The world is in fragments. Pieces of meaning scattered here and there. So much nonsense in the main. We pick up a single spark of meaning and try to connect it with the larger blaze. Sometimes we hold a stray ember that is quickly snuffed out. And the darkness is all.
These feelings likely stem from arriving in Paris today. In our hotel room, we cannot manage to turn on a single light. Many switches. None turn on a light. Is this a new thing in Paris – a fashionable darkness? The concierge pops up with our luggage. He explains that putting the hotel key card in a slot on the wall produces power throughout the room. Suddenly, there is light.
Watching television in the hotel room is an adventure. Robyn listens for ten minutes. “I understood the words “Ebola” and “Facebook,” she announces. “And that’s it.” But she studied Spanish. The burden of understanding is mine. After two years of high school and one year of college French classes, it’s clear to me that the French newscaster has just announced that using Facebook will give you Ebola. Or something.
I knew we were in trouble before we arrived. That’s why I picked up a French phrase book back at Dulles. It proved chuck full of useful expressions ranging from the mundane to the catastrophic. On a egare mes baggages. “My luggage is missing.” Also, by the way: On m’a agresse’. “I’ve been mugged.”
There’s the helpful request: Il me faut une ampoule. “I need a light bulb.” And the aggressively inappropriate: Est-ce que je peux allumer un feu ici? “Can I light a fire here?”
I imagine asking Frenchmen everywhere I go in Paris: Can I light a fire here? Robyn giggles along before she catches herself. Then she rolls her eyes. “Why wait until we get to Paris to become ugly Americans?” I ask.
This trip was supposed to be different from the one I took with my high school French class as a gangly 16-year-old boy from the outskirts of civilization – a few miles down the highway from rustic Salisbury, North Carolina. (A town that boasts nearly as many church steeples as stop lights.) I was going to be the mature traveller, steeping myself in French culture. Finally redeeming myself for that pimply outing decades ago when I was too young to absorb the elegant manners and culture of Paris. Oh well.
C’est la vie.