Into the Wider World
From the time I knew there was a place called France, I wanted to go there. When I was a little girl, in my mind France was a place where kings and queens lived in castles situated in lovely, verdant valleys. As I became a little bit older, I became vaguely aware that it was a place where they spoke a language so beautiful the words had a kind of sensuality about them. (This was before I knew the word “sensuality.”) I studied French in junior high, high school, and college, and by the time I had dropped out of my first college after a year and a half, and was living temporarily back in Coon Rapids with my parents, the desire to go there was beginning to become a quiet, desperate, and unhealthy obsession.
I knew this one Sunday afternoon when, as I was walking along the road to visit a friend half a mile away, I found myself muttering to myself, over and over, the delicious words, “le roi du coeur; le roi du coeur; le roi du coeur,” practically the whole way there. I had seen the film of the same name in an art film house in Minneapolis the night before and could not let go of those lovely words, nor of the pleasure of speaking them aloud. “Either I am going to have to get over there,” I announced, to myself, aloud, in English. “Or I am going to become a lunatic.”
But it was a while before I was able to get there. Flying to Europe was very expensive in the late 1970s, and for someone who was earning her living as a typist, being able to save enough money to buy the plane ticket was going to take a while.
That is why I was so excited when, one day on the CBS Evening News, Dan Rather announced that an English businessman, Freddie Laker, had just started a no-frills airline that was offering flights from New York to London for the unheard-of price of, I think it was $199. “Okay, that’s it,” I said to myself as I listened to the rest of the story. “Now I can do it.”
Getting over there was now feasible, but I knew once I got there I would want to be able to stay for a while. So I decided, then and there, that I would work and save as much money as I could for the next year, and leave for Europe the following September. I began to plan the trip with a girlfriend.
To his credit my boyfriend, who was about 15 years older than me, and who probably knew he risked losing me by encouraging me in this venture, was very supportive of my plan. Not once did he use his considerable powers of persuasion to try to dissuade me from stepping out into the world on my own. On the contrary. When the time came for me to go a year later and the girlfriend was unable to join me, I hesitated: he urged me on, and drove me to New York to catch the plane. The only influence he tried to exercise was just before I left, when he sang the praises of his beloved London long and hard enough that he convinced me I really ought to stay there for at least a few days before going on to France. Anglophile that he was, and nothing if not eloquent, he convinced me to do so, and I didn’t regret it.
But I wasn’t about to fall in love with London. I had been waiting all my life to get to France, and now I was almost there. I stayed with the friend of a friend who was studying at the London School of Economics and who had a shared flat in Earl’s Court. We went to the theater and the symphony, we ate wonderful Indian food together, he helped me plan my trip. London was wonderful, but it was not my destination: within a week I was on my way to France…
Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. Each summer she teaches a literature course in Paris, for Queens College, CUNY (“Paris: A Literary Adventure”). She also leads book groups at the American Library in Paris, and writing workshops in the Champagne region of France. This is an excerpt from her work in progress, “A Long Way from Iowa: Living the Dream Deferred.”