It’s strange to say that I already feel more at home in Toulouse than I ever did in the States. However, it’s true. At least, it’s the truth that I’m living at this moment. This city is full of people: French people, Arabic-speaking people, Spanish ex-pats looking to earn a living, British and Irish ex-pats opening pubs and playing for the Stade Toulousain rugby team, young families and students. Toulouse owes a lot of its relaxed character from its balmy climate and Spanish and Italian neighbors, but it’s also got plenty of the rules, regulations, and bureaucratic structures that are a hallmark of French life.
My neighborhood is young, multiethnic and multicultural, safe, and cheaper than the “hyper-centre” but right by the action. There are more activities, classes, and cultural offerings than you can shake a stick at. But most of all, I love the view of the river Garonne and the surrounding brick buildings at sunset: all vivid blue and warm coral glowing in the golden light.
Even though I don’t yet have local French friends a job, or any regular, driving force to get me out of the apartment, I’m starting to feel like I belong here. Maybe that’s because I took my first city bike ride yesterday. My previous experiences were exclusively in suburban neighborhoods, mostly with my parents and before the age of 13, so yeah… This new city-cycling business had me sweating with fear and holding onto my handlebars with a deathgrip (my arms are sore today!). I went over curbs, steered between cars, strove to stay in my little bike lane with cars whooshing past, and avoided pedestrians on sidewalks when I couldn’t find a lane for me and was headed in the direction of oncoming cars. Whew! But getting to ride past the Canal du Midi, feel the cool air, and walk inside the Jardin Japonais balanced out the terror I felt in getting my “sea legs.”
I am beginning to take personal pride in the French education system, of the nation’s rich literary heritage; it’s appreciation of beauty in nature, art, architecture (and of course, great food!). It’s a strange to feel that I am drifting away from my Americanness. This was partly brought on by the move, but it is also related to some unpleasant truths I have recently learned about the United States (I will share these another time). However, there are many American traits I want to keep: adventurousness, open-mindedness, a positive and solution-finding attitude in the face of obstacles, a spirit that embraces risk and significant change.
Right now, I feel both excited and daunted by the singular opportunity I have to recreate my life with my husband. Together, he and I chose France, chose this city, chose to leave behind everything we had established and to start anew in a foreign country. Little by little, I’m doing new things, such as embroidery, which I am hoping will be a gateway drug to sewing by hand and, fingers crossed, making my own clothes, curtains, etc by sewing machine. As I take greater control of my life and my happiness, I am also rediscovering pursuits of which I had let go, such as language learning, travel, and reading. My husband and I have begun a choose-your-own-adventure story here in Toulouse, and each day presents us with a new set of choices.