On a direly needed weekend getaway to Marseille ©

Peter Kamal

The place where you live obviously shapes your life – so this month, allow me to talk about new interests and habits I’ve developed in France. 

My main interests before France were photography, specialty coffee, running and longboarding. Running and coffee are important as ever, but longboarding has become slightly less important - the asphalt is really bad in Toulouse. Photography remains my main creative outlet, but it has changed.

Since living in France, I’ve almost exclusively shot photos on film, on an old Mamiya 645 from the 70s that used to belong to my dad. I’ve become slower and more patient in my approach – partly necessitated by the strict schedule of the master’s degree here at TSE, partly because one grows more patient with age, I guess. Toulouse is a wonderful home base for photography – it’s a beautiful city with interesting faces; and you have the Pyrenees and the sea directly on your doorstep. I’ve not been able to make full use of this potential due to time constraints, but during my research internship in the summer, there will be many, many weekend getaways.

I have developed some very small habits: I do a bit of yoga in the morning, I learn French with an app before going to bed, and I’ve jumped on the word game train with Wordle, Quordle, Octordle and other fun little games. We have a little competition going in our cohort and it’s a lot of fun.

Lunch is different in France: People are used to go out for lunch, and that effects relatively cheap lunch offerings. Often, after morning classes, we’ll stroll somewhere together and get wonderful food. Just a couple of weeks ago, a new vegetarian Vietnamese place opened and rocked my world. There is the little canteen around the corner from uni where we like to go for soul food. And on sunny days, we’ll get a Lebanese galette with zaatar and labneh and sit along the Garonne. It’s a good life.

The main change is also food-based: I’m on an everlasting hunt for pastries. Thinking about it, I’ve probably never had a croissant here (I know, I know) – but it’s just because there are so many insanely good other options. Pain au chocolats are called chocolatines here, with such conviction that some bakeries will not serve you if you call them pain au chocolats. There are tartelettes, oh so many good tartelettes – the classic lemon meringue and raspberry, but also caramel, apple and more things straight out of heaven. The best thing, however, is the almond croissant in a small patisserie near me. I discovered it by accident, and it’s one of the most glorious bakes I’ve ever tasted. The hunt for pastries has shaped my life – and I go running to avoid it shaping my belly too.

Generally, I would say that my routines are not as structured as they have always been, and depending on the current workload, I sometimes don’t get around to do yoga, I don’t run as much, or I forget to open my French learning app. But whenever I do, I notice how important that balance is, and afterwards I do better in my coursework. Right now, tasks are heavy with many projects to hand in and finals less than a month away. Taking some time out for myself everyday keeps me sane and gives me energy to try and do well in my degree.

 March 2022 | Peter Kamal