2.27.2007

Rules and regulations

Me: Are you wearing two different socks?
Agnes: Ah, yeah, I really have to do laundry. I was just saying to someone that you know that it's time to do laundry when you don't have anymore thongs left and you have to wear big granny underwear.
Me: Oh, that's not even bad. The granny underwear is only the middle step- you know you really have to do laundry when you've finished the grannies and you're onto the painful thongs that came with lingerie sets years ago.
Agnes: That's right, the only thing worse than the grannies is moving on to the prostitutional underwear category.
Me: And THAT's when you know it's time to do laundry.

2.26.2007

Congrats! You're in week seven...

I went on a joining spree about seven weeks ago to attempt to negate the complications happening here in this ole apartment. I've mentioned this before- the language clubs, the writer's ateliers, etc. What I have not mentioned is that I also re-enlisted in the entirely free service of "Body by Glamour," which is an 8-week Internet diary in which you record your daily exercise and everything you eat. I think I was feeling fat after eating 3 bowls of chex mix (see: PURE BUTTER and some onion salt) per day over the Christmas break.

I was good the first week; I recorded everything and even went out of my way to walk an extra half hour so I would have something to report to the exercise gurus at Glamour.com.

And yet sometimes dreams die.

This afternoon I received an email from glamour.com with the subject line: "Congrats! You're in week seven..." There is no need for the Internet to send me false congratulations, knowing very well that I haven't recorded walking 30 minutes at a moderate pace in 5 1/2 weeks. This email was like the girl in your lit class who asks "so how many pages did you read this weekend?" and waits to hear that instead of reading what you should have, you spent the weekend watching Sex and the City reruns. The only subject line more insulting would have been "hey FAT ASS, good idea dropping the program, you could have lost 10 lbs by now!"

So I am (for the second time, I'll admit) a body by glamour drop-out. But what glamour.com doesn't know is that I've also spent the past 5 1/2 weeks drinking chai for lunch and not having much of an appetite. Oh, and walking up and down those 5 Parisien flights which I so missed in New York. So though I'm an admittedly more stressed person than before, my skinny pants fit again. Take THAT, week seven!

2.25.2007

Well, I guess I did.

Erica: Yeah, it's been warm here. I think spring is coming.
Me: Oh, it's so bi-polar in Paris. One second it's all rainy and storm clouds and literally three minutes later there's sunshine and blue skies. It's really... you don't know what's coming. It's like living with an alcoholic mother.
Erica: Wait, did you just compare Paris' weather to having an alcoholic mother?

Involuntary Exercise

Missing the last metro and walking one hour in the rain at 2am . Good one.

2.23.2007

Fun Fact 004: Prague Special

When I was in 6th grade, I did a report on Czechoslovakia. Sometime in between 6th grade and today, one country became two. That's about all I knew when I got off the plane in Prague last Friday. Here's what I learned:

Franz Kafka: Who knew Kafka came from Prague?!? Not I. Sir Kafka was born and lived in Prague most of his life; though he tried to leave a couple times, he always returned. He grew up a Czech Jew, but did not live in the Jewish quarter. Many of his themes of abandonment and paranoia come directly from the winding streets of Praha. The Kafka museum in Prague isn't worth it, though it is housed in the building where Franz was born.


Alfons Mucha: The Mucha museum, on the other hand, is TOTALLY worth it. I was lukewarm and Susanne said "you know this artist, you just don't know that you do until you see him." And she was right. His art is so different than, well, everything. He spent the first half of his career creating posters, especially in Paris. Legend has it that Mucha was working in a printing shop on Christmas Eve and the famous French actress Sarah Bernhardt called, needing a poster for her theater opening ASAP. Mucha's boss threw him the assignment because he was the only one there, and he became a celebrity overnight. Bernhardt signed him for a 6-year contract and therefore every time she was playing in a show, there was a whole additional marketing element, as everyone wanted to see what Mucha would come up with next. The second half of career was dedicated to helping his country; he designed money, medals, posters, you name it. He's credited with starting the Art Nouveau movement. I bought a gorgeous poster to hang in the salon.


Wenceslas Square: This was the first place I saw in Prague; I popped out of the Metro and saw the enormous square (it's actually more like a rectangle) and immediately started humming the Christmas song. Admit it- you know the song, but not the lyrics. Me neither. Anyway, Wenceslas is the Patron Saint of the Czech Republic, and the square has seen no fewer than 5 revolutions.

The Charles Bridge: Probably the most popular place to ask someone's hand in marriage, it's that mood-setting. The bridge features a whole bunch of statues who look down on you as you walk across the Vtalva river. One of the statues marks the spot where King Wenceslas IV threw a priest off the bridge for refusing to divulge the Queen's confessions!



