Gay French Day 27

Well, I have certainly had a rough few days. The kind of thing that can only happen to you in a foreign country. So much confusion and terror! Involving getting locked out and the apartment manager not helping me, and having to spend 4 hours walking around looking for a locksmith while night fell, and then finally finding one and paying him 600 euros, a small fortune, and then telling the lady whose apartment this is and her getting really upset, and me feeling like such an asshole, and then spending 2 days in the apartment because of the need to await instructions and/or possible robbery by the locksmith, now suspected of being a criminal, etc. Last night she called and seemed calmed down and told me it was cool. So today I am liberated, yet I feel still caged and shocked. This last week in Paris was intended for a fun adventure but turned into dog shit in my hands! Now I just want to go home, but am trying to fight that urge because it is so babyish.

so today I will do job things and translation things and meet with my landlady in the afternoon and have a drink with my friend in the evening. And tomorrow will be my last day at the archive and I will go for the whole day. And Saturday I will clean the house and get my affairs in order. And Sunday I will take a train to the airport and fly across the sea. And Sunday afternoon I will brush my teeth with toothpaste that has fluoride in it. Aaaaaaah.

Things I am heartsickly missing:
tortillas. On my old man’s last night here we did a hilarious thing where we went to a Mexican restaurant kind of as a joke. What do homesick Americans long for in Paris? Mexican food. So we saw one, and it was totally tripped-out to the max with sombreros and señoritas and a mariachi band, and so we entered it. The food was a hilarious parody of Mexican food. Really weird nachos with like 7 kidney beans on them. Really weird fajitas made of sweet potatoes and carrots in a sort of Indian curry sauce. Really weird margaritas. Really weird salsa. Really weird thing that was an uncooked flour tortilla with tomato paste on it. The mariachi band spoke to us in French. I requested “Cielito Lindo” and gave them 2 euro. The waiter spoke English and kept warning us really fervently that the food was spicy and we should “mind the chiles,” i.e. the pickled jalapeños. Hilarious moment of American pride. “Buddy, the one thing this food is not is spicy.” Suddenly realizing that they don’t have spicy food in France. Long discussion of spicy food and what it all means. Realization that you can’t have spicy food without peppers, and peppers only grow where it is hot. Except what is curry? Does curry come from a pepper? Anyway it is hot in India, right? Left huge tip. Went and got armagnac at charming sidewalk café under the starry sky.

