Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Birthday Weekend

As though my recent moments of panic over what direction my life is headed in haven't been stressful enough, on Friday, without much pomp or circumstance, I turned 23.  

The first half of the day was rather a nightmare, as I had to get up early and clean the house, meet the girls for lunch, and find them in an unusually bad mood.  Then, to top it off, I found out that my employer seems to think she owes me 150€ less than she actually does ... this is an issue I still haven't resolved and am perpetually stressed out by.

I was pretty much living for late afternoon, when I could drive up to a little village in the French/Italian borderlands called Oulx to meet my boyfriend for his weekend visit.  My friend Mimmi managed to drag me to a French class to get my mind off of the money issue for the few hours before, but it was hard to focus, and the coursework was a humbling experience.

I ended up leaving the house over half an hour early and driving up the mountain leading to Italy.  I hit a snowstorm in Montgenevre, but, mercifully, I've made the drive so many times that I didn't feel threatened or nervous driving through it.  Soon enough, I'd arrived to the all-too-familiar view of Oulx Station.

I met James on the platform as the familiar double-decker Trenitalia service from Torino rolled into the station, a journey which we've both taken countless times, since the nearest airport to my tiny village is Turin.  

The snow had started to clear, so the drive back to Serre Chevalier was a quick 45 minutes.  

Both too exhausted to bother with much in the way of dinner, we ended up at the local McDonalds, which has been an adventure in ordering in French for both of us over the past few months, and slumped into the plastic booth, just happy to finally be together again.

The next day was when actual festivities were planned to celebrate.  Originally, we'd wanted to have a bonfire in the woods with my fellow au pairs, including lots of cheap wine and snacks, but the spring weather here in the Alps has been quite rainy and cold, and it became apparent pretty early in the day that it wasn't going to work out.  

So, we decided that we'd go for tapas in the historic Old Town instead, and then maybe head out for drinks following.  James and I spent the day around Briançon, the biggest village in the resort.  

I brought him to my favorite burger place, where we both promptly consumed far too much, and then up to the Old Town to buy gifts for our moms (blueberry mustard for mine, handmade french soaps for his), and one of the villages patented sundial necklaces.  It started to rain, giant, sharp dollops of freezing water, and we were forced to race back down the stone steps to my car, attempting to duck under as many shop canopies as possible to stay dry.

Needless to say it took some quick repair work to be ready for my birthday dinner.  I opted to wear the shoes James had gotten me for my birthday - a beautiful pair of turquoise brocade shoes with see-through heels.
We met some of the other au pairs at a tapas bar across from the giant church in the Old Town called Spirit, and tucked in for dinners of chili con carne or curry with a big bottle of French rosé provided by the restaurant owner at a discounted price.

Dinner was an emotional affair for me, as the music selection in the restaurant twice played songs I strongly associate with my late stepfather, who passed away on my sixteenth birthday, seven years ago, including the song we chose for his funeral procession.  This was a bittersweet thing, both a painful reminder of loss, and a comforting sense of presence at my dinner, halfway around the world from where I'd lived at the time.

Afterward involved going for drinks at our favorite haunt, a Danish bar in town called Saloon, and a brief trip to a night club across the street.  We parted ways agreeing to meet the following day for Saloon's farewell bbq, as all the bartenders are headed back to Denmark this week.

To wrap things up in a less-than-graceful manner, the bbq was probably the highlight of the weekend for us.  We got there in the afternoon and stayed for about twelve hours, drinking for free, and making conversation with anyone nearby.  

It serves as what will likely be remembered for me as the finale of my time here (allowing I don't come back in the summer), from watching people dance on bar chairs to in depth conversation with people I thought I already knew, to the end of the night playing fetch with a giant stray dog outside of the Saloon while we waited for the guys to finish evicting an enraged drunk girl.

It was hard to say goodbye as James headed back to England yesterday morning, knowing it'll be almost three weeks before I see him again, and we're headed to Florida for our big holiday, but I think that I can safely say that I've finally had a birthday that lives up to the year that I turned 20 ... which I thought I'd never outdo.

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