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For Now

I’m currently standing in the guest room at my mother’s house, looking at my one lone blue backpack leaning against the dresser, and staring at 3 piles of clothing.  I’m trying to decide which articles make the cut and which ones don’t get to join me tomorrow.

I move back to the city in the morning.

The past two and a half weeks have been a whirlwind of stuff, stuff, and more stuff.  To say that I have “hit the ground running” upon my return to the United States would be a gross understatement.  Indeed, I don’t think I’ve stopped moving once since my plane touched down at JFK 18 days ago almost to this very hour.

I’ve been blessed ten – no, a millionfold – since my arrival back on US soil, and it is something that I do not take for granted in the slightest.  In the nearly three weeks I’ve been back, I’ve returned to Trader Joe’s, the best company I have ever worked for, as a crew member at the ABSOLUTELY BEAUTIFUL Chelsea store in downtown Manhattan.  The crew seems to rock, the captain seems like a super nice guy, and the energy is rocking.  I’m thrilled to be back.  I start on Friday.

I’ve also spent a HUGE amount of time compiling my master list for Longtime Sun Yoga, which includes all the yoga centers, gyms and sports clubs within a 5 mile radius of Astoria, Queens, where I’m looking to land permanently by September of this year.  I’ve hired JJ to design the website I began over a year ago before leaving for Provence, and she’s hard at work to get it to me ASAP.  Next up, business cards, pamphlets, and then cover letters, resumes and e-mail and snailmail marketing to everyone I can get my hands on.  Hopefully, through this technique, I should be able to line up a few yoga gigs to supplement my salary.  Once all that is sorted out, I’ll do my best to start finding some tutoring clients (providing it fits into my schedule).  Hopefully somewhere in there, I can continue to work on my business plan and start looking into loans and grants.

Because my friends are incredibly awesome and generous people, Jen and JJ have offered to put me up – free of charge – throughout the summer to allow me time to get back on my feet.  This will give me some time to find a good groove with yoga scheduling and save up some serious cash.  I’m both daunted yet excited and super motivated for this new challenge and look forward to seeing what falls into my life over the next three months.

I’ve been spending the little spare time I have catching up with friends, setting up an awesome work/study position at one of my favorite yoga studios in the city, eating aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall the food I missed terribly while I was away (today my former coworker and I went to a Chinese buffet by White Plains, which was nothing short of deliriously wonderful), and generally just preparing for the summer ahead.  Chika and I had a chance to touch base a few days ago; she returned to Vancouver last week and has jumped RIGHT back into school.  Our schedules not being at ALL complimentary and there now being a 3-hour time difference between us, the difference of presence in each other’s lives has been jarring.  How do you go from spending almost every day with someone to hardly ever speaking to them except for posts on Facebook walls when one of you can steal a moment?

Then again, for a while, everything about this return was jarring.  I had a moment two days after returning home – the Monday afternoon after, when I hadn’t even been back 48 hours and was starting to feel the lingering effects of jetlag, I found myself sitting on the 1 train heading downtown.  I looked around at everyone riding the train, deadpan, continuing on with their lives and the realization of how much had changed – how much I had changed, rather – really was striking.  We passed the 110th Street subway stop on the west side, the stop that had been the home to 3 truly awful years, and I found myself just blinking with this strange sort of out-of-body presence.  If I squinted, I could almost see myself 2 years ago, leaning against that very pole waiting to get on this very train at this very stop, dressed in a suit, with a nice pocketbook, eyes dead and hollow, angry, bitter, drained, unsatisfied with everything that had to do with my professional life and watching that dissatisfaction bleed over to my personal life as well.  There was no anger, no resentment, no grudge, nothing but a rather humbling sense of grace and gratitude.  Here I was, doing something that I’d done every single day for years in another lifetime, as another person, and then just like Ulysses, I’d “gone on a beautiful journey.”  And now I had returned, and while nothing had really changed here, I found myself feeling VERY much like Frodo from the end of Lord of the Rings (my favorite film of all time):

How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand…there is no going back.

