Saturday, December 14, 2013


Many people have been asking about the month long pause since the time of my last post. I had to check to verify that it's really been a month - yup, November 15th was the date of my last post. It certainly doesn't feel like it's been a month. Time flies, or as we say in French, "le temps passe vite". I wish I could say that with my emploi du temps charge (my busy schedule), I just haven't had time to write. Even though I'm much busier now than before, I've had plenty of free time to write over the past month. And to be honest, I've known exactly what I was going to write about for the past three weeks. All I had to do was retype bits from my journal into this blog. But something was holding me back. I wasn't ready to share. So I'm truly sorry about the wait. Voilà.

The last time you heard from me, it was November, about a week and a half before Thanksgiving. And now it's a week and a half before Christmas. This time of year  is quite particular for a number of reasons. First of all, the weather seems to change all at once. One day the trees are covered with multicolored leaves and the next thing you know, they are bare. Chicago usually gets its first snowfall at this time of year. Perpignan experienced three days of heavy rains, followed by powerful winds that carried a cold front into the city. I was well aware that the 75° beach weather wasn't going to last through the winter, but still, it wasn't a welcome change. Luckily it only snowed up in the mountains (which are quite a spectacular sight, I must say). Anyway, there is something about the transition from Autumn to Winter that can leave some people

Then there's the fact that the holidays are approaching. The 'holiday season' evokes different sentiments - positive, negative or mixed - depending on who you are and what your story is. Some people bubble with excitement, while others stress about preparations or anticipate family problems. Some people are flooded with old memories. But all that aside, this time of year tends stir up feelings of homesickness for people living abroad (or anyone not coming home for the holidays).Now, I've been incredibly spoiled: for the past three years, I've gotten to spend either Thanksgiving or Christmas in Paris with Hiro. It's a beautiful city all year round, but when the holiday lights go up (in mid-november), it's truly magical.

This year, Hiro brought his mother and brother along. We did far more in two days than you could imagine! I won't list everything, but here were some highlights: Visiting the Palace of Versaille, dining at Le Comptoir du Relais (which Hiro has been talking about doing for two years), watching the Eiffel Tower light up at night, strolling along Rue Mouffetard, and visiting all the best chocolateries in Paris. 

Classy, right? Full disclosure: at times we behaved much more like children than the "sophisticated adults" that we are. How? Here are some examples: (1) arguing with Hiro about the pronunciation of the word "quartier" (I won the argument!), (2) immitating the Africans selling "1euro" Eiffel Tower keychains on the street, (3) cracking up about the shit (in the literal sense) on the bathroom floor, and (4) doing aerobics in front of the Eiffel Tower to keep warm. Ironically, these were the scenes on replay in my mind when I returned from my brief holiday. Forget the Hall of Mirrors, the Pantheon, and the fine works of art we saw. The slightest reminder of our conneries caused my chest to tighten and a tear to well up in my eye. Humans are weird that way I guess. I don't know why or how nostalgia works, but as I was thinking about it, I was reminded of a scene from Madmen where Don Draper explains:

 Nostalgia - it's delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek, "nostalgia" literally means "the pain from an old wound." It's a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn't a spaceship, it's a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards... it takes us to a place where we ache to go a place where we know are loved. 
Well that explains it! It explains how I could be having the time of my life with the love of my life in Paris, and still be missing my family's Thanksgiving meal. It explains why the day Hiro left Paris and I had the whole day to do whatever I wanted in the city, I choose to distract myself by drinking Kir Pêche and watching the Hunger Games. It explains why people and places I took for granted back home suddenly seem so much more meaningful (let's not talk about how I cried a little when watching Ferris Bueller's Day Off with my students). It explains (partially) why the pumpkin pie I baked and brought to the teacher's lounge the week of Thanksgiving was best damn pie I've had in my life (the other reason being that I'm a gifted pastry chef (If Sodara reads this, j'aime bien le cuisson au four)). Anyway, everyone at school loved my tarte à la citrouille!!!  

Bref, according to Don Draper, nostalgia is a "time machine". I agree. The slightest triggers - particular sights, sounds or music, odors, sensations - can carry us away to a different time or place. It's complicated because here you are, having this incredible and unique experience (in stores for a limited time only) in a different country, yet part of you longs for home - for the people and places you love. So how to you balance your feelings of nostalgia and missing home with your desire to be fully present in the here and now? Like I said, it's complicated.

