It may have been the whiskey or Ben Nevis or Arthur's Seat or something else. All I know is that when I stepped foot in the city, I felt my spirits lift and the forgotten, dusty organ of my heart felt like it fluttered awake for the first time in months.
I was more than a little sad to leave.
Anyway, it took about 10 hours on the bus to get to London, so it was dark when I saw Annabel. Annabel is an old friend of about nine years. She is fun, lively, and energetic...the world is her oyster. She just got back from a two week trip to Spain and is enjoying her life in London thoroughly. We started the night, as typical, at a pub where it all started off fine and then disintegrated into a girl fight over the Irish bartender (honestly I wasn't that keen really, but Annabel has a mad right hook. I have the pictures to prove it).
My mother, for those of you who might be unaware, is a Frenchie. She has lived in the states a long, long, long time but here is her home. We catch up in Gard de Nord and she has arranged for a lovely hotel right across from the train station. The neighbourhood is a colourful mixture with a motorcycle gang out front of the hotel that the police have to break up later that evening.
|Before the real pain started on Ben Nevis|
The language feels so familiar; like when you are dreaming. It takes me a little while to feel confident enough to start speaking but I give it a go. My aunties and grandparents are very understanding, as I slowly butcher their language.
|Eddy, Mae, Christine, Eric, Sarah and Me...the survivors of Ben Nevis|
We walk around the place and visit some of the best sites in Paris, but not too many. The Louvre is shut on Tuesdays, which is a bit of shame. Generally, we talk to each other about life, adventure and hair styles.
France will always be about my childhood; I remember long summer days sitting in my grandmother's garden, walking in the Jura foothills, eating Comte (cheese yum!) and visiting castles. I connect with the countryside rather than in Paris because I have discovered that I don't like big cities as much as I thought I did. And besides, Paris isn't really France, its too cosmopolitan, its almost its own nation.
In Paris, we meet up with my cousin Lucille; I have a LOT of cousins. My mother has seven sisters, a brother and one half sister. I think, all up, I have about 40 odd first cousins...so far almost 100 people are on this planet that are directly from Meme and Pepe (my grandparents). Its a huge, beautiful, colourful family and the nice thing is that I always seem to have a place to stay anywhere in France or Switzerland or the U.S.
Lucille (who just celebrated her 20th birthday), Mom and me head out for a meal. Its okay but the dessert was a real showstopper. Mom wanted to try the Grand Mariner crepes; we thought they would be flambéed so to burn of the alcohol. Mom, a pretty strict Mormon, waited only to find a warmed cup of the alcohol. Assuming it had been boiled, she poured the stuff generously over our crepes. It had not boiled...it was full on, alcohol and all Mariner...Mom looked fairly unconcerned as she said "Hey, whatever happens in Paris, stays in Paris..."
We get up and walk around the neighbourhood, going for our daily chocolate croissant (a Mom comfort food) and then head off to take the train to Auxerre, where my grandparents and two of my aunties live. Mom takes me to the HUGE designer store that is called Le Gallerie Layfette...it has an entire FLOOR of shoes. Its horrible for me, like taking a priest to a strip club. I can't take one pair of any of these works of art with me to the Solomons....
It is wonderful to see my grandparents again; I honestly thought three years ago was the last time I would see them in this life. They are older; Pepe doesn't do much anymore and Meme's has short term memory loss, but she is still active and happy.
I spend the night over at my Aunt Mireille's place. She makes me a lovely meal of tapas and cheese (I love LOVE french cheese) and chocolates from Becescon (my mother's home town). It feels good to be in France with the family again. It feels right.
Its on odd thing, having two parents from totally different cultures. And you can look at the pros and cons from a variety of angles. One the face of things, you couldn't get more different than the cultures of France and the U.S. However, they both share one important passion: liberty or freedom. And the French loves anyone who rebels against the English anyway...
Back to my point; I never felt very settled in the U.S., even as a child...not to say I felt any better in France but I related to the lifestyle, the desire to enjoy life in its simplest moments. The French make an art form out of living well and its something I've always appreciated about my family.
Knowing you have a big, large loving family in France is truly a blessing. So is the cheese...