I spent two weeks in Europe and I even came back.

by renegademama

Let’s get something out of the way right now: Taking a two-week trip to Spain and France is not generally in my repertoire of activities. In fact, the only time I’ve been to Europe was eighteen years ago when I studied abroad in Barcelona for my junior year of college.

I loved it so much I vowed to return as soon as I graduated college, but instead I had a baby. It’s a long story.

But, Mac’s sister lives in Paris and got married in a 14th century village in the south of France. His family helped us go. It was, well, a dream.

We flew to Barcelona, spent a day or so, then drove in a rented car to a town on the French and Spanish border called Argelés-Sur-Mer. The best part of the flight was that I arrived in the same month and at the same airport as I did 18 years ago. Only then, I was 20 and single and about 60 pounds smaller. WHATEVER.

I got to look around and remember-the thick warm air, the excitement I felt back then, the nervousness-and the words, oh, the words.

“Vale.” I had forgotten “vale.” I had forgotten how many times a day it rolled off my tongue. It was so goddamn fun to speak Castellano again.

We hopped in a rental car after 28 hours of travel, at night, and I remembered I had forgotten about Googling “Spanish street signs.”

So I started driving that damn Peugeot into the wild blue because what the fuck else am I going to do?

Then I was pretty sure we were all going to get killed by a 14-year-old on a moto, but we made it. It was incredible to take my family to the places where I used to hang out, although I was surprised at how much more crowded Barcelona is. Holy shit, the tourists! I don’t remember it like that. Of course, I was drunk the whole time, so…

On the Costa Brava on the way Argelés.

After the white sandy beach Argelés, and remembering what it felt like to arrive at a restaurant for dinner at 10pm, we came across an outdoor techno show at around 12am. What struck me were the children dancing with their parents. At midnight. Imagine! The horrors! People living. People dancing. People enjoying themselves on a Wednesday night.

We took a day trip to a little town near Argeles called Coulliore to spend the day. It was the most idyllic French beach town. The colors. MY GOD THE COLORS. Rocket immediately jumped into the ocean and started playing with a bunch of French kids on a dock.

View off the balcony of our tiny motel in Argeles. I made sure we only stayed in small family-owned places.

Collioure, France. FUCKING MOVIE, RIGHT?

The colors. The narrow streets. The window boxes.

i need more of this in my life

After that, we went to Carcassonne, a medieval citadel in southern France. It was fucking spectacular. Our tiny motel had a garden for breakfast that made me want to MOVE TO FRANCE, and it had a rooftop terrace with a full view of the fortress. At night, they lit up the walls, so Mac and I stood late at night and watched the stars behind stone walls destroyed and rebuilt by Romans and Visigoths and countless other armies, through centuries of war and nonsense, and it was as if we could feel the ghosts of the people once there. Warmly.

Oh hey, I too am friends of the resistance.

Rocket on that garden terrace that ruined our lives. He took to drinking espresso.

WHAT KIND OF SHIT IS THIS I ASK YOU

Carcassone!

NBD just a medieval fortress to the left

All throughout Spain and France, in all our journeying, I was struck by the presence of history, of old, old stories, of hundreds of years of life and death and love and babies. People just like us.

I wonder if perhaps that is America’s problem, that we don’t have enough history beneath our feet to remember how bad it can get, what freedom feels like, and the loss of it.

From Carcassonne, we went to his sister’s wedding at a restored 14th century village. I shit you not. That is real. There, we reunited with family and met people from all over the world, all of whom knew more about American history than most Americans. They knew the electoral college system, the parties, and asked me questions like, “Is this really true? Did Trump really do that?”

I asked them at one point how the hell they know so much about American history. They looked at me funny and said, “Because we learn world history in school.”

One person asked me, “Why doesn’t America learn form the dictators of Europe?”

And I said, “Because we don’t learn world history in school.”

And that leads us to think we are the City on a Hill, different, exceptional. Our dictator isn’t authoritarian. He’s “making America great again.”

Oh, my god. The wedding.

So many congratulations!

Ava was a bridesmaid. Rocket was the ring bearer.

Can’t lie. We fucking fell in mad love all over again.

  

My girl was so full of grace and poise. It damn near took my breath away. How. Where. When. And my pride. You know? The joy.

I mean, okay. whatever.

View sucked though.

From the patios overlooking the French rolling hills of sunflower and lavender, from the 12the century chapel my sister-in-law was married in, from the gothic churches, from the bridges and cobblestone and tiny medieval roads, I thought a lot about how there seemed to be a heaviness in America I didn’t feel there – a weight. A division. A tension that permeates the air.

(I believe we are perhaps more fucked than we even realize but have simply gotten used to it.)

Oh, and fun fact: so many boobs on the beaches! Women with their tops off! EVERYBODY LIVED.

And finally, we spent five days at a vacation rental in a tiny town called Uztegi in Spanish Basque country. In the motherfucking Pyrenees. The walls were mostly glass, and through them, we could see two lights at night. We could hear donkeys braying. There was a chapel on a hill miles away, the silhouette of which took my breath away as the sun set behind it, and the ancient hills.

