14 December 2010

La vie en rose

I am feeling particularly content this week, even amidst busy concludings and preparings that often accompany the end of a semester and the beginning of a holiday break. Since I last wrote, the strength of my friendships and new connections this year has become abundantly clear, and the bounty of my community has graced my table, my travel, my life.

Even aside from the innumerable things I have to be thankful for, Thanksgiving was a momentous occasion in itself. Luz and Anna let me decorate the apartment with hand-made turkeys, cornucopia baskets, and feather headbands as part of the preparation for the ultimate cooking marathon and Thanksgiving dinner. The menu chalked on our kitchen wall read: crispy mashed potatoes, whole wheat rolls, spicy pear crumble, sweet corn, squash soup, pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, sweet potato biscuits, baked mac and cheese, stuffing, green beans in lemon sauce, and finally turkey, which I purchased direct from my favorite Mercat de Sant Antoni. It’s rare that I cook meat at all, let alone an entire bird, and believe me it was an exciting experiment (highly successful, I’d say). Around this full table we gathered: friends, classmates, and roommates, each thankful for numerous blessings. It was truly a fantastic occasion.

Then I burrowed through a few days of class before the long weekend. No, I didn’t have Thanksgiving Day off to cook all that menu, and I even had class until 9pm when the cena began. But I made up for it when good fortune (and scheduling) extended my long weekend into a week-long break. From 1-9 December I took a break from Barcelona and returned to my native land. Or was it just France? So many things feel so comfortably familiar in that land of berets and baguettes that I was nearly overwhelmed by nostalgia. Or was it just the chocolate croissants I managed to eat every day? Returning to such familiar territory felt like living la vie en rose. Or rather, returning to the open arms of some dear friends in France made my stay rosy and cozy.

In any case, I spent most of the break in Paris, metro-ing across town to see museums and expositions. Ana, a Spaniard who spent last year teaching in the same language assistant program, had never visited the Musée d’Orsay, and so we spent an afternoon in the remodeled train station enjoying the Impressionists. I caught a fantastic Monet exhibit in le Grand Palais, with nearly 200 paintings gathered from all over the world, the likes of which I will probably never see again. One impressive pairing was the side-by-side paintings of the British Parliament, painted by Monet twenty years apart with the entire evolution of Impressionism between them. It must have been a Monet week, because I also made it to the Musée Marmottan on the west side of the city to see another collection of his. In between I went to the Arab World Institute, the Musée Carnavalet of the history of Paris, and the Catacombs. Few people realize just how many tunnels and old quarries lie underneath Paris, who knows how many of them filled with bones from the 18th century when a large city cemetery was emptied. I have now seen much of Paris from many angles…but there’s always so much more to discover.

But my heart still lies in Alsace, and I was thrilled to be able to visit Strasbourg this December during the Christmas market. I acted as guide for a French friend who had never visited the city, and the light snow that whisked our train away from Paris brought us east to the sunshine.

We visited my old haunts, my favorite picturesque Strasbourg sites, the neighborhood where I lived, and all along the way I remembered moments of my life there. Not all painless, but all meaningful. It was enchanting.

Back in Barcelona now, my nose to the grindstone. Two projects and an exam down, three projects to go. And Sunday looming with its flight home into the arms of my family to celebrate Christmas. I could not be more excited!