When I was a little girl, I dreamed of going to Paris. I told my mother that I would move to France and marry a Frenchman. My diet would consist of French fries and bread. My five-year-old self had never heard of wine. I knew nothing about the Eiffel Tower except that it was tall and it marked the place of my dreams. I tried several times over the next twenty years to go to France. There were two opportunities in college that I applied for and then declined last minute. I worked instead. I studied harder. I attended church. Then, at the age of twenty-four, I set a definite goal. I would go to France before my twenty-fifth birthday. I would make it over the French border even if I had minutes to spare. My birthday is September 26, I would make it there before the clock struck midnight on September 25. I applied for study abroad for the third time. I was accepted for the third time. I paid the down payment of $500 for the first time.
I was going to France.
I did not sleep the night before. I boarded a plane having had no sleep for twenty hours and nerves so raw that I could have heard the pilot sneeze in the cockpit from the back of the plane during take off. My classmate, Natalie, did not have that problem. She was excited, well rested and ready for anything. I have never sat beside anyone as perky as she was for the next three days. Natalie was an optimist. She was talkative and sweet. When we arrived in Nice, Natalie ran through the airport! Her pony tail bouncing behind her and smile shining a light. It was so bright ahead of her. Natalie ran through the airport as if we had just entered the Chocolate Factory. I feared that we would be flagged by security. Luckily, the security guards must have been used to excited Americans because they did not bat an eyelash as we left (Natalie sprinted as I walked briskly behind).
I will tell my children many things about France. I will tell them how it felt the first time I saw the small mountains through the airplane window. I will tell them about the cool morning breeze that greeted us as we stood on the French runway for the first time. I will tell them of Natalie’s voice constant beside me as she found a way to begin a conversation with every person we met from the time we set foot on the ground until the last day of classes. I will tell them of the Mediterranean Sea. It is clear then turquoise then sapphire blue. Never green. Never dirty. Never anything less than beautiful.
But I will not tell my children about the first day. The first day, I was so tired from not sleeping the night before or on the plane ride that I did not respond to the fact that I was in France. This was my dream realized after twenty years! We were in France! I had arrived in Europe. I could eat French fries and meet French men. I could practice my French. Or I could sleep. I could sleep until tomorrow. I could go sight seeing the next day. I could eat some bread and water. I was not excited to be in France. I was tired. I was jet lagged. I was cranky.
This temperament of mine was only interrupted in brief spurts. The first spurt was when we met our host, Sophie. Sophie. One does not get more French than Sophie. She was a tall, thin goddess with strawberry blonde hair and a large English vocabulary delivered in a think Parisian accent. Sophie greeted Natalie and me with the joy of someone who loves company. She made us quiche with zucchini. “Na-ta-lie,” she said as she cut the egg pie into sections, “You do not eat meat. So, I made this with vegetables. Do you like…”she searched for the word in English, “quiche?” No sooner had Natalie nodded her head yes was there two servings already downed by the both of us. It was the best quiche that I had ever had.
My happier mood lasted for another few hours. Sophie took us to Vueille Nice, the old town. We ate gelato and looked at post cards. We walked to the sea. I have never seen water that shade of blue. After Sophie left us, Natalie and I sat on the stone benches looking over the water. The benches were carved into the cliffs. I remember the weather not being as hot as I had been told it would be. The sun was shining, but not beating down on us. Natalie and I took in our surroundings. It was wonderful.
Then we got lost, and my crankiness returned. We had one map between us and two different minds on how to get back to the apartment. A ten minute stroll turned in to a few extra hours just of wandering. We were tired. We found a church with open doors. I asked Natalie if we could sit for a minute. She agreed. I had never been inside a Catholic church before. There was gold everywhere, and so many statues! I kept asking about the statues and the symbols. It was all new, but somehow familiar. I still do not know what the church is called.
After we left the church, we found a candy store. A gourmand candy store. Natalie and I went in for the smell. It was sugary and heavenly. The sales girl smiled at us. “Bonjour!” She handed one biscuit each. They were filled with raspberry. I looked at Natalie and smiled. My second wind had begun. The funny thing is that once we left the candy store, we found our way home easily. We walked down Jean Medecin, stopping in a few stores (mostly H&M). By the time we finally got home, I had forgotten that I was tired and remembered that I was in France.
It was hard to ever forget again…