6 ways to read print books affordably

There’s no shortage of books to read, which may then lead to the question of how to stick to your budget? Naturally, there’s nothing wrong with paying more / full price for books, and there are different cases where you’d want to do so. But in the event that bargains (or even hard-to-find titles) are on your mind, these 6 tips came to mind.

I note that while this list is about print books (my preferred reading method), I trust that many of these also have free and/or affordable ebook options.

How right you are, Mr. Darcy 🙂

In order of most affordable (no cost to low cost):

1. Public libraries
Unsurprisingly, an automatic fulfilling way to access print books for free are libraries. Naturally, what’s required is a visit to the location and a membership card, and you’re good to go. With technology increasingly impacting our lives, we may not think of libraries as much as we did in the past, but they remain an amazing resource that should not be forgotten and/or underestimated.

As with any situation, there are factors to consider if this is the right option, such as location, inventory, and borrowing protocols. While borrowing time limits can be intimidating, they can also motivate you to meet your goals (and as I recently heard inspirational figure Brendon Burchard say, studies show that few things push people as much as deadlines!). In any case, libraries seem the surest way of accessing desired titles for free, at least at some point.

^Haha! The man is just amazing 🙂

2. Your network
Another option might be to borrow from friends, coworkers, relatives, etc. especially in the case where they’re recommending a title they happen to own. How feasible that is also all depends on how often you see them, how quickly they need it back, etc.

3. Goodreads giveaways
If you’re a book lover, it goes without saying that you should be on Goodreads. It’s a great lit-oriented platform that has a range of activities that allow you to: create your virtual bookshelves, track what you’ve read and want to read, rate books, write book reviews, discover new books, socialize through joining groups and discussions, create an author page and host book giveaways (if you’re a writer/publisher), and enter free book giveaways.

You’re allowed to enter as many giveaways as you want, and while there’s never any guarantee you’ll win, it’s definitely a possibility. As reference, adding a book to your ‘to-read’ bookshelf will alert you when a giveaway for that book goes live. Even if this option doesn’t yield many (any?) free books, all the other perks are well worth joining the platform.

4. ARCs
Another option, which may or may not be connected to Goodreads, is to acquire an Advanced Reader’s Copy of a certain book, aka “ARC”. These are basically pre-publication copies that are sent out to readers who are active on social media, and who intend to read the book and share that experience with their platform(s). The idea is to bring attention to the title in question in a timely manner, and probably close to its publication date for maximum marketing impact.

Publishing houses may have different protocols for requesting ARCs, so you’d want to look these up individually. With that said, a good place to start might be reviewing these tips by All Things Urban Fantasy:
Part 1 – ARC Resources
Part 2 – Requesting ARCs
Part 3 – ARC Protocol

5. Local bookstores, low cost bookstores & used books
One of the top 2 ways that I love getting books is from local bookstores. In addition to supporting independent business, it can contribute to more sustainable practices through buying used books at such locations.

An amazing store I’d highly recommend checking out is Half Price Books! They have both new and used books at reduced prices, as well as Clearance sections which feature books (often brand new!) ranging from $1-$4! I cannot count the many, many hauls I’ve acquired in that way, and though it can feel mind-blowing, it’s greatly contributed to my library, and motivates me to read more. (One great reminder is that books are never a waste either; especially not when you think of all the lovely tomes you’d want to pass on to your kids 😉 )

For other discounted rates, used books via Amazon is another great option. The selection is just unbeatable and also comes in quite handy when you’re looking for hard-to-find titles (which is often a factor for me).

?! bahahahaha 😀

6. College libraries
College libraries are another great resource to consider. While their selection may primarily lean on scholarly and curriculum-appropriate titles, they very often have general fiction and other books–and in several different languages too. (You may also be able to check out their inventory online to assess availability.)

This process would likely entail getting some kind of fee-based ‘Alumni membership’ that would grant borrowing privileges. This option is a great way to access many titles (and possibly hard-to-find and/or very expensive titles, as is often the case with scholarly work!), while supporting educational institutions. Based on your needs and goals, you can consider your own college and/or check out others near you.

