Self-discovery and irrational fears

 

 

After nearly 2 months, much light has been shed on my life in Toronto, who I am and what it means to be here.

This weeks (mis)adventures:

  • Isn’t it nice when your life resembles a fairytale?
  • Adventures in class: How book learning can make you sound intoxicated
  • If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger…except for Dutch staircases, those will take you out of the game.

 

Isn’t it nice when your life resembles a fairytale?

One of the surprising things about living abroad is how quickly you can adapt to your surroundings. Rather than constantly looking at the architecture and thinking, “Holy cow, I actually live here,” you simply just begin to live there. This is good for obvious reasons, you can’t have your mind blown every minute of every day—it would be exhausting. Thus, in an attempt to establish your sense of place your brains tries to make the unfamiliar familiar. This means that you may start to take the exact same route home each day and keep going to the same places to hang out so that you get the comforting sensation of the prosaic.

To throw my fist up in the air against being desensitized, I try to discover something new  every week. It doesn’t have to be big, but it could be a new street, a new detail above a door or a new cafe. This way I am not totally exhausted from exploring all the time and stumbling around with my mind blown like a zombie-bot. In other words, for my mental health, I have manufactured moments of familiar and unfamiliar.

This week in my discoveries I found something fit for a fairytale. If you bike across town, through a large park, past the University of Utrecht, you will find a forest.

Animals!

The forest is lined with grazing animals, white cows and fluffy sheep, but do not stop and pet them (well you could), but you have to keep biking. At the very end of the forest there is a little red house with white windowsills and the smell of caramel billowing from its doorway. This is the panekoek huis or crepe house that is so lovely that when I entered, I felt like the Grinch when his heart grew three sizes in a day!

Aside from the chefs wearing pouffy hats (aaawesome) and the sitting on the edge of the Dutch countryside, the crepes are twice the size of dinner plates! I saw Hansel and Gretel leaving the building and I thought, man this is too good to be true. As the rain began to fall in concert with the leaves, I had that, “this is what living is” moment. I thought of all the people I love and all the things that they are doing and that no one could guess

where I was in that moment—and this is the instance when life becomes more your own, a secret that you share only with yourself.

Obviously it is not entirely secret because I am writing about it here, but the sensation in that moment is something that is only mine. Perhaps this is why people feel more confident or like they know themselves better after travelling. Well, now that I am thinking about it, it could be one of two things.

Maybe travelling doesn’t let us now ourselves better at all, but it does allow us to collect more ineffable experiences, which when we compare how others know us and how we know ourselves, gives the sensation that we must know ourselves better. The second option is that travelling makes you feel like you know yourself better because you have created these experiences, found them and encountered them. We can’t help but take credit for the beauty we find and thus we become more confident in our ability to create and encounter beauty. An ability that we do not always exercise or know about ourselves.

 

 

Adventures in class: How book learning can make you sound intoxicated

He is totally feeling it, intoxicated by books, I knew it!

Let me start by saying that I love what I am studying here. Love it. It totally melts my butter. I basically get to spend all day thinking about beauty, art and philosophy. But I will admit, this aesthetics class I am taking has the adverse effect of making me come across like a intoxicated person trying to sound sophisticated.  This focus for the first part of the semester has been to read Jacques Ranciere’s philosophy about the relationship of aesthetics and politics. When I try to talk about what I am studying I just hear myself and wince: I sound like the teachers from Charlie Brown. Here is a passage, not an inordinately difficult or obtuse passage, just a regular snippet from Ranciere:

Ranciere links art and politics in a revolutionary and very confuuuusing way.

“The forms of aesthetic experience and the modes of fiction thereby create an unprecedented landscape of the visible, new forms of individualities and of connections, different rhythms of  apprehension of the given, new scales. They do not do this in the specific manner of political activity, which creates forms of we, forms of collective enunciation. But they form the dissensual fabric from which are cut out the forms of object construction and the possibilities of subjective enunciation proper to the action of political collectives.”

You see what I mean…ahem. Rubik’s cube gibberish…nuff said.

So I am faced with writing an essay about this which is not impossible, but talking about this philosophy has made me accrue a new fear. This is it: (this is real)

Hiding behind the fear and risk of loving philosophy

There is an insane asylum down the street from me and sometimes these guys are let out to wander around and buy their own groceries. I know this because we buy groceries from the same place. Every now and then when they have wandered too far or taken too long, men dressed in white will come to collect them. Now I know it is crazy, but I feel like when I am wondering about Ranciere and thinking out loud, it is possible that my ramblings could have me mistaken and collected. It could happen. Sure, med students run the risk of hurting people, but landing in a mental health clinic, these are the dangers of studying art and philosophy. Totally underestimated.

 

 

#3: If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger…except for Dutch staircases, those will take you out of the game.

Smiling because I am super stoked I haven’t fallen into a canal…yet

After nearly 2 months of being abroad, I’ve adjusted to some of the obstacles in the Holland. You might think I mean obstacles metaphorically, but I don’t. For someone as uncoordinated and clumsy as I am, there are many things that are a death trap that I’ve had to learn to avoid. Here is the shortlist:

1) Despite being the country credited for having the tallest people (the average height is 5″8), their stairs are made for people who wear a size 4 shoe. Every time I go down the stairs I try not to imagine falling to my death. Since I don’t like appearing nervous, I try to cover up my fear of death-by-stairs by talking more incessantly with whomever I’m with, which perpetuates my anxiety because my concentration is broken, which circles back to making me think about falling down the stairs.

2) Here is a business idea— (I thought this was a given, but) Dutch bathrooms do not have tilted tiles in the bathroom. As a result, after a shower the water has spilled all over the floor and stays there as a danger puddle until you squeegee it into the drain. Solution from death by slippage? Tilted tiles.

I’m too positive to just talk about death stuff. So here are a few reasons why the Netherlands are the best:

1) Mail on SATURDAYS!!! Let’s face it, mail on any day is awesome, but mail on a Saturday feels like a gift from the Gods. You pick up that mail, embrace it, twirl around with it because in Canada, Saturday means you have to wait 48 hours or more to get mail.

These are in fact considered a breakfast topping..amazing

2) It is not uncommon to see business men dressed with a bow tie, sitting down with a piece of toast dusted with chocolate sprinkles and a juice box. A tiny juice box. The kind where the man has to change his man-grip into  dainty-grip because his regular grip might crush the juice box creating a volcanic eruption of purple drink. The Dutch men are so not about being macho, it’s awesome.

 

3) Most warm beverages come with a little cookie or chocolate on the side. If you tell a local that this is not the norm in Canada, they’ll say, “But that’s the best part.” Indeed. I’ll miss this every time I order a warm beverage in Canada now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About julienne.lottering@utoronto.ca

When my family emigrated from South Africa to Canada it was 1991 and I was eight years old. From an early age it was clear to me that my roots had a contentious history. Immigration shaped me by making me more skeptical of my roots and a more trusting of my wings. Travel has never just been travel for me; it has been a way to make order out of the world. In the context of my life, travel is a stratosphere of transformative experiences. For that reason I am now living in the Netherlands with the mission to find cultural subtleties, unexpected beauty and what wild diverse experiences this exchange has to offer!

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