europe diaries: paris

I find it amazing how I can travel a couple of hours in Europe and be in another country. One Christmas many years ago, I traveled with my family from Melbourne to Sydney via train. It took us 11 hours of yellow-tinged grass and countryside for us to not do it again. Thus when I hear stories of how easy it is to take day trips to Paris from London with the Eurostar, I beam with excited eagerness.

Paris is unkind to me. She gives me the meanest cough that stems from my lungs and makes me breathe short, rapid breaths. The air is unnoticeably thick here and cigarettes cloak the cobbled pavements. It is Paris Fashion Week but I must be on the wrong side of town for I see everything far from glamorous here.

I stay in a hostel in Montmarte around the corner from an alleyway that is crowded with middle-aged women foraging plastic tubs full of underwear to buy at €1. At night, the alleyway smells of urine - but the smell isn't as putrid as the gardens at Notre-Dame. I never speak to the girls in my dorm room. They all seem to distance themselves away from me. I think it's because I keep them up all night with my coughs. 

I walk pass a luxurious silver sports car on my way to the grocery store one morning. I don't know anything about cars but I know that this one is one to envy. My eyes trace its body, from its angular headlights to the slight curve of its long bonnet. I wonder to myself if I should take a picture to show my boyfriend. But then my eyes stopped moving and I realise that I had stopped walking. Its passenger window had been smashed and both the black leather seats are now sparkling from the tiny fragments of glass. My eyes widen in shock and I feel my heart sink over something that isn't mine. On the way back to the accommodation, I walk pass the car once more. There is a young woman with long blonde hair sitting in the driver's seat. She holds the phone to her ear with one hand while the other is searching through her glove box. Her face glistens in the sun and I'm not sure if that is because of her makeup or her tears.

The view of Montmarte from Sacré Cœur Basilica

The view of Montmarte from Sacré Cœur Basilica

I am at the bank waiting in line to exchange my Australian dollars to Euros so I can have enough to spoil my mum with a pretty silk scarf. The lady behind the counter yells something and I take it as a cue to walk up to her. 

"Parlez-vous anglais?" I ask her. It's the only French I've ever needed to say here.

"Non. Pardon," she replies as she waves her hand.

I take out my foreign money and ask her if she could change them to Euros but she does not move.

"You cross zee road and at zee corner, turn right until you find zee American bank," she says through pursed lips and she points at the door that I had come from. "We are closed."

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I am at Sacré Cœur where large groups of African men are hassling other tourists to tie strings around their wrists. A 'no' does not mean anything here and one follows us up the stairs and I quickly grab onto my cousin's hand so that I don't get left behind. At Notre-Dame there are gypsy girls who ask to sign petitions. I make the mistake of signing one thinking no harm but she persists for me to pay 50 euros and after I tell her I can't, more girls crowd around me, grabbing my arms and demanding that I must. I have never felt so scared about myself and my belongings before. I have never felt so alone in a place buzzing with people.

Notre-Dame

Notre-Dame

By the last day in Paris, I walk through the park trying to fight back tears. I am frustrated and sad and sick. I find my way back to the hostel and crawl into bed under the thin white sheet of a blanket. I have never felt so homesick before. I miss my mum and my home and my bed and the way mum knows exactly what remedy to heal me when I tell her I'm sick. I miss my boyfriend and his home and his bed and his cuddles and his words of comfort that soothes me when I'm not feeling the best. I miss the local supermarket down the road where I buy all my necessary things; I miss the highway that runs through Melbourne and takes us to places with pleasant memories; I miss being comforted by sights and sounds of comfortable things.

I wake up to the setting sun and a damp pillow. I hate Paris.

Love locks on Pont des Arts

Love locks on Pont des Arts

It is 4 in the morning and I am on a bus to the airport. The roads are quiet but not empty. Every street corner there is a figure lying on the ground, on the steps, on the benches. Some have blankets over them and some have newspapers. Some have pets snuggling close to them and some are just by themselves. I feel so disconnected to them, as though I am only just watching a movie through the window. 

Paris, the city of love and light. Of pastel coloured macarons and delicate patisseries. Of quaint little cafes that groove to live accordion music. Of beautifully dressed boys with chiseled jawlines. These are the things that I wanted to capture but the truth is, everything I had ever known about Paris, I had learnt through a romanticized lens and the reality of it haunts me.

