Jessie Spano, I feel you.

I'm not the sibling that freaks out about school work. I never have been; I'm a responsible student, but I don't have the kind of academic breakdowns that the other Epting children do.

Katie went through a perfectionist streak in high school and was so tightly-wound that you could almost see her vibrating when she walked in a room. She stayed up all night working on projects; I distinctly remember my Mom being tired some days, having woken up at 4am to get Kate up to finish her homework.

Steve still goes through his crises at Muhlenberg, calling home at all hours of the night because he just CAN'T BE THE PRESIDENT OF EVERY CLUB AND STILL GET GOOD GRADES. I can just picture him pulling at his massive hair, making that face he makes when he feels that THE WORLD is against him and HOW could someone be TESTING him on CHEMISTRY in less than 18 hours?!?

After-school specials could be made about these two, starring Jessie Spano.

Apparently I avoided this CRAZY gene while in the womb (rest assured: I inherited my fair share of hypochondria), and am fairly easy-going about school stuff. I know it will get done and when I get a little stressed I think about how things could be much worse.

But this week was a rare exception; I had to write an entire commentaire composee in one night (Thursday) and was FREAKING OUT Steve-style. I only slept 2 hours and spent the rest of the time writing and re-writing my presentation, which was at 9am Friday morning. It didn't help much that my subject was "Memory, Forgetting and Fiction in Blanche ou l'Oubli"... a more vague and philosophical topic could not be found. So here I am, 2am Friday morning, writing sentences like:

"By writing a novel which is born from reality, Aragon renders the opposite of his life unforgettable. This is to say that he renders his and Elsa's lives forgettable, which has always been the goal of his book."

The teacher told me it was "tres bien," yet I suspect even she was lost in my analysis of such a vague topic (note: if you don't really know what you're talking about, I suppose the best idea is to leave your audience in the dust by using the word 'memory' in every sentence and writing things like "l'oubliable + la fiction = l'inoubliable" on the board before you begin. The math stuff really scares lit students...).

As a result of the FREAK OUT, I am currently a waste of space. I tried to work on GM'07 at Starbucks this morning, but my brain went into hibernation mode everytime I tried to write a sentence. I am therefore taking the night off and doing something different.

Like eating Nutella spread on anything I find in the cabinet.


The Lutheran Mother chimes in

"Hey Jen,

Your blog about taking the little boys into Notre Dame was very amusing! I just have one question! Since when is Jesus buried in Jerusalem ? I thought he was resurrected on Easter Sunday! Just a little something to think about! Maybe we should send you back to Sunday School or Confirmation class! Ha! Ha!


Just to clear a few things up. I KNOW what Easter is. And I think that, regardless of your religion, everyone basically believes that a guy named Jesus lived and died somewhere around Jerusalem. But I am not one to convince someone else's kids that he mysteriously came back to life and is now seated at the right hand of the Father. I figure that's their business so I kept it short and sweet (and a little incoherent).

Plus, I had no idea how to say "resurrection" in French.


It's time for a break when

you reread your last sentence and it sounds like this:

"Can we therefore suggest that the text we are reading has been therefore filtered by an unreliable narrator and therefore we are only reading one perspective of the story?"

Therefore three times in a sentence is NOT ACCEPTABLE, people.

I am trying to finish up the next installment of Grammar Mistakes '07 (which from this day forward will be the official name for The Thesis) today because the lovely Erica of Clermont will be visiting tomorrow for a couple days. Erica has proven to be a force to be reckoned with this spring and has not only stopped biting her nails, but has also started up Weight Watchers again. I will therefore welcome her with wide vegetable-loving open arms. Dating someone who brings home Starbucks muffins and carrot cake after work has not been doing wonders for my ass.


Ashes to Dustballs

The South American's (note: the new boyfriend) aunt and uncle are visiting Europe on their honeymoon and arrived in Paris this morning. Luckily, they speak English, seeing as how my Spanish is only useful when asking about the location of the bathroom and ordering quesadillas. Really.

While the SA was working this afternoon, some friends and I walked his family around the city and ended up at Notre Dame. One of these friends (Stephanie) is an au pair to twin 6-year old boys and brought the boys with us. I told one of the boys to hold my hand when we went inside the church and warned him that we would have to be quiet. "Yes," Steph said, "this is God's house."

So we get inside and there are herds of people milling through the church. I take one of the twins and we walk around, looking at the people praying and lighting candles and the statues.