There was an outside dining area with a table and hammock and swing, and a barbeque that was a metal box set atop an old sewing machine stand. We burned chicken on it perfectly, while gazing at the Pyrenees.

fake news

playing barefoot and barely dressed on the hillside

picking lettuce for our dinner salad

We took day trips to San Sebastian, where I spoke with Giant Jesus and he told me “Trump is a real asshole. Just wait til I get my hands on that fucker.” We had a moment. I dig the guy.

San Sebastian.

Hello, Giant Jesus.

happy?

Incredible memories for these siblings, and it was so fucking fun to watch them together. And since we could say “YOU ARE IN SPAIN RIGHT NOW!” they basically didn’t bicker because they knew we’d leave ’em in the hotel room for being ungrateful little you-know-whats.


We ate tapas and squid and whole fish and more cured meat than the entire Safeway section. The kids swam in the Mediterranean. We got lost one day and happened upon a little village on a hillside across a bay. We thought, “Wonder how you get over there.” Just as we said it, a little green boat pulled up to the tiny dock beneath us, and people piled out. We hopped on. We passed a couple hours. We watched a man throw a tennis ball into the Bay for his Labrador to fetch. Rocket laughed every time as the dog launched himself into the water.

That goddamn little village!

on the boat heading over there

puke

It was stunning to spend such time with my two oldest children, Ava and Rocket, who are 15 and 11. Just to hang out, you know? Do nothing. Wander. Try foods. Just BE together.

I have never forgotten how much I missed sitting in these beautiful old squares sipping cafe con leche. I NEVER STOPPED MISSING THIS even after 18 years.

We cried on the way home, though my arms ached for little Arlo and George. I suppose we cried for the end of vacation, for the end of the time of the five of us (my mother was with us too), for the end of something that was such a miraculous gift.

But I think I also cried to return to tweets about a transgender military ban, and Bannon sucking his own cock (?), and Spicey getting fired – not that I care about Spicey, but rather, the unrest it all represents – the idiocracy, the mayhem, the mass shootings and hate crimes and racial division. Healthcare getting more decimated. My student loan payment going up $250/month because of “new federal guidelines.”

All of this news hit me by the time I got off the plane.

And yet, when I got off that plane in Oakland, I felt home. God damn you, America, with your sick clinging to nostalgia, your twisted devotion to nationalism and rhetoric that we have never deserved. But God love you, too, for the fire in your heart, for the part of you that keeps fighting, keeps rushing headlong into a better place we cannot see, have never seen, but refuse to believe cannot be ours.

Because in this disaster, in this heaviness, in America, I feel too a pulse, an energy, a motherfucking resistance. Music. Art. Film. We are a bunch of fucking crazy people, and I am not convinced I want to be among us, but I also know we have what it takes, to live in peace, to live in maturity, to live among the ghosts of our ancestors, deep in the hills and valleys, who perhaps also believed we could someday become the country we all sing about.

Until then though, anybody know the immigration laws for Spain?

as long as I can bring these two, too! reunited felt so damn good.

  • Carla

    I love you. Every single one of you. 😍

  • Becky

    Such a different world “over there”. As hard as it feels here now, I could never give up the energy that defines us. Glad your trip was great, glad you’re home!

  • Linda Burrow

    Thank you for taking me on a trip by your words, your family, the landscape and the splices of the craziness in USA woven in. Reading it, and enjoying the photography, I was loving the colors, plants, the feeling of those that were taking the same streets over many generations, kids, castles , the look on your husbands face looking at you. Yep. I’m so joyful to read your experiences and be reminded of my time in Italy and France, and my desire to return soon Haven’t made it yet. Until I read your words. Thanks.

    • kathy

      Linda, this is exactly what I wanted to say. Oh Janelle, thank you for sharing your family and photos and making me homesick for a place I’ve never been. (also homesick for what my country should be)

  • Maryann Angel

    Love your words. All of them.
    That is all.
    Ps…I want to go there too now!
    Bloody long way from Australia but it’s on the list.

  • Melanie Murrish

    Always amazes me when non-europeans mention boobs LOL! Also, how come you all look so French in France? Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous-the lot of it.

  • Gayle

    What a wonderful experience, and omg, the photo captions are spot on! As a military spouse from Mississippi, I was lucky to get to spend 7 years living and traveling in Europe, and I still get back every chance I get ( 6 weeks this summer). I fit in there better than I do at home (my tiny town is neither historic nor open minded, sigh), but over time I have developed a theory that actually gives me hope…as a society, Europe in general is more mature, middle aged if you will. In contrast, America is still in its adolesence, a gorgeous precocious teenager who is now hitting puberty hard. Would be nice to skip the zits and mood swings, but nobody can. Thank goodness this stage cannot last forever! It just takes time to learn all the lessons 🙂

    • Becky

      Your theory is perfect!!! That needs to be emblazoned somewhere for us all as a reminder!

