The Natatorium

An emporium of oddities from around the world, complete with somewhat informative plaques that almost never match the item they are meant to be describing.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

La Quotidienne

An update for my many fans:

I didn't work at all this week, because the students were having exams and such. I've filled my time this week with housework, walking, ballet exercises, reading, and the occasional social excursion.

On Tuesday I went to Boulogne to go to the CAF office so I could get housing assistance. I had put this off for a long time because I was really nervous about it. I hate dealing with bureaucracy, especially in a foreign language, mostly because I'm always sure that someone is going to scold me for having the wrong form or inadequate documents. I try to avoid this by bringing with me each time I go to do something bureaucratic every single document I have pertaining to my existence. So far it has worked out well. In fact, my trip to the CAF office was surprisingly painless. I was nervous that my french would be inadequate and I'd be misunderstood, but in fact the man who helped me told me to slow down because I spoke French too quickly. I don't think it was meant as a compliment (he said all Americans talk too fast), but it made me feel all shiny anyway. . He was very nice and I got everything taken care of. Unfortunately, transport turned out to be more of a headache than the government agency. I took a bus to Boulogne because I thought it would be cheaper (it wasn't). Nevertheless, after my adventure in public assistance I went back to the bus depot to catch the return trip of the same line. I was there at the time the schedule stipulated, yet no bus came. And then no bus came. And then it still didn't come. So I had to consult a public map, locate the train station, and then walk there. It turned out to be rather farther away than I had expected, but I got there in the end and got a train back to where I wanted to be. The train was half the price and a third of the time it cost me to take the bus. I felt dumb.

I am reading Mrs. Dalloway. The other day I came across the word "antediluvian" somewhere in the middle, and had to look it up. This made me very happy; I love really specific words. In case you're wondering, it means "before the Flood," that's to say, ancient. In this case, the subject being described as antediluvian is "women's rights." This also made me smile. I'm finding Virginia Woolf difficult but extremely delightful. Dreamy.

I had a dream two nights ago that I met a prophet. He was a lanky, middle-aged African man with dreadlocks. He was lying on a pile of something uncomfortable-looking. It could have been clothes, boxes, or rubble. I didn't know if he was lounging or dying. I looked into his eyes and he looked into mine, and reality shifted, time peeled back, and we both stayed locked in amazement tinged with divine fear; he saw something powerful in me. I hadn't known it was there, and he seemed to understand its gravity more than I did. I could only see his small dark eyes and behind them there were trees.

I met some girls at the school who are about my age, Sophie and Aurore, and have been spending time with them. We go for coffee at my favorite café (Au 1900) and giggle over the waiter. Last night Aurore and I went to Sophie's apartment and made crêpes and cervoise (drink made from white wine, cider, and lemon syrup). I played the guitar and sang, and they thought it was just awesome. They also took video with their cell phones of me saying English tongue twisters. Still, they do much better at the English ones than I do at the French ones: Les chausettes de l'archi duchesse sont-elles sèches? Archi sèches!

I did my laundry today. It was extremely necessary, as I was experiencing a shortage of certain critical items. Things are better now.

I really hope I get paid this week.

I go to London on Tuesday night! Wheeee!!! I will take a train to Paris Tuesday morning and spend a few hours there before taking the Eurostar in the evening. I am extremely excited to get back to my favorite city in the world. A truncated list of the wonderful things that await me: sushi, Nando's, The British Museum, Foyles, Jalal, Camden Town, martinis, swing dancing, Portobello Road Market.... and on and on.

If the hostel I'm at has free internet, I may update mid-frolick. If not, you shall hear of my expedition when I return to Berck, which should be March 6. Cheers.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Like a Cold, Cold Blessing

I woke up in a really awful mood this morning, mostly because I had a really terrible nightmare. I was upset, angry, and just generally out-of-sorts. In fact, I was feeling so petulant that I considered staying in bed all day. Still, I was supposed to go to the grocery store with my friend Adil, and if I didn't, I could foresee two negative consequences. First, he would wonder what happened to me, and probably call me, and then get worried about me. Second, I wouldn't have any food, or dish soap, or light in my bedroom (the bulb has been out for a week). So I finally pulled myself out of bed in a bad humor, getting more angry at how cold it was as my bare feet hit the frozen tile. Then I went to the window, raised the shutters, and everything changed.

