Monday, May 16, 2011

Final Thoughts

I've been back for about two weeks now! I think I've rather thoroughly broken down my personal response to the whole experience in my head, and a lot of it is mixed in with the multitude of issues unrelated to France that I experienced while I was there. My conclusion is that I wouldn't change my experience for the world. A lot of it I let be defined by something that, well, defined my time there. I can't believe I can say this, but in France, I fell in love for the first time with another human being. Not long thereafter, I began to realize, as so many do, that life's circumstances didn't want to let it last.

A lot like that relationship, my time in France was something I am proud and happy to say I experienced, but it is also something of the past now. There are a thousand memories I'll cherish forever from those months in France, from those months in love, and unfortunately in some ways I'll also harbor a lot of bitterness from both of those experiences. I have changed so much since last summer, in some dark ways, in some beautiful ways, and in a lot of grown-up ways. I never expected that I would change this much or to this extent when I set out on the seven-month journey abroad.

I forged some very important friendships while I was in France. I will forever cherish M, F, P, N, and C and her family. These people saved my life when I was alone, made me laugh, saved my heart when it was breaking, and were such important parts of my life during those months - I'm tearing up right now thinking just how much they all meant to me. There are a small set of individuals who also helped me immensely in small ways, even if they maybe changed their feelings about it later. L turned out to dislike me, but in the beginning she generously offered me a place to stay when everything was foreign. F.G. took me in when L changed her mind. There was F's boyfriend, who listened to my problems right alongside F when I was hurting and confused. The kind woman who drove me home from the train station. Nakayasu-san, who entertained a couple of jaded foreigners and brightened our day several times. L.P. turned out wrong, but he introduced me to an amazing open-mic bar. All the people, from the hotel concierge to the vacationing Polish family, to my students, who let two weird Americans record them speaking their native languages. My two Japanese teachers, for being so helpful and patient and just for doing what they do.

My final week in France was a calm one. After finishing my April vacation in Strasbourg with F and her boyfriend, I said goodbye to my classes, snuck in one final set of medical appointments before returning to the first world's worst healthcare system, saw a movie with C about families, ate well, received a few very kind gifts, packed my bags and left. It was truly time to leave, just as it was when I graduated from NYU. I didn't sense, as I was leaving, that I was heading toward even more life challenges - think quarter-life crisis and unemployment - but it was definitely the right way for things to go.

I'm doing as best I can right now from back at home - planning, healing, processing. I'm considering the possibility of going abroad again next year to teach English in Japan, if the devastation there hasn't eliminated the need for teachers... Because I want a second chance before real life starts. I want to see the world, but I don't care exactly how much of it I see. It's more important to me to get to know a place, to find new friends in strange places, to connect and to see, than to simply glance and run around to the most touristic locations.

In that sense, the last seven months were an amazing success. Thank you for following me as it happened. Your lives are just as blessed as mine - probably more so, since I have had such strange combinations of good and BAD luck! Here are some of my pictures from the final stages of my trip.

The parking lot/bus stop at the train station in my tiny town. :)

Heading home beside the train tracks - Step 1!

After the straightaway (about 5 min), turning to face Step 2: the forest!

After passing the residential area and this long stretch of tree-bordered street, I would have been walking about 12 minutes. Notice the gradual upward ascent!

Ascent gets a lot steeper as I take 4 minutes to walk STRAIGHT UPHILL through a roughly paved shortcut.

Hopefully you get the idea of how steep this is.

Finally reached the top! Yup, pretty steep.

The view back down toward where I just came from!

Dilapidated, abandoned truck that kind of scared me when I'd walk this route at night...

"Grr... another uphill shortcut..."

...freedom up ahead! By now about 20 minutes have passed and I am breathing pretty hard.

Finally made it to level ground! Another 5 or so minutes and I would be home. :) (Excuse my weird neck tendons)

Strasbourg TGV (high-speed train) station.

Nature alongside the river.

Cool old building in the city center! As usual, don't know what it is, but there is a restaurant underneath, naturally.

The famous, asymettric cathedral

One thing Strasbourg is known for: gingerbread.

