Friday, December 31, 2010

Bonne Année

What is anyone's goal when they begin to be fascinated by a language, a culture, or even by a new hobby? When someone embarks on the indefinite journey of learning all they can about something, do they intend to pursue their education until old age? Do they intend to immerse themselves forever, to replace their old heritage or interests with something new, something learned secondhand? Maybe I'm far too concerned with wondering about people's intentions for the future, the bigger reasons for why they do what they do. I'm certainly guilty of not knowing my exact future plans. But it seems to me that young people often take a very fleeting interest in what they call their "passions." Understandable, as they are, in fact, young. The young relish the fleeting.

I find myself, as I get older, wondering about my own current passions. For one thing, I know I'm not cultivating them to the extent that they or I deserve. My guitar sits, lonely, in my room in Massy, while I gallivant around Paris - surmounting many annoyances, make no mistake. And my French learning has apparently plateaued to a marginal amount of in-person everyday practice: at the bakery, in the hotel lobby, on the phone with customer service. I do very little creative writing nowadays. Etc etc.

Are the things I'm doing now going to matter to me in five, ten years? I'm learning Japanese now, and I find myself filled with an exciting desire to travel to Japan, but will it be fleeting? I wonder where I'll stand when I have children, and what they'll imagine when I tell them about my youth. They might knit their brows in consternation, wondering how they could know so little about their dowdy mother, who once did amazing things and lived with passion but no longer has the energy or the character to do the same. Or they might roll their eyes at the obvious progression from avid 22-year-old learner and teacher, to loopy and intelligent 50-year-old world-traveler.

This year I have gone from elated to even more elated, to nervous and fulfilled and then, suddenly, to pessimism and negativity. I have lived these past few weeks with the constant awareness that my moods are fleeting and easily changed, the fear that I won't be able to control them when they go downhill. I think the problem with this is that the fear was dictating my beliefs; being afraid of losing control of my moods made me lose control.

Winter can be a hard time for morale, especially when it seems the universe is against you. And let me tell you, the universe has seemed to have a very deliberate vendetta against me for the past few weeks. At the same time, I know that it has brought me several very sweet blessings. I need to stop imagining that there is some formula I need to follow to be the same kind of happy that I was in the earlier months of 2010, and just find the happiness in every moment, starting now.

Years and months, weeks and days even, are like people, I think. You have a different relationship with each of them, and you have to remember that these different relationships are no better or worse than the ones you have with others; there is always something new ahead, and you can't dwell on the past years or the other friends or lovers, always hoping to recreate what you had before. You have to always be creating anew, and that is what makes life worth living. I could not imagine many more worse things than finding myself in a third-rate desk job with a complacent family, doing the same thing day in and day out, believing that because we've found solutions that work, we should use them all the time. 2011 signals a new beginning, among many new beginnings that are happening all around us, and one sign of that new beginning is the abundance of unconventional ways to make money, of new technology we can use to do things we love. 2011 may not be a special milestone like 2000 or 2010. But if you treat it like it's special, it may treat you well back.

Here are my mottos for the year. They might not make sense to you, but that's ok. And if they do speak to you, feel free to take them as your own!
  • More literacy.
  • Love the dream.
  • Beauty is yours.
  • Breathe before you break.
  • Balance in and out.
  • Boho budget.
  • No blame.
  • Open up to...

And, just in case you were wondering, here were my mottos for 2010.
  • Do the dream.
  • Go forth.
  • Be your dream self.
  • Believe in others.
  • More music.
  • Live your passion.
  • Get ready to...

Did I live by them? Most of the time! Sometimes it was hard, or they faded and I had to renew them in other words. What did I get out of this? I moved to France, I faced a lot of growing up in a short period, I learned to play guitar and wrote my own songs, I met some amazing people and strengthened so many of my relationships, I ran a 5K, I lost 20 pounds, I read something like 20 books, and I found a boy who so far comes pretty close to being perfect. (The only problem: he knows it.) The mottos certainly aren't the magic words, but they can help guide your choices.

Happy New Year, and may your choices be guided well. :)

Love,
Alex

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Score

The Bad:
  • Michael's flight being delayed and re-routed through Manchester instead of going Atlanta-Philadelphia-Charles de Gaulle as planned, and causing him to arrive eight hours later than originally anticipated, with no way to contact me to tell me what was happening. Also, the French staff of US Airways are buttfaces and would not help me figure out where he might have been re-routed, even though I CRIED IN THEIR FACES.
  • Super sketch apartment that I rented for us being locked/inaccessible when we got there, and the customer service of the apartment rental company being absolutely awful, making us wait in the frigid hallway of a super dank and gross apartment building for two hours without a direct line to call them at. Their customer service line works really weird, too: it cost me like €0,35 per minute, and every time you call, you have to leave a message instead of talking to a real person, so that they get your information and then call you back. This resulted in them taking ages and ages to call me back every time, as my messages to them became increasingly angrier and more insistent. (I think in the end they were afraid to deal with me, so they TEXTED me directions on what to do instead of actually calling.) They suggested - in the un-timeliest of manners - that a locksmith come "at some point" that night, or that we could go to another apartment. I eventually got hold of the dude and basically tore into him, saying it wasn't worth it, that I wanted a refund, that the company's customer service was unacceptable, etc etc. Michael (poor Michael) and I decided to go have some food and wait for their response, which eventually was to give us an apartment (and I use the term "apartment" loosely) in another neighborhood of Paris. We eventually got there and, although it's kind of a hole in the wall and barely fits the two of us, it's in a beautiful neighborhood and is enough of a roof over our head to make it feel marginally like a home.
  • We have no internet in the tiny hovel they gave us, and I've been doing some hardcore internet begging in our building for the past couple days, asking people to share their wifi access codes. After several failed attempts and a few rude French characters, a nice man a few floors below us gave us his info. Unfortunately, it only works in the stairwell and not in our room... This is where I write to you from right now.
  • Really rude woman at the bakery we went to today who told us "ça ne va pas être possible de manger ici," when she saw that we were eating food that didn't happen to come from the bakery. We don't know if she noticed we were eating one of their baguettes...
The Good:
  • Making snowmen in Montmartre outside our sad hovel residence.
  • Getting baguettes, croissants, and pains au chocolat every morning for breakfast.
  • Watching ice skaters at the Hôtel de Ville (we haven't gotten up the energy to brave the lines just yet).
  • Walks along the Seine (of course).
  • My Japanese class with Michael as the guest of honor.
  • Riding the Metro all day long and walking just as much.
  • Watching movies together (Going the Distance! haha, Gattaca, Tarzan, Dead Poets Society, Gremlins...).
  • Falafel and a crêpe with Mara who had the misfortune to get stuck in Paris on her way home from Marseille (her flight was delayed and then canceled in the end ;_;).
  • Exploring Massy (the park and the hypermarché... the two main attractions haha)
Above all, we're alive and doing relatively well, given the circumstances. Don't worry! This is what matters. :)

Friday, December 17, 2010

Terrible at Blogging...

...because a certain visitor is visiting. Soon I will collect my thoughts enough to make interesting posts!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Seeing

I'm not complaining.

I'm not complaining, because complaining is very unproductive. Also, I'm not complaining, because I am in France and I have it pretty good here. I don't like complainers, and I don't like to be one either.

However.

