Why international soirees are not for me….

Weds AM

Thirty seven minutes. I timed it. Thirty seven minutes is the difference between the time I started attempting to leave the pub, and the time I actually left the pub. And this was no feat of conviviality -no no. This was a very strange Spanish reluctance to leave a socially awkward and boring situation. I could not explain it, but was helpless against its power.

At 12:01, I announce my intention to leave. I have a gleeful moment in which I think I have gotten away with it, but before I have my scarf around my neck, Gabriela announces her intention to come with me. Just after she goes to the toilet. I am okay with this, and make further announcements about waiting ‘ici’, which are somehow misunderstood and she returns from an unsuccessful mission some minutes later to collect me for our joint bathroom visit. No no, says I, ‘ICI’. You can brave it on your own. She eventually returns with the next announcement. The other Spanish girl, Val, is apparently also going to come with us, and now she needs the toilet. More waiting. I realise that I am now helplessly embroiled in a social joint-exit situation that I cannot escape, as I have lost the right to leave independently. I panic and start wrapping more layers around me. However, Val is at this point very busy wrapping herself around her Iranian not-boyfriend, and looks like she has not got the slightest intention of going anywhere. No amount of disengaging from conversation and clutching my handbag can save me now. Gabriela finally puts a jumper on (not a coat yet, mind you), but becomes distracted by two young enthusiastic Venezuelans, who are dying to dance with us and speak anything but French or English. Gabriela has little to gain from this exchange, but still does not seem to be showing any desire to extricate herself. It’s bizarre. In the end I picked her up, threw her over my shoulder and garryowened her into a tram, sprinting the rest of the way home. And all of this took thirty seven minutes. That is a lot of minutes, when all you want to do is be at home in bed -alone -watching Netflix. In one language -not seven.

It might have been that I was intimidated by all these young people, having multilingual conversations and dancing to Europop, but I found it very difficult to see the appeal of such an event. No, methinks, international soirées are not for me. How they are for anyone I find very confusing, but Gabriela was most insistent that I should agree it had a been a great night, what with the dancing and all. (Or in my case, awkward shuffling). I tried to explain to a grinning Iranian that we are nicely repressed in Ireland and don’t do sober dancing, but he completely ignored me and bullied me into adding him as a friend on Facebook. This Facebook friending is also quite mysterious -Gabriela was adding people like a mad thing, and given her level of commitment to actually texting her Facebook friends, I just don’t know how she does it.

Another surprising aspect of an international soirée -and the expat community in general, which I had avoided mentioning until now, is the racism. Jesus Christ, it is alive and well. I have previously noticed a rather alarming amount of bitching about “the Chinese and the Arabs”, but I had hoped it was just miscommunication. But no, last night confirmed it. Oddly, a penchant for international soirées and stilted conversation is only a mark of open-mindedness if you are also white and European. And we wonder how the Americans elected Trump. (About which, incidentally, I am still so upset that I cannot bring myself to further comment on the matter).

So today was supposed to be about printing more cover letters and traipsing the town delivering same, but it is pouring rain and actually snowing outside, so I am finding it difficult to leave the apartment. Which is deliciously warm, as Karim is fully committed to recreating a Tunisian climate in our living quarters. Fine with me says I, and he paying all the bills. I do wake up most mornings in a somewhat sun-dried prunish state, but anything is better than the cold. Nothing a half a litre of Nivea lotion can’t sort out. But with all this rain and mankiness, I may even mop the floors. Which is about as appealing as chewing my own arm off, but I tried that and it tastes of Nivea. A bit of Radio France Bleu Isere and mop city it is.

Dopamine, serotonin, and of course, coffee….

The coffee quest continues. I have vacated the premises to give Mrs. G. and her daughter their space (she’s visiting for the weekend) and have installed myself in a very nice nearby café, with my iPad and a crossword. Today I tried my careful explanation again, and the very friendly girl working here assured me that it was a double noisette I was looking for. However, the caffeine induced shakes and double vision I am now experiencing suggest that she has in fact given me a double espresso, with a bit of foamed milk. It’s not what I wanted, but it’s getting closer!!

Today is all about preparing for the Paris/Amsterdam trip. Much Googlisation is in order. I plan to do this in English as I have dutifully done my bit for French acquisition today, by listening to my new favourite radio station -France Bleu Isère 98.2. This morning I listened to a fascinating expert-advice show addressing the very serious issues faced by French ladies in their encounters with stray cats. Apparently stray cats are creating quite the social problem here, to the extent that the vice president of the organisation for stray cats (no,I definitely did not misunderstand) was given a prime time Saturday morning slot on the radio. (The actual president was no doubt too busy discussing the matter with Ban Ki-moon). As far as I could follow, the advice was neuter, neuter, neuter. Not sure how this took a half an hour to establish, but there you go.


