Fragments of France

Coughing… trying to breathe as smoke clogged my lungs – seat positioned in rear of the plane where they allowed smoking.

Flirting, smiles sent to Christian, a French teen heading home.

Heavy eyes, trying to sleep. Uncomfortable seats, smoke, and the time not yet midnight back home blocking all attempts.

Landing, ready to pass out from exhaustion, the day bright and early: 7:20 AM.

Hot, a heat wave. Limbs heavy, dragging on asphalt. No air conditioning anywhere. Buying overpriced bottled water from every vendor passed.

Statues. The Louvre. The Mona Lisa, too small and protected by glass to match internal image.

Hot hot HOT. Dozing off in bus, head jerking up, catching myself asleep, unable to fight forty plus hours of sleep deprivation.

Relief, cool and blissful. Dreams of grabbing my pillow and sleeping here, ensconced in a corner, propped against the stacks of bleached femurs and skulls cleaned many decades before. Naturally cool catacomb air is welcomed and they have to drag me to the surface.

McDonald’s for lunch? Really?

Stairs, climbing, up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. A view of the Seine, football fields, l’Arc de Triomphe – a mere block from our hotel.

Dinner, distasteful tough beef. Hot. Beyond exhausted.

Collapse.

Mom snores.

Hot. Stuffy. Sweaty. Opening the windows to shouts in french all night, better than claustrophobic heat.

Dreams of air conditioning.

Breakfast, delectable. Hot chocolat with a croissant and baguette dipped inside.

Heaven.

Heat.

Montmartre, caricatures, artists. Opulent Versailles. Massive gardens. The metro.

Overpriced water.

Energy rising.

Bond with another tour group. New friends made, no more outside looking in.

McDonald’s again???

Churches galore.

Night. Hot. Stuffy.

Snoring. Shouts. Sweat.

Mouth watering breakfast heaven.

Bus to the country. Castles and multiple chateaux.

Pastry stop. Chocolate eclairs to die for.

Normandy, war museum.

Nasty steak again, no choice of meal.

Cooler. Breeze.

Ahhhh.

Sleep. Finally.

Breakfast of champions, my favorite.

Water everywhere, covering the parking lots, high tide at Le Mont St. Michel.

Beautiful. Soothing. Peace.

Already receding hours later, a virtual island no more.

Train, six beds to a car. Placed in coed one with mother, Mr. Donahue, and two guys.

Wake up to quartet of snoring, discordant harmony.

Rocking. Lulling. Air conditioned.

Best sleep ever.

Nice (pronounced “niece”).

Beaches of rocks. Scary speedos. Those topless who should not be.

Para-sailing with Tyler. Flying, soaring. Splashing into the water to land.

Awesome.

McDonald’s a third time. Out voted.

Shopping, missing new friends, finally joint touring again.

Longing for more freedom.

Granted.

Our group of four, off alone.

Brian asks about a watch from vendor.

He cannot escape.

Heated talking. Vendor won’t take it back and let him leave without buying.

Stupid boy.

I race out of store, grab watch, and set it on rack. “He doesn’t need a watch.” Grab his arm and drag him into store.

He is stunned.

I am his “angel savior” for the night.

I bask and enjoy, knowing it is all I will get.

He crushes on our new friend from the other tour.

Sleep.

Chamonix, donning winter coat. Breath crystallizes, up high.

Blessedly cold. Relief.

Glacier view. Wow.

Small town, freedom to wander, relax.

Ahhh.

Sleep.

Up at 5:30, cross to Switzerland. No time to tour.

Airport.

Plane.

Stopover in Paris.

Reboarded.

Temperature skyrockets.

Stuck on tarmac for de-fueling pump.

Three hours. Pilot buys us extra food, bread and cheese.

Devoured.

Finally in air, still no sleep.

Unscheduled stop in Maine, never leaving plane, just for fuel.

D.C. connecting flight ironically canceled. Airline picks up hotel.

Dinner. Falling asleep – it’s 4 AM France time.

Up at 4:30 AM.

Smooth flight.

HOME.

* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

This week’s RemembeRED prompt is from Jennifer Dillon of Whispatory.

School trips. We all go on them. What trip do you remember the most? Where did you go? Who was with you? How did you get there? Have you ever been back?

Write a memoir post about a memorable school trip. Word limit is 600.

