Thursday's Child: More Memories of France

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Last week I wrote about some of the culinary highlights of my first trip overseas, a trip to France the summer before I started university.  This week I’ll be filling in some of the other details of that trip.

It took the money I earned from four years of camp counselling, and two months of farm labour, to afford this trip.  My parents had saved for my education, but any travelling I wanted to do was my responsibility to finance.  And because of that, I was determined to savour every single detail.  I wanted to experience things I’d never seen before, never even imagined, and that’s what I got:

We (the exchange students) spent four days in Paris before we travelled to the town where we were billeted with French families.  On rereading my journal, it seems we spent most of our time in Paris walking around looking for pastry shops, and then eating those pastries.  (Although, now that I think about it, what else would a wide-eyed teenager do in Paris?)

The hamlet I stayed in was so tiny that I could walk from end to end in about five minutes.  My French mother was very proud of me, and she showed me off whenever possible.  She took me to a fiftieth anniversary fete that was being held in the town church.  The entire family stood at the front of the church to celebrate; only the two of us watched from the pews.  Afterward she introduced me to every single person in attendance, and it soon became clear that she thought I was the guest of honour.

I ate dinner some nights at 10pm and once as late as 11:30. More than once, I ate a six-course meal for lunch.  Another time I attended a luncheon where six different kinds of meat were served, and where we sat at the table for three hours.

My French mother was convinced that I ate like a bird, but truly I ate more than I have before or since.  One day I went on a picnic and she kindly offered to pack me a lunch.  I took half a loaf of bread (enhanced by a brick of butter), a slab of ham, two peaches, an orange, and two chunks of La Vache Qui Rit cheese.  The only reason my lunch was that small was, before leaving, I removed a bag of chips, two hard-boiled eggs, half a cake and a box of cookies.  Let me repeat, I was going for a picnic lunch, not a reenactment of The Odyssey.

I had an extra day-trip to Paris with one of the other girls on the exchange trip, and her father drove us into town.  He drove with typical Gallic passion; Amy and I exchanged increasingly frightened glances as the speedometer reached a high of 185 km (115 miles) an hour.

I attended the most fantastic Bastille Day celebration ever.  We stood in the yard watching as villagers walked through the town with lanterns.  They came from both directions, meeting almost outside our front door, then turned to walk to the park.  We joined the parade and later watched fireworks with the whole community.  Afterward, we stayed for a village dance.  I still have the paper lantern that I kept as a souvenir.

When I planned this trip, I was excited about having the chance to see such a beautiful country, and about improving my French. What I didn’t realize until later was what a gift this wonderful family gave me by welcoming me into their home for a month.  I had always longed to travel, but this trip taught me what a privilege it is to meet someone who lives in a different country, and to briefly see the world through his or her eyes. 

33 comments:

Jess said...

I love these memory posts! Your French mother sounds adorable, and this makes me want to go on a picnic with a loaf of bread and cheese :) Have you written a travel memoir yet (I guess you'd have to narrow it down to a specific trip, which would probably be difficult in your case)? Or considered a novel based on your experiences in France? What exciting times for a young lady :)

Valerie said...

What a beautiful first-trip abroad. This could easily be made into a movie, from eating pastries in Paris, to your French mother introducing you to "everyone," to the white knuckled drive to Paris. :-)
(My mom has stories of holding onto the roof of the car with one hand, and the edges of the seat with the other, as my dad drove her through the side streets of France...he loved it.)

Beth said...

I love your suggestions, Jess and Valerie! A movie or a travel memoir ... maybe both lie somewhere in my future!

lisa is cooking said...

How lovely that your French mother was so welcoming! Sounds like a fantastic experience--and a filling one. The meals must have been delightful.

Mary said...

What a beautiful experience and a blessing it was to have such a great family to stay with during your trip.

Carol said...

What a fantastic experience, made even more special by the wonderful people you stayed with!

Kittie Howard said...

What an amazing experience, a real treasure. And I bet your French got really good as living with a family plugs in those little holes text books can't fill. But, ohhh, I couldn't resist those pastry shops either. Worth every caloric crumb.

sweetandcrumby.com said...

Beth, what a beautiful post. It's so warm and I can just feel how happy you were there and how loving and welcoming your French Family was. I went to France as a teenager and only a tourist. I wish I had the experience that you did. It sounds unforgetable.

