France: Unabridged

It’s been about 36 hours since I flew to France. Nice, France. To live. To teach English to little kids. For eight or nine months.

This stilted explanation of mine is an accurate portrayal of what I’d say if you asked me in person. Though I’ve told quite a few people about my plans, I still announce it clumsily, with bungling pauses and graceless starts. Maybe because until very recently (my arrival at the Nice airport) it felt like a prodigious case of self-deception, or maybe because the gushing responses of friends made me uncomfortable: “Nice! How Nice!” “You will have the time of your life!”

All the hype left me suddenly superstitious, terrified of being ‘jinxed.’ What if it doesn’t turn out to be ‘the time of my life’? The remembrance of my friends’ optimistic augury could burn like salt in a wound. I am a realist, but I’m also aware that most pessimists I know call themselves realists.

I’m here now, challenged both by jetlag and the cognitive obstacle course commonly known as the French keyboard. My ‘realist’ perspective had me prepared to not expect any sort of instant gratification: no musical troupe with impossibly white teeth singing showtunes picked me up at the airport. No chauffeur to my newly furnished apartment, complete with attractive international roommates like the cast of L’Auberge Espagnol. Instead, I found myself weaving along the hot streets at noon, my 50 pound bag bouncing behind. I’m caught up in the finding-housing-shuffle, a hard dance to dance no matter where you are.

A recent New York Times article, though, has me thinking about editing down. Prompted by the announcement that British publisher Orion Books plans to “publish this month a set of pared-down classics, cutting about 40 percent of what it calls ‘padding’ from works like ‘Anna Karenina,’ ‘David Copperfield’ and yes, ‘Moby Dick,'” the article features seven writers listing works that they think could use some downsizing. (Jonathan Franzen’s list is particularly amusing).

I bill myself as a purist. “Moby Dick” would not be “Moby Dick” without the whale chapters– a staunch position I hold. Even if I could omit the untidy logistics of my first days in Nice, I don’t think I would. Without the stutters and minor downfalls, things would seem too easy. And it certainly wouldn’t feel real. Despite the difficulties, there is, of course, a bright (blue) side of things: the sea is azure as ever.