Category Archives: Travel

Monday Memories – Ready, Set, Go!

The continued chronicle of a young American teenager living in Europe during the mid 1960′s.

We moved from Paris, France to Germany in the middle of a cold, rainy January. The holidays were behind us, the trip to Nice and the Mediterranean a lovely memory of Christmas with Americans, the long lavender fields of Provence and the smell of French perfume wafting through the air. Although the trip had been fraught with the knowledge we would be leaving for the US, we had learned of the change in orders when we returned home to our apartment on Boulevard Victor Hugo. We would be moving with all the NATO allies to Germany and not returning to the US as anticipated.

There was a flurry of contact with all my classmates. Where were they going? When were they leaving? We wrote notes between classes, stuffed into our lockers with phone numbers, addresses and contact requests. “Please be sure to remember me when you move.” We begged each other to send letters and addresses as soon as we knew where we were going. And then, one day a friend was  missing from the bus, or another from a class. The lunch table emptied over the several weeks after our holiday break. Orders for the military called for families to pack and leave at a moments notice. Ours, as civilians, were almost the same. We would be moving to Stuttgart, Germany in a matter of days.

I returned from school to find my mother packing our belongings into the large suitcases purchased the previous June. This move would be just four of our family of five. My older brother was in England, attending the University of Manchester. My father returned from the NATO base with a file folder full of information about our new location. Orders to report in one weeks time left us little time to pack up, travel across the country, cross the border and find our new home. As civilians, we had time to pack as a family, say our goodbyes and begin the trip across France to Germany. Our car was filled with our suitcases, household goods purchased during our stay and my mother’s plants. Never one to be without a flower or green plant to add to our home, she made sure the plants were packed into the car. Many years later, I am the same.

I said goodbye to my friends at school, rode the bus one more day from our apartment and then it was time. The box of croissants reminded me of the familiar areas of Paris and hinted of the wonderful breads of the Germans. We would discover the rich bread of Bavaria, beer of the Garmisch region and the  wonderful Black Forest traditions of southern Germany. We were on another adventure. I would learn to appreciate a love of food, entertainment and the outdoors. I would travel by trolley, bus and train to learn the German culture. Little did I know, the adventure was a roller coaster of fun, laughs and good times. Typically German.

I learned later of the beauty of Germany, I studied ballet in a world-famous ballet school. I traveled through the beauty of a rebuilt and occupied Germany, Austria and into Switzerland. As we set off that cold rainy day, I promised myself I would learn German, live fully in the German culture and learn how to be European rather than an ex-pat. The years that followed that trip from Paris were full of adventures and eventful escapades, many laughs and the most fun. Little did I realize the importance of that move, more than any other, it would change my life.

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Monday Memories – The New Kid (Again)

The continued chronicle of a young American teenager living in Europe during the mid 1960′s.

North Carolina

My daughter will graduate from high school next month, the second high school she has attended.  She has a great circle of friends in both places, great academics, work she loves and memories of being the new kid. Although the change has been great, the learning experience that “being the new kid” provides will be most beneficial throughout her life. I know. I was the “new kid” five times in three years. That’s a lot of introductions, cracking the social codes and making friends for a young teenager. I learned how to start over, condense my life story to a paragraph and enter a room full of strangers without committing a social faux pas. It was a “great experience” I could pass along to my children.

My high schools were large, small, private and public. There were Americans in each of them, every race, religion and nationality. In one, English was the second language, in another, military rank created the social order. I rode buses to several schools, walked to another and lived in several dorms for a year. Each school presented its own social obstacles, academic emphasis and “new kid” hazing.  Each new school presented the classic “first day” nervousness and stress. The perceived benefits were few while I attended and like many experiences became more valuable as life unfolded. I learned that roots are important and yet you carry them with you. I learned you can have friends close by and maintain friendships with hundreds of miles separating you. I learned that academics can center on the same subjects with vastly different curriculums. But most important, I learned how being the “new kid” doesn’t last long because at some point, everybody is the “new kid.”

