“I have found that when we go on a journey, we buy time, because we give our full attention. We are present and conscious because all the newness of our surroundings keeps us sparked and alert. Travel prolongs our time, I think. I like to call it “rubber time.”
-Goldie Hawn in her autobiography, Goldie: A Lotus Grows in the Mud
Bold as I need be to assume the role of “famous actress and worldly, wise woman verifier”, I’m doing it. “Rubber time” exists for all our special moments—you know, those that seem to crawl by due to extreme emotions that keep us so aware, even if just blissful awe. And for most, myself included, journey into the unknown provokes just this. How to communicate these occasions that make our time move at snail speed, or even make it seem like it is not moving at all, will most probably prove to be a difficult task, and the best piece of advice I can give before I start on this blogging adventure is to say: do it and feel it for yourself. Force yourself into the unknown. Take a left turn in life, and let fate and the passage of time do the rest.
I actually cheated a little bit. I don’t feel like this is my pre-departure blog at all. In short, I have already departed and arrived back in the United States after a seven-week summer study abroad program in Tours, France. Because of this small “séjour” I feel like I have the faintest idea as to what being abroad really feels like. Not to say that I am fully prepared for the year that awaits me. I am also certain that I will have a rude awakening at the end of seven weeks this fall when I think, “I’m ready for the good ol’ USA. Seven more months of gross public bathrooms and the all too overwhelming string of foreign languages? What have I done to myself??” And then off I will scamper to find the nearest Starbucks, which always make me feel American and where we all share one language—that of the Starbucks menu board. Everyone knows what “frappucino” means, right?
The next nine months have two destinations in mind. Fall will find me in Alanya, Turkey—a quaint, touristy town on the Mediterranean coast, and spring in Strasbourg, France—a smaller city on the border of Germany. I like to affectionately call this year of my life my decadent “turkey sandwich”—on a French baguette (as many of my friends and family have already heard me say, sorry, I just couldn’t let others miss out on this one). And despite the fact that something of this nature doesn’t really exist at all in France, and that I’m vegetarian (small technicalities, really) I have been sweetly devouring it, one bite, day, step at a time. The first third already being gone…
My experience in France as a whole made me realize just how “dream-like” studying abroad can be. To explain, seemingly I fell asleep the night before I boarded the plane to “Destination X.” Then I slipped into a coma, and woke up on the day after arrival with this fantastic memory of a dream I had about a far-away land that cannot possibly exist because it is just too different, even if just a little too different, from what I knew as real life. And here is where Goldie’s “rubber time” comes into play. It is hard to imagine life going on normally at home or in Georgetown or simply on the sidewalk outside my favorite café, or my hair salon. As a result, time seems to stand still. For the first week or so I was in France I didn’t feel a necessity to call anyone back home for this exact reason. I was lost in time, or a dream, or at least in a far away country, and life back home just could not be carrying on as I knew it. Mom would still be standing at the security gate where I left her, my cat at the front door, and everyone else in freeze frame the moment the wheels of my airplane left the ground of Newark, New Jersey and headed for “a place that is just too different.”
But France was real, as I was reminded each time my senses came alive when I passed by the Boulangerie on the end of my street or the flowers at the “Marché aux Fleurs,” or stepped in a heaping pile of dog poo dutifully deposited by one of the French dogs that seem to out- populate the people. Even the châteaus of the Loire Valley were real, even though there is always an element of disbelief at which I had to stop and pinch myself when I ran across them. (My crowning “awe” moment was when I first glanced face on at Chambord.) And at the end of these moments, I went back into “rubber time,” and I’m certain that I was dreaming. And I could not be more ecstatic to share this remembrance, this requiem of my dream if you will, with you.
The egalitarian in me must give balance to this first blog. Even though my experience over the summer was stupor-provoking, dream-like, and all things fantastic, I must say at times my experience wasn’t really as exotic as it may sound. After all, we all are human beings who biologically need the same things—and the French definitely share many ideas about the amenities that should be made to society. They did, after all, invent “la joie de vivre.” So without doubt, the distant traveler that I am found food, shelter for when it rains or even when it didn’t, stores for toiletries, bathrooms, post offices, restaurants, and bars. I was especially lucky to find myself in France, which also had beautiful gardens, châteaus, boulangeries, cafés, and ancient cathedrals at my disposal. And let’s face it. “Studying abroad?” Basically, the biggest task to study abroad is packing and getting safely to the destination because once I was there, I really just had to observe and live life in order to be immersed. Only then did I learn the most valuable piece of my education I acquired while there. So there isn’t really a big fuss to be made about going across an ocean. After all, it’s not like I swam there.
On that note, I am boarding my flight to Istanbul today, and if you asked my stomach, it would say it was Christmas Eve and I was six years old again. The butterflies are swarming around, and I just spent the past five hours “wrapping presents,” otherwise known as stuffing most of my belongings (minus all of the “just in case” items that I usually throw in my bags—word of advice number two, “Do not over pack!!!”) into my huge roller bag. When I walk down the jet way at the end of the greatly anticipated arrival, I do not have any idea what I will see. I have never been to this part of the world and have hardly even studied much about it. But my fascination with it has been growing ever since my mother went last year, and came back to rave about her dream-like experiences, complete with “rubber time.” Therefore, let the presents be unwrapped, and the senses be indulged when I arrive.
As a last comment, France gave me some valuable “pre-departure” knowledge. There is no reason to be made or judgment to be passed onto what anyone does in any country. We all do what we do to make a living or even survive—if the situation is dire enough—and be happy, whatever we believe will make us happy. As basic as that may sound, I’m a firm believer that sufficient importance can never be placed on the simplest of answers. I hope I get some simple answers for this Islamic Christmas in August, for I know I’m already getting my “rubber time.”