Eleanor Does Europe: An Introduction

At the end of May, my best friend, Cecelia, and I travelled to Europe to celebrate the end of her first year at Yale and my nineteenth birthday. It wasn’t the first time we had travelled to Europe or the first time we had travelled together without adults, but it was the first time we’ve ever travelled alone internationally and that made the excitement of going to Europe even more thrilling.

We had an amazing time, and I’m determined to get our experiences down in writing before the memories start to fade at the edges and become tired, memorized stories to be trotted out whenever traveling or Europe is mentioned at the dinner table or thought about in generalizations while staring into space and avoiding reality.

So here is the trip in words and pictures.

Let’s commence.

I’d start at the beginning–posing for a photograph in front of the airport, suitcases in hand, nervous but excited smiles on our faces–but that would be too dull. The details of the check-in counter and how I stored my carry-ons aren’t of any general interest.

Cecelia is on the left, I’m on the right.

So we’ll go in images and moments, the way memories are stored. A little bit about the way I felt on the escalators at Westminster, trying to be blasé and fit in when I actually had no idea where I was supposed to be going, sleeping on Cecelia’s lap on the Eurostar, exhausted, anxious, and happy, or looking up at Notre Dame and thinking, “Hello again, let’s keep up these regular visits because I love you very much.”

For those of you reading this in the archives, here are the links to the posts written about the trip:

Coming Soon

Eleanor and “French Math”

My mother’s side of the family is French and when I was young, we used to spend my birthday weekend/Memorial Day visiting with them. And while there were many aspects of these trips that I enjoyed, the visits were never very kid-friendly. I usually felt underfoot and like one of the adults was doing me a favor by watching me*. Then, when you factor in all of the adults speaking French and/or (though usually and) about France, relatives I didn’t know, and art/music, it was like being in a constant state of confusion.

And every year, things really came to a head when we went out to dinner on my birthday. It was a big affair that involved fancy clothing (often my arch-nemesis, the pale blue frilly blouse that had a habit of unbuttoning itself every few minutes and the flowered skirt that “I-was-absolutely-under-no-circumstances-to-spill-anything-on”), my very best table manners, and sitting across the table from my 100-year-old great-grandmother who terrified me.

My mother insists that she has never met anyone who has ever lived up to my grandmémé’s standards, and while I understood that it was probably true, I still was determined to be the anomaly. Of course, things never went as planned, and I somehow always managed to mess up and be swatted at within five minutes of sitting down. The swatting would be accompanied by some remark in French that I did not understand, and some adult would whisper in my ear what I supposed to say in response. I would manage to bungle the sentence, the adult would have to apologize for me, and the cycle would continue until I finally gave up on trying to be perfect and got incredibly antsy.

It was on my eighth birthday that my dad introduced me to what he called “French math.”

“Okay, Eleanor, so you know how you have to kiss everyone hello and goodbye? Now, I want you to add up how many kisses that is going to be. Remember Mémé, Grandmémé, and your great aunts each get four, and everyone else gets two.”

I’d work out the sum in my head, and then my dad would change it up so that I had to come up with the number of kisses for the people with blue eyes or everyone wearing black. Eventually, this turned into me making up my own rules for calculating kisses, and I’ve done it during every long family dinner since.

So the next time you find yourself stuck in a room full of French people you are going to have to kiss, you can pull out this trick and go wild.

Note: You can adopt it for hugs when you’re not with the French, but the level of difficulty and fun vastly decreases, so I’d suggest that you instead spend your time changing the lyrics of Yankee Doodle or plotting escape routes in case of an attack.

*Or often not watching, with the case in point being the time I nearly drowned in the pool when I was five because all of the adults thought someone else had an eye on me.

Ella and Cecelia Go to Europe: The Pre-Departure Jitters

In exactly a week, Cecelia and I will be flying to London. I am equal parts excited and petrified.

Excited, of course, because, my goodness, it’s Europe, I’m going to turn nineteen there, and I get to spend nearly two weeks traveling with my best friend. The thrill of getting to have that kind of independence and knowing that I’m quite nearly a true adult is indescribable. Plus, the thought of all of the museums and historical places we’ll visit makes me make weird excited facial expressions that have my parents questioning my sanity.

