Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dear France

Dear France,

Why do you hate me so much?

I know that does not seem like a fair and just way to start a letter. However, you, my dear la belle France have nearly killed me today. In fact, now that I have put the words into writing, I wonder if you really are trying to kill me. Because if so then you are doing a really job so far. I feel like I should even say to keep up the good work, but I really want to survive this year, so please stop. Please.

This morning, May 26th, 2009, was to be the very start of my whirlwind tour of Belgium and Northern France with my best friend Zoe and later my relatives, who I have never met. The ticket to Lille, France, the northern most part of France was purchased almost two weeks ago. The plan was to purchase the train ticket from Lille to Liege Belgium in Lille, since it would be a great deal cheaper. The train from Dijon was set for 11:56 AM this morning. I would stop in Paris, take the subway train from the Gare de Lyon to the Gare de Nord and have about a half an hour of free time in the station. Then I would take the train to Lille, where I would then buy and purchase a train to Liege to be with my good friend Zoe.

I suppose your attempt to kill me began this weekend down in the South, when I left my bag filled with my wallet and camera to my host mom on the beach. Long story short, the bag wandered off, and I nearly died thinking I had lost my beloved camera, all of my credit cards, train tickets, and other important things. The first thing we did was cancel all of my credit cards, then attempt to refind my bag. Amazingly enough the bag was found, with all the contents in it. However, with my looming excursion to Belgium and exactly 15 Euros in my wallet, I realized I had another problem.

Luckily I had some Rotary money, so the trip was not to be cancelled. L and I decided also to get a new card from the French bank, which she would send to me in a few days. Things seemed to look good this morning, as we exited the bank with a sack full of money for my trip, a plan of action with the credit card, and the excitement of joining my best friend in Belgium. But, of course, my dear lovely France, you must have known things could not be this good for very long.

We arrived at Dijon station at 11:26, which gave me 32 minutes to just wander around the station. Leonie said she was going to buy me a book and wait with me until I got on the train, since I would be leaving for a few weeks and we would not be seeing each other. When we entered the station, we did a quick check on the train board with departures and arrivals times.
“Um… my train is not on the departures,” I said casually, thinking that the train was probably just a small regional train and not important enough to get it’s name on the board.
L, however, hauled me to Accuiel, where we asked about my train and the whereabout of the platform.

“National Strike, Ma’am,” responded the man at the desk. “The train was cancelled.”

Besides the fact that I did not think France could possibly strike about anything else on Earth, since we have already had about four trillion strikes already, my stomach dropped. I had seen on the board that the next train to Paris was not until 2 hours later, and by then I would surely miss my train to Lille, which would mean I would miss my train to Liege. A horrible ill feeling appeared in the pit of my stomach before I could even demand what I ought to do.

L was much better collected than I, “Well what do you propose we do? She needs to be in Paris within the next two hours!”

The man at the desk, unphased in the slightest by an American teenager on the verge of tears and French lady demanding information. “Well you can take the train at 11:25. But there is no room. You won’t have a seat.”
“But it is 11:32!” Leonie said.
“Oh well it hasn’t left yet. It is at platform J, as in Jacques, it leaves in a minute or two.”

As soon as the words left his mouth, Leonie and I were sprinting through the station. I was not wearing the best shoes and I almost tripped and fell twice. L, on the otherhand, put her running legs to good use, sprinting through the station, and making sure I got on the train.
After a quick Bisous, I sqid, “Why am I always running through the station after a late train when I am with you?” She chuckled and pushed me into the train. I felt a slight ache knowing that I was all packed up at her house, and that I would not see her, JF, Cha CHA, Ant, or Co for a few weeks. Even though not every day is perfect, I have to say that I am so thankful to have them as my French host family. (Well, France, in that respect, I can NOT be too mad at you.)

The train, of course, was delayed. Since there was not a single free spot n the whole train, I had to crawl underneath a shelf filled with baggages and fold myself in the most awkward position of my life. Hours later and I still have a pained neck. Oh and I can not forget that enormous black wheely bag that fell on my head when the train made a mandatory stop. That hurt. A lot.
Amazingly enough, I aurvived that horrible train ride with the help of my Ipod and the promise of McFlurry in Paris. My arrival at the are de Lyon was very well-welcomed. I headed immediately for the subway station, and then for the RER D, which would bring me directly to Gare de Nord. I was somewhat worried that my train to Lille would meet some complications because of the strike, but I told myself that whatever you were planning to throw at me, France, I was going to catch it and make due.

Well, not surprisingly, the Subway operators were also on strike. The direct RER D to the Gare de Nord did not work this morning, and so I had no idea what to do. I was not alone, either. There were about 200 British tourists who had no idea what to do. Of course, I unlike the British, can speak French, s when I went to ask for help, the nice man at the counter, “I is vedy vedy sordy. I speck no Ingliesh.”
“Oui, mais, moi, je peux parle francais,” I said telling him that I was capable of French.
“Oh mon dieu! Can you tell these English that they need to take the RER A to Chatelet les Halles and then transfer to the other RER B, which should bring them to Gare de Nord. They can not get it wrong because none of the trains are running today except the direct to Gare de Nord.”
So here I was, somewhat lost myself, herding a flock of British tourists through Paris.

“These bloody French wankers don’t work a day in their lives.”
“God forbid the Frogs actually do something right.”
“Well, what do these mornons expect? Of course they lost the Olympics to London. We, Brits, actually work and do not go on strike every five minutes.”

I laughed so hard listening to the British folks criticize the French, and also worked very hard to bite my tongue. Even though I hate strikes and manifestations with every fiber in my body, I feel as though I owe a lot to the French for this year.

When we all finally got to the station, I got a multitude of heart felt thank you’s.

“Bloody hell I cant wait to get the hell home. Good luck on your trip. I hope Belgium is actually functioning today.”

In the Gare de Nord, I confirmed that my train was runnin and going to be on time. Then, as promised, I found a McDonalds and gorged on McFlurry, I felt I deserved it. When I returned back to the station, I wanted to make sure once again that my train was running on time. I put my ticket in the machine to confirm the time. Everything was all set. I then pressed the button to retract the ticket and a strane messae came up on the screen. The machine could not dispense the ticket due to technical difficulties and I would need to find a mechanical worker. Just wonderful.

I found a security guard and he pointed me into the direction of the mechanics. I knocked on the door of the tiny office, and no one answered. I knocked aain. And again. And again. No one was answering, and I had 30 minutes until the departure of my train.

I had no idea what to do, but cut in front of everyone in the ticket sales lines. I asked a sales woman to get a mechanic for me and she pointed me back to the same office that I had been trying to knock on from before. “But no one is there! My train leaves in 25 minutes I need help,” I said.

