Family Lines

stories for you

Tag: France

Non-fiction fiction

This is fiction. I don't snowboard. Only ski.

This is fiction. I don’t snowboard. Only ski. Revelstoke, 2011.

Sometimes memories aren’t serious. They can be silly, too. Here’s one from my Revelstoke days in 2011.

Smushed dreams

I lean my bicycle against a snowbank outside of the Revelstoke post office. The sun is shining with all its strength, which isn’t much in B.C. in early December. It’s not too cold, but it’s not warm enough to melt anything other than some icicles hanging from the building.

Inside the post office, I stand in a long line up. We’re all waiting for something. I look at people ahead of me and invent a story for each one. The woman carrying her ski poles, maybe she’s a ski patroller. Maybe she found two people who skied off the resort and found themselves stranded in the drainage – no way out? They could have spent a freezing cold night in the snow but they didn’t have to – thanks to her.

Oh, my turn! I head to the counter and pay for a stamp. Then I put it on the Christmas card to my parents. I turn to go but the clerk calls out.

Revelstoke post office.

Revelstoke post office.

“Why did you do that?” she asks.

“Do what?”

“Put the stamp on sideways.”

“I don’t know,” I say, taking a step towards the door. “I didn’t mean to do it.”

I don’t mean to squish the ant crawling past my boots either. Oops.

Perhaps this ant was on its way to his or her friends. Perhaps she was at her tiny mailbox and found out some good news. Perhaps this ant was about to tell them about it.

“I’ve won that language scholarship,” she would have announced. “I’m going to Paris to live for a year.”

“You can’t speak French, Antina,” says another ant. “Formicidae are strictly English and chemical communicators.”

“Well, I speak French and I’m going to France.”

Little Antina has always dreamed of going abroad and learning to speak the romantic language better. In Grade 4, she wore a blue beret to school. All her classmates laughed at her. The wasp students especially stung.

“Hahahaha!” they sneered. “Hahaha! Antina thinks she’s French. She’s nothing but an insect.”

“Shut up!” cried Antina. “One day you will see. You will see me going to France.”

She tilted her blue beret at a jauntier angle, stuck her antennae high in the air and scuttled away.

“The nerve of those Vespoidea! Jerks.”

From then on, Antina made it her mission to excel in French . She got top marks in school all the way through and she graduated head of the class. It didn’t hurt that she lived in the Canada Post office, which is bilingual, so there were many things for her to read, translate and learn.

Mount Begbie in the distance.

Mount Begbie in the distance.

University was in the cards for Antina. She thought seriously about her career options. There were a few she was interested in. She could see herself involved in sciences: stuff like research or fieldwork. However, she didn’t like the isolation of being in a lab. How about something in social science? How about a Bachelor of Ants degree?

“Je sais! I’ll be a French teacher.”

Unfortunately, before Antina had a chance to attain higher education, her whole family was eradicated one day in July. She came home to the colony and no one was there.

She searched and searched and searched. She found her brother and father withering and dying in a corner. They told her that her mother and two sisters had first escaped the dusting of pesticides but ended up breathing in the noxious fumes when they ran inside to help the rescue.

“Antina,” sighed her dying dad. “Go to Paris. Live your dream. I love you.”

“Oh papa! One day I will. I will go to the City of Lights. I will climb the Tour Eiffel. I will mange fromage et pain et vin et beaucoup des choses. Bien sur.”

She never did. How could she? Antina was all alone now and needed to make her own way. With no money for food, how could she pay for school?

Antina took up a labour position in the post office. Her job was to travel the line of customers and pick up anything they dropped. Well, not everything, but items of value such as bagel crumbs, cookie pieces and the occasional apple core. She was vital to rebuilding the population.

The work was hard. The work was dangerous. Often during a single day, she was almost smushed. She stayed because the pay was good. To reward herself, she applied to language programs. It helped keep her dream alive, it kept her hopes up.

When she got the reply about the scholarship in the mail, she was ecstatic. Finally, finally all her aspirations, hard work and desires were coming true. Antina was off to tell her supervisor the good news. Anthea was a good friend and would share her happiness.

Unfortunately, Antina was in such high spirits she let her guard down. This one time. This one and only and last time. Because that’s when I took a step from the counter – towards the door.

