15 October 2013

All about France

Here are portions of my story from my time in France...

Once I believed that a picture is worth a thousand words. The reason for this is that I made a life changing decision as a result of old photographs of my father’s. Glimpses of France, frozen into slides, inspired me to venture to Paris. Upon wandering the streets, I discovered that Paris tugged at my soul, not because of my father’s priceless images, nor the beautiful buildings adorning the streets. France kindled a desire in me to find out who my Dad really was. What I mean is that I felt my father’s time in France, captured in his slides as it was, not only revealed him, but defined him as well, For instance, his romanticism surely started as he wandered the fairy-tale castles of ancient France. Yet as I became more deeply connected with my father, I discovered that my motivation to understand him was only a yearning to truly understand myself.

As a result, I snappped pictures everywhere I went, trying to uncover my soul in the buildings and art around me, as I believed my father had done. Although I felt pictures would be worth more than words, the words I poured into my journals, describing the whimsical surrounding of Paris, have more importance over the photographs I shot. My writing about France is a tribute to my father, and as such it is a confession of the impact that his life had on mine. It exposes how much I felt connected to him as I walked the Parisian streets. The pictures I took in France are worthwhile to me but they cannot capture who I am. Those words, on the other hand, bare my soul.

I have always had a special bond with Dad. He has been my idol as long as I can remember. As a kid, late at night Dad would slip into my bed, lie there next to me and we would have whole conversations without saying a single word. Our already strong relationship grew even more when I was about 12 and Dad pulled out his mission boxes. Because of our unique bond, I felt drawn to these boxes that contained two years of my father’s life that I knew nothing about. Dad explained to me his goal of organizing everything and it soon became ‘our project.’

The biggest obstacle to conquer was the massive amount of pictures. He had taken hundreds of pictures; instead of developing and printing all of his pictures, he had them printed on slides so that he could project them ten times the size of a photograph. We borrowed a forgotten projector collecting dust on the back shelf of the church library and carted the old machine home for a week or two.

At home, the best place to project the films onto a white surface was in the corner room upstairs that I shared with my older sister. We squeezed into the minuscule space between two beds, a dresser, and a desk, propped the machine up with books from my shelf, flipped off the lights and pointed the projector at the blank door of my closet. with a click and a whir, Dad flipped on the projector and inserted the first slide. From the moment that the chateau Azay-le-Rideau popped into focus on my closet door, something in my soul stirred and France left its first imprint on my little almost-teenage heart. The farther into the stacks of slides that we got, the more and more enthralled I was with the images of France flipping in front of my eyes.

Night upon night, Dad and I stayed up late, spending hours going through his pictures. We sat on the bedroom floor with the ceiling fan on full blast to stir the air in the roasting heat while he clicked the slides and I attempted to label his images in a language I didn’t know. The two of us crammed into that upstairs room in the middle of the summer in Vegas with a machine going. But the stifling bedroom and the heat pouring out of the projector didn’t flush my cheeks-- I burned with the growing desire to visit the places that kept appearing in my bedroom. Click. Champs-Elysees. Click. Eiffel Tower. Click. Notre-Dame. Flickering images burned into me.

As the slides ticked by, one at a time, Dad began to talk. With every slide there was a story. They were not the typical walking to school uphill in the snow stories that usually come from parents’ pasts. These stories started with ‘When I was living in Tours, France...’ which is enough to make any young girl’s head spin. I was captivated all the way until the climax of the the stories-- ‘And that is when the French man opened the door in his underwear and swore us away.’ I listened and laughed and learned from my Father. I loved the light that was beginning to reflect from his eyes to mine when he spoke of the Loire Valley and the castles. And through the heat and the stories, there were always the images, shimmering unreal shadows dancing across the closet-- lines from cars spinning in a circle around the Arc de Triomphe, a doorstep in a narrow street in a small town in France, castle torrents scraping the sky, bridges stretching over foreign rivers. I knew I had to go to France.

When I finally arrived in Paris at the beginning of 2006, I ventured out into the city with several girls in an attempt to prevent major jet lag. The other girls anxiously searched for food to quiet their grumbling stomachs while I tagged along behind them in a daze. I still do not know if the fog hanging over my head was from a lack of sleep or from amazement at where I was. we headed to the Latin Quarter to find a cheap crepe stand and, on the way, darted past Notre Dame. Although the other girls had visited Paris before, I still could not believe how fast they passed the cathedral with hardly a glance up. I struggled to convince myself that I was not dreaming and that the facade flying by in front of me was not a projection of one of Dad’s pictures.

My first glimpse of the Eiffel tower was also hazy-- literally. As I glided down the Seine River on a boat tour on an overcast, grey and rainy day, monuments slid into focus and back into the gloom. At the end of the tour, and by the time I was drenched from the spray of the boat and the sprinkling from the air, one massive leg of the Tower poked out of the cloud, only hinting at the size of the monument it held. I did see it in its full glory less than a week later. It ducked in and out of behind apartment buildings, giving me quick glances as I zipped along Metro Ligne 6. I almost believed the Eiffel Tower was not really there-- I must have been imagining it.

My unbelief at being in France never faded, and that was fine with me. I do not understand why, but everything seemed more romantic in that dream-like state. I am a romantic, just like Dad, so it was perfect for me. my imagination had more room to go nuts. I was sure that in Paris, the pianist I could hear playing classical music in the apartment above mine was a young bachelor trying to write a symphony.

Taking pictures is the one thing, besides the language, that I struggled with when I first got to France. I could not bring myself to snap my camera at anything. I tried to explain to Dad on the phone that I knew my picture would not do the originals justice, so I took very few pictures. My wise Dad explained, ‘You will never capture the blues of Chartres-- but perhaps you can capture an image that will make you remember how you felt standing and looking at the stained glass.’ And I remembered sitting on my bedroom floor, looking at Dad’s pictures and listening to him describe the places, introduce the people, laugh at the stories. Through those pictures, Dad started talking and sharing emotions with me that I somehow understood, even at 14. Through those pictures, I decided I had to go to France. I had to go for me-- to learn a new language, to see these places, and to discover who I was. But I had to go for my dad too-- to understand who he was and to make him proud.

After I realized that Dad’s pictures pushed me into going to Europe, I went camera crazy. I took pictures of everything-- streets, buildings, funny tee shirts, smart cars and interesting people. Only once in awhile did I find that I struggled to pull out my camera and try to capture the moment. That only happened in museums. Over and over I went to the museums and stood in front of paitings with tears streaming down my face. There I was, standing in front of a Monet, a Van Gogh, a Delacroix, a Rembrandt.

When I returned to the States, Dad and I sat down with his projector and with my computer and watched Paris blink before our eyes, one photo at a time. We laughed and told stories, and cried and shared experiences. And sometimes we didn’t say anything at all, but just looked at the shadows of France that we each captured with a click. Without a word, we both understood. I went to France so that I could have that connection, that moment of understanding.

Today, I understand that somehow I never developed that deep of a connection with Jacob. We knew each other, we loved each other but at a deeper level, I do not think that we ever really understood each other. France has helped me be able to bear my current life, in a way. Not only because of what I discovered about myself while I was there, but also because of what I learned about connecting to another person’s soul. I have to believe that someday someone besides my father will understand me on this level.
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