The Calm of the Coast

“I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that - I don’t mind people being happy - but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down 3 things that made you happy today before you go to sleep”, and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position - it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. 

“Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness”. Ask yourself “is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.”

― Hugh Mackay

In August, my boyfriend and I took a long drive along the Oregon coast. It is the third time I have taken this trip in the last five years, which feels remarkable since this small stretch of coast is so far away from the place I call home. Though the company for each drive may have changed, the shoreline has stayed the same. It is the same whispering waves and coniferous trees that call me back to them, reminding me that I can never stray for long.

Reminding me that this place is a space where I belong.

The air hung heavy with fog during the three day's drive, obscuring the ocean from the vistas and beaches. I have long felt that the ocean holds many mysteries and this time it seemed to be holding its cards close. Surrounded by a thick, unrelenting fog, the world felt smaller and intimate. I could hear the vast ocean roar with its melodic fierceness, but I could not see it. Periodically another person would walk by along the beach, a shadowy ghost in the distance, the fog disguising any details. 

It was beautifula heart-wrenching beauty that drills into your very soul.

Despite the fact that it was late summer, the beach was cold, accompanied by an uncomfortably brisk wind. I had my windbreaker zipped up to my chin, hands in my pockets to keep in the warmth. With the fog wrapped around me, I was more or less alone, left to my own thoughts with little distraction. 

After dealing with feelings of depression on and off for the last year, the smell of the ocean brine and the rhythmic waves brought on a sense of calm. I did not feel the joy I thought I would when I planned this trip months earlier, but I did feel more at peace. The beauty of nature has its own restorative powers. The laughter at the sea lions' bark, the disappointing hunt for a sand dollar, the loneliness of the fog, and the sadness of the sea all brought me closer to myself. 

I felt whole.

Provence & The French Riviera

After a whirlwind of a week in Paris, my mother and I appreciated the more laidback lifestyle found in southern France. During the second half of our holiday, we traveled through Provence and the French Rivieraa  more colorful side to France. The first night away from Paris was spent in Arles, a small Provence town dotted with Roman archaeological sites and the birthplace of Van Gogh's many prized paintings. Though it was only a few hours away by train, Arles stood in stark contrast to Paris. Where the muted colors of Paris so beautifully matched the rain-streaked skies, the bright reds and blues of Arles complemented the warm sun and radiant demeanor of the residents. The streets of Arles were made for walking, as they meandered throughout the old city, encouraging pedestrians to stroll leisurely through the web of cobblestone paths.

It was an instantaneous love.

Where Paris had been difficult to love, Arles was effortless. My mother and I ate pear sorbet through the streets, wondering how many women had broken their ankles walking in heels on the rough stone paths. We dined with a guitar serenade in the most charming restaurant of the trip, enjoying pockets of warm goat cheese with olive tapenade. The rush of Paris had dissipated and the slow moving lifestyle of Provence had filled its place. Arles was the change of tune I needed. When the time came, it was difficult to leave. 

Aix-en-Provence was next on the list, a larger city than Arles, filled with restaurants and outdoor markets. We used it as a base to tour Cassis and the Luberon Villages of Lourmarin, Roussillon, and Gordes. Even though each town was a short drive from the next, each location was so vastly different in architecture and history. I found it astounding.

Roussillon was painted in reds and oranges, each building an homage to the rouged dirt beneath. The white cliffs of the small fishing town of Cassis contrasted against the brightly colored yellow and pink buildings. The tight-knit community of Lourmarin made me imagine a simpler time and place. Truthfully, all of these cities felt like a pull back into the past, a glimpse of life hundreds of years ago.

The last stop of the trip was in Nice. A sunny city on the Mediterranean, it was a lovely place to spend our last few days in France. We stayed with a friendly host who prepared fantastic breakfasts from fresh, local ingredients and helped us find our way around the city. Everything about Nice was pleasant, from the maze of small streets in Old Town to the Promenade des Anglais along the Mediterranean sea. Full of Italian pasta, we laid on the rocky beach, took a nap in the sun, and did plenty of people watching.

We found little to complain about, enjoying the slow speed life seemed to move at here.

