Tuesday, January 07, 2014

I am now living in "Little Venice"

Castres, France
Super proud of myself!  Two nights ago I wrote another 2200 words in my novel “Soul Stasis”.  Ahhh, feels great!  Making progress!
To be honest, today, for the first time, and I never thought it would happen: homesickness and culture shock have set in.  Today was my first day of work and Eva left today.  And for the first time I realize I’m alone.  In a place where I now have no friends, and where I speak a language that is not my native tongue, and where the culture and way of life and thinking is bien different from my way of life at home.  I miss Eva.  Even though she is French and we only spoke in French together… she understood me.  We are friends.  We have laughed together so much these last six days, and spent so much time together.  And now, she’s gone.  I can’t speak to mom because she’s in the hospital and she can’t skype.  I can’t call any of my friends back at home because none are on skype.  And I’m now alone.  And I truly feel it.  And it’s becoming weird to only be speaking French; to not hear the American accent when on the rare occasion I am speaking English with people. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m really happy to be here.  I had my first day at the school, and everyone was so thrilled to meet me.  In fact, they were expecting me, and wherever I went, and wherever I was introduced “Oh, Monroe!  The American teacher!”  I felt like a rock star in many ways haha.  I’m really looking forward to tomorrow when I actually get to start teaching and working with the students.  And… speaking some English. J
Veronique, my French ‘mother’, just helped me get connected to the internet.  I think that will help: to be able to send and receive some emails.  And to check Facebook. 

Honestly, what is China going to be like?  If I feel this way in a place where I know the language; in a place where I have already lived; in a culture I already know… what’s it going to be like when I land in Shanghai and realize I DON’T know the language; in a place I’ve NEVER lived; in a culture I am completely UNfamiliar with?  It’s an unnerving thought.
But I already feel better.  Writing in this journal/blog.  Putting my thoughts down.  And realizing that I will be able to send a hello to my friends. 
So Eva and I left Vienne yesterday about 10:30am.  It is so incredibly hard to believe that only yesterday I woke up in Vienne.  It seems like I’ve been here in Castres for months already.  So weird.  She picked me up at my Ibis hotel and we began our long drive south.  About 4 ½ hours.  I was very surprised to end up winding through a huge mountain pass of twisting and winding and steep roads, akin to Switzerland.  Only later did we discover that they are the Black Mountains (Les montagnes noirs).  You can see the entire range from Fabienne’s house here in Castres—quite impressive.  (Fabienne is the woman who coordinates the foreign students and foreign teachers.)
We arrived last night and got lost in Castres.  At first, it seemed like a tiny, sleepy town, and it was questionable: the neighborhood that it appeared my host family lived in.  But everything worked out splendidly: my host family has such a nice house; my room is spacious and comfortable; the town itself is actually known as ‘little Venice’ because of its location on the Agout River, and the way many of the houses are built.  It actually is an adorable and charming town, with so many interesting streets to walk down and through, and two big squares, and tres bon.  There are free buses that run everywhere, so getting around won’t be too much trouble either.

Anyway, I dropped my stuff off at Veronique’s house, and then Eva and I went to her hotel.  She changed, and then we went to dinner, and on a walk through the town.  This morning, we had a nice breakfast at the hotel, and then she drove me to the school.  We said our goodbyes.  She was certain we’d not see eachother again for a very long time.  I told her, “Ya never know the future.”  She scoffed.  She left.  And three hours later… we saw one another again!  Her car broke down.  She ended up having lunch with me at Fabienne’s house while her car got fixed.  Haha.  So it’s true: on ne sait jamais.  Vraiment.
But the time is indeed already going by.  Hard to believe I’m actually here.  In Castres.  And my teaching has started.  Hard to believe that very soon I will be in China. 

And indeed, I will be back home again before I know it.  Before I know it, I will be back in New York.  The thought of that makes me smile.  It’s only been a week, but I miss home already tremendously so.  It’s so weird: I honestly feel like I’ve been away from home for months.  It’s only been six days.  What’s weird too is that I’m not a stranger to foreign travel and living.  Switzerland for two years.  Iraq for a year.  But what IS weird is that I am experiencing culture shock and homesickness again.  I didn’t think it would happen again.  I never thought I would feel that sadness like I once did in Switzerland when I was 20 years old.  And yet… it’s back.  And it is not pleasant one bit. 

Enough writing.  I’m gonna go hang out with Veronique a bit.  She’s cooking dinner and it smells sooooo good.  In an hour, we’re going to the train station to pick up this Italian girl who is staying the night with us here, before she moves in with her host family tomorrow.  Maybe I’ll speak some Italian tonight. J
I heard from Eva, Art, my little bro Mike, and Debbie too.  It was nice to be back online and in contact with the world.  It's super weird to not have a cell phone.   It's nearly a week now and I have no intention of getting one here.  At least for now.  We'll see.  We'll see how long and if I can manage without one.  I was able to call mom, though--free int'l calls here at Veronique's house!--and it was great to hear her voice and know that she's okay.  She promised she will come visit me at some point in China.  That makes me smile.

It’s a bit sad that this Italian girl is only going to be here for tonight.  Her name is Alicie and she's really cool.  She loves studying languages like me.  And she loves singing.  She speaks Italian, English, Spanish, and French right now.  Her hope is to become a flight attendant for a while here in Europe, and then work in import/exports.  The languages will certainly help. 

Funny: she called her mom back in Milan, and I ended up talking with her mom Agata for about 20 minutes in Italian.  I had such a great time, and she was so impressed that this American guy who was there in France with her daughter could speak Italian so well.  Somehow that all resulted in a dinner invitation when I come through Milan in March.  How can I turn that down? :)

It's too bad Alicie is moving in with another host family 15 minutes away, but I have her email now, so maybe we can keep in touch.  I'm starting at the school tomorrow, so I'm sure to start making some friends--both the teachers and the students.  I'm surely not going to have this feeling of a man on a foreign desert island for much longer.  I hope!

As for the food and weather?  Verdict: I'm going to be fat by the time I arrive in China.  The lunch I had today at Fabienne's house was just dish after dish of food.  And then dinner here chez moi: the same.  Oh my gosh.  As for the weather: it's cold.  In the mid 40s I think.  Not freezing, but cold enough.  The rain has finally stopped, and that's something for sure. 

I'm all unpacked and settled here in my room now.  No longer living out of a suitcase which is great.  I really have NO idea what is coming in those two boxes that I sent, but I guess we shall see.  My big worries right now are: a) how to send this extra stuff to China; b) how to send my big red suitcase to Rome (or China) so I don't have to carry it all around with me during my Eurail trip; and c) I gues these is no 'c'.  Ahh, well, I'm exhausted anyway.  Time for bed.  Gnight all!


Wanderer said...

Thanks for your honesty and intensity, Monroe. Very uplifting. Maybe a little life mapping might help with the recurring homesickness and sadness-sometimes we must go back to be free to go forward?

Wanderer said...

Thanks for your honesty and intensity, Monroe. Very uplifting. Maybe a little life mapping might help with the recurring homesickness and sadness-sometimes we must go back to be free to go forward?