There truly is no going back.  Not really.  But this is a positive thing – I don’t want to go back, I want to keep moving forward.  I feel my absence so much more than I was expecting to.  I truly believed that when I got off that plane at JFK on the 12th, it would be as though I had never left.  I was completely and utterly – and I realized, fortunately – off base.  I think part of it has to do with age, but the rest has to do with roots – I am rooted here, truly and absolutely, and I felt every single one of those months I spent Elsewhere.

And so tomorrow begins, once again, The Next Chapter.  I have one backpack and couches to crash on for the next three months.  I am not afraid.  I am not stressed.  Whatever will happen, will happen and whatever is meant to be will be.  I will make it.  I don’t know how and I can’t tell you all the details, but I gave up looking into and stressing out over the far future a long, long time ago.  I take it one day at a time.  Let’s just make it to the Fall and see where I am.  Nothing lasts, life goes on, full of surprises.  More than anything, that’s the lesson I needed to learn here.  Everything – absolutely everything – everything in life is only for now. I have goals, motivation, and most of all, confidence in myself that I’ve spent nearly two years building back up after losing almost all of it at one point.  I am open to whatever gets thrown in my direction for now, and I know I will face it with strength and grace, for now.  Because if I can quit my job without anything lined up, become a certified yoga teacher, make a career change, move to Europe for a year, and come back all in one piece with things looking pretty good, I think it’s rather safe to say there’s very little I can’t handle.

Everyone’s a little bit unsatisfied

Everyone goes ’round a little empty inside

Take a breath, look around

Swallow your pride for now

Nothing lasts, life goes on

Full of surprises

You’ll be faced with problems

Of all shapes and sizes

You’re going to have to make

A few compromises for now

For now

But only for now

Only for now

Only for now

Only for now

For now we’re healthy

For now we’re employed

For now we’re happy

If not overjoyed

And we’ll accept the things

We cannot avoid, for now, for now

For now, for now

But only for now

Only for now

Only for now

Only for now

 For now there’s life

 For now there’s love

 For now there’s work

For now there’s happiness

But only for now

For now discomfort

But now there’s friendship

Only for now

Only for now, sex

Is only for now, your hair

Is only for now, George Bush

Is only for now

Don’t stress, relax

Let life roll off your backs

Except for death and paying taxes

Everything in life is only for now

Each time you smile

It’ll only last a while

Life may be scary

But it’s only temporary

 

Everything in life is only for now.

Thank you (Merci).

“Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of Icelandair, we would like to welcome you to New York City, John F. Kennedy International Airport.  The local time is 7 o’clock p.m. and the temperature is 75 degrees Fahrenheit.  Please remember to remain seated until the captain has turned off the fasten seatbelt sign, and…”

She continued to give instructions in Icelandic-accented English as we rolled along the tarmac.  I looked to my left, out the window.  This is what greeted me:

The sun setting over New York City. I wasn’t able to get a photo from my window but it more or less looked like this.

Right where I’d left it.

My heart swelled.  The sun was setting over the city, streaks of orange and yellow and red, the bridges and water glittering in the light.  It was an absolutely beautiful sight to come back to.

At long last…I was home.

I placed my passport and immigration form down on the desk.  The customs worker, a friendly black man with warm eyes and a nice smile, picked them both up.  We greeted each other hello as he looked through my passport.

“Nice cover you have here,” he remarked, looking over the stamp-themed cover Cait had given me before leaving as he searched for my scanning page.

“Thanks, it was a going away gift,” I answered.  He smiled as he scanned my barcode.

“So…Rachel.  How was your trip?”

“It was great, thanks.  I had a year abroad.”

“Nice!  What were you doing over there?”  His tone was as warm and friendly as his smile.  I love this about US Customs workers.  They already KNOW all this information, it appears right there on the screen and in front of them and the only reason they’re asking you is to make sure your answers match up, but they have always seemed to do it in a very friendly way, at least at JFK.

“I was an English teacher.”

“Sweet.  What’s the plan now that you’re home?”

“Well, I’m a yoga teacher, but I also have two other part time jobs I’ll be doing as well.”

His eyes widened.  “Three part time jobs?  Jesus Christ, I can barely keep up with my one job.”  He laughed and stamped my passport, sliding it back across the counter to me.  “Well, in any case, welcome home.”

I grinned.  “Thanks.”

