A city that tells you not to blink

Discovering (and stumbling in) Paris

[L-R: Alice Donovan from Unsplash, author’s personal photo]

These are the rules of the game. All you have to do is follow the ball. He’ll keep reminding you, “follow the ball, follow the ball, where is the ball?”

Where is the ball?

You just lost 300 euros. Your friend is panicking. You weren’t able to follow the ball. Thrice. It’s weird because some people you watched while playing this street game were able to double their money, if not triple it. And your guesses were, on average, accurate.

But perhaps you just weren’t fast enough to follow which cup he was putting the ball under… Either that, or you forgot to remember when the brochures told you to avoid being swindled in Paris.

Montmartre is one of the known streets in the capital of France. This is because it’s where the Sacré-Cœur Basilica is located. Not to mention, it is also the highest point in the city.

It’s your third day in Paris, your second to the last before you board a plane back to cold and freezing Sweden. It has been raining for the past few days (even the Weather Channel warned you about the following week), so the warmth and sunshine that greeted you when you got off at the Beauvais airport was greatly unexpected. Finally, you can wear a dress or a skirt without having to wear uncomfortable tights.

You have gone to Le Tour Eiffel (twice, at night and in the morning), the royal gardens of Chateau de Versailles, and Notre Dame – almost one-third of the tourist traps. And you have just started the latter half of your stay in the City of Love by walking to see the sights overlooking the metropolis.

It’s breathtaking. The city looks so small from the view up there. You can see the rows of townhouses that all look the same. You can easily select a color palette for Paris that will capture its aesthetic. The moment is complemented with a guy playing the keyboard in front of the steps of the basilica. Lots of people are sharing this moment with you – whether they’re tourists taking photos, or sitting down the stairs, or locals who just finished attending mass. You wonder how it has been possible that everywhere you look in France is so cinematic.

As you and your friend are going down Montmartre to board the subway again, on the way to finally see the Arc de Triomphe, your feet suddenly hurt. Why did you wear heeled boots again?

You feel thankful that the street is surrounded by quaint shops of all types of souvenirs. Just right around the corner, you find one that sells shoes. Perfect. There are so many designs that it takes you almost 10 minutes to choose a pair that fits you. The one that you choose is quite unique and classy – it’s half leather, and half velvet. It’s black with an accent of gold lines on its edges. They’re a good buy for 20 euros.

You go back to the busy streets and that’s when the street game conductor captures your attention as well as your friend’s. He is playing with two people – one old man and a lady. The scene enthralls you both and agree to try it out. That’s when you lose track of all of your parents’ and hotel guide’s sermons – be careful, do not be easily fooled.

But, what’s done is done. You and your friend agree to just think as if you were pickpocketed to make yourselves feel better.

You then move on to Charles de Gaulle, where you are met with street dancers after getting off the train. They are surrounded by a crowd and the loud, lively music makes everyone want to watch. You peek for a few minutes and then move on to take photos with the Arc de Triomphe. It’s a bit hard because there are several cars passing by. You have to wait until the stoplight signals them red so you can take a nice shot. Another challenge would be to not include other tourists in your photo.

Going to two of these landmarks takes almost the entire day. Before going back to your hostel in Colonel Fabien, you decide to grab a crepe near the Eiffel Tower. The subway is convenient and routes are easy to understand. You have actually memorized how its PA system announces each of the station. You then decide that the French have the sexiest accent ever. Swedes sound like they’re just gargling.

Finally, you go down at Champ De Mars and the crepe stand is situated right around the corner of the metro’s exit gates. You order the ever-reliant banana and chocolate flavor, while your friend gets a plain chocolate crepe. The both of you eat these while overlooking River Seine. You reflect back on your day and realize how stupid you have been to get fooled by a street game conductor.

You can blame it on the enchanting beauty of Sacré-Cœur and how it made you feel as if you can trust anyone. You can blame it on the confidence that you have gained after roaming around France without a tour guide – just your friend, your maps, your camera, and your 48-hour metro pass.

Or, and this is the best option, you can just suck it up and be thankful for the moment that you are having. Not a lot of people get to travel all on their own, let alone in Europe. So if karma says that what goes around comes around, then just hope that your 300 euros came back to you in the form of exposure to other cultures and lessons that you have learned.

After all, those are the rules of Life’s game.

What’s your number?

On keeping track of sexual histories and dating responsibly

[L-R] Photos by Akyut Eke from Unsplash, and Hoang Loc from Pexels.

In 2015, I was faced with a very awkward task. I had to list the names of all of the people I’ve had sexual relations with so that a nurse can call them up and ask them to get checked for STD/Is. (A protocol practiced in Europe that I think should also be mandatory in the Philippines.)

In 2017, I had to use the same list to track which guy could have potentially uploaded a private video of mine to a Google drive containing multiple folders, each associated to a different girl.

When we talk about our ‘numbers,’ it is often equated to ‘conquests’ and guys are often praised if it’s bigger while girls get slut-shamed. Hence, the infamous theory that a girl’s actual ‘number’ is what she said multiplied by two.

(I’ve personally never done that — halved my number into two. It’s either I tell you the truth or I don’t give you a number at all.)

