Un Jour Dans la Vie / Where the Streets Have No Name
By Melinda Gidaly Mayor
I can hear the pigeons in the courtyard, and I want to throw a fucking baguette at them.
It’s five o’clock in the morning, and though I’ve always been terrible at math, my mind immediately does the backwards count: It’s eight pm in Vancouver. The daily double-bill of The Simpsons will be about to start on…on… My eyes widen in the weak light: I’ve forgotten what channel shows the back-to-back episodes of The Simpsons! I watched it almost every day, and now the only thing I can think about is the damn pigeons. I hear a motorbike zoom down the street. Between the pigeons, the motorbikes, and the gigantic trucks that roar by every morning, I’m desperate to close the windows, but Paris is having an incredibly hot summer, and I know I will wake up shvitzing. I hate sweating at night; the feeling of sheets that have been stuck to you for a good few hours is disgusting. A huge truck rumbles past, every noise amplified as the sound echoes against the buildings lining our narrow street. I sigh, and look over at Ian. As usual, he doesn’t seem to hear a thing. I sigh louder, hoping to share my aggravation with my husband, and get up to close the window.
I wake up a few hours later, drenched in sweat. I can hear Ian clickity-clacking away on his laptop. He comes into the bedroom.
“I have to head to work now.” Ian starts putting his laptop away.
I sit up in bed. “Oh, do you have any change? I’m going to get a baguette later.”
“Yeah, I think so.” He digs out a few euros and puts them on the table. “I think I’ll cook dinner tonight, and we’ll go out tomorrow. How does that sound?”
I make a face. “Going out to dinner is the only social engagement I get.” I see him start to make a face himself. “I’m kidding, you don’t need to get all pissy.” I say it in a funny voice so he won’t get mad. “That’s fine. So, you think you’ll be done by eight this time?”
“Yeah, I should be home by eight or eight-thirty. Think about what you might want. Are you going to go to the Super-Marché today?”
“Yeah, probably when I go to the boulangerie for the baguette. Unless I melt on the way. Just walking the few blocks there and back is murder! I can’t believe how hot it is out!”
“I know, baby.”
“No, you don’t. You work in a cushy office building with a bunch of super-nicely-dressed French businesspeople. You get to have yummy two-hour lunches! And what do I get? Nothing!” I fall back onto the bed with my arm flung over my eyes, my mini-melodrama coming to an end when I flop onto the pillow.
Ian goes back to putting his laptop into his bag. “Are you done?”
I sit up again. “Yes, I’m done. Do you need me to pick anything up?”
“Just whatever you want for tonight. I left you a few Euro on the table. I have to get going. Good luck with your writing.” He kisses me and heads for the door. He’s dressed decently enough, but he’s told me before that the Canadians definitely stick out as the more casually attired employees among the French.
I bound to the end of the bed, where I can just see him without getting up. “I love you!”
He opens the door. “Love you, too. See you later.” And he’s gone.
It’s very sweet of Ian to wish me good luck with my writing. I kind of wish he wouldn’t, though, because then I’m reminded that I have to write. I am working on my first self-written and self-performed play, a solo show that will run at the Vancouver Fringe Festival. I am working with a composer based in Edmonton, which felt like a major long-distance undertaking in the first place, but now that I am literally in a foreign land, he might as well be on another planet. Thank goodness for email.
Because it is so hot, and because the Fringe is only a few months away, my days are spent not seeing the sights, but instead banging out rhythms on my leg as I recite lyrics, all from my perch at the table in front of the window. The table wasn’t originally in this position; I had to rearrange the room when I arrived. I have done this with nearly every corporate flat we’ve lived in, usually within the first thirty-six hours of our arrival. This activity generally commences between two and four in the morning, partly because I am jet-lagged beyond belief.