Parc du Champs de Mars from atop the Eiffel Tower

Parc du Champs de Mars from atop the Eiffel Tower

Musée du Louvre

Musée du Louvre

Taking pictures of the Mona Lisa

Taking pictures of the Mona Lisa

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

uptown

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Photographer: Stephanie Thy

Makeup Artist: Cynthia Smyth

Hair Stylist: Amanda Moretti

Stylist: Rebecca Wu

Models: Brooke & Riaz @ Pride 

valediction

An afternoon spent chatting away about TV shows and shooting in the comfort of home. Thank you Sarah for your generosity.

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Photographer: Stephanie Thy

Stylist: Eryn Rose

H&MUA: Phoebe Taylor

Model: Sarah M @ Brazen

cloud nine

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We spent the afternoon shooting at the university down the freeway one weekend. A boy walked passed us and after striking up a conversation, showed us into the funky looking Engineering Building using his student card where we shot until it was time go home.

Photographer: Stephanie Thy

H&MUA: Cynthia Smyth

Stylist: Eryn Rose

Model: Stephanie Iles @ Chadwick


BEHIND THE SCENES

Taken by Cynthia Smyth

Taken by Cynthia Smyth

europe diaries: london and canterbury

Back home in Melbourne, I am sprinting up the platform to catch my train. I am puffing and panting and begging the ticket reader to end its ongoing friction with the Myki card and allow me to touch on. The doors start beeping and soon enough, the train becomes a dot in the distance. I curse to the train gods as I hear the next won't arrive until 20, so I sit down on a bench, take out a notepad and start to reminisce about London and its magical public transport system.

In the middle of my final semester of uni last year, I bought a ticket to London. It ended up becoming a little spontaneous (and very lonely) trip around Europe.

I have always wanted to go to London since I was a little girl. Reading about it in literature and watching it on the big screen sparked this great interest inside of me and I fell in love with the city before I had step foot in it. 


London greeted me with hail and 5 minutes of sunshine. I stayed in a little narrow house in Brixton where the streets wailed with police sirens. The house had a small window on the top of the second flight of stairs and on days when the sun warmed our skins, we'd climb through it onto the roof terrace. Every morning I'd have excessive pins and needles from Charlie the house cat snuggling on my lap and every night I'd watch documentaries with my cousin, Steven before bed. There was a Sainsbury's down the road where Skittles were on sale for 75p. Needless to say, I had the worst toothache that lasted a good week but I regret nothing because ridiculously cheap Skittles are not one you walk away from. What I most liked about the little narrow house in Brixton was the old house smell that comforted me; like the smell of light musk, or rain on a Spring morning; like the warmth of home away from home.

A portrait of my grandpa hanging in my cousin's restaurant

A portrait of my grandpa hanging in my cousin's restaurant

London shadowed in gloominess. It rained all the time, and all the time I kept wandering. I took public transport everywhere and visited places that I grew up mispronouncing on the Monopoly board. There was this funny feeling I can't quite describe as I visited places I had only ever read about: when I walked through Westminster Abbey and saw all the tombs of monarchs and honourable people and learnt of all the coronations and royal weddings; when I stood in the middle of the Tower of London after studying A Man for All Seasons for the Year 12 English exam; when I walked by the Coronation Stone on my way to dinner in Kingston upon Thames; or even when I drove by Sir David Attenborough's house. They were all experiences I could relive in my head forever. In my mind, London was a faraway place that only existed in beautifully written verse. Yet there it was right in front of me, London and all its history, and I had to keep pinching myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

On one of the days I met and shot alongside Cansu O, who was kind enough to organise a team together for us to shoot. We shot in Holland Park until we could shoot no more and I thanked her with Tim Tams before we went our separate ways.

I went to the theater for the first time 

I went to the theater for the first time 

I left London that day for a train to Canterbury where I stayed in a 300 year old house that looked like something out of Downton Abbey. It had a marvelous staircase and old, polished furniture adorned with decorations that should have belonged in a museum. The bathtub sat by a massive arched window that overlooked the most beautiful flower garden, but I was too scared to take a bath, even though I knew there wouldn't be any one out there.

I watched my cousin marry her love on Julianna's Island

I watched my cousin marry her love on Julianna's Island

I traveled back to London, only to hop onto a train at St Pancras for Paris. I didn't shoot much in London. Sometimes my camera would stay packed away so I could enjoy everything she had to offer, and she offered more than I could ever ask.