Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Muddy Puddles

The favourite activity of the little girl's favourite cartoon pig was jumping up and down in muddy puddles.

The cartoon pig lived on a hill somewhere in the English countryside.

The little girl lived in one of Paris's grimier neighbourhoods.

The puddle lived outside the New Morning Jazz club. 

The puddle was composed of many things.  

The little girl was wearing little pink sneakers and little black pants and little grey socks with tiny flowers sewn in them.

The little girl was wearing the week's piss and spit and cigarette butt and ash and perhaps some sewerage and probably some old coffee and a few old chips up her little black pants. Not to mention the centuries-old grime and plague and dead ants and spew and grease and rat fur and beer funk.

The little girl was delighted.

The little girl's face crumbled upon perceiving the shock of the passers by.

The little girl's eyes spilled over as her mother rushed to pull her out saying 'I'm so sorry darling, but you mustn't jump in puddles! Puddles aren't always puddles.'

The little girl tried to understand.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

To Tu or not to Tu

When and when not to tu in French is a complex cultural dilemma - especially if you're a casual person. In fact, if you're Australian it's probably hardest as our MO is to never act greater than anyone else in any given circumstance. How to be casual in general in French is highly difficult - there are manners of being that are simply not employed. An example that comes to mind is this:

Nice to meet you.

When meeting someone you'd say Enchanté(e) - enchanted - which is ridiculous, but sweet.

It's the goodbye Nice to meet you that's impossible. You know - you've been at the party and you've met some new people and you go around saying 'See you, nice to meet you, bye...' That offhand expression, as far as anyone whom I've ever asked can tell me, doesn't exist. The only thing you can say is:

Ravi(e) d'avoir fait votre connaissance - Ravished to make your acquaintance.

Or perhaps:

Ça m'a fait très plaisir de vous avoir rencontré - It's pleased me greatly to have met you. 

Pleeease, any French reader, if there's something I've missed tell me!

It comes up time after time, at social gatherings or meeting after meeting and I've gotten to the point were I simply say it in English as I can't stand the restrictive formality and directness of the other expressions. They feel so forward. 

The other one I find impossible is a simple 'Looking forward to it.' Ah! The only expressions I have ever found that match the sentiment translate as 'I'm waiting with impatience' or 'I'm waiting with interest.' Crazy. French is just a more sincere language. They either say it with entire conviction or they just say Au revoir. I have never even found any of the expressions I need in verlan or argot.

It's a complex thing - especially when you're used to relying on such nuances to express your being.

These issues are a constant source of squeamishness in my social and work life, but I think the greatest difficulty I still have is when and when not to tu someone. It's something we never even have to contemplate in English - we just use a slightly different deportment and grammar when talking to Grandma as opposed to our brother. In French there are two entire grammar systems based upon the vous and the tu form (in case you didn't study it at school). The former - for more formal situations and plurals, the latter, for informal communications. For example, you would never ever tutoyer an elderly person or a person you didn't know that was older than you - and you certainly would never use it in any sort of public interaction. The latter is used for your family (though I do know some very posh people who vous their parents) and your friends - people you converse regularly with. Oh, and children.

Of course, between the two is a whole, terrifying grey area.

For example, there's this hot chick who takes her one-year old to the same café Kiki and I go to in the evenings after club. We talk a lot, her little boy and Kiki play - we're about the same age. To tu or not to tu? We started chatting the other night after at least ten separate meetings and I couldn't remember if we tu'd or vous'd. So I just tu'd - I mean - come on. I might have been mistaken, but I swear she was offended. In the same café there is a waitress, Nathalie, who hugs and kisses Kiki and takes her behind the bar - they have an entire relationship. The rest of the staff and I all tu - we've known each other for ages. Nathalie, no matter how many tu's I do, vous me back! Ah! When we lived in the Récollets, they had cleaners come in every week and do our room. We struck up a friendship with one of the women named Myriam and one day (after having lived there for at least two years) I asked if we could tutoyer each other. She agreed, so I tu'd her. She spoke back to me in vous! It was mortifying. I tried out of curiosity to change it, but she never ever tu'd me once. I ended up going back to vous and we were all a lot more comfortable.

You see, there is real subservience here - none of the old Aussie 'no worries cobba, we're all equal'. If I serve you, I have no right to tu you. In fact, come to think of it, it was probably disrespectful of me to tutoyer Myriam. I should have respected the system - the distance.

But it's hard. You don't want to offend, say, people your age by not using the informal, but at the same time you don't want to be presumptuous and act like you're friends! I hate it I hate it I hate it! I'm constantly coming out of meetings thinking - oh shit - did I tu too early?

Ah, Grandmas. The best thing is talking to Grandmas because the boundaries are completely clear. Making beelines to Grandmas at parties now. Where's the égalité? 

Sunday, October 6, 2013

You're Not a Man, Man: Pt 2

Last night we watched 'Before Midnight' - that new Julie Delpy conversation thing. 'They Came... to Talk...' rolled Mr Rabbit's eyes but there was a party upstairs that made our room vibrate so sleep wasn't about to come anyway. That said, the moment it began we got sleepy. But aside from the boring and forced moments, like in the other two films, there were a few great parts that made us both glad to have persisted.