If only I had put the stamp on correctly, then the clerk wouldn’t have stopped me. I would have walked past Antina. I would have walked out the door and hopped back on my bike and spun off through the piles of snow.

Au revoir, Antina.

The French un-connection

Photo of a French woman.

Could this be Beatrice?

Beatrice,

Reads the start of the e-mail message sent to me.

Beatrice is not me.

J’ai essaye do t’envoiyer des photos de ton sejour avec nous il y a asse longhtemps maintenant et j’ai cru que tout alle bien, mais peut-etre pas!

(The gist of the note: I tried to send you photos of your time with us but they didn’t go through.)

Still not me. Nevertheless, I’m happy to read further down in the message that Beatrice sent a lovely card to the writer and she is writing back to thank her.

This isn’t the first time I’ve received an e-mail for Beatrice. It has been happening for many years. I’ve been privy to gossip and travel plans and even a weekly French clothing store newsletter, from which I unsubscribed after a month. (Although the clothes were tres chic.) When I started receiving Beatrice’s personal e-mails, I always replied to the sender:

Salut,

Vous avez la mauvaise adresse. Je suis une femme qui vit au Canada.
SVP, essayer une autre adresse pour Beatrice.

(Hi, You have the wrong e-mail address. I’m a woman who lives in Canada. Please use another address for Beatrice.)

Photo of a French woman.

Or is this Beatrice?

Usually the person e-mails back and says thanks for letting her know. However, once someone accused me of being Beatrice and told me I wasn’t being nice. If I wanted to cut ties, I should just say so. That was just a one-off thankfully.

Since most of Beatrice’s friends know to use her address now and not mine, I haven’t had any of her messages end up in my inbox in two years. Until yesterday morning. It was a surprise and kind of like hearing from a long lost friend. Except I have no real connection to this woman. The only tie we have is through an electronic address: not even a physical space.

I guess Beatrice and I have similar personal e-mail addresses. There are many stories on the web these days about mix-ups with people who have the same name. (There is another Lea Storry but she spells her first name differently. We were Facebook friends for a while.) While I was searching for some stories, I came across this website. It’s a U.S. site that tracks how many people have your name: first and last.

http://howmanyofme.com/search/

Pretty cool. I hope Beatrice gets her merci card in the mail.

Quiche and cobblestones

Colmar, France.

Colmar, France

The pastry crumbled in my mouth like a piece of shortbread. The cheese was creamy with just the right amount of sharpness to open my taste buds. A hunk of bacon sliced through the soft flavours and dominated my palate. This was Quiche Lorraine in Alsace Lorraine, where the French pie was created, and it’s one of my most favourite meal memories.

The cup of hot tea that accompanied my meal was parfait. It warmed me up after a morning of wandering around Colmar, France on a soggy sightseeing day. A rainy grey day better fit for staying inside a café until it was time to head to a bar. (But this was France so bars were probably open earlier than in Canada.) It was the end of December but there was no snow. The weather was more reminiscent of spring, like this past Friday and Saturday in Calgary.

I was in Europe with my friend Digger. She was on exchange with a German university and I went to visit her at Christmas in the mid 90s. Colmar was a short bus ride from Freiburg, Germany and we decided to check it out. The French town is picture perfect: old houses and buildings painted with colours you could eat – mustard and orange and lemon. A canal runs through the village and little postcard bridges span the dark water. A French town that you want to take a million photographs of even though you’d never be able to capture the historic shadows of the street corners and building blocks.

Digger and I were both 21 but only one of us was naïve. Almost every man passing us on foot invited us for a drink. At first I thought everyone was so nice to the tourists when I had heard otherwise about the French. Until Digger told me the guys were hitting on us.Family_Lines_Colmar_two

Oh.

It had been raining in Colmar since we got off the bus. Not full-on pouring but more like little drips here and there. Enough to make us cold after hours of our shoes on the cobblestones. We were hungry too and wanted to take a break.

We found a restaurant in the centre of town. I’m not sure how we picked it. The outside was a dark brown, unlike the other bright buildings, and the inside matched. It was dimly lit when we walked in but a fire was a bright spot in the corner of a room. Zut. There were no tables near it.