I would just like to point out how interesting it is that France has thrown all these crazy things at me so far. Nothing life-threatening (depending on your perspective haha), but let's take a look:
  • bed bugs
  • brief quasi-homelessness (in French, there's a term SDF - sans domicile fixe, for "without a permanent residence")
  • many, many emotions
  • transportation strikes
  • 2-month delays in bank account setup
  • trash strikes (incidental, I admit)
  • the $ to € exchange rate
  • 15-year-olds (I brought this upon myself)
  • endless paperwork with delays that result in a continued lack of health insurance
And the coup de grâce: Getting to work in normal weather this morning, then shrinking in resignation as I watched the snow flurry with increasing determination throughout the day. Finishing my classes for the day but being stranded in 10+ cm of snow and waiting in vain for a bus that would never come, returning to school to find that afternoon classes had been canceled and that the students had left (on foot??), as had the teachers.

The remaining staff declined to drive me home, saying either that they weren't going that direction or that the roads were too unsafe to risk it, which is a legitimate concern. One administrator offered a laughably terrible map of directions 3+ km long to get to the RER (commuter train) by foot, using only landmarks like station de service (gas station) and collège (middle school), without road names.

Thankfully (so very thankfully, although unfortunately), my friend Francisca the Spanish assistant, had come into work for the afternoon only to find that classes had been canceled, and she needed to take the RER in the same direction as me. It was snowing like the end of the world, and the ground was sinking deeper and deeper beneath a thick layer of snow every minute. Francisca and I took shelter in the nearby shopping center, ate a warm lunch and wondered what France expected us to do. With no buses, no car, no taxis to be found, and the RER at least a 45-minute walk away in a snowstorm of yeti-horde proportions, it seemed hilariously... French. Like everything else they've put us through so far.

We were about to head out on the path I had re-charted using Google in lieu of the laughably bad administrator's map when we heard a security guard directing fellow sufferers toward the RER in Bures-sur-Yvette, which we needed. We improvised, asked him directions and made to cut through the park he indicated with a gloved hand, hurriedly attempting to follow the couple he had just advised. In the park, we lost our quarry but encountered the KINDEST, MOST GENEROUS FRENCH SOUL EVER IN THE WORLD. A middle-aged man tramping through the snow stopped to answer our desperate requests for help, going so far as to accompany us about three-quarters of a mile along the way, in the opposite direction from his destination, and in the raging snow. He dropped us off where the road branched and told us which direction to take. We followed it, trudging along with a fellow sufferer we had acquired along the way.

My classes had ended at 12h30. I finally got home at 17h50.

Yet, I'm not complaining. I'm not complaining, because I wasn't alone, I wasn't scared, I didn't stress out, I kept warm, I made it home, and I can do anything.

New York taught me to be independent, confident, assertive, critical, open-minded, adventurous and curious about the world.
France is teaching me to be prepared, relaxed, indulgent, efficient, forgiving, sentimental, grateful, persevering, and even more curious about the world.

I don't care how much cheese and pastries other people eat while they're here; I don't care how much money they blow on traveling around Europe to drink and be pretentious like everyone else. This is the kind of experience I value more than anything else - seeing the world by seeing who I am.

Let me make it clear that I am NOT asking for more of this. (Ok, France? Do you hear me?) But I know that this is what life is giving me to work with. I could be spoiled and shortsighted like these Westerners teaching English in Japan, who complain about having small bathrooms and sleeping on futons, and say infuriating things like, "Isn't my couch great? You probably won't get one, but you can just buy one, and you can buy bookcases and a bed too since you'll want those." But I sincerely think it's more worthwhile to cultivate your SELF instead of your STUFF, wherever you are in life.

And whatever you happen to be complaining about today, just think about me being stranded in a snowstorm for five hours. And that even that, really, isn't worth complaining about.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

It's On

If you want to learn to value your relationships, try moving to another continent and restricting your communication to email and Skype. Then see where you stand.

Maybe it's the fact that I'm not débordée de travail (overwhelmed with work) like I was in New York, to pass the time. Maybe it's lots of things. But I have never missed anyone until this year. I think it's doing me some good to get a little sentimental; it's a counteracting force to my years of heartlessness. At the same time, I find it very difficult sometimes to be without an established support system at my fingertips - and I don't mean just on Skype. Skype, in fact, drives me up the wall sometimes by its very nature. It's the symbol of my inability (voluntary though it is) to be physically present among the people I care about when, sometimes, that's all I want. I'm making friends here, certainly. But home and the people who tug at my heartstrings with their emails (and there are several of you) are always on my mind.

Being in college doesn't really make you an adult. I realized that long ago. You're not required to do hardly anything on your own, and although life is definitely hard in its ineffable way during college, it's not the same as the real world. I'm hardly claiming to be part of the real world right now. I'm just getting a feel for how hard it is to maintain your friendships and job and emotional health all at once. I'm lucky that I found a good balance of introversion and sociability while in college. I think it's exactly what makes me tick. In fact, I know a lot of people close to me are like this too.

For instance, I feel perfectly satisfied in the social sphere on the days I work; I estimate that I have a total of about 200 students (is that true?! *checks math* hmm yup). I love working with them. Sometimes they are incredibly frustrating (like the girls I had to send back to their main teacher last week when they wouldn't SHUT UP laughing about nothing), but then there are days when I do a freaking sweet lesson and all my students leave the room chanting "Please call Stella..." You have no idea how much I love that.

But then I get home and, while I relish the downtime and snacking and, especially now that it's winter, curling up in cozy clothes, I'm alone. My schedule isn't packed to the brim with "extracurriculars," as it were. I have Japanese, which is a weekly joy. But that's really it.

Sometimes I go to parties on the weekends, and then, today was my flatmate's birthday. She invited her close friends and family for "lunch" (we didn't eat till 2:30 or 3) and I spent a solid 7 hours letting French flow from my mouth like it was nothing. I felt like myself, I felt bilingual, I found the company warm and accepting, and I ate so much that I now have a killer stomachache. (I was also complimented on my tarte à la citrouille [pumpkin pie]), even though baking pies in the microwave is the bane of my existence. The crust never turns out quite right.

But I don't want to feel like I'm wasting my time in France anymore. Conversation groups, volunteering, a second job... it's on, haha. Some assistants and I are planning a Christmas movie marathon next weekend, which I'm super excited for. I can't express how pleased I am that so many of the people I've met here, French and otherwise, are as free-spirited and open-minded and warm as I always try to be. It makes life so much more fun, when I get off my butt and experience it.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rattrapage (Catching Up)

It took me a while, but I cleaned out my inbox completely, got up to speed on my lessons (for now), and breathed a sigh of relief for the resolution of all of my banking problems. I am now contentedly caught up, you might say, except in one regard: the blog. There are several things I need to write about:

1. Emma's visit to France from November 15th to the 21st
2. Teaching
3. French life (including: medical visit, hanging out with the other assistants for Thanksgiving, and more)
4. Normal life? (including: music, language learning, ???)

I wonder if I can cram it all into one post... hop, c'est parti! Here we go!

Emma always seems to have epic adventures when she visits me places! When she visited me in New York in 2007, we saw Spring Awakening on Broadway, had Sugar Sweet Sunshine cupcakes in Central Park and had lots and lots of fun wandering around New York and just being BFFs. This time her visiting me was part of a larger, even more awesome journey around England, France and Spain. Here is just a small sampling of the adventures that went down over the past week!

In the Hall of Mirrors at the Palace of Versailles. Trop classe.

Giddy with excitement, in front of the secret door to Marie Antoinette's chambers in Versailles. That back room is practically a character of its own in Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette.

Toasting with macarons from the venerable La Durée (they have a shop inside Versailles, which is only logical).

One of many attempted pictures with the Arch of Triumph. We went walking along the Champs Elysées for some nighttime window shopping, trying on hats in H&M. We also went in Zara... so "French" haha.

