Monday, May 30, 2011

Where are we? We are here.

As many of you have probably guessed by now from my last entry, I am in France. Micael and I have decided to spend three months here this spring and summer to try and figure out whatever there is to figure out about this country.  Now, you may be thinking that this seems like a vague objective, and you would be right.  In fact, I agree wholeheartedly.  And this is why I'm still not sure exactly why we are here.

So rather than Three Months in Provence, I should probably title these entries Here We Go Into Even More 'Twenty-Something' Ambiguity.  Micael and I are essentially jobless, or even more importantly, we are career-less, we have no apartment or official address, we are practically using an Eagle Creek suitcase as our closet, and this is the kicker to our deepening state of ambiguity--we have no idea what comes next.  We've come to France for so many reasons that we can't quite figure out the main reason why we are here. A little bit of vacation, a little bit of Thiodet family bonding, a little bit of Briana learning French, a little bit of trying France on for size.  This trip has become everything, and in trying to make this trip everything, I am completely confused about what it is actually supposed to be.  Am I supporting Micael as he discovers what this place means to him?  Am I trying to learn French and claim a place here myself?  Are we relaxing and soaking up beautiful southern sun...? Oh the options--every day presents a dozen new ones, like eggs in a carton, waiting to be cracked.

I feel a bit as if I'm on a sojourn.  A kind of twenty-first century pilgrim trying to make sense of my world and my place in it by journeying to another.  The movie Away We Go comes to mind, in which a young couple, unexpectedly pregnant, decide to travel through the United States trying to choose the best place to set down roots and raise a child.  Similarly undirected, this couple could live anywhere, do anything--they just need to decide where and what.  They need to decide, most importantly, what it is they want. I've learned from heart-wrenching practice that knowing what I want is both the question and the answer, it is the becoming, it is the journey.

So here we are in France. An obvious destination as it brings us back to Micael's roots. But a past does not always help determine a future. I think we both came here hoping that France would strike us over the head, throw us in a sack and never let us leave. And of course, why would we want to?  We both somewhere (at times more secretly than others) hoped to be captured by this country. After only three weeks here, we're still waiting for France to give chase.

This trip may not be meant for us to discover a life right now in France. Or maybe it is, but this won't come until week 11 of our trip--more of that ambiguity I mentioned earlier. What is more important is that we are journeying. Being here is opening the floodgates of spring, allowing the first fresh waters to flow out into the fields, ripening wild flowers. It is giving us so much to think, to ponder, to wonder.  Each of those ripening flowers, a new possibility. For now we wander, and in the wandering, my hope makes me certain, we will find our next place.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

dipping into France

It's the French

I made a phone call this morning to a school to which I recently applied for a job.  This school is an international, bilingual school in southern France and although at a bilingual school one might expect to encounter bilingual people, this is still, after all, France, and so one is expected to do one's best to speak french.  Knowing this and dreading the actual experience of speaking french to another human being rather than in my own head, I have made all sorts of excuses why I really don't need to call and follow up on this position at all.  Certainly they will contact me when they are ready, or it would be best to email yet again so that I can choose my words carefully and with the help of my human translator (aka, my husband), or actually--and this is really the best excuse--it is possible that my husband's stepmom's friend knows the school director and will happen to mention that I am here in Provence and ready to work just about whenever.  If any of these things will please happen, I will not have to make this dreaded phone call in french.

No dice. Just like any job in any country that I have ever applied for, persistence pays off and a personal phone call, appearance or handshake can really move things along. Particularly here, where personal relationships seem to count for much more in the hiring process than do well-written resum├ęs.  So call I must.  I would actually prefer to just show up at the school and introduce myself in person, benefitting from the fact that my fluency in french pleasantly increases when hand motions, smiles and nods are involved.  But at the risk of seeming presumptuous, intrusive or culturally inappropriate, I must call first and get the ok to show up on their doorstep for a meeting.

Why is this so scary?  I've traveled to several countries without speaking the language, worked with teenaged orphaned girls without speaking their language, worked with rural guatemalan farmers without speaking their language, dated a chilean waiter without really speaking his language; what is it about this experience that is so much more daunting?  Oh, that one's easy to answer.  It's the French.

The French who love their language as if it were a child.  The French who speak quickly and curtly and stare at you quizzically for the most minor of mispronunciations.  The French who love sport so much that they have made a sport of their own words for the exercise of their tongues, dipping and turning, leaping through words, curling rrr's and eee's and uuu's with a robust fragility, the paradox of which only the French can attain. The language of this country is not simply language, it is art.  And in a country where art is not simply art, but is much more akin to religion, you can imagine how precious is the act of speaking.

And this, this is what terrifies me to make the phone call I must make in french.  I avoid and distract, stammer, defer and change the subject.  Finally, I accept my fate, and then, I cry.  I squeeze out the last bit of debilitating fear and then grab pen and paper and write out any possible phrase I might be called on to utter in this terrifying language.  Micael coaches me on the best way to arrange my words, questions they might ask me, and the best way to ask them to please (for the love of art!) speak more slowly.  I dial, my stomach flips, it rings, two more flips, they answer, it drops into my toenails, and I let fly a rapid series of all the phrases I have written before me in an order that I can only pray makes sense.  An answer--the woman I am asking for does not work today.  My response--and when...?  Tomorrow.  Au revoir!  And click.  The whole debacle lasted less than, who knows?! Four seconds?  It's over.  Which is what I think for about four second more before I realize that I've just set myself up for a re-run tomorrow.

Oh, the joys of stretching one's horizons. Let tomorrow come.  Whatever doesn't kill me will just give me cause to go drink another glass of wine.