“I can not help you. Find a mechanic.”

Instead of trying to dramatize this entire story, I will just say that I finally found a mechanic. I was crying so hard when he opened the machine to receive my ticket because when I finally located the sole mechanic in the entire city of Paris, my train had left.

“Tough luck, “ he said, “You should have come to find a mechanic earlier.”

He then proceeded to tell me that I could not get a refund for my ticket because of the strike. I could have died. He was not rude, but he was very blunt. I am not sure of he took my silence as understanding or shock. Because I promise you it was shock. I was shocked that something like this could happen. I was not sure what to do. I realized that I had just only lost 17 Euros in the deal, but still, I could not believe it. Why does this have to happen to me? What have I done wrong? And most importantly, what am I going to do?

After I recomposed myself cool and collective, I decided to find the most direct way to Liege possible. I knew that it existed but the only reason I did not want to buy the ticket for it was because it cost three times as much as what I was paying. But at this point, I was so broken I did not care.

During a strike, most people do not actually come to work. This, as I have learned during my year in France, is the entire point of a strike. However, I think I really learned that fact when I went to wait on line to buy my ticket to Liege. For 200 customers or so, there was about 3 workers. I waited on line for 45 mnutes just to buy a ticket to Liege. And as much as I would love to complain about this one, the first lucky thing happened to me. The man I purchased the tickets from said I was the last person able to buy a seat. The train was filled to capacity and the Belgian lines do not let people lay in corridors like the French lines do (as I learned this morning.) In addition, the ticket only cost me 15 euros more than it would have if I had went to Lille, and it would get me to Belgium and hour earlier.

So here I am sitting on that very train. A Belgian-run train. I almost hugged the conductor when she welcomes me aborad, showed me my seat, and asked to see some identification.

“No strike?” I asked.

“Oh God no, we aren’t French! Don’t ask a Belgian if they are French if you want them to like you,” She said chuckling.

Just crossed the border into Belgium. Ou Revoir France, see you next week. Go back to work.

Best Wishes, Julie

Friday, May 29, 2009

Packing Up

Part of what it means to be a Rotary Youth Exchange Student is receiving a multitude of different host families during the year. Other programs, such as AFS, YFU, and CIE, guarentee one host family. For me the changing of host families during the year is the probably the sole reason why I am a Rotary Youth Exchange student today. When I applied in early 2005 for my first exchange (to Austria! Well, not really, in fact, I have no idea how I ended up in Japan) my response to the question:"Why Rotary?" was the following:

"There is light at the end of the tunnel. If you have a terrible host family, you always know that you
Love this eclectic bunch. Note that Coline is flipping the bird.
are changing soon enough."

That being said, I have one host family here in France for the entire year. A family that I really like, despite everything, in which has shown me that having a multitude of host families is great, but having one family works well, too.

One day I hope to discuss all the pros and cons of having s"everal host families versus having just one host family" question, but in the meantime, I want to say that the hardest part of having multiple families is definitely the constant packing up and moving.

This year, chez les Robert's, I never had to throw all of my belongings and pack up my luggage, throw it in the car, and drive to another part of the city. On paper, I had been supposed to change families in January, but everyone decided not to. A decision I have yet to regret at all. In Japan, I had 4 host families, three of whom I loved and still keep in touch with. Had I not moved out of my first host family, I would never have gotten to meet my third and fourth families, the lovely (and crazy) Osaki family, and the calm and collective Katou's.

Charlotte and I. It has not always been a close friendship,
but we got along pretty well.
But, yeah, I could have stayed with my first host family, the Masaki's, all year. I think it is best not to dwell on things that might or might not have happened. I could have stayed with the Masaki's all year and spared myself the anguish of living with the second family, whom I had a tense and uneasy relationship with. Yet, if I did not leave Captain Jack's pirate lair (the nickname for my eccentric first host father) I would never have lived with the Osakis and/or Katou's. Sometimes the "what if?" weighs heavy on my conscious, other times, I am able to shake it off without thinking about it.

The hardest part was not saying goodbye to these Japanese host families when I moved on to the next host family. My close relationship to the families meant that I was always invited back for dinners, parties, or just afternoon Nintendo Wii sessions. No, the hardest part was something different and unexpected, and surely a major pain. The hardest part was definitely taking all of my belonging and putting them in a bag to move. Hauling all of my stuff into a bag and onto the next part of my year. It
Oddly, I haven't taken any photos of my luggage in France.
But this is a photo of my entire life in Japan. In two bags.
Well, three. Maybe four. Okay, probably eight.
was tiring and heartbreaking, because as I zipped up the bags and walked out the door, a little piece of my life was ending. The life I had built in that host house with those people that I had come to love. I knew I would come back and see them, but it would never be the same. I was no longer living in the house, and my presence would soon fade. I would become a distant memory of a goofy rather awkward American girl that had once lived in the upstairs room, who had eaten dinner in the far chair on the left, who had given this American flag as a present.

With one month left in France, and today leaving for my big trip, I decided the time was right to pack up a good portion of my belongings and return the room to Charlotte. She has a job now and is actually doing something, which is more then can be said for me, apparently. Plus I have wanted to give her back the room since she returned from India all those months ago. I suppose better late than never is the best way to put it.

I hope I don't become too distant of a memory for this little
trouble-maker. 
I have so much less stuff than I did in Japan, and I have a sneaking suspicion that a lot of my stuff is not here at the moment. Mostly I have books in French and clothes from America. Unfortunately almost none of the clothes I have actually fit me anymore, since I have developed a bit of an inner tube around the gut.

Thus, I have only three pairs of clothes that actually fit. I do a lot of sink washing.

I sit here now in a virtually empty room, typing a blog and slowly understanding that I will soon become that distant memory I have become to my Japanese families. Even though I still have a month to go, and my things are not packed, just sort of thrown onto a bag in the far closet, I still feel as though the pages of this book are growing less and I will soon finish and close the book.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Doing Nothing

I'm American. It's my birth rite to constantly
be moving... constantly be looking for the next
big adventure, right?
I am an American.

It is my birth rite to always be on the move, to always be looking to the next adventure, the next plan on the agenda, the next environment to immerse myself in. To never be content with mediocrity in the pursuit of the often-fabled, yet ever-existing "American Dream."

Perhaps, this is why I have had a roller coaster of a year in France. Because, as I have come to learn rather quickly, the French feel that if they do not have to work, then by gosh, why should they? (This is not to say the French lack ambition, but the French are much better at accepting what they are in the here and now than Americans.)

