Tuesday April 9
I been thinking of Jean Rhys. She was a beke, that is, an Antillean creole descended from early European colonists in Dominica, like my relatives in Martinique before the African pot got stirred. In her novel, Good Morning Midnight, the protagonist has returned to Paris after more than 15 years, a Paris she recognizes but doesn’t seems to fit. She’s older, she’s alone. It resonates.
From Good Morning Midnight, page 1
“I have been here five days. I have decided on a place to eat in at midday, a place to eat in at night, a place to have my drink in after dinner. I have arranged my little life.”
I’m into my second week but can’t say that I’ve made much of an adjustment. Would it be enough to take every meal in the same place?
Paris has always been home for me. The first place I could own, that fit me, that did away with shyness, with not belonging and trying to belong. At the other home, I monitored my speech, my friends’ reactions, my family’s approval, disapproval. Like my father, I didn’t want to be discovered. In Paris, I only adhered to the, then, strict rules of tutoyer, hand shakes, meal time punctuality, and the language I used with “adults’ versus my friends, mostly students. Don’t use the shortened “formid,” only use the correct, “formidable.” And never use “fric,” the slang for police. These requirements weren’t personally attached to me.
In Paris, that first time, I talked to strange men on motorcycles while walking along a road in Sottteville sur Mer. But it was daylight and there were passerby’s. I was safe. My French family didn’t agree: I understood their concern but wasn’t deterred. I broke it off with a boyfriend after a week when I learned he was smuggling cigarettes. I created my own group of friends from other newspaper sellers of The New York Herald Tribune and The New York Times. My last liaison took me to meet his friends, to his favourite cous cous restaurant, and to a studio belonging to an artist friend. As we approached the elevator, the concierge made her presence known. He explained that I was his fiancé. The only way to make it past her. Under the eaves on a small bed, we kissed, tumbled, and that was all. He didn’t get his way but he didn’t drop me. We spent my last day in Paris saying good-bye at the Select where we met almost every night. And, il a plura, it rained.
Like Jean Rhys’ character, I’ve returned to a Paris that doesn’t quite fit. Or I don’t fit. And like her character, some of it is age but also the blinders of narcissism and youth are off. As they were in Au Bout de Souffle where in the end, the lovers don’t recognize each other, a free spirited thief and a conventional American.
After Tuesday’s class at the Alliance, students clustered together complaining. One student said she dreaded coming each morning. I feel the same and have decided to quit at the end of this week. I’ll have more time to explore Mayotte Capecia’s experience as a woman of color living between two cultures, Martinique and Paris. Her characters, Isaures and Mayotte, both leave Martinique for Paris, hoping for a better life. Did she get it? Do colonized people of color get that better life? My grandmother and her sisters lied and said they were from France because surely France was better than Saint Lucia.
A long day, a difficult day saved by an aperitif at Bistrot L’Estrapade located at the end of my street. I thought only dinner was served but when I passed by, the owner was enjoying a cigar at one of the four outside tables. I asked if I could have just a drink. Yes, yes, he agreed but could only find vermouth rouge.
Ca suffit as I look down the street towards the Pantheon.