Tag Archives: meeting people

The One-Yard Line

As soon as I hung up from K’s call, I grabbed my purse and keys, as was my habit. But this time I went the opposite direction from my favorite coffee-and-dessert shop. Blessed relief rushed over me: finally, someone knew. The hiding and dodging were over, and the beast, now named, could be destroyed. I didn’t love being exposed, even to K, but I was suddenly high on hope.

My little gold Sentra carried me down Barracks Road at fifty miles per hour, the second step I took that day toward healing: for the first time in years, I celebrated a victory with something other than food, which I’d always reached for to increase euphoria in the past. I pumped up the Dave Matthews and played the drums on my steering wheel. I smiled widely and waved at the horses on the Garth Road farms. It was glorious and, to be honest, a little comical.

Then, something dawned on me: I didn’t actually have a plan for becoming “normal”; I just believed it could be done. This was not a plan. But because I also believed in my university, I removed my phone from my purse before I could lose the courage and dialed Student Health. When I was connected to the counseling department, I said, “I’m a graduate student, and I want to see a counselor.” A chirpy woman on the other end informed me that Wednesday afternoons were reserved for walk-ins, so I could do an intake before my 3:30 class the next day.

But by the time a stout, fortyish African-American man called my name on Wednesday, I was less convinced. I’d gotten “help” before from doctors who directed me to diet plans, from groups of dieters who promised to increase my motivation, and from Christian counselors who said I needed to pray. Nothing had done the trick: here I was, looking for another answer. Scrounging up my last reserves of hope, I smiled politely and followed the guy down a short hallway.

“I’m Dr. Morgan,” he said when we reached his office.

“Amie,” I responded.

“Why are we here, Amie?” Efficient and professional, Dr. Morgan had little use for pleasantries. His head was bent over my new file, pen poised to paraphrase whatever clean-cut response I offered to his question.

I sighed. “Well…I’m miserable with myself, I’m going to fail my comprehensive exams, I don’t love my husband, I’m no longer sure why I wanted a master’s in French, I have no vocational vision, I’m generally living in a way most Christians like me would renounce, the fog in my brain seems to have eaten up my decision-making skills, and I miss my friends and family so much it hurts.” I paused. “Also, I’m an addict,” I added, barely loud enough for him to hear. I strummed my fingers absently on the corner of his desk. “So there’s that,” I mumbled without making eye contact. It was no more comfortable to say this to a professional than it had been with K.

Dr. Morgan looked at me with a practiced expression that betrayed none of his thoughts. “Hm,” he grunted with a nod, apparently unsure of what to write. Still looking at me, perhaps waiting for a second avalanche of fear and shame, he eventually said, “Okay.” He scribbled on my intake papers, and I answered a few demographic questions. After the necessities were concluded, he set his pen down and laced his fingers. “What exactly do you hope to get out of counseling, Amie?”

I stared at my shoes. I raised my eyebrows and shrugged. Two or three times I started to talk before deciding the words were ridiculous. My eyes filled with tears, and I said, “I just need help.”

The silence was awful. As my resolve crumbled, I vowed I’d hit the Corner for something to eat as soon as I could bolt from Dr. Morgan. Since I’d gone so long without allowing myself to experience pain, I was shocked by the raw sensation my emotions caused. I was suddenly “starving.”

Dr. Morgan looked over his notes and said, “Well, there are a few women in town who are trained marriage counselors. I’m sure one of them would be happy to talk to you and your husband, or just you if that’s more palatable. We’ll of course negotiate a reduced fee, since we don’t offer marriage counseling here at the university.” His eyes were back to my file.

So he assumed the rocky marriage was the Big Problem that brought me to counseling. Great, now I would have to reiterate what a disgraceful, disgusting addict I was.

“Well, if we could forget the marriage and focus on the…addiction for now, I think that would be more beneficial,” I said quietly.

“I see,” Dr. Morgan said with a nod, staring at me again.

The session never became less awkward. It brought me so much shame to come out of hiding and describe my actions for Dr. Morgan and why I felt so desperate for help. To comply with policy, he couldn’t help me in isolation without the cooperation of the university nutritionist and gynecologist, so he informed me that he’d make me appointments with each of those women and call to let me know when they were scheduled. When I’d seen them both, I could return to him for a comprehensive plan of action. I nodded as if this were all okay with me.

