Cafe, Experience

Ease & Patina

We’re finally feeling the ease of the city. We’ve become regulars at the corner cafés and crêperies and enjoy the glimmer of recognition and conversation.

Rue des Saules in Montmartre

Rue des Saules in Montmartre

I half expect to see that they are all actors and props on a stage. So often, you enjoy a city like Paris in the contracted and fleeting moments of several days. After a month, will you see the strings and frames, the costume and makeup?

But we’ve come to enjoy and discover the genuine. First impressions of surprise and delight warm into familiarity, recognition and knowing. Patina replaces shininess.

Diary, Experience, Learning

Unlocking the City Cipher

Staying in Paris. For a month. And I don’t speak (much) French. Everyone asks, “How will you live, navigate, communicate?” Well, first, set aside that you speak English and the chances are relatively high that your fellow Parisians understand more of your language than you do…

Rue de Renard

So, what’s left when you strip away verbal communication? Your instincts and senses are heightened. Even if you can’t understand words, you can understand tone and see motion. You depend on signage, iconography, street names, and maps to navigate. You follow the masses out of the metro, learning along the way that sortie means “exit.” No need to talk to anyone as long as you’re an adequate orienteer. When shopping, you look at pictures on the packages, and continue to build your vocabulary. You know what an apple looks like, and see that in Paris it’s a pomme; bread is pain; cheese is fromage; wine is vin, and so on. When ordering at the restaurant, however rudimentary, hand motions to eat & drink and pointing at items on the menu work universally (and thank goodness for your grocery store vocab lesson, so you have a slight clue what you’re ordering).

Then you do the laundry, which turns out to be a little trickier. First off, there’s a single machine, so you expect that it will just wash and you’ll need to hang things to dry. Much to your surprise, your clothes emerge piping hot and dry! Wait – was that your favorite sweater in there? Mon dieu! And so by trial and error you adjust the knobs. The symbol that you though indicated drying, turns out to be for the spin cycle. Another sweater lost. So you try again (and locate the user manual online – in French, nonetheless) and discover that sechage means “drying” and are now able to dry clothes at your discretion. Continue reading