What were you like as a kid? Do you remember your struggles, trials and tribulations as you tackled life and the whole arduous growing-up process? Can you recognize the person you are now, as a response and result of who you were then – shaped and refined and redefined by your experiences and your approach to solving life’s problems and embracing it’s opportunities (or not)?
One of my most-loved events in the world is the Cannes Film Festival, and today I’m on a train heading south, knowing that for the (fifth? sixth?) year, I’ll soon be walking the red carpet. And like every year, there is a nagging in my gut: will this be the last time? I waver between guilt at my foreboding sense of loss at the thought – I’ve been fortunate enough to participate quite a number of times, while most of the world can only dream of it – and the acceptance that all good things eventually come to an end. And this is certainly part of life’s challenge: to find the next good thing to replace it.
So, as train journeys encourage us to do, I begin to reflect on why this is all so important to me in the first place. And that reflection is what prompts all those opening questions. You see, my childhood and teenage years were in many ways great. Growing partially up in small Oregon and Montana towns: climbing rocks and trees, going fishing with my dad, playing football with the boys, taking dance lessons across town and selling produce from the garden or babysitting to earn money for my first pair of Nike shoes. And then replacing all of that for teen years living abroad and learning about this tremendously wide and diverse world – travelling, learning to make new friends and try new things, growing closer than ever to my family through our shared experiences.
And then again, that same childhood and adolescence was also agonizing. An inability to pronounce 12 sounds in the English language resulted in a misdiagnosis as learning impaired when I was three (luckily my parents were wise enough to recognize the “mis” part of the diagnosis). And those same speech problems elicited the mockery from other kids, who joyfully taunted me “hey, martian – can’t talk like and earthling?!” and scoffed whenever I tried to verbally participate. Ten years of speech therapy later, I was a shy pre-teen fighting early onset acne, crooked teeth, poor eyesight and the disdain of wearing glasses, and trying to adapt to life in a foreign country. All while living in the shadow of my beautiful, athletic-star, older sister and trying valiantly to replace my lost childhood of playing in the outdoors and exerting myself in the local dance studio with something – anything – else. That is when I embraced the theater. Drama class become an outlet and an opportunity to become anyone I wanted; to adopt personalities for a minute, hour, or months depending on the scope of the activity. I could leave the self-tormented girl (shy, doubt-ridden, looked-over) behind, and instead take on the persona of the diva, the villain, the hero, and behave in ways that were far beyond the reach of the boxed-in girl I’d defined myself to be. The euphoria of it! The freedom, and strength, and endless possibilities that I perceived! The spotlight – as much as it was a place to fear – become a place that I craved, and in fact, needed.
So imagine with what wistfulness I gazed upon those celebrities whose lives were this hobby about which I’d become so impassioned. Perusing the fashion magazines, feeding my movie mania, reading bios of the biggest stars and wondering: could that ever be me? And of course, in all of that, coming annually across glossy photos and glitzy reports of the most prestigious Film Festival in the world: the Festival de Cannes.
Finally at the age of 20, I made it to Cannes for the first time – on a whirlwind 24 hour visit while studying at the University in Dijon. I was broke but had one day left on my Eurail pass, so I caught a train shortly after midnight, sleeping my way down to the Cote d’Azur. Arriving in Cannes at daybreak, I walked the Croisette and salivated over the designer shops, hiked the hill and looked down on the famous beach-front town with the world’s most famous red carpet, wandered past the yachts in the Marina and the Palais des Festivals. And then I spent the afternoon on the beach, bathing in the springtime sun (topless, of course, because it is the French Riviera) before catching a late train home again. So the entire cost of my trip was the equivalent of 7€, which is what I spent on a drink and something cheap to eat. All kept to a minimum also thanks to a friendly Canadian met on the beach, who invited me to an early evening beer on the way to the station.
Decades later, Cannes looks a lot different (to me). During the Festival, the otherwise almost sleepy town comes to life. Money pours in as the yachts and limos arrive, fences and gates go up all along the Croisette, together with the prices, elaborate signage appears and the iconic red carpet is rolled out at the Palais. Thousands flock into Cannes, ladders and cameras in tow. And those lucky enough to be on the other side of the cameras begin dress fittings, tux selection, beauty treatments, crash diets, hairstyle preparation, and shoe pairings.
So here I sit, the German and Swiss countryside rolling past outside, my luggage taking up four seats around me as I mentally prepare to not flinch at 25€ euro cocktails and to walk like a pro even after miles and hours in high-heel evening sandals. After all, the show must go on. And once again, I get to play the part of someone I’m not – masquerading as a glamour queen, letting the vibrant and electric atmosphere make me feel like one of the celebrities in the glossy magazines. Donning my evening gown, getting worked on by makeup and hair styling crews, sipping on champagne and smiling for the photo shoot, chatting with engaging and interesting people. This is a role I long to play, a part I love to play.
As is often said and more powerful than you might think, “Fake it ‘till you make it.” I’m a different person than the girl described before; over the years, I’ve played many roles and have learned to retain bits and pieces of the ones I like the best. I might not be a celebrity, but living the experience in Cannes has taught me to walk with them. So yes – I’m incredibly lucky to have it thrust into my life. And even though I know how lucky I am, that knowledge won’t alleviate the heart break when it’s gone.
Just in case this is the year it happens: I’m on the look-out for the next big thing.