Having started a bit of organisation for the holiday and suitably relaxed myself, I decided that the weather was fine enough for a ramble into the centre-ville. This, of course, was not before yet another cooking related scuffle with Mrs. G., who now regards my every move in her kitchen with suspicion. What was I doing with the grill? And how long was it going to take to make my toast? And oh mon dieu is it burning? No, calm the hormones, Mrs. G. I’m 32 years old. I’ve made toast before. However, you are nearly sixty and you still don’t own a toaster. One nil to me, I think you’ll find. (Says she whose French crockery collection amounts to a plastic cup and a free wine glass). Still we had a nice chat, even if she did become apoplectic when I explained that the Chinese girls in my French class are all convinced they are losing their hair since they came to France. No this is true, they are all convinced of it and keep showing me their hairlines, which they believe to be receding!!! One of them told me that she had been warned of this affliction before she came here, and hadn’t believed it until it happened! To be honest I can’t say for sure whether it is happening or not, but they are very adamant. However, Mrs. G. is having none of it, and practically spat fire when I suggested that it could have been the change in diet that brought it on, what with the Chinoises typically being unused to dairy products. Maybe they’ve hit the camembert big style, and their little systems aren’t able for it. However, Mrs. G. took this as a personal affront and what followed could only be described as a diatribe condemning China, it’s food, it’s pollution, and it’s general inferiority to all things French. She may have a point though -it does seem unlikely that a bit of cheese would make your hair fall out. But try telling that to my poor balding classmates. Nonetheless, we reconciled our differences, and she is now pimping out her poor daughter to me for social outings. It remains to be seen how her daughter will feel about this, but we may just have a hiking date on Monday.

The ramble in the centre-ville I must say was extremely enjoyable. The town was hopping and I spent a very happy hour and a half exploring cobbled streets and lane ways that I hadn’t found before, taking in the ambiance and casually glancing in the windows of potential workplaces. There’s a crêperie I have been eyeing up, but that is a project for another day. Yesterday’s trepidation has suddenly given way to a great sense of freedom and possibility, akin to the excitement I felt when I first arrived here. The uncertainty is almost intoxicating. I don’t know what’s going to happen yet, but it’s going to be NEW. And I like that.

I am not sure when I became so addicted to this feeling of possibility, but I am very much in the grip of its seduction. I often think of a film I saw a year or two ago called The Age of Adaline. In this film, the main character, Adaline, gets somehow infused with electricity (I am never good with details -more of a vague ideas kind of person..) and becomes incapable of ageing, staying young and beautiful forever. There’s lots in the film, but I remember that what really struck me was that she became completely jaded by what life had to offer. Her youth and beauty lost its appeal, because she had seen it all before. It highlighted the fact that life’s pleasures are made all the more pleasurable maybe because they are time limited. But I have identified with the idea recently in a new way. It relates in a way back to a diagram I saw once in a book that I have now lost, the name of which I cannot remember, malheureusement. But the diagram illustrated the idea that we have drives towards different social and emotional goals at different stages of life. For example, babies and infants are driven to make the strongest connections with their parents in the early years, and this remains the case throughout much of childhood. In adolescence, the peer group becomes the most important social bond, and all of your energies are poured into fitting in at all costs. (These costs can be quite high, as anyone who ever became a goth and hung around Paul Street in long black coats will eventually admit). In your twenties, the strongest drive is to find a partner and probably to start a family. After that unfortunately, my memory fails me, and I would dearly love to find this diagram again, as I am dying to find out what is driving me now! However, I have my suspicions. At each stage of life, you get the greatest pleasure from things that move you, or have the potential to move you towards your goals, and your hormones and brain chemicals assist you in ensuring that this happens, with goodly doses of dopamine and seratonin. However, it is roughly age related, and I am not convinced that the hormones hang around for you, if you are a bit slow on the uptake in getting these goals met. So although I am now in my thirties, I am still single, and therefore living the life of someone in their twenties.. But recently i have been reflecting that maybe, if you spend too long in any one phase -regardless of how much fun it is -maybe, like Adaline, you just get a bit bored of it. And perhaps it is this fatigue that gives rise to restlessness, and leads someone who only ever dreamt of a house on the hill above the River Lee (who couldn’t understand why you would ever leave the country when obliging travel writers and documentary makers had done it for you), to find herself gleefully, joblessly and directionlessly gadding around France like a love-struck teenager. But maybe I’m over thinking it….

The stroll around town was almost like a mindfulness exercise -just taking the time to notice what’s around me. Now as my close friends and family will enthusiastically assure you, I am not known for my skills of observation. I once stood for five full minutes in a room in my own house, before realising that there was a large motorbike in the centre of the room. Which had never been there before. Yes. However, I would argue the point that I am observant, but just with more focus than is considered strictly normal. If you go shopping with me, and if you tell me that you are looking for a grey woolly cardigan (it might be the winter time and you may want some comfort clothes), I will, within five minutes flat, have sought out every single grey woolly cardigan that is to be had in that particular shop or market. However, I will register the presence of absolutely nothing else on my mission. If I am walking to a particular destination, for example, a particular shop or restaurant, then my head is focused on finding that shop and that shop only, and no other establishment along the route will exist for me. I am too busy with my own thoughts. Typically, I find what is going on inside my head to be much more diverting than what is going on outside of it. However, I do have to work on marrying the two, because that is when the magic happens.. If you ever happen to read the book The Tailor and Ansty, you will meet the famous Tailor of Garrynapeaka, who often commented that the truly wise people are those who look around them and learn from what they see. The Tailor saw very little in his life, and yet learned a huge amount from it. He had nothing but contempt for people who were privileged enough to have a very wide experience or education, but didn’t seem to look around them. In this age of cheap flights and easy travel, we are all surely guilty of this, but me more than most. So my venture around town can be taken as a step in the direction of reflection and learning. All in all, I have concluded that a day in which, to the untrained eye, I appear to have achieved very little, can be claimed to be a good days work. Or maybe I just drank too much coffee and wandered around with my head in the clouds.. You decide!