An American in Paris, an Australian in America

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Me & Jodie, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, 1985

Within a couple of months of finishing high school, at the tender age of 18, I left my home in Melbourne, Australia, and flew to Paris, France, to take up a job as an au pair. After my first month away, I was desperately lonely and wanted to go home. My mother convinced me to give it another week and then, if I still felt the same way, she would arrange for my return. The following day, I met three women who changed my life. The first two were sista-Australians, Harriet and Anne, whom I met when all three of us were in the process of enrolling at the Alliance Française. The third was an American called Jodie, who approached us in a nearby café when she overheard us speaking English.

Over the following six weeks, Harriet, Anne, Jodie and I became inseparable, keeping each other buoyant as we stumbled and bumbled our ways around a new language and culture, tough (for some) jobs, love affairs (for some), occasional bouts of homesickness, and the rush of freedoms previously unknown. Our picnics by the Seine involved bread, cheese, chocolate, cheap wine and Broadway musicals. We went to movies and cheap restaurants, and hit the galleries on Mondays when it was free. After one memorable visit to the Louvre, we wrote to each other on postcards of The Three Graces, fantasising about imagined futures.

When the baby was born in the family I was working with, I was charged with taking the three-year-old and six-year-old to stay with their relatives in a castle in the countryside. Jodie came along for the ride, because who can resist staying overnight in a French chateau. There was another night, too, that I remember: a night of secrets shared as the sun set, a new light emerging from the darkness.

On Jodie’s last night in Paris, we took a bateau mouche along the Seine river and went to dinner at Chartier, if I remember correctly (which is still going strong).

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Me & Jodie, Cathedral Rock, Sedona, USA

We kept in touch, often at first, then less frequently, until we lost touch altogether. But thanks to the internet – to this blog, in fact – we reconnected again in 2009. We’d both partnered and had daughters. In some ways, we were both still trying to introduce the girls we were in 1985 to the women we have become.

When she found out recently that I was coming to the USA for the first time for the conference in Phoenix, Jodie wrote saying, ‘You’ve never been this close.’ ‘Close’ was still a three-hour flight from Seattle. But she made it happen. On 20 Feb this year, we met again for the first time in 32 years, at Phoenix Airport. Jodie was so excited, we came very close to leaving the terminal without her suitcase! We jumped straight in a hire car and Jodie drove us to Sedona, talking all the way, laughing at our attempts to catch up on 32 years. In Sedona, we walked to Cathedral Rock, before returning to our hotel to keep talking over red wine and Wild Turkey bourbon (Jodie’s tribute to our Thelma and Louise-inspired road trip), eventually falling asleep to the sounds of Oak Creek outside our balcony.

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At Monument Valley

Tuesday we visited Monument Valley, a 13-hour round trip that took us through six climate zones, into the heart of the sovereign Navajo Nation, which we are fortunate to be permitted to visit: our guide told us the decision to open Monument Valley to tourism was won by a single vote, and there are still members of the community who would see us as invaders (with just cause, given what is transpiring at Standing Rock as I write). Despite our loquacious tour guide, we managed to keep talking, silenced only by the majesty of the landscape that unfolded once we reached our destination. No amount of movies (and I watched a lot of them in the lead-up to my visit) could prepare me for the sheer scale of Monument Valley, its vistas and its silence.

img_9799We spent Wednesday and Thursday at the Grand Canyon. I should note that Jodie had never been to Arizona before either, so both of us were experiencing these wonders for the first time. Coming upon the Grand Canyon felt, for both of us, as though we’d arrived on another planet. It took several hours for my eyes and mind to adjust to depths and breadths in my field of vision that I had simply never known before. I was struck dumb with awe: as a writer, it was a shock to be so continually lost for words. We visited several points along the south rim, watching cloud shadows dance over rocks shaped like temples. At sunset, we ventured a little way down into the canyon along the Bright Angel Trail, before the wind chill sent us to our hotel room for more conversation, wine and Wild Turkey.

