Author Shelly Biswell and her husband, Ken, at Mont Blanc.
We are coming to the end of our six-month sabbatical. Hard to believe. We’re on our way to Amsterdam from Paris this morning by negotiating seven trains over 9.5 hours. It was always going to be a long trip, but rail strikes, equipment failures, and booked-up trains converged to make it even longer. Ah well, it’s beautiful country. We then return to the UK for two final housesits and a weekend in Edinburgh to see our daughter Haley and some of our Nevada City and New Zealand friends.
In August, we move to Ireland for Ken to take up a 12-month role as head of IT. Our dog Karma will join us in January. So the journey will continue, as it always does, but we’ll no longer be skimming across the surface of cultures and places in the same way.
For us, six months has been the perfect amount of time to recharge and experience new things. I’m still enjoying travelling, which makes me feel like we’re ending this chapter on a high. I have learned many things about the world and myself over this time, which will mean changes in how I live the rest of my life.
Although we have enjoyed our journey, we know that we have been travelling during troubled times. It is telling that everywhere we’ve been – from London to Madrid to Vienna and the small villages between – one of the books we’ve seen in nearly every bookstore window is 1984 by George Orwell. Different languages, same depressing and revelatory read:
“Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now you begin to understand me.”
But what this journey has taught me is that there are so, so many amazing people out there doing little things and big things to fight cynicism and cruelty. There are more people on the same page than the media, polls, or even elections tell us. I have confident hope.
One of the places we had the good fortune to visit was Annecy in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of France. (Special thanks to an old Seattle friend who suggested we visit the Haute-Savoie.)
During WWII, the area was an important and strategic location for the French Resistance. In March 1944, the outnumbered Resistance suffered a significant loss to German forces in the Battle of Gliéres. But as historian Alain Cerri writes, “…this defeat would be transformed into a moral victory and give a boost to the French Resistance…It is a mark of the Maquis’ success in Savoie that the speed of the American advance and the rapid retreat of the Germans was far beyond the expectations of the Allied planning staff.” (The World at War, The Battle of Gliéres)
We found a café in Annecy that became our “regular” for the week. We liked it because it was clearly where local people of all ages, creeds, and backgrounds came – it was a third place. During one of our visits, one of the waiters introduced us to an older man who was born in Annecy, but now lives most of the year in Florida. We had a nice conversation, and when we were leaving, we said we’d probably see him again. He replied, of course, because you have found “the place”.
Our final afternoon in Annecy happened to be when France played Uruguay in the men’s FIFA World Cup quarter-finals. We went to the café early to get a seat. Every table was booked or at least reserved for locals who would undoubtedly appear. Still, the co-owners found us a table tucked in a corner.
Watching the game – from the singing of the La Marseillaise to the triumphant 2-0 victory – was one of the most fun and unique experiences of our trip. High school students had shown up after school and led the already jubilant café patrons in song. There were cheers, tears, hugs, and victory dances. Appropriately, the café put on Gloria Gaynor’s I will survive following the win. It was all a reminder of what it means to have a community worth fighting for.
We thanked the co-owner of the café after the game. We tried to tell her in our broken French how much it had all meant to us. She smiled, put her hand on her heart and said, “you feel the bar”. Ken says that it’s some of the highest praise he’s ever received.
So, for the next part of our journey my aim is to step back into my wonderful global community and feel the bar as much as I can.
OK, let’s write this next chapter.
When not on her OE, Shelly Farr Biswell is figuring out what she’s going to do in Ireland. You can follow her on Instagram (shellybiswell).