Wednesday, October 29, 2008
On the way back from seeing a mind-reader perform the other night, Gui and I found ourselves on the metro with a group of drunk and stupid teenagers who thought that writing on the doors and walls of the metro car with a bright green marker would make their parents proud. Too bad for them, they picked the first car to showcase their penmanship and found themselves the embarrassed recipients of a stern, public lecture by the observant driver. Today, while heading back home from school, I happened to jump on the exact same metro car to find that none of their graffiti had been removed. I was thinking that had the same incident played itself out in Texas, those kids would have been crying to their parents that evening while explaining why they got questioned and held by the local police. Then, they'd be spending their next Saturday scrubbing all the metro cars clean as punishment.
One of the worst things for me about taking the metro is dealing with daily solicitation of money from beggars, homeless people and buskers. I don't mind handing over a few centimes to someone when I have it, but what irks me the most are the people who repeatedly work the metros with perfectly polished nails, wearing shoes in better condition than mine. My mom taught me long ago that what a person does with their money is of no concern to you once you've made the decision to give it to them. Which I totally agree with and I guess explains why I avoid giving those people money in the first place.
Today, I found myself witness to the most amazing conversation I've ever heard between a serial-beggar and a woman riding the metro. The woman begging for money is obviously a pro. She's definitely one of those with nice jewelry and fancy shoes, and I see her on my line every. single. day. What I hate the most about her begging is how she asks for money - she carries a stack of at at least fifty small, yellow cards that have a perfectly-typed message on them, asking for money to feed her homeless family. Occasionally, she brings a small child with her, but I haven't seen her with him since the summer. She goes around and hands these cards to unsuspecting passengers, leaving them on empty seats next to people who've refused them. I've fallen victim to her sneaky, little card trick once, but never again after that.
When I first saw her little plan unfold, I thought she must be crazy to think people would give someone so young, capable and literate some of their hard-earned money in such a place that makes it rather difficult for one to truly starve. And, it's true, most everyone felt like they'd been had when she came around to take the cards back and ask for the money they'd promised her by default. But, there were still a few who dug into their pockets, not sure if they were now obliged to do so, and handed her a few coins along with her little yellow card.
Today, though, was funny. After she'd made her rounds and just as the train was entering a station, a boisterous, straight-talking woman (who'd perhaps felt like she'd been had) asked the begging woman if she was capable of speaking. The beggar bashfully answered her (in a very audible voice) in French - "Pas bien...euh..uh...je parle..." The woman (my new hero) replied by telling her that (and I have to paraphrase some of this because although I could completely understand the conversation [thank God], there's no way I could rewrite all the words in French) "bon, si tu peux ecrire et passer les petits papiers comme ça, tu peux travailler! [well, if you can write and pass these little papers around, then you can work!]" The beggar smiled like the woman was telling her a joke, and a guy standing up to get off at his stop let out a loud laugh which only provoked my hero more and made everyone else chuckle. The metro came to a stop, but the woman continued by telling her, "Don't go around asking these people for money on a piece of paper if you can talk. If you want money, go work like everyone else." The great thing about how she told her all of this is that it wasn't in a condescending sort of way, but like one of your friends telling you to stop being lazy, get off your arse and get a job. I love that. I could hear her still trying to convince her to stop her begging ways as she walked off the metro and the doors closed. It's rare to find someone who'll speak their mind so openly here (especially on the metro), so I'm just glad it happened on my line.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Besides arguing with a 4-foot tall fellow étrangere for her audacious (although kind of brilliant) line-cutting (she came late, pulled out a number that had already been called from the garbage and told the lady at the window to see her now since her number had already passed - I don't think so, lady), not much drama went down at the préfecture today. Not that I'm complaining or anything. Now, it's just a countdown to my medical visit, and, if things go smoothly (yes, I'm being sarcastic), then I'll have my carte de sejour before we head to the States for the holidays.
