The Wonders of Walking

Up until 2017, I still living in Connecticut. Up until 2017, if you had asked me to go on a walk I’d think: a) Is ‘walk,’ like, code for something? Or, b) Where? Surely not, like, here? In the neighbourhood?

It’s no secret that unless you live in a city or own a dog, going on a walk isn’t a trademark practice of contemporary American life. If you’re from a rural area like I am, nothing is within ‘walking distance,’ which oft makes it seem pointless. Door to door journeys are completed by car, there’s a lack of infrastructure (i.e. sidewalks), and heck – people (I having been one of them) even drive to the gym or a park just to walk, rather than going on a stroll outside their front door. Written out, it might seem bizarre, but in actuality, it’s all too common.

When I moved to London, I was walking my ass off without even intending to do so. The experience of living in a proper city (yep, I say ‘proper’ now) for the first time in my life – and a walkable one at that – had me out and about on a daily basis. Albeit I didn’t have a car (and lawd knows if I did, your girl wasn’t gonna try driving on the other side of the road), I fell in love with walking. It instantly became my preferred mode of transport, compared to taking the bus or tube. Need to go to the supermarket? Post office? Doctor? The most efficient way to get there is in stride. Everything being new and different, walking wasn’t a chore. It was instead an action fuelled by sensory engagement, making activities as mundane as running errands an adventure. Taking everything in – sights, scents, sounds…maybe not so much taste (but hey, whatever floats your boat) – is something many of us have experienced before, likely when travelling or exploring a new place. So, why does it stop there?

After a year of living in London, my daily walks became jaded. One foot in front of the other, quickly paced, head down, preoccupied with the day ahead of or behind me. Walking became a point A to point B activity, overwhelmed by a preoccupation with thoughts and simultaneous need for distraction. I’m not saying I became one of those people who needs get on the phone to forget they’re walking, but…I was close. The repetitive act of one foot in front of the other regressed from ‘going on a walk’ to ‘walking’ – a change in wording which denotes leisure in the former and mundanity in the latter.

If there is a good thing that came out of Covid, it’s been the rediscovery of ‘going for a walk.’ When we became confined to our homes back in March, the eventual announcement allowing outside exercise found me tying my shoelaces at 8 sharp every evening, checking with my husband as though things had changed from one day to the next, ‘shall we go now?’

The slowing of the city was echoed in the slowing of our pace. Traipsing through the same streets I’d grown to walk along with my head down and mind distant, I was mindful once more. I noticed the architecture, as it transitions from blocks of Edwardian to Victorian terraced houses, every so often disrupted by an imposing cathedral or the clean lines of an art deco apartment block.

I made a conscious effort to appreciate the greenery where we live, breathing the fresh air until my lungs were full. In doing so, I simultaneously breathed in the scent of curry cooking in another’s kitchen, roses in a front garden, and the pungency of other…herbs…as they waft into the street. My husband and I flow into our conversational rhythm, sometimes cacophonous and other times, the most comfortable silence. As we reach the top of our village, looking out at London’s unpolluted skyline, we pause for a few moments. My surroundings are as still as my mind.

For those of us with able bodies, walks are one of life’s simplest joys we have at our disposal, anyplace, anytime – and it seems a shame to neglect having access to such a thing. You don’t need a reason to go on one, nor do you need to travel to a park ‘appropriate’ for one. When we visit the US, I often walk around my old neighbourhood, albeit a bit nostalgically, and wonder, ‘why wasn’t I doing this before?’

Walking can alleviate a mind frenzied by anger, anxiety, sadness, overwhelm. It can change your perspective on days when you’re feeling demotivated, uninspired, or, for lack of better terms, like sh*t. It can give you the clarity you might have been yearning for by enabling mindfulness. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, so long as you keep your senses engaged, phone in your damned pocket, and chin up.

A Middle Finger to My High School Dress Code

These days, I’m finding my sense of style as an adult. I’ve got both the weird and the sophisticated, remnants of my hippie phase, and stuff that looks flattering on my figure and makes me feel good about myself. One noticeable thing, though, is that my wardrobe is relatively conservative; I tend to shy away from things like low-cut tops and short skirts, and while there are a few causations for this, I can pinpoint an early influencer.

