Le click

I guess it’s been a while since I had the time or energy to update things, and actually a lot has happened in the last week or so.

Believe it or not, I *did* write a really long blog post. I had insomnia, it was four in the morning; I was sitting on the floor wrapped up in a Mexican blanket feeling nauseous and weak and I wrote this horrible blog about my newfound sensitivity to smells, describing all the horrible things the sight of a drippy tomato does to my uneven digestion, discussing how every smell on the street made me feel…I mean, I pulled out my inner thesaurus and just WENT FOR IT and used such SAT power words like “putrescence” and “excrable” and had a merry old time, and then I went to hit “POST” and realized my finger was actually hovering over the “OVERSHARE” button.

So I decided to hover my finger over the delete button instead. Because I’ve realized it’s really easy during a pregnancy to get a little obsessed with all the weird things your body is doing and to also decide that everyone else is just as fascinated as you are. 🙂 So, short version: pregnancy is weird. The end.

From a letter I wrote to a friend earlier this week:

“...Yeah, the little person-inside-me thing is pretty weird and magical. I started making arms and legs this week, according to my new baby book. I began a spinal column two weeks ago.

Let me say that again. I am building a SPINE.

It’s crazy to think about these things, these cells, just spontaneously organizing themselves into such complex things. The heart is already beating, even though it’s just a couple tubes and not even a heart yet, but the cells just DO it. Automatically. They beat. And those cells are going to beat for a long long time, longer than I will be alive, and that is an amazing thought…amazing like looking over the side of a cliff, and your stomach dropping away with the vertigo and the thrill of it all. It’s in me and yet it is going to outlive me. It’s my own cells and it’s going to turn into something that will have its own wants and desire independent of mine and it’s own personality. It’s so strange and as close to actual magic as I think I have ever touched.

So. That’s happening.

The BIG thing for me this week is “le click”. Bing. Just like that, I started to speak French.

Ok, not just like that. I started classes this week! It came at a really good time…or a really bad time, depending on how you want to look at it. Another excerpt from that same letter to my friend, written last week (sorry for the pathetic tone, but don’t worry, it gets better):

“…My mood is kind of not good…M is working most of the time and there’s nothing for me to do at the winery right now, so I’m spending most of my time alone, even when he comes home he is too tired for much interaction because harvest means you have to get up at three or two a.m to get the grapes off before it gets too hot outside because the sun will start early fermentation or bacteria… And this is six and sometimes seven days a week. So I am insanely isolated and sitting at home reading the Huffington Post and not speaking to or seeing anyone for days at a time.

So, now you see why I take four hours walks every day…which has meant I am exploring the backcountry around our village. There’s a huge dried up river bed with caves, miles and miles of hills with scrubby trees and blackberries and rosemary and lavender and black pigs and little wild chicken looking things. I found the source of the dry river two days ago, a deep cave plunging out of the rock…empty and eerie and I want to go into it except I keep picturing it full of water and my stomach drops. I am fascinated by this place and I’ve started taking books and picnics there in the afternoons, and my sketchbook too.

BUT integrating into France is not going good, I’m really isolated. Still picking up a lot of French every day. But not enough to talk more than basic sentences and expressions. If someone is slow and takes the time and is patient, I can have conversations…And I can handle things like the bank and the pharmacy now, enough French to ask for vitamins and receive instructions for their use, or to order food from a stand or things like that. I can make jokes, I can describe my situation or my day, I can talk about basic things…it’s limited and it’s slow as I make the sentence, but I can do it now. I can even understand a lot more of people’s conversations…just words and not the essence, but I can get the subject and the gist, even if I can’t feel confident enough about it to respond or participate. But… it’s painful to spend a whole evening like this, awkward and lonely and frustrating. M says I’m not trying hard enough to speak, but I AM…but I can’t jump into a rapid fire conversation in French that is excluding me. So this is why I decided to spring for the classes. They’re too expensive by far, but I need to leave the house, go into the city every morning, study in a classroom, speak to people, go to bookstores and wander around the city and generally interact with people. I’m hoping it’ll help me with my French too, but the main reason is to keep me from becoming a hermit and to beat back the depression that’s rising around me.”

