Part of my work with La Fonderie these six weeks involves me being available to do whatever they need done. So far, I’ve mopped floors, washed dishes, created PowerPoint presentations, taught iMovie, staffed a microfinance conference, and opened and closed the building for a church that rents the space on Sunday afternoons. I’m also delivering fliers for an upcoming acting workshop the ministry is hosting. I say “delivering” and not “have delivered” because despite my best efforts, I’m not done visiting all the bookstores and libraries on my distribution list.
These bookstores and libraries are scattered all over the city, and often they are quite difficult to find, hiding down side streets and tucked into small corners. Why we are advertising at such out of the way places is beyond me, but whatever. I’m here to serve.
The stores are also pretty cool though once I’m able to find them. They’re all speciality stores, each one focusing on a specific cultural area. The music and film libraries were my favorite. These are check-out-and-take-home-what-you-like libraries full of music and films and books about both. I wish I was a resident so I could take advantage of the vast selection contained in each.
But, like I said, many of these places are hard to find, and I spend most of my time getting lost while trying to locate them.
Yesterday was the worst. My aims were two stores in Paris’ l’Opera district. I had never been to this area before, but I expected it to be as calm and easily navigable as the other districts I have visited. I was wrong. The area surrounding l’Opera is a teeming mess of people, cars, and unorganized, unmarked streets. Disembarking from the labyrinthine Opera Metro station, I walked down three incorrect streets before I finally found the rue du Italiens off which sat the first of two bookstores I needed to find. I walked past the same woman begging so many times she stopped asking me for money.
Half an hour later, I found the bookstore. It was a store devoted to theater, and the people inside were appropriately theatrical. I’ve not before heard such public, animated French speaking. The shopkeepers may have been arguing with two different customers, but I couldn’t tell for sure because I couldn’t understand what they were saying. The longer I pretended to browse though, and the more vociferous their discussion became, the more intimidated I got to ask (in English) if I could leave my fliers on their counter.
I waited it out though, and eventually both loud customers left. I gently approached the counter where I was greeted by a string of French sounds and then tried to explain that I only speak English. The woman was nicer than I feared, and I was able to unburden myself of a few more fliers.
Leaving the shop, I took out my iPhone and consulted my always handy Metro map. I had meant to make another delivery in the area, but my waywardness and the delay in the bookshop cost me precious time, and if I was lucky, I’d have just enough time to hop the Metro back to La Fonderie for my 3 PM appointment.
I descended into the nearest Metro station trying to make sense of the French signage and choose the correct side of the platform to get where I wanted to go. I had my Metro card out, and as I considered a gate, a homeless man came up to me, started saying who knows what in French, and tried to take my card.
That’s right. I was lost, late, and a homeless man tried to rob me.
Already frustrated, I pushed him away and used my card to slip quickly through the nearby gate. As I hurried down the corridor, slightly shaken, I heard him cursing behind me, unable to follow because he didn’t have a Metro card to get through the gate himself.
Unfortunately, I went through the wrong gate to get where I needed to go. I had to exit the platform on the other end and use my card again to open the gate to the other side. I exited. I approached the other gate and swiped my card.
I was unable to use my card again so soon after going through the other gate. The Metro card has a built in protective feature that keeps multiple people from using the same card to get on the same train. I now had to walk the mile or so back to La Fonderie, increasing my lateness all the more.
I exited the Metro station once again and tried to make sense of the insanity of l’Opera. After a few wrong turns, just as I finally made it onto a street I was reasonably confident would get me back to La Fonderie, it began to rain.
So there I was, lost, late, having just escaped a mugging, standing in the rain holding a useless Metro card with nothing to do but trudge onward, so trudge I did, angrily determined to make it back “home.”
Eventually, I did.
In closing, never accuse me of only reporting the good parts of my trip. Traveling can be a headache too.
Gene Kelly Was Here
These blog posts were all written in the summer of 2011. They chronicle my time in Paris completing an internship as part of my studies at Fuller Seminary. I worked at an art gallery run by missionary-artists ministering to other Parisian artists and got to know the missionary-artists working there.
I am including them here for you to read because I think they work well together as a series. I wrote them as a kind of narrative collage about what it means to be a practicing artist whose first commitment is to Christ and who seeks to share the love of Christ with other artists.