I do not keep repeating this because I am criticizing the French. This is certainly not the case. Perhaps in the beginning one could say it was criticism when I made the snide comments about doing nothing and how the French excel at it. I could never wrap my head around spending a day in the inactive pursuit of doing nothing. "How the heck does doing nothing further your advancements toward the American Dream?!?" Well, it does not, but the French do not care. The French Dream involves vacation, sitting at the table for the entire day, and a casket of fine French wine. The French Dream puts enjoyment of life before anything else, including the chase of ambition.

Doing nothing. In paradise.
Of course it is only now, after 9 months of life in France, that I have come to terms with it. My personality still clashes with the concept of doing nothing, but that is why I have two legs to run and pedal a bike. Yet, my constant need for doing something, has taken a little break. This weekend for the Ascension 4 day weekend break, I went down to the South of France with my host family. And did nothing.

How very French.

Actually, this is my third time at Bormes-les-Mimosas, the Roberts's summer home in the south of France. But it was definitely my favorite excursion. Perhaps because it was the shortest, but also the weather was brilliant, the sea was delightful, and I remembered sun block! Everyone's favorite half-Albino actually survived a sunny weekend in the South of France with little more than slight tan and not a single burn.

Of course, we really did nothing special. We spent half of the time curled beside the pool, and the other half of the time laying on the beach. Well actually I can not say I actually curled beside any pool. I am not a big fan of the chlorine, so I did a lot of exploring the surrounding area. I ran in the protected forest area, walked to the ancient chapel on top of a mountain, hiked to the beach, and all around did the things I love to do. In addition, I finished the seventh and final Harry Potter- in French. I have now completed the entire
The freckle-faced American playing at being French.
series in French. Now all I need to read is the fourth Twilight and I will have completed that series as well.

I almost did not go to the South with my host family. The night before we left, I decided to stay home this weekend and catch up on some biking. In reality, I had no intention of spending the weekend doing nothing with 4 young girls and 3 adults. My host mom sort of talked me into going: "What else are you going to do?"

I am glad I went.

I spent hours swimming into crystal clear water of the Mediterranean Sea, lounging in the sun, divulging in the Wizarding world, eating huge meals of traditional southern France cuisine, and just doing nothing. I also bonded with my awesome host parents, Coline, and her cousins. It was a very French weekend, and for one of the first times in my French experience, I actually went with the flow and enjoyed it. Doing nothing, that is.

Monday, May 25, 2009

What is Ascension Day? Um... No Work?

May 21st was a holiday in the strictly secular country of France. My fellow French friends all
snickered mockingly each time President Obama made reference to his belief in God during the Inauguration speech, yet here we are in France celebrating Ascension Day. I have never in my life celebrated Ascension Day, so of course, when I learned we Frenchmen would be receiving the day off, I was curious. What exactly are we celebrating? I asked, unaware to the religious roots of the holiday. For all I knew, we were celebrating the day Napoleon discovered high heels.
On our way!

Not one of my peers knew the exact reason for the holiday, until my reasonably educated teacher explained that we were celebrating the day Jesus finally climbed on his twittering gold cloud and flew up to heaven. I responded that I thought France was very strict on the concept of separating church and state, in which I was berated for not being open enough to French culture.

This brings me back to the French philosophy, I spoke of at an early time on this blog. "Why work if you do not have to?" Even though, la Belle France is strict on it's secularity, France takes a Bank Holiday wherever it can get one. The wonderful thing about holiday in France is that it truly is a vacation as well. Everyone will pack up their cars and head to the beach, call up relatives and spend the entire day at the table, shop in the very few stores that are actually open. Thursday is the official Bank Holiday. Pretty much all schools and places of work are closed on Friday. Hey presto, you have a five day weekend.

My host family, being French, decided to pack up and head South for the long weekend. Time for some sun.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hope You Like Cookies...


Aux Etats-Uni, the Garner family eats out or does take-out at least four times a week. The good folks at Esposito's Pizza know our address rather well, and I was pleased when I discovered a vegetarian dish at the local Rib place. My mother hates cooking with every fiber of her being, and my Dad is not home very often to take an interest in it. So you can imagine that nasty little shock when I was placed in Japan, where families eat out once or twice every month. Japan at least somewhat prepared me for France, living with the Robert family, where in the past 8 months I have eaten at a restaurant with my host family just once.

I thought that I had taken after my mother with the inability to cook well, or at least the strong distaste towards it. But watching L R and some of the other Fixin Mom's, I have started tempting fate, ingredients, and French kitchens in a quest to learn how to cook. The result? I still suck at cooking, but I have discovered a new secret talent, which is a gift and a curse to everyone who knows me.

I am an excellent baker.

My speciality is, of course, Chocolate Chip Cookies, which I have to make at least once every two weeks to please Leonie, who I have nicknamed the Cookie Monster. When I make chocolate chip cookies, I usually try to experiment with a new cookie recipe I find. I have thus far made Nana's Famous Sugar, Marzipan Almond, Shortbread, Nutella, Peanut Butter, M and M's, and my personal favorite, Obama Cookies. Obama
Cookies? you may wonder. Unfortunately, I hope you do not find this racist, but it was the name of the recipe that I was given from a fellow French baker. Simply put, they are opposite chocolate chip cookie. The cookie is chocolate with white chips. Black and white.

I try to make a batch of 60 cookies in one sitting, which at the rate my host family devours cookies, give me about 5 hours after they are thoroughly baked. The problem is that every time I bake the cookies, people complain and beg me to stop making them. This is, of course, as they are on their 6th cookie of the day.

But I can also make a tasty Fondant au Chocolate, Many flavored Mousse, White Chocolate brownies, and Chocolate, Snicker, Plain, or Strawberry Cheesecake. And last week I made a spectacular Chocolate Cinnamon Apple Cake, a recipe I created all on my own. Actually, I never got to eat more than a bite of the dough, because a few hours after I took it out of the oven, the cake was gone!

With a month left in La Belle France, I have begun to write down all my favorite recipes and also take cooking lessons from whomever is cooking.

Friday, May 22, 2009

The Act of Protest Part II: Striking Simply Because We Can

The most French thing to ever happen.
The French philosophy about life is the following, "Why work if you do not have to?" There is nothing wrong with this, unless you are American by birth and blood, and was vividly taught since the time you entered this world that if you work hard in life, you will get rich. The American Dream and the French Dream are two concepts that virtually repel each other when contrasted.

Work, yes. Die, no.
Yet there is something that the French will work ferociously long and painstakingly hard for. They will stay after hours and even come before hours (as long as it is not during the vacation) and will put every fiber of their heart and being into accomplishing with the best of the ability. Simply put, there are no better people in the entire world than the French when it comes to Strikes and Manifestations.

