Workshop in Paris

I’m excited today because the baker finally started treating me like a regular instead of that weird girl who takes too long to count her change. I’ve been going in there every few days for a croissant and a cup of coffee, and this morning she decided to acknowledge me.

Baker: “so you like these croissants, huh?” Me (putting on what I hope resembles the authority of a French person who has eaten thousands of croissants): “Why, yes, they’re the best in the neighborhood. I’m in here all the time.” Then the baker says something that, while often repeated by salespeople and not exactly impartial, still gives me a little thrill. “Mais vous avez raison” or “Well, you’re correct.” Just like that, my taste in pastry has been validated. 

If this seems like not much of a breakthrough, vous avez raison. But it’s little conversations that make me feel like I am actually living in France. And not just getting by, but seeing familiar faces.

I’ve also recently realized that my French is good enough now for me to eavesdrop—which, with the way they tightly pack café tables, is inevitable. Outside the nail salon two ladies are discussing how many children it’s appropriate for a husband to ask his wife to have. And next to me at lunch, a man describes a marital crisis while his female companion applies a terrifying shade of purple lipstick. If I were a novelist, I’d start wondering if these two pairs know each other.

Instead, I decide to drop in on a poetry workshop at Shakespeare and Co.—a weekly discussion run by David Barnes, who co-edited an anthology with BU’s own Megan Fernandes. The room where the workshop is held is as famous as Bay State’s 222—a reading room, library, and office for writers like Hemingway and Joyce.

On a rainy Paris evening, the workshop hosts a diverse group—a Russian student writing in English, an older man from Amherst, MA, a woman from Yale who lived in the same building I did, a British poet. I’ve brought a poem and a few pieces of the translation to share, but many visitors just listen, dropping in on the discussion and soaking up the atmosphere.

I don’t blame them—if you turn your back on the queue of tourists snaking through the aisles, it’s easy to feel nostalgic. The piano is playing in the other room between the bells of Notre-Dame. The place smells like rain and old leather binding. But I can’t help imagining that Woody Allen, not Hemingway, is coming up the stairs.