“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
Buenas Noches from Barcelona! This weekend my group and I took an impromptu trip from Monpellier down to Spain, frankly, because we can. The trip was short, but entirely worth it; the city is most definitely everything it claims to be. On Saturday morning I visited la Sagrada Famillia, a stunning catholic cathedral that was begun in the 18th century by famous Spanish Architect Gaudi. The building was inturipted by Gaudi`s death and then again by the Spanish revolution, and it was never finished. It stands now, with its scaffolding still in place, unfinished and incomplete; the mere shell of what it was meant to become. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful cathedrals but something about la Sagrada Famillia mesmerized me and made me inexplicably sad. I found myself staring at the breaks in between the scaffolds where there should have been windows and the bricks that were laid and it all seemed like such a spectacular tragedy—its incompleteness. I wondered about all the dreams that the original architect and patrons must have had when they began. How they must have lain awake at night dreaming up the perfect placement of an arch or a curve of a turret. I wondered who had to be the one to decide to halt the construction—how hard it must have been to give up after completing so much of it. And I wondered most of all what is might have been like, had have been finished.
Sometimes I wonder if I`m not a bit like la Sagrada Familia. If I don’t spent a large part of my life pouring myself into things just to lose it on the follow through. If I`m not becoming everything I want to be 70 percent of the time and then undermining it all by being an idiot for the other 30. I have such big dreams and idealistic beliefs but I put them into action so infrequently that I wonder if I can even call them mine anymore. I realized this weekend how hard it will be to attend church while I’m abroad. As of right now it looks like I won`t have a weekend free until May. As phenomenal of an experience as I know all this travel is going to be—finding a church and working on my faith was one of my biggest goals while abroad, and it’s looking like it will be harder than I ever imagined.
I looked up La Sagrada Familla when I got home tonight, and it turns out, hundreds of years later, they aren`t finished yet. They have restarted the building and it is set to be finished in approximately 30 years, well over a century after it`s planning began. I also decided to pass up the day trip my group is taking to Marseilles on Sunday, I`m sure the city will be astounding, but I`ve found an international church here in Montpellier that is calling my name. Because I don`t want to leave this growing experience unfinished—I don’t want to gain the sights and the sounds and experiences of Europe and not gain its spirituality. I don’t want to simply use this time to avoid the challenges I left at home—I want to take this time to fix them; to build something that is beautiful and whole and everything it was planned to be… even if it takes a century longer than expected.
It feels as though years may have passed in the last 5 days. It is hard to even know where to begin to explain my last 3 days in gorgeous Montpellier, France. I wish only that I would be able to describe the way I feel in the morning, as I walk to language school and the golden sunshine illuminates the street I live on. Both sides are composed of the most stereotypically French white buildings and wrought iron balconies. There are moments when I look around at the fountains of town center and the patios full of covered umbrellas and the endless labyrinth of cobblestone streets covered in creperies and French cafes, that I stop and wonder if this could possibly be real life.
I spend my mornings in class learning French (which is going surprisingly well, all things considered). During lunch we go into the village center where the whole city of Montpellier appears to congregate— the narrow roads of cars zipping past combining with a blur of people lining to buy sandwiches and quiche from sidewalk boulongouries. My afternoons are spent exploring the beautiful city that is already feeling like home, and doing my French homework in the proverbial French café and sunlit patio. My nights are spent with bottles of 2£ bottles of wine and the other people in my study group—we get along swimmingly, and I am terribly in love with them all already. We spend the nights getting lost among the winding streets and meeting friends in Irish pubs, and the occasional evening at the Australian Bar, our very own Euro-jug, complete with Justin Timberlake throwbacks and some new French favs.
Life is one might say, close to perfect, though as always, not quite. I`m still in that stage of transition where I`m not quite sure what tone I am setting for the next 6 months—what I want this experience to be. I`m trying to figure out what needs to be a priority, and what can be left to simmer on the back burner. I`m also trying to discover who I am here, as cliché as that sounds, or as the French might call it, L`raison de Etre. But, at the moment, le Chat is asleep, snuggled under my covers, and I`m about to go have dinner with Madame, who prepares the most delicious and French meals, and spends the hour talking with me in patient French about her adventures all over the world. So, I really can`t complain about anything, except perhaps about the fact that I only have a month here.
