Ch. 16 – More Letters from France

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Ch. 16 – More Letters

«Meme si je suis en France…

…Mon cœur reste a Texas ! (avec vous !) »

Bonne Anniversaire !

Love,

Claudine

(Card made for my grandmother Rita)

Dear Rita –

Just a little note to wish you a happy birthday! I got your letter today – thank you for the check. I’m sure that I can find “something” to spend it on! I am looking for some lined boots right now. The nicest looking ones are in suede, though, and with all the rain here it’s hard to keep suede looking nice.

I did buy a mohair sweater. I saw it in a shop window – one of those shops that sell yarns for knitting – it was a demonstrator model. It’s beautiful – really fluffy and pink – it sort of looks like a big puff of cotton candy! It cost only $45.00 and I didn’t think that was too bad for a hand-knit mohair sweater. It’s got short sleeves, but it’s really warm!

It’s starting to get cold here. I wore my jogging suit to bed last night with two pairs of socks and then finally I was warm. Dad has sent my winter clothes and they should get here soon. Even though it’s cold, the weather has been really nice here – it has only rained once this past week. We had our little vacation for Toussaint (All Saints’ Day) and I just stayed her in Angers. I did go out to Cholet for dinner and a party. I will write more on that in my next letter. Sorry this won’t get here right on your birthday, but artistic endeavors take time.

Love,

Claudine

P.S. – I did the drawing of France with a map template, and drew Texas freehand. The star on the map of France is Angers, and the heart on Texas is Fort Stockton!

(NOTE to SELF: I am going to now include some things from my journal starting from 10/17/84)

10/17/84 – Well, I had a nice day today. I forced myself to get up after setting my alarm forward two times until it rang at 7:15. I had an 8:30 class – Langue. It lasts two hours – believe me, it was “long.”

I got a letter from Rita and Tim today. First Rita had written a short note on this big piece of paper, and it looked like that was all she was going to send. Then Tim filled in the rest of the paper. The letter mostly talked about the weather (the topic in West Texas!) and politics (Reagan versus Mondale). The truth is that Rita’s handwriting looked kind of shaky and her letter was a tad incoherent. I have this big fear that one of them is going to die while I’m over here. And I feel awful, because the first thing that popped into my head was that I would have an excuse to go home!

I cleaned my room, exercised, showered and then I was bored and – let’s be honest – hungry. So, I decided to go down to Didier and Robert’s room to visit and maybe to beg a crust of bread. I’m glad that I did, because the whole gang was there – Chuck, Carol, Robert, Didier, and Trish. I had some bread – first with tuna salad, and then, with honey and butter and joked around with Chuck, Carol, and Robert.

I was on a roll that night because everyone thought I was too funny. I was always pretty insecure, though, and I wondered if, despite the laughs, I was among friends. Chuck, in particular, was a question mark – he just seemed so cool. When I remarked jokingly that I didn’t think he liked me, his girlfriend, Carol, said, “Oh, but he was just saying how much he did!” I wasn’t fishing for a compliment (or maybe I was?), but it felt nice. I decided then that I needed to make an effort to mingle with the others more.

Carol asked if I was interested in joining a gym with them and working out. They had found a reasonably price gym between the Catho and our dorm – gyms were not very numerous in France. I think that it was just catching on. I used to work out at a gym at home – a really nice one that my family belonged to – but I hadn’t done so in a while. Horseback riding was my main form of exercise before I went to France. Carol said they had weights at this gym, and I told her that I would love to start again. They had aerobics classes, too. I had seen Carol exercising to her Jane Fonda cassette at the dorm, and knew she would be a good exercise inspiration.

Carol’s suitemate was another student from New Orleans – she was from Loyola. She was a most unusual girl. Her name was Amelia – or rather, Amelie, since we were in France. She was a child of the world, and had apparently traveled and lived in Paris with her parents. She was not an attractive girl, but there was something about her. She was a uniquely shaped girl, with disproportionately wide hips, and her face was sort of mannish. She was – well, she was sort of like a female drag queen!