Off to baggage claim I went.  I had to wait a solid half hour for my suitcases to show up, but finally they did.  I handed over my immigration form and finally, at long last, exited out into the meetup point, scanning the crowd for my mother.

It took a second or two, but at last I found her, off to the right.  She waved, a big grin on her face.  I smiled back and started over to her, but stopped short when I saw her look over towards her left, still grinning in a rather odd manner.  I furrowed my brow.  What was she looking at?

I followed her gaze and literally dropped all my bags when I saw what her point of focus was.

Alex and Risa.

I don’t remember too much what happened.  All I can recall is that one second, my mouth was hanging open and I was screaming “OH MY GOD!” and the next, it was a 4-person pile-up in the middle of the pickup hall at JFK.  Two of my closest friends, here, waiting for me as I arrived home.  I could not tell you how touched and moved I was, and I’m pretty sure I squeezed them so hard I borderline throttled them (but they more than returned the gesture, so it’s an even score.)

Apparently it had been a grand conspiracy for this past week.  Mom, in all of her tricky glory, had seen several wall posts by Alex and Risa about how they were (adorably) counting down the days until I was back stateside, so sent them an email on Monday saying that she would be picking me up at the airport on Saturday night, and if they were free, would they like to come and then stay over after?  As it just so happened, by a stroke of luck BOTH of them were free as birds on Saturday, and absolutely wanted to be there – but they were only allowed to come on the sole condition that they not say a word.

They held true to this promise.  I had spoken to Alex not even 24 hours prior to leaving, and he did everything humanly possible to throw me off – asking me what time my flight was getting in because he didn’t know, what airline was I taking, saying how much she was looking forward to seeing me on Monday for burgers, how he was making a cake Saturday evening for Mother’s Day, and generally making small talk chit chat that gave every impression he was otherwise engaged that night.  As we drove back to Mom’s place, laughing and excited, I brought all this up to him.  He grinned in response.

“Yeah, I was lying.”

Risa laughed.  “You’re better at that than me.  I purposely didn’t speak to you all this week because I am HORRIBLE at keeping secrets and I KNEW I’d accidentally give it away.”

We got back to my mom’s house and ordered in REAL, GOOD, AWESOME, FUR SHURE American Chinese food, and wolfed it down as we watched the newest episode of Legend of Korra and otherwise just hung out catching up, talking, and laughing into the night.  We fell asleep around midnight and we all had to get out with an early start this morning because of it being Mother’s Day, but I’ll be seeing Alex and Jay tomorrow for CORNER BISTRO BURGERS OH MY GOD and Risa on Saturday for our Avatar: The Last Airbender Marathon Weekend and her graduation.  I have a lot of things I need to take care of in the city tomorrow as well, and some exciting projects that are coming up.  In there, there will also be Korea Way Night with Jen and JJ on Tuesday, and a run in Central Park tomorrow afternoon.

It’s good to be home.

Reunited, and it feels so good.

The sun is rising over Paris as I type this entry.  It is 6:30 a.m.

I have a taxi coming in 4 hours to take me to the airport.

I’ve been more or less awake all night – I managed to steal maybe three to four hours of sleep here and there during Cécile’s all-night birthday bash, and the last guests left about a half hour ago.  The chances of me being able to get any more sleep before it’s time to go aren’t very likely, so I’m up instead, typing this entry from the couch in Cécile’s living room.

I know it would make sense to write something deep and profound and poetic in this moment, but really the only thing that I can truly express is a sense of peace and total readiness.  People have been asking me pretty much nonstop for the past 96 hours how I’m feeling about returning home, whether or not it’s sunk in yet.  I answer them all the same way – I’m in such a mentally good place right now that I could be ANYWHERE, literally anywhere, and be doing well.  More and more I’m realizing that the more grounded and stable you feel emotionally, the less it matters and the less you feel the difference in where you are physically.

I could stay here, in Paris, and continue a life like the one I’ve been living the last 4 days – going for runs, errands, taking walks, hanging out with friends – and be perfectly content.  However, I could – and will – return to New York today and find my roots once again in my old life, just with an entirely different attitude.  That idea also leaves me content, and excited, because I know that that last part – the change in attitude – will open doors that were closed previously.  In a way, I think I’m realizing I needed to be here to find it, so that I can return to where I feel the safest and most loved and exercise my fullest potential.  Sort of like unblocking my chi paths or my chakras – now the energy can flow freely in a way it didn’t before.