Speaking of which: this list shows some gorgeous European-like US libraries, many of which are part of universities; yet another reason to consider checking them out!

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Source

As with anything in life, a range of factors will determine where we want to splurge and where we want to cut back. But with several book access options available, reading shouldn’t have to be expensive–especially not if reading, as opposed to book collecting, is one of your primary goals.

One of the side effects of book reading will be determining what to do with the book(s) next. As I’ve gotten older and reflected more about the kind of space I want to be in,  I’ve increasingly taken to discarding titles (and other objects) that don’t resonate. In that case, several of the aforementioned options can double as ways to pass them on to other readers.

Cheers to happy reading! 😀

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Conscious organic skincare brand: Annmarie Gianni Skin Care

I’m grateful to be featured in Annmarie Gianni Skin Care‘s Beautiful Voices blog!

I’ve been using Annmarie Skin Care products for over 3 years now and LOVE IT!

In honor of being featured, I’m happy to look back on the products I’ve used, and which I overall highly recommend you check out.

As I’ve gotten older and reflected on my use of makeup, I’ve become more dedicated to taking better care of my skin. This was not because of any particular issues I had (which in my case, is usually dryness in some areas), but rather to develop good habits to prevent (or at least delay) potential issues. After all, as with many things in life, it’s usually easier to treat / catch something early on, than to treat it once it’s already more developed.

I gravitate towards natural ingredients, so discovering Annmarie’s line was right up my alley. My heart jumped even more when I found the line entails products that include frankincense and myrrh–ingredients that carry meaning for me as a person of Holy Land Christian descent.

Given the range of products available, it can be hard to know where to start, so I tried the Sample Kit – Restore for Dry and Mature Skin. At the time, that sample consisted of the Purifying Mud Mask (now replaced by the Aloe Herb Cleanser), the Anti-Aging Facial Oil, and the Anti-Aging Serum. Since a little goes a long way, I got at least a handful of uses out of it, and I was instantly a fan. I loved the facial oil which, like many other essential oils, didn’t feel thick and ‘oily’ at all and absorbed well into my skin. But my instant favorite was the Anti-Aging Serum, whose scent I adore and has become my go-to. It figures as my most luxurious skincare product, and it’s absolutely well worth it. Whenever I have any kind of flare up, I apply it (usually during my evening routine) and always wake up feeling like I got a nice treatment during my dreamtime (Haha 😀 Also I wouldn’t be surprised if the various ingredients and scent also contribute to a nice sleep 🙂 ) As mentioned, a little goes a long way, so that one or 2 pumps are enough to do the job. This can also be followed by a moisturizer; all as per experimentation with what works for you.

I don’t necessarily use this product every day, as I tend to alternate in different patterns–perhaps one week I’ll use it, then switch off, or use it every other day, or every 2 days, etc. All these factors only contribute to making this a worthy investment and not a product that is used up overnight. One estimate I have is that, when I was using it almost everyday, it lasted me at least 6 months. My latest ‘switching’ habits would naturally only extend that time period.

The products come in dark glass bottles that I believe helps in keeping light out, thus preserving its contents. Another added bonus is that they are, of course, recyclable! I love to use them for other essential oils.

The conscious company ethics, great customer service and appreciation, topped with amazing products make this a company highly worthy of consideration.

Visit the website at: https://www.annmariegianni.com/.

Nicola’s Leg by Natacha Pavlov : book now available

I’m SO HAPPY to announce that my latest book, Nicola’s Leg, is now available! 😀

Nikita and Natacha, of Russian nobility, flee the Russian Revolution to Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives. Thus is born my grandfather Nicola’s story: from adolescence in Eastern Europe, to serving in Egypt during World War II, to his imprisonment at the onset of Israel’s Six-Day War, his journey unfolds, eventually culminating in the loss of his legs.

Hardcover, 123 pages. Available here: http://www.natachapavlov.com/nicolas-leg

Cover art was made by Victoria Cooper Art, who creates great historical fiction book covers!

 

 

 

Nicola’s Leg by Natacha Pavlov – cover reveal

35 years ago today, our Russian grandfather Nicola passed away.

