Wednesday, July 30, 2008
With the advent of graduation has come the obvious question: what next? I have recently obtained two degrees in French and in the History of Art and Architecture, which while is seemingly useful, have only instantaneously qualified me for two careers: 1. an afficienato on all things culturally important: I can pronounce wine names correctly, appreciate cutting edge art that usually confuses the 'common' viewer, and figure out the answer to a variety of crossword puzzle clues. 2. a barista - the only thing missing is a nose ring, but a fear of needles has left this on the 'to-do' list for quite sometime, meaning this career path is fading quickly. Thus, as I began my senior year of college, I decided it was time to do some serious soul searching, network until I ran out of printer ink for my resumes, and sign up for a slew of interviews that I could label as 'good practice' if things went sour. This inevitably led to a few second interviews, a collection of 'on site' office visits, and a new wardrobe of professional looking clothing (and about three pairs of black target pumps). Yet, in the midst of the chaos and the interview preparations, while i did feel very grown-up and responsible, i didn't feel...happy.
Months earlier, I had submitted an application to the French Embassy to become an assistant to an english teacher in France. And, as it turned out, the opportunity to live in France was what my inner psyche had been craving. When I was a little girl (and bed time stories were mandatory) my father would read brilliantly illustrated picture books about a sassy red-head named madeline who found herself in all sorts of trouble on the streets of Paris. This, of course, instilled two desires in my little heart: First, to have red hair - little girls with brown hair seldom found themselves in wildly crazy predicaments in the storybook world. And two, to go to Europe, France specifically. To my dismay, I realized that my mousy brown hair would not magically transform itself into a shocking red/orange, but the desire for a "vie francaise" did not fade.
Fast-forward ten years or so, and I found myself in the midst of a rather rebellious summer, earning money to fulfill that very dream through my Universities study abroad program in Luxembourg - while this wasn't France, they spoke french (close enough?) and I figured I could hop the border for a few weekend holidays. Europe was my playground for four months, and though it seems crazy, I almost didn't make it to Paris. The truth is, not everyone loves the city of lights, and the general consensus among my peers was "eh, its nice, but its nothing to get upset about."
Luckily I decided to skip class one week in November, take the TGV into Paris and fall head-over-heals for the city of love. Sitting along the bank of the Seine, sipping cheap red wine (my classmates and I took full advantage of the non-existent open container laws), I realized that Paris had become personal. I remember that moment so vividly: " I have been waiting to discover Paris since I was a little girl, reading Madeline, watching Gigi...but that was not the Paris I found, it was my own. I didn't realize this until, as we were walking along the Seine, I saw the steps that led down to the river, to the banks, and I saw Gene Kelly dancing with Leslie Caron. But there was no Gene Kelly, nor Leslie Caron. No music, no dancing, no dream sequences with artificial lights, just the river, the trees, soft city lights - I think thats when Paris became human, not a dream world, but a real place with real people, people who have problems, dreams, fears..." I think that was the moment I knew I would return.
So I am. But the process has not been as magical as that evening near the Seine. As it turns out, the French invented the bureaucratic process, but haven't quite figured out the concept of simple, easy to read directions - I've read every piece of paperwork at least five times and am convinced I've only comprehended at best, one fifth of what its telling me to do (and yes, its in english..) In order to obtain a visa, it takes a six hour drive to chicago, the kindness of a few friends with an extra couch, and a mere five minute interview at the general consulate. I'm not sure how to find an apartment in the United States, let alone in a foreign country and foreign tongue, and I've already lost track of the number of times I've sighed, rolled my eyes and muttered "how french..."
Mais, alors, this is the adventure I've craved. When the nerves subside, and the paperwork lessens, I feel that quickening in my chest. I smile and realize I'm finally doing it. I know that no matter how often I look up my new home on mapquest, it will be nothing like the day of my arrival and the first time I step off the train, no matter how many french novels I read, it will be nothing like that first conversation I'll have with les francais, and no matter how many times I've read about little red-head in Paris, it will be nothing like the adventures of this brown-haired girl in France.