Why I Travelled to Europe and What I Found Instead

I would like to say that I went to Europe because I wanted to see the world and experience different cultures, but quite frankly, that would be a lie.

Sure, those two reasons factored into my decision to go, but as embarrassing as it is to admit, I really went because I was bored and frustrated. I just desperately, desperately wanted out. I was about to turn nineteen, and some part of me felt like I had never done anything exciting in my entire life–I had never had a true adventure. I suddenly had this insatiable need for excitement that couldn’t fulfilled at home.

So I lied and gave the usual list of reasons for travel to anyone who asked why, and it worked. Cecelia was up for going–we had been talking about going to Europe together since we were fourteen–and my parents and doctors gave me the go ahead. The two of us purchased tickets, and I was caught up in a whirlwind of preparation as we rushed to pull everything together.

And you know what? I didn’t find that excitement in Europe. Not at all. I was surrounded by amazing museums, monuments, restaurants, shops, buildings, and parks; I was with my best friend doing the things we had dreamed about doing for years; I was of more than legal age everywhere we went; and there were no adults to tell me what to do and when to do it; but I still found myself bound with the same weird feeling of boredom. I could feel myself still screaming, “I WANT OUT! LET ME OUT! I AM HERE IN THE PLACE THAT IS SUPPOSED TO BE LIBERATING AND NOTHING IS HAPPENING!! PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, JUST LET ME OUT!”

And it wasn’t until I was sitting on the Tube on our last night in London that I realized that I didn’t know what “out” was and what was holding me back from getting it. I was vigorously straining to free myself from these mysterious shackles in London as much as I was at home. Some part of me felt like I needed to do something bigger, that really proved that I rapidly approaching the end of my second decade, so I dragged Cecelia to a pub one night where I drank a glass of terrible lemonade and Cecelia ate a salad. But even that wasn’t enough, and I wasn’t willing to sacrifice my morals to do anything further like ordering a proper drink. So I left London, happy with my experiences there, but still hopelessly trapped.

Then, one evening in Paris, after being embarrassingly and unjustly nasty to Cecelia following an unfortunate Metro experience, I figured out what it was: I could run away from environments all I liked, but I couldn’t run away from my own head and my self-imposed repression.

I have a list of rules a mile long, and I am insanely strict about following them. I don’t curse, and my eyes will actually skip over those words while I’m reading so that I will not say them in my head. I won’t knowingly eat food that has alcohol in it, even if it has “cooked off.” I don’t wear skirts or dresses without bike shorts on the off chance that my underwear might show. If I can’t see at least one rib without sucking in, I drastically cut back on food. I pinch myself whenever I take the Lord’s name in vain (which I do far too often), and I will just leave or pretend I don’t know them if I think the people I’m with are acting inappropriately. And the list goes on. In short, I can be a horrible, horrible prig.

I also can’t escape how mental illness has affected my life. I can’t change that I spent a majority of my Junior and Senior years of high school missing out on numerous social and academic activities because I was in and out of treatment facilities and heavily medicated. Those feelings of alienation and loneliness are going to take a long time to fade, and I don’t think that I will ever fully be freed from mental illness–I’ll only ever be able to cope better.

And what happened then continues to affect me now. This past year has been spent hanging out in a waiting room before leaving for college. It was all about coming up with productive ways to fill my time or things that numbed the shame of being left behind again. Everyone else was doing wonderful, exciting things, living on their own, being independent, and learning while I was tapping away on my computer, grading book summaries, and reading so much that I would end each day seeing double.

They came back home matured and confident, with stories of their adventures, and all I had to contribute was “so I went to this book event in the city about a book you’ve never heard of by an author whom you have probably only ever heard me mention, but believe me, it was really good.”

My life was dull and greyed compared to theirs, and I felt so abandoned and embarrassed to be unable to relate. And more than all of that, I was perpetually aware that if I didn’t find some way to prove myself in this waiting room, I was only going to be stuck in there longer. I spent a lot of time lying about how wonderful it was to take a gap year, and each fake smile and untruth made me feel even more ashamed.

Europe, no matter how wonderful, isn’t going to get me away from being unreasonably self-repressed or ashamed. That can’t be purchased on High Street in London or found below The Eiffel Tower. Even the middle of Lac Léman isn’t going to have the answer. The solution comes from within and being able to forgive and liberate myself, and gaining the ability to do that is going to be a lifelong process.

On the plane ride home, during hour three of eight, I started to think about whether the trip had been a failure in that regard, whether I was returning with the same amount of self-hatred I had before I left, and whether I should have waited to go. Was it a mistake to have gone seeking something I could have found at home?

But after a little more reflection and accidentally dumping a cup of soda in my lap, I realized that the trip had been a success in so many other regards.

Maybe I was still quite ashamed of myself, but I had climbed to the top of Le Arc de Triomphe, even though I am monstrously afraid of heights;

Ah, the weird facial expressions of someone who feels both victorious and like they are going to faint.