Seriously, it’s been super hard and a huge struggle. I felt just lost, and scared…the phrase “fish out of water” never felt so apt. It felt just like that…gasping for breath, exhausted because the stuff I breathe, the stuff I take for granted, the stuff I’d never had to think about before, had all changed irretrievably…and I finally had to admit that I needed more than a computer program to learn French.

So the classes so far have been AWESOME, and I’m finally getting the confidence to speak. It turns out I knew more than I thought I did…but I wasn’t getting the chance to use it, really.

Montpellier is a really cool city. It’s old and beautiful and has lots of little quartiers and neighborhoods where you can get lost and forget you’re in the big city. The school is near the center of the city, near the Place du Comedie, which is where the opera house is. There is a big park nearby with benches and fountains, and a medical school that goes back to the 11th century with a huge garden that is full of medicinal plants surrounded by a stone wall. The school is gorgeous and has an old anatomy dissection theater with weird flayed marble statues standing on the staircase holding signs reminding you of your morality, in Latin. Nostradamus went here, believe it or not; he studied medicine in Montpellier and went on to open a private practice treating bubonic plague victims. He was apparently successful because there aren’t any more of them.

There are Lebanese stands selling tabhouli and a whole Moroccan/Algerian neighborhood, with men drinking mint tea and an outdoor market with dried fruit and figs and mounds of spices. There is a carousel in the center too, and street musicians and dreadlocked panhandlers and college students everywhere. There are squares you can walk into that are peaceful with little cafes and trees and kids playing, and then HUGE streets with tramways and people riding mopeds. There is an art supply store, and a yarn store selling knitting needles and hand-dyed wool and weird buttons right near my school too.

So now you know where all my money will be going.

I go in with our neighbor in the morning so I get 45 minutes of French conversational practice before the class. The class is INTENSE and is three hours with a fifteen minute break. The teacher speaks no English, so it’s ALL French. Then after, if I’m not too tired, I walk around and explore the city and try to have interactions with people. I talked to the guy who owns the Lebanese restaurant…who had to do the same thing, learning French, only he did it at a different school. I bought yarn from the wool store and knitting needles, and talked about how I learned to knit, and how it’s maybe more common for younger women in the U.S (at least the crafty art school girls I tend to hang out with) to get into knitting and crocheting and fiber arts in general. It’s really good, and the more I have to speak French, the easier it is becoming to HEAR French, to hear the individual words when someone speaks to me. It’s still sooooo uneven and I have to listen with ALL my attention…so usually by the time I get home, I am mentally exhausted.

But the best thing, this week I was able to have a conversation, my first conversation, with both my eleven year old sister in law, and also my brother in law. The FIRST conversation. Can you believe it? It was SOOO good for me, finally, to be able to express myself to M’s family. It’s been the worst thing for me, to have these people who are important to my husband and who I really want to get to know (and who also I want very badly for them to like and respect me to, of course!) and not be able to talk. And I feel like a huge block fell away this week, because of the classes. So that’s basically amazing.

It’s a little like watching a photo develop, having a language come into focus, as the sounds start to become familiar.

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2 thoughts on “Le click

  1. Thank you Laurie, YOU WRITE GOOD! It is almost like sitting next to you and having you tell us about you! I am sorry for the hard/bad stuff, but I am also happy for your giant leaps in your life. You know that we respect and admire you for what you have accomplished in life so far and by what you will yet do. We look forward to your wonderful writing!!! Thank you.

  2. You write so beautifully with so much imagery in your words Laurie! Your description of the ‘magic’ of pregnancy in the letter to your friend was perfect, like how I remember feeling (even if it was 52 years ago). I’m sorry to hear you’re experiencing morning sickness (who labeled it Morning?) but that too shall pass. And I’m so happy for you about the breakthrough you’re having with French. Given a bit more time it will become complete, just like that little beating heart.

    We’ll be awaiting your next missive while onboard Solstice to Australia. We’ll miss you at CMOG, but know you are doing much more important things!
    Kay Barnett

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