Eight years of Spanish proves little help during a seder for 700

It’s been forever since I last sat a café to write. Forever, given the routine of my days rarely leaves room for an hour or two break at one of the many Parisian cafes.

That, and the budget doesn’t really cover a daily five euro cup of tea.

Which is where the brilliance of a nosiette comes in. The noisette: the miniscule cup of coffee priced, at this café at least, at two euros. It’s a small fee to pay for permission to sit on the café's wicket seats, my computer balanced on the worn wooden table as my matzah, chocolate and noisette rest to my right.

For a secular country, Paris shuts down well come Easter Monday. It's early afternoon and the streets are unusually quiet; A small restaurant, a gold painted sign with hand drawn black letters reading Restaurant Bar, hangs over the narrow door frame that reveals an open entrance. The restaurant and this café are really all that are open in the area.

Few pass by; an elderly man crosses the street, quickly for an older man, his cane guiding his path as he adjusts his cap before passing out of view. A woman too walks by, her purse perched between the crook of her arm, her fingers curled delicately in, a tight pony tail revealing her pursed lips and strong cheekbones. 

The sky’s overcast backdrop creates a strange, winter- like atmosphere; The leaves on the trees are in full bloom, the vivid green petals brighter as a result of the day’s gray color scheme.

It’s my first full day back in Paris after a weekend in Barcelona. And without fail, it’s always good to be back.

I enjoyed Barcelona; Although, had I solely focused on the city’s palm trees, the midday downpour of rain and the fast- paced Spanish of the city’s residents, I might as well have taken a trip home to Miami.  

It’s Barcelona’s narrow alleyways that stand out the most during my visit; Warm mustard colored buildings frame the pathways, revealing a slither of the vibrant blue of the sky above. The clothing hanging from the rod iron balconies brighten the surroundings, the colorful array of cloth blowing gently as the smooth breeze dips through.

Barcelona follows suit along with the Spanish emphasis on nightlife—the men working at our hostel’s front desk seemed concerned that Erica and I were up at 9 am each morning. The city shuts down come the midday siesta, the culture’s ingrained nap, I’d assume, for the nighttime outings.  The language mixes between Catalan and Spanish. And while a good majority do speak rough English, we did come across some, such as the servers at our first restaurant, who do not. Queso, no pollo, caliente was all I could think of to explain I wanted a warm, kosher sandwich. Dos, one for Erica too.

It’s remarkable how much of a barrier language poses, and how many varieties of languages there are within such short distances. The barrier of tongue really isn't a concept I had given thought to prior to this stay in Europe. The drawl of an American accent is all that changes as you head south in the states, not the ability to communicate in our country’s mother tongue. But in Europe, an hour and a half flight is all it takes to flip a culture, ridding, if you don’t speak the language, of your ability to converse with locals. You miss out on a part of the area’s culture, I think. And in reflection of my own time in Paris, I’d miss out on a chunk of Parisian culture if I weren’t able to understand and contribute to the conversations around me. 

Passover began the Friday during our stay in Barcelona. We had made arrangements to celebrate the first night of seder at Chabad. In a rushed metro transfer and a walk through a park and down a dimly lit alleyway, we came to the gray door of the “Jabad.”  Three Israeli men, a few years older than us, stood outside—I initially pegged them as security (ha, Israelis) until discovering they too were there for seder. We quickly gathered, however, that there was no one behind the temples’ gray door, in addition to no one answering the doorbell (which the brilliant Israelis figured would be an effective manner of letting the rabbis know that we were here. Um, hello, Shabbat.).

It took a thirty-minute scramble to realize that seder was being held at a hotel a 20- minute walk away.  

Which all made sense when we walked into the hotel’s central ballroom, a ballroom bursting with 700 attendees-- a mix of tourists and locals.

The seder was conducted in Spanish, and with one main rabbi to lead 700 people through the meal, I can’t say our table of ten really followed the seder.

Erica and I sat at a table with three boys our age. The two of the three, as it became clear quickly, were not Jewish. And the one that was, identified more with the ish. But through a combination of English and a scatter of Spanish words we’ve both picked up through years of study (right, in eight years of Spanish instruction my fluency stops after colors and numbers), we were able to converse well. I asked one of the boy’s mothers how Spanish Jews define themselves. While most aren’t observant, she said, Spanish Jews identify on equal levels as Jewish and Spanish— unlike the French who hold their identity defined by nationality above one defined by religion.  

