Summer, pt ii: home

flag&boatbook&drinkTruman

When I came home from France, I expected to be a little bit bored; restless. Clinton, Missouri is small and quiet. You won’t find things like ethnic food, indie concerts, or gourmet coffee here. It’s an hour drive to the mall and to Trader Joe’s where we like to buy groceries. In any case, quite a switch from the heart of the second-biggest city in France.

But I will always look back on this summer, both parts of it, very fondly. Partly due to the beautifying power of a good camera, capturing as it did the colors and details I missed the first time around. It was, quite simply, special.

After being surrounded by a culture so foreign, the little traditions and ways of life at home felt luxurious. All that free space and nature. Days framed by cerulean blue skies and fat clouds, bright nights lit by fireflies and stars. Cricket chirps and coyote howls and owl hoots. Walking around barefoot and bathing suit-ed, plucking sun-warmed cherry tomatoes off the vine and eating them like candy. Lemonade with ice and novel after novel.

Much more than that stuff though, I felt so content just to be with my family. What’s invaluable to me: Dad’s perspectives. Mom’s advice. Spencer’s humor. The way all three of them make me laugh like nothing and no one else.

But this summer our family of four (plus various quirky mammals of the four-legged variety) had another member. Bastien is 16, French, and the brother of Camille. He stayed with us for a month and a half, wanting to see a bit of the country and work on his English. He wouldn’t smile for my pictures, but in my mind’s eye he only has an ornery grin.

J&BinwatertomatoboatSubtle cobweb

He and I spoke largely in French which was all the better for inside jokes. We swam and played volleyball and tennis and endless games of Monopoly, which he always won. We rode around on the golf cart, which Bastien called his personal voiture. We shucked corn and went grocery shopping and once made carbonara, arguing over when to add the raw egg. We jumped on the trampoline and fought over who had to take out the trash. We watched Children of the Corn together, me cowering in terror; Bastien laughing. We had water fights; raw okra I-just-picked-this-but-I’m-going-to-throw-it-at-you fights.

I already know what it’s like to have a brother, how you sometimes want to give them a bear hug and other times would rather pour ice water on their head (ice bucket challenge or no). This felt a lot, a lot like that. 

He became a part of our family, everyone teasing him like we do and him dishing it right back, you’d better believe it, especially at dinner when we were all together. That became my favorite time of the day. Never in front of the TV, always at the table, with wine and baguettes and some terrine one of the boys brought back from France. Mom would make things like tagliatelle or roast chicken or salmon, and the table was always crowded with side dishes straight from our garden.

Provençal-inspired dinner Mom made

Provençal-inspired dinner Mom made

Julia Child said that people who love to eat are always the best people, and I think she was right. From the French to my family, the people who I find most interesting eat with fervor. Maybe because there’s much more to a true meal than just stuffing your face.

Dinner was the best time to talk, too, about anything and everything; subjects more varied than a Trivial Pursuit card deck.WaterskiAhlala, cet été…

Now I’m back at college again, doing the occasional reflecting on how good it was to be home, where people know you the best and love you the most.

xo,

j

flying thoughts

Planewing

because we don’t have wings that flap

we drive we wait we cram we pack,

we measure, weigh, and stack our bags,

we pull at all those zippers.

 

and while dreaming or dreading our destinations,

we soar through clouds, perspectives shaken,

we imagine the breeze

we will windows away,

but then birds don’t need barf bags, do they.

 

and birds flap and they flutter, they screech and they sing

but we, we sit quiet and read magazines.

in neat rows with thin blankets, we shiver, we wait,

cradle plastic tea cups, pilot holding our fate.

 

whether joyful or stoic, feathers or skin,

leaving the ground equals taking a risk.

plan-pack or just leave, leave the nest not too late.

birds know it, as we do,

that flying takes faith.

reflecting: culture shock

swans

Several months ago, as I completed the orientation for my study abroad adventure, I was given a warning: you will experience culture shock. The honeymoon phase will end, they said. You will miss peanut butter, your family, your dog.

There was even a sort-of emotional line graph, intimidating with its steep drops (feelings of depression! anxiety! fatigue! resentment!) and begrudging crawls back up.

And so forewarned, I went to France, and I waited for it to sneak up and attack: culture shock, the promised monster under the bed.

In Paris, I looked over my shoulder between bites of warm mascarpone-filled crêpes and sips of cool rosé. I waited for it on evening boat rides as warm sunsets mingled with cool breezes and I shivered slightly in a sweater.

In Lyon, I watched for it still as I linked arms with new friends and grinned for photo after photo, a creeping dread reminding me that I might not be able to smile for much longer so I’d better capture the happy.

La vie en rose couldn’t last forever, I knew that. France’s gilded façade would soon crumble, and maybe I’d fall out of love and back into the star-spangled arms of my own country.

Culture shock was going to pounce, kill my joy, and steal my sense of adventure.

But then it didn’t.

I had problems and struggles, of course. Believe it or not, the trip wasn’t all laughs and lavender fields. There were plenty of times I sat sweaty on a metro going the wrong direction and had to say to myself in a voice more confident that I felt, well you wanted an adventure. Plenty of miscommunication with my host family. Plenty of staying up ’til two in the morning as I struggled to write French papers, the correct conjugated verb evading my grasp. Plenty of wishing I had a little more of that effortless Frenchwoman elegance and grace. Plenty of headaches, embarrassment, and schedule confusion; reading the sign just a little bit wrong. The development of some sort of sinus infection that led to a miserable week and a trip to a French doctor’s office. And plenty of feeling like the only one who didn’t know the rules, une étrangère.  

Despite that, over the course of the trip I felt no depression, no resentment, no loneliness, no sorrow. What I did feel was challenged.

I think it had a lot to do with all the answered prayers, and if you’re one of the lovely people who prayed for me before or during my trip, thank you! I really appreciate it, and I learned so much.

I’m also thankful for all the support. Thanks for asking me questions, reading my blog, and letting me share dreams and discoveries as I stumbled around starry-eyed with a notebook and a camera.

And hey, I didn’t miss peanut butter, not one little bit.

bisous,

jessica