‘Keep it simple, when you get too complex you forget the obvious’.
I saw this written somewhere the other day and have promptly forgotten to remember where. I like it, and, as somebody who says, does, and thinks-flippantly, deeply and passionately (sometimes, and in this respective order), I am often left with pangs of guilt when I realise that maybe I’ve offended someone, or said the wrong thing or written something that I’ll regret, or, heaven forbid, made the most ridiculous decision.
By nature, I sit on the extreme end of the sensitive scale and with big feet, I find myself more often than not landing them ‘in it’.
No, of course there is purpose to opening this piece with a little exposé of my far too obvious foibles.
During my hours of study and moments of procrastination, I am constantly drawn to online news and opinion pieces- much of it depressing, bad, annoying, thought provoking, over opinionated, unrealistic, idealistic and just plain ludicrous, but one thing that is becoming more apparent, as swiftly as the days inevitably go by, is that everyone seems to have something to say and opinions are available to be formed and then made public, with the swipe of a screen and click of a link.
General chit chat, polite interactions and even so much as a ‘hello’ have been replaced with urgent bursts of ‘THIS IS MY OPINION, I HAVE TO GET IT OUT BEFORE I EXPLODE,’ and this type of online behaviour has begun to leave me feeling a bit sick- in my humble opinion, it is not only totally unhelpful when considering the original point or issue (usually born out of an unwillingness to even try to see eye to eye), I feel that it is slowly turning us all against each other. I’m all for sharing ideas and having open discussions, and I’m more than willing to accept that my opinions are delivered to this earth from my mind, to be challenged – but rudeness and throwing weight around online makes me feel slightly empty, and a bit concerned about where we are all headed.
Gone are the days where we clinked a glass and had robust conversations, replaced (all too frequently) by online commentary that is often futile because it is not only missing eye contact that is important when airing your grievances, but also the all important ‘hands waving in the air’ and all the other nuanced behaviours that come with any sort of confrontation.
Of course I’ve shared my fair share of opinions and articles online and I’ve responded to posts with ideas and (often impassioned) thoughts – this is the world we live in and there is no turning back. Also, I wouldn’t be able to share these stories on this blog if it weren’t for the internet, but with access to so much information at the click of a button, I can’t help thinking that we are running the risk of over complicating things and forgetting the obvious, or at least the initial point.
No amount of words and ‘cyber fists’ waved around will ever replace a simple, polite ‘hi, I have a bone to pick, can we have a chat over a glass of wine’.
I’m guilty of not being able to keep my thoughts and life choices simple- with my mind being the only part of my body that even remotely seems to enjoy exercise, but in my (maximum) 20 square meters in which I now live, I’m working on it at the very least.
One morning last week I was humming around the apartment listening to the radio, having chosen the BBC World Service as respite from my daily routine of French radio had with my coffee and vegemite on toast. Enjoying my fifteen minute sabbatical from la langue français, I was surprised to hear a knock at the door. CIA? Les Pompiers? EMERGENCY!?
Nope, instead, it was (at least 80 year old) Nadine from upstairs, wondering if I had seen a mouse in the apartment.
With the word ‘souris’ (mouse) sounding very similar to smile, sourire, I spent the first few moments just listening to her, nodding and smiling like a lunatic wondering why she would even think that there was a smile on the loose in my apartment (admittedly, I had been enjoying the switch from French to English news in that very moment).
I enjoy bumping into Nadine- she’s very old fashioned and although I suspect she probably has a fairly heavy right political bent, it is always a pleasure to see her. She has lived in this building since the 1960’s and as far as I can gather, I think her husband may have been the concierge. In his absence (sadly, he died), she spends her days seemingly walking up and down the stairs before playing marbles on the floor in her kitchen (that, or she drops a lot of things).
Our (approximately) twice weekly meetings on the stairs or in the doorway are relatively short lived, and I think she might believe I have something missing from my grey matter. But, she is one of the kindest people I’ve met and the fact that I can’t engage too heavily in anything other than small talk with her, keeps everything all very nice.
Nadine doesn’t have a computer, let alone facebook or any online source of information, so her responses during our conversations are kind and considered and she always uses ‘vous’ as a formality, as much as I have told her that she is more than welcome to refer to me as ‘tu’. She has four radios in her apartment and three pots full of hairbrushes; she is worried about the economy and the ageing population in her country, who she feels, are becoming overlooked and left to die, in place of ‘other things’.
