November 5, 2012

Why France?

View over Paris

Why France?

I am asked that question A LOT.

I understand why.
I mean really, why would a girl who grew up in a half Italian, half Anglo-Saxon family in Spokane, Washington be drawn to a country in Europe that she had absolutely no connections to, family or otherwise?

Why not Greece...the place I longed to visit from the moment I learned about Greek mythology in 5th grade and had, for the next 6 years or so, decorated my bedroom walls with posters and maps of the Cycladic Islands and ancient ruins? (tucked into spaces that weren't already occupied by posters of Abba, U2, Echo and the Bunnymen and David Bowie, of course)

Or why not Italy...a country I was more familiar with, whose food I loved beyond words and where half of my family came from?

South of France

The answer: My High School French Class

I fell in love with France at the age of 16, in Mlle Patricia O'Grady's French class. She wasn't just any high school foreign language teacher. Yes, we had the requisite grammar and vocabulary exams, papers to write, etc., but she didn't just leave it at that. She taught us about the people, the life, the country.

Her combination of geography tests on the important monuments of Paris and descriptions of long lunches in the French countryside with the family she spent her summers with, combined with the opportunity to earn extra credit for making croissants from scratch and seeing French films at the only little art house movie theater in town, meant that I quickly became smitten with everything and anything to do with France.

Due to Mlle O'Grady, I came to France at the age of 21 to be an au pair. Because of her, I am a francophile. Thanks to her stories and her passion, I longed to live in France.

And now I do.

I owe it all to her.

Café et croissant


Sadly, though, I never got the chance to thank her.

She passed away in her early 40's due to an aggressive and incurable type of cancer. She was so vivacious and so positive, and then suddenly, she was gone. When I heard the news it broke my heart. I cried my eyes out and then cried some more.

And now my eyes are welling up just thinking about her.

If I could, I would go back and let her know how much she influenced my life, and how much I appreciated her.

She is my "Why France?" reason.

Merci, Mlle.

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Chantal said...

very nice post.

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

A lovely post Jennifer ..Mlle O'Grady sounds like a wonderful lady that gave you lots of inspiration ,,maybe If I had had someone like her teaching me French I would of listened...

I thought at first you were married to a French man .. and that is why you were there ...

I for some reason could not imagine you living in Greece, .. cannot believe you had all those posters on your wall either LOL

French Girl in Seattle said...

Well, they say great teachers are never forgotten! Mademoiselle O'Grady would be so happy to hear you are living the dream, J. :-) You were lucky to have her. France is lucky to have you. Veronique (French Girl in Seattle)

Murissa @TheWanderfullTraveler said...

Such a touching post.
I developed my desire to go to France when I was in elementary school and took French Immersion. After I moved to a small town that only offered French class as an elective I realized how lucky I was to have been able to take immersion. My teacher would tell us stories of travel and passed on the bug. I have been dreaming about visiting and now in 2013 I have vowed to go! I am hoping to book my flight in January.

I loved Italy but France is much closer to the heart.

Great post!


Elsa said...

I was so surprised to read that you grew up in Spokane. Because that's where I am.
I'm not sure when I fell in love with France. But I am. I'm in love with France and I have to tell myself that someday I will go. It is a bit strange to have this longing or yearning to go to a place I've never been but there it is. Someday...

Hillary said...

I adore that her name was Mlle Patricia O'Grady! Did you pronounce the very Irish name with a French accent in class?

My own Madame Clerisme had a similar effect on me. Congratulations on making your dream come true!! Mlle O'Grady would be proud.

Toronto Girl West said...

What a beautiful post. Thank-you for sharing your experiences and your memories of Mlle O'Grady. Indeed, I'll confess your post made me choke-up.

Rebecca said...

I, too, fell in love with France in a language course. I was in college and wanted to take Italian since I'd recently moved back to the states from Italy. Saddly, only French was offered in the time I needed. Who would have ever guessed how passionate I would become for all things French, simply because of that course. There's such a tangible love in the French language and in those who speak it - an enigmatic joie de vivre - that I think it's almost impossible not to be caught up by it. I'm sure your French teacher is smiling down on you right now. Thank you for sharing your heart.

Lisa said...

Me too! Mr Martini was my high school French teacher for 3 years. Although since my mother did her junior year abroad in Paris in 1960 it was clear before I got to high school which language I would choose. I never thought I'd make my life here tho.

Loulou in France said...

Thank you. I've been meaning to write it for some time now.

My husband is American, we moved to France because we wanted to. Simple as that! :)

Loulou in France said...

I was incredibly lucky to have had her for a teacher and she will never be forgotten.

Very excited for you! Get those flights booked!

Loulou in France said...

I know that feeling of means that you need to come to France and experience it for real. I hope you are able to soon!

She was Miss O'Grady, but we were only allowed to speak French in class so she became Mademoiselle O'Grady. We pronounced it "O'Grahdee." :)

Loulou in France said...

Toronto Girl
:) Thank you for such a kind comment.

I studied a year of Italian and love speaking it - it is so expressive! But French, and France, will always be my passion.
I love the name of your blog!

Loulou in France said...

I somehow always knew that when I got to high school I would study French. Though I didn't have many other interesting options...Latin and Spanish were the only other languages taught!

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

How I wish I had of had a French teacher at school, something I missed out on and learning now is so much more difficult. My Husband learnt at school and he finds it fairly easy now, he has a natural flair though I think for languages which I have not.
We looked around a bit for a place to retire, and apart from the fact that at least one of us had some knowledge of French, it just looked the perfect place to us. We are now very happy here. Take care Diane

Ann Mah said...