But instead of ‘keeping score,’ let me endorse to you a very practical reason why I would suggest to keep track of your list, too, and perhaps even make it as detailed as possible —- regardless if it’s long or not.

There is an unspoken etiquette in the dating world that if you test positive for anything, then you have to tell the people you most recently have had sexual encounters with. If you have short-term memory loss like I do, your list will be very useful in case you find yourself in this position.

Why keep it as detailed as possible? Because when you do decide to get tested (which, by the way, you should be doing regularly if you’re actively hooking up with multiple partners), then you have to look back and trace if you’ve had any show of symptoms after an encounter.

Girls and boys, it is absolutely necessary to understand your body and know when there’s something different. This isn’t just in relation to sex, but also for your overall health.

I also encourage you to write down if you remembered to use contraceptives or not. This very small but highly important detail could be useful, especially in special cases where someone ends up getting pregnant. You never know!!

I have always found it baffling that we never talk, and even limit, our discussions about our sexual histories. I understand that some of us are just very private people. But I also think that, with the rapidly evolving dating scene that we have right now (what with the popularity of dating apps such as Bumble and Tinder), it would be very healthy for us to practice a more open communication about our histories. This prevents the possible spread of diseases and infections (contact tracing); and endorses sex positivity by removing the stigma surrounding testing and sleeping around.

Everyone’s already doing it anyway, might as well do it responsibly and carefully.

Forced identity fragmentation

My personal journey to liberalization

© margarethleanne.com

I have become so good at compartmentalizing fragments of my identity.

I started mastering the art of shelving my interests, into what is acceptable and what isn’t, at a very young age.

My relationship with sex stems all the way back to 2nd grade. I was 6 years old and attended a small co-ed private school in the Greater Manila Area.

I had classmates who used to fool around quite frequently inside one of the cubicles at the girls’ comfort room. I was pretty much obsessed with watching them from the cubicle beside where they hid.

It just escalated from that.

I could pinpoint specific milestones — should I even call them that? Maybe, periods of sexual awakening? — when I learned and discovered more about something that was very much taboo in Philippine culture.

My parents caught me sexting twice during high school because I used to fall asleep in the middle of it, and my phone would continue to blast notifications throughout the night. My old Blackberry either didn’t have a silent mode or I just didn’t know how to set it up. My parents dealt with the situation by scolding me the morning after without ever explaining to me why I shouldn’t be doing it.

I just knew that it was wrong and forbidden.

Unfortunately, for me, I absolutely love sex. That led me through a complicated and winding journey which I explored all on my own.

Ever since I first hooked up with my then-boyfriend at 13 years old, I have always felt like I was living a double life.

On one hand, I felt the need to prove to my family that I took my future seriously. That meant being successful in my academics, then, eventually, in my career. I graduated high school with honors and finished a degree (in my dream major) from the country’s premier state university. Currently, I work for the Executive branch of the Philippine government. This was after working for two years for the U.S. State Department. If I were to build an illusion for myself, might as well make it look as impressive as I can. I once told a friend, “everything is a matter of perception and presentation.”

My second identity felt like the one that I was forced to conceal from the world. Other people love baking, community development, visual arts, social work; which they have little to no trouble balancing with their professional careers. For me, it was much more complicated.

Sex positivity and feminism are two of my advocacies that do not seamlessly fit in with the machismo culture that is deeply embedded in Philippine society.

Sex education at Philippine schools is either limited, problematic, or non-existent. Kids grow up learning about sex through a subjective and skewed lens — either from their conservative parents, rumors at school, or from media.

Filipinas have an even more sophisticated relationship with sex and identity. We are prohibited from being promiscuous and daring. The character of Maria Clara puts purity and innocence on a pedestal, forcing Filipinas to absolutely conform or be penitent. There is no in between. You simply cannot be outspoken about sex and expect to be taken seriously. (Hence, the emergence of finstas and Twitter alter accounts. I think I’ll explore this topic in a separate post.)

When I graduated and joined the workforce, my identity fragmentation started getting more complicated. Since I had a better grasp of who I am and what my interests are, I wanted to reflect upon them and put them out in the world.

But this website took almost three years of conceptualization and procrastination. I had an initial name and plan for this project, which resulted in a huge amount of self-inflicted pressure. But the majority of my hesitation came from voices inside my head telling me that I have to be careful about what I put out in the world and attach my name to; because I could be jeopardizing my career. I have always wondered how and why I would be reprimanded for discussing women’s health (which, by the way, is a bigger topic than just maternal health. Again, one that I’ll explore in a separate post.).

As a romantic and idealist, I’m choosing to recognize the movement and shift of the Filipino psyche. I’d like to believe that we are becoming more open to and embracing of the outspoken and unreserved Filipina identity. I mean, at one point or another, we eventually need to overthrow the patriarchy and cultivate more spaces for women + queer representation and voices, right?

…. Right?

I admit that this website might not be for everybody. And that my opinions may contradict with yours or your friend’s. But to those who are open and interested enough to read my musings, I hope you enjoy your time here.

P.S. My Instagram DMs and posts are open for conversations and discussions. Click here to follow 🙂