Every so often I get really nostalgic for summer camp. The songs we sang around the campfire, eating s’mores, the group activities, color wars, daily inspection, being woken up by perversely-cheerful head counselors at what felt like the crack of dawn every morning, the Warm Fuzzies ceremony, arts and crafts, playing all of the guy parts in camp musicals, winning MVP in field hockey because the program was new and they were desperate…
Not that I particularly liked camp. But there is no denying that it is an intense experience. I don’t remember being ambivalent about anything at camp. I alternated between being completely miserable and totally, utterly, blissfully happy. And when it came to people, there was never anything like sort-of friends, passing acquaintances or friendly passersby. You were either OMG BEST FRIENDS FOREVER or absolute sworn enemies. I always felt like I had more of the latter than the former, but the friends I did make at camp–I mean, the really, really good ones–are, in fact, friends forever.
Because these were people who saw you at your worst–in the morning, when you got homesick, when you were angry or frustrated and there was nowhere to hide because you were living in the same room with twenty other people, when you weren’t chosen to be Olympic team captain because you weren’t cool enough and you hated Olympics, but it still stung. And they saw you when you succeeded, when you finally got to be in the spotlight, when you achieved something great–and the ones who were really good friends shared those moments with you.
The reason I bring this up today is because on Saturday, I met up with my friend Nick from the Fondation des États-Unis while he was auditioning for saxophone grad programs at Northwestern, and we couldn’t get over how weird it was to see each other stateside, on the campus of my alma mater. It was, I remarked, very similar to seeing camp friends outside of camp. Being in Paris last year was an experience that brought all of my emotions into sharp relief–there was no coasting, there was no just floating through. Every day was a MOMENT, and my experience of friendship there was no different.
Speaking of moments…
Anyway. The friends I made in France are people with whom I share a very specific experience that not everybody understands. (I was explaining my memory of summer camp to an English friend the other day, and he couldn’t quite fathom the idea of sending kids away all summer. It’s definitely a phenomenon.) Even the people who were involved with the FAVA program the summer I was in Périgueux are connected to me in a way that most people never will be.
On a lighter note, Nick and I agreed that what truly binds residents past and present of the FEU together are the push-button showers. I don’t know if I ever blogged about them while I actually lived there–I was probably too miserable to find them funny. Basically, you pushed the button on the wall and water came from the showerhead–and then turned off after a minute or two. There was no adjusting the temperature; I told somebody recently about how hot it was in my room in Paris, and they said, well, you could take a cold shower. Nope. Not an option.
And then in one of the showers the lights were controlled by motion sensor, which was somewhere above my head. The lights would come on when I opened the door, and then halfway through my shower I would be suddenly plunged into utter darkness…because I was too short for the sensor to realize that I was STILL IN THE SHOWER. So I would jump up and down and wave my hands in the air until the lights came back on. That was a pretty picture.
But do you see what I mean, blogosphere? One day I am going to get together with everybody I met at the FEU and we are going to laugh about the push-button showers. Nick pointed out that Aaron Copland lived in the FEU, so unless there was something even worse in place back then, even Aaron Copland had to have experienced the push-button showers.
On Saturday, Nick and I went to Prêt à Manger for coffee, and I very nearly bought a pain au chocolat. But I didn’t–I’m not walking all over creation anymore and there’s no way those pains au chocolat are authentic. I would have just been disappointed, the way I am every time I buy a Milka from Morse Market or CVS. American (or maybe I should say German-speaking) Milkas are not the same kind of commitment as the French ones. French Milkas are like BRICKS.
(I was going to ask permission to take this picture, but instead I just moved quickly and silently, like a ninja. You’re welcome.)
Anyway. The point is, eight years of sleepaway camp = spending time abroad = intense emotions that lead to intense friendships, even if they don’t seem intense. Even people I wasn’t close with in the FEU know about the push-button showers.