May 01, 2013

Wife's Choice: Memories Of My Own L'AUBERGE ESPAGNOLE

"It'll belong to you because you lived there."
If L'Auberge Espagnole (translates as The Spanish Apartment) were a piece of music instead of a film, it would be my wife's theme song.  It would play every time she walked into a room.

It's the tale of Xavier, a French twenty-something who spends a year studying Spanish in Barcelona so that he can secure a new job back home.  He rents a room in an apartment with six strangers, all from different countries, all with their own particular styles and peculiar habits.  It's a year of discovery and exploration, as he learns about new cultures, has a torrid affair with a married woman, and ultimately grows into himself as he finds a place in his colorful new band of friends.  It's pretty much everything you think of when you talk about studying abroad, the ideal vision of international travel and friendship that most high school and college kids dream about.

L'Auberge was released in 2002, when my wife Jamie was just starting at USC and probably already planning on studying in France herself.  After graduation she went back to France and even spent a year in South Korea, so it's little wonder why she adores this movie so much.  Conversely, I've never spent real time abroad.  I applied to study in England in high school but wasn't selected, and I passed on the opportunity to spend a semester in the Netherlands during college.  In fact, my first time in Europe was on our honeymoon, when we spent a week in Greece.  But just because I've never been in an international melting pot, that doesn't mean I've never experienced my own L'auberge Espagnole.

For a lot of people, college is the time when you leave home and adopt a new city as your own.  While that had been my plan throughout high school, I ultimately ended up going to school in Boston.  Over four years I came to appreciate living downtown, and while I was never more than an hour from my parents, I rarely went home.  After graduation I moved to Los Angeles and while I had spent my final semester there, it still felt largely unknown to me.  I moved to the west side of town, as opposed to the valley where I had previously interned.  I never moved in with an international collection of strangers, but I soon got an apartment with two friends named Ben and Warren, both of whom had been in my college a capella group.  It was a very spacious three bedroom unit with a fireplace, lots of storage, and a built-in teal leather diner booth straight out of the 1950s.  We christened the place Welnerbane Yard (an anagram of Ben, Warren and Daley) and it quickly became the centerpoint of our steadily growing group of friends.

Welnerbane was a way station for people in need of a place to stay, and any given night there was usually more than three of staying there.  We had six or seven friends who all temporarily lived with us over the years, whether for a few weeks or a few months.  The place was vibrant, always full of energy.  It was the kind of apartment I loved to come home to.  The shelves were packed with various knick-knacks that reminded us of home and there was always good food and conversation on hand.  Saturday and Sunday mornings became infamous, as Warren and I would take our weekly constitutional to get tea from Starbucks and a smoothie from Jamba Juice.  Then I would make scromlette, a sort of messy scrambled egg dish with lots of meat, veggies and cheese, for whoever was staggering awake that morning.

It was also a place full of music.  The first time Mike Lerman came to stay with us, he quickly realized that he was in a house full of singers and proposed that, along with his breakneck guitar playing, we should record an album of acoustic power ballad cover songs.  We all kind of laughed it off at the time, but four years later we had recorded six albums, played a handful of live shows, and brought another half dozen people into the fold of our part-time band, BiPFT!  (The exclamation point is in the name.)

Monday nights became sacred.  I hosted pub trivia at Nocturnal, a bar in Santa Monica that defined hole-in-the-wall.  Seriously, the place didn't even have a sign with the name of the bar and if not for the neon beer light in the window, you'd never even know it was even there.  Consequently, the only people who ever showed up were our friends, which meant that we basically ran our own bar for two hours every week. After trivia, we'd head down to the pier for karaoke at Rusty's Surf Ranch, where we'd close the place down at 1:30 AM along with a colorful collection of locals that included hair band aficionado Michael DeLuise and most of the waitstaff from Bubba Gump Shrimp next door.  "Monday nights, the nights when kings were made..."

We hosted plenty of birthdays and holidays as well.  I really don't like turkey, so Thanksgiving has always been somewhat wasted on me.  But, since most people travel home for Christmas each year, almost nobody would leave L.A. for Thanksgiving.  Every year we would have an epic gathering of people with a mouthwatering array of foodstuffs.  I would make a ham, mashed potatoes (one year I had to buy a lobster pot so I could boil all the potatoes at once) and crescent rolls filled with pesto and cheese, a.k.a. cresto rolls.  Friends would whip up their own specialties like creamed corn casserole, homemade stuffing and a bounty of pies, not to mention a crap ton of booze.  Thanksgiving quickly went from my least favorite to my most favorite holiday, a day in which I could truly appreciate my new west cast family.

There were plenty of other wacky adventures, like the time we stole a street sign or the time I almost started a brawl outside Dodger Stadium, but it wasn't always sunshine and lollipops.  Our neighbors hated us and would frequently call the police over the slightest disturbance.  Sometimes it was warranted but more often than not the cops would show up to find six people watching a movie.  One year someone called the cops on Thanksgiving, I shit you not.  After I had to convince the landlord not to evict us, I found myself trying to reign in a few late night drinking sessions to prevent further visits by the L.A.P.D., which often caused some tension among us.  There was cooking and cleaning and all the usual nonsense that comes with having multiple roommates, as well as a few complicated romantic entanglements that led to plenty of awkward nights and hurt feelings.  But no matter the drama, I still loved all of these people like my own brothers and sisters.

And that's why L'Auberge Espagnole struck a chord with me.  It's a film about venturing out into the unknown and making the world your own.  There is incredible value in the challenge of relocation, in creating a home for yourself among unfamiliar streets and building a family of new and interesting faces.  For Xavier it was Barcelona, whereas for me it was Los Angeles; the destination is almost immaterial, so long as it's somewhere you want be.  Moving to a new city is the simplest form of exploration, the kind of adventure that everyone should experience at least once.  I don't begrudge those who live and die in the same place they were born, but it's a mindset that I will simply never understand.  I love Boston.  Always have, always will.  That said, I've never wanted to settle down here permanently.  I'm already looking forward to the day when Jamie and I take to the wind once more to find our next l'auberge Espagnole.

Title: L'Auberge Espagnole
Director: Cedric Klapisch
Starring: Romain Duris, Judith Godreche, Audrey Tatou, Cecile de France, Kelly Reilly
Year Of Release: 2002
Viewing Method: DVD

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