"Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love."
- George Eliot
On a smoggy August afternoon, my parents drove me to the St. Louis airport. They hugged me at the security checkpoint for my portal to my semester abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France. In my dad’s cloud of aftershave, I melted out of fear of the unknown. My mother told me that everyone would love me in France, as tears rolled down my chin. I silently cried all the way through security. As I loaded my bag onto the gunmetal conveyor belt, I ignored my parents’ painstaking, feeble waves goodbye in my peripheral vision. I couldn’t acknowledge the hesitant fear in their crinkly eyes. I couldn’t admit that I didn’t even know how to get on the plane. Parting with my sweet, tangled family and my brilliant, goofy friends and my snowy, rigorous school meant that I was losing my context. I was losing everything and everyone that I could not take in my suitcase. Despite a consistent body, I was even losing myself.
As predicted, my identity escaped me when I arrived in France. Amidst fresh faces speaking in tongues, I couldn’t cling to my academic, political persona, because I didn’t have the words to express those pieces of me. My flimsy grasp of the French language and my identity meant that I had to assume different roles. I had to tend to different pieces of myself.
Thousands of miles from my academic snow globe and my dusty yellow house, I was forced to face a relatively blank version of the person I thought I was. Stripped of the person I was hopelessly devoted to for twenty years of my life, I fought to create a new place. I fought to feel significant again. I fought to find something that made me feel like more than an empty twenty year-old. I was so terrified that no one would understand me.
Somehow, in the bone-shattering chaos, I made friends who braided my hair, revised my essays, laughed at my jokes, and made me feel significant in a sea of uncertainty. They brought meaning to the unknown. They also brought laughter and rosé.
They took me to countries I’d never heard of (What is a Malta?) and subsequently helped me create memories to write a new chapter of my life.
With them, I remembered how much I adore writing. How much I wish I could paint. How much I love goat cheese. And how much it means to have a place, especially when lost in one of the most charming cities in the world.
Merci mille fois for being there. For helping me make something magical out of four months. For dancing all over Europe with me. For listening. For being incredible friends.
I cannot bring myself to say goodbye, because I know that I carry a tiny of piece of you everywhere I go. I will need morsels of your warmth as I go back to my snowy college. So I refuse to let you go.
I love you all to Malta and back!
The apartment my parents and I stayed in during their visit to Aix!
My parents visited me for a long weekend in mid November. We stayed in an adorable apartment in the Mazarin Quarter of Aix-en-Provence. It was lovely reuniting with lengthy showers, unlimited cheese, and their familiar faces and voices. We rented a car and followed my art professor’s recommendations of a day trip to Gordes, Ménerbes, Bonnieux, and Senanque. We ended our day of exploring picturesque towns with a drink in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. We also spent an evening in Cassis, walking along the Mediterranean, eating roasted chestnuts, and looking for souvenirs for my siblings.
While it was so comforting being able to show them my new corner of the world, it was also fairly disorienting. As neither of my parents speak French, I was responsible for conversing with all of the waiters and shop owners and subsequently translating everything to them. It was strange to feel as though, for once, I was taking care of them.
We also had the privilege of spending an evening with my host mom, Françoise. She does not speak English, so they relied on my mediocre translations and their own hand exaggerated gestures. Françoise was eager to show them her pottery, which she works on weekly. She even gave them one of her pieces, a small red apple. Now, it is sitting on the desk in our family room. She served us rosé, tapenade, goat cheese, baguettes, and homemade macarons. She is an angel.
It was bittersweet having them in Aix, because in their presence, I was forced to come to terms with coming home. Looking at their faces across the dinner table, I realized how quickly my chapter in Aix was coming to a close. Soon, I would be back in my house, with Françoise’s pottery, my siblings, and the lackluster tones of the familiar english language. I really didn’t know how to accept that.
Alas, I am home. I am still figuring out how to adjust and relying heavily on my wonderful parents. I wanted to share a few pictures of their trip to France. Here’s to returning soon!
With my mom in Cassis
Mom and Dad in Bonnieux
A delicious lunch at Le Fournil in Bonnieux.
A rainbow over Gordes.
Dad sees the Mediterranean
“I was within and without. Simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
I’ve lived in France for two months. Sometimes, I struggle with blogging about my experience because the instances that are easy to recount don’t always clarify my time here. I want to show everyone how wonderful and confused I feel. But it’s often hard to pick apart the pieces of the past two months in an accurate and light-hearted way that anyone else will want to read.
In case it's not obvious yet, I adore this town. I am constantly refreshed by my surroundings. In between the broken French and the sweet rosé, reality occasionally seeps in. I’m trying to be more graceful about falling apart. I don’t mean falling apart in a negative way, because I am 20. I have the luxury of redefining my humor and my aesthetics and my passions in the South of France. I have the privilege to reevaluate the appropriate weight of academics and social life and self-discovery. I’m trying to be okay with being lost in a culture and myself and the staggering uncertainty of everything that lies ahead.