Allée du chat qui pêche - Alley of the Fishing Cat

We got cheese fondue with my friend Francisca, the Chilean Spanish assistant at my high school.

Emma was excited to see some HP paraphernalia at a comic/figurine shop in the Marais (I think), but was disappointed to find...

... it was just Draco. My old favorite haha!

Sweeeet

The Galeries Lafayette, a huge department store with everything from shoes to McDonald's... wait, McDonald's??! Ugh.

Playing in the leaves at Parc de Georges Brassens in Massy, where I live.

Posing in front of the ridiculously overpriced Moulin Rouge in the Montmartre neighborhood. (We made up for not being able to get in by watching the movie Moulin Rouge that night. :D)

SLEEPING CROISSANT-SHAPED KITTY ON A MOTORCYCLE!!!! SO FRENCH I CAN'T TAKE IT

One of several attempts at a picture in front of the Sacré-Cœur basilica. Why do people not know how to get monuments in the background of a photo?? I had to specifically ask this person to get "the whole thing please."

At the top of Sacré-Cœur!! 300+ stairs in a very claustrophobia-inducing spiral staircase. Cause that's a great idea.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I am alive!

Hello, my three faithful readers! Just so you know, I am ok haha. Emma's in town so we're busy! Never fear, a new post is in the works!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Linguistic Adventures

Started my Japanese class at the Institut Japonais last night! I was smiling the whole class just to be able to listen to a native Japanese speaker teach us the basics - in French. My nerdy multilingual dream come true. The only problem is, I think I'm learning Japanese with a French accent. Theory has been confirmed by a certain Japanese-speaking American boy I talk to quite often. I am very frustrated by this, because when I learn languages in English, somehow I don't seem to fall into the accent trap. So I blame it all on my fellow French classmates and their cursed vowels. Dangit. I will just have to tune them out. Like whoa.

For five months, I get to tote around a big red binder and spend my free time listening to a CD called "Réussir en Japonais 1" and finally feel satisfied in formally learning the language of my great-grandparents. I really really need to nip this accent thing in the bud though. Podcasts and anime ahoy!

The flip side of this accent problem is that I seem to have acquired a picture-perfect French accent that, like some sort of bizarre trench coat, I can easily slip onto my English and seem to be French for all intents and purposes. Spending many class hours with students who continue to say things like "I 'av alreddy been beetun bai a cat" (my personal favorite, used as a lie in the game "2 Truths 1 Lie") may dangerously impact my English. Code-switching is the weirdest thing.

And I do it on computers, too. In France, computer keyboards have an AZERTY layout instead of QWERTY, and lots of the keys are flipped or just plain weird. So sometimes my motor memory gets confused and when I type, my fingers itch to substitute a q for an a, or a comma for an m. Why, France, why??

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Productivity

Trash taken out: check
Groceries bought: check
Desk cleaned: check
Payment for Japanese course I start tomorrow in Paris: half-check (it's complicated)

Lessons finished: ummmm
Ideas for Emma's trip listed: well, you see...
Emails responded to: oh, gosh...
Bank problems sorted out: well, I TRIED, didn't I?
Health insurance and transportation pass: uh, it's raining?
Flyer for private tutoring: eh, that can wait

Jake&Amir videos watched: 3, soon to be lots
Cookies eaten: 3
Firefox tabs open: 22
Future life plans pondered: 1
Blog posts: 2

Well, I think that speaks for itself! I hope your lives are more productive than mine. It feels a lot worse to procrastinate when you're supposedly on this awesome adventure abroad... oops?

8:51 p.m. I think this counts as productive:
Raspberry vinaigrettes made from scratch: 1

Recipe modified with help from the comments on allrecipes.com

1/2 c vegetable oil (I used walnut oil)
1/2 c raspberry wine vinegar (or substitute red wine vinegar and several tbsp raspberry jam/jelly)
1 to 2 tbsp white sugar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp oregano (I substituted a few grinds of a mixed herb mill that smelled vaguely like oregano)
1/4 tsp black pepper

Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir.

I had mine on a salad of romaine, walnuts, cranberries, cucumbers and shredded emmenthal cheese (the cheese I could have done without). I halved the recipe and it yielded enough for probably 3 salads.

Mes regards les plus distingués

Dear BNP Paribas,

It sure would be great if you could hurry up and régulariser my compte and send me my PIN so that I can finally pick up my ATM card and checks so I can pay for stuff. I am getting a little harried by the constant fees cropping up in my Chase statement. My poor American checking account. I would really like to start dealing in the euros I've actually earned, instead of the incredibly weak dollars I spent the past many years saving...

Dear French Soy Milk,

Why do you taste so unpleasant, no matter what brand I buy? Please make a deal with Silk so France can enjoy good soy milk for once. Shame on you.

Dear Raspberry Jam,

You continue to be universally delicious. Keep doing what you're doing.

BNP Paribas: 0
French soy milk: 0
Raspberry jam: 1

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Faux Meditation

Over the past year, I've developed a strategy to help my easily-distracted brain focus better. If I'm reading for class or doing important bureaucratic paperwork stuff (hello, France, I'm talking to you), and my mind wanders, I just write down whatever comes through my mind. It's kind of a cheater's version of meditation, you might say, since from what I've read, certain practices of meditation involve just calming your mind and acknowledging mental distractions but not acting on them when they come around.

In the spirit of this faux-meditation, here are some things that are on my mind. Some of these I did, in fact, write down while doing some reading of Willa Cather's My Ántonia for one of the English classes I'm working in.

  • It would seem that the cheese I like and have bought more regularly than anything here is not Brie like I thought (although I do enjoy Brie), but Ortolan. It's very mild and texturally easy to deal with, and honestly I think that since I had such a strong olfactory aversion to the Camembert that I tried two weeks ago, I'm probably not going to become a strong-cheese-lover very soon.
  • Lesson ideas: repeat of my Halloween Tree lesson for the kids I didn't see last week; a discussion of this spooky Emily Carroll comic, retweeted by the one and only Neil Gaiman; finding out students' individual goals for English proficiency (being able to talk about sports, politics, etc); oral analysis of the way dialogue in My Ántonia (1918) differs from modern spoken English; particularly odd linguistic tricks in English like the ability to say "[direct object]+[verb-ing]" as in "bureaucracy-braving." I also need to figure out a neat way to make all students participate without making them hate me. (They're probably going to hate me anyway.)
  • Random stuff:
    • Figure out zones to purchase access to on my monthly Navigo metro/RER/bus pass
    • Eyebrows
    • Tupperware
    • Reserve flat

Monday, November 1, 2010

Live and Learn

VIE DE MERDE, you guys!! FML! I missed my train back to Paris from Marseille haha. The most hilarious part is that I missed it because I was waiting for my food at... MacDo HAHAHA yes, laugh with me please, it'll make me feel less like an idiot...

Luckily, the "12-25" discount travel card I have allows for one instance of stupidity, and I've changed my ticket for a mere (that should be in quotes) €17 (because I already paid like €60 for this half of the trip). Also luckily, MacDo has free WiFi, and also luckily, I speak French enough to be funny and self-deprecating with the ticket agent, and also luckily, this train station is not all outside...

I feel dumb.

