You know there is this idea in the world that the French think very little of the Americans: Rude. Boorish.
When really, it’s just that our people often lack enough respect to learn to say, “I am sorry, but I don’t speak French,” when speaking to a French person. In France.
How we got to be so fortunate as to get to be Meridith’s parents is beyond us. As a college senior she was awarded a Watson Fellowship for her project to paint as a contemporary woman in the footsteps of Cezanne from Paris to Aix en Provence.
While in Paris, on the street by Notre Dame, Meridith, or as she was also named when she was born — Mimi — was struck by a hit-and-run motorcyclist. A friend she’d made called us. I speak no French. Julie speaks just a bit. She called the hospital, said that her French was poor (in French) and was told not to worry. Julie then inquired about Mimi. “Oh the little red-haired girl. It’s very serious; however, the surgery has gone well and she will be fine. Please do not worry. We like her very much.”
We flew to Paris. We went to the hospital, said we were the parents of Meridith Ridl and want to take care of things. “Oh no. There is nothing for you to do but take good care of your daughter.”
“Thank you, but I mean that we want to take care of the cost.” “No cost. We care about the people who need us.” Pause. “Oh, I’m sorry. There is one thing: $25 for copying fees.” For her ambulence, her surgery and several days in the hospital.
Once Mimi was feeling well enough to walk, though for a while she felt panic at each curb we crossed, she and I went to Sainte Chapelle, the cathedral with the stained glass that seems to soar into a heaven.
We sat on a little green bench while about a dozen Americans were arguing, shouting at the woman who accepted the entry fee: “What the hell do you mean you don’t have change?! You have to have some god damn change!” It went on.
I turned to Mimi, said, “We don’t have the correct change.” “Don’t worry, Pere, we’ll speak French. All they had to do was apologize that they didn’t.” And we entered the wonder of Sainte Chapelle, change in our pocket.
A couple of days ago my sister returned from ten days in Paris. Almost every French person she encountered said to her, “We are so worried about you, about what is happening in your country. Sometimes we are scared of (45). Are you?”
Monet’s “Winter on the Seine, Lavacourt”
These blues were never in the world.
He would have had to let his palette
find this benign freeze, this landscape
still as a stoic’s paradise. The ice must
have lain beneath his frayed gray gloves
as he thrust his brush stiff across
the canvas. His red spreads from the sun.
Nothing else moves. In this infinity
of cold, this pitiless lucidity of fading light,
the dead walk across the river into town.
First published in Mid-American Review
On April 1 (perfect!) my new book, St. Peter and the Goldfinch, will be released by Wayne State University Press. Yes, preordering is up at that link, and Julie says stay tuned for news of a PARTY!
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