February 25, 2006

This Parisian Life

I was explaining to someone about the English word "split" or to be split in 2, and they asked if I felt split between 2 countries. I'm not sure that I do, but I definitely feel split in other ways. Say, is it possible to be both smart and stupid? These years in France have made me feel a lot smarter (substitute worldly, capable, adaptable, savvy) but incredibly stupid (substitute incapable, slow, hesitant, self-doubting) in some of the day to day life I lead. So, how does that balance out? How do all my "oops, merde!, je ne comprends pas, quoi?" moments factor in to the whole of my getting smarter? If it's true that we learn from our mistakes then I must be a fricking genius.

I must tell you that the “quoi?” moments are getting fewer and far between, but being a foreigner will always be a balance between the fact that you don’t really belong and those rare, glorious moments you feel like you really do.

Yesterday some workers came to replace the windows in our apartment because they were very old and rotten. Charming, but drafty. I give classes on Thursday morning and afternoon and usually go home for lunch, but with the workers there so I thought I'd eat out. (I could have stayed and taken my lunch with the other teachers at school, but that would've been the longest 2 hours of my life.)

I'm ashamed to say I've really only eaten out by myself a few times. Despite it being much more common in France, I'm still always a bit timid about it. I generally look for the quietest cafe I can find. I don't know if you've ever taken a meal by yourself in a crowded and noisy Parisian cafe, but I can always feel myself shrinking into my chair. Plus, there always seems to be more men eating alone than women. Why is that? I see them walk in, choose a table, order their plat du jour and maybe a beer. They open their newspaper and generally make themselves comfortable. Why does it feel awkward for a woman to do the same? Why do I feel like I need to order a salad?

The cafe I chose yesterday was a seemingly tiny place on rue de Courcelles (Metro Pereire) near where I work. I've had a drink at a few of the cafes nearby and this was by far the least glamorous choice. It was packed and noisy, decorated with cheap looking 80's lamps, mirrors and velvety red banquettes for seating. It had the typical chalkboard menu with some typical daily specials.

Endives au Jambon
Boeuf Bourguinon
Omelette Paysanne/Salade
Mousse au Chocolat
Compote des Pommes

There was a man sitting near me just like I described above. He ordered a beer, the Endives, and set about devouring that and his newspaper all while looking distinguished and gentlemanly. Looking at him through jealous eyes, I ate my boring sandwich in small bites, read my book and thought about how nice a big plate of boeuf bourguinon sounded on this frigidly cold day.

I ordered a pot of tea after lunch and stayed another 45 minutes. I read and just looked around observing people and thinking about how I wished I could glue this scene in my brain somewhere for eternity. It wasn't anything special really. I was just happy to be sitting among people, hearing their laughter and feeling like even though you're outside of something you can still be in it.

1 comment:

emily said...

le soleil est en haut, le ciel est bleu; c'est belle et vous sont si.