Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Lost in Translation #6: Erin

{Erin from Reading My Tea Leaves is an amazing photographer who taught in France for a year. She agreed to share a little slice of her time spent there, while wonderfully describing what comes after. The memorialization process is something I never tackled in my blog, but Erin's words really touched me and I'm sure everyone who has traveled or lived abroad can relate. Merci Erin for your beautiful words and pictures! Make sure you go to her dreamy blog for more of her stunning photography.}

{Mâcon}









Memory Making.

The year after I graduated from college, I went to live in France for a year. I had studied in Toulouse in college, and I was ready to go back to live on my own. During the 1940s, my grandfather had spent several years in Northeastern France, teaching Latin in a Catholic school for boys. As a little girl, his stories had enthralled me, and going back by myself at the age of 22, I felt like I was following in his footsteps. In September of 2006, I boarded a plane and half a day later, found myself lugging my bags up the steep set of stairs at the train station in Mâcon, a small city in southern Burgundy.

For the next ten months, I would teach English to French school children in five different elementary schools. I would live with a family of six and care for four adorable children. I would ride bus number 15 to teach my classes. I would take a short cut through the trees to tutor a high school boy in English. I would pass the same woman with her baby stroller every day for months, always in the exact same spot, always at the exact same time. I would create a life for myself in Mâcon, and at the end of a year, I would leave it all behind.

The return, I think, is the most startling part of living somewhere apart from friends and family. And for me, being apart from my friends and family wasn’t half as difficult as coming back to them. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to come home, or that I didn’t miss them--I did, sometimes terribly. Rather, it was that I had existed in a world that, try as I might, I couldn’t quite manage to share. They could not conjure the smell of the small épicerie that I frequented on my walk home from teaching—a combination of fresh produce and dusty boxed crackers and stale cigarette smoke. They didn’t know how the plastic bus seat felt as I made my way to school in the morning, or how the gravel crunched under my bike tires on my rides through the vineyards. They didn’t know the weight of the skeleton keys I carried in my pocket, or which way to turn the key in the lock so that the portail would finally open, couldn’t hear the squeak that my shutters made as I pushed them open each morning, or watch the way the reflection of the morning sun in my neighbor’s window changed with the seasons. Returning home brought the realization that as much as my life was shared with the people around me, the experience, ultimately, was singularly my own—perhaps not a true revelation, but one that I hadn’t fully grasped before.

I realize now, that for all of my grandfather’s storytelling about France, I will never know the details of his everyday life—I won’t know the sound that his footsteps made on the pavement of the schoolyard, or the smell of his classroom, or the sight of the gnarled hands of the grocer who sold him his apples. These details were his alone to remember. But the most striking difference between my experience and that of my grandfather’s was the documentation. As far as I have ever known, there exist no photographs of my grandfather’s séjour in France. In a way I think he is lucky—his stories were perhaps richer than my can be because they are not aided by photographic evidence. But for now, I am happy to have these photographs, and happy to share them. Even if you won’t be able smell the grapes, or hear the crunch of the gravel in the same way that I could and still do; they will help to bring an element of my experience closer to you.

Pictures by Erin.

27 comments:

Kelly said...

Wow she is such a beautiful writer! I feel like I can picture everything she describes! This was lovely. And her pictures! They match her words.

Amazing post.

orange sugar home said...

I also feel like I just took a little visit to a beautiful place. Great post.

Vivian said...

Thank you, Erin! It seems like such a beautiful, quaint town. What great memories you must have.

I know what you mean when you say you had existed in a world unknown to (dearly missed) family and friends.

When I came back here, it seemed like I had never left. Everything picked up where it had left off. For a year, I had a completely different daily life in Seoul, but somehow it was difficult to grasp for others.

Amanda Nicole said...

Beautiful essay, I love all the imagery and senses engaged ... thank you for transporting me for a moment!

naturally nina said...

lovely!!

thevoyageofv said...

This was so wonderful to read, Erin. You're a fantastic writer. You capture so well what it feels like to take a journey like that all alone. No one ever knows what it was like for you. The friends you make in France know that side, your family at home knows the other side. But in the end we're really the only real witnesses of our lives. It's kind of nice. A privilege :-)

knack said...

so lovely......what great, great memories and fantastic words! :)

Julia said...

Erin wrote such a beautiful post on her time in France. I think this was the perspective I needed to understand, or at least appreciate from a distance, my boyfriend's (now husband's) experience teaching in France. Erin captures those feelings of loss and nostalgia perfectly. Incredible!

Bonbon Oiseau said...

fantastic essay erin...you capture the fee;ling of what it really is to own your own experiences so beautifully...salut!

erin said...

thanks to all of you for your kind notes. and special thanks to vivian for allowing me this space to write in. xo, erin

Rebecca said...

what a beautiful post...and such a thoughtful series on your blog.

nichole said...

I really enjoyed this! Thanks for sharing.

The Queen of Hearts said...

These are impressive pictures.

Grace said...

What a magical story and experience, one intertwined with history. Thank you for sharing!!

Stacey said...

Beautifully written and documented, how lovely that you took a year to do something for yourself that will always be with you.

cindy : quaint said...

just like your grandfather shared with you, you've shared with us. i enjoyed your translation and the photos are wonderful, especially the first one.

cindy : quaint said...

just like your grandfather shared with you, you've shared with us. i enjoyed your translation and the photos are wonderful, especially the first one.

Adrienne said...

beautiful, visual story! makes me yearn for london and my time spent there in college. the place i learned to be independent, to be me. where my interest in food & photography unfolded...thank you for sharing!

Thao said...

This was such a nice morning treat! Erin's experience (and her thoughts on it) are so unique and filled with detail. I love the photos especially! Thanks to you both for letting us experience a part of Paris. :)

Life Abroad said...

This is such a beautifully written post, and it captures so many of the textures, sights, and sounds of a foreign place. I know that when my time here in Amsterdam is done, I will likely feel this way. It's not the same explaining it to people as it is experiencing it yourself, and Erin is right, the experience is singularly my own.

Sweet Nothings said...

this series makes me want to hop on a plane RIGHT NOW!!

Simply Mel said...

An incredibly written post! Goosebumps cover me now because Erin beautifully put into words the exact feelings I have each time I travel to Europe. Our own personal memories are our cherished 'secret' treasures we can hold onto for a lifetime. And these little treasures are what makes me return as often as possible....

Gracie said...

Her writing is gorgeous.

Love Grace.

{lovely little things} said...

I wish I had studied abroad, it sounds magical!

Nicole Marie said...

i have chills.

The Lil Bee said...

This was one of the most beautiful blog posts I've ever read. Seriously. Thank you. I discovered Vivian's blog when she was living abroad and fell in love with it...partly because of how wonderful her stories were, and partly because I never experienced something like it. I love to travel and do as much as possible, but have never lived somewhere for more than a few months. There's something so introspective about traveling, especially on your own, and that's what I miss the most when I go long stretches without it.

Melvin said...

wow, great post...
thanks for sharing....


___________________
Melvin
Save OVER 50% for 3 months,Save $21/mo for an Entire Year!* on your Favorite Channels