My Lady,

You are beautiful.

I use that word because I mean it.

Beautiful like

a breeze kicking up leaves amongst the cigarette butts,

beautiful like

a million lights glittering behind the building across the street,

beautiful like

a manicured green that is nonauthorisé.

Something as beautiful as you cannot be sit on.

It can only be pictured again and again

until every strand of memory weaves itself into a canvas

to hang over a hole in the drywall,

or a sheet

to drape over the chair that just can’t be gotten rid of.

What I mean to say is

I can’t let go of the way

you smell like butter and piss and Chanel No. 5.

I can’t stop hearing the crinkle of your rolling papers,

the sigh of your train as it cools on the tracks,

the cry of seagulls who mistook your river for the sea.

I can’t purge you from my palette, either,

scrape you from my tongue,

nor can I wash out my resentment.

 

I thought I’d beaten you the moment I said

“I will never come back.”

I meant it then.

Funny,

my return is all I can imagine now;

my arrival on your doorstep is all I can foresee.

My entrance will go unnoticed,

but the sound of my shoe on your staircase

will shake you from your ambivalence.

 

Cruel vixen,

though I may cringe at every step up your tower,

when I reach the top there will be

nothing more you can do to me.

I will have skipped the elevator,

refused to settle for the second-to-last étage,

elbowed my way through your hoard of suitors,

survived it all.

And then, at long last,

your wind will wash over me like water

and all I will hear is your wayfaring voice,

pleading me to never forget your luster…

 

In time, my love,

your brilliance may be eclipsed by the young,

and your splendor overshadowed by the bold,

but your beauty

is untouchable.

 

My Lady,

the day you turn to ash

will be the day

this world goes black—

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The Sun Project: Epilogue

As I handed over my completed Sun Project to my professor on November 1, I felt a confused combination of pride, sadness and relief. After eight weeks of observing the sunrise and sunset, I was, on the one hand, extremely grateful for the experience. On the other hand, I was totally over it. Waking up early on days when all I wanted to do was sleep in had grown annoying, and the later-rising and earlier-setting sun had begun to interrupt other activities. On the day of my last observation, melodramatic me was celebrating— “Yes! I’ve finally got my life back!”

the last sunset!

“Yes! I’ve finally got my life back!”

And yet, I felt a certain regret as I realized that this would probably be the last time a professor asked me to perch myself in front of the horizon and become deeply aware of the sun, the Earth, and the natural cycle of day and night. The next time I would do so would have to be of my own volition. Luckily, my professor had given me eight weeks of intensive practice and study so that next time I found myself before the sunrise or sunset, I would know what to do—that is, marvel at the majesty of nature, the beauty of the sun-painted sky, and the miracle of life, all while appreciating the science behind it. If there is one thing I learned from this project, it is that nature and science are not opposed. The natural world is one of scientific processes, patterns, and (im)perfections. Science is the quest to understand this natural clockwork, to discover the magician’s secrets. Both are beautiful.

Thankfully, I didn’t grow too tired of observing the sun, because not long after the end of the Sun Project, I was at it again. Last weekend, my sister came to visit me in Tucson, so she, my roommate and I decided to take some hot chocolate up to Windy Point and watch the sunset. Driving up Mt. Lemmon, I had been worried that the cloud cover would be too thick to see a good one, but once we got out of the car and started heading toward the mountainside, my worries were gone. The clouds would be what made this particular sunset so breathtaking.

before the sunset

Clamoring up the jagged boulders to our chosen observation spot, I felt a familiar contentment washing over my body and mind. It was the same wave of calm that had come over me during the Sun Project as I watched the sun dip below the mountain tops week after week—the silence of the closing day, the stillness of the resting world, the gradual deceleration of life’s momentum.

As the sun sunk lower, the sky transformed into a glowing swirl of gold, pink and orange. The ever-changing canvas was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and would never see again. Like every individual, every breath, every embrace, no sunset is the same. Its existence is finite and ephemeral, offering itself to the world for only minutes before subsiding, forever, into darkness. That is perhaps what makes a sunset so precious—it cannot be repeated or copied, traced in a stencil or captured, precisely how it was, in a photograph. Its life is fleeting, yet its light, so extraordinary in all its luster, makes life on this world that much richer.

Sunset

Not unlike your own.

Namaste,

Savannah

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The Sun Project: Part 2

Some say it takes only three weeks to form a new habit, others say it takes nine. Well, after eight weeks of doing my Sun Project, I can say that watching the sunrise and sunset once a week has become engrained in my mental and physical clock. I know now that I will start every Wednesday with an observation, and that I will plan dinner and my study schedule around catching the sun just before it dips below the mountains. I have consciously integrated the sun, along with the changing of the seasons, into my daily life.

This may sound strange considering the fact that the sun has been and will always be part of my daily life. This is one of those “no shit, Sherlock” statements, right? But in all honesty, when was the last time you could predict when the sun would rise, to the minute? Have you ever noticed that the sun moves south along the horizon during the last half of the year, and north during the first? How often do you look up at the sky and note how far the sun has moved, or what angle it is at?

constructing the sunset

This new awareness is subtle, but enriching. If the sun was only a casual acquaintance 8 weeks ago, now he is a dear friend, and I take the time to ask where he rises each morning, how his day went before he tucks in for bed. The sun and I are on a first name basis.

