Au revoir Mme. Remion…

Up again at nine for the last time… I’ve managed to half lose my voice somehow. That’s not going to be good for tomorrow, since there’s no way I’m getting out of doing my monologue. I had two cups of tea with honey at breakfast, and that seemed to help a little bit. I remembered the small piece of paper I received back in the Marriott near Washington Dulles that revealed who I’d be living with in Tours for the following two weeks, and I started to tear up. That’s when everything really hit home. My entire journey would circle back to that very hotel, much like a Vaudeville play goes back to the very point it started at and get nearly nothing done. I started in the Marriott, went to Tours, then to Paris… then I went back to Tours… then I’ll go back to that same Marriott when I have my 15 hour layover when I go back to California. As I started to mentally write the very words you’re about to read, and the tears started to well up in the back of my eyes, I stopped myself. Now isn’t the time for tears. Pas de pluie. No rain. I went back in my room to clean it up and start packing. When I was sure Madame was in the kitchen fixing breakfast, I snuck out to the dining room to hide the two cans of Blue Diamond Almonds, the gift box of assorted almonds, and the bar of milk chocolate with candied violet petals from Toulouse next to my seat so I could give them to Madame at lunch. I got most everything packed before lunch, save for my computer and a few things in the bathroom…

Madame made an interesting… thing for entrée. It wasn’t really a soup. It was a rich filling of sorts, made with mushrooms and crême fraiche. I asked her what it was. She explained that it’s usually inside a crust of some sort, or there are croutons on top of it, but not when I’m around! It was delicious, but incredibly rich. We had thin, quick-seared pork cutlets with onions and a mix of vegetables (including carrots, peas, and potatoes) for plat principal. I could barely finish it because of how rich that entrée was. Madame laughed. “It’s okay to leave things on your plate if you can’t finish it.” “But it’s too good!” She asked what Mme. De Lapisse makes for dinner, I told her about how it’s usually the same handful of things all the time. Mme. Remion said she takes a lot of pleasure in making true French meals (different ones all the time) for her students to show them what real French food is like. This is why I miss her. There’s only so many times I can eat galettes du sarrasin with the same dang things inside of it… She laughed. We had the camembert, bresse, fromage noir, and some comté for the cheese course. Madame said the same thing Mme. De Lapisse did a few nights ago, taking French cheese home (especially comté) shouldn’t be too difficult. She suggested putting a sugar cube on top of the comté (but never powdered or granulated sugar) so that the sugar soaks up the water in the refrigerator around the cheese and the cheese stays dry. It turns out I brought just the right amount of pastries from Helmut Newcake! We had the chocolate chip cookies for dessert, followed by a clementine and some coffee. I’m now thankful for the French press I have in storage near my college. Looks like I’ll be using it after lunch every day… when I eat lunch at home, that is. She loved all of her little gifts. We tried all of the almonds, and she said that I’ve turned her into a gourmande, which I deflected since she was already a gourmande before I ever came into her life. “Perhaps… but I know more about almonds and jelly beans thanks to you than I ever did before!” Madame talked to me about my final project for Mme. Hersant (the Le Malade imaginaire one with all the costumes and set designs). I showed her the drawings I’d done, so she gave me some feedback on how to set up my set design (from a spectator’s perspective) and she loved the ideas I had about portraying Paris and the Parisians to my American audience, namely how there has to be a character that walks in with a baguette in his or her hand, and someone’s got to come speeding in on a trottinette (scooter). Madame found that last one hilarious. I told her it’d be normal if I did that and produced the play here, but to an American audience, that’d put everyone in stitches, especially where I intend to put it. Madame had one final gift to give me. She makes these little recipe books as Christmas letters every year that she gives to everyone in her family. Each book has the actual letter at the front of it, recounting everything that’s happened to her in the year (birth of a grandkid, things like that), and it’ll have about ten recipes in it, each with her little “mon avis” (my opinion) note at the end of it, even a little story if there’s one attached to it, like how she got the recipe, or if it happened to be her husband’s favorite homemade tarte or something to that effect. She had an extra copy of the 2006 edition, so she gave it to me! We talked about some of the recipes inside it, namely about one very French merengue recipe. I told her that I’m a merengue whizz which has earned me some serious respect among my friends and family since most Americans are too scared to attempt to make it. “You’re kidding! It’s easy!” “I know!” I went back in my room to finish packing, and when I came out to look out the window at the winter landscape, Madame seemed to be working on another one of her recipe books, and I was right. She was making a copy of the 2010 edition… FOR ME. She’d printed out two extra specific recipes (one for a flourless cake make with almond flour, and another for her favorite plum tarte with the stories that went alongside them) and given them to me already, but she wanted me to have the whole book for 2010 because it had a lot of history to it (that was the year her Maxence was born, and the year her husband died). New mission when I get home: Make up a set of MY favorite recipes (with the goofy stories that go with them), convert them to the metric system, and email them to Madame so she can have her own little pieces of me in her kitchen like I have from her.