It was a frozen December morning, when I encountered my very first French manifestation. Now, even though I am an American and have never been involved in a strike myself, I thought I knew exactly what a strike was all about. Basically, impoverished proletariat workers in the textile factories, finally decide to do something about their horrible working conditions, terrible living conditions, and meager wages. I was quite shocked when I arrived at my
Culture Shock.... seeing my fellow classmates protesting.
Lycee that January morning to the sound of Bongo drums, a protest that was growing louder and louder with each new verse, and a student body consisting of about 400 of the 600 students at my school gathered around the gates. They called it a blocus, because some students had stolen some shopping carts from the local supermarket and piled them up at the school gate.

No one could get in and no one could get out.


I had never seen such spirit in my fellow French students as I did on that troubling morning. All the students, who had come out for the protest, seemed to truly believe in what they were fighting for me. One classmate of mine, who I had only ever seen dozing off in class, ferociously explained to me that the protest was against the National Education Minister, who seemed bent on changing the curriculum. The change? It would have made it more like the American system. I found myself wondering why that would be a bad thing, but that is besides the point.

A month later, I found myself arriving at the school with the same situation occurring. A blocus was
"We shall overcome..."
preventing me from getting into the school for class, so just before I decided to head home, I asked,

"What's going on?"

"Oh you know! A Strike, Manifestation," was the responce.

"Yes, but what for? The school system changes again?" I asked curiously.

"Oh no," she replied and then drifted off.

"Actually," she said after regaining her thought, "I do not know what these strikes are for. But you should stay and help us!"

The longer I am here, the more strikes I run into. And I suspect this is the reason why I have become very French in the way I handle the situations thrown at me. Since this is such a common event, strikes no longer seem to affect the way I carry out my life.
The Post Office is on strike? Well the mail will come tomorrow.
The bus drivers want higher wages? Well I guess I won't be going to Dijon today, I suppose we could just stay here in Fixin.
The students do not like the new education reform? Well, no school today, I guess I will clean my room and make lunch today.

We were not even allowed to go inside the grounds.
I do not mind the strikes all that much. Except I sometimes am a bit baffled by them. This year, as I am told, is one of the worst years in France's crazy history for striking. One of the favorite strikes as of recent is to manifest the economic crisis, currently gripping the world economy. I suppose it helps to have one's voice heard, but really, what does it accomplish? How will several hundred college students and unemployed people really change the recession and get investments restarted?

Well if anyone tells the French that they can not manifest or strike against the policies they do not agree with, nearly every Frenchmen I know will respond with a quote by their new favorite superhero.

"Yes, we can!"

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Act of Protest Part I: Non Never Actually Means Non

Stereotypes are fun. That being said, a stereotype is something that could be very hurtful, when used inappropriately or at the wrong time. For example, I will always laugh when someone asks me if all
Les Stereotypes. 
Americans are fat Big Mac-eating Cowboys. But I am pretty sure that most Germans get annoyed when asked if their parents are Nazis.

Before I arrived in France, I held a stereotype of the French, which consisted of two beret-wearing Frenchmen, with baguettes under their arms, sipping coffee en la belle Paris. Of course, the Eiffel Tower loomed in the distance as the men discuss some sort of political happening, while simultaneously hating on America. The lovely little discussion amongst les francais suddenly becomes heated and fuels into an argument.

Thus far, I have found this to be the most accurate stereotype I have encountered in my entire life.

Perhaps, in my world of English, Obama, and Peanut Butter, we learn that being told no actually means no. Certainly, that is not always the case and there are multiple daily exceptions. For
After being told "No," Americans just go out
and buy guns and burgers.
example, there are many children who did not listen to their parents when told no. But for the most part, in the real world or work, school, and life in general, when we are told no, we might grumble, complain softly of injustice, but we take it. No is No is No is No.

In France, "Non" never means no. It does not mean yes, either. However, no means that it is time to break out the impeccable French characteristic of protest. This act of protest is taught to the French at a very young age. It begins with firm non, perhaps to use the computer, television, or eat another helping of Nutella. Young children, in response, start to practice their birth rite of French society by protesting. This continues all the way to school, and eventually to work, and I suppose all the way to the grave.

Today, my fellow classmates had had enough. They all despise their English teacher, Madame J, whom never seems to teach the class, just piles them with homework and pop quizzes on subjects that they are all incapable of doing. Had we been in America, we students would have complained to the teacher, voiced our concerns, but eventually would have shut up and accepted the fact that the teacher was not going to change.

But this is France, and my fellow classmates, refused to accept Non. Instead, they went to the Homeroom teacher, who went to the Vice Principal, who passed on the message to the Principal. Mind you, this was all behind Madame J's back, since she refused to hear the students out earlier. The Principal, of course, sided with the teacher, and told the class that Madame J had every right to teach them how she saw fit. My fellow classmates saw two ultimatums: they could refuse the attend the next class in protest to show the teacher that they did not agree with her way of teaching, or they could accept what the principal had said to them and just do what the teacher asked them to do.
Today was my last day of school, so I, like readers, will not know exactly what happens until after it happens.

But I think I have some idea what my classmates are going to do.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Confusion

After Sunday's long bike ride, I returned home to the Robert's, took a brilliant and well-deserved shower, ate half the contents in the refrigerator, and came on to the computer to check my mail. I was exhausted, so exhausted, in fact, that when my head hit the pillow, I could not actually fall asleep. I was not in pain but I could feel little jolts of soreness every time I rolled on to one side. I heard all the noises of the night, Charlotte's snoring and her waking up at 4 in the morning to go to work, the crickets of the night singing their lullaby, the creaking of the old house settling, and the occasional bathroom break of one of host siblings. Some time after 4, when Charlotte departed for work, I must have finally dozed off. Here is what I remember.

*

I was standing in Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris waving goodbye to my parents and younger sister. I was not really all that sad and I told my parents that I had done this already twice before. I was referring to the two exchanges I had gone on, and the two departures I set off on, saying goodbye
My best friend in Japan was in my dream...
about France. Weird.
to my parents but not really meaning it. Goodbye really only has meaning if you let it. Looking back and I was surprised I did not find it weird that I was saying goodbye to my parents from Paris and not from Newark, NJ, which is where I always take off from. But the fact that I was speaking English made it all seem normal, so casual.

Regardless, the flight was not very long because I arrived in Kochi, Japan right away. My best friend, Chiake, and my third host sister, Maako, were at the airport to pick me up. I hugged them, and when I went to speak, French came out. Everyone laughed as we rode home and I continued to jumble up the languages. Eventually I would find the words in Japanese, but it was troublesome at first.

*
Then I woke up.
*

A dream is just a dream. There really is not much reality, unless of course, five years down the road a dream becomes a Deja Vu. And I do not think that this will happen. I really can not imagine my parents standing in Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris by choice.

