I move to my new apartment tomorrow. I am restless, and anxious. …and so excited that I am turning circles. It’s a big apartment, about 645 square feet, it has a kitchen with a regular sized refrigerator, a real oven, and even a dishwasher. It’s completely furnished and the furniture is …well…let’s just say it’s not my old down and leather furniture but it's one step up from college student furniture. It has 2 windows in the bedroom, 1 in the kitchen and 1 in the living room. The apartment itself is on the 3rd floor but it’s a duplex, which means it’s situated on 2 floors, which puts my bedroom and ….ta da…. my terrace…. on the top floor of the building.
Having a private terrace on the top floor might possibly make me the luckiest woman in Aix en Provence. Okay, I know another woman with the same feature (and far larger) but she is paying a whole lot more for her bliss. I can't even imagine how much because I'm paying a fortune.
The new place is great but what excites me the most, and makes me the happiest and the most tranquil, is that this is my place for at least a year. I’ve signed a lease, bought the insurance that is necessary, negotiated the contract and for the first time in 3 years, I have a permanent place to live. A place to unpack my few belongings. A space that I have no immediate plans to leave. An apartment that I cannot be removed from at a moment’s notice. A nest.
My friends were a little astounded (or maybe not) that I had signed for a year. The original plan was that I would come to France for a year, get it out of my system, and return to the U.S. and start a new life in a new city. What that life was going to be, I had no idea. But that was the plan. Well, plans change. I mean really, what person in their right mind would actually leave the Mediterranean and return to Minnesota in the middle of January!
So I’m here…. indefinitely.
Yesterday my young, British friend, Simon and I were having a conversation about our first days in France and how one proceeds through the often desperately lonely and very frustrating obstacle course of acclimating yourself to a foreign country. We were having this conversation while he was here attempting to teach me the proper pronunciation of French phonemes. We discussed the reasons why we have both spent so much time in the dark, not understanding conversation or culture and how often we asked ourselves “what the hell am I doing here?” The reasons are a story unto themselves but the fact is, he has done it, and I’m in the process.
And as Simon said, you spend the first years learning what you need to know, going through the work and the pain of becoming a part of a new, strange place, and when you’ve finally reached the comfort zone you do what? Go home???
That’s like losing 50 pounds and never buying fabulous clothes to show off your new body. It’s like spending a day cooking your favorite meal and throwing it in the garbage before you eat it. It’s like giving all your Christmas presents back before you open them... working a new job for a year and then leaving before you receive your bonus check... accumulating credit card reward points and never using them.
I cannot leave France before I cash in my points. And I imagine what I will receive with those points. I envision a lovely long dinner with friends, in the French fashion. It will be a beautiful, early-September evening and the arbor under which we are sitting will be laden with dark, ripe grapes. We will begin with aperitifs and I will ask my hostess how her son is doing in Paris and where she found that beautiful antique desk I spotted in her living room. She will tell me a funny story about finding it in an alley next to the garbage in a little village near Toulouse and I will laugh because I too am a garbage digger and we’ll make plans to go on a furniture finding mission.
Then we’ll all sit down to dinner, toast each other’s health with a lovely bottle of white wine and begin the seafood appetizer. One man will tell a hysterical joke and I will not only understand the words, but I will comprehend the nuances of french humor enough to know why the others find it so funny. And I will genuinely laugh.
The main course will begin with a new bottle, a nice, round, red this time, and we’ll dig into our pasta with a fabulous sauce that I know I must try to make. I will ask for the recipe and the hostess will tell me it’s so simple and will rattle off the recipe by heart. I will understand everything, and write the recipe (in French) in my little notebook. The conversation will remind me of a joke I heard last week and I will actually recount the joke and the others will laugh uproariously.
By the time the cheese course arrives, I’ll be telling a story about my first days in France and how I sat through so many similar parties but couldn’t participate. They will tell similar stories and we will commiserate and complain, and laugh some more.
Three or four hours later, while we are drinking our tiny cups of dark, rich coffee 3 other women and I will make plans for a trip to the beach next Saturday…with a little shopping thrown in on the way there.
Finally, at 1 AM, we will all kiss goodnight, I will invite a few people to my house for lunch next month, and we will all go our separate ways. And I will know that I’ve finally gotten my new clothes…. I’m finally opening my gifts.
That will be the reward. The work is good, when you can get it…. and I have! But the bonus check...the reward points...are going to rock!