Between my broken French and my host father’s broken English, he explains to me the significance of June 21st. A day to celebrate through music and dancing and laughter. A day to celebrate culture through music and to connect everyone across the country in a nationwide celebration. As I sit in the back of the car, nodding along, trying desperately to grasp every word, despite the realization that the five years of French I took in school and the chords I proudly wore at graduation and the fact that I was Vice President of French club meant absolutely nothing because I can barely speak a word back to him. He goes on to explain that the music we will hear is not professional but merely collaboration from the people in the streets. Music serves as a fluidity between the cultures as it serves as a means of unity. Similar to how each instrument sounds good alone but better together; countries and people work the same. One their own, they can carry themselves and maintain a rhythm; however, together they harmonize.
Fast forward a few hours, I am dancing along to the rhythm of the drums on one side of the street while tuning in to the smooth jazz belting from the top of an apartment balcony. My host mother is explaining to me the significance of the Notre Dame de St. Lô and I am overwhelmed by its grandeur and magnitude. From what I could pick up, it was built in the 14th century and during World War II, one tower had fallen due to heavy aerial bombardment. In the years following, they decided to rebuild but still with new construction, nothing could match the same beauty. So on top of the hillside, overlooking the whole city, sits the eglise with one tower looking modern and crisp amongst a sea of gothic architecture. At times, I feel as if that is me. I am part of the new. I am American. It is easy to tell with my accent and chacos. I am desperately trying to blend in, to seem at home, and yet I am struggling to find the right words to explain my gratitude for my host family and this beautiful country. I do not fit in. I am a tourist and yet they treat me as if I am a true Frenchman. I stand among the old, the wise, and watch. A product of destruction amidst so much beauty.
After dinner, my family appears impressed with my decision to finish my beef tartar. I am feeling less restful after my third beer. I joke with my host father and refuse to apologize for not caring about who wins the World Cup. I have made my impression. I have left my mark on the town. As we begin our hike back to the house, I feel the sea breeze on my face. It has been raining off and on and the air that follows has thinned and nestled itself on the top of my nose and the tips of my fingers. The air is clean. I feel at home with these strangers. I turn the corner and find my temporary palace . My host father jiggles the keys from his pocket, places them aimlessly in the door, and tells me one more ‘bien venue’. As I walk through the door, the church bells have begun to ring, mixing with the multitudes of music from the streets, a menagerie of garden song. I whisper one last ‘bien venue’ and shut the door behind me.