I'm certainly making the most of my last few weeks abroad. My friends and I have gotten pretty inseparable, seeing each other basically every single day. We went to Marseille this weekend, in 2 weeks I have a girls weekend to Monte Carlo planned, and every weekend day in between is booked. Still, talk of the end has arrived. I finally forced myself to look at my plane ticket home. December 19, 3 1/2 weeks away.
Following so many words of happiness- "incroyable," "contente," "magique,"- goodbye will be the hardest one to say. How do you say goodbye to the first place you were ever immediately and unwaveringly happy? The first place you ever built a life completely on your own? And how do you tell your family and friends that it's so hard to leave?
In my writing class last week we had a discussion and somebody expressed this sentiment. You don't want them to think you don't love and miss them, but you can't go home and pretend that a piece of you isn't still in Aix.
My writing teacher pointed out that the fact that we're here at all means someone back home is supporting us, so I guess we just have to trust that they're happy that we had such a life-changing experience and will put up with our period of moping and incessant stories.
And of course, we'll have to talk to our Aix friends, the only ones who completely understand our period of readjustment and what will surely be mixed emotions, often. By talking to them and keeping the changes that we underwent here alive at home, we'll be able to accept that we have to return to reality after what seemed like an incredible dream.
Sara and I rushed to the TGV station after my last class on Thursday and arrived in Paris around midnight. We took a taxi from the Gare de Lyon to my uncle’s apartment, a taxi ride that I love. You pass the Musée d’Orsay, drive on the Champs-Élysées and see the Eiffel Tower looming above the buildings. I found myself smiling and sitting up straighter to get a better look out the window without even realizing it.
On Friday we had a lot to do to get ready for the Catching Fire avant-premiere, the big event for which we travelled to Paris. Sara knew where there was a mall, but we had to take the metro to get there. We stopped and asked for directions to the nearest metro station, and managed to find it without getting lost. It took us quite a while to figure out where we even were, and even longer to buy tickets and figure out how to get where we were going, but we eventually figured out that we had to take line 9 to so-and-so station, then transfer to line 10. AND WE GOT THERE!! Okay, it took about three times as long as it should have since we didn’t know which direction the trains were going and had to double back to where we had just been at one point, but we got there. We even figured out how to get back, and commenced beautifying just in case Josh or Liam was in the mood to fall in love with one of us. My hair was done, my outfit was on, and my new earrings bought just for the occasion were adorning my ears when I went on facebook and saw a picture of people already lining up outside the Grand Rex, the venue for the premiere. We called a taxi, I put on my makeup at warp speed (which always results in my eyes burning when I get eyeliner in them) and we were out the door faster than I would have been if I had woken up at 8:55 for a 9:00 class.
We scouted out the place and found that there was a line to get into the theater and there were people waiting by the red carpet to see the stars. I obviously waited by the red carpet. Sara got in the line to go into the theater, but eventually joined me when she got bored. We did have a 4 1/2 hour wait until the stars even got there.
I spent the 4 1/2 hours maneuvering my way as close to the security barriers as I could. It was obvious that I wasn’t going to get close enough to snap a pic with any of the celebs but I could still snap pics of them. The wait was uneventful except for my conviction that my numb toes would never be the same. Whatever; it would be worth it if I got to see Josh.
The actors and production people started showing up at 8:30 and the crowd was packed so tightly I was getting claustrophobic. The first person to pass was Francis Lawrence, the director. I’m so short and everybody was holding up cameras and things for him to sign so I barely even got to see him! I held my camera up as high as I could and pressed the shutter button. Liam came next and since he’s so tall I could see him. Let me tell you, he is even more attractive in person. At that point I realized that even if Josh passed right in front of me, I wouldn’t see him. He’s 5’ 6”, a perfect size for me but not great for seeing over a crowd. People were standing on the bike racks on the other side of the street to get a better view, so I pushed my way out of the crowd and went to the other side of the street. The view was no better and all the bike racks were taken, so I just went to the line of people waiting to get in to the theater. To get in you had to walk on the red carpet so we had to wait until the stars were no longer there. Eventually they let us through. At the end of the carpet was a curtain, behind which I was excited to see the stars taking their official press pictures. Although the guards urged us to “avancez” I obviously pulled out my camera. I had a perfect view of Liam, Jennifer and Josh! When I got to the other side of the curtain, they had finished taking pictures and I could see Josh just standing there. I zoomed in and had a perfect shot, but as I pressed the button a guy walked in front of me! Luckily I still got some shots of Josh’s head, but mostly I have excellent pictures of that guy. Sigh.
