Gerardmer, France [2005]

Between visits to Paris and Colmar, we spent our remaining days in France in the tiny town of Gerardmer, about two or three hours east of Paris, where West Laurens High School's sister school was located. I loved the scenery here, because it was all accessible with a nice walk, and was not nearly big enough get lost in.

We went to tiny shops and patisseries, went bowling, drank rum and cokes on outdoor patios (and feeling very grown-up about it), visited the grocery market, and tried on clothes in quirky, local boutiques. It was a picturesque place, and these are some of the best images, given the very mediocre camera I had with me in 2005.

I didn't have an iPod then, nor a Facebook or anything. In fact, I registered for a MySpace account while in the computer lab at school in Gerardmer, after learning that this was the thing all my friends who were traveling with me were desperate to check every time they had access to the internet. Strange to think how life has changed even since my senior year of high school.  The camera I used is 3 megapixels. Wow.

 

A day in Colmar [October 2005]

Colmar, France is one of the most amazing and charming little cities I've ever been to. I was a freshly-minted eighteen-year-old, and it was my first stint outside the United States. It was a liberating day for me, when we visited this French town on the German border, because I broke away from the group after more indecision mired any plans from forming, annoyed that we were all indecisive and trying to impress one another--the French teenagers who were our hosts and the American teenagers that composed my group.

We were passing this amazing shoe store, with boots in the window in colors I'd never seen in the U.S., and everyone bowled right past it--so I ducked in, hid, and tried on some ridiculous shoes I would never have bought but loved: orange and brown leather, hitting mid-calf, laced all the way up. These make me smile now, the price tag asking for hundreds of Euro and my youthful excitement at their outrageous appearance. I would have been brave enough to wear them back home, though they would be added to the list of strange and unusual things Jessie Edens wore in high school. I was the one who had made a skirt out of my dad's old army camouflage pants. (I still own this skirt, cannot give it up.) Maybe these orange and brown boots would have looked crazy and cool with the skirt. Probably not. The point was, I was sitting in a shoe store, in a foreign country where I could barely communicate with the saleslady, and I was beyond smitten with my position on the earth right then.

Alone, exploring, free, smiling, in a shoe store, with a few hours to kill.

The first thing I did once I headed out of the shop was follow a map back to the meeting place we had established for later that afternoon. It would be no good to lose track of myself and then be late getting back to everyone--when doing little excursions on my own, it would be foolhardy indeed to lose the right to my time exploring alone. I wanted, needed, to show everyone, especially the adults guiding us, that I was capable of handling myself and that they could trust me to go it alone. Adults had a habit of not believing I could do this.

A year earlier, on a trip with my church youth choir, I had left the hotel in Philadelphia early on our last morning there, because I was bound and determined to visit the steps that Rocky runs up--the iconic steps of the fists in the air and grey pantsuit moment of Rocky. The way events had played out, some of our group had been able to visit them while I had to be doing something with another group. I was royally annoyed and ready to be defiant. When I returned to the bus (in time for departure, mind you) the adults were mad, and I relished it. I was not a bad kid, and especially disliked being treated like an incapable human, so I really enjoyed making everyone huffy with concern. "What would your parents do if we told them?" was their main argument to me. My dad would have done exactly the same thing, I responded. You know what? My mom absolutely would have done the same, too. We're not a family to have much concern for "the plan" that everyone has established.

Anyway, if people are all being group-minded and deciding things en masse, I tend to want to just wander without them. I don't have to do anything grand. It's the small things that are grand.

I wandered. I bought a postcard whose words still inspire me today, near my desk. I bought ice cream. I asked a man on the street what time it was, in French. I kept hearing water running, flowing, and finally found that it was running alongside a main rue, right between the buildings and homes and the road itself. It came out of nowhere and truly surprised and delighted me. I stepped in dog poop right along that tiny urban river. It is a testament to how happy I was that this didn't even phase me. (At least I hadn't been wearing brand new lace-up brown-and-orange leather boots.)

I found a small little restaurant, boldly went inside and ordered an "American cheeseburger" and a beer. At 18, I triumphantly drank my first beer, freezing cold in a tall glass, because it was legal and I could. The men running the place inquired whether I was allemande-- German. Je suis American, I stumbled around the language, even if the statement was simple. They understood. I wonder if my foolish, giddy grin was obvious?

That afternoon, I returned early to the park area where we were to meet, and discovered that our bus driver was an artiste during his down time driving tourists around--he loved Dali. He let me on the bus so I could grab my notebook and wax poetic about my day alone in Colmar.

Colmar has stayed with me. It charmed me more than Paris, probably because I wasn't too scared to wander it alone and discover a bit more about it in a half-day's time. It was just the right amount of pure, utter joy. Little things.

 

Paris by my eye, 2005

I took French in high school over Spanish for a singular reason: West Laurens actually had a sister city in France, and did an exchange program every other year. In my junior year, my family hosted two French teenage boys in our home for a week, and then the people of Gerardmer, France returned the hosting favor half a year later.

It was my first time out of the country (besides an hour in Canada), and I was beyond excited. I had gotten my passport for this trip, and paid half of the $800 cost (split with my parents) with babysitting money. What I didn't spend much money on was my digital camera, which would later be rejected by the student newspaper I worked for in college as being far too low of quality (at a whopping 3 mega pixels) to grace the pages of student-produced media. I bought the camera for the trip actually, and proceeded to play with the features, like sepia tone, which overran my France photo collection. Ben points out to me frequently (I know, Ben, I get it) that this is a dumb move, because you can always edit your photos to any kind of old sepia tone later, where as you cannot change it back to color after the fact. So, years later, many of these pictures exist, even in my memory, in their singular, sepia form.

But recently I went back and adjusted the white balance on many of them, which transformed them, becoming images of my journey that took on entirely new life, more than I had thought would be salvageable from these usually murky, low-resolution shots. I secretly love them all the more for being so low-tech. It's like I was trying to edit them into vintage, when in fact, they already look that way.

These are some of my favorites from Paris. Gerardmer and Colmar posts to follow.

This is the abandoned carnival bit set up right across from the Eiffel Tower viewing point. It felt old.

I stayed on the bus to see the Tower, so my camera's reflection in the window remains forevermore.

People-watching outside the Louvre, including the miles of park between it and the Champs-Élysées. Ladies, babies, boats, boys, and a wedding.

Paris from almost-the-top of the Eiffel Tower, and the graffiti-ed "Beware Pickpockets" sign in the elevator.

This was me, in Paris, only a few weeks after my 18th birthday

Chic lady and a Vogue Homme in Charles de Gaule Airport. I feel no one else likes this photo, but I do.