After I left his office, I went straight to a diner and ate enough to feed a family of four starving refugees. I wasn’t sure I could face anyone else with the truth, let alone a doctor and a nutritionist. In fact, I wasn’t sure I could face myself with it anymore. Perhaps it would be easier to consider this all an unsuccessful foray into weight loss – something I was very familiar with – nothing more. So I escaped for the moment and then headed on to class, equally soothed and sickened by my behavior. Like the end zone when you’re lined up one yard away, my rescue was so near that it was nearly impossible to reach.

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Sixth Sense

Two weeks ago, I did something I’d been wanting to do for a long time: I adopted a pet. My baby is a shih-poo, a shih-tzu-poodle mix. (Although, my best friend’s husband suggested that he be called a poo-zu, which is more entertaining.) Peabody is all the things that a dog is supposed to be: playful, cuddly, sweet, and totally devoted to me. Never have I had a cuter shadow. This dog trots from one room to the next, no more than a foot behind me. When I come home, whether I’ve been gone thirty minutes or all day, he can’t contain his excitement. Of the four words I’m trying to teach him, the only one he seems to consistently recognize is “bedtime” which translates to “seven uninterrupted hours of curling up behind Mama’s knees”—his favorite time of day. I’d barely known this animal two hours before I fell in love.

And I’m not the only one: he’s melted the hearts of everyone who’s met him so far. Last weekend my mom and I went on a road trip to see her side of the family. Since it’s a long trip, we stopped several times on the way to let Peabody do his business. At one stop, he walked right over to a homeless man who was sitting on the ledge around the gas station. Peabody stopped in front of him and paused, apparently waiting for something. The man reached his hand out and began petting my dog lightly on his head. His eyes filled with tears as he smiled and choked on a chuckle. He said nothing, not to me or to Peabody, but I could tell his day had been made. After a moment, Peabody looked up at me as if to say, “Alright, Mama, we can go now.” As we walked away, I turned to look at the man. He was still grinning and wiping tears from his eyes.

Call me crazy, but I believe animals can sense more than we give them credit for. I’ve heard several times about dogs that began sleeping at the foot of their mistress’s bed when she got pregnant. Countless stories circulate of dogs showing special devotion to a sick family member. One morning shortly after I adopted Peabody, I was upset, and that dog crawled into my lap and put his head right next to mine—something he hadn’t done before and hasn’t since. I think, in the case of the man at the gas station, Peabody could sense his loneliness and somehow knew he could brighten the man’s day.

John Grogan published Marley and Me several years ago now. I read it and loved it before I was a dog owner, but I found one part kind of silly. Grogan writes that he learned something about love from Marley: “Give a dog your heart, and he’ll give you his. It’s that simple. How many people can you say that about?” I don’t find it so silly anymore. Having now experienced the canine sixth sense for myself, I too feel like I’m learning from my dog. Would I have gone over and talked to the man at the gas station had I not been dragged there by Peabody? No. And yet the man clearly needed a reason to smile. How was my dog more sensitive to this than I, a fellow human, was? Perhaps Peabody could teach me something about being more perceptive and more willing to be someone’s miracle.

My dog is a genius.

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Hospitality

When people find out I’m a French teacher, most of them respond one of three ways: 1) “I could never teach high school,” 2) “Bonjour!” or 3) “Why?” In general, I’m sure people mean the third question benignly, but since humanities programs are slashed from universities like crazy of late, what I hear is, “Why the heck did you choose that?” In my French courses, in both college and grad school, the fact of being in a discipline that requires a constant fight for relevance was a frequent topic of discussion. It’s an increasingly prevalent opinion that students’ time would be better spent on science or math. So I tell my own students that the only reason our planet is of any consequence at all is that there are people on it. And the only way these people can get anything done is to communicate with each other. So since the brightest people in the world are not concentrated in one country, they speak different languages, and we have to learn them. That is the pragmatic argument anyway.

But that wasn’t compelling enough to 17-year-old Amie to make her choose French. I usually tell people that French chose me, in fact. It allowed me to major in reading, beauty, and travel — all selfish reasons, of course. But as I got further in, I discovered that learning another language isn’t about speaking so much as listening. Conversing with someone, when you think about it, is truly magical. Language, mere sounds your mouth makes or lines and dots scratched from the tip of your pencil, translates your feelings and thoughts into something others can understand. So the act of learning another’s language communicates, “Understanding you is important to me.”