But at the same time, this dream, however simple and bizarre it may be, has truly impacted me. Besides the fact that it is technically my first dream in the French language, it also shows how I can not go on each day without a little piece of me thinking about Japan, France, and my life defined in three languages. I have not seen Japan in almost two years, but not an hour goes by when I do not think about it. And I suspect at this rate, France will have the same affect on me.

A part of me is telling me to be proud of this life defined in three languages, three countries, and three lives. But another is telling me that I am never going to really feel whole if I can not choose a place to call home. I think both parts are right. But I need to learn how to live this life without yearning to be in another place.

At this moment, my mind is at Clemson University, my body is in France, and my heart is in Japan.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Another Reason Burgundy Is the Best Place in France: Reason #3

The Abbey.
Something as synonimous to la Belle France as Baguettes, the Eiffel Tower, and the act of Protest, is most definitely hopping on one's bike and going for a nice scenic ride through the country. After all, France has that big race each year with all the famous bicyclist from around the world. You know? The Tour de France. And since biking is really a French thing, the fact that an American, a Big-Mac eatting, war-mongering, FAT American, was constantly winning the race was just preposterous. Lance Armstong does not deserve the title, most Frenchmen might argue, but then fail in giving you a good reason.

There is literally nothing about Burgundy that remains
unstunning.
Regardless, I live in Burgundy, which is pretty much the heart (and soul) of France. I say heart
because it is literally the middle-left of France, where it's heart might be if France was a human. Burgundy is known for having some of the best food in France (I can attest to this!) as well as having some of the best wine. [I would love to say that Burgundy has the best wine, but I will be fair and say Bordeaux has some good wine as well. But the viticulteurs of Bordeaux do not have the love for the art of wine making that the folks of Burgundy excel at. Well, maybe they do. I should stop talking now.]

Life is ideal.
But the thing I love best about Burgundy is the land, the miles and miles of vineyards stretching as far as the eyes can see; the fragrant odor of smoke rising from the cottages in the ancient villages, untouched by hundreds of years of history; the mountains covered in thick pine forests, with hidden trails, tasty clear water, and secrets locked deep within. I have lived here for 10 months, exploring every chance I could possibly get, running through the woods and choosing new paths every time, sampling the wines from various vineyards and going to each of the places where the vines grow, these among many other things. Still I feel as though I have only unlocked some of the words on the map of Burgundy, and so I have set off to see what I have not yet seen.

What better way to explore Burgundy, than by partaking in France's nation pastime?

On May 10th, with Andrew by my side, we made the trek from Fixin to Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy. The journey is about 40 minutes by car, so we were surprised that it took us over 3 hours. We were a little surprised we got home in just over 2 hours, however, especially since I was so tired I thought I was going to die. I remember point biking along the National Route, and willing away my Rotary Blazer to Andrew. The worst part is that apparently did not happen. Just in my mind.

So I suppose, after my near death trip to Beaune, it would seem practical to not bike again. When have I ever done anything like a normal person?

Today I took the train from Gevrey-Chambertin to Beaune (which was not quite as pleasant as the bike ride.) Actually, let me rephrase. I missed the train at Gevrey and ended up biking into Dijon, which took me 50 minutes, and later got me yelled at for stupidity. In Beaune, I found the Voie Vert, which is a well-known trail that takes bikers from Beaune to Santenay and through some of the charming towns of the Cote de Beaune. I myself do not really know the Cote de Beaune so well, since I live in the Cote de Nuits, and love it. So today was a good opportunity for me to explore the towns of Pommard and Mersault, among others. Of course a Thunderstorm dampened my spirit in the last 5 Km, but I was already too tired to care at that point.


Friday, May 15, 2009

Fat and Fit

Occasionally I make little references here on this blog about my weight gain. Usually nothing but a
Running.
few words, a casual mention here and there, nothing much to emphasize anything. Those that talk to me on Facebook or email will know that I tend to bring it up much more than I talk about it on this blog, so I feel that it is time to approach the subject of weight here.

I am getting really fat.

Thank you, France. Now, I am all for taking the blame and not passing off the fault on to other people. I get so angry when other people blame others for their problems. Psychoanalysts make a killing on that sort of thing. I will be the first one to admit that I have a problem and that it is my own damn fault. That is, of course, if I think it is my own fault.

And my huge weight gain is not my fault. It's France's.

Americans may have a weight issue. But that's the cause of greasy food, lack of exercise, and strong addictions, which do not work. France has a different problem, not one that is making their pants any tighter, however. The French, who are known for having the best food in the world, a fact I can very much attest to, can not seem to stop eating. They eat and eat and eat and eat and eat and eat and eat and eat. I do not exaggerate. These are the same people that will sit at the table on Sunday for 7 hours, with 12 courses of food, cheese, loaves of bread, dessert, caskets of wine, and an epic appetite to finish everything. I have much to say on this subject, but I will save that for another time.

I eat the same amount as my host mom, a runner just like me, and my host siblings, who do absolutely nothing ever, and probably less than most French teenage girls. Yet, I have gained at least
Look! Ze fat amercain! OKay, not fat.
But noticeably heavier.
6 kilograms while here in France. And it makes me so frustrated because I work my BUTT OFF. In the winter, I swam at the local pool two or three times a week. And now that it is nice out, I run three or four times a week. I walk to and from school everyday, and I am always walking around Dijon during my boredom stages. However, I do not feel so bad. Other American exchange student, skinny and athletic before they arrives, are experiencing the same cruel side affects of an exchange in France. A good friend, former Varsity Field Hockey player, has gained 15 KG, and another former dancer is working on 12 KG. Not a single exchange student in France has lost weight.

On the bright side, the day that my favorite Khaki pants burst open (since the button could not constrain my large bread-filled stomach) I got serious. Even though my host Mom will not let me diet, and has firmly convinced me that diets do not work, I have instead gotten serious about exercise. This weekend for instance, I woke up at 9 to go for an hour and half run with all the (hungover) Fixin Mom's in the combs. These woman used to beast me every Saturday morning into embarrassment, but now I have gotten really rather quite good at running. Afterwards I took the bus to Nuit St. Georges, and decided not to wait for the bus. Instead I trekked for three hours on foot, from Nuit to Vosne-Romanee to Vougeot to Chambolle-Musigny to Morey St. Denis to Gevrey-Chambertin to Brochon and finally back to Fixin.

Did I mention it was a three hour hike? In the rain?

