In 1998, you could practice your French in France by Natalie Campisi


In 1998, you could practice French in France. The new and old words were still distanced by water and paper and games of telephone.

It was the year of the Euro. The year of Kosovo. The year of Sampras and the Yankees.

The bus wobbled on steel-belted cartoon wheels toward Montpellier from Paris. Not Marseilles where they steal your money at knifepoint. We had little money and no credit cards and no gold to sell in a pinch.

In 1998, you relied on maps and eyes and lips and eyes.

In 1998, old lives couldn’t be accessed through an app and unrequited loves could remain in amber, forever lithe and limitless, forever ​Lotte​ — not living in Haddonfield with four kids and a mortgage.

<<Je voudrais ​deux billets, s’il vous plaît?>>

With paper maps and paper money, we packed on the packed bus with skinny people who mumbled grunts and slip n’ slide words, a potion of sweet and mildew. The wheel was too big for the driver’s hands. The mirror too small to see.

The faded baby blue bus was peeling-paint old.
The windows were trimmed in white and had curved corners.

A man pressed against me. I sent this postcard of the man pressing against me to my older self, and I received it — perhaps in the middle of the night — and realized he had assaulted me. He had pressed his body against mine on purpose. It wasn’t just a packed train. Assault is a big word when time gets between action. Too big. But, memory remains. I hated it.

I send a postcard back to my 22-year old self: “Push him away. Disez: ​Arrêtez! Arrêtez!

But, no. It’s in amber now. The bus keeps moving.



Natalie Campisi is a journalist and fiction writer currently residing in Los Angeles. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize in fiction and her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, Auburn Literary Journal, and Writer Magazine. She was recently awarded a writing scholarship to the Chautauqua Institution in New York. Currently, Natalie‘s producing, directing and performing in a fully improvised play based on the work of Wes Anderson, which is running at ImproTheatre in Los Angeles.



Original photograph by Donald Emmerich.


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