It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog post. My last one was before Christmas break, way back when I was disappointed that the world hadn’t actually ended. Well, I’m not going to recap everything that’s happened to me since then, but I can sum it up pretty well in three words: the French countryside. Not that I’ve gone all into-the-wild on you and fled away from society into savage isolation, but I have pursued the peace and quiet of middle-of-nowhere-ness.
Let’s start back in December. I went to Italy to spend Christmas with my cousin Francesca and my aunt Silvana, who happens to live in a big house nestled in the swampy, foggy, squishy lowlands of the Pianura Padana. Over the years, I’ve grown immune to this landscape, having spent countless boring hours without Internet, TV, or any sort of concrete games or pastimes – outside of reading – for any child above the age of ten. As a small child, everything could inspire an imaginary world and I had no trouble filling the day with my musings. In more recent years, however, going to her house has meant quasi-involuntarily admitting myself to prison, where I spend the majority of my time pining over my usually connected lifestyle. This time was different, though. I think I’ve finally been able to appreciate the silence and solitude of a disconnected, undisturbed refuge. In spite of how emotionally tolling the trip was – dealing with my aunt’s illness – I felt much more at peace with myself. My days were more satisfactory, as if I wasn’t spending my time looking for stimulation, but taking the time to think and do each small activity with care and patience.
But back to the French countryside. Italy was a first taste of this lifestyle; my first real papillary plunge into the country took place during four delicious days in the Pyrenees, at L’Escale, to celebrate the New Year with friends. I took a huge bite of middle-of-nowhere-ness there. No computer, no cell phone reception, no people to answer to…just a huge group of friends jammed together in a house, huddled around a fire, sleeping on top of one another, playing board games, getting drunk in the evening. Must sound like a house of useless delinquents, but that was the charm of it – we were useless and unresponsive to the normal demands of society. For the first time in months, I felt relinquished of my responsibilities: I could eat when I wanted, read when I wanted, sleep when I wanted, chat with someone or be alone…all while being surrounded by beautiful mountains.
A few weeks of city life went past, until the last weekend of January, when I went on a trip to Val du Louron, in the French Pyrenees, with the Dickinson students. Although this weekend was packed with activities we had planned for the students, I got to live out my weekend fully. No cell phone, no Internet once again. And I spent more time outside, hiking in the snow and talking to people who live and work in the area. Work – but work that consists of what seem like more rounded activities, that don’t expect you to run back and forth from one thing to the other, diluting your attention span, shattering your efforts into a million unconcluded pieces. The mountains, with their imposing, dark silhouettes, majestically dominating the valley and setting an example of patient temerity, imposing their seasonal clockwork onto their inhabitants – the mountains instill a sense of calmness and concentration that the city in its dizzy stumble splits into overlapping, drunken shards of images.
An immediate return to wilder-France. An attempt to go skiing the following weekend. Although some inclement weather caused a ski lift accident and ruined my plans to slip down the snowy slopes of Ax-3-Domaines, I was just happy to breathe that pure air and to forget about my urban worries for a few hours on a Sunday. Then, the weekend afterwards, another return to wilder-France, back to L’Escale. My fond memories of the house and all of my New Year’s Eve friends fueled my desire to return to this convivial place, where I had been able to unwind the first time. Although on a shorter and less carefree visit, I searched again for the technological disconnect I had experienced before. And finally, with my friend Louise the weekend after, on February 17th, I was able to fulfill my dream of skiing in the Pyrenees. Not having skied in three years, I felt liberated. Zooming around, feeling the cold air on my cheeks, the glorious sun beating down on me, the swish-swish of my skis, the beauty of the snow-capped mountains at every turn, and burning thigh muscles – some of the best feelings in the world.
I’ve retired to the countryside in the past two weekends with my parents, as well, to Moissac and to the Loire valley. Dorian’s parents, Chantal and Bernard, live near Moissac, on farmland, in an ecologically conscious home that runs on alternative energy and is made of all-natural materials. This place oozes with calm and peace of mind and serves as a mental and emotional retreat for me. The weekend with my parents and Dorian’s parents turned out to be so pleasant and allowed me to unwind from my jam-packed week. Similarly, our trip to the Loire proved to be therapeutic: four full days without an Internet connection, staying in a small gîte in a tiny town somewhere along the Cher river, one of the tributaries of the larger Loire river. One final burst of the French countryside before I go to Paris next week.
What does the wilderness represent for me? A tangible form of escapism. I’m not actually loping off to Westeros or any other imagined world you can find in a novel, film or television series. But in a way, I am. Voided of my reality, I enter into a parallel reality I wish would materialize more often. Now that I live in a city – albeit a small one – rare are the chances I get to feel completely still, immobile, suspended. Don’t get me wrong…I want to live in the city and I want to work at challenging jobs. I am an active, young person who needs to have things to do. But I am starting to realize the charm of the middle of nowhere. This has been a very difficult year for me, and I’ve started to realize what my limits are and what I’m capable of doing. I’ve crowded my time with activity after activity, striving for perfection in every aspect of my life, saying yes to every proposal and challenge. So it’s the no of nowhere that draws me to it. It allows me to be no one for a time. No, I cannot and do not want to respond to the demands of daily life. No, you cannot contact me in this natural refuge. No, I say, no. So what else can I do? Sit back and enjoy the landscape.