But Sunday was by far the very worst. Or best, depending which part of my body is telling you. My
One positive is exercise means more exploring!
mind and stamina is saying THE BEST. While, my butt and legs are too tired to argue. The rest of the body is still so angry with me for putting it through such torture, that my fingers are currently cramping and my arms are considering taking a cue from the French and going on strike. With Andrew, I got on the bike for the first time since Japan, and did a 70 kilometer bike ride to and from Beaune. It took us 6 hours. 4 to get there and 2 to get home. I had to make so many promises to myself to make it home alive, that all the exercise I did surely has been zeroed out by all the chocolate and ice cream I have eaten since Sunday. Apparently there was one moment, climbing up a hill, where I willed away everything and got up my bike in search of a grave to crawl in.

I may be getting fat, but I can not say I am not getting fit.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Burst of Life

The vineyards are alive with the sound of....
whatever sound vineyards make.
When the Eurotour sadly came to an end, Jean-Francois came to pick me up at the Youth Hostel bright and early on that Friday morning. He dropped me at the house, where I waited for a few hours before setting off again. I never stepped outside to see Fixin, my host town, or the consequences of the approaching spring. I was a bit too concerned with a mounting pile of laundry and fatigue that was making me lazy.

Of course, after our fabulous week in the South of France, we returned to Fixin. The circle of life has had a go go and vacation can got last forever.

Unfortunately.

Yet, Fixin was certainly was not how I remembered it when I left just 3 weeks earlier, when I trekked off to Paris for a fun-filled weekend with Brittany, to be followed by Eurotour. And then there would be the week in the South with the Roberts. But in all honesty, if I did not know any better or if I did have the feel and lay of the land of Fixin etched to my mind like a tattoo, I would swear this was not Fixin and instead some funny trick my host parents were trying to play on me. After all, I left Fixin in final stages of winter. Though it was not the blistering chill and choking dormant brownness of the dead vineyards stretching for miles and as far as the naked eye could reach, it was nothing like what I was about to experience.

I would not have thought it possible that this world only needed a mere three weeks to spring alive into the brightest greens, yellows, and blues even possible. For the fields not covered by grape vines, to blossom into huge brilliant golden stalks of wheat, dancing in a wave at the faint touch of a zephyr. And the slopes of the hills, swallowed by acres of vines, had metamorphosized into the incredible, luscious, and somewhat unnatural green. The fields of vines on the other side of the Route, those not on the slopes of the hills, were just as green and gave the impression of a an ocean of green baby leaves. An ocean of life.

Life has returned, in the form of Spring.

One afternoon, Erica, another exchange student at my school in Brochon, and I decided to take a nice
long hike up into the combs. Since I know these woods really well and I decided to take her along the vines and into a neighboring village of Couchey. Excitement flooded my nerves because I knew where we were going. Afterwards we climbed up past the Table of Orientation and onto the field of Couchey. It is one of my favorite spots in the entire world, and I was yet again enchanted my the large open field. In the winter, I saw it frozen solid from the rest of the world. I had gotten up on early on a cold January morning for a little run, and found myself in a whole new world and dimension. This time the field was covered in those little weeds that you blow on and the seeds drift feverishly in the wind.
Most people hate those flowers, my Dad, for example, freaks out when we even think about blowing them.

I was once long ago taught that if you could blow all the seeds off one of those flowers at one time, you can make a wish and it will come true. I made at least 100 wishes that day. But I think I was being a little selfish. Being here in France, having lived in Japan, and my bright future at Clemson University are dreams come true that did not even take a field of flowers to come true.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Top A Turquoise Sea


Antibes.. a beach paradise. But also, that is snow on the mountains.
Between Marseille and the Italian border there lays a magical place, best known as the playground for the rich and the famous. One has heard of these places, St. Tropez, Cannes, Nice, and Menton, to name a few of the fabulous places located on the sunny Cote d’Azur, or Turquoise Coast. The history of the region is also rather interesting. It started off as a Greco-Roman commercial base, apparent in the numerous ruins scattered throughout the land. Later it was sacked by pirates and barbarian
invaders, and has since been working to restore it’s status.

Historically, the coast can owe it’s wealthy ridiculous status to the English and Russian aristocrats, who came here to escape their terrible winters. The stereotype as a place for the rich and famous has yet to disappear, and today it is worse than ever. Hollywood owns quite a few properties along the French Riveira, and the size of the yachts in the harbors of Monaco and St. Tropez should serve as some sort of indicator to the money of the land. Today, sunbathers come to soak up the sun, high rollers drop millions in the casinos, captains crowd harbors to show up their sleek yachts, and visitors from all around the world wander along ancient coast fortifications and pebbly beaches.

Between Toulon and St. Tropez, there lies and old rustic, yet truly authentic, provincial town, called Bormes. Unlike the bigger and more gaudy cities of the region, you do not have to be particularly rich to live in the region. And thus far, I have met much more locals than tourists wandering the old rustic streets.

A top the mountain overlooking the harbor of Bormes is Bormes-les-Mimosas, a tiny town where the villa of my host family rests. The town itself is amazing, though I can not give you an exact year of when it was founded, the cracked buildings and vine-covered walls hide it’s exact age. There is a small toy shop, jewelry store, kitchen ware, newspaper shop, and two small bread shops. It is not the most fascinating town, but it is always good to pass some time in.

A 10 minute walk outside the city is where the house lies. The views from the deck of the house are incredible. Even though we are much too far from the sea for a simple walk, the
breathtaking scenery makes it all worthwhile. The crumbling stone deck overlooking a nature reserve has impressive views of the Porquelles Islands, the harbor at Bormes, and of course, the Mediterranean Sea. Also on the deck is a blue tiled pool, which helps make the heat bearable. A stroll through the surrounding land is also mind-boggling. Cactuses rest peacefully among orange trees, and no matter the season there are dozens of wild flowers growing and giving life to the dry land.
Charming little village

The house is not particularly impressive, according to my host grandmother, Nina, because it is not very old. I have never asked her old it is, but I suspect ‘not very old’ for a French person makes it at least older than 150 years. There is no air condition and the style is common among the aged: bright colors, impressionate art work, a library with books from the 50’s, a few scattered art works from grandchildren, and a distinctive smell of non-use. Nina actually lives in Normandy, so she only gets down here a few times a year. Although from what I have seen, she really knows her stuff about this place. She tends to talk quite a lot, but if I have the energy to listen, I always learn something fascinating. I now know the French names for all the shrubs, fruits, and wildflowers that grow here in Bormes. I am also slowly learning the long history of the small town of Bormes. Not to mention, a few embarrassing stories from my host father’s youth.

