THEY ONLY LAUGHED LATER: Tales of Women on the Move
(Excerpt from the essay, "Envelope Thief," by Erzsi Deak)
"Jeez, ricotta in the States was always soft and watery." But who knows, maybe you're wrong. You tend to trust THEM more than yourself anymore because you're operating on a different planet, at least that's what it feels like. And the rules must be different here, since nothing ever makes sense. Eventually you learn to trust yourself, but for the first few years in your life as an estrangere in this city, you believe they know all and you know nothing. So you take your hard cheese (wondering how you'll stuff the pasta), skip the meat and pick up light-weight stuff like laundry detergent and juice. . . .
Better arrange the goods here, since the detergent is trying to escape the non-existent basket beneath the stroller and the juices are about to crash to the floor. We won't talk about the cheese. So you park in what you view as a benign location -- near the envelope display. You are proud because you are out of the way. The baby's nearly asleep now. Maybe you can sneak in a coffee at Le Flore on boulevard Saint Germain. But what's this, someone is talking to you, or rather, alternating between muttering and yelling at you. "Pardon?" you say, confused by the woman's words and interest in you at all. "Vendeuse!" you think she screams. "Vendeuse d'enveloppes!" You tell her as politely as possible that you are not the envelope saleswoman and maybe she should direct her calls to someone more appropriately dressed, say someone in one of those sexy Monoprix, white and pink concierge housecoats. You pretend to ignore her, just as everyone else seems to be doing better than you are.
But she is insistent and is going to wake up the baby, who you wish wouldn't take a nap at 5 p.m., but now that she's asleep, the coffee is sounding great and this woman could ruin that grand creme in the sky for you. The woman, who is probably over sixty with garish face paint and a coif bordering on that of Frankenstein's bride, except in a hotter shade of rust, is pointing at you. People are starting to stare now. "Vendeuse d'enveloppes!"
She's beginning to bug you. Why doesn't she ask somebody else for help? . . . So you lose it. And you lose it in English, because, quite frankly, you don't know how to call her a "cretin" or a "peasant". . . She's pointing her crooked finger at you again and glaring at you like you've stolen her first born.
And then you get it. Then you finally hear what she is saying. But she's still behind you, mounting the moving stairs, trying to catch
up. . . .