I’m humbled and thankful to have written his amazing life story, which has taught me as much about part of our family history and dynamics, as it did about myself and the kind of person I wanna be 💙 I see that as one of the many great reasons to dive into family history, and a helpful reminder of how certain traits can potentially get passed on (see: Bible, epigenetics)–of course; provided they are activated and amplified by our own thoughts and actions (personal responsibility is key) 🌟

It was also totally NOT planned that the 2017 year–marking exactly a century since the Russian Revolution that kicks off the story–would be the year of completion, but I’m thankful for Jesus’ eternal divine timing ☦️

Hence, the cover to the upcoming book titled Nicola’s Leg which will be available in April:

Nikita and Natacha, of Russian nobility, flee the Russian Revolution to Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives. Thus is born my grandfather Nicola’s story: from adolescence in Eastern Europe, to serving in Egypt during World War II, to his imprisonment at the onset of Israel’s Six-Day war, his journey unfolds, eventually culminating in the loss of his legs.

http://www.natachapavlov.com/nicolas-leg

nicolasleg_natachapavlov

Tips for healthy natural nails

tips-healthy-nails-natacha-pavlov

The first kind of ‘self-art’ I ventured into—referring to art that you wear—was nail polish. (This is a nail polish detail that ended up in one of my short stories about my Belgian childhood; a copper-red whose matching lipstick was Revlon #54 in the late 70s haha 🙂 ) No doubt it was at least in some ways linked to my love of watercolor painting, an activity I was first introduced to as a young kid in school.

nail-polish-art-recycle-natacha-pavlovFast forward to decades later and I’ve since also made some art out of old, dried out nail polishesUnsurprisingly I also enjoy other forms of artistic expression, such as makeup and fashion, but one thing I love about nail art is how long-lasting it is, and that it can instantly make you feel glam, especially if you tend to spend more time at home / inside (in which case you may be in lounging attire—YES! 😀 )

Years ago in college I was finally talked into getting my nails done at a salon for the first time ever. And while I indulged a few more times, it was never my favorite way of acquiring nail art. The fact that some technicians scrubbed my cuticles so hard it left my skin raw and nearly bleeding, combined with the cost of upkeep and weakening of my natural nails made it an easy turn off. Of course, nail salons offer services that can be useful for a variety of reasons; I’ve just decided that I prefer channeling my own creativity through this art form and keeping to my preferable healthful approach—with the added bonus of $aving money in the process! 😀

As such, after years of pursuing and evolving the enjoyable practice of doing my own nails, I’ve learned quite a few things about how to grow strong, natural nails. Here are some tips and products I can recommend as per my long-time experience with them. Enjoy!

1. Get a blood test
Now of course, this is not a strict requirement, but since everything starts with health, getting a Complete Blood Count (CBC) test can help shed light on the overall health and status of various mineral levels. While different things can affect nail health and it might not be an automatic indicator, it’s a good place to start if possible, as it should also help determine which supplements are needed more than others (see below).

2. Proper supplements
Naturally our bodies reveal things to us in a variety of ways, and nails can be one of those indicators. I recommend taking an effective daily supplement, as well as magnesium; an important mineral involved in over 350 functions in our bodies but which our diets are sadly lacking in these days. While a daily supplement will likely have magnesium in it, it’s usually of the type that’s poorly absorbed by our bodies (either magnesium oxide or carbonate), so I specifically look for magnesium glycinate. The magnesium whose content our body absorbs the most is magnesium orotate, which is another, albeit usually pricier option.
It also seems quite common for women to be low in iron; however, you want to use caution if deciding to take some (ie: while I may take my vitamins weekly, I may take iron every few weeks / months, if that).

In general I note that I don’t take my vitamins every day per se. My routine tends to be a few times a week, which works just as well, but as mentioned above, this is an instance where having blood test results can help shed light on what your particular needs may be.

Also, I will add that I personally don’t have a medical studies background, however pharmacy / health / healing is a vocation that has run in my family for generations. As such, I’m humbled and thankful for this valuable resource, and to keep learning about this subject in various ways. (I will say in the disappointing, if not shocking, instances when some doctors have proven indifferent and/or pretty unhelpful, we have been glad to do our own ‘educated research’; something which surely many people have also dealt with.)

