les petits plaisirs

by jemma margaret

Last I was in New York, Bobby and I found ourselves at the 1 year old birthday party of my roommate’s grandson. Awkwardly, we were the only non-parents (besides the infants and toddlers) in attendance. Not only that, but almost every single couple contained one non-native English speaker and so all the the one, two, three and four year olds running around already had better foreign language skills than I ever will.

Despite our outsider status the other guests were very gracious in engaging conversation. One mother with a French husband whose son was attending a Spanish immersion preschool (!?) asked me what I did (we are both American so that is a perfectly acceptable getting to know you sort of question). I told her I was studying abroad in Paris for the year and she said, then you must speak French, to which I replied, well not really. And she said, that sounds like a tremendous opportunity, but terribly isolating.

Yes, it is.

This, however, is not the place to wallow in self-pity (that’s what diaries are for), rather I will share with you my anecdotes to the strangeness of this tremendous and isolating situation. One imagines that similar sorts of things could be applicable in a variety of situations, although probably with less flexibility since I have nearly no commitments here.

Anecdote 1: Treats. Today I had two treats. The first one was a pot of tea with a leftover brownie (made them for a potluck at my thesis adviser’s house Tuesday night, which prompted the second dessert remark along the lines of maybe you should go into baking instead of history of mathematics. Once is a compliment, twice is perhaps a warning). The second treat was a confused walk to Librairie Gourmande, the city’s cookbook store. Many of the more interesting cookbooks were French translations, though I also found some nice French pocket editions themed around different colored foods or a certain ingredient, and a set on wine tasting that included about 30 different numbered scent bottles. Somedays are not so treat-filled, but each of them contains something extraordinary.

Anecdote 2: Rituals. In marked contrast to the variation of treats is the sameness of the day-to-day. While it might simply be a change of mindset rather than anything perceptible, I consider many mundane activities as rituals rather than routines. A cup of milk with coffee (that is the proper emphasis) in the morning. Three different fruits daily. A bit of yoga in the evening. Writing this blog.  Buying wine every three to four days, visiting my cheese lady once a week, and making scores of grocery lists. These can become reliable things to look forward to in my book. I’ve even found a certain pleasure in mopping the floors once a week.

It’s not a perfect system. Taking out the garbage still sucks and five days of the same soup is one too many. And that’s why there’s anecdote 3:

Pour a glass of wine and think about infinity.