I figured out how to open my skylight this morning. The night that I moved in here in January, I discovered a door that I hadn’t noticed before which closed off our section of the hallway at the fourth floor landing. It was locked that night and adorned with a scraggly piece of notebook paper which had a freshly-inked message that ordered me to keep that door shut because of recent theft. Recent…what? My roommate told me that the night before, our across-the-hall neighbour had left his skylight open, only to have someone hop down into his room and steal some things in the middle of the night. I was horrified and considered buying bars to contain my meagre exchange-student two-suitcases-worth of belongings. But now it’s March, the sun is shining, and despite reports of another descent into freezing weather this Thursday, for the moment I’m feeling a warm breeze shift the air in my room for the first time.
The past few weeks here have been deep and sometimes exhausting learning experiences. During my winter vacation after spending the weekend in Nice, I traveled just east of Lyon and spent five days living in a big beautiful old farmhouse with six other people. I helped out doing what I could with them in the mornings – de-shelling walnuts (called a soirée grommailles) trimming trees, helping with greenhouse construction, or working with them at the farmers’ market that they participate in- and spending the afternoons exploring, breathing fresh air, cooking, hiking… it was my first time wwoofing, and I am still astonished by how much it meant to me.
Just before my winter vacation, in an effort to absorb every angle of life here, I walked into a restaurant along the Saône and asked them to let me work with them for the semester. The owners glanced at each other, looked at me, my freshly translated/recreated CV and said, Sure, start on Friday? I was all set to work for a few months doing basically volunteer work in a restaurant that sourced all of its food from a local farm. It was my cup of ideals-tea. I missed making things. I miss having an oven here, I miss a big house of roommates, I even missed hours bantering with chefs behind the counters where I’m used to working back in Montreal. I wanted to beat the rest of the exchange students, wanted to settle in here and formulate a pattern of life to avoid looking like I was taken with life here, too excited, too eager.
After all, I have spent these months reacting to this feeling of gratitude. It took me the harsh contrast of an internship/job in a restaurant with a week spent on a farm to realize that I don’t need to force myself to give back to this place in the ways that I am accustomed to. I haven’t felt a deeper sense of this gratitude- of wordless, peaceful, joyful gratitude- in a long time. I am overwhelmed with the welcome, the openness of the people who I have here and the pleasure they take in sharing with me. I’m lucky to be here and lucky to have a sense of myself that directs me to tables of people full of stories and laughter and things that seem storybook in telling but in reality, are sharp and human and feel brilliant to partake in. I’m not sure how I feel about accepting the fact that this really is a cultural experience, but guess what! It is! And I’m just going to focus on taking everything in here, letting this be natural.
It’s rainy now and I’m drinking tea, plotting a few weekend adventures, dreaming about May days when it’s warm and we’re hiking somewhere beautiful.
In the meantime, I made an excellent almond apple cake while I was away. Actually – I made two, because I was baking for about 10 people. I also made those pancakes, because – I believe I’ve mentioned this – pancake knowledge is an incredible asset here. I make up a different recipe every time (those had squash in them, can you tell?) and no one’s caught me yet!