Sunglassed and stubbornly coatless, Mark and I sat today at a blue plastic picnic table at Superdawg, surrounded by the Chicago-est of Chicagoans, watching the northwest-side traffic go by and trying to block the sound of the yapping Chihuahuas two tables down. The cheese in our little plastic cups was quickly going cold, so we munched quickly on our crinkle-fry nubs, trying to keep up with the chill. This past season was the kind of winter that made a 55-degree Sunday like today a godsend.
Despite the hometown love affair this weather should inspire, between bites of all-beef hot dog, nestled in a poppyseed bun and crowned with yellow mustard, neon-green relish, sport peppers and strangely salty green tomatoes, I was anywhere but Chicago.
I'm not sure which soul-numbing snowstorm brought on this yearning, but for the first time ever, I'm ready to think about leaving Chicago. For France.
The eight days of May 2009 I spent in Paris were lonely and melancholy, even a little scary, yet when I think about leaving the city I never imagined I'd leave, France is where I see myself. Six months from marrying a man who's a few tests away from being a full-fledged sommelier, it makes more sense than ever.
Browsing the shelves
So I went to the bookstore this afternoon — slaloming through a course of strollers and leashed dogs — in search of a book I wasn't sure how to ask for, though I had a feeling I'd find it. The Book Cellar has three whole bookshelves stacked to the ceiling with travel books, and two more little shelves of what an employee called travel narrative.
The Book Cellar didn't have them in stock, but as it turns out, there are countless "yes, you can!" guides to leaving America: The Expert Expat: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad, Getting Out: Your Guide to Leaving America, The Grown-Up's Guide to Running Away from Home: Making a New Life Abroad.
The Book Cellar didn't have them, but becoming an expat, living and working abroad.
These books are filled with chapters about getting there legally, soothing culture shock, navigating overseas health care and other messes. (I wonder if there's an appendix in any of them that covers the anxiety and anticipation in the two years before you actually get there.)
I don't want this to be a pipe dream. Neither of us want to look back — after buying a house, having two kids and realizing we're cruising toward complacent middle age — and realize we put off something we once wanted so badly. So we set our hearts on a date: spring 2016. That's our vague do-or-die time, the window we have to prepare ourselves for a move that could be life-alteringly sweet — or a spectacular, epic failure that would still somehow seem amazing in retrospect.
Our honeymoon to France next April will be part newlyweds' getaway, part research expedition. In the meantime, Mark will start learning French; I'll begin researching what it'll really take to make this move happen.
To begin: a bottle of rosé from Provence. I'm sitting on the back deck for the first time since we moved into our apartment, listening to jazz and sipping an overly large pour of barely-pink wine.
There are few things in ordinary life that I don't find hopelessly, oddly lovely. A mother and her son who live in the single-family home next door are outside playing catch, counting the number of times each one catches the pink plastic ball they're tossing. When it gets dark, there will be a long line of blinking lights in the sky from the lake, planes coming into O'Hare from points east. The rumble of the train, the traffic on Western Avenue, the smell of Thai from across the street.
La vie quotidienne speaks to the deepest parts of my heart. I just think my heart may be ready for a taste of something new — even if it's not forever. I would miss the cheese fries, though.
Superdawg photo: Flickr