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

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