beans, salsa, avocado, really anything made of corn: (see above)
coffee with water in it: the coffee here is really delicious and powerful, even if you just get it at some dumpy place, but it takes like 2 seconds to drink it, and I really enjoy a long languorous morning coffee, with the staring out of the window, and the sipping, and the refilling. This turns out to be a primarily American predilection.
sweatpants: Why, oh why, did I not pack sweatpants????
English: Nothing will make you appreciate the fact that you have a native language like being in a place where that language is not spoken. See me conjugate! See me having a personality! See me handling the whole locked-out situation in a nearly effortless manner, were it to happen in my native land or at least an anglophonish land! Also, I’m glad English is my native language, even though we are so arrogant as to not bother learning second and third languages, because English is actually a kind of hard language to learn, what with the absolutely bonkers bananas number of exceptions to every grammatical standard, and non-phonetic spellings that also have no perceivable pattern (it was Shaw who pointed out that if you take the “gh” sound from “trough,” the “o” sound from “women,” and the “ti” sound from “nation,” then the word “Ghoti” can actually spell “Fish”), and bizarre conjugatory rules (run/ran, swim/swam/swum, play/played, what the hell is our past tense people???) plus we have an amazingly vast surfeit of synonyms, and a surfeit of synonyms seems kind of artsy fartsy, conceptually, if you think about it. And I like artsy fartsy. It feels lame to be feeling such a love and a longing for English in our dark times when stupid people (who, frankly, don’t have much of a grasp on the language themselves) are agitating to create a special bill declaring it our national language or whatever (but which dialect??), but there you are.
Our new bourgie flat-screen television: Never in my life have I purchased a television set. I never had one unless I lived with someone who already had one. Then at one point my old man’s biological father sent us one randomly and we had that for awhile. But finally we decided that the sheer number of films we watch on a daily basis–given our innate personal predilection for films as well as the old man’s choice of career as an actual film scholar, which has really amped up the number of films-per-day in our household–it was worth it to overcome our capitalist/ecological guilt and purchase a small, tasteful, non-real-brand TV. The verdict: WE FUCKING LOVE IT. Never has Mad Men looked so hot, nor Dreyer, nor Preminger, nor “Starship Troopers.”
water: I have commented on this phenomenon before, but listen to what happened two days ago! I was in the blissful in-between stage between the horrible Day Of The Locked Door and the horrible Night And Following Day Of Landlady Being Mad At Me, so I took a book (Lolita! Light of my life! Fire of my loins! My sin, my salvation, my fancy English book written by a non-native speaker! You make me sick, Vladimir) to the beautiful Parc Buttes-Chaumont (created by Hausman from the ruins of Paris after he forced the whole city into his own clean snail-shaped vision (upon the crest of which there lies a small stone gazebo, upon the wall of which is written in French: “Here, on the Buttes de Chaumont Eric and Jeanne discovered the ultimate pleasure of making love at a great height…vive love, vive pleasure, vive life!”)) and climbed the hill from which I could overlook much of Paris, and I laid in the grass by the weird bird-art where the wind plays an organ that makes bird sounds, and I was just about to start my day of reading all the annotations in Lolita when a sweaty French man came running up to me and talking really fast at me! After the Day of the Locked Door I was totally beyond any possible language-based humiliation, so I just said “sorry, I don’t understand,” and he said “English maybe?” and I said “Sure,” and he said a lady over there was really sick and did I have any water? I immediately found this so hysterically funny, because I had seen him a few moments earlier asking other groups of people this question (although at the time I didn’t know what the question was) and them all shaking their heads. IF YOU NEED WATER IN FRANCE, FIND AN AMERICAN. I had this image of French people in states of water-based emergencies, frantically crying out in English “AMERICAN! AMERICAN!” I was like “here is water,” and handed him my Klean Kanteen without which I am never. He clearly thought my Klean Kanteen was funny, but he ran off with it. I was like “if that Frenchman steals my water bottle it will be the most perfect ending to this trip that I could imagine,” but a few minutes later he brought it back. He thanked me. “No problem,” I said. Then I read all the annotations in Lolita and was simultaneously deeply inspired and totally demoralized.
my old man: It goes without saying that a week without a gruff old beardy weirdo is a week of tragedy. A bigger turkey there never was. Gotta get home and get him to eat something that isn’t pasta.
