Almost French - A New Life in Paris by Sarah Turnbull
'Almost Australian' reflection on the book:'The Happiest Refugee' by Anh Khan
Paris, through the eyes of an outsider ..
She is a newcomer,
a foreign one at that,
the regulars regard her with polite indifference,
thinking for themselves:
'No, non, non, does she really think she can become a real Parisienne?'
the sexy classicism of her look
in her smartly cut suit
using powers of seduction and sophistication
towards men in her life.
That French habit of collecting things
simply for their beauty,
Is that why,
French women's appearances
are subject to intense scrutiny.
Is there a possibility for them
to break out of this beauty-seduction-obsessed mould.
Paris at night
golden, pink skies
an intimate garden in violet shadows
the evening air smells of champagne,
couples fall into each other's arms.
Every skidding stop on his motorbike
and his schoolboy jokes
takes her by surprise
It is the scene,
the city and the man
she is succumbing to...
She is here to stay.
Moving into Paris becomes her dream
indulging in everything
from wine to chocolate,
to all the pleasures unseen...
unable to fathom her lack of control,
her French friend beseeches her:
“Where is the pleasure in having it all, at once?”
The essence of French elegance
is in a perfect balance
of romance and restraint
In this country,
history is everything.
clinging to centuries old rules
they know how to set a table
and when to smile.
The old ideas of power and class never dies.
Their place of birth,
the mythic rural countryside.
Growing up in a four-hundred-year old farmhouse,
strewn with family heirlooms....
At weekends Parisians are united
to recapture their idyllic childhoods
by visiting their idolised places of past.
is about filling heads with facts,
not having fun.
No-one is admired for simply 'having a go',
You don't have the right to make mistakes,
the friends you make at school,
who strived with you to succeed,
having experienced the humiliation of failure,
with you many times,
they remain your mates for life.
And yet the French are undeniably proud
of their French flaws:
'We are all whiners,
too individualistic, hopeless with foreign languages,
She looks up from the Proust's
legendary page long sentences
confused with the French language
with its multitude of possibilities and doubts.
Her gaze wonders out of the window,
nature is preparing
for its long confinement,
chestnuts will soon fill the city's gutters,
petals fall with a slow grace,
leaves are curling, dying.
She feels spent too,
but not the French.
After their long summer holidays
Rested and revived, they are ready,
not for work
but for a nation-wide movement,
uniting the variously disgruntled-students,
teachers and other employers..
They march down the streets
in happy singing parades
which radiate camaraderie.
usually maniacal with rage,
are calm, sympathetic.
Resigned to wait and wait,
for buses and trains to run again.
takes time in France.
Her Frenchman gestures
towards the rats and rubbish,
' You wanted the real Paris?'
The darkness makes the staircase
looks even more grubby and grim.
It is a spiral of dark doorways and dramatic shadows.
She counts every torturous step,
opening the door to a beautiful landing.
The French like their salons spotless, ever ready to receive guests.
The city is a testament to civilisation.
Breathtaking beauty of these old streets is moving.
the perfectly preserved
architectural masterpieces around her
she is expected
to try to look perfect all the time.
In France vanity is not a vice.
it's mark of self pride.
Everyone lives in fear of humiliation,
it is about being brilliant,
everyone wants to shine.
One moment, living here,
her spirit soar,
adoring those cultivated people
with their culinary and aesthetic perfections.
The next moment,
she is thinking terrible thoughts,
'About how Paris would be perfect
if it weren't for Parisians.'
History and traditions,
passion and beauty,
art and inspiration,
everything that makes Paris
a measure of civilised life
the French cling stubbornly to the idea
that their nation
is everything but multicultural.
Finally, she swapped the Proust
with another book,
'Sarah's Key' by Tatiana de Rosnay
about the notorious Vel d'Hiv round up,
which took place in Paris in 1942,
with its thousands of Jewish occupants
being dispossessed and deported to concentration camps,
not by Germans but by their fellow neighbours Parisians.
Wondering through the infamous streets,
she stopped in front of the 'Ministry of Justice'
built there instead
and seeing irony in it,
she asked herself:
'How this could happened in this old city,
the city of the French revolution,
the first defender of the human rights?'
She looked for the answer
and turning around
she caught sad eyes
of a little Frenchman,
the child of an East African immigrants,
who was selling daily paper with a big headline:
'Parisians are now sounding the alarm:
the centre of Paris risks loosing its authenticity,
It must be preserved and protected from the foreign influences...'
She smiled at him: 'I am foreigner too, you know and I think that's rude...”
“I was born here,” he replied,
“Non, non, non, they are not being rude, they are simply being Parisians.”