I think I'll go celebrate my success today with a little "Friday Night Drinks"...and maybe some good ol' pub food!
Thursday, October 23, 2008
It's slightly ironic, however, that this letter came when it did. Today, my emotions have been bouncing around like a slinky. I'm really sick of blogging about my frustrations and homesickness when my life is, in all fairness, rather great. But, I think Paris is provoking me. It's kind of like that to the blessed people who call it home - just as you pass the Eiffel Tower, sipping on an espresso, croissant in-hand and life can't get any better, you get to your métro station and lookie there, it's closed - because someone died there this morning. (Which actually happened to me today, sans the croissant and espresso.) It's as if the city is reminding you that as great as life can appear to be, sometimes it sucks. What an amazing feeling it is to walk to school everyday and pass the Pantheon, to stroll through the Jardin du Luxembourg in between classes and stop in for a French express before the bell rings, but when the dreary reality of la vie quotidienne resurfaces, the scales are once again tipped and life becomes just life once again. Today, I reminded myself at least three times each how much I love this city and how much I hate it. Yet, it's not really the city so much as it's my life living here.
It was never really any question when Gui and I married where we would start our lives as a married couple. My job situation, although relatively secure and stable wasn't ideal, and Gui needed to put his degree to work before it got too dusty and lost its appeal to employers. I knew I'd be in for an eventful and sometimes frustrating transition while I settled into being a real resident here, but I don't think I fully prepared myself for the personal challenges I've faced and have yet to face. For me, Paris and France in general never "stole my heart" or "talked to me" like it has for so many people who've made it here. It's certainly growing on me, and I seriously appreciate the beauty of such an historical place, but man, is it sometimes a frustrating place to be! I don't mind that I sometimes have to search high and low for things that bring me comfort, and I love that I've learned so many different techniques and ways of doing things that I once did so differently. I enjoy the diversity of the people, their varied traditions and often bizarre anecdotes. Yet, there's something that feels off-kilter about calling this place home. Almost interdit. I feel like a fraud, like someone who's living someone else's dream (except that in their dream, they didn't get to marry my husband), when I'd rather be sipping a margarita with the girls at happy hour after a grueling 10-hour day of work.
I think I'm coming to the realization that Paris might never be able to replace those people and places I love so much no matter how hard it tries; that as great as the moments I have here are, they would be even greater with those people to share them with. None of this diminishes the fact that I've had amazing times here with some of the most remarkable people who I expect to become lifelong friends. I guess I'm just materializing the recognition that my life here isn't going to be perfect because it will always lack those people and places that have made me the person I've become. Realizing that this makes me sound so much like my dad, I'm now starting to notice how perfectly I balance the traits of both of my parents. My mom is the free-spirited, care-free wanderer of life who lives for spontaneity, while my dad is the uber-traditionalist who champions dedication and planting roots as the fundamentals to living a good life. I guess it's no wonder I have such daily self-conflicts about being here. But having an on-again, off-again relationship with Paris is something I'm learning to live with and hoping to get better at. Even though I hate sometimes feeling so out of love with this place, I love my husband more than anything, and regardless of where he's at, that's where I want to be. Let's just hope he doesn't get the sudden urge to move to Russia - there's one language I could die happily before attempting to learn.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
What I find hardest about being sick in a different country is not finding those things that always make achy bones and crazy-painful sore throats a little bit easier to cope with. Like vegetable soup with alphabet pasta, saltines, bags of Celestial Seasonings throat lozenges, Vick's VapoRub, and my mom - especially, my mom. Am I too old to wish I had my mom around to take care of me while I'm sick? I hope not because I don't see that feeling changing anytime soon. I did scoop up a bottle of 7-up on my way home, not that there's any chance that it'll cure me, but it was always around when I was sick as a kid, so maybe it has some healing powers - even if they're only mental. And, although honey makes my throat scratchy, I've been adding it to my hot tea like mom always taught me to help sooth my burning throat.