Overnight snow put paid to our plans to trek the Kaibab Trail on Thursday morning. We ‘settled’ instead for walking the entire south rim trail; as we kept saying, every choice we had was good. We talked, paused to take photos, held each other when we slipped on the ice. We had several close encounters with elk, saw a flock of bright blue pinyon jays and spotted a condor on our westward walk. When it looked like we risked missing our tour bus back to Sedona, a couple from Minnesota came to our rescue, driving us back to the village.

img_9956Friday we returned to Phoenix to meet Jodie’s 16-year-old daughter, Caroline, who flew in from Seattle to spend the weekend. Jodie treated us to a wonderful hotel in Phoenix, and thanks to a great tip from an Uber driver, we ended up at a fabulous Mexican restaurant, Los Olivos, for dinner. Caroline retired early, leaving Jodie and to to keep talking…until 2 in the morning.

To say it was as if the past 32 years hadn’t happened would be trite: we’ve both been through major rites of passage since we last met. As the mother of teenagers, who has also lost both her parents, Jodie has walked tough paths that still lie ahead of me. I am grateful for what she shared with me this past week, and for the benefit of her wisdom and experience.

But to rekindle what was a significant friendship 32 years ago, and experience the intimacy and joy of that friendship all over again… Again, I am lost for words. ‘Gift’ comes to mind. Likewise ‘grace’. Words with religious connotations that make me squirm, but that go some way towards describing how precious this past week has been.

img_9814Thirty-two years seems like a long time between drinks. But as Jodie pointed out, when you’re in a landscape among rocks that are 1,840 million years old, it puts things in perspective.

I don’t usually blog about stuff as personal as this, but I’ve chosen to do so for two reasons: to thank all those back in our respective homes who encouraged and supported Jodie and me to spend this past week together; and to encourage anyone reading this who has a friend they miss to make the time to reconnect.

Life is short. Seize the day. Seize a whole week if you can.

As for me and Jodie, we’re already planning our next reunion.

 

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About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne-based crime writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. Her first novel, Behind the Night Bazaar won the 2004 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. She is a winner of the Scarlet Stiletto Award and has thrice been shortlisted for Ned Kelly awards. Her third novel, The Dying Beach, was also shortlisted for the 2014 Davitt Award. Angela teaches writing and is currently studying for her PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University.
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15 Responses to An American in Paris, an Australian in America

  1. What a lovely friendship you have, Angela, and I can’t tell you how happy I am that you had the chance to catch up with your old friends. That makes everything all the more special. Your post reminded me of friends I’ve had for years – friends I met at uni – who’ve been close to me like that. You are fortunate.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Olgamary Savage says:

    What a  wonderful tribute to friendship and life Mutti

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Liz Filleul says:

    What a great post! I too have reconnected with old friends thanks to the internet, and I’m really pleased you and Jodie had such a fab reunion.

    Really interested in your reaction to the vast landscape, especially as you’re an Aussie and more used to that kind of environment than, say, a European would be! I was blown away by the Outback when I was backpacking here. I hope to visit the Grand Canyon one day and see more of the US (I’ve only been to New York, Chicago, LA, and the area around Clearwater, Fl.).

    I’ve enjoyed all your posts from the US and it sounds like you’re having a great time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Liz. The comparison to the Australian outback, specifically Central Australia around Uluru, is not unwarranted when it comes to Monument Valley. Both are red deserts, punctuated by red rocks – monoliths in the case of Australia, eroded volcanic cliffs in Utah/Arizona, both sacred to the Indigenous people. But I have no point of comparison with the Grand Canyon for scale, depth, breadth and the unique templed-shaped rock that has emerged over millions of years of erosion. A natural wonder of the world with good reason.

