Crest, France —
One of the best parts of traveling is filling one’s suit case with souvenirs.
In the first half of our four-week Rotary International Group Study Exchange in France, our team has already collected many. Every gift we pull from our luggage to present to our Rotarian hosts seems to be replaced by gracious gifts from them. We are on a cultural exchange, and the French certainly have much they want us to take home.
There are memories in each item I have received. Long after our exchange is over, these trinkets will no doubt bring back vivid recollections of the weeks we spent exploring the region and all the wonderful friends we made in each place.
After touring the famous Chabert and Guillot nougat factory in Montelimar, our hosts presented us with a tin and two bags of the deliciously nutty sweet. Each time I pop a square into my mouth, I know I will remember the day we spent there. I will picture the storage room of the factory, where, at our guides’ encouragement, our group rummaged like children through boxes of the wrapped goodies, sampling as many of the more than 1,000 flavors we could before feeling sick.
There are also items I have picked up. There’s the lavender-scented honey from Annonay, which has a smell I hope will transport me back to the countryside of France when I open it in my Ashland kitchen. Each time I stir it into into my tea, I will smell the fields of lavender, fruit trees and vineyards of the fertile Rhone region.
But the best souvenirs are the ones that won’t fit in any suitcase. They are things that can be shared endlessly with others, such as the French card game Nachiavel. Our group was taught to play it one evening while in the historic 1750s home of Jean Francois and Jacqueline Allemand. Our hosts, including their daughter, Lorraine, carefully walked us through the first hand. After we caught on, we played several more rounds over wine while sharing stories and laughter.
I know the game will be revisited once we get home. One holiday or rainy weekend, we will share it with friends and family. It’s a souvenir that will always be French, but because it’s been shared, will become a little American, too.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org