But at night I have stress dreams of dying on airplanes and having meltdowns in the middle of Trafalgar Square. They’re so vivid that I can feel the fabric of the seat against my thighs and the metal seat buckle digging into my abdomen. There’s whiplash, and I can feel myself falling, the pilot saying, “brace for impact,” and the screams of the other passengers. Or I am curled in a fetal position on the ground, tiny bits of grit digging into my face as I stare at an infinite sea of shoes and grey stone, crying. I wake up, twisted in the sheets, breathing far too quickly, and paralyzed with anxiety. It usually requires the entire one hour and thirty-three minutes of the Downton Abbey Christmas Special for me to calm back down again.

And then there is the fear that my anxiety will ruin the trip for Cecelia. Unfortunately, I get overwhelmed very easily and often need to rest in the afternoons to maintain a certain level of emotional stability. I can only close my eyes and say, “one, two, three, GO!!!” to myself so many times. Too much and I burst into tears, get unbearably haughty, or just refuse to move. And I do not want to prevent Cecelia from doing fun activities simply because I’m feeling anxious.

This trip is supposed to be all about being young, carefree, and spontaneous. We officially decided to go to Europe at one a.m. on a Tuesday morning and then immediately purchased tickets and booked lodging so that unlike the past few years, our European adventure wouldn’t remain purely hypothetical. The whole trip is supposed to be about things like me singing “I Live in Trafalgar Square” in the actual Trafalgar Square just to drive Cecelia nuts:

(Ignore the reenactment of The Battle of Hubbardton, this was the only youtube video I could find with the song.)

It’s supposed to be about sitting in a café in Paris on my birthday and clinking glasses and biking in the Alps near Geneva; and it’s also supposed to be a little bit of rebellion where we get to do things our way at our leisure and no parent or other adult can tell us otherwise.

Disclaimer: Of course, by rebellion I mean one that doesn’t involve clubbing or getting drunk. I’m as straight-laced as you can get in that regard with no cursing, caffeine, drinking, smoking, drugs, or any other morally lax behaviors. (And no, that does not mean that I am a Mormon or an evangelical Christian–I’m Episcopalian–and no, I don’t think that everyone should be required to or frowned upon if they don’t make the same lifestyle choices as me.)

Disclaimer Sidebar: In the spirit of honesty and full-disclosure, unlike the other things, I have tried caffeine before and had it occasionally between the ages of thirteen and fourteen and then once again on my seventeenth birthday. The last time ended with me getting incredibly jumpy for a few hours and then very tired. I do have a picture of my first sip from that day, however. As you can tell from the picture, I think that Coke with caffeine in it tastes funny. I have not had it since, don’t feel like I’m missing much, and don’t plan on ever having it in the future.

Say hello to Cecelia’s elbow. Sadly, that’s probably as close as we’re ever going to get to a proper picture of her on Eleanor Called Ella, so you better soak it in. It is a very nice elbow.

So I hope that when Cecelia and I do arrive at the airport next Saturday afternoon, I don’t find my anxiety in overdrive and that we’re able to enjoy a trip free from any of my meltdowns. I figure that if I truly put my mind to it, I’ll be able to successfully use my coping skills and that with the boost of regular medication and extra Xanax, we’ll be okay.

In the meantime, I will try to stop watching youtube videos of plane accidents, looking up United Airlines’ safety record, and practicing airplane and train crash positions.

Cecelia and Eleanor Are Traveling to Europe!

It gives me great pleasure to announce that Cecelia and I will be traveling around Europe for twelve days at the end of the month.

We will be visiting London, Paris, and the Geneva area.

Now, I’ve already spent substantial time in both London and Paris, but I know that there is so much more to explore, and I have never spent anytime in Switzerland.

And that’s where you come in, dear readers. I need some advice. Do you have any favorite spots in these areas? Any place that you think that we would enjoy seeing? Please leave any suggestions in the comments!

Expect many exciting travel posts in the coming weeks as we prepare for, go on, and return from our trip.

I also realize that I haven’t plugged my tumblr in quite a while. If you’re into that kind of thing, it’s also called Eleanor Called Ella.