From Nice, my mother and I took one last day trip to Villefranche-sur-Mer and Monaco before our trip came to a close. While Monaco was my least favorite stop of the tripin part due to the industrialized look and feel and a case of low blood sugarVillefranche-sur-Mer was one of the most treasured. The multicolored umbrellas lining the sandy beach made for a beautiful sight and an even better place to spend an afternoon. Looking back, the memory has a warm, fuzzy haze around the edges, a dreamy feel for a dreamy moment. 

Overall, the trip to France was a wonderful holiday. I loved getting to spend time with my mother, who was (and will always be) a great travel companion and friend. The pastries were rich and sweet, the sights were larger than life, and the people were friendly and kind.

Someday, someday, I'll come back and do it all again.

A Paris Holiday

Before I traveled to Paris, I was quietly forewarned by several friends; It's just a city, Kristin, where people live and people work. It is not a magical place. I just don't want you to get your hopes up. And I wondered, had I let my dreams of Paris get away from me?

Perhaps I had.

I fantasized of Paris for many years, labeling it as "the birthplace of pastry" in my mind. During graduate school, before I left for a career in butter and sugar, Paris was the starring subject of many a daydream. In the secrecy of my apartment,  I would spend my evenings devising my escape. My plan was to pursue pastries in Paris, spending my days in culinary school and my evenings drinking wine and dining on classically French food. I would find a tiny, but quaint apartment in the heart of the city, never more than a few blocks from fresh baguettes and good fromagerie. I had even chosen the Parisian culinary school I was going to attend, bookmarked on my browser for quick access. It was a perfect plan.

But, as most daydreams go, the fantasy never played out for a hundred little, legitimate reasons. Paris would have to wait.

Now, four years later, the wait was over.

My mother and I planned a mother-daughter trip to France. We chose to spend a week in Paris before working our way through Provence and down to the French Riviera. I pictured us bonding over pain au chocolat as we strolled down the Parisian streets.

Paris was, at the same time, both expected and unexpected. It was more beautiful than I had envisioned, each building a work of art and worthy of its own postcard. I pointed my camera upwards often, snapping photographs of the windows and balconies above. The scale of the historical sights took me off guard. Versailles was more opulent than I could have dreamed, though almost too much; I found it difficult to process the sheer volume of gold and marble. The Louvre was the largest building I had ever seen—nearly a mile in length alone. My mother and I would joke about it when walking past, using it as a reference to measure how much farther we had yet to go.

I abandoned my dairy-free lifestyle in France, choosing my love of pastries over my personal comfort. I simply could not imagine not partaking in the croissants, rich cheeses, and thick gravies French cuisine had to offer. We ate heartily, adding appetizers and desserts to our evening meals and stopping for pastries whenever our ability to resist a patisserie's window display grew weak. The lamb was tender, the duck was sweet, and the baguettes disappeared quickly.

In those first few days, Paris was well on its way to charming me.


However, our holiday was not perfect. A cold front had blown in for the entire week of our stay, bringing March temperatures, gray skies, and rain by the hour. Each morning we bundled up in heavy layers and kept them on throughout the day, continuing to sightsee during the afternoon showers, hair wet and cameras damp. The sheer amount of people was also unexpected. I knew that July was the busiest month for tourism, but I still could not believe the amount of crowds we needed to fight to do anything. Waiting in lines for hours became commonplace; often the only register of time passing was the pain in my feet growing slowly unbearable from standing. We saw some of the most beautiful sights by peering around the heads of the people in front of us.

After a few more days had passed, I was not sure I was as charmed as I had been before.

Paris was, in a word, bittersweet. There were many things I did love about the city. There were also many things that I did not. One thing for certain, however, is that it was memorable.

While in Paris, I took two cooking classes, one on learning to cook a truly French meal and the other on mastering the French macaron (which I am so proud to have finally conquered). My mother and I got caught in a downpour in the gardens of Versailles, laughing because there was no cover, wringing the water out of our soaked clothes when we finally got indoors. We celebrated Bastille Day, the French Independence Day, by watching the fireworks over the Eiffel Tower. The combination of the symphony, the lights, and thousands of people singing the national anthem brought us both to tears.

Paris may not have been the city from my daydreams, but it was a beautiful, delicious city.