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  • Jude Polotan

From Funk to Spunk


Living in Paris for three months is pretty damned fabulous--and I wouldn't trade this for anything--yet it's not fabulous 24/7, of course (what is?). For one thing, it can be intimidating going out there some days. I'm trying to conduct my life, as best I can, in a foreign language and this means that not only do simple errands like food shopping take longer, I don't always understand 100% of what people are saying back to me and so I don't necessarily know what I'm getting or understand what I'm supposed to do.


For example, when I wanted to buy just half a bag of coffee beans and have them ground for my French press, what I wound up with instead was the entire bag of coffee, half of it ground and another bag with the remaining beans. And just this morning, at an establishment selling fresh rotisserie chickens, a sign indicated you could buy cut-up parts, as opposed to the entire chicken. I saw only legs/thighs, though, and I don't like dark meat. While bees swarmed around me, I tried my very best to ask the man if I could get white meat, the breast--not the leg, I kept saying to him in French, but the other part--and we did this song-and-dance for about five minutes before I understood from him that you could only get the legs. At least that's what I think he was trying to tell me. Because it doesn't make sense...what happened to all the breasts then? Anyway, all that and no chicken for me.


Granted, these episodes are actually amusing and it's all a part of the experience, but it is intimidating to go out there every day and feel kind of, well, stupid, and it can be frustrating not being able to accomplish what you set out to do. I mean, there are mysteries. Like why is it you can't use the awesome machine for squeezing your own orange juice in the supermarket on Sundays? The machine is there, it's filled to the brim with oranges, but non, non, pas le dimanche! Although I can go to the other side of the store and buy all the wine and liquor I want. Hmm.


In addition to my sometime trepidation of stepping out the door, there's the occasional melancholy. To even use that sad word when I'm sitting at a table in an 18th century building in Paris, listening to Nina Simone, a vase filled with fresh roses to my left, looking out the window to the (relatively) quiet Sunday street below, seems incomprehensible, but below all the fun and adventure is the real and perpetual undercurrent of missing Ken and Claude. I'm experiencing so many things, virtually every day, and I've no one to share them with. It's the small things I miss, too: my desk, my bed, my comfy couch, the smell of Tide on my clothes and sheets. Last night I found a couple of tiny packets of salt in my jacket pocket--from some night when Ken and I had gone to the movies and I had popcorn--and somehow those packets of salt made me feel quite sentimental.


Don't misunderstand: I'm not talking about loneliness so much as I am about the isolation. Funny, because I'm a person who truly enjoys being alone, but this is not life-as-normal; there's so much swirling around me and it's all so exciting and I have no one to share it with.  On top of all this... I'm trying, but it's not always easy to give myself permission to go out there and have fun when I have a very real mission here that hasn't yet fully launched.


All of that is to preface my admission that last week I was quite the hermit on Monday, Tuesday and most of Wednesday, until Ken urged me to walk over to the Seine for the event I'd mentioned to him--a free jazz concert.




And I'm glad he did. What I'd seen advertised was an interesting looking jazz trio, but the band was one small piece of a much larger party along the river. People of all ages were there eating, drinking, listening to music, playing pétanque, you name it. One barge after another was lined up along the Seine and you could buy oysters, fish and chips, charcuterie, ice cream, wine, daiquiris--pretty much anything you wanted--and sit and eat it at a table on one of the barges or on a bench or on any number of seating arrangements that stretched along the river banks. The evening was quite hot, and if you bought a bottle of wine, it came in an "ice bag," a thick plastic tote bag filled with ice. 



I bought a glass of rosé and found an advantageous spot to sit while I listened to the jazz and watched the runners and bikers navigating around the crowds. What really impressed me about the scene overall were two things: first, the range in age--from toddlers to bent-over old men; second, as many people as there were, there were still plenty of places to sit. This kind of event in New York would be a madhouse and you'd consider yourself a lucky soul to find a tiny spot to perch your butt on.


When my wine was gone, I boarded some of the barges and tried (unsuccessfully) to take some photos that would capture the beauty of the sun low in the sky over the river on the gorgeous summer night. Until I got a timely text. As it turned out, an old friend of mine from New York had arrived in Paris that day for a conference and, just as my thoughts were turning to dinner, she invited me to join her, her partner, Ed, and another woman at a restaurant in Montparnasse.


It was just what I needed: company for dinner! I've known Marian for more than decade, since we were colleagues at an executive search firm. We bonded then over our mutual struggle to balance our artistic pursuits (she works in improv/theatre) with the demands of paying the rent and have always stayed in touch. It has been a long time since we've seen one another, however, and who knew it would be in Paris!?


I hopped on the metro over to Montparnasse and met Marian, Ed and Marian's fellow conference-goer, Sevanne, at Sourire, where we enjoyed not only a reunion, but fabulous food, wine and service--and air conditioning! Simon, our waiter, was delightful and tolerated us boisterous, over-excited Americans with a smile on his face. Sourire is the verb "to smile" in French--and it did made us all do just that.





Not knowing if the metro is safe at that time, I took a taxi home (now that I know how to properly pronounce my street name!) and I had the most amusing ride back. The driver was a friendly African man who spoke no English at all, yet we somehow managed to have a quasi-conversation. He had inserted a CD into his stereo system and Bob Marley sang out, I want to love ya, every day and every night, and the guy asked me to translate what he was singing into French. He told me he likes this CD and listens to it all the time, but he has no idea what the songs are about. I did my best. Luckily, the lyrics were simple enough.


As Hump Day came to an end, I felt back on track after my funk early in the week.

The best news is that I was finally able to fall asleep without trouble that night. I tossed and turned later in the night--it was still hot then--but I may have actually wracked up six hours in total.


...which was a very good thing, because I would need the energy for the days to follow. More on those adventures in the next post!  



 

About Jude

Jude was born with wanderlust and a love of language running through her veins. No wonder then, that she grew up to be a fiction writer with a passion for traveling the world and experiencing other cultures. While in Paris, she'll be working her way into a brand new novel (her fourth), taking a break now and then for runs along the Seine, attempts at French conversation at cafés, and strolls on the Left Bank, channeling the ghosts of Hemingway and Fitzgerald and all their creative genius pals.

You can search out more of her writing on www.medium.com

 

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