In the Petite France neighborhood

Very cute old buildings in Petite France.

F and me

Stork at the Orangerie!

F, her friend, and me near the European Parliament buildings

Posing with the Strasbourg tram in the background

Fancy ballroom in one of the city museums

Library in the same musem

Excuse my face! Two of my favorite students

The other favorites!

My wonderful host family

Thursday, April 21, 2011

しゃしん (Photos)

I'm going to Strasbourg tomorrow for the weekend! How about some pictures, as a lovely non sequitur?

Went to the Château de Vincennes, an old prison where King Charles somebody also hung out to do king work stuff.

There was a chapel at the castle. Plain but pretty! Like me? haha

My friend N and I hung out in the grass at the castle.

At the entrance to the giant Parc Floral de Paris.

Tulips for you, Mom!

Just thought this was funny - the bank is warning thieves that all violent threats are "useless," since the employees don't have keys to the important stuff. I just like the dryness of the French saying "all your leetle threats, zey are useless."

You know, regular Saturday afternoon.

Eating violet (!) and mint chip ice cream at the Musée Rodin.

Favorite #1 "Le Baiser" (the kiss)

Favorite #2, a ballet pose.

Japanese classmate (French), former Japanese teacher (Japanese), me!

Small town bakery, big time Easter enthusiasm

I got a haircut (well, trim) in French!!!

Wary looks at the all-uphill walk, which I finally documented in photos. Those will come soon...

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Cold Shoulder

It is school vacation now, and I have about a week until I go back to the high school to see my classes for a final time. There's really no work left to do, just goodbye games and probably snacks. (Let's gloss over the tangent I could go on here about snacks and how I've legitimately gained back all the weight I worked hard to lose last year.) And I have about 12 days till I go home for good.

People keep telling me, "Oh, it's gone by so fast! You really have to take advantage of your last few days, enjoy Paris while you can!" They judge me silently when I say I still haven't gone to this or that place and that I'm actually not planning anything for this vacation other than a weekend trip to Strasbourg. People worry and fret on my account for the immense regret I may incur within my own soul if I don't DO.ABSOLUTELY.EVERYTHING.NOW!!!

I don't know if I will regret anything about this trip or not. I don't know how I'll feel tomorrow, much less months down the road when I look back at this experience. I can guess that I won't regret anything, simply because I accept and affirm the choices I make for myself as the best ones, whenever I can. (Sometimes I make bad choices for myself, but even then I try not to regret but to understand.) But my point is that I have no interest in "enjoying Paris while I can."

Paris, for me, has absolutely nothing on New York and San Francisco. The French, to me, have absolutely nothing on American hospitality and kindness, and the qualities they do have don't really make up for that. This not-so-tongue-in-cheek article about France sent to me by a friend even cites some study that found French people were less likely than many other countries to have performed an act of kindness in the last month. And I believe it!*

If I lived here for longer, if I had the time, I would take that time to comfortably explore Paris, maybe even call it my own at some point. But despite my enthusiasm for it, despite the way I made a forty-five minute to an hour beeline to it several times a week, I was still turned away. Cold, rude encounters, unfavorable situations, and even THEFT, were what met me. Sure, I'm inspiring a lot of sarcastic pity violins right now, but I'm being honest in saying that I don't like the part of France where I have been.

I think the problem is that France is not as used to foreign transplants as America, maybe. Just a hunch, and maybe I expect everyone to be as accommodating as Americans, which I admit is unfair. I'm pretty done trying to solve the unsolvable mystery of how to get on the French people's good side. In any case, I have seen some nice things here, I've had a lot of valuable life experiences, and I have certainly met some wonderful people (a couple of them French). But... this week, I'm just content to stay home, try to run a bit, eat some healthy food, study, and forget that I'm somewhere other than America.

