Pézenas has been treating my lil’ digital camera really well lately.
Usually I try not to use this blog as a means of personal journaling. Of course I talk about myself and my life, but I try to hang these anecdotes on their associations to the outer world, whether it be about travel or politics or literature or music or that general, grand theme of growing up that I just cannot escape in my writing.
Today, though, I just want to say things are good.
In the classroom, I taught a lesson on the elections that turned into an hour-long Q &A about activism, systematic racism, capitalism, and the prison-industrial complex. History teachers came to sit in on my subsequent lessons later that week. Teaching, it turns out, is what I should be doing. Even if being an assistant is (fucking) frustrating (most of the time) because teachers have a tendency to take over my lessons or tell me to teach weird subjects, being in the classroom is such a natural act.
I’m forcing myself to leave the apartment and interact with new humans through Tinder, which, with all its bad reputation, is rendering some truly unique experiences that, in all their strangeness, I truly value. I went on a bike ride with a man who works for vineyards from Béziers to the beach– which is 20km each way, and uphill on the way back–and left, exhausted, amid a torrent of mockery, saying “j’ai besoin de faire des rélations” (I have to go have sex) instead of “j’ai besoin de faire des leçons” (I have to go lesson plan). I made an Irish friend that I talk to most days. I almost went to a lake with somebody to only try and navigate the French of telling them that I was afraid they were going to try and murder me there, originally using the fact that they were a little late as grounds to never, ever have to meet them.
The American assistants I met in Montpellier my first week in France while I was living in a hostel there have turned out to be some truly wonderful friends, and I visit them at least once a week in Montpellier (this week it will be for Thanksgiving, and I cannot wait!). Saturday, they came to visit me in Pézenas and gave me a whole new perspective on how beautiful my small town can be through going to the Saturday market, picnicking, and café hopping with me all day.
I’ve hung out with my adult students outside of class (the camp counselor in me has gotten over itself) and made friends with some 70-year-old and up, English-speaking ex-pats.
I like to wander around this town and look for the best-smelling flowers that have grown outside of their fences.
My Instagram is doing well.
I like to have time to myself and write.
I like to read and go to cafés.
I just, finally, like being here.
Pigs are my all-time favorite animal, and I get frustrated when dirty politicians that resemble oranges more than anything else get compared to them.
they call me a pig
with my snout married to marred mud made of
the corn that midwestern soil toiled over
to turn dirt to gold to turn over the fattening act
of making pigs.
like you, like the others, like we all
squeal about the shit found in the mud called home,
the shit which leaked into this mire from
the corn that made the feed that fed
the fattening that made ourselves:
it is all but a cycle;
i have seen your likes before,
like an archetype,
like a cliché,
like a history,
like a present,
like the chicken-coop mesh walls you build around men
when calling them animals
to watch from the other side, using your two legs as a tower
above that snout called other,
this is not me,
this is an animal farm,
this is a poetry,
let the parables swath you up in the white veil of the bride
who wears her virginity brilliantly on the color of her sleeve
edging on the cliff that begs for falling.
i have never seen beyond a pig pen,
i have never picked an ear of corn from a field
or an apple from an orchard,
i suckle whatever falls from any human hand
that forgets that its purpose is to hold
until i can take my rest from eating
and lay down on your table,
next to the corn,
my dried snout holding, itself,
the curved edges
of some crisply-picked apple.
*It must, of course, be acknowledged that this ended up as basically a copy cat of Margaret Atwood’s Pig Song.
Dear Beautiful Stranger Who, Silently, Agreed to Share Eye Contact with me for a Socially Unacceptable Amount of Time in the Literature Section of the Used Bookstore in Pézenas’s Historic Center This Evening,
I am sorry that, when we ran into each other again in the street—twenty minutes after the bookstore incident—where you and I caught sight of each other and both turned our heads as far as they would go to keep eye contact, eventually reaching opposite ends of the rue to only stop, turn around, and stare at each other, hesitant about what to do next, I was the one who nervously ran away from the moment.
I promise that I spent the rest of sunset wandering the streets looking for you, looking for another half, did-that-really-happen dream of a moment that I had no right to ask for thirds of. I had no buses to catch when I went to the Gare Routière. I didn’t want coffee when I walked past every popular café in town. Yet I deliberately (sillily) sought those places out, eyes peeled in the rues between too. I don’t know what I would have said to you if I managed to find your blue eyes locked with mine again, but I wanted to say something beyond the silence of our previous, intense exchanges among strangers.