Twin Boy: Where is God?
Me: Um... what do you mean?
TB: Where is he buried?
Me: Well, he's not really buried. Because he wasn't really a person... (realizing this is getting way too philosophical way too fast...)Actually, I don't know where he's buried. But Jesus is buried in Jerusalem, in Israel.
TB: But why can't we see him?
Me: Well, you know, Jesus died a long time ago, so his bones all turned into (searching frantically for the correct terms in French)... dust balls. Non!- soil; his body turned into soil.
TB: Soil?
Me: Yeah, you know, when you die, after a long, long time, your body turns into just your bones and then your bones turn into little pieces and then you become part of the soil. I mean, not the soil really, more like the earth.

Somewhere in Paris, you know that this kid is lying awake wondering how Jesus became soil, all because of the American and her lack of religious decomposition vocabulary.


Good with the Chemo, not as good with the Internet...

Mom: So what was that thing you published on your blog yesterday? About the North and the South...
Me: Well, did you read the article that I linked to at the bottom?
Mom: What article?
Me: You know, at the end, I say something like "shit like this" and it takes you to an article about how, at the same time that South Carolina is banning gay marriage, New Hampshire is on its way to approving it.
Mom: Is that what it means when the words are underlined in green?
Me: Yeah Mom, that's called a link. Click on it and everything will make sense.


Don't try to deny it - everyone loves a project at least once.

I'm not sure how to break this to you.

The North and South of the U.S. are in an unhealthy relationship.

They married young; the North pranced around with her curvy Appalachians and the South always had a five o'clock shadow and spoke with a drawl. They were hot for each other - and rightly so. They were defying their parents and kicking ass.

And then the North started doing some thinking; maybe she went to college and decided that African-American people were O.K. And the South didn't like that, he said "WOMAN, you'll listen to me or I'm leaving you for good!" And the North knew she probably deserved better than this pride-driven redneck, but (like most women), she always seemed to be attracted to project men. And she knew that, if she could get the South to stay, maybe she could change him, maybe she could turn him around and get him to admit that men could be barefoot in the kitchen while women became CEOs. And that gay people were just as normal as straight people.

Then Lincoln got involved and did some heavy-duty couple's counseling.

And many years later, the North was still embarrassed of the South at European dinner parties because his rude manners always overshadowed hers and he did stupid things like elect stupid people or build walls to separate himself from Mexico. Instead of being the North and the South, they received invitations addressed as a couple, to the U.S. And no one, not even Europe, remembered that the U.S. had differences anymore.

Sometimes the South would still charm her, like with Reese Witherspoon or fun songs to sing to when you're drinking. And the North felt hopeful that things could work out, that despite all their differences, they were good together.

And then you read shit like this and you want to sign the North up for a support group and get her the hell out of the relationship. STAT.


I speke French gud

Today I met with the director of my program to review the first two chapters of my thesis. And in not so many words, he told me that, while the content was strong, my written French makes me sound like a hillbilly.

This of course, sent me into a downward spiral that went from "la la la, I like the skirt I'm wearing today" to "to HELL with this language AND this country! ... ohhh shiiiiittt... what will become of my FUTURE!?!" This spiral took all of three seconds. And if you've ever studied a foreign language (particularly in a foreign country), you know how delicate a subject this is.

Being good at French grammar is a little like hitting a bull's eye with a dart when you're drunk. You know what you're there for, you're trying your best to play the game, but in the end, it's a total crap shoot. You could totally nail the subjunctive on one page and three pages later get it all tangled up again. Teachers tell you that there is no logical way to get better at grammar once you're at a certain level, though reading lots in French and surrounding yourself with French speakers are two ways to passively soak up the use of prepositions.

Guess what. I'm in a full-immersion program and I've had to read 1600+ pages of French literature this semester. Bite me, French teachers.

I have always felt strongly about doing my own work as well; though I had a French boyfriend for a while and still have numerous French friends that I could ask to look over my papers, I refuse because I know I would feel like a sham. If I'm going to go through the trouble of doing graduate work, I feel like I should, well, do the graduate work myself. Maybe this sounds prissy or snotty; I don't really care. There are certain things that I place importance on in my life and representing myself fairly in my work is one of them (adhering to the immersion pledge in a full-immersion program that is costing me 35 grand while 99% of the other students chat away in English is another one).