the weather: Oh sweet Neptune’s trident, it is beautiful here. Crisp and autumnal and chilly but brilliantly sunny. Every day a revelation, swinging open the huge windows of the bedroom onto another gorgeous fall day with the pigeons cooing and flapping on the rooftop beneath; the bells of the cathedrals clamoring periodically through the clear air; children shrieking in French in the courtyard. Beautiful, beautiful! “HERE is where the sun shines! HERE is where the sky is blue!”
Ironically, the language: As much as my lazy parts cry out for English, my more noble parts are totally thrilled by being immersed in this language I’ve been studying for 2 years in desperate need of becoming fluent. Feeling my comprehension skills growing day by day has been so wonderful. Even the terrible Day of the Lock showed me how far I have come–while unable to totally express myself to my satisfaction, I was able to communicate even in my panic some fairly complex thoughts, and I was understood by various interlocutors. Furthermore, I understood most of what they said to me, or, okay, maybe like 60%, and that felt great. I am almost to the “eavesdropping” phase of my French acquisition, which Graham Robb mentions in his wonderful book about Paris. Oh to lay on a hill eavesdropping on French people! Understanding another language is like sci-fi, it’s so exciting, you slowly get this opening window into this whole other way of constructing thoughts into verbal communication. Hooray.
the sidewalk café culture: Oh man, these Parisians know how to hang out! Every single café or bar is primarily an outdoor-affair. They line up rows and rows of tiny tables and chairs, all facing the sidewalk/street, and that’s where everyone sits. You sit down and a waiter comes and you can order an armagnac and it’s not weird, and they bring it to you in a warmed glass and you hang out and smell the cigarette smoke and watch all the people going by. It is so pleasant and lovely. Sidewalks! Why don’t we hang out on them more???
the armagnac: see above. It is only made in France, so here it is a normal thing to get at a bar. In America not so much, although the fancy liquor store by our new house does sell it.
really good wine only costing ONE DOLLAR: self explanatory.
dark chocolate with sea salt in it: can I get this in my homeland? I’ve never seen it before, I don’t think. I will reconnoiter upon my return. Holy shit “reconnoiter,” where did that come from in my brain?
the archives: it’s fun!
so many coins: they have dollar coins, two-dollar coins, and 50-cent coins. Why don’t we use more coins? They are so nice. They jingle in your pocket. You’re used to a jingle in your pocket being basically meaningless, like maybe you have enough in there to pay a parking meter. But here a jingle in your pocket can mean ten bucks! Plus they are very satisfying to pay with, because it feels very very old timey. Buying a bunch of stuff at a market and then flipping a coin to the person.
the vegetarian chinese place down the street: it’s so good, although not spicy (see above). The hot and sour soup rivals anything I have ever eaten in my life! Why aren’t you in my town, restaurant?
randomly looking up and seeing: the eiffel tower; notre dame; sacré coeur; the police prefecture the communards burned down in 1871; the place where they guillotined everybody; the arch de triomphe; some random statue of napoleon; a house with a plaque on it saying some famous 16th century scientist died there; the pantheon; the seine; some guy selling gaufres; people literally wearing berets and carrying baguettes under their arms
picnicking on the canals: the French love a picnic. Everywhere you go, on any unoccupied patch of grass, you see people with wine and cheese and smokes, laughing and having a good time. Picnics! I think our American hangups with alcohol and our obsession with rules make it hard for us to have a picnicking culture. Because where are you allowed to picnic? What if somebody gets mad at you? You certainly can’t bring wine. Etc. etc. Or maybe it is some other reason, I don’t know–maybe the fact that we have terrible bugs and insects that are totally absent in Europe. But anyway, I wish we did it more, with the picnicking. It is very nice. The other day we stood on the balcony of the Museum of Air (??) and looked down onto the sloping lawn with fountains and flowers, and we saw: two teens drinking beers; a toddler peeing in one of the fountains; two middle-aged people ferociously making out; a guy holding his baby up in the air and wiggling it while it laughed; two kids under a blanket clearly doing it; two couples eating dinner on the grass; a lady with a sandwich; a lady with a book. Oh humanity, frolicking on the grass for what time you have left!
ciné club culture!the tradition of little cinemas continues here, unlike everywhere else I have ever been. There are tons of them, playing all kinds of movies at almost any hour of the day or night. Marx Brothers films, random Italian films from the 80’s, Clint Eastwood retrospectives, Eric Roehmer’s latest, Inception, whatever you want. It’s so wonderful to look in a Paris-scope and see like 15 movies you could go to at a given time. Then you go and it’s a teeny cozy room with deep comfy seats, maybe like 30 seats total, and the movie starts, no previews. Very, very awesome. I will be missing this most fervently when I am back in the land of the culturally tepid.
other stuff.