And, I suppose, that’s probably better. Even if you did have something specific to say to me, I probably wouldn’t have understood it on the first go. I would have, embarrassingly, had to ask you to repeat yourself only to try and respond in a nervous jumble of imperfect French and shy jitters.
Perhaps your stare was not even one of attraction anyway, and I simply misread your intention, as one might the thesis of a book on the shelves where we met. I was, after all, coming from an hour spent wandering through the surrounding countryside, in the wind and mud, and sitting on the banks of the creek reading and drinking. I am sure my red Life Aquatic-esque beanie, leggings, and thrift store letterman jacket (with the name Rhonda stitched on the front) were not up to par with the chic French women in this country that you’re used to. You were in a blazer. You were put together in the fashion of a beautiful French man. You wanted to ask me, “Why are you covered in mud?”
But, who knows? Maybe not? My apology is for not letting Schroedinger’s Box open in the first place anyway. Perhaps you would have simply asked me what I was looking for back in the book store, and (perfectly understanding your question the first time) I would have said whatever caught my eye, but something in an original creole French from the Caribbean would have been nice. You might have said that it’s funny I’m American, because you yourself were looking for Steinbeck or Hemingway or Fitzgerald or some other dead white American male, but you don’t always just read dead white men either. Really, I’d say. Yes, you’d respond. In fact, you have some Caribbean creole French poetry I could borrow sometime if I would like. I would like, of course. From these collections of too-long eye contact, we would exchange books, ideas, conversations, fall into bed, reflect on that ridiculous, unreal moment in the street over the pillow talk that this letter should have originally taken the form of. I am so homesick for conversation wrapped up in the cocoon of a blanket, my dear, beautiful stranger.
I am sorry for running away. I’m sorry for leaving boxes unopened. I hope this letter, this apology, reaches you in good spirits, perhaps tucked, as a bookmark, between the sweet-scented pages of some book you bought at a local used bookstore recently while the tourists busied themselves on the street outside taking pictures of how beautiful French walls can be.
I think, at some level, (almost?) all Americans hold some sort of a romanticized ideal in their head about Europe. It’s old. It’s beautiful. The people have accents. If not where “we” come from, it’s our closest cultural ancestor. Above all, it’s just a highly marketed tourist attraction.
Throughout my life, I have not been above this romanticization of the continent by any means. That’s why I studied abroad in Denmark for a year (the European country which holds that special lore as “the happiest country on Earth”); it’s why I’m working in France for a year now. It’s why I’m scheming up ways to get back to Ireland in the future. Getting to study, work, and live in Europe is the redheaded cousin of The American Dream, in all its shiny, sparkly, just-out-of-reach-for-many glory.
And yet here I am. Getting to be paid to live in this romanticized space. The thing about obtaining a dream, though, is having to have it slapped around a little by reality.
Being in Southern France right now is full of real humans. Real humans who, on my first day of work, made snide comments at me about being there for “oral” practice. Real humans who harass me on the street for everything from eating my lunch to yawning. Real humans who ride around on bicycles and dump whole water bottles on me in the public square with other real humans watching and then ride away mocking my shocked English response of “what the fuck!” My tiny Southern French town doesn’t have anybody my age in it, and the loneliness I am experiencing is oppressive, difficult, and seemingly inescapable in a way that I haven’t experienced since high school (side note, I live in a high school right now, which is also overwhelming).
Yesterday, though, I was reminded a bit of the romanticized image of France I painted for myself throughout my francophile high school years. While visiting Montpellier, a man walked onto my tram and started to play the fiddle up and down the tram’s cars. While the French did not seem amused, it overwhelmingly affected me in the moment and reminded me of this video from La Blogotheque circa 2008:
When I was an insatiable French nerd in high school, I used to spend hours on La Blogotheque, watching their Concerts A Emporter and going back and forth between the English and French translations to keep teaching myself and practicing French outside of the classroom. As a lonely, angsty teenager in the middle of a Phoenix suburb completely void of anything to do, the Paris presented in these performances instilled in me the idea of a romanticized France that is, undoubtedly, what keeps bringing me back to this country today.
Even if things are hard right now, rewatching these videos and thinking back to a pure and unspoiled idea of Europe that has nothing to do with life is a nice, romantic break. Sometimes, I just need these remnants from the past to come and remind me to appreciate the present that I’m getting to live, even when it’s feeling dragged down by reality.