I found a seat (Sara had gone in before the red carpet so she already had a seat) and took in the atmosphere. The energy was so high and on the movie screen they were playing interviews with spectators that they had done before the red carpet began. Eventually the emcee quieted us down and introduced the actors, director and producer one by one. They came down the aisle in the middle of all the fans and went on stage. I was pretty much in tears. Before we entered the theater, they confiscated our electronics so that we couldn’t record and leak the movie. Unfortunately that also meant that when Liam, Josh, Jennifer, Elizabeth Banks, the director, and producer were on stage chatting with the emcee I couldn’t take pictures. When the emcee asked Jennifer a question she answered with her signature genuineness: “Sorry, I don’t understand your accent!” When he asked Josh what he knew how to say in French, he answered, “Je suis fatigue.” Everyone cheered. A second later he added, “Je suis faim.” There was a pause before everyone cheered for his incorrect French (it should have been “J’ai faim”) but since it was Josh everyone cheered anyway. Josh, Liam and Jennifer play-fought on stage. Josh danced off stage. It was adorable. After they left, the movie played.
It’s technically not out yet and I don’t want anyone from the studio knocking on my door, so I’ll just say that it was INCREDIBLE! Fans of the book will not be disappointed or think that they drastically changed anything. The screenplay got every single major point from the book and I don’t think it left any confusion in the minds of those who didn’t read the book. The acting was absolutely amazing and the sets, costumes and filming techniques were gorgeous.
After the movie we got back to the apartment about 12:30 but I was too pumped to go to bed until 2. The next morning Sara and I bought pastries, walked to the Eiffel Tower and decided to climb to the second floor just for fun. We took the TGV back to Aix at night after our star-studded weekend. Being up close with celebs and deciding on a whim to climb the Eiffel Tower definitely agree with me.
There are two kind of international camaraderie. The first is meeting someone in your travels, never expecting to see them again, and then constantly running into them when you don't expect it. We experienced this in Belgium. We were five travelers in a six-bed room so I figured we would have a roommate at some point during our stay. I was in the same situation when I went to London last year, and we got some great stories out of our roommates, so I was excited to meet a fellow traveler.
When I woke up the first night to the loudest snoring ever coming from Patrick's bunk, I was not excited. It briefly crossed my mind that he hadn't been snoring in Barcelona, but I was more concerned with what I could throw at him to get him to stop. A lull in the racket allowed me to get back to sleep without injuring him.
I joined two of my friends in the kitchen in the morning and we commiserated about the loud interruption to our much-needed sleep. They told me that the snoring didn’t come from Patrick, but our new roommate who had arrived after we went to bed. I was prepared to shoot him mean glances from my bed for the rest of the stay until I met Flavio, our adorable and super nice Argentinian roommate.
We learned all about each other (he's 30 and an anesthesiologist), talked about American versus Argentinean political systems, and got into such an interesting conversation one night that we left for dinner far later than we had planned. After three nights, both Flavio and our group left the hostel. We were going to Bruges for one night and would then return to Brussels for the rest of the trip. He was going to a small town between Brussels and Bruges and would then continue to Bruges. Wouldn't it be funny if we ran into him again, we joked?
After we got settled in our hostel in Bruges, I went to the hostel desk to ask where we could pick up the boat to take a tour of the canals. While waiting in the line, I looked in the full-wall mirror and caught a glimpse of the sweater the man in front of me was wearing. "Flavio?" I asked, and the man in front of me turned to greet me 12 hours after we said goodbye. "Oh my God!" I exclaimed and motioned to my friends to show them who I had found. We saw Flavio a few more times that trip around the hostel, and had breakfast with him on the morning we left. We'll never see him again (although, that's what we said when we left Brussels), but Flavio was an important part of our vacation. He was our friend for a few days, a familiar face when we only knew four other people in the whole country, and the guy whose murder I plotted every night when he woke me up with his snoring.
The second kind of international camaraderie is one that I experience at least once a week. It's hearing someone speaking your language in another country and feeling an instant connection to them. Even if you would never talk to each other at home, a common language makes them the closest thing to a piece of home that you have at that moment. This kind of connection usually happens when people are out of even the comfort zone that they’ve created for themselves abroad: for example, when trying to navigate a foreign city. When we arrived in Bruges, we had to get to our hostel. The confirmation email said to take bus 10 and that the driver would tell us where to get off. "The driver said he was going to tell us which stop it was, but I don't know how. Maybe you should sit up front so he can get your attention," I overheard a lady on the bus say to her husband. Hearing a situation that was exactly the same as ours from someone who was clearly American gave us a bond. We chatted, exchanged travel stories and helped each other find our ho(s)tels, which turned out to be on the same street.
I would never talk to someone I didn't know at home unless I was really desperate for directions. Abroad, someone who is confused and hears you speaking English will rush over and ask for directions, sure that if you share a language, you'll help them out. And you always do. You're traveling different journeys, but you can count on the fact that they both have the potential to be hard enough without someone from your own country, or someone you shared a hostel room with, complicating them. That's what taxi drivers, waiters and anybody who is impatient with non-native speakers is for. Meeting someone who is in the same situation as you makes you comrades, playing on the same team in the adventure called being abroad.