Going Back

What’s in Mrs. Hale Receipts for the Million 1857?

2497. It is sometimes objected to books upon etiquette that they cause those who consult them to act with mechanical restraint, and to show in society that they re governed by arbitrary rules, rather than by an intuitive perception of what is graceful and polite.

Etiquette Abroad

Bonjour. Comment ca va? It’s been a loooong time since I consulted my brain and tackled my knowledge of French, but in aIn Salzburg 1966 few weeks, I will be in need of it. I’m returning to France after 47 years — years after I was student there, years after finding love, raising a family, and finding my wings after loss. I suppose this should put this post in the category of memoir but I hope that it falls into the spirit of adventure and what to do when life throws curves. Going back to France is going to be wonderful.

To get ready for my trip which includes a 13 day tour around France with Rick Steves, I consulted the letters I wrote to my parents my mom so generously saved for me. My journal.

I wrote in Franglais, sketched pictures. Flipping through the pages and photographs have brought it all back. It makes me be thankful for the opportunity my college — Kalamazoo College — provided for my success there. After all, I wasn’t a French major, but one of 21 students whose majors ranged from history like me to English literature, psychology, political science, and art. We were going anyway. For six months.

A Student Abroad in the 1960s

Europa leaving NY for France 1966Was it really that long ago? Back then, the whole junior class went abroad, the majority of my classmates to places in France, Spain and Germany. A dozen went to Sierra Leone, Africa. One or two to England and Japan. Afraid that the entire junior class would go down in flames, we took the slow boat to Cherbourg, spending 7 days on the EUROPA. What an adventure that was, getting to know each other (I didn’t know Dinner on Shipeveryone in my group destined for Vichy and Clermont-Ferrand) holding Hootenannies, watching the latest American films, being served by Max at our table every meal, holding back the inevitable time when we would step off that boat and into the culture of our choosing. (I knew I was going to France the day I came in as a Freshman.) When it did come, it was at 4:30 in the morning for our last breakfast and off into customs and a train ride to Paris.

Paris Then and Now

I’ll have to consult my “journals” but what I remember of that first day was that my feet hurt so much from walking Clermont-Ferrand Student ID insidearound. Our hotel was close to the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile and I remember it being lit up at night. Remember the glowing gardens on that beautiful fall day. The next day those going onto Spain and points south in France took off. That would be me.

Later between my language classes in Vichy and the start of school at the Universite de Clermont-Ferrand, my group went back up to Paris for a couple of days. We went to see Picasso exhibits at the Petit and Grand Palais – out of country for the very first time – went to a Moliere play, and ate in outside cafes in the cold, impressed that the French didn’t care. I would go again a few months later as we left for three weeks of touring England and Amsterdam while we waited for our boat’s departure to New York City. This time King Tut was leaving his country for the first time. It was hard to say goodbye –au revoir – to my 6 months en France.

One thing that has struck me years later is that I was there just 20 years after the end of WW II. There were signs everywhere, especially in the working class town of Clermond-Ferrand or Vichy of blemished fame. Often I would encounter a plaque dedicated to a bunch of students shot before a firing squad or stumble upon a block of houses French road around Royatbombed out long ago. France was still struggling to get back in some ways. In fact, the countries I traveled in all showed signs of war damage and were engaged in rebuilding and renewal. Florence was recovering from a terrible flood only a month earlier.

I was too young to fully appreciate the effects of WW II on France. Besides, we had our own war going on in Vietnam few understood, Until I encountered students at the Universite passing out fiches on the steps to their student union, I didn’t even know where that country was, never saw pictures of our own soldiers in Vietnam, beating and brutalizing people there. It disturbed us greatly and we talked about it long into the night. Ironically, my future husband was over there in the jungles of Vietnam at the same I was studying in France. His student year abroad. Not so much fun.

Traveling in France Today

I’m flying to France this time and though stepping off into time and memory, I look forward my new adventures there. I’ll be several decades wiser and experienced (I hope) but there will be a lot of learning going on my first days there. Just like my very first day. Then, after a few days getting reacquainted with Paris and French, I’m going on my tour to new places in southwestern France such as Dordogne and down to Arles and Nice.

Je suis pret. I wonder what I’ll write about now.

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2 thoughts on “Going Back

  1. You were just a baby, Janet! How wonderful to be able to see pictures of yourself at that age, so young and beautiful………..A very sweet post, thank you.

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