In the mornings I go to Miss Manon, because it's familiar and comfortable and sometimes that's all I need. It's on the corner of rue St. Antoine and rue St. Paul and they roll back the doors and pack in both the frogs and the tourists, and I sit there and spout out my order in bastardized French to the tolerant staff while eavesdropping on the Yanks who don't bother. Is it better to try and fail than never to try at all? Or whatever? Oui, I say. Otherwise I don't know how you learn anything. And if you run into an asshole who for some reason is insulted by your well-intentioned treatment of their language, well, I figure they'd be an asshole in any language, so who cares? I can only worry about so many things at a time, and I've crossed that one off my list.
This morning I sat next to a teenager who was traveling with her grandparents. The grandfather carefully laid out the day ahead for them: first they'll exchange some money and try the Metro and hit the Louvre and then they'll do some shopping. She was a young lady now, he told her, and she could do whatever she liked with her own money. He kept talking and the grandmother piped in every once in a while, and the girl would respond at the appropriate intervals, not with a mumble, exactly, and not dismissive or snotty but with two or three words at the most, and really, you could just tell that they were all trying so hard. Making these little adjustments to try to understand each other and themselves and a strange country and a foreign language, and they seemed so determined to charge out into the day and make it good. Even if they were going strictly by a guidebook (which, no argument there), they were expecting so many things from it. I see myself in these tourists everywhere, and I know we all look hot and silly and confused, and all I can think is we're trying to make the best of whatever comes and do what it takes to just get through. Anyway, I sat there reading my book while they talked and it sort of broke my heart.
After that I took the metro to the Centre Pompidou, which is both awesome and insane, not to mention air conditioned and not crowded. I skipped the modern art (relax! it's only my first week!) and went through the "Promises of the Past" exhibit instead, which features the work of artists from Central and Eastern Europe. I could've stood there all day watching the hypnotic NP 1977, which is a short film of a man walking through Belgrade via a route that only he understands, but I also had to get to the roof to see what was up. Ooh la la! Everything!