Daily women’s vitamin – MegaFood Women’s One Daily (many vitamins I’ve tried smelled / tasted weird and gave me gag reflex; not so with this one, and I do feel a difference when I run out)

Magnesium Glycinate – Doctors Best High Absorption Magnesium

Magnesium Orotate – Dr. Hans Nieper Magnesium Orotate

3. Use acetone-free nail polish remover
For a while the main issue I had with my nails was that they would start peeling. It was so annoying and I couldn’t figure it out… and I’m gasping as I write this, because I kinda can’t believe I was even using 100% pure acetone at some point! Needless to say I was drying out my nails like crazy, but thankfully I eventually discovered acetone-free nail polish remover. While it’s also true that peeling could be caused by other things, what I can say is that this switch made a huge (unsurprising?!) impact on my nail health. If you have this nail issue (and even if not), I would recommend this easy first switch and seeing if it helps!

I’ve recently started using Karma Naturals Nail Polish Remover with soybean oil and lavender and I’m LOVING it!

4. Use a crystal glass nail file
Crystal glass nail files are meant to be gentler on the nails. Generally, it’s around $10 and is a great investment since they’re meant to last forever (they are washable with soap and water).
Now, a word of caution. I initially bought a set of 2 or so on eBay, and soon discovered they were actually fakes; the telltale sign being that the top coating started coming off! Definitely not the ‘lifelong’ deal I wanted! This was years ago, but of course they’re still available pretty much all over (a warning sign may be a large set selling for very cheap). Here’s a useful quick video on what to watch out for:

Given the issue with counterfeits, I would advise purchasing from an official retailer such as Sephora, or basically any trusted seller after doing some research.
(I got mine on Etsy, so trusted sellers are out there 😉 )

5. Buffing
After filing your nails, you want to buff them to smooth the surface. 10+ years ago I never did this (it was also just the start of the internet age, so not as much access to info) and needless to say, nails would get chips, catch onto fabric, etc. and rip. Eek!
A great nail buffer I’ve used for years is the Revlon CrazyShine nail buffer.

6. Don’t cut your cuticles
I’ve done this a few times, and though nothing extreme happened (well, aside from making myself bleed a little 😦 ), I’ve since found that it’s not only unnecessary, but is actually a risk in different ways.
Pushing cuticles back with a rubber cuticle pusher is all you need.

7. MOISTURIZE!
With active, demanding lifestyles, hands can easily become dehydrated and dry, which is why moisturizing is key. While I might use some lotion during the day, my favorite is heavy moisturizing at night, when you’re sure to get a solid amount of uninterrupted ‘hydration time’ (haha). In the evening I tend to use pure essential oils, such as sweet almond, grapeseed, jojoba, etc. or the great multi-purpose Smith’s Rosebud Salve.

Hand lotion – This Nature’s Gate Rose hand cream is full of essential oils

Sweet Almond oil – Aura Cacia Sweet Almond oil

Smith’s Rosebud Salve – Great heavy-duty moisturizer. This can also be applied on your cuticles around your nails before a manicure for easy cleanup, in case nail polish gets in the wrong place (since the nail polish can’t stick to it, it’ll slide right off).

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8. Wear protective gloves 
Unsurprisingly, wearing gloves during home, yard and other work is another key factor in nail health, especially with water and soap from doing dishes that can quickly disrupt the hands’ moisture levels.

9. Don’t use nails as tools
There may be minor times when it calls for it (which shouldn’t be a big deal), and when nails are long it can almost feel ‘natural’ (haha) to use them as such, but making a conscious effort not to will benefit your nails overall. In cases where deep scraping, scratching, etc. is required, just use some other tool.

10. Consider the nail polishes you use
In recent years, many nail product companies have become increasingly ‘3-4-5′ free, which basically refers to being free of harmful chemicals such as formaldehyde, toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP), etc. Just how harmful these chemicals actually are when used in nail polish may be debateable, but it’s still ideal to be informed. And anyway; if you can get nail polish without these ingredients in them, why wouldn’t you?!

