omeone: “Well, Carlin, did you have a good time in France?”
Me: “Yes sir/ma’am; I loved it! I…”
Someone: “Well, good. Glad to hear it. Bye!”
Have you ever had that feeling in which someone punches you in the stomach, you lose your breath, and you feel like you’ll feel like that forever? And then eventually you regain the ability to breathe, but that pain in your gut still remains ever constant? That’s how it feels to miss France.
My coping process basically entails listening to Mumford & Sons on repeat and knowing there existed at least one fictional character with whom I share the same sentiments: Jay Gatsby. His unattainable love for Daisy and his search to repeat the past is ever more heartbreaking when you can relate to it. My only desire over the past month has been to repeat my entire experience in France. I feel as if only Jay Gatsby and I cling to the hope that one can accomplish such a task. Are there things that I would change if I could have a do-over? Sure. But do I have any true regrets? Non, je ne regrette rien.
The first few days back in the ol’ USA were extremely tough – and it wasn’t just because of the jetlag. Everything had changed but yet sort of remained the same. I came back to family and friends who were excited to see me… and some who wouldn’t even look at me. My brain was and still is extremely confused. I think half in English and half in French, and my thoughts are continually alternating between phrases like “I can’t believe my time in France is over,” “I can’t believe I’m in America right now,” and “I can’t believe I just did that.”
So now, one month since I got on the American Airlines flight from Paris to Chicago, my experiences and memories still plague me nearly every second of the day. Sometimes, I can close my eyes and see my host parents waving to me from the train platform as we left. I can taste the freshness of a street corner baguette – which no American attempt will ever come close to (sorry, it’s true). I can feel the warmth of the fire in the den that was created on a chilly day and the overwhelming sense of calm brought by a mug of hot tea. I can hear my host family singing, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” in their thick French accents, and I can also smell the spinach tart with salmon and goat cheese cooking in the oven. I can taste the wines that we shared over dinner, and I’ll never forget the night that I danced with nearly every member of my host family and some French teenagers I had never met before.
That night at the dance was one of my favorite nights in France. However, the hardest night for me in France was the night that France declared war with Mali. No one knew – sauf Kameron – that I was so scared that I just locked myself in my room and cried, praying that nothing bad would happen and the months would pass quickly without problems. I had an overwhelming desire to pack up and go home right then. After all, America has been in a long haul with the same type of extremists for many, many years, and it was very scary to be in a host country who declares war with a terrorist group a week after our arrival.
But after our first vacation, America started taking the blows and I felt safer in France than I did in America. I remember very clearly each time my host mom said “Did you hear what happened in America today?” and my heart sank with each newscast. While helplessly watching the news from across the Atlantic, we saw the images of the Boston marathon, the explosion in Texas, and the threat from North Korea, all while wondering about the future of the great United States.
And now, the reverse has occurred. The great Cathedral in Nantes was vandalized this past weekend and all I can do is read helplessly the articles on what happened. I remember very clearly when some people in Orangeburg went around doing dumb stuff like smudging poop on church doors and how uncomfortable that made me feel. But these people have broken statues, painted Nazi symbols and the number 666 on statues and the new alter, and have destroyed parts of the choir loft. It’s unreal. No matter where you are and what you’ve done, some things will never be understood.
So, back in America, my favorite question that I get asked now is “how was Paris?” Well, Paris was great for the few days I was there, but I actually stayed in a city called Nantes. And Nantes is pronounced like “Naunt.” It is not Non-tez or Nan-teez or even Naunts. It is 2.5 hours west of Paris by train, and I happen to like it there. Yes, I LIKE – scratch that – LOVE FRANCE.
I walked into a restaurant the other day with my dad and this guy goes, “Wes! There are only 3 people who I know who like France and your daughter is one of them. I just don’t understand it!” Well, I like it for a number of reasons, but please continue, good sir, to explain why you don’t like it. Then he announces, “THEY NEVER WORK!” It was all I could do to keep from blowing up. Are you joking with me right now? This is your reason for not liking France? I mean, I’m not denying your statement by any means (shoutout to my homies in the bank who happened to take a random Thursday afternoon vacation when my card was eaten by the machine), BUT this happens to be a reason I like it! (Plus, have you looked at America’s unemployment lately??) Value is placed on other things besides working 12 hour shifts and your occupation doesn’t define you. And moreover, fine sir, you cannot categorize an entire country into one people. Just like I imagine you do not like to be classified as the same as the other 349,999,999 people who just happen to live in the same country as you. Thanks.
So, I just want to say to all you adventure-seekers, hopeless wanderers, and dreamers, if you have a desire to go abroad, do it. If you’re 12, 20, 45, or 78, if you have a place that you want to travel, do it. Don’t worry about the finances or where you’ll go and how you’ll get there. All that stuff generally works itself out. But never, ever let yourself live with the regret of never traveling. I promise that you will not regret going abroad and traveling, you will only regret not doing it. For me, it was a chance to see another style of life, which I admire tremendously, a chance to see that there actually is a world of opportunity out there, and a chance to learn about who I am and where I came from. I had the opportunity to strengthen my faith in new ways like going to Catholic Mass, traveling to Rome, and talking things out. I also learned a great deal about confidence and courage and taking risks (Merci, Elisabeth). After all, what’s life without a little risk? You’ll never know unless you take some.
Praise the God of all, drink the wine, and let the world be the world.