If that hadn’t already hit home for me, it certainly did while I was in the hospital last week. One of my technicians was named Jacotte, a kind-hearted, lovely Haitian woman. On the second afternoon that she came in to check my vitals, she said, “You speak French.” Surprised, I said, “I do. How did you know?” She smiled. “The way you say my name. I said to myself, ‘Jacotte, that girl called me by my name. She speaks my language.’” From that point on, barely two words of English were exchanged between us. At one point Jacotte told me, “It feels so good to speak my language. I don’t get to do that much.” So Jacotte and I had a constant exchange of hospitality: she took care of me physically, and I let her relax into linguistic comfort for a few minutes each day. Following my surgery, Jacotte was the one who took me walking to keep my muscles in motion. She introduced me to everyone, saying, “This is my friend. This is mon amie.” And when my mom went to the desk to ask for Jacotte’s help, she said, “Yes, yes. Anything for mon amie.” I didn’t say anything special to this woman. I didn’t do anything extraordinary for her. But because she was able to communicate in her natural way, because I was willing to be at a linguistic disadvantage, Jacotte showed me every kindness she could.

I believe in studying math and science. I believe in studying organic chemistry and calculus and medicine and physics. But if we let go of language study—as many universities are now wont to do—vital lines of communication will be broken. International trust will be harder to win. Cultures will have trouble understanding one another. Why not study math and science alongside the way to communicate them? This way, we will continue to discover our friends, our amis.

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“It’s Not Just Me.”

I spent last week on vacation in gorgeous Florida. In the hospital. The first thirty-six hours in Orlando were perfect, but after dinner on Tuesday night, I experienced the worst pain I have ever felt. For about an hour, every breath came out a moan. The pain built so fast and intensely that my parents took me to the ER; unfortunately, by the time I got there, I was hyperventilating and couldn’t talk due to an incapacity to breathe. When the attack finally subsided, I described symptoms to the parade of medical professionals that filed into my room, trying to solve the problem. Terminology like “acute pancreatitis” and “inflamed gallbladder” bounced around as I sat on the bed unsettled. One doctor was afraid my pancreas would quit working, while another said it was just gallstones. Since my background is as far away from medicine as one can get, I had no idea what to expect.

Sometime past midnight, Iris, a soft-spoken but matter-of-fact woman in her late fifties, knocked on my door and introduced herself as my ultrasound technician. One of the doctors had ordered a sonogram to determine whether surgery was necessary. She wheeled me to the dark ultrasound room and asked me to lie on the bed next to the computer while she began the questionnaire.

“Do you smoke?”

“No.”

“Drink?”

“A little wine three or four times a year.”

“Any surgeries?”

“One minor one, yes.”

“Site and purpose?”

“Vaginal: I had a scar tissue blockage.”

At this, her pen froze midair, and she slowly turned her head to look at me. “I’m sorry?” she asked incredulously. I repeated myself, and, having been told by a number of people how odd the procedure was, I added, “I know it’s weird. Anyone remotely related to medicine has told me how strange my case is.” I shrugged. The routine is old hat to me by now.

“No, no…” she trailed off and cleared her throat. Looking straight ahead, she said, “I have that.”

I couldn’t believe it. “Really?” I asked, with what could only be interpreted as excitement. I propped myself up on my elbows so I could make eye contact as I continued. “You’re kidding! I have never met anyone else who had it! Or, well, if I did, they didn’t tell me.”

Iris nodded. “Yeah…I had three children—naturally. And I enjoyed lots of great sex all the way up through my forties. Never any trouble there.” She chuckled a little and watched a memory briefly play out in the distance. “But…it’s been ten years…I just woke up one morning with the blockage. My doctor said there’s nothing he can do. Said if he removes it, I’ll be incontinent.” She shook her head. “I haven’t had sex in ten years, Amie. No intimacy at all…and a woman needs…” she trailed off. The tears welled, but she brushed them away before they fell.

“I know how hard it is. I truly know how you feel,” I assured her. Some time passed before she responded, but she held my gaze. “Yes, you do,” she said, still looking at me. A half-smile pulled at her lips, and she said, “It’s nice to know for once that it’s not just me.” I smiled. “I know what you mean, Iris.”

After she’d asked me some specific questions about my surgery and recovery, she went about her sonogram-performing business. As it turns out, I was housing somewhere between one and two hundred of the tiny devil-stones in my gallbladder. Luckily, this explained the pancreatitis, too. Although I’d have to go under the knife, Iris assured me it was a routine procedure. Before wheeling me back to my temporary room in the emergency wing, she rested her hand on my shoulder and said, “You have given me such hope. Thank you.”