So now here I am, in my bed, after a good cry about the fact that I write as if I chew on straw for a living, about to tackle the long job of making these changes. Because if there's anything I can't resist, it's someone telling me I can't do something. And I guess I just have this idea that if I can pull this out of my ass, if I can correct the mistakes and maybe even figure out how to make less of them, I'll feel justified applying for a PhD next year. Because if and when the big "Dr." title ever comes into my life, I want to know that I earned it.

If it doesn't, at least I'll always be able to fall back on the less sophisticated, yet more accurate, "French grammar's bitch."


Making parties, not war

It's Monday morning and my fridge looks like it belongs in a frat house. I had a mega-party on Saturday night (note: mega-party is the translation for 25+ people in your small Paris apartment) and Heineken beers are overtaking the applesauce and brie on every shelf of the fridge. I find myself in the post-party complex: what to do with all the beers that are already cold and therefore un-moveable from their current position for fear of skunking?

We went to Paris Printemps last night, which is a little festival that celebrates spring by selling movie tickets for 3.50. We saw Letters from Iwo Jima, Clint Eastwood's film about WWII from the Japanese's point of view and it was GOOD. There were several parts where we laughed out loud, not because it's a funny film, but because it was just ridiculous seeing hundreds upon hundreds of American boats coming towards this little island, Iwo Jima. It seemed like slaughter and I was pissed that the Japanese government let their guys hang without reinforcements or weapons or even food by the end. And the overwhelming feeling I have, whenever I watch these types of films, is DAMN, WAR IS SO STUPID.

I checked cnn.com when I woke up, as is part of my usual routine, and there was a photo of American soldiers in Iraq on the front page. I just felt this dull sadness for them, that they're living that stuff everyday, and they can't get out of it, they can't go home. It makes me really angry that the government is sending our guys over there for something that has ended up proving to be pointless and ineffective. Whatever the decision-makers spout off, they're not the ones risking their lives everyday, wishing they could be home eating a peanut-butter sandwich instead of in a trench in Iraq.

Sorry for the bitterness... it just seems unfair that I was having a party in Paris on Saturday night and other Americans were spending another long night listening to gun shots and the like.


What good are

things like Fulbrights, good GPAs and varied work experiences in the field of FRENCH good for if you don't have the right passport?

Nada, my friends. Nada.

Today I had an interview for a job that I really wanted, that has to do with French-American relations and is located in central Paris and is sort of a dream come true. Except that I need to have valid EU working papers to get the job, which they failed to mention in the ad. And so I got all dressed up and took a metro ride to the 6th to be told that it looks like it won't work out.


And here is something that annoys me:
Me: Yeah, it's just a shame because I really think I'm right for the job!
Any Non-American: Oh, well you're American, I'm sure you don't need papers to work in France.

YOU WANNA BET? I think the entire world needs to take a deep breath and realize that although it seems like our McDonald's-creating, giving-gum-to-European-children-after-WWII, American selves should be able to get a job in Europe with the snap of our fingers, it is simply not so.

In protest of this bull, I'm going to eat some pasta with cream and lardons and do some Sudoku, which seems to be the two things I've become addicted to this week. I suppose the pasta isn't the best thing for my health (see: LARDons), but my Mom tells me that Sudoku helps prevent Alzheimer's. So at least there's that.

One year older, the wiser part is questionable...

My Mom says she was happy when she found out Katie was a girl; she wanted me to have a sister because she grew up with two brothers who fished and hunted small furry animals almost directly from the womb. I don't remember when Katie was born (I was only 2), but there are many photos at home that suggest that my feelings about a new sister were something like "um... I WOULD STILL like to be the one sleeping in the BASSINET. Please take that smelly thing back to the hospital she came from. Surely we were happy enough without it."

Those who meet the three of us generally react with: "OH MAN, you guys MUST be triplets!" which is either an insult to me (26) or Steve (19), we just can't figure out which. Looks aside, my sister and brother are the two people in the world who can make me laugh the most. We know what buttons to push to piss each other off and we have mastered the communication of "holy shit, I can't believe the people who SHOT our Thanksgiving turkey and are now spitting BBs onto their plates are RELATED to us" with one look. I miss both of them terribly in Paris, though it's fair enough to say that even when we were all stateside we didn't see each other very often either.

Today is Kate's 24th birthday and she'll be celebrating it at a conference in Togo. Far from the Betty Crocker birthday cakes my Mom is famous for, I'm sure she would appreciate some birthday wishes if anyone is feeling up to it. Happy birthday, Keena!


