Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fireworks and Nostalgie

The fireworks last night were fantastic, and it was a perfect evening for them. We got down to the river around quarter after four and found a spot right on the bank. We were treated to performances by a Zulu band, and also some lovely classical music. We couldn’t actually see the performers, and since it was the Lord Mayor’s show, I spent several minutes imagining Boris Johnson doing an interpretive dance with his bike. Then I found out that the Lord Mayor is only the mayor for the City of London (not the greater metropolis), and that it wasn’t Boris’ show at all. The finale with the fireworks was great, though it would have been better if there hadn’t been a giant tree branch in the way. Oh well.

Michael and I went to these very same fireworks three years ago, right when we first started dating. It was one of those magical nights when you realise you’re falling in love with your new city (and maybe even the cute guy who’s keeping you warm). This year’s fireworks were wonderful, and the atmosphere along the banks of the Thames reminded me of how great this city can be. But it wasn't exactly like that night from three years ago.

I think everyone, to a certain extent, tries to recreate special moments like these. But none try harder than serial expats and hard-core travellers. We all know that special moment, the moment a new city or country becomes officially 'ours'. And we spend our whole lives (and a considerable amount of money) trying to chase that high. We move again and again, each time savouring the moment when we see our new city's famous landmark for the first time through residential eyes, when we become recognised at the market, or discover a secret café around the corner. Sometimes we forget why we live abroad, only to have the city seduce us again when we least expect it.

As both a serial expat and avid traveller, I have many wonderful memories of discovery all over the world. I've seen the iridescent blue butterflies in Rio de Janeiro, New Year's Eve in Prague's Old Square, and the Eiffel Tower lit up at night. But when asked to think of the one time more dear to me than all the others, there's no doubt in my mind where it takes place. France was my very first time abroad as an adult, and I was besotted with my life in Strasbourg. Of course, who wouldn't be? I had very few responsibilities, I had no worries, and I arrived already fluent in the language. I think anyone who has done a year abroad for school knows how wonderfully intoxicating (ha! get it?) the lifestyle can be, and how impossible it is to recreate. Just like your first love, it's not meant to last. France was mine.

I have been back to France only once since I left in 2004, and it was to Toulouse, a city I'd never visited before. It was nice to explore without having to worry about how it related to my year abroad. Also, there was no need to get possessive and jealous, which I tend to be with regards to Strasbourg (hey, all those uncouth tourists can just go find somewhere else, okay?). One day I hope to take my husband to Strasbourg, but I know the city will be different than the one I loved seven years ago. It will no doubt look the same, but I have changed, and when it comes to my beloved city, I will always think of it as the final city of my carefree youth. In Strasbourg I am forever 20 years old, and the world is full of possibilities.

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