Hable con ellos

I spent Wednesday afternoon with a Yalie named Edward who’s studying abroad in Denmark this semester. We were never really friends at school, but we know each other from band, so it was not weird that he contacted me to hang out during the few days he’d be in Paris. As it turns out, we have a lot in common, particularly a passion for food. Appropriately, we spent the afternoon on a really lovely pâtisserie tour: first we sat on the steps of La Madeleine and shared a caramel réglisse millefeuille from Laduree (amazing), then we went to the Tuileries where we split four Pierre Hermé macarons (jasmine, pistachio-cherry, olive oil & vanilla, and rose—all amazing), and finally we sat at a chess table in the Jardin du Luxembourg and did our best at my beloved Macha Azuki Duomo from Sadaharu Aoki, but gave up halfway in (still amazing; I took home the leftovers, which were possibly even better the next day).
But even lovelier than all the sugar, cream and egg whites was how easily and genuinely we were able to connect. We spent about three and a half hours sitting and nibbling and walking, but mostly talking. We talked about study abroad and Yale and marriage and band gossip and couch surfing, and each of us was completely focused on what the other had to say. In the middle of one of our conversations it struck me how strange it was that we had never become friends at school when we clearly get along so well. I realized that we would never have had that kind of conversation at Yale—in part because the band does not lend itself to one-on-one discussion time, but in part I think because I am often too caught up in my own head to really take the time to listen to people. In fact, as I was thinking this, I realized that I was only half paying attention to what Edward was saying and immediately made myself cut off my train of thought.
The next night, I went out to dinner with Anne, my former French teacher’s daughter. We were planning to see a movie, but dinner took too long and our conversation was too interesting, so we ended up going out to drinks instead. Again, I found that we were able to talk completely honestly and earnestly, whether we were grappling with big philosophical issues or discussing unrequited crushes or evaluating the merits of buying expensive house paint (OK, that last one was just Anne). It was a good four and a half hours of just conversation, both of us completely engaged the entire time, with no motive other than getting to know each other better. I was struck once more by how lovely it was and how rare I feel that kind of experience is when I’m home.
Truth be told, I suspect that I will go back and won’t be able to do this anymore. It could be that I’ll be too stressed to fully pay attention to someone else, or that I won’t have the time to start such conversations in the first place, or maybe even that the incentive to get to know people that way is lessened when I already have my set group of friends. But it’s not only me; I don’t think a lot of other people are able to make time in their daily routines for this kind of thing either—so even if I come home ready for an endless stream of heart-to-hearts, who will I have them with?
I don’t really know what the answer to this problem is. Maybe I should clear my schedule so I have more time to spend with people and am relaxed enough to pay attention to them. Maybe I should search out activities that lend themselves well to conversation (more walks and long dinners; less marching band and movies). Maybe I just have to get my fill while I can and accept the fact that opportunities will be less frequent when I return. Maybe I need to learn to ask better questions. Probably all of the above.
But basically, if any of you readers out there ever want to go hiking with me and have a long conversation about religion or your relationship with your parents or your future career or what have you, know that I am TOTALLY DOWN.

Also, prize to anyone who gets the movie reference in the title—one of my favorite films.

Published in: on April 3, 2009 at 7:49 pm  Leave a Comment