November 24, 2009

Est-ce que tu pense que j'ai besoin de mon passport pour aller en Belgique?

I thought I was going to go to the cirque at carrefour with my new french friend William. We had discussed hanging out on Sunday, and through text messages I thought I had conveyed that I wanted to to go the circus and that he should come with me. I also thought that he had agreed that that'd be fun and would come over late afternoon so we could go.

At 17h00 he finally called me to let me know he was by my house. I put on my boots and my jacket, and walked out to the car. Once inside and proper hellos were said, I was told about our plans for the evening.

"So we're going to go to Belgium tonight to play billards," William said in a very matter of fact way, as if this had always been the plan.

"Oh, okay," I said, wondering when this change of itinerary had taken place. I was also a little surprised by how ordinary he made it all seem.

A minute or so of silence passed, when it hit me that I was being taken to Belgium, a foreign country. "Do you think I'll need my passport to go to Belgium?" I asked, a little puzzled by the entire ordeal.

"No," William answered. "Do you have an I.D. card on you?"

"Yeah I do, but not my passport."

"You'll be fine."

Ten minutes later William said, "so we're about to be in Belgium and you will see that it is exactly the same as France. Ready? Now we're in France... and now we're in Belgium!"

He was right. At the border nothing spectacular happened other than a sign saying I was now in Belgium. The buildings, road signs, and shops all looked the same. The real reason we went to Belgium, as William informed me before we got there, was that "beer and cigarettes are cheaper there." This fact makes Belgium the place to be and is where he and his friends spend their weekends. Bienvenue en Belgique!

November 19, 2009

Plaques de Muselet

Tonight I went with Laurence, the mom of the two kids I tutor, to an exposition at La Piscine in Roubaix. When we got to the musée, Laurence asked one of the guides if she could recount for an American some facts about the museum. She said, "Ah oui, mais en français." We told her that would do.

So I learned that back in the early 1900s, Roubaix was a thriving industrial city, known for textile manufacturing. During this time, there weren't a lot of good hygiene practices, and tuberculosis and other diseases ran rampant. The city decided to make a public bathhouse to help reduce the spread of disease. This pool fell into disrepair, and then became a museum in the 90s.

The old pool part of the museum was gorgeous. But our tour wasn't of the pool. Instead it was of the new exposition called "conversation anglaise: le groupe de bloomsbury autour de virginia woolf." We had the same tour guide, who was exceptional. She was extremely passionate about the exposition and knew a lot about all the different artists and artworks. The love lives of all the people who were involved in the Bloomsbury house were extremely complicated. I was surprised to find that I was able to follow most of what she was saying when I really listened to her. Sometimes I found myself distracted by certain paintings and would lose myself in thought, but that made it all the better. The entire experience was truly remarkable. I loved feeling like I blended in with all the other French people, listening to the tour guide while at the same time taking time out to appreciate the paintings. What are the French if not lovers of art?

After the tour of the exposition, we went to the lobby where we enjoyed free champagne, appetizers, and bite sized desserts. I met some of Laurence's friends and we all talked about the expo and why I was in France.

One of Laurence's friends asked the bartender if he could have something I didn't understand. Then, he suddenly had in his hand a really cool coin sized cap with a seal that said, "Champagne Joël Gobancé." I said to him, "Wow! That's really cool!" So he asked the bartender to give me one.

Apparently these things are called "plaques de muselet," and the French collect them. He said to me, "Now you can start your own collection like the French do."

I had stumbled upon the fact that once the art has been appreciated, the champagne drunk, and the desserts tasted, what the French take home with them are tiny caps from the tops of wine bottles to remember it all. Merci Joël Gobance for enabling me to never forget such a lovely soirée. Hopefully your cap is my first of many!

November 11, 2009


Having decided to further integrate myself into my French life, I swapped out my Kurt Vonnegut book for a French book I found in my studio, called Un secret, to entertainment myself during my 50+ minute commute to and from school.

On the way home yesterday, the tram was crowded and I was forced to stand. After a few stops, however, a man exited, leaving his middle seat vacant. Sitting down, I pulled out my book and attempted to comprehend a french novel. A couple of minutes passed when the french man sitting next to me, who I was about to discover was reading over my shoulder, said, "excusez-moi?"

I turned to looked at him and said, "oui?"
"What does 'bakélite' mean?"
"Oh, I don't know."
"Oh okay," he answered, sounding a little disappointed.
"Actually, I was wondering the same thing," I said, proud of carrying on an impromptu French conversation.

A few uneventful moments later, I got up to leave, when I heard the same man say, "but I haven't finished reading it yet!" We exchanged smiles and a quiet chuckle.

I looked up bakélite when I got home. It means bakelite, which was no help at all. According to the Oxford American Dictionary, bakelite is "an early form of brittle plastic, typically dark brown, ... cheifly used for electrical equipment." The author was describing the dog's eye color. Knowing I wouldn't have understood it even in English, being mistaken for a french girl feels like less of a mistake.
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