Which of these things is not like the others?

It's hard to believe, but it has been six months since my last escapade at the Paris Planned Parenthood and having not had enough of the antics, I made an appointment for this afternoon to get more FREE birth control. After last time's somewhat lengthy round table discussion with a small group of French teenagers, I figured that PP would assume that I'd had my fair share of contraceptive coverage information and promptly show me into the examination room for the traditional 10-minute check-up one requires.

Well, not so. Tonight when I walked into the office, I was shown to a different waiting room in which my new round table discussion group was waiting. "Hm... there must be some mistake," I thought to myself. "Surely they have mistaken me for someone who must once again hear about the needle-like contraption they want to stick in your arm for three years."

And yet, NO! Once again, the same woman launched into her speech while we were taken at a deathly slow pace to see the doctor. All in all, I sat there for over TWO HOURS listening to this woman talk about how comfortable female condoms are and how exactly to put in a diaphragm. At least this time my round table discussion group was a bit closer to my age (which I attributed to the fact that it was after work and the other sex-driven middle-schoolers had to be home for dinner by this time), so I did not feel as much like a grandmother.

THIS, however is not today's story.

On the way home from this shindig, I stopped by Franprix to pick up some groceries. Franprix has a problem with the way they run their check-out counters; the areas in which the already scanned food goes are so small that there is always a frantic rush to shove things in bags while the checker is waiting for the card to go through. Because let me tell you- once she moves on to the next customer, she starts shoving his groceries on top of yours and soon enough you end up going home with someone else's questionable choice of sausages.

So last night I try to sneakily shove my chicken and Top Choco cereal in plastic bags before she even gets at my card, which just makes her more agitated and she insists on my payment MAINTENANT. So in the rush and mess of groceries, I reach into my bag for my wallet.

And then.

A hurricane of condoms comes flying out of my bag and falls onto the beltway and are quickly transported down the counter towards my innocent broccoli. NOT ONLY are five male condoms now between the checker and me, but the GODDAMN female condom that the PP woman made me take (which is the size of a small circus tent) lands on top.

It's 7pm and everyone and their French mom is behind me on the line buying smelly cheese. So I say the only thing that could possibly slip me under the wire from HEY I WORK FOR MOULIN ROUGE, WHO NEEDS AN APPOINTMENT? to PLEASE LAUGH WITH ME BECAUSE I'M A FOREIGNER.

"Oh. My. God." In English. And people hear the accent and sort of smile or smirk but this gives me enough room to roll my eyes, pay, and RUN out of Franprix before I melt into a puddle of American embarrassment.

And I can't help thinking that, the older I get, the more my life resembles a Parisian version of Fred Savage's Wonder Years.


WHO invents this stuff?

The Mom's birthday is coming up later this week and I've spent a good amount of time trying to decide what to get for her. A French beret? SO study abroad 2001! Maybe some French pottery? SO Christmas 2003! What do you do when you're already purchased a country's finest cheesy traditional gifts?

I decided to take my search to the Internet, which is sometimes the best way of shopping because:
1. You don't have to take the metro
2. You can do it while sitting in your pajamas and eating fresh-from-the-oven pumpkin pie.

And because my Mom is having a little trouble with the idea that all three of her offspring may be out of the country next year, I did a couple of funny searches to see what would come up. And here comes the lunacy.

Maybe we could buy three pairs so she could snuggle up to them at night. Six specially-weighted creepy hands to remind her of her offspring.

Or maybe I could just send flowers.


Plus sized cows and a Warhol

I just had a dream that I was back in New York in Sarah Mclo's apartment and she was showing me the new Warhol she bought (huh?!). My other friends were there, sort of milling around the apartment and all of a sudden 5 new girls walk in and I feel really left out of their jokes . It's pretty clear that I'm a little worried about my friendships in NY if I decide to stay next year... and that Sarah Mclo has fabulous art taste even in dreams.

I hadn't seen Leigh since Christmas and after I finished telling a particularly funny story about the past 8 weeks, she said "JEN, you don't talk about ANY of this on your blog!" Which was true.

