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Trying to get back on track here. This doc was originally dated 3/2/2010. Warning: angst alert. This was when I realized how little I could communicate with the locals.
Okay, I’ll keep this one separate from the accounting of the week.
Monday night, neither Becky nor I slept well – for me, it was roughly textbook insomnia – the airflow of the ventilation system sounded like someone running a car on the roof. Becky just couldn’t get comfortable.
How appropriate.  So armed with a lack of sleep, we set off as soon as we were both up and moving – I had not planned anything out for the day, and, indeed, I had forgotten the only guidepost document i had – a Plan du Metro.
We went to l’Arc du Triomphe first – access blocked by police.  Pretty from a distance.  Next, les Jardins du Luxembourg.  I remember them being lush,  and wondrous, and warm.  That was in late summer/early fall. They were dead. Statuary all looked correct, but the rose gardens were all naked, and every tree was stark and empty.  Probably didn’t help that a brutal storm had just come through (found out listening to the news that the windstorm we experienced? yeah, it killed people and broke seawalls on the coast. Not quite ’state of emergency’ stuff, but close.)
I was already feeling somewhat nauseous at this point – disconnected and uncomfortable – these things I remember so clearly were feeling terribly unfriendly this time.  Notre Dame.  Serenity and peace is something I associate with the great cathedrals of France, based on my previous visit – but oh, 20 years is so long.
Notre Dame was closed today from 12:25 until 5:30pm for some event – police again everywhere, an emphatic disconnection.
I arrived, at that point, at a certain sickness-at-heart – a form of panic attack, I think, where  I realized just how unprepared I was, how few landmarks and points of familiarity I had here, and how much it felt like an alien and unfriendly place.
Not exactly what I wanted to be feeling, here.
Here in France, I know Becky, I know the comforts of cooking and companionship with my lady. I know the Metro – even after 20 years, much of it is familiar, and in any case, it’s a familiar kind of puzzle with solutions I can puzzle out comfortably.
The museums are comfortable; anonymous browsing.  I begin to realize how poorly I deal with truly unfamiliar situations – I don’t like dealing with strangers when I don’t know the right rituals of communication.
My high school french, unsurprisingly, does me no good other than the limited sign-reading I can kinda pull off.
So today I spent much of the day in a state of overloaded isolation – hard to enjoy the world around me when it seems so very far away and so incomprehensible.
Next time I go to a foreign country, I’m bringing a friend who can help translate and bridge the culture gap. That was supposed to be my job this time; I underestimated the sheer, shocking alienness that I was kept safe from 20 years ago, when I didn’t understand the world much, anyway.
On a similar note, I found myself watching CNN this morning; European English CNN.  The news covered from Britain (upcoming elections) to Iraq (the same), to Chile(big earthquake), to South Africa (World cup countdown).  Having watched american CNN recently… I want to cry.  My country feels so jingoistic, so self centered.  I know there’s some reason, there – we have a big damn population, and a lot of interesting internal problems… but still, when the news spends as much time covering people with different cultural values _in different languages_, it feels a lot more worldly than what I’m used to.
So yeah. Feeling like a stupid american, feeling like I’m not very adventuresome, a little homesick, a lot foolish. Bit off more than I could chew. I look forward to Britain – more familiar, understand the language, at least.
(crossposted from The Dream Library)
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