“Drink wine. This is life eternal. This is all that youth will give you. It is the season for wine, roses and drunken friends. Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.” ~Omar Khayyam
What is your first memory of being alive?
I was about two years old and we lived in the blue house on St. Louis. My Mother was bringing me in the back door, she took me by both hands and swung me up the stairs. She smiled as she lifted me up.
That was the first time I was aware of my own existence, the first time I remember being alive. Since then, there have been dazzling moments, onstage or traveling, where I was profoundly aware. Last weekend, I experienced four whole days of that feeling.
My AuPair friend Mari invited me to go along with a group of French friends to a beach house in Royan. Three of the boys picked us up from the RER and we began the five-hour car ride to our destination. After giving each one la bise and introducing myself, I realized I was in for a full weekend of French language immersion. The laughter started almost immediately when they tried to pronounce my name with their heavy accents.
While I quietly listened and tried to follow the fast French slang being flung through the car, Mari shined. In animated, almost fluent french she cracked jokes and put everyone at ease. My French is good enough now that I can follow the conversation, even if I can’t really inject my own ideas. When I understand a joke, I laugh that much louder. At one point, I was able to explain the rules of Flippy Cup. My Father must be so proud.
As we go along, we all chat about school, places we’ve been, places we’d like to go. Whenever Mari or I describe something we like we say “Oh San Fransisco is amazing!” “Yea Amsterdam is awesome!” The french do not speak so emphatically about what they like so this over-enthusiasm sounds strange to them. By the end of the car ride they are imitating our high voices “Ooooh, thats amaaaazing!”. After five hours in the car we are approaching our destination, I catch a glimpse of a big top and shout “Oh look the circus!” The car erupts in laughter and more imitations “The circus! Amazing! A house! Amazing!”
Finally the sea is before us. Royan is located along the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the Gironde Estuary. After unpacking we head into town to eat dinner at “Chez Bob”. Sitting outside, just a few feet away from the beach we watch the spectacular sunset. I drink my beer, devour a delicious pot of mussels and watch the stars pop out. How many different shades of blue and green can there be? Mari reminds me to ask our artist friend about colors, she can talk about them for hours. As the sun slips away a green light pulses across the bay. I see the green light et au contre Gastby, my count of enchanted objects is increased by one. Before it was just a symbol in a book, and now it’s before me, lighting up the horizon, etched in this moment which will soon be a memory.
Back at the house we play Circle of Death (or whatever the french call it). As the only one who doesn’t speak French, I find the game a bit difficult. At one point they tell me I don’t have to participate in the memory round, but I insist. “Je vas essayer! Alors, dans ma valise, j’ai du baskets, j’ai un coca, j’ai rouge à lèvres et….um, Putain! Oh! J’ai les oreilles!”
They clap and laugh, “non, c’est ‘le oreiller!”.
Around 5 AM the ten of us trudge to the beach. Wrapped in a blue blanket, my shoes fill deliciously with sand. Instead of climbing the cement steps to sit on the ledge, a few of our company take a running start and run up the 6 foot steep hill. I toss someone ma covourture and make two attempts that fail, much to the amusement of mes amis before I give up and take les escaliers. One of the boys takes off his shirt and heads into la mer. We hoot and holler as he disappears into the inky blackness.
Our little life in Royan revolves mainly around a large table set up on the terrace. As the French contingency continually roll cigarettes, we sit and talk. I am picking up more slang in 24 hours than I’ve learned in my previous 8 months in France. There is a particular form of slang, called “Verlan” in which the syllables of a word are inverted. For example français becomes cèfran, and femme becomes meuf. As if learning French wasn’t hard enough, now I literally have to learn it backwards.
The second night we inflate like balloons. Suddenly the music is louder, colors brighter and the laughter hysterical. I realize that if I have a one-on-one conversation, most of the people present can speak English, so I am my bright out-going self again. Instead of worrying about my French, I just say whatever I want in a melange of Franglish and know that no one will think less of me. Two of our party are DJ’s, and the music is carrying us onto a higher level. A friend asks me for his drink, when I hand it to him he says “Cimer.”
“Sea-mer?” I repeat, confused.
“Air-reen, écoute-moi bien…Ci-mer!”
“Sea-mer? Ci-mer? OH! MERCI!” Cheers and laughter follow my Verlan epiphany.
“Its good for me to see you like this.” Says our host. “You are timid this morning, but now you are having fun.”
From this point on the whole weekend is a blur of music and laughter. We dance all night at the local bar. In the morning I strum my ukulele over coffee and sunshine. We have develop inside jokes that no re-telling could do justice to. Another barbecue yields delicious food. At the beach I wade into the ocean and feel the le soleil freckle my sunscreen covered skin. We all drink too much and play a hilarious game of beach-dogeball. That night I nap in my room, listening to the laughter in le séjour rise and fall like waves. With my favorite I talk until the sun comes up. It feels like the party might go on forever.
After a long clean-up and a longer ride home I am back in Paris. The weekend couldn’t have gone better, and I am left with a permanent smile. I wasn’t expecting to smile this weekend, not considering what day it was.
Throughout the weekend, in the back of my mind I thought about it. A few times Mari, who understands better than anyone, asked me how I was doing. This weekend getaway happens to coincide with the eight year anniversary of my Mother’s death. Life has brought me so many places since then. As always, I thought about her, remembered her, and felt the love she left in me. Reflecting on her death only makes me more resolved to feel alive. To experience all I can and keep chasing the next adventure. For this weekend I was alive in every sense, surrounded by good people, laughter, food, music and joy. To me, everything really is amazing.
Traveling makes everything extraordinary and bittersweet. In moments like these I am aware of how short our time is, and how we must make the most of each opportunity. Death will come for me too one day, maybe it will be a tunnel of light, maybe nothing at all. Or maybe it will be my Mother’s hands reaching out to lift me up, just as she did when I was a child. Until then, I am going to live.