After wandering around Lille for a few hours, and generally spending the entire time surprised at the lack of homeless people in the city, The Student and I hopped back on the Metro and headed back to Pascale’s place. Tonight, a friend of hers was having a dinner party at her apartment across town. And a few of them had been to America before. The Student and I were enthusiastic, but shot looks at each other. We knew this could go one of two ways: The first was that they had been to New York City or San Francisco; the second is that they had been outside those two cities and were acquainted with everything that can be wrong about the country—namely morbid obesity, the fundies, and sweltering heat.
At any rate, Pascale got ready, grabbed some, and we headed back to the Metro to head out to her friend’s place.
Her friend, who was married to a guy who had also studied journalism at their undergrad, lived in an amazing flat closer to the city center. I’d be hard-pressed to describe it in architectural terms, but it was big, painted a clean white with black tile floors, with those little picture light thingies hanging from bars across the ceiling, and large windows looking out towards one of the churches.
We were greeted at the door by one of her friends, Melanie, who reminded me of a French version of a friend back in Tennessee. Immediately, bursts of French. I tried to keep up by saying, “Bonjour, ah, ca, no, wait.”
They switched to English. The Student grinned at me. “Hi,” Melanie said, “how are you?”
I shrugged. “Eh, pretty good. Pretty, pretty good.” She didn’t get the Curb Your Enthusiasm reference. The Student did and shook his head.
A tall, lean guy with glasses and black hair pulled back into a pony tail walked out of the kitchen to the right and hugged Pascale and did the cheek kiss thing. “Ils sont americains,” Pascale said.
The guy, call him Luc, grinned. “I went to New York for a six months.”
“Hey, cool, I went for five days,” I said.
The Student talked at him in French for a bit, Pascale and everyone else laughed, and I rocked back and forth on my feet. I could feel the anxiety and paranoia approaching, like gremlins, but I kept my cool.
As they stopped laughing, Luc said, “Dinner is about to be ready. Would you like to go sit down?”
We walked into the living room—a big place with a really nice black leather couch, some bookshelves, and a modest TV—and met a few other people who also looked like they were artists. As far as I can tell, it’s a genetic thing that the French have, this ability to always appear lean and as if they’ll brandish a canvas and paint pallet out of nowhere and go to town. They’d all gone to the same University for undergrad, and, while they told me the name several times, I couldn’t remember it after about ten seconds.
Now, here’s the thing about the ‘dinner parties’ I’m used to. Typically, the dinner (usually pizza) isn’t the focus. The focus is either Mario Kart or Super Smash Brothers, or some game where your bunch of pixels shoots other bunches of pixels good and dead. In short, they’re video game and beer nights.
Thus deprived of anything resembling society, I’d formed a vision of a dinner party in my head that combined the best parts of Thanksgiving (namely gratuitous overeating and drunkenness) with the best parts of all the parties I’d been to with my friends (video games and drunkenness) and walked into Melanie and Luc’s place expecting to see piles of pizza boxes and stacks of liquor. In place of my vision of hedonism, there were a few plates of crackers and cheese, and only a modest couple of bottles of wine.
I hung my head and muttered something completely inaccurate about the French character, but no one heard me, so all was well. “Please,” Melanie said, “sit.” She then introduced us to the four other artistic-looking people sitting at chairs near the sofas. I didn’t catch their names, but I’ll refer to them as Jean-Luc—the larger guy in the black sweater with thick-framed black glasses and a pony-tail; Napolean, the reedy guy who was in a band; Michelle, the tall girl who sat on top of Napolean, and, occasionally, laid across him like a blanket; and Sophie, who would basically turn into our fourth friend this trip.
We greeted them, and The Student immediately started talking to them in French. I thought back to my high school French classes, which generally consisted of us trying to avoid making our teacher—a hollow-looking man who we figured for a drug addict—shout at us for no discernable reason. Then I thought back to my first college French class, which was taught by a hippy and was at the difficulty level of, roughly, coloring books. Then my second college French course, which was taught by a Parisian MILF, and was infinitely harder than my first one. Then my third, and so on until I filled my foreign language requirement and forgot French altogether.
All was well, though, as I got to sit around and eat some delicious crackers and cheese. I’d never had Camembert before, and eating it then, in all of its warmed-up glory, I figured that I’d gone and found a new favorite type of cheese. “This is some good cheese,” I said.
The conversation stopped.
The Student said, “Oh, hey Narrator, I forgot you were there. We were just talking about how the blog is becoming almost a literary form—sort of like a diary. What do you think, as a blogger?”
“Oh,” said Luc, “you have the blog?”
“Er,” I said, “well, yeah, you could say that.”
“What is it about?” asked Sophie, leaning forward and snagging a grape from the plate on the table.
I shuffled. “It’s, ah, nothing special. Autobiographical. Sort of.” Having nothing else to say on the subject, I gently coughed.
“He’s modest,” said The Student.
“No I’m not,” I said. “No one needs to know about it.”
He grinned. The bastard. “Nah, it’s a fictionalized version of the year we’re all spending over here. Some good writing in there. Kind of neo-Romantic era, but with just a hint of post-modern fear of the future.” He clicked his tongue. “Neo-Romantic nihilism, you might say.”
“What the fuck?” I asked.
“Roll with it,” he said out of the side of his mouth.
The word “nihilism” apparently interested the hell out of the French, as they all leaned forward and nodded. “So, this means you are the philosopher of the group, eh?”
I shuffled some more. “Eh, well, yeah, I guess. I don’t like the whole neo-Rom—”
“What do you think of Sarah Palin?” Jean-Luc asked.
“She’s an orphan-eating Hitler-devil, why?”
And then I was in their good graces. Sophie came over to our sofa and started talking to The Student and I much more than I’d have expected, Luc brought us a bottle of... well, I don’t know. It was similar to ouzo, but tasted similar to a Merlot.
The time passed a lot faster after that. They served a small spinach, feta pizza and then, blowing my mind beyond all explainable proportions, they turned on a karaoke game and started a horrendous chain of pop renditions from the 90s. Not that their singing voices were terrible, mind you, it was the fact that I had to sit through about six Britney Spears songs and twelve Backstreet Boys songs before they all got bored, passed me the microphone, and I went on an old school hip hop binge that no one but Pascale and The Student paid attention to.
After “No Sleep Til Brooklyn,” Pascale said, “I don’t know any of those songs.”
“What?” I said. “How do you not know The Beastie Boys? That’s a freakin travesty, man.”
The three of us debated the merits and demerits of French pop versus American pop until people started to leave, and the three of us dashed to the Metro to make it back to Pascale’s before the subway closed.