Many years ago, when I was in high school, I made friends with our one and only foreign exchange student. She was from Paris and her name was Maryse. Truth be told, she pursued me as she sensed, that I too, was on the fringe, an outsider, a misfit, if you will. Maryse was not a nerd or as the term was way back then, egghead. She was not a "soc"either. She was a very mature, very experienced, wild bohemian girl who had hitch-hiked all over Europe, smoked camels with no filter (in the absence of Galois cigarettes) and found my small town high school to be very provincial. She was right, although most of my class was either high, pregnant or recently out of juvie. I was an exception; I didn't take drugs (just found them boring), didn't sleep around (I'd know everyone since Kindergarten, it would be almost incest) and had a car and the desire to get away. We were very different, but the same; she wanted out of my small, boring, narrow-minded town and so did I. So, we became best friends, and through her, I met other exchange students, who were wild intellectuals as well. I found that there was a world out there, just waiting to be conquered, or at the least, subdued.
When she left my small town, and let me behind, I went into so much mopey grieving that my father couldn't stand it and sent me off to Paris to visit her. This was my maiden voyage, my virginal trip out into that big world. I had never left home before, and to go all the way to Paris, well, I had no idea what I was doing. I, of course, made every faux pas one could; couldn't speak the language, hadn't a clue about cultural differences or jet-lag. I slept until noon, didn't clean up after myself (thought that things just magically put themselves away), and was very dependent on Maryse for translation, direction and support. And I found that she was different, she was in her own culture, she was very French. She was patient with me, to say the least.
But, the one positive thing that happened to me is that I fell madly in love with travel, with Europe, with everything being different from the way it was at home; from the door handles, to the way you flushed to the toilet, to the food, the bottled water, the way they drank wine. I was hooked, a Europe junkie. I even developed a Euro trash accent, a melding of German/British/french so those who met me didn't know I was just a little American girl.
We went back to Paris three times in five years, then, suddenly I was married to an American (oh, no, from my small town) and had two children. The traveling days were gone, I was a middle class house wife. I lost touch with Maryse, drifted through my marriage until it finally fell apart, raised my kids and went back to school to get my BA. But, always, in the bottom of my soul, was that inexperienced little American girl, wide-eyed and full of wonder, longing to go back, to find my friend and my lost love of adventure. Twenty-six years went by, I re-married, grandchildren came along...and then one day, I found I could look people up in the yellow pages world wide. I found Maryse; she was a doctor living in Montrueil, a suburb of Paris. I wrote to her, she wrote back....we agreed to meet in Paris...and we did. Had she changed? Had I changed? Yes, but when we met, we picked up where we had left off, still crazy girls, still loving adventure and life. We had a raging river under our bridges, and we both had no desire to drift around in the past (like I said, I left my small sad town far behind...it just took a little longer than I thought) but we were middle aged, and finding that we still were wild crazy girls in our heads.
I have gone back to see her every summer since, it has been four years now. And with every trip, I find that what I love about travel is the people. Seeing Chartres Cathedral was very moving, but seeing it with my French friends is what makes it memorable. Eating fois gras and drinking very good red wine is wonderful, but eating and drinking with my long lost friend while staying in her grandparents 15o year old farm house in the southwest of France is unforgettable. It is true; returning, you do know the place for the first time because it has new adventures in each homecoming. I hope I will always be that wild crazy inexperienced girl, who sees the world through wondering eyes.