As you may know, I’m not generally a huge fan of tradition. But when I visited my old host family in the south of France last weekend, I was glad not many things had changed!
I lived in Varages for 6 months at the age of 14 through a private exchange. In 7th or 8th grade, I had come home one day from school and told my mom I’d like to live in France someday (thinking maybe when I was 30 or something). A couple days later, she told me she had found a way for me to live in France! She had found a friend of a friend of a friend who had a daughter that wanted to spend 6 months in the States… so in the fall of 2000, Perrine Plouvier stayed with my family, and in the spring of 2001, I stayed with her family.
Since 2001, I have only been able to visit once for a few days with my sister (maybe around 2003?). So as you can imagine, I was nervous and excited to visit last weekend…for the first time in around 7 years!! I was only able to stay for less than two full days, but it was just what I needed to be reminded of what a wonderfully important experience I had there in 2001, and that I need to visit more often. I was also reminded of how strong and important the senses are! I may have an awful memory, but at least my brain involuntarily remembers smells and sounds and touch, etc.
I arrived by train, then bus to St. Maximin – a small village outside of the even smaller village of Varages. Perrine and her boyfriend Florian picked me up. Hearing Perrine speak French to be felt so familiar; it was like seeing my long-lost big sister! And driving from St. Maximin to Varages was unreal. I had forgotten the names of the small towns between, but at the same time, I felt like I knew exactly where I was. The curves of the road were familiar… even the same ole bumps on the gravel driveway made me smile in remembering. (And Perrine said, “On n’a toujours pas refait la route!”) I felt home. As I greeted Perrine’s siblings and their significant others, as well as my host-mom Caroline and host-dad Jean-Luc, it felt like just yesterday that I was there. For the most part, everyone looks and acts the same. Though just as I was telling Caroline that not much has changed, she said, “Et Bastien?” Bastien, the youngest of the 5 kids, walked in the door and I smiled in disbelief. Bastien marks the passage of time. When I lived there, he was 10. Now he’s almost 20. He has finished high school and is about to study film. I can’t even believe a decade has gone by. Caroline told me to make myself at home (which worked out well since I felt like I was home anyway!), and as I walked around the house, I was overwhelmed with small familiarities. I glanced at the piano and remembered playing it during the darkest times of my life; I easily found my way through that room that’s always dark – glancing down the stairs that lead to… well… the only thing I remember them leading to was a secret freezer that had Snickers Ice Cream Bars!; I walked up the stairs, thinking – how many times have I tripped up these stairs?!; then at the top of the stairs – a big inhale… yup, same ole scent; then stepping on that same loose brick in the floor! I could go on and on. Each room flooded my thoughts with memories, both good and bad, and I welled up with tears. As soon as I was alone for a moment, I burst into tears, reminded by my favorite StoryPeople: “She said she cried at least once a day, not because she was sad, but because the world was so beautiful, and life was so short.” Here is a beautiful family that is so connected to my own family, yet at the same time, the two families barely know each other at all. I sincerely hope we’ll all do more visiting between families. Hell, after that weekend, I’m ready to move permanently to the south of France!
It was a chill two days. Shortly after I arrived, we headed to the pool – one of my favorite parts of their property! The sun was good for me, and all the kids and their significant others playfully fired water balloons at one another. (If only more people disputed with water balloons instead of guns…wars would result in everyone drenched and laughing!) After an afternoon at the pool, we sat around and drank wine and talked before having pizza for dinner! Talk about familiar senses… when I lived there, we ordered Pizza Regis every Saturday night for dinner. Good thing I visited on a Saturday this time! On Sunday morning, we went to the Varages Brocante – an all-village antique/yard sale. It was awesome, and if I lived in the area, I probably would’ve bought everything. Then, back home for another afternoon at the pool! I also spent some time looking at the sun through a telescope with Jean-Luc. What was once just a hobby for him when I lived in Varages has become his most recent passion! He has built four observatories and has big plans for more. He told me about people coming to stay at the bed and breakfast they run, and that when he shows them the stars and other planets, they are afraid! “They are afraid because they begin to realize how small we are in relation to it all… that we are nothing.” It was a moving reminder for me of the many conversations Jean-Luc and I used to have about God and the universe. These observatories are his church, and I can’t contend with that. In the evening, a few of us visited a winery in the area to do a tour and tasting. Then, back home to eat dinner and watch the World Cup before bed and an early morning to train back to Paris.
What a beautiful opportunity I had to live there…and I keep realizing that more and more every day. Here’s the best news of all – you could spend time there too! The Plouviers run a bed and breakfast (in French…gites et chambers d’hotes). Their property is beautiful, and although they’re in a small village, they are conveniently located close to many wonderful sights in the south of France. I hope to go back soon, so anyone who’s interested in coming with me, let me know!
Sorry it took me so long to get my thoughts down… I’ll write again soon with some details of Bastille Day and also some recent thoughts on conducting! In the meantime, check out my photos from Varages!