While I appreciate being conscious of the Earth’s orbit and rotation and its relationship to the sun for the mere intellectual value, I have also tuned in to the more philosophical lessons that come with this awareness. After a few weeks, the sun began to teach me two contrasting yet interrelated lessons, the first on consistency and the second on impermanence.

The sun’s trajectory across our sky is one of the most consistent patterns in our world. The sun will rise and set without fail, and this we take for granted because the sun, since the beginning of human memory, has proved itself consistent. The natural world is full of repeating, predictable patterns—the changing of the seasons, the phases of the moon—that define the patterns of human life. And yet, in parenthesizes, there are elements of change. Where there is a pattern, there is always a deviation. The sun does not rise at the same point everyday; the moon’s cycle may be interrupted by an eclipse; the seasons behave differently as the Earth transforms, for better or for worse. In other words, even within consistency there is an element of impermanence. No pattern is repeated in quite the same way. The world, though it may be predictable, is always new.

Now what if this idea were applied to people? Are individuals a composition of consistent habits, behaviors, patterns? Do these consistencies change from decade to decade, year to year, day to day? What aspects of a personality are evanescent? What elements can be taken for granted, like the rise and fall of the sun?

When I turn these questions upon myself, I think of the many years I’ve spent going through the same motions, confronting the same challenges, fighting the same battles. I tackle the same obstacles—weight gain, depression, fatigue—in a predictable annual cycle. Yet I never approach these challenges in the same way, and over the years, I’ve found them easier to overcome. I have new strategies now, and I perceive these patterns differently. I have learned that my physical and emotional heaviness is impermanent, and it will fade, like daylight. My body and heart will rest the whole night through, and when I rise again to surmount the hurdles the day has set before me, I will do so with renewed vitality until, one crisp, bright morning, I will embrace the familiar, consistent trials as fleeting, impermanent opportunities for growth.

selfie sunset 9:25

What has the sun taught you lately?

Smiles and all the best,

Savannah

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The Sun Project: Part 1

Despite two years of calculating a student’s velocity just before he splashes into a pool of sharks after being shot out of a canon from the top of a 105-foot cliff (yes, Mr. Littleton adored his physics students), I’ve never been into science. I can do it, sure, but would I volunteer to pass my spare time contemplating the half-life of uranium? No, never. And that’s why, after years of avoiding it, I got stuck taking a freshman-level general education course on planetary science my second-to-last semester of college.

I frowned as I approached the classroom on the first day of school. Underclassmen surrounded me. I grimaced at their beyond-bootie shorts and bro tanks. I listened as they chatted about what happened at Saturday night’s pre-game, who almost got an MIP, rush, football. This, I thought, is going to be miserable.

Then the classroom doors opened and we filed in. The course, it turns out, is held in the planetarium. We all sat down in large, well-cushioned chairs that tilt back a few degrees so that you can look up at the ceiling of the spherical room. The lights were dimmed and the professor’s presentation illuminated the ceiling.

As the professor began to explain his syllabus, I learned that this class would not be a typical gen-ed. We would not be sitting passively in our seats and listening to him ramble, then exiting and letting all he said fly out of our minds until the following week. Instead, we would be going out at night to observe the moon and the planets. We would experience demonstrations in the planetarium, where the ceiling turns into a perfect image of the night sky. And we would be doing something called the “Sun Project.”

The Sun Project requires us to observe 8 sunrises and 8 sunsets, each about one week apart from another. We have to take a picture of ourselves at our observing site (to prove it’s us taking the pictures), then snap a photo of the sun just before it rises over the mountains or dips below the horizon.

My first reaction to the Sun Project was something like, “You mean I have to be awake, presentable enough for a photo, and capable of driving all before the sunrise? Fat chance.” My next thought was to drop the class. But I chased this negativity away and focused on the opportunity that my professor had handed me: I am required to enjoy on a weekly basis two of the most remarkable, most beautiful natural phenomena on Earth.

before the sunrise 9/18

So, on Wednesday mornings I wake up around 5:55 to roll out of bed and into my car, disheveled and puffy-eyed from sleep. I drive, racing the sun, to the bridge that crosses the Rillito River at Campbell and River. I park in the empty Trader Joe’s lot and cross to the east side of the street to wait for the sun to climb over the mountain tops.

On these mornings, the world seems a different place, suspended somewhere between sleep and waking. The air is cool and damp. The only sound is the occasional passing car and the breathless conversations of joggers who run by along the river bank.

Each time I am there inhaling the fresh, pure morning air, I  think to myself that this moment is sacred.

