Monday, September 25, 2006

A Coat, Seafood, and Czenglincais(Czech/English/French)

(This entry ended up being quite long, but it’s been two weeks, now. So, think of it as two entries with two pictures.)

Our trip to France was incredible. We first traveled through Switzerland and visited with some of Jan’s friends. Jan and Anna were telling them about how I’ve started to get cold in CZ. (I bought some nice warm, woolen slippers, and I have the beautiful shawl I received from CPC :-), and I’ve already started to use them before we left). Jan’s friend Nicole left the table and came back with a very nice, heavy coat for me(this was actually perfect timing, because we were sitting outside and I was cold at that moment, and trying to decide how to break into the conversation and ask to go get a sweater from the car). Then she said that it fit so well (and it does) that I should keep it! Later on our trip, Anna and I even found the perfect matching hat. So, rest assured that I will be warm this winter.

We stayed in a retreat center/hotel on the beach of the Mediterranean in Cete, France. Wow, I’ve never seen blue like that before. The first few days were cold and cloudy, but my pictures are still really blue. I think the sea held out on us, so that we could truly appreciate its beauty with or without the sun. I loved to watch the locals, who came to just sit and admire the sea. I, too, ended up just sitting on the beach, not swimming or tanning. Swimming was fun, but just admiring the sea, listening to the wind, was better. It made me think of all of the good times I had with my family at North Myrtle Beach in South Carolina. It was hard being there without them.

Traveling to France, I expected to eat a lot of cheese. The journey through Switzerland seemed to strengthen my expectation. A church provided a meal ending with several varieties of cheese and chocolate. A family shared with us a traditional Swiss meal called Raclette—heated cheese plus whatever you want over boiled potatoes. Mmmm...that was good. When we finally arrived in France, we did eat cheese, but it always came at the end of a large meal, when I was already full. And then they brought fruit or a dessert. Back home, we have the saying, “There’s always room for Jello/Ice Cream,” and that we have a separate dessert stomach. Well, I think the French have a separate cheese stomach.
We ended up eating a lot of Seafood. I didn’t truly understand the meaning of the word "seafood" before this trip…that you actually “see” what came from the “sea” and is now your “food.” The first night we ate clams…from the shells. Sure people do it everyday, but it was my first time. It’s hard to get those suckers out of there, especially if you’re trying not to look. And each day we ate more and more seafood with a little turkey here and there. One night we ate snails. I lost my appetite trying to get the second one out of the shell. Ugh! The final night we had octopus fixed in a fantastic tomato sauce. Mmmmmmm…That was good. Thank goodness they served us the meat in pieces! As an appetizer to the final meal, they had a Sardinade (a sardine barbeque in the picture above). The sardines were grilled and served as whole fish. It was a little disturbing, pulling the meat from the spine while holding onto the head and gills, but they tasted pretty good.

As if the mix of new cultures, food, and surroundings wasn’t enough, we were speaking a mixture of English, French and Czech all of the time. Some people only spoke one language, but several spoke two and sometimes three. I feel so blessed that Anna translated the Bible Study discussions for me. It allowed me to participate and gain insights from the studies and lectures. I had two roommates: Melanka, who speaks only Czech and French, and Evelyn, who speaks French, Czech, and English. We were constantly going back and forth between all three languages. It was challenging and fun at the same time. I am to the point that I can frequently guess what someone is talking about in French or Czech, but just not understand the details. I can read Czech aloud almost exactly correct. I started translating with my dictionary during our trip to France. Sometimes the more I learn, the more difficult it seems. The phrases I learn from listening stick best in my memory.

The phrase “Ma Vlast (My Country)” has more meaning for me everyday. Jan and Anna keep saying, “That’s so American” when I do things, and it always comes as a shock to me. It's funny, because I've never really thought of myself as a typical American, and I'm not sure I would know how to define one. I think patriotism is difficult in America, mostly because we have so many immigrants, proud of their heritage or homeland. And we are encouraged to be different and choose or “find” our unique identity. It’s been my experience that we choose which state to live in, which church to go to, which food to eat, which school to go to, and then we change to new ones as if the first didn’t really matter. It’s almost like the US is one big buffet of culture, religion, occupation, and food. We are so separated by state lines that I have always felt like NY, Washington, DC, and LA were just big cities, but not a part of my heritage. Before now I had seen national pride as almost derogatory towards other countries, that “you think your country is the best,” but that’s not it at all. They are proud of their country, because it belongs to them and they to it. The more countries I visit, the smaller and more intimate America seems to me. I’m beginning to see myself as “American” rather than just the member of one state, one city. Seeing beautiful and historic areas in Europe leads me to think of similar places that I love in America, my country, my history. Seeing the patriotism of the Czechs, French and Swiss, I’m finally understanding what it means to be “proud to be an American.”

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