There are some moments that are just too large to be swallowed as they happen but instead must be digested slowly. Before then, they simply sit in your stomach and refuse to feel real. The last three days have been composed of thousands upon thousands of inedible moments, few of which my mind has even begun to digest. I am so full of thoughts, and places, and languages that if I tried to describe even a fraction of them I am sure I would explode into incoherent projectile word vomit.
Among the wreckage of words and images you would see the mountains and gorges of Switzerland transform into the green countryside of the south of France through the blur of a train window. You might find the full moon as it begins to rise above vivid pink clouds from a lingering flaming sunset and the steeples of French churches and tiny cottage towns. You might find Jue de Paume; the street I will call home for the next 4 weeks here in Montpellier.
Tonight is my first night at my homestay in Montpellier, France. We arrived from Geneva by train at around 6:30pm and I was met by Madame Gouchard, who lives in a flat in a building so beautiful is seems as though I must be imagining its white granite walls, wrought iron balconies, pillars, and vaulted ceilings. My roommate has been detained by visa issues, and won’t be here until the end of the week so tonight it was just me and Madame, who speaks, I gather, about as much English as I do French, which you can imagine, isn’t saying very much at all.
So tonight, as I sit alone in a small town in the South of France, without friends, or language, or internet, I feel as alone, and as far from home, as I have in as long as I can remember. It is not an unpleasant loneliness, but it is fierce. Yet, somehow the loneliness makes this whole thing feel more real. The world feels larger than it ever has, and I feel smaller. But a giant world means a world of opportunity—a world of adventure. A world that tomorrow, I will begin to explore.
As I write, the ground lies almost a mile beneath my feet; round bulbs of light protrude from the inky blackness and make the whole earth look like a giant Lite-Bright. In roughly 6 hours my flight will land in Madrid; my last stopover en-route to Geneva. As it seems, the trip has been rather uneventful so far, after a little repacking (damn you 50lb weight limit) my Dad waved me goodbye in Buffalo and I headed off to Chicago. A few minutes ago I finished my 1st book, and at the moment I am unable to begin on my second one. My mind is still in the fuzzy stage between fiction and reality, when the characters from my last novel are still too real to be replaced by new ones.
I love flying. I love the feeling of ripping off the ground and finally being released into a floating oblivion, with nothing but invisible and mysterious laws of nature to keep you afloat. I’ve been through a lot of American airports, but never Chicago, so as the plane lifted off the ground I had the strange and exciting thought that everything I saw from that point on would be new. Little did I know that every last college student planning on studying abroad this semester would be on my plane to Madrid. When I arrived at the gate it was already a sea of Northface fleece jackets, Vera Bradley hand luggage, and obnoxious stuffed neck pillows. I almost turned around and gave up right there. Suddenly I wondered if I would ever again be able to truly escape the foreign culture I had been dropped into about 3 years ago—if there might never be a place where I no longer feel that constricting feeling of un-belonging.
But, when I boarded the plane I was happy to see I was seated beside what I thought to be a friendly old Spanish man. Who smiled heartily when I pointed to the seat beside him, and helped me safely stow my hand luggage (It seems that my sophomore English teacher might have meant more than just to crush my dreams when he informed me that flight attendants have to be at least 5’7, those things are tall). For about the next half hour I tried to pluck up the nerve to practice my Spanish and start a conversation with him, until he leaned over and began talking to me in a language that most assuredly was not Spanish. It turns out he is Romanian, of which I unfortunately know not a word, and so now he just grins at me periodically, and I smile back, remembering my own smiling pleas on airplanes full of people who couldn’t understand a word I said. Sitting here beside him, I find myself back at that familiar, and somehow comfortable realization that I am only one voice in a world of different stories and languages. I realize, as he tries valiantly (but unsuccessfully) to understand the stewardess, that though these 20isomething college students on my airplane might speak my language, this man understands me in a way that they never will. It will be such a relief, in some ways, to be a real foreigner again. To look like I don’t belong, in the way that I feel that I don’t.
Well, they have dimmed the cabin lights and I have an early morning tomorrow (that is, if you call 1:30am morning) so I should probably try to get some sleep. I wonder how my Romanian friend feels about drool.