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Home is Where Jeanne Is

April 12, 2018

The sun came out for a solid three hours today! Even though I'm pretty sure I'm coming down with a pretty serious cold, I took the long way to school to maximize vitamin D absorption and enjoy a little bit of blue while it lasted. Don't worry, it's pouring again; my host mom turned to me at dinner and said: "it hasn't rained that much while you've been here, right?". We both just kind of stared at each other for a second while I tried to figure out whether she was kidding, then she gasped and said "mais SI!but yes! which is a reference to the fact that it's been clear for maybe one day in every five, has snowed for the first time in five or six years, and one time the entire street turned to black ice and we watched bicyclists fall over outside our window as breakfast entertainment. Nevertheless, it was nice while it lasted, and the approaching summer promises hopefully more days like this one. 

Speaking of home, the time has come for the promised post about this lovely lady I've been living with for the past three (wow how did that happen so fast) months. When I first arrived, I was a little apprehensive about jumping back into a homestay family; as a college student in an apartment with friends, I've gotten used to cooking for myself, staying up until odd hours, and generally obeying few of the same mannerisms as when I lived at home in Vermont. At the same time, I knew the homestay was going to be an invaluable resource for making connections in France and practicing my French language on the daily. While I wasn't sure about how I felt intruding on another's home, I was excited about the amount of learning it would offer and to possibly connect with some local French youths, should my family have siblings my age. 

My first night with Jeanne was uneventful; she told me a bit about herself (had been hosting students for 40 years, had two daughters and five grandchildren, and loved to cook) and showed me to my room where I promptly passed out due to jetlag and travel exhaustion. Over the next few days, I learned more things about Jeanne. She had owned an antique store near Paris, where she met her husband, and her first student had come from Alaska where she lived 'three hours by horse' from the nearest city. Jeanne doesn't speak much English, but her favorite phrase is 'Oh my God' and she uses it liberally when she can tell I'm frustrated about schoolwork or stressed over exams. It was definitely a shift, learning to share her small apartment between the two of us; as someone who very much values their alone time, I spent the first few days overwhelmed by the idea that I had to spend every moment chatting or learning French or about French culture. We soon fell into a rhythm, though, that seemed to work well- Jeanne would always prepare dinner as I worked or before I got home, despite my repeated insistence that I would love to help, and then call me to the table. Dinner is often about an hour, where I will eat something new or incredible every night. When I first arrived, Jeanne asked me what I wanted to try and I jokingly responded that I was in France to eat every kind of French cheese that exists. We have had a new kind of cheese every week, as well as a constant supply of 'La vache qui rit' (Laughing Cow), which Jeanne says is mainly for the children "but we can enjoy it anyway". She's one of the best cooks I've had the pleasure of dining with, and seems to genuinely enjoy preparing every meal we have; it's been nice to have a constant person who understands my gluten-allergy as well, and safe food to come home to after sometimes frustrating days in town or at the university where I'm not able to eat as much. Jeanne has discovered the anti-inflamatory properties of gluten-free bread through me, and says she's going to continue buying our favorite cornbread after I leave, which makes a lot of sense since it's probably the best thing I've ever tasted. After dinner, I'll retreat to my room again to finish working, chat with folks from back home, or decompress a little, and the first to go to bed always wishes the other "bonne nuit!" before we close our doors. 

The funny thing about only having two weeks left in Nantes is at the same time I get panicked about fitting in everything before leaving, I also start thinking about everything I'm going to miss, and I would say about 75% of those things have to do with Jeanne. I'll miss her accidentally waking me up on mornings after I've come in late the night before with a knock on my door and a loud cry of "tu es la?", or the times I've been sick lying in bed and will hear a knock on my door and look up to see Jeanne bringing in a mug of tea. I'll miss all the stories I keep hearing more of, of France under German occupation during the 2nd World War or her encounter at a nail salon with the inventor of ketchup. I'll miss our discussions about religion, or politics; differences that could have been difficult but that became instead a powerful source of discussion and connection (not to mention the amount of French vocabulary I picked up along the way).

My other friends on the program have a range of different experiences, from families with five young kids to living on completely different floors with a separate entrance, but I wouldn't change a thing about living in this apartment (okay, maybe less construction would be nice) with one of the most caring and compassionate women I have ever had the pleasure to live with. While I'm excited to see what more Nantes has to offer these last two weeks, I hope also to relish the time I have left with Jeanne, and to continue to chat, laugh, and eat our way through the remainder of our time together. 

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