It’s a few years old, but AllLacqueredUp has a useful post with the status of a range of brands for quick reference (keeping in mind the info may have changed since then… Although one would hope that, if so, it’s for the better rather than the inverse!)

Here are a few more recent posts on non-toxic polishes:

Bustle — 9 Non-Toxic Nail Polish Brands You Should Start Using Immediately — I will do a quick shout out to the awesome Wet ‘N Wild nail polishes, which are featured in this list and are an amazing affordable line to check out!

Wellness Mama — Best Non-Toxic Nail Polish options

So there we have it! I will leave with a closing thought that a good sign of nail health is that they’re flexible (as in they can bend some), since being too hard is what makes them break on impact.

I hope these tips were useful! What are your own nail care tips? Share in the comments below! And have a happy and healthy 2017! 🙂

5 ways Paris has changed in 10 years… and hasn’t

I recently revisited Paris to celebrate, among other things, my study abroad year a decade ago–making it a great (if rather intense) 10-year reunion of a kind.

As expected, it didn’t take long to notice the ways in which some things have changed in this time frame.

5 ways Paris has changed in 10 years:

1. French people now like, if not WANT, to speak English!
One of the first things to say to contextualize my experience 10 years ago is none other than: Bush administration. In light of 9/11 and the US government’s involvement in the Middle East, Americans were easy targets for practically everything that was deemed wrong in foreign policy (if not the world in general). As such, speaking (American) English was an instant giveaway, and could sometimes draw judgmental looks and/or behavior from some. Of course that’s not to say that French people didn’t ‘like’ to speak English then, or can’t differentiate between a government’s actions and its citizens, but it was just all too easy for the political angle to come to the fore. For the most part, there was also general awareness that, as anywhere else, US residents vary, and as such may only reflect a part of the population. With that said, since most of the students studying abroad were there to learn the language, they would try hard to speak in French, which sometimes felt rather expected from the French–as in; we’re not gonna go out of our way to help these Americans kinda vibe–to give an example.

As such, ten years later we were quite surprised to see most people much more playful and wanting to speak English! In the few times my friends would try to take up their broken French, it all too easily shifted to English with no problem. Another instance that comes to mind is when we were just walking around looking for a place, talking to each other in English, when someone overheard us and asked us (in English) if we needed help finding our destination. This was simply unheard of, if not nearly impossible, a decade ago. (It’s also no secret that American culture has, and will continue to, influence the world; France included.)

2. France (or is it Paris mostly?) has gone high(er) tech!
One of the main jokes has always been that going to France–if not Europe in general–is a bit like stepping back into the Middle Ages. And one of these reasons is–or perhaps was–none other than technology. If I recall correctly, the American cell phones a decade ago were already becoming more advanced while the options in Paris were quite basic and limited. This time around it was common to see iPhones (or iPhone-like devices) in heavy use.

What also surprised us was the fact that many places require chip-enabled credit cards (and won’t accept those who aren’t), but the most unexpected was seeing electric cars charging at public charging stations!

3. ‘Doggy bags’ are now a thing
As per my friend’s awesome recommendation to dinner at Chez Gladines (a complete MUST!!), our large, delicious Basque food portions soon hinted that we may not be able to finish all our plates. (I will gladly note that I tried my friends’ dishes and they were all freakin’ delicieux!!) Being that in the past we were generally aware that taking leftovers wasn’t always a possibility, we would usually attempt to finish as much as we could on the spot. However, there was no need to worry on that front, and really I would imagine that it would only benefit any restaurant to provide that rather obvious option.

4. Withdrawing cash at BNP is no longer charge-free 
This is obviously not directly linked to French people, but was frustrating nonetheless since I wasn’t given clear information, despite having called the bank prior to my travel. When I studied there, there was this awesome convenient perk of being able to withdraw cash from your Bank of America account at BNP Paribas ATMs (being that BoA and BNP are international partners); the amount which would obviously come out as Euros. There was NO FEE whatsoever; all that would happen was that you’d enter in the Euro amount requested, and later on you’d see that amount reflected in dollars in your account according to the rate exchange at time of transaction. That was it!

