Last Day in France! Quel Dommage…

In The Spirit of December on December 18, 2010 at 10:46 PM

Au revoir, France! After a stay of over 100 days this morning I left the Meunier house for the train station and the beginnings of my voyage home. Unlike most of the other students from the Institute who are going home for the holidays after classes, my trip is taking a small delay in Germany for three days before I fly home on Monday. Honestly I am glad for the return because it will be a great opportunity to have to think in German again before coming home and after spending almost four months focusing only on French it will be good to get a fresh take of Germany again before I come home.

Leaving this morning was particularly difficult though for more reasons than one. Packing yesterday was probably the most difficult thing I have done in a long time considering I feel like I have moved to a new country and brought all my stuff with me from America and now I am taking back with me all of my new acquisitions from across Europe and trying to keep them all together in one suitcase, a traveling bag, and my backpack. Naturally the first solution was to roll all of my shirts up in an effort to maximize space. Fortunately this worked and it enabled me to proceed without further difficulty in the packing of everything else I bought. I had a plan for how I wanted to pack, I just wasn’t sure if it was going to work. I had tried to limit my purchases for people to very small things so that I could fit all of my souvenirs in the small bag that I brought with me back in July. Generally, I succeeded in this effort. However a couple of the bigger ones posed a problem and therefore had to go into the big suitcase with everything else. However, thanks to the genius of modern suitcase technology I could probably shove a horse into this suitcase and it would all fit assuming you could carry it.

The problem after packing wasn’t actually getting the suitcase down the stairs but having to see the faces of my host family as I struggled to not kill myself walking down the narrow steps with a 75-pound suitcase. Yes, I do believe it might weigh 75 pounds and that’s even after throwing away some books that I didn’t need or want. Books always cause a problem, why do I buy them? Oh wait that’s right, because I like learning…dur! In some ways I feel like carrying these books with me throughout all my travels is not only a sign of how valuable they are, simply as books, but how much they mean to me. If I could just buy a book and carry it around and it was as light as air, well there would be no fun in that. Sometimes the book carries its educational value in how much it weighs physically and in that sense, I am glad to be carrying them around.

But getting back to the difficulties of the morning, because as I type the morning isn’t even over yet. I woke up at 6am and showered and washed my face and made my bed for the last time in France. It was honestly very sad for me to say goodbye to the house and room that has done so much for me in the past 4 months as hard as it is to believe that it’s been that long already. I got everything downstairs and then I saw Camille my little host sister of 14 say hello with her usual “Coo-Coo” and I noticed she was wearing the scarf that I gave her the night before at dinner. Claire and I had each arranged to give them a present and so I bought the movie Rush Hour 3 for the boys and she bought Camille a nice shirt from H&M. In addition both of us had each bought a nice gift for Madame. I had found these really nice Italian salad and cooking dressings in Rome when I was there and knew that Madame would love them considering how often she cooks. Claire found the great book, 1000 places to see in the USA and Canada before you die in English and found a necklace for Madame as well that looked really nice on her. After the formal gifts I had two other small ones that were rather unintentional. After playing secret Santa with the Colombians and Mexicans from the Institute I had received a great sweater and scarf from my friend Laura from Colombia. The only problem was that the scarf didn’t match anything I own and the sweater fit kind of funny. We had tried to arrange to take it back together but we both got to busy and then after she left she accidentally took the receipt with her so I couldn’t return them to H&M as I had originally intended. But it all worked out quite well as Camille loved the scarf and the sweater fit Madame’s father perfectly cause he’s a bigger guy like me.

Arthur the oldest of the three informed me that he wouldn’t be sacrificing his “grasse matinee” or sleeping in to see me off and gave me a solid handshake and wished me well. Camille and Alexis on the other hand were a little bit more willing to show off their attachment. Camille had wrapped up and written on my favorite mug from their house and written on it with a marker some kind words in English as well as put a little note inside and a Christmas chocolate. Alexis had used his creative side and written a nice note and wrapped it around a pop can and taped it together. It was one of the nicest gifts I have ever received because he wanted to give me something but he didn’t know what and what he did was wonderful. Even this morning he had cut out a small heart out of paper and written on it, “Betty aime Benj.” Betty would be the cat that doesn’t like me and vice versa. It was so sweet and the two younger ones were having such a hard time I felt so bad. It was really an amazing and yet hard position to be in. Here I am a 22-year old American student living in a French house and these three kids just came to love me so much during my time there. After dinner Alexis started crying and I felt so bad because all I could do was smile sympathetically. Normally they don’t get students to stay for four months, let alone students that take such an interest in them and take the time to get along with them.

