Le cul entre les deux chaises

An American Spaniard in France or: How I Learned to Make an Ass of Myself in Three Cultures


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INT. METRO STATION, PARIS — EARLY EVENING

A station like this one.

A station like this one.

GIRL is on her way home, her feet leading her along the familiar path to her train. MUSIC playing in her earbuds, she is minding her own damn business (as usual). Suddenly, a feeling comes over her, powerfully drawing her attention to a MAN and WOMAN walking ahead of her to the right.

GIRL
(under her breath)

God – damn – it.

GIRL is pulled into their orbit, despite her keen desire to just get home. GIRL does not want to deal with these people because they are the worst kind of people in the world: Spanish people. GIRL cannot resist the calling she feels in her very DNA and approaches the couple, reluctantly pulling her earbuds out.

GIRL
(in Spanish)

Can I help you navigate the Metro?

The MAN whips his head around to glare at GIRL, his lip already curled in disdain.

MAN

No! I know perfectly well how to navigate the Metro!

MAN makes a dismissive hand gesture, as if flicking GIRL away like a bug.

GIRL is suddenly supremely annoyed and decides to take a few moments out of her day to teach MAN a lesson.

GIRL opens her eyes wide in a look that appears innocent but she laces every word coming out of her mouth with sarcasm.

GIRL

Are you sure you know where you’re going? Because you can’t go down that way.

GIRL has indicated the direction the couple is heading in.

MAN

Yes I can! This is the way to go!

GIRL flits her eyes over to the poor WOMAN traveling with MAN and is not surprised to see that she is meek, embarrassed and unsure how to proceed. GIRL points to the sign directly above the COUPLE’s heads.

This sign

This sign

GIRL

No, you can’t. That way is an exit for the X train line. You actually can not go that way. I can help you get where you’re going if you’d like.

MAN sees the sign, understands that he’s wrong, that he was beaten by a girl. MAN becomes irrationally angry. As his face reddens, a train starts pulling into the platform furthest from where GIRL, MAN and WOMAN are standing.

MAN

See! That’s our train!

MAN grabs WOMAN’s elbow and drags her down two dozen stairs so they can race along the platform to the train. GIRL doesn’t move, she doesn’t run for any trains, and looks on, bemused. GIRL knows that two different train lines are serviced at that platform and that within the same train station, there are two more lines. MAN had a 1 in 4 chance of getting on the right one. GIRL hopes he’s not lucky.

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Subway strawberries

A thing that never occurred to me growing up was that someday, I’d be buying fruit underground and loving it. The thought most likely didn’t cross my mind because I didn’t live in a place with a subway system, but also because I didn’t eat many fruits or vegetables on principle as a child.

Now, I eat them with relish (not the condiment, but the sentiment) and sometimes, if I’m going to get home after the local shops have closed, I’ll pick up some fruit from the guys set up in the Metro on the way. The other day, I got the end-of-day price of 2€ for almost half a kilo of strawberries and they were really good. This batch wasn’t as good, but for another 2€, I got a whole bunch of berries and I was happy.

Subway strawberries


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EXT. PARISIAN ELEVATED MÉTRO STATION — DAY

This story takes place here.

This story takes place here.

GIRL is waiting opposite the exit to the Métro station. Across the way, a FAMILY catches her eye. The DAD, MOM, SON and DAUGHTER are clearly tourists and not very experienced ones. THEY are all wearing huge backpacks that protrude out at least a foot, irresistible to pickpockets, and aren’t mindful of their surroundings. THEY are staring intently at the Métro map, trying without success to understand it.

GIRL considers helping them but something about the DAD makes her reconsider. Just as GIRL has decided to watch the scene play out, DAD approaches the station agent.

DAD

Ing-glish?

AGENT

Yes.

DAD

Two AH-dult, two childs.

SON pulls on DAD’s shirt hem. DAD looks down, annoyed.

SON
(in Spanish)

But, Dad. You don’t speak English.

Anger flashes across DAD’s face and it appears to GIRL that, just for a second, DAD considers slapping SON across the face.

DAD
(to SON)

You shut up! I don’t want him to know! Shut up!

DAD turns back to the AGENT, trying to understand how much he has to pay. The AGENT repeats himself twice and then finally points to the monitor facing DAD. DAD mumbles something unintelligible and swivels his head around, looking for the MOM.

Once HE’s located HER, HE snaps his fingers impatiently as MOM digs around a backpack and pulls out some money.

The transaction finished, the FAMILY moves to the Métro entrance and begins the process of trying to figure out where to put the tickets.

GIRL looks away because she doesn’t like scary stories or ones about domestic violence and she suspects that this story is going to end in a way she doesn’t like.


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Sunflowers in the land of the Sun King

The first time I came to France was in 1985. We took the train from Spain, crossed the border at Irún in the Basque Country, headed to Marseilles and caught the TGV to Paris. It was easily the best trip, in terms of actual traveling, that I’ve ever had.

I’d been on public transit trains before but never one with a sleeper car and definitely not a high-speed one. I immediately thought it was the best way to get anywhere since you were actually moving but you could still enjoy the scenery and there were lots of food options. (In Spain there were women who yelled up at the open windows from the platform when the train pulled into a station selling chorizo sandwiches; there were friendly German backpackers who shared sausage and cheese; there was a dining car, something I’d only seen in movies.)

It was also the first time I ever saw fields of beautiful colored things. On my grandparents’ farm, there were fields of grains and grass and some corn; lots of potatoes and various kinds of roughage; an orchard with different kinds of fruit trees, but nothing like what I was seeing zip by as we made our way north.

It felt like I spent lifetimes looking at the lavender go by and I definitely couldn’t have held my breath as the seas of sunflowers zoomed past. Watching the Lance-Armstrong-is-the-world’s-biggest-jerk-in-addition-to-being-a-huge-liar documentary THE ARMSTRONG LIE, I was reminded of the trip, the train, and the sunflowers since the Tour de France riders cover much of the same ground we did, but I doubt they appreciate the view as much.

They ride too quickly to appreciate the scenery.

They’re not even looking at the flowers!

Thing that makes me say, “Christ! When did I get so old?”

The pyramid in front of the Louvre wasn’t there when I visited the first time. I now know people, adult humans with Master’s degrees, who were born after it was already installed in 1989.


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French Dennis Franz!

This guy made me super happy on the métro, though I’m not really a Franz-fan.

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The resemblance is unCannes-y, non? (See what I did there? The Cannes Film Festival is going on now.)