We turn away from Parliament and towards rue Saint-Jean, thoughts trained on getting back to the warm, cozy little house at Number 51. Our professor has just explained (en Francais) how to get back to the main street, and I’m not quite sure if I understood everything.
Suddenly, it does not matter. Because Quebec City is laid out in front of me, sloping away and into the night, like a sparkling, twinkling patchwork blanket, like a million stars have abandoned their places in the Universe to rest here, on this sacred patch of earth. I know now that the horrific and laborious travel, the confusion, the muddy head from a day of speaking and hearing and not understanding a language I will soon find necessary to survival—are all worth it. I will be fine.
This is how I felt yesterday, and that was BEFORE the magnificent dinner of potato and coconut milk soup, maple dressed salad, and chicken stuffed with ratatouille, all prepared by my truly welcoming host mother, Michelle. You heard right! I had sugar! And cheese too. I’m being naughty. It feels great.
Now, I’ll admit there have been some grey, even black, moments. My French is just as bad as I suspected – having taken a three year hiatus and attempted to learn Chinese in the void has done little for my abilities, and there is a small, stewing pot of worry in my stomach having to do with my entrance into French society in less than two weeks time. My host parents in Quebec speak French, but have a good grasp of English (especially my host father), and are infinitely helpful. They patiently explain words I do not understand, and spell out new verbs for my French notebook. I am rudimentary at best.
But I love it here, I really do. The crowded, narrow little streets with hidden alleys of cobblestones to trip over; the bright doors and roofs that somehow drive the grey sky further away; even the grey sky a little, because it makes me feel like I’m living in a giant snow globe.
I also received two pieces of unexpected encouragement in the last twenty four hours that made my heart leap and incited a burning desire to succeed at this whole shebang.
1) I received a postcard from my host family in Rouen, who were responding to my previous introductory letter. It was sweet and lovely, but more importantly, it had four little names written at the end, after their mother’s, in different colors and handwritings. I’m staying with children! I can learn from them, and they can make fun of the idiotic American girl. For some reason, this really cheered me up.
2) I stopped by a little grocery today, called the European Epicurie. Inside they had all sorts of delights, but I headed straight for the fromage and charcuterie (cheese and specialty meats). I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this, but I am very fond of cheese. I asked rather tentatively for a goat cheese that was unpasteurized in French, then sort of devolved into English when the cheese monger explained a few points to me in my native tongue. He then told me “you should keep up your Francais. You have a lovely accent.” !!!
That, as my friend Courtney said, is encouragement if I’ve ever heard it. I would have to agree.