Why I had to learn French, and the repercussions it had

Yes, it is true. I often find myself being quite negative towards France. Quite young, I passed through Paris on my way from Barcelona to Norway. I had to wait a while for my train to leave for Hamburg, and I spent some time walking around the city. I’m don’t remember exactly what happened, but I was alone, eating in a restaurant not far from Les Halles, and was suddenly struck with an intense feeling of sadness. I had left my best friend behind in Spain, and my boyfriend was on another continent. There was no one there to console me, and I felt more alone than I’ve ever felt. I swore that I’d never go back to Paris, blaming my moment of depression on the city. I didn’t see the beauty, nor the history, I just felt this heavy, dark atmosphere threatening to strangle me. I got out of there as fast as I could.

A year later I decided to study French at the university. As I was sitting at my desk reading today, looking towards La Défense in the horizon, I suddenly remembered why I started to study French. It was after having read Proust. À la récherche du temps perdu quickly became my bible. Obviously I had to read it in Norwegian at the time, but the translation was very well written. I had never read anything as beautiful in my life, and I sympathised with the main character in so many ways. The very intense emotional life he had never appeared to me to be over the top or hysterical, I felt like I could understand his feelings to a certain extent. The language, so sumptuous and sensual, like the softest music, like waves coming and going, like a windy afternoon on a beach in Normandie. I just had to read Proust in his own language, and now I can.

During my first year of French, I spent a couple of months in Caen. I learn very intuitively, and it didn’t take much time before I spoke the language fluently. The secret is to make mistakes, over and over again, until your vocabulaire slowly adjusts and you speak without thinking too much. It is also important to read. Unfortunately I am too obsessed with English and American literature these days, but I’m trying to get serious and get through a couple of French novels as well. I am now reading Jean Santeuil, a book Proust started as a young man, but never completed. It is lovely to be spending time with Proust again.

When I returned to Paris while writing my Master thesis in Comparative Literature (on Proust among others), I suddenly found it difficult to leave. I did go home after a year, but only to move back to Paris again after 6 months in Norway. I don’t know what happened. It was a happy time. I studied, I fell in love, I had plans, I had friends. Life was easy. Finally I decided to stay, and found a job as a waitress while a student.

Once my thesis was finished, my exams done and I received my degree, I still didn’t want to go back home. I stayed, working as a waitress, trying to get a proper job. That never worked out. After a year, love was gone, I hadn’t been able to find work, and being a waitress seemed more and more as a waste of my valuable time. As I saw my friends and colleges from university go on to get interesting, well paid jobs, I felt more and more like a failure. I didn’t fall out of love with Paris at this time, but bohemian life didn’t suit me. I was neither writing, nor doing music, and I thought it was time to move on. I didn’t want to leave Paris, but I had to. There was nothing for me here anymore.

Beat, battered and blue I landed in Oslo. It was a terrible time. I had no desire of being in Norway at all, I just thought it was the best thing to do. I found a job quite fast, but it wasn’t really qualified work. I found another job, which was qualified work, but the work environment became unbearable after some time. People were either depressed or on sick leave most of the time. I was so stressed that I got sick with tendonitis, and now – four years later – I still cannot play the piano for more than half an hour. I don’t know why I keep ending up in those places. Finally, while visiting Paris, I suddenly realized that one of my best parisian friends was (is) the love of my life. I quickly agreed to move back to France with him, and that’s where I am today.

Yes, I know. When I look at my life now, I see that one of the reasons why I don’t have a career today, is because I never had a plan. I thought everything was going to work out, but it never did. Also, I never wanted to admit to myself that writing and singing was what I wanted to do. Maybe I should have stayed in Norway and gotten a proper job instead of being a waitress in Paris, but done is done. The point is that I am now back in Paris. What is it about this place? Destiny keeps pulling me back to this particular geographical spot in the universe. Why? What am I supposed to do here?

As I’ve said earlier, I still have difficulties finding qualified work. I speak the language well, but my written French is not perfect. I suppose it’s going to work out sooner or later, but my patience is wearing thin. I know that writing and music is supposed to be the most important thing, but I cannot bring myself to serve coffee anymore. I have a student lone to pay.

What I do need to accept is that I’m here for a reason. Proust brought me here. I don’t know why yet, but I’ll have to make the best of it. Being tired and confused, and having trouble integrate in this city, has made me fall out of love with it and out of love with the French. I am hoping that the memory of Proust can help me fall in love with it again. It’s Paris for god’s sake – the most beautiful place on earth! And Paris is so present in La Récherche. I am contemplating going to his grave and asking him what to do. Do I stay here? Do I bring the love of my life with me to Norway? Do we go to another continent?

All we ever want as human beings is some occational peace of mind. I hope I can find mine here. At least I see the Eiffel Tower shine from my bedroom window in the dark. That’s at least something to hold on to, while I wait for the proustian magic to make this city my love again.


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