My last day in France was six days ago. I finished work at the vineyard two days before that. There are so many things I never got around to telling you about; I wish I had the time to sit and put it all to paper. Most importantly, more about working at the vineyard or just daily life in France. Little things, like how I saw more rainbows in the last five months working there than I ever did in my entire life. I’ve always loved nature but working in it every day is different; it becomes an old friend. Someone you laugh with when the August breeze lifts your sweaty, matted hair from the back of your neck during a hot afternoon of leaf pulling. Someone you grumble at when the eastern sky is black and the muddy September ground has only just dried enough for the tractor to finish a few rows. Someone you smile at when the sun warms your stinging cold fingers after a hard December morning rainstorm.
The vineyard also gave me a chance to be me again. No time for clubs or teams or committees. No homework late at night and no deadlines to meet. No makeup or expensive clothes; I lived in baggy t-shirts and dirty jeans. I remembered how much satisfaction I get from seeing something unfinished in the morning and working at fixing it all day until I go home tired and sore. I shared the rows and rows of grapes with a pack of the elusive wild boars called Sanglia and once saw a young Chevreuil buck in the early morning fog. I learned the value of being quiet.
But my time in the vineyard didn’t just belong to me and the wild pigs, I also got the chance to learn a little more about life from people who’ve been at it longer. One of the men I worked with in the last few weeks, while pruning the dead vines to make way for new ones next year, is a man in his late fifties who immigrated from Portugal about 36 years ago. He’s been working at Chateau La Garde for 35 years. He’s been to three countries in his lifetime: Portugal, where he was born and grew up, Spain, which he drove through to get to France, and France, where he lives now. He never went to college. He makes minimum wage and does hard labor. He’s never been in an airplane. But Antoine knows the best Portuguese beer and the finest Port. He will tell you he’s never seen a harvest as rainy as ’92. He can fix a broken disk on the tractor with some wire and a screwdriver. He doesn’t get grumpy when it rains cold and hard on his face for five straight hours in the vineyard. He sings instead. And when you accidently back the tractor and wagon too close to the support beams in the shop, denting one on the side, he pulls it straight and tells you it’s your secret.
I’m going to miss those experiences the most. The tranquil, early morning walks to the shop, spotting a Sanglia still bent on digging another hole in the vineyard until he locks eyes with you for a moment and runs off. Working side by side with good people who measure your worth by how hard you’re willing to work. Sure, I’ll miss traveling the beautiful regions of France; never have I seen such geographic diversity in one country. I also know I’m going to crave warm baguettes and confit de canard and search for crème brulee on every menu in the States. But these things I can relive through pictures and attempts at cooking. I can always come back and find them again. I’ll really just miss the people.
This morning, I’m sitting in a café in Prague nursing a chai tea and trying to let my system recover from all the trdelnik and langosch I consumed yesterday. Just a few days ago, I was sitting in the kitchen of a youth hostel in Rome eating Gelato… in December. My trip through Europe seems unconsciously centered around trying to eat every kind of food imaginable. Kristen, my friend from Cornell who was studying in Rome all semester, and I leave for Vienna tomorrow. Before we came abroad, we decided that after our programs were finished we would get together and make a tour of some major sights in Europe. Who knows where life will take us after this and we decided to grab the opportunity while we had it. After a few days in Rome we took a cheap airplane to Prague and tomorrow we’re catching a train to Vienna. There we’ll spend Christmas. From Vienna we’ll take the train to St. Gallen, Switzerland. Kristen has family friends there who’ve kindly offered to take in two hobos for a few days. From Switzerland we’ll hop over to Munich and celebrate New Years. Waiting in Munich is a rental car and a GPS and the morning after New Years Day we leave the city in favor for braving country roads and the German countryside. We’re hoping to make it to the former concentration camp of Dachau, the Neuschwanstein Castle, the walled city of Rothenberg ob der Tauber, Frankfurt, the Eltz Castle, and finally Hamburg.
And from Hamburg, Germany on the fifth of January I get on a plane for this place that seems like something I made up in a childhood fantasy almost eight months ago: home.