It was snowing. There was snow on the ground, on the ugly street, the dirty buildings, and falling through the air. I was so surprised that at first I couldn't think or say anything. Then, I just started laughing. My black mood dissipated instantly in the gleam of of that fresh snow, and I laughed in amazement, gratitude, and joy. Everything had changed. I took a shower, got dressed, and prepared to go out. The snow was fine, and blew against me in tiny pecks as I went down the hill towards the main street. Everything was so hushed. It's easy to see that snow cleans up and evens out everything visually, but it does so aurally as well. The main street was nearly deserted, and most of the businesses were closed. I was warm in my boots and quilted skirt, and walked on to school.

As I entered the parking lot, I could see Adil smoking in his usual spot. As I approached him, I was smiling, but he was not. I could already see how it was going to play out.

"It's so beautiful!" I called out, still a few yards away.
He scoffed.
"Oh, come on, it's great!"
He kept smoking, glowering as the flakes stuck in his hair and against his sweater.

This would go on for a few hours.

We went into the staff room and I continued to wax poetic about the snow and ask him the french equivalent for various words, such as "snowflake." I told him that I wanted to go to the beach, because walking on a snowy beach was a singular experience that I wanted to make sure I attained. He thought it was a ridiculous idea. A few minutes later, Manuel, another teacher, came in and started talking about how it so rarely snows in Berck.

"Tu as la chance!" he said, (You're lucky!).
"Oui, je sais," I replied (I know.) I looked at Adil triumphantly, and he continued to sulk.

Manuel went on to say that he had just been down to the Esplanade to see the snow on the beach, a very rare sight. He said there were people on the walkway and on the beach. He said it was great; I decided I would have to go.

"Il pense que je suis dingue, parce que je veux me promener sur la sable dans a neige," I said, cocking my head at Adil. (He thinks I'm crazy because I want to walk on the sand in the snow.)
"Non!" said Manuel, "C'est beau!" (No, it's beautiful!)
"Oui, c'est unique," I said.

I took my camera and went back out into the snowfall while Adil went to class. I saw students in the parking lot throwing snowballs and sliding around, other students on the dunes trying to snowboard, and more students on the beach running around. There is something about snow that prompts random joy. It's as though the snow carries with it its own joie de vivre, which descends on everyone (or almost everyone) it touches . It is a blessing, falling on everyone, releasing us from our quotidienne distractions and hangups, helping us to see the world anew. There is a peace that comes, if only for a few hours, with a fresh snow. I think one of the most powerful elements of snow's effect is the communal experience. All of the people in a community are touched by it; we all experience it together. Whether we're delighted, annoyed, inconvenienced, or moved, we are affected collectively. In a place where I usually feel so isolated and disconnected, this feeling was heightened for me. Snow is a great equalizer.

I went down to the beach and walked on snow, on sand. I looked out on the vast, flat expanse of white. I startled a flock of seagulls into flight. I went to the water's edge and observed the odd slush that formed at the frontier between land and sea. It was like a giant blob of slushy soup. The waves would occasionally push it a few inches farther forward, and it would sloop gloompily towards me, then burble intermittently as air escaped after the revolution of the icy congomerate.

Even the ocean seemed more subdued; the waves were weaker, quieter, slower. I watched them and the slowly advancing slushy monster for a while, then went back to school. I felt as though I'd crossed something off my list, something that fit inside me comfortably, and made all the pieces work better.

(There are accompanying photos on facebook and flickr. I also made a Snowy Afternoon Mix today for my friend Laura's birthday. If you want it, message me and I'll send you the link to download it.)