Travel Notes

Shopping in Paris is expensive, and I'm not a shopper. So when I found a vase of a Dutch girl knitting I was enchanted. She was sitting on a flea market table on the Rue Cler. I think there were lamps and clocks on the table too, but I only had eyes for her.  The brocante,( French for junk, bric a brac, hidden treasures)market was ending that day.  My little vase would be packed back up and taken away forever.
I asked the proprietor the price and he told me. While I was mentally calculating it into English and then from Euros to Dollars, the price went down. Twice. 
The vase is probably K-Mart quality, and I didn't notice the crack near the top, or the chip on her wooden shoe. I was blinded by gotta-have-it lust.
After counting out my Euros, which doesn't seem like real money anyway ( I have to read the bills ) I paid the man. He cheated on the change. I considered arguing with the slippery so and so, right there,  on the street in front of everyone. I could just imagine the exchange in French. 
"You didn't give me back the right change." This sentence would have taken me a good deal of time using a notepad and French dictionary. I had no access to google translate or I might have taken him on.
Monsieur Slippery would have  undoubtably gotten irritated and shouted, "What? I don't understand? Speak French!"
So, I shrugged ( a very Gallic gesture) and left with my treasure. I love her like family. She's a bit broken, got me robbed and likely not worth much.  But to me? She's perfect. I even bought her flowers on my way home.

La Belle Paris

Posted on May 8, 2013

Today ears are starving for English. An entire afternoon with two French women wore out my meager French language skills. Although my companions speak some English and generously help me out, the conversation went a lot like this:

“Margot”, Pamela explains about her friend, “Works for a (something).”  I look quizzical. ”Charité,” she clarifies.

Oh, charity. Same in English. “Oh, yes,” I reply, nodding.

“Pour les enfant’s en (something). ” Zee children (something) t’eebee. ”
I’m sure I hear TB.
“Tuberculosis? In children?” I ask, horrified.
Non! Aaayyy teee.”
Aaaayyyyeeee teee,” I repeat mindlessly, accessing my limited mental dictionary of French words. It’s like watching cards shuffled at a casino with the same amount of luck. There’s no reading the cards. No aaayyee tee.
Half a paragraph more French words fly by before I realize she said HAITI. Ohhhhhh! I’m relieved she isn’t speaking about little kids with TB.

At a pleasant sidewalk cafe we stop for refreshments. I watch the lemon slice in my glass collect bubbles while they chatter on at the speed of a European train.  I’m poking it with my straw when Pamela explains how her sister died. She leans in, slowing her French for my sake, “She was found dead (something) in the pool.” Or maybe she said by the pool.
I think big word I didn’t know  must be drowned. But wait, there is more. Ugly events occur with missing jewelry and shifty property exchanges.

The story continues in English for my benefit. “Her husband made his wife in-va’-lid.” Reverting to French she adds, “And he was playing (something) in the night.” I don’t think she meant playing a piano.
I’m still working on in-va’-leed. In’- va-leed, like she’s a sick person, accent on the first syllable, maybe. Now I’m doing it. Making the i into a long e.  But, the context seems wrong. I ask for clarification. Yes,  as in doesn’t matter, irrelevant, useless, unimportant, non-existent. In- val’-id. I get it now.

Yikes. Poor woman, maybe she was murdered by her husband.  ”Were the police called?” I ask.

Heads shake with sad, resigned faces. “No, she was burned.”
Burned? I’m startled.This really is awful. Not drowned, murdered by fire.
Half in French, half in English, I’m told, “The doctor, he give, zee what . . .  zee permission for. . .” she pauses again, searching for the right word. (I can identify with that) ”For ashes,” she finishes.

“Cremation?” I ask.

“Yes, that’s it.”

“Her husband is a (something).”  Seeing my puzzlement, adds, “ ’eez a very BAD man!”

A silence hovers over the table.  I sip the last of my drink. Margot stares at her tea. Pamela’s juice is gone; she’s twirling my sunglasses on the tabletop.
After a moment, Margot  lifts her  cup to her heavily lipsticked mouth. Without taking a taste she puts it down again. ” Of course, a meeestreese (something!)”
“Meeestreese?” I echo, eyebrows rising. The accent confuses me. Ah,  click, mistress. This is sort of like playing a TV word game. Spin the dial and see if I can guess the correct meaning.

The sordid story continues.
“Oui! When my sister is lying dead by the pool he is with his meestreeese!” Apparently she didn’t drown, nor was she burned, but she certainly died. Tragic. I can’t suss out her mode of death, but the mistress part I get.
Our lips purse as our heads shake back and forth with international female disgust.

All afternoon we talked. Not only about this terrible death, but also about the scent of woodland flowers, great places to shop, which buses to take where, about a fine museum with a wonderful cafe, and the ubiquitous foolishness of politicians. Add in the directions to the bathroom and we covered a lot of ground.  I can’t help but  wonder how they saw me. Naive? Somewhat ignorant? How does one reveal oneself without a decent grasp of a language?  Despite the strain of trying to keep up, today was, as the French say,“Superbe!”

When we parted they smiled and waved goodbye, declaring they’d pick me up on Friday at 10.  I think.

Subpages (1): Sailing Away