My host mother in Aix is a frustratingly loquacious woman named Agnès. She has never left the country and spends most of her time pattering around the apartment in her slippers, fussing over pillows and arranging stacks of magazines. Her social interactions outside of her son seem limited to a few men she used to be in relationships with and now come over every once in a while and sit in the kitchen while she prepares meals for them. She has a heavy torso and thin, spindly legs. At the beginning of my stay, I feel sorry for her.
Though the French dinner is typically a more family-oriented affair, ours consist of Agnès and I sitting at her small dinner table watching the news. She provides a running commentary while I nod and say mm-hmm at intervals. Sometimes I wonder if this is why she offered to host students---so someone is obliged to listen to her.
But one warm evening the television is off, and Agnès tells me a French joke over red, ripe tomatoes and mozzarella.
God, she says, is looking at the earth after its creation. He notices that France is the most beautiful of all the nations---mountains, lakes, beaches, oceans, plains, forests. Every part of the landscape is diverse and breathtaking. And so, to make it a bit more even for the rest of the world, he creates the French people.
I laugh a little too hard.