The Nana Diaries, part 2

It's Thursday and I've got a family and food hangover. The family part stops today, as I head into New York to finally see friends, but the food just keeps on comin' with a dinner tonight and tomorrow. I can literally feel my ass growing by the minute and I shake in fear of what's coming my way when I get back to living five flights up. This is what happens when your great aunt melts a STICK OF BUTTER in the bowl of corn before serving it. I wish I was kidding, and yet the screams from my arteries tell me I'm not.

We visited the Nanas in their respective towns this week. Photos and family memories place these women in another world, but today they are simple girls who need little more than a laugh and a hug. I cope by putting aside my memories of grandmas and seeing them for who they are today, women who are happy to listen to old 78's and munch on Christmas cookies.

And while it has been wonderful to spend so much time with my family, I am anxious to finally see my friends in New York. The infamous Secret Santa will take place tomorrow, where some lucky winner will take home a non-French-yet-still-FUN gift. Stay tuned for updates from Brooklyn and the city...


Real American Values

We are leaving this morning to visit The Extended Family in Pennsylvania. Most likely, I'll spend the next 48 hours defending my decision to study French, a choice that has single-handedly ruined my chances of ever getting a REAL job, like operating a tree-cutting machine.

The trip will be more all the more amusing because Steve-o will be along for the ride. He was certainly in rare form during the Christmas cookie decorating part of this past weekend:

Hope you've all had wonderful holidays, complete with anatomically-correct snowmen cookies.


Rich and Suburban in California... or not

Steve: Is that Dad's credit card?
Me: Yeah, he wants me to get something for Mom.
Steve: Sweet. We're like the kids on Laguna Beach.
Me: Well yeah, except it's a Macy's card...


London Fog, the flight canceller, not the coat makers

It has been a long day of drama here in our apartment, complete with cancelled flights and international travel agents. I won't get into it now because I'm too tired, but the short of it is that the infamous London fog shouldn't be getting in my way of getting home (KNOCK SIMULTANEOUSLY ON EVERY PIECE OF WOOD AROUND YOU).

For the first time in my life, I made a travel to-do list and completed every item on it. Including this blog post. Another first-timer is the fact that I have more gifts than people to give them to. Let's just say I went a little crazy in a mustard store and leave it at that (more about this in a future post).

I leave Paris with a warm, fuzzy feeling (though it could be a hangover from last night's end-of-semester celebration at a bar in the 6th). Coming back to Paris in January will be coming back to friends and co-workers, familiar places and a metro system that I've gotten the hang of. Not bad for four months.


The hottest, the sexiest, the most irresistible: Marcel Proust

Well, semester 1 is over and before I have the time to catch my breath, a new reading list awaits me. Here is some of the joy I'll be reading over the break:

I included the mug in the photo to give you some perspective. In my opinion, more than three inches of reading per class should be outlawed, but hey, look on the bright side, I'll get to finally read the infamous Proust that I've heard so much about.

I admit that I am afraid of Proust, mostly in the way you fear tall, dark and handsome Italian men. They're hot and they know it. I approach Proust tentatively because I've heard stories of lit students who got 20 pages into a Proust novel and became those people who LIVE for an author. You know, the ones who do weird things like visit his tomb every year and recite personal poetry they've written for him at 3am during the full moon. Proust has this influence on people.

This is all pretty powerful stuff, especially if you consider that his works are looooong and published in very small print, which makes it even sexier. In any event, I don't want to love Proust because it seems like everyone else loves him and I want to resist his spell if only to protect my chances when eventually applying for PhD programs. Maybe it's just me, but I'd rather not be applicant 2,563 who lives to study the impact of Madeline cookies dipped in hot tea.


F is for Family

I lost this weekend's Scrabble game by a good 45 points. I don't play Scrabble very often. To be honest, I never did, except when Nana would visit and the game was only half of the activity. We'd usually end up making long lists of words well after the game was over. "Let's see if we can think of words that start with E", she'd say and we'd sit around eating Chex Mix while we listed words off the top of our heads. The Scrabble box at home is filled with these handwritten word lists, as well as score sheets that go back years. Once in a while you'll see a "D" or "M" among the scores if my parents decided to join in, but Scrabble and Chex Mix was really a time for Nana and the kids.

Nana won't be spending Christmas with us this year because she's been moved into a nursing home for patients with Alzheimer's. She was pretty forgetful this summer when I saw her and only recognized me part of the time, but from what I hear through the family grapevine, she now has a hard time recognizing most of the family. Others now makes lists for Nana: names of her grandkids, names of her children, even sheets of paper with her own name and room number to remind her should she get lost.