Only time will tell.

And so, gentle readers.  You prepared along with me, you left along with me, you traveled through Provence and many other parts of France with me.  You met my friends and my students and learned about all my adventures.  So now, for lack of a better way of putting it, let’s blow this joint.

Attraversiamo. 

The definition of “enormity” is standing with your feet in the surf on one of the most beautiful beaches you’ve ever stood on, looking out over VERY turquoise blue water while a sun shower falls around you. Then trying to imagine this beautiful, peaceful haven completely filled with tanks, submarines, airplanes, bombs and thousands and thousands of men just charging out of the ocean and running up the beach. And THEN, turning around and wondering which one of the 10,000 people buried on the hill behind you died where you are standing.

Omaha Beach at Normandy.

My journey to Normandy wasn’t originally on the agenda.  I’m there on a fluke; a last-minute, split second decision that was made not even 36 hours prior.  The original plan was to go to Brittany for a few days before heading to Paris, but the seeds of doubt had been planted in my brain by my mother and Violaine, who both remarked that this was a place to absolutely be visited if given the chance.

So that’s how I find myself right off the coast of the English Channel, standing in the surf of Omaha Beach.  I am alone.  It’s a Monday afternoon and not vacation time.  It’s off-season.  I look around and no one is to be found – I see two little dots waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay down the coastline, two other folks enjoying the solitude on the next beach over, but for 10 minutes, I have Omaha all to myself.  I gaze out over the absolutely beautiful water.  The sky is a mix of dark gray clouds and abundant sunshine against cobalt blue, and a sunshower begins to fall as the above-written words form in my mind.

I am eventually joined by a handful of other people, but in general, at any given time there are less than 5 people standing on this coast.  After the beach, I walk through the sun and rain back up the lush green hills to the American Cemetery.  I wander through the rows of sparkling white marble crosses and stars of David.  Names, states of origin, dates of death.  June 6, 1944.  June 7th and 8th are close seconds.  July 25, 1944.  June 31, 1944.  There are flowers on some.  On others, flags.

The layout of the Invasion Plan.

Graves looking over Omaha.

A fallen soldier from Colorado. I don’t know why he has both American and French flags, unless he was half French as well. In any case, I liked this one a lot.

It’s beautifully kept and an absolutely stunning resting place.  As I walk the rows in relative silence, stopping briefly to serve as an interpreter between an American man and a group of French high school students who are here for a school project, I look back and forth between the graves and the ocean.  I think of the museum from the day before, and the memorial I visited before coming down to the beach.  The photos of what this place looked like that day, and I try to imagine this pristine, quiet, beautiful and secluded area looking the way it did during the Invasion.  I am unsuccessful.

The town doesn’t look all that different than it did that day.  There are no cute, charming cafes, no touristy shops.  It’s 1945 stone building architecture lining country roads.  That’s it.

A street in Coleville sur Mer, right off Omaha Beach.

Wildflowers lining the street and overlooking the beach.

I feel a quiet and subtle sense of patriotism on the bus ride back.  But not in an American-centered way.  More in a “wow, look at the way all these people and different countries pulled and worked together for the greater good” sort of way.  This cross-cultural effort, a secret conspiracy that went off more or less without a hitch right under the noses of one of the most oppressive regimes that ever existed.  The fact that we were able to do this – all of us – is an extraordinary feat and probably the single most shining example of international cooperation and fraternity.

I spent two full days in Caen, following in the footsteps of famous figures in French history – William the Conqueror and his queen Mathilde, Charlotte Corday in her pre-revolution days, Edith Piaf’s relatives who owned their own café in the most historical part of the city.  This time here is not rushed the way my vacations sometimes are; I don’t run around.  I lazily wander the old streets, sauntering through the market on my self-guided walking tour that was listed in my booklet.  But I also leave a lot of time for relaxation – lounging in cafes, reading, watching a movie or two.

William the Conqueror’s fortress.

A view of Caen from atop a hill. You can see the abbeys and cathedrals from here very well.