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  4. Jo says:

    Fabulous story. As an aside, your photos have been awe inspiring…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh this takes me back Angela to my first visit to the Grand Canyon. It was pretty much exactly the same time as you – late February/early March (but 1983). It was cold and slushy underfoot but we too ventured a little down the Bright Angel Trail which included a terrifying moment when we had to stand on the outer edge to let a mule train pass. They get the inner side apparently. The signs at the top said allow twice the time back as you took going down so about an hour in (we started in the early afternoon) we turned back, only to get back up in less than an hour! Very disappointed we were. Clearly we’d stopped too many times too ooh-and-ahh which the people calculating walking times hadn’t accounted for. It was cold but! And I remember having a lovely mulled wine in the lodge in front of a fire on our return. Unforgettable experience. We’ve been back around 3 times since then but that stands out.

    My other comment is regarding the landscapes – isn’t Monument Valley just stunning. I’ve always been a proponent of seeing your own country first – and I had seen quite a bit of Australia before out two trips to the US (the second in the early 90s) but I hadn’t been to the centre. After seeing Monument Valley and places like Zion NP and Arches, I felt that Australia’s centre would be a disappointment – or not quite that, but not as stunning as it would otherwise have been. Fortunately, when we finally got there in the late 90s I was as gobsmacked as I wanted to be, and we’ve been back here twice since. Still, those places in Arizona, Utah and Colorado are something else.

    As for re-meeting your friend, how so very wonderful. Thanks for sharing.

    (BTW are they margaritas in your hands. I’m pretty much a wine-only drinker, but I fell big for margaritas in the southwest!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing your memories of Arizona, Sue. Sounds like our experiences were similar indeed, though we had to settle for wine that was not mulled, and an electric heater over an open fire. Clearly roughing it!

      As I mentioned in response to Liz’s comment above, there was a degree to which Monument Valley evoked Uluru and Kata Tjuta/Central Australia for me, though I agree that the locations have their own distinctive attractions. The Grand Canyon, though — that’s really something else. I’d be keen to visit Zion NP next time around: the kind couple from Minnesota who came to our rescue had just been there and had spectacular photos to show.

      And yes, they are margaritas: a lime margarita for me, a virgin margarita for the 16 y o, and a house margarita for Jodie. They were even better than the Prickly Pear Cactus Margaritas we had in Sedona!

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      • Been back there (i.e. the Aussie centre) twice since I meant! And yes I agree that there are similarities between our red deserts and theirs as well as differences.

        As for margaritas – there’s nothing like the traditional one though I’m sure the Prickly Pear one would have been fun!

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  6. kathy d says:

    Wow! What a trip — seeing your friend and being able to visit the Grand Canyon. I have not been there but am in awe of the wonders of the planet. Have to settle for photos and videos, but am glad to see your photos.
    Glad your trip turned out to be so full of treasures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was such a special time, Kathy. And despite the current political turmoil, my first experience of travelling in your country was ultimately very positive and hospitable. Grateful for all the hospitality I was shown along the way.

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  7. Theresa Lavallee says:

    I’m Jodie’s mother-in-law and remember the pride I had in her when she made the courageous decision to go to Paris alone. Her reaching out when she heard English brought you into her life and began the unforgettable fulfilling experience that brings joy to her face every time she speaks of it. I’m ever so happy you both were able to meet again and rekindle the fire of those days. I too am warmed whenever I see my old friends from the Uniiversity of Alberta. Hope you come to Seattle one day and Jodie goes to Australia! I’m looking forward to reading your books. Theresa Lavallee

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    • Thanks so much for your comment, Theresa. I feel so fortunate not only to have met and got to know Jodie in Paris 32 years ago, but to now have fresh and precious memories of our time together in Arizona. And as you so accurately observe, I owe all that to Jodie’s courageous decision to reach out to us in the first place.

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  8. kathy d says:

    Experience in the U.S. will probably be good ones, especially if one stays away from Washington, D.C. politics.

    Liked by 1 person

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