Thursday, November 8, 2012

Réelire

Last night I descended the stairs for dinner with my French family. The bunch was not quite yet assembled but the savory smells of the meal and the warmth of a small fire invited me to wait in the living room until dinnertime. Of course the coverage of Obama's re-election was playing on the TV and I imagined almost all the world gathered around their TV's, in China, in Africa, in India, us in France and those in the U.S. watching, or having already watched the re-election of the American president. It is funny how international American politics is, and I want to say that the world perhaps takes more interested in U.S. political movement than Americans often do.
My family slowly collected in the living room, each person with a different comment for me about the election, and eventually came the sweet wine for a toast to Obama and also to my host-brother's voyage which would begin the following day.
I felt warm there with my French family, celebrating an American advancement, celebrating something with me that they didn't have to, but wanted to.
These moments remind me of our global community, the community of humanity that makes us all unified. Whether the world views America as an aggressor or as an ally, we all can celebrate globally a success and we all can mourn, as the world did on 9/11. The key is to seek this global understanding, to have an open mind and an open heart, to feel empathy, and to seek sympathy. So there in the living room of my modest French home I felt exactly that, that I was part of a family that wanted to understand me as an American and also as a person, as I was there in France to understand them as Frenchmen and as people.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Toulouse

Today is quiet and cold. It rained a hard, sideways rain all day and I snuggled in my bed doing homework and napping. Sundays are like empty space, a break in time that forces itself on you, it cannot be resisted.
Yesterday I traveled on the train to Toulouse for my History of Art class. It was a nice fall day. Warm in the sun and cold in the shade. The leaves were turning yellow and beginning to collect into piles on the sidewalks and street corners. A city was made for the fall. The smell of warm, familiar autumn air, people moving under the heaviness of an ending season. An invisible force.
We visited two cathedrals, the first of which was Gothic. The space inside was unquantifiable. Light cast itself in patches on the walls across from each massive window, intricately covered in patterns and color, the same mirrored in murky reflections. Pointed arches in every contour of the ceiling moved the air around soundlessly, high above my head. I stood looking up at the stained glass windows. The corners were covered in intricate spider webs, starting in the smooth, stone corners and cascading across the glass. Each one made a separate tunnel of light and color.
Whose work is more intricate: the spider or the man?
Next we visited a Roman cathedral. The weight of the building could be felt from outside. The tan, stone walls seemed a mile thick. Thick enough to contain a separate, secret universe. After entering, the outside world no longer exists, only the silence and weight of the place. The design seemed simple at first, nothing too decorated, arched ceilings, hallways, balconies. But the building reveals its beauty suddenly. At the end of a long smooth corridor the alter rests, so decorated, so embellished, it is hard to look at. Gold-covered sculptures illuminated by a mysterious light. The walls covered in paintings and the floors, in red rugs. At one end is this, and at the other is the organ elevated above, flaunting its dark pipes and twisting sculptures.
Who can deny the wonder of these places, these buildings made of a desire for worthiness, made of awe and obedience? They rest in total silence now, hidden around the busy streets of Toulouse, mere stone and brick on a street of apartments and cafes in the same color and material.
Who makes gestures like this anymore?

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Eating Without Fear

One of the first things Colleen asked me on our Skype date after my arrival here was, "What are French meals like? Do they eat small portions?"After having spent about a month here I can confidently say - no the French do not eat small portions. The French eat sans peur.
Breakfast is a very simple meal. Something not very formal, usually a cup of coffee and some bread with jam. There is not a lot of snacking in between meals, but really it isn't needed because once lunch time arrives the French eat well.
Every true meal (lunch and dinner) consists of courses. Always courses. My French family actually laughed at me once because I almost put the tomato soup on my dry noodles. Everything is eaten separately. And when I eat meals with my French family I probably eat the equivalent of three meals alone in one sitting.
I will explain:
The other night my host parents had a niece over for dinner. So our meal was a little more formal and put together. At a formal French dinner, once everyone is served the first course, the whole table says bon apétit, almost as a prayer before they begin eating.
We started with tomato soup with noodles, of which we all took a huge bowl-full. With it we ate bread = meal #1
Next we moved into the vrai repas of grits casserole with carrots. It was delicious. We all took two servings of that with more bread = meal #2
Next we had a cheese plate with some chevre, rockaphor and ghuda (others included but I can't remember all of them).
And for dessert my host mom made an amazing apple tart and whipped cream (that of course she whipped herself) = meal #3
This is what I mean when I say the French eat without fear. They begin and there is no doubt, no second guessing, no "what did you put in this?" or "I don't know if I can finish a second serving". The French just eat. They eat quickly and efficiently and afterward they wipe their plates clean with bread. Not a morsel is wasted.
When I am not the last to finish my portion and when I can stop placing my food at the edge of the plate to make room for other things, then I will know I have mastered the French art of consumption.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

