Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I did much better in the Intermediate French class today. I mostly understood everything that was going on. In fact, most of it was review of things I know. I'm in a quandary about taking more French. They're offering another class, four days a week for an hour and a half. The big problem is it starts at 9:15 every morning, four days a week. That means commuting during rush hour, which I did coming home today. It was a very difficult commute. The trains are stifling and I even found it hard to breathe. Fortunately, I had a place by the wall, but many of the commuters stand without having anything to hold on to. I don't know how they do it, except familiarity.

What a privileged life I take for granted. The commute made my head spin. I started thinking I can't do it. Then I got depressed. It's a new wave of overwhelm, I guess. Now that the first blush of not understanding things is wearing off and I'm beginning to feel like I know what I'm doing—more or less—I'm feeling just how much work it is going to take to accomplish some of the things I've got on my plate, like the commute. Some of the "romance" is being replaced with "reality."

I don't know what to tell myself to resolve it. I sat in the park after I exited the Metro at Anvers and thought about life in Mendocino. It's so privileged, that's all I could think. I'm here on a lark, so to speak. I don't mean to denigrate the work I've come to do, but if I had to look forward to my commute daily, as my "normal" life, I'm not sure what I would do. It's enough to wonder how I'm going to deal with it three evenings a week for three months, and to weigh braving it in the morning against learning more French. And I'm so spoiled on some level, that all I can do is get depressed.

I suppose I'm not seeing the whole. I am here alone in a foreign culture, trying to figure things out almost constantly. I'm always relieved, for example, when "pardon," comes out of my mouth instead of "sorry." If I'm not paying attention, I speak English automatically. It is my nature to speak English. I have to remind myself to speak French. It's instinct. Furthermore, I only understand a little bit of what's going on around me, the nuances of interaction. What's "appropriate" and what isn't and who gets away with what. I've seen some pretty audacious behavior, people crowding each other out of the "good" standing places, people jumping the barriers to ride the RER without paying, all that kind of thing.

I suppose when I'm on the Metro during rush hour, I've got things going on in my head that the daily Parisian commuter doesn't worry about. Still, bottom line, it's not much fun to be crammed in a very small moving space underground with a bunch of strangers in a stifling, stuffy, hot environment. I found myself thinking about the Jews on their way to concentration camps. I don't mean to trivialize the horror of that experience. I was just struck (in my claustrophobia) by how horrific it must have been.

So. Not much else this evening. Lots on my mind about how to survive the demands that are connected with my little adventure. I hope the walking gets me in better shape quickly because right now it's feeling exhausting.

We did have a very interesting lecture on the history of Paris this afternoon. I learned a lot about the architecture and the way that Louise and Tori Farrenc might have lived in the early 19th century.  The most interesting piece was about the fact that Bette, the maid, probably would have lived on the sixth floor of the building with other servants for other households in the building, that they probably didn't live in a "house." They weren't that wealthy. I'm still trying to find more information about their home. That's one of the things I came here to learn. All I know at the moment is my current description is more British than French.

Someone just emailed me this (I hope it's not a reference to all the stairs around here, but it probably is):

"Soar, eat ether, see what has never been seen; depart, be lost, but climb."  —Edna St. Vincent Millay

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