ETA: I'm back, safe and sound! :)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Joyeuse Toussaint! (+pictures)

The past few days in Marseille have gone by in a blur. A sometimes-rainy blur, I might add. Some highlights, not necessarily in order:
  • Exploring the Cours Julien neighborhood on my own while Mara rested at home (stupid bronchitis!), and window-shopping. I also picked up some souvenirs... :) I also bought the requisite tourist pair of sunglasses for €5 when it was sunny out, because of course I left my own at home.
  • Waking up and checking the clocks in confusion with Mara today as we realized that France does, in fact, observe Daylight Savings Time.
  •  Eating moules frites (mussels with fries) at Bar de la Marine, which is where Colin Firth proposes to the Portuguese girl in Love Actually. We had actually watched Love Actually the night before, so it was a dream come true to just waltz down the street and find ourselves in the movies! I also felt very accomplished, trying new seafood - mussels are weird-looking (like tiny, tiny brains in shells) but the sauce they were in went really well with fries.
  • Drinking tea and cookies at Teavora, just around the corner from Mara's place. The floors are made of sand and you sit on lovely puffy pillows in a dimly lit room strung with tapestries and pretty lights. I had a vanilla tea (delicious) and a macaron, speculoos cookie and mini muffin or something. Someone stop me, seriously. Unfortunately, someone STOLE my pink umbrella at Teavora, which mystifies me, because it was the only pink one among the umbrellas at the entrance. Clearly someone was jealous. So I had to buy a new one, which is not pink and not nearly as good. :(
  • Not really a highlight, but supporting Mara through some tough roommate troubles. They said some really rude things to her (while I was here, even), so today she and I went to explore a different neighborhood where she might be able to get her own studio.
  • A French couple next to me and Mara on the métro who looked sideways at us while we were speaking English. The woman said to the man, "Tu comprends quelque chose?" Do you understand any of that? I looked at her with a smile, in a silent gesture of camaraderie, to indicate that I understood her. Yet despite this, she still felt she could talk about us in front of our faces, and she even nodded at me before turning to her friend and whispering knowingly: "Chinoise..."
  • Kinder Bueno (always), more pain au chocolat (and yes, last time I did find it when I was scavenging - in fact, I ate two uggh), and navettes (a Marseillais specialty), below.
     
    Fichier:Navettes à la fleur d'oranger.JPG
     And now! Some real pictures at last. :D

    Me in front of the Palais Longchamp on my first day

    Mara and I at the manifestation

    Drinking a traditional pastis at Love Sushi

    Notre Dame de la Garde from about halfway up

    Art at N.D. de la Garde

    View from the top, facing roughly west (that's the Mediterranean!)

    Les assistantes américaines



    Moules frites
    At Bar de la Marine
    A better view of the bar's famous staircase

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sarah Von, Travel Hero

Just a quick link to this relevant post from yesandyes.org: Sarah Von shares the Magical, the Mundane and the Miserable about her travels in Asia. I admit, the "miserable" part is what I am so grateful to NOT have to deal with in France. The part about the train ride toilet adventure made me laugh and recoil in terror at the same time.

Bonus, because it's Friday? A very uplifting and sweet post about thankfulness and keeping track of your gratitude: http://www.yikesmachine.com/2010/10/thankfulness-an-unexpected-group-activity/

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vacances à Marseille

Marseille! It is wonderful! It is hilarious and full of residual trash! Even some that has been BURNED by the delinquent youth! No but seriously. It is absolutely beautiful, and I have the greatest host I could have asked for. Mara has been showing me the sights since I arrived yesterday afternoon, and here's a little of what we've done!

Shortly after my train got to Marseille Saint-Charles station, and I had dropped off my stuff in her super-cute apartment, Mara and I met her friend Vanessa and Vanessa's brother to boire un verre (have a drink; literally, "drink a glass") at a little place near the beach. (The beach!) Vanessa's brother Jonathan drove us in his car, and it was such a delight to experience the south by car. I just love riding in cars in general because, at least in places where I don't have access to cars (or the know-how to drive them, since in Europe everyone drives stick), being in a car makes me feel like a local. Mara and I helped Jonathan with his English because he has the oral exam part of his bar exam on Friday. So the four of us, plus the siblings' friend, chatted about France, law, Judaism (all of them are Jewish), diversity, and English for a few hours.

After that, we took the Marseille métro - which is significantly less extensive than the one in Paris; in Marseille there are only 2 lines, compared to the 14 or so in Paris - back to Mara's neighborhood. We explored the Vieux Port (old port) area and had an absolutely lovely seafood dinner at Chez Madie. I had a warm artichoke appetizer and then the filet du jour (I'm not sure what kind of fish it was haha), and then we shared desserts: crème brûlée and nougat glacé (frozen/iced nougat). We took a typically French long time to eat and talk, and by the end we were stuffed beyond recognition...

Then today, I started the day by scavenging for pain au chocolat (lit. bread with chocolate) at the nearby boulangerie (bakery) and gifts for my hosts (think I found a good one!). In the process, I stumbled upon a massive manifestation (protest). Today was a nationwide protest day, and it seemed that all of Marseille had taken to the streets. At first I thought it was a parade, but then I saw banners and union insignia and heard distinctly disgruntled but spirited chants, so I knew. Mara met up with me and we spent some time reveling in the spirit of the strike. I have some good pictures and even a video, AND Mara lent me her USB cable so I uploaded all my stuff to my computer, but... unfortunately I just can't be bothered to post any of it yet haha. I do want to catalog my adventures visually though, so there will be visuals here soon.

After the manif', we discovered a very modern, trendy-looking sushi place called Love Sushi (haha cute) near the Vieux Port where we had some lunch. Again, delightful! I love eating so much. Luckily for my fatty tendencies, we worked off some of the food by hiking up to Notre Dame de la Garde. Yeah, those reddish roofs in the picture? That's where we started from. It's no Mt. Fuji, but it was really steep ok?!

Anyway, the views were beautiful, the basilica was beautiful, the water was beautiful, and it was absolutely breathtaking. There are some good pictures of that too... watch this space.

We felt, perhaps too greedily, that we deserved a break after all that hiking, so the two of us shared a tropézienne pastry back down at sea level before heading home to rest. After that, we explored a small part of the Cours Julien neighborhood of Marseille, where we got Moroccan food for dinner. (This included tchatchouka [a kind of ratatouille], couscous with vegetables, and then vanilla/lemon/cassis [blackcurrant] ice cream. Yesss.)

So here we are! There are plans in the next few days to do more exploring, see The Social Network in a movie theater here (yes, it's playing overseas), eat more delicious food, and possibly go to a Halloween party on Saturday. Elles sont trooop bien les vacances...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It's All Garbage

So, the current strikes and economic/political climate in France have kind of forced me to be informed in a way that I never really felt forced to be in the U.S. If you're interested, here is one of many pertinent articles about the protests and discontent going on right now, in particular involving the garbage strikes in Marseille, where I am headed tomorrow for vacation... http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1323500/France-strikes-10-000-TONS-waste-pile-streets-Marseilles.html Luckily, news sources say that the sanitation workers have agreed to begin cleanup today. So I should be able to enjoy the vacation stink-free.

It's just interesting to me how much life changes me every year - maybe if I had stayed in the U.S., this might still have been the year that I was somehow "forced" into paying attention to politics more. I do think that I am more informed than the general population to some extent, but I have always felt so viscerally turned off from talking about politics and the economy that I have always avoided that awful feeling that seems to surge through me when I'm sitting in a group and talk turns political: suddenly I'm overwhelmed with a feeling of "I don't like this; get me out of here. I am suddenly angry and afraid." Frankly, I enjoy my life of optimism and tempered idealism; I would rather not sully it with utterly depressing conversations about politics. No one is ever satisfied, and people get very aggressive when they talk about it, and I would rather spend my energy on things that make people feel good. And not just other people - my own mental/emotional well-being is obviously a big priority.