I ate three meals a day for nearly two weeks, something I haven’t done since I was thirteen;

I didn’t regurgitate any of the food I put in my mouth;

I only took two real breaks due to anxiety;

Feeling faint and checking my pulse halfway up Le Arc de Triomphe. It was absurdly high, and I nearly cried, but I did not hyperventilate and got to the top.

I only cried from unhappiness once;

While I don’t actually have a picture of me in tears–Cecelia is far to nice to ever take a picture of me doing that–I do have a picture from while I was crying. You’ll just have to imagine me into it–mental photoshop, if you will.

and –though I’ll let Cecelia be the real judge of this–I don’t think that I was quite as priggish as I normally am in stressful situations.

My self-imposed rules didn’t vanish like I hoped, but I learned that I can be braver and take bigger emotional risks than I truly though possible. I got to spend loads and loads of time with my best friend, and I had a monstrous amount of fun exploring London and Paris, my two favorite cities, visiting the Geneva area for the first time, and meeting Cecelia’s French family. I spoke French and managed not to make any embarrassing mistakes. I got to go shopping at my favorite at my favorite British and French stores, and I saw some amazing museum exhibits. And even though this wasn’t the first time I’ve travelled by myself, or even travelled to Europe alone, I feel like I truly proved that I can be an independent adult.

In the end, I got the things I had lied about seeking, seeing the world and experiencing different cultures, and didn’t get the thing, that “out,” I was actually searching for.

And you know what?

I am totally okay with that.

In fact, I am glad that it turned out this way.

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Eleanor Does Europe: Traveling Without Expectations

One of the best things about my trip to Europe was that it was rather spontaneous. Cecelia and I had around a month and a half between deciding to go and actually leaving. I only finished printing the itinerary moments before we left for the airport. I didn’t have time to fantasize about how awesome or scary the trip was going to be. It just happened, and I suddenly found myself eating an early lunch in the garden of Southwark Cathedral and fighting off jet lag. I spent the entire trip living in now, not comparing reality to my expectations, and that was fantastic.

Yes, of course, I didn’t leave home without a very detailed document with addresses, phone numbers, websites, hours, maps, etc. and a rough outline of the places we wanted to visit and the order we planned to do them in, but it was in no way a rigid schedule. I suddenly wanted to go shopping at Top Shop and Cecelia wanted to go exploring in Hyde Park? No problem. Let’s meet at the statue of Prince Albert at seven. The prep work was only there to make life easier and more relaxed. I didn’t have to get anxious about arriving at Le Musée D’Orsay at exactly 15:00 on the 24th because we knew the hours and could just fit it in on another day if we didn’t finish the exhibit.

Our small amount of pre-trip planning worked, we saw a lot, and the trip was unquestionably a success. I got to come home a very proud independent world traveler, antsy after eight hours on an airplane, quite tired, and full of exciting stories to tell my family. There wasn’t any part of me that was upset that something hadn’t happened as I had imagined–because there weren’t any expectations I was trying to fulfill.

Perhaps my recipe for future traveling success is to fantasize less and be more slap-dash and spontaneous. There is a certain magic in just rolling with life rather than trying to force order out something so inherently chaotic. Let’s hope I remember this lesson when I travel again at the end of the month.

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.

Things I Know to Be True: The Phone Rule

I am, without a doubt, a talking on the phone master.

And I’m not talking about my ability to press buttons, something I learned how to do when I was four and my mother spent the afternoon training me how to place a call. (Once again, I am sorry, random people in D.C. who I accidentally called and promptly hung up on in a panic.)

I mean that I am very good at clamping a slowly warming phone between my shoulder and ear and talking for eons.

I’ve tried explaining this before to my mother, who looked at me as if I was touched in the head, but I’ve always felt like when you talk on the phone, you enter this other place. The only sense you get to share with the other person is hearing. So much could be going on that you’re not aware of, but it doesn’t matter because it isn’t part of the shared interaction.

You don’t have to worry about looking as professional as possible when doing work. In fact, I usually call people while I’m lying down in my bed. And if you’re telling or listening to something difficult from a friend, you don’t have to worry about body language or facial expressions–all that exists is the words. And then, there’s the tremendously fun aspect of trying to describe something so that the other person can imagine what it would be like to experience it.

Perhaps it’s because I love reading and writing so much, where you don’t get anything more than the author’s descriptions and explanations the same way you only hear the other person’a words on the other end of the line. I love the freedom of interpretation and the way you have to be both careful and creative with your word choice. It’s like improv writing, if you will.

And maybe it’s because that other place feels safer and people often let their guard down more, particularly if it’s nighttime and you’re both tired. I love the way that the phone strips away those barriers. No one can see you fidget, turn red, or tear up. It’s okay to be visibly emotional, because the other person can’t tell. Just say it.

I suppose that I’m only thinking of this now because I just spent over an hour on the phone with George and another hour before dinner with my aunt. But it’s true. The other place is close to the top of the list of The Things Eleanor Knows to be True About Her World, right under “vulnerability is the key to happiness” and above “you will always feel weirdly calm after sobbing.”

Ella the Spy and the Case of the Mysterious Letter

It is a well known fact that I like a good real-life mystery, even better if it is coupled with a prank.