Paris

We moved from Paris, France to Stuttgart, Germany after a brief six months in France. I had learned to navigate the multi-building campus at Paris American High School with ease. I knew where the cafeteria was, the menu for each week and where the locker room was in the huge gym. I had friends who shared slumber parties, lunch tables and homework assignments. We giggled a lot and shared hopes and dreams of the American teenager of the ’60’s. They taught me readiness. Fathers of military dependents get transferred frequently. New orders give brief adjustment time and often, the father left before the family, who followed after packing their belongings and saying goodbye. Although friendships would survive with distance, they were ready to move and start over at a moment’s notice.

I was fortunate with the move from France to Germany. Most of my new friends in Paris moved to the same area in Germany. Attending a new school was easier because there were friends from Paris to share the experience. We compared notes when we met on the weekends. Three of us attended different schools in Germany yet managed to find time for roller skating, swimming and hiking German trails on the weekend. We still shared slumber parties, we still giggled a lot and we all made new friends. They helped me realize friendships can continue despite the miles between friends. Reunited in yet another school, we shared homerooms, English assignments and Home Ec. We went to the local “gasthaus” and Oktober Fest with older siblings, went to movies and the AYA (American Youth Association) dances. We rode buses to school and gossiped about the latest Beatles trivia. Those friends taught me to savor the moment, to live fully today and enjoy the present. Tomorrow may bring change, but we were together today and we made each day count.

Institute auf dem Rosenberg

I had a different experience when I changed to my fourth high school. This time there were no familiar friends or even family to ease my transition. This new school was in a different country, away from all of them. I was on my own, living at a boarding school where German was spoken at every meal and kids from all continents shared rooms down the hall. Whether privilege or punishment, this change in schools presented new challenges I hadn’t dreamed about when I wished to “live away” at age 13. Suddenly, I learned I could live in a house with 40 teenaged girls who spoke different languages than mine. I learned I could succeed academically without my parents’ reminders to finish homework. I learned I could be accepted in an international social group, sharing experiences that would make my mother cringe had she known. They taught me that change was possible and positive, that there was another world outside of America and that teenagers shared similar concerns everywhere in the world. I learned I could be separate from family and through trial and error, I could make good decisions on my own.

Chatham High School

The “new kid” status changed at my last school. I returned to my hometown after three years away. I was a “new kid” with my former classmates and friends, back “home” in the US. I returned a different girl, to a group who had no idea of who I was, where I had been or what I had experienced. They were different, too. Older, more confident, more knowledgeable about social issues, and more experienced in life in the US.  Most had lived in the same town since elementary school and knew all the faces in their small high school. Friendships were cement solid, grown together throughout their early high school years. Although they looked familiar, lived in their same house, they were as different from the person they had been at 13 as I was. It was a time of wary reconnection. I went to the same church, library and grocery store yet it seemed different from the town I had left. My school was American, I had the same teachers that my siblings had and we lived in the same house we had left three years earlier. I learned that you never “return” home. Different experiences, places lived and new histories prevent you from “picking up where you left off.” I did make new friends, I reconnected with former classmates and I earned my diploma. I shared confidences and dreams and developed friendships that continue today. I recognize many names on Facebook but have no memory of many of their recollections, I wasn’t there at the time. But, I learned that moving on is better for me, to be a “new kid” is easier than being “the returned” and that you have to look ahead for your future rather than dwell on the past.

I know we are the “new kid” throughout our lives, the new employee, the new roommate, the new neighbor, the new  student. I know what my daughter experienced and the confidence given her for the next move, when she is the “new kid” once again. I hope she carries her friendships with her as she looks forward to her future. I hope she recognizes the value of being the “new kid” and shares her positive experiences with the “new kids” in her life.

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Monday Memories – Holidays

The continued chronicle of a young American teenager living in Europe during the mid 1960′s.