'The only time I get to think is when I take a shit at work. I am starting to associate my thoughts with the smell of shit.'

And there was another part I thought a lot about in the shower this morning which was when she was ranting about how he would go out into the olive groves every day and just think and wonder about his work. It infuriated her, because she had such trouble dissociating herself from him and their kids - she just could never allow herself the time to stop and dream like that. And he answered by saying 'Well if you'd fucking stop whining and bitching all the time you'd have plenty of time to dream.' Which was a very very bad call and caused her to walk out, slamming the door. 

This really affected me. It's so true. Ethan can never understand the complexity of her connection to her kids and that infuriating instinctual urge, despite all her efforts to be an independent, strong, feminist, to be with them at all times. How difficult it is for her to allow herself the time and space to separate from them - especially in her mind. 

Though men feel their own specific attachment to their children, there is something different that women feel, that they have to fight harder in order to keep themselves and their inner worlds alive. It's just different. The man does his share - often huge - then goes for his walk in the olive grove. The woman can do it too, but she has to overcome an extra part of herself that wants her to just stay and spend the entire day in Sandpit Park with them both. All it takes is for her to say - 'I'm going off for a walk.' The man and the kid would say 'great!'. But it's an effort to say it. If I ever do, the family is always better off. But that's not to say it's not anti-instinct. 

It took me back to a piece I wrote about it, when I was first pregnant with Kiki - you're not a Man, Man. That was the first time I could feel that instinct arriving in me. I must have been six or seven months pregnant. And for the first time in my life I felt different from Mr Rabbit; from all men. Until then, I had grown up feeling all the same entitlements and freedoms as a man, the ability to attain my goals in any field I chose - really, between Mr Rabbit and I there wasn't much more difference than our shapes and his ability to smash me in every sport we tried (including chess). We had always met on a very even level, and we both gave equal amounts of passion to the art forms we loved most - and neither questioned that in the other. Suddenly, I could feel myself change. Already I could feel an urge so strong to care for this being, I would never feel the same way about my work and my independence - correction - I would feel the same, but at the same time equally as dedicated to this other creature - and thus live in a perpetual state of torn. I felt it then, but could never in a billion years have fathomed how that feeling would intensify thousandfold after her birth, growing even greater every day she is alive. When I am away from her, I miss her. I can't be home when she's not there, or I feel guilty I haven't gone and brought her home from wherever she is to be with me. I struggle to set time for my work, aside from bread-winning, because anything that is not directly about her and feeding, clothing and educating her, is suddenly indulgent. I hate it! Because deep down I know it's not indulgent. I know it's me. And I know she needs me to find the time and to keep nourishing the self that I am as much as I do - she doesn't want the slave-girl or the empty resentful woman stealing her away from crèche - and as much as I know that, I still have to do battle to find that space, every single day.

Thank God Mr Rabbit got it, not like Ethan. I think Ethan gets it, but he was just angry in that moment because Julie had been acting psycho. I just think - wow - we really do get ripped apart after having a kid. When before we took it for granted we were utterly on the same boat, rowing the same direction, now we're on faraway islands sending smoke signals to each other - 'Hell-oooo! Can I go-oo for a walk in the olive groooove?'

The olive grove is crucial to both of us - and it's tempting/easy to just never go there and thus get all pious - and then get angsty with Mr Rabbit when he goes, and most especially when he comes back talking about it. Woooo!!! Who is that? I've got to find a way to go too - he certainly isn't stopping me - and then I'll come back and we'll meet like we used to and share our stories. Instinct is a beast though. Man I hope I can keep mine tamed. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013


Last night I was jolted from sleep with the loudest clap of thunder I have ever heard. Paris is experiencing a broody Indian summer at present so the thunder wasn't that surprising, but it's sheer intensity and deafening rage caused my heart to pound. I was scared. I never get scared by thunder or storms - they thrill me - and they're so rare in Paris - but this was something different. Again - POUND - the building was a cardboard box - FLASH - blinding light strobed my brain - even our blackout curtains and my tightly shut lids couldn't block out the bolts of electricity.

God was angry. There could be no other explanation. Was it pollution? Global warming? Putin? Was it that I sometimes put the yoghurt container in the bin when I'm feeling lazy?

God pounded again. It was bigger than that. God was railing at the entire fucking planet. God had stood by long enough. God had had enough. God was tired of the imbecilic, self-obsessed, non-caring, bullshitty little human race. It wasn't just Tony Abbott or Syria or the US shutdown - it was more of a general thing - god was pissed off with the entire history of man. God was stroking his great grey beard and saying - fuck this. This is bullshit. I'm starting again.  

For ten to twenty minutes it really did feel like God was tearing it down, building by building. I felt guilty, and small. Please God! I didn't mean it! I'll be better!  

Thankfully, God moved eventually away to rail at other naughty members of the kingdom leaving our building upright and me inside it drifting from one strange dream to another. In one I ran from house to house screaming at people like the house was on fire 'I'm 40! HELP! I'M 40!!' and in another I was standing shivering in an above-ground pool filled entirely with strawberry ice-cream. As I leant down to start eating my way out I was awoken by Kiki's voice calling: 

'Mama! Ice-cream!'

Further proof of all the forces greater than us.