This time around, I was charged a 3% fee; which was either a conversion fee or an international transaction fee; I don’t really care about which it is, all I know is that it was 3%, which infuriated me after having been told there would be ‘no charge for using the card.’ Thankfully my friend alerted me to this early on and I switched to some other payment method for the rest of my time there. As such, in the future I will not be using BoA for international travel, especially when there are other fee-free payment options.

5. Extreme weather variance: super cold, and then stuffy-humid, and then wet weather in May – June
Again this is likely a global thing–and obviously not the fault of the French–but it stands out as part of the change in that travel experience. What I will definitely say I that NEVER in all my life thought I’d be in Paris wearing a wool jacket in late May and early June!! The weather changes were just all over the place; the morning I arrived it was freezing cold, then eventually warmed up, reminding us of Paris’ humidity (I had forgotten that, ugh!), and then it was a good 2-3 days of on and off rain! (The latter of which even caused some flooding and, by consequence, the shutting down of the Louvre! Thankfully we’d gone in time before this happened.) I mean my goodness! Needless to say I was ‘California dreaming’ to assume it would’ve started warming up by then and be shorts-and-skirts-and-summer-dresses weather, because it definitely was not. If and when I do go back, I will want to go later in the year to experience warmer, hopefully less chaotic weather.

In contrast, there are also things we were reminded haven’t changed much over the years.
5 ways Paris hasn’t changed in 10 years:

1. High… & low prices
Paris is an expensive city, or rather, can be expensive depending on what you intend to do. As with any other trip, it’s ideal to plan ahead for organization and to determine your budget. In any case, it’s also true that there are plenty of affordable ways to enjoy the city. Some examples include: open air food markets, delicious gyros that abound throughout the city, cheap wine at virtually all grocery markets, etc. A great resource to consult for tips on that–and practically everything else–is GoParis!

Bonus that as an author / writer and therefore perpetual book lover, I also enjoyed the numerous bookshops filled with books at bargain 1-3€ prices! (My favorite being the St. Michel / Notre Dame area 🙂 )

2. French indifference
While rarely personal, it could still be annoying to occasionally witness that renown French indifferent attitude. This could range from borderline rude speaking to nearly being walked into, to downright refusal to take responsibility for making an error (such as giving my friend the wrong order of ice cream when she’d clearly stated what she wanted). Pas cool!

3. Convenience, unexpected windfalls, communication skills
Being in Paris may remind Americans that many things are conveniently available here, and which may not be the case there (and by extension, make us feel both proud and frustrated at the French difference). I would not call Paris a place where things are made ‘convenient’ for you; you just have to deal with what’s available (and perhaps in some ways linked to that French indifference stated above^). Of course, there are both pros and cons to that. It may not be the end of the world to forego some things we’ve grown used to, but in other cases it may just feel silly that some aspects are still lacking.

For instance, the Paris metro is notoriously known for its stairs, and you may not be able to find escalators and/or elevators… and if you do, they may not work. Trying to fit your suitcases in those tiny stalls to exit / enter stations may be another hassle. So while the Metro is an overall convenient option to affordably travel through Paris, depending on your situation–but especially if hauling many suitcases–you may want to explore other options when going to and from the Charles de Gaulle airport.

Another thing about Paris (which again, is hardly limited to that place, but for some reason feels more prominent there) is that you can plan things out, but unexpected windfalls are all too common. One way to deal with that is to have back-up plans, and/or just engage your sense of spontaneity. For sure it can be frustrating though; especially if you’d planned to do something specific after a 10-year absence!

But by far, the most frustrating factor has to be the lack of effective communication. Despite the global implementation of internet use and cell phones, we’ve surely all witnessed by now that it doesn’t necessarily translate to enhanced communication, and Paris traveling is no exception to that. For whatever reason(s), many French people seem to have a problem returning text messages, even when you have some kind of upcoming appointment with them. To say that it’s frustrating and unprofessional is an understatement, particularly when coming from someone from whom you’re renting a place for your stay. This was a concerning issue for both my friends and I, with each of our Airbnb reservations; mine with an alarming cancellation literally minutes before I was leaving to the airport to catch my flight there! Thankfully (all thanks to higher guidance, no doubt!) I had kept info on hand and was able to bounce back fast–all the while solidifying my ambivalence about (specifically international) Airbnb in the process. But even though my friends’ Airbnb experience ended up working out for them, neither of us would really recommend it for Paris stays in the future. It may be that the combination of Airbnb’s own questionable policies mixed with those less than ideal elements of French behavior can lead to unnecessary chaos. All I know is that there was just way too much stress involved in simply trying to confirm a booking you’d made months in advance, in obvious hopes of avoiding such drama.