San Sebastian

Spain: Just over the border, two hours on train from Pau sits San Sebastian. One of the most stunning cities in the world. Two hours from France to Spain, one step over the border and it is another world. The streets are crowded with life. People talking and laughing and joking. People drinking cerveza or sangria and eating tapas in the street. The futball game is on. We are struggling to reach the counter through the crowd of people and none of us speak a word of Spanish.
The night doesn't even begin until 10pm at the earliest. At 10pm people are just beginning to go out for dinner, or just starting to think of going out for dinner. Dinner is loud and long, with wine and meat and seafood and wine. Tapas before. Tapas after. More beer. Maybe a bar. A loud corner bar stuffed with animated conversations in Spanish, French and English. A wedding party in the street, people are singing salutations and then retreating back inside for another drink.
And outside. Outside past the old city center. Past the ancient cathedral steps where masses of college kids are sitting with their bottles of wine. Past the signs first in Basque, then in Spanish. And past the boardwalk of bikes and walkers, there are the lights of San Sebastian. The long, elegant brush strokes of light across the quiet night sea. A perfect crescent of beach that draws the boundary between human life and nature. Here the quiet is resting, pleasantly in a briny breeze. We watch the waves move up and out. Move in and take away pieces of this city, as we also hope to do. Take away pieces of the easiness of life. The acceptance of its movement and an appreciation of the people we know and have known.



Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Nonsense.

i hear the rain on the leaves.
And also on the streets and rooftops falling.
there is a pinkness, a fog of cloud and light resting.
I am looking at a solumn sky, a silent sky with immoble parts,
waiting to be moved or touched, waiting to be noticed.
but i am not letting it know that i see.

the time is passing quickly now.
and the time is moving slowly.
in a direction, forward or backward, i do not know.

but the rain yes. is falling. yes.
and i am wearing flannel in my window in the dark for the first time.
watching you walk down the street like a stranger.
watching you sing to yourself as if you were alone.

there is a bubble in my language
that keeps me from being seen.
that keeps me from being heard
as I walk down the hall beside you.

the sun is on the other side of the world now.
someone has told me this.
and i am also a woman.
someone has told me this.
and i am sure that i am living in a world with names and letters and first names and figures.
somehow i know that.
but also somehow i am not sure.

i am writing words of nonsense. and i am writing words that organize into shapes which organize into places which organize into somewhere you have not visited before.
and i am drawing with my words
and singing with my words
and using them to ask you if you are still alive. and if you are really there
in the sun i heard was up somewhere
on the other side.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Sun Puts Himself to Sleep

View from my little third-floor kitchen.

Seasons and Sentiments

  
"Seigneurs, c’était le temps où la douce saison d’été s’achève et où l’hiver revient." 
- Le Roman de Renart, Le Vol des Poissons


autumn is a season without a name. less a season more a sensation. of sureness in change.
the wind moves more subtly, more fluidly through the willows outside my window.
the sun shines a bit more harshly,
cutting slightly the crisp edges of morning.
this is the name of fall.
these sentiments in my head. of life creeping forward into another movement of text, another measure of life. into the harsher. the subtlety of harshness. the fullness of development.
the ending and the beginning
are beginning to appear.



Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dimanche

There is alot of talk in the states about being made to work on Sundays. Some fight to have the day off, but most people don't mind the shift.
I often look at Sunday as another Saturday to get homework, house cleaning, writing etc. done. We run out to fast food for lunch, or to the store to do the week's grocery shopping. For many in the states it is a prep. day for the week.