Christmas tradition in our family changed radically from the central focus of home and family to travel and adventure. We now lived in Paris France and were comfortable with our new routines and apartment living. We observed the understated preparations of our neighbors for the holiday season, and remembered our American neighbors’ lights and outdoor decorations. There were wreaths on the doors, pine boughs in planters near the gates and ornaments hung from the lamp posts on the streets but no lights or grand displays in public places. We began to discuss how the family would celebrate our first Christmas in Europe and my parents’ twenty fifth wedding anniversary. My mother wanted to travel and so it was decided, we would travel through France to the Mediterranean Sea and spend our holiday in the French towns of Cannes and Nice, on the Riviera.

A trip at Christmas was a departure from the family oriented, small town celebration I knew for the past decade. Christmas Eve was my parents’ anniversary and always spent with my mother’s extended family. Christmas morning was at home and later, a trip to my father’s family for another celebration. That all changed in 1966, as my mother researched our route and planned the many chateaus and cathedrals we would stop and visit along the way south. The excitement began to build as we planned gifts to pack, ideas of silver anniversary celebrations were discussed and the maps appeared outlining our route. We would stop in Rouen, Avignon and explore Chenenceaux, Chambord and the perfume farms in coastal France. Cathedrals attended by Joan of Arc were on the list as well as the renowned bridge in Avignon. We shimmered with anticipation.

Disaster struck the day we were to leave on our 10 day adventure. Due to a delayed departure, my father discovered a change in plans with his job. De Gaulle had withdrawn his agreement for American forces, NATO and SHAPE headquarters were no longer to be in Paris but moved to Belgium and Germany. Many of the employees were being sent back to the US and that day, my father was included in those to return to the States.  The trip that had been long anticipated was now a diversion from the inevitable move back to America. Reluctantly, we left our apartment and set off to savor our one and only trip through France before packing our belongings for another move. We were disappointed but resigned. The car was packed, the excitement diminished but not gone and we set off.

The change in plans added a new quality to our visits en route to Provence. The chateaus were magnificent and free of the summer tourists that crowd each one in the Loire valley. We walked the paths of the French aristocracy, viewed the portrait galleries in each home and walked through the maze of the cathedral in Rouen. Arriving in Nice, we were weary tourists ready to share the holiday with US sailors in port for Christmas. My brothers and I went in search of a memorable anniversary gift while my mother planned our Christmas Eve adventure. Of course it included a “short walk to the top of a mountain for the table of orientation” which would highlight the distant landmarks. We discovered a centuries old silversmith while my mother read the Michelin guide to glean the area’s history.

After a “petite dejeuner” of croissants and black coffee, we set out for our morning walk. The path was rocky, through dense undergrowth and poorly marked. We wandered off course and three long hours later discovered a cement marker, the table of orientation, at the top of a goat field. The goats were our only companions as rain began to fall and we wearily set off down the mountain. This was not the Christmas Eve tradition of our past, but a test of our endurance. The quick thirty minute climb had turned into a multi hour-long hike. When we finally found our car, we discovered my father had carried a pine branch found on the ground near the top. It became our Christmas tree when wound through the chandelier in the hotel room and decorated with jewelry.

Later that evening, my mother asked about Christmas Eve services at a local church. Yes, she was told, there is an English church within walking distance but you must hurry. We hurriedly gathered our coats and walked the short two blocks to a small church tucked between shops near the waterfront. Entering the old stone building, we heard the familiar carols played and saw the many sailors scattered in the congregation. My memory of the service centers on the sound of “Silent Night” sung by so many Americans far from home, yet celebrating a beloved holiday together.  We were all Americans sharing our traditions in a small church in France, a true congregation.

The remainder of the trip was less eventful, a trip to Cannes, to Italy and then the long trip back to Paris. Our return was somber as the move to the states in January returned to our conversations. We returned to school and work determined to enjoy whatever time was left. Imagine our surprise when my father announced the sudden change of plans he had learned that day. “Pack your bags, but not for the US, ” he said, “We will be moving to Germany.” And so, the adventure would continue.

