For our 10th anniversary in 2015, we headed first to Nice. I traveled to Europe the summer after my senior year of high school, many years before, but I’d never seen the French Riviera. I’m a swimmer—I swam for Texas Christian University—so I couldn’t wait to go to the Mediterranean.
I’d read and heard about some of the spiritual oppression an author new friend of mine had experienced while living in the Nice area. Here I am, a 4 on the Enneagram*, so I love aesthetics and was excited because it was on the water. What could be more beautiful? The night after we landed, I would experience my first taste of the spiritual oppression I'd read and heard about.
Our new pastor friend, Sandy, wasn’t in Nice the few days we were there, but she’d connected us to her family. Less than a year prior, Rob and I were driving home from work together, and he started up some music, and much to my surprise and delight, it was one of my favorite worship songs in French! Well, the musician, it turns out, happens to be Sandy’s son, Justin. He was extremely nice and offered to pick us up from the Nice airport and drive us to our hotel.
That evening Rob and I ventured out to walk through the town in which we were staying, Villefranche-sur-Mer. One of the first things we saw was a really cool, old, big tree. I love the aesthetics of nature, especially trees. Then we passed some people. They didn’t even look at us. From that moment on, I could feel the spiritual oppression.
You may be thinking, “Well, you’re an American. Not everyone is as friendly (and shallow) as Americans.” But you need to know that I was in anorexia recovery and had just reached my weight goal. I had spent years making myself invisible, and true recovery for me is about becoming visible again. Yes, I was in a new culture, and obviously someone who is used to people being friendly on the streets is going to have a hard time when people intentionally ignore.
We spoke with our new American (French-cultured) friend about it—he’d spent almost his entire life in France. He told us the French teach their children not to talk to strangers. We, Americans, teach that too, but it looks different in the two different cultures: Rob has heard it said that Americans are like peaches, soft on the outside but hard on the inside, and French are like coconuts, hard on the outside but soft on the inside.
The Riviera was beautiful. We had a lot of fun taking in the sights and talking and getting to know our new American (French-cultured) friends better. But among the invisibility, the humidity, and the excessive wealth, we felt like seeing the green of Alsace was like a breath of fresh air. We likened it to our move from the desert—the east side of the Cascades in Washington—where we lived our first year of marriage to the verdant east side of the Midwest, where we’ve spent the past 11 years of our marriage. For us, traveling from the Riviera to Alsace was the same metaphor. The Riviera certainly needs Christians teaching the love of Jesus, but we knew God wasn't calling us there.
*"The contemporary Enneagram of Personality illustrates the nine ways we get lost, but also the nine ways we can come home to our True Self. Put another way, it exposes nine ways we lie to ourselves about who we think we are, nine ways we can come clean about those illusions, and nine ways we can find our way back to God." ~Christopher L. Heuertz in The Sacred Enneagram.