October 9, 2013
One thing I’ve found is that the older I get, the more I appreciate the power of hindsight and reflection. Time often needs to march on before you can truly appreciate where you’ve been, what you’ve done—and how past experiences influence your life in the present. I returned to the United States nearly nine months ago (can’t believe it’s been that long!), but am still processing how the year I spent living in France will not only alter my life’s trajectory, but those of other folks, as well.
I may have only been in charming Samois-sur-Seine for 12 months, but I often joke time spent living abroad is like “dog years.” Every experience feels amplified; time seems to expand—and you’re truly present in every moment. And you have to be, as you think in one language, but must translate into another tongue and culture all day. This summer, I got to do it all again during a trip back to Samois and south to the French Riviera—but this time, with my dad Farnell.
Because I’m a professional writer, I process my thoughts through words. And an editor friend at the Chicago Defender gave me the chance to process this trip with my dad in a Travel column for this legendary African-American newspaper. As I wrote, international travel is potentially life-changing if you open your mind to the possibilities it sometimes brings. And that’s just what’s happened for my dad Farnell, a songwriter, pianist and lifelong Chicagoan who got his musical groove back thanks to a couple of recent trips to France.
Lest you think Mr. Jenkins is one of those beret-wearing musicians who regularly pulled out his passport over the years and headed overseas, think again. Every time my mom, sister and brother-in-law would urge him to join us on some vacation in Paris, London or Rome, he always said no. Perhaps he wanted to enjoy the solitude of home; maybe, as he used to say, he just didn’t like the idea of flying 30,000 feet over an ocean for hours at a time. (As a young singer and songwriter with a singing quartet called the Teachers’ Edition, he traveled on two tours of Asia with the USO—and perhaps that was enough.) But in late 2010, he finally said yes to a trip with me.
You UrbanTravelGirl readers know I love to travel solo, and planned to celebrate New Year’s and my birthday in Costa Rica. I invited Farnell to come along, and to everyone’s surprise, he agreed. We had a blast—so much so that when I asked him a few months later to go with me to Panama City, Panama, to check it out as a possible place to live, he didn’t bat an eye. Friends and family were as psyched as I was, knowing how I tried for years to talk him into these overseas trips.
Since then, I like to think Farnell and I have become good globe-trotting buddies. As a freelance Travel and Food writer for several years, I’m far more comfortable on the road than I ever am at home. But actually leaving the country with your dad puts your father-daughter relationship on a whole different plane—literally. Once you’re on foreign soil, you leave behind all things familiar. You’re struggling to speak a foreign language, spending cash that looks like play money, walking a fine line along a culture you may not understand.
Sharing overseas experiences—the harrowing bus ride on a Costa Rican mountainside, sampling fresh ceviche in a Panama City fish market, sitting on a dock beside the Mediterranean Sea—with my dad has been a huge blessing. It’s allowed us to build a whole host of memories of our own—and a litany of crazy tales you’d have to be there to believe.
Making the most of opportunity
So during my time in Samois, I invited my parents to visit and was thrilled when my dad agreed to come. But I needed to find lodging for my then-smoking dad, as tobacco wasn’t allowed in the house where I lived. I booked my dad a room on La Bonne Amie, a gorgeous four-room, luxury bed & breakfast boat moored just across the street from me on the Seine River. Fortunately, the boat’s New Zealand-born owner Steve was also a smoker. And a talker. He and Farnell hit it off—and Steve later invited him back to the boat for a week of piano performances this summer.
Playing in front of people is first nature for Farnell, a “preacher’s kid” and gospel musician who’s shared his immense talent at Chicago-area churches most of his life. (The late gospel singing legend Mahalia Jackson was a long-time member of his father’s congregation, and a teen-aged Farnell had the honor of accompanying her on the organ during a church revival.) He’s also no stranger to the secular scene, as he and the four college friends who made up the Teachers’ Edition (they were all public school educators) not only toured Asia but also recorded on Memphis-based Hi Records with legendary producer Willie Mitchell, who helped shape Al Green’s trademark sound.
During this time, Farnell wrote tunes that became part of the Teachers’ Edition’s onstage repertoire and recordings—including “I Wanna Be Loved,” an early ‘70s melodic slow jam that British rock singer Elvis Costello covered in 1984. The tune later appeared on “The Very Best of Elvis Costello” in 1999, introducing this Hi Records classic to a whole new generation of worldwide fans.
Before returning to Samois for this summer’s performances, Farnell needed to hone his musical repertoire. Enter Cyrano’s Farm Kitchen, an authentic French bistro in downtown Chicago with a charming downstairs cabaret. I’ve known the affable French chef/owner, Didier Durand, through my freelance Food writing and introduced him to my dad. Farnell became the Barrel Room cabaret’s regular Thursday night performer this spring and summer, adding his own soulful twist to jazz, blues, R&B, and pop standards. He packed them up, took them to France, and during a trip south to the French Riviera, landed another invitation—this time to play the elegant lounge at the legendary five-star Le Negresco Hotel in Nice.
And Farnell jumpstarted it all by agreeing to hang out with me in a French village.
If I were a believer in fate or chance, I’d attribute this whole thing to one of those. But I’m convinced this all happened in divine order, giving Farnell an entrée back into the music world decades after he first jumped in. At the annual Festival Django Reinhardt jazz event in Samois, he met a helpful publicist with music publishing ties. And since I was covering the Nice Jazz Festival as a freelance writer, Farnell and a Chicago musician friend facilitated an interview between me and legendary Earth, Wind & Fire bassist Verdine White—someone Farnell first met 40 years ago.
The moral of this travel tale: just picking up that passport can launch you into a new adventure. In Farnell’s case, saying oui to these overseas trips has given us a chance to spend priceless time together while he pursues his musical dreams both here in Chicago and on the other side of the world.
Yet another reason why international travel literally rocks.
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