My Road to Montréal – Part 2 of 4

[This is part 2 of a 4 part series. In case you missed the first installment, read this first]

When I returned for grad school the following fall in 1993, I made a point to search out the French students. With the help of a friend, I met with them on the first day of classes. I offered to show them around and to come up to Chicago for a visit. There were two guys and three women. The guys were doing other things, but the women took me up on the offer. The three women were Isabelle, Valerie, and Nathalie. Isabelle was from near Paris, Valerie from the French Alps, and Nathalie from near Montréal. Nathalie had gone to France in order to get a degree in architecture. She learned a few days before the start of the school year that someone else had backed out and that she was chosen to come to central Illinois. Interestingly similar to how I ended up going to Versailles. Valerie spoke very broken English and had a very tough time understanding. Isabelle was better, but still had difficulty. And Nathalie was not fluent, but only had limited difficulty. In the end, Nathalie ended up translating much for the other two. Valerie, Nathalie, and I ended up in the same design studio, but all four of us hung out together after class. The interesting thing is that although Isabelle and Valerie remember me (the long-haired redhead) from the halls of the school in Versailles. Nathalie did not. And likewise, I remember Isabelle and Valerie, but not Nathalie. But then again, Nathalie is not someone who would wander around the halls. It’s straight to class and straight to home.

In early September they came up to Chicago and I took them to a Cubs game. They had already been to the city with another student, but we went around just the same. We went around and saw the Frank Lloyd Wright houses in Oak Park. In October, we visited other Frank Lloyd Wright houses on three consecutive weekends. The first weekend, we went to Springfield, Illinois to see his Dana-Thomas house. The second weekend, we drove all the way out to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to see Fallingwater. And the third weekend, we returned to Chicago to see more of the houses in Oak Park as part of a school tour. It was after the first of those three weekends that Nathalie and I started going out.

Our relationship continued throughout the school year. I made my first visit to Montréal over Christmas along with a trip to Quebec City. There was a ton of snow and the temperature was -40C wind chill at night. It was cold. The end of the school year marked the beginning of our long distance relationship. She returned to Montreal that summer and then to France the following school year. I returned to Chicago that summer and then returned to Champaign/Urbana for my last school year. Though we still managed to see each other every few months. I went to see her over the summer and at Christmas in Montreal. And I managed a visit to Paris during spring break of that last year of grad school.

During that last year in grad school, I started working toward building up some savings. I was receiving free tuition along with a stipend for working as a teaching assistant. But I also took on a job at the local photo store. And with a design by Nathalie, I sold t-shirts to others in the school and made over $500. The reason for amassing this money was because after I finished my year of school, Nathalie still had another year to finish in Versailles. We had decided that I would come to live with her during that time. I could help out building models for her thesis and see if I could find a job to pay the bills. Along with going to be with her, there was another reason I really wanted to return. It was the chance to experience the French culture and learn the language. I would be free of the protection of the American school and really forced to interact with others. I was quite embarrassed to have missed that aspect of life over there the first time around.

My last year in grad school was actually a bit painful. Working two jobs while taking classes. Many of my friends were no longer at the school, and those that were still there were also quite busy. Long distance relationships are not fun except for those rather intense times when you see each other. Plus I had gotten into a fight with one of my roommates just before second semester in January, so I had no desire to spend any time at home. So I basically spent any free time at the local cafe, studying, grading papers, writing letters to Nathalie, or just people watching. It was also the time that I actually smoked with any regularity. Hanging out on the porch drinking Rhinelander and smoking a cigarette. Though I barely smoked half the pack.

So the Friday before graduation I was still quite bummed, but looking forward to the end. I went out drinking with someone (my good friend, Eric, I think.) My father was coming down that evening so I came home to be there when he arrived and I sat down to watch the Weather Channel as I always did at that time. (I was a real weather geek up until moving here.) So the doorbell rang and I opened the door. There was my father a few steps back holding a video recorder. But in front of him was Nathalie. She surprised me and flew in from France for the weekend on her own dime. I was blown away (as evidenced on the video tape). I really could not believe it. It was then and there that I realized that this was really something special.

Continued in Part 3.

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~ by Frank on July 23, 2007.

9 Responses to “My Road to Montréal – Part 2 of 4”

  1. […] in Montreal Observations, Memoirs, and Opinion « Steffl My Road to Montréal – Part 2 of 4 » My Road to Montréal – Part 1 of 4 July 22nd, 2007 There are two questions that I […]

  2. Sounds adventurous! Waiting for more…

  3. It’s funny how when you are living it, it’s just life. But looking back it’s quite something else.

    I was reminded of something this morning and added the last two paragraphs.

  4. Exciting to read “how it all happened”. Nice. And you smoked??? For some reason “Frank” and “smoker” never go together in my head.

  5. It’s been fun to remember all of this. And I suppose it’s good to get written down before we forget.

    I really didn’t smoke that much. Maybe two cigarettes a week and I really didn’t inhale. My runner’s lungs wouldn’t have any of that. Though a passerby offered me a clove cigarette once. That was quite nice. I really don’t think that I’ve smoked since.

  6. Cigarettes are rather more, er, seductive when you inhale. I look forward to reading more…

  7. I’m loving this Frank. Keep ’em coming. 🙂

    You really like to tease us with slow revelations about yourself dontcha? Bit by bit we see more of you…

    I called you the “Jimmy Stewart” of bloggers once, but hell I’m changing that epithet to “stripper”.

  8. Keep writing, Frank! I will not let you drop off the blogsphere. I saw a snippet of what you wrote in bloglines, one of those entries that wordpress accidentally deleted, I suppose. I usually keep a backup while writing, myself.

  9. Thanks, Vila and Sadia.

    The stripping Jimmy Stewart of blogging. Interesting.

    In honesty, I’m still leery of talking about myself since something inside me is concerned it will come across as egomaniacal. That’s the difficulty I grapple with almost everytime I leave a comment on someone else’s blog. I keep finding my sentences beginning with I and referring to myself instead of exclusively about the topic at hand. Though as you can see I’m getting over that feeling on this space because in the end it’s my space.

    Zura: Actually WordPress didn’t delete it. I did. I’ll start backing up what I’m writing now that I keep running into this bug.

    I likely will not drop off. But I may take a month off to evaluate, regroup, reorganize, downsize, and hone some posts in the pipeline. I’ve been doing that here and there, but I should sit down and bring some focus into my blogging activities.

    But after a night of sleep, it’s the Flickr side that really prompted that post. I spend entirely too much time over there even though I really enjoy it. I need to refocus my energies over there also.

    Thank you for your concern. You’re one of the reasons to keep this going.

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