A Day in a French Life... by Kristin Espinasse
Standing before the great iron gates of the American consulate in Marseilles, I was surprised by a barrage of tears. Afraid the larmes would tumble out from behind their lash-rimmed dam, I rummaged through my pockets for un mouchoir. But all I could find was a ratty, make-up stained Kleenex.
"Mom!" Jackie said, with a mixture of tenderness and assertion. "What's the matter?"
I widened my eyes, as though stretching them might staunch the teary flow. Instead, the gesture added a bewildered look to the fragile exterior I hoped to mask.
"I don't know!" I said to my daughter, blotting the corners of my eyes with the weak tissue, careful it didn't end up in pieces, too.
My mind began to chatter:
Gosh, you are so sensitive! You'd think you were a hostage and that now, after two decades of captivity, you had arrived at the great freedom gates! The American Consulate, The Knight in Shining Armor!
I tried to understand the flood of emotion. It must be that feeling of release... The tears must be a kind of catharsis. But what was there to be cathartic about?
I did everything to curtail the tears, when my eyes settled high up on the branches of a leafless tree, planted, like me, outside the consulate's intimidating security barrier.
With my eyes lifted upward to the tree's limbs the tears had no chance of advancing but had to fall back into the fragile vessel producing them.
"Look!" I said to the kids, who all but towered above me like that tree. "There is a towel stuck in the branches!" I wasn't really interested in the flimsy, displaced serviette...but focusing on it might be just the distraction needed.
As we waited outside the U.S. Embassy, where we were scheduled to renew the kids' American passports for the third time in 18 years, I reconsidered the fragile object in the tree above us.
Uprooted, the little towel had been swept up by a passionate gust and deposited in an exciting foreign land. Months or years or decades later, the novelty having faded, there it remained....
There were pros and cons of the towel's foreign residence. The pros: a fantastic view! An elevated situation! An original life! The scent of baguettes wafting upwards... But there were cons, too: years and years away from its homeland, loneliness, and a separation from its people.
As my mind entertained itself with the towel's drama my emotions were kept at bay--but not for long! The great iron gates of the Consulat général des États-Unis swung open and I heard a voice that sounded just like my own.
"Hello. How are you doing today?" one of my people said.
* * *
Picture of the kids and me taken just around the corner from the The U.S. Consulate General in Marseilles. Jean-Marc suggested we have a coffee while waiting for the consulate to open. (The pause helped temporarily to settle these emotions!) The kids (Jackie, 15 years old is center -- and that's an almost 18 year old Max) were moved, too, by the experience of entering the American consulate in Marseilles. I hope to write about Jackie's emotions sometime (what a different reaction she had than I! Do you know the French expression "fou rire?")
une larme = tear drop (story and post here)
un mouchoir = tissue
la serviette = towel
Le consulat général des États-Unis = Consulate of the United States of America
le fou rire = the giggles
The Panier neighborhood in Marseilles, just off the Vieux Port.