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Carry On

I love a good party. There, it's out. Everyone's suspicions have been confirmed. Sometimes there's just something about a good smoky bar that can put a girl's mind at ease. I know that because of the dear city I have chosen to make my home for the last few years, my college experience has been different than most. I was brought up in booths at the Boot, not wandering from house party to house party. Do I regret that choice? Rarely. Although I do feel like I'm not as good at beer pong as I should be--I'm blaming my inability on not enough practice rather than total lack of hand eye coordination. But that's a debate for a different day. I shouldn't like parties, I shouldn't like them at all. Too many people, too much noise. It's unlike me to revel in that messiness. But some nights I revel. I join in. And then I like to leave unannounced  which, interestingly enough, was an aspect of my personality my sister keyed in on when she took a personality test with her coworkers. It's true. Sometimes I'll make myself say happy good-byes before fleeing off into the warm embrace of a Louisiana night, but normally I like to go unnoticed and have all that velvety purple black to myself.

Last night my sorority had a party at a place called the Republic (of what, I don't know), but the decor consisted of a lot of wood paneling and chandeliers, so I was on board. It was all kinds of raucous, debaucherous fun and so I was happy. There was also free food!The DJ team was one guy who mixed the songs, and one guy who played the saxophone along with it. Sounds like an odd combination, but it really worked for them. So we all danced and yelled how much we like each other's dresses and got drunk on feeling young and beautiful.

Which is all fine and good now, but someday I won't be young and probably not beautiful. I have a sneaking suspicion I will turn into a "handsome" woman. Which is unfortunate, but still very probable. However, I still don't think I will ever stop loving a good party. Maybe I'll class it on up when I get older, start  having dinner parties and going to wine bars. Champagne brunches? Parties that are disguised as "events"? I'm not really sure yet, but like every good WASP, I'll figure it out.

xoxo, Lauren


I have been in a five-day slump. 21st birthdays have a terrible comedown. Oh, don't take it that way--no, I haven't been hungover for five days straight, because hey! You can't get a hangover if you stay drunk! Just kidding, that's not true at all. Well, it's true, in theory, but I have not yet adopted it as my personal philosophy. In fact, I woke up Monday morning fresh-faced and ready for the day. Because that's what champions do. And I am a champion.

No, mostly I'm in a funk that's akin to the one most people settle into after New Year's, or Christmas. Some people also characterize that feeling as a relief. Tomato, tomatoe. But after all the excitement of Easter and the 7 lb. ham, and then my birthday and my patron Mr. Bill...well, what's a girl to do? I'll tell you what this girl does--she lets a pile of birthday cards, confetti, party favors, a pink and black feathered 21 tiara and a wineglass that says It's 5 o' clock Somewhere! take up permanent residence on the majority of her desk. More birthday presents and wrapping paper have moved onto cozy chair, forming a festive tangle of celebration and sadness. Laundry has been left to pile up, dishes are not done, and books are read at only a third of the normal speed. Work-outs are detested more than usual. Progress on a variety of essays has slowed to a crawl...instead of being productive, I choose to sit in the library and stare sullenly at the wall, eating candy and writing a sentence an hour.

Sidenote: the majority of the gifts I received were centered around candy. What does this say about me? Did I turn 6 or 21? I don't care. I will never stop eating peach rings, gummy sharks, and Reese's Pieces. Because those three things (and beer, thanks Ben Franklin) are proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

But really, what's a girl do to? I can tell that I need to get my act together, even though I am shrouded in a post-birthday fog. Letting relics of fun gone by languish in my room while I mope around, wishing I could turn 21 everyday, is no way to live. Or at least I'm pretty sure it isn't. I have not yet found any conclusive evidence on what an appropriate way to conduct oneself is, so the subject is open for interpretation. However, I need a quick-fix solution, and I need it yesterday. Reason one: my parents are coming. I can't let them think I have completely lost all ability to function normally. I've been doing so well! Reason two: finals are coming. You have to start strong going into this hell week, because soon enough your brain will be crying. Reason three: I have to move out, fly home, then go to Italy. I know it sounds really rough, and that's because it is.

So here's my game plan: Clean house. Literally and figuratively. I actually need to whip the funhouse into shape, because one, it's a mess, and two, I tend to feel far worse slacking off in an environment that looks like my sister could be the main resident in. I also need to get my head back in the game--it will involve a lengthy pep talk that will at one point have me begging for mercy from myself. I am ruthless, but effective. Then I will have to take my enormous candy box* and apportion it into many different ziplock bags, so I only take one bag at a time and stop consuming unholy amounts of refined sugar. Finally, I will go the library and sit in an all wood stall, under terrible florescent lighting, and summon every shred of will power I have to finish my three final essays. Why is it necessary to to lock myself in a wooden stall with terrible lighting? Because I am a magnificent procrastinator. It's a gift...just kidding, it's a curse.

