Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Picture Says A Thousand Words - In Any Language!

When I was younger, I always thought I would enjoy a career in politics. Fifteen years with Dan, coupled with too many games of "I Never," put that ambition firmly to rest, but the thought of participating in some grass-roots activism has always lingered. So, imagine my delight on Thursday evening, while enjoying a great little meal at the restaurant around the corner, the waiter/host/owner/bartender/my new friend, Josein, invited me to attend an upcoming neighborhood action meeting to address the issue of traffic in the area. Being the good global citizen that I am, and seeing this as a potential opportunity to counter any negative karma picked up during the Galleria Inno incident, I gladly accepted his invitation.

Last night, I drafted a list of all the points that I could address with the group if someone asked my input, including topics such as the safety aspects of the unmetered crosswalk in front of the school, the blocking of traffic on a one-way street by the construction crews, the lack of street parking in the neighborhood, the prospective increase in traffic volume based on the completion of the construction projects, high-speeds in a residential area, etc.

This morning, armed with my list and a bag of cookies hot from the ovens of Bon Beurre -- the bakery that we live above and which has now become our own personal "screw-you" to Dr. Atkins -- I trudged through the SNOW to the corner restaurant where the meeting was to begin promptly at 10:30 am. At 10:40, standing conspicuously in front of the closed and locked restaurant door with a bag full of cookies, in the SNOW, I began to wonder if I had somehow misunderstood when the meeting was to take place.

After mentally calculating how many glasses of wine I had Thursday night, I convinced myself that the meeting was, in fact, slated for 10:30. I began to doubt, however, the location. Just before doubt won out, the door opened and I was welcomed into the restaurant by someone mopping the floor, who did not speak English, but was kind enough to gesture me in out of the SNOW. I ordered a diet coke and grabbed a seat close to the radiator, truly excited about attending my first Belgian civic event. Not wanting to seem ill-prepared, I started reviewing my list.

The meeting began promptly at 10:50, when another individual showed up. His name was Dominique and he lives 3 floors above the Bon Beurre. I quickly learned that he speaks no English and he quickly learned that I speak no French. Unbeknownst to Dominique, I have perfected what I like to call Spengch. It is a mixture of Spanish, English and French, and, while I am fluent, apparently, Dominique is not. After several failed attempts at conversation, we both gave up and started in on the cookies.

At a little past 11:00, Olivier showed up. Olivier speaks French and Flemish, but limited English and no Spengch. He, too, quickly ascertained that I have no grasp over the French language and what French I do know is limited to "My name is Cindy. It is cold. I don't have 4 cents." While Olivier never came out and said it, I got the distinct impression that he understood more Spengch than he let on!

At 11:10, Matt arrived and, fortunately for all at the table, his English was quite good, so we were able to dispense with the Spengch (which is a good thing because I suspect they may have been intimidated with my fluency in the language, and their lack thereof, a feeling that I am all too familiar with!).

Josein showed up fashionably late and so began the actual meeting -- in French! Not being able to bring anything to the table, other than the bag of cookies, I sat quietly, nodding and smiling when appropriate, my list tucked in my coat pocket.

There was a lengthy discussion involving lots of gesturing, a cell phone call to some unknown entity, a couple of maps drawn on napkins, and the entrance of Patrick, who was identified solely for my benefit as "Monsieur Mayor of the Ville." More discussion followed by more napkin maps and one very elaborate coaster map. Then, everyone turned and looked at me!

It was Dominique's voice that finally shook me out of the flashback to my recent Belgian court appearance. Having absolutely no idea what he was referring to, or what had been said while I was reliving the single most terrifying moment I have experienced to date in Belgium, I looked him in the eye, nodded my head, and confidently said, "Oui." And, thus, this is how I became the official photographer for the neighborhood traffic action committee!

I don't know what I am supposed to take pictures of. I don't know what to do with the pictures after they are taken. I don't even know when the next meeting is. But, I do know this -- my neighbors, obviously adhering to the old adage that a picture says a thousand words, would much rather I speak in pictures than try to continue to converse Spengch!

© 2005 Cindy Lane. All rights reserved.

2 Comments:

Blogger Sunshine in San Diego said...

This should be good digital camera training. Hint, hint . . . get some damn photos of your place on your blogg, will ya!?!

12:33 AM  
Anonymous Rod Thome said...

Cindy, take some pictures of Dan trying to navigate traffic through your neighborhood. That should clear up any questions about what is wrong with the driving in your neighborhood.

7:48 PM  

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