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Friday, February 26, 2016

Narbonne: The Farewell Tour

After my end-of-year backpacking trip (Stockholm, Oslo, Edinburgh, Oxfordshire and Norfolk, England), I returned back home to Narbonne on May 16th (2013) to gather my things, say goodbye to my remaining friends and my little French home, and start my journey (via Paris!) back home home, to Texas.

train ride home from the Béziers airport

That evening, my Thursday night students wanted to see me one last time before I left. Odette came to pick me up, and she wanted to show me a little bit more of the country before we went to dinner at Danièle and Gilbert's house. She took me to Le Somail, which is described by the Internet as a "hamlet" on the Canal du Midi. It's picturesque and quaint and perfectly French.

This stone bridge was constructed prior to 1683.

This crazy bâteau was actually a little shop.

Used bookstores are my fave, and this one was huge.

You can see Odette in this one in her pink coat!

des canards, which say "coin-coin" in French instead of quack quack

on the way back to Narbo

Once back to Narbonne, we headed over to Gilbert and Danièle's for dinner. The funny thing is that they had previously asked me if there was anything particular I wanted or didn't want for dinner that evening. I try to be a really good guest and not be picky, but I did mention that seafood isn't really my favorite. I didn't say "I do not like seafood," but in all honesty, I almost never eat seafood unless I'm in Louisiana or I'm offered some. When given a choice, I almost never choose it. So imagine my surprise when I showed up and Danièle had, very sweetly, prepared an entire seafood-themed meal. Down to the decorations. It was kind of comical, but also beautiful. I figure they either forgot, or they thought I said "seafood is my favorite," or maybe they just thought they would make me seafood so wonderful that I'd change my mind forever. I kind of think it was this last one. Either way, it was still enjoyable, and I love the way the French truly value food differently than we do; it's an experience, not just a necessity. I miss special long French meals. 

sea-themed tablecloth, plus actual seashells as décor

and fish plates... DOUBLE fish plates
Marie-Émilie hand-painted a porcelain plate for me as a parting gift!
Here she writes: "Dear Cate, The time has come when the "beautiful migratory bird," you must leave again for your home country! .. may this bouquet of flowers bloom without ceasing in order to remind you of your stay in Narbonne, little corner of France which is reflected in the ponds along the seaside! Very amicably, Marie-Émilie"
Honestly, the French do have a flair for creating art and poetry in everything they do. I've never known a culture in which beauty was more important than in France.
It was so nice to see them one last time. I loved how they treated our time together as so special, and it really was. I'm so thankful to my Thursday night students, Odette, Gilbert, Danièle, and Marie-Émilie, for all of our time together: our weekly lessons, our trips to Perpignan and Collioure, and this lovely last dinner.
Friday afternoon and evening, I walked around Narbonne a little bit by myself. I knew it would be the last time I walked these streets, and I just wanted to spend some time in the city on my own. The weather was (finally) nice and warm, and I'm so glad I took the opportunity.

After spending some time alone in my little French home, I headed to Macar to prendre un verre with Corentin and Anais. Why didn't I take a picture?! You may have noticed in my "Assistants, Amis, Famille" post that most of the people pictures weren't mine. I guess I was more focused on taking place photos that year and not people pictures, which is too bad. But we had a lovely chat and caught up on all of the goodbyes that had happened during my absence and everyone's plans for the summer. It was so surreal saying goodbye to my last friends in Narbonne. Too many goodbyes.

On Saturday, I had to take care of some last-minute business and PACK. Édith and Alex (one of my teacher colleague friends and her husband) were going to come pick me up on Sunday, but they called late Saturday afternoon and suggested they come get me in a couple of hours, take me to dinner, and have me over to spend the night at their house in Saint-Nazaire-d'Aude and spend all Sunday together before heading to the train station. Of course I said YES and went into superpackingmode. 

Here's a really stupid video of me leaving my room/the Château Diderot for the last time that I really just made to refresh my memory when I'm 82 and can't remember.

Édith and Alex came and got me a couple hours later, and took me to a nice dinner at L'Estagnol. Early packing bonus, for sure! We had a great talk at dinner and went back to their home in St. Nazaire d'Aude. 

They introduced me that night to Eurovision, a European song contest which I'd NEVER heard of and kind of love. Basically, European countries hold contests to determine which act will represent them in Eurovision, and in May, each country's act performs, countries vote and assign points, and then the winner is selected. The winner's country then hosts the contest the following year. There is all sort of Euroweirdness afoot, and lots of obvious (and some less obvious) politics, as well. It's absurd and amazing and turns out some really interesting and sometimes great music. This American will never be the same! (I do try to watch it each May now... it's so greatweird.) (Side note: If you're not European and you've never heard of Eurovision and you'd like to understand, read this HILARIOUS synopsis.)

On the morning of May 19th, I woke up for my last time in southern France. We had a really lovely day, but it was a bit surreal knowing it was all about to end. We had lunch and then headed to see Cathy (one of my colleagues whom I've mentioned several times before) and her family at her son's rugby game. Her parents were in town, so I could to see the whole gang! They even had a t-shirt with the team's logo on it for me so I could be a proper fan.

Samuel (Cathy's son) with Cathy's father

moi, Cathy, & Édith

moi et Édith

That evening, we had a barbecue dinner at home and then Édith and Alex were planning on taking me to Le Somail (which was only about 2 1/2 km away) to walk around and have a drink. However, Édith then had an even better idea: We'd bike there. 

There were secretly two problems with this scenario:

1) We only had two bikes.

Solution: Édith would put on her roller blades and just grip onto Alex's seat.

2) I hadn't ridden a bike in ?!?! years.

Solution: I don't mention that. It sounded perfect, and I wanted to do it. So I did.

So we set out and rode our bikes down the road. We had a bit of a moment when we had to stop (and by "we had a bit of a moment," I mean "it became clear that I actually had not ridden a bike in a decade and a half"), and my secret was discovered. It went something like this:

Édith: "No, Kate, we're going this way!"
moi: "Oh, sorry!" (tries to stop quickly) (is unsuccessful) (almost crashes and falls)
Alex: "I thought you said you rode bikes?"
moi: "Well, I have. But it's been like, at least 15 years. But I didn't want to mention that because then I figured you'd say we should drive instead."
Édith: (laughing) "That's true. It's better you didn't say anything, or we wouldn't have done it." 

Spoiler alert: It all worked out, and I lived, and the memories I gained by telling that little white lie were completely worth it. #noragrets

I'll never forget that last evening. I tried to take it all in as I (precariously) rode a bike with my friends through the French countryside and past vineyards to a picturesque hamlet on a canal. I sat in good company, talking and laughing as sunset approached. We sat, watching the rippling canal reflections, reflecting ourselves on stories the year while making creating one final memory. It was a beautiful, peaceful, and fitting conclusion to this extraordinary year I spent exploring the charming south of France. I will never forget this evening, I will never forget these people (or any others I met along the way), and I will never forget this year. 

This. This right here. What a way to go out.

My final words to Narbonne, from May 19, 2013:

Merci, Narbonne, mon petit "chez moi" français, de m'avoir donné plein de bons souvenirs, de vent, de temps pour me reposer et me revivifier, et de nouveaux amis irremplaçables. À la prochaine...

Thank you, Narbonne, my little French home, for giving me plenty of good memories, wind, time to rest and revive myself, and new irreplaceable friends. Until next time...

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