The place was almost full but we found a small table in a back room. There I ordered my meal – the one I still dream about today. The incredible Quiche Lorraine. But it wasn’t only the lunch. It was the combination of food, company and history. This was the first time I had been to Europe and I was overwhelmed by the antiquity that was everywhere I looked in France, Germany and Switzerland. I was a history major in university and I studied this stuff but to be this close to it was unreal. Everything was so old (not the quiche I had been served) that it boggled my Canadian mind.

After our lunch Digger and I headed outside and back into the rain. We got dessert to take out, chocolate crepes, from a small restaurant down the street. (You know that European way, it’s cheaper to take food away than it is to eat it in the restaurant.) We stood under an awning of a furniture store and dug into the sweet treat. Chocolate spilling out of the French pancake and dripping down our chins.

“Cochon!” yelled someone on the other side of the street. “Cochon!”

He was calling us pigs.

Alors, there was the rude Frenchman that I heard all about.

 

Happy New Year’s from Germany

The view from the Freiburger Münster, a big medieval church, in Freiburg, Germany.

The view from the Freiburger Münster, a big medieval church, in Freiburg, Germany.

In 1993 I spent part of New Year’s Eve in a small mountain town near the Black Forest in Germany. The other part of the night I spent in a hospital. It was an evening to remember although not one of revelry.

I was in Germany for two weeks visiting my friend who was attending the University of Freiburg on an exchange program through Acadia University. I was in my fourth year at Acadia and feeling rather provincial so I went to visit Digger.

My flight to Europe left Halifax on Christmas Day (flights were cheaper on December 25.) The plane went from Nova Scotia to Amsterdam, where I waited in the airport for seven hours because I was afraid if I went sightseeing I would miss my connection. That flight was on to Mulhouse, France, the closet airport to Freiburg. After landing and picking up my baggage at the terminal I was given the option of entering either France or Switzerland. Oh oh. Which country did Digger say she was going to meet me?

This was before 9/11 so security was rather lax and I had no trouble walking into Switzerland. When I looked over to France, there was Digger waiting for me. I just had to walk back through to the other side.

Once we got to Germany we did a lot sightseeing around Freiburg, a beautiful town that had white Christmas lights and other elegant festive ornaments all over the streets and houses. We also climbed the many icy stone steps of the Freiburger Münster (a big medieval church) and ate lots of pretzels and Berliners, the jelly donut John F Kennedy made famous. The highlight of the week was going to be a rocking New Year’s Eve party where Klaus, Digger’s German boyfriend, would be playing with his band.

On Dec. 29 we got all dressed up and climbed in Klaus’ shaky olive green car for the ride to the party. I was excited to be going to an event with new people. Maybe some cute guys would be there too.

It was dark out during the drive so I didn’t get to see any of the German countryside. I knew we were going up and up in elevation though. In about an hour we arrived at a small community hall not unlike ones in Canada.

While Klaus set up his drum kit Digger and I got a glass of wine and some snacks. However, not even 15 minutes later Digger started to feel sick. Sick enough we had to leave the party filled with interesting looking people (cute guys) and drive straight to a hospital.

As soon as we walked into the hospital I started to feel ill too. I had drunk only one small glass of wine but it really affected me. Maybe it was the altitude but I felt like I had finished off the whole bottle.

“Excuse me,” I muttered, putting my hand over my mouth while I ran around searching for the first bathroom I could find. Man, I was not feeling well.

I threw up all over the restroom. All over it. I painted the town red but in a different way. When I emerged from the toilet I felt a lot better but Digger and Klaus were nowhere to be found

I attempted my poor German on hospital staff but no one knew what I was talking about. So what do you do when you’re half cut and lost in a foreign country? Call your parents.

“Are you drunk?” they asked.

“No?”

They advised me to sit down and stay in one spot. To wait. I followed their instructions and slumped down by the hospital door. It was an entertaining place to be.

I watched a steady stream of people come in with all sorts of injures. Cuts, scrapes, bruises – one young man was clutching his blood-covered head and moaning. Wonder what happened to him?

When midnight chimed the only way I knew it was the new year was because all the nurses and doctors came out into the hall with champagne (or sparkling juice?) and said “Happy Silvester!”

Happy New Year to you too.

I’m not sure how long after that, maybe five minutes, maybe longer, Digger and Klaus popped out of one of the rooms. She had had an allergic reaction to something but was fine now. It was 1994 and time to go home.

© 2018 Family Lines

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