Friday, September 12, 2008
A Lesbian American in Paris Part Deux
A Lesbian in Paris 2
by Shannon Connolly
I can feel myself blending into the look and feel, into the rhythm, of this city already.
It’s funny how quickly that happens when living in a new place. I remember when, after spending some time in New York City as a teenager, I quickly abandoned the acronym I had used to remember the order of the major streets, and suddenly I just knew that Park Avenue was west of 3rd and that 5th followed Park and that 6th was also called Avenue of the Americas. And when I moved to Los Angeles, I figured out how to avoid the highways at the worst hours, and quickly learned that living near my school on the border of South Central was nothing to be proud of, and found myself referring to West Hollywood as “WeHo.”
And now, in Paris, I sense that same sort of adaptation to my new surroundings. My routine here feels familiar, as if I have been doing it for months, or years, rather than just a few days. Every morning, I put on my iPod (choosing some sort of soundtrack for my day) as I descend the six floors from my home-stay family’s apartment to the street and walk the very gray and often rainy two blocks to the Javel métro station. I offer a hurried and mumbled “merci” to the woman at the top of the stairs who hands me a Métro Journal (free daily newspaper).
I jog down the steps wearing Converse sneakers, skinny jeans, a black trench coat, and a gray backpack, blending in well with everyone else dressed in dark grays and muted colors. I pull my Carte Orange (Paris’ metro card) out of my back pocket and slip it into one of the machines, pushing my way through the turnstiles. I wait with the other Parisians on the platform, all of us with music in our ears, books and daily papers in our hands, and glance up every few moments at the clock that tells us when the next metro car will arrive. It pulls up and I hurry on, pushing past everyone else who, like me, is on their way to work or school or just life, and duck under arms and around strollers to get a seat on the busy car.
Once on the 8 Line, a twenty-five minute ride that stops exactly fifteen times, I unfold my Métro Journal and read the local news. I scan the articles, half-interested, mostly just trying to get my brain to function in French before I get to school. When the metro stops for the fifteenth time, I exit onto Ledru Rollin and walk across Rue du Saint-Faubourg, down the alley at address number 89, and into my classroom.
It is the same in reverse on the way home.
It occurred to me today, after having been stopped and asked for directions by four different French-speaking people in the past three days, that I must be successfully adapting to this new place. I must be somehow shedding the California me to become a somewhat more Parisian version of myself – at least for now.
Despite all of that, living here has not been without its challenges. Using the language has been perhaps the most interesting and baffling experience of all. Nothing is more frustrating to me than the fact that I can casually converse in French with my home-stay mother for a full hour about my favorite American books and authors, or can easily recount the events of my day when I come home from class, offering anecdotes and funny stories about my new friends here, but often find myself unable to remember the best way to say that I am going upstairs for a minute, or how to ask someone at dinner to pass me the bread.
At inconvenient moments like these, my mind begins a sort of war with itself, debating the nuances of the language, and how exactly I should, for example, ask for the bread.
Do I want to say, “Est-ce que je peux avoir un petit peu plus du pain?”
Well, I don’t know. That sounds a little too formal and long. Plus, the more words you say, the more likely you are to screw it up.
Ok, so maybe just, “Donnez-moi du pain.”
No, that can’t be right either, that would be like saying “gimme the bread.” I want to be polite and say “pass” me the bread.
But what is the word for “pass?”
I can’t remember. Is it “passer?”
It can’t be. That would be too simple. Doesn’t “passer” mean to “pass time?” I don’t think it means to physically pass something…
And so I sit there staring at the bread that is only eighteen inches away, while my brain argues with itself, and French conversation between everyone else at the table swirls around me. Eventually, inevitably, someone sitting near me at the table asks for the bread (which it turns out IS as simple as “Passez-moi du pain, s’il te plait”) and then politely offers it to me, and so I am able to avoid forming the question altogether.
For someone who has been taking French for roughly ten years, you would be amazed how often this sort of thing happens.
My conversation and general fluency with the language is improving though. One thing that has definitely helped has been watching French television and movies. I went to a very cute, gay, French movie the other afternoon called “Comme les Autres” (“Like the Others”). I had seen posters for it in metro stations and on street corners since I arrived here, so the day after it came out in theaters, I was in line buying my ticket at a cinéma on the Champs-Elysées.
The story of Manu, a gay man who decides to become a father (no matter what it may take), “Comme les Autres” turned out to be a somewhat formulaic romantic comedy; but nonetheless, it was an enjoyable film – perfect for the rainy day I went to see it. I do hope it will be released in the United States, or at least on DVD with English subtitles after its run in theaters here. I was a bit amazed at how widely publicized it was in Paris. I even read an article in the Métro Journal (yes, while riding the metro to school one morning) about how the film was, despite its “cuteness,” making a political statement about the current laws in France forbidding gay couples from adopting children. If that was the case, the statement was very subtle. Minus the claims of a political purpose though, the movie was, overall, in the vein of other gay/lesbian films like “Imagine Me and You” and “Kissing Jessica Stein.” Worth seeing, if you are in the mood for that kind of thing.
I am taking off this weekend to visit friends who live in Belfast, Northern Ireland, so you can expect tales from my adventures there when I write again next week.