I’m sure if I showed her the way we read the news and operate online in the year 2017, she’d be seriously mortified. Nadine never ‘launches’ into conversations, rather, she greets me with a polite ‘bonjour’ and seemingly a years worth of ‘comment allez vous’ and I’d be very surprised if I ever saw her without her hair brushed and perfectly coiffed into a neat, chin length bob.
After ‘mouse chat,’ I farewelled Nadine, reassuring her again that there weren’t any smiles running around on my floor, before telling her that seeing her ‘puts a mouse on my face’ – she smiled and told me to keep an eye out for little black ‘points’ hidden in corners. Calling out behind her as she made her way up the stairs, I asked if she would come for a visit next week ‘I would like to speak with you more Nadine, come for tea’. She accepted graciously before shutting the door behind her.
If we were both fluent in the same language and had a true understanding of what was actually being said, perhaps our relationship would be different. But I like the grey area and the limitations because with this comes no judgement, misunderstandings or hurt, and our relationship, simply put, is very simple.
As a retired school teacher, she is also a diligent French tutor in my endless battle to speak her language.
In a completely joyous coincidence, when I returned to my vegemite on toast, the first piece of writing that I found saved in a file titled ‘to read,’ as I started up my laptop, was written by a man who was born in Paris and is now deep into his 80’s. Like Nadine, he has lived in this city for his entire life and still feels a sense of excitement when he makes his morning walk to the boulangerie – explaining that he is never quite sure of what may unfold. In his words, he referred to daily life in Paris as ‘a little bit of theatre’.
I smiled for the entire duration of his article. It was a happy and positive recollection of a life modestly lived and, one which his age would suggest, has no doubt seen plenty of long, cold winters and more than its fair share of conflict, hard times and economic downturns. He was born into an era of war and has watched Paris maintain her beauty as decades have passed and the city has evolved, all while retaining her magic. I imagined him at his local cafe, poring over Le Monde each morning as so many old people still do, and was grateful to have stumbled across his appreciation for life and all of it’s simplicity’s. His ability to wake up and see the world for what it is, under his nose, though his eyes, was refreshing, to say the least.
Later in the week on a routine trip to the supermarket, I made the decision not to carry a basket (I was, afterall, only there for a jar of honey and a bottle of milk). I was a sight after discovering ground coffee on special, two pairs of tights in my size (‘size huge’- the measurements on the back of tights in France are beyond brutal), seriously black Lindt chocolate with a hint of sea salt (not helping with ‘tights-gate’), the required bottle of milk and jar of honey, plus, two pumps of hand wash for the price of one. As I rounded the corner to the checkout, one of the two pairs of giant tights slid off my pile which I had carefully balanced around the shop and down the aisles like a circus performer. A very polite Frenchman told me it was ‘pas grave’ (as far as problems go, ‘not serious,’ I love this phrase) when I thanked him for picking them up from underneath a shelf laden with honey.
Making a clown like approach to the checkout, one of the two bottles of peach and apricot hand wash slid cunningly under the refrigerator, and a Japanese girl bowed when I thanked her profusely for retrieving it, not daring to bend over.
A security guard watching over what was left in the butter section of the dairy fridge (the global shortage on le beurre is being taken very seriously in France) smiled, as he witnessed this performance.
It was dark and the street was bustling as I emerged from ‘Carrefour’ with a shopping bag heaving with ginormous tights, a packet of chocolate, 2 pumps of hand wash, a jar of honey and the rest.
There was music, chatter, laughter and bike bells in abundance, creating an air of complete togetherness as my beautiful little neighbourhood settled in for another evening under twinkling fairy lights wrapped around la terrasse of each café.
The light atop the Eiffel tower slid from side to side across a huge, clear, darkened sky – it was a beautiful moment.
This peaceful ambiance was broken by a group of Hari Krishna’s emerging from seemingly nowhere and they danced down the street chanting ‘Hari, Hari, Hari Krishna’ led by a man in a denim jacket who looked like none other than Christ Jesus himself.
As denim clad Jesus led his bell ringing tribe around the corner and into the distance, I continued on my way- nodding at the man who runs the fruit stall as he closed its doors for the night.
I smiled as he brought his roller door down, freshly tagged in the unmistakable bold script unique to graffiti artists.
A menace français had chosen the fruit stall roller door to make the totally inoffensive statement of CRÊPES in a huge swirling tag of beautiful tones of violet, lime green and yellow.
As far as making a statement goes, this is by far the best I’ve seen in a long time.
It’s the simple things.
Pictured: early morning as I crossed the square at St Sulpice on the way to La Sorbonne during the week.