The island mentality is not so much about ignorance of other locales, however. It’s more a questioning of whether the rest of the world really has much to offer. I mean, the whole world already lives in New York and you can find anything you want there – not to mention be whoever you want to be. What’s so great about anywhere else?
A similar phenomenon can reproduce itself in Paris if you’re not careful. The City of Light is another one of those wonder capitals. It sucks you in, seduces you, lulls you into a sense that there exists no other place on earth. It’s a paradox I’ll call ‘city inertia’. Always on the move discovering amazing things; so much so that you sometimes forget to leave.
Of course, when you do leave, you wonder just why in the heck you didn’t do it sooner.
Truth be told, though, I’m pretty good at leaving France. Low-cost carriers to some of the old continent’s capitals for cheap were reason enough for me to weather the expat blues.
But travelling in France – I do that less. (I know, I know – what is wrong with me?) I think it’s something to do with my idea of vacation equaling an escape from the French language. As my French improves, however, I become less demanding on that point.
Really, I’m just “going native” – the French are always planning weekends away. I think they’re onto something.So, when my friends, a Franco-American couple, asked if I wanted to visit Bruno’s ville natale in the Massif Centrale, I said, sure.
Of course, my ignorance shone bright. When it comes to French geography, I picture Paris – and then the rest of France in a bit of a cartoon blob. The Massif Centrale sounded, well, massive, but I couldn’t place it on a map.
I also had to ask about ten times before I could remember the name of the town: Le Monastier sur Gazeille.
“And the biggest city close by is Le Puy en Velay,” my friend Michal (and Bruno’s wife) said. Another stumbling block. I must have some sort of learning impediment when it comes to French names; I hear names like this and they disappear immediately.
But it sounded like a worthy adventure.
“We’ll increase the diversity by 200%,” Michal said, in describing the town of 1000. “I’ll be the only Jew…”
“And I’ll be the only person of color,” I finished.
I’ve come to the conclusion that a weekend away really is the cure for most ails. My recent trip to Etretat and now to Auvergne (aha! I have now learned the more precise name of the region!) had me in full relaxation mode with just 2 days away, a feat I never would have thought possible before.
But when the agenda consists of simply eating, sleeping, and taking long walks, you’re pretty much guaranteed to reset your stress level back to zero.
Bruno’s parents were lovely; his mom had been the math teacher for many years (EVERY person in the village in a certain age range had Denise as a teacher) and his dad was cute as a button. Everyone knew everyone and required three kisses. As this was the most strenuous activity required of me, I happily obliged.
The mountainous/volcanic (!) region means the weather is a bit iffy. Decked out in a heavy coat and scarf the last weekend in May, I also stripped down when the sun finally came out. All in a day’s work.
No complaints, however. I saw this:
I couldn’t help but think of the book title “How Green was my Valley” over and over again. (The Gazeille is the name of the valley).
My new resolve: whenever I’m invited somewhere, just go. No questions; just pack the overnight bag.
Michal and Bruno are soon moving to Aix en Provence. I’m sorry to lose some of my best Paris friends – but thrilled that they’re going somewhere I can easily make my second home (hope they mean it when they say to visit often!)