June 1, 2008
Apparently, I had the foresight to book first class tickets from Paris to Montpellier and then the good sense to forget all about it. So when Allen and I arrived at car number three and found it was a first-class car, we were very excited. “Just a little early anniversary present,” I joked.
Three hours into the trip, the TGV has finally slowed, and we’re pulling into the train station in Nimes. Somehow “I’ve been here before” is almost a physical reaction. My skin is tingling with anticipation of the heightening of that feeling in Montpellier. We’re twenty minutes away.
It didn’t seem to make sense to travel very much in the fall, when I was settling in to Paris, and Allen and I were adjusting to inhabiting a shared space again (and a small one at that) after two months apart. And then I found work, and we had visitors, and I flew back to the States in December, then Allen did in January, and there was dreary February, and then half the people we know came to Paris seemingly at once. Now with five weeks left in France and fifteen minutes left on a train, I’m asking myself why we waited so long.
I’ve been back to Montpellier since studying here, in 2003 with my mother and my friend Sara. But this time will be so different. Last time my friend Adam was studying abroad in Montpellier with the William & Mary program (I like to think I had a hand in it), and he was living in our building. So we stayed two floors down from my old apartment. This time, we’re farther removed, staying in a chambre d’hotes. But this time is a reunion, with Allen and I meeting Debbie and Elizabeth. We’re about a fifth of our study abroad group right there. (And it’s worth noting that by luck – or a predictable sequence of events, depending on how you view it – we’re two pairs that lived together that year. Allen and Debbie were in the same dorm hall at Boutonnet, while Elizabeth and I shared a charmed apartment on rue Eugene Lisbonne.)
As the trip drew closer, and our discussions and plans more frequent, I started to notice the ways in which that year had been different for all of us. Our daydreams about the trip were revealing. Debbie was prepared to spend every day at the beach, as was Elizabeth. Allen and I hadn’t even given a thought to taking the bus to Palavas and the Mediterranean. Allen expressed an interest in visiting our old campus. I was entirely focused on listing all the places I hoped to eat.
I came to Montpellier when I was 19, and I’ve turned 27 this week. It will be different (and I would want it to be different). And yet – we’re pulling into the station now, and I can see the familiar orange and green tiles. I’m scanning the crowd for Debbie and Elizabeth; we haven’t planned to meet, but I somehow know they’ll be there. And it will all be just exactly the same.