22 JAN 2017
A cloud of freezing air creeps in the dark, only to leave this late morning, taking with it all the colors of the Robertsau. I see it just beyond the trees through the library window. Now it cloaks the trees and has come for the flags at the front lawn. It seems to reach out to the very window I stand at before retreating back into the woods. White blankets lawn, trails, steps, walls, and roofs. This is not the snow of a pleasant winter, but the white ice of a deep cold. It grips at the earth, cracking the dry dirt. It clings to trees and branches.
The flags are the only thing that appear to retain their colors. Five flags hang heavy in the windless cold. There is one each for the European Union, France, Germany, Canada, and the United States. Hotel Reception is adjacent to the library, and I can hear English, French, and German all spoken within the short span of time that I stand here. There is a small thrill in being able to proffer or respond with a simple “bonjour,” “morgen,” or “good morning.” I was once very critical of myself for having taken German all those years ago in high school, but I cannot express enough gratitude for having done so now that it has finally come to serve me in some small way. I wish I had paid closer attention to Mr. McCormick; perhaps I would have remembered more than a few words and how to count.
As for my French, well, it certainly still needs all the help it can get. Madame Simpson and Dr. Ditmann provided me with the basics and some understanding. Dr. Mann and Dr. Wengier challenged me in Paris. I just hope that there is some small chance for me to one day become fluent. Communication is very important to me, and I wish to be able to convey myself in more than just one language, but more importantly, I would like to be able to listen in more than one language. I should learn more nouns and verb conjugations, indeed, plus de mots en général. The European Union maintains 26 official languages. I am ambitious, but not quite 26-language ambitious. I think, for me, I would like to be able to speak/listen/understand, read, and write in French, German, Spanish (castellano), Arabic (modern standard), Chinese (Mandarin), and Russian (maybe).
Studying abroad has taught me that knowing the language, the words and the grammar, is not the only thing needed in order to properly communicate. I have learned that customs and culture are huge parts of clear and concise understanding. Direct translations in either direction, English to French or French to English, will not have a lot of meaning when concerning idioms and other phrases. These things must be practiced, performed, and experienced to be understood. The short exchanges at the cafés are nice, and they do help, but more thorough and involved conversations are necessary for a more developed education on foreign language communication. Also, trying to stop thinking in English and begin thinking in the other language, French in this case, is proving most difficult. I am in my own mind way too often and too used to English that making room for French is like having a roommate for the first time in many, many years. For further comparison/analogy, I imagine that roommate would not be some stranger, but instead just the French version of myself. I feel the anxiety already.
However, it would be an interesting experience getting to know the French version or myself. My intended goal, really, is to one day be able to “pass” as a native speaker. That is the depth with which I wish to be able to comprehend a foreign language. Je peux rêver, non?
Morning has come and gone. Noon arrives with the sun fighting fiercely to break through the overcast. I am still at the château, waiting for the weather to warm, but I doubt it will warm much more than it is now. I cannot be sure which church bells I hear ringing, but I like to think they are those of Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, but most likely they are those of the much closer Robertsau église. Whichever bells toll, their spell in one of transportation. I am immediately reminded of my brief time at Mont St. Michel. I am not religious, spiritual, yes perhaps, but not religious. Even still, standing in the halls of that cathédrale when the bells begin to ring takes a body whole and shakes it to the core with chills and transformation. I can still hear the first chimes. I can hear the strike against metal turn into a tune.
Then, when more and more bells are added to the chorus, the striking seems to cease, and a single tune is sung as if biblical trumpets blast from heaven’s high altar. Head lifted, eyes closed, arms and hands open, ready to receive what gifts can be bestowed by this angel, Saint Michael of the mountain, I am pierced through by the booming of the horns. Time stops, and I am weightless. What is but a few moments feels like eternity, truly. This is awe.
I confess, I felt empowered. Is that the right word? I struggle to find one more appropriate or accurate, but yes, I think that was the sensation: empowered. Maybe “charged” is more direct. Charged, as if an empty vessel had been momentarily filled with power, light, life. Electric. Whatever the word, there was certainly some sort of reality felt in that magic place.
By now, the bells here have stopped ringing, and I am transported back into the château. The decision to venture out in the cold or remain by the warmth of the radiators is upon me.