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Into Great Silence

It was a Monday, when I stood witness to the Carthusian monks of the Chartreuse coming down from the monastery, to take a break from making their famous and curiously strong green liqueur. They walked right past my balcony window in their sturdy, handmade white robs, heading for the bus stop to go back to the place they now call home (I wish I had caught a picture of them). I marveled at them speaking and enjoying a day in town like the rest of us. Even considering the size of their group, they still spoke to one another in hushed, yet joyful tones. In watching them pass, I pondered, what on earth (literally) could any of us have in common with these monks? They seem to live an impossible life: painful, monotonous, bizarre and probably most of all, lonely. I was fascinated by them but also in awe of them for the life they’ve chosen.

After seeing them go by that day, I went to the monastery, hoping to get another glimpse of them. I know it sounds strange, but seeing them was like seeing three dimensional ghosts, something of legend or a figment of the imagination. In those brief moments of observation, I felt as if I were reading a fascinating story, which had the last chapter ripped out. I longed to know more about them. I took pictures in an effort to peer into their mysterious lives, to get closer to them somehow. Even though I am not Catholic, to see them evoked a sense of peace that is difficult to describe and illusive to recapture.

What is their curiosity? Is it that they are the antithesis of modern society? That they sacrifice more than any of us can imagine and do so, willingly? Whatever the reason, they do seem to make a huge impact in this region of France. It’s hard to say, but somehow, here…in the Chartreuse, I think the mountains are even more special. Could it be the influence of the Chartreuse monks? I only know how they make me feel: relaxed, happy and hopeful that there is still good in the world despite the news and what modern society would have us believe.

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Although I still don’t have an answer as to what we have in common with the monks, I do think this is one reason why we travel: to experience life-changing moments that give us peace, regardless of the reason. These images help me reconnect to that peace that I would imagine, also enables them to endure a life of silence.

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2011 in Daily life in France

 

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Are expats born or made?

War monument beside the church in Le Sappey en Chartreuse, France

Well, the short answer is of course, who knows? But, admittedly, I’ve always wanted to learn French and live in France for a very long time now, for reasons still unknown to me.  Maybe you’ve seen similarities in your life such as, have you always gravitated toward European design or euro-inspired objects?  Or have you unwittingly surrounded yourself with things that hearken back to another era and have always had a deep-rooted desire to see more than just your backyard? Friends and acquaintances who traveled were always so exciting and a bit of a mystery to me. Somehow, they always seemed ‘different’ when they returned, but I could never put my finger on what it was at the time, that made them seem that way.

According to recent and ground-breaking cognitive research, the ‘nature vs. nurture’ argument, is becoming more definitive on the roles of genetics and environment and the eternal tug of war that they play with our futures.  Leading experts in cognition are suggesting that 60 percent of who we are is genetic and the remaining 40 percent is environmentally determined (to find out more on this subject, reference: The Owner’s Manual for the Brain, Second Edition: Everyday Applications from Mind-Brain Research by Pierce J. Howard, PhD).  Does this mean we only have a 10 percent margin of error to get it right (relax, only joking of course)?

Growing up, our family would go on water skiing trips with my aunt, uncle and cousins. Those times were indelible and I remember how much fun we had skiing until our legs were weak and could barely walk at the end of the day, have a great meal with family and then sleep like a rock, all to do it again the next day. The place were we camped wasn’t far (only about a 2 hour drive) but it felt like a world away to us! To this day, my parents are still camping (not water skiing anymore though) and seeing the US via their RV and loving it. In college, my friends and I would go hiking and camping in local national parks all within a day’s drive.  Just like in my childhood, it wasn’t too far away, but we felt like we were–and on a student’s budget, that was a good thing! What’s the point? Everyone enjoys a vacation, but most are ready to get back to their routine and life as they left it. For a future expat, something is always missing when you get home, you miss that ‘far away’ feeling.  You are still restless, still wanting more but not sure why or how to remedy it. This may be the first sign that you are starting to become, as I like to say, ‘a citizen of the world’.  If you’re looking for a cure, there isn’t one. Vacations may only be a short-term fix to your ongoing condition.

What is it that makes a seeker, seek?  A wanderer, wander?  In my case, it appears it was a bit of both (nature & nurture). The truth is, we don’t know why some of us have the urge to travel, to see the final frontier, to boldly go…OK, I’ll stop, you get the point.  What we do know, is that it [desire to see/know more] is part of what drives us and calls us to risk so much and gamble on the unknown.  I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything, but we can underestimate the commitment, emotional toll and conversely, the complete joy the experience brings. Please do share your expat stories, other travel stories or questions with me and feel free to suggest future topics.

Happy travels (bon voyage)!

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2010 in Daily life in France

 

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