The first time I remember feeling winter turn into spring was when I was sixteen and living in France. I had already been through fall and then winter arrived, cold Brittany winter with rain and sometimes snow, colder and more daunting than Paris, somehow more gray than you thought possible. We didn’t mind the gray though and in fact, I came to love it, came to inhabit it as the new person I felt myself becoming; I wore long coats and scarves and forgot about flip flops and denim cut offs, forgot about island time and instead I ran to catch the bus in the morning.
We thought we knew all about winter and what life was like now, but then spring came to Rennes in a slow procession, so slow that I missed the first signs and suddenly found myself sitting on a terrace in late April, shielding my forehead from the sun. I missed that first glimpse of spring, but now, six years later, I’ve come to covet it like all those who survive a winter covet the first ray of warm light that hits their face on a Tuesday afternoon.
Recently, I stood in my small backyard with my mother. There was a tiny triangle of warm sunlight cutting through cold March air. We took turns standing in it, faces open and accepting until slowly it slipped behind rooftops, and we dashed back inside in search of its artificial counterpart. This was not the first day of Spring but a hopeful taste of what always comes.
Last week, I opened the window in my office that faces out onto Marlborough Street and knew that we had yet again and with much struggle reached both a conclusion and a beginning. This is the odd trade-off of spring that, at sixteen years old, I was not yet aware of. There will be something lost to winter, some part of yourself that will not come back until the next year, and you’ll have no choice but to give yourself up to the warmth and allow things to dissolve. The long coats are brought to the basement, you shed familiar layers and end up confused. At sixteen, I was not adept at letting go. I didn’t want anything to be lost to the seasons.
When I was nineteen, a few years later and with a few Boston winters under my belt, I went to Paris in May. I got the dregs of spring in Paris, they’d been swished around at the bottom of the cup and I was desperate to make them last before summer. I remember early mornings, walking to my art gallery job in the Marais, I remember smelling coffee and fresh bread and wearing a light jacket and feeling like I had never known anything other than spring in France. While living in Brittany, I studied Guillaume Apollinaire’s writing, specifically his 1913 collection of poems titled Alcools in which he grapples with the tension between an industrialized Europe and the antiquity that is hidden in plain sight. In “Zone”, he describes walking through Paris: “J’ai vu ce matin une jolie rue dont j’ai oublié le nom/ Neuve et propre du soleil elle était le clairon”. “This morning I saw a pretty street whose name I had forgotten/ New and clean, it was the sun’s clarion.”
Sometimes, if I have a free moment at the library, I wander through the shelves of books and think about all the ones that have influenced and inspired my French language journey. The other day, I found myself in the poetry section with a beautiful, old copy of Apollinaire’s Alcools. I flipped to “Zone” and felt transported back to Rennes, back before I knew I would carry my French studies with me through to my early twenties. The poetry section is one of my favorites — on May 13th, you can head to the French Library for our biannual Book Sale, where you’ll be able to browse hundreds of books with prices starting at $0.50. What better way to spend the final days of spring turning into summer than flipping through books and transporting back to seasons past.
As I leave my office and walk out onto Marlborough Street in the new beginnings of spring, I think of pretty streets now forgotten, in Rennes or in Paris, or the dusty street in Florida where nothing was lost to the changing of seasons. I think of being sixteen and nineteen and now almost twenty-three, and I remember how to let spring come and go. I let the warm air fill up my office and follow me home.
Maxine discovered her affinity for French language and culture while living with a host family and studying French literature in Rennes, Brittany during her junior year of high school with School Year Abroad. During her time at SYA, her parents took beginner’s classes at the French Library—it was then that Maxine first learned of the library’s existence. Maxine continued with her French studies at Tufts University, majoring in English and French literature with a concentration in visual studies. Along with her time in Rennes, Maxine lived in Paris for a summer where she worked at a small art gallery in the Marais.
Six years after her high school experience in France and a year post college graduation, Maxine is thrilled to be the Administrative Assistant to the French Library, where she hopes to continue learning about and celebrating French culture and literature. In her free time, Maxine enjoys reading, seeing the newest art films at Kendall Square Cinema, and going for runs around the Esplanade.