Saturday, June 07, 2008


The City
One of things I love about Paris is that it's a living city, not a museum. I figure there must be building restrictions in the center (and not much space for new development anyway), but on the outer edges, like where I live, buildings are being demolished and new ones are being built. I see a high-rise from the window of my classroom. It's ugly and all but it's vital. Cities shouldn't be preserved in amber, people are coming and going, the city is full of immigrants; it's a multi-cultural, diverse place. It's alive.

I may have mentioned this before, but every place in the world I've ever visited, I've been asked for directions. (It was once pointed out to me that it might not happen if I were in Asia or Africa, but I'm not so sure--other Americans/Europeans would probably ask!) It's already happened to me several times in Paris. Once, I was on the metro platform, waiting for a train and a lady asked me if her train stopped there. I looked up at the signs and pointed her in the right direction. I don't think she figured out that I don't speak French. In the grocery store, a man asked me where something was. I gave him my "deer in the headlights" look and said, "Je ne sais pas!" And then he looked down the aisle and said "Oh! C'est la!" or something like that. They were eggs. The guy was cute, but I don't know how to manage the supermarket meet in English let alone French.

Most amusingly, perhaps, was my experience last night. I went to meet Spesh's friend, Julia, to see a documentary about Palestine. The documentary was poorly made and I couldn't understand most of it since the narration was in French and the subtitles were in French (I did get most of the subtitles). Julia kept translating the subtitles for me (not necessary) but not the narration, which would have been more difficult but more helpful. After there was a discussion, which I followed in very general terms--but I probably would have found it dull in any language. Long speeches don't do much for me, even if I agree with the sentiments.

Julia was bored too, even though her French is much better than mine (her native language is Hebrew and her English is good), and after the talking was done, we hung around and were a little social. Someone asked who I was, if I was Jewish and then made the assumption that I was from Israel too (like Julia and some of the other people there).

Julia was ready to go and so was I. She'd been invited to a party, which sounded good to me. We went to dinner first and that took all night. Julia was surprised that I knew no one in Paris and then said that she'd come to get away (she's a full time activist, like Spesh) and was shocked that she now had over 100 contacts in her mobile phone. I wasn't sure how to feel about that--she's overflowing with social contacts, which she's not happy about and I have almost no contacts here, and I'm fine with that. It makes me think that when you're getting away from something, it can follow you. She also made a point to correct me on a few things about Israel, which was fine, I guess, but didn't feel good.

Early in our meeting she mentioned that she was diabetic and then made a point of injecting herself at the table (once before and twice after we ate). She said that it was a political statement to make the injections in public. Political statement or bad manners, you tell me. I have to say that the first time I saw her do it, I felt slightly nauseated. The second time, I didn't care and the third time I wondered if one is always supposed to do it in the same spot, if it hurts and if that spot gets sore.

Part of the conversation also turned to parties and how she wouldn't go to the party she was invited to in Paris if it were being held in Tel Aviv. This is something I've heard Spesh say before--that you have to know who you're associating with. Again, I don't quite understand this--no, I'm sorry, I understand perfectly. I don't agree! At any rate, even though the party in Paris passed the political litmus test, we didn't go because Julia wasn't in the mood (sigh, I was). Instead, we sat at the restaurant for hours and it was after midnight when we left.

That was good because I'd been wanting to adjust my clock forward a little and get more in the Parisian time frame. However, I was nervous about getting home since I haven't used the public transportation system late at night yet. I also wasn't eager to walk in unfamiliar areas, alone, after midnight. Julia tried to help me with the metro map, but I actually understood it better than she did and I got a little frustrated, feeling that we were wasting time when what I needed to do was go to a bus stop (where the times are posted). The transit map is great but it doesn't list the operating hours at all! (Julia thought the metro closed at 1am. Turns out, much like DC, it has later service on Friday and Saturday--so I could have used the metro.)

It proved to be my introduction to the "noctilien" or nighttime bus service. Julia walked me to a bus stop a block from her house (we'd eaten in the area)--not necessary, but a friendly gesture. I caught a "regular" bus to the center of town. When I got off, I was a little frustrated because I had no idea where the noctilien stops were--and if we'd just finished dinner a little earlier, I could have taken the metro or the regular bus home. Then I saw a big sign with an arrow marked "noctilien." Looking up is a good thing.

I found the noctilien bus stops and crowds of people waiting at each one. I had to ask for directions to my stop from a transit worker--there were a whole crowd of them. He was helpful and I got to right spot. It was a little lonelier, with only one other man waiting for a bus, but I felt reasonably safe. The bus was coming in 8 minutes, meaning I'd be home in half an hour or less--after 1am by then.

After standing at the bus stop for a minute or two, a large, drunk man and his friend walked up. One of them started talking to me...asking if a certain bus had passed. I just stared. I opened my mouth and nothing came out…je ne sais…and the man said, "Oh, you don't speak French!" And he turned to the other person waiting at the stop and asked him the same questions. His (also drunk) friend stood directly in front of me and stared. We both listened to the others talking. The friend asked me if I'd caught any of that (in French). I said, "Un peu." And then he started flirting, sloppily. He shook my hand, asked my name and where I was from. I answered and then I tried out some of my classroom French and said, "un bel homme!" His face lit up, "C'est vrai? Moi?" (Well, not really, I was just practicing.) At that moment he took a couple of steps towards me--possibly looking for a kiss! I stuck my arm out and said no, no, no! and he backed off. It was more amusing than threatening, but, luckily, just at that moment, my bus arrived and I was able to escape any more friendly attempts at anything.

In Class
It seems that some of my classmates have an even more limited grasp of French than I do. Some have terrible accents and good comprehension, a couple can't speak at all and don't seem to understand anything. I don't quite get it because I seem to understand almost everything the teacher says. She speaks clearly and slowly and uses very simple words. If you know Spanish already (or English, for that matter), understanding the teacher is a snap. Well, it is for me. I do get confused sometimes with written instructions and have almost no vocabulary, so it's not easy--but understanding the teacher is not a problem. It seems that a few of my classmates have noticed that I "get" it. Thus, they whisper to me in class, asking for translations or further clarifications. It's annoying! I do like to help, and outside of class would be fine, but I want to use every minute in there to better my French. That means no English! Oh well, I do help when I can. I need to work on letting go of the annoyance.

My AmEx and CapOne cards arrived today! Thank you Ken! I'm off to go see if I can rent a bike and get money from the bank. Excitement.

Grateful for: getting out of the house and learning new things.

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