Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Bastille America

I hope all my Frenchies had a joyeux fête nationale!

Personally, I was feeling a little sad to have left just before the big day. I love seeing how other countries celebrate their national excited they get, the music, the dancing, the patriotism.

I've actually been in France before during Bastille Day (as we call it in America, much to the consternation of my French friends). During my first Eurotrip in 2006 with my parents, we luckily happened to be in Paris on July 14th. We saw jets flying over our heads, all the museums were free, and there were fireworks over the sparkly Eiffel Tower (seen from the parking lot of our hotel, due to the overprotectiveness of my parents, worried about their young daughter getting too close to a crowd of rowdy FOREIGNERS...if only frustrated teenage me could see me now, doing just that every single day of my life!). Anyway, it was glorious.

But now, after having lived in France for a year, being there for Bastille Day would have meant so much more to me. I would have loved to have spent it with des français, learning the real scoop.

But it was not to be. The visa for my next Spain adventure required that I come home to the US of A for the summer, so no fête nationale en France for me. Queue one bummed francophile.

However, said visa also required me to be in downtown Chicago le 14 juillet, and for that I thank my lucky stars. I was just walking down Michigan Avenue, on the way back to the car from my appointment at the Spanish consulate, when a French flag on a bus stop advertisement caught my eye. Mesmerized, I moved toward it until I could read what it said: there was a block party happening on Daley Plaza to celebrate Bastille Day, and it was starting in 10 minutes!

Being a sometimes impulsive person, there was no hesitation in my mind--I was going to that party. Better than sitting in rush hour traffic on the way home, I say!

The first thing that caught my eye as I walked up was that there was a group of people playing pétanque. Never in my life has a game meant for 80-year-old men made me so happy. There they were, a group of octogenarian Chicagoans, proudly representing the Chicago Pétanque Society (apparently this exists), throwing heavy balls, seeing who could come the closest to another, slightly lighter ball. And I was overjoyed to see them.

And then there were the waiter races! People decked out in French flag aprons, running around the square to serve "wine" to patrons, seeing who could do it the fastest. Entertaining? Oh, yes. Add that to the stands selling crêpes, galettes, vin, et macarons, and I was in 7th heaven.

 It's been hard, these past few weeks, being in a place where most people's idea of France consists of a country full of smelly, hairy-armpitted people who walk around going "oh ho ho" all the time. So walking into a square full of people who could understand me when I said un crêpe beurre sucre, s'il vous plaît, that really meant something. I'm not alone. I'm not an alien, and France isn't a place that I dreamed up one night, even if no one here at home cares. There are other people who love France et les français as much as I do, and being surrounded by them, even just for a few hours, was something I'd really needed.

So when they played La Marseillaise (the French national anthem), I couldn't help but smile as all the people around me started to sing. They know what I feel. Their singing said "la France me manque," (I miss France), just like my heart says.

Merci, Chicago, for bringing a small slice of France here to me. That's exactly what I needed.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

In Five Years Time...

Ciao, Chicago!

Five years ago, at about this time, I got on a plane. I get on a lot of planes, so I guess that probably doesn't seem too extraordinary for me, but this was a special plane ride, one that would change my life (though I didn't yet know it at the time).

I was twenty, and I was obsessed with Europe. I had been for at least ten years at that point, though I have a hard time pinpointing exactly what set me off in the first place. Some sort of strange mix between a love for history, the Harry Potter books, and the movie Moulin Rouge, I'd guess. I'd spent those ten years studying French, preparing for the day when I could go live in the land of cheese and baguettes.

However, I'd only been to Europe in person once (despite visiting many times in my dreams), and while I'd adored each of the seven countries we visited in our three-week package vacation (though I wasn't thrilled about being led around on a tour bus...more on that, perhaps, someday), on this special day in 2009, I wasn't going back to any of them. Not even France.

In fact, I was going to a country I knew almost nothing about, and not just for a visit--I was moving there. Did I speak the language? Barely a few sentences beyond Me llamo Alisa. Did I know a soul? Just one of my best friends from high school, who happened to be finishing up her study abroad in Madrid and was going to meet me off my plane. How did I feel about all this? Beyond nervous. As I'm sure you can guess by this point (and if you can't, I honestly don't know how to respond to that), I was moving to Spain.

Says it all...

Perhaps the most pertinent question at this point is why on earth was I moving halfway across the world to study in a place I knew nothing about? What was the motivation? Well, as is often the case in life, or at least my life, it was pure logistics. When I went off to university, I happened to decide that it would be fun to pick up a second major in Romance Languages, which meant that I needed to learn Spanish ASAP in order to graduate on time. I'd always known I wanted to study abroad, but I'd assumed it would be in France. Now that I absolutely had to learn Spanish as quickly as possible, I said to myself: "Spain is next to France, they can't be THAT different!"

How wrong I was.

Spain, in fact, is nothing like France, something that never ceased to annoy me when I was first there.

This plane ride sent me off on a dizzying journey that has found my unwilling heart captured by España, and then tugged in opposite directions as I tried to reconcile my newfound love with my old flame, France.

My first day in Spain, wearing a shirt in French...typical.

This struggle is ongoing as I hop back and forth between the two countries, sometimes preferring one and later the other. At first, I lived in Spain and couldn't get France out of my head. This past year, living in France, a bunch of people thought I was Spanish when I first met them because they'd never heard me talk about anything else.

And now I'm hopping back to Spain again. Yes, that's right, next year I'm off to do a Master's degree in Bilingual Education in Madrid. Well, thankfully not downtown (because we all remember how much I love Madrid....oh, wait), but in Alcalá de Henares, a town nearby. I'm nervous to go back to school, excited to go back to Spain, sad to leave France...basically, full of emotions.

But although five years (and two months) after that first journey to Spain, I'm going to be hopping back over there for the next year, that doesn't mean I'm going to be able to entirely forget about France, or all the wonderful people I met there, or how much j'adore parler français. Or the cheese. Mmm, fromage.

So, the cycle continues, I'll be living in one place and constantly missing another (or several others, even)! C'est la vie d'un voyageur. Et c'est cool. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

Joyeux Quatre de Juillet!

Happy 4th of July! 

For those who didn't know, I'm back in the States for a visit for the summer, before heading off on my next adventure to....somewhere (hint, it's not cheeseland and it's not burgerland...).

So, today I'll be doing as Americans do, grilling varied meats on a grill, eating things in the colors of red, white and blue...

Maybe doing some themed arts and crafts...

Watching some fireworks in the evening...

And supporting les bleus. OK, that's not so American, but what can I say? All these years in Europe have changed me. I now say football instead of soccer, and I have an instinctive hope to see at least one of my adoptive countries keep going in the World Cup. 

Bleu, blanc, rouge...I love you!