The one thing that's making it easier to cope with everything is having my not-from-this-world husband by my side. Gui has been more amazing than I could ever be in taking good care of me. I seriously don't know what man-planet he's from, but he's definitely holding up to his commitment to love me during sickness, putting up with my whining and moaning, bringing home throat spray, fruit and juice and all the requisite sick-person food he can find. I'm taking notes so I can reciprocate the care he's given me when it's his turn to be the sicky (let's hope that's not anytime soon).
What sucks about getting sick this week is that it's the first week of my phonetics class - the one that starts at 8 am each morning - and, I'm pretty sure I'm off to a bad start with the prof having already missed the first two days. I'm not sure how the whole truancy thing works at La Sorbonne, but I hope I'm not required to give a doctor's note or anything. I did manage to make it to my daily grammar class today and didn't feel like I missed much by being gone one day. Midway through class, the Turkish girl next to me asked if I was okay, which made me think I must be looking like shiz. Unfortunately, the teacher didn't pick up on this and insisted on asking me to answer last night's homework (which I didn't cop out of with an excuse and still answered). But, then she thought it would be fun to give me an on-the-spot quiz to make an example out of my silly auxiliary-verb mistake (which I knew I'd made the moment I said it and then swiftly corrected myself), that resulted in a short lecture on the profound importance of memorizing these verbs. I wanted to walk out and go back home to my warm bed, but I stuck it out and hopefully tomorrow I'll be back on my game.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
It's been a while since I've had a structured routine that consists of regular physical and mental exercise. Until recently, my days have mostly been filled by completing things from my to-do list without a set, strict schedule. It's hard to get all of those things that have normally filled my day done with the five hours of classes (including travel time) that I've added to each of my weekdays. I've been managing this past week by skipping meals, forgetting to hydrate and consuming copious amounts of caffeine and sugar, but that's apparently not good for me. I'm not a stranger to hectic days and keeping up with a crazy schedule, it's just that we've got to get reacquainted.
I am, however, glad that the bug I caught decided to let me enjoy the Friday fête before rearing its ugly head the next day. Gui and I had been looking forward to a costume party that our friend was throwing at his place in the 13ème. He'd sent around the invites on letterhead of the United Nations Council and requested everyone's presence in traditional garb from the country we were representing. After a few moments of discussion, Gui and I settled on representing the wonderful countries of Native America (it's a nation in my book) and Mexico. After rummaging and climbing through the fabric shops in Montmartre, Gui's Mexican pancho was cast aside for the much easier-to-construct tartan kilt of a Scotsman. (Actually, it was finding that the cheapest Mexican zarape was a whopping 40€ that really prompted the switch.) After several hours of crazy fabric shopping, I came home, tended to my blistered feet and set to work on rigging up two costumes without a sewing machine. Four hours later, we were en route to our first ever UN meeting where my red-feathered self quickly earned the name "Poca" and "what's under Gui's skirt" was the evening's game of choice.
We spent most of Saturday in the Toyota dealership with Gui's mom, trying not to get haggled by a French car salesman and spent an early evening celebrating a friends' birthday with a lovely dinner and cake party where I avoided spreading my germs through les bisous and my foggy brain tried to remember how to say simple sentences in French. Today, I've managed to catch myself up on at least two days worth of sleep. I finally relocated to the living room and Gui's been nursing me back to health with large doses of multivitamin juice and tomato soup. It's a shame, really because today is as gorgeous a day as it's been all week, and hibernating inside is the last thing I want to be doing. Not to mention I have more homework than I know what to do with.