~

Anyone who’s known me at least twenty minutes knows how much I love, love, love Anne Lamott. In her book Grace (Eventually)*, she recalls assisting in a ballet class for women with Down’s syndrome. After Anne’s visit, the teacher asked the class, “What did you think of my friend?” One of the women said, “I liked that lady! She was a helper, and she danced.” Anne says in her book, “These are the words I want on my gravestone: that I was a helper, and that I danced.” I think my few minutes with Iris were my ballet-class moment. If I am remembered for giving hope to at least one woman who has hurt silently the way I have, I will consider my life a success.

*Lamott, Anne. Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith. New York: Riverhead Books, 2007.

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Patriotism

The night before we left, everyone got together for a final group dinner.  Before long, as always happens at such functions, conversation wound around to our thoughts about leaving France.  Some of us avions hâte (“had haste”) to return to the States; others were more saddened that it had come to an end.  At one point, someone asked, “What will you miss most about France?”  Although I said nothing at the time, my answer was definitely “the people”.  As I have said before, I believe that learning a foreign language is all about learning to listen—decoding others’ ways of speaking, if you will.  This trip only confirmed my beliefs, as I listened to some incredibly interesting people during my time in the country.  Their stories amaze me and made me grateful for the professors over the years that have taught me how to listen to French.

One such story came from Madame D, whom we met at the Museum of Resistance and Deportation.  Mme D was not even a teenager when World War II broke out, but she became a Resistance fighter in Lyon.  She was raised speaking both French and German because her father believed that World War I wasn’t over, and if the Germans came back, he wanted his family to be prepared.  Whenever they complained that other families didn’t have to learn other languages, he replied, “Il faut parler la langue de l’ennemi” (“It’s imperative to speak the language of the enemy”).  But it wasn’t just at home that she learned how to fight the Germans:  at school she was taught that France was the most beautiful, most intelligent, most strategic country on the planet.  If she and her classmates stayed in school and then used their knowledge as employees of the State, they would make France a formidable opponent for Germany.

With such patriotic and idealistic talk swirling constantly around her head, it’s no surprise that Mme D began believing it.  When Hitler and Pétain signed the armistice on 22 June 1940, 12-year-old Mme D (at that time, Mademoiselle D) was already looking for a way to fight the Germans.  She didn’t have to look long before she was given a task:  Libération-Sud, a Resistance group in Lyon, gave her clandestine newspapers to distribute every evening.  Each morning, Mlle D went to school like every other 12-year-old girl in her country, innocent as a butterfly.  When school let out, she rode her bike to the secret headquarters of Libération-Sud to collect an armful of newspapers, which she distributed swiftly to other members of the Resistance group, a vital cog in the greater communication machine.  This 12-year-old girl was willing to put herself in risk of death every afternoon because she loved her country and believed in its potential for victory.

We U.Va. students were floored as we listened to Mme D’s tales of bravery.  She didn’t tell them in a proud way; she didn’t even seem emotionally affected by the words coming out of her mouth.  I found myself wondering, Would I have been willing to do what she did?  Would my students be willing to go to such great lengths for freedom and country?  Is this woman extraordinary for answering the call of duty, or would most of us do the same in her shoes?  I have to admit, I don’t really know the answers to any of those questions.  But I do know that people her age often have much more patriotism, regardless their native land, than those my age and younger.  Why is that?  Have we become spoiled in our less war-torn era?  Are we only willing to do that which increases our own social or economic statuses?  Have we simply become too angry about the decline of the global economy?  Is the crevasse between the political parties eroding our love of country?  Why don’t we put our hands over our hearts when we hear the anthem?  Why do we only think about our country during national elections, heated political discussions, or while watching Harrison Ford action thrillers?

Not that the situation in France is any better.  On Bastille Day, as I was enjoying a fireworks show at one of the grad students’ apartments, someone asked my theatre professor whether she was feeling especially patriotic.  She said, “Absolutely not.  Today everyone gets drunk, lights fireworks, and sings ‘La Marseillaise’ [the French national anthem].  That’s all.  And that’s such a violent, xenophobic song.  None of these things inspire patriotism in me.  Besides, the fireworks aren’t even good tonight.”  N, one of the grad students, said that he had heard several other French people answer his question similarly.  Somewhere between the Mme D generation and the Professor B generation (the two women are about 40 years different in age), the patriotism evaporated.

