Thursday, 26 April 2012

Second Week

I got a coffee machine.  This is important, I need coffee.  Not that I don’t love standing at the bar with a dainty little demi-tasse of espresso but before I’m ready for that, I need a coffee.  We bought it from a little kitchen goods store down the road.  It’s full of pots and pans and the whole store shines in the sparse Spring sun.  The first one was faulty so we had to take it back, which was actually a difficult proposition as our French is so bad.  But they were lovely about it.  A Chinese family runs the store; he an imposing, gruff and balding man in a khaki Mao suit, she with a beautiful, sharp-boned face and white hair chopsticked into an impressive knot.  I was worried they would not accept returns but even before we started to try to explain about ‘le vapeur seulement d’ici’ and how ‘il ne marche pas’ they were trying to get us a new one from the high shelf in the corner.  There followed a halting, broken conversation about how difficult it can be to learn French – especially when from somewhere like China which doesn’t even share the alaphabet, let alone the root tongue.  It was kind of beautiful – just talking to people at all has become something wonderous because it’s so damn difficult.   Those brief moments of connection where you understand – or at least you think you do – what someone is saying.  Oh, boy, we shouldda studied harder.
Later in the week we were talking to an Algerian plumber and we had the same sort of experience/communication.   Standing at the bar (a warm, dimly lit place with walls as thick as a house and cozy leather armchairs) with a pair of drinks (not coffees this time) he offered us a chair and from there we rolled.  He had a weather-beaten face, his forest of smile lines led to sparkling, laughing black eyes and he sported a dapper pencil moustache somewhat at odds with his plaid-lined anorak.  We had a good chat and walking home I decided I do not know nearly enough about the French-Algerian story (or the French language).
Later in the week, to Sacre Coeur.  It was a bitingly cold day, the wind howling through the little Montmartre streets and the broad boulevards alike.   Even in the drizzling grey, the pesterers were out with their whispy friendship bands, forcing them on you, forcing themselves on you, their English perfect.   At the top of the hill the cathedral – white marble running green with the slowly melting statues.  And so many pilgrim/tourists.  Whole truck loads of large, poncho-wrapped Russians and larger, more-poncho-wrapped Aussies.  It was strange to be in this enormous meditative space, so over-arching and monumental but forced to walk through it as part of a constantly moving column, like the closing day of a big exhibition.
Somewhere this week, walking down a quiet Election Sunday street, the painted shop fronts boarded for the weekend, the window railings filled with yet-to flowers, an old couple walked arm-in-arm.  It wasn’t raining but it promised to.  Each held one of the crutches on their outer arm, the other arms intertwined – and you sensed they’d been like that for so long that if they un-twined their arms would hold the shape.  He was bent into an ‘L’ shape from years of walking beside his love (or perhaps disease/age but let’s say listening to her whispers) and his glasses were enormous coke bottle bottoms.  Her multi-coloured coat brushed the ground and she laughed happily as he once again failed to understand just exactly what it was she was getting at.


  1. Boy...
    This is such a departure from my own experience that I find myself wishing I could discover Paris with your eyes (I guess I'll just keep reading).
    This is also changing my mind about the value of having a local with you: it sure makes things easier but at the same time I think it would prevent the flavours of the experience from perusing the way they are now.

    1. Thanks Yann,
      I guess part of the fun is that everyone sees things a little differently.
      Having a local can certainly be a *big* help - our friend here has been an enormous aid: she's shown us places, introduced us to people and even let us her flat. She's been invaluable, but I think it's also important to spend some time sinking into a place alone.