Three weeks have passed and Matthew and I are beginning to find a routine. We both enjoy a certain amount of predictability, and I think that so many changes at the same time rattled us at the beginning. We are accustomed to a very busy life filled with school, work, family, and a myriad of other obligations. Last semester we usually put in about 60 hours a week…between working, driving, or going to class, we were gone from 7 am to 8 pm during the week. As a result, we both felt slightly empty during our first couple weeks in France. I think that busyness often gives your life some semblance of meaning and purpose, even if what is keeping you occupied isn’t necessarily of utmost importance. When we arrived in Aix, with nothing but 16 hours of class a week, we felt like something was missing.
Naively, I left all my books and movies at home, planning to completely immerse myself in French culture. I think that was probably a mistake. When you arrive in a completely foreign place, you can’t help but long for a little bit of home. Matthew brought only five movies, and during our first several weeks we watched I am Sam, Pride and Prejudice, The Incredibles, and Wedding Crashers several times each. We also became well acquainted with all of the special features on the DVDs. I also found that our program, CEA, keeps a small library of books in its office, so I read through about five books in my first couple of weeks here as well. I will admit it…we were both feeling a little out of place and lonely. We spent one Sunday completely shut inside our little apartment…playing cards and watching movies all day. I never want to play another game of Nines in my life! Things like movies, books, and games seem very unimportant back home, but they provide a lot of comfort when you are homesick.
I cannot imagine what it would be like without Matthew here. Several of the girls in our program are extremely homesick and spend most of their time writing emails and making phone calls home…I think that I might be one of those girls if I didn’t have Matthew. I thought that traveling to France would be easy, especially considering the ease with which I transitioned to college life in Colorado. I had relatively no trouble adjusting to life out there. I forgot that family, work, classes, homework, and my newfound friends kept me more than occupied. Also, there is the small detail of my being able to speak the same language as the Coloradoans.
The main adjustment Matthew had to make upon our arrival was the absence of a piano on which to practice. At home he practices anywhere between four and eight hours every day, and we both took it for granted that a piano, or at least a keyboard, would be easy to find when we arrived in Aix. We searched high and low, and after a week Matthew’s best option was paying 3 dollars an hour to play a piano, three or four days a week. If Matthew practiced anywhere near his usual 40 hours a week (which he did not expect to do), we would be paying over 400 dollars a month!
As a last resort, the director of our program, Vivienne, offered to accompany us to a piano school that recently opened in Aix. The man that opened it is professor at the Paris Conservatory and also directs an orchestra there. She told us that she didn’t really expect anything to come of it, but it was at least worth a shot. At first, the man refused to even see us, but something made him change his mind. Within five minutes of talking to Matthew, the man actually handed him the keys and told him that for only 300 euro, he could practice the piano whenever he wanted for the extent of our stay! We think that he must have been impressed with Matthew’s repertoire, but we really aren’t sure. He left the room for a moment, and Vivienne looked at us and mouthed a very excited, but silent, “OH MY GOSH!!!” None of us really knew what to do…we simply sat there in stunned silence as he explained to us how to open the doors and showed us the pianos. After we left and had gotten halfway down the street, we all started talking at once, and then Vivienne hugged both of us. I think she was just as excited as Matthew! She told us that she never expected him to agree to let Matthew play, and that normally a French person would NEVER be so open to invite a completely stranger to play his piano, let alone hand over the keys to the building!