In France however, if you waited until Sunday to do your shopping you would find yourself utterly stranded. Here in Pau literally nothing is open. Even L.Eclerc, which is the French equivalent of Walmart, is totally closed except for a small cafeteria upstairs where families can go to get lunch after church. The only people outside are people promenading with their dogs or families taking a walk or afternoon bike ride. This is what Sunday is for. Relaxing, taking a walk, maybe reading a book. Even if you aren't religious I think it is a good practice to have a day where you really don't do much of anything. I enjoy that this is a social norm here, so much so that it is publicly enforced. I couldn't go shopping for this week's groceries today even if I wanted to.
Dimanche is a day of rest. So take a walk, notice the seasons changing, read a book and take a nap.

And most importantly, don't feel guilty about it.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Old Trees

I am growing. I am growing in two faces. Two faces with two tongues who can move and speak and create on their own. A waltz of two twisted bodies that will never look the same on a page. Not by these two pens.
But there is one mind to think and feel here. One mind that knows one well. And the other unwell. A child with new clothes. Swaddling and swaddled by foreignity. And the other clothed in the garb of a peasant. Tattered and torn, pieces of the years written easily. But thought thoughtfully and placed there in gold and red letter. 
“To live is to speak”.
Two faces. Two carved parts of an old tree that grew roots ancient. That split somewhere above the clouds into two trees with old bark and old wood and new leaves in the spring.
These are the movements of life. These are the touches of mortality. To carry the dead and the newborn in one body. To be young, only to be early in our march toward death. 
But death is not a verb unconjugated. It is grated over our heads. And turned into the precision of taking one step. We cannot go backwards. Only forwards.
And so my head moves forward through the haze and the through the light. My mind. Growing new limbs, taking new breaths of foreign air that will become familiar air. That will soon become old bark on old trees.
On one face. And on the other.
Somewhere above these clouds there are two trees growing back into one. Making one face of new bark that will become old bark that will become me.

The Ground Anywhere

I projected this image of dangling in the air, my feet with no grounding. I presupposed that I might feel that way living here in France. There were these images of me getting sick or lost, with no grounding to save me.
But I have found that being on the ground here, is like being on the ground anywhere. I do not mean to say that France is the same as America; it certainly is not. But my two feet are on the ground, and the walls of the houses come up around me and the cars drive past and the buildings box me in and the streets wind and the people talk and the wind moves through the trees in my front yard.
Everyone everywhere is living on the ground. Surrounded by their own environment, their own reality that makes them real and true and alive.
So I am here in France, but I am on the ground like anyone else.

There is a way of living here, an equation of comfort that is specific to France:
Bread is a side dish to every meal. Du pain with casserole, with melon, with pasta, with a burger and fries.
This is a function I can easily adapt to.

Coffee isn’t a “to-go” kind of deal. If you order a café at anywhere-coffee-shop-France you will most likely be disappointed as an American because the biggest cup of coffee for sale is a shot of black espresso in a tiny cup – milk not included. Nowhere will you find bottomless refills of coffee at a home-style breakfast place (home style breakfast is baguette with jam). And nowhere will you find a drive through designer coffee shop where the masses can quickly fuel-up for $3-5 a day and move out to work.
France just doesn’t really “move out” to anywhere.

When you walk down the streets of Paris there are little cafés lining the roads and plazas and street corners with small round tables, wooden chairs and red umbrellas. But the people sitting in the cafés aren’t grabbing a quick lunch with friends or even doing some homework over a cup of joe. Les Parisiens are sitting, chairs all turned to the street, watching the faces and cars and families and outfits and stray cats and pigeons. Some are talking and some are just sitting, sipping some espresso in the shade on an afternoon in Paris. It is easy to miss this detail in the city on your fast-track tour of the Louvre, Notre Dame, the D’Orsay Museum and the Seine. But this life is there. This French life and these French people who are on the ground in France where they know the ground and streets and corner shops like I do in America. This is their environment. Their history written on the country-sides dotted with castles, stone and brick. Their museums and libraries filled with French authors and playwrights and artists and poets. This is their environment where a baguette is a daily purchase and where all the café chairs face the street. La vie française.

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