Despite the heat, honking car horns, and poorly-arranged furniture, I love Paris. I know I may nit-pick, but I pick because I love. I’ve never cared much for architecture, but since traveling here I have discovered a love of buildings. Well, a love for certain buildings. What I love about most buildings in Paris is that despite looking remarkably similar to one another, they are never boring. I’m talking about the rows and rows of cream-colored walls housing multiple flats, each one with its own black-railed balcony. I don’t think I’ve looked up and seen the same wrought iron pattern twice. And even when it’s gray and raining, the creamy beige color of the buildings attracts and reflects what light there is, somehow making the walls glow even on the darkest of days. In Vancouver, downtown is made up of green glass and heavy gray concrete, which seems to absorb the darkness of the low, frequent clouds and make the atmosphere appear even grayer. I miss elements of Vancouver; my friends and certain shops, mostly. But here in the city where light attracts light, I do not miss the various shades of gray.
In Vancouver, though, everyone is still asleep. I involuntarily do the math: It’s one in the afternoon here, so for anyone who could actually provide me with a distraction, it’s…four in the morning. I sigh, and return to my lyrics. The show I’m writing is about me trying to understand my Jewish faith while simultaneously planning my wedding. The long-distance composer and I are trying for a musical theatre-meets-klezmer kind of sound. I’m hoping I’ll know it when I hit it. And if I don’t…well, how can I be expected to know, anyway? I never even had a Bat Mitzvah. The other day I went to Rue de Rosiers, the main street in the Jewish area of Paris, and instead of feeling like I was finally at home with my people, all I felt was this great divide because I couldn’t communicate with them. Is that a metaphor for my understanding of Judaism? Is everything a metaphor? My struggle to find the rhythm…is that another way of saying I’m struggling to find who I am? Is it easier or harder to find out who you are when you can’t communicate with the people around you? When you can’t talk, you can’t become a part of things. You’re an observer. You look. Regarde.
I think I want that baguette now. Time for a break.
Nothing makes me more hyper-aware of myself than being in a grocery store. Well, maybe I should qualify that: When you’re in a country where you don’t speak more than a handful of words in the language, being in a grocery store somehow brings what makes you different to the forefront. Here, everything has a different name than I’m used to; some I can figure out, some, not so much. Lucky for me, I’m Canadian, which means I grew up reading both sides of the apple juice carton. I know my jus de pomme when I see it. Unfortunately, I’m not looking for any jus de pomme. And I don’t know enough words to ask specific questions of either staff or fellow customers, such as, “Which cheeses aren’t so hard?” and “Do you carry pitted black olives?” and “Where can I find the expiry date on this?” Sometimes I will be looking at produce and see a word that I don’t recognize, and I will struggle to match it up with the vegetables I see before me. Little discoveries thrill me, like when I see the word mer as part of anything and it reminds me of one of our favorite restaurants that specializes in fruits du mer, and I know we’re talking about something from the sea. This shop nearly always has cherries, and I love going back to the flat, sitting on the couch, and popping cherries into my mouth while watching French-dubbed reruns of American TV shows.
I find myself rehearsing what I’m going to say to people every time I leave this flat, even when it’s something as simple as, “Une baguette, s’il vous plait.” I have a habit of running a sentence over and over in my mind so that I don’t forget it the second I open my mouth. I do this a few times, then pause, considering. Une or un? I knew this before, but suddenly I can’t remember which one it is. I finish making myself a couple of baguette sandwiches, wash the cherries and put them in a bowl, and head for my spot at the table. I’ll read for a bit, then get back to my play. I look at the time. How did it get to be four o’clock? Seven am in Vancouver. Ian will be home in a few hours, hopefully. This weekend we’ll be going to the Musée d’Orsay again. I love that museum so much. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. The work exhibited there fills me up somehow. I can’t wait to see Galatea again…
I sit down at the table and adjust the curtains. The light is changing. It’s not getting dark by any means, but I can still feel the difference. Soon the car horns will start up again. It comes in waves.
I bite into my baguette. I can hear the pigeons.