I missed my deadline this week. That would have been a real problem when I was a reporter. Of course, injecting my opinion into public discourse would have been a problem back then, too, and yet here we are. I missed my self-imposed deadline because I’m not in Siberia this week. It’s vacation week, and it’s been one of the busiest, wildest weeks of my life.
Big things happened. The love of my life met me last Saturday in Paris. Monday, my supremely talented photographer friend Chris Everett hopped a flight from his home in Liverpool in order to capture my engagement to the marvelous, kind, beautiful, and brilliant Rachael Stewart.
This morning, I walked my beautiful fiancée to the gate of her Air France flight back to West Virginia with a glistening left hand, a new title, and a growing list of things to do before our July ceremony.
In between all that bigness, small things happened, too: five days after leaving the -39 degree Siberian morning, I was walking along a Mediterranean beach with my sleeves rolled up. The world is funny that way—miles and days change everything.
Thanksgiving happened, and for us, it was chicken and couscous in a tiny Tunisian restaurant down a back alley near the Marseille Gare St. Charles train station. Instead of our families this year, we sat between a whole collection of warm strangers, ones who spoke French and Arabic and multiple African languages. A good family evening is amazing, but there will be many of those. This year, we embraced newness and difference, and I think it’s a very important thing to both of us that our future family began that way. Plus, let’s just be clear: the food was incredible, and it absolutely topped your turkey.
We went to the Louvre and we saw all the things one is supposed to see there. We saw the obscure things, too, but my favorite was a note on the ticket window listing the reduced and free fares. Of course, the regular groups get a nod: students and seniors get discounts. Professors and scholars, too. Also: the unemployed. France has problems, like every other nation. But I live that they’ve learned to treat a higher percentage of their people like people. Instead of shaming the unemployed and telling them what a drag they are on the economy, and what a bunch of destructive freeloaders they are, the French give them access to the world’s treasures. Also, warmth, water, and bathrooms.
A couple weeks ago, millions of people decided that the United States should be governed in a manner that increasingly privileges wealth and power. That’s one way to do it, I guess, but I’ve always found that a more accurate way of measuring a civilization’s success is to examine the ways in which its system handles the least wealthy of powerful. There some ways in which America does beautiful work in that respect, but there are also some sad sentiments that will have to be overcome before the country ever reaches its full potential.
Speaking of which, where the Russians tend to be curious about the recent electoral choice, the French seem to alternate between pity and mockery.
I explored some new places this week: the Luxembourg Gardens (where I proposed) and new quadrants of the vibrant port city Marseille.
I saw old, familiar places, too. We visited Cassis, where I lived at the Camargo Foundation for a month in 2014 thanks to a Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo Fellowship. We walked the calanques, dodged rainstorms, and ate pastries. There are few things more wonderful than sharing a beloved experience with a beloved person, and so it was a treasure to show Rachael the sights of Cassis an Marseille, and the quadrants of Paris I’d already explored.
This afternoon, I’ll go back to another beloved place: I’ll cap off my vacation time with a quick trip to Prague, one of the most beautiful and unique places I’ve ever visited. My heart always soars at the possibility of a Prague stop, and so I’m excited to go catch this plane and bask in a couple more days of relative warmth before my Siberian adventure resumes. Until then, au revior from Charles De Gaulle airport.
Fulbright Disclaimer: The views presented in this blog are my own and do not represent the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State.