I just flew back from a vacation in France, and boy, mes bras sont fatigués.
France is my wife's home country, and for the last couple of weeks I've been doing a lot of listening, as she and her family spoke français at mach-speed. Oh, I nodded as though I understood, and I laughed when they did. But I wasn't fooling anyone. My college French was about as useful in everyday conversation as Swahili.
It's tough, when you think of yourself as something of a wit, to be linguistically reduced to a third-grader, competent only at basic reading, ordering food and drink, and asking where the bathrooms are. I've resolved that by my next trip I'll be speaking fluently at a sixth-grade level, at least.
We spent much of our time in Marseille, where my wife's family lives. It's a warm, sunny place, sprawling over the hills surrounding the city's old harbor. The houses have tile roofs; the shutters and doors are painted bright colors; the sea is visible from every hill and promenade. Downtown reminded me of New Orleans — three- or four-story buildings with wrought-iron balconies overlooking busy fish and produce markets and sidewalk cafes. The streets are tiny and winding and everyone drives little roller-skate-sized cars or scooters. We ate bouillabaisse, couscous, and fabulous seafood. A wonderful city. Go, if you get the chance.
We took the TGV (high-speed train) to Paris for our final four days. I'd not been to Paris in many years. It is now inhabited by a race of super models — slender, elegantly dressed men and women of all ages, all of whom wear a scarf of some sort knotted around their neck. It's apparently the law. We stayed in the Sixth Arrondissement, the habitat of Hemingway and the American ex-pats. We drank espresso and wine in the historic brasseries, wandered the streets, shopped the boutiques, took the Metro, and hit the usual high spots. On the second day, I gave in to peer pressure, bought a scarf, and convinced myself I looked pretty chic. We ate lamb, duck, scallops, chocolate, and macaroons. The wine was good. Very good.
We returned to Memphis simultaneously refreshed and exhausted. The Memphis-Amsterdam flight is a great thing. It is sad that we are losing it. I missed March Madness, apparently. I even missed Memphis and was weirdly comforted by the fact that the big story in the daily paper when I returned was about a man whose car had been invaded by bees.
I'm still not sure what I'm going to do with this fancy scarf.
Oh would some power the giftie gie us, to see ourselves as others see us. — Robert Burns
Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote the line above in response to seeing a louse on a high-born lady's bonnet at church. The point being, of course, that while we might think we're looking pretty good, someone else might be noticing a flaw we've overlooked.
The lady doth protest too much, methinks. — William Shakespeare
Is there such a thing as "bad activism"? I'm asking because I'm seeing a lot of criticism of the folks who are protesting the Memphis Zoo's encroachment onto the Greensward at Overton Park.
Time moves in one direction, memory in another. — William Gibson
This week, an old friend sent me a photo of myself, circa 1978. In the picture, I was thin, long-haired, and standing barefoot on the porch of an old farmhouse where we lived, just outside of Columbia, Missouri. It was a shock to see it. I don't remember my friends and I taking many photographs, and I didn't remember this moment ...
(such a sky and such a sun
i never knew and neither did you
and everybody never breathed
quite so many kinds of yes) — e. e. cummings