Of course, the fierce nationalism that brought on World War II is to be avoided at all costs.  No country is inherently better or more valuable than another, and that’s important to remember lest we start feeling too sure of ourselves.  And a more peaceful world is certainly a goal worth working toward.  However, what country can withstand national trials and hardships without a basic love of homeland?  Can we survive without patriotism?

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Professeur Douzou

You can’t turn off being a teacher.  It doesn’t matter if it’s your first year or your last:  if you really love it, it’s just there all the time, coursing through your body.  Anything is fodder for the classroom, from merchandise you come across in hole-in-the-wall shops to the stories you live each day.  Anything might be an illustration, prop, or aid. This is admittedly my personal experience, but I suspect my World War II instructor is affected by the same condition.

~~~

The night before classes began, E and L and I, the grad students, looked over our schedule and saw that we were to show up at “IEP” at 1:30 for our World War II course.  What’s the IEP and where is it? we wondered.  The first two professors we asked also had no idea.  Finally, we were able to find someone who explained somewhat more concretely, but the idea was still vague in our minds.  All we knew is that “IEP” was the abbreviation for the name of an entire school.  So, the next day we struck out in plenty of time to master the situation.

Unfortunately, we got sufficiently confused early on and had to take out a map.  The directions we’d been given weren’t especially helpful anyway, and certainly not after several hours had passed.  When we finally found our destination, we entered, only to find that the buildings were comprised of only offices.  Slowly turning in circles in the middle of the courtyard, we tried desperately to find a building that looked full of classrooms.  Nothing.  Finally, L stopped a straggler and asked where all the classrooms were.  The woman pointed us in another direction, and we took up the search again.  Upon walking in, we became convinced that we’d found the right building, but still had no idea which room was ours.  We looked at room numbers, peeked in windows, and cocked our ears toward doors, all in hopes of receiving some helpful information.  Finally, E located what she thought was our room.  Sure enough, as we tentatively walked in, a professorial-looking man in his late fifties or early sixties greeted us.  We spoke briefly of our difficulties finding the room, and he seemed genuinely disappointed that no one had communicated with us any better than that.

When the others came in, he gave us all a more official greeting.  He introduced himself as Professor Douzou and wished us the “warmest and kindest of bienvenues (welcomes)” to his native country.  Then, the speech that followed was one I simply had to write down because I felt so calmed and welcomed, almost to the point of grateful tears.  It was like I was in the presence of a divinely beatific Santa Claus who understood my student self perfectly.

“There are two things you must know before we begin.  First of all, I know that it is so very difficult to speak a language not your own.  After years of practice, it is still difficult for me to speak English, and I am old!  And for you, I can’t imagine the bravery you have to speak French in this room with me, a native speaker.  It is hard, I know.  When I go to America and visit my American friends, they always laugh when I pronounce certain words.  It is very difficult to pronounce th and r your language.  And they laugh and say, ‘Oh, we love your accent; it’s so cute!’  That makes me feel foolish, makes me feel embarrassed.  That makes me feel not very smart because I cannot pronounce the words the way they do.  Let me say this to you:  I will never make fun of you, never.  I know this is hard, and I want you to try, and I promise that if you try, you will not be made fun of by me ever.  You understand?

“The second thing you must know is that to learn a language, you must speak it.  So speak French to me to learn it.  And if I say something you do not understand, you have the right to stop me.  Do you understand what I’m saying?  You have the right to stop me.  This is your class.  Sometimes when I start teaching, I get so excited, so enthusiastic, and I speak very fast.  My foreign students sometimes look at me with open mouths because they do not understand me any longer.  Yes, stop me when this happens.  I can talk about World War II forever and not stop for breath.”

Here was a man I’d never met who made me feel more confident in a French classroom than I had in most American ones.  And I was halfway across the world.  Immediately, I felt at ease.  He understood:  this second-language thing was difficult and tiring, but he would be patient with me.  Of course, I never expected a professor to ridicule my pronunciation; nonetheless, it so put me at ease to actually hear someone say it.  Here was a place where my floundering French was welcome and desired.

I’ve only had Professor Douzou’s class for two days (a collective seven hours), but those two days have been packed with radio clips, examples and illustrations from his life, and lots of quickly passing lecturing.  My notebook has about as many notes on his teaching style as it does the information itself; I feel like I’m constantly writing things down.  I consider it a blessing to be under the direction of Professor Douzou, even if it’s only for four weeks.  Here’s to the development of many more teachers worldwide just like him.

