If you’ve ever taken a class with me, you would probably be unsurprised to know that I planned on giving this article an ambitiously clever and all-encompassing title, something probably along the lines of “Flights I Have Missed or Accidentally Taken,” or “The Paranoid Guide to Europe” (that would of course feature key vocab such as serial killer [un serial killer] and to send oneself in a nervous spiral [bad-tripper].) But it turns out that just these two weeks in Bordeaux have already outgrown any catchy title. Every step of the way so far has been both harder and easier than I expected it to be. (It’s also almost eliminated my English-speaking and writing abilities, so bear with me here.)
See, the idea of being abroad is one of seemingly boundless opportunity – French cafés, nightclubs (these are called boîtes de nuit, or, literally, night boxes), red wine and crèpes, wearing lots of black and writing a bleak and highly metaphorical novel about the ever-changing view from a skylight. I’m not ruling any of these out, but the immediate reality of being abroad turns out to more frequently mean sitting in a stranger’s apartment, inexplicably watching Shrek the Third in a foreign language while the owner of said apartment liberally sprays the air with roach killer, assuming that this also works as mosquito repellent. (Due to a language barrier, the engrossing nature of the Kingdom of Dulock, and the fact that she may be onto something, I did not correct her.) You’re in France, yes, but it turns out that France will not come to you. You need to put down your jellybeans and go out and find her. So, in that vein, here are some of the things that I’ve found in my two weeks before Paris:
1) The smallest and dustiest Roman crypts possible, located underneath the church that I pass by on the way to class. There wasn’t much to tell about the catacombs since most of the tombs seemed to have been raided years ago, but I left them a rose from the church garden just in case, since you never know when spirits might need appeasing.
2) A wine-tasting class, and afterwards a visit to a chateau to taste their selection. Attention all drama majors: If you’re looking for a career that uses our highly specific skill set of creating an atmospheric yet esoteric triumph of evocative language (this is a good start here), then crafting the “world of the wine” is for you! I guarantee that you already have the required aura of all-knowing mystery and the alcohol tolerance. Just learn French and you’ll be all set.
3) A topless beach. To be fair, it may not have been a topless beach. But it was in Europe and at least one other lady was doing it. Besides, how many of you can say that the housing director of your program has seen your breasts? How many of you want to be able to say that?
4) Sung and played guitar sur les quais (on the waterfront) with assorted Frenchmen, all of whom assume that my name can’t actually be Beautiful (Belle en français means beautiful) and that I either don’t speak their language or must be attempting to seduce them. Also, they all play Wonderwall by Oasis. Like, ALL of them know this song and want to sing it with you.
5) An actual life size mechanical T. Rex. That’s right, travel advisory: There are dinosaurs in Bordeaux.
6) The Dune du Pyla, the highest sand dune in Europe. Scaling it is much more difficult in practice than in theory, and by the time I had reached the top I was considering asking for a rescue helicopter (toujours une crise) since I was pretty sure I had developed asthma on the way up and would of course have to start a new life on top of the dune. Actually, there was already a couple starting a new life on top of the dune, a bride and groom taking their wedding photos. The bride must have been made of steel to have scaled this sand mountain in full wedding regalia plus train. French women are tough.
On the subject of tough French women, I’ll leave you with words of wisdom from my mosquito-slaying host mother, who, whenever I was going out, contemplating going out, or putting on makeup of any kind, would always say to me, “Profitez d’avoir 20 ans! Profitez d’être jeune et belle! Profitez de la vie!” (This means literally, “Profit from being 20! Enjoy being young and beautiful! Make the most of life!”) It turns out, she’s absolutely right. JYA is what you make of it, and Paris is waiting (tomorrow, in fact). Profitez-en!