Saturday, September 17, 2016

      Yes sir, yes sir, three blogs full. In the three blogs left to reach my 900-blog goal, I have chosen to share some French adventures. Part will be in French, part in English, but all in the language of light and love that I learned to speak fluently in Paris, France, thanks to Germaine Vogelweith, my French mother who came from Strasbourg, in Alsace. She spoke not a word of English while I lived with her in her small apartment, a short bus ride from the Sorbonne where I studied. My American student friends who also attended the American/French Summer session, agreed that we would only speak French to each other, and we did for the entire six-week program. I will never forget that summer all those years ago. It made me who I am today, and I am so grateful to so many, but especially to my second favorite country, France, which convinced me that there is magic in a dream.

     Fifty-two years ago, I bought this little plaque in Nice, France, on the first solo trip of my life. It was one of the most exciting things I ever did, topped only by my second French solo trip in 2001 where I drove all over southern France alone in my tiny manual shift Fiat. Traveling solo can be an exhilarating and liberating experience for a woman, no matter what age. In these times, it is much more dangerous than before, but the thrill was that I made it through some tough spots, and I have the plaque to show for it.

     This little plaque (as you can see, the worse for wear) means “There is no beer in Heaven; so let’s drink here on earth.” I thought at the time that this was so cute, and now when I look at this cracked souvenir, I smile remembering all the adventures it conjures under my frizz. 

     That summer trip was especially meaningful because my favorite grandmother had left me $900 in her will to study abroad. After graduating from the University of Michigan in April of 1965, with a major in French and a minor in Music, I packed a huge suitcase and stuck a copy of Europe on $5 a Day under my arm. Off I went to Paris, France, wide-eyed, naive and thrilled beyond my dreams. All I could think of was how not to look American and to speak French from the time I landed until I returned. I accomplished this, and I gained 25 pounds on gruyere cheese. Watch out for this delicious stuff; it tastes good, but the side effects will cost you 50 planks a day for a year. 

     Things I learned on my first trip to France in 1965:

  1. North African immigrants were not welcomed by most French people.
  2. Couscous are delicious.
  3. Pickpockets can grab your shoulder bag right off your body while whizzing by on a scooter.
  4. Speaking French 24/7 can get tiring. You need cheese to maintain your stamina.
  5. The French are very warm, but they don’t embrace you immediately.
  6. Carrying on an intense conversation in another language is so exciting.
  7. Real French bread is to die for.
  8. French is such a beautiful language. I never tired of hearing it.
  9. French dogs whose masters take them to upscale French restaurants don’t bark or sniff. They sit quietly under the table.
  10. French toilet paper sucks.
  11. It’s very weird to stand next to a man at a sink in a public restroom.
  12. The Jardin du Luxembourg is beautiful. 
  13. People thought I was German because I had rosy cheeks. (They disappeared at 30)
  14. I never missed the comforts of home, as I was too busy making Paris my home.
  15. Parisians can’t drive. They are crazy. They drive on the sidewalk and park with at least two     wheels on the curb.
  16. French women are chic.
  17. Most French guys weren’t that cute.
  18. The sound and lights show at Notre Dame was unforgettable. They acted out the story of the crucifixion of Christ in front of Notre Dame with a chorus in the towers, horses coming down the aisle and Jesus on the cross following him. Incredible.
  19. I still miss my French maman.
  20.  Never travel anywhere with more than one small suitcase unless you hire a fool to schlep your stuff. 

I still keep in touch with one of my classmates 52 years later. Quels beaux souvenirs!