The Best People

The Crown, S2:E4 “Beryl”

TONY: You’ve probably never been on a bus, have you?

PRINCESS MARGARET: (puffs on her cigarette) No.

TONY: Pity. You really do meet the best people.

I don’t mind riding the bus. When the temperature is crisp and precipitation is less than predictable, it’s worth a good hair day to check the schedule, validate that ticket on my phone, and hop on the number 28 to some of my familiar, if not favorite, places.

I’d had a wonderful morning with some friends and needed to scurry to the grocery store to grab a few (ha!) things for upcoming festivities at our apartment. The bus would be another 5 minutes and since I was most likely the oldest person waiting, I parked my tired boo-hiney (West Virginian for buttocks) on the not-so-clean wooden bench to await my extra long limo. A woman, most likely near my age, joined me on the seat then began speaking to me en francais.

“J’aime tes chaussures.” I smiled, and immediately told her, in French, that I spoke only a little of the language. She was not deterred from pursuing conversation, so I tried in my best bad French to tell her I walk a lot in these shoes, because I couldn’t remember the French word for “comfortable” (which is, of course, confortable— almost the same word with a French accent!!). She spoke a bit of English, I spoke a bit of French, as she told me her sister had a bad foot and footwear like mine would be good for her. (Was that a compliment? I hadn’t thought of my sandals as orthopaedic).

My bus arrived, and it was, of course, her bus, too. I boarded and sat against the window, and as she approached I realized she was going to sit with me, so I patted the seat and smiled at her. She introduced herself: Marianne had lived in Luxembourg for a very long time, though she was originally from Cameroon. Her skin was beautiful brown, as she pointed to her hand and said her children were the same color, though her husband is Luxembourgish. We talked about how Luxembourg is a country of peace and the people are nice. We chatted about window shopping at La Belle Etoile and cooking. She swore the prepared chicken wings at that Cactus were better than any other Cactus store in the country. She told me her husband is a good man, and asked if I had a good man, too. When I answered, she smiled broadly and we both nodded.

As we parted ways, she squeezed my hand, and I told her I hoped to see her again.

It was no random occurrence, the encounter with Marianne, in my heart or in my mind. In this place, so foreign and far from home, I’m finding a human touch, a smile, a word goes a long way in making me feel like I belong or matter or make a difference.

Have you been on a bus in Luxembourg? You really do meet the best people…

Summertime, and the living is easy. And quiet. And deserted. The programs at churches and clubs are bare bones for the summer. There is no book club, or travel talk, or Bible study or small group, no French classes–no traffic–as everyone (and I mean the whole country) goes elsewhere on vacation. The American expats fly home to Alabama and Michigan and New York and Oklahoma and Seattle and Ohio and Texas for weeks on end, taking advantage of the completion of a school year. The EU expats travel to Italy and Ireland, to Provence and Poland, London and Latvia, the Netherlands or New York. The motorways are filled with campers and motor homes going everywhere but here. 

travel-plan

For a week I sat here by myself, while Mark flew to the U.S. for work, still far FAR away from our kids. I did my best to stay busy, but I nearly had to break up with Netflix–it was so much easier to settle in with my favorite shows and actors and movies than to make myself join the rest of the remaining population of Luxembourg. The weekend was the hardest: despite the never-ending festivals in Luxembourg, the energy and activity of city centre, the evenings defeated me, so I called up my old friend Tom Hanks and the staff from Downton Abbey to keep me company.

Mr. Wonderful has returned, and the rest of Luxembourg is slowly trickling back. I’ve now experienced the sadness of losing three expat friends back to their homelands–just the nature of the beast here. And now is the advent of a  new crop of expats, having spent a last summer wherever “home” is, squeezing out every last minute with family and friends, staying in temporary housing until the shipping container arrives, shopping for appliances with the correct plug and wattage, foraging in the grocery store for products that look familiar despite the two languages choices on the packaging being more than foreign.  This summer, I’m the adviser, the info desk, and I’m anticipating the new friendships in the making.

Giant Blue Container Ship and Small Red Tugboat

The predicament here in this beautiful country, whether sultry summer, foggy fall, wet winter, or pretty printemps, is the coming and going of allies, fellow compatriots navigating not only the narrow roads but the wide cultural differences. I recognize that friendships exist in my life in seasons, for reasons–to teach me, to mature me–and I’m grateful for that instruction as well as the pleasure of rapport, no matter what the weather. But today? It’s Assumption Day in Luxembourg, and while this Protestant doesn’t understand why it’s a public holiday, my BEST friend is home from the office.  It’s summertime and, at least today, the living is easy. Cheers!

cremant

 

 

Punks and Apologies

We were excited for our long weekend in Barcelona. Mark and I researched what to see and do when we met up with family from the US in Spain. High on the list was the Picasso Museum, tapas and sangria, the Gaudi architecture, sangria and paella, the Mediterranean Sea, sangria and tapas, the Magic Fountain, paella and…well…Besides those anticipated highlights, I’d been told by two separate acquaintances of purse snatching in Barcelona–both had lost phones, money, credit cards, and passports–pickpockets have mastered their trades in the city. All advice pointed to keeping passports in the hotel safe and carry copies, wearing cross-body bags with all zippers zipped, putting wallets in front pockets while keeping your own hand in that pocket (minimizing room for an additional hand!). Beware, we were told, of busy intersections, distractions. and the biggest attractions.

Exploring with my dear cousin, Laura, and her husband was such a treat! We enjoyed each others’ company so much, and appreciated Craig’s fluent Spanish to help us along the tapas trail from the Picasso Museum to the Sagrada Familia. As our quartet approached the structure (still incomplete after 100 years!), we sang our “watch your pockets” chorus, checking the position of belongings, going into high alert mode. We walked around the funky, beautiful church, looking up and admiring both the modern and the gothic side, taking pictures, chatting about the history of Sagrada Familia and the architect who designed it.  As in many parts of the city, hawkers of trinkets spread their cheap (imported–not even handmade!) wares on a cloth on the sidewalk. As we talked, I noticed a young man setting up shop near us.

Moments later, I was snapped out of the conversation with a yelp (Mark called it a girly scream) as someone stomped on my foot, and I teetered as I was shoved, nearly losing my balance! My first instinct was to grab my purse and look around to alert my family–I was afraid this was an attempted theft. Yet, as I turned to speak, a policía passed in a blur, tackling the young man I saw running with his bundle of goods. We all looked at each other–our eyes huge–as Mark and Laura and Craig made sure I was in one piece. As the policía walked back toward us, holding the kiddo by the scruff of the neck, we tried to move out of the way to allow their passage. Instead, the officer walked right up to me, holding onto the boy, speaking to him in Spanish. Then the boy looked at me and spoke–I had no idea what the words were, but I knew he was saying he was sorry for hurting me. The surprise of that nearly rendered me speechless, as I muttered, “Thank you, I appreciate your apology.” As they walked away, Craig said the policeman said to the young man, “For 4 Euros you hurt this lady?”

I was not badly hurt–my foot remains a bit sore. At the time, a “bit” of sangria and tapas removed the pain and fear! We told and re-told the story, laughing, exaggerating, musing what consequences awaited the kid. The remnants of my surprise, however, are at the manner in which the police handled this situation. The conversation Craig relayed to us reminded me of a father speaking to his son, of a parent teaching a child to ask for forgiveness and to count the cost of his actions. The lesson for me is to remember who has forgiven me all and taught me to forgive in return. The example is deep, the practice endless–on both sides of forgiveness.