Monday, October 13, 2008
Last weekend, at a party full of Americans (and a Canadian) the topic turned to Thanksgiving dinner. After listing off all of our favorite dishes - greenbean casserole, mom's stuffing, homemade pumpkin pie (my absolute favorite) - we got on the topic of eggnog. A few people have spotted the milky holiday beverage at various grocery stores around Paris, and someone verified the name in French to look for on the next trip to the market. I was never crazy about eggnog, and in fact usually only drink it when it's spiked, but somehow it seems to be more important on my list of holiday specialties than ever before. Talking about the drink conjures up memories of Christmas Eve finger-food dinners, holiday office parties, and winter dinner parties with friends. We have plans to replicate a perfectly American Thanksgiving dinner here this year, so I'm hoping all my seasonal cravings will be fulfilled.
As for that pumpkin spice creamer, I could actually see that in the community fridge of any one of my jobs of the past. My lovely friend (and old co-worker), Jen would totally bring that in to share with our department in celebration of the cooler temps or just to brighten everyone's day. She'd make her coffee at her desk in the miniature French press that was stashed in her office and come to the breakroom for a splash of creamer and an earful of the latest gossip. We'd compliment each other on our latest buys - her new kitten heels or my new pencil skirt - and talk about what's on the agenda for the coming week. That's the kind of work camaraderie that made working an often less-than-thrilling 9 to 5 job so worth it. And, there are those little things - like the pumpkin spice creamer that someone thought to share with the rest of the burned-out office - that seriously made life that much happier. Is it silly for me to be dreaming of artificially-flavored soy-milk when I can indulge in freshly-baked baguettes and tarts all day if I want? Perhaps. But, isn't the grass always greener?
When I first arrived here, last November (geesh, nearly a year ago!), there was almost nothing to be done to assuage my body's rejection of the cold. I could barely stand to roll myself out of the warmth of my bed, and I dreaded the thought of leaving the house which required walking to the train station in less-than-freezing temps. Now, even though all the city's vegetation suggests that Autumn has arrived, the gorgeous temps and blue-blue sky suggest otherwise. I'm happy to leave the coats, scarves and boots at home in place of my short-sleeves, jeans and ballet-flats. Yet, I do wonder how much longer this lovely summer will be prolonged.
I've never lived in a place where Fall's presence is ever known - in Austin, Winter seems to come just a day after Summer, and that's not usually before December. I guess it's no wonder all this crazy good weather has got me thinking about life back in Austin - about barbecues and football; happy-hours and brunches. I guess back there, Indian Summers are just called Summer and days of good weather in the months before Christmas are considered the norm. I know I'll surely be missing many things about home come November, but if this Indian Summer holds out until then, I'm glad there'll be one less thing to be nostalgic over.
*updated 10/14 to include video: Thanks, Zhu!
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
So, despite the 20-person line to change schedules (and my slight fear of being told no and having to argue in French with someone), I stuck it out for 45 minutes, got to the counter, and made up a lie. I knew that wanting to change my class time because I didn't want to be hungry all day was just not going to fly with this French government employee behind the counter; I mean, that'd be like taking aim at an antelope without any ammunition loaded - totally for naught. After explaining that my [imaginary] job requires me to pick up kids from school at 2pm everyday and asking to be placed in the 10am-12pm class, she shook her head, looked at me with raised eyebrows and said it wouldn't be possible, then offered me the 8-10am class. Ugh. I had totally seen that coming, but I wasn't ready to accept a 6:30 am alarm clock just yet, so I decided to push her to at least make a phone call (because that's what I saw everyone else was doing to squeeze students into "full" classes). She called, looked at me and shook her head (bad news), then asked me if I was an au pair. I told her I wasn't, but she still offered me a special class for au pairs that meets for three hours a day, Monday through Friday, except Wednesday (since au pairs usually work all day Wednesday). I told her no, made up another lie (that I can't recall right now - yeah, the lies were starting to snowball) and kept pushing her to find me a spot in a 10 am class. A few minutes later, she hung up the phone, scribbled something on a card and told me she was able to find one spot in a 10 am class to put me in. Score! I was elated, proud and a little smug at what I had just pulled off in French. It dawned on me that all of the practice I've had with persistence at the prefecture was totally paying off, and a little twinge of acceptance came over me as I strolled down the street past the Pantheon.
