The Menton Experience

By Oskar Steiner.

I am an incredibly forgetful person, which might explain why this is my first contribution to the newspaper I’ve been a part of for the last two tears, or so I like to tell myself. My memory is a frustration of mine (when I remember how forgetful I am). So much so, in fact, that much of my general angst around leaving comes from a distrust in my own mind. How will I remember my two years? What if I don’t remember them correctly? What if I lose all of this because my neurons decide my 6th grade phone number is more worthy of a tenured position in my memory? For much of my time in Menton, as I’m sure all of us have to some degree, I’ve been exceedingly conscious of the expiry date on our time here. Because of this, the preoccupation with how I’ll immortalise my time in Menton has surfaced now and again. Quite frequently, it comes down to one specific question: did I really get to live the Menton ExperienceTM?

The buzz of the three-euro wine tints the world a soft gold, easing each moment into the next with a gentle warmth. The embrace of a friend, the smile of another. The droplets of sweat are washed away by a plunge of salty water tainted with Carrefour unscreen. Leaning back, the warmth of the September sun bounces off the vielle ville, splashing an orange glow across our faces as the Mediterranean stings the cut of unknown origin on your forearm. Back on the beach, some rest, some dance. Cigarette smoke and the smell of cheap orange juice drift loosely on the breeze. More wine is opened and we drink straight from the bottle, swirling the lukewarm white with the occasional grain of Sablettes sand. The air is heavy and warm, and it begs of us to stay put, the glare of the concrete promenade too oppressing to face. Time passes in near bliss, the speaker dies, the sun dips, and the tickling evening wind nudges us back into our t-shirts and up the stairs where we make our way to the nearest apartment—yours is just big enough to fit us all. As pasta boils unsupervised, naps are taken—voluntarily or otherwise— and Dancing Queen plays somewhere for the 4th time that day. The last gasp of sunlight threads through the single-pane windows, falling on the table and painting your apartment with an elegant radiance. There is a party tonight somewhere. Earlier in the day you wanted to go but are now unsure; that would mean moving. You’re comfortable, peaceful. No need to decide yet, you think softly. Maybe you’ll make it out that night, maybe you won’t. Your eyelids gain weight and fall slowly, the HEMA blanket sitting just right on your lap. Outside, the chorus of seagulls and cheap Vespas soften the air, and you fall asleep.

The Menton ExperienceTM is a hard one to pin down. It is everywhere, permeating our interactions and poking at our social lives. It is the flag bearer of Fun and the guardian of Good Times. The Menton ExperienceTM is a sultry mix of unabashed chaos and curated content. It is Frites City, it is Soundproof parties. It is La Loca, Flixbus, brunch, stress, Ventimiglia, MEDMUN, Minicrit and the 5am morning train back from Nice. It is a dinner party and tequila shots followed by a late night on Sablettes with a walk to SuperU returning a rogue shopping cart. It is a trip to Eastern Europe, problématiques, and Canva. The Menton ExperienceTM, however, is a phantom. It exerts its subtle pull over all of us, guiding us towards an ideal-type of shared memory. Of course though, all our experiences will be different. There are common threads, no doubt, yet the phrase ‘I really just want to live the Menton experience’ carries a certain all-encompassing weight to it. Because of this, I’ve noticed a personal tendency to idealise memories as I’m creating them. I can’t let them stand on their own, no; they must make up one piece of the broader pie that is the perfectly written storyline of my time here. This isn’t to say I’ve never fully appreciated moments here, rather the opposite. I’ve enjoyed some moments so thoroughly that the fear of losing them forces me to think ahead to how I’ll preserve them, thus pushing me to feel as though I never really grasped them in the first place. The Menton ExperienceTM, entirely unintentionally, becomes an idealised set of criteria that we apply to our time here. Moreover, it’s one that can never be entirely satisfied—there must surely be one more thing you could be doing right now to maximise your time here, right?

You leave the party at 11:30, tired and spent. The music fades as ou make your way down the stairs and stepping out into the evening air, the bite of the October wind presents itself to your cheek. As you walk slowly along the promenade, hands sheltered in your pockets, you wonder passively if this is it. Is this the best that you can be doing? You stop and perch yourself on a bench overlooking the sea. Below, a group makes their loud and tipsy way back to the very party you just escaped. Within ten minutes you’ll be home, yet you now question whether you should double back. It’s still early. The moon is an awkward slice, neither full nor empty, and the half glow it spatters over the town is just strong enough to cast a shadow. You sit and stare, unsure.