 

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Even Young Girls Get The Blues

Shells 6

The familiar sights and sounds of my neighborhood were far away, 3637 miles to be more exact. The games of SPUD and Kick the Can played after dark in the deadend circle of my street were only memories. My new apartment building fronted a busy roadway and there was no neighborhood gang to whistle up for a game of Flashlight Tag. I began to feel the pangs of homesickness, the ailment of the ex-pat tired of being alone.

Relocation is commonplace in 21st century America. Companies transfer employees from East to West, retirees leave hometowns for warmer climes and college students settle in their chosen cities after graduation. Americans love to move.  The agents find houses, locate schools and transportation and with minimal disruption, children enter a new school, parents commute via new routes and the families settle in. Now there is the internet for Skype conversations, cell phones send pictures and messages and email zips a letter across the ocean in less time than it takes to tie a shoe.

I moved before all that. I moved from New Jersey to Paris in 1966, when a letter written on onion skin paper was sent via Airmail and still took a week to get to my friends. I was a new teenager, alone with my family 3637 miles from my friends, school, church and community. I learned about homesickness. I learned about loneliness and I learned about making a fresh start. I later learned the relocation process can be habit-forming but that’s in retrospect.

We left New Jersey after a whirlwind month of dance recitals, house renovations and bon voyage parties. Although  we were dizzy from the anticipation and excitement of leaving a small suburban town for the ancient city of Paris, France, our new life was a blank slate, a grand adventure and a flat-out mystery. “Keep a journal” one friend advised. “Write a letter home every week and tell us all about it” said another. We were determined to stay connected and never thought of the effect time and distance would have on our friendships.

There were daily letters to and from several friends during those first two months. Exciting descriptions of our new city, life in an apartment and the daily challenge of learning a new language filled page after page as I tried to describe my new life. I eagerly awaited my father’s arrival each day with the bundle of mail he brought home from the NATO base where he worked. At first, there were long detailed letters filled with details about parties and boys, summer romances and vacation plans.  I saved them all for that lifeline to my home and friends, my antidote to loneliness. My education about homesickness, loneliness and living abroad had begun.

Homesickness

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Young Girl in the Big City

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Apartment life is vastly different from suburban living, all the rooms on one floor, an elevator outside your front door and a balcony overlooking the street. Our new home in St. Germain en Laye was a two bedroom apartment on the third floor, no built-in closets, a large bathroom with endless hot water and hand-held shower and a balcony overlooking the charming home of a tennis star. Cars were parked underneath the building and tall iron fences surrounded the property. I had left the US and discovered a new life.

I had lived in a small house in the US. Built in the early 1950’s it was a young family’s dream of three bedrooms, one bath and a small one car garage. We had the benefits of living on a dead-end street, near meadows and woods in a small group of houses. We walked the three blocks to and from school twice a day, in all kinds of weather. Lawns were mowed weekly, houses were similar in color and size and neighborhood children played outdoors with little adult supervision. It was the beginning of the “one bedroom per child” era with a formal living room and rumpus rooms in the basement. There was a front and back door, stairs to stomp up or down and plenty of room for additions. That house would soon fade from memory as I adapted to apartment dwelling, school buses and daily shopping excursions.

The French apartment was older by American standards, built-in the early years before the second world war. Parquet floors, an ornately carved marble fireplace and long double windows were immediate differences. I discovered the separation of water closet and “le bain” with its deep claw foot tub and bidet in the corner. The endless hot water heater was a teenager’s dream, the hottest water poured from the brass tap to fill the tub to my chin. The ceramic black and white tile checkerboard floor in the kitchen, entrance and bath was cold under foot every day of the year. ut The wood parquet of the living room was inlaid with multiple colors and patterns of wood and surrounded the thick persian carpet. The apartment was furnished with a blend of elegant French and sturdy Army issue furniture. Our family heirlooms packed away in storage in the US. There were massive armoires for storage and clothes, tall and ornate, the American beds and dressers square and durable. We learned that heavy velvet window drapes and thick Persian carpets were necessary to keep the damp cold at bay.