Belinda said...

What great memories! France is THE place to eat and eat and eat.....

Janet Johnson said...

Oh, you are making me homesick for a trip to France! Isn't it amazing what paying for something yourself can do to your appreciation level?

And honestly, as an adult, I STILL was constantly on the hunt for pasty shops so I could eat just one more tartlette aux fraises. :) Yummm . . . .

Jemi Fraser said...

I'd love to visit Paris one of these days! Sounds like you had a great time. I think everyone who visits Paris eats too many patries :)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

You have better memories of Paris than I do. On my husband's and my last day there, before heading to Germany on our honeymoon, we sat in the train station. Long story made short: the homeless woman next to us had a decaying pet in her bag. :P

At least the cheese in France was amazing. :D

Beth said...

Oh, Stina, how awful! And on your honeymoon!

I'm glad the cheese was a consolation.

Jay said...

no doubt you had a wonderful time...awesome..:)
Tasty Appetite

Rosemary said...

What wonderful memories you've shared here. I'm astounded by the amount of food you consumed! And you managed to stay thin!

gobakeyourself said...

Thank you for sharing such wonderful experiences my friend - I dream of visiting Paris one day :D

Cheers
Choc Chip Uru

Joanne said...

Not going to lie, but if I went to paris, I would probably spend my whole time eating pastries too. And I'm not even a teenager! Maybe i'd go to a museum. But only if I was allowed to bring the pastries inside. :P

Vicki Bensinger said...

Wow what a vivid memeory you have back in your college days. However, it's been a while since I've been to Paris and my memories are still picture perfect. I guess some things you never forget!

How kind of your exchange family to welcome you with such open arms and feed you like a KING! I do remember dinners when I went with my daughter not starting until 9:30 or 10:00 in the evening. It seemed like that's when everything got going.

I hope you've had time to go back since. I haven't but can't wait until I do. The food was amazing and the sites. The only thing I didn't like was eating in a restaurant with people sitting practically on top of me smoking while they ate their meal. I could never figure out how someone could actually taste what they were eating if they were smoking in between bites.

Thanks for sharing your fond memories.

Beth said...

Joanne, I usually found the line-ups in Paris long enough that I could safely finish a pastry or two in line!

And Vicky, fortunately I kept a journal. I could never remember all these details on my own. But what I do remember is the overwhelming kindness of my host family. They treated me like a king in every way.

Claudia said...

I wish I had journalled. But you bring up so much sweetness, you are jump-starting my memory. What an extraordinary grouping of experiences - I remember being poor as a church-mouse in Europe and loving every second - drinking it up because I never knew if I would get back there. As for your picnic - brava!

Cucina49 said...

Beth, you make me wish I had gone abroad as a student! Reading this post was so evocative--I'm glad you have such good memories of that time.

Kathy said...

Such a lovely post…I so enjoy reading your memories of your trips! I loved Paris…a beautiful place to visit! Happy Mother’s Day, Beth!

profiterolesandponytails said...

How wonderful that you still have your paper lantern from that Bastille Day celebration. What a night that must have been.

Elaine said...

What special memories, Beth. I am not a wide-eyed teenager, but I would also probably wander around the streets of Paris looking for pastry shops and eating as many pastries as possible. :)

Medeia Sharif said...

I enjoy wandering around a city doing finding things. Pastry shopping sounds divine.

Happy Mother's Day.

CJ - Food Stories said...

I found your site through Go Bake Yourself when Choc Chip Uru passed on the versatile blogger award to both of us. Thought I'd stop by your site and check it out. I have subscribed to your blog and can't wait to see what your next post will be!

Sissi said...

Looking back you must really appreciate the kindness of this family.
Dining hours depend so much on the country... 10pm sounds normal to me when having guests.

yummychunklet said...

What great memories! Happy Mother's Day!

Jill | Dulce Dough said...

What wonderful memories Beth--such an amazing experience!

Chris said...

Hi Beth, greetings from Northern Ontario. I'm just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris
http://chelencarter-retiredandlovingit.blogspot.ca/

Miriam said...

What a great time! Thank you for sharing your beautiful memories :), Miriam@Meatless Meals For Meat Eaters

sally said...

Mmm...those pastries look delicious!

Kayte said...

Such fun to read all this...I can just picture it all so easily from your descriptions. Fun times, fun to read about it now.

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