In any case, I just wanted to make this topical concession to those of you who are actually interested in the current situation in France. I'd rather not go into it further haha. SO! Here are some more things I've noticed about life here:
  • There are coin condom dispensers on the outside of the corner pharmacy! How did I not notice this before?! I can only imagine the dire circumstances that would require their use...
  • I'm getting very used to the taste of French ultrapasteurized milk, guys... save me!
  • Apparently the cheese I bought that I thought was Brie was actually Camembert... no wonder it smelled so awful after a few days... and it was definitely gooier inside than I remembered Brie being. So I guess I'm off the hook for trying more strong cheese, right? haha
  • I got a voicemail from Chronopost (kind of like FedEx/UPS) but for the life of me, I can't catch what the guy is saying. Even after listening to the message three times, all I got was the general gist that I have a package but that it can't be delivered because my name isn't on the mailbox, and to call a number that he rattles off in under two seconds (leaving me with absolutely no clue of the number), and something that sounds like an endless confirmation number. Agggh France! I guess, just like the U.S., you have people who don't have good phone manners... ETA After several more listens and some intelligent Googling, plus a successful phone call to Chronopost in French, I have figured out what I need to do! +1 for the American.
  • I really really need to stop buying Nutella and its store-brand knockoff counterpart. (Do we even have knockoffs of it in America?) Really need to stop.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Things I Love Thursday

It's a bit late, but I did write these yesterday, Thursday! It was a roller coaster day of emotions for me, alternating between anxiety, jubilance, anger and frustration, relief, gratitude, sinking resentment and, finally, calm.
  1. My friends and family
  2. Michael
  3. Not being afflicted with any severe psychological impairment... a weird thing to put on a TiLT, but I'm really grateful for this.
  4. Modern medicine
  5. The three students from one of my classes who helped me get past the blockade at the school gate on Wednesday
  6. Slowly but surely improving my body image (surprising, since I've been eating so many sweets and carbs haha)
  7. My roommate, even though we had a tough spot yesterday. It's been resolved and I'm so glad she is as wonderful as she is.
  8. The teachers at L'Essouriau for being so warm and welcoming
  9. Transportation, when it works
  10. Modern technology like Skype and the Internet, among many others like washing machines!
  11. Remembering that nothing is the end of the world
  12. Two of the sassier students in my first-year English class bringing me back down to earth with their upfront attitudes (it's going to be an interesting year with them I'm sure)
  13. Actually missing people acutely for the first time in my life and feeling the reciprocity
  14. The English language
  15. My proficiency in French
  16. America (I can't tell you how many times I have thanked my lucky stars that I was born there)
  17. Understanding catty French jokes about people behind their backs... I'm a terrible person
  18. Kinder Bueno cookies as a treat after a day of awful transportation woes on Wednesday
  19. Remembering that, health-wise, there is always someone worse off than me and I have so little to complain about
  20. Always feeling safe in my own head even when the outside world seems terrible.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

PSA of Anger

Word of sardonic, premenstrual advice: do not ever put yourself in my current position, willingly or otherwise. It is supremely unpleasant. Because I am human and I need an outlet, I am choosing to share with the world the details of my stress right now. Comments are disabled because the last thing I need is someone innocently offering soothing counsel only to be ripped to shreds by my unspeakably intense frustration. NB: I am aware that my stressors are minuscule compared to so many other people's. But you really can't ask me to be reasonable right now. It will soon become apparent why.

Why it sucks to be me right now, in no particular order:

  • I am PMSing. That makes everything a million times worse. Keep this in mind in considering the rest of my complaints.
  • I am just getting over a cold.
  • I've only finished just half of the paperwork inferno that is being a non-EU citizen English assistant in France. 
  • I just had a panic-inducing health concern crop up. Never mind that it's been examined and deemed unworthy of panic. The fact that it caused me to panic in the first place makes me angry and resentful.
  • The bus that normally takes me to work is out of service. It has been on limited service since two days ago, when the high schoolers at my lycée burned the bus (which, I might add, they use as well) in a typical display of maddeningly ignorant teenage angst. This has caused me to wait over an hour for a limited-service bus, walk over 30 minutes to school in the cold, and even wait with others for a bus that was never going to come. All of these at different times, and make no mistake, I was only one among many who endured the inconvenience and frustration of this childish idiocy.
  • My supervisor did not give me contact information for the ten teachers I work with, even when I asked for it, leaving me with no way to tell them that I had had enough with these mass inconveniences and French iterations of Murphy's law, which in turn leaves me feeling guilty about missing work and angry that I had no way of apologizing immediately, which I feel the teachers deserve because they were expecting me. I am feeling extremely stressed about my relationship wtih my supervisor, because it has become clear to me that my communication to her is not as effective as I seem to think.
  • My mailbox does not have my name on it, and I just realized that this is probably the reason for all the mail I am missing. I have been waiting weeks for my transportation pass, a note from my bank, and now my train ticket to Amsterdam, and none of them have come. Even more frustrating is the stupidity of the reason why the mail hasn't come: my apartment doesn't have a unique number and rather, it is one of eight in the building encompassed in the address (e.g. "#3 Park Road"). Without my name on one of the mailboxes here, the mailman has no way of knowing I live here, and thus I have missed receiving all these documents. Still more frustrating is the fact that it took me this long to realize it would be a problem.
  • My "ASAP" to-do list is so long it might as well just unhinge its jaw, swallow a live animal and save me the trouble of writing a good metaphor.
  • Minor requests from friends are stressing me out more than necessary and making me feel resentful. I would not feel so resentful if I didn't have all this other stuff on my plate. I'm sorry if I'm resenting you right now and you somehow know it. It won't last long.
I want to just curl up and stop being an adult for a day. 12 hours even. No guilt, no stress, no regrets. In this current moment, I hate France and I hate being an adult. There is irony somewhere in the fact that a mere 4 hours ago, I was feeling relieved and happy that life is beautiful and there are so many good parts to mine that I can indulge in contentedness.

This, my friends, is the bane we call menstruation, and you shouldn't worry, because the fact that PMS is at the top of my list means this will blow over pretty darn quick.

Monday, October 18, 2010

L'Auberge espagnole


While I was in the throes of sickness this weekend, I watched the end of L'Auberge espagnole. It is the only DVD I brought to France with me, and it has been sitting in my computer since I watched the first half on one of my planes over here on September 22nd. I watched it from underneath a haze of distraction on my flight from Charlotte, NC to Charles de Gaulle, because of course I had the aftermath of a very lovely fairytale encounter in North Carolina to occupy me. Vagueness and ongoing innuendo about said encounter, etc. The internet may never know what happened there haha.

In any case, I think it was very fitting for L'Auberge espagnole to be the only movie I brought with me on this trip. I've loved it since I first saw it back around 2004, when it came out in the U.S. It has consistently remained one of the things I will list when people ask me what my favorite movie is, and if you know me lately, that's saying something, because these days I can go on for hours (ok, minutes) about the virtues of choosing novelty and dynamism over static favorites.

The movie is about a group of European college students and, namely, one named Xavier from Paris. He chooses to study abroad in Spain for his Erasmus year, which is a Europe-wide study abroad program that everyone seems to participate in. I have always been one to deeply appreciate a story well told, without any truly coherent way of explaining why I think it is good art. And, true to form, I can't really express the exact reason I think this movie is so good. Maybe because it combines my favorite things in such a tidy yet open-ended plot — language, multiculturalism, youth, friendship, humor... And with a good soundtrack, a happy ending, and fine acting to boot. How can it get better than that?

