Carol Callicotte

Author

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes! October 4, 2011

I’m ripping up my YA novel and starting over. Well, not completely. The main characters and the main story line (a first love story) will remain intact. At least, that’s the plan for now. The setting, however, is getting a makeover, French Riviera style.

That’s right. France!

The original form of FIRST TIMES AND SECOND CHANCES spilled from my pen when I was thirteen. I spent a couple years working on the story, typing it up on my Grandmother’s word processor and printing it out on her dot matrix printer (yikes – that makes me feel old!). It took place at a summer camp, and I’ve never changed that setting.

Over the past couple years, I’ve reworked this story several times, keeping the bones (which were surprisingly good, I have to say) but updating and maturing the story, adding more plot, more tension, more character development. I kept the original setting because it seemed to work – I needed a place where a bunch of teens who didn’t know each other would be together all hours of the day and night for a stretch of time. Still, the summer camp setting never sat well with me. It targets a younger audience; 15 and 16 year olds just don’t tend to go to summer camp. As much as I love the story, I finally had to admit to myself: the setting is getting in the way of selling this book.

Then, it hit me. I love France. I’ve spent a ton of time there. I’ve enrolled in two language immersion programs. The one I did in Antibes had: (ta da!) a program for teens! Teens, spending the summer together with a bunch of strangers, living together in youth hostels, having activities organized for them, and taking French classes together! THIS IS IT! This works! I know this. I can write this. I can have a fantastic time with this.

So Jenni, grab your French/English dictionary, your bikini, and get a passport. You are going to Antibes, France, on the Cote d’Azur, and we’re going to have some fun!

 

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Work in Progress: Memoir February 24, 2009

Filed under: France,French Language,Projects,Travel,Writing — A French American Life @ 3:44 pm
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I, like so many before me, am joining the memoir club. I intended to start on my memoir four years ago, but kept getting sidetracked by other projects. But now I am finally working on it. I’ve struggled with how to write it: the crux of the story focuses on the time I spent living in Paris and attending a French language school, but also integral to the story are my adventures with several French friends while they were in San Diego in an English immersion program. I’m not quite sure how to frame the story – chronological seems boring, so I’ve settled, for now, on framing it in Paris, with flashbacks to the experiences in San Diego. At this point, I’m not going to worry about it. I’m just writing; I’ll piece the puzzle together when it’s on paper.

These memories, and how best to write them in a story, have been swirling around in my head ever since my time in Paris five (!) years ago. I’ve written clips of narratives over the years, but only now am I diving head-first into the pool of memories. Time, many more trips to France, and marriage to a Frenchman have affected the way I interpret my experience there and have tempered my approach to this memoir. Funny how that works. The memoirist writes as two authors: the person they were at the time, and the person they have evolved into. I think it’s good that I’ve waited to write this story, for I feel it will be a much better book now than it would have been had I written it right away. So far, my approach is to write what I remember, then to compare this to the extensive journals I kept. It’s a fun time to revisit. I only hope I can capture the passion I feel for Paris, for the French language, for the people of France, for traveling, and on a more personal level – turning 30 and learning how I wanted to define my life.

 

In Search of the Perfect Travel Experience January 7, 2009

Filed under: Travel — A French American Life @ 11:30 am
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Like many travelers, I’m always on a hunt for the elusive, hard to define, perfect travel experience. The destinations we choose often arise from places that have something we want to see. But traveling is about so much more than just seeing the live version of the postcard you send home. I tend to avoid tour groups; too often you end up sheltered from truly experiencing a place or its people when being shuttled from site to site with a group who likely come from your home country. True, there can be advantages. On our recent trip to Egypt, we went on a Nile cruise and our guide was a knowledgeable Egyptologist who gave us a depth of understanding we never could have arrived at on our own. Still, I usually prefer to get my hands dirty, get a little lost, find my own way.

I’ve had several of these “perfect” experiences – each of them unique, but all of them having the same basic element. Connection. Connection to a place, to people, to the history embodied in a location… connection is key. I know I’m having a perfect travel experience when I find myself lost in a moment, captivated by whatever it is that I’m doing or seeing or hearing or discussing, and the rest of the world, the rest of my life, the before, the after, all slide away.