I'm impatient to get home and enjoy the Christmas family traditions like Scrabble, though it will be really strange to not have Katie home this year. I just sent off a 4th holiday package to Togo in the hopes that some new things will give her a taste of home. Buying gifts for her this year reminded me of when we were younger and my family would sponsor a homeless family or child in a foster home. We'd get the label, "girl, 8 years old, likes drawing" or "boy, 15, wants gloves and a hat." They never wished for complicated things like the newest video game or an Elmo doll, but those were exactly the things we wanted to get them. I remember wanting to go above and beyond what these kids wanted, precisely because they couldn't wish for these things themselves. In some ways, buying gifts for Katie this year was my most fulfilling holiday shopping because I know how much every gift means.

If you're interested in doing a feel-good something for the holiday season, here's a link to Toys for Tots, an organization that I support every year. I usually pick up some coloring books and crayons or play dough, but they obviously accept any toys you'd like to buy. If the TT stand is still up in the mall when I get home this weekend, I'll be sure to drop by and make a donation, something that promotes families getting together. Maybe a Scrabble game or two.


I wish I was kidding

I must publicly complain about the crap that has been published on cnn.com lately. Try living abroad and keeping up with the news at home; the important political issues affecting the U.S. today are hard to find. Here is a small selection of the most recent articles CNN editors felt was necessary to publish on their front page:

Boy, 11, kicks hawk in face to save his puppy (December 12, 2006)

or this:

Is the Brangelina baby cuter than a panda cub? (December 15, 2006)

You may think that global warming is an important issue that deserves coverage. But the latter question was so vital to the CNN editors that it prompted a daily poll:

Which do you think is cuter, babies or panda cubs?
-Panda cubs


I leave you finally with the most recent ridiculous (and DISTURBING to say the least) video clip on CNN:

Puppy chews off baby's toes (1:17)
People are eager to adopt a pit bull who chewed off a baby's toes.

And on THAT note, bon weekend to all. Plans for my last 2006 weekend in Paris include a Christmas market and French Scrabble. Here's hoping yours is filled with gingerbread and vowels as well...


Fun Fact 003: Let's Go a no-go

Tough news for anyone who loves traveling and aspires to be a writer: Let's Go isn't hiring. Or I should say, isn't hiring unless you go to Harvard. In one of my endless google searches that come under the category of "schemes to make money while loving your job while living in Europe", I fell upon some Let's Go employment information which admitted that this necessary travel accessory only employs current Harvard students. Unfair news for those of us who didn't attend the Crimson Ivy, especially since I would imagine that Harvard students don't have a hard time finding employment wherever their little hearts desire...


Pollyanna and the top 7 holiday gifts

New Jersey is weird, even in France. The topic of Secret Santa came up on Saturday night and Joseph said, "oh, you mean Pollyanna." At which point this image came to mind:

Though I laughed about it at the time, other New Jersians at Middlebury confirmed such strange linguistics in the state of NJ this afternoon. In all 7,417 square miles of New Jersey, the word "Pollyanna" means "Secret Santa." SS seems rather self-explanatory for me and I don't see why the state of Bon Jovi and long fingernails had to go and re-name a perfectly good term, though we must keep in mind that these are the same people who call sprinkles "jimmies."

Speaking of which, the NY girls and I have decided to do Secret Santa this year and at first I was PSYCHED and now I am psyched. There is quite a bit of pressure to find a good gift when you live abroad and seeing as how this is the third French Christmas shopping experience I've been through, I'm fresh out of ideas. There are only so many berets and French chocolates that you can buy for someone before it gets old. Real old.

There are always the obvious ideal Secret Santa gifts (I've spent a good many days trying to figure out how to giftwrap Justin T...), but this year I took my search out to the good old world-wide web. I found some GREAT stuff, but I'm obviously not going to share it with you here because my brother reads this site. And my parents. And the person who I have for Secret Santa.

Here are the top seven gifts-I-really-liked-but-didn't-buy-for-anyone. Maybe you can make better use of such wonders:

1. iPod Red Special Edition ($199)- Even though I never use my iPod, this one is CLASS-y and I'd be proud to zone out to it on line 3. Plus, $10 of your purchase goes to fight HIV/AIDS. Sweet stuff.

2. Personalized Notecards ($45)- Once Evelyn and I bought these as a birthday gift for Tejal. They came out professional and looked great... there are tons of different designs, including this lovely green apple:

3. Firefly Water Bottle Lid ($17.95)-I don't hike or camp; I leave that up to the other siblings who like to study abroad in places where you have a good chance of getting Malaria. But everyone has a Nalgene and why not use a lid that turns your water bottle into a lantern? Easier to see the man-eating mosquitoes, non?

4. The Downside of Genetic Engineering tee-shirt ($10)- I think this shirt is HILARIOUS and Threadless has tons of other great designs that promote everything from riding bikes to English grammar.

5. "Interlocken" lace-up boot ($148)- These boots are so hot I can't even type straight. If you decide to go out and buy these for someone, I'm a size 8 1/2.

6. The Economist year-long subscription ($79.00)- For the political genius in your life, or at least an aspiring one. FYI- they ship overseas to all Peace Corps volunteers for no extra charge.