There is really not a whole lot of things to do here in Bormes. It seems like the highlight of each day
is the meal. Of course, I live with a French family, so I am certain that the meal really is the highlight of each passing day. In the mornings we all eat a basic breakfast of bread and jam, with coffee or hot chocolate depending our age. Then we usually pass the morning beside the pool, or strolling through the village or the beach. The big meal of the day takes place on the deck overlooking the great sea, starting with provincial appetizers, like sardines and olive oil sauce on bread, or sun-dried tomatoes. Next there is some sort of meat, then cheese, and often Tropezianne cake. Tropezianne cake is one of the most tasty things I have ever had in my entire life. “Always imitated, but never matched,” the cake is an orange-flavored sponge cake with thick pastry cream, and a sugar topping delight that will delight even the most discerning sweet tooth. But L has also recently discovered my lack of will when it comes to Ice Cream, and she has since been buying ice cream for every opportunity to fatten me up.

In the evening, Leonie and I set out on our every-other-day run just outside the house and through the dry forest. We pass an old cemetery that is home to a variety of Commonwealth deceased from the wars. Since, there were many British soldiers that died here during the world wars. We also run through an untamed forest that still shows signs of the great fire from a few years back, that destroyed much of the area, and very nearly consumed the R’s vacation home. The path is well-worn, although it is certainly not paved, and in the mud on the side of the path are footprints of the sangliou, or wild boar that run rampant in the region.

This is my second time at the house in Bormes-les-Mimosas, and each time I feel the same sentiment. When I see my host siblings with their grandmother, I yearn for my own Nana. When I lay upon the pebbly beach at St. Clair, a 10 minute drive from the house, or swim in the turquoise Mediterranean Sea, I think just how much my Mom would love it here.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

You Better Finish the Tomato's



Contemplation the good and the bad.

"You better finish the tomatoes, Julie, because I know you are not going to eat the next course,” said Leonie casually, as she passed me the plate of tomatoes covered in her classic Balsamic sauce. It is a dish that I think is absolutely delicious despite it's simplicity.

Nina Robert, Jean-Francois's mother, burst into laughter, “Well isn’t that funny? You certainly know her well already!”  Well, already is probably not the right word, since I have been living chez les Robert's since August 27, 2008, a little over 8 months. Nevertheless, Leonie was perfectly right. I had no intention of eating the next course, some sort of meat that was still mooing.

Oddly enough, this past week vacationing at the R extended family summer vacation home in Bormes-les-Mimosas, just a top the famous French Riviera, has made me realize just how long, good and bad, I have lived with my dear host family.

Leonie and Jean-Francois. I can not imagine they'd be happy with
me for taking this stealth photo.
Firstly, it is not always easy. I am down in the South of France with the Robert's for 8 days, and for the first 3 days, I was completely convinced that each and every one of my host family members was ready to kill me. I had just returned from the Eurotour and my French was non-existent, to say the least. I was also pretty much a walking skeleton, having a hard time catching up on all the missed sleep from the tour. I sat at the dinner table, half asleep and unable to understand anything, except the annoyance that everyone seemed to have with me that was slowly accumulating. One afternoon, after Leonie, truthfully explained that she felt really bad for me, since my French is terrible, I do not have friends at school, and the Robert's are not the most average French family, I made a rash decision to change my plane ticket for a half a month earlier. I am still leaving this option open, but things have gotten a lot better.

Dans le sud...
Secondly, it stopped raining in Provence, and the bitter sun is now frying skin to a crimson lobster shell. Even though I look like a peach, one thing good has come from the situation; the return of my French. Since the sun is out, instead, of retreating to the comfort of the English language via my computer, or as in the case of my host siblings, indulging in staying as far away from each other as possible, I am forced to listen and speak to everyone. It is great because I like talking, and I am not so shy about my French anymore. I know it sucks, they know it sucks, and no one really cares anymore.

The other night during our every-other-day run through the woods, I told Leonie that it had been 8 months since I arrived. We both laughed at my first night, my ACTUAL non-existent French, my first taste of alcohol, the going away party for Cha Cha with Indian food.

“Has it really been that long?” she asked me.
The Flowers of he South.

I told her yes, and she replied that it certainly has passed quickly. I was not sure whether quick meant quick in a good way or quick on an ’eh’ sort of way. She asked me if I thought it was quick, and I told her yes and no. The truth is, that in the cold bitter days of winter in Fixin, I was counting down the minutes till the next day, till the end of the season. It seemed to go on forever without ceasing, but now the minutes and the days fly by and it is hard for me to keep track of things. It is a sad thing for me to swallow, the fact that it is coming close to the time where I have to head home. Because even though this year has not been a bucket of smiles and cupcakes, for the most part, I have a had a wonderful year. I have a host family, that I love, even with all their faults, I have done more traveling than any other exchange student I know, and I am finally ready to grow up, if that makes sense.

Where did April go? I wonder.

Yet, at the same time, things are different this time around than they were in Japan. I dreaded leaving Japan because of my love for the place, but also because I had to go back to a place that I hated with every fiber of me being, high school. This time I am going to my top choice University, Clemson, to study International Trade and Japanese. Things are bright ahead, so I really cannot say that I am not looking forward to getting back like I could back in Japan.

The next day, I found the opportunity to get Leonie back for her tomato comment. “Oh how surprising! Leonie Robert is going right to the jewelry store! How rare!” I exclaimed sarcastically, as I mocked her for spending most of her free time in Bormes-les-Mimosas in the artisan craft jewelry store.

“Haha, very funny! How surprising, Julie is going right for the book store! How rare! I bet next you are going to buy some chewing gum” she responded back at me.

Maybe I have been here too long.

Or maybe they know me a little better than I would like them know me.

The French Philosophy


Sometimes I jump for joy at all the free time I have. What with all the strikes, days off, and vacations given to us French students, in addition to my ridiculously easy schedule, I sometimes feel school is a special occasion. I just wish it did not suck so much.

Regardless, today is another free day. Sure it is a Saturday, but as yesterday was World War II victory day, and also a free day from school, there is absolutely rien a faire. Nothing to do in the slightest. As a Northern New Jersey kid, this whole concept of nothing at all, is mind-boggling. And as a daughter of Republican parents, this life defined in not having to work, is flabbergasting.

But today, even though I had planned to come on the blog and type a long post about my first week back in Fixin and the upcoming trip, I have decided to spend today TRYING to live by the French philosophy:

"Why work if you do not have to?"

Happy End of World War II Day!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The More Things Change

The more things change, the more things stay the same. I am not sure who first said that quote, but I know I first encountered in the dreary pages of my sophomore year reading "A Separate Peace."
Bormes-les-Mimosas.
I brushed it off solemnly, perhaps scratched my head in oblivion, and then went on without really thinking about it in depth it rightly deserves. The depth of someone who can attest to the fact that it is true. Life goes on, so do we, change happens, and sometimes it does not.