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9 Responses to Gay French Day 27

  1. hason says:

    Good Mexican food! When my brother was living in Japan he was feeling the pain too – paid the exta luggage allowance just to bring him a suitcase full of salsa (also Goddess dressing and Trader Joes snacks). His expat friends spoke of taking the train into the city to shop at “the american store” where they rejoiced at paying ten (or twenty?) bucks for crappy El Paso. But alas, there were no tortilla chips in the store that weren’t coated in some sort of flavor gunk.
    I bet even the most gnarly anti-immigration tea party dude would miss good mexican food after being abroad in europe or asia for a few weeks.
    And yes, I often give thanks that the grammatically incomprehensible English is my native language. Trying to teach a non-native speaker the finer points of the verb “to be” really drove this home.

  2. dalas v says:

    I am also here to comment on Mexican food!
    When I lived in Norway, I ended up missing it so much. I took a trip to Paris, and when I saw a Mexican place, I had to eat there. I think mine was a little more satisfying than yours was, but that was years ago, and my memory could be rose-tinted.

  3. chancel says:

    you know what I think abt the whole lock scenario already, so I will just say I’m glad the apartment lady has calmed down. STRESS NEARLY OVER.
    Mexican food in Europe! apparently Mexican food anywhere in the eastern hemisphere! when we were in Helsinki we totally ordered burritos at a bar, and while they were fine, they were not one thing: burritos. they did actually have some sliced red jalapeno as garnish, though, which was pretty shocking in finland in january. even the supplies at the grocery store were sad, so we could not make real burritos in our tiny rented finnish cabin. so sad.
    you can totally get the dark chocolate with sea salt in the us, although considering IA it may need to be mail order. theo chocolates or vosges.
    I am jealous of the fall!! sitting around in those foldy green chairs in the park in the fall reading a book!

  4. pmg says:

    I always used to think that one could make a killing opening up some sort of Tex-Mex chain franchise, e.g. Baja Fresh or Chipotle, in Europe.

  5. Alexandra says:

    There is a Chipotle in London! I haven’t been desperate enough to go to it (yet). Although I did order a margarita at a bar that had margaritas prominently listed on their cocktail list and it took two people 15 minutes to make it (and they had to consult a recipe book) and then they checked with us repeatedly to make sure it was ok. It was kind of weird, but I just told them it was ok.

  6. freddy says:

    Oh god, when I lived in Germany I became so obsessed with Mexican food it was like a virus. I would make every visitor from the states bring me a giant long list of things: chipotles in adobo, dried black beans, tortillas, hot sauce…

  7. ericka says:

    In Brooklyn there is such a surfeit of dark chocolate with fleur de sel that you cannot walk down the block without tripping over somebody’s lovely $10 artisanal truffles, pralines, whatever. So you should expect that that trend will also, eventually, arrive in Iowa, just as ten years ago you couldn’t order a single savory thing that didn’t come with sundried tomatoes, or fifteen years ago a single salad that didn’t in some fashion involve raspberries and/or balsamic. Honestly, if salty chocolate (and salty caramel, also ubiquitous) weren’t so undeniably and sublimely perfect, I’d have to start hating it out of pure trend-backlash-ish spite. But oh. Oh.
    (Also, the experience of eating Indian food in Japan was just about as bizarro as your Mexican French adventure.)

  8. Denise in WI says:

    Trader Joe’s now has dark chocolate brownies with sea salt! But it seems like here in Wisconsin, the chocolate-with-salt candy only appears in the [gross] form of “chocolate bar with bacon”. Yuck!

  9. Cindy says:

    I am also also here to comment about Mexican food! As a Mexican-American expat who grew up with a Mexican mother who cooked Mexican food every single day…I don’t miss Mexican food. There are at least as many good cuisines as there are days of the week in major European cities. To wit, there is an Eritrean restaurant down the way from me. I can’t even pronounce Eritrea! That seems way more awesome to me than a burrito (which is as Mexican as English is Mexico’s official language). Plus, every country has their Mexicans, y’know? England’s Mexicans are Indian. Hence, super Indian food like you could not imagine in the US. All that being said, if you miss tacos or whatever, that’s ok. I, too, remember the despair I felt when I realized that some English people think a bunch of carrots on Doritos constitute “Tex-Mex.”

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