7. Graphic Travel Clutch ($24.00)- It's hip, it's cool, and it helps to avoid losing your passport as you go through the metal detectors three extra times because you forgot about your belt buckle. Perfect for the one who can't seem to stay on the ground.


Thanksmas '06: where Pumpkin Pies and Nativity scenes go to make-out

Erica and Landry blew in from the Massif Central this weekend to visit Paris and, well, us. But we also cleverly planned their visit to coincide with Thanksmas '06, our original combination of -you guessed it- turkeys and Christmas trees. Due to the size of our apartment, we could only invite a small sampling of friends, but what a sampling it was... here are the photos that didn't come out blurry (I won't try to explain the blurriness except to say that there were quite a few wine bottles to recycle the next morning):

Find the Italian in this photo! (Hint: it's the one named Joseph who's talking with his hands)

Kathryn and Angela have a laugh during a ridiculous international game of pictionary...

I usually leave the craftiness up to the artsy people in my life (like Sarah Mclo), but finding myself on the other side of the ocean, I made do with some snow spray and cut up magazines...

Maddy, our representative from England, was on hand as a resource for Shakespearian plays. (The Tempest! I'd NEVER think of that on my own...)

You may notice that I'm sporting a new haircut. Having lived one day too many with a wild mass of un-shapeable curls, it was time. If you look closely, you'll notice that the room is, in fact, spinning. So it wasn't us after all.


Warning: generalizations about French education ahead

I don't know how else to say this, so I'll just put it out there: the French education system needs work. I attended my last class for the semester at the Sorbonne this morning and I am pretty happy about not seeing that building until January (other than next week's final). The Economist published a survey about France at the end of October, which identified some of the biggest problems facing France today. It was a solid piece, but nowhere did it mention the third-world country conditions of French universities. Example? Our class must change classrooms after one hour because the rooms are too overbooked. And the best part is that the second classroom isn't even a classroom- it's a meeting room, so there's no blackboard and ... wait for it... there AREN'T ENOUGH CHAIRS. So here in France, a rich, civilized country, its university students have to sit on the floor, crammed into a meeting room to learn.

This morning I sat next to a girl I'd never seen before. This doesn't mean much because classes at the Sorbonne are like being stuck in an elevator with complete strangers. No one looks at each other and everyone tries to avoid each others' eyes until the experience is over. The result is that the only people I truly recognize from the class are the other foreigners: the American students from Princeton (noticeable by the way they say the word "PRINCETON" in every sentence and pronounce it with a French accent. Please.), the Eastern Europeans, who are typically shy, but make an attempt to speak in class, and of course, the Italians, who are all dark-haired and charming when they speak French (always while waving their hands).

The Frenchies, on the other hand, continue to impress me with their detached way of learning. The girl to the right of me this morning spent the entire 2-hour class CAPPING and RECAPPING her highlighters. Know why? She was taking color-coded notes, which incidentally matched the color-coding system she'd used to annotate her book. At one point, she even took a ruler out of her pencil case and used it to underline a word because she needed that straight a line. Not kidding.

The insane thing here is that she isn't the only one doing it. Even the guys in class carry pencil cases with a wide supply of highlighters, pens, pen accessories, rulers, and erasers. French students' notes look like works of art. But here comes the rub: they may have the prettiest notes in class (and 90% less grammatical errors than the rest of us foreigners), but they don't dare volunteer their opinions. Our young, dynamic professor was trying to develop a discussion in class this morning and there were only three people talking: me, an Italian, and one French girl (who probably has foreign parents). The other 30 students would not open their mouths for this poor prof, who was trying her best to avoid lecturing as she usually does.

The moral of the story: cultural differences with regard to education run deep. Whereas my friends and I loved Rosenwasser's jumping on tables during our Irish lit classes at Muhlenberg, a French student would have an aneurism if their prof wasn't reciting 3-part outlines. They may dress in the latest fashions and carry special erasable-pens (WHY haven't these been exported to the U.S. yet?!?), but spontaneous conversation in classes is not their thing. I may be paying 1,000 times more than they do for my education, but at least I have a damn chair to sit in and a group of classmates who are more than willing to share the experience.


Line 3: Communicating with the best of them

The thing to know about the metro in Paris is that it's a bit like the old line from Forrest Gump- you never know what you're going to get. Some lines have soft cushiony seats, the kind you might almost fall asleep in even when you're only going three stops. Others... not so much. And by not so much, I mean that I'm pretty sure these other metros stole their old plastic graffetied pieces of crap from a dumpster. In such metros, offering your seat to an old and/or handicapped person is an insult.

You know you've truly hit the jackpot when your metro stop has an electronic board which posts how many minutes you have to wait before the next metro arrives. These boards are GENIUS and informative. Do I have time to get out my copy of Une Page d'Amour and read for eight minutes? Or should I just sit tight and watch those people making out? (note: there are always people making out in the metro. And in the metro station. And really, everywhere in Paris. French people always coyly say "What! We're not like that!" and yet, they really, really are).

