Scroll down to see my Travel Review of Paris, Part 2, or select the Travel Review Category in the left panel below for it and all Travel Reviews to date.
Paris in August 2010
Before my 2:00 o’clock French language session with Nicolas Saturday at Starbucks in the Saint Germain neighborhood, I was hungry and stopped for lunch, mainly out of curiosity, at a Mexican restaurant across the street from Starbucks. Well, it was curious, all right. They had crepes on the menu and the ingredients sounded more French than Mexican enchiladas. The tacos were hard shell, and the only choice was beef. I decided on a beef burrito. The beef was tender and in chunks, not ground. The sauce was not very spicy, but not bad. It had a tomato flavor. There was very little cheese, surprising in France. But the curious thing was that the beans were red, not pinto. It was served with a green salad with French dressing and white rice. All in all, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t Mexican.
During my session with Nicolas he made statements to me in French, and I was supposed to turn those sentences into questions—the three different ways you can ask a question in French. I did very poorly. I just couldn’t get it right. Finally, by the end of the hour, I sometimes said it correctly. Walking home, I felt terrible. I was discouraged again. I could think only of my failures in French and not any of my progress. It was an effort to walk. By the time I got home I felt like crying. That feeling changed to—I’m not having fun here; I want to go home. By that night I had finally figured out something. The sadness I was experiencing was not totally because of my difficulties with French; that was just the trigger. My problem was that I was terribly lonely. I had almost no human interaction. I was lonely when I moved to Boston. But this was different. In Boston I had no friends for a long time, but I could and did talk to people–bartenders, waitresses, hair cutters, grocers, people on the street and in parks. We all spoke English. Here there is nobody, except the occasional friend who happens to be in town, and my niece. And that is the way it is going to be for a long time, at least a year, before I can hold even a simple conversation in French. And I still won’t be able to have meaningful conversation. That feeling of lack of connection was deep and depressing–the absence of belonging to the human race and participating in it. It was not frightening like when you feel like you don’t have control of your life. It was just depressing, like I’m somewhere I don’t belong. I thought perhaps I should go back to California, that maybe this living in Paris was a bad idea. But what about my dream of living in a foreign country? I could move to an English speaking country—England, Ireland, Scotland.
I’d better tell my Niece about this, I thought, and it would be nice to talk to somebody about my sadness. I did the next day, and it helped, but I still did not want to make a decision about whether to stay in Paris. As of this writing, I’ve decided to stay. I think I over-reacted to being lonely. It may happen again, but I am confident that, although I will remain lonely, the over reacting will be temporary; and there are things I can do to temper the loneliness, such as going to visit my friend John in England, or just visiting an English speaking country for a few days now and then. (I didn’t realize then that there are “Meet-Up” groups and writer groups on the internet that I could connect with and meet.) I do enjoy Paris, and I am gradually absorbing what I came for—experiencing French culture and art. The difficulty in learning the language, which initiated my funk last Saturday, has thrown me for a loop from the first day of class at Alliance Francais, and it is still difficult for me. I have led a competitive life. I have always been among the best at what I did. I got straight A’s in Spanish in high school and college and in high school German without studying really hard. I have always been able to learn better and faster than most people. My difficulty in learning French is hard to take. But I have to understand that I am 70 now, not 16 or 18 or 20. My memory is not nearly as good as it was then, nor is my hearing as sharp even with the aids. And it just occurred to me that I have always had more difficulty than most people understanding people who spoke English with a heavy accent. There may be a missing synapse in my brain somewhere, or it may be that never hearing someone speak with an accent until I went to college caused a weakness. In any event, that certainly would affect my ability to understand what people are saying in French. It’s hard for me, and it will continue to be hard, but I just have to keep in mind the good things that I am enjoying here in Paris, learn what I can of the language and absorb the French art and culture—what I came here for. And I enjoy writing my journal too. Paris is still a magical city. That hasn’t changed.