The room thundered with choruses of amens and an eruption of cheers as we sang together for the Manishtana (the Four Questions traditionally recited by the youngest at a seder) and Dayenu (a traditional song that translates as “it would have been sufficient”). At a point during the seder, the guy next to me asked if Jews posses this type of fervor back in the states. I paused, turning to look at him before answering, nodding slowly as the trace of a smile transformed my expression.  Because yes, from home, to school, to camp, Israel, Australia, Barcelona and France—it’s all the same. It never ceases to amaze me how strong Jewish culture and tradition is, how no matter where you are in the world, the passion we share in the name of our religion, the joy that comes out of bringing hundreds together under the name of a Passover seder—it’s all the same. And during Friday night’s seder, it was a factor that once again struck me as how special it all really is.  
Back in Paris, the concern over keeping Passover has lessened. Madame, who stared me down fiercely after I told her I’d be breaking Passover a day early in the name of spring break in Italy, threw together some sort of matzah meal and meat dish for dinner. She’s allowed me to take matzah for my lunch, giving me one plastic bag that she’s made clear I must use for the whole week. Madame’s stash of plastic bags are apparently saved for her upcoming three- day trip, and, according to the wise words of my host mother, plastic bags (in addition to running water, paper towels, highlights for hair and kosher meat) are highly expensive. As are computers, which Madame seems to think gives her every excuse to use mine. Hmph.

I leave for two and a half weeks in Italy this Friday. It’ll be the longest I’ll have ever lived out of a small carry on- bag. And obviously, my biggest worry is what to do with my hair. It’s not like Italy is camp and I can just throw the hair up in a messy bun.  

Ok, fine I get it’s not actually a problem.

In some ways it’s beshert that Passover falls the week before spring break. A week without bread provides the perfect diet before two and a half weeks of carb overload. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’ll return from Italy with food baby number two made of pizza, pasta and gelato to complement food baby number one (a combo of patisseries and baguettes). It really is one thing to go abroad fully aware I’d let my body go in lieu of the delicacy of French cuisine, and absolutely another to actually see the effects of the daily boulangerie visits. And as my summer job in Paris has been finalized, it’s not really as if I have the summer to rekindle the relationship with the gym.

I received a job offer from TV- Replay, a tv- catch up guide, about two weeks ago. It’s a paid internship, one that will fund my summer housing. I’ll begin part time May 14 and continue full time from June to August. 

All that’s left to do is sort out summer housing. And seeing as Madame wants to charge me an absurd amount of money to rent out a bedroom, I’m on the hunt for suitable (and affordable) alternatives. I’m not worried—things have a habit of working out. Patience, as always, is key.

For now, I’ve got an Italy itinerary to put together and a week in Paris to enjoy.

The wind has begun to pick up outside—the “indoor outdoor” seating’s glass panel is doing fairly little in blocking the droplets of rain from hitting my side. Three hours later, and the café’s outdoor seating is largely full, individuals eating a late lunch, others enjoy an afternoon glass of wine or cup of coffee. There are the recognizable faces that too have been sitting here for the past three hours, soaking in life, enjoying the atmosphere and finding peace in the confines of the café.

It’s been a little over two months since leaving D.C., landing in Paris to the start of my six months abroad. The process has felt natural, so normal, so right, so perfect. I’m pleased with my progress in French, aware I won’t come back fluent, but satisfied I’ll return conversational.

Life’s taken me on such a spiral these past few years—a journey that’s amazing to piece together in connecting how I’ve gotten to where I am today. It’s each choice we make that influences the paths of our lives, and with one life to make the most of, it’s forever our decision to follow our own voice in shaping a journey that provides the maximum fulfillment. Through it all, I’m grateful for my experiences and thankful for those who have guided me to get to this point.

It was just three years ago, in the closet dorm of Leonard 815, that I set my mind on Paris as my study abroad. And today, three years later, as I watch the droplets of rain rolling down the water in front, there really is nowhere else I would have chosen to be.  

La Boqueria (a market off from Las Ramblas)
Barcelona's Arc de Triomf

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