Culture Shock – Part I: Cagnes-sur-Mer

The mind and body are curious machines. At once, engines of courage, yet, at the drop of a hat, a source of stress and disquiet. Today I am feeling decidedly different, not so fiercely independent, if not a little bit lame.

After my short run on the promenade and delightful breakfast on the front porch, I have tried leaving the house four times. The first time I made it as far as Musee Renoir by car. I managed to peruse the tranquil grounds and maison where the master spent his last days, surrounded by friends and family, painting from his wheelchair. It was a quick visit with entry free of charge because it is the first Sunday, but nearly closed for the midday break, making it difficult to linger. So where-to next? I would have thought it a great next stop to take a leisurely drive up to Vence and then return for a visit to Haut-Cagnes and the Chateau Grimaldi. A few minutes down the road, that’s when the rich Italian coffee, or my nerves, or both, kicked in. Feeling a little shaky for some reason, I decided to return to ma chambre sur la plage.

The grounds are beautiful at La Locandiera, an old stone Maison on the Cros de Cagnes where fisherman, sailors, tourists and local residents form a mélange of humanity in the Mediterranean sun. I grabbed my hat and a book and stretched out for a read on one of the chaises thinking it would be best to just profit from the perfect weather for a while. It was starting to feel relaxed, and the storyline in the French romantic comedy was getting interesting, but I just couldn’t get comfortable. Perhaps it was my back aching from the six hour drive yesterday, or the glare of the sun. I tried a quick walk – the shakes returned. I decided to try reading inside where it was quiet. After a while I tried to take a little nap. Feeling stronger, I set out across the way and grabbed a sandwich from the café on the port. Optimistically, I made another attempt to set out by car for the hills. Two minutes in, the nerves returned. Breathing deeply and humming to myself, I made just a brief tour around the neighborhood before returning here to write this story.

This time I went up to my room, closed the blinds, and shut the Windows to block out the world a bit. I could be coming down with something, yet somehow this feeling seems different to me. I think I might actually have a little case of culture shock. After all, yesterday was a big departure from my state of familiarity and confidence at the language school. By myself, I drove six hours across the country, with some difficulty involving a wrong turn and very strong wind. I arrived here, not knowing where to park, not being part of a group, no longer in a tranquil neighborhood away from tourists. Last night was leisurely, with a walk on the beach and takeout dinner al fresco by the sea but on my walk I was also propositioned by a seemingly nice French man on a moto who said he loved to have parties with Americans. He offered me dinner, champagne “tout en amitie” (just in friendship). He said he was a believer and a very good Salsa teacher. I giggled, thanked him for his kind invitation, and allowed him the French “bises” he requested. Who knows what bullshit that could have led to, perhaps it would have been fun, but I decided to “reste toute seule”. I returned to my room about 9pm, watched some good French TV, then slept like a baby, but with earplugs.

This morning started out well, but eventually ended up with me back here, writing in the dark.

I read about culture shock and its symptoms when I was in school last week. Evidently it is quite common. In fact, there was a friend at school who had never travelled alone before and also hadn’t expected the demands of living and thinking in another language weeks in a row. She had a little “crise” mentally and physically and was about to change her plans and go home. Heartened by the support of others, the next morning she felt better and decided to stay, albeit with a lighter class schedule. So to my readers, I admit that I am in paradise yet locked in my room, and I apologize to you who are at home wishing you could be here. I am optimistic about tomorrow. Just be patient.

1 La Locandiera. Cagnes-sur-Mer. Peaceful just before dusk.


2 Musee Renoir.

3 Haute Cagnes, in the distance, so close and yet so far

4 Ma chambre, aah

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