Monday, August 16, 2010

Delayed gratification UPDATED

I just did a whole lot of primary research into how to operate the lockers at the Archives Nationales. I've requested a box that will be available when I'm back in NY, and spent 10 euros on an ID card with the least flattering (since when is my face puffy? I had to check in the mirror to make sure I wasn't swelling up for some reason) photo I've had taken in a long time. All in all, a productive visit. I'm about to take the 90-minute tour for new patrons. Wish me luck.


The tour took far less than 90 minutes, but only served to make the process seem even more confusing than before. In retrospect the Bibliothèque Nationale was a warm-up, or training wheels, or some other kind of mere hint at what was to come. Not only will this be an involved bureaucratic procedure every visit, but I now need to comb through the relevant secondary sources for archival "codes" - titles and authors I'd been keeping track of, but as a literature student used to call numbers, some of the technicalities (err, fundamentals) of the historical approach are new to me. But I get it now! I see what needs to be done! I just wish I'd already done it.

After the tour, a guy who'd also been on it struck up a conversation with me about confusing the place seemed. I agreed. This was, I think, the first time a stranger has spoken to me in Paris and it hasn't been a) a catcall/come-on, b) a remark about a mouse that just ran through the café (that was during this morning's coffee - the mouse was tiny and cute, but I decided to put my backpack on the seat next to me so as to avoid bringing any new creatures into the archives or, worse, the apartment), or c) a patronizing if well-intended remark about me appearing to be lost. So I was pleased - an ally in the cavernous world of French bureaucracy!

But! In the course of this very brief conversation, as we were retrieving stuff from our lockers, he asked my nationality. Seems he's not a fan. He asked me how things were in America as though expecting me to join him in denouncing the horrible, horrible place I have the misfortune to have a passport from. I asked him where he was from - Syria. I told him things were fine, quite good in NY, where I live. Uh huh. Then he muttered something, laughed, and said never mind. I asked what, and he asked if "you" (vous) were going to invade Syria. I told him that I, personally, have no plans to do so. I decided this wasn't the moment to tell him the specifics of my research - though I'm not researching Zionism, the fact that I study Jews at all serves as an announcement to the otherwise oblivious of my own background, and thus an invitation to ask just where I stand on a certain contentious region. I could imagine in a different state of mind finding all this kind of fun, but it was nearly 3, I hadn't had lunch, and I was already mentally enjoying a 7-euro cheese plate at a nearby café.

What followed was an afternoon-long search in vain for a café I might be able to do work in. I did pass one place that had a sign in the window explaining the interdit status of ordinateurs in their establishment; a Starbucks with a sign in the window promising free, high-speed wifi but, I learned upon asking, no wifi of any kind; and the Illy café which was, uncharacteristically, closed for the day. All of this has left me with a newfound appreciation of the BNF, to which I will soon return.


Petey said...

"Then he muttered something, laughed, and said never mind. I asked what, and he asked if "you" (vous) were going to invade Syria."

Response #1: Are you going to invade Lebanon?

Response #2: You know I don't get to pick my passport...

Response #3: Heh. I hope not. Want to get a coffee?

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Well done on not using your comment as a platform for an I-P rant. As for these responses, all decent comebacks if my goal had been a longer discussion and, well, a coffee with this guy. (Some criticisms: #1 requires quicker reflexes than I have, and seems like the kind of thing someone would think of after-the-fact. #2 implies that I'm ashamed to be American.) But, as I mention, I was quite focused on the cheese plate, which I was just fine with getting on my own. In our brief interaction, he'd shown himself to be someone I wasn't dying to get to know better.