I live off of Metro Line 3. It's a good line; it cuts right across the heart of the "above the Seine" area. The fabulous feature on our line is a female voice that announces the upcoming station twice. First, she announces it while you're still in the dark tunnel. This announcement is always done in a fearful tone.

"operA?" she asks, and you wonder if you and the rest of the travelers will make it to the Opera alive.

Then a minute later, "OPera!" she exclaims. What joy! We HAVE made it to the Opera once again! The intonation is so exaggerated that you have to laugh. "What's that? A serial KILLER?" "OH... a friendly NEIGHbor!"

I usually only ride line 3 for a few stops, all of which have fairly short names; "Bourse", "Europe," and the infamous "Opera" are along my route. But today I took the metro a bit further to get to the Centre Pompidou library and I was still on when we got to a station which challenged Ms. Electronic Voice-off to the max.

"rEAumur sEBastaPOL?!?" she shrieked, unable to handle the seven-syllableness of it all.

Other lines might have the cushy seats, but no one can argue that Line 3 doesn't have the comedy.


Gotta love the free Sunday

Although much of Paris acted like a normal city today (see: opened its stores on a Sunday... gasp!), I avoided the holiday shoppers and opted for the Rodin museum instead. The weather was crappy and the apartment felt sad; plus it's the first Sunday of the month, which means that many museums in Paris were free. I LOVE the fact that museums are free once a month and if you choose carefully (see: avoid the Mona Lisa AT ALL COSTS), you can usually enjoy your visit without feeling as if half of all Parisiens are breathing down your turtleneck to get a look at the art.

I would suggest that this free tradition come to New York, but I have a hard time believing that a city that hosts the Bodies exhibit and charges $27 per person WITHOUT student prices would ever embrace such artistic generosity. Other than Target nights at the MOMA, I can't think of any other museums as visitor-friendly as those in Paris.

Of course, I really liked the Rodin statues, but I was blown away by some of Camille Claudel's work. In case you're not up to speed on your French sculptors, Camille Claudel was Rodin's student, friend, and lover (... and 24 years his junior but who's counting?). She seems like a crazy cat, that Camille Claudel, and I mean that in a literal sense- her father was the only one in her family who supported her career choice and her mother had her committed to a mental institution eight days after her father died. It was apparently a break-up with Rodin that pushed her over the edge, though I would suggest that the mother (who incidentally didn't visit her in the institution ONCE for the rest of her life) had a little something to do with it.

Here was my favorite piece, entitled The Waltz:

Takes my breath away, Top Gun style.


Paris Newsletter: Month Three

Dear Paris,

I went into Monoprix today to check out their Xmas decorations. As I was perusing the garland and wreathes, an older woman who was shopping in the same aisle was rummaging through the shelves. "No angels..." she muttered, "no one believes in angels anymore." Then she looked right at me. "Have you seen any angels?" I get freaked out when complete strangers ask me things like that. Especially in an aisle among nativity scenes. And at the end of a month that has been draining to say the least.

November has been a lot about having the right ingredients and not knowing how to make things work. Be it a lesson for one of my students which falls on its face or preparing for Thanksgiving (best known as "The Day I Learned How the Food Processor DOESN'T Work). Below you'll find an entire food processor full of freshly chopped pumpkin (I don't mess around when I bake, people). In the time it took me to figure out how to make puree, I could have grown my own pumpkin patch for next Halloween. I'm pretty convinced that pumpkin christened every possible tool and surface in the kitchen EXCEPT the blade in the machine. It would have been faster to chew the damn thing up and spit it back out, mother-bird style.

The Middlebury Program does a good job at trying to present us with many different career options after our M.A. degree is completed (and the 60-page thesis is hot off the press). I must say that I do find myself fairly limited with what to do with this degree in France. While the unemployment rate is lower than it has been in the past, the economy is not really booming and therefore the job options are limited. Plus, the nature of how careers work here in France is such that, unless you're really committed to teaching English, it's hard to break into something as a foreigner. Maybe the exception is if you want to be a painter. I bet you could get by if you were a really good painter (see: reject your parents who want you to be a lawyer and rock out Monet-style with your bad self).

November was a big political month, not only in the U.S. with the Victory heard 'round the world, but also in that Segolene Royale has formally been nominated by the Socialist party to run for president of France. The President of France position seems to be a concept very different than the President of the U.S. On my way to teach the other day, I passed by an official-looking building which I later found out was "L'Elysee," where Jacques Chirac works. However, not ONE of my students were able to tell me if President Chirac also lives there. This detail, the location of where Chirac lays his head at night, seemed to be of the lowest level importance to my students, whereas I was waiting to finish class so I could run and stalk the gates. What American would miss the opportunity to snap a photo of JC walking his dog on his un-presidential- looking lawn. French-American cultural difference? I think so.