1968: After WWII, the Czech Republic region kind of became Europe's bitch. Everybody and their mom wandered into this country and occupied it- including Hitler and communism- and in 1968, Russian troops occupied the communist country (at the time Czechoslovakia). Susanne and I watched a hilarious and charming Czech film, Pelisky, which you should absolutely check out. It's like the Wonder Years meets Amelie meets communism.

The Velvet Revolution: So as the Berlin wall is falling in 1989, the Czech people have been having demonstration after demonstration, protesting the communist government. In a non-violent revolution (called the Velvet revolution because of its peacefulness), the Czech people succeeded in overthrowing the government. Communist governments were falling like dominoes and democratic elections were first held in 1990.

The Museum of Communism: I'm an American. So, communism is bad. In fact, until about 3 years ago, I didn't know anyone was allowed to go to Cuba.

French friend: Man, I'd love to go to Cuba for vacation.
Me: What! Cuba?? What could they have to offer? Missiles?
FF: Um, only gorgeous beaches and stunning views.

I felt like one of those horses with a blinder strapped to my head. Cuba- who knew?
Anyway, back to the subject. While Americans were learning that communists wore red and were going to TAKE OVER THE PLANET!, communists were learning that Americans were, well, attempting to do the same thing. Minus the red. Here is a poster from the museum that says "No American agent shall get through our village!" Hysterical.


If you're planning a trip to Prague, I'd love to recommend a cozy and charming Tea Room in the center of town... drop an email and I'll hook you up with directions.

2.21.2007

Kate en Afrique

I promise to get back on the Prague wagon tomorrow, but just wanted to drop a link to an article about my sister. Kate is doing the Peace Corps in Togo and so far is doing well, what with the fleas and incessant stomach viruses. I hear through the grapevine (see: Mom) that she adopted a puppy the other day from someone in her village. Manu was just old enough to leave his mother, but apparently he cried for her the entire first night. I may be the one with running water, but damn, what I wouldn't give for a puppy right about now...

2.20.2007

Prague '07

My weekend in Prague was unforgettable, and that's not because of the fever-induced hallucinations that were happening either. Although the idea of poking around in castles and synagogues was more than enough motivation to head over to the Czech Republic, I was also visiting Susanne, my old apartment-mate from the good old days in Clermont-Ferrand. And let me tell you, my friends, there is a huge difference between traveling to see a place and traveling to see a friend.Susanne is doing an internship in Prague for a couple of months and spent last semester learning Czech in Brno, a city that doesn't look pronounceable, yet somehow is. Sus did most of the communicating, though I chimed in a couple of times. My desire to thank people in Czech always produced 30 seconds of uncomfortable silence, wherein I looked as if I had an important message to deliver from the Pentagon and the waiter/salesperson grew more and more interested to know what was going to fall out of my mouth. To their credit, when a simple "thank-you" was the only sound produced, the Czech people responded with big smiles, though I can't be sure if they were happy to hear an American making the effort, or smirking because they had something to write about on their blogs that night.




As usual, this trip to Prague left me feeling even more ignorant about the world, precisely because I learned so much about the Czech Republic and communism and a country of people who have been existing without me knowing much about them. It was a beautiful, charming, yet touristy city; the buildings are colorful, the people are friendly- and the beer. Ohh, the beer. Well, let's just say it's 100 times better than meat topped with whipped cream, which was my first of many meat-based meals.


Stay tuned for a special Fun Fact Prague edition, where the mysteries of Kafka, Mucha and why communism went down in 1989 are solved.

Be out of the bed quickly!

I cancelled my classes today because I'm recovering from a head-cold-made-worse-by-the-Prague-cold weekend. One of my students emailed me to tell me he was disappointed to miss our weekly class today; he ended his email with the very charming "be out of the bed quickly!" line... while it may not speak loads about my teaching skills (I swear, we have never covered "get well" expressions), it does speak to their desire to communicate!

Coming soon, a whole series of Prague posts. For the moment though, I'll leave you with this shot while I focus on unblocking my ears from yesterday's flight...

2.15.2007

Irony

I spent some of last night reading through easy phrases in Czech so that I'm armed with some type of linguistic strategy when I show up in Prague later this morning. I was getting pretty good at one in particular- "how much does this cost?" - and then I realized. I can ask that question all I want.

But, having skipped the chapter on numbers, I won't understand the answer.

Here's to a weekend of unanswered questions and good times in Prague...

