Counting our Blessings in Bordeaux

Trip Start Sep 02, 2010
Trip End Jun 13, 2011

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Flag of France  , Aquitaine,
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

After spending a beautiful weekend with my godson and the rest of my "French Family," Dan and I took the train to Bordeaux. I love this ride--the TGV zooms through gorgeous landscapes, and in just three hours you're in a warmer, slower-paced climate. The small plazas, the ubiquitous cafes, and the walk along the quai make Bordeaux a pretty fabulous place to enjoy French food and culture. Plus, there's always the vin. Nothing's like a good Bordeaux.    

During our time in Paris and Bordeaux, I relished all aspects of French culture. I ate much more than my fair share of pain au chocolat, fromage, pain, glace, and moules-frites (well, they're Belgian, but adopted by the French). I dutifully drank my cafe and my vin. I participated in the daily habits of shop-goers: cheerfully singing "Bonjour, Madame!" when entering a store and then chirping the appropriate "Merci; au revoir" when I would leave. In the pharmacies, just like everyone else, I pushed my way through the aisles of cellulite creams and picked up my fancy soaps. When we attended the "Fete du Pain" (Bread Festival) in Paris, we snapped photos of the fancy bread sculptures (yup, sculptures) and of the quirky elderly folks dressed up in traditional bakers' outfits. (That's oh so French--who else would hold a festival celebrating bread?!?) And along the quai in Bordeaux, I sat with Dan and with my great friend the lovely Caroline and over-analyzed the latest French scandal: this time, it was Dominique Strauss-Kahnīs trial in a New York court. 

Falling back into my favorite French habits--and having so much fun with Caroline and my French family--was just what I needed after travelling for nine months. Being in France felt like being home.

Still, I couldn't help but view these French habits and homes from a new perspective. Being home in France means being comfortable and safe, and being (relatively) protected from unemployment. It means considering fresh, delicious food--and even wine and chocolate!--to be a staple in one's diet. It means taking for granted things which would be considered luxuries in many of the other countries we've visited. After a few days in Paris and Bordeaux, Dan and I found ourselves talking a lot about how lucky we were to be feeling safe: to be able to walk around at night and to not worry about someone coming in through our windows. We tried to hold on to these feelings of gratitude--to not immediately take them for granted, as we were inclined to do--and also to appreciate simple pleasures, like drinking the water out of the tap. We also kept wondering about our babies at the Khayelitsha orphanage. Compared to other kids in their neighborhood, they have it pretty good. And yet many of them won't ever be able to rely on a safe community, let alone attend an extravagant "festival of bread."

Our trip has exposed us to all kinds of communities and various notions of "home," and at times we have felt uncomfortable or guilty or sad when we've met those who are struggling. We've tried to learn as much as we can and be of some help (or at least not step into the footprint of American cultural hegemony). But when we leave those communities...what then? When we come back to our own safe, warm, welcoming homes--whether they be in France or in America--I wonder how quickly we'll forget our blessings.
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