After an entire summer – all the way up to yesterday – of barely believing that I hadn’t made this whole thing up, I always expected The Day Of to blindside me. Perhaps it would come screaming down out of a clear sky with that particular mix of terror and exhilaration usually reserved for first-time skydivers: Sacré bleu! En garde! Quelle fromage! Better lose those clichés, little lady, cause weeeeeeeeee’re outa here!
As it turns out, it sort of sidled up, gave me the old sidelong glance, and lit a cigarette.
And so reality seeps in by degrees. No more fights to convince my brain of impending relocation; the first time I looked at the GPS on the plane to Munich from Philidelphia, it put us off the coast of Nova Scotia, somewhere slightly west of the sunken Titanic. And how’s this for luck – I had the best seat-neighbor on the flight over, a theatre and German double major from Louis & Clark named Devan who is off to Munich to study abroad for a whole year. We talked dramaturgy, language instruction, Hungarian history and folk music traditions, the astonishing excellence of Neil Patrick Harris, and figured out that we could play trivia on the touch-sensitive tv screens with other unknown members of the flight. Better than eight hours of mildly uncomfortable silence? Yeah, a bit. I LOVE making plane friends.
I think that airports, being extensions of limbo-space, sidestep the normal passage of time (aided and abetted by time zones, a most disconcerting and arbitrary institution). How can it be a whole day since I left Denver? Also, how can it possibly have only been one day? Let it never be said, however, that the Munich International Airport does not employ helpful people. I asked many questions of all sorts of people, even tried to go through customs without showing my passport, and invariably got swift answers in lovely accented English, and a smile. They were very tolerant.
And now I’m here, tucked into a beautiful first-floor room with a wide window and green shutters, all of my nerves having dissolved in the flood of information – the streets of Aix, the color of a late Provençal summer, the background noise of French voices, the smell of espresso from the street cafés. This town is beautiful, and totally unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. We took a walking tour of downtown, tracing the twenty-minute route through the center of the city from my host mother’s house to school, and found ourselves threading through an endless crowd possessed of the density I usually associate with much-anticipated urban festivals. Est’ce que tous les samedis sont comme ça? I asked my host mother, Michèle, as we joined a rapt audience watching a boy who couldn’t have been more than eleven playing a grand piano in the middle of the Cours Mirabeau. Oui, she said, smiling. C’est l’été. It’s summer.
Actually, I do have one serious worry left (besides that I can’t get my voltage adaptors to work and thus my computer battery is in imminent danger), which is that I’m in over my head with this language business. The truth is, I’m a total novice. They think I’m qualified to take THREE upper-level French courses? Do they realize I understand about one word in thirty of full-speed French, and form spoken sentences like I just got out of 101? Ah, me. Written placement tests can be so misleading.
I’ve been chipping away at this mild panic with various sensible arguments. First, I may be hysterical for no reason. Considering that these classes are designed for American students, I might not be as out of my depth as it seems. Second, if I truly have no idea what’s going on, I can drop the class, or switch. I don’t need any of the credits anyway, so why stress? Third, outside of class, no one knows that the school has mistakenly identified me as being actually proficient in the language, so I can play the plus lentement, s’il vous plaît and repetez, s’il vous plaît cards as much as necessary. No one will judge. But then, they were never going to, really. I made that all up in my head. My aunt and uncle tell me that pretty girls who are scrupulously polite generally have it okay in the Mediterreanean countries.
I promise pictures tomorrow; we’re planning more city-exploring, and there’s an IAU (Institute for American Universities, i.e., my school) open house in the evening. The language thing sure is scary, but the rest of it is extraordinary. Tomorrow I get to throw open my green shutters and say, “Bonjour, Provence!” to the new morning. As we say in the United States, how cool is that?