As we near the end of the semester, and thus the year, we wanted to share Honors Student, Amanda Allard’s, 11 month experience in France. A cultural immersion of this length allows you to really embrace the culture, and hearing her eloquent recap of her time abroad in a chronological order is enough to make anyone jump on a plane and head to Lyon.
*a 2016-2017 calendar of a year in and around Lyon, France.
Pendulum, metaphor for metronome.
The tree swing in my aunt’s yard in Iowa City never fails to make me feel ten years old. Weathered and springy and finely tuned, I glide from the top of the bushes at my back to the apex of the house’s roof in front of me, Josh’s hands on my shoulders at every back swing. The canopy of foliage above my head disperses the dying light of another simmering hot day and further saturates the velvety green of the tree tops, the glossy blue of the lawn chairs, the deep reds and pure whites in the flower bushes, before this intensity of light peaks and then fades. I wonder if there are trees in Lyon like this and if any of them have swings. I think about all the swing sets in Iowa city, about a month of goodbyes. One in particular.
(pas de) sortie.
The signs above my head directing passengers towards terminals and exits are code switching. English, German, French. But the French doesn’t come until the end and I can’t help feeling like I’ve fallen into inescapable trouble when it does.
Temporal Confusion (a lesson on globalization).
Our favorite bar in Lyon is an Irish pub in the old part of the city. They play American classic rock and R&B over the speakers and, either for variety or because they feel an expectation, the Cranberries and U2. A few nights a week, the bar MacGyvers a stage by pushing two high-top tables together against the barrier of the stairs and hosts a single live performer whose musical taste rarely aligns with the usual playlist. Karly and I are here late on a Tuesday night near the border of October, sitting at the low table between the only window and the front door, the table that’s always in the way of people’s feet and the autumn draft, listening to the British performer sing “Wagon Wheel” by Bob Dylan.
Eleven people from eight states. And one from France (who wasn’t formally invited). Kids. Ibiza in the off-season (no one had bothered to research this). An hour walk to a beach cached among rocky outcroppings and low cliffs on what was surely the last decent beach day of the year (eighty degrees, we lucked out). Crouched and huddled together on slick and uneven boulders watching the sun go down over the Mediterranean, the phantasmal colors bleeding from the sky into the sea. A pink-orange water color. Sailboats in the foreground.
Three American girls lounging around the sweltering apartment of a Spanish-French couple. The Spaniard is a chef; one of the girls talked him into hosting American Thanksgiving. St. Marcellin cheese from unpasteurized milk; one-bite chocolate cakes; mashed potatoes that are one part potato, two parts cheese and move in one dense clump, impossible to separate a bite without both a fork and my fingers; turkey legs wrapped in bacon and shot glasses of champagne, cognac, heavy cream, maple syrup, and salt. The usual holiday call from my aunt. I’m glad I’m not home.
Julie Andrews jokes strictly prohibited.
Only one of us is Catholic, but all five of us are huddled around a half-melted candle marked with the faded pastel image of the Virgin, trying to get the wick to catch the lighter flame. Taller than my step brother’s six feet, the candle sits at the base of a towering wooden cross that marks one of the gargantuan summits of the Austrian Alps. The typical European symbol of man’s conquest over nature. All five us are from the mountains – Colorado, Idaho, Montana – but we agree collectively that we have never seen anything quite like this. The air is thin and cold and the clouds are starting to move in with the wind. It’s Christmas Eve and I am as content as I’ve ever been standing on top of the world on the secure side of a low rock barricade, one person on a team of five trying fruitlessly to light a candle. We say a Hanukkah prayer at Karly’s request.
Rental boots are tough on the ankles.
Valloir is an ideal place to ski. That is to say, Valloir is an ideal place to ski as long as you indeed know how to ski (and well) and as long as you come just after the biggest snowstorm of the season has cleared out and as long as you have a healthy distrust of French trail maps. Providing that all the above requirements are met, you will have a perfect day.
…means getting older.
