insouciance adj. concerning a tranquil mind at its most peaceful state; free from concern, worry, or anxiety.
To say I was absolutely clueless as to what to expect from France would be the understatement of the century. Never having been there, or really been at all exposed to the language, I knew nothing about the country and its customs. In French, there is the term “comme il faut” meaning “how it’s done”. The French have proper ways of doing everything and I had no idea how anything was done. All I really had were horror stories of French rudeness toward Americans, which was a bit terrifying to me, especially knowing how short of a fuse I can have when it comes to people to being unjustifiably rude to me. I’m a bit too sharp of tongue in such instances for my own good. At the same time, my mother and I were very excited to experience something new. Barcelona had left such a sour taste in our mouths that we were ready to wash it away with Nutella crepes and French bread. And so, when we arrived in Montpellier, we were fully prepared with our best “ehs?” to pretend we were Canadian, and boldly set out and about, or should I say oot and aboot.
Due to the fact that our stay in Montpellier was short, only one night, we had previously decided to splurge a bit and get a hotel as the marker of the halfway point of our journey. Or perhaps, I booked our stay so short because we were staying in a hotel and it was much more expensive than the hostels. Either way, the hotel ended up being a good decision, as it was both close to the train station (good thing since we left the next day at 6:30am) and very nice for its price. Our room was about as quintessentially French as your could get, eggshell whitewalls, billowing curtains covering French doors, and most importantly, private and clean. After dropping our packs off, we headed back into city to grab a bite to eat and explore a little bit. Our hotel was right on the edge of the historic district so not only was there a lot to see but tons of restaurants and shops. And the music! Anyone who thinks people playing romantic accordion music on the sets of France to only be the stuff of Disney and Nicholas Sparks would be shocked to find that it is actually 100% true. Every street corner you will bands and musicians with hats and guitar cases set out playing the most beautiful, entrancing music you have ever heard.
After introducing my mother to wonder of Nutella crepes, we found ourselves doing what we do best: shopping. My mother is a sucker for unique things and so when we passed a shop displaying a wide variety of really cute rope sandals, she was hooked. Personally, I don’t shop a lot because I prefer to live a very minimalist existence. It’s a lifestyle I’ve come to prefer over the last couple years as my changing outlook on life has shown me how restricting material things are. Each and every thing we own is an anchor that ties us to a place and perpetuates consumer culture, both things I despise. When I am alone, I am thus extremely good at issuing self control. No matter how cute something is, I am generally strong enough to resist an impulse to buy knowing I will later regret it. My mother, however, is a bad influence. Whenever she is around, my self control is all but nonexistent, especially when I say I’m not going to get something like a pair of sandals and she says, “But these are unique! You’ll never find them again. I’ll even buy them for you.” Well…in that case… And so we both stepped up to the cash register with a new pair of sandals where we found out he didn’t accept credit card, only cash. Since I had had a money fiasco in Barcelona which I forgot to write about in the last post (hey look, another disaster of Barcelona) and could not use my debit card to withdraw cash, we didn’t have enough on us. We did, however, have a debit card given to my mom by our good friend Tom for emergencies. If shoes didn’t constitute an emergency then we didn’t know what would. As we went to remove our new shoes to walk down to an ATM then return to buy them, we were shocked when the store owner insisted we wear the shoes to the ATM. Either we look very trusting or he was new to the whole sales business. Nevertheless, not wanting to offend him, we trekked off in our new unpaid for shoes to the ATM, feeling as though we had done something wrong the entire way. For as often as we break laws, we would not make very good criminals. With new cash, we returned, paid for our shoes, and then went back to the hotel for a scheduled video chat with Tom in order to sort out my debit card issues, thank him for the emergency shoes, and laugh about how our three dogs he is watching ate his lunch that day. He’s far nicer to us than we probably deserve.
For dinner, my mother ate the thing we have been craving the entire time we have been here: pizza. So what if we were in France eating at an Italian restaurant? Sometimes a person just needs pizza. It’s food for the soul. Oddly enough, the restaurant wouldn’t let us a split a pizza and thus we were soon served two gigantic pizzas all to ourselves that would serve as breakfast the next day as well. By this point, I was glad to see that almost everywhere we went, there was someone who could speak English to us but even so, not being able to speak French had left me feeling more helpless than I had the entire time I have been abroad. I really took for granted being able to speak even conversational Spanish in Spain and I realized that here, both my mother and I would essentially be blundering idiots more than we already had been. It makes me curious to know how Eastern Europe is going to go for me. Yet I was also glad to find that no one seemed to fault me for not speaking French as I expected. In fact, everyone had been extremely nice to us (not to jinx it). Maybe southern France is different but everyone seemed to contradict the rude and snobbish stereotypes I kept hearing about. It’s always refreshing when that happens.
So that night at dinner while we sat dining our gourmet pizzas, we engaged in what has become one of our favorite aspects of this trip together: eating and talking. Throughout my entire life, my mother and I have never been short on topics of conversation but I have always wondered how much I don’t know, how much she has never told me. As daughters we have the disadvantage of being born 28 years, in my case, into our mothers’ lives and another 20 away from being able to truly appreciate and understand them. Mothers panic when their children grow and start keeping secrets, doing things they don’t know, but it only seems fair since they have been doing it their entire lives, unintentional or not. This trip, I am with my mother for three weeks and I want to use it to dig into her life, to ask her the questions I’ve always wanted to know. Having never known my father, there is a lot I don’t know and a lot she enter says. I want to hang on her every word, to absorb and memorize these stories so I can retell them one day. As humans, we are entirely comprised of stories. Of all things my grandfather taught me it is that memories are important. My biggest regret is thinking back on my grandfather’s life and realizing how much I never asked, never listened. I won’t make the same mistake again.
After a deep conversation and far too much pizza, we returned to our hotel and basked in having a warm private bathroom where we could take a bath, allowing both the filth and stress of Barcelona to wash away from our skin before collapsing into bed to make up for the sleep deprived to us by our last stop, despite having to get up at 5:30am the next day.