* - However, tonight when I was coming home late from Paris after Japanese class and dinner with friends, I was on the RER train when I recalled that I wouldn't have a ride back from the train station because my host lady is on vacation. I called a few taxi dispatchers that I had in my phone for such an occasion, but apparently you need to reserve in advance. If you've talked to me in the last few months, you know that I live a 30-minute all-uphill walk away from the train station, and the town has been known to turn out the streetlights after midnight and cast an absolutely petrifying darkness over that already-scary walk home. But a lady on the train heard me on the phone with the taxi dispatchers and actually offered to drive me home. We had a nice, easy conversation all the way back and she stated that I didn't even speak with an accent. "C'est vraiment incroyable," she said. I like to think that's the kind of person I'll remember from France when I look back on it all.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

France sucks

Got my wallet stolen by a sketchy Romanian beggar in Montmartre because I was stupid and didn't pay attention to my bag.

At least I did some impressive stuff, like file a complaint in French at the local police department and dealt with my French bank card in French.

This is how I know I have completed my quest in France - I've actually had to use the useless vocabulary from high school lessons in places like the grocery store, the bakery, the train station, and now the emergency room! (January), the bank!, the POLICE DEPARTMENT!

18 days till I'm outta here.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Abject and Anticipatory

I'm gonna post soon, I swear! Just as soon as I stop enjoying SPRING, which will be n-e-v-e-r!! A-ha-ha-ha, suckers!!! You'll never get a blog post from me again!!!

Now that I've gone very ninth-grade-diary on you all... here's a list of what's to come. It's as much for my own memory as it is for your abject, anticipatory torture.

  • Student surveys and snack parties
  • Thinking my students are way too attractive (I don't need to post about that, I think that line says it all. Just add a dash of shame and you've got my brain's daily special.)
  • More everyday French that I'm relishing
  • A video or two from my big-city escapades
  • Being mistaken for a French person by a French person, when I spoke, again...
  • Really leaning into the travel-journal-ness of this all, which basically means I don't take enough photos but I'm the kind of person who is more satisfied by descriptive verbal recollection, so that's what y'all are going to get, too. :)
P.S. I'm sorry for not responding to some of your emails, esp serious ones. A response is coming soon.

    Monday, April 4, 2011

    Three Cool Kids

    1. I am her!
    2. I saw her in concert!
    3. I love her. Send cat hugs to E, whose kitty recently left us. <3

    Tuesday, March 29, 2011

    France is the least of my concerns

    Uggh internet do I want to do a Master's in speech pathology (lots of science, lots of phonology which wasn't always my favorite) or get my Master's/teaching credential in early childhood education?!?!?! TOO MANY CHOICES...

    Tuesday, March 22, 2011

    Amsterdam and Spring

    My European life lately has been less of an adventure - save my trip to Amsterdam; see photos below - than a simple exercise in everyday life somewhere that is not my home. The past several weeks have seen losses and feeling lost, gains and regaining self, and countless small epiphanies. These are not really things fit for a blog, so this space has been a little neglected.

    With spring, though, comes so much gratitude. Relief for the return of refreshing scents on the air, amazement at my good fortune despite all the bad luck I've seem to run into (life is never in short supply of that), and a sense of new beginnings around the corner. It seems, as usual, that I've only just begun my current adventure, and that it's nearing its end. I go home on May 2nd (in 40 days), and that's sort of hard to believe. So for now, I'm not going to try to figure that out, and instead present you with snapshots from Amsterdam.

    Also, I've been studying my Japanese more lately, and I just want to say 日本語はとても楽しいです!

    Canals and classic examples of old Dutch buildings

    Inside Moeder's (Mother's) restaurant, which serves classic Dutch food, there are countless photos of patrons' moms

    Greasy after an 8-hour bus ride and utterly unable to finish the heaps of food in front of me, which includes mashed potatoes with sauerkraut, sausage, bacon, meatballs and steak

    Eating Dutch apple cake (!!!!!!) at Winkel

    My favorite: cats

    A little Dutch for you to try to decipher ;)

    Left: Winkel; Right: Noordermarkt (open market)

    The short red building is the narrowest in Amsterdam and thus, once upon a time, the cheapest.

    Famed canal bridges

    Me in front of some sloping buildings (caused by the squishy swamp foundation)


    Me and Mark aka "I have killed many pigeons in my lifetime"