Thursday, June 14, 2007

le retour à soi

Anthony arrived in Paris on Friday evening, and after 36 hours of bamboula à Paris (including a full day party on the Batobus and two nights in a row of returning to his parents’ place in Montparnasse at 5 am), I took the Thalys (like a TGV) heading north to Belgium. As we pulled away from the Gare du Nord, I said goodbye to Sacre Coeur, the last recognizable feature of Paris I could still see out my window. Le Basilique grew smaller and smaller as the train gained speed by the minute and eventually (malheureusement) disappeared out of sight.

Many times I have made this trip north. When I lived in Belgium in 1987, I took the train to Paris during Spring Break to meet my dad for a week. And then, living in Grenoble from 1990 to 1991, visiting my host family in Belgium was like going home for me. Living far from California and unable to return home for long weekends or holidays, I felt comforted to have an adopted family I could call mine on the continent, not so far from university, and who were always happy to welcome me back. So on Sunday, I felt a pang of nostalgia as the train headed into the country of rolling hills and gray skies, moules-frites and la bonne bière.

The closer I got to Liège, the rainier the weather got. So typically belge. My host mother and father, Annette and José Michel, were supposed to meet me at the train station. When I was descending the escalator, I saw the two of them waiting for me on the platform. They didn’t notice me right away, and after not seeing them for six years, it was like seeing a long lost relative for the first time in ages. I waved my arms in the air and could barely keep the tears from welling up in my eyes.

Unlike my own family, the Michels have never moved from their house on the rue principale of the tiny village of Grand-Rechain. So when we arrived at the house, I took one look around — nothing had really changed (except for maybe the color of the walls in the living room) — and I had an overwhelming sensation that I was home.

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