As you may have gathered by now, I firmly believe that the spectre of the idealised Menton lifestyle is a crock of shit. Each of us find our own way to make this place our home for two years, and reducing that down to a flashy series of Instagram stories runs the risk of letting the most vocal among us dictate what it means to be Mentonnais(e). Moreover, the idea that there exists a core set of experiences shared by all students wholly misses the point. What I mean to say is: there is no ‘Menton Experience’ beyond that which we create for ourselves—the community. From the day we arrive, our peers are the entirety of what we have to work with here. For many of us, living alone in a new country for the first time, there is nowhere to turn other than outwards, embracing people as lifelong friends whom we met two weeks previously. The beauty of our time in Menton reveals itself in these moments. It is not the artfully plated brunch nor night out in Monaco that matter. The awkward eye-contact made on Rue Longue before you’re close enough to say hi—that matters. The moments that make up the one experience we can claim to share—the experience of each other—are for the most part mundane. They are routine and banal yet constitute the bulk of our time here. Life in Menton is not a kooky ride along a laundry list of quirky experiences, it is stunningly normal. Once this realisation sinks in, the issue of memory becomes a lot easier to address. There is no narrative you need to satisfy and no expectation to live up to. Worrying about whether in twenty years you’ll still be able to wear the same set of rose-tinted glasses you’re wearing today is an exercise in futility. Memory is not a slideshow. Our memories make up the core of who we are and we make up them—we are the sum of all our previous experiences. The act of living itself is a process of constant remembrance, and when viewed as such, there is no conceivable way to forget what were, at any rate, two batshit crazy years. To do so would be to lose a part of ourselves. Sure, the specifics may fade. Maybe you forget an experience here and there, the visuals you can conjure up slowly reduce themselves down to a implified line drawing coloured with pastels, and the timbre of an old acquaintance’s voice slips from your grasp. Such is life. That said, the essence of our time here will endure as long as we do. For worse or for better (I’d argue the latter), these two years have shaped us, and this experience will be something we carry with us in some capacity throughout the rest of our lives.

It is sunny again, although the crisp temperature still warrants hoodies for English track and scarves for the French. The incessant wind of the last few days has taken a temporary break, and you step out into the brightness of the courtyard, eager to escape your third hour of imperfect competition and pareto improving projects. Someone cracks a joke about marginal utility (or their lack thereof). Cigarettes are lit impatiently and we congregate in the sunlight, conversation less important than the simple pleasure of being anywhere other than the classroom for five minutes. For those who are lucky enough to charm the temperamental machine, hot coffee is clutched tightly. Another class spills out and you seize the chance to mingle, aimlessly passing time before the last hour of class calls you back to your feigned attention. Five minutes become ten, and eventually we begin to reluctantly filter back into the now harshly dark hallway. You’re one of the last to head back, preferring to let the faint warmth of the November sun tickle your neck for a minute longer.

To all my fellow classmates and friends, thank you. Simply put; the two years spent here were the most formative, beautiful, and unique of my life. In the face of all this chaos, it sometimes feels like the world is ending, and in many ways it is. The world here that we have inhabited and built for ourselves, the world we have adjusted to and found our roots in, is changing. It is true, that there will never again be a time like these last two years, for worse and for better. The utter insanity of this campus is something that cannot be replicated. Nowhere else in the world can you find such a small, closely-knit, and stunning group of people from quite literally all over the world. Nowhere else on the planet can you find such a high concentration of incredible, interesting, talented and frankly weird—but cool—nerds. In my time here I have met the best musicians, poets, writers, athletes, dancers, thinkers and friends I have ever known, which is obscene given the fact that this school is built with such a narrow objective in mind. For a group that is so similar we are so remarkably different. I truly believe that by having this last year yanked away from us so abruptly, we had an opportunity to witness the power of our experience. The theme of this issue is Goodbye Menton, except it isn’t. This issue—no matter how many articles get written about the end and the farewell—is first and foremost about everything else. A goodbye is given meaning by what came before it. In February, I went to Paris. One evening, over drinks with a group of four former Menton students now in grad school, the permanence of the community formed here impressed itself on me. Here were students from four years ago, still living together, still laughing cynically about the administration, and still friends. We traded stories of maniacal Rue Longue dogs, unanswered emails, parties (outside) Gar Hira, and chaotic classes. The extended community we had both shared locked us in a conversation not unlike any of the ones I’ve shared here, and at that point, my fear of forgetting tucked itself up into a neat little ball and quietly began to wither. The truth is, you can’t forget Menton, Menton won’t let you.

You lie in bed on a Thursday evening, the Arabic lesson you escaped only 15 minutes prior rattling around in your head. Your room is unkempt, and four coffee mugs lie stashed in the corner, awaiting further orders. It’s raining outside with the accompanying twilight gloom seeping under your window and into your room, casting a shadow on your already fragile mood. You are annoyed, exhausted, overwhelmed, and crumbling. You have a math test tomorrow. Fuck math. Your phone buzzes with the incessant chirps of one of the numerous group chats you wish you could leave, and when your parents attempt to call you you let it ring to silent, preferring to sprawl face-down over your duvet. As you lay deep in your self-induced, self-indulgent stupor, the sound of the rain shifts. It changes softly at first, but soon the random pitter-patter has a certain music to it, and the chill of the evening is chased out by your space heater. You stand up, make yourself some tea, and migrate to your couch. Today was not a good day, nor was it a particularly bad one. As you reflect on the utter mediocrity of your mood, your roommate bursts in, joyful as ever—he bought a roast chicken. You sip your tea hiding a reluctant smile; your insistence on despair steadily weakening. Maybe today wasn’t so awful after all. The rain continues, the chicken is salty and warm, and after a brief stint on Netflix you settle under the covers, oblivious to the deadline you’re about to miss and retroactively discover tomorrow morning.

Life is ok, life is good, life is here.

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