Ok, well I think it’s only right to share everything. That’s what this is for, to go back over the wonderful, silly, embarrassing, fun, and difficult times that I experience. I don’t think it would be fair to give the impression that I am leading a disney princess life.
Although, on second thought, I could be leading a disney princess life because most of them had trials and tribulations, and if I get a happily ever after, which we won’t know for a very long time (I hope), then I suppose one could consider my story akin to one of their fairytales. Let’s hope for that!
In any case, yesterday was pretty good for the most part. I had until noon to be at the center for a meeting with the police to get up to date with our emergency numbers and whatnot. I had breakfast, puttered around the house, recopied my notes from class on monday, and was at the center a little bit before noon without any problems. The meeting with the police officer was fine. Somewhat informative, but for the most part it was a reiteration of things I had already heard or figured out for myself. We talked a lot about gypsies, which will come up again later, and how to properly hold your purse and avoid uncomfortable situations with flirty (AKA dangerous according to the police officer) men.
Afterwards, Tasha and I went out exploring and found a nice crêperie for lunch that wasn’t too far from the center and was very close to Pompidou and the Hôtel de ville. I liked it especially because the service was really great, which is more or less unheard of in Paris. We spoke french almost the entire time and spent a properly parisian amount of time eating our various courses. The bill added up higher than I can allow to be habit, but it was fun and worth it for both of us.
We sat for a while at the Hôtel de ville, just people/tourist watching. There was an extremely energetic Italian or Portuguese family that kept us entertained for a while. Next we ventured to Notre Dame to do the same – people/tourist watch. We walked around the gardens and found a shady spot we could sit and (ahem) enjoy the enormous amount of affection being shared all around us.
I’d like to talk for a moment about the idea that Paris is ‘The City of Looove.’ It isn’t. Not really, but the reason people often call it such is because how publicly people demonstrate their affections. There is lots of handholding, flirty giggling and smiling, putting hands in the significant other’s back pocket, kissing, and sound effects. There is no shame. I think that in the United States, it is considered somewhat uncouth to engage in many of these activities (at least in my experience), and so it seems that there must be more love in a place where it is visible.
I personally think that it probably has something to do with the different traditions of greeting. For example, in Paris (also in other parts of France and Europe), two people greet one another by kissing cheeks. It’s more of a cheek-to-cheek-and-make-the-kissing-noise action, but it’s more intimate than a handshake, which is what we do more commonly in the US. To put it further into perspective, the first night with my host family when I went with Rémi to Joseph’s house, I kissed and was kissed by almost everyone there – and I didn’t know any of them. It’s just the way to greet somebody. But having said that, it does appear to be more common to have a ‘significant other,’ which may also contribute to the idea of love in the city. The show that I saw during orientation about being a true parisian addressed this as well saying that parisians hate everything so it really can’t be a city of love. Keep in mind that he’s a comedian. I don’t think anybody would take it lightly if you made that assumption about them based on their city of origin!
I have met many very kind people here as well, which goes against the general idea that the police officer was presenting to us – that Paris is a totally dangerous city. Yes, I know there are dangers, but I also know that if I’m not naive, I can come away totally fine. One of the particularly nice people I’ve met so far, we met just after this outing to Notre Dame and the Hotel de Ville.
Tasha and I returned to the center where we met up with the group and all headed over to the Bastille area of Paris, where we will be taking a photography class. The studio is nestled inside of an apartment with a beautiful and enchanting secret garden (secret to the street, that is). Walking in, I felt like I had found the secret garden of Frances Hodgson Burnett. It was completely green, decorated with old antique mirrors and bikes, and filled with the sweet smell of a very fragrant flower. There were grapes, perfectly formed, dangling from an arbor that crisscrossed over the shady path and despite the warm weather and the sunlight, it was pleasant and cool inside. That is where I will be taking a film photography class. How picturesque.
