International Man of Mystery

Paris, Île-de-France, France
November 19, 2015

Well, let’s see.

So far, a waiter in the San Germaine neighborhood, apparently not fooled by my flawless French accent, asked if I was Scottish. And then a very kind man from whom I bought a bag of almonds, after hearing my cheery French, “merci beaucoup” asked, “Italiano, si?” That’s me, “Rob Jackson, International Man of Mystery.”

Where’s Waldo?

Speaking of whom, see if you can tell in this photograph who doesn’t belong.

  • That’s our instructor Joy in the foreground with the dark haïr, a delightful woman who refers to the Eiffel Tower as a “big piece of iron.”
  • That’s Raihah manning the selfie stick. She and I were paired together to describe our home neighborhoods to one another in French. Her neighborhood in Kuala Lumpur is “bruyant” (noisy).
  • Nestor, the class clown, is the good looking fella with a beard. He is from San Paulo and has six children. Josh, the Asian gentleman on the left having a bite of the apple tart I brought to the party, discovered to his and Nestor’s surprise that they don’t live far from one another.
  • Stella, the young African American lady, is from England, but her father is from Germany and her mother is from Nairobi.
  • Mai is the Asian woman with the red hair in the back of class. We were paired together today to describe one another’s family trees. I nailed my “grand mères, frères, soeurs, cousins and cousines”, but couldn’t prononce, even in English, the name of her sister and parents in China.
  • Paulo, the young man with a beard in the back right, came up to me on the first day of class during a break in the school lounge and we discovered through our broken French that he has been to Miami to visit a brother and will definitely come to see me if ever in California.
  • And there is Joy from Korea, Naomi from England, and the birthday girl Alexia from Spain.
Make a Wish

And the mystery man in the back corner? The white haired guy? The one who the class immediately pointed to in unison when the instructor, after a “stand-and-recite” game requiring each of us to say the year of our birth, asked “who is the oldest student in the room?” That guy?

He’s a mystery. The class doesn’t quite know what to make of him. He spends half of each day on vacation in Paris in a classroom.

Why? He cannot explain it, in English or in French.

He has a damn fine accent . . . okay, maybe a mix of Scottish and Italian, but better than any in class. He knows random bits of stuff others don’t. (You say “Mon amie”, not “Ma amie” despite the fact the “ami” is an “amie” and “mon” is masculine, not féminin, because of “liaison.”—thanks Evelyne)

But he is troubled. He is troubled by the gaps he sees in his own cognition, the odd inhabilité to comprehend conversation, the curious disconnect that even the admission office noticed when they placed him in a beginner class, between his ability to write and his inhabilité to hear and speak. And most of all, he’s troubled by how much his feet hurt after an afternoon and evening walking all over Paris.

He knows that age is a state of mind, but it seems, as he stands in the Metro car riding home from school, lost in thought, looking at the names on the white tiled station walls pass. . . Madeline, . . Concorde . . .Invalides . . La Tour Marbourg . . . that his years, like the stations, are approaching too fast, pausing not long enough, and receding too soon, and there will not be enough time to learn all that he wants to learn

Shaw was right. Youth is wasted on the young.


Happy Birthday, Alexia


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