Where stories can lead

I moved to London because of stories.

I started yoga because of a book.

I started parkour because of video games.

In summer 2017, I had been living in London for a year and a half and I was at a yoga studio in Camden Town. My tummy had been hurting and I needed to exercise. I was trying the ashtanga class, not sure it was what I wanted as I usually prefer vinyasa or other creative types of yoga. Yet here I was, moving to the teacher’s boring litany of “Breath in. Upward facing dog. Breath out. Downward facing dog. Breath in, right foot forward. Breath out in warrior one”, uttered in a stern American voice. But the truth is, this day ashtanga was working for me. I was exhausted in a good way. Shavasana, the corpse pose, which sounds unappealing but is the relaxation at the end of the session, was a small miracle. I was able to point at parts of my body mentally, and feel them calm down instantly. My tummy wasn’t hurting anymore, which increased the relief.

Right in the end, my mind wandered and I remembered what got me attracted to yoga first, a few years ago: it was a Discovery of Witches, by Deborah Harkness. Before that, I wasn’t doing much exercise. Sport was something other people did. Nimble, strong people with better knees and lung capacity. Competitive people who were born into sports. Even though I wanted to be immortal, or at least keep my body in good shape, I was struggling to find an activity I liked.

But Deborah Harkness described a yoga session in Oxford, performed by magical creatures. She got the inspiration while doing yoga herself. She witnessed yogis performing gravity-defying handstands on one finger, and she felt they might have been levitating supernatural creatures. She used that idea literally in the novel, which was inspired by another thought. If there were vampires, what would their jobs be? Wouldn’t they be perfect scholars as they would have time for experiments and more funding? Deborah Harkness is a scholar on Elizabethan Britain, and I heard her talk about John Dee at the Royal College of Physicians. I liked the fact that she blended her ideas with her scholarly life. And I loved her description of yoga, how uncompetitive it seemed, focused on mental and physical wellbeing, not like sports I learnt to hate at school. 

Books have always allowed me to travel to distant, close, past, future, imaginary places, but also to learn empathy for other people and virtually try new activities. Like yoga. Like my craving for the Northern Lights, sparkled by His Dark Materials by Philipp Pullman, that I partly quenched in Iceland later in 2017.

Well, I probably moved to London because of stories. My love for the city had led me there, nurtured by countless books and series. Historical or contemporary, sci-fi or fantasy, imaginary or bleak… Before moving to the UK from Paris, I never idealised London in any sort of consensual way, so I never set myself to suffer a Londonised “Paris” syndrome. Ben Aaronovitch with his Rivers of London series or Benedict Jacka with Alex Verus made sure that I had a 350 degrees view on the city (I don’t think 360 is possible), especially when mixed with other fictional Londons. My five years in London were not devoid of exasperation or unforeseen circumstances, but I now know this city enough to write my own stories about it.

Storytelling is important to human beings. To me, books were my first friends. An anchor. Worlds I could dream about, characters that would not bully me, different ways of thinking and coping with the real world. Stories become part of who we are and inspire us, hopefully, to create a better world. Stories are a potential. You can imagine the characters and they live in your mind. You shape them as much as they shape you.

I also like video games. Some offer a complete experience, make you feel like someone else, fully, as if you were lending your consciousness to another being. You’re literally living another life – and going through satoris as you do so. It’s both escapist and not escapist at all, as you have to give yourself to the experience. Life is Strange and Life is Strange 2 are such games – the emotional investment is hard but worthwhile.

2020, France

As I got into the Dishonored franchise and the aesthetics of Assassin’s creed, I remembered parkour. I have never watched French parkour film Yamakasi, but as a teenager, I was fascinated by the trailer. Real movements that looked like special effects and superhero skills… More than fifteen years later, as I was watching “Real Life Assassin’s Creed” parkour videos by the French Freerun Family and Aleksandra ‘Sasha’ Shevchenko, I got entranced. I fell into a rabbit hole, and didn’t parkour-rolled out of it.

My growth mindset had taken root. I had stopped limiting myself too much, stopped keeping to what I thought I was “naturally” talented at. I still remember the first time I managed to do a headstand. So at 32, I decided to try parkour. I started with Winterval. Winterval is a parkour day in January organised by Parkour Generations, in London. It was supposed to be accessible to new starters, so I decided I would do this. Most other new starters had a more extensive sport background than me, so I struggled a bit. For instance, the warm up was already quite challenging for me, drilling movements on cold concrete floors. Then I spent the rest of the day learning about vaulting and other techniques in cold concrete estates. My body was aching for two weeks after this, but I was happy.

2020 – trying a precision jump I was scared to try before

My journey with parkour is still a complex and challenging one. I feel like my progress is slow, and I get easily scared by a range of issues. I don’t have truly “impressive” vids to show. But for me it’s about the mindset and the journey. After some amazing sessions with Flynn Disney and other awesome people – the Esprit Concrete team, and more – I knew I was on a quest to find my own magic. A discovery of a witch? The wish to fly and not be limited, my ability to imagine and try – my own magic has to exist somewhere.

One of the lengthiest jump I can do so far – 2020
Going over a wall, London

Magic is an interesting topic in itself, that I won’t cover in a paragraph. But one of my resolutions is to carry on discovering my “magic”. Exploring is one of the best way. Parkour, discovering the world, creating more stories, trying and sharing…

Look at where stories can lead!

References

Pictures and videos of me taken by Alexis.

The rainbow hair pictures were taken in December 2019 in London, and the videos over 2020 in London.

The hair is by Pedro Plastic.

The northern lights resin bracelet is by ModernFlowerChild and sold on Enchanted Living.

The triceratops plushie and the dinosaur dress are from the Natural History Museum in London.

The makeup is from KVD vegan beauty.

The book is The Christmasaurus and the Winter Witch by Tom Fletcher, illustrated by Shane Devries.

The blue hair picture on a wall was taken in France in October 2020.

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