I never went back to Bordeaux. I never went back to one of the most beautiful regions of France.
After living there junior year of high school, I promised myself I’d never return to France, let alone the southern corner I called home for too long.
In my absence, Bordeaux has fared just fine without me, and this past year, I allowed my love affair with Paris to overshadow the lingering resentment of my previous French breakup.
I had surprised myself by even boarding the plane and flying back across the Atlantic–and thank god I did! As an already emotionally charged person though, I wasn’t about to risk returning to the source of so much ill-managed, nearly-forgotten trauma.
My first couple weeks in Paris only solidified this decision; my heart would race when I thought I saw her face, or smelled the mingled perfume and smoke that clung to the floral upholstery of my exchange family’s home.
For years, when I closed my eyes and conjured images of France, I’d see dark tunnels, her still, drugged body on train tracks, the lights quickly approaching, everyone running out of time.
I’d see drug exchanges in the winter rain–saw a world I would never understand.
Saw myself walking alone in the city for days and days and days, too young, sheltered, and scared to go make friends with carefree abandon the way I did (albeit awkwardly) in Paris.
And I forgot the moments when I loved Bordeaux.
When we break up with people, or, as is too often the case with me, cities, we remember why they hurt us. Remember the nights we felt lonely sleeping beside them.
And somewhere along the way, we forget. We forget the crooked smiles over breakfast baguettes and the moments of stillness when someone listens to you, or buys you pastries when you’re upset–because everyone knows the key to my heart is a delicious pain aux amandes. And Bordeaux gave me plenty of warm French baked goods.
The day I left my host exchange family, I cried so much the taxi driver was concerned enough to pull over and chat. In my eyes, I had failed the teenage French dream. Failed to befriend the French girl with pinched skin and a lost smile–the smile of a giggling girl in an abused body. As the days passed in that stale, toxic home, I nibbled on tasteless croissants, staring at nothing but the thoughts trapped in my own mind. With a drug-addicted “sister,” her neglectful parents, and not a friend that side of the Atlantic, I had no one but myself–a half-truth I conjured up in my resentful assessment of the experience when I returned home.
Not until recently did I realize how entirely blind and neglectful I had been to my one and only friend those six months: Bordeaux.
I also bitterly forgot the kind French family I lived with for a month when I moved out of the first family’s home, as well as the friendly schoolkids at the second high school. Finally, at long last, I lived in a healthy, stable environment. At that point though, it didn’t matter, and regardless of how grateful I felt, I wanted nothing but to board the plane to Wisconsin and forget junior year of high school ever happened. As a result, I never kept in contact with my second host family, nor did I plan on visiting that city ever again.
Somehow in my absence I forgot that Bordeaux was my only solace. Long country walks and city streets kept me company when my host family lashed out, or when my foreign exchange sister would wander through her own mind in a drug-induced haze. Bordeaux is a beautiful city with a relaxing atmosphere that Paris desperately needs at times, and the countryside’s vast expanse of green and golden pastures will help you fall in love with a place I forgot that one day, I did love.
I’ve had a few people from the TAPIF program contact me recently, asking about where to travel in France. Bordeaux! I never recommend it to people, though I could probably guide you around the city with my eyes closed. The city and surrounding countryside are nothing short of lovely, and you may even prefer it to Paris.
(Let’s not get too hasty, though).
Because it’s smaller than Paris, you can travel around by foot without much of a hassle, although trams run through the city and allow for easy access across the river, where you can gaze at open cafés and the city’s golden statues.
The people smile there. Truly smile. Whereas in Paris, or any major city, we rush by in an exhilarated, panicked, guarded blur.
Unfortunately, in true breakup fashion, I attempted to delete every last trace of Bordeaux. That relationship was broken. And I wanted to forget we had ever met. Someone, I’m not sure who, thwarted me though, and saved some precious pictures from that year, which I will now share with you. Forgive me but I pulled some pictures from the internet as well to allow for the “true Bordeaux” experience.
Third time to France is the charm!