Near the end of my freshman year, a group of French students from my high school traveled to France for a week. I think the only reason my mom let me go was that my brother was also on the trip--he didn't take French, but his girlfriend did. I barely saw him while we were there.
We began our tour in Anger, in the Loire Valley, touring chateaux and wineries. My memory of it is of drizzly, grey, chilly weather, and equally chilly roommates... I really didn't much fit with the girls. (Come to think of it, I've never gotten along very well with roommates, except for my husband, and we all know how that worked out. Note to self: talk to therapist about this...) A picky eater, none of the food agreed with me, and I couldn't get my hands on a Tab to save my life.
The chateaux were gorgeous and impressive, but forbidding. I do remember getting excited when we saw a large statue of Joan of Arc in the middle of a square somewhere. But I mostly felt out of sorts and alienated.
At last we drove into Paris. Night was falling, and the city of lights lived up to the promise of its name. Driving towards it on our large motor coach, I felt a stirring of anxiety and unmistakeable excitement. It was alluring, like a beautiful woman decked out in jewels. It was like a slightly illicit invitation. It terrified me. I was enchanted.
We got to our hotel, and at last I was able to try calling my mother. We spoke for a minute or two, and then the line went dead. I burst into tears, and sobbed for about five minutes. Then I went with my three roommates to the cafe for dinner. My memory of that night is that the trip transformed from black and white into color.
For the next four days I gobbled up everything I could about Paris. I loved it. I was not homesick, I was thrilled-- beyond thrilled. I felt suddenly grown up and sophisticated (ironic, since every time I've been in Paris since I've felt the consummate fat, ugly American). I shouted over the sound of music at a disco, a conversation with Sister Linda, my French teacher-- while I drank a vodka and orange juice and she had a rum and Coke. I flirted with French boys. I danced. We went to a production of "Moise et Aaron" at L'Opera, my unforgettable introduction to Schoenberg (unforgettable for the fatted-calf orgy scene as much as the 12-tone music).
When I got home, I was 14 lbs. thinner. This made my mother cry. It pleased me.
I wonder what adventures my Petra is having today?