But Don’t Worry About Me …


The 94th Aero Squadron is my favorite restaurant in San Diego.  I have been surprised to learn it is some kind of a chain, with restaurants in the Los Angeles region and Ohio and God knows where else, but this does not matter to me.

I have had their luncheon buffets, where sometimes things that are supposed to be French are confused with Mexican things. I have visited their “artifacts” and decorations and I think they are poor historians, confusing World Wars I and II.  There is a vague notion of being part of the American military hanging around in France, enjoying things European, presentation that seems formal enough to a San Diego human that it is definitely European, and the opportunity to watch inept pilots take off and set down on a local airfield.

94th Aero Squadron with Dr. G and French FriendsNo, I am not sponsored by them — this is a free plug, and I’m hoping it guides others to experience the pleasures there. I did not say the food was extrordinary — although it is absolutely marvelous —  or had anything to do with why this is my favorite restaurant in San Diego.  It doesn’t.

It is my favorite because it plays into my personal story.  I do not think many people even collect or remember their personal stories, or know how those stories can enrich their lives.  I have been here before with a couple of friends. Today, a cherished friend (who happens to be from France), my husband, and someone who was my friend’s friend (visiting from France), who listened with a gaze akin to a deer in the headlights when I told my story.

A first year medical student at a French school of medicine is a fairly lowly entity.  Open admission (there was a nominal fee of about $20 at that time — not bad for medical school admission compared to the USA) for anyone who had a French baccalaureate degree (my American Bachelor’s served as equivalent).  As you can imagine, students trampled each other for places in the amphitheater like Americans on the first day of Christmas shopping at WalMart.  A fractured skull and hand were known to me in my year alone.  The crowd was neither happy nor friendly.

The catch was, of the 600 or so who could make it through first year and sit for the final exam, only about 100 of the best would be one of the “numerus clausus”  (closed number–in Latin) to continue through the remainder of medical school.

I was in denial of the odds.  At that time, no English-speaking American had ever completed medical school at that institution.  And yes — all classes were conducted in French.  Also, very few women were present.  I was scolded by students and professors that I was taking a valuable slot away from some deserving French man who would have a family to support.

Fortunately for me, French culture was comfortingly familiar, after my indoctrination in the study of same, with French language, at the Beaver Country Day School; no longer the classy private girls’ school it once was but still a viable cultural entity of its own.

The fee I mentioned was not real tuition; just a nominal “right of scholarship,” (“droit de scolarite”) of about 20 dollars American.

I worked my way through medical school in a time-honored way — as a waitress and bartender.  All the tips this unusual and maladroit American student could get assisting Mme. Mareschal, the patronne of the cafe below my apartment next to the ancient marketplace, were what I lived on.  I hustled meals and drinks at morning cafes before morning classes, aperitifs at lunchtime, and after class at dinnertime.

When my family generously sent me money to help out, I dutifully turned my tips over to my benefactoress whom I believed needed them more than me, but she invited me to dinner most of the time, and taught me a lot about life. Through her I met other natives, who were good and decent folk and invited me to their homes.

There was this farmhouse, sprawling, north of town, where I sat with the older women and my “job,” over Christmas vacation, was to flick fowl, and help prepare them for market.

That farmhouse bore an uncanny resemblance to the 94th Aero Squadron restaurant building. As such, I forgive them their confused view of history. Although, as I mentioned, their food is excellent, it would be my favorite restaurant if they served cardboard and you had to remove the staples.  Every time we park in front of that old farmhouse, I am once again the 20 year old first year medical student who was going to change the world with medicine and could not fail. The feeling rushes into me as if I had an intravenous infusion.  I smile for no other reason and cannot wipe the smile off until we leave.

This feeling is so powerful I wish people would use it, other than my friends who want to make me happy.

I have read of this in marital counseling, where I think environmental interventions are used.  If couples have had a particularly wonderful experience in a particular place, a knowing counselor will tell them to go back there.  The little honeymoon hotel revisited by the middle-aged couple is generally a delightfully positive experience.

I think it is important this be something visceral, even reflex; not over analyzed.  I remember feeling quite happy driving by the synagogue where I did a triumphant presentation on my Bas Mitzvah (confirmation; Jewish religious coming of age for girls, similar to the Bar Mitzvah for boys). Sometimes I would rather not go back if I know things have changed; I do not want to see the house I grew up in, as it has been remodeled by newer owners and I know it would not look the same.

It ought to be possible for anybody, with a little thought, to manipulate their own mood. First, you have to know your own story.  We spend too little time journaling, or writing, or even thinking about our own autobiographies.  If we spent just a little, we could live like the horse who follows the carrot on a stick, when the driver holds the stick before the horse.  We could make ourselves go.  We could be not only the horse, but also the driver.

It should not take much introspection to do this. Just a little memory, and listening to our own feelings.

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Comments on But Don’t Worry About Me … Leave a Comment

March 18, 2012

kathy (field) malavasic @ 5:40 pm #

Ma chere Estelle,

Je viens de lire votre histoire charmante de la vie d’une etudiante en France, il y a “quelques annees”! Peut-etre, vous vous souvenez de moi, une de vos collegues a Beaver Country Day School….J’ai ete specialiste de francais a l’universite (Goucher College) et j’ai passe ma troisieme annee de college a l’universite de Nice. Quelle experience! Que j’etais toujours si jeune et si mince!!!

Maintenant, j’habite pres de New York, a Ridgewood, New Jersey, avec mon mari, Michel. Nous n’avons pas d’enfants. J’aime lire, voyager, collectionner les antiquites, et jouer au bridge. (Je crains que mon francais est un peu rouille).

Je pense que vous habitez en Californie. Est-ce que vous travaillez toujours? Si vous avez le temps et l’inclination, ecrivez-moi. De toute facon, je vous souhaite le meilleur.



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