Stranger Intimacy in Paris
My ears have not yet drunk a hundred words
Of that tongue’s uttering, yet I know the sound.
Art thou not Romeo, and a Montague?
-Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet Act II.ii.58-60
Is the quote I overheard in Shakespeare & Company yesterday, as I sat in the poetry alcove leafing through a collection of Shakespearean poetry that Ted Hughes compiled in a little white book (this spot in the bookstore is the loveliest alcove – you even have to open some creaky metal gates to enter). Granted, it’s a pretty small alcove. If you’re unfamiliar with the Shakespeare & Company, it is a bookstore located on Paris’ left bank, or in French, rive gauche
. It has a reading room upstairs with typewriters available to the public as well as a piano in the adjacent room that welcomes all who want to play it. If you haven’t visited this bookstore yet and you’re living in Paris this semester, I highly recommend you go. There is something really special about that space and its particular history (it was a bookstore frequented by Hemingway, Pound, and Joyce in the 1920’s).
Anyway, once you’re inside this alcove, there is only one small stool to sit on. As I sat, I overheard a man with an English accent reading excerpts aloud (beautifully, I might add) from the balcony scene in Romeo & Juliet. He was reading them to a woman he was with who didn’t seem to be very familiar with Shakespeare, nor did she seem to know much English. I continued to look at my book but I was actually on listening to him as he continued to read aloud and offer some of the most insightful and poignant thoughts about Shakespeare and Romeo & Juliet since I was a senior in high school, when I took a senior elective on Shakespeare, taught my by teacher, who years later is now my very close friend, Yael.
Listening to this stranger read aloud reminded me of some lovely memories in her class and the love I developed for reading Shakespeare’s various sonnets and plays. In effect, this “not-even” encounter with a stranger provided me not only with a memory but a piece of my life at home.
On a similar but slightly different note – I chose to spend this semester living with a French family. My host family is composed of five people: Christopher and Odile, who are a couple in their early forties and three children named Sybille, Marie-Aude, and Gauthier who are 18, 16 and 11, respectively. On some level, I have grown close to them and they’ve been kind to me and comforted me in ways that no one else has (insofar as when I first arrived it was very comforting to live in a space with people who know Paris very well and helped me become acclimated). On another level, they are still strangers – and a language barrier (as subtle as it may be) keeps me from knowing each member of the family as well as I would like to – I am kept at a frustrating distance.
Cesar Pavese may write that as foreigners we are “constantly off balance” but if anything, being a foreigner has offered me the opportunity to pay more attention to a different type of kindness – which, as I’ve experienced first-hand, I can receive without the giver even realizing what kindness they’ve afforded me.
(photo was taking by me while n Madrid, Spain. It is a place where I received comfort in the form of free churros shaped like hearts, from a kind stranger)