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  • Ashleigh Ogilvie-Lee

Blog 12 - "It is a lonely thing eating cooked raw mince alone in Paris."

It is the morning, and I have slept in for the first time. I step out from the metro into a spring day, and I know I should love Paris in the springtime, but I just can't shake off the winter in my heart.


I am late to school, and Juliet in the office picks up that my air is different, but I am tired of trying to get a smile out of these people who reserve their smiles for friends and family, not foreigners. I am like a dog in the park with no dog sniffing my bottom.


It was a lovely party yesterday, but I was the stranger, and in the end, you are always a stranger in another country. I am sure you don't feel this so acutely if you are with another person.


I have been moved up a class at school and am now in B.1, which is the equivalent of about 4 out of 10. This is after months in Tahiti as a teenager and a year in France. I have tried various Alliance Francais courses in Auckland, but I find them so boring I never finish them, and studying French in France is not a lot different, just more lonely. At home, at least I can jump into a warm bath of familiarity after only 2 hours of French grammar, but here I must go back out after 4 hours of grammar and speak and listen in French. I am at school all day and night.


I am also doubting my linguistic ability and wonder if languages are my forte, but I'm running out of fortes.


I have a new teacher now that I am in B.1 called Chahinez, who is Algerian and keeps staring out the window searching for the Algerian sun.


She asks why I am here in Paris, and for a bit of fun, I say I am escaping my children, but as I say this, I realize I don't want to escape them. They are ma raison d'etre. Chahinez says the French call people like me a poule, which is a chicken with an apron.


Our grammar lesson is themed on the lockdown, and Chahinez says in the first lockdown in Paris, you had to write down when you left the house and make sure you came back within a certain time. Everyone lied. By the second lockdown, the Swiss had invented a system to clock in your departure and arrival times online. There was only one way to extend your period outside, and that was to go jogging, and suddenly the whole of Paris was jogging.


Terry, the principal of the school, pops in every day to make us laugh in French. He comes in as Chahinez is yawning and says, "When she yawns, you must report her." Then he starts singing, "Beautiful Chahinez, how can I live without Chahinez? You are so beautiful, you won’t stay a teacher all your life." Terry tells us he had a student once who wanted to commit suicide, and Terry told him not to do it on the metro between 8 and 9. "Please wait until 11, as many people have to work," he said.


He says he can be anti-white, anti-rich, anti-whatever he wants because he is Indian. He says some students come to him and say they want "real" French teachers, which means born in France and white. He just rolls his eyes. He once had a pupil who lost his wallet. The school found the wallet, and Terry rang the student, "Monsieur, we have found your wallet." The pupil said, "What did you call me?" And Terry said, "Monsieur," and the student said, "You can’t call me that." There is now a new word in French for non-binary, which is "iel." He asks a girl in my class called Daria, "De quelle origine etes-vous?" and she says, "Swiss." He says, "No, I mean your true origin," and she says, "Turkish." "Bien alors," he says, "and I am French, but I am Indian."


He looks at Chahinez again and says, "I love you, and I can say that because the English love everything. I can say I love the Eiffel Tower, but that doesn’t mean I will marry it. 'I love you' is beautiful in every language, especially in Russian, which makes me like Putin for a moment." "Ah," he says, "but 'I love you' is not beautiful in German," and he looks at the German girl Nicolle, who wears pink pants, pink vests, and pink running shoes. "Ich liebe dich" is not beautiful, he says. Nor is "butterfly," she agrees. "How can a beautiful butterfly be a 'schmetterling'? That's why I learn French."


"Livio," my favorite student here, says he does not like Terry’s humor, and Terry knows that he disapproves of him. He says there is a reason watches are made in Switzerland; we take things seriously, like the time and learning French. This is how it is for us Swiss Germans. I bought Livio a coffee on the first day of school, and he has been trying to buy me one ever since as a point of correct behavior. We stand outside the school in a brief moment of sunshine, and Livio looks at me and says, "Breathe deeply, it is Spring in Paris."


I am now at the point where I sit in class, and I am beside myself with boredom after about 50 minutes of grammar, and I remember why I didn’t like school when the whole world was happening outside the classroom. I don’t know which is worse, my sad bedroom or my sad classroom. Charley says he wouldn’t be doing what I am doing, even if he was offered an all-expenses-paid first-class ticket to Paris. The teacher keeps us alert by making us say a sentence every half an hour or so using whatever irregular verb, adverb, preposition, verb, phrase she has taught us. I write a sentence saying, "My sister is less clever than me, my mother is as clever, and my dog is cleverer than both of us." Chahinez says, "I’m a bit of a clown." On the next little check if we’ve been listening test, I say, "I gave my love to my dog. She died. I left NZ to come to France to forget her." Bruna touches my arm gently. Jerry, a quiet American in our class, reads his sentence. "A big moose stamped on my little dog, and he died." The story is true, and Jerry is the teacher’s pet.