As a preteen, I could not wait for high school. It seemed like a Hollywood-esque place where you could express yourself and be whoever you wanted to be, and let’s face it – one of the most obvious forms of expression is through image. What you wear, how you do your makeup or style your hair – as a young person, this is your outlet.

The summer before my freshman year, my school introduced a new dress code, and I was heartbroken. No graphic tees,  no athletic clothes, sweats, shorts or skits above the knee, no deep cut v-necks that show cleavage (while I don’t have a copy of the handbook anymore, I do vividly remember that it actually stated ‘cleavage’). There were, of course, exceptions; cheerleaders’ skirts were right below the hoo-ha, and athletes could wear tracksuits on game days, but I digress…

Funnily enough, science textbooks weren’t banned (photo credit: CUNY Brooklyn Earth and Environmental Sciences)

That year, I had to properly go back to school shopping, effectively replacing and questioning much of my wardrobe; replacing – no more band tees or logos, shorts and skirts that hit mid-thigh (we all remember the ol’ fingertips rule from middle school), and questioning – becoming incredibly self-conscious of my changing body and wondering whether the scoop necks and v-necks I’d been wearing for the past couple of years were suddenly too suggestive on my, uh, 14-YEAR-OLD BODY.

On the first day of school I wore a high scoop-neck grey dress that went to my knees. I remember our homeroom teacher introducing himself, taking roll call, and then scanning the room, analysing whether each and every one of us was in violation of the dress code, issuing write-ups as ‘necessary.’ That day, I was fine.

The second day of school, I wore a plain v-neck shirt that completely covered me, the neckline meeting the middle of my clavicle, right above my chest. When I got dressed that morning, I thought I looked fine; when I got to homeroom and my teacher did the scan, my stomach dropped, and I became incredibly self-conscious. He pointed at me and said, ‘borderline.’ Walking over to me to give me my write-up, he looked at me (aka, my top; aka, my chest) again to confirm his decision. ‘Borderline,’ he said once more.

I was written up once more at the end of that year for wearing a skirt that sat right above my knees (read: not at my knees). Since it was my second write-up, I was sent to in-school suspension. I – antisocial introvert, good student, stays-home-on-the-weekends, has no interest in boys –  was in ISS. This was my Freaky Friday moment.

When my history teacher got wind of this, she came down to ISS to see me, looked at my outfit as a group of girls wearing skirts shorter than mine walked by, and gave me a look that said ‘what the fuck.’ She tried to think of a solution – she rode horses and offered me her riding pants from her car, though she told me they were covered in mud and would be too big on me. While we couldn’t come up with a solution in the end, I will forever remember and be grateful for her validation.

At the time, I was irked by these rules because I thought, a) why can’t express myself by wearing what I want, and b) why can’t I dress for the weather if it’s a warm day?

When I reflect on the rules today,  my previous feeling of ‘irked’ is elevated to ‘ripshit pissed.’ Yes, girls should be able to dress for expression and the weather, but the issue here lies in sexualising underage bodies.

Why ask teachers to scrutinise the bodies of adolescents? Why impose the accountability of unto the dressers, not the perpetrators of sexual misconduct?  Why assume that girls’ utmost consideration in dressing themselves is for sexual appeal?

Beats me.

Raise your hand if you’ve been personally victimised by your high school’s dress code

One Month in Grenelle, Paris

It’s nearly 11pm on a Thursday as I lie in bed, stuck to the blankets on which I rest atop, not daring to get under them. My husband lay next to me in a sort of intimacy that says ‘I love you, but don’t you dare touch me,’ for that would only worsen the conditions. Eleven PM, and still 33 f*cking degrees (that’s 91, yankee friends).

Our bedroom window is open, carrying the sounds of the streets below. Laughing and talking from the brasseries, shouting in street, someone (with pretty good pipes, might I add) singing at the top their lungs from an apartment block a few buildings down, drinks and plates clanking and smashing, the occasional odour of cigarette smoke drifting up, and every 15 or so seconds, a faint illumination from the Eiffel Tower’s beam makes its way across the night sky. As I struggle to get comfortable, I realise that these people have got it right – keep a low profile during daylight’s scorch, and come to life at night.