My good friend Linden has a favorite quote from this movie, and I didn't truly appreciate the truth in the quote until I watched L'Auberge espagnole as an expatriate, as it were. Because with all the logic around me screaming at me to get the most out of this experience — food, wine, tourist attractions, the Parisian lifestyle — I find myself wanting only to live my life. That's all I ever want when I live somewhere amazing; that's how it was in New York, and that's how it was in California when I returned for the summer. I hope this continues to be true for wherever I live in the future. I enjoy life, and I choose the places I live somewhat arbitrarily, but at least my choices have been good, because somehow I have lived places that are most conducive to augmenting my life experience. There are really no adequate words to describe exactly how this has happened. So I'll leave you with a quote and my attempt to translate it (all translating is mere attempt — we can discuss this some other time).

Quand on arrive dans une ville, on voit des rues en perspective. Des suites de bâtiments vides de sens. Tout est inconnu, vierge. Voilà, plus tard on aura marché dans ces rues, on aura été au bout des perspectives, on aura connu ces bâtiments, on aura vécu des histoires avec des gens. Quand on aura vécu dans cette ville, cette rue on l'aura prise dix, vingt, mille fois. Au bout d'un temps cela vous appartient parce qu'on y a vécu.

When you arrive in a city, you see the streets from a certain perspective. Endless buildings devoid of meaning. Everything is unknown, untouched. But then, later, you will have walked those streets, you will have been at the other end of that perspective, you will have come to know those buildings, you will have made stories with people. When you have lived in that city, you will have taken that street ten, twenty, a thousand times. After a while, it belongs to you because you have lived there.

Another good quote from the movie that I feel applies to me in so many ways, is:

Tout a commencé là, quand mon avion a décollé.

It all started there, when my plane took off.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Le rhume

So, wonderful: I have a cold. In France.

Who knows where I got it; it's probably just cold season. Or probably the high schoolers with their ever-present germs. Oh well; I always feel like a home is not a home  until you've spent a few days being sickly in it.

Anyway, hard to believe I've almost been in France for a month! I'll be traveling starting this weekend, for the Toussaint vacation. If all goes well, I'll get to go to Amsterdam on Friday (still a few glitches to work out), and then Marseille with Mara for a week right after that!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

What, What, What Are You Doing

Here are some things I still haven't done. Man, I need to get on this France business.

  1. Go to Montmartre
  2. Eat more crêpes. I've only had 1, what is up with that?!
  3. Try some really strong cheese (yikes)
  4. Ride a boat on the Seine
  5. Rent a bike and attempt to see the sights in Paris from it
  6. Everything on Mireille Guiliano's favorites list
And here are a select few of the awesome things I have already done.

  1. Gone to see some awesome modern art for FREE and at NIGHT at the Nuit Blanche museum night in Paris.
  2. Navigated one or two French grocery stores, with results of delight and confusion. (Frosted Flakes = Frosties, and they don't have black beans here??! But you can get madeleines for super cheap, and I've been gorging myself - I mean, occasionally indulging myself in them...)
  3. Survived a transportation strike! And it's not even over yet.
  4. Started helping French high schoolers speak English (I love this so much more than I can say, they are absolute gems).
  5. Bought baguettes daily (well, at least for a few days, before I realized one baguette is meant for whole families and not just ME) and devoured them with either Brie or Nutella.
  6. Met amazing people from around the world at my assistant orientation (Trinidad, Dublin, Bristol, Toronto, the entire United States, and even Pleasant Hill, CA!!).
  7. Watched Secret Story, a French reality TV show, with a couple of actual French people and heard their commentary. It's basically Big Brother with the twist that all the housemates have secrets that everyone else has to figure out... The finale is coming up and... I don't really care haha.
  8. Reverted to franglais (French-English hybrid) only about 10% of the time. :) Granted, I speak English about 40% of the time, but let's not talk about that.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Decelerating

I have so much recharging to do! After a whirlwind first two weeks full of stress, emotions (good and bad), housing, money, sightseeing, moving, meeting people, rejoicing, and exploring, I feel like I need a lot of time to myself, to organize my thoughts and retrieve inner equilibrium. I'm not usually this outgoing and active, and while I certainly love it and am fully capable of thriving this way, I need to balance myself. When I'm at home, or I should say, when I feel most myself, I have a very stable feeling of knowing who I am and where I'm going with whatever I'm doing. I feel calm and collected. And I'm getting back there, slowly, but it's going to take a little more of me sitting peacefully in my room, organizing my space, and just taking some time to slow back down. When I reach that familiar velocity, I think I can enjoy France even more, which is mind-boggling to me, because I already love it from amid this psychic chaos.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Observations

About the students:

  • They are extremely fashionable. Apparently I teach in a ZEP (zone d'éducation prioritaire = high-risk zone), but the girls still manage to wear sleek clothes in dark colors, and high heels (!), and all the kids wear mostly black or at least dark clothes and look extremely stylish. A good percentage of the boys have one ear pierced, which I think is interesting. Did boys in my high school have their ears pierced?! I never noticed.
  • They love California. In every class I've observed this week, I've mentioned that I'm from near San Francisco, and invariably, the reaction is a chorus of wistful "ohhh"s and shouts of "c'est mon rêve" ("it's my dream...").
  • They're pretty good at English! Some more than others, of course, but I'm impressed. It's going to be hard for me to correct their grammar and be super picky, because on the whole it's quite easy for me to understand them. So far, anyway. haha
  • They eat well at school, but they still love "MacDo" (McDonald's). I have expressed my chagrin that this is what they call "American food" (wince), but they still go on and on about it. I can't believe it. I mean, seriously, when your school serves you extremely well-balanced meals of bread, cheese, grains, fruit, vegetables and dessert, WHY oh WHY would you ever insult your own diet by eating McDonald's?!
  • They're really curious and eager to ask about my life, which I appreciate. I love the opportunity to speak English for learners of the language, and it's a really cool challenge to slow myself down enough to be understood. I've managed so far to be myself, which I think is secretly a breath of fresh air to these kids, because French teachers are notoriously strict and sometimes impersonable. It also fascinates me that they say my reading of a simple Willa Cather text is "beautiful." !
About France and French people:
  • The stereotype that French people are rude and unapproachable is quite untrue so far. I have experienced some degree of standoffishness, but the majority of my encounters with French people have left me feeling relieved and appreciative of their willingness to help me with things and clarify any of my confusions. Granted, I think this is because I always make the effort to speak French (which many French people have already complimented gratuitously hehe, it's not helping my ego inflation to keep hearing it at least once a day from different people). Everyone seems to know that making the effort really wins you points with the French people, so it's good that I have the command of the language that I do. Again, I don't know where it came from. But I feel very lucky.
  • They don't sell fresh milk in the grocery stores - it's all ultrapasteurized (UHT), so like some kinds of soy and almond milk in the U.S., their milk sits out on the shelf, unrefrigerated. I thought this was extremely alarming when I first moved into my place in Massy, but a couple of French people have explained to me that it's ok. It does taste a little different, and it's weird to open a new bottle and not have it be cold, but I figure the entire country drinks milk like this, so it's gotta be fine.
  • These cobblestone roads are killing me. WHY did anyone think it was a good idea?! Also, I can't decide whether French ladies who wear high heels around these streets deserve props or a kick in the head.
  • There is so much paperwork. SO MUCH! Everywhere!! It has taken me FOREVER to open a bank account, because each requirement (e.g. having an address) had another requirement (e.g. having a phone, which required having an address for a yearly plan, but luckily I was able to get a pay-as-you-go card for the time being). Opening a bank account today (finally!!), which I needed to do to get my October pay advance and to get paid in the future, took me an hour and fifteen minutes. That is way too long, France. Luckily, the teller I had was extremely patient and helpful. I don't know what I'm going to do when French people start being mean to me haha.
  • La bise is awkward. Every time.
  • Public transportation in my area is amazing, and I'm so grateful it's there. However, it has some... interesting points? Like, random checks on people's tickets - they have to be validated, but lots of people don't validate them, which can result in a fine or getting the verbal smackdown from the bus driver etc., which happened today on the bus!! I heard the phrase "casser les couilles" which is uhh let's say, less than polite.
I'm so excited for what's to come, and I'm still having such a great time, in case there was ever any doubt about that. :)

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Last Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday in Paris

It seems to take me a long time to draft blog posts. I am quite behind on catching up on my days, so I may have to ad-lib by skipping ahead sometimes. Just know that I'm having a wonderful time most of the time! The rest of this post was started over the weekend haha...