2.14.2007

I'm lovin' it

I thought long and hard about what I wanted to post today, seeing as how's it's Valentine's Day and all, but I really don't have anything to say.

Maybe except for this:

If you're in love with someone, enjoy it. If you're not, enjoy it. Don't feel bad for not being in the first category. Love the fact that you can make weekend plans without checking with anyone else and eat dinner anytime you want.

Because this being single stuff? It's not half bad.

2.12.2007

The Next Generation

I spent yesterday afternoon at Celine's with Ricky, Severine and their baby, Julianne. One of the topics of discussion was Al Gore's movie, An Inconvenient Truth. I haven't seen this one yet and I have a feeling it's going to push me way over the edge, to a place where I only wear hemp and refuse to travel the city by any means other than a skateboard.

I asked Severine how much it changed her life and she said 10/10... so much so that she bought a new bike with a baby seat for Julianne so she can avoid using her car. It's amazing to think that our generation are going to be so much more aware of things like global warming and that we'll keep all this in mind when raising our own kids. Julianne will grow up in a house where her parents make conscious choices about the environment, and while some families may have lived like this for a while, it clearly hasn't been enough.

So without any further ado, here are the first pix of Ms. Julianne, cyclist extraordinaire and next-generation kid...




2.09.2007

Surprised I haven't grown a mustache by now...

When you're a foreigner living in a foreign country, it's easy to make obvious mistakes. Once while visiting the town pool in Clermont, I realized that everyone in the locker room around me was male. And yet it didn't occur to me what the problem was until I went back into the men's locker room post-swim. Even after realizing it, I had to retrieve my clothes from a locker. That was the worst part- the knowing that you're doing something embarrassing but can't avoid it because you left your underwear in a locker surrounded by penises.

This morning I went into the company where I normally teach and waved at the woman at the welcome desk. "I'm just running to the bathroom, then I'll come right back for the visitor badge," I said. "Wait, here's the key!" she called out and I stopped in my tracks.

Key?

I've been working in this company since October. I have, on occasion, frequented the toilets on the ground floor (the very toilets I was headed to this morning). I have noticed that one toilet is always locked and one is always open. The one that is always open is usually pretty gross.

I should say that the women who work at the welcome desk are all extremely nice, yet also very thin and pale and sort of look like drug addicts. Though I never took the time to think it through, I think that there is some part of me that believed that the women that work at the welcome desk were doing drugs in the locked bathroom. It is absolutely illogical, but there it is.

And so today, when she offered me the key to the locked bathroom, I didn't know how to react.

Me: What do you mean, key?
Welcome Woman: For the ladies' bathroom.
Me: I've never used a key before...
WW: Well how did you get it? It's always locked- we keep it locked because the men make such a mess of theirs.
Me: Um. Not quite sure how to say this and keep any dignity intact, but... I suppose I've been using the men's bathroom all this time.
WW howls with laughter. I take the key and slink off to the "ladies' room" (see: former drug lair). For the first time, I notice pictures of a lady and a man on each door.

All goes to prove that living in a foreign country really throws off your ability to read pictograms.

2.07.2007

Paris Graffiti


I never wrote in my books before college. I had a pretty sacred point of view on anything that had both an author and a spine and I remember thinking that I could never mark up something as holy as The Catcher in the Rye. I also didn't drink beer back then. Things change.

Much like any habit, I started slowly, making small asterisks in the margins or underlining key words. I can now compete with the best of the crack-addict-book-markers out there. I can't read anything without writing what I think next to it, how it connects to other things I've read, marking "ha!" when something strikes me as hilarious. These markings aren't just to help me think functionally about whatever I'm reading, but they serve as photographs to jive my memory when I come back to a book months later. My copy of Dubliners is majorly tattooed from a Rosenwasser class and Milton's Paradise Lost looks like a black pen took itself to therapy within its pages.

Most books remind me of places as well. I remember reading Siddhartha for the first time on a trip to San Francisco. A Farewell to Arms reminds me of the year I spent in Clermont-Ferrand. And Marguerite Duras' The Lover will always carry the image of a conference room in Moyer Hall, where I re-read it at least 5 times while writing a final paper.

Today I realized that I've been marking Paris too. I'm not running around with a can of spray paint, but I've now lived here long enough that metro stops mean something. Bourse means teaching English, Censier-Daubenton means French education and Brochant means my friend Blythe.

Paris is a big enough place that it takes you a good couple of months to start making real memories, to start feeling like it's really your city. And I feel really lucky to have these images, to know that one day someone will ask me what Paris is like and I will really be able to answer. Because somewhere between reading Proust, living 5 flights up and somehow always taking metro 14 in the wrong direction, Paris has become home.

