“Luh shat aye syur luh tab-luh”

Paris-bound tomorrow. Very excited about venturing forth into the land of wine, cheese, and labor strikes. I’ll be at my host’s place in the 15th arrondissement by twilight (unrelated: I’d like to reclaim that word from its association with juvenile vampirism, please and thank you) so there will be plenty of evening left.

I have been to France twice but this is the first time I’ll have the opportunity to make it my own. Last time I went with my grandparents and uncle, and the only thing I managed to say in French was “un petit peu.” Everyone rattled off in English the moment they detected the Anglophone clan ambling up the Rue des Étrangers with an angsty teenage me in tow.

I’ve taken enough French to get by but they can only teach you so much in school. “Le chat est sur la table” surely won’t get you very far when you find yourself being swarmed by an army of putrid trinket salesmen at the Eiffel Tower.

It’s said that learning a new language is like creating a new soul – one must learn to express oneself all over again. On the rare occasion that I’ve had the opportunity to converse in French, I’ve felt like a toddler – I get flustered and end up intonating everything as if it were a question. It feels silly at best not to be able to find the right word; at worst it’s downright agonizing. But there are no shortcuts. I would love to be able to rebuild my personality in French but that is many eons away.

It helps to swill back a couple of adult beverages before you endeavor to recreate your soul anew. Arnaud was so patient with me when I got slightly drunk and tried to explain to him, in French, the difference between the Amish and the Mormons – “Comment dit-on ‘batshit fucking crazy?'” said I. It was a good start.

The best part of language is learning those expressions that we wish we had in our native tongue, and conversely, taking pride in our own language. I don’t yet know of any untranslatable and beautiful words in French, but I’m sure my linguistic victories and defeats will be central to this trip. In English, for example, we use “human” as an adjective as well as a noun. We use the concept of human-ness to emphasize the fact that we aren’t just bags of blood and bones. It’s a go-to expression that we don’t really think about, but it’s no easy feat to try to break down the idea without invoking the expression itself. Divine would be the closest thing, but that sounds a bit self-aggrandizing. “Human” evokes both sides of our condition – the humble and the noble.

Grandfather Clock

I have arrived in familiar London! I left from the new International Terminal at Hartsfield which really shook me up – it’s very shiny but it lacks the brutalist charm of the old terminal. It’s also the site of egregious highway robbery – nine-whole-dollars and ten cents for a beer served to me from a dinky little “bar” that occupied a dark corner of a bare-bones food court. It looked to be an afterthought, and if it weren’t for the curious fellow bellowing like an inbred carnie from behind the counter I might not have even noticed it there.

The plane ride was painless. I sat next to two handsome Slovakian guys who’d inexplicably spent their time in the US in Acworth. Something about a church. They had about 30 letters in ostentatiously bubbly handwriting from their sisters-in-God that they were under strict instruction to “oPeN oN tHe PlAnE ❤ xox.” They told me that America felt like a movie.

I went through Immigration and was thoroughly intimidated by the stern lady behind the desk – it reminded me of my favorite quote from A Confederacy of Dunces – “You can always tell an employee of the government by the total vacancy that occupies the space where most other people have faces.” You know the type – a hybrid between a headmistress and a carrot.

I was greeted at the airport by Mark, a chatty limousine driver who grew up on the same street as my dad. Mark speaks precisely and carefully about everything – “I’ve just parked 60 feet ahead in the 11o’clock position.” A shining example of the quiet eccentricity of the British!

I hadn’t seen my grandparents in two years and it was great to be back at Number 4 last night for dinner. All of the original houses on their road have been knocked down and replaced with sprawling mansions, rendering their house a total anachronism. It’s very strange and comforting to go back to that time capsule every summer. I get a little older and they get a lot older, but the smell in the closet underneath the stairs (must and wood varnish) hasn’t changed in 50 years and the ancient grandfather clock in the hall still lets out a brazen knell every hour.

When I was little, my grandfather took the cover off the clock so I could see the guts inside. I stuck my hand in the dust on the top of the cover as an innocent form of graffiti, and my grandfather has since made a tradition of the dusty handprint. You can still see it – my hands at different stages of growth, each faded to varying degrees by dust. It’s an oddly metaphoric way of measuring time.