* * *

This tells of the school trip I took in August, just before my sophomore year of high school. It was with my 8th grade French teacher and people from my class. My mother tagged along. It was both awesome and miserable. I hated most of Paris, thanks to jet lag and a severe heat wave. I loved the northern coast and the south of France.

Someday I’ll have to revisit Paris, when it isn’t insanely hot.

Concrit is welcomed as always. I’m curious if the glimpses of my trip worked to give you a feel for what it was like.

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About Kelly K @ Dances with Chaos

Kelly K has learned the five steps to surviving of motherhood: 1) Don't get mad. Grab your camera. 2) Take a photograph. 3) Blog about it. 4) Laugh. 5) Repeat. She shares these tales at Dances with Chaos in order to preserve what tiny amount of sanity remains. You can also find her on her sister blog, Writing with Chaos (www.writingwithchaos.com) sharing memoir and engaging in her true love: fiction writing. It's cheaper than therapy.
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34 Responses to Fragments of France

  1. Galit Breen says:

    The heat! The McDonalds! The fast pace!

    You were so lucky to travel so young, and yet.

    Yet.

    You captured how fast it goes especially when we *are* that young {I had the same experiences} so the mixture of pure fab and pure torture; yes that’s exactly what it’s like.

    The glimpses worked perfectly- snapshots of traveling.

  2. Tracie says:

    I love the way you shared this, slightly disjointed (it fit well with the sleeplessness that you experienced).

    Those McDonald’s trips made me sad, but the “Hot chocolat with a croissant and baguette dipped inside” made my mouth water. yum!

  3. logyexpress says:

    Such an accurate snapshot of the whirlwind experience that is a school trip in France. I wrote about the same thing…sort of.

    I loved the French breakfasts too. Always hot chocolate on the high school trip, graduating to tea at some point on the college trip. And the trips to McDonald’s-“royale with cheese.” Trying to find a cold beverage. No ice…no free refills. Just different enough from home to keep you on your toes.

    • YES!

      I ran out of words to mention the lack of ice – something I desperately craved in the insanely hot weather.

      I craved an ice cold Mountain Dew my entire trip – but there were no Pepsi products in the entire country – only Coke ones.

      You’re bringing back even more memories. 🙂

  4. Kris says:

    Oh my gosh, I never did a trip like this in college. And I’m glad. It was exhausting experiencing it through your words. I love the way you told the story.

    I may need a trip to La Boulange for a chocolate croissant!

    Nice job!

  5. Sophie says:

    I was a bit bewildered by the style at first but as I got into it, it really worked for me. I could fill in all the gaps in my head having been there. I’m a Brit married to a Frenchie so I feel the need to apologise for the rushed, frantic, HOT, uncomfortable trip you must have had. I do hope you’ll go again and when you do its for a holiday that was leisurely, cool, delectable and the restaurants of your choice! Great read. Great to meet you!

    • I learned August is not a good month to be in France, especially Paris. Normandy wasn’t so bad with the breeze, and Nice was fine. Chamonix was lovely, but the day was warm there too.

      The jet lag really added to it, but I’m certain that’s why Paris was “tour tour tour” because every time I sat down (on bus) I passed out from lack of sleep.

      I could have lived on chocolate chaud and baguettes. And croissants. Mmmmm.

  6. You made me dizzy and I felt your exhaustion. This was really well done, the gasps of sentences and longing for things like sugar and sleep to make it through another trial on the trip.
    (1 tiny typo at “hot chocolat”)

    • I actually spelled “chocolat” the french way on purpose, but I can see how that’s confusing. I never thought of it as “chocolate”, always “chocolat”. 🙂

      Thank you for the catch, though.

  7. Jackie says:

    Chosing to write in this style really helped to show the fast paced, HOT, and exhausting trip you experienced. I also appreciated all the references to food, even McDonalds throughout which tied in the various senses!

    • It was my first time in a foreign country, and while I had no wish to try escargot (snails) I wasn’t a big fan of McDonald’s stateside…. Plus we kept eating beef (preordered for us) which is not a good food in France, and it was always overcooked.

      I wanted bread. Pastries… Cheese. The good stuff.

      The heat in Paris paired with exhausted really made the trip a total blur, with a few moments standing out.

  8. Carrie says:

    What a frantic, hectic trip that must have been. You can topically get the frenzied, sleep deprived aspects of it from the way you told it. And since you only had 600 words I got a good picture of how the trip went.