A church originally built in around 1000 that was destroyed permanently during the World War II bombings. This is all that’s left.

Charlotte Corday frequented this building very often prior to moving to Paris and being executed during the revolution. She was one of the secretaries of the women’s abbey just next door.

The oldest neighborhood in Caen. It’s now the restaurant quarter. Edith Piaf’s folks owned a cafe here.

With the systematic downpours that happen every day here, making the streets look like there’s a flash flood, hanging out outside isn’t always a possibility.  I manage to sneak in a museum or two when that happens, and the whole pace of my 72 hours in Normandy is blissfully relaxing.

The exhibition at the Caen Memorial.

The diary of a boy explaining what the gold star means and where he needs to wear it. Written in French.

Tuesday, June 6, 1944.

“Invasion…all aboard for the invasion!”

Finally, on Tuesday, I pack up my things and catch the 3pm train direct to Paris.  As it pulls into the platform, I smile and I realize that this is my final trip with the SNCF.  It’s a sobering realization.  I climb in and find a seat, and am carried toward my final stop, and my final 4 days in France.

Zis Is Ze Voice!

For the past 4 days, I’ve pretty much done nothing other than laze around on the beach.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I’ve also run on the beach (5 miles on Monday and Wednesday!), drank hot chocolate and ate churros on the beach, slept on the beach, and wandered through the seaside towns of Noirmoutier, a small island off the coast of Vendée, where I have found myself once again before heading off to Normandy tomorrow.

The weather was horrible when I got here, but that apparently wasn’t shocking – it appears that the second you leave the southeast, you leave a safe bubble of constant sunshine to be replaced by temperamental skies and chillier temperatures.  I saw the change in climate and landscape as my train weaved through the south, following the Pyrenees across the country as the surroundings became greener and greener, the skies grayer.

But now, I look out the window of Hélène’s lovely new apartment in Les Sables d’Olonnes and it appears that the sun has followed me up here.  I find myself wondering what it’s doing back in Provence.

Provence.

I wonder what I would be doing right now if I were still there.  I’d probably be just returning from a run along the Rhone, or perhaps doing yoga out on the terrace.  There’s a high statistical probability that Chika would be over, and we’d be drinking coffee and chatting at our tiny kitchen table in my sundrenched kitchen.  Or perhaps we’d be getting ready for a day trip somewhere.

But I’m not there anymore.  None of us are.  One friend from my group there is in Spain.  Another is in Israel.  Two others have already returned home, back to Canada.  It appears I’m the only one left in the country at the moment, which is an interesting prospect.  It feels weird to know that Avignon has more or less become a sort of dead space to me – a place totally unoccupied by and absent of everyone I knew there.

I left Avignon early the morning of the 23rd.  It was a normal Monday, everyone heading to work as Françoise drove me down to the train station with my bags.  As she drove the car around to the front door, I left my keys on the dresser in the front hallway and stood at the door of the apartment, looking around the place that had been my home the last year.  Goodbye.

We gave each other a big hug goodbye and she asked me to stay in touch.  I promised to, and I will.  And with that, I turned and walked into the train station, finding my train to Montpellier, the first connection on my 12-hour day of travel out to Pays Basque, where the lovely and awesome Violaine Badie awaited me.  As the train pulled out of Avignon, I didn’t look back.  That part is done.

Throughout the day, I stopped in Montpellier, Toulouse, Pau and finally made it out to Bayonne, the capital of Pays Basque, a region in the way southwest of France literally 20 minutes from the Spanish border.

Capitaleku, Violaine’s family’s home for literally 2 centuries. Occupied by the Germans during World War 2.

