Final Piece: The Catalyst

During the Easter holidays, I made a trip to Paris and stayed in a hostel for nearly 2 weeks. Having spent the first 7 years of my life in France, this was the first time I’d been back for an extended period of time, and especially alone.

Broadly speaking, and the answer I would give if anybody asked, I was going to improve my French. Again, I basically hadn’t spoken it for a decade and a half – and if I had it was so far removed from the context of the everyday: think Midlands schoolkids bashing their way through ‘je joué au foot’.

It was different this time.

With my notebook already armed with key phrases that seemed half familiar, and a map of the Paris Métro that did not, I stepped off the train and out of the gates of the Gare Du Nord.

The first thing I noticed was the cold, the remnants of the beast from the east. The second was the bustle – almost but not quite matching London. Finally, the militarisation struck me. Soldiers, honest to god soldiers with semi automatic rifles and camo gear guarded the station, alongside the equally kitted out Police.

On the second or third day, my bag gave up the ghost. This led to the first big test of my french. It was a step by step process. In the glasses store that I walked into in order to ask where I could buy a – I guess I didn’t actually know the word for bag, so I mimed enthusiastically, using props (obviously I could convey what I wanted fairly well – it was just the vocabulary that escaped me). The attended kindly pointed me down the street towards the main shopping district, carrying on down the Rue la Lafayette. The behemoth that is the Galeries Lafayette soon greeted me, and I slinked around in awe and only slightly disoriented. After finally finding a section that sold ‘sacs’, I looked through a few and picked one out. €129. Yeah. No. Again fumbling for vocab, I tried to convey that I was looking for a bag that perhaps ‘moins’ – I rubbed two fingers and thumb together. Ah, d’accord, moins cher, he replied. He suggested ‘Citadium’ – une autre boutique.

As it turned out Citadium didn’t have the type of bag I was after either, but having to visit it and several other stores before ending with joy in the Decathlon at la Madeleine cemented basic interactionary French in the front of my mind, and having the such a specific task did frame my interactions in a way which made it a lot easier to pick up words and gleam meaning from context. I would definitely recommend it as a way to jump back into a language after a long time away.

  • What I got from this:
    These experiences formed the catalyst for the final piece as I want to delve deeper into the human experience, particularly the sharing of deep human emotions I have trouble accessing. I want a way to share these experiences with others and have it resonate with them.
  • What I want to Take forward:
    The power of memory. Part of what made the trip to Paris so integral to the work is that it allowed me to access memories that had previously been relegated to a deep chasm of my mind. Even something as throwaway as a McDonald’s advert was still referring to a particular piece of French media and culture and triggered my memories associated with the character (in this instance Lucky Luke – technically Belgian). It was the specificity of it that mattered, and that specificity is the crux of the memory vignettes I present in my final piece, ‘Familiar Ghosts’.
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