The professor and his wife were awaiting our arrival and they had an apple tarte and couches arranged to accommodate all of us. They were incredibly warm and approachable, definitely not the stereotypical description of a Parisian like that suggested by the comedian. We had a quick tour of the studio and got to look at some of the photos taken by past students. Conveniently, it is a 100% bilingual studio, which will be good when we come across technical terms that we may not be as familiar with.
The meeting finished close to 7:30pm (19h30) and Tasha and I took the metro to the other side of the river, where we intended to find a baguette, some cheese, maybe some fruit or vegetables, and dancing. When the weather is nice, there is often dancing along the banks of the seine. Sure enough, we easily found several patios of dancers of all ages. It was a really fun sight. Everyone knew how or was not afraid to learn how to dance, and everyone was dancing with whoever was willing to give it a try! We found a boulangerie that I will not recommend, and a small grocery where we bought cheese and tomatoes, and traced our way back to the dancing.
We sat, clutching our bags and staring wide-eyed at all of the people whirling about. Some were clearly beginners, others clearly dancers, maybe even professionals. We were both asked by several men to dance and politely declined, but were very impressed to see that one of the older men who had asked us to dance (and who had been grumpy about the refusal) was in fact one of the most talented dancers on the floor. I think he was much better of with the woman who agreed to dance with him as she herself appeared to be a dancer. After several refusals, Tasha actually agreed to dance with a young man and I stayed to look after our things. She danced well! I was impressed. I don’t think I could have done it! Perhaps we will go back another evening when we don’t have things to look after – I was especially paranoid about gypsies and pickpockets after the meeting with the police officer that morning.
While Tasha was dancing, I was approached by a group of men, which made me uncomfortable. One of them made small talk with me and whereas normally I would have moved on as quickly as possible, I had all of my things and Tasha’s things to look after, so I found it difficult to move at all. He asked several times for me to get a pen or something similar out of my bag so that he could write down his email, which was unusual because he began by saying he had a pen. This to me blatantly said that he either wanted me to let go of Tasha’s things to get a pen, or he wanted me to open my purse. I told him I didn’t have anything and Tasha, who had noticed my company, came back and we left. Nothing was taken and no harm was done, he could have in fact had perfectly good intentions, but I was a little shaken up after the encounter and quickly began to want to go home.
We had our cheap baguette and cheese and tomatoes, and we watched one of the other dance patios from a grassy hill before walking back to the metro. I guess nothing went wrong, but I was nonetheless on edge and so when I heard warnings in the metro station (as there always are) about pickpockets and when I was commented on by drunk men on the sidewalk between the metro and my apartment, I sank further into a dark mood. I went to bed in that mood and as a result slept very poorly.
I said earlier in the post that gypsies would resurface later on. I dreamed all night long that a little gypsy girl, 5 or 6 years old, kept coming up to me. Each time I woke up and went back to sleep we were in a different place. Sometimes she was with an elderly man and would speak with me. Sometimes I would feel her brush by me as I was walking down the street. They were short, paranoid, stress dreams, and they left me in the same dark mood when I woke up. This is the reason I say that I can’t lead any reader on by saying that everything is sunshine and daisies, because even if nothing terrible has happened, I am experiencing some form of cultural shock, I suppose. Paris is a big city! I have never lived in such a place with so much noise and with so many people. I’ve never had to pay attention to my bag in any special way or be concerned that if I open my bag, somebody will snatch something out. Even if these things have not happened to me, I am now more aware of them than I have ever been, and that is taking its toll on my conscience.
I’ve now been awake a while and had some coffee and Isabelle showed me the grocery and boulangerie that are best in the area, and so I have tried to let that mood fade away, but I think it will take time for me to adjust fully. I have known all along that this would be the case, but it’s unusual to live it and have to remind myself that transitions cannot usually happen over night, rather they take time – weeks or months – to happen to a point of comfort. I am excited for today. I don’t have any classes or meetings and so I am taking time to situate myself in this area. I have my groceries. I will make a lunch and maybe take it to a park to eat, and tonight Isabelle and Alain may take me to the gardens at the Musée Rodin, where the Thinker is, and I will have a day of rest and relaxation to remember how normal this process of adaptation is for everyone who experiences a big change.