Chez Madame Morio

Even in the distance, there’s an elegance to the Eiffel Tower. The slender slopes of the tower’s legs gracing the horizon; the lights illuminating the surrounding area a shade of purple among the backdrop of the night sky.

I lean on the walled edge of the bridge, my feet perched a few steps behind to maintain my balance. The Eiffel Tower is to the left of my view ahead, seemingly turned at an angle given of where I stand.

The time on my phone reads a minute before the hour. I turn to Katie and Kathryn—the three of us waiting, patiently.

And then it hits, the time changes, a new hour begins. And the Eiffel Tower’s lights flicker into its sparkle. Five minutes on the hour and the Iron Lady awakes, adding life, movement and beauty to the otherwise still evening.

I smile. I’ve got two months left of this. This— the beauty, the city— this I’m not leaving.

The  Montparnasse Tower grazes the distance to my left— the dotted blue lights lining the contour of the building, also seemingly at an angle. Until this morning, I lived a ten- minute walk from the Montparnasse Tower. But tonight it’s no longer mine—no longer my landmark nor the view I’ve had for each of my four months coming out of the metro.

Tonight, the Montparnasse Tower, the Eiffel Tower, Paris a whole, it’s all on an angle. A new angle for a new experience. Refreshing, in some ways.

But you know, frightening in others.
Madame Morio, my French Grammar professor, invited our class for a potluck dinner at her home, the Monday night of my last week of my program.

The same day as my Monday Shavuot lunch with the Jewish family from shul. A complete day of speaking in French: exhausting to say the least.

She’s an adorable woman, my teacher. Tiny in height, Madame Morio possesses such a spark of personality that adds feet to her otherwise small figure. Her hair—a copper, ruffled head of curls—emphasizes her exuberance, the buzz of energy, positivity and admiration for all.

The door to the ground floor studio apartment was open, as I entered. Her apartment was rather cluttered, full of odd bits and pieces.

About half my class showed up, a wonderful group of students who, when we went around saying our ages, were mostly in their late 20s or early 30s. I had assumed the large percentage of them were roughly my age.

I spent a good portion of the night with my friend, Amanda, a 19- year- old girl from Sweden. We talked of her travels—a month long, community service trip to India and of her trip to Asia with her brother, a 15- year- old boy adopted from China.

There’s never been any question that her brother is a part of her family, Amanda said. But with his stark difference in appearance among the greater Swedish population, her brother battles in his search for definition-- a process to piece his background with his upbringing, the person he is today as opposed the person he could have been 15 years ago. 

Amanda accompanied her brother on his return to China an his visit to the orphanage. Born with a cleft palette, his birth parents had deposited him at a hospital. Eventually moved to an orphanage, Amanda’s brother spent his early months there before his adoption and move to Sweden.

Of the children deposited in Chinese orphanages, most are girls, Amanda said. And as one of the few boys, the orphanage, even 15 years later, recalled the young boy that once had been left in their care.

As did the one other boy that too had been left. A boy that never did get adopted, who continues to live in the orphanage today, hired by the center to work in their kitchen.

Amanda’s eyes glazed as she told the story, recounting the moment her brother and the other boy met, their eyes interlocked as each took in the other, both living proof of what their lives could have been.
Dinner at Madame Morio’s was planned as a potluck and with a melting pot of ethnicities, we had suggested the food brought reflected the nationality from. I purchased a brioche from Monoprix, the local grocery store. The top of the cake like- bread was braided, giving it a Challah- like appearance. Appropriate, I figured.

Classmates asked why I wasn’t eating the meat. I attempted explaining my kosher restrictions before falling back to the vegetarian excuse.

Until Madame, seeing the baffled expressions of my Asian classmates, squeezed her way into the conversation. And then proceeded to give a detailed, historical explanation to the rules and customs behind keeping kosher.  

Thanks to their French professor, rather than their Jewish classmate, my classmates left that night with a newfound grasp of the concept of kosher.

A man came in later that evening selling flowers. They do that, in Europe. Entering restaurants, homes too apparently, in attempt to sell roses to couples. They’ll hand over a single rose and raise the price until they are satisfied with the sum received.

Madame shooed off the man’s question, picking a Tupperware of brownies, rather, to offer him some food. Hallal? He asked. She turned to me. Kosher for her, Hallal for you. We laughed.
I spent my last day before leaving for London with Kathryn and, to our surprise, Katie, as she had missed her flight home. Kathryn had helped me that morning to move my thousand suitcases to my new home stay before the two of us set out separately on our day’s plans.

I paid visit to the doctor—a dermatologist with an office along the Champs Elysees—to confirm that the freckle on my face was not, in fact, skin cancer (my paranoia cost me 80 euros). I later met up with Kathryn at Musee Rodin, before reuniting with Katie and Erica for an Asian dinner along Rue Mouffetard.

And now, here we stand—on Pont Neuf, Paris’s oldest bridge, staring ahead at the Tour Eiffel, a structure that, for so many, defines Paris. But for us, it’s monument that represents a part of our four months abroad in Paris. Of our time together, our memories built, our stories created.

I remember day one, four months ago. Of struggling to get my suitcases from the Super Shuttle into the lobby of our first night’s hotel. Of giving up, and opting to leave all but one bag in the lobby for the night. Of the half flight of stairs to get to the elevator and of the tight squeeze to fit myself and the suitcase into the small space.

I remember seeing Kathryn walking downstairs that evening for our group meeting—her pink, crocheted winter cap snug on the top of her head. I remember Katie, the edges of her blonde hair poking out of her black, bowl hat. I remember thinking how French Katie looked, how warm the crocheted hat would keep Kathryn and how American I felt in my yoga pants and sneakers.

Four months later, these are my friends, this is our experience. That hat did keep Kathryn warm throughout the winter. And Katie’s hat eventually came off a month into our trip. As for me, I had arrived struggling in my ability to hold a conversation in French and hoping to return as a glamorous, fashion forward Parisian.

Four months later, I can hold a conversation, not saying I necessarily always get the grammar or conjugations right. And not that my accent has at all improved given I’m often asked if I’m Canadian.

Which from a Parisian, is far from a compliment.

I’ll return home still wearing yoga pants, still feeling like an American. But with me, I carry a stronger connection to a part of me that I left behind 16 years ago.

I could have grown up a young French girl. I could have grown up speaking English as a second language. And I could have grown up in a different world, a completely different life.

I’ve got two months left in this experience of this life abroad. I am pleased I’m staying, but in all honesty, I look forward to my eventual return home.

Though home is a funny word.

Because what these four months have left me with, is the question as to what does home really even mean?

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