Oh, what a lovely post and how lucky you were to have Mlle O'Grady to inspire. All of us who enjoy your blog are lucky, too :) I bet she'd be so proud of you and your cheese adventures!

Melinda Larson-Horne said...

This post brought me to tears as well. I have been a French teacher for nearly 20 years and it touches my heart to know that a teacher can make that much of a difference in a student's life. French teachers may not inspire students to find a cure for cancer or to invent the next greatest tech device or to become the President of the United States. But we aspire to make their lives even more lovely by sharing the beautiful landscapes, monuments, music, art, film, poetry, fashion, food, and language of La Belle France. Each time a student chooses to expand her horizons by traveling or studying abroad,each time he demonstrates appreciation for global diversity, I know that I am contributing. It is my hope that I have and will changed students' perspectives the way Mlle O'Grady changed yours!

Thank you for your lovely tribute!


Brianna Asaro Photography said...

Can't say I blame you. When I went to France I never wanted to come home. But then I lived in england for a while, and to be honest, I DEEPLY miss England. I'm not English at all (half Syrian, half German), but England spoke to me. I felt RIGHT there. There's no good reason why you are drawn to a place.... Enjoy your time there.... God knows you'll have great stories!

A Normandy kitchen said...

Hello Jennifer,
If Mlle Grady is looking down, I am sure she must be really proud of what you have achieved and that you are living your dreams.
I disliked French and my French teacher which still makes my family and friends laugh, but I still ended up here (More than half my life as of last month!)

Dvora said...

Beautiful post. Mlld O'Grady would be very proud of you and very happy that you love her so. Now we all love her!

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

That is a good enough reason to me ..BECAUSE you wanted too .. what other reason do you have to have .. and that you love France. .. Oh yes I did gather your husband was American quite a while ago ..

Kathy-O said...

That was a wonderful testimony to a teacher who went beyond funneling knowledge into young brains, and shared her passion with you.

Will said...

What a loving tribute to your French teacher. Hopefully she was aware on some level of the lives she touched.

My "Why France" answer is rooted in family. My step-father was Cajun, and whenever we'd visit his side of the family in Louisiana we'd hear French spoken at least as often as English. In fact, several of the local TV stations broadcast in Cajun French (this was back in the '60s). Oddly enough, when I was in high school I took Spanish.

My first trip to Europe was as a musician, I had a month-long gig in Montreux in September of '95. It was the French-speaking part of Switzerland, and I became friends with several of the staff, who happened to be from various places in France. Finally made it to Paris several years after that, and wow was I smitten! I love France so much that I'm afraid I'll never see as much of the world as I originally intended, because every time I get the opportunity to go to Europe I choose France. My wife and I hope to spend at least a year living in France some day, as a trial run to see if we can do it full time.

Dean France said...

Un grand merci à tous les profs de français et à La Lanterne Magique à Spokane (qui existe toujours)!

Katja Wulfers said...

A beautiful ode to an influential teacher. Every time I'm back for a visit I always yearn to pick up and move back for a year or so. It's still in the cards...

Ken Broadhurst said...

Because of your post, I looked up and found (I think) one of my high school French teachers and sent her a message. I hope she gets it and it would be great to hear from her. She was my teacher in the mid-1960s!

Wendl said...

I sat in Starbucks and cried reading your memories of wonderful Mlle. O'Grady. She was the best! Remember the "Gateaux Parisiens" we would make? Remember how she said she could see us living in France? She would be so thrilled to know you are there. Thanks for the memories!

Loulou in France said...

Learning a language as an adult is so much harder than learning as a child. I wish I had been able to start earlier than age 15!

Thank you! :)

Loulou in France said...

Thank you for your comment!
I'm sure you've inspired many of your students and hope that some of them have let you know how much. Great teachers are too often under appreciated. Take care!

I hope you get back to England soon!

Loulou in France said...

Happy to hear that a bad teacher didn't spoil France for you. :) Your place in Normandy looks beautiful!

I know she would have been happy to hear what happened to me. It's so sad that I couldn't tell her...

Loulou in France said...

It's the best reason! :)

She definitely didn't funnel...though I do remember teachers like that. (they weren't very inspiring)

Loulou in France said...

I know what you mean about traveling...for the moment I have little desire to travel outside of France. There are so many beautiful places to visit here!
I hope you take the opportunity to live in France for a year and try it out. I don't think you'll regret it. :)

Dean France

Loulou in France said...

What's stopping you? :)

I hope she gets it too! Please let us know!

Loulou in France said...

She was the best! I remember almost everything about that class, including my "French" names. I wonder if I still have that Gâteaux Parisiens recipe somewhere? They were so good!
I'm so happy to hear from you. :) xo

Anne said...

Bon soir! Just discovered your blog via StyleMindChic... enjoyed this post. I lived in France as a young girl and there is something about the place... am hoping to come visit Paris again next year! Following you now for a taste of France... bisous, Anne

CrystaL* said...

This is such a touching story of how your love affair with France began. Although you could not thank your teacher for sparking such a passion & desire within you, you can spread it! Lovely post, I look forward to reading more.
Much Love,
P.S. I found your blog through Instagram!

Loulou in France said...

Nice to meet you!
I look forward to hearing about your plans to come back to France. I was just in Paris for a few days. It is, and will always be, one of my most favorite cities.

I'm happy you found me. Instagram is my new favorite addiction, so to speak. :)
Glad you enjoyed the post.