In Which Terrible Things Happen to Ella

When I was thirteen my friend’s mom sent the two of us to pick up some parsley from the grocery store two blocks away. We set out, happily chattering about whatever we were planning to do that evening and enjoying the warm spring air. We crossed the busy street, found the parsley, made fun of the tabloid headlines, made our purchase, and started walking home. However, right after we crossed the street, we passed a man, who reached out and grabbed my bottom.

But instead of screaming, calling the cops, confronting the man, or even mentioning it to my friend, I kept silently walking, convinced that I had imagined it. After all, who hasn’t accidentally swung their arm and hand into someone at some point. I once gave Leigh a pretty bad bruise on her face while gesticulating wildly. These things happen. And I did not want to falsely accuse anyone. Bad things like groping children don’t seem to happen in our part of town. It’s a very safe place. It just had to be an accident. Of course, I was wrong to think anything of it.

And then I didn’t say anything about it to anyone for years. I was so scared of making it into a big deal, if the contact had only been an accident. I didn’t want to cause any trouble. What happened could hardly be compared to sexual abuse. It felt like offensive to people who have been sexually abused to raise any sort of alarm of my own.

Almost exactly a year later, I went to France by myself and had four very frightening events happen within two days. I got chased down a street by a much older boy on the program who “just wanted to hug me” even when I said no several times (I got caught outside of a grocery store and he wouldn’t let go), hit on by a man in his twenties with a disturbing leer, grabbed around the waist very suddenly by another guy on the program, and woken up at one in the morning by two drunk roommates who were throwing condoms filled with water at my head. (This is not to mention the fact that I got attacked by a very large dog less than a week into the program and all of the bullying from the other Americans.) Once again, I said nothing because they were just “little things.”

When I was sixteen, I got cornered in a supply closet by a guy with several mental illnesses, and a slew of other things happened that I also didn’t mention to anyone because they didn’t seem like anything serious.

But I thought about these incidents constantly, at least five times a day. Sometimes they make me cry. I freak out when people touch me and I can’t see them first. I do not like to be alone with adult men, and I’m very distrustful of guys. The anorexia has left my arms weak enough that I can’t carry my one-year-old cousin if he isn’t resting on my hip. I am not physically strong enough to stop any sort of attack.

It wasn’t until three weeks ago that I tried to very casually drop the first grocery store incident into a conversation with my mom, who brushed it off as an accident and that “there are just some guys out there who are creeps.”

Maybe that is the truth. There is a large possibility that all of these things are comically trivial and that I’ve just built them up inside of my head, but I’m inclined to think that even if that’s the case, I do have a right to my fear.  Feeling guilty about it isn’t right. None of these things were my fault. It’s alright if I’m scared. I’m allowed to cry.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.

My Mind is a French-Pop-Song-Singing Bullet Train

While I was sitting in French class, singing a horrible French pop song in preparation for our class’s  Foreign Language Night presentation, I started to think about other songs that I’ve had to sing in front of large groups of people. I did a lot of musical theatre when I was younger, so the list is quite long: Nathan Detroit in sixth grade, Ariel in fifth, Annie in fourth, etc. Being in shows made me feel happy and proud that I was able to really entertain people.

And the memory of that childish joy got me thinking about the last performance I was in. It was about a year ago, and the last time I sang in my church’s Treble Choir. I was Head Chorister, tasked with keeping the little kids on pitch and in line, and we sang “My Favorite Things” in our Spring Showcase. The little kids were adorable, and the rest of us were pretty good, too.

But because my brain moves so quickly that it’s like that infuriating car on the highway that’s going ninety miles and hour and dangerously cutting people off left and right, I immediately decided to make a list of my favorite things: I love the way that heels clack on hard surfaces, especially when you’re hurrying. The sharp noises make you seem important, business-like, and worthy of attention. I love the taste of toothpaste and the way that your teeth feel all smooth and shiny and the way that your tongue tingles once you finish rinsing. I love the smell of lemon and sandalwood perfume and how the scent is so clean and refreshing. I love the color of apricots and mangos and how that color makes me feel. And I love Pushkin’s soft, delicate, long, black fur.

