Thanksgiving is my most favorite holiday, probably because I never know where I’ll be or who I’ll be with. Last year I caught the dreaded swine flu and couldn’t travel home as planned, and a friend’s family took me in. I had so much fun that this year I went back. Of course I do try to be with my own family on Thanksgiving, but when that doesn’t work out, the unexpected makes the holiday quite worthwhile.
Every year around this time I can’t help but remember Thanksgiving 2002. I was 21 and my parents were of the mind that I should travel every chance I got (why oh why didn’t I stay in school and my parents’ house forever?). A friend happened to be studying in Paris that year, so I bought an Nikon 35mm SLR, 10 rolls of black & white film, and forewent fall/winter shopping to help fund my trip (but OF COURSE I made up for my lack of new clothes there).
My friend had been placed with a mean old woman, so mid-semester she asked to be moved. The available family was, um, alternative but really, really great. I think their names were Jacques and Laurent, and on a trip to South Africa a few years before they found a new addition to the, er, family and brought him home with them. But because they were gay yuppies, they had a fantastic flat with three bedrooms and even a washer and dryer, unheard of in the city. Laurent even drove me to the airport on my way back home.
Don’t worry -- even though my place to stay was cushy, I had plenty of non-American experiences on a 4-day trip to Barcelona during the visit, complete with hostel, kidnapping (taken to a pub against our will), and a man who lived in a trashcan pulling on my friend’s hair on a bus.
But the most memorable part was Thanksgiving Day. Obviously Parisians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but the American students were determined to do it right. My friend got us an invite to one of her classmate’s flats, an old building with gorgeous French details everywhere. We were on the hook for a veggie, so I suggested making sweet potato casserole. Apparently Parisians don’t eat sweet potatoes. Or marshmallows. We had to go to a store called “Thanksgiving” (how sad is that) to find either. We ended up buying four sweet potatoes, a jar of Marshmallow Crème, and a package of brown sugar for around €30, which I think at the time was between $40 and $50. Between $40 and $50 for a small square Pyrex dish of sweet potatoes with Marshmallow Crème. Yah.
Worse than ours was the turkey, which the host provided. He ordered it four months prior, because that’s another thing Parisians don’t eat. When we arrived a couple of hours before dinner, the turkey was still in the oven. Someone had set out lox and baguettes, so we munched on that and drank wine while we waited. After four hours of this we realized we still hadn’t eaten the real food, but the host was waiting for the thermometer to pop out of the turkey. At 9:30 someone stuck a pie into the oven and asked if she could turn it on to heat up her dessert.
We all stopped talking. The oven. Wasn’t. On. So we poured more wine and piled our plates high with vegetables then ended up at an Indian restaurant.