March 13, 2011 Mind the Gap. Three short words, emblazoned onto t-shirts over the symbol for the London Tube, spoken in a comically British accent as trains pull into their stations, quoted and mocked and adored by tourists. I had always been particularly fond of the expression, thought it was an amusing turn of phrase, even appreciated the French equivalent (“attention à la marche en decendant du train”), which I hear nearly every day on the way to school. Tuesday afternoon, however, I lived it, and promise never to mock this warning again.
Spring has come to Paris, and with forsythia in parks and skies a stunning blue, it is all I can do to force myself to put on my blue pea coat and go to class. Tuesday afternoon, however, it was almost sixty degrees, and, after coming home from my medical exam (the last step in the visa process and a thoroughly traumatic affair!), I decided I would embrace the sunshine. I put on a snap-up dress I had borrowed from a friend back in Baltimore, stockings, and, as the only thing I seem to have under-packed is shoes, a pair of patent-leather high heels. I wobbled down the street towards the metro, getting concerned looks from my neighbors, and decided that part of being in Paris was learning how to walk in heels.
I boarded the line 2, transferred to the 11 and then the 4, navigated the flights of stairs, metro corridors, even the moving walkway at Chatelet without an issue. As my train pulled into St. Michel, however, I spotted a friend from my lit class, also running a bit late, and walked across the car to meet her. We talked as the train pulled into the station, shuffling out of the car in a crowd of Parisians, and, preoccupied by Alessia, the noise of the station, my inability to walk in heels, I committed that fatal error: I forgot to mind the gap. Suddenly, my heel caught on the car edge, I lost my footing, stumbled, and fell halfway into the space between the train and platform, banging one of my knees hard against the wall. Alessia and a French man next to me grabbed my arms and hauled me up, and I stood, shaking and stunned, on the platform, as the train pulled away instantly. I limped up the stairs, leaning heavily on the railing, walked to class, and sat for the next two hours, listening to a lecture about medieval epics and hardly hearing a word.
Having come away from this rather traumatic experience with little more than a bruised leg and a ridiculous story, I have decided to consider myself lucky, always look when I step off a train, and never try to wear heels again! The rest of the past week was, thankfully, less dramatic, but nonetheless terribly long. I navigated my way through a visit to a French doctor on Monday, and, after a lot of bizarre phrasing and trying to act out such ailments as a sore throat and headache, was put on anti-biotics, and no longer feel sick. Wednesday, I went on a class trip to the Centre Pompidou (which has an incredible collection and is open until 9 at night!), and out to Pho with a friend from class, where we inhaled Vietnamese noodles and compared stories of friends from home, our host families, and being too loud on the metro! Thursday, I went to meet my friend Amy, who goes to to UNC Chapel Hill and who I met on my dig in Greece last summer. She was visiting Paris with her mother for her spring break, and we wandered around La Grand Epicerie (the food market attached to Le Bon Marché, and one of my favorite places in all of Paris), marveling at mounds of rare white tea (320€ a kilo!), perfect little packages of smoked salmon-wrapped pastries, and blocks of the only cheddar I have yet managed to find in all of Paris! We picnicked in the park adjacent to the department store, and caught up on each other’s lives for the past few months.
Thursday afternoon, I went up to Pigalle, where I have started babysitting for two bilingual French girls and their chic and hilarious mother. Rebecca and Eva live in the renovated architect’s studio of their retired grandfather, who used to teach at Reid Hall (I found their number on a flyer there, and happened to call just as their old babysitter had found a new job). We now spend Wednesday mornings and Thursday afternoons together, playing school, cooking crêpes, and doing French homework (occasionally I will read Rebecca’s class stories aloud and make them laugh at my accent!). Right before my literature class at the Sorbonne on Wednesday afternoons, I walk Rebecca to her ballet lesson, on the fifth floor of a beautiful old apartment building, and watch with the mothers from the balcony as a group of French six-year-olds in tutus do pirouettes. It is a delightful break from my chaotic school schedule.
Friday, I met Emlia, Han, and Kylie at Exki (a restaurant near Reid Hall that specializes in natural foods and is pretty much our go-to place for gluten-free, vegetarian lunch in Paris!), where we ate carrot-ginger soup, and planned our Spring Break together. Friday afternoon, Kylie and I went down to the 13th to the Josephine Baker Pool, which is situated right on top of the Seine itself. Once a week, we put on one-piece bathing suits and rubber swim caps (both of which are required in French pools!) and brave crowds of splashing children and rather terrifying aggressive lap-swimmers to plunge into the pool and swim laps as barges pull along in the river right beside us. Friday night I spent traversing the Grand Epicerie for figs, onions, and pine nuts, which we then put on top of gluten-free pizza crust, which we then ate on her balcony, overlooking the city. We laughed and ate, watching the Eiffel tower, and a strange, unknown building that turned shades of blue and green as the night wore on.
Saturday morning I went to my Atelier d’Écriture, wrote a paragraph on my cultural adaptation in France (the theme this spring is “le voyage,” which is perfect for me!), and, after being pressured into reading it (it was written in French and no doubt riddle in errors), received a round of applause from the women in the group! That afternoon, I explored the Canal St. Martin with Kylie and Emilia, ate Lebanese food by the water and watched boats move through the system of locks along the channel, laughing as we got directionally confused and walked south rather than north. Because even long weeks, I have to remember, most often end in laughter.