XXXVII. Provence

postcards from france

A group of us out for an all-night downtown street party Aix. If you’re energetic enough to stay out late, this city reveals its international side in its student nightlife; French is mixed in with English, Spanish, Italian, Arabic, German, and various Eastern European languages. In spite of the melting pot, we American women always seem to attract the most attention---half of it based on the idea that we’re easy to sleep with, half for other reasons. In a country known for its stick-thin women, my friend Anna often stands out for her big-boned Iowan frame. Tonight, she finds herself the target of a 20-something Frenchman, spurred on by booze and his friends’ laughter as he makes slurred, belligerent remarks about the size of Anna’s shirt. She doesn’t look at him or reply and we all try to ignore it at first, continuing to talk to each other more loudly than before. But something snaps for me.

You can fuck right off, I turn and hiss at him in French. His eyes widen and he takes a stumbled step backward. My angry defense is just as much for me as for Anna. Five years of silent frustration for being treated like an idiotic piece of meat on account of a set of ovaries and a foreign accent pours out in a string of acidic, vulgar phrases that I’ve known for years but never actually said to anyone. Whether it’s the ferocity in my voice or the surprise of being talked back to, the guy stops speaking and quickly walks away.

Amidst a chorus of OOH’s from my friends, none of us so sober ourselves, the memory of writing down swear words flickers through my mind---sitting in the small kitchen in Normandy with Madeleine spelling the sentences out for me, word for word. I’m glad her teaching didn’t go to waste.