Amelie did not concern herself much with school. She had apparently hitched her wagon to the CIDEF program at the Catho as an excuse to live in France on her parents dime. I know that that would aptly describe a lot of us, but Amelie seemed to speak French fluently, and immediately attracted a lot of men to her. Mostly gay men, I think. Prior to going out to the local discos, a couple of gay guys, dressed like Boy George, would show up to do her make up and help her dress. I recall her coming out of her room in a Marilyn Monroe inspired white halter dress that worked very well with her huge hips. In makeup, she was rather handsome (like a drag queen), and her short hair was stiff gelled into a do. She would sashay out into the night, trailing the fairies behind her.

She had a very affected way of talking, and had a special word she called men – goujat. Goujat is a word that I had never heard – none of us had. It is an ancient word for boor or churl ultimately derived from the Yiddish word “goy”. (As an interesting cultural side note, the French word for lesbian or dyke is “gouine,” derived from the same origins. These words reflect a time during the Middle Ages when Jews in the Languedoc were city people employing Christian servant girls and sneering at country bumpkins.) It is not a word that even most French people use. Whenever Amelie would call someone a goujat, she would get a lot of odd looks. She liked the attention. Chuck had a great time teasing and mocking Amelie, swishing his hand and yelling, “Goujat!” On the surface, it seemed like joking, but it was obvious that he didn’t like her. I didn’t want him to not like me!

Ch. 17 – La Boum and Le Telephone

That night, we Cidefiens went to a boum, or party. I didn’t get back to the dorm until 1:45 in the morning. I couldn’t say exactly that I enjoyed myself, but, on the other hand, I also couldn’t say that I didn’t. It was so crowded – I had been battered and beaten – and I had danced continuously since about 9:30. I only rested once or twice. We were invited by a Jean-Noel, a French student who liked hanging out with Americans. I think that he has been a moniteur (instructor) during the pre-stage, or maybe he was a student at the Catho.

I met a really nice guy that night. At least, he seemed nice – but what can you tell about someone just by dancing with him for four hours? His name was Carl, and he was an engineering student and friend of Jean-Noel. He was from Nantes. I didn’t really get a chance to talk to him much with all of the music and noise. However, when I decided to leave, I managed to get lost just leaving the Catho. I turned when I heard a man’s voice, saying hello to me. It was Carl. He turned me back in the right direction – headed toward the dorms – and walked along with me.

I was really surprised that he was going to walk me home. It was something that Pablo would have done. Then, to remind me that he was a French man, he stopped at a corner and indicated that this was where we would part ways – he lived in the other direction. So much for chivalry, I thought to myself. On the other hand, he had invited me to come and stay with his family in Nantes one weekend. Go figure. Pretty nice, but Pablo would have walked me home.

I had an unsettling experience before I reached the dorms. I was quite comfortable walking home alone, once I got over the lack of chivalry on the part of Carl. To keep myself company, I started singing. I loved singing while I walked back then. I was belting out something odd – probably an old Roger Miller song, or something from the musical, Showboat. I was really getting into it, when I heard another male voice behind me. It said, “Tu chantes bien.” (You sing well…). This guy just caught up with me and started talking. I was polite to him (sometimes I was too nice!) because I didn’t know what else to do. He didn’t do anything inappropriate, but, just to be safe, I entered the dorm across the street and stayed in that lobby until he left. Then, I went to my room. Angers was a small town, but I decided one couldn’t be too careful.

The next morning, I could not make myself get up that morning. It was Saturday, and I lay in bed until noon. Then, I got up and took a shower. I was going to the Catho to check my mail (I couldn’t wait until Monday, and I was still receiving more mail there than at the dorm). Then, I was going to join a group of fellow students for a Spanish lesson to be given by Jean-Noel.