But here I am in a gray-covered humid Spring day on the Cote d'Azur in the South of France. My host sister and brother, Coline and Antoine, and Antoine’s girlfriend, Clemence, all younger then me by either 8 years or just 2, are diving blissfully in the translucent chilly waters of the pool.

“Why won’t you come in, Julie?” they ask me curiously, observing the fact that each of three wears a wet bathing suit and is enjoying every moment of their rare free time in the sun. While I sit in a white
I think I will pass on swimming. Thanks.
beach chair on the side of the pool, watching the three enviously, and devouring the pages of a book.

“It is cold,” and as soon as the words exit my mouth, I realize that I will never ever be the same.

Along time ago, in a faraway place... okay, just kidding, a little town in New Jersey called Verona, I would swim and play in the deep blue chlorine waters of the local community pool without thinking twice about anything. It could have been negative 50, thundering, or filled with slimy algae, and I still would have fought with the elements and the warnings of my mother, to enjoy the rare moments of submerged swimming. I was the weird kid that parents rolled their eyes and perhaps made comments about my weirdness. I was the immature kid, who never quite fit in with the crowd. I was the kid who never wanted to get out of the pool, even when her friends would get too cold, or too hungry. I pretended to be a dolphin because I thought life would be better as a fish than a human.

But I am not that little kid anymore. And I think it is time that I finally accept it.
The Cote d'Azur

We have been here in Bormes-les-Mimosas for a few days now. In fact, these past few days have been a little bit awkward. My French is terrible, on the count of my speaking only English for the past 2 weeks on the Eurotour. But there are also two groups that have formed, the young and the old.

I want so bad to be able to splash in the pool with Clemence, Antoine, and Coline, to suck on lollipops, to whine to Mom about the cold, to throw tantrums and get my way, to see life through eyes that are not yet accustomed to the light.

But I can not.

Coline rocks at relaxation.
At the same time, I find I can not really enjoy the elegance of the adults, I can not keep my elbows off the table, remark about the tastiness of each food, judge the youth based on their education and manners, and constantly judge people based on thins that do not remotely make a difference in how I would like them.

I have been in France for exactly 8 months today. In addition, I have a little over 2 months left before it is time to return home. If you had said this to me in Japan, I would have snickered and ignored the impending return date. I was not looking forward to going home to Senior year of High School, I was not ready to go home to America, and I do not believe I would have left if I did not have to. But this time, with 2 months to go, I am ready. I have something else to look forward to. I am going to college, and even though I still am not completely ready to enter that next step in my life, I think I am as ready as I ever will be.

Coline being Coline.
I am 18 years-old.

I look in the mirror and see a little kid. When people meet me, I sometimes do not think that we know the same person. People see a tall, slender, blue-eyed 18 year-old ‘young lady.’ I do not see that. I still see the chubby-cheeked, freckled-face, buck toothed, and strange looking kid who has not grown into her body and who still pretends to be a dolphin in the pool.

I do not know if I am really describing the sentiments in which I feel. The sentiments of a girl who is on the verge of being a "grown-up," but still reluctant to cross over that thin invisible lone that separates the two, childhood and adulthood.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Last Day

Driving along the motor road and headed into the direction of a familiar city, Dijon, my stomach grumbling in hunger, and speaking with my new best friend, Julia Robertson, a Canadian in Normandy, it occurs to me.

I have not really wrote about all my wonderful adventures on this tour through Europe.
I have not been able to accurately detail the worry I had on the first day that I was not going to make any friends because everyone seemed to be standoffish; my unfortunate new prejudice against Brazilian boys because I have yet to meet one that is able to keep his pants closed and mind clean; the in depth fascination I have with Bavaria, Germany and Austria; the mouth-watering taste of Cioccolata and Nutella Ice Cream; the different taste of Orange Juice in every country (none of which is any good or can hold a candle to good old Tropicana); the laughing so hard till it hurts with Julia, Vicki, Chin-Ting, Christina, and Page; the fact that I forgot a hair brush and have now used the brush of almost every girl on the trip; the deep bond shared by Brittany and I regardless of how different we are; my new profound
New friends in Milan.
acceptance of the fact that I am 18, have never had a boyfriend, done drugs, or been kissed; being the beholder of all alcohol and relationship gossip; the simplicity that I cannot go a whole day without a dose of caffeine to keep me going; the wonder I feel at the long hours I spend on the bus doing nothing and still feeling accomplished.

I am going home.

Our final evening of the Eurotour is spent in the hostel just outside of Dijon. Dijon.

My Dijon.

I have always felt a little resentment towards Dijon. It is hard to explain why other than the fact that I suppose a piece of me wishes I could live in Dijon and not the vineyards. Although I know I would
Julie boat.
not be as happy in Dijon as I am in Fixin. I guess it is also that Dijon is a small boring city that seems to be plagued with problems, manifestations, and gray skies.

The chaperones know that I reside just outside the Mustard capital of the world, and they ask me to get on the speaker and tell the group a little something about the city. I refuse to speak, but promise I will write something for the chaperones to read.

So I write some facts about the capital, history, famous products, and must sees in Dijon.
Then we are here.

After our delicious dinner at the hostel, the group has a big dance party and mini-talant show. We are not much of a talented bunch, so we spent most of our time dancing. I never leave Julia’s side the entire night. In fact, I find it surprising that the few days I thought she was kind of an annoying
Yes, I am 5 years-old.
person, and I figured I was not going to be very good friends. Here we are, closer than most people on this trip. I realize just how much I am going to miss her.

We leave the dance party earlier and head back to the room. There is some stale air in the atmosphere, since there are quite a few girls with a looming threat ti be sent home early because of alcohol on this trip. But not me, Julia, and Vicki, and we head back to the room and plan to pull an all-nighter.

Then we pass out.

The next morning, I am the first one downstairs. The first one awake and ready with my bags packed and at the door. I do not know the exact moment that my host Dad is coming to pick me up, so I think it best that I be prepared for anything. I quickly eat breakfast alone and then head to the door. A part of me hopes he comes early so I do not have to say goodbye, something I always hate to do.

But Julia and Vicki and everyone makes their way down for breakfast, eats, and then comes to talk with me. I am still here, but 8 is fast approaching.

It is time to leave for the group, and I can not escape the inevitable goodbye.

I do not cry, because I know in my heart I am going to see these people again. At least the people I want to see again, Julia, Brittany, Vicki, Page, and Christina. But I hate it nonetheless, because goodbye is goodbye. I am not going to wake up and eat breakfast with these people tomorrow like I have for the past 2 weeks. Is this a indicator for what is to come?

I hope not.