With the temperatures dropping and Christmas getting closer, I can't help looking forward to spending a few weeks at home at the end of the month. I'm looking forward to a new semester, new books, a new perspective after the new year. Because despite the homesickness and the tough moments here in a strange land, it really is damn good to live in Paris.




Study Break: Monet and his Waterlilies

I would like to be clever and witty tonight, but unfortunately I'm studying for my Art History final and there's nothing witty about memorizing the names of and dates of the paintings of Courbet, Millet, Monet and Caillebotte. Just typing those four names tired me out. You can tell how well studying is going.

Instead, I think I'll post some pix from the Musee de l'Orangerie, found in the Tuilerie Gardens, which I visited at the beginning of the month. It's an entire museum dedicated to Monet's Waterlilies, though they do have some other works from his contemporaries. If you're a Parisien (or just living like one this year), I highly recommend checking it out.


FAT Milk

I have previously written about the Proustian experience of drinking Starbucks chai here in Paris. Naively, I've always believed that the reason it was so damn good was because it was a reminder of home, a comfort food, a little expensive piece of heaven captured in a cardboard container.

When I've ordered chai in the U.S., the person behind the counter always asks what kind of milk and I would typically choose skim milk (a girl has to watch her figure, non?). The absence of this question in Starbucks across Paris didn't even dawn on me until today, when the woman ahead of me asked what type of milk was normally used to make the drinks because she wanted to order skim. Needless to say, I basically fell through the floor when the Starbucks server responded "oh, we always use whole milk unless you ask".

I have never in my life drank whole milk. Which means that the heaven that I've been tasting for the past three months? Yeah, it's kind of just pure FAT. And yet, am I considering changing my order? Not on your life. Because pure FAT has proven that it's worth going up and down the 5 flights one more time per day.


Fun Fact 002: Paris Telephones from the 70's

Today's FF comes from one of my lit classes, where we are reading Marguerite Duras' "Le Navire Night." Reading Duras is a little like trying to watch an artsy short film festival while drunk. Really drunk. You can sense there's something amazing going on, but you can't even remember the main character's name (which, chez Duras, is usually just a letter. Like "F.")

In any event, two characters somehow meet each other over the telephone in this text and it wasn't very clear how until our prof explained it to us today. Apparently in the 1970's in Paris, there were "holes" in the phone company, which is to say that every number was attributed to a person or family, but three or four phone numbers were mathematically left out of the list. Which means that three or four phone numbers in all of existence were not attributed to anyone and therefore if you called one of these numbers, you found yourself connected for FREE to anyone else who had called that number as well. So of course, this gives way to lots of chance meetings and phone sex and people who say they're women when they're really men, etc. The two characters in "Le Navire Night" met on this phone-line situation and the BEST part of the class was when the prof admitted that he knew all three numbers when he was younger. And he knows all of this back-story because MARGUERITE DURAS was his freaking THESIS DIRECTOR!

What we can learn from this is that:
1. My prof was probably having a lot of phone sex in the 1970's.
2. My prof was possibly having phone sex with Marguerite Duras in the 1970's.
3. My prof is the shit.


Couldn't pass this one up...

Thanksgiving challenge: try looking presidential when the guy next to you has a turkey the size of a velocirapter in his arms... or at least a little like you didn't just smoke five joints.

Turkey: the bird, NOT the country

Joyeous Thanksgiving to you all! Here in the land of Napoleon and Brie, we do not have the day off, but this has not deterred me from spending the morning in my pjs on the couch catching up on all the INTERNET that I've missed in the past two weeks. What am I thankful for? NEUF TELECOM, that's what!

Middlebury organized a Thanksgiving dinner for us last night at a French restaurant. The food wasn't bad, but it was funny how fashionable it seemed to be. The turkey slices were elaborately dressed with some type of stuffing, the green beans had special spices, and the apple tart rested on a bed of English cream. It was, therefore, specifically French: just like an American, but thirty times as classy.

The fashionable food did not prevent us from having a great time and after a couple of weeks of homesickness, it felt good to be among family:

I must also make mention of a RIDICULOUS new Yahoo! mail invention. I received an email earlier this week in which the sender asked about how my sister was doing in Togo. The word "Togo" was underlined in blue and a small bubble popped up when I rolled my mouse over it. "Click here for map of TOGO" it said. I rolled my eyes and chalked this little technology gem up to the fact that the sender is somewhat of a computer magician. HOWEVER, Yahoo! mail has been invading every email that someone sends me, creating map links anytime someone mentions a city or a country. Yes, that's right- even the country of TURKEY. In the week before Thanksgiving, how many emails do you think I got with the word "turkey" in them? So Yahoo! mail, I beg you: before you go around changing people's emails and adding surprises to the words, take another 30 seconds and make sure you've figured out the glitches...

And now, in the good Thanksgiving tradition with a French twist, I am going to eat a hot dog for lunch and then go shopping for new boots. Rock out with your own turkey dinners...


Dancing bear grabbing apples? Not my day job...

