3.31.2008

Serait-ce possible alors ?

Up until a few months ago, the prospect of leaving a job in which I used my French on a daily basis scared the shit out of me. Moving back from Paris was only partially made bearable by the fact that I was using the language everyday. Sharing Haribo with colleagues recently back from a jaunt in Nice became a regular. And the potlucks! Genuine French dishes cooked by genuine Frenchies. I might have decided to live on American soil, but I was going to do it with as much French influence as I could possibly gather.

Times change and priorities evolve; I will not be using French in my new job, at least not in any tangible way. I'm no longer dating a French man. Conceivably, my French-ness could fade into something I was 'into' for a while during my early twenties. My heart hurts to imagine it, and yet how many times have you heard someone speak of the Spanish they knew fluently after a semester in Costa Rica, only to be back to mono-lingual square one a few years later?

The fact is that things came down to this: if using French was the priority, I would stay where I was. But if anything else was a priority (marketing, communications, working in Manhattan), I would have to be flexible about the language. Donc, me voila.

And strangely enough, I'm not so terrified about losing the crutch of daily language anymore. I spent some time this weekend thinking about different ways to continue incorporating the language and culture in my life. Bi-annual trips to Paris are going on the list. So are French film festivals. And cooking more dishes using French recipes. Buying phone cards to call friends in Paris. Paying extra for TV5; paying extra for France-Amerique.

When hobbies or interests become part of who you are, it's hard to figure out what to do when the occasions to practice them begin to evaporate. Like skiers who move to Dallas. Or diabetic pastry chefs.

And then sometimes passions pop up in the strangest places. I took a walk this weekend to the Brooklyn Public Library and stumbled upon... wait for it... the Arc de Triomph's BROTHER in BROOKLYN!


Grand Army Plaza is just to the north of Prospect Park and commemorates soldiers of the Civil War. Who knew? The BPL ended up having a pretty extensive French section and I found myself reading a Marc Levy novel on the Park's lawn within viewing distance of the Arch. Très bizarre.

Two weeks ago, I hit up the Met to see the Courbet exhibit, which was beautiful and familiar. Seeing the paintings that were flown in from the Musee d'Orsay was like greeting old friends. "Origin of the world! I've watched grown men look at you and struggle between fascination and malaise in a museum halfway around the world! How the hell are you!?"


It was possible that every French ex-pat was in the exhibit while I was there, that's how much French was humming through the airwaves in the room. An older French couple was navigating the route at the same pace that I was and I heard her say something to her husband about having always loved one of Courbet's self-portraits since she studied it in college. There was a familiar tinge of sadness in her voice; I used to speak about American bookstores and cream cheese using the same tone last year. It was evident that she'd been in the U.S. for years, but something as simple as a piece of art from her native land was enough to evoke a bit of homesickness.

I found myself wishing that it was socially acceptable to put my arm around someone unknown, to tell her that I knew what she was getting a little choked up about, to admit the challenge of negociating the space between two cultures.

Or maybe, in a subconscious way, I was looking for someone to do the same to me.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

i love this.
it almost made me cry!
and courbet... i never knew how many memories i had tangled up with him!

xoxo
fleur? tomate?
kathryn

Suffragettes said...

Hey Jen !

Waw, guess what ? When I read your comment on my blog, I could have swore you were french !! So you're american right ? Let me tell you're french is very good !!
I loved your note because :
a- I like Courbet very much
b- I loved your metaphor with the diabetic pastry chef
c- I know exactly what you meant about keeping the french thing in your life as I'm trying to keep to exact american thing in mine

If you'd like to speak french, then I'm your girl ! We can both practive with each other. Also whenever you come to Paris, get a hold of me !

Anonymous said...

jen - i was looking on joost last night & think that they have a few french channels/shows/videos on there - check it out!

xoxoxo
lada

Anonymous said...

I know what you should do!!!! I saw an ad for the French Culinary Institute... you should be a teacher there!!!!!!!!!!!!
Jokes apart, how are you? Come hang out someday. Im leaving for India on the 17th!!!!
Tej