learning


American novelist Thomas Wolfe said “One belongs to New York instantly, one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” It’s a welcoming thought but I didn’t feel I belonged from the moment I stepped off the plane. I felt overwhelmed. I felt excited. But I felt like a stranger in a city of strangers. The other school of thought says you have to earn your stripes as a New Yorker. Well, the 25th of this month marked, to the day, my arrival in New York two years ago. And I now feel I belong. This amazes me. I have been living in New York for two years!!! I had the dreams that many have of experiencing New York  but I never imagined it would be the city I would come to call my second home.

So I would like to make a toast, to the greatest city in the world:
Here’s to waking up one day and seeing the beauty in the city’s dirty streets
Here’s to once living in a room with one window, and to views of brick walls.
Here’s to thinking a studio the size of a walk-in closet is a great find.
Here’s to my five-floor walk-up.
Here’s to hailing down cabs in peak traffic. In the rain.
Here’s to cab ride stories. And to the enviable driving skills of the drivers.
Here’s to cheering with the audience at Bryant Park when New York is mentioned in a film.
Here’s to wearing black.
Here’s to knowing where to get the best cup of coffee.
Here’s to the best bagels in the world.
Here’s to Saturday brunch in the village. And runs along the Hudson. To late night dinners and later night parties.
Here’s to a city that never sleeps.
Here’s to the delicate intricacies of the different neighborhoods. To countless cities on one island. To discovering a different world on your doorstep each day.
Here’s to getting around without a map. To knowing which way is uptown. To understanding the subway.
Here’s to the one train. To the art of jaywalking. To waiting inches away from speeding traffic rather than waiting safely on the sidewalk to cross the street.
Here’s to New Yorkers. To those that make you laugh. And cry. To those that drive you insane. To those that make you know why you live here.
Here’s to my Mexican flower vendor, my Israeli grocer, my fellow South Africans, my Italian super, my Korean postman, my Japanese flatmate, my Canadian best friend and my American friends, my Chinese laundry guy, my favorite Croatian bartender, and my Indian newsstand man. To the strangers. And the people I’ve yet to meet.
Here’s to the firemen. And the gentlemen. And the whistles of the builders.
Here’s to fire escapes. And rooftops. And to Central Park.
Here’s to not noticing sirens anymore. To a silence that never is. To sweltering summers and subzero winters.
Here’s to extremes.
Here’s the changing colors of the Empire State Building at night. To the lights above the skyscrapers, the closest thing we have to stars. To infinite possibility.
Here’s to you, New York.

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I have never been a fan of humiliation. I think it is silly, unnecessary and mean however in the past month of my life I have come to understand (and almost accept) that when learning a language … HUMILIATION is part of the deal, everyday, pretty much all day I am humiliated. Let me tell you, coming to Paris is fun, learning French isn’t.

Because I have progressed to A2 (used to be in A1) the classes have stepped up, instead of verb gymnastics we now do questions and answers. The teacher shoots a question and we are expected to answer … immediately … in front of a class full of strangers. Yes this ultimately results in utter humiliation. If by any chance I am lucky enough to understand the question my answer, no doubt, is completely wrong, my tenses are never right and my pronunciation is so bad that the responses I then get once I have answered are “il n’existe pas” or “je ne comprends pas” which is “this does not exist” or “I don’t understand”!

I have tried to combat the humiliation by preparing more thoroughly for my lessons. I know now that on Thursdays we are asked what we will do for Thursday late night shopping and late night museum openings and on Fridays we are asked what we will do over the weekend and on Mondays asked what we did over the weekends. Either on Tuesdays or Wednesdays she will ask what we did in the afternoon before or what we will do in the afternoon coming up. I know you thinking at least I have worked these out and I have and as part of the nonhumilatation plan I have written all these questions out in all the possible forms
that they could be asked – its taken up nearly a whole book because each question has about 8 choices of actually how to ask it. I then prepare my answers, make sure my tenses are right and that I am actually “doing” a verb and not a noun. I then learn all my answers off my heart and on the way to class in the morning practice them on the metro. I get my coffee and sit in the same place (an unspoken rule) and await the humiliation or perhaps nonhumilation this time (here is hoping) now that I have practised.
But no, I am humiliated once again, either she asks the question in the one way I don’t know or I answer and my pronunciation is so bad I get the “it’s not possible” or “it doesn’t exist” response. So, now when I wake up in the morning, I get dressed and go school and all I do is prepare for the feeling of humiliation and, to be quite honest, feel absolutely terrified!

There is nothing open in Paris on a Sunday, if one looks for a supermarket or even a Tabac, you will not find one open passed 1 o’clock. However one shop is open on a Sunday afternoon and that is WHSmith, the English book store. I love it! I am not sure what attracts me to it, whether it is the fact that the whole store is English and so walking in there I breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t have to concentrate when asking a question, or whether it is that there is so much to look at, I also think that it has become a place of comfort and the store is peaceful- it is 2 floors and has an old carpet, the walls are lined with big old wooden bookshelves which are jam-packed with things to read.

I usually enter right where the travel section is downstairs, I look over the Lonely Planet Guides and pick up a few – secretly planning trips in my mind to exotic places. I then move to the Paris section, where I look at every guide book that I do not already own, yes I own a few. I tell myself I don’t need anymore, that they all say the same thing and provide the same map – I think that deep down I am actually looking for a book that doesn’t exist, something with the title of “Friends in Paris: a list of friends that you little one, will love” or “Shopping for the poor South African: shops that you can afford and that will make you look super cool” but so far I have not found any with those titles and a certain human has said that I will not benefit from yet another Paris tour guide, I know that that the human is right so I move on. I then walk up the creaky old staircase and into the stationery section. Why do I get such pleasure out of looking at cards and stationery I don’t know, but I look for ages at the different pens and notebooks and then move through to the next room which is children’s books, allowing you to escape to a fantasy world. The next room in this shop holds the fashion books and we all know I can spend hours there, I gently page through the massive hard cover books, admiring the dresses and the photos. Around the corner, through the philosophy section (I give that a skip), is the language room and it is in here where I sit down. I put my bag down, cross my legs and stare blankly at the shelves covered with “learning French” books. Again the same Human says that I could not possibly need another book but I still look, “making verbs easier”, “learn french in 15 minutes a day” or “your guide to the language” all jump out at me but there is still not the one I’m looking for. It’s a bit like the Paris guide, there is no book thats title is “Speak french immediately little one”! I pick up my things and go downstairs again.

I then do the dreaded and enter the magazine room where every magazine is stacked neatly on the shelves, I stand there and look, then, much to my parents’ dismay, I pick up a trashy magazine, such as US Weekly, Heat or Hello and read them… why does this give me such joy?
But today was different .. .today I had a moment of genius and read the equivalent of Heat in French. Well started to and I did understand a bit. I have realised that, YES I can finally be back in touch with celeb gossip by only spending 1 Euro a week and I add all sorts of interesting words (some good, some bad) to my vocab. My reading is slow but in a way this is a good thing. Now it will take me a week to read one magazine which means that just as I finish there will be a new one out which ultimately means, I could read this trashy magazine continuously.
Suddenly, as I write this, I am not sure that this is such a good idea and whether I can in fact call this moment genius. I suppose at least I will stop getting the beady eye from the French shop keeper at WH Smith.