La Estrella; notes from winter on the train

la guía de los marineros / le guide des marins / a sailor’s guide

December 06, 2016

Found scribbled on the back of a yellowing page in a French translation of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stoneimg_2002

Some days I’ve been lucky enough to witness the sunrise and sunset in my ten hour day in Langon. Other days I have been fortunate to see the night shift into morning on the train. Today I watch the sunrise from between the cavities of the now winter-bare trees. They stand like wooden skeletons, suspending the weight of the powder pink sky as it rolls over the horizon. Unraveling over the dead vineyards is ribbon after ribbon of morning fog. And just beyond, are sleepy houses and pointy stone churches peeking out from underneath, huddled in small clumps of dim light.

January 09,2017

Originally a voice recording that was later transcribed into a journal

img_2987I ride the train to Langon at 7:10 in the morning. Now that we are deep into winter it feels like I’m traversing from point A to point B through an endless tunnel. I have no real semblance of moving forward except for the metronomic clicking of the train over the tracks. As we move through the darkness we periodically pass small towns and villages. They’re like little clusters of light making constellations in my window as we zoom past. I find myself trying to hold on to the lights with my gaze for as long as I am able to. It makes me think of sailors from ancient times and how they also moved through a sleeve of darkness; through the crevice between the ocean and the night sky. I imagine the stars were for them like the little towns I pass on my morning train: a promise of direction.

January 24, 2017

Written in a journal between stops on a train going from Langon to Bordeaux


My Tuesday train rides from Langon back to Bordeaux are more often than not, drenched in an early afternoon sunlight, thick with a rosy fogginess that envelopes my mind with heaviness, as I attempt not to fall asleep.


Often I’m lonely. And sometimes I’m at peace with my solitude–grateful even to have special intimate moments with my surroundings. Other times I am neither lonely or peaceful but still, quietly observing life move independently and unrelated to my own.


Between spaces feel limitless and immense. Liminal. Like the space between breaths or the space between blinking.

img_2978Arrêt PORTETS

Stone walls surround the barren vineyards. The walls are made by fitting found stones one by one together, like a masonry puzzle. Arranging the faces of the stones outwards to guard what they enclose; each a village of stones in their own.


The road has become so familiar to me that I wonder what sensations I would feel if I were to retrace it again someday years from now. Would I still remember it then? Would the sensation feel like slipping into a memory or a dream?


Sometimes I regret that my main accomplishment on the train is daydreaming.


I deeply resent the last few minutes on the train just before arriving. It feels like a rude awakening; scrambling to get off, only to be left out in the cold after being cradled in the rests of the rhythmic clicking over the tracks.


Arrêt BORDEAUX son terminus


La bota; La botte; The boot

Una bota igual a la otra / Une botte paraille à l’autre /  A boot not unlike the other 

When Rhône and I first got to France, within the first week of being in Bordeaux, Rhône said to me “It’s weird being in another country, it’s like being in a parallel universe,” and I found that to be a very accurate description of our condition traveling. It was true, everything that was familiar to us back home was essentially the same here in France, yet there was no denying that we were actually somewhere entirely new to us; we were in a place that couldn’t possibly be confused for where we came from. Stranger still was the thought that France and our life in France existed side by side to the life of our loved ones in the Pacific Northwest; neither place negated the other and traveling from one didn’t erase the existence of the other.

Here’s an interesting example of this paralleling: during my first few months in France MacDonald’s became my own personal Corporate-America temple. Back home I go MacDonald’s maybe once every year, usually as a culmination of weird events I generally regret recalling. But my first couple months in France, I was going to MacDonald’s, or as french people say MacDo, like once a week.

There’s a lot of good reasons I can come up with for why I did that, most of them are pretty obvious but some of them are not. Obviously, there was comfort in that I could order any assortment of classic items I remember being advertised on my TV as a kid. There was also the comfort of knowing I could order in English because in France every MacDo has a number of kiosks from where to order from. Less obvious were the times I looked for a MacDo while I was in a new part of town or a new place in general only because I knew they would have a bathroom. Or the times I found myself in a MacDo because they were the only place where I could buy a meal outside of strict French meal times. In reality, I would find myself in MacDo anytime I needed a reprieve from being foreign because in France MacDonald’s motto is Venez comme vous êtes which translates to Come as you are which for me meant it’s ok that you’re lost.

What was most unsettling to me about this experience was that I was now living a life where I simultaneously disliked going to MacDonald’s and also loved going to MacDo. And here’s the thing: it’s easy to hate MacDonald’s in the U.S. and likewise it’s easy to love MacDo in France. In the U.S. MacDonald’s is a corporate titan, that among many atrocities, exploits the misfortune of families who live below the poverty line by feeding them diabetic poison for a dollar off their infamous dollar menu. In France, MacDo is ‘green’ and regulated by French government food standards, and most confusingly is filled with teenagers who make MacDonald’s hip because they see it as unabashedly American.

Traveling and living abroad is like getting to hold a mirror up to your truths and question them in their reflection.


La bota direction Bordeaux

In daily life, I catch glimpses of these moments too, but when traveling these moments extend into longer, almost hallucinatory periods. I could be looking out the window and all of a sudden it’s as though the plot of my life unfolds in front of me in a most bizarre and interesting play while I sit and watch from the audience.

What I find the most surprising in those moments is that no matter the place, no matter the surroundings, I am still myself and I am still living my habitual life. Nothing about where I am in a singular moment, changes who I am or the history of my life (Even if I did believe that the solitary act of being somewhere new could somehow instantaneously change me to my core).  These moments are impressive because alone they are only reflections but in their summation are in fact what make up the history of a life; more importantly, these moments are elastic enough for one to move freely between the role of player and audience of their own life.

Traveling is like putting your left boot on your right foot: it’s uncomfortable and maybe the opposite of what you had expected but not entirely wrong. It’s an opportunity to reflect on why we believe the things we believe and how those beliefs shape who we are.