As we went through the song for the fifth time, and I botched the same lyric that I’ve been messing up for weeks, I smiled. A huge, toothy, goofy smile. A smile that made me look like I thought that singing Mourir Demain was the pinnacle of awesome. I may hate the song and how pop-y and stupid the lyrics are, but man, did I love that train of thought. It was a reminder that my racing thoughts aren’t all bad. Sometimes, they lead me to really happy conclusions.

So if you happen to see someone walking around in high heels on a hard surface, wearing loads of perfume, dressed in orange, with a toothbrush hanging out of their mouth, and petting a cat named after a Russian poet, you’ll know it’s me.

Desktop Stories

As I was writing a speech for a Model Congress trip I’m going on at the end of the month, I kept thinking about my computer background. Here’s what it looks like:

It’s a beautiful picture from a trip to France. Everything is picturesque, and the water is turquoise. By all appearances, it seems like the perfect place to go swimming.

It’s actually Omaha Beach. The Omaha Beach. The Omaha Beach of World War Two’s D-Day fame. I took this picture in the Normandy American Cemetery while the wind whipped my hair about and the sun made the top of head unbearably hot.

There were white crosses that went on forever like this.

After some wandering down paths and tripping over a step, I noticed that there were some people carrying beach chairs. I edged closer to listen to hear what language they were speaking. American English. People rarely come to cemeteries with beach chairs, so I started to follow them. In a non creepy way. A let’s just pretend there is something really interesting right behind them that I must go examine sort of way.

They stopped to confer at the top of a path that led down the bluff. Could you really go down onto the beach? I started follow the path. After winding around some trees, I saw this.

People playing on Omaha Beach. The Omaha Beach. The place where thousands of men died, rushing out of boats to take the Germans by storm. It was just a holiday place to them. I could still see the blood in the water and the bodies slumped over motionless. I stood at the end of the path, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand, thinking about all of the sacrifices made in that war and how it would feel if I had been born many decades earlier and had lost cousins or brothers on this very beach.

And as I stared out at the people and the water, I was struck by the fact that a situation can be two separate things at once. People must have vacationed here before the war and they do now. The beach was both a place for quietly remembering the dead and for laughing and swimming. I may have been sobbing at the thought of all the dead men, shot down on the land that I was standing on, but I was also giddy with excitement as I explored my favorite war. It was all rolled together into one and felt funny and strange inside of me. So I remained rooted to the spot until time ran out, and I had to turn away and amble back up the hill. The same hill that men had fought to climb so many years ago.

In other news, I wrote the speech without crying and only minor rolling on the bed.

Oh, Pop Music, You Amuse Me

For Foreign Language Night, my French teacher has been teaching us to sing this ridiculous French pop song:

Doc hates it so much that on Friday he was begging that we do more verb exercises than sing it. I just find its awfulness amusing and enjoy watching my classmates sing along, but hearing it three times a day everyday of the week is getting to me. Playing it that often would be somewhat acceptable if our performance was within a week, but Foreign Language Night isn’t until the thirtieth. This is classic Madame. I just wish that I was in the same class as Cecelia.

While I was running errands for over three hours with Pippa and Dad, I kept thinking about pop music. Of course, as soon as I got home, I had to look this video up again:


Laughing at it made the dark rainy afternoon disappear for a few minutes.

God, I Love Shutters

Today was one of my lie-in-bed-and-try-to-calm-down days. Aren’t days like this the bomb diggity? (That phrase is totally underrated.)

So after I had had my lovely morning cry, I started going through old pictures in my iPhoto. Besides discovering a bunch of pictures that I took of myself back in 2006 (oh God) when Macs first started having built-in web-cams, I found all of my pictures from the summer I spent in France when I was fourteen.

I went with a program to Angers to study French at a university and live with a host family that had eight kids. It was a wonderful experience, but it wasn’t my memories of Versailles or Saint Malo that kept replaying in my mind, instead it was my walk to the university and how gorgeous it was.

The front steps of the house:

The house:

The lamppost on the corner (Yes, I did try to re-enact Singing in the Rain here, and yes, people thought I was crazy):

God, I love shutters:

A Catholic Church:

A sign for the University:

University, itself: