France, Part 7
There’s no words. It was negative. Raoul came over before we went to Les Cité des Sciences. He was sitting on David’s couch leafing through Vogue as I was standing in my bedroom folding clothes I had left out overnight to dry on the balcony. I don’t know what sounds were coming out of my face, but it was some combination of happy laughter and some indiscernible plaintive gratitude that everything was okay. He was commenting on the photo shoot in that issue–being an overly obsessive fashion photographer (“Oh you know she had an enema before that shoot”)–but he stopped very suddenly and in his thick accent, remarked, “You know you sound like an abused seal when you do that.”
I started to make echoing “ork ork” noises, which, in my teary laughter, became more pronounced and between that awkward bit of sucking it in, him not able to see my face from the other room, he started asking questions about it all. I hadn’t really said anything to anyone. And I have such a mild and untroubled friendship with Raoul for now that I don’t want to taint that, so I decided to keep my troubles to myself rather than expunge them on others. I don’t want my time here to become defined by these things. He made light of that by throwing out scenarios at me, “Did your family explode because they ate too many of those fatty McDonald’s cheeseburgers?” or “Are those tears of remembrance like a bald eagle lambasting the twin towers?” I laughed even harder when he said that because he meant “lament” obviously but he confused the words and so all I could do was picture this snarky eagle shit-talking 9/11 and soon I was crying from laughing so hard.
I think about what life must have been like for nomads before the days of the Internet. I’m a lucky one because I live in an age where globalization and technology have teamed up to create the instant gratification of reaching anyone whenever you want, which is quite the dangerous weapon to our sense of appreciation for loneliness. My good friends are always accessible to me via Google Talk or Skype. I am hesitant in some ways to talk too much to my friends. I sit there staring at the screen, taking 10 minutes to type out “Hi” to one person, then backspace backspace and it never was… it can wait, I think.
I made the decision months ago to come here–something I’d do for myself, by myself. And how I exist here in these moments, I will remember that for the rest of my life. I don’t want to look back on myself and think, “I wasted my time.” I just do things. It’s fortunate because the energy of being in unfamiliar land is tiring, exhausting. When I come home, it is often 2 or 3AM, I practice my French on Duolingo for an hour, and once I am through, and my head is hitting the pillow at 4AM, my eyes close immediately. My subconscious fortunately has not caught up with my reality because it chooses to make me have good dreams about Chris, ones where he is in my arms, where I can smell him, feel his hair, and serenely press my lips to the freckles on his skin. When I wake up… in those first moments of late morning air where you can see dust dancing in the air in the beams of light slanting down from the window… and hear kids laughing outside like awkward stock audio clips… when I know I’ve just broken from an REM cycle and I can still smell him and it makes my skin tingle a little, my heart flutter somewhat.
Today was crazy. I walked to Casino and became the American female version of Mr. Magoo. I walked into a display des pommes and watched as they scattered all over the floor, saying, “Je suis desole!” But it didn’t matter. It was my Simpsons Bee Guy moment. What was initially embarrassment refolded itself into a frenzied “Ayyyy naranjas en la cabeza! Un catastrofia con una pelota de beisbol!” As I stood in line, which turned out to be a line strictly for the old and enfeebled, I reached into my shallow pocket to fetch a 2 Euro coin and helplessly watched as the coins exploded from my pockets out all over the floor. Old people shuffled their canes and walkers as I scurried to collect my 17.50 from all the nooks and crannies of moldy cheese and wine boxes nearby.
I genuinely dislike every moment I spend in grocery stores in France. The markets smell like dirty asshole taint. I don’t know what it is, but I walk into one hungry and leave never wanting to eat again. David’s flat is right next door to a Franprix. From the front of the store, I can see to the back a dangling sign suspended on fish hook wire with no words, just an icon of a snowflake. It hovers above freezers filled with 52 different brands of the same vanilla ice cream, alongside a horrifying farrago of salmon and beets (or something that just not belong together in a meal).
Raoul and I climbed onto the line 2/blue from Philippe-Auguste. That’s pretty far down from where I am–on the other side of Pere Lachaise. His girlfriend, Laura, showed up and went with us. The museum is situated on the far west side of Parc de la Villette. It had all these random exhibits that would take your photo and then let you print it out on a cheap HP laserjet printer. I didn’t understand why since it didn’t cost anything, so they weren’t profiting off of it and the printouts weren’t particularly interesting. It’s my thinking that any establishment can provide a service and people will pay for it. I think if this museum charged for these shitty printouts, people will still gladly fish out 2 euros for one.
One of the exhibits was a large computer monitor that did facial detection and estimated your age along with how happy, sad, or angry your face looked in levels. The screen decided that I was 23 with a +/- 11 year margin of error and that my face was 75% happy and 25% sad. I don’t know how that works. People tell me I smile a lot, more than average. I smile without realizing I am smiling. I suppose I am just a genuinely happy person most of the time. The downside of that is that when I am not happy, people know immediately without me preemptively saying anything. This means I can never have a secret. Because people just know. It’s printed in tessellations on the irises of my oversized eyes.
We walked back through the park. There were a group of Asian women line-dancing. I’ve seen this before. I don’t know what it’s about. Also, French people love to take their babies to parks and ignore them and let them get sunburnt as fuck in their strollers while they (the parents, not the babies) read in the grass. As we were sitting on the cement on Quai de la Gironde, a man walked over and started to talk to me. I said, “Mais je ne parle pas bien encore…” and Raoul said so many words to the man, glancing at me, and then back at him. And then looked back to me and said, “Don’t say that again.” So I haven’t.
It’s a challenge, but I’m owning it. It’s not so much that I really want to speak French in particular, but I want to understand language roots. I know that getting this immersion for French will make my understanding of Latin roots more defined and I will walk away being better equipped in my understanding of linguistics.
Ben IMed me earlier. I was telling him how little recognition I had for the weirdness that has absorbed my life story in the past few weeks. He very profoundly posed this question:
“If everyone’s story is weird, then no one’s story is weird. If everyone’s story has elements of the bizarre, then what is the rubric by which we judge weirdness?”
But what’s to say our stories are not individually weird in their uniqueness? When my story is weird because it deviates from my own perception of the norm, that does not mean that someone else’s perception of the norm is the same as my perception. Just because we all have separate realities doesn’t mean we don’t have an expectation for a norm, even if that norm is not grounded in anyone’s reality. In that way, the norm has become a fairy tale… when it used to be what separated us from fairy tales.