2.06.2007

Dear Diary, I'm large-minded

I met someone last week, a writing someone, and she chuckled when I mentioned that I had a blog and said something like "oh, a diary that you let other people read?" and I wanted to punch her in the face. Because though I may drop in a clever little link once in a while referring to personal stuff, there are plenty of personal things going down that I don't mention because a girl can't give it all up in 11 point font.

There are exceptions, such as some former housemates.

This afternoon I took some time for myself and, instead of reading some tough lit, perused some blogs. Certain bloggers linked to others and I stumbled upon an entire group of women bloggers who were writing about personal subjects- notably, their infertility problems. As I read their stories, I really felt for them. Someone close to me is dealing with an unforeseen pregnancy, one that is kind of wreaking havoc on many people and changing the ways these people think about their futures. It doesn't quite seem fair that so many women are hoping for babies every moment of every day and somewhere far away, unwanted babies are conceived with ease.

One of the bloggers wrote about a time when she was a little lost and mentioned playing a game with her dictionary. She called it "magpies" and the rule is to sort of think deeply or meditate about a question or subject with a dictionary in hand. At some point, she opens the dictionary to where it feels natural and allows her finger to move to a spot on the page. Then she opens her eyes. Her story about what she found is pretty cool- you can read about it here.

I've been having a lot of trouble sleeping lately and (as I've mentioned before) have some pretty out-of-control circles going on under my eyes. I know that it's a result of having lots of stuff going on upstairs, so tonight I thought I'd try this dictionary game. Without going into too much detail, I'll tell you that I was thinking about what I'm supposed to be doing right now (see: creatively, as a person, in my future, etc.) and I smiled when I opened my eyes and saw my answer: large-minded.

At least I'm consistent with my inability to specify.

I'd be curious to know if any of you try this and what you fall upon... feel free to share if you do.

2.04.2007

Because everybody needs a little Pablo sometimes...

"So don't arouse my anger... FOOL"

The birthday celebration FINALLY went down last night (I know, I know, this is the birthday that WOULD. NOT. DIE.) at a fun bar in the 11th. After a champagne pre-game and then enough drinks to get me to accept a dance-off challenge on a chair (ok, that's like 2 drinks, I'm always up for dancing at high elevations), I woke up an hour ago with my hair plastered across my face and my eye makeup on my chin.

Say it with me now: claaaass-y.

I would like to send a birthday shout-out to Pierre, who was also celebrating his birthday last night at the Mecano, and who looked like someone beat his face as a birthday surprise. I was drunk enough to ask him why he had so many stitches, but was too distracted by the 90's playlist (Gangsta's Paradise, yesss...) to care.

I'm slowly willing myself to get in the shower because this afternoon's adventures include a visit to the Picasso museum (it's free museum Sunday, people!) and I obviously can't wear flannel pajamas to the Marais, even if they are from Victoria's Secret.

2.01.2007

Paris Newsletter: Month Five

Dear Paris,

Because I've been resisting taking a Civilisation credit, I'm now in a business French class that meets two nights per week. I attempted some of the homework this afternoon and the recurring theme was something like "WHAT THE HELL am I doing in this class? Purchasing power? International contracts? This better come in useful in a future novel..." A heavy cloud of "going to have to suck it up" descended upon me during the two-hour class last night. It is, however, the least of the problems that January 2007 threw at me.

At least we can finally celebrate the end of January (otherwise known as SUCKuary). I purposely waited to write this newsletter until we were a couple days into February, a bit afraid that January would rear its ugly head and reclaim another couple days of hell. Blythe was right the other night when she said "Paris is gray lately" (and it's NOT just that I got Photoshop and have been playing with my grayscales...). The sky, the temperatures, my finances... Paris has grown distant and pale over the past month. I haven't felt as alone as I felt this January in a long, long time. My apartment has become a negotiating type of space, one which I try to avoid at times to give Aurel some time alone. I am forever grateful to the couple of friends who have invited me weekly for tea or dinner; without somewhere to go, a plan for the afternoon, rolling out of bed was a little unimaginable for a while.
But things are looking up for February. I will be visiting Susanne for a long weekend to compare the grayness of Paris to the gray COLDNESS (and charm) of Prague. I fell into a group of very international friends at Paris III, a most unlikely friend-breeding ground, and am enjoying learning about Budapest over lunch or Munich while waiting for class to start. I joined groups like the JOINER that I am, meet-ups that write, clubs that speak in different languages, crowds that visit museums. And in many ways, this act of joining, this spirit of communistic seeking-of-others, has helped me feel a little more ready to face February. So bring it on.


Bisous,

Jen