Fortunately, I am able to do so among friends, over baguettes and camembert. I am constantly reminded that I do not belong here by the gentle smile the woman in the cheese aisle at Monoprix offers when my friends and I whisper to each other, “How do you say cream cheese?” The softness in her eyes seems genuine, as if to say, “Poor you.” But I wish I had the French to tell her that I am so ridiculously fortunate. I can walk around the outskirts of Aix listening to old Amy Winehouse whenever I please. I can board a plane to Italy for fall break for 20 USD. I can sleep with the shutter slightly open and feel the shimmering heat of the morning sun on my face. I can take time out of my academic career at a prestigious liberal arts college to rethink my priorities and my food choices and the way I wear my hair. This is what privilege looks like: Stepping into France and almost fitting in. Almost getting pitied. Asking your parents if you can spend a year here.
I leave in six weeks. I haven’t accomplished everything I dreamed of doing because most of my goals were abstract and naïve. This isn't a dream. I realized that France has many more dimensions than the manner in which I had my parents decorate my bedroom in elementary school. My grasp of the language is inconsistent and self-conscious. But I am incredibly happy here, despite being so lost, because I have space. I have space to grow and whittle myself into something more solid. Something more whole.
Meanwhile, I’ve been traveling. I’ve been to Malta, Spain, and Italy. They were all splendid, but I prefer France. Here are a few of my most treasured photos from my trips!
Relaxing on the terrace of our hostel in Malta
Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy
Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy
The little, winding streets of downtown Aix!
Now that I sort of have my bearings in this town, I should update you on my first couple of weeks in Aix.
First things first: Aix is perfect. It’s like a tiny, rustic city. The food is spectacular. I will never ever get tired of goat cheese, rosé, and baguettes. You can quote me on that.
The salty Mediterranean Sea is my newest love. It glows the prettiest hue of blue.
Within days, I discovered the one huge thing that separates me from French women: I laugh entirely too much. Impossibly cool people on the street stare blankly at me whenever I giggle. Every single time, it shocks me. But I refuse to let the French people kill my vibe.
Perhaps my favorite thing about being in the South of France is all of the walking. I usually walk somewhere between five and eight miles a day. Plenty of time to process my experiences and absorb my surroundings
In my painting and drawing class, we’ve been working with a live model. It is both incredibly challenging and eye-opening. My professor, John, spends most of the class period sitting with me, and gently telling me not to do whatever I’m doing. He is an adorable old man who lives in the other half of the art studio. He encourages me to see the character in everything I draw.
In a few of my classes, I’ve definitely been labeled the radical kid (apparently a lot of professors don’t know what to do when you talk about race). Thank you, Macalester, for teaching me to be so curious and skeptical. Unfortunately, I wish my professors here rewarded my deconstruction as much as you do. I’m trying to find a better balance between biting my tongue and being extremely critical of systems of power. Help.
Finally, to those of you who listened to me question my ability to find friends here, mission accomplished. I adore the girls I’ve been spending time with here. I blame them for my laughing attacks in the silent, twisting streets of Aix. I feel so grateful to be able to experience this impeccable city with such brilliant people. Silence is overrated.
My favorite beach in the world: Nice.
Overlooking Marseille, France.
Bidule, Brasserie in downtown Aix!
The fresh market in downtown Aix.
I'm trying to come up with the right response to "How is it there?" I'll go with: Beautiful, exhausting, charming, delicious, and sunny.
Sometimes, if you're lucky, the gibberish that French people tend to speak magically makes sense with a single clear word. It's draining, but also really incredible when you realize you are able to speak a little gibberish back and pretend you know what's up.
I spent my day exploring Aix. Most of my afternoon, I found myself hiking up a hill searching aimlessly for the art school. Finally, I stumbled upon rock labeled "Atelier Marchutz". Past the rock, a small studio lay tucked into the woods with a cardboard sign that read "Exposition". I was convinced my host mom accidentally gave me the wrong directions. Later on, in broken French, I asked her "Is it called Atelier Marchutz?" When she confirmed the name I responded. "Is it very small?" And she said "Yes, rather small. It's deep in nature and you paint outside of the little studio." How enchanting is that?
My host mom, Françoise, makes me laugh all of the time. She is so generous and helpful. And she makes a mean vegetarian quiche! I'm loving having my own balcony. And don't even get me started on the little library in my room, complete with a hardback copy of Le Petit Prince.
Looking forward to a semester of clumsy french conversations, painting classes in the woods, vegetarian quiche, and long walks around this beautiful city!
