26 May 2008

Happy Birthday Week

Birthdays are special days in my family. So special, in fact, you get to celebrate them all week long: the weekend before, the week of, and the weekend after can be filled with celebrations, gifts, happiness, and excuses (“C’mon, it’s my birthday!”). I think it’s my mother’s fault we celebrate birthdays this way. It’s not such a bad tradition…

So my birthday week began with the Quebecoises’ visit to Strasbourg last weekend. It continued uneventfully through Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday as I waited for my friend Nicole from Manchester (the one I visited in Marburg, Germany, where she is studying) to arrive. Unfortunately in the meantime, the weather took a turn for the worse, so that when I picked her up at the train station Wednesday afternoon and we joined other BCAers for an end-of-year barbecue, thick clouds and grayness and wind made for a cool-weather gathering. We still enjoyed ourselves, running around with Alex’s four young sons, playing ultimate Frisbee, trying to catch a muskrat, and building human pyramids. But the weather didn’t make for very good pictures, so imagine a lake, a campfire, food, champagne, and a Frisbee. Yeah, that should be it.

The big day was actually Thursday, no sunnier or warmer. Nicole and I slept in, made a big breakfast, rented her a bike, and biked out to the small town where I teach English. We picnicked and explored the paths through the fields. The problem is, I have SUCH a good sense of direction that I forget to take into account natural barriers: I had us on a path through the fields back toward the forest path I knew, and it curved a bit but kept going in the right direction. Despite Nicole’s voiced doubts of my sanity, we kept on. Then the path went from gravel to dirt, then to grass, then entered the woods, then dead-ended at…a river. Bothersome things. BUT we were never lost!

We came home and cleaned up, then went to l’Artichaut, my favorite café in town. I go there with friends on Thursdays to listen to the jazz jam sessions. Nicole and I went for dinner, and I had invited nearly all my friends to stop by for a drink. It was a good crowd: friends from dance class, several other BCA students, Hayley, Manuel (nationalities present: US, French, Australian, Greek, Colombian, German)…and those who couldn’t come by sent messages. It was a wonderful evening, I liked the food, the music, the company, the conversation. No one bought me drinks, obliged me to have a “traditional” 21st birthday (although I hear my sisters are planning it for my return). In the late evening, a piece of chocolate-pear tart (nothing compared to Mom’s yellow cake and chocolate frosting, or Grandma’s puppy chow!) came to the table with a candle in it, and everyone sang happy birthday and the entire bar chimed in. I have seldom been so happy, so thankful.

In the wee hours of the morning, we called it a night and left satisfied. And none of this takes into account all of YOUR efforts: a birthday song by phone from my parents, cards from friends (and their pets), and emails in every form. Thank you, thank YOU, THANK YOU!

But, as I said before, the celebrations continue: on Friday Nicole and I took a day trip to Saverne, an old town at the foot of the Vosges mountains. We hiked up to the chateau of Haut Barr, a gothic castle/fort topping the mountain and offering a view of the plains stretching out toward Strasbourg. We picnicked again, and returned to town to meet the parents of Charlotte, the French student who will be studying at Manchester next year. They invited Leslie, Cassie, Nicole and I for an aperitif at their house, then a typically Alsatian tarte flambée dinner in a restored barn-restaurant somewhere in the countryside. It was by far the best tarte flambée I’ve ever had.

Saturday we rested: a short trip into town to the Hospices de Strasbourg, the renowned wine cellar that’s part of the city hospital, where I chat and chortle with Philippe, who recommends wine for Nicole to take back with her. In the afternoon, we watched a movie and Nicole cooked up a fabulous dinner, which we shared with Hélène from my tango class, and then played cards.

Sunday morning almost all the BCA students left town. They will be settled back at home (some after a very long séjour) now, surrounded by loved ones. A large part of me envies them.

I was glad the family I teach English in (Laurence, the mother, specifically) invited me to celebrate French Mothers’ Day with their family and the grandparents. The meal was amazing, and the family is full of characters. At one point, when they were debating the three best cheeses in France, after having informed me about the proper way to store wine and how to know how long to store it and how sometimes you have to change the corks…I realized that, no denying it, I am living in France. Sometimes it just hits you. And a large part of me does not at all envy those who had left for home that morning. Professors, surprisingly enough, are usually very wise people: you were right, part of my home will always be here in Strasbourg. I thought about that as I dozed blissfully under the cherry tree in the yard and the grandpa jabbered on about Alsatian history. Can’t complain about this birthday week. My goal now is to remember and celebrate everyone else’s birthday in such a way.

I think it’s normal, to feel divided like this about leaving this place that has welcomed me these last ten months. I wish human beings were not capable of feeling to opposing emotions at the same time, but I think that’s the way we spend most of our existence. Try to keep that in mind when I come back. I will be happy, overjoyed even, to see you; but I imagine it will be tempered by some uneasiness, some nostalgia; overall, I expect it to just be very strange to see you, in person.


Hilary said...

Happy BELATED Birthday to you! I Love You and cannot wait to see you! Sounds like you had a great "birthday week" :)

Hilary said...

Just a side note :) you come home a month from today!!! YEAH!!!