Je suis perdue

by jemma margaret

When I take a wrong turn in a US city, I usually am able to get back on track by following the general compass directions. Streets tend to run in tourist friendly straight lines, so a premature left can be compensated for along a parallel street.

When this happens in Paris, the best advice, which I do not always take, is to turn around and get back on the original plan. Streets that might seem to be vertical slowly slope to the right until you find yourself back to where you started. The Marais, which survived the Hausmannian reconstruction almost intact, is particularly tricky to navigate. I have learned to completely ignore any so-called intuition or sense of direction, and instead stick to what I know works or a map.

That said, I have never been desperately lost in Paris, nor in any city that I can recall. I have been annoyingly lost and surprisingly lost, but not to the point of seriously doubting I will ever find my way. This has happened in the countryside, which is why I tend to avoid it.

The other day I was vaguely lost when a man asked me if I lived here. He told me where he was going and showed me his map–he was only a block or two from his destination, and I took the opportunity to orient myself as well. We departed, both more informed about where we were going.

Last night I found my way to the Odéon quite easily, found my seat in the front row (which turned out to be a slightly messy choice), and even found the program quite easy to understand.

Then Le Misanthrope began, and I was utterly lost. Had I been entertaining any illusions that I “understood” French, these were dashed within the first minute. I later learned that this particular Molière piece is unusual–more about character development than plot AND devoid of physical humor (so I guess I cannot yet jump to my premature conclusion that Shakespeare is so much easier–I developed a very plausible hypothesis during some of the particularly wordy scenes). Both qualities rather distressing for a FLE like myself. Reading the plot online afterward I was completely surprised to learn who had been lusting after whom.

I believe, nevertheless, it was well-executed. The actors projected with heroic spit, and the main character was thoroughly drenched in sweat after the opening scene. There was a fantastic (wordless) miming part set to very fast classical music where the violins did the speaking. Probably the only point in the play where I was on equal footing with the rest of the audience.

If you have never been to a play in Paris, I give you fair warning that you must be prepared to clap for a good long time at the end. The actors leave, they return, they leave, they return with backstage people, they leave, they return with other backstage people, they leave, they return with any of the backstage people who have not managed to escape offstage in time. People shout bravo! It is the spectators turn to perform, and they do so mightily.

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