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Just to get this out of the way and not to freak anyone out too much with details: the hostel I stayed at, although wonderful in terms of location, atmosphere and social potential, gave me bed bugs. :( It has been taking up a lot of my thoughts, and it makes me feel absolutely leprous. But I'll spare you my more grisly worries and woes. I bought some pesticide for the mattress/sheets/etc, and it's in the process of working its magic... Sigh. (10/6: I don't know if it worked 100%. I'm going to continue spraying the living daylights out of all my clothes and linens as I use them and hope I don't asphyxiate myself on the fumes...)

In any case, I'll do a quick rundown of other stuff I did over the past week!

Last Monday
Went with Elisabeth to Père LaChaise cemetery, where Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde, among other famous and not-so-famous people, are buried. There is a tradition of kissing Oscar Wilde's tombstone, so Elisabeth and I both went prepared with lipstick. As I still haven't bought a new USB cord, the pictures will come later. But I kissed the part of the tombstone that had this quote: "La vie imite l'art bien plus que l'art n'imite la vie." Life imitates art much more than art imitates life. I really connected with that quote. There are a lot of things from Oscar Wilde that have spoken to me, come to think of it.

Elisabeth left that night, but before she went, we had dinner and gelato one last time (the gelato was amazing ugggh I'm going to get so fat here - as I write this, I've just finished having part of a baguette with Nutella...).

Tuesday
As seemed to happen with each of my new friends at the hostel, when one left, another sauntered right on in to take their place. Not literally, of course; they are all amazingly unique people! And I mean that - I really enjoyed being surrounded by people with that traveler's mindset. Openness, adventure, etc. In any case, on Tuesday I hung out with Nelson from Guatemala, and we saw three of the most important churches in Paris - Notre Dame, Saint-Michel and Saint-Germain. I'm not a very churchy person, but it was good to spend time with someone new and see these important monuments. There are lots of random pictures of me around/near these churches, but... the camera thing. I'll get around to it soon! There's lots going on.


In the afternoon, I trekked to Massy, a smallish town about 30 minutes southwest of Paris, on the commuter train (RER). I was there to visit the apartment offered to me by Laetitia, one of the English teachers at the school I was assigned to. I still can't believe how lucky I am that this offer came to me out of the blue, because everyone else I knew at the hostel who had been staying there temporarily while they found lodging in Paris had been having a really tough time finding affordable places in the city itself. I had been looking too, but I was very stressed about it because no one answered my emails. It was tough without a phone (although I got one on my second day here, and it's been a life saver). In any case, the apartment and the town and Laetitia are all lovely! We arranged to have her pick some of my bags up in her car (omg don't know what I would have done without her car!!) the next day at the hostel. Overall, successes!

That night, I ran into Nelson and a couple of his pals from his hostel room, Megan & Pierre (Canadians) and Lee (American), and we all had dinner nearby. We shared some wine and I had some shrimp (it was kind of eh... I guess you can't win all the time with French cuisine! Maybe I should save the seafood to the southerners). Lots of food adventures as always! Although, now that I'm moved in to my own place, I have to say it's comforting to not be eating out every meal :-/

Wednesday
Nelson left in the morning and I said goodbye. That's the thing that sucks about making friends while traveling - you never know when you might see them again. But I met up with Lee the American for some breakfast and conversation. I can't tell you how much I have appreciated English as a language and, more importantly, as my native language, while I've been here. I'm sure I would feel the same nostalgia and possessiveness about any other language if it were my mother tongue, but here, I think the privilege of being able to speak it when I'm tired of French is the most amazing blessing. I have always had a passion for using my native language to its fullest potential (or at least trying), whether in prose or poetry or academic writing or other stylistic turnings. But here, my appreciation has increased tenfold, simply because speaking English makes me feel at home, or something like it.

After meeting with Lee, I tried again to set up a bank account (and failed - apparently I have to do it in the main town where I'll be staying, so Massy). But he and I had made plans at breakfast (which was café au lait and potato omelette for me, by the way :D) to do a bit of exploring. He was only in the city until the end of the day Wednesday, and he had had some recommendations from a friend who had been to Paris, so I met him up near the centre-ville (center of town, downtown I guess you could say? but it's not the same connotation) to try to find a puppet store and a few other esoteric things that had been on his friend's list. We couldn't find them, so we had ice cream (my favorite default haha) and sat in a park watching pigeons and small French children playing, and we talked about America, children, culture and media and stuff. It was a good time! The pigeons here are just as sad and decrepit as the ones in other big cities I know, like San Francisco and New York. You know: missing toes, bald patches, etc. There was one particularly sad pigeon at the hostel that I nicknamed Gimpy because he had one bum leg and he hung around the courtyard and flew into the bar to stumble around pathetically at least once a day. Hope he's doing ok. (He's probably not. :-/)

Then Laetitia came to pick up my stuff and drove off to Massy with it! We decided I would bring the rest of my stuff (backpack and guitar) to move in on Thursday evening. I was so excited haha. I spent the next few hours talking to Michael I believe (this enigmatic character, as I'm sure he seems to you all... unless you know the story), and generally loafed around the hostel. I have so many mixed feelings about that place now that there are bed bugs to consider. Ugh. Hopefully after I told them about it, they fixed the problem...

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Ok, so now I am about a week behind. I may try to do some stream-of-consciousness rambling about my adventures at the school and with the students later today, but I can't guarantee anything haha.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Two Days at a Time

I feel like so much has happened in the few days I've been here! The last thing I updated about was Friday?! There's so much to recap; I'm going to try to split this into a couple posts...

Saturday
Had a café au lait at the café across from the hostel with Roland before he left to go home to England. Coffee here is very much to my liking haha. Perhaps it's because I never bothered to acquire the taste for it at home, or perhaps it's just better here, but I haven't had coffee that I don't like yet in Paris. Even the dark espresso I had Tuesday with lunch was richer than it was bitter.

That afternoon, I met up with Laurent from Paris for coffee, and I practiced my French, which was good since I had been speaking a lot of English. He plays guitar, too, and has a bunch of equipment and resources that he said he could let me use for recording, etc. He also mentioned this open mic guitar bar thing called the Pop-In in Paris that sounded really cool. So we decided to try to go Sunday.

Then I bought a light coat from H&M on the Blvd Saint-Germain because it has been quite cold, and at the time all my coats were sealed up in those space-saving bags. So I couldn't take any of them out, lest I lose precious space in my suitcase haha. Then I took a nap in my hostel room and woke up to a new dorm-mate arriving; her name was Elisabeth from Holland and we got to talking, and I mentioned that I was going to have dinner with my friend Genevieve from NYU who's in the area for the teaching assistantship too. So we met up with her and had salads at a nearby cafe. We all talked about Paris, how the teaching assistantship program is kind of ridiculous, and girly stuff, which was nice because since my first night at the hostel I had really only spent time befriending dudes.