The hills of Bayonne

The hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiills are alive with the sound of music…

I spent the week in her family’s farmhouse right outside the city, in what I think just may be one of the most beautiful spots I’ve been to in this country so far.  Snuggled into the Pyrenees, the house dates back to the 1800s, and was even occupied by the Germans during World War 2 due to its great location on the top of a hill where it could survey the entire area without difficulty.  Every morning, the rooster woke me up with its cocko-doodle-doo, and we would go outside to feed the chickens and take Aidan, her big, snuggly German Shephard, for a walk in the wildflower fields all around her house.  In the distance were more and more farms against the backdrop of the mountains, and I enjoyed taking a few minutes every morning, before Violaine had woken up, to walk along the winding country roads taking in the tranquility of the early morning.  I met her parents and brother as well, who were lovely, and got to explore the coast (the beaches of Pays Basque are downright stunning with huge rocks along the coast, creating a lot of white surf and HUGE waves) as well as the town of Biarritz.  But most importantly, I got to see Violaine, one of my closest friends here, and I enjoyed a lot of free time for yoga, reading and relaxing as the rain poured outside.  On my last night there, I cooked the whole family a huge, traditional American meal of meatloaf (with meat fresh from the butcher next door), macaroni and cheese and New York cheesecake, which was extremely well received.

On Saturday, they drove me up to Bordeaux, where I was put on another train up to Vendée, which I have affectionately started referring to as “Headquarters.”  The gloomy weather followed me up as Hélène and Leidigrine picked me up at the train station, and we drove back to the former’s new apartment in Les Sables d’Olonnes, a beach town about a half hour from La Roche, where we all went to high school together many moons ago.

Since then, we’ve been having an absolutely LOVELY week together – I feel like I’m on vacation out in the Hamptons back home.  The skies are perfect cobalt blue, and every morning I head down to the beach for either yoga or a 5-mile run along the edge of the Atlantic Ocean.  The first few days Hélène had off, and we took advantage of the great weather to go to the zoo (which was absolutely lovely – LOTS of different animals that I had NEVER seen before, not even in the Bronx Zoo back home) as well as hit up the market in town center for fresh seafood, and take a day trip up to Noirmoutier, an island about an hour and a half north of Les Sables with stunning beaches and a cute port.  As we drove with the windows down, winding up the coast of the Atlantic, I played my oldies playlist on my iPod and we sang the classics at the top of our lungs, belting out The Beatles and Stevie Wonder to pretty much anyone in earshot.  As we did, I was reminded of a conversation we’d had the day before, when I’d put on some Jeff Buckley and we chatted about one of their favorite TV shows here in France, “The Voice.” (Which, respectively, has a catchy tagline which is none other than the title of this entry, done with a French accent.  It’s hilarious, actually.)

“Ah oui, avec celui-la je ne fais que du yaourt,” Helene remarked casually. (Oh yeah, with this guy I can only manage to “yogurt it.”)

I looked up, confused.

“Attend…tu fais quoi déjà?”  (Wait, you do what, exactly?)

“Du yaourt.  Ҫa veut dire que…enfin, qu’on sait pas le dire en anglais donc on chante n’importe quoi.  Juste du bruit.” (Yogurt.  It means that…well, that we have no idea what they’re saying in English so we just kind of sing whatever and make noises.)

I stared at her.

“Alors tu n’arrives pas à suivre la chanson en anglais alors tu chantes des bêtises, et le nom de ce truc c’est faire du yaourt?  Tout simplement?” (So…you can’t manage to follow it in English so you just sing a bunch of BS, and you’ve decided that the name of this is “yogurt…ing?”)

“C’est un peu ca, ouais.” (Yeah, that’s pretty much it.)  She grinned.  “Bah quand même, c’est assez difficile d’en faire quand il y a une américaine dans la salle avec toi.” (But admittedly, it’s a bit harder to get away with when there’s an American in the room with you.)

Well then.

Finally, we arrived, and pretty much beach and seaside-town hopped the whole afternoon (pictures brought to you by Leidigrine, who very well may be the single most trigger happy person I have ever met in my entire life).

The beaches of Noirmoutier. Kitesurfing!

Hanging out on the beach.

At the harbor.

Boats in the harbor.

Friends. 🙂

The coast of Noirmoutier.

Yours Truly at the salt swamplands of the island.  I had no idea Leidi was taking this photo.

When the tide lowers on Noirmoutier, it reveals this road that you can drive on to leave the island. Once the tide rises, it disappears and you need to take the bridge.