Then the first rays of sun come streaming over the peaks. I feel their warmth on my skin and squint at the horizon as the air turns from hazy blue to dusty gold. Now, the world is completely awake, and there is no more room for dreaming. The last lingering star winks before the sun envelops its sparkle. The world turns.

sunrise 9:18

Every time I greet the sun now, I am reminded that I am rotating and that the earth I stand on is in orbit. I think about the endless cycle of day and night that gives birth to new opportunity, though it follows the same path and repeats the same pattern with each passing day. Every time the sun rises above the horizon, we are given the chance to reset and recalibrate. To try again if we must, and to try anew. The world is born again, though from the same womb.

Greet the sun. Embrace the day. Invite the new. And take solace in knowing that tomorrow will come, again.

Smiles and all the best,

Savannah

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10 things I miss about Paris

Before I left for Paris more than one year ago, I made a list of things I would miss about my life here in Arizona. Now, more than a month since my return home, I’ve found there are things about Paris that I miss dearly and desperately. Some of them are gems that make the city unique. Others are mundane things that were part of my daily life. No matter the case, I long for them all now:

1. Fresh food that is full of flavor (because it probably came from the local farmer’s market just hours before)

crêpe au saumon

The first thing I noticed when I got home was how lackluster all of the fruits and vegetables were in the grocery stores. They tasted like they’d had all the flavor sucked out of them. Then I noticed the breads I was eating tasted like big loaves of sugar. Bleck. You just can’t beat locally raised, freshly harvested food.

2. A bakery on every block

Bakery

Bakeries are as French as handle-bar mustaches and self-rolled cigarettes. The smell of fresh dough wafts through the alleyways every morning as the little boulangeries prepare for the city’s most fundamental daily tradition: the buying and eating of bread. Meanwhile, the pastries are being frosted and adorned, and the viennoiseries  are being filled with chocolate, raisins, butter. How I miss this daily ceremony, observing it, smelling it and tasting it.

3. Green spaces around every corner

Père la Chaise

Though I’d say Paris is in need of more green space, it certainly has readily accessible gardens and parks in abundance compared to Tucson. Every neighborhood has its little (or big!) outdoor sanctuary, where the gates are open, the trees are tall and the pathways are calling to be strolled upon.

4. Beauty for beauty’s sake

Sénat

The French have a profound respect for beauty. So much so that they strive to cultivate beauty in every building, every patch of dirt, every ensemble. I miss this intentional aesthetic, this sense of presentation and pride in the human capacity for art, whether it be in trimming of a rose garden, in the ceiling of a cathedral, or in the glint of a woman’s lipstick.

5. Sunday, a true day of rest

The distinguishing feature of a Sunday in Paris is something my camera cannot capture: silence. A penetrating silence that rises and sets with the sun. On a Sunday in Paris, you can guarantee that 85 percent of all businesses and institutions are closed. At first, this bothered me, because I needed to DO things, dammit. But Sunday is the antithesis of doing in Paris. It is a day of calm, when one may get out of bed a little later in the morning, enjoy a pleasant brunch with loved ones, take a stroll through the garden, drink two glasses of wine at dinner instead of one. This couldn’t be more different than a Sunday in the U.S., where everything runs business-as-usual—fast, loud, busy. Too busy.

6. Things—demonstrations, protests, festivals—happening! All the time! 

Femen 2

Something is always happening in Paris. A girl is never bored.

7. The lights shimmering in the Seine at night

La Seine

I know I’ve used this photo time and time again, but that’s merely because I find what it captures so breathtaking. Paris at night is a magical place. It glows.

8. High heels

march 2

There is a way of dressing here in Tucson. It is called “Tucson Casual.” After a year in Paris, where dressing up is the norm, I find that I prefer a pair of heels and a splash of lipstick over a pair of sandals and a glob of sunscreen. Tucson Casual isn’t me anymore, and yet, when I reach for my heels, I recoil, knowing that wherever I go I will feel over-dressed.

Call me snobby. I can take it.

9. The changing of seasons

Preview!

When the leaves in Paris started to turn from green to orange yellow red, I behaved like a child who has just seen snow for the first time. I had never experienced this natural phenomenon, even in my hometown in the mountains of northern Arizona. Being able to see and feel the world shifting from one season to another is a wonderful feeling that brings a person down to Earth. It reminds you that you’re spinning.

10. The social custom of saying “hello,” “good morning” and “good evening” to everyone you meet

In France, and in most of Europe, hello and goodbye are required upon any one-on-one encounter with a person, whether you know them or not. When you enter a store, you say hello. When you pass someone in the hallway, you say hello. When you see a neighbor down by the mailboxes, you say hello. If you don’t, it is terribly rude.

Although this custom was a little daunting at first (who do I greet and who do I ignore?), it soon became a pleasant part of everyday life. Every time I exchanged hello’s with someone, often a stranger, I felt we had exchanged a gesture of mutual human compassion. Sometimes acknowledgement is all a person needs to feel special.

me in paris

These are only a few of the things I miss about Paris, a city that has become closer to my heart with each day spent away from her. Of course, I only realized how much I treasured her after I’d left her behind. I guess I’ll have to go back so that I can let her know, won’t I?

What customs and details do you miss about your own travels? How do you cope with the nostalgia? Share your stories in the comments below!

Smiles and all the best,

Savannah

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