Saturday, April 9, 2011

Faire le bilan (taking stock)

Tomorrow I will have been here a month, so this seems like a good time to take stock. In case it hasn't been clear from the individual posts to date, I've been having the time of my life ever since I arrived here in Paris. I have the general schema for my little excursions down by now:

  • find a language school

  • find a suitably located apartment to rent

  • make the appropriate arrangements on the home front

  • make the necessary mental adjustments to overcome my inherent hermit tendencies

  • get up and go

  • figure out the right length of time to stay (typically 2 to 4 months)

  • persuade friends to come visit, once I'm established
Sometimes it's the fourth item on the list that can be the hardest. This time, #3 was more complicated, because of having to get ready for the painters at home, but with help from Brad and Jay, things actually went very smoothly. But there's always an element of chance in these little excursions of mine - there was the nightmare in Santiago, when it seemed as if everything was conspiring against me, and I had to beat an early retreat. Here in Paris, it's been the exact opposite - everything fell into place, and both the school and the apartment have far exceeded my expectations.

But, as always, it's the little things that make a difference. There's the unexpected charm of the people here - in all the little everyday interactions that one has, everyone has been extraordinarily helpful, and just plain nice. There's the unexpected delight of French television - I'm not saying the quality is necessarily always that great - but somehow I enjoy it tremendously. For instance, the semi-final and final episodes of "Top Chef, France" kept me riveted each time for an entire evening (both shows lasted for over 3 hours, and were superb). Or last night's "Un Tresor dans la Maison", which was a fascinating cross between "Hoarders" and "Antiques Roadshow". Or the little Spuds McKenzie dog on the French version of "Wheel of Fortune", who dances excitedly whenever a contestant wins the car, or vacation in an exotic locale - it's very weird, but also totally hilarious.

It's also been highly satisfying to notice that I'm learning French at a much faster rate than I learned Spanish - experience with the latter is obviously helping out a great deal with the former. Finally, there is Paris itself, which is everything I had hoped for, and more, especially now that spring weather has arrived. One feels incapable of conveying its particular charm adequately in a blog. But blessed to be here, and to have the chance to enjoy it.

I'll finish this post by including a paragraph lifted shamelessly from an e-mail I sent Paddy last week, which captures my excitement about being here:

Just got back from the movies and dinner with some of my more congenial classmates - Juerg, a charming lawyer from Berne; Nicola, an English woman who is studying French and Russian back in London; Joyce from Sydney, who in addition to speaking almost perfect French, runs marathons in her spare time and will be running the Paris marathon next Sunday, and Karen, an altogether delightful woman from Sweden . The conversation, entirely in French, ranged from what to eat when training for marathons and ultra-marathons, to the role of working women in each of our various countries, to the virtues of Flann O' Brien and Colm Toibin, to the difficulties of translating Roddy Doyle into Russian. In other words, a perfect illustration of why one needs to get up off one's a$$ and out in the world every so often.

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