Photos and Text by Emily Benson-Scott
Settling in and preparing to reside in a foreign country for three months is not without its challenges. It took me a few days to notice the container I put in the refrigerator that was a dead ringer for the milk carton was actually lavender-scented bleach. Fortunately, neither Rob nor I drank any of it by mistake. Then there was the fact that our “month’s” supply of gigabytes lasted only two to three days. So we went back to Menton to figure out how to install unlimited WiFi for three months in our rental. Menton is the gentlest of towns, right on the border of Italy, far enough away from the action of the French Riviera, so there’s only a whisper of the typical glamour and excitement. Its boardwalk is much less intimidating and grand than Promenade des Anglais in Nice, yet the blue complacency of the sea is always near, yawning around every corner, at the end of each alleyway, erasing your petty concerns or sense of urgency.
View of the Sea from Old Town in Menton
I tried to maintain this valuable sense of calm when we were told we needed a French bank account in order to install unlimited WiFi. To get a French bank account required an “economic link to France,” we were told by an inappropriately peppy bank teller, which meant either proof of earning money or paying bills in France. We rent for three months ( the yellow house pictured below) so we don’t have any bills in our name. We earn dollars, not euros, so presumably, we were without an “economic link.” I wanted to ask the imperturbably cheerful bank teller why spending hundreds of euros on croissants or giving thousands to our French landlord didn’t serve as an “economic link.”
Our Rental in Roquebrune, France
So, it seemed we were in that frustrating realm–residential purgatory– better than not being here at all but just not quite finding that heavenly state we were seeking. We decided to try one more bank in Nice, but ultimately were unsuccessful. A week had gone by and every day was spent trying to find some household item or cleaning agent to stock our pantry, and trying not to spend every last cent on paying for the Internet on a daily basis. To top it all off, after my fifth visit to the ATM to have enough to pay our landlord, the machine ate my card. So now I’m without an ATM card, without reliable or affordable wifi and without the pervasive sense of relaxation I’d been hoping to feel after a harried semester. By the end of the week I felt a wave of homesickness for friends and family, for the ease of living in your own country, for unlimited wifi.
Rob’s Improvised Fitness Routine
Then there was the issue of fitness. Without his usual home gym, Rob was forced to improvise with an ironing board and lawn furniture. Since we were without a car for the summer, I figured I made up for the loss of my regular treadmill routine by having to go up and down over six hundred steps every time I left the house for provisions or more gigabytes.
In the midst of our frustration, one sunny afternoon in Nice, Rob led me into a new park (pictured above) that had just been finished near Place Massena. For the past three summers, every time we walked by Place Massena, we’d endured the loud jackhammers and cranes, skeptical that anything beautiful could ever result from the chaos. But sure enough, it had. The park was a haven from the city, from our frustration. At the center was a fountain with multiple jets that sprang up at random intervals, confusing and delighting the many children that ran through the spouts. Their joyous shrieks rang out all over the park. They delighted in the game, in the surprise of wondering where the next triumphant thrust of water would spurt up in the air. As adults, we don’t value surprise as much. We learn to control everything. We want to know just when and where a jet of water is going to pop up out of nowhere so we can avoid getting wet. In a foreign country it’s impossible to live this way. So, like the children, I knew it was time to surrender to the chaos, to embrace it, and remember to smell the roses, or rather bougainvillea.
View of Cap Martin from our Neighbor’s House