I shared a bedroom with my brother, until he left for college, our twin beds separated by solid Army dressers and desks. We took turns closing the door for private time alone. Another brother slept on a day bed in the living room, stowing bed linens in the armoire each morning. My parents claimed the second bedroom, moving carefully around the king sized bed set in the middle of the longest wall. There were armoires for each of us, smaller than the littlest closet in the US. Although we had brought along every item of clothing possible, the armoires remained half filled. Carefully the five of us began to live in France, learning the silence of old stone buildings, learning to cook in a doll sized kitchen and learning to use the public transportation like the locals. Every day offered a new experience, a new adventure in language, culture and life. We adapted to a smaller space by leaving each day as the French often do. We explored the town, the city of Paris and later, the French countryside. We were seldom in that small apartment during the early months of our stay except for meals and sleep. Extended tourists, the French called us, never really at home but living among them.

Throughout that first summer we gladly escaped each morning armed with centimes, francs and our thick Michelin guidebook. First an Army bus drove us to Paris, depositing us in front of the American embassy. From there, Paris was ours to explore. The rubber-tired Metro trains snaked underground through blue and white tiled tunnels, the cobblestone streets with wide sidewalks wound through the hills to Sacre Cour and we tried every path. Through the alleys of Montmartre to the parks by the Seine we walked to each site in the green guide. We followed each suggested route, saw every cathedral and small little church, inspected the Louvre exhibits and attended mass at Notre Dame, ending each adventure with “jambon et fromage” or a cafe au lait in a small sidewalk cafe. We were the endless tourists absorbing the flavors and scents of a city renowned for its food and perfumes. At day’s end we reversed our steps, returning to the American sense of security, boarding a bus at the embassy bound for the environs of Paris, our own little French village of St. Germain en Laye.

I learned early that I love the culture of a place and to live among the people while touring is my favorite way to travel.   After forty years, a picture of a street market, or the smell of fresh bread instantly transports me to that first trip away from the familiar. Although I lived in France for only eight months, the memory of that apartment, the city of Paris with its Metro and sidewalk cafes remains as fresh in my mind as the palm trees in my back yard today. A young girl in a big city, I learned to go places I had seen only in dreams. Today’s dream is to return and ride the Metro all the way home.

Metro Map

 

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Daily Bread

Early each morning children and housewives visit the Boulangerie to purchase baguettes, the long loaves of bread, we associate with French cuisine. The loaves poke from the string bag used by all to carry purchases from the market. Perhaps other treats are purchased from the Patisserie, the pastry shop, but a necessity in every French town is its Boulangerie. My initiation to the wonders of the bakery began soon after my arrival in St. Germain en Laye.

My father sprinkled centimes in my hand, the coin of the realm before the Euro, and gave me brief directions to the shop. He instructed me to ask for one loaf. His French was limited to the pertinent phrases he needed to navigate outside the NATO base where he worked and he struggled to translate the question for me. I left the apartment (another elevator ride to the street) and walked slowly up the cobblestone street, repeating the words he had spoken as a mantra. Bicyclists passed with loaves spearing like lances from the bags hung on handlebars. Housewives returned from the market weighed down with bags of produce and meat, loaves tucked under their arm. The loaves were long and thin, crusty outside with a soft sweet center.

