Arachnophobia

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In the midst of a turbulent storm on the savage coast of Bretagne, my host family and I sped along comfortably in a newly purchased blue Peugeot. Nelly and Francois chatted as I gazed lazily out the window, daydreaming and ignoring their conversation. A voice was directed to the back seat; instantly including me in the discourse concerning dinner. We made an unexpected stop on a nearby rocky cliff where other families had parked and were peering at the ocean. The Atlantic angrily beat the shore and large rocks seemed barely able to stand their ground. The wind blew cream colored sea foam into the air, floating seconds before dispersing into a mist. Rolling gray clouds released raindrops as we finally decided to cook what I understood to be a largish spider. Walking back to the car I was unfazed by this declaration, for I had often misunderstood the western Bretagne accent of their flowing French. As we pulled into our small cul-de-sac, a vague worry began to invade my consciousness. The first to enter the kitchen was my host dad. He clutched the white bag holding the contents I was expected to taste. Although he had introduced me to culinary treats such as fresh wild rabbit, mushrooms gathered from the nearby forest, and sea snails I collected myself from under rocks, I suspected that I might find it difficult to enjoy this spider.

Ralph Waldo Emerson commented, “No man should travel until he has learned the language of the country he visits. Otherwise he voluntarily makes himself a great baby-so helpless and so ridiculous.” I voluntarily left my home to risk everything familiar for a year’s time in France. Because the spider incident took place well into my year abroad, it proved language is a continuous lesson. Along the way there were many awkward and embarrassing moments where the language barrier seemed “Death Valley” deep. I disagree with Emerson’s assertion that travel should not be attempted until the language of the country is learned. Although I had studied French for several years, at no point in time could I adequately say that I “know” French. Nuances, variations, dialects, and vernacular will forever leave opportunities for learning in the domain of my beloved French and French culture.

In France, I made myself “a great baby on purpose”; I know I was helpless and ridiculous, but not for long. I was absorbed by France and I in turn took a piece of France home with me. Another Emerson quote that I agree with is his observation, “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.” I find this to be the critical step in travel. Bretagne is my moveable feast. Its flag hangs in my dorm room at my boarding high school; I keep the year with Nelly and Francois close to my heart. I will savor the memory of the tender white flesh of my favorite food: king crab, the way my host mom prepared it. At the top of her well worn recipe is the French word for king crab, the very same word for “spider.”





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