Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Pauvre Philippe

Last night I got over my hatred of live music and went to an organ recital at Notre Dame. It was everything you'd expect an organ recital in Notre Dame to be...which is to say that I spent a lot of time thinking about what I would eat afterward, and how I wished I'd brought an umbrella, but I also managed to focus a bit on the music, and how magnificent the church is, especially when it isn't crawling with tourists and their cameraphones.

After the concert, a man who I'd been commiserating earlier with about the rain invited me out for coffee. My first indication that this would not go well should have been when he asked me in French. His first indication that it would not go well should have been when I had to squack "Quoi?" the first few times he asked.

But I've been spending all of my time with travellers and expats since I got here, and have barely spoken a word of French, so I thought it would be a great chance to put all those years of French Immersion into practice. Plus my pretentious sixteen year old self would have died if I'd passed up the opportunity to say things like, "Oh, we met after an organ recital at Notre Dame. Because we're really, really cultured."

Pauvre Philippe.

The problem is that I stopped taking French in the middle of grade three. And the stories I learned about Luc and Fido don't do me much good in Paris. And if Philippe had wanted to name shapes or colours, or asked me to tell the time, even, we would have had a great time. Instead he seemed to want to talk about organ music, which I wouldn't even be able to do in English. I think I said something like, "The organ is nice. Notre Dame is very cute."

Then we did that thing travellers do where you flip between languages and no one really says anything and you repeat stereotypes about your own countries. "I'm from Canada. Canada is big. It is cold. You're from Switzerland? Are you good at skiing? At keeping secrets? I like chocolate." And just to make sure that he could understand my broken French, I made sure to yell it all. (I find most foreign language problems can be resolved by repeating things just a little louder.)

It's a sign of how disastrous the evening was that I'm now thinking - "cheese! I totally forgot to say, "I like Swiss cheese"! That would have given us another 30 second of conversation! Especially since Swiss cheese is just about the only kind of cheese that I don't even like.

Pauvre, pauvre Philippe. Maybe I should stick to the expats.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Today I decided it would be more fun to play tourist than to keep being the sad, lost, English girl. So I made a couple of religious pilgrimmages.

The first, and most important was Shakespeare & Co. There's not much to say about that other than that I've now seen a glimpse of heaven on earth and it's tiny and crowded with books up to the ceiling and one day when Walter closes Wayfarer to travel the world as my companion, he and I will spend many happy hours there.

The other was Notre Dame, across the street (I guess most people would say that the bookstore is across the street from Notre Dame, but their priorities are all wrong.) My first thought on walking into Notre Dame was, "now this is a megachurch." My second thought was, "How embarrassing that I even thought of something so, 'whose-birthday-is-it-anyway,' I guess that no matter how far I walk across Europe I will always be a Protestant."

Monday, April 27, 2009

A fitting start

So I'm here. Day two in Paris is wrapping up and I still feel a little lost/tired/shaky/oh-my-god-I-don't-speak-French-what-am-I-doing, but the hey-this-is-actually-going-to-be-great is starting to outweigh that feeling.

When this plan was just formulating, I told a grad student in Kingston that I was thinking of moving to Paris, mostly so I could ride an antique bicycle around old streets with a baguette sticking out of the basket. I was being self-deprecating, because it's not a fantasy that calls for a lot of imagination, and recent-graduate-in-Europe has kind of been done. But this guy still believes in Paris, and he told me to go for it, genuinely enthused by the antique bicycle idea. Then he told me seriously that I would never forget my first ten minutes with the Eiffel Tower. Which takes the phallic imagery a little far, I think.

But I was prepared for a little big of magic. I'm 23 and I just moved to Paris and it's springtime, and even though I thought his take on the romance of the city was un peu trop, I expected the Eiffel Tower to have some aura. So I got out of the metro this morning, heading to the American Cathedral. And when I looked up there was a familiar silhouette in the sky. And I leaned on a hydro pole for a minute trying to take in the magic of my first few minutes with the Eiffel Tower...

...except it had some green netting around the top,a nd I couldnt see the bottom of it, and I wasn't entirely sure that it even was the Eiffel Tower, so instead I went into a shop and bought some cheese.

And now that it's a few hours later and I've eaten and had a nap and am no longer quite so frightened of Paris and everyone/everything in it, it occurs to me that of course it was the Eiffel Tower, and that the city isn't full of small-scale near-replicas of its most famous landmark, and I'm an idiot. But isn't that just the most typically Rachel way to kick off a year in Paris?