On the plane to a new world, direction Chennai, and the past two weeks I spent in France already seem far away. It came and went in a second, and yet it also lingered, as I was swept up in Remi's hectic preparations for India. It was an in between time, not yet the voyage for Remi, but the conclusion to his time in France, tying up all the loose ends (or at least the most important ones).
There were countless friends and family to visit, doctors appointments to attend, insurance, bank accounts and chommage to organize and somehow never enough time for all the activities we had planned. Not to mention that Remi unfailingly forgot something every time we left the house: wallet, phone, or paperwork (luckily for us you don't really need those things anyway).
I was along for this wild ride, and with all of the time we spent driving around Marseille, things certainly did have the tendency to get wild. I had essentially already gone through the same prepping process before I left the States, although it was an expedited version: I only had time for the basics, visa, vaccines, prescriptions, friends and family. As we made the tour of family and close friends, I reflected on goodbyes. It had been different for me; when I return to the US (and the return is definite, I promise Mom) my life will be essentially waiting for me to pick back up: my friends will still be at school, where I have a year and a half left of university.
The life I return to is more or less certain; I didn't leave behind anything never to pick it back up again. Remi is leaving France without a plan to return, and with nothing to bind him to this country. He quit his job, sold his apartment and his car. There is no expiration date on his voyage and thats the way he wanted it.
And yet, even for me, I am reminded that the nature of the return is never sure. When I last left Aix, I had no idea when I would be back, "at least not for a few years, not before I finish school" I remember thinking oh, so sure of the future on the plane back home, so sad to say goodbye to everything I had constructed over the semester, deeply feeling the weight of this loss.
At Harvard after returning to the states, I found myself reminiscing now and then, my nostalgia for the sun of southern France brought on by the dreary Cambridge days, long hours in the library prompted daydreams of a less demanding academia, and city life inspired nostalgia for the stunning mountains of Provence. So I imagine that it must have been a twist of fate that brought me back to Aix only half a year later. But the world is in constant change; once you leave a place you know you cannot return and find it unchanged.
The Aix I knew existed during a moment in time, and this struck me hard upon my return. I had known it true all along, but back in France, I felt it in a more physical, iminent way. My American classmates were back in the states at their home universities, many of my other friends, both French and International had moved on, finished with their studies. Even the program that had brought me to France had changed, now under new directorship (what is Wellesley in Aix without Madame Masson, after all?? I was forced to ask myself). That period of my life that I had lived in Aix, as clear as I could see it in my mind's eye, was definitively over.
Physically, Aix looks the same; it's beautiful architecture that's been in place already for so many centuries are all still there, the main squares, the little bustling businesses, that's all intact. But it feels different. So many of those little pieces that rendered it my own have dissipated with time. Of the people who did remain, I had the change to get drinks with my host mother and it was a pleasure to reconnect with her a year later. She has hosted another student since I left, and she will soon have one more. Yet this will be her last, she informed me. Her life too is taking a new direction, as she pursues her dream of splitting time between Paris and Aix.
With all these changes, I was surprised and excited when I saw that a friend from Harvard had arrived in Aix. I had met Zanny last semester; she was a classmate in a course on French feminism and we had struck up a friendship. I was excited when she decided to study in Aix, but I had no idea that we would cross paths so far from home. We got together for drinks, she got to meet Remi and a few other French friends, and she even ventured to Marseille for a night. Everything changes with time, but that brings out the unexpected in life. Its not necessarily so important to understand these rhythms of continuity and change, but to live them to the fullest in the moment.
I learned a lot during this stay in Marseille. I learned about the workings of various French institutions through all of Remi's errands. I learned about his life and met wonderful, welcoming people. I partied in Marseille (not so scary after all). I lost myself in the hills of Allauch, a beautiful and hidden corner of Marseille where I went running and hiking. I made friends with the family donkey. I ate cheese that was made right in the family kitchen, from the chevres that live their bucolic life in the backyard. I befriended Remi's adorable nephew, who never really did master the pronunciation of my name but who sure did give it a good try.
Oh yeah, and of course, the intensive French continued. I was put to the test: a raucous game of taboo with Remi's familly, girls versus boys. I dreaded playing, I was at an inherent disadvantage after all and that was not my idea of a fun time: I may be known to be a sore loser when it comes to taboo. We started playing, my heart pumping with adrenaline and stress, which somehow, miraculously gave way to laughter. Was I having fun? Oh wait, I was actually good at this game! Everyone was eclat de rire, and the competition was sharp through the final round. But in the end, I am proud to say, the best team did win.