Dijon, pt. 1

November 25, 8:55pm It’s funny, firstly, to think that there are other places, but it’s even more funny to actually go to these places and have to deal with them up close. The most wonderful part is that I don’t have to deal with them as a tourist, that is, I don’t have any serious connection back to my own world, and I don’t have to deal with them as a backpacker, so that I’m stuck in a certain role, I’m just here. The plane ride was fine, although I’d hoping to get the two seats to myself, because that’s what the computer showed, an old scowling French lady was there when I came to sit down, and made a comment about something, maybe she was making a joke when I took my tranquilizers, but anyway, I couldn’t understand her, and afterwards she did not want to speak with me, except I asked her “est-ce que vous aimez vole?” and she looked at me like I was crazy before answering j’aime! And I thought she was correcting me and I exclaimed j’aime! And she turned away. I was afraid she would die during the flight, though she showed no signs of it, which made me begin wondering if perhaps the French don’t die of old age, or maybe they don’t die at all. But if they do, oh, it would not be good to have her die during this flight. All around me people were speaking, even an American woman in front of me, middle-aged, who reminded me of Martha Stewart, flirting incessantly with a young black French man, very hip. It was a long flight, and took off more than an hour later than it should have. We flew into Paris as the sun rose and I thought it was the largest brightest city I’d ever seen.

Nov 26 8pm Once off the plane I waited for my luggage and getting through customs was very simple, and I could not be bored waiting just to hear the language and see how everyone acted and dressed—perhaps it is just selective blindness, but everyone seems much more fashionable here, even the people who I was on the plane with. I received my luggage surrounded by hasidim and young couples with babies, and customs took less than ten seconds, unlike in the US where it will take no less than a prison-sentence to make it home. Céline and her family met me at the gate, standing right in front, and things began feeling so surreal now as I said my bonjours and shook hands with her father and was taken by surprise, C. noticed, when her mother offered me her cheek and I slowly remembered that this is the equivalent of shaking hands, but I did not know I would be doing it so very often, later her sister and her roommates. I remember very little about walking through the airport, a reunion and also being a bit overwhelmed by hearing and seeing French everywhere. To the car, still before 9am, and most of the cars on the road were by companies I’d never seen before, all French, including the one we were in, and we listened to that music still popular in France that sounds 20-years dated in the US, they gave me a bag of croissants from McDonalds marked Le Petite Dej’ and spent a long time driving slowly down highways in traffic jams in the rain. But meantime, the houses and buildings were, even the modern ones, like nothing I’ve seen before, even when boring, there was something about them un-American, like I’ve seen in photographs but thought I never really paid attention to. Celine lives in a neighborhood of old houses, chestnut trees, which I’ve never seen before, spread out in flat layers, iron gates and children with pompoms on their hats, a neighborhood in which she says the houses begin at 500k euros. Her family lives in what used to be a farmhouse, and they point out that the upstairs they think held hay and the downstairs held cows, and it is part of a long building in a complex that her father is in charge of, as a mechanic, so when we drive up a gate opens. And behind another gate is her house, very pretty, a little dog named Awen jumps up and down at the window and she pokes at it before we go inside. She plays with her dog by dragging it by her legs and throwing a tennis ball and doing all the things I’d be afraid would damage a little dog, but he loves this, and when he runs and jumps at me, he jumps into me and bounces off like rubber and does it again.

I just received a message from Celine’s sister, and it says I am invited to dinner with their family, followed by “I hope you are not boring,” the whole sentence being “I hope you are not boring in Dijon.” Céline and I discussed this word only this morning, the difference between being bored and being boring. Celine says that once I asked what Solene was doing and she replied ‘she’s being boring,’ and when I looked shocked, that’s when we figured out what she meant.

The streets in her neighborhood are only wide enough for a row of parked cars and a row of driving cars, and so, if two cars meet as they’re driving, the one driving in the direction of the parked cars has to park. Every two weeks the cars switch which side they’re parked on. We went to the train station to get me a 12-25 pass so I can get discounts on train tickets for being under 26. And then back to her house for lunch, which is an extravagant event, beginning with fish-stuffed olives and a salad of cucumber and tomato on which we chopped up shallots and put on a mixture of mustard and oil, I think, and delicious bread with yellow raisins in it and all their butter comes in large molds with under a plastic cover and is sweet and, well, completely unlike butter I’ve had before. And then lamb, and potatoes, and butterbeans. And then, for dessert, many different cheeses. And then coffee. And then we sat and talked, and a few people have been surprised that I’ve learned as much French as I have in five months, perhaps because it’s quick, perhaps because it’s quick for an American? And, by now, I was very tired, so I slept for a while, and when I woke up Céline’s parents drove us to the train station where we met Celine’s sister, Nathalie, and then caught a small train to Paris. In Paris everyone is stylish and a bit brusque, which would have offended and surprised me had I not been with Céline to follow around and provide commentary. As we were standing there a woman came up to us and begged—actually, on the small train a gypsy woman boarded and I thought she was speaking with her daughter until I noticed how often she kept repeating s’il vous plait, and realized she was begging, so I looked away like everyone else. At the train station a woman asked me for money and I said je ne comprend pas and she began speaking to Celine who turned her away, and the woman said to her ‘you are mean, pretending to be Americans.’ And we caught the train, where we had reserved seats and for a few hours we were on our way to Dijon, and I thought I might be sick from the motion of the thing, so I was very sad, but we arrived in the cold wet night and, since there were no more busses for nearly an hour, we dragged our luggage down the dark streets, where I could not see how beautiful the city truly was, and to her apartment, where her friends and dinner awaited us. Sometime very early I suddenly became very tired and had to go to bed, where I slept until late. Dinner also was extravagant also—I love how much emphasis is placed on enjoying food and drink. Oh! And as for her family, they were not how I expected, I expected her father to be a little cold, and her mother to be silent, but not at all, I think the words Celine used to describe them lost the true meanings of what she meant, because they were both very funny, and very warm, and I felt quite at home visiting with them.

We went food shopping on the next morning, which was an adventure too, as they have so many more delicious looking foods than we do, partially because everything we see in storybooks as children, food as it is supposed to look, this is how the food looks here, it all just looks appetizing. So, we bought many foods, came home, and I spent the whole day sleeping. Dinner. And more sleep. And then this morning, waking up late. And spending the day with Celine, as we did on weekends, helping each other study, having breakfast and lunch and then she took me out to see the city—it looks like something from a storybook, just as Whitney’s little town at Oktoberfest did, so does this one, cobblestone streets and medieval churches and bread and pastry and meat shops and stands on the streets selling gingerbread and mustards, and many, many streets without cars, and everyone dresses in black, so stylish, the shoes I’ve been looking everywhere for, are sold in every clothing store window.

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