Generally speaking, I don’t like family visits. Leaning casually against a wall in Gare du Nord, three metro tickets in my hand, I’m waiting for my dad and Kenda. I run over the day I have planned for us. Hugs and kisses. Surprise at how adult my fifteen-year-old baby sister looks. Metro to Airbnb. Breakfast. Metro to Île de la Cité. Notre Dame to Shakespeare and Co. Over to the Right Bank. On it goes. I am entirely unprepared for the wave of tears when I see my dad’s orange backpack, the sleeve of his flannel shirt pushing out of the metro one level below me. I am overcome with relief.
Fil de fer.
The elevator in our building fits exactly four people of small to medium size. The elevator shaft is a green metal cage, porous, like a tightly-knit chain link fence, extending from floor zero to floor seven, where we live. The emergency stairs wrap around the shaft on all four sides, allowing whoever is climbing them to peer both into the windows of the passing elevator and all the way down the shaft, into the black hole at the bottom.
Almost home. Just reached the seventh floor and the elevator doors retract. I reach for the handle of the second door on the cage, my house keys slip from my hand, graze the threshold and tumble into the crack between the cage and the elevator, into oblivion. Too far up for the clink of the landing to travel.
We hurt our fingers, Gabrielle and I, unbending wire coat hangers and looping them together, snaking the hook through the holes of the elevator shaft on the ground floor, fishing for keys. Fifteen minutes in and no catch. Twenty. Twenty-five. Emma comes breezing through the entrance. “Let me try, I love puzzles.” I laugh and laugh when she hooks them immediately, pulls them up and through with a decade of dust and gooey black elevator grease.
The strangest place I’ve ever been. In a stately building in central Oslo, marked on the exterior only by a flag bearing an enigmatic logo: a caricatured corpulent man, a globe in the place of his stomach. The words “Mini Bottle Gallery” arced around the emblem. 55,000 bottles inside, not one of them empty. No music, no clocks. A basement, a ground floor and a second floor, every available space allotted to an impeccably shining case of miniature bottles. Bottles shaped like historical tyrants, bottles containing poison and potion and absinthe and the bloated bodies of small snakes and large insects, a bottle from every country of the world, even countries that no longer exist. The disquieting sensation of being watched. Three hours pass and I see only three people: myself, Tessa, and the ethereally beautiful Norwegian woman in charge of ticket sales.
I am stuffed into the elevator with Gabrielle, her two large suitcases and her backpack, which is bulging at the seams. Emma and Emily chase the elevator down the stairs, running in a spiral. We hold each other as best we can in the precious free space we have. I can’t quite conjure tears.
Olivia Newton John used to sing in this bar with a girl named Maria.
London is the perfect city to visit alone. Why, I can’t quite say. Maybe it’s just because people speak English, and that makes me feel safe.
The first English bookstore I have entered in months. I haven’t had much time to browse and a very, very old (ancient, in fact) South African man approaches me. We talk about the Pyrenees (he’s been on the Spanish side, I’m going soon to the French) and nonfiction books. He asks me to go next door for a cappuccino. I think about the sex trade and organ theft and how I’m alone in this big foreign city, but I go anyways. He is so frail, though impeccably dressed. He talks a lot, I talk very little. Two hours later he walks me (slowly) to the tube station, shouldering a young woman on the sidewalk along the way (“she did that deliberately, you know. She’s jealous that I’m with you, darling”).
Pyrotechnics in increments of ten.
I’ll spend the Fourth, as I have spent every holiday, with my American friends, around a table in an apartment. I’m going to miss the architecture. I’m running low on peanut butter. I land in West Yellowstone Airport on the 24th, a day after my sister turns sixteen. I have one goodbye left to make.
Written by: Amanda Allard, Honors Student
Amanda Allard is from Bozeman, Montana. She recently spent eleven months in Lyon, France (and elsewhere). She plans to return to France to teach English after graduation. After that, she’d like to work in Antarctica.
Edited by: Chloe Sekhran, Blog Manager