Chapter 12: Afrique C'est Chic
Franck and I were on our way to an appointment when a lady passed by with very heavy bags. Franck offered to help her carry them and she got all excited about us and told us her dream for a new world where everybody is mixed and the children are all born from love. Initially, she seemed like a nut, not least because she kept calling Franck "Afrique C'est Chic," as in "I have a neighbour who's Afrique-c'est-chic like you" or "your child will be of the new world, half white and half Afrique-c'est-chic."
You might think she was speaking generally, as of the child I will some day carry, but you are wrong. As she patted my stomach and predicted it would be a girl, we realized that she thought I was pregnant. (I was wearing a coat that I have been TOLD is flattering and spent the rest of the afternoon catching desperate glimpses of myself in every car or store window I passed, and I did not look like I was in the family way. I swear.)
I couldn't be mad at her for smashing my self-confidence to bits, though, because I found her idealism touching. Her vision of the world and unconditional love of humanity were just so much nicer than my own cynicism and my bitching tendencies. To wit: she was Algerian and yet she quoted two Jewish proverbs and said if there's a people with goodness and joy in their hearts, it's the Jews. (From an Algerian Muslim in anti-Semitic France, this is a mind-blowing statement.)
Then she was so grateful to us for "listening to an old lady's rambling" and for "carrying love into the new world" (presumably referring to the upcoming birth of our rainbow child) that she gave us money to have a coffee on her. We obviously said that we couldn't accept her money and she told us she has no one, no family, no one to take care of but the stray cats in the neighbourhood. Please don't insult me by refusing this gift, after you have been so generous with me.
And so, yes, we took three euros from a bag lady. She said "may God bless you, whoever or whatever God is to you." How's that for a lesson in progressive thinking and true generosity and kindness. Afrique C'est Chic and I were quite moved.
I've been inexplicably emotional these days (possibly depression from the lack of sunshine?) and sent poor Franck into a panic by sobbing uncontrollably through the end of French-dubbed, Saturday afternoon tv movie "A League of Their Own." (When Dotty's husband came home from the war I started fighting tears; by Kit's slide into home base I was a mess. I had to leave the room for the forty-years-later reunion.)
Considering I'd seen this movie no fewer than eight times and still managed to be torn apart, I knew that I would have a hard time with "Brokeback Mountain," which I saw on Wednesday. I was the only person under sixty-five in the theatre, which I don't think reflects the film's target demographic so much as the reality of a Wednesday matinee. I was obviously weepy through most of the movie and had a particularly hard time dealing with the transition from the sweeping vistas of Wyoming (actually, Alberta) to the wet, grey pollution of the city. I think I had gotten lost in the mountains and trees; my first breath of outside "air" got lodged in my throat. And broke my heart.
It was strange, also, as the credits rolled and Willie Nelson sang "He Was a Friend Of Mine," to suddenly hear the clipped Lyonnais French of the women around me, putting on coats and not talking about the movie. I was wrenched from the Heart of Amurka into the Shopping Lists of Lyon, as the sales are on for one more week and they wanted to get that new iron before it's too late. Did you sleep through the movie? Were you not paying attention? Impossible love, grief, bigotry, injustice -- how can you SHOP at a time like this?!
Here's something to make fun of: the top new fashion is knee-length shorts with tights. Ha! I thought it was terrible that pointy-like-a-witch shoes had come back. Then it was shaggy boots, yeti-style. Now it's the shorts with dark nylons and shoes or boots -- pointy, furry, cowboy, what-have-you. What's going on here? How could I ever have felt inferior to these people? Never again will I feel bad about not looking "French" enough, now that "French" is Glenn Close, circa 1983.
I got a call last week-end from someone who'd gotten my name from a friend. The message wasn't clear but I understood something about a rehearsal pianist and got all excited: if there's one thing I miss, it's playing show tunes on the piano. I went and met the director, Nicolas, who gave me a Duke Ellington cd and explained that I was to play along with song #14, "Chloe," on stage. The play is an adaptation of a Boris Vian novel ("L'Ecume des jours," for those of you to whom that means something) and Nicolas is going for the minimalist look and wants a clear stage. As there's a grand piano on the stage that can't be moved, he figures they should just have a pianist. I will play along with the song at the beginning of the play and at the end, as Chloe has a breakdown and her song becomes fractured and dissonant.
It seemed like a fun idea, meet a new group of people, do something unlike the other things I've been doing in Lyon (read: doing something), and even though it sounded like exactly the kind of play I don't like -- he kept using the words "symbolic," "existential" and "absurdist" and I was increasingly filled with dread -- I thought, why not.
Well, here's why not. The recording is from somewhere in the '30s or '40s and you can't actually hear anything. You know that warm, fuzzy old jazz? Try playing along with it! It's hard to figure out jazz chords at the best of times, but this thing isn't even in an actual key: possibly due to the age of the recording, it has warped either flat or sharp and is now in-between the semi-tones of Franck's keyboard. I literally can not play the notes I am hearing. And the kicker: there are no lyrics! No one will know that it has anything to do with Chloe, so it's just a fun little wink between Nicolas and his actors. This is the worst idea ever!
I should have known when he said the words "now, I don't know anything about music but I think it will be easy," but his enthusiasm was fun and I didn't have the heart to tell him that I had just remembered I don't actually like the theatre world very much and the last thing I want to do is hang out with a bunch of ACTORS and talk about the SYMBOLISM in a minimalist French play. What a drag. I'll go to their rehearsal on Wednesday and see how it works; hopefully he'll decide that it was a bad idea and we'll part as friends.
Meanwhile, a girl Franck met this past summer in Guadeloupe is back in France, about half an hour from Lyon, and tracked him down through mutual friends. She started calling him daily and talking for way longer than he deemed necessary and he wondered what was going on, especially as he had been friends more with her boyfriend than with her. Then one evening she showed up at our door. Hello Audrey! She explained that she was on her way home from Strasbourg and just dropped in while she waits for her connection train, though she avoided Franck's question of how she found his address. She was also kind of freaked out by my presence and didn't know how to handle the situation, which was obviously that she had come to Franck's on some kind of romantic journey and had forgotten all about the Kathryn he lives with. It was: awkward. Once she had claimed to be waiting for a train, she had to go through with it, so she looked up the train schedule and there was one last one that evening. All she had time for was a cup of tea, some polite conversation and a tearful goodbye. (I am certainly in no position to criticize anyone for inappropriate tears, but someone needs to explain to her about -- well, everything. This girl has gone about everything the wrong way.) So that was fun.
Tonight we are invited to dine with my Scottish colleague, who invited her basically-my-age children and other young people (god-daughter, niece and such) and it sounds like it's turned into a big bash. We are bringing white wine.