The first time I saw Yosemite Valley, it stunned me. I just wanted to sit and stare. And breathe. While I was living in Paris and studying French, we had a British pub we frequented in the Latin Quarter. One night, a group of us stumbled outside and gathered, without really planning to, around a few sidewalk benches. A classmate from Brazil had a guitar with him, and he began to play. So there we were: me the sole American, several Brazilians, a couple Dutch girls, my sweetheart of a friend from Switzerland, a couple Germans, and a guy from Japan. My classmate began to strum his guitar and sing a Jack Johnson song. We all smiled and sang along, laughing and loud, without a care in the world. Or there was the time Stéphane and I trekked around Machu Picchu all day in drizzling rain with a detailed guidebook. We studied what each structure had been and hunted down the hidden symbols in the rocks. The rain kept many others away, but every once in a while a llama would wander through. We’d step aside, smile, then continue to learn the secrets of those stones. In my mind I saw Machu Picchu at the height of its glory, with kings and queens and visitors roaming the grounds. Recently, we were wearily sipping tea at Fishawy’s in Cairo’s Khan el-Khalili, when a girl from Australia offered to let us try her sheesha pipe. At first I refused. Having just lost an uncle to lung cancer, the thought of puffing on a pipe that reportedly delivers the punch of 20 cigarettes held no appeal. But we kept chatting with her, and her Egyptian guide, and we ended up leaving our table to join theirs. And to try the sheesha. (I’m not always so weak-willed. But the writer in me feels the need to experience everything.) We talked with the Egyptian guide and his friend who came to join us about their lives, we talked with our new Australian friend about her recent travels through Africa. And there I was, taken by surprise, and realizing I was having another perfect travel experience.

These experiences sneak up on me, and can’t be forced. They are different every time. But I know it when I’ve found them. And those moments stand out to me, perfectly preserved even years later, when I think back over the places I have been, the things I have done, and the people I have met.

 

My Most Recent Trip to France, AKA the Rose Colored Glass Wiped Clean July 25, 2008

Filed under: France,Travel — A French American Life @ 8:26 pm
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I’m back in San Diego after a five week stint in the south of France.  As some of you may know, I’ve spent a lot of time in France, and have devoted much time and effort to mastering the unmasterable french language.  This recent trip was a test for us.  Exam question:  Do we want to move to France?  Answer:  The jury is still out.


France, for me, particularly the south, has long been an idyllic escape, a locale I can long for when I’m away.  After all the time I’ve spent there, I still idealize the place, even if it means subconsciously denying its imperfections.


There is such joy in being in a foreign country – new sights, smells, sounds.  But part of that joy comes from not knowing what exists in its dirty underbelly.  In seeing only the glamorous parts meant for the tourist’s amazed eyes, and not having to deal with the day to day aspects of living there.  And part of that joy also comes from not knowing what is being said around you.


One afternoon, after hitting the beach, I was absolutely overheated.  On my walk home past the chic private beaches and touristy shops that spilled their postcards, film (people still buy film?), beach towels, and bikinis onto the sidewalk, I didn’t pass one of the many ice cream shops.  Instead, I stopped for some of that devine delicacy, a gob of gastronomic goodness, a jolt of gelato, yes – bliss on a baked waffle cone.  I got chocolate – chockfull of chocolaty cheer.  I’m a purist.  I’ll make no apologies.


As I walked away with my temporary treasure, it of course began to melt, so I stopped in front of a shop window to eat some of it and ensure that I didn’t arrive home covered in telling chocolate drips.  An older man, short and stocky with a genial smile, walked by and said something to me.  It took a minute to process what he had said, so enraptured was I in waffle cone wonderland. So, for a brief moment, I existed in that blissfully unaware state that always occurs when I’m traveling in a country where I don’t speak the language.  I saw a sweet little old local, probably flirting with me judging by the way he was smiling, or perhaps recommending a pair of shoes from the window I was absently eyeing.  He stopped to watch me, and then my brain finally processed what he’d said:


“You’ll get fat if you keep eating like that.”


Jackass.  I liked you better when I had no clue what you were saying.


Snappy comebacks aren’t my forté – they come to me later in numbers, hence the characters I write are witty geniuses, I’m sure.  When offended, I revert to a wordless, helpless little girl.


But perhaps my actions in that moment spoke louder than words.  I shrugged and took another big lick.  Did that translate, monsieur?