It doesn't seem to matter that it's a stunning day outside. Or that the time is nearly 9pm, and the sun is still - magically - bright in the evening sky. It's springtime in Paris, finally. And springtime in Paris is so far everything I imagined it would be. The days are long and easy - warm, sunny... perfect, in fact. There is every reason in the world to be outside. Nevertheless, on this beautiful evening, the dark interior of this cramped little café is wall-to-wall packed with people.
As it should be! It's Monday night, and Spoken Word is on. An eclectic group of expat poets and storytellers gathers every week in this funky little artists' nook for Open Mic Night, writer's style. With a breath of courage and a confidence than I have yet to muster, one by one they take to the stage and share their tales, their poems, their rhymes, their randomness - in French, English, Italian... anything goes. So far, I only listen. But the energy is strong, and the beer cheaper than water, so maybe, eventually, I will find the courage to share my own words among this crowd of friendly strangers.
In this period known to me as PPD - Paris Post Dubai - my world has become completely consumed by words. Open mic nights, writers' workshops and the blissful discovery of wonderful little bookstores go hand-in-hand with my so-far flailing attempt to learn French. Thankfully, my language class at Lutece Langue has finally begun, and just in the nick of time. Because so far, in terms of learning French, I haven't been doing well. Regular visits to the Gerard Arnaud yoga studio have helped along my ability to comprehend, but strictly within the limits of a particular vocabulary set I will refer to as "yoga french". Sure, this is good progress in its own right, but hardly practical when out and about, enjoying the streets of Paris. I now know the French for "bend your legs" ... "hug your knees into your chest" ... "turn your face toward the sky" ... But when a homeless man on the street approaches me and asks for money - something, I might add, which seems to occur on an hourly basis - I stumble over myself and can't think of a proper response in his language. Instead, silence prevails and I just smile apologetically, as I am quite certain that telling him to fold into downward dog and press his heels toward the floor is not the answer he is looking for.
And so it is that with each day that passes, French is looking more and more like any great love: complicated, mysterious, utterly unattainable... the less of it I understand, the more I want. Hours later, I am standing at the kitchen counter, drinking coffee, nibbling on dried figs, and intently studying my French dictionary. Just as my sleepy veins willingly absorb the caffeine, I beg my brain to absorb these French words. Behind me, the radio plays – another source of words, another source of comprehension. But after some time, I realize the station that is playing is in Portuguese. Mon Dieu, I think. This is going to take awhile.