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.