When I was nine, I hid in a basement window for over an hour so that I could scare someone by telling them I could see the future and mentioning plans for the next day that they hadn’t told me about yet.

And yes, I did spy on Tal several months back and creep her out by telling her exactly what she and a few other friends were doing, with messages like “Tell John to take his fingers out of his mouth. He might choke on a fingernail.”

Along with Cecelia, I’ve sent George weird magazine collages while she was at German camp, including one that was covered with eyes and said nothing else. We mailed them from another town and made my sister address them so that she wouldn’t recognize the handwriting.

I was even planning on texting Sadie with a bunch of information I had gathered about her college (I had found it online while researching something else. I am not so strange as to spend hours thinking these things up.), but she wasn’t there and immediately caught on to what I was trying to do.

I know how to do a creepy mystery and how to do it well. I could maybe even add it to my list of special skills on my résumé, though I doubt it would improve my chances of employment.

I am not, however, used to being the but of a case that is too hard to crack.

But that happened today.

In the mail this afternoon I received this:

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There is no return address, the envelope is typed, and the note is written by handwriting I don’t recognize. It’s an article about retirement, which could possibly be a reference to all of the “active adult retirement community” flyers I keep getting in the mail. I have yet to express any concern about my investments or retirement funds to anyone (I’m eighteen, and some guy at an investment bank works with my parents to handle my money.). The town it appears to be sent from is one I do not know, nor is near the college or house of any of my friends or family, and the list of people I know with J as a first initial is very small.

I will figure this out, and I will report back with my findings. Ten-year-old Ella would be very disappointed if I gave up on the case.

Cornelius and the Mystery of Credit Card Numbers

Pippa just burst into my room to tell me a story that definitely bears repeating.

She was Skyping with her best friend, Jeanne, and the two of them were privy to a very amusing conversation between Jeanne’s younger brother (whose name is–and this is not made up or exaggerated in the slightest–Cornelius) and her mom.

Scene: Cornelius is trying to purchase some item off of the internet using his mother’s credit card.

Cornelius: Mom! I don’t know what the website wants me to do! It says that I need to type in the credit card number! Where is it?

Jeanne’s Mom: It’s on the front of the card!

Cornelius: Yeah, but which number?

Jeanne’s Mom: The ones on the front! It’s obvious, Cornelius!

Cornelius: There are a lot of numbers! Which one do they want? Which one should I choose?

They continued to volley back and forth until it became evident that Cornelius thought that he needed to pick one of the many numbers on the card to type while checking out, and Jeanne’s mom ended up taking the computer away and completing the transaction for him.

In a way, I suppose that it’s a good thing that he was so clueless when it came to using a credit card–kids shouldn’t be given them until they know the real value of money and how easily you can get yourself in trouble with this magic rectangle of plastic–but I’m rather shocked that he didn’t know how to use one online. I can remember shopping for clothes from DPam (their kids clothes are so cute!) when I was seven and watching my mom use her credit card on a website. Somehow, Cornelius has managed to get through fourteen years of his life without observing this once.

In other news, I just spent half and hour looking at children’s clothes and debating whether or not I could justify purchasing a dress if I got it in a size 14 kids. I fit into that size at Petit Bateau.

Lentils and Ella’s Evil Plan

As it turns out, there is a huge difference in the amount of time it takes to cooked green versus red lentils, and if you don’t feel like eating close to nine, you should take this into account before beginning to cook. I did not learn this the hard way, of course.

I have succeeded in getting Cecelia addicted to Downton Abbey. My work here is done, I think.

In Which Ella and Eliza Hang Out With Kittens

Tomorrow I post a ridiculously long piece that I’m nearly done editing, but for tonight, enjoy some pictures from my afternoon with Eliza.

There were adorable rescues at the pet store so we just had to play with the cats for close to an hour. There was a calico kitten that let me hold her like a baby and a black and white kitten that licked my cheek and climbed onto my shoulders and perched there. It was wonderful and I want to take them all home with me.

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My bangs are doing something wonky and my expression is a little off, but look at that adorable kitten licking my cheek!

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Mugs Are For Hot Beverages And Glasses Are For Dweebs Who Can’t See

This is Cecelia, covering for a super sleepy Ella tonight. I was going to talk about those scary hours (minutes? seconds?) in between sleep and consciousness where you’re not sure if you’re awake or dreaming. And you just had this outlandish/terrifying/heartbreaking dream that your commonroom was a brothel or that Sylvia Plath is and has always been the Dean of Yale College and your roommate got in a fight with you over it and you’re really anxious just because you’re pretty sure what you just experienced was too absurd to be a reality but sometimes life is absurd so maybe not! Ah well. Enjoy this picture of my cat followed by a poem by Charles Bukowski.

 

The Aliens

you may not believe it
but there are people
who go through life with
very little
friction or
distress.
they dress well, eat
well, sleep well.
they are contented with
their family
life.
they have moments of
grief
but all in all
they are undisturbed
and often feel
very good.
and when they die
it is an easy
death, usually in their
sleep.