bro, I don’t know if anyone’s told you, but the thing is on a f*cking mountain overlooking the city. Every restaurant has a view of the Acropolis.
As we travel onwards and upwards, the concentration of commercial buildings thins out, as they are overtaken by residences and the occasional taverna. The journey itself is just as glorious as the end destination. The roads leading to the Acropolis give the sensation of one being amidst a movie set for Greece; the scenery is so perfect that it’s hard to believe it’s real.
Finally, we arrive. The Acropolis is packed with humans (as anticipated), and windy (not so much). I’m not talking about a gentle breeze, no – more like gusts of wind that hurl pebbles and sand in your eyelashes. My husband and I sit down to take cover and enjoy a moment together. It’s unclear whether sitting amongst this icon of ancient civilisation brought out our inner philosophers, or if we were just being our cynical selves (probably a bit of both), but as we observed those around us – looking at the architectural legend through the lens of a phone or wearing a goddess-like dress and posing for Instagram – it was hard to have faith in humanity. It was a beautiful moment that concluded with us agreeing that we are past peak civilisation, and leaving. That, my friends, is love.
Back in our apartment, we stare out the window. Not particularly fixated on one particular thing, we watch as the buildings turn from daylight’s beige to evening’s purple haze. It’s a sight that demands you rest to truly enjoy it, and so we do. In our lounge chairs, we gaze out the window as if sat at the cinema, absorbed in a live screening of Athens’ city life. From the market packing up below, to the rooftop bars kicking off their joie de vivre, to the Acropolis lighting up in the distance, we drink it – and some red wine – in. For hours we sit here, watching, listening, smelling, chatting, laughing, dancing. As someone who spends a lot of time in their own head, worrying about stupid sh*t, this evening spent looking out over Athens is one of the most mindful moments I’ve experienced. For that, I am one grateful chick.
Last weekend, I found myself stood in the Polish section of the supermarket, scanning the pierogi, kefir, pickles, until…SCORE! My eyes settled on naleśniki (or as I called them, ‘blintzes’) which I quickly snatched up to take home.
As I made them (OK, heated them up) back home, it got me thinking about all the foods I grew up eating as a Polish/Italian/German-American, and so…here are my reflections on the biggest standouts, from worst to best:
9. Corned beef and cabbage
My grandma would make this on St. Patrick’s Day every year. We’d begrudgingly go over (begrudgingly because we don’t like this dinner, not grandma – we love grandma) and greet her wearing a green sweater, ask her ‘are we really even Irish?’ to which she would reply, ‘yes, my great-grandmother was named Maggie McEwan,’ to which we would reply, ‘can we please eat something else?’
(btw, Grandma, if you’re reading: I’ve done some research and McEwan/McCuen/MacEwan is actually a Scottish surname) *sips tea*
8. Pork and sauerkraut with spaetzle
It pains me to look at that photo. This is a German one, and probably the most ‘authentic’ dish I have from my mom’s side of the family. My ancestors on that side emigrated from…somewhere at some point, but settled in New York-New Jersey so long ago that when people ask where my mom’s side of the family’s from, I say…New York-New Jersey. Let’s be real, NY-NJ is an enclave in its own right. I identify more with things like wearing animal print, cursing, and eating everything bagels more than I do with…whatever it is that German people do. But I digress…
This ranks low because I don’t eat pork (an aversion which may or may not be associated with the 1995 classic Babe). Even if I did eat it, this dish is able to get away with being so painfully bland because it’s slow-cooked with the punch of sauerkraut. It would probably go well with beer, but I couldn’t exactly have that accompaniment as a kid. That, and I was too preoccupied with running to the toilet in the hours following. Thanks, ‘kraut.
Short for ‘souppressata’ (which I learned…today), this is a Calabrese sausage. I have actually probably only eaten it once or twice, as I’m not a fan of sausage (pause for your immature laughter). Every once in a while my dad would make this with my uncle, Nanutz, and some other random guido cousins…you could say it was a sausage fest. Really not a fan of this one, but ranking it above the last two ‘cos it’s not terrible.
Worlds collide – both of my grandmothers and my dad made this. I didn’t know the name of this one, and always knew it simply as ‘cucumbers and sour cream,’ cos that’s all it is, folks. From googling I can see it’s Polish, so it’s quite possible that my non-Polish grandma saw it in an issue of Good Housekeeping 50 years ago alongside a recipe for ambrosia salad and adopted it into her culinary repertoire. It was one those things that was always in the fridge ‘cos someone made a batch. In no way offensive but also not out-of-this-world.
I love cookies, so in theory, this one should rank much higher. However, I spent many a Christmas as a young’un eating, like, 5 of these bad boys in one sitting, so a mid-level rating as a result of the tummy-aches.
4. Sausage & peppers
Kind of cheating by putting this one on the upper half of this list as I’d only eat the peppers, onions, and potatoes, picking around the sausage, but still….
Warming and mildly spicy, can be eaten on its own or as a sandwich-ey sort of thing if you chuck some in a roll. Think of it as Italian curry of sorts.
One of those things that was kind of just magically on the kitchen counter when you woke up one morning. Did it come from a local pizza-sub shop? Was it leftovers from a party or something? Did dad get it from one of his siblings? We may never know, but regardless, it’s basically rolled up pizza that you can eat hot or cold, anytime of day. Think of it as a Hot Pocket that would be a crime to compare to a Hot Pocket.
Is it breakfast? A snack? Dessert? It’s whatever you want, peeps. My dad used to make the frozen boxed ones, which is why I use the Jewish word ‘blintz‘ instead of its Polish equivalent, ‘naleśniki‘…but they share the same bones. It’s just a crepe stuffed with cottage cheese, topped with whatever you want – SO GOOD.
I used to think my Nana’s apartment smelled like old people, but it was probably just the smell of these ingredients. Meat? Pureed tomato sauce? Cabbage? Gołąbki defies the odds – it ticks the boxes for everything I don’t like, and yet still manages to rank number one. It’s an ugly-looking peasant food, but sometimes that stuff is the best. Its simple ingredients somehow harmonize to compose the most melt-in-your-mouth comfort food I can imagine.
And there you have it, folks! Honestly, these dishes are more of comfort foods and memory-joggers as opposed to my favourite world cuisines, which are Mediterranean and Japanese…but that’s OK – I married a Greek 🙂