Sunday, April 27, 2008

End of April 2008

I'm sitting in my little apartment with both windows open in a short sleeved t-shirt. It's Sunday, almost 9 PM and it's still light out. Kids and grown ups are partying in an empty lot a couple of doors down which has been turned into a neighborhood 'open space' with some play structures and a little community garden. The last few days have been beautiful...sunny, in the 70's during the day. There is a sense of Spring cleaning all over, with people hanging their linnens out of the window, the front of buildings being cleaned and painted and repairs made to streets, signeage refreshed. I myself washed windows today, and felt compelled to do a thorough cleaning of my little place. Music, mostly middle eastern, and conversation waft in my window, the cats in the apartment across the street are sunning themselves on the ledges, tails flicking back and forth.

I continue to find amusement in my growing French skill, now good enough for some eavesdroping as I wander around. I just read a French Maigret Mystery, by Simenon called Maigret et le Tueur (Maigret and the murderer) in which a young man has a hobby of going around town recording casual conversations in the Metro, or Caf├ęs, at the butcher's and the baker's. I feel much like that when I'm trying to catch bits of nonsense conversation, and relishing in the fact that I can understand it, never mind the banal nature of the content. "I think wearing jeans is OK..." or, "what do you think you are doing? " or "softly, darling..." or "wait a minute, I have to go in the house, so I'll call you later". I can even uderstand the Metro loudspeaker now when it tells me the train is not operating between this station and that other, thank you for your comprehension...

Next week I begin the medical French classes for 2 weeks. At the end of last week, a friend, Diane Jones, was in town on her way to the Ivory Coast in west Africa. She is a nurse working on an international project supporting teams of health leaders in the Ivory Coast who are placing people with HIV on meds and monitoring them. The project is a collaboration between Ward 86 at SFGH and a nonprofit organization dedicated to care of people with HIV. We went to an organization called Action Traitement, to look at their educational materials in French. Their goal is educating people about treatment options for HIV, and supporting them in getting the best medical care possible. We then went to Hopital St. Louis, which has been around for 400 years (does that blow anyone's mind besides mine?) originally for the treatment of people with the plague, and later became a treatment center for skin disorders, notably leprosy, and now is a dermatology hospital. They attend to all skin disorders including those secondary to HIV and other STD's. We visited with a Dr. Joseph Ecra fron the Ivory Coast, who is working there for another few months, and is one of the leaders in HIV treatment in the Ivory Coast.

The experience of listening to French focused on medical issues was timely for me, and added to my interest in sharpening my skills. Also eye opening to be in a hospital in a modern country that has such a long history, hearing about the conditions in the Ivory Coast, where the civil war has decimated the health infrastructure of one of the most advanced medical systems of Africa. He gave the example of no running water in the pediatric part of the hospital, and no land lines or computer technology. The result is that clinicians use their personal phones to stay in touch with patients as well as getting results from labs and the like. And still he could be excited about a new integrated model of care. Makes our challenges seem more manageable...

Enough for up, how to eat foie gras and other French culinary mysteries.



Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Fourth Month

At the beginning of the 4th month, there is a change coming over me that I'm a little sad to see. In the early part of being in Paris, every corner of the city was full of wonder, as I noted the geraniums in someone's window, the pattern of different colored brick on an exposed wall between buildings, the patterns of the wrought iron in every balcony and door...mermaids, cherubs, chimera, animals of all types, fancy coats of arms. Even as I skipped around the "crottes de chiens" I was charmed by the pattern of the stones in the small streets one finds almost anywhere, the leftovers of the medieval Paris, which Haussman could not quite erase. What I realized the other day was that as I settle in, I notice fewer details and I'm annoyed by some things...yeah the dog doo doo is one, the cigarrettes that have almost put my eye out as someone standing outside of a cafe waves their arm around exhuberantly, their back to the sidewalk, as I squeeze by, and the ubiquitous grafitti. When that happens, I remind myself "you're in Paris!!" and that part of the gift of being here is remembering to take my 'new eyes' with me finding something new anywhere I am. Having guests has been a reminder me to open my eyes and ears and soak it up.

Little chances to test my French in real life come up. Though I still feel far from fluent, I was able to explain to a man in a store how to recharge his phone with a new card and I give lots of directions to people, as I get asked a lot. I always carry a map with me 'Paris Pratique par Arrondisment', so I can track any street easily. Most recently, I say 'oui' when someone asks on the street if I can talk for a minute or two about the French Red Cross, or whether I can participate in a 'sondage' on a particular topic, of which there seeem to be a lot in Paris. These are for the most part marketing questionnaires, but they make for interesting spontaneous conversation. Just today I was stopped for an inteview on my use of feminine hygiene products! (where else would this happen?)
In class this week the teacher asked what our goal is learning French was. I have made some French friends and get invited to dinner, and I confess that my real goal is to be able to converse with a group of French people talking about movies and politics and to participate actively without too many mistakes. When I shared that with an American friend that has lived here for 11 years, he responded that he finds that setting the most difficult of all, and that even now, it's more of a one to one thing for him because the speed and nature of the bantering has so many layers to it. My ability to follow conversation has improved a lot, but by the time I compose my participation, the conversation is on another trail altogether...tant pis!
The number of demonstrations here is amazing and the amount of police power out and about is staggerring. I walked by the tail end of a demo near the area near my school, which happens to be a ritzy district where a lot of officials live. There were about 30 busses full of police with full riot armor, and blocked streets in every direction. The bus service places notes on the stops letting people know that service will be disruped by a demo at least once a week.
The weather is warming up, and in spite of the rain, I took note today that half the women I saw, even on bikes, have given their boots and trousers a rest, and pulled out the 'mini-jupes' and 'talons hautes' (miniskirts and high heels) all in increasingly bright colors, in welcome to Spring. The parks are also blooming away, jonquils in all colors, narcissus, crocus, yellow sprays of forsythia and I'm hoping the rain will slow down as I'm on my second umbrella!
Happy Spring wherever you are!
Jo Ellen