I have been staring at my computer all afternoon knowing that I have to write, but not knowing what to say. We have now been back in Colorado for 14 days. It could be 14 years. It is amazing how quickly one can fall back into old habits and routines and how easily a former life seems to slip away. Some days I feel like my life in France never was.
Coming back to Colorado has been like being Bill Murray’s weatherman in the great existential film Groundhog Day. While I have changed immensely, I have been dropped into a life that hasn’t changed at all and I feel like I am living in a sort of Nietzschesque state of eternal recurrence. It is as if I am residing in an alternate universe on a parallel train track never scheduled to intersect the French life I left behind. What bothers me the most is that while I can intellectualize my former life in France, I am having a really hard time feeling what that life felt like, and I am slightly terrified that I will lose that happy girl who lived in that stunning city and felt like she could do anything.
Don’t get me wrong; being back in America is easy on so many levels. I am having a ball chatting up everyone on every subject. It is great to be back in a friendly land where the customer is always right, service is given with a smile and wink and everything is AWESOME. People are so nice here, and you can quickly become BFFs with your waitress over a 90-minute meal, or be ready to exchange Christmas cards with your Verizon/iPhone sales rep after a couple of days battling the “home office” and their quirky rules.
I no longer have to look up vocabulary and practice phrases before I go to the doctor or vet or hardware store. If the shopkeepers dare to give me lip, or sneer or roll their eyes (not likely) when I order or have a question, I can easily give it right back to them using adult words, not toddleresque French or tears. If I order a vegetarian meal, no one looks at me like I am an alien with two heads. Everyone here knows what quinoa and chia seeds are and how to pronounce them correctly, and I have found mean-lean-green juice on offer on more than one menu.
The postwoman is super pleasant and super efficient. There are even these nutty grocery workers called baggers, who are actually trained to carefully bag your precious food items instead of throwing them down the conveyor belt as if they were bowling for bucks. Xcel, the Colorado version of EDF, will cheerfully let you and your family light up and heat your house after a simple 2-minute phone call without even considering asking you for proof that you have a bank account or a signed lease. The water meter man is free to stop by whenever he likes and doesn’t need you to stay by the door all morning long, meter reading in hand.
Yep. Life is easy peasy, nice and breezy in the U.S. of A.
So why do I miss France so much?
Would it be masochistic to say I miss the challenge? That I miss not knowing what to expect? That I miss being kept on my toes and discovering new people, places and things every day? There is something to be said for being the odd-(wo)man-out, and for the strong friendships forged as you struggle together against the tide.
I do miss the myriad of cultural offerings, the artisanal bakeries, the Seine, my vélib and feet as my sole source of transportation and our cozy apartment life where it was harder to hide behind closed doors. I miss the architecture and human-made splendor, the tiny cars, my Pilates studio and the French dedication to esthetics, beauty and perfection. I miss fantastic window displays and spending the afternoons licking them. I miss being around people from all over the globe with different ideas and realities. I do NOT miss being from the “greatest country in the world”.
I do miss making mistakes and being forced to learn new things and being forced to live. I miss the tiny triumphs of simply making it through the day or even just making it through an hour. Am I crazy to miss the bustling city vibe of that big, but small foreign town that I called home for three years? Maybe I am crazy, but still, I miss the smells, the sounds, the days, the nights, the tastes and textures, the language, the laughs, and those yummy French leeks. Of course I miss my sparkling tower. Mostly I miss my friends.
I have gone from a humming city of 2.34 million, to a teeny town of 19,186 folks, living their straightforward lives and cowboy dreams.
I suspect that this transition will continue to be tough, but it is a First World problem, and I am determined to spin it in a positive direction. We all have our Punxsutawney Phils and never-ending Groundhog Days, and I have promised myself to try to see my old life with fresh eyes and not fall into a rut or take the easy path.
Please check in as I figure out small town life and empty nesting, try to come to grips with American values and politics and hopefully find a little bit of la belle France in Colorado.