Monday, January 22, 2007

France et Moi... it begins

France is amazing! I feel like I am a part of living history. Sitting in a stunning but simple French country house, staring out the window on a beautiful blustery day, and listening to Les Miserables, I feel so blessed. There is so much life here, every inch, every corner, oozes with love, attention, and dedication. I have just spent a week in Paris, covering all the major tourist attractions and experiencing my first taste of french life, la vie francaise. Paris in a nutshell as I could never begin to say it all:

I saw it nearly every day, and la Tour Eiffel still takes my breath away. The Mona Lisa is as amazing as she's given credit for - one of the girls I visited the Louvre with said "I just feel like she gets me," and I couldn't have said it better. For me, Musée D’Orsay was even more incredible than the Louvre. I could have spent hours in the Van Gogh room. I never realized how much I loved impressionism - so much feeling, color, vision, true expression. It is such a different and incredible experience to see great works of art first hand, and it is difficult not to be moved by such beauty. L’Arche de Triomphe (a grand arch in the middle of the city with an unknown soldier buried underneath dedicated to those who have served) reminded me of all the militaryfolk I am lucky enough to have in my life and how much I love them. There is so much undirected patriotism here, rather than pride in France, there is a genuine love of the land and the history of all those who may claim it (which includes so many more than just the French). They seem to really appreciate what it is to be human and especially what it is to give one's life for love. Visiting Versailles and seeing the door through which Marie-Anoinette escaped from the rioters has only strengthened my obsession with the French Revolution (j'aime les miserables beaucoup). So many generations of history leap out at you simply walking down the street. There are strange Catacombs underneath the city where 6 million people are buried and their femur bones and skulls are stacked to become the walls of the underground tunnel. It is completely surreal.

My hostel was in the most perfect location in all of Paris! ...le quartier latin (If this were San Diego, it would be equivalent to staying right in the heart of PB). The "Young and Happy Hostel" on le rue Mouffetard had front facing windows in a 6 person room facing out to a cobblestone street covered in shops, bars, and crêpe stands. I had only to walk a few feet to find a fabulous meal, drink, or shop. I was lucky to have found it, especially considering the place I was originally planning on staying was going to charge double and I walked out with all my bags and no idea where I was going. I could not have imagined a better first hostel experience - the people were amazing. Two beautiful and intelligent girls from Boston invited me out for a Guinness my first night in Paris. What a life-saver! I traveled around seeing the sites with the two gals and a great Australian kid for the next 5 days. We had so much fun! Meeting incredible new people has been one of the highlights of the trip so far and I look forward to even more once I arrive at school.

Everyone always says French food is amazing, and while I was looking forwards to baguettes and cheese, I must say I was a bit nervous. Not having a lot of experience with the food of different cultures (other then Mexican food, which I am beginning to miss dearly), I didn't know what to expect or whether French food and I would get along. I could not have been more shocked and impressed. The food here is amazing!! There is a different little shop for everything you want to buy, no big grocery stores, and everything, I mean everything, is delicious. The sandwiches are so much simpler than in the US (they usually have 1-4 ingredients and each in fairly limited quantity), but they are so tasty it's difficult to believe. Any hope I had of losing weight while I am here is likely shot due the the availability and scrumtiousness of french pastries and desserts. I am walking more here than I ever have in my life, but somehow I don't think that will cover several desserts a day. But as they say, when in Rome... Well here I am in France, and the French sure do eat a lot of sweets. I'm only trying to blend in to the culture of course :) Everytime I have a fantastic sandwich, crepe, or pastry, I just keep asking, now why can't they do it like this at home? Ah, I suppose I will have to get my fill during my stay. Good thing it's only just beginning!

Though there have been many amazing moments, the trip has not been without its hiccups as well. I have learned that often when traveling (especially alone), anything that can go wrong will go wrong. This is probably especially true when traveling Allysha-style (which might be called by my mother "unprepared"). I rather like to think of it as being flexible and open to the perfection that occurs spontaneously. A week into my trip, I will say, however, that it is much more difficult this way, and I am considering revising Allysha-style to mean something more like "flexible but still prepared," which seems like it might work better. There is so much to this experience, from figuring out transportation (trains and planes and metros), finding lodging (hostels, homes, and hotels), to getting to la banque, la poste, dîner, et le café internet, that I could never have prepared for from the other side of the ocean. It is definitely a town by town experiment in survival. What a great opportunity to be thrown into the deep end of life and sink or swim. Mostly I like to think that I swim, if only a rather lame version of doggy paddle. (Having just shown this to Barbara, a wonderful friend of my grandmother’s who I’m staying with a few days, she says I am definitely swimming -a strong breast, at least... although every now and then it does feel a bit like sinking). Every time I have had some kind of trauma (the hostel I was supposed to stay at lost my reservation, the D-Day beaches are closed in January, missing my train stop, getting lost, stuck in the rain, and soaked to the bone) there has been a lesson, and I have ended up exactly where I needed to be - in the perfect place, at the perfect time, with the perfect people.

Over and over again, I am struck by the astounding beauty of the ancient architecture and art dotting every street. My very first day in Paris, I wound up lost in the rain for over an hour and was being harassed by some random Frenchman, when suddenly I looked up and Voila! Notre Dame. I was speechless, shocked that just wandering down the street one could stumble upon such extraordinary beauty. The entire trip has been like that. Today I am in Caen, a small town in Normandy (northern France, right on the channel, about a half hour from the D-Day beaches), on the last night of my solo adventures before arriving at school tomorrow. Arriving at my little hotel room, I was shocked to find that not only is there a completely unmentioned grand church a block away with magnificent pointed spires stretching far into the sky, but there is a castle, truly a gigantic fortress, across the street!! What an unreal place to be with structures out of legend cropping up everywhere and a tremendous castle on my way to the bank or the pastry shop.

Tomorrow I arrive in Rennes and will see for the first time the town in which I will be spending the next 4 months of my life. I am nervous and excited. If it is anything like the other cities I have visited, I know I will love it. I have yet to find a French town that I haven't fallen in love with and I will be thrilled to make Rennes my own and learn all the little ins and outs that make a place home. Soon I will no longer be a nomad and will once again have a place to call home. That will truly be a nice change. Wish me luck, mes amis! I love you all!


Grandpa37 said...

Oh my darling granddaughter what a fabulous first blog and description of your start in France. You are in the adventure of your lifetime and will have stories to tell for the rest of your life.

I love you.


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