I’ve been working too hard for too long – 300 speaking engagements (2/3rd of them on planes) and 4 books in 3 years. Like that. And much as I love the work I get to do, I realized a couple of years ago that I’m burned to a crisp and need to take a break. I kept working and loving it, but I’m getting shrill. Two years ago I didn’t even know what a break might look like. The only thing I had the energy to imagine was kayaking in northern Minnesota, then reading Jane Austen and eating bonbons.
But after talking with friends and thinking a bit, something of the old me, the high school me, started to wake up. I wanted to do something that wasn’t motivated by Duty. Something that wouldn’t help anyone in particular. I bought Rosetta Stone and started to learn my first French. And I loved it. I have a language ear. I’m like a parrot. And in the last two years I’ve read 30 books in French, done immersion weeks at Concordia Language Villages (a wonderful place), and have listened to at least 10 audio books. Given the fact that I’m old enough and bossy enough to do what I want with my fun, there’s no one in the world who can make me read Camus or Sartre again. So I’ve read Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes and all the Harry Potter books in French. I’m fluent in mysteries. I know the French words for all the Quiddich vocabulary, “wand” (baguette magic), and “flesh-eating-slug.” I’m multi-tasking in escapism.
In the last two years, I’ve gotten to the point of real danger in a foreign language. As my brilliant French filmmaker friend said, “you don’t have any right to sound that good. You don’t know anything.” My accent is now good enough that I’ll probably sound as if I intended to say that awful thing I just accidentally perpetrated.
Here’s what I’ve learned as I’ve done this French thing hours each day: I don’t seem to be built to relax. But I can change obsessions. So in order to wean myself off of 50-70 hours a week of work (okay, I’ll be public about this. Our website is www.GraceNet.info) I shifted the overdrive into French.
Last February my husband broached the idea of walking the Camino of Santiago of Compostela (530 miles across the north of Spain with a backpack, and I’m just not going to go into the bedbug thing). I murmured a gentle “non, merci, my love” to his kind invitation and as we talked, the idea hit. Why not cook in Paris while he’s walking???
So I’m going to. I’ve done applications on a level of complexity akin to Princeton’s. I’ve honed my baguettes & croissants & stuffed, roasted chickens & sauces, and practiced les desserts over the last year. I’m heading off for three months of cooking in France this Friday – three months of cooking with some of the most amazing chefs’ teams in France (L’Institut Paul Bocuse, L’Ecole Alain Ducasse, Le Cordon Bleu, Lyon, Paris, the Loire Valley and in Quimper in Brittany). In French. On January 24th, I used some of my zillion frequent flyer miles to run up to Chicago, clutching 55 pages of “dossier” to my bosom, had my interview in French. The Consultat de France in Chicago gave me a visa to stay 93 days in France.
Look: they punched my ticket. I now have a big league French visa stapled onto page 8 of my passport.
I filed my last research report on February 7th. This afternoon, I started packing my one carry on bag. I’m trying to save room for 5 pounds of Bob’s Red Mill organic flour to give to the boulanger (baker) in Lyon who showed me how he does the best baguettes I’ve ever tasted. Also some wild rice. My friend Judy, who lives in Brittany, assures me that there are stores in France. I got a new credit card that doesn’t hit me up for 3% to buy toothbrushes and scarves in Europe. I’ll take two black outfits, two pairs of shoes, my French makeup, my Kindle, my iPad, my computer and 4 bottles of vitamins. That ought to pretty much cover it.
Even writing this makes if feel as if it’s going to happen. Thank you. It helps to talk about it. If you’re interested, stay tuned!