Friday, June 13, 2008

Learning adventure

So, I got an email from Pele the other day (thanks!) and she said she really admired the way I'm plunging into things here, especially speaking the language. She mentions being rendered mute when trying to speak in the native language to a native speaker--I know that feeing! On most of my past travels I've felt this way, especially when I was a teenager, and it is still happening to me. I just don't care that much anymore. Sure, it's awkward and I want to apologize sometimes but when I get it right, it's great and so worth it.

It got me thinking about confidence and what it feels like to be in a strange place and how it felt in the past.

I haven't written much about it, but I've been to Europe before and I've traveled alone before. This trip is most like the time I took a solo trip to Europe several months after I graduated from college. Before I left for that trip, a few people told me it would less fun and more learning experience. Unfortunately they were right, though I did have some fun along the way. The major memory from that trip is of crushing homesickness and terrible loneliness. I got some great things from that trip, which I have to this day--one is my enduring friendship with Piet (the friend from Holland). Piet is still one of my great good friends and how we got that from two weeks in a shared room (shared with a total of six people!) in a pensione and a few years of regular correspondence, I'll never know, but we did and I'm grateful for it.

I also got some great stories--about missing the ferry to Greece and spending an extra day in Bari with a new Australian friend, Vicky. I still remember what she looked like (vaguely) and some of the stories she told me. The fellow I made out with on the ferry to Greece. The non-stop harassment of the Greek men in Athens. Before Greece, there was the angry German landlady in Rome, awkwardness with my Italian step-cousin in Florence, a night out listening to French in Nice a dinner party hosted by an astrologist with other new-agey folks in attendance, reading and hating and stopping reading a Henry Miller book. Reading and loving "Midnight's Children" (a copy of which is available in my Paris apartment). Visiting my brother in Israel for the first time and reading some "Moby Dick" to my nephew at his request--telling him about America and taking him for pizza and coke in downtown Jerusalem. Mystifying him by knowing that he was asking for two gumballs when I'd told him he could only have one. After that he was sure I knew Hebrew but just wasn't letting on. He was five.

The other important thing I learned on that trip was a way to kiss that I still enjoy to this day. During my three-month adventure I kissed three boys (and, yes, it was limited to that). Paulo was from England and I met him in Greece. I wrote him once and he wrote back. I spent the evening with him and his friend. We ate dinner, went drinking and I crashed at their place--and I made out with him. And, to this day, I think about what he taught me about kissing the first time I kiss anyone new. Is that strange or what?

I sort of wonder if I'll make out with anyone ever again. Yes, maybe the loneliness is starting a little.

But here's the thing, I remember how I felt back then and how bad it was. Now, well, I sort of feel the same way: but I like it. I like the feeling of being alone, completely self-contained and able to care for myself. I didn't recognize that feeling back then and it left me a bit ill at ease, a bit unsure. But now, this is a normal feeling. I'm responsible all the time, for myself, for the cat, for work stuff. I've removed some of the burden of my normal responsibility and let myself float free. It's the freedom to take joy in having all the dishes done and the laundry folded and the French homework completed and…the end. Nothing else, no other expectations or obligations. Oh, maybe an email I should write, a movie to consider seeing, a phone call to make…but nothing pressing or essential. I want to really sink into this feeling. Then I'm sure I'll start to miss all that other stuff and be grateful to have it back in my life (especially Tabitha (the cat)!).

Here's a funny coda to the above "deep" thoughts. On Wednesday night, I was sitting in the apartment, talking to Mom on the phone and trying to finish my oral presentation. I read it to her and she helped me with my accent, though it's challenging to do this on the phone.

Just then, my IM buzzed: it was Ken back home asking a question about pots and pans. And then, a voice came from my window. I got off the phone with my mom and went to the window.

I should explain how someone could be talking to me at the window. My apartment is situated on the ground floor and has a big window that opens directly on the sidewalk. The window is the only ventilation and the only source of natural light. When I'm home, I open the shutters and the window and pull some gauzy curtains across the opening. In daylight, this provides sufficient privacy. At night, however, if I have the lights on inside, you can see right into the place. While I was on the phone with Mom, it had grown dark outside but I still had the window open with only the curtain drawn--and the lights on.

A man had seen me through the window and stopped to ask if I wanted to go get something to eat (and to tell me I was pretty). I was so astonished that I didn't get angry. It was a little creepy, though. I told him no (of course!) because it was almost 11pm (late for eating even by French standards) and he was some strange guy asking me out because he was peeking into my house. I doubt that's socially acceptable anywhere! I'll admit that I gave him my number and he said he'd call me the next day (Thursday) for dinner. He didn't and I'm hoping not to hear from him. Too strange! But, it does suggest that I won't be lonely for long. Apparently, in Paris, you can meet people without even leaving the house.

Grateful for: the adventure.

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