Although I’d always dreamed of living somewhere outside the U.S., until I met Cynthia short trips into Canada and Mexico were as far as I’d made it. She, on the other hand, grew up the daughter of a guy in the ahl bidness and had lived all over the world. In 1970 I passed up a free trip to southeast Asia and, except for the possibility of being blown to smithereens, had always felt like I missed something.
I was an FBI agent for 20 years and saw a lot of the United States, including a few places I could have skipped. But I always liked being on the road and seeing things I’d never seen. So, not surprisingly, I married someone also infected with wanderlust who decided to take me across the ocean. The first couple of trips were to the UK and Italy but Cynthia kept bugging me about going to France, which I resisted probably because I believed a lot of the same bullshit about the French that most Americans seem to. I can’t think of another place that provokes such strong reactions, at least amongst the flag-waving types. Of course, now that I know it pisses those people off I’m not doing much to disabuse them of the idea I could be some kind of closet socialist.
One of the most surprising reactions, however, has been the number of people who ask, “Have you ever been there before?” I’m not sure how to respond to this – “Holy shit, I hadn’t thought of that?” “Now, you mention it, no. Gee, thanks, we nearly spent our life savings on a whim?” So I just smile and say, “Yes, a couple of times.”
This was not a simple decision. The first time we visited France, it was the result of my having bought the trip as a Christmas present for Cynthia. As I said, I had no more desire to see France than the next xenophobe but from the first few hours in Paris, I knew this place was for me. I can’t entirely explain it but despite the fact I can’t understand a word anyone says, I never felt out of place. And when we sat down in a café with all seats facing the street, that clinched for me. I just sat there drinking in the tourist fashion show, like Swedes wearing clothes it looked like they found and, on a cool day, Brits in sweaters and trousers that were in style when Harold Macmillan was prime minister.
Coming home we always said the same thing, “What if we just sold everything and moved here”, followed immediately, from me at least, with a “Yeah, right.” Besides, as long as my mother was alive, I never wanted to be that far away from her. Needless to say, we were close, but when she died last year at the age of 93, the last thing keeping me here disappeared. We did home exchanges to Paris and Bordeaux in July of 2011 and when we came back, that was it. We started making plans to move.
Ethnically speaking, I’m half German, a quarter Swede and ¼ French. My great-grandfather, Auguste Durand, came here sometime in the late 19th century to mine coal. Makes you wonder how shitty a French coal mine must have been if crossing the Atlantic to work in an American one represented upward mobility. So maybe there’s some genetic connection. All I know is I’ve always felt like I could belong over there. We’ll see.