I am most grateful this week to be back stateside with my family, and in good health, after our international trip. This grateful post is fueled by my patched recollections of the past few weeks, as memories were made and time flew by. I am sure that I have forgotten something, and that makes me even more thankful for knowing that we were so blessed during this trip. We had headaches, trials, and times when we were less than best, oh yes, but I prefer to focus on the positives, and there were plenty…
I hadn’t thought of it until we were already in France, but I’m pretty sure Chouchou went along with this whole trip just for me. He doesn’t speak French and was lost in conversations most of the time, but he continued to smile and be the best sport.
There were many cultural differences I had failed to prepare him for – la bise (the kiss) the most surprising for him.
Big oops – after a while, I had forgotten these small cultural variations, and although I should have taken better care to prepare him, Chouchou was very flexible and forgiving.
Despite the language and cultural differences, he adapted quickly and easily, and was patient with me all around. When I was on the verge of tears wondering if the Uber would pick us up at 4:30 am for our flight, he told me, “It will be here.” When we were in the airport waiting to go home and I worried, watching people board, then debark twenty minutes later, he said, “Everything will be okay.” Whenever I started to worry, he was my calming force and reassured me.
The kindness of strangers
We decided, foolishly, to take the metro into Paris, from CDG. Foolishly, because we had in tow: two roller suitcases, a trunki/ride & roll suitcase for Mon Cœur, a stroller, and my purse. Oh, and Mon Cœur (MC), a fiercely independent, headstrong, and curious toddler. Our hands were full. Although we only had one change of lines to make, it still meant multiple trips up and down stairs, through tunnels, and turnstile entrances.
Did I mention…we arrived at about the same time as morning rush hour traffic? For every flight of stairs up or down, there was a wonderful Parisian offering to help carry the luggage or stroller and sometimes multiple strangers helping with both. Even after we dropped off our luggage at our AirBnB, and were just metroing with the stroller, there were always people willing to give up a seat or help with the stroller up and down the stairs.
After the first day of using the metro, we decided we should try to navigate the bus system better – there would be no steps and we’d be able to see more of the city. I am so thankful to a beautiful Parisian woman who was waiting for a bus right outside the Palais Garnier and helped us decide the best route.
This was after running into a team of RATP security men and asking them en français to help confirm if we were going the right way. They told me, “I don’t speak much English.” I had to explain to them, en français again, that I spoke and understood French. This was by and large the exception to the rule for us. Nearly every other français was friendly, charmed by MC, and eager to help us.
Friends and excellent hosts
We went mainly to visit two sets of friends, one near the France/Spain border, in Biarritz, and the other two hours south of Paris, in Bourges. They always have their door open for us.
We are so lucky for the exchanges that spurred these relationships – one just one and a half years through an introduction by a former colleague, and another that began back in 2003 with an exchange through my sister’s high school.
Our hosts introduced us to varied French cuisine, cathedrals, and castles. They went the extra mile to see us off at the train station, and came prepared with un goûter (snack) for the car ride back to their house. They treated us like family, and provided us warm and cozy places to stay. They served us delicious food that stuck to our ribs, and lingered in Chouchou’s memory – my mission this month is to try to reproduce many of the meals we had in the homes of our hosts!
Fair February weather
We encountered almost no rain, the sun shone on us every day we were there. We did get caught in rain and some hail during a walk on the evening before we left – it made for a good adventure though. We were truly lucky for our trip, that the weather was so mild. At a few different points during the trip I felt silly for all of the winter clothing that I had packed.
One day, while we were port side at St. Jean de Luz, it felt like a summer day. We were sitting at a café having lunch, I felt warm rays hitting my back, and I smelled a cigar that reminded me of my Papa. I had an instant memory of his ashtray, a blue-grey circle, with frothy white waves for low walls to contain ashes, and a lighthouse on an edge that completed the nautical effect – essentially a monument to a seafarer that consumed his whole side table.
Technology and Family
I am glad that I had the capability to keep up with friends, family, and readers by posting photos to Instagram. I am grateful for the ability to video chat, as I was able to call my mom a few different times: to let her know we arrived safe, for Dad’s birthday, and right before we left to say “see you soon.”
It’s because of this technology, too, that mom was able to share news with me of my Papa’s passing. When she told me I circled back to the scent of cigars at St. Jean de Luz.
His celebration was yesterday, and the reunion of family reminded me of what a wonderful host and community organizer my Papa was, and that my mother is. I am lucky to have been raised knowing this love and the open door to neighbors- where everyone can come to a house and feel at home whether neighbors, friends, distant relatives, or immediate family.
Can you relate? I’d love to hear in the comments below!