I feel certain that after this whirlwind of self-improvement I'll be back to my normal, bucolic self. If I'm not, I'll have to resort to more extreme measures. I'm not sure what those are yet, although the thought makes me involuntarily shudder. I will be making this work.

xoxo, Lauren

*Shout out to my dear friend Lindsay, who knows me so well that she buried the aforementioned wine glass in a clear box of candy, then told me she thought I couldn't eat it all in one day. Challenge accepted.

Liver Quakes

For most of America, April 15th is a stressful day, defined by at least one of the inevitable things in life: taxes. For me, it is a day that I will start by waking up and shotgunning a beer. Not because of my taxes, although I can see how that could be a pretty easy cause and effect conclusion to draw. No, I'm starting my day with a drink because it will be my highly anticipated 21st birthday. I can think of nothing more logical to do. Except take a shot of something a little stronger, but dear God, I just want to have a little fun on my birthday, not pickle my internal organs. On second thought, what the heck! My proverbial check liver light is probably on anyway.

In all seriousness, I find it a little bizarre that as a nation it is our tradition to ring in our personal independence and adulthood by getting absolutely trashed. But, you know what they say (or at least John Cougar--or is it Mellencamp? Both? He in some form says it. Definitely in a different context. Regardless...) Ain't that America.

Oddly enough, this 21st birthday hasn't perturbed me quite as much as turning 20 did. Why? I have only a half-baked theory, which is, surprisingly, good enough most of the time. Look, it works for Newt Gingrich*, it can work for me. Anyway. 20 was a serious age. All business. It required careful consideration as to what I was doing with my life, and who I was, as I entered this promising new decade. Now that I'm here, I'm pretty comfortable just being 21 and full of fun! Listen, I put my back into learning how to be a real person. I answered some pretty big questions, like how the economy and overdraft fees work. I forced myself to be a morning person for a brief and unhappy time. I didn't get a speeding ticket the whole year! I centered both mind and body. I stayed at least moderately emotionally stable. I learned two languages. I wrote a lot. Dare I say banner year?

My one preparation for turning 21 (other than two years of training in this marvelously wet city) has been to enroll in an online bartending course. If it sounds questionable, it's because it is. But so far, I have learned a remarkable amount. Worlds are opening up here, people. Amateur hour is over and the happiest has begun. I figure if I'm going to be a double-fisting, beer drinking son of a gun than I had better know what I'm talking about. I'm currently in the process of learning a different language, one spoken best with a loosened tongue and in only the most dimly-lit of places. I'm taking tentative strokes towards a masterpiece in cocktails. My latest life learning goals have little to do with how to operate and everything to do with how to live--I don't anticipate difficult homework, but the lessons might be tough. We'll just have to see what 21 has in store for me.

If I sound like a potential alcoholic, don't worry. Only when I refer to Jim, Jack and Johnny as a few good men do we need to start seeing red flags.

xoxo, Lauren

*A little-known fact about Newt: he's a Tulane grad. So is Jerry Springer. I think it bodes well for my future.

Throw Me Somethin' Mister

Last week during a discussion about competitive eating in my Food&Culture class my professor, a diminutive Indian woman with a delightful accent*, mentioned an idea called the pressure valve theory. It basically states that people can only maintain mundane normalcy for so long and at some point, society will collectively throw up their hands and party for five days straight before they then go back to real life. Oh wait, that's Mardi Gras. Subtract the party for five days straight part and insert something about a collective stress release and you've got the pressure valve--still kind of confused about what that has to do with competitive eating, but it's definitely applicable to the most wonderful time of year, aka Mardi Gras.

There's a long history to Mardi Gras, and the Krewes, but that's not really what's important. You get to drop everything and go play for four or five days--hang out with all the friends you don't normally see, open up your house to everyone you meet, get your family together if you've got them there. You get to say "Happy Mardi Gras!" to everyone, and no one's angry or mean or stressed out--a lot of times the atmosphere is better than even the Christmas season because there's no pressure and parades are free. Everybody pours out into the streets and sings and dances, and yes, drinks, but alcohol can't bring you the kind of happiness you get when you see the headlights of the first float coming down the route. Or the giddiness that hits when you hear the marching bands, or the adrenaline rush that comes from throwing up your hands and screaming with four thousand other people to catch beads. It's indescribable in some ways, how great it is. Sometimes it also really sucks, when you're tired and you have to go to the bathroom and you're out of money, but it's the time of your life.

