So if there’s one thing Villefranche-sur-Mer has in abundance, it’s staircases. Yes, there are stunning views of the sea, and wonderful shops, and great wine, and charming old Frenchmen playing petanque in the park. But this is a town full of staircases, and I think it may take a lifetime of living here to really know your way around.
This morning I discovered that a staircase I thought hit a dead end at a storm drain actually takes a hard left and climbs to exactly the place I’ve been trying to go. I have yet to return home from the Institut de Francais by the same route I took to get there. Every day brings something new: finally finding the grocery store or learning how to use the washing machine on our balcony.
I know these things may sound mundane, particularly to people who are well traveled, but for me all of these discoveries are important elements of this experience. These are things you don’t have time to learn when you’re on vacation, or passing through a place for a few days. To try to live in a new place requires some initiative, some exploration, and the willingness to make some pretty significant blunders.
You’ll see, of course, the parallels to language learning. We’ve finished day three at the Institut and day two of total French immersion. My head hurts, and there’s a constant low level of anxiety in class as we struggle to get words out of our mouths. We’re all making so many mistakes, and we are corrected constantly, on pronunciation, grammar, word choice. There are lovely people in my group with whom I’ve not exchanged a word of English yet. We feel hamstrung by our limited ability to communicate. None of us are able to express ourselves as we like.
But I think we all believe that these mental and verbal wanderings, incorrect as they are, will eventually bring us to where we want to go, or at least closer. So we hang in there, and try to laugh at our mistakes, and let a little wine loosen our tongues (after class, of course). Up and down the staircases we go, putting in the work, searching for new routes, and discovering things we never expected to find in ourselves.