My first reaction to these feelings was denial. You're fine Aria. You're having the time of your life - you can't possibly be homesick. Unfortunately denial only worked for so long - I was forced to confront my feelings. Which brought on more feelings - namely guilt. You're the one who chose to come here - nobody forced you. Are you ungrateful or something? You can't have your cake and eat it too, unless you're Marie Antoinette and she wound up without her head. But feeling guilty only clouded my mind and pulled me further out of the present. I was in a fix. Denial didn't work. Guilt didn't work. Then I had a revelation: what if I gave myself permission to feel whatever I was feeling? Without judgment or attachment. Maybe all I needed was some time. Afterall, I have plenty of it. What was the rush to overcome my bout of homesickness? Isn't it natural to feel a bit homesick at times when you're living in a foreign country? I knew it would be part of the deal when I signed up for this. In fact, if I thought "a year abroad" was going to be easy all the time, I don't think I'd have been interested. So I decided I would give my emotions time and space to exist, instead of trying to drive them away.That didn't mean I was going to mope around and be a depressive. Definitely not. If you know me well, you know I love creating lists and plans. It shouldn't surprise you that I made a homesickness relief plan, found below:

Aria's Homesickness Relief Plan
  1. Practice yoga and meditation daily
  2. Put on a fuzzy sweater & wool socks
  3. Start a good new book (and read under the covers)
  4. Rent and watch a couple of feel good movies (I finally got a library card, so I can borrow all the DVDs I want)
  5. Drink chamomile tea
  6. Indulge in extra dark chocolate
  7. Track down a Starbucks (or the closest thing to it - in Perpignan, it's Colombia Café)
  8. Grab a drink or a meal with friends
  9. Clean and do laundry (I don't know why, but this one always works!)
  10. Write postcards
  11. Listen to music
  12. Burn incense
  13. Do a craft project
  14. Take a long walk or go on a long bikeride - just breathe fresh air
  15. Notice the changes happening in nature 
  16. Make someone laugh or smile
  17. Hug someone
  18. Get organized - really organized
  19. Give 110% at your job
  20. Skype with family and friends; tell them how much you miss them 

So I spent the last three weeks executing items one through twenty on my plan, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I even felt grateful for the more difficult moments - without them my experience living abroad would be monotone and eventually boring. I'd rather live somewhere where there are four distinct seasons than somewhere where the climate is 75°F and sunny all year round, even if it means some cold and dreary weeks in the winter. After all with the latter, people become jaded. They come to expect nice weather all the time, so they don't appreciate it. In Chicago, the first day temperatures break 55°F, you see people outside in shorts! No - I could not live without the different seasons. Their changing colors, moods and elements keep things interesting. And I feel the same way about emotions. Hot and cold. Humid and dry. Sunny and gray. There is a time for everything. And luckily there is time for it all.


*The following poem was inspired by two of the themes explored in this post: time and weather. In French, the word temps means both time and weather. 

Il fait beau temps. Mais pas tout le temps.
De temps en temps, il fait mauvais temps. Même temps chiotte.
Quelquefois, les temps sont un peu durs. 
Et pendant ce temps-là, je cherche les passes-temps
Pour remplir mon emploi du temps,
Car je travaille à mi-temps
Et j'ai tout le temps, même quand je prends mon temps.
C'est étonnant que dans le temps, je n'avais pas le temps
Pas de temps d'arrêt, pas de temps de récupération
Pas de temps chômé, pas de temps libre.
Maintenant le temps écoule. J'ai peur qui ça passe trop vite.
Quel temps fait-il? Enfin, peu importe.
Que ça soit le temps couverts, chaud, affreux ou beau,
Au moins je vis en temps réel.

It is nice weather. But not all the time.
From time to time, it's bad weather. Even shitty weather.
Sometimes times are a little hard.
And during those times, I look for passtimes
To fill up my schedule
Because I work part time
And I have plenty of time, even when I take my time
It's astonishing that in the old days, I didn't have any time
No break time, no recovery time
No idle time, no free time.
Now time runs. I worry that it moves too fast.
What's the weather? You know, doesn't matter.
Whether it's overcast, hot, awful or beautiful,
At least I'm living in real time.

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