San Francisco: Circa 2006
Eric and I were at the San Francisco restaurant Le Garcon on the day Eric was to return to his native France. Though the restaurant doesn't seem to offer brunch anymore, we'd been served up something delicious: croque monsieur or croque madame. Je ne me souviens pas ('I don't remember') which it was.
We had a noticeable language barrier. Eric and his friends–he'd been a waiter at Le Garcon–would often speak to one another in French, a language I can only understand in baby bites. I felt left out, embarrassed. I wanted to pretend I was somewhere else yet at the same time strike up a conversation with Eric, so I engaged him about his mother country, which I'd visited nine years earlier with my grandfather. I grabbed his attention by mentioning my train ride from Florence, Italy into Nantes, France.
"...and, you know, it was a big deal to finally be on that train since the railroad workers were striking," I said to him. He perked up in his chair but said nothing, so I carried on.
"I was so proud of and scared for my grandfather. He'd banged his knee while we were trying to climb into the sleeper beds. He was getting old by that point....but he had such wits about him. He'd been to France so many times it was almost as if he knew where we were in time and space without even looking out the window."
And this was where I got confused.
"...You know what else, Eric. He was coherent enough in the middle of the night to tell me we were crossing over Corsica."
He raised an eyebrow at me.
"It means he was with it, mentally."
"I know. But were you?" He asked, laughing. All I could do was chug my iced tea because I knew something bad was coming.
"Corsica is an island," he reminded me.
Of course, I'd mostly known that, but somewhere in my mind a small tip of the island had snuck into our train route. It was just a matter of semantics. I'd meant to say that we'd traveled near Corsica but I didn't want to give Eric the satisfaction of knowing how stupid I felt. We finished our meal in silence and as we were leaving he asked me about my plans for the weekend. If Eric wasn't headed out of the country, he told me, he'd go hear the L.A.-based metal band Brujeria, playing later that night in San Francisco.
"Gotcha," I said to myself. Whereas I'd just fumbled the ball with Corsica, and, frankly my world geography was a bit lacking, my word recognition was pretty decent.
He wouldn't leave my country thinking I was stupid!
In Spanish, brujeria means witchcraft, which one may blame for getting embroiled in some political brouhaha. Of course, a long, crappy workday is always ameliorated with some creme brule. Some folks may go for broiled egg sandwiches. The French may put their meat in un brulure. They may also have to brule un feu rouge (run a red light) in search of food.
These conversations with Eric didn't all happen on the same day and I kept most of my linguistic revelation to myself. And though it's fair to say I had zero promise as a European Tour Guide of any stripe back then, I could easily navigate my way around different languages, even ones I haven't mastered yet.
"Je me debrouilles," I said to myself as my friend left the country.
In French, it means "I manage." Because I will; I have since high school.
**Another note on failure: I owe the French words their proper accents, which I'll add later**