I’m sorry that it’s been such a long time since I last wrote to you, and I promised that I would give you an update on Thanksgiving in France, but right now I would rather write about other things. Furthermore, as [ ] as it was (I don’t want to lie to you, so I’ll let you fill in the blank), I don’t know how enjoyable it would be for you to read about. I’ll tell you about some other stuff though.
First of all, my exams are over, as well as all of my classes. I finished yesterday morning, actually. I was kind of afraid to be honest–for them to be over. I remember what it was like the first two weeks in Tours before classes had started , and honestly, I didn’t want to experience that again–the disorientation, the idleness, and to be frank, the loneliness of it all. Luckily, I had a bike to go exploring, and this blog to write some of it down. Things are different this time around, however.
It’s different because of the friends I’ve made here, and if you have time, I’d like to tell you about some of them. For the sake of privacy, I’ve left out their real names.
I met Bartholomew at La fac à velo. It’s this event that the university puts on during orientation week so that new students can become more familiar with the campus and their fellow students. Yup. That was just a summary of every event that universities put on at the beginning of the year. Anyways, Bartholomew was one of the first people I noticed. I had met a couple of other Germans at the beginning of the year who I was standing next to, and I saw him out of the corner of my eye. The first thing I noticed about him was his bag.
I thought to myself, “That guy has a cool bag.” (Incidentally, he bought the bag from a specialty Peruvian goods store, and I now own a green one just like it.)
And then I noticed that he just looked liked someone kind. It would be impossible to write down all of the subtleties that can create this appearance of kindness, but if you ever meet B, I think that it’ll be the first thing you notice about him as well. If not, I’m sure that the ink stains on his hands and pants will be the next thing that catch your attention.
One day we were in Language class, and during our ten-minute break at the halfway point, we had determined that it was of the utmost importance that we find the right restaurant to eat at after class. Graphs and charts, any kind of pertinent research that would aid us in the decision making were all necessary. Bartholomew sat by the window and I sat by the door on the other side of the room. His head was down and another potentially exploding pen in his hand as he appeared to be working with a passion. I imagined that he was compiling the data that we had talked about, and the entire class period, I couldn’t stop laughing imagining that he had taken our conversation to heart, devoting all of his mental faculties towards deciding on a place to eat after class instead of paying attention to our teacher. He was just doodling faces, though.
Those are the thoughts and memories that I associate with his ink-stained hands. B is a very calm person, but when he talks about William Blake or another one of his favorite writers, I can picture him being swept up in creativity, scribbling away as fast as he can to get his ideas down until his pen explodes. He also has some pretty worn out sneakers, two pairs.
“I like them,” he once told me. “I like to think that they make some kind of statement.”
The shoes that he has are the converse-esque shoes that I picture all struggling grad students walking hurriedly to class in. The statement, I would say, would be in response to the materialism and the obsession with status that one often runs into in France. One day we were walking near La faculté de Tanneur past the store windows, looking at the ridiculous prices, the mannequins, and the large posters behind the mannequins featuring beautiful men and women in settings that one just has to laugh at.
There was one store in particular. The clothes were supposed to convey American ruggedness, or perhaps the 1950’s, uniformed, college student with all of life’s doors standing at attention. The poster behind the mannequins featured a group of people, one of them, a man with a ridiculously beautiful beard, a stocking cap, and a knitted sweater and parka. They had leather bags with them atop that mountain, aviator sunglasses, and… a football. Hmm. One of them was also carrying a flag sporting the company’s logo. We talked about how inferior we felt in-comparison to individuals capable of looking that beautiful and casual in nature.
His shoes make a different kind of statement, though. His shoes speak of his kindness. They’re worn because of the amount of walking he does accompanying others to class, to the bus stop, to wherever they need to go so that they don’t have to walk or wait alone. He’s that kind of person. One might not even guess that he were a student because he never seems to be in a hurry, only ready to accompany you to wherever you’re headed.
Sometimes the busyness of a city can bring one down. Today, a 60-year old couple cut in front of me in the grocery store, and I have watched high school-age kids on the bus refuse to offer their seat to an elderly man looking from left to right, clearly wishing to take a rest. I find it nearly poetic that there are people like B who always put others before themselves, that move at a pace reflecting a world in which one does have the time to stop and ask so-and-so how they are doing in a way that doesn’t yield the response, “good, and how about you?” I have another friend whose favorite thing to do at the end of the day is to walk slow. She told me that you barely pick up your feet, that you mostly drag them, and you take as much time as you like. You can look at the trees, at the buildings, feel yourself breathing… whatever you like.
The last story I want to tell about B is the night that I spent at his place. It had been a really long day. I had stayed up till 5am that morning, and woke up at 9:30am, so I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep. We had just spent an evening with some of our friends at Grandmont in the dorms. After dinner and hanging out, it was around 1am before people started heading to bed. I was too exhausted to ride my bike back, so I asked B if I could spend the night.
“Of course,” he said (I could never imagine him saying anything else. Like I said, that’s the type of person that he is.).
After talking for a while, he told me, “You’re tired, and you should get some rest.”
He kindly offered me his bed, which I graciously accepted. There was enough room for two people, so I assumed that we would share the bed. When he didn’t move however, I asked him where he was going to sleep, and he told me not to worry about it, that he was going to have some tea, maybe read something on the internet, and then join me a bit later.
“Okay,” I said, and I remember closing my eyes and my head touching the pillow, and like that, I was out.
Around 4am, I woke up naturally and peered over where B was. He was sleeping at his desk. He didn’t want to wake me up by disturbing the bed. He slept at his desk all night like that.
The next morning, we had breakfast in his room around 9am. He set out a plate of pastries and offered me cereal, juice, tea, fruit…
“I don’t really like having money. Then I can have a simple breakfast like this and not feel guilty. When I do have money, I usually just waste it on IHOP,” he told me.
Then I showed him Jim Gaffigan’s comedy skit on cake because he mentions IHOP (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-o-u4IwXkbE)
When I asked him about sleeping at his desk, he said, “One needs to prepare for an apocalypse somehow.”
That was longer than I thought it would be, but B is a great guy and I want to remember him as I do now. I’ll introduce you to the others later. By the way, I’m reading a really great book called, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I think everyone should read it. Journal entry: December 21, 1991 and pages 74 and 75 in particular of the Pocket Books edition made me cry. The last time I remember crying was last week when I was listening to Bon Iver while waiting for the bus, but before that was when I was hit by a car.