Just about ten years ago, I left on a plane for a new continent. Away from my family for the first time. I fell in love with a new culture, I learned a new language and I made some new friends. I learned that everyone is annoying sometimes. This is the story of my first home away from home. Pertuis, Provence-Alps-Côte d’Azur, France.
In 6th grade, I participated in a French exchange program call Back2Back. I hosted a girl from Pertuis named Elsa for 2 weeks and then a month or so later I stayed with her family for 2 weeks in Provence. Let the reminiscing begin!
We got off the plane, after a layover in Frankfurt, in the late morning. Just in time for lunch. I believe we met our host families at the collège and we soon left for home. One of my most distinct memories is this lunch between me, my host family, Christina and the teachers. We had a lovely chicken casserole, which once we finished eating, was revealed to us to have been rabbit all along. I remember Elsa and her friend, Maude asking me how old I was to which I timidly replied….. 12. They just laughed and laughed. So, I made friends with Elsa’s sister Sophie instead. She barely spoke English and I barely spoke French but we got along great, she taught me words like “piscine” (pool) and “coquelicot” (poppy) while we walked around the garden admiring the roses. She told me a story about how she used to swim so much her hair turned green. I went on my first trip to what is now one of my favorite cities in the world- Paris. We woke up early to take the TGV and I sat backwards with Sophie. It didn’t last long as I threw up about a half hour into the ride. The scratchy feeling in my throat stuck with me all day. I remember peering out the window in our bedroom to see the Eiffel Tower glitter at night. I remember playing Chinese checkers with beautiful marble game pieces with Sophie. I remember standing in line to get tickets to go up the Eiffel Tower and watching a little boy pick his nose and eat it.
Back in Provence, I remember one the first days we were there, at someone’s house which was essentially a farm, making pizzas (I remember they were gross) and while everyone else played Mario Kart, I said, I can do that at home (winning over the heart of my teacher and the nickname “Little Mom” in the process).
And then there was Alex. It was the first time anyone ever had a crush on me. It made me angry. And he was so annoying! Springing it on me in the middle of a boat ride, ruining my whole day. It wasn’t just that he was annoying. He was always singing. I’ll never forget the words to Aux Champs Elysées because of him. But he was my best friend there. His happiness was overwhelming, annoying, and infectious (and still is.)
We went to a medieval fort and saw a catapult. We saw cave paintings and I realized that it was the oldest thing I had ever seen. Older than the country I lived in! We saw where armies had roamed during WWII (although nothing like the beaches of Normandy… that was the next year.) I went on a hike in the calanques and waded in the Mediterranean. I went to dinner with Elsa and family and was served a whole fish. I got sick of lavender. I ate lots and lots of baguette. I went to Aix and Avignon, the market and the Palais des Papes. And a lifelong love a country and of travel was born; a time I’ll never forget. Thank you Elsa. Thank you Sophie. Thank you Emily, Preston and Alex. Thank you Madame Green. Thank you mom and dad. Vive la France!
In memory of Alex Weinstein, 1992-2006