or, Empty jug is sonorous
I had a lot of anxiety prior to my departure. During my last weekend in New York City, I had a late lunch with my close friend Meg at my favorite cafe, Mud. She had spent an earlier semester abroad in London. While we drank freshly squeezed orange juice and ate comfort food we swapped stories about our respective breaks and discussed our anxiety and expectations for the coming semester. While we were talking, she shared a piece of advice I immediately found reassuring. "Ora," she said, "Many subtle things will unfamiliar and frustrating (she proceeded to share a story about how she spent an hour searching for fabric softener in London until she realized fabric softener in London is referred to as "conditioner"). What I found most helpful when I was in London and when I was travelling was knowing how to get myself from point A to point B. As long as I knew how to do that, I knew I would be okay, and that everything else would fall into place."
Okay. I can handle that much, I thought to myself. And actually began to feel a bit better. A bit calmer. Fast forward to when I finally arrived to Charles De Gaulle airport. Okay. I knew my mission: get from this (confusing) airport to my check in location. Despite not knowing exactly where I needed to go, I plunged forth: I hoped the semi-confident front I put up would (maybe?) lead me the right way. My arrival itself was surreal. My plane landed smoothly on a drenched runway, and I proceeded to take in a city covered in freshly fallen (and still falling) snow. I remember wondering to myself, after the plane had landed and as I stared out my little window, how long it would take me to actually feel settled here? How long would it take me to actually feel like I was in Paris? Another friend, Rachel, who also spent a semester abroad in Paris, advised me to whisper "je suis à Paris!" to myself, every so often -just to serve as a reminder- amid all the anxiety, what I am doing and where I am.
Anyway, to clarify a bit about the title of this blog entry: "Cruche Vide et Sonore," or "Empty jug and Sonorous" is taken from one of my favorite poems titled "La Cruche" (the Jug) by Francis Ponge. Almost a month in, and these memories of my arrival remain as vivid as ever. Freshly fallen snow, wandering around an airport (hoping I will end up where I am supposed to despite not knowing anything for certain), and eventually finding other NYU students and sharing a shuttle to my check in location at CISP (a hostel near Place d'Italy).
An empty jug is sonorous. The jug's singularity is to be at once mediocre and fragile. As Ponge explains, the jug must also be precious, in a way. The difficulty then, is that "one must -that's also its character- use it every day". It seems like my interest in borders, or liminal spaces won'y go away anytime soon. The reason I find this quote so appropriate, is that is gets at the tension between being a tourist and a resident. Paris - its streets, its metro- they are places I walk through, its transit system is one I use daily, yet those very acts maintain a certain singularity.
I have one ritual that I've always kept -in both familiar and unfamiliar spaces- is making running routine. That's why I chose to attach the above image in this post. The first time I truly felt Paris' singularity (and simultaneously felt at home for the first time) was when I went for my first run. It was my first Sunday here, and snow was still falling. I ran not knowing where I would end up. Eventually, I happened upon "Jardin du Ranelagh," and proceeded to see families, children, and friends spending a Sunday afternoon enjoying this park together.
In a separate stanza, Ponge writes:
Jug first is empty and sings as it fills.
From whatever little height the water falls into it, jug first is empty and sings as it fills.
Jug first is empty and as soon as possible empty again.
It's a mediocre object, a simple intermediary.
That run, in conjunction with Ponge's poem made me realize that living in Paris will include its very particular ups and downs. Moments where I am content, moments where the jug "sings as it fills". Fleeting moments in which I am running through a beautiful park and I catch snippets of conversation in french as I pass. Moments in which I feel comfortable, happy, and welcome, as an outsider.
And then, of course, there will be the immensely frustrating days. Days where hearing conversations in a language I am not yet fully fluent will be isolating, frustrating, distancing. As Alain Botton beautifully points out, "if our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest -in all its ardour and paradoxes-than our travels. They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about, outside the constraints of work and survival" (p.9).