Yesterday a student of mine looked me in the eye and told me that he doesn't think he's making progress with my class. At first I was really hurt and allowed the criticism to get me down for a few hours (you know how it goes: Man, I must be a bad teacher. Why do I think I should be in a classroom anyway? I shouldn't even be around HUMANS. I should just lock myself in a cubicle and NEVER SEE ANOTHER SOUL AGAIN.)

I have a tendency towards the dramatic.

Long story short, I got over it. But I must admit that emails like the following help to remind me that I'm not the only one living a life straight out of an Ionesco play:

One of our web design clients wanted a dancing bear as part of their logo so I created (one). The client wasn’t satisfied. Oh no, dancing bear isn’t good enough. I quote, “I am not sure I am crazy about this and wanted to think about it. I can see that you are struggling with the Logo... I might tuck the tree into the corner, and have the bear going across the page or trying to grab some apples or something like that.” WTF?!?! It’s not enough to make the bear move, now he has to go grab apples? LEAVE THE POOR BEAR IN PEACE !!!

I would just like to take the opportunity to mention that I am glad I do not have to worry about making graphics of dancing bears grab apples for clients. Thank you, Erica, for making me realize that graphic designing is one of the career options I will not choose anytime soon. (I can hear all of you breathing a huge sigh of relief, seeing as how this blog is the limit of my zero designing skills. Once I did figure out how to change the color of the text, but I couldn't decide on a good one and so the blog stayed as it was.)

Note: This is not the dancing bear that Erica is responsible for. Unfortunately, googling "dancing bear grabbing apples" comes up with no images (shocker!). Thus, we are left with this dancing bear, the Spanish chick and a sketchy guy in a blue suit lurking in the background. We make do.


The Call of the Wild: Life as a Double Major

It has been a particularly rough week for me here in Paris. Not only have I been sick and overtired, but a large cloud of homesicknesses has descended upon me and I feel farther away than usual. This is no doubt partially because I still have no phone and no internet, but I think it also has something to do with some big choices that have been rumbling in the distance and are now coming to a roar.

As 2006 comes to a close, I have been thinking a lot about where I will be this time next year and what I will be doing. When I couldn't decide which major to pick at 20 years old, it was good enough to say "why not both!?!" and off I went into an English/French lifestyle. Choosing the Master's program at Middlebury seemed to finally kill off the English and business side of me. I thought I'd chosen my path, that French was my thing and the only thing that mattered was to find a way to stay in this country.

Lately the desire to write, to market, to communicate has come raging back and not without response. For every job description Mike Bruckner sends me for work in the U.S., Balzac calls out from within. The mental war is taking its toll and I change directions almost daily. I openly envy those of you who are accountants, who are doctors, who have chosen directions that are not only direct but also please people like parents and in-laws and outsiders because they're easy to say.

I don't have much wisdom on the subject, so I won't try to bring things to a close on this post. Feel free to leave some pearls in the comments section, especially if you've already planned your life and have the key to doing it.


What with the upcoming wedding and all...

Last night I dreamt that I was invited to Tom and Katie's place for dinner, which was held outside with a brood of international children (see: preminition of Brangelina's future family). Everything was going alright, I felt a little skeeved out by Tom's overbearing laugh, but the terror came when I decided to leave the next morning.

The gates of their mansion opened and I stepped out onto the road, ready to find my car and leave. As I thought about my departure, golden shackles started growing on my wrists and I realized that I was a prisioner of Castle TomKat; I could not leave. I looked behind me and saw Tom playing soccer with dozens of his kids, laughing his scary-smiley laugh. The golden chains solidified like some kind of Harry Potter shit and I knew it was going to be me and Suri forever.


French boots

Kim: Did you buy your boots in France?
Me: Nope, Michael Kors, I bought them in NY.
Kim: Because I want to buy boots here, but apparently my calves are too big for women's boots in France.
Me: Join the club.


Friday, black Friday

And then there was darkness.

You remember the internet we had in our apartment? The phone line? The 60 extra cable channels? (lip-quivering pause) Well, it's gone, they're all gone, ripped away like victory from a Republican. Because our box is fried.

"What box? Why fried?" you may ask. All good questions... There is a metallic-looking box that normally connects us to the outside world and it is now apparently "grillé" according to the specialists at the phone company. I don't pretend to know how the magic of electricity works in a country where phone or electric wires never ruin the view. All I can attest to is the absurdity of life here in "cosmopolitan" Paris at times and the fact that I am PISSED about it.

In other news, MasterMan's family is descending upon us for the weekend... plans include the Disney exhibit at the Grand Palais and dinner at a Morrocan restaurant tomorrow night. And the really good news? They're bringing two huge boxes of 400 comics that Aurel is selling one by one over the internet (which we won't have for at least another week. Have I mentioned that?) If you are interested in purchasing comics (especially in bulk!), check out his account. As my Starbucks cup said today, the holiday season is approaching... and comics make great gifts for the ones you love. Especially if it means getting them the hell out of my apartment.


Good one, America!

