Madmoiselle Simon was a pro. She had been doing her best to implant the basics of the French language in the brains of foreign students for years. Her uniform – sturdy shoes, thick stockings, dark pleated wool skirt and buttoned up cardigan – never changed. Her hair was bobbed and her age indeterminate.
The commitments of our class members to learning the language she loved, varied greatly, but she was always cheerful, always encouraging. All 10 of us were Americans. Her post-WW II memories of American GIs and the Hershey bars they handed out to her and other kids who hadn’t tasted sweets in years, were still strong. Maybe that helped explain her patience.
Two middle aged couples, one black and one white, were there preparing for missionary assignments in West Africa. Rick and Don from Portland, taking a year off from school to ski, enrolled in the program to avoid the draft. We mostly saw them during bad weather. They slept in sleeping bags on their trunks in the back of an old restaurant van bought in Germany. The sides of the van boasted the name of the restaurant – Alte Liebe (old love) – and a cheerful alpine scene. Pat, from Pennsylvania, and Judy from New Jersey, rented rooms in the apartment of a professor of philosophy.
And me? I had a place to live, a place to eat, friends. Life was looking up.
French became much more than an academic subject. Memorizing the exercises assigned by Mille. Simon would directly affect my pleasure/pain meter during the year to come. My first miserable days in Grenoble provided a powerful incentive to learn.
I began to think I might make it.