I can feel it start to get bittersweet, too, but for now seeing the Mardi Gras tree on campus just puts me in a good mind. Gotta let those good times roll.

xoxo, Lauren

*Also she has a great New Orleans house, full of tasteful world decor. How do I know this? Because I went there---during Mardi Gras. Tis' the season.

The Simple Life

You'll have to forgive me if this post is not particularly eloquent or full of witty insight, and you'll have to forgive my absence from the blogging world--believe me when I say I've been writing more than I may ever have before in my life. I don't know how much that's saying, really, and now that I think about it maybe that opening sentence is really conceited. I might never be eloquent or witty. I think I am, but maybe no one else does--except for my Dad, who I think is funny and witty but now that I think about that too, it might just me and my Uncle Jason who find him that way.* Oh well. I'm finding that having a huge ego can be a wonderful asset, especially as I embark on my latest endeavor--writing a complete narrative of my time here. It's an undertaking, but one that hasn't yet felt like work. It might in the near future as I get closer to our deadline, but for now I'm still enjoying myself. I say that a huge ego is helpful because I rarely second guess myself, so I just keep on keepin' on, putting words on paper. I did start over a few times, but hey. I'm only human.

In addition to spending the last two weeks writing, I also moved out of my homestay and into an apartment, which was hard but not impossible. Why? Because when I waved good-bye to my Yaay and Dogo from out the taxi window, I knew it wasn't good-bye forever yet. I was a little teary, I'll admit--I cried when I got there and I cried when I left, but then Dogo came over to the apartment with four of his friends later that night, and it wasn't so traumatic after all. I had lunch with them last week and it was like I had never left. We ate, I sat and watched some survivor moutons out the front gate, I told them that my American mother said they were all beautiful from the photos of them on Tabaski and they told me that she could come visit next year.

Well, ok. We'll see what we can work out.

Now I'm living in an apartment that I share with four other girls--it's tiny but so far I haven't wanted to kill anyone. I wake up early and make terrible coffee and sit in the morning light that isn't as harsh and bright as it is during the day, and I listen to the kids walking to school on the street below us, and I get my breakfast from the guy across the street who makes delicious egg sandwiches for the equivalent of 50 cents. McDonald's has nothing on him. We have a balcony that a palm tree waves in front of and that looks out over my new neighborhood, Sacre-Coeur III. And people have started recognizing us, saying, "Bonjour les filles!" Hi girls! This kind of reminds me of going to local places in my hometown with my sisters--we're always 'the girls' too. I like it.

I pull out my computer and write for a few hours in the morning, and then I go to lunch at the place down the street, and then I write some more. It's been a pretty quiet existence but I couldn't be happier about it. Weekends are a different story--the weekend before last we took a seven-seat station wagon, which is just as sketchy as it sounds, back to Thies, where we visited the artisan's market again, accidentally stayed in a brothel, got dropped off on a road somewhere outside the city and almost took a public transport bus to a town six hours away, and had dinner at a restaurant called the Magic Croissant. It was a resoundingly successful trip.

The highlight of this weekend was sea kayaking--we went to a place called Oceanium that we'd been to once before, at a party called Cool Raoul. It's part club, part scuba diving center, and part sea kayaking place. It's right on the water, they have a flagstone patio that overlooks the ocean, and when we showed up they were more than happy to accommodate us. There were no waivers, no instructions, and no life jackets--until we asked for them, eliciting confused stares and some half-hearted, "Well, if you really want..."

But the bay was calm and the water a deep, dark blue, and Goree Island was visible in the distance. The sun wasn't too hot, everyone was in good spirits and Dakar looked almost pretty from this angle. We were out for an hour for about 5 bucks each--pretty incredible.

Then on Sunday we went fabric shopping, which means I get to practice my terrific bargaining skills--they're getting better every time we go. Vendors hate it when this toubab rolls up. We made one vendor's day, buying four or five different fabrics from him, and then broke his heart when we told him, actually, we are both married. Am na jekker--that's my favorite phrase in Wolof these days. I have a husband...

Now it's back to the work week and looking both anxiously and excitedly at the calendar--three weeks from Wednesday and I'll be back in the States. So much to do, so little time.

xoxo, Lala

*and, as I have been informed, so does my Uncle Ollie, and probably my Uncle David too.