Make a joyful noise people, because America has finally grown some balls. I skipped through the streets of la Paris today with the knowledge that the Democrats are taking over the HOR and if the voting systems in Virginia and Montana don't get screwed around with Jeb Bush-style, they'll take the Senate as well.

As I write this, I'm watching a press conference with George W. and I have to stop every few words to scream "WHAT?!? WHO WOULD SAY THAT?!?" at the screen. Here's an example:

GWB: Actually, I thought we were going to be fine yesterday. hehehe... shows what I know.

George, here's a memo: crawl out of the Republican-laden hole you live in and talk to someone who knows something. If you felt confident about yesterday's election, maybe you should talk to Mama Bush because EVERYONE AND THEIR MOTHER knew you were in for it, buddy.

Here are some other joyful losses of the day:

K-Fed and Demonsfeld booted on the same day? Things are certainly looking brighter for the world...


Very Kind

A conversation about our daily routines opened into a deep appreciation for the "Lassie" species:

Me: So, do you have any pets at home?
Student: No, but my parents have a dog.
Me: What kind of dog do your parents have?
Student: It's... this dog likes to gather... cows.
Me: Ah, a sheepdog?
Student: ...yes...?
Me: Is the dog like Lassie?
Student: OH YES! She's not a Lassie, but she's very kind.


Thoughts Blowin' in the Paris Wind...

I've been putting off writing this post for a few days, but it's been working itself out inside of me and it's Monday night, so here goes.

Aurel and I watched a documentary about Bob Dylan last week that he'd taped off tv a year ago. Bob Dylan was one of those names to me, a famous person whose songs I sort of knew, whose face I could sort of conjure up in my head, whose concerts Emilie and my old roomate Priscilla like to attend. About halfway through the documentary, the film focused on the civil rights movement and showed Dylan playing his guitar in front of thousands and thousands of people who marched on Washington in 1963. I've seen these photos before, but for some reason I was completely blown away this time by the thought of so many Americans gathering to stand up for something:

I've visited Washington a bunch of times and trust me that this is a shitload of people. When I was a senior in college, I attended an anti-war protest here (again with Priscilla) and while there were a lot of people calling Bush a liar and showing support for the cause, it didn't look anything like this. I can't believe that my parents lived through a time when Americans were so motivated towards change, so intent on making themselves heard. Watching the documentary, I became so sad because I don't know why this isn't happening anymore. Is it because my generation doesn't have opinions? Are we listening to our I-Pods and not each other? And how do I respond to future generations when they ask what I did while George W. and crew were succeeding in their agendas again and again?

I have the fortunate ability to have 1-on-1 conversations with French business people aged 30-50 on a weekly basis and I asked several of them what they thought. A lot of them nodded and agreed, offering the French youth as another example of such ambivalence. This did little to comfort me; what is going ON with people in their 20s?

It seems somehow appropriate that this post is going out on Election Day Eve. From this side of the world, it sounds like change could be coming for the U.S., but I am almost too gun-shy to believe it (enter Dick Cheney hunting joke here). Change, if it is coming, won't be coming this time from acoustic guitars and metaphors, but rather from a country weary of lies and war. The 60s are over and the Pussycat Dolls are probably not the country's best hope for inspiring political change. I'm all for the latest Ludacris and JT songs, but I think we can all agree that they aren't forward-thinking in the same way. The question thus presents itself: do folk singers still exist? And if so (for the sake of my generation), could we get them to sell their songs on I-tunes?


Picking on Pickler

When Matthew and I began working together last year, one of his first questions was if I watched American Idol, to which I responded "uh... NO." "Well, if we're going to be friends, you'll need to start watching it," he said. I therefore began watching American Idol for two reasons:

1. My desk faced his 8 hours per day and didn't want things to be awkward.
2. His fashion sense is stellar and he dresses like he just stepped off the set of Zoolander:

In any event, one of the things we liked to talk about the most (read: make fun of) was Kelly Pickler, the kind of girl that makes a bad name for other blonds, Americans, and human beings. The fact that this idiot stayed on the show for so long made me SO mad and it was a beautiful day when she was finally kicked off.

I thought my life could proceed without fear of ever hearing of this no-talent, bad-speller again, and look who just showed up on CNN.com:

American dream? Try American nightmare.


Paris Newsletter: Month Two

Dear Paris,

As I write this, I am wrapped up in a blanket and my Muhlenberg hoodie on the couch, a sure sign that October is over and winter is a-comin'. The past month has gotten progressively colder and has brought with it new wardrobe questions. What types of shoes do French women wear when it rains? When can I break out my suede boots and not look like an Eskimo? I've tried to take my fashion cues from the other metro riders, but how do you pull off wearing an evening gown with jeans and knee-high boots? French women do it. I watch in wonder.

October also brought our first house guest from the U.S., whose visit was significant enough to launch an entire marketing scheme around it. Goldfest '06! was a week of good food and using the hell out of our metro cards, as Goldie toured the city and I met up with her when I could. We're looking forward to Goldfest '07! when I'll be asking large corporations to sponsor the festivities...