I had no mail, and the only other person with Jean-Noel was Mark, a student from Notre Dame. I ran into them at the RU. We decided to forget about the Spanish lessons and the lovely institutional food, and retired to a café. There, I had a croque monsieur, and talked with the guys. I thought that Mark was cute – and he was going to go to medical school (that is, if he didn’t continue to study physics…). He was in my class, and I thought he might be an interesting prospect, but those Notre Dame students kept to themselves – they were a bit snobbish. Still, I enjoyed eating lunch with two guys!

That night, our group – along with the Notre Dame students – was invited to a reception hosted by France-Etats-Unis. I almost didn’t go – but I was glad I did. The meeting started out by the showing of films – I don’t recall what they were. Then, they broke out the wine and hors-d’oeuvres (Pay dirt! We were suckers for free food and drink!), and we mingled with the French people. First, I met Catherine and Genevieve, two girls who were working in Angers. Catherine invited Robert and I to dinner the next day at her apartment. A dentist also asked for my phone number, along with some other students – he and his wife wanted to invite us to dinner at their house. They also invited my new friend, the med student. It seemed promising.

Some other younger French people – Genevieve and her brother, Ben – invited Andrew, Robert, Sandy (another Lafayette student) and I to go over to their apartment. They lived in a cute building on the other side of the Chateau, overlooking the Maine. They made us more food to eat, and we talked and had a great time. While we were there, another friend stopped by. His name was Jean-Daniel and he was very funny. He and Ben were both medical students. I had met three future doctors in one day!

Although it was another late night for all of us, I managed to get up at 9:00 in the morning to go to the Euromarche. Robert, Carol, Chuck, Sandy and I were headed there to buy picnic supplies. We bought French bread, cold cuts, cheese, cornichons, a jar of Dijon mustard, and mayonnaise in a tube. We also bought many bottles of wine. We settled ourselves in the park across from the residence universitaire and had a great picnic. Being Americans, someone had brought a Frisbee with them, and we threw it around. I even threw it around a little.

I also drank a lot of wine, which gave me a yearning to make trans-Atlantic phone calls. In particular, I wanted to make a long distance phone call to a certain guy named Pablo. I still didn’t know how to use the long distance card number my grandparents had entrusted me with – and I didn’t know how they would like it if I used it to call my Hispanic boyfriend (Pablo was from Nicaragua, but all Spanish speakers were “Mexicans” to my grandparents – and dating Mexicans was frowned on in West Texas…). My only other option was to call collect. It was pretty wild, dealing with the long distance operator in French, but eventually, I got through.

We must have talked for about 10-15 minutes, and it was worth it. That was easy for me to say, because I wasn’t paying for the call! Pablo did not mind, though, and even said that he had tried to call me the day before. He promised to write me a letter, and to tell me something that he had done. He said, cryptically, that it was something that he felt that he couldn’t tell many people, but he thought that I would understand. That made me pretty curious. All in all, it was great to talk to Pablo, I couldn’t stop worrying about how much it cost, and was determined that I would pay for the call next time.

That night, as promised, Robert and I went over to Catherine’s (the one I had met with Genevieve) to eat dinner. It had been a busy weekend, and I really didn’t feel like negotiating the bus system to go over to her apartment to eat. As usual, I was very glad that we did. Catherine’s boyfriend, Loic, was there, along with another girl named Pascale. It was obvious that Pascale was involved with one of the other male guests, named Joel, but there was another guy named Alain that was unattached. He worked at the slate factory near our dorm, and was very good-looking.

I know, what in the world was I doing, thinking about all of these other men while I was “in love” with Pablo? It was almost as if my long-distance romance with him was giving me the self-confidence to flirt and send out signals to other men. Or, at the very least, think that I was… In that case, I even sang for the group! I had never sung for a group of people before! It all started with an interesting conversation about the chorale class that was forming at the CIDEF, and Robert running off a list of the talented singers in our group. He listed Trisha, Mark, then as an afterthought, said, “Oh, and Claudine, too.” Alain heard that, and badgered me into singing “Bill” from Showboat. The wine helped bolster my courage, as well as my annoyance at Robert mentioning my being able to sing as an afterthought. I may not have mentioned it, but I had a sort of a crush on Robert, as well.

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