Happy Independence Day U.S.A.
My independence started with Alligator Pie. And it was solidified with a crêpe.
Expliquer, s’il vous plaît.
Yesterday, I was ordering a crêpe next to a guy who was also ordering a crêpe. I heard his English accent and asked the universally accepted traveler question, “So, where you from?”
Phoenix. He’s American but his partner is French. They live in Phoenix half the year and Paris half the year. He’s retired. She works. But more important than all this? They live in my hood.
Geographically desireable English-speaking friends? Yes, please.
She arrived and we three walked down Rue Mouffetard, eating, walking and talking. As we walked by the bibliothèque, they asked if I ever go to the library. I told them I didn’t even know how to go about getting into the In Crowd that has the coveted library card for the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
I figured I needed some proof of residency, like a utility bill or a license. Or knowing the French, a birth certificate with proof of pure French blood at least 3 generations back. But I had none of these and was too shy to go through the process of asking and explaining to the librarian in French.
“I will go with you,” said my French Phoenix Fairy Godmother.
“And I’ll show the English section,” said my Crêpe Compadre.
We walked in and up to the librarian’s desk. They spoke in French and the situation was explained. There was a lot of talking and hmmm-ing. Finally there was nodding. She turned to me, “You have a passport?”
Yes, back at my apartment. Is that all I need?
I sprinted back to my apartment to get the passport. I didn’t want to wait hours before the librarian changed shifts and I’d have a new librarian that didn’t know my situation or would change the rules.
When I returned, I slapped the passport on her desk like it was the last item in a Scavenger Hunt.
“J’ai mon passeport,” I huffed, hands on hips. As I caught my breath, she filled out a paper form. Then she filled out the form on the computer. Why two steps? I don’t know. I don’t care. Then, to my delight, she handed me my card with my own name on it and spoke very slowly in French, explaining to me how many books I could take out and for how long.
I skipped out of the library with Eggers, Kingsolver and Hemingway. As I walked to the park to salivate over my books, I recalled my first library card. It was from the Tillsonburg Public Library.
I was 7. I shyly approached the librarian and quietly asked how to get a library card.
“You need to fill out this form and I can help you with that.”
I don’t need my mom’s signature or anything?
“No. At the library you are your own independent person.”
I had never heard anything so marvelous in my entire life.
I am my own independent person.
She helped me with the form and explained the borrowing rules. When she explained the late fees I almost wanted to bring my book back one day late so I could responsibly pay my own fine now that I was entrusted by the library to be capable of doing so.
I borrowed Alligator Pie by Dennis Lee.
Alligator Pie was my favorite book of poems and my favorite poem in the book was Alligator Pie. I walked out of the library with my nose in the book and I didn’t take it out until I memorized the poem.
Good thing, too, because years later I went to see Dennis Lee. He was doing a talk at a pub near my apartment in Toronto. After his talk, I told him that I had hoped that he’d recite Alligator Pie, even though this talk had nothing to do with Alligator Pie.
He asked me if I knew the poem.
Does a fish like to swim?
“Let’s do it together,” he said.
So there I was with Dennis Lee reciting Alligator Pie:
I hope this slakes your cravings for Alligator Pie.
It was a great moment.
Thank goodness for public libraries and for kind librarians, for generous authors and for nice expats with kind French girlfriends.