  • Gaijinmama

    OK, I totally love you, and your gorgeous daughter is a goddess. I have one as well, she is 13 and has legs up to next week while mom is built like a Corgi.
    Anyway, I am American but have lived in Japan for my whole adult life and it is so important to know that there is a whole big world out there. go, explore, be part of it people! Never mind the ugly orange man. He is a temporary blip and we can and will do better.

  • karen lindquist

    This actually made me cry. Not that this is hard to do these days.

    Thanks for sharing this whole life-affirming adventure with us. You really hit the nail on the head about Americans not knowing our own history, not having that deep history, and basically we just don’t know who we are, and it is not really our fault. We are so displaced and disconnected from our roots.

    And that feeling you describe, how people LIVE in these other countries, with their ancient cultures and their music and songs and food that binds them together, helps them to love each other because they have a common history, things that help them identify with each other. Seems like all we do is chase new things, hoping to be set apart and to reinforce our desire for individuality and to not be tied in with each other. We love to break apart and find ways to see each other as not part of our individual thing.

    Your pictures are so heartbreakingly beautiful, and your family is so lovely. You all just shine.

    Maybe if things get bad enough here, you can start a movement of people who vote to live, who vote for resistance, and we can all chip in and buy one of those crumbling villages over there. I think about it every damned day. Which is no way to live in the moment, alway wishing you were somewhere where everywhere you look there is something life affirming, instead of heartbreaking and devastating in it’s ugliness.

    Keep living, do it for the resistance!

  • Jeanie Para

    Thank you! Really enjoyed your post on the wedding adventure, so glad you had a wonderful trip.

    Started my Saturday with a smile!!!

  • Nichole

    You look so beautiful and happy in those pics!!! And your big kids are getting so big! Looks like you had an awesome trip and got to reconnect in new ways. Cheers!

  • Grace

    I just read a quarter of this out loud to my coworkers. And laughed. At 5am, we need a laugh. Love your words!

  • Jackie

    Fucking love EVERYTHING about this. EVERYTHING. <3

  • Stella

    You make people cry with your words, Janelle. Love_this.
    Lots of love from Europe,
    Stella

  • Janice Quiles-Reyes

    This was spectacular. So grateful for this post ❤️

  • Lauren Greene

    I don’t even know how I stumbled upon your blog, but I love it. You are so witty. I liked hearing about your trip to Spain and France. It made me nostalgic for our trip to Europe this past March. You are so right–things “feel” different over there–less heavy. I have been having trouble with the Trump related news as it permeates every American headline. I keep talking to my husband about moving to Finland or France or Costa Rica. Somewhere, anywhere but here, but at the same time love my home so much. Anyway–I’ve written a blog on your comments. I love your blog and will continue to follow.

  • Juanita

    From CA to Europe! Thank you for sharing. For taking us with you. I can only imagine the perspective shift that must have happened. The memories made! Blow up those pictures and plaster your wall with them. Remember. Hold onto that joy. May it sustain you through all the bullshit and the disappointments. Keep up the good fight(and have some In-N-Out for me, please?!) JH

  • Laurie Creager

    Truly enjoying your blog!
    Laurie

  • Suzanne

    I noticed your blog post after going through other blogs. The title struck me since I’m an American expat living in The Hague, Netherlands, and have spent 4+ years in Europe and will have to return to the US one of these days. Everything you’ve described is on-point. The pace of life, the scenery, the food, the history, the ease of travel, it’s all so much more vibrant than what we have in the US. I don’t want to repatriate, especially with the current administration, which can’t seem to do the decent thing and denounce the alt-right bastards. Europeans do know so much about American history and my Euro friends don’t understand how it’s possible to have such a vile creature leading the country. I’m tired of apologizing and/or trying to explain since I don’t understand it myself. Come back to Europe. Take more than two weeks. I’m happy to host you. There’s so much to soak in. Keep writing. You give me hope. Bedankt!

  • Lucy

    I’m so glad you loved your trip.
    I’m an american/european who spent years living in Berkeley, Chicago, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Boston. I’ve been living in the south of france for 12 years, married to a French white man, and am mother to a five-year-old french/american girl…and as someone who is aligned with your politics (particularly your last post re: white people taking responsibility), I have to tell you…there is a ton of racism/anti-semitism/sexism over here. A ton. I spend a lot of time “educating” white people here, and men. The majority of white French people I meet think of “French” people as being white…and everyone else is defined by their “origins”…even though they and their parents may have been born in France (“Arab,” “African,” “Asian,” and…of course the slur “Gitane” for the Romany people who live here). Yes, they are shocked at Trump. But make no mistake, the same shocked people will throw racial or anti-Semitic slurs around without blinking an eye. And those are people who vote for the left…people who don’t actually think they are racist.

    While the food is great, the weather is wonderful, and the history–no doubt–is ever-present, it is no enlightened paradise over here . . . we all need to do everything we can to pay the extraordinary debt we owe for the riches we have reaped on the backs of those who were not colonizers. (and don’t get me started on how no one can clap on the 2 and the 4–it’s like living with a polka band).