Sunday, February 8, 2009

E. F.

She was short, very, with a compact build. Not overweight at all, but definitely not exemplary of the type of thin Parisian silhouette so much in fashion, so expected in France. She wore trim black trousers, tight black sweaters, flat black shoes; she wore no lipstick but sometimes lined her eyes, doe-like, in liquid black; sometimes she knotted chiffon scarfs around her neck (she did have a way with fashion nonetheless). Her hair was glossy black and short, slightly wavy. She was Parisian, born and raised, but because of her "Arab" name and her darker complexion, she often faced discrimination. She transformed a lifelong feeling of being marginalized into a streak of deliberate nonconformity and a critical wit. She was my French teacher while I lived and worked in Paris, and I believe she saw herself as an ambassador of the "other" France. She and I became fast friends—we were not all that far apart in age, actually—and she made it her project to usher me past the country's official image, behind the back of Marianne. I spent many late evenings in her apartment in the Latin Quarter. We'd eat simple food, share some wine, and talk about intolerance and art, translation and the untranslatable. We'd laugh hysterically. When she laughed, it was a high-pitched sound that shook her small frame, and to this day I have never seen anyone get so red in the cheeks as she did. Her slightly darker skin did nothing to mask her habitual, furious blush. For her, I bought my first bottle of wine ever: it was a Saumur-Champigny, one of her favorites, from the Loire. This felt like a rite of passage. With her, I went to Caveau de la Huchette, to listen to jazz and dance on a cramped floor until the last Métro had long since left the station and I had to walk the long, dark avenues back to where I was staying, singing all the while. She was the one who introduced me to so many of the French artists I came to admire for their skill with language; for their rebellious, poetic and sometimes tragic voices: Serge Gainsbourg, Leo Ferré, Emile Ajar (Romain Gary). I think it's safe to say I was always somewhat enamored of this woman I felt was a kindred spirit. I am sorry to say that I am no longer in touch with her, so our friendship is now just a memory. "Avec le temps va, tout s'en va . . ." Unless, someday . . . But regardless, wherever she is, I hope she is happy, and I hope she knows how much difference she made. Merci, E. F. Gros bisous.

1 comment:

  1. a first bottle of wine - the day you feel like a grown up, when you realise that the senses go far beyond the eyes!