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The Bread Man

Last Sunday E and I woke up early (well, early for jet lagged Americans) to go to the open-air market just minutes by foot from our apartment.  We wanted to absorb everything, taking stock of all the available goods, before committing to any one particular vendor.  We noticed right away an especially delicious-looking display of small bread loaves in various flavors and promised each other we’d return.  We kept our word:  after purchasing conservative quantities of tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, cherries, and strawberries, we made our way back to the Bread Man.  E asked for a pain aux fraises (bread with strawberries and white chocolate), and I chose a pain aux pépites chocolats (bread with chocolate chips).

Upon hearing our French, the Bread Man brightened and asked, “Which nationality?”  We replied that we were Americans, and he was delighted.  “Americans, yes?” he clarified jovially.  “So Lyon is cold for you!”

Wasn’t that the truth!  The day E and I arrived in Lyon it was in the low fifties with rain, and the next morning was no warmer—less so, in fact.  “Here some years we ski on our national holiday!” he enthused.  “Can you ski on your national holiday?” he winked at us.  We all laughed.  “Impossible!” I said, while E too assured him there were no such opportunities in our native land.  Skiing in July!  If you’re not in very select locations or you don’t own a snow machine, you are likely unable to celebrate the Fourth of July with snowballs.

Quickly, as happens with many of his line of work, he turned to the quality of his craft.  “You have bread like mine in American stores, no?”  I replied that while we had bread—even bread meant specifically for breakfast and dessert—we definitely had nothing of the caliber he offered us, at least not in stores.  He nodded knowingly.  “Yes,” he agreed, “your bread is industrial.  Me, I make all my own bread.  All of this”—he waved a hand across the whole spread—“all made by my hands.  In America, you make things much more quickly than I do, but then you lose the love of your food.  I make everything with much care, yes.”

And how true is that.  I am not the sort of person who thinks everything in France is better and more interesting and more chic than everything in America.  Both countries should be celebrated. But I think the Bread Man is right: we are so separated from our food in America that many of us either hate it, anesthetize ourselves with it, or struggle between the two.  It’s a consumable like everything else, something to be mashed into our mouths while working, watching television, or driving hurriedly from one appointment to the next.  We don’t love our food because we expect it to fill voids for us or because we are so disillusioned that it hasn’t.  We tie it to what it does to us, for better or worse, rather than from its source.

The French are paradoxical as it relates to food.  On the one hand, everything they eat is loaded in fat—butter and cream, in particular.  Bread is served at each meal.  Lunch and dinner are both accompanied by wine, and sometimes by a few wines.  The French spend—quite literally—hours of their lives à table, lingering long after the last morsels are gone.  Our group had dinner at the high-class Brasserie du Nord on Sunday night.  Our reservations were at 7:00 p.m., we were seated immediately, and yet we didn’t leave until after around 10:30.  It took that long to eat our three-course meal.  Each course was eaten slowly with much laughter and conversation interspersed between bites and courses.  Both wine selection and food preparation are sciences at which native French people are expected to be proficient; serving at a restaurant requires the highest levels of such knowledge.  Servers, in fact, often have culinary degrees.  Yet with such importance placed on food, the French remain one of the healthiest, slimmest, and most robust nationalities on the planet.  How is this possible?

For one, the quantities are much smaller.  I haven’t left a table hungry yet, but much less is served to me than I would expect at even a Steak ‘n’ Shake in the U.S.  Also, the streets are teeming with walkers and bike-riders.  Rush hour is nothing to be worried about because if a person lives within four miles or so of his/her office, she/he walks.  Everyone is aware of how much they are eating because they eat so very slowly and deliberately.  Meals are accompanied by things other than food to look forward to, such as the entertaining and fulfilling company of others.

Of course, not all of these elements of the French meal could be adopted in the U.S.  We lead faster-paced lives, we frequently live a longer distance from our jobs, and we enjoy the peace and quiet of our fierce individualism (myself included).  But what if we did slow down, eat a little less of the delicious foods we love, and invite friends over often to share a meal with us?  What if we did prepare our food on a regular basis—and take pride in it as a craft that sustains life—rather than buying “industrial bread”?  I wonder how our health and our entire society would change, with or without the gym.

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