My friend Nikki asked me to occasionally mention things that are not completely fabulous, to help her avoid feeling jealous, so I’ve wracked my brain (because we are having an excellent time) and come up with a few. So, Nikki, especially for you . . . .
Living here does occasionally require, well, intestinal fortitude. Or maybe gumption. Whatever the mot juste, I can assure you it’s not always easy or perfect.
Strong arms are required to live without a car, and having to schlep everything all the time, no matter how good it is for our fitness, is just not that fun. In addition to groceries, water, wine, etc., often there’s my school bag and/or my camera bag as well. Sometimes I can get David to act as my sherpa, and he certainly carries the vast majority of the groceries, but I draw the line at asking him to carry my girly-looking bags. So, tired arms and aching shoulders, not to mention . . .
My poor feet. Sometimes I can almost hear them demanding, “Seriously?!? Sit. Down.” Oddly, the most comfortable shoes for all this walking have been my OrthaHeel sandals, which are really just fancy flip-flops. You should see the looks I get. Feet-face-feet again. Could be the fab plastic jewels, but more likely the slap-slap sound. The looks I get are not admiring. They’re either stone-faced or slightly confused. It may change as the weather continues to warm up, but at the moment I may be the only person in La Rochelle, besides the occasional 20-something guy, wearing flip-flops.
Next, strong nerves are required when you find yourself on a narrow sidewalk with a wall on one side and cars screaming around bends, practically on two wheels, on the other side. And I mean, Right There Next To You. So close your hair practically blows back. Yikes. Cardio workout anyone? Let me catch my breath.
You also need adapability for the unexpected. The first time I walked into the rather posh restroom of the Café de la Paix and realized a gentleman was coming in with me, I was, to say the least, startled. Each person does have his or her own little compartment, but I felt just awkward enough that–I confess–I hid in mine until I heard him leave.
Certainly strong self-esteem is required–or at least a willingness to laugh at yourself–because making stupid mistakes in French is a daily event. Every. Day. Multiple. Times. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve asked for 6 or 8 planches (which means planks or shelves or boards) of bacon fumé instead of 6 or 8 tranches (slices).
Then Wednesday, instead of explaining I was fatiguée (tired) after my little illness, I told the receptionist at school I was fatigante, which is likely true, since it means tiring or annoying, but was not what I meant to say. Everyone, whether vendor, server, friend or teacher, has been unfailingly kind and helpful, correcting the gender I’ve used and/or my pronunciation (un pain ordinaire, pas trop cuit*, with no T sound, but une baguette, pas trop cuite*, with the T sound). I’m still not too great at saying le moelleux, but since that’s a delicious warm chocolate lava cake with a melt-y center, I’m not going to quit ordering it!
Sometimes you even need a strong stomach, since there are a great number of, how shall I put it, souvenirs des chiens on the sidewalks. They are easy to avoid, but are not pretty. This is in spite of the signs requesting a ville propre (clean city), complete with a rendering of how exactly one cleans up after one’s dog, since it’s such a foreign concept. (I know, right? I so wanted to include a photo of the sign, but I’m afraid David vetoed it for the Good to Know post, so I probably shouldn’t put it here either.)
And if you happen to walk through the central outdoor market area just after it finishes for the day, but before the debris has all been swept up, beurk!* But your timing has to be spectacularly bad, as ours somehow usually is, because the clean-up is thorough and immediate. David loves offering me items from the gutter as we pass by, as if he were a waiter. “A little fish today, maybe?” as we pass a particularly odiferous leftover. “Or perhaps a squashed tomato?” Dégoûtant!*
*Vocabulary: Pas trop cuit(e) = not too cooked (browned) Beurk! = roughly, yuck / Dégoûtant! = Disgusting
So . . . helpful? It’s surely not news that there is no perfect place on earth, or perfect people for that matter. We all make do the best we can. It brings to mind this: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8 Seems like an excellent goal, wherever you are.