In the interest of looking at things positively, one aspect to this slowed communication is that lack of response may not necessarily indicate a problem… just like effective communication doesn’t necessarily guarantee something won’t come up; which is also what happened with my original, first Airbnb booking. (The Airbnb booking that was cancelled minutes before I left to airport was my 2nd one… it’s like I’m being given signs or something! LOL). If at all possible, go with a more trusted route!

^My friend’s favorite meme on the situation LOL

4. Charged atmosphere
It goes without saying that it’s heartbreaking to see the attacks that have recently happened in Paris, as well as in my native Brussels, and throughout the world in general. A decade ago we, as varied study abroad students, all observed, and were quite surprised by the intensity of living in Paris (something which also prompted my writing a dark short story based on some of these experiences), but the charged atmosphere was even more palpable this time around. While potential scam activity is still present at most tourist sites (read more on that here and here), the most alarming was sighting confrontational individuals individuals trying to pick fights, which unfortunately may not make the visibly increased French police presence feel so out of place.

Another heartbreaking factor was seeing so many homeless families (many of which may be part of the Roma community, also here) in virtually all areas of Paris, something which wasn’t nearly as prominent a decade ago.

One thing we tried to do in lieu of wasting: when we had extra food and/or materials, we made a point to find a family or individual to give it to.


 
5. It’s a freakin’ beautiful city
A twenty-something and thirty-something see the world differently (at least you’d hope!), and one thing I’ve grown to appreciate much more is what a beautiful place Paris really is. Not that I didn’t “see” it before; but it just didn’t affect me in the same way. I’ve since fallen in love with different eras and authors of French literature as well as studied much more about the place and the world in general; all elements which affect the way you perceive the world and absorb experiences.
With its long history, there are so many ways in which that lingering beauty is reflected, and I’m thankful to have been able to enjoy it and see the value in it in ways I haven’t before. While living abroad and visiting are totally different things (note to self: being a tourist is exhausting!), traveling has the potential to change you in different ways, and perhaps we each create our own unique versions of beauty as part of the experience.

As with anything in life, focusing on its positive aspects will enhance the travel experience, while staying alert to the potentially unexpected realities.

Given all the life-changing aspects of studying abroad (which of course includes all the non-Paris events that also happened), I’m happy to say that despite my enduring view that too many things about French culture are romanticized, Paris will always hold a special place in my heartas it surely does for countless others.

Happy traveling!

Remembering the first novel I read — Konsalik’s Natalia

I was recently thinking about how I love to find out about, and dig up little-known books. I get a rush from it, sorta like I’m discovering a treasure; which they are; treasures of forgotten and/or little-known stories!

I then found myself thinking about the first novel I recall reading, which in some ways may be part of that category of little-known books, at least depending on where you live. This book in question is by German author Heinz G. Konsalik, titled Natalia (French edition).

I was quite young, not even ten yet, growing up in Brussels and found this book among my mom’s collection. I don’t know how she came about it, but given her German background, she was likely already familiar with the author’s long list of literary achievements. (My parents also did briefly have a spiritual bookstore in 80’s Brussels, which I wrote about in my short story collection, but this novel wouldn’t have been sold there.)