Aside from that, we’re basically taking the opportunity to hang out on the beach whenever possible, chatting, laughing, bathing in the warm sun, sleeping, and sticking our feet into the still-quite-cold-but-rather-refreshing-after-a-few-minutes ocean.  Often, after our afternoon siesta on the beach, we’ll head back to the apartment to cook a lovely meal and watch some great flicks – we caught the re-release of The Lion King in theatres the other day, which was HYSTERICAL to watch in French, and both Hélène and Leidi seem hell-bent on saturating me with as much French reality television as they can get their hands on.  It’s not pretty, people.  All in all, we’re just enjoying each other’s company as much as possible, knowing that this is the last time we will be seeing each other until I come back again or they come to the US – whichever one comes first, and Lord knows when that will be.  I feel so graced and blessed to know that I have friends like this; that even when an ocean separates you, you can always pick right back up where you left off, even years later, and you’ll always be there when one of you comes, or returns.

Tonight is my last night in Vendée – I leave bright and early (and I mean BRIGHT AND EARLY – my train is at 7:53 tomorrow morning) to head up to Normandy for a few days.  I had planned to go to Brittany but changed my mind at the last minute, deciding I was more curious to see a) a region I had not yet been to and b) an area with huge historical significance, given the chance.  Then, finally, after Normandy, I’ll head down to Paris.  The final stop on the Goodbye Tour.

I come home one week from tomorrow.

Au Revoir, Avignon

The sun is once again rising over Avignon on a very quiet Saturday.  I’m staring out the window as I sit at my computer, listening to the birds chirping and soaking in the tranquility of the moment.  All around me are bags – bags, bags and more bags.  Suitcases that are full but not nearly as stuffed to bursting as they were when I got here, open backpacks, a big plastic garbage bag that I can’t bring myself to tie up and throw away until tomorrow, when I’ll do the scrub down of the room.  Everything about this place shows the reality of the situation: I have less than 48 hours left in Avignon.

Half of the crew! Stephen, Chika and Yours Truly.

Chika left last night.  As we speak she is roadtripping up to Paris with her parents, where she will catch a flight to Portugal to do a 2-week trek across the country and into Spain with her mother before heading to Ireland in mid-May, after which she returns to Vancouver.  She came over to my place to join Stephen and myself for one last cup of coffee, sitting at the small, old kitchen table that had been the origin of so many good moments between us.  I think of all the meals that were cooked there on the stove, all the nights where we’d stand in front of the fridge with the door open, asking each other, “whatta we got?,” trying to figure out how to make the best use out of a quarter of a red pepper, half a cucumber or zucchini, a few carrots, a small onion and tuna fish.  How we would sit there for hours chatting about what seemed to be everything under the sun.  Coffee after morning runs.

Stephen is leaving today, heading to Rome for a day before he heads off to Israel for a month of WWOOF-ing on a goat farm.  After wishing Chika goodbye, we headed back to his place where he ran around like crazy getting stuff ready and I cooked us dinner.  The boy was WIRED (he blamed me for giving him coffee, but the excitement of this next phase was, I think, the real culprit).  After dinner, we sat down just the two of us and polished off a bottle of wine as we talked long into the evening.  Saying goodbye to him at the end wasn’t nearly as finite; after WWOOF-ing, he’ll return to Avignon for the theatre festival and also to tour Provence with a friend of his, before hopping on a plane and settling down in The Greatest City Of Them All (biased?  Me?  How dare you insinuate such a thing).  It’ll be super cool to have a friend from the program back home.

My last week of work went swimmingly, and it was downright sad to say goodbye to all of my kids and coworkers.  But goodbye we said.  On Tuesday at Massillargues I did a yoga class with all of my students which they LOVED, and on Thursday I went to Farfantello to celebrate Carnaval with them.  It was SUCH an interesting experience and one that I had NEVER seen before.  They were all dressed up from head to toe in extravagant costumes like you’d see for Halloween:

Zakariah displaying his football pride.

My coworkers at Farfantello.

That awkward moment when kids are running around with toy guns. Alexi, Sabri and some other boy that wasn't one of mine.

Eric as a provincial farmer.

Mohammed and a friend as a Moroccan man (where Mohammed is from) and Dragonball Z.

Adelaide and some girlfriends as a Chinese woman, fairy princess and a witch.

Romain as a Native American.

Lucas as a caveman.

Dragonball Z, Darth Vader and Elias as another sort of superhero.

