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2008-11-16 Duality

Last week, while speaking English, I asked someone if they wanted to go take a coffee with me. You mean have a coffee? she replied, looking at me blankly. Go have a coffee? Yes " that. Have a coffee, thats what I meant. In French, one says prendre un caf (literally take a coffee.) This is such a perfect illustration of the duality Ive been developing this semester. I am living in two worlds now, or rather " I am living in one world and soon will return to the other, and just the fact that I know Im going to return soon can be difficult to process sometimes. Im here in France, but I also feel like I need to keep one foot in the door at all times to keep it open " dont want it to shut and not be able to get back in again when I need to return to the States! There is a kind of desperation when studying abroad " to make the most of your time and become immersed in the culture, and also to cling tightly to back home so that you wont be forgotten. My mom came to visit last week, and it was the strangest feeling, watching my two very separate worlds merge in a surprisingly natural way. Also, I spoke a tiny bit of English for the first time ever with my host family, and this seriously weirded me out. I realized how much language has a hand in the ideas we form about people, the images we have of them in our heads. I felt like I could be completely myself, for once at total ease! Oh, the things I learned while speaking English with them! For instance: I finally learned what my host dad does for a living. Ive asked him at least two or three times this semester and never quite understood, though I knew it was big and important. I thought he worked with boats. Eric does not work with boats though; he sells robotics to international companies to disassemble nuclear power plants. On Tuesday, Armistice Day here in France, I didnt have school and so we woke up early to my host dad running off to search for croissants and pain-au-chocolat and brioche for breakfast. We feasted on them over coffee, and then my host mom took my real mom and me with her to the market in town to buy food for our picnic. We all drove to a little village on the Mediterranean called Saint-Mairie-de-la-Mer, which happens to be my favorite town here in Provence. I think Ive already mentioned this in another entry, but its worth mentioning again. This town has it all " gypsies, pirates, a church, literary folklore, the sea, flamingoes, good coffee. We all huddled in a little caf to take some coffee, because it was drizzling outside, and when my mom got up to go to the bathroom, my host parents leaned in and told me how happy they were to meet her. Now we can send you back home, they said, because we know that you will be ok there. That one little comment meant so much to me. Even though there is such a delicate balance to strike with ones host family here, between getting to know them " trying to be more than just a boarder " and also not interfering in or interrupting their usual lives, I adore my host family. My experience here without them would have been so much emptier. I definitely feel my foreignness, some days more than others, but despite the delicacy of the balance, and despite my American solitude, Im slowly finding ways to form a home. This is where the duality gets hard. My home is here, and it is also not. Yesterday was Saturday and magnificent, because our architecture professor didnt show up to meet us at the cathedral for our excursion around Aix. Instead we wandered around the market, took a leisurely lunch, and then discovered the most amazing thing ever. Really. When I walked inside, I almost cried because I was so sorry I hadnt found it sooner in the semester. It is a little book shop/caf, frequented by a lot of international students, where one can just sit for hours and read or drink coffee. They had a bulletin board with ways to meet people. They have poetry readings! And other kinds of readings! I am so excited. This is exactly what I had been missing so much from my beloved Seattle and Portland " a place to just sit and write and write and read and drink coffee. I feel like Aix is complete now. I sat there for five hours, all Saturday afternoon, until they closed. Another example of duality: last week I told Anne-Camille yet again that she needed to come visit me in Seattle, and my host dad said that when I got married, they would all come out for the wedding. No, no, said Anne-Camille. Ansleys going to get married in Aix! Yes, to Paul to crepe-man. I could get married in Aix, I thought. Not because I particularly have always wanted to get married in France, but because that way I could come back here. I feel like Im trying to hold on even more tightly to the slippery days falling through my fingers, because I have just barely over a month left here. I feel like this semester is ending just as quickly as it started. (On a side note, I had a charming little adventure in Avignon Friday morning when it was time to see Mom off at the train station, where she was going to take a train to Paris to catch her plane. I got on the train with her briefly, stupidly, to help her find her seat and get settled. When I hurried back to get off, the doors were shut and would not open. Then, the train started moving! Everything seemed to be in slow motion, or not really " because to my horror, the train was beginning to move very quickly. I turned around, panicked, trying to figure out what to do. A guy standing by the doors in between the compartments, seeing me look at him with a wild and desperate expression, looked at me with a mixture of amusement and pity. I rushed back to my mom. Coucou, maman, I said. Im still here! Frightened of the ticket inspectors because I obviously did not have a ticket, I hid in the bathroom until the train stopped at Avignon about twenty minutes later. I dashed off. I obtained another ticket for a train back to Aix an hour later, just in time to make my morning class. Ive just been to Avignon this morning! I declared cheerily, as I stumbled into the American Center looking frazzled and somewhat deranged. How was it? the others asked. The train station was very beautiful, I replied. I sat huddled there for over an hour waiting for the next train, my hoodie pulled up to keep my head warm in the frigidly clear morning, feeling very much like the worst kind of train bum. How did that happen? my French Woman Writers professor asked me. Did you get on the train with your mom? Oh, you must never do that! The train stops way for much too short of a time. Yes, yes, thank you. I now am aware of that. What an adventure. A twenty euro adventure, but an adventure nonetheless. Ansley Clark

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