Surprised by France

We’ve been home a week or so, and I find my thoughts about France to be more difficult than I would have expected.

I am delighted to be home. I walk around my wonderful house looking at things. It is summer and hot, but we have a pool. I’m on summer vacation. I bought some summertime novels at Barnes & Noble, and I go up to the pool for an hour or so each day and read. I love the feeling when, after a dip in the pool, I stretch out on that chaise and feel the warmth of the sun.

Life doesn’t get better than this. Because we are leaving for Maine at the end of the month, I don’t want to mess up my studio, so I am on a pause. I go to my appointments—doctor, dentist, hairdresser, dry cleaners—but in between I can just relax and enjoy the summer in Denver. Len and I go have a coffee in the afternoons outside at a table in Writers Square. I call my friends and family. I chat with people I meet—ever so aware that I can talk to them and understand what they are saying!

France was fun and exotic! I loved seeing the little villages on the hills and the markets full of fruit and vegetables and flowers. I loved seeing paintings by artists that I had only heard about. But now that I am home, I find myself a bit relieved. My attempt to speak French was telling. It will never be something I can do well, and I’m not even sure how much I can do poorly.

I think I was lonely in France, and I wonder if I went back for an extended time without the demands of school how much I would really enjoy it. And then there are all those other parts of Europe—Spain, Italy, Ireland—what about them? There is so much to see, which is different than thinking that I want to live abroad.

I like how travel expands me. My worldview is different after three months in France. I appreciate how old everything there is, and I love the charm of it.

But I also appreciate how clean and new everything is in Denver. I love how the streets and walkways are so well cared for. I love that I can take everything I ever thought about dry cleaning and the bill is only $67, while in France three pieces of clothing cost about the same amount. Everything seems like a bargain in the U.S. after living in France. I love that you can take a piece of luggage in to be repaired and get it in just a few days. I love that lattés are bigger and that Whole Foods grocery has olives from France in large containers similar to the olive vendors in Cannes. I love that if I forget to lock my door at the apartment there is a very high chance that nothing will be stolen. I love that I don’t know anyone in Denver who has had their home broken into, been pick pocketed or carjacked!

As I write this I realize that travel for me is to see and experience new things, so I can understand my world better. But it is not about preparing to live in one of the new places that I visit.

The thing that surprised me is how much living in France made me appreciate the United States. That’s what I’m really struck by when I get back. I’m struck by how much easier it is here to do my daily business. And I’m struck by all the advantages that our economic system offers. I don’t think I ever got that before. I was so sure it would all be better in France, and now I’m not sure it is better. When you see how stagnant their economy is and how unhappy everyone is, it doesn’t appear that it’s better. If it’s better, why is everyone always complaining about everything? They did not seem to be happier than the Americans I know. So that’s eye-opening. That changes your worldview because of your experience, as opposed to something you’ve read or something someone has told you about. It’s hard to say these things without seeming to say that America is better, which I would never, ever say. It’s just different. But for the first time, I’m not embarrassed to be an American.

My home is here. It is my base, and without it I feel lost. With it I feel open to trying anything—even learning a new language or learning how to have a dog in an apartment building that does not allow dogs. It’s as if I will need to learn how to raise an invisible dog. And so, our next adventure is Claire.

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