Archives: May 2016

Niort, France, early October, 2012


I woke around 9 and wondered what to do, even though there was a lot to do. I tried making a to-do list, but felt uninspired. I asked myself: what is worthwhile? It was Wednesday and there was no school. I was out of coffee so I dressed and went out to find the nearest café. I still hadn’t explored very much on rue Saint-Gelais. There was a tabac about a minute away I hadn’t noticed before. Outside, a huge dog owned by a hobo with dreadlocks took a big shit. They both walked off, and the shit remained.

I stopped at the bakery across the street to get a pastry, then I went in to the tabac to order a coffee and a pack of cigarettes. I wondered if the barman would say anything about my pastry. He didn’t. It was an ugly place. Just a few tables, and a small bar with three stools. A TV with the sound turned off played French news. I sat at the bar. An old man was reading a newspaper. I decided I would go home and take a look at my novel.

As soon as I looked at it I felt embarrassed. They were words I’d written only a few months ago, but it was as if I’d outgrown them, as one outgrows—you know. I opened the window and lit a cigarette. In the courtyard there were kids running around and playing. One of them called out, Dan! and I realized he was one of my students. It was a good thing I was properly dressed. I asked him if he was on good behavior but I pronounced something wrong and he just said, What? I’ll just see you tomorrow! I called. He returned to running around and chasing his little pals. Kids, I thought. I wondered what was in store for him: a small boy growing up in a nowhere town in the middle of wide expanses of farmland. My hometown wasn’t any better. And there I was. What did I mean to him – not that I was American, but that I spoke this other language (English), and his own language, but with great difficulty and a thick accent. When young, do you know what it means to speak a language? I wondered if I even knew. Perhaps, in ignorance that there is such a thing as language, children communicated more authentically. Suddenly I had to take a big shit. It seemed I was shitting all the time in my new apartment, more than usual. I preferred that to the alternative, naturally. Perhaps there was causation between boredom and bowel movements. When bored, the body revels in its basic physical functions.

Later that day I had a private lesson on the outskirts of town. It took me nearly 45 minutes to walk there, which seemed to be a waste of time, and yet it also seemed that I had wasted most of the day away, so what was another 45 minutes. My student’s name was Aude or Audrey, maybe even Sophie, something like that, a demure French girl, like so many other French girls. She needed a tutor to help her pass her high school diploma. I charged her, or her mother rather, fifteen euros per hour, and wished I had set my price higher, in view of the time I’d spent getting there. I wondered what they thought of me. I was possibly the only American guy living in that town. I regret to say that nothing was particularly remarkable about this experience. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention.

Back at the Roulière I ran into Gaspar in the lobby and he invited me out to drinks. He had a grin on his face like he was looking for trouble. In the short time I’d known him, he was always around and ready to drink or light a spliff. He didn’t seem to work at all. He seemed to glide through life, one spliff at a time. I told him I had things to do that night, though I didn’t have anything specific in mind. I said I would let him know, I just had to check something. I went up to my apartment and looked at my journal from the morning where I’d began the to-do list. It didn’t have anything on it. I don’t remember what I did after that.