9:30 PM sunset…Grandma Steph is watching it in her PJs

It’s our 3rd week in this flat, and while I’ve not fully adopted the Parisian lifestyle, I’ve grown accustomed to this multi-sensory lullaby. After spending 4 months locked-down in our London flat, we – my husband, our French Bulldog (who, by the way, was of no help translating), and myself – packed up the car and f*cked off to mainland Europe. Making our way back from northern Portugal, we’ve found ourselves settled in Grenelle, Paris – our new home for a month.

This heatwave tho! I need a boisson and so does that poor grass

Though we’ve visited many times before (shoutout to Eurostar for making weekend trips easy as sh*t), we’d stayed in the more central bits – ChampsÉlysées, Madeleine, Saint-Germain. This has been our first experience staying in a primarily residential area. Grenelle is located just south of la tour Eiffel, and while probably not close enough to garner any tourists (many shop owners and restauranteurs have told us indeed, most of their patrons are Parisians of the 15th arrondissement), the iron monstrosity seems to sneak its way into the foreground, making even life’s mundane moments a little magical.

Taking out the trash has never been so lovely

We’ve come here between July and August – July being the last hurrah for many Parisians before leaving the city in August for summer holidays. We’d visited a year earlier around the same time and found that many of our favourite independently-owned businesses had temporarily closed for this exact reason. This year is a bit different – amidst Covid, some have done well enough to carry on and take a break as usual, others seem to be staying open to derive what business they can, and a few, unfortunately, appear to be closed…indefinitely.

Upon leaving London in late June for this Eurotrip, the UK’s lockdown restrictions had still closed eateries and non-essential businesses, and for those places that were open, many of us kept cautious in public. In Paris, the old and young both carry on with an air of life as it were, running the usual errands, sitting closely to one another over a brasserie drink, crowding the shops, pairs of young ‘eons whizzing past on shared electric scooters. So, despite a visible decrease in population, those businesses which are open draw in what  crowds they can. Whilst the monstrous Beaugrenelle shopping centre ushers in hoards of people, enticed by summer soldes and climatisation, its quainter cousin up the road brings in its own hustle and bustle. Rue de Commerce, as the name suggests, is a mix of boutiques and chain stores selling everything from skateboarding shoes to lingerie to tableware, cafes, fromageries, patisseries, all of the shops for food-ies, salons, and more, ending at the station Dupleix – underneath which hosts an enormous market selling everything from fish to Persian rugs.

Rue du Commerce

Not only on Rue du Commerce, but throughout Grenelle, are a prominence of Asian food stores, Korean and Japanese restaurants, and what I can only describe as Asian delicatessens (donned ‘traiteurs‘). I suffered from anorexia in high school, and while mostly recovered, I do still struggle with my eating disorder from time to time- particularly when eating out and traveling. Partway through this trip, I challenged myself to eat whatever I wanted and to try new foods, and I’m glad I did. After spending our first week in Paris in a wine & cheese coma, bibimbap bowls, black sesame and red bean frozen treats, and kimchi à la maison made way for a Parisian experience consisting of entirely different flavours.

Still thinking about this bibimbap bowl from Seoul Mama

Back in our flat, it’s now Saturday. Though we’ve made it to weekend and it’s nearly 10:30 PM, the heatwave still hasn’t ceased. As I go to change into my pajamas, my husband entices me to go on a walk to the pitch he’s been playing football at every morning, which, as he’s shown me in photos, has an incredible view of the Eiffel Tower.

As we take our dog (pets need culture too!) and walk through the quiet streets of Grenelle, Madame Eiffel plays hide-and-seek against the night sky. She flaunts her glowing limbs as we make our way down one street, and hides behind an apartment building as we turn onto another. Right before 11 PM, the three of us make it to the football pitch. As the three of us stand together and gaze up at all her magnificence, a couple of families rush to make it to their rooms in the hotel adjacent, to get their £350-a-night’s worth. As the clock strikes the hour, she glimmers and glistens, and as someone with cynical tendencies, I can tell you, it really does take your breath away. As I stare up in awe for the 5 minutes which the lights twinkle, stupidly mindful, I thank my lucky stars for this wonderfully cheesy moment, and understand why Paris is donned the city of love.

They say it’s rude to stare but, I mean, how can you not?