My program's headquarters in downtown Aix.
The stunning view from my balcony.
Me circa 1996. Getting ready for another one of life's adventures.
When I was little, my mother told me that I had to do three things every morning before I left the house: wash my face, brush my hair, and brush my teeth. Before leaving for school, I halfheartedly completed all three things. Now, I see hair-brushing as a weekly (rather than daily) optional activity, but that's beside the point. The point is, no matter how many times I complete my three things, and every other thing I can think of, I don't feel quite ready for a semester in Aix. And the worst part is, regardless of how much I prepare, part of me will never feel ready to leave. And I'm trying to embrace that.
The root of my troubles: I wish I knew how to say goodbye. I've racked my brain for the most heartfelt ways to part with everyone I know. Nothing seems quite right. How do you leave the people you love for people you've never met? How do you depart from a city you cherish for a city you've never laid eyes on?The New and Improved Four Things:
- Write letters. To the people you adore, including your friends. Because good friends are the only magical things left in the world.
- Make your favorite foods and share them with people you love. Bake a million gourmet Sweet Potato & Goat Cheese & Kale pizzas or eat a thousand bowls of Kashi Go Lean Crunch because those gems are probably unheard of in the South of France.
- Be confident about a fresh start. Or pretend to be. New clothes help.
- And finally, don't say goodbye. Say farewell because it sounds much kinder and less permanent. In the words of John Steinbeck:
“Farewell has a sweet sound of reluctance. Good-by is short and final, a word with teeth sharp to bite through the string that ties past to the future.”
Farewell St. Louis and St. Paul. Bonjour Aix-en-Provence!
Sunflowers from my mother, Bambina Passport Cover and Mesa Dreams Luggage tag from my sister!
It hasn’t hit me yet. I’m sitting in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, waiting anxiously to board my plane to Chicago to meet with the French Consulate. Lately, it’s seemed like every plane opens a portal into another world, full of hope and opportunity.
In a few weeks, I’ll be in Aix. I’m swimming in pre-departure emotions. I wish I could pinpoint them, tell you exactly how I’m feeling. Frankly, I’m terrified. How will I even talk to the locals? What if my host family can’t cook for vegetarians? What if my style is subpar for the French and the students in my program think I’m a weirdo from Minnesota? All of these are real fears.
But I have to believe that fear signifies marvelous rewards. Beyond this gate, and every gate in the world, lies a whole new chapter that I have yet to read, because I haven’t even written it yet. Naturally, my first reaction to the unknown is fear. But once you accept the fear that coincides with grand adventures, fear itself is invigorating.
As much as I’m afraid of my semester in Aix-en-Provence, I’m pining for the Mediterranean climate and the market and the new faces. I absolutely love my cozy college of two thousand students in St. Paul, Minnesota. Macalester College has inspired me to grow in so many directions. Nonetheless, I’m enthralled with the possibility of not recognizing every person with whom I cross paths and not having to bear the first few months of a frigid northern winter.
Beyond the pleasant climate and fresh faces, I’m looking forward to delving into a new language and a new culture. I’m incredibly lucky to be able to spend a semester in Europe. And I plan on mediating my privilege as a straight, upper-middle class British-American white girl throughout the next four months.
In the meantime, I’ll be packing my bags, trying to squeeze in all of my grandma sweaters while leaving enough room for change, and a few Parisian shopping sprees.
Here’s a glimpse into the fiasco that I call my suitcase:
1. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. Cloth & Stone chambray shirt dress
3. Arrojo dry shampoo
4. My journal
5. AG Denim cutoffs
6. Cardinals memorabilia for my host family
7. On Beauty by Zadie Smith
8. Disposable cameras on disposable cameras on disposable cameras
9. Chloé Eau de Parfum (because every wannabe French girl must)
10. Beyoncé Live at Roseland DVD (Queen Bey forever)
Before I go, I’ll leave you with a quote by the brilliant Amy Poehler that has inspired me to jump wholeheartedly into my study abroad experience:
Great people do things before they’re ready. They do things before they know they can do it. And by doing it, they’re proven right. Because, I think there’s something inside of you—and inside of all of us—when we see something and we think, “I think I can do it, I think I can do it. But I’m afraid to.” Bridging that gap, doing what you’re afraid of, getting out of your comfort zone, taking risks like that—THAT is what life is. And I think you might be really good. You might find out something about yourself that’s special. And if you’re not good, who cares? You tried something. Now you know something about yourself. Now you know. A mystery is solved. So, I think you should just give it a try. Just inch yourself out of that back line. Step into life. Courage. Risks. Yes. Go. Now.
So with that, I’m hopeful. Here’s to a splendid, scary, beautiful, challenging semester in the South of France. À bientot, Aix!