Conversations, Paris June 2, 2015

Conversation class in Paris. A sixty-year old man from Costa Rica with grown out short hair flat on top. Maybe ex-military. He described himself ironically as un Flâneur (one who strolls through life?). A smart, compassionate woman of forty something from Brasil, white skin. I didn’t catch her job or project. I thought I caught a slightly slavic accent. A young man, dark skin, of thirty-five or so from Cape Verde, an island nation off East Africa, quite a way off shore. Another white-skinned Brazilian woman, late twenties or early thirties, very white skin, writing a doctoral dissertation on Sartre. I asked her if she could say what existentialism was in one sentence. She responded, saying, We are condemned to a life of freedom. That’s as far as she got before the men jumped in. Her French was very good. The best among us. Then there was me (Pete). I walked my usual thin line between irony and serious contribution, and survived once more! Javi, to my left, from Spain, a face always a little on the red side. I keep forgetting what he does, some kind of research. I think sociology. He has a dim view of what will become of Spain. Then Ross, a Scotsman, who is learning to detect and track laundered money. That brought up a discussion of what kind of money was being laundered: drugs, arms, child-adult sexual slavery and traffic. Then came a Turk, who is writing a book on the Turkish general Cherif Pacha, exiled to Paris, where he survived an attack on his life in January, 1914 because he had opposed the Young Turks (Ottoman Empire) and won their wrath. Each day, the discussion leader is an older French person, with great variety, always a puzzle at first because of accent, clarity of voice, and political views and other presumptions. This man today, seventy-maybe, one pack a day, never once addressed the very decent black man from Cape Verde (or I think even looked at him), one of the smallest countries in the world, perfectly placed for the slave trade, later a Portuguese colony. The leader treated him as if he didn’t exist. I kept thinking his turn was coming up, but it didn’t. Our leader also gave a short discourse on the benefits French colonialism brought to Southest Asia. The older Brazilian woman exchanged a look with me over that. I love these classes. I get to communicate with people from the rest of the world in a third language. It makes me very happy.

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