Aside from the title—reminiscent of my own name—I remember being struck by the cover and the attractive, femme-fatale like woman featured on it. Reading the synopsis quickly lured me, and which, translated to English, reads something like:

“Even in the era of the sputnik, the infinite Siberian taiga forest remains largely unknown. Dangerous. Just about inaccessible to “outsiders.” It’s another world, filled with sometimes horrible legends…

Here we are in the taiga, in the village of Sadovka where strange characters live, such as the priest Tigran or the widow Anastasia Alexeievna… In the heart of the village, a house remains shut, uninhabited. And when the engineer Tassbug, arriving from the city, wants to rent it, Anastasia tells him that it’s impossible, because for nearly two centuries frightening, supernatural things have been happening there…

Throwing caution to the wind, Tassburg enters the premises. He’ll be greatly surprised to find there a proud and wild young woman: Natalia. She’s run across the taiga, tracked down by the brutal Kassougai, who passes her off as a murderer. And now she’s hiding… But is it really Natalia whom Tassburg has in front of him? Or is it not the ghost of the one who was killed there long ago, the countess Albina Igorevna?

Konsalik’s new novel brings us to one of the famous writer’s favorite locations: the dark and mysterious taiga. In this setting, a fabulous adventure, perils, enigmas, intersect to the reader’s great delight. And the moving face of Natalia, the beautiful heroine who attempts to escape all fate’s evil designs, remains unforgettable.”

I guess it was meant to be because it felt right up my alley, and I gladly dived in!

^French book synopsis

Of course, I can’t say that this was the actual *first* book I read. After all, by then I’d already read quite some popular Belgian comics, not to mention all the animal books and baby books that had come my way… But this is definitely the first novel I read, and I do recall a sense of a ‘rite of passage,’ and feeling grown up at the thought of graduating to this kind of ‘adult’ genre. It was several hundred pages after all, and no images, haha! 😀 What might’ve looked intimidating quickly proved to be a thoroughly enjoyable read, encompassing adventure, paranormal themes, and romance topped with a strong—if wounded—heroine.

It’s interesting that up to that point I didn’t have anything to compare it to, so there was something about this type of story that interested me. I’m not against the view that I may have been energetically picking up on its themes, long before I knew anything about these things (after all, children are naturally sensitive if often unaware of that ability to ‘sense’ things; a trait which we may unfortunately suppress and/or ignore as we get older).

In retrospect, it’s easy for me to see that reading this book may have—at least in some ways— influenced my subsequent tastes in books. I’ve realized a while ago that some of the stories I tended to be drawn to involved a combination of strong women… and rather dramatic / sad narratives. Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, and Flaubert’s Salammbo are a few that come to mind. This was a bit of a revelation to me, since the drawing point for me wasn’t the sadness per se; perhaps I was looking for something bigger to come out of that, and which I suppose perhaps I found, if subconsciously, while reading the stories. It’s not that I ‘liked’ sad endings—I rather love happy ones!—but I suppose part of me did feel that the sadness made the stories a bit more ‘real,’ for who can go through life without hardships? Or maybe it was seeing characters go through these things and still come out fine (at least at times?) that fascinated me… Like most things, there are likely multiple, complex reasons for my early interest in such narratives.

Interestingly enough, Natalia differs from these stated examples as it doesn’t really have a ‘sad’ ending, but definitely has its fair share of drama and intensity. All the same, I’ve never forgotten it and only wished the story was more well-known and accessible…

Which eventually led me to wondering if the book had been translated to English. For a long time, it appeared that it was only available in German and French. I contacted the publisher, who eventually replied with a link to the English version, titled “The Damned of the Taiga.” This struck me as odd, for it doesn’t really seem to fit with the story (it could in some ways, but still, why not just preserve the original name?). By now I have reasons to doubt this is accurate info, in part due to the original German titles. Natalia‘s original German title is Natalia, ein mädchen aus der taiga (which would read more like Natalia, a girl from the taiga, and which in French at least preserves the same Natalia name). So cue in my surprise to see there’s an actual German Konsalik novel titled, Die Verdammten der Taiga, literally translated to The Condemned / Damned of the Taiga… ?! This seems to point to the fact that they’re distinct novels, albeit set in a similar location; therefore making it possible that Natalia still hasn’t been translated to English… And I definitely think it should be! (Shall I volunteer for the role?! 😀 )

Also, as is the case with many great stories, I never stopped thinking what a great movie it would make. Of course filmmaking is a different medium, and while it wouldn’t be exactly like the book, it’d be another way of enjoying the story 🙂 (An NY Times article states that “The Damned of the Taiga” was made into one, but even then I’ve yet to find anymore information on that.)