    • I thought of picking a moment and expanding on it, but really wanted to share a view of the entire thing – and I remember it in fragments, especially the sleep deprived beginning.

      I’m glad the writing showed those feelings.

  9. Oh, I could feel your pain here. I don’t think I was ever on an airplane with smoking, but your words nearly made me choke to death! I had a similar recent experience in Italy. Lovely place, but painfully HOT.

    If you try Paris again sometime, let us know how it goes! I really want to go there.

    • Monaco!

      For some reason you reminded me we went to Monaco too.. It was also a blur, but at least not as hot as Paris.

      The airplane smoking was HORRIBLE. This was during the time frame when it was banned on domestic flights, but not on international ones. My seat was about 8 rows from the very back where everyone lit up.

      I have never dealt well with smoke.

      If I had any sleep on the flight, it amounted to about 5 minutes worth.

      I’ve heard Italy is beautiful, but very.. aromatic, especially Rome. I might have issues with that because I’m very scent sensitive.

      I would love to go back someday and tour Europe. The idea of doing it with the little kiddos…

      It will be a few years. Probably more. 🙂

  10. Jackie says:

    Aside from the heat & lack of sleep it sounds like it was an amazing trip. A once in a lifetime trip!

  11. I like the style you wrote this in! Sounds like a great trip 🙂

  12. Ashley says:

    This was easy to read and to imagine. I think you did a great job at showing us what it was like through the fast pace, the repetitive mentions of the meals and the sleep and the heat. Well done. It was fun and different than most posts. I liked it!

  13. TheKirCorner says:

    I love that even in the middle of the midst of misery you found comfortable things too..that you remember it so vividly. I really liked it!

  14. le chef says:

    Strangely, it sounds like most of my trips. Memory fragments squeezed between looking for water, avoiding McDonalds, and trying to capture sleep.
    Too bad the trips are so fast; here, then there, before you really get the taste of the place.
    I got it.

    • It had never occurred to me that looking for water and wanting to sleep would be my most pressing concerns.

      It was my first “real” trip.

      And I really missed having Mountain Dew… For that reason alone I don’t think I could ever stay in France for long…

      Even with the croissants.

      Thanks for the comment.

  15. EllieF says:

    When you got to the cold temps I was so relieved! haha I could feel it. And the sleep dep really does make it feel like the days are jerky and strange and punctuated with vivid events in a haze of moving around here to there to there. Great writing style to capture what it feels like to go so far out of your element across so many time zones (and back). 🙂

  16. Kelly,

    This brought back many memories for me—I traveled to France as an exchange student after my sophomore year of high school. I, too, missed the air conditioning. Although I don’t think there was a heat wave when I was there. We spent the first 2 weeks in Lille (northern France), beautiful, charming, like country-side,,,then down to St. Tropez on the southern coast—hot, beaches, topless who shouldn’t have been, LOL!!! then last few days in Paris. Hot, stinky bodies pressed together going up Tour Eiffel, in Louvre, etc…this is very vivid, really well done, incredible details.

    For breakfast most mornings when I was there w/ that family? We had french bread w/ confiture (jelly) and/.or Nutella. They seemed obsessed w/ Nutella. Yum!

    😉

  17. My friend and I ate at a pizza hut in London when we were 16 and on a school trip. It was safe and familiar. I do remember getting off the plane and just wanting a hot shower but the hotel only had baths. ACK!

    My only critique is it was too long. I think glimpses work better when there aren’t as many, especially repetitive ones. It defeats the purpose IMHO.

  18. The glimpses were absolutely the best solution to describing a trip in so few words. I struggled with this a lot, and ended up picking a different trip so I could be more concise. But the short phrases not only get us through the entire trip in as few words as possible, they also convey the feeling that going through so many places in such a short time leaves the traveler feeling dizzy and overwhelmed.

    Oh, and I always love going to American restaurant chains when overseas, not to get familiar food, but to see what is different. We never did figure out what those hush-puppy potato-like things were we got at KFC in Barcelona lol!

  19. mypajamadays says:

    I felt totally exhausted after reading this – great presentation. It is hard to believe that smoking used to be allowed on planes, I totally remember that! I think I would have starved if we ate McDonald’s everyday. Yuck! And I had to laugh about the topless sunbathers. I got to experience that in Mexico a few times. You try not to look but it’s like a car crash. You just can’t look away.

  20. Anastasia says:

    I love how you wrote it so we feel like it’s a memory too. Hazy.

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