I entered and stood inside the door of the small shop. The yeasty aroma of fresh bread mingled with the scent of fresh flowers perched on the glass case. Women stood near the case vying for the cashier’s attention. The rapid staccato of French gave the scene an urgent feel as I stepped forward to place my order. Suddenly, I was tongue-tied, the mantra deserted me and I stood, a young American girl surrounded by bustling French women. “Un pain s’il vous plaît,” I stuttered. My accent immediately alerted everybody in the shop and the hushed silence caused me to jingle my coins nervously. I stepped to the register, offered my centimes and grabbed the loaf. My face turned rosy with embarrassment as I made my way out the door clutching the bread to my side. Out on the street, I turned toward home and looked at my purchase. Instead of the long, thin, crusty spear of a baguette, I held a football shaped loaf. Clearly, I had made a mistake. Rather than face the same shoppers again, I raced through the alley, down the cobblestone steps and into the elevator. I had no idea what I had ordered, only that the loaf I brought home looked nothing like those common loaves of all the others in the shop.

Fortunately for me, there was a thick Berlitz guide to the French Language available. I admitted to my father the error I had made and searched the pages for the correct term. “Un pain” was an oval loaf, smaller in size than “un baguette” the more typical long thin loaf of every French household. It was a small yet crucial distinction, one I was careful to learn for my next foray into the Boulangerie of St. Germain en Laye. I also learned the difference between the Boulangerie (the bread bakery) and the Patisserie (the pastry bakery) although it would be some days before I developed the courage to explore the sweet wonders of the Patisserie.

Assortiments_de_Pt_11_petits_fours_assortiments

 

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A Young American in Paris

St. Germain En Laye

I was awake at dawn, ready to explore my new territory. I dressed in cut-off Bermuda shorts, a sweatshirt and my moccasins, the all American outfit of a thirteen year old. Through the hall, down in the elevator and out through the wrought iron gate to the wide sidewalk. To avoid getting lost, I decided to go around the block. Setting out, I noticed the high fences and walls surrounding the properties along Blvd. Victor Hugo. The streets were cobblestone and the sidewalks wide expanses of slate. Each building was right to the edge of the sidewalk with shutters closed against the morning light. My footsteps echoed as a sauntered past.

I arrived at the top of the hill and saw a small alley with a street sign indicating it was a real street. Narrow, with room for one car, the alley had a red sign with a big white dash in the middle. I had found the first of many international traffic signs. I later learned the red sign meant “one way, do not enter” but at the time it was merely a fascinating change from my former small suburban town. I walked around the block, past walled homes, peeking in the gates at century old buildings with cobblestone courtyards, past wrought iron gates painted black with gold leaf. I saw terra-cotta roofs, sagging forest green shutters and not one person. As I rounded the corner to return home, I met a woman carrying string bags filled with produce and long loaves of bread sticking out the top. Suddenly the sidewalk came alive with people, women sweeping their stone steps, men riding mopeds up the hill and a few girls watching from upstairs windows. Nobody smiled, nodded or acknowledged me in any way as I walked past but there were rapid exchanges in French after I moved along. My ears heard “American” and “fille”, “the American girl,” thanks to my 7th grade French teacher for that little bit of understanding.

I learned from my short walk around the block. The Bermuda shorts and sweatshirts were once again packed away, only to be worn in the comfort of our apartment. Never again would I venture forth without careful attention to my wardrobe. Shorts were not worn by anybody at any time. Sweatshirts were for sports players and not acceptable for young girls, American or not. During the following months, I walked along those same sidewalks on my way to the bus bound for Paris. I met many of those same people I had seen that first morning and after giving a long look at my outfit, I would receive a nod or a smile of greeting. I had been initiated into the world of French appropriateness and had learned a valuable lesson. Clothes were important and first impressions were lasting.

The French dress impeccably when going out and about. Tailored suits, caps and jewelry are seen on young and old, regardless of employment. It is later, when entering a shop and the same woman who was dressed in tailored cashmere now assists from behind the counter, covered by a royal blue smock, the attire of every working Frenchman. I learned that day to be aware of different cultures and traditions. I was no longer a small town American girl, I was now a young American in Paris and I wanted to blend with the nationals. It was an eye-opening experience.

The hanging gardens of St. Germain en Laye

 

 

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