Bon Voyage!: New chapter, views
It takes me 25 minutes to walk to class everyday from my host’s apartment.
But it is a commute that is no bother at all, especially now that spring has arrived in Aix-en-Provence. The morning and afternoon walk, accompanied by the warm Mistral winds, has become a daily time for me to meditate on where I am and how my life has diverged down another path.
My daily routine is not terribly different from Towson, just filled with a different set of sensations. I do some last minute reading over tea and the previous nights’ unfinished baguette. Then I get ready, hunt for my keys and take to the streets of Aix. The air is always warmer than expected. I walk by a pharmacy and an impromptu open-air market that sometimes appears.
I pass a schoolyard full of kids perpetually in recess, it seems. Kids are even more adorable when they all speak French.
Cars and buses pass with European license plates. I keep walking, hands in my pockets, wondering if the people I pass can tell I am American.
I turn down a residential street I discovered to be a good short cut. It is filled with villas and mansions done in a classic French Chateau style.
They have decorative wrought iron fences, large windows with flower boxes, terra-cotta roofs and wooden shutters painted light blue or burnt orange.
I turn a couple more corners. When the concrete turns into cobblestones it means I have reached the heart of Aix.
Bronze tiles with the name Cézzane molded in them are dispersed among the stones reminding me this is the land of famous painters and their inspiration.
History is everywhere. During my walk I daydream what it would be like to take away the cars and street signs, the people in modern clothing and visualize what Aix was 100, 300, 400 years ago all the way back to the Romans.
I experience just a piece of this old life still vibrant alongside the new life I am living. This daily routine has caused me to feel as though I am living two separate lives, my American life and my French life.
I have built a life in Aix through habitual actions, by going to my favorite places with close group of friends. But what about my life in America?
That is where my life really is. I have a supportive family, a loving boyfriend of two-and-a half years and friends.
I feel pangs of sadness when I think of them, that they are not a part of what I have here and in turn they will never fully understand this chapter of my life.
Yet there also exists responsibility for life at home in the roles I have. I am a citizen, a girlfriend, a daughter, a sister and an employee.
I have to finish a degree, save money for my future, get an internship and eventually find a job.
Therefore Aix is an ephemeral state of living, offering a reality no less fantastical than a dream state. Here I am just an American student. America is always a part of my identity.
Aix is missing that sense of responsibility for my existence that is so pressing at home.
So though it feels like I am building a life here, it is more like I am building a structure of normalcy.
Thus my heartstrings feel like an accordion being squeezed and stretched as I think about one and then the other.
This experience is so large, so different from everything I have known and so eye opening that Aix cannot merely blend in with the course of my life, which is why it feels like I live two different lives.
My hope is that by the end of this trip I will have found a way to neatly place Aix alongside the rest of my existence.
Till then, though I cannot wait to see my parents at the terminal or go on a date with my boyfriend, I also cannot think of packing my suitcase and saying goodbye to my friends and Joelle, my host Mom.
Ah well, c’est la bittersweet existence of studying abroad.