I’m an African American Francophile and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
Have you ever dreamt about going someplace and idealized it so much you’re afraid to actually do it?
That’s me and France.
We have a long relationship (though France doesn’t know it).
Since I was sixteen year-old and first stepped foot into French class, I’ve been in love.
Sure, we’ve had dry spells. After I finished my language requirement in college I stopped being as attentive. It wasn’t all my fault. I studied hard and tried my best and while I was decent at reading and writing, my tongue wasn’t so great about speaking it. And my ear couldn’t decipher the words when my instructor spoke at a normal conversational pace. He had to slow wwaaaaayyyy doooowwwn for me to understand.
You can’t have a relationship without healthy communication from both sides.
I felt a little inadequate and France didn’t do anything to alleviate my feelings. I gave and gave and gave, but France didn’t budge; it wouldn’t change its language just a little bit to meet me halfway. So, though my love never waned I left the relationship for a while.
Then, about two and a half years ago my love was reignited by happenstance. A co-worker did it. Every time I saw him he’d ask if I’d been on any vacations recently and every single time I said no. Then he stopped asking if, and instead asked why not?
You know how you’re going about your life trying not to think about the one that got away? It was Iike that.
Why not? Because the only place I really wanted to go was France, and there was either never enough money in my account to do it or no one to travel with. It wasn’t like France was making any effort to win me back–If I didn’t always make the first move–brushing up on historical locations, trying local French restaurants, listening to French Hip Hop–we would have no relationship at all.
All I wanted was France, dammit! Why didn’t my co-worker get the hint and shut up about it? Read the room, already! I wanted to tell him. [But people get funny when you talk about a country like it’s a person you’re in a relationship with so I clammed up instead].
But answering his question made me ask my own. I do lots of stuff on my own. And I know how to budget for the things I want. Why not take myself to France?
It was like the question opened the floodgates of reminders of all the things I loved about it, and then some because by this time I’d been dabbling in French pastries. Note to the world — um, did you know that French pastries are absolutely delicious?
Then I started jotting down the things I would want to see and the places I would want to go. There were so many I figured out that if I tried to hit everything I would collapse, and it might not hurt to plan a series of trips. I mean, my French teacher went every year, so could I.
And that’s when I realized how limited I’d grown. I’ve always wanted to travel but I haven’t been out of my state in an embarrassingly long time. A military brat who took my first cross country trip at about six months old, as a kid all I wanted was to set down roots somewhere. Boy, I made that thing happen! (I’m an overachiever)… too well, maybe. Now I feel my stationary status is an insult to military brats everywhere. So, I decided to go alone and began making plans in earnest to fly out to do the thing in Fall 2020.
But every love story has conflict. Ours wasn’t a misunderstanding or missed flight. It was COVID. We all know how that went.
It’s like the universe is trying to keep us apart.
But no worries, I’m planning again. Untested love is no love at all. I have a renewed focus and commitment to this relationship that a pandemic is not going to destroy. The extra time means I may take those French lessons I’d been thinking about to impress France with my improved communication skills.
But I have to admit, part of me wonders if the thrill of the affair was only because it was a long-distance relationship. I mean, once I’m actually there day after day, will we tire of each other? Will we have similar interests? Will we have similar values and beliefs? Is it a one-sided infatuation?
I suppose you could say we already tried the long-distance thing and it didn’t work. I figured, maybe it was time to try a real relationship; waking up to each other, staring into those twinkling lights at night, riding the waves of the Seine and exploring the treasures of the countryside, taking a train to the south to walk the sunny beaches along the Riviera, gambling like 007 in Monte Carlo, climbing the snowy heights of the Alps, running through the bright purple lavender fields cloaked in a sundress and a smile. And so many beautiful houses. And the art. And chocolat.
Most black Americans have heard of the warm support for black soldiers in France after WWII. We’ve heard of the many writers during the Black Renaissance pulling up stakes to become ex-pats in France. We know about Josephine Baker and her love of the country. Rumor has it France is a safer spot for black Americans.
You mean, it will accept me as I am–[I’m the perfect weight, the perfect shape, and my brown skin is not an issue for you...?]–like that?
A small part of me worries that meeting France up close and personal will destroy the fantasy. Just like any online date that moves to in-person, you really don’t know what you’re going to get. What if France is like the U.S.? I love my country but let’s face it, my country has made no secret that it’s not really that into me.
Or, what if France loves me but I find my affections have cooled–the lights are not so twinkly in the cold light of day? What if we don’t jive? What if France is cool jazz to my smooth jazz and we don’t really sync, after all. That would break my heart.
But … what if we do?
What if I love France and France loves me back? What if it loves me even with my poor language skills and I love it even with its not-so-pretty neighborhoods and irrational hatred of peanut butter-and-jelly? Then what? Would one face-to-face encounter be enough to satisfy me for a lifetime? Would it be torture to leave? Could I then resume my normal life? Would I sell everything I own to live out of a car parked on the side of the Champs-Elysees, just to be near my love? You never know. Things happen.
I have no idea but I’m gonna find out.
It doesn’t help that I’ve started writing a book set in France during the pandemic. As a writer, I get a bit wrapped up and compulsive about the subjects I’m researching. My poor family and friends have been hearing about France for two years now. Hardly a sentence comes out of my mouth that isn’t somehow related to my renewed obsession.
What? You want champagne? Did you know that, legally, the only sparkling wine that can call itself champagne is the wine that comes from the Champagne region in France?
What? You want to go to the park? Did you know there are over 400 public parks in Paris, alone and you can openly drink wine in all of them?
(Yes, I realize I’ve mentioned wine twice in the space of five seconds. What are you, the wine police?)
And now I’m sharing my obsession with you. I’m a giver.
It’s not just me, you know. Have you watched House Hunters International? I managed to catch two episodes with African American Francophile women for whom living in France had always been their dream. Somehow they managed to find men (one French, one not) willing to leave the U.S. and move to France.
I admire these women; they obviously put their first love above all else and the universe supplied them the men to suit their needs. It’s like they say, love conquers all.
So I’ll be posting about France, black people in France, French food, French cinema, black people making French food and cinema, literature, black French literature, history, black people in French history, my French stories … you get the idea. It’s not the only thing I’ll be writing about but if you don’t care one whit about France it might seem like it is .
I haven’t lost my mind. I’ve just reignited an old love, and I’m face-timing you to meet that special country :-).
If you’d like in on this cross-continental love story subscribe here and I’ll share it all.
Originally published at https://exploringmyhappy.com on October 2, 2021.