Madame kept telling me it will be hard for them when you leave and then this morning we dropped Alexis off at school he gave me the French bisoux and walked off to school silently not able to say anything. Camille was just as difficult to say goodbye too. She couldn’t say anything and she just gave me a big hug and walked off sobbing. I thought that was going to be the end of it but when we got to the train station Madame broke down a little bit as well and then Claire did too. Had I not been in so much pain from the over 100 pounds of luggage I was carrying on my back I probably would have been crying to and as a result once I finally got on the train I simply sat in silence reminiscing about the past four months and wishing that we had more time. Seeing the snow on the ground and finally smelling winter for the first time as well wasn’t helping my sentimentalist nature as well. Hopefully Camille will come visit in the States sometime in the next couple years and maybe Arthur will as well. Honestly though, I really need to go back and visit some day and I hope to take my mom with me because I know her and Madame would get along very well.

It’s really sad actually because I do love these kids and Madame and I will miss them so much. I always wanted to have younger siblings and have them look up to me as a cool older brother who took the time to be interested in them and now I have had that opportunity. With my own younger siblings it was never like that because we were all too close in age and we were always grouped together and so any sort of possible relationship of being looked up to was eliminated pretty early in the game. But I have always been jealous of my friends from Hillsdale who love to go home and see their younger siblings and take such a strong interest in their lives and supporting them. I feel like I never really had that much growing up and I hope to correct that with my own kids one day.

After making it to Paris I knew there was no way I was going to make it up and down the steps of the Metro in downtown Paris with all of my crap and still be alive to tell the tale and therefore opted for the taxi. I couldn’t find an ATM and so I asked him how much it would cost to take me to la gare a Paris est. He said between 12 and 15 euro and I thought, ok I’ve got just under 18 euro on me that should be fine. Well as it turned out it was a little tight but I got away with it. The total price was 17.80 and I had 17.90. Lucky me, n’est pas? Although I felt really bad about not being able to give him a tip but whatever, that’s life sometimes.

After sitting in the cold for about an hour waiting for my train to Karlsruhe I finally got on board the train managed to grab a seat. Finding seats, even when they are assigned in France and Germany can oftentimes be difficult, particularly during times of holiday season. It doesn’t help either that they have almost no space whatsoever on the trains for large suitcases and when I first walked on I almost resigned myself to having to simply stand the whole time like I did from Cologne to Paris back at the end of August. Well, as it turns out I was able to find a seat and a relatively decent spot for my luggage. The only reassuring thing about carrying around a suitcase that’s 75 pounds is that I know no one is gonna try and steal it because it just ain’t worth the effort. But it’s a little stressful honestly trying to keep an eye out on four different bags each of which contain objects of much value. I guess I just try and look at it positively as something that is very temporary and if I can just make it through today, I can get back home and hopefully never travel this way again. Even in coming back to Europe one day, I just won’t bring as many clothes next time because I know I’ll end up buying some. Either that or I will just continue getting rid of them. I left about 4 or 5 shirts in France as donations to the Red Cross and threw out another three or four ugly T-shirts and old socks. I’ve still got about another 5 hours of traveling left I think so we’ll see what happens in the next five hours. Hopefully Lord willing I won’t run into any problems. He has already been so gracious to me this morning, I simply pray that His grace will continue to follow me through the rest of this day and the weekend leading up to my flight.

In other slightly different news, I am hoping to continue learning languages when I come home. It’s been one of my life goals to speak 5 languages and I am well on my way right now. I can speak and understand English, French, and German pretty well when I am in practice and my Spanish is getting stronger as well simply from picking things up through context. However I would really love to take Spanish formally if possible as well as Italian. I kind of fell in love with Italian while I was here and feel like as useless as it might be, if it helps me nab an Italian woman as a wife who can cook amazing pasta and loves opera, it will be worth it. As well I would love to learn Hebrew and Armenian. Considering I am Armenian and Jewish it only makes sense. I don’t know how difficult Hebrew is, but since I have already studied Armenian in high school I feel like if I had a year of formal training in it at University some how and then went there, I would be able to use it for the rest of my life. I really think that learning other languages is very important for an accurate perspective of the world. I guess we’ll just have to see how that develops in the coming years. That’s all for now, Ciao!

  1. Hope whichever airline you are on doesn’t charge you $200 for your overweight bag. Some airlines are that high. Might be worth it to buy another suitcase. Hopefully you will have time to check before you get to the counter.

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