This morning I woke early to the sounds of revellers returning home after a night out. I wouldn’t normally wake to such things as I’m an incredibly good sleeper, but following the earliest night had since I was probably about 11 years old, I was ready to go at 4am when the Marseillaise could be heard from the street below.
Don’t get me wrong, I can survive on the littlest of sleep, but last night after completing what felt like the millionth unpack since December, I spent ten minutes listening the BBC World Service bringing myself up to speed with the latest on Stormy Daniels and Polio (polar opposites, but in the same news segment), before falling into the longest and deepest slumber I’ve experienced in a very long time.
4am brought with it many thoughts and contemplations. The news had shifted to Ebola, and Stormy had become to the newest holder of the keys to the city. Trump’s lawyer was in question after a meeting with the President of Ukraine was found to be apparently fixed with cash, and the daughter of the Russian spy who, along with her father, was nerved agented in Salisbury earlier this year, had finally spoken.
The birds were just beginning to chirp as I did a quick mental exercise of six verbs in past, present and future tenses. In recent weeks, my French has slipped from almost bearable to completely unbearable, and as I took my first sips of tea I contemplated what could possibly be going wrong.
Language is a funny old thing, and as a latecomer to the joys of verb conjugations and being paralysed when spoken to, I am slowly beginning to join together some very important dots. In situations such as the visits to the visa office or the highly glamorous podiatrist’s surgery, I find myself suddenly able to ‘do it’. Yesterday on a trip to a store not far from home I chatted like a love bird at feeding time, making little jokes about being forgetful when I found myself unable to find the word for ‘I think’ which came to me ten seconds after I’d needed to say ‘I think,’ by which time we’d moved onto a completely different topic.
I have no doubt that when I speak in my accented French it hurts French ears for miles around, but I am always incredibly grateful for those who just continue to speak – in French – which is far more encouraging than saying (in English) ‘sorry, WHAT?’, which is exactly what happened after I left the podiatrists surgery earlier in the week. I won’t go into the not so exciting details about why I had to visit such a place, except that the large feet I’ve often written about have been known to deal me a less than savoury trial when it comes to many things, not just shoe sizes.
Staggering to the door of the surgery that I’d often observed just a short walk from home, I placed a gentle knock on the frosted window pane and was overjoyed when a bubbly Doctor answered the door. Explaining that I had a problem sans appointment, she patted the chair and hoisted it towards the ceiling, telling me smilingly that she had half an hour between appointments and she’d be more happy to help. We discussed everything from my life in Paris – what brought me here and do I like it? before her eyes flung wide open when I told her of my plans to spend more time in Morocco. Were my shoes from Morocco she wondered, and when I responded affirmatively she asked if I would fill a suitcase with raffia pumps and bring them back to her on my next visit? We laughed about my abysmal French, but not once did she back down and offer even a lick of English, rather, she spoke reassuringly about the importance of just speaking and while many of her rapid sentences en français were as good to me as white noise, I can quite honestly say, I’ve never enjoyed a trip to a podiatrist more in my entire life.
Patting my shoulder and wishing me good luck, with the addition of an invitation to visit whenever I may need to, I left her surgery with a new found skip in my stride – and not just because she’d fixed my poor foot. As I stepped outside, it began to pour with rain and I took shelter at a cafe just moments away.
‘May I have a glass of water and a menu,’ I asked confidently (in French) which was met with ‘sorry, WHAT?’ (in English). And there I sat as I do so often in France, polarised and spinning fifty miles backwards on the never ending road of progress, or lack there of.
Repeating myself, the waiter walked off returning five minutes later with an English menu and a glass of water.
I contemplated telling him that I’d just had ‘a corn removed in French,’ (oh god, sorry, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t write that) but decided against it because chicken and sweet corn soup was the plat du jour and I didn’t feel like chicken and sweet corn soup, rather, I opted for a glass of wine and waited for my lunch date to join me- no one was going to destroy what had otherwise been a very successful first half of the day.
This morning as I weighed up the news of the world and my thoughts shifted to my linguistic pursuits which feel as though they are in rapid decline, I tallied up my interactions had with Parisian natives throughout the week, before arriving at a total of about 25. Ten of which have been successful and the rest, well, they’re the ones that see me more determined than ever to get my tongue around this language.
Today I’m off to visit Guernica at the Picasso Museum along with a friend whose acquaintance I made at the Sorbonne last year. We enjoy frequent hilarious lunches together where we thank waiters profusely and tell them they are so kind, before wailing with laughter when nobody is looking, agreeing that they could have just offered to send us to the guillotine and we would still respond with sweet offerings of ‘Vous êtes très gentil’.
C’est la vie, and today I’m wearing a pair of shoes that have stared at me blankly from the corner of my bedroom for at least a year – I’m happy to report that they feel like clouds on my feet. More to come…
Pictured: the wonderful view from my bedroom – every day in Paris.