I am eating a tuna baguette and custard slice very quickly at a little table in the corridor in the hour between my grammar and my oral lessons. The Swiss girl of Turkish origin, Daria, shakes her long painted fingernail at me, saying, "Bad to rush food, bon appetit."


I find a little space in a room with a microwave, and I ring Mum as she is having a small operation on her teeth. It is a stolen moment, but I am told it is a space for teachers only. I am becoming increasingly suspicious of my oral classes as French in 30 different accents is incomprehensible and downright dangerous. One afternoon, we have a skinny new teacher called Laura who wafts around in a cloud of perfume that upsets my tuna baguette and custard pie, which are struggling to settle as I ate them too fast.


Again, we have to say why we are in France. I say my mother is French, but she didn’t teach me French, and Laura says my mother was a violin teacher, but she didn’t teach me the violin. I show a photo of my beautiful mother to her, and she says, "She is a pretty old woman," which is hilarious to me but not to anyone else.


We discuss, for about the hundredth time, whether we prefer beaches or mountains, youth hostels or 5-star hotels, a village with small dwellings or a city with tall buildings. We read a passage about a man who rode a bike around France for 16 years and do the comprehension. Then there is a little dictation just for fun.


The lesson progresses to food, which is an obsession in France, and we all have to talk about the food of our country. I say I have a son-in-law who traverses the mountains looking for wild animals, which in French translates as "sauvage," and I wonder what my class thinks of NZ now, but no one seems to be paying much attention.


I politely ask Laura what the French national plat is, and she says beef bourguignon and pate de foie gras, which I know is rubbish, but she thinks she should be traditional. The national plat these days is couscous. I want to protest about the pate de foie gras on behalf of the geese, but after 3 hours of oral French, to say it is cruel to stuff a goose until its liver explodes is just a bridge too far.


As always, it is a national holiday in France tomorrow, and I am off to the Versailles palace as I want to compare it to Josette’s house. I am also going to meet Patricia’s family in Chaville, a small town just next to Versailles. Pat is then going to take me to dinner with a woman called Maryse who just might have me to stay in her house if she likes me.


I go home, but there is no one there, just my dinner with the birthday sausages left out for me to reheat 4 days later. I go next door to a little bistro and order raw mince by mistake. They cook it for me. It is a lonely thing eating cooked raw mince alone in Paris.


When I go back home, there is still no sign of Josette, but there is life behind the curtains because a voice calls, "Ashlee...." I say "good night" in a tired and cross voice and shut my door, which doesn’t close properly.


My phone pings. It’s Anna from S.A.F.E texting me to say, "Have a heart for Greyhounds."


Raw mince I accidentally ordered before sending back to be cooked.


My dinner Josette left for me.

Raw mince I accidentally ordered before sending back to be cooked.





Terry and Chahinez.


Jerry the quiet American.



Laura.


Juliet and Terry (Farah behind).



My teacher looking how I feel.


Daria of Turkish origin and Nicolle and the schettering German butterfly.




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10 Comments


Guest
Jun 05, 2023

How was the parla e of Versailles compare with Joesettes and Terry sounds absolutely hilarious! He would be very fun to have some raw mince and a wine with. ’My Sad bedroom and sad classroom’… come on ma I actually think it all sounds like a man adventure I am loving these blogs and I think this was my favourite. Xxxx

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Guest
Jun 03, 2023

My dearest publican, there is no bar in gay Paris like Freida's. I am counting the days until I return to sit with you and show off my French. Thank you so much for reading my blogs; like drinking the pleasure of them is to know they are shared . Much love play I love Paris in the Springtime for me

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neil.mckegg
Jun 03, 2023

My darling, I do rather agree with your friend who says he thinks it's wonderful what you're doing, once in a lifetime, a circuit breaker an outward bound but not if it comes at the price of the loss of your irrepressible sense of humour. what seems to be missing is your usual responses to all the small special details of what lies around you , the absurd moments that capture your ever-vigilant eye for the unexpected. Can the world around you have lost the power to make you laugh or splutter, to hastily scrawl a funny comment that caps all those that have gone before! Whatever you do , darling, don't lose your sense of humour. It…

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Guest
Jun 03, 2023
Replying to

my dearest maman, my new friend Maryse has said to me that one can't really translate sense of humour into French which I think means they don't have one. Never fear I am not losing my sense of humour even if I am trying to be French.

Je t'aime


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Guest
Jun 03, 2023

le bon steak tartare,

sacre bleu! rare...

she'll come back quite thin

mais fashionably trim

with a charming parisienne fresh air

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Guest
Jun 03, 2023
Replying to

I love your poem and yes the Parisiennes are very thin but they smoke all day and walk everywhere very fast. Like everything about them it doesn't seem to be anything they try to be... it is the way they sniff the air as if lucky air to be snagged up their noses that makes them so enviable. Thank you for your post....

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adswin
Jun 02, 2023

great advice Mike. I wish you’d told me that about the piano when I was learning so I could play like you. Adie

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