Besides getting the class time I wanted, I found out today - my first day of class - that my French teacher is the bomb! I was a little happy to see that the younger French teacher for the earlier class wasn't also going to be our teacher, and instead the much older French woman was going to be giving us our lessons. I don't know, but there's something about an older, wiser-looking, French woman teaching me French that makes me feel like I'm getting a more authentic learning experience. From the beginning to the end of class, my attention was kept (except for a few times when I got distracted by and wanted to throw my pen at the loudmouth girl in the front row who kept blurting out answers even when the teacher was calling on someone else) and I could almost feel the wrinkles being formed in my brain. It was about the time that she asked us to repeat "On est à Paris pour ameliorer le français, pas pour apprendre!" ("We're in Paris to improve our French, not to learn it!") that I realized changing my class was the most shrewd and constructive move I've made since arriving in Paris. (In fact, I'm thinking of running for president with my keen sense of foresight.)
I had fun picking out school supplies and buying books after class with a girl from California, and I'm excited (yes, because I'm nerdy) about going to my biweekly pronunciation labs. I think this school thing is definitely going to kick my stagnation in the arse, I just need to learn how to suppress those all too familiar feelings of procrastination when it comes to doing my homework.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Monday, October 6, 2008
Like most kids, when I was young, I wanted to be everything - a teacher, a designer, a CEO, an ambassador, a surgeon, a lawyer, a politician - and I somehow never grew out of that phase. I still find myself wondering what in the world I'm going to make of myself. There are so many ideas I have floating about in my head about what direction I should take in my career, but nothing stands out as the one path to follow, and of course, none of my options seem attainable given my current circumstances as an unemployed, non-French speaking housewife. I'd really love to go back to school, to get my master's, but even deciding on what to get it in and which schools to apply to is just as daunting as anything else.
I know I'm not doomed to be a stay-at-home wife forever, and I'm sure brighter days are ahead. Perhaps it would serve me well to just pick something from my superfluous list of things I want to do and do it. What makes me so uninspired, though, are the what-ifs that I like to torment myself with: what if we were back in the States...what if I had never left my last job...what if I could speak French fluently...what if I don't get accepted to grad school...what if my French doesn't improve...what if I'm 40 and still in the same boat...? Maybe I should stop wasting my energy on all these rhetorical questions and get started on something. But, what if I can't choose what to start on?
...And, now I'm off to get some Camembert for this whine.
Thursday, October 2, 2008
Yes, I realize this is a joke that a 12 year-old would make and laugh at, but I think the funniest part of it is remembering the Grey Poupon commercials I saw as a kid and how I would make the same fake British accent in an attempt to get my little brothers to laugh. It's amusing to think how clueless I was back then about how my life would unfold for me, and it's even a little funny to think that I'm here, living in France, with a French husband, having Monsieur Poupon as my neighbor in a life I never imagined I would have. Merci, Mr. Poupon, for the nostalgic joke and for putting it all into perspective for me.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
So, here's how it works:
1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.
4) Optional extra: Post a comment here at www.verygoodtaste.co.uk linking to your results.
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
10. Baba ghanoush
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
35. Root beer float
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
47. Chicken tikka masala
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
60. Carob chips
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
79. Lapsang souchong
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
90. Criollo chocolate
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
Updated: I originally had 55, but didn't immediately realize mole poblano was just regular ol' mole.
I was surprised at how much I have already eaten. At least ten of the items I've eaten only as a result of traveling, so it looks like I have no other choice but to continue traveling around to complete this list. Also, I'm a little surprised at how much I crossed out on the list. I might be able to be convinced to try a few of those crossed-off items (like frog legs and sweetbreads) - I guess it would just depend on how many of those dirty gin martinis and bellinis I had before being asked.