I wasn’t sure how I’d handle the car ride to the train station, much less the goodbye. I cried like a baby when I left for Paris in September, after all. About halfway to the train station, Madame decided to make my decision to hold it all together a little harder. “If you return to France and I’m still of this world, I’d love to see you again.” Oh someone please kill me. She doesn’t just say “if I’m still alive,” oh no, Mme. Remion is too poetic for that. Woman says “if I’m still of this world.” Clearly something has come of all of the theatre classes I have taken in my life, and while I was absolutely dying inside, making everyone who has metaphoric stock in Kleenex so much richer, I was just fine on the outside. I smiled and said, “Of course. If I can get a job and save up some money, I plan on coming back to France every summer.” The conversation quickly shifted to how hard it is for someone like me to find a job. Problem solved. Next problem: Saying goodbye at the train station. That proved to be like ripping off a band-aid. I was hoping to have a proper goodbye on the track, and to have someone take a picture of us together (mainly so I could make a cute frame and ship it to Madame as a belated Christmas present), but that wasn’t going to be the case. Madame went to go park the car, but the little machine that dispense the tickets wasn’t working, and she had to let me out of the car where we were. The only goodbye I could have was a relatively quick “au revoir” (it was an “à bientôt” when I left last time) that was interrupted by an impatient person who didn’t understand what was going on and honked his horn at us. Had I not been so sure hearing them would have killed Mme. Remion, I definitely had some choice gros mots for the fellow… 

The train ride wasn’t too bad. When we were about halfway to Paris, we stopped at Amboise, and a young woman came into my car (there were already three people in it with me) carrying her suitcase… and a Beagle. I was actually quite amused with the pooch. The woman had the dog on her lap for the whole ride, he was quiet, and he behaved. That’d never happen in America, not even with Noah. I’ve done a wonderful job with Noah, he’s incredibly well trained. I know for fact I can get him to sit on my lap, or in the seat next to me indefinitely, and he’ll be quiet and behave indefinitely. Noah, however, is in the minority. In America, if you bring a dog on a train, it’s in a crate, it’s in the cargo hold, it’s luggage… people give you dirty looks if you walk in a train car with a dog in America. The woman walked in our car with this dog, and we all smiled. I’m definitely going to miss that about France… people are respectful dog owners here (except for the picking up after the poop thing). I’m probably going to be one hell of an annoying dog owner back home… I’m anticipating getting myself into a lot of trouble telling people to put their dogs on leashes or to get them properly trained. Oh well… We ended up making it to Paris Austerlitz about 20 minutes later than expected.

I made my way home, and by the time I got there, Mme. De Lapisse and Sheila were about halfway through dinner. As soon as I came it and went to my room to put down my bags, Madame started making my dinner… a galette du sarrasin with egg, cheese, lardons and mushrooms. I suppose I had that one coming after I had complained about them to Mme. Remion… I told Mme. De Lapisse all about Mme. Remion, so that was nice. Sheila and I caught up on each others’ weekends. It’s hilarious how neither of us knew each other before we came here even though we go to the same school, and we have withdrawals when we spent a weekend apart! It looks like we’ll be great roommates when we go back to California. I’m definitely looking forward to it.

I still worry that the last moment I ever have with Mme. Remion was when she took me by the hands… and I couldn’t hear what her last words to me were because they were so kindly interrupted by the sound of a car horn. I’ll probably never forget her saying “if I’m still of this world…” gosh, could she be any more poetic… Her mother lived until she was 89. If Mme. Remion does the same (if not past that, considering how strong she is), I have five years to come back and visit. I cried like a baby when I left her in September, I guess I’ve grown up a little since then, since I didn’t cry until I sat down to write this part of the post (my boyfriend was moderately distraught at my absolute wailing since I was attempting to Skype him as I wrote this). Perhaps I’ve come to terms with the fact that we’re all going to die someday, some earlier than others. It’s never about missing someone because they’re gone, it’s about being happy you got to spend the time you had with them. I had eighteen days with Mme. Remion, and I’m lucky I had them. If I get the chance to see her alive again, I’ll believe I’ve won the lottery. For now… I’ll allow my pessimistic side to win out and assume that I’ve just lost my grandmother all over again. I have her cookbooks, I have all of her stories, and I’ll do everything I can to make sure they outlive her through me. She always said it was up to her to put her history (and her family’s history) on pages in black and white so it didn’t disappear, and I’m going to make sure that she never disappears either. I remember listening to a Radiolab podcast about death once that speculated we all go to a kind of purgatory that’s like some kind of waiting room… and you never really die until people stop remembering you. When that happens, you hear your name over the intercom, and that’s when you truly die and you can go to heaven or hell, wherever you’re supposed to end up. As horrible as it may sound, if I have anything to do with it, Mme. Remion is going to be stuck in that waiting room for a very long time. She’ll probably see me in the same waiting room before she ever leaves it. I figure the best thing I can do at this point is think back on all of the wonderful meals she made me, remember her whenever I open one of the small cookbooks she gave me (kindly titled Quelques recettes pour ceux que j’aime or “Some recipes for those I love”) to make one of her meals to share them with the people that I love and tell them my stories that I shared with her, and I can remember how this whole thing started… with that tiny piece of paper in that envelope back in Washington…

Très dynamique. That she is… she always has been, and she always will be… until the day she passes… no, past that. She’ll always be dynamique in my memory. That’s the best way I can keep her alive, in all honesty. I can strive to be just like her in everything I do: dynamique.
L’âme est une chose si impalpable, si souvent inutile et quelquefois si gênante, que je n’éprouvai, quant à cette perte, qu’un peu moins d’émotion que si j’avais égaré, dans une promenade, ma carte de visite.
Baudelaire. “Le Joueur généreux.

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