I had one of those unforgettable existential moments soon after we arrived in France -- a flash of clarity so pure that my life raced in front of my eyes and I was in harmony with all. Those experiences are a blessing, come without warning and leave me with such a sense of peace.
We had arrived in Chamonix, alfresco mecca extraordinaire. The quintessential sports town, even more so than Grindelwald in terms of outward appearance, it is the Moab or Vail or Tahoe of France. Every other retail space houses an outdoor outfitter -- Northface, Marmot, Billabong Columbia, Quechua, Quicksilver – and most of those walking through town were dressed for mountain pursuits.
We checked into one of those nondescript across-from-the-train-station hotels, the Langley-Gustavia, with indoor-outdoor carpet in hallways pervaded by the distinctive smell of the particular disinfectant used in all French hotels. Okay, not the most romantic start to our return to France, but we were surrounded by the French Alps and weren’t complaining. I’d thought when we’d entered Switzerland eight days prior that I’d be back to loosening that sluggish American jaw of mine with the language of kings but we heard not a word of French in the Grindelwald valley since it was square in the middle of the German-speaking Berner Oberland. So I was thrilled when, despite the pedestrian nature of our accommodations, I was once again hearing the dulcet tones of le français.
For our first dinner back in The Promised Land, we found a little restaurant around the corner called La Flambée. The menu was filled was mouth-wateringly familiar choices. There were at least dozen items on the menu I could have selected – poulet a la crème avec champignons, la salade forestière and la raclette à l’ancienne -- but settled on a few of my favorites: soupe à l’oignon, une salade de chèvre chaud and un pichet of crisp Haute-Savoie white wine. As the waitress came to take our order, the wistful strains of Joni Mitchell’s classic, Both Sides Now, filled the chalet bistro. The friendly French of our serveuse, the comfortable ease with which we responded and the backdrop of the timeless lyrics filled me with a serenity that whispered, all that has happened in your life has brought you to this satisfying moment. While I’ve had my share of disappointments, anxieties and struggles, all that flickered past in that instant were the triumphs, the joys and the contentment of my life: “It’s life’s illusions I recall...” The accumulation of every step I’d ever taken and every decision I’d ever made had brought me to sitting across from Joe having a cozy dinner in the boundless Chamonix valley. If I’d changed any of the details of my life along the way, this particular crystalline moment might never have happened. Perhaps it’s the optimist in me, perhaps it’s simply that I relish my life, or perhaps it’s that my now mature self (read: old) looks back and remembers only the good things about clouds, love and life. Reflection is vital, it’s all-important sometimes, but all we really have is the present of the Buddhists – the clarity of the here and now. For me, at that moment, my present included being back in France, my private promised land, for the balance of our year, having dinner with Joe and all was right in my world.
Pictures of our adventures: http://gapyeargirlgoestoeurope.shutterfly.com