Thursday, May 24, 2012

Changing the Air

As I write this morning, I manage to avoid a few minutes (hours?) of hitting the books to study for my final exams tomorrow (oral - 15 minutes) and Saturday (written - 3 hours!!).  

My French classes at the Sorbonne Cours de Civilisation Française just ended yesterday, marking for me a full academic year of studying French as a living language right in the heart of academic Paris.  It's been a dream come true, in fact, much more than that, as I could have hardly dreamed up the pleasures, challenges and surprises this experience has brought to me.  My life has changed as a result and, probably more importantly, my perspectives on life, on my life, that is.

Of course, I expected many things, such as new food, new surroundings and challenges in communication on a daily basis, for just a few examples.  But the sweetest pleasures have been the nuanced cultural differences I'd hardly have known about in my American life.  There are too many to list or briefly describe - perhaps someday a book on that, but one that arose each and every class day made me smile, for no particular reason, just because it was so obviously different and occurred in every classroom, without fail.

The change of air.

Upon arriving to class, I always found the window(s) wide open.  In winter, that meant the room was many degrees colder than the hallway and the door to the class often hard to push open because of the pressure against it from the wind rushing into the open window.  In rain and humidity, a bit of a damp, rainforest-like presence, unusual for an indoor sensation but equally refreshing in its own way, would greet my entrance.

And then, once the professor has arrived, the windows are quickly shut, to return the temperature to the appropriate indoor range and to permit the students to remove coats and sweaters and begin work.

This marks every class change.  Is it for health reasons, perhaps to rid the air of accumulated aerial residue of the dozens of students who enter and exit every couple of hours throughout the day?  Perhaps.  I have no idea.

I have grown to appreciate the practice, and I have found myself doing the same every time I arrive back "home" in Paris.  I fling open the two French doors to the air, no matter the temperature, no matter the precipitation, for a few minutes of what the French professors called "changing the air."

In addition to my conscious efforts to learn something here, namely, the French language, I realize I'm learning unconsciously, too.  These things, small as they may be, continue to open my eyes to a different world.  And for that, I continue to be enormously grateful.

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