Embracing the need to sing for my supper, I got myself a job teaching English to adults. As a result, I wear more professional clothes on a daily basis and don't feel as bad buying a chai at Starbucks once a week. I visited La Defense for the first time this month, which is a part of the city entirely dedicated to the big businesses in Paris. It was intimidating at first, especially when I was handed a 25 euro metro fine on my first day. I therefore showed up for my first class with pink eyes which I blamed on allergies (who has allergies in October?!? Obvious lie...) and am very happy to avoid La Defense and teach my permanent classes in central Paris.

A proud new owner of my Louvre card, I have already been there twice and like the organized-a-holic that I am, have started highlighting the Louvre map so I don't redo what I've already done. I like being able to spend a few hours at a time there; I feel less like a tourist and more inclined to take my time and enjoy the art. Aurel has also registered for his Louvre card, but has yet to receive it. He doesn't seem to mind though; when he's not in classes, he's almost always in front of his computer playing a variety of games that sound like wars or X-men cartoons. This is a hobby that I just don't get and it's scary to come home and find him sitting in the dark, his eyes sunken and robotic from hours of computer rays.

I myself prefer to spend my time outside before it gets too cold. The leaves are changing and falling here in muted colors, nothing close to an east-coast fall, but at least enough to give you the autumn feeling. Seeing old friends has been a major part of this month here in la France and I realize as I make new friends, Paris doesn't seem nearly as chilly as it did before.




Joey Potter: Classin' it up...

I'll admit it: the baby is cute. I am probably the last person on the face of the planet to finally read the Vanity Fair article about Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes and their Suri off-spring, but I couldn't resist flipping through the tattered copy in W.H. Smith on my way home yesterday. The article is well done and the photos are gorgeous; I can tell because I REALLY didn't like the idea of this family before I read the article and now, well, now I will at least make the effort not to mock them as often. It's strange to see the Joey Potter half-smile replaced by glowing Mother Mary rays...

I did really like Katie's jewelry, especially her earrings. They were very un-Joey-like and elegant in a simple way. It's just too bad that she doesn't have such classy taste in men...


Fun Fact 001: Unicorns and Virgins

I have decided to begin a new series on this blog, notably the Fun Fact Series. I happen to be a big supporter of the Fun Fact, a fact which is not well-known and most importantly, Random with a capital R. Today's FF comes from the Louvre, which I visited this afternoon.

Would you have the right to put this guy on your tomb?

The answer: ONLY IF YOU'RE A VIRGIN! Yes, the unicorn is a symbol of virginity, as only virgins have the ability to tame the wild unicorn. According to ABC news, only 3% of American adults are still virgins, which leaves some stiff competition for those hoping to major in unicorn taming (though I imagine that certain universities could offer full-time programs).

A full believer in anything that is written about in Harry Potter and SHOULD exist in the real world, I did a bit of research and found that unicorns may have existed, but were hunted to extinction in the 5th or 6th centuries B.C. That being said, research on the internet is always a bit iffy- especially when it comes to fairytale websites like this. Or this.


An Open Letter Regarding Goldfest '06!

Dear readers,

It has been suggested that the lack of photos depicting Goldfest 06! is an attempt to hide the truth. That Goldfest 06! is an illusion in my mind and I've spent the past week eating cheese and visiting tombs alone. How to prove that I've not gone bat-crazy? Perhaps a photo of Goldie and I in a garden?

If Goldie wasn't really here, would we be standing in my hallway getting ready for the ballet like THIS?

Or at a bar like THIS?

Goldie left earlier today to head off to Florence, where she'll spend the next week visiting Duomos instead of Cathedrales and eating mozarella instead of brie. Here are a few lessons I've learned from Goldfest 06!:

1. When Paris metro doors close, they really close. Despite the fact that half of Goldie may or may not still be on the platform.

2. Goldie's wedding will take place in the Opera Garnier. She may or may not be wearing point shoes at the time.

3. Beware of brand new pink Longchamp bags, as they easily attract the following: chocolate sauce, oil from chicken and cheese crepes, and bone dust from the catacombs.

Speaking of the catacombs, Goldfest 06! took a turn for the BEST by visiting the catacombs yesterday, located 19 meters below the streets of Paris. I am not sure how to describe the feeling of entering a tunnel piled 6 feet high with arm and leg bones and decorated with skulls. To put it blunty, it creeps the shit out of you. To be honest, I had been a bit worried about our nervous dispositions before the tour, so I was glad they acknowledged it on a poster:

Visiting the catacombs has been a Goldrick dream since last fall when she watched an ABC family special about them in which a man disappeared, leaving nothing but his camera and fading footsteps behind. We made it out alive, but not without leaving an inspiring message in the guestbook:

"Dreams do come true. Goldfest '06!"


Dry Bones Epting and CataGOLD.