The following happens often in France. One day, one moment, one series of events, or even a single event, lead to a fresh outlook or insight, which may perhaps be overturned tomorrow or the next day but, at least for now, becomes transparent, over-arching, and complete. Tonight, after eating with friends, a realization set in and it is as follows.
I enjoyed an american majority around the table this evening. Given our superior numbers, we pushed our preponderant agenda and established english as our language for communication. By the time we broke away for the evening, we had weaved a labyrinth of topics: politics, film, art, food, music, social and personal economics, college and our futures. The conversation was comedic, sympathetic, broad, particular and, at times, serious and austere. We would talk of the ridiculous style of fashion during the 80s, then switch to race relations in the United States or religious differences in France. I was at home, in a place I wished to settle as a repetitive part of my life, maintaing the same subjects, thinking abstractly and speaking in an exhibitive, intelligent manner. Yet, I noticed something unsettling about it all, something of a kick or a shiver which awakes one in the midst of a dream to a cold, dark reality. We live separate lives, one french, the other english, with correlating attitudes and personalities. That's not to say at one moment I love fast food and large cars and, the next moment, prefer small cars and foie gras. It's more of a definition of my means and abilities. In french, my world is what I can understand. What I can understand in french is a needle in a needle stack, when compared to my understanding of the english language. What does this mean? While in France, I stay on a fringe, in a mist of ignorance, naivete, and simplicity. Yet, when I have the ability to change to english, I hear what could not at one time be heard or understood. Suddenly, the mist clears and sight returns.
What do I see? Well, I see a darker side of life. I understand stories and experiences of the human appetite for vice, our weaknesses for prejudice and discrimination, our allurements to the debased, sordid sides of ourselves. In short, what I can see and, for once, understand are the problems I know from home. Montpellier is no longer a playground of education and new, fresh experience. Just like any other city, it has it’s cobwebs, it has what most want no part of and would feel completely content with pretending it wasn’t real. It is not that the enlightenment came as a huge surprise, but, for the first time, my cocoon of educational bliss was penetrated. For once, things aren’t so personal, they aren’t so defined by my own comprehension. It’s sobering, that in a place I found so intriguing, so enriching, can be a cesspool of pain, suffering, crime, greed, compulsion, and debauchery. In the end, I am thankful for the station I can claim away from all the madness, separated from severe pain, a situation in which I choose what to take away and what to leave, rather than being stuck in the mire of its woes. I can claim myself as what I make of myself and not what the city does. For this, I am lucky and forever thankful.