Sorry to have to bring war into a blog entry again, but the two world wars are kind of a big deal in France. I learned recently that every little commune in France has a memorial dedicated to its locals who died in the wars the country took part in. I must say though, learning about these wars in Europe brings an almost entirely new perspective into them, particularly with the existence of these monuments as physical proof of the wars' existence.
Anyway, in history class, the professor handed us photocopies of five letters. The story she told us was that her sister purchased a house somewhere in this department of France (Deux-Sèvres), and there was a lot of stuff that needed to be cleaned up. While organizing it, they found a box. They opened a box, and lo and behold, there lay five well-preserved yet delicate letters sent by a soldier in 1914.
I believe they also found his death certificate, because she passed around a copy of it for us to see.
When it reached my two friends and me, we saw that the last name was whited out, and what was left were his first and middle names: Firmin Julien. (Firmin, pronounced Feehr-mah, is an unusual name, none of us had heard it before.)
We couldn't help but be curious. After all, we had just read letters in his near-indecipherable handwriting, a rather cryptic activity. We wanted to know more.
We spent the first half of our research period embarking on a quest, scouring the internet to obtain more information on Monsieur Firmin. The beginning (like all real beginnings, I have learned) was frustrating; nothing in genealogy files turned up, nor were there any clear enough pictures of war memorials clear enough for us to be able to read the names. However, with enough persistence, we stumbled upon his full name (squealing at the discovery) in a list that included: date of birth, name, regiment, date of death, and place of death. One particularly chilling aspect to this incident is an excerpt of the last letter he wrote on October 13, 1914 that says: Il faut espérer que plus tard on se verra tous réunis, a sentence that translates to, "We must hope that later, we will see each other all reunited." Exactly two weeks later, he was killed in Belgium.
I dedicate this part of the entry to Firmin Julien Nambot (pronounced Nahm-bo), a brave man who died for his country.
This got me to thinking, sure, we know the names of the great war heroes; however, it's the ordinary people whose names are difficult to find on the internet, who come from obscure little villages, and who left initially mundane pieces of concrete evidence that somehow survived, that make the atrocity of war feel even more real.
On a less grave note, Thanksgiving is on Thursday! Here, I'd like to put some "thank you"s out there to certain things/people in this world I just can't thank enough.
Yes, I totally did just use the logo of "Merci" chocolate.
First and foremost, I would like to thank Rotary International.
Not only do they do humanitarian work around the world in order to alleviate some of the real problems in this world, they are also affiliated with something else equally important: the youth exchange program. Rotary clubs all over the world sponsor and host exchange students every year, opening minds and giving certain crazy teenagers the best, most eye-opening experience they could live through in their youth. This experience will affect us the rest of our lives. And as we grow up, I know that in the future, we will maintain the multi-national friendships we have made, thus helping to ensure peace among nations. After all, the only race that matters is the human race. Thank you, Rotary, for this opportunity, and for continuing to have done it for years and years. Despite my being a cynic, I believe that hope is one thing that should never cease to exist, and what Rotary gives me is immense hope for the future.
Next, I would like to thank RDS and SNCF.
Let me explain what these initials stand for. "RDS" stands for "Réseau des Deux-Sèvres (Network of the Deux-Sèvres)" and "SNCF" stands for "Société Nationale des Chemins de fer Français (French National Railways)". In all honesty, I get rather lonely sometimes without another Rotary kid in my town, and I have this perpetual wanderlust that occupies my being, so what better excuse to gallivant around the country than to see what other cities my friends are spending their exchanges in? RDS and SNCF make this possible. Public transportation here is so efficient and easy. I really do enjoy it.
As much as I would think my life would be better without them, I would like to thank all those awkward, lonely, isolated, disappointing, difficult moments that turn up more often than I would wish.
It's moments like those that make happiness even sweeter, and it's moments like those that help me learn more about myself and come up with all these epiphanies about this insane experience that serve as lessons for the rest of my life. And besides, in the words of a certain wise man...
Onwards to people.
I've already given special mention to my Rotary friends, host family, and school friends, so I'll save this one for my real family, who I love very much.
First of all, thank you to my younger sister Cara.
Even though we wouldn't always get along, and even though you can be hard to tolerate, you were an important, excuse me, ARE an important part of my life. Thank you for constantly critiquing the clothes I used to wear (I really did wear atrocious clothes before) and for helping me develop a France-worthy sense of style. Thank you for bothering and teasing me, because it has taught me patience and tolerance. Thanks for being eccentric and completely different from me and looks and personality, to show how diversity not only brings more liveliness into a family, but into the world as well. I know I have been rather hard to put up with to you, so I hope you're enjoying this well-deserved ten month long break from my presence ;)
Next, I'd like to give a special mention to my grandma.
Yes, this is my grandma, and also one of my idols! (The other one is Alexander the Great) Let me explain why. My grandma is very kind and caring, but she also knows how to be assertive and speak her mind. Like me, it was one of her dreams to be a doctor, and she had accomplished it. She now lives an active retirement full of cruises, traveling, and spoiling her grandkids. (Hahaha...) It is one of my goals to turn out just like her-a successful doctor who gets to travel a lot. Thank you, Lola Day! Thanks for sponsoring the trips I take here, and for always having supported me since I was born.
Last, but most certainly not the least, thank you to my parents.
I can't fathom what it must have been like for you, raising an ambitious, dramatic, go-getting, deep-thinking girl like me. It must have been a challenge to say the least. But you have never ceased to care for me as your daughter, no matter what kind of foolishness I have gotten into in my life. The reason I am who I am today is because of how you brought me up; I am glad for my childhood full of music, reading, and other such Renaissance-y experiences.
Anyway, thank you very, VERY much for allowing me to go off and live one of my dreams. Not any set of parents can do that. You guys are just as brave as me, if not braver. After having looked after me and having me in your household for all of my life, suddenly just letting me whisk myself off across the Atlantic to a continent I've never lived in before? WHAT IS THIS MADNESS. However, I hope you both realize how happy I am to have you as parents and have you support me in everything I choose to do. Because without that, I wouldn't be as accomplished as I am now. I know that because you will always be there for me, my future is brighter than I can imagine.
Maraming na maraming salamat!
Before I conclude this entry, I was at my second host family's house to play the piano, and I asked my host dad if he could find me a nice warm winter hat that I could use.
He presented several hats, one of which was a red beret.
I squealed with delight! I had left my notorious red beret back in Oregon, and I hoped to eventually find one here and buy it, but this came as a surprise.
I don't think I'll wear it to school, but I'm glad to have one again...
The beret is back in business, baby.