Hawaiian girl! 🙂

After hanging out in the courtyard, the kids and the principal began the old Provincial tradition of the Caramentran, a scare-crow like man on a stick on whom you blame all the bêtises (dumb things) you did throughout the year.

Caramentran, the scapegoat of Carnaval, pre-demise.

The kids reading their "accusations" out to Caramentran before he is, literally, sentenced to death by burning. This whole thing is QUITE violent, actually.

And after THAT, Caramentran gets paraded around the courtyard, set down in the middle, AND SET ON FIRE to purge everyone of the evils of the past year:

Alastair parades Caramentran around the courtyard before his unfortunate demise.

Um...bye, Caramentran. Also, that awkward moment when the doll burns away and all you're left with is a burning cross. Oy.

I will admit, being from the United States, it was a little unnerving to be standing in a courtyard of 200 people all dressed up shouting “burn it” at a burning cross.  When you combined that with the fact that toy guns were absolutely EVERYWHERE and the kids were chasing each other around pretending to shoot each other with them, it was a STINGENT reminder that we were definitely NOT in Kansas (or in this case, New York) anymore.  For a good moment, in the middle of all the craziness, I just kind of stood there blown away, with no idea what to do or how to react.

The highlight of the day was my 5th graders.  As I stopped in to say goodbye to them, I was given a standing ovation, with clapping, whooping, cheering and hollering, followed by chanting my name and being told that I was their favorite English teacher ever, hands down.  I loved that class and will miss them terribly.

Also this week was Chika and my’s Farewell to Avignon 10K that we did out on Isle de la Barthelasse, which was a lovely way to wrap up our time in the city.  You can read more about that here.

Tonight I’m having dinner with Theresa, and tomorrow lunch with Marc and Sufia, the other two members of the 5-person gang I normally rolled with here.  I plan on going for a recovery run today and dedicate tomorrow to cleaning this place top to bottom, then first thing Monday morning…on the road again.

And with that, gentle readers, I end my time in Provence.  The next time you hear from me, I will be in Pays Basque with the wonderful and lovely Violaine.

The Goodbye Tour has commenced.

On Friday, Chika, Stephen and myself headed out to Pont du Gard, an ancient and fully awesome Roman Aqueduct located halfway between Avignon and Nîmes.  The weather left something to be desired, but it was still a lovely area for a picnic and we were practically the only people there.

Pont du Gard over the Rhone!

Stephen doing his own version of locust. Kinda.

A blurry and wind-blown yours truly with the bridge in the back.

My only regret is that the weather wasn’t good enough to swim.  Oh well.

Yesterday, we had Bouillabaisse Night.  We all met up at the market yesterday morning and stocked up on the ingredients.  This is NOT an easy stew to make.  Aside from having to get 4-5 different kinds of fish, it also calls for a whole bunch of outlandish stuff like saffron and tons of fresh herbs and a metric eff-ton of garlic and onions and tomatoes.  The recipe is LONG.  The woman at the poissonerie was super helpful though, and helped us pick out a good selection of fish that would make a good soup without breaking the bank.  We went back to Stephen’s and, if I do say so myself, managed to pull it off SPECTACULARLY.  The result was downright DELICIOUS.  I had two whole bowls.  I did get one of the fish eyes in my bowl, however (while making the broth, you put the heads of the fish in with all the herbs and veggies and boil it for hours.  It eventually disintegrates for the most part and then the eyes kind of cook, shrink and mix in with the rest.  If that doesn’t tempt your palette, I don’t know what will.).

Bouillabaisse! A traditional Southern France dish.

More packing is on the menu today.  Mostly I just need to clean out the drawers of my desk, drop my clothes off at the donation box in town, and do some laundry.  Sometime this week I also need to get a goodbye gift for Françoise – I’ll head out to the mall on Wednesday when I have off.  She just recently shared with me that she will no longer be renting out my room to students and assistants – she’s converting it into a guest room permanently after I leave.  Not because she didn’t like doing so, but because she’s decided to now spend most of her time up at her second home in Ardèche, a region 2 hours north of Avignon in the mountains, and she’s not going to be here terribly often.  I’m going to get her a nice set of demitasse coffee cups – all of hers are chipped and broken, just like everything else in this awesome house.

8 days and counting until I bid Avignon goodbye for good.