Sunday
Main highlight: going to the Pop-In in the evening with Elisabeth. Laurent had to cancel last minute, but I still wanted to see what it was all about. It was possibly the coolest thing I've gone to in a while! We had some dinner at a brasserie in the 11th arrondissement, near the bar - we both got croques berger (like a croque monsieur, which is like an open-face, toasted ham & cheese, but "berger" got us goat cheese instead of whatever they normally use), frites, and some chocolate cake. It was the fattiest, most indulgent thing I had eaten so far, since my appetite the other days was less than huge.

Then we headed over to the Pop-In, where we ran into Flor and Clera (sp?) from Argentina, and Albert and Nelson (I think both from Guatemala, not sure). The Argentinian girls had just gotten all their money stolen at the hostel bar, which kind of shocked me. Maybe it shouldn't have though, because there had been another robbery the first night, and some girl got her laptop and phone stolen; I'm pretty sure they recovered her things though... In any case, our four hostel buddies didn't end up staying for the show, but Elisabeth and I did (it was free? somehow?) and had such an amazing time. There were about 8 performers who did an average of two songs each, and their styles and talents had a pretty wide range. I took a video of one guy who had a really interesting technique, and I would upload it except that it appears I left my camera's USB cord at home. URGH. Oh well, I'll figure it out.

Anyway, there was an American guy from Chicago who played, and he was adorable because he kept saying "Hm?" when the MC asked him things in French, because he didn't speak very much French haha. He goes by the moniker Glass Petals and I really like his/the band's style; it seems very distinctly American. I mean, most of the performers sang in English, but with this guy it just felt more like home, if that makes sense. I talked to him afterwards and he said he moved to Paris to work, and he's currently nannying for a family he found through FUSAC, a classifieds publication for expats in Paris. I found a copy at the hostel the next day and I might use it to find some supplemental income. (Not that I need it, because I'm living in an apartment now in the suburbs where the rent is only 250€!! And I'm going to be making about 800€ a month...)

Something weird about the open mic was this crazy, dirty, possibly homeless guy? wearing a cowboy hat and leather pants, who kept barging in during people's performances and just shouting randomly. The staff tried to discreetly lead him away, but he kept coming back, and at one point there somehow appeared a large bucket of red roses, which he proceeded to hand out to members of the audience. Elisabeth and I were so confused, and we kept giving each other wide-eyed looks of fear haha. It wasn't a big deal, just supremely weird.

And when we got back to the hostel, we met up again with all the Spanish-speaking folks from earlier, and while I was *cough*im-ingwithaboy*cough*, Flor just so happened to be at the bar near me, and she asked the bartender whose guitar was sitting behind the bar for safekeeping (the hostel keeps customers' valuables behind the bar for security), and it just so happened to be mine. I said so, and she gasped, "Play it!!" so I indulged and we had a good hour or so of jamming in the bar at 1 a.m. Flor plays too, and so did another guy who was there (I think his name was Francisco?), and I played some of my current favorite songs written by other people and myself haha. They played some Madonna, Beatles, Jack Johnson, and others too, and it was a really nice way to end the evening. I'm thinking maybe I can work my way up to being good enough to do the Pop-In open mic, what do you guys think??

Next time...
Père LaChaise cemetery, pigeons, churches, bookstores/exploring, moving in, visiting my school, bed bugs and GROCERY SHOPPING!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Has it really been less than a week?

So, France is wonderful. Here are some things I'm grateful for, followed by a few stories:

1. My hostel. I'm staying at the 3 Ducks Hostel until apartment searches become more fruitful (things are actually looking pretty good there; I should know more in the next day or so), and it has been such an awesome experience so far. I've met so many great people here, which has been helpful because on my first day, I was feeling extremely down and pessimistic about moving here. Problems of logistics, plus having no sleep during my long journey, plus a rather emotional layover in the South... overall, I was not feeling this whole new-country-new-life thing. But fortuitously, I met a gregarious English fellow while I was holed up in the dorm room being lame, and we chatted and eventually made our way down to the bar at the front of the hostel for some much-needed socializing. There, I met another English guy and a Dutch guy, and we all talked about language and travel and food and such for hours. I've met and talked to people from Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Mexico, Germany, and probably more. Everyone is so cool and has that distinctive traveler's mindset - in love with culture, adventure and friendship.

2. An American boy named Michael. It's a very long but good story that I may or may not tell here.

3. Internet. It's spotty most of the time, and so far I've probably paid way too much for access, but I am so thankful that I can even get internet here haha. I knew I was relient on it, but really... I'm surprising myself. I've been using it to set up meetings with the slowly-expanding group of contacts I have here, but mostly, I am addicted to the lovely emails I get at all hours from people I care about. You guys are awesome, and I apologize if I haven't sent you a proper reply just yet! Today I think I'll go to a library with free access so I can get caught up. I hate having a full inbox. ETA: I should have remembered, municipal stuff tends to be closed on Mondays...

4. My French. Nobody, including me, seems to know how I managed to get so dang good at it (haha, modesty!), but it has helped enormously. I feel more confident than I ever might have in college if I had studied abroad, and it somehow seems more legitimate to be using my French in a more real-world context (finding housing, buying a cell phone, trying to open a bank account, etc.).

Story time!

a. On Friday, Roland from England mentioned that he wanted to take the train 200 miles east of Paris to see the Musée de Rimbaud in a town called Charleville-Mézières, and invited me along. It ended up being one of the most awesome, spontaneous things I've done in a while, and we were a good travel team. He didn't speak much French so I helped get us the train tickets and do some general navigating, and his enthusiasm for Rimbaud really made the whole thing fun. Charleville-Mézières was also the site of my most hilarious French fumble so far: I ordered a citron instead of a citron-pressé at the bar we went to at the end of the day. A citron-pressé is a drink with water. lemon juice and sugar. A citron is a lemon. ... A LEMON. I ordered... a lemon... in a bar... wow.

But anyway, the trip was quite a success! Tiring, but fun, and the tiny town was just adorable. I could easily picture American expats living there and having the peaceful time of their lives.

b. Other stories will have to wait because I've been trying to publish this post for 24 hours and I don't want to postpone its publication any longer haha.

Hope everything stateside is good.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

De-doubted

I think this first post should be a shout-out to everyone who has offered their confidence in me during my period of doubt about going to France. So many of you have given me firm but kind reminders that I have all the tools I need for thoroughly enjoying my time abroad.

I consider myself a fairly optimistic person, but I still go through patches of weirdness where I feel, among other things, doubt about my ability to remain optimistic. One such patch struck when I realized that I'll be going to a foreign country completely on my own, with no fixed place to live already secured, few contacts or friends, deep nervousness about my linguistic and cultural prowess, etc. It's all too easy to let these nuggets of negativity overpower the fact that I have navigated my fair share of real life and tough problems over the past four years. Quite successfully, in fact, I dare say. So I'm reassuring all of you that I'm working at putting panic aside and embracing the idea that life is a playground. (Thank you, Yes Man.)

Now, doubt stuff aside, a blog is a weird thing. I've grown up writing deeply personal thoughts into blank pages and text boxes, but I hesitate to burden you readers with that kind of intensely personal and unabridged nonsense. So this will be a continuing challenge - to give a taste of my time in France while carefully crafting the experience that I want readers to have. I guarantee you that by reading this you won't get the whole picture. But that's ok. Just consider this a letter from me to you, where "you" is Luciolita, a pretty little fictional allegory for an audience. :)

A la prochaine!