I do feel like this blog has gotten filler-ish in the past few weeks, not because nothing's going on in my life, but because EVERYTHING is going on in my life (exes, new boys, family problems, future problems, you name it) and I don't know if I'm allowed to write about people like that. Like, what if I told you that the ex invited a dinner date over for his last night in the apartment (which I walked in on in true SATC timing)? That after seven weeks of broken-up living together and bickering (not to mention a year and a half long relationship) , the whole thing ended on such a weird note. That I didn't flip out or even really address the situation because:
1. it wasn't worth it to have the three billionth fight when the end was so near and
2. I have someone new in my life too.

You see the drama? Have you called the producers of the Young and the Restless yet?

Said ex and his father are coming in a few hours to move the rest of his stuff out and so I'm headed out to Starbucks and perhaps the "Hall of Agriculture" exposition later on today. One of my students explained it to me yesterday: "It is amazing. They have the biggest and beautifulest cows in all of the France." Which is to say, the plus size models of French cows will be on display today along with free cheese. Pictures to follow, of course.

PS. Thanks to whoever recommended "How Come" by Ray LaMontagne in the comments section... I'm loving this folksy song...


"It was 2003. No one had jobs. And no one knew where their lives were going."

Thus ensued last night's booze-fest with THE LEIGH, who stopped by Paris for the night to pick up her friend Mike and moved on this morning to go to a Dolly Parton concert in Norway. Say it with me folks: COOOOOOOOOOL as shit.

Mike and I agreed that Hippopotamus was the ideal dining experience for Leigh. The Hippo's logo is a big purple elephant. Think Barney meets the Paris Opera. And because I know THE LEIGH from such places as Muhlenberg and the Thunder from Down Under male strip show in Vegas, I was not surprised when she came to the culinary capital of the world and ordered a plate of French Fries. And drinks. Lots of drinks.

It may be almost 4 years since we graduated (this sentence makes me want to pass out), but the girl still knows how to crack me up while discussing a mix of politics and Gordon Street Jungle Juice. Plus, we have other things in common- as of this summer, we're both going to be MASTERS.


Shouldn't we just call it "the year every 2003 Muhlenberg grad visited Paris"?

I bet you can't guess who I'll be having girly drinks and fried food with in about an hour... pictures to follow. FOR SURE.


About 20 years in advance...

French television has been shit lately, and tonight I found myself wrapping Kate's birthday gifts while watching a talk show with adolescents and their parents. Talking about sex. And condoms. AND THE MORNING-AFTER PILL THAT FRENCH KIDS ARE TAKING LIKE FLINTSTONES VITAMINS.

I suppose it is telling that instead of feeling closer to the teenagers' side, I was feeling more what the parents were saying... and it made me think about the moment one day when I have to worry about my daughter getting pregnant at 15. Or worrying about my son getting someone pregnant and paying child support from the money he earns on his paper route.

And that REALLY made me want to adopt a puppy, because at least they can be fixed.


You knew I'd sneak Kelly Clarkson in at some point...

I've had the most relaxing (see: unproductive) weekend than I've had in a while, complete with a haircut, new jeans, and even a three-hour nap. This morning I woke up to gorgeous Paris sun, the knowledge that it's the first Sunday of the month (free museums!) and the best of intentions to hit up some art, as well as making a huge dent in the shitload of work that is staring me in the face.

So much for that.

This morning Erica sent me the link to a blog she'd happened upon and I proceeded to spend the ENTIRE day reading it. I justify this by telling myself that I've done the same things with books (fall into a story and just can't get out of it for the next six hours) and that well-written blogs could fall into a similar category. I had every reason to leave the house, to enjoy the weather, to see free art, but I stayed here, in my bathrobe with my pretzels, sometimes laughing but mostly crying about how strange life is and being moved for someone I've never met before.

What can I say? It released some shit.

It made me feel like life is short and I spend so much time worrying about what's coming up in the next 5 years and what's been going on for the past five months. Maybe I need to do less of that. Maybe I need to do a little more Kelly Clarkson Miss Independenting, or at least a little Edith Piaf Je ne regrette riening.

This is the year of NTAS, afterall.


Paris Newsletter: Month Six

Dear Paris,
I can hardly believe that it's time to write another one of these, but it's official: I've now been living here for 6 months. And much like toilet paper on the floor of bathroom stalls or double-sided tape, Paris has gotten stuck to the bottom of my shoes and is wrapping itself around me.

I've spent a lot of time on the thesis this month and it's proving to be the most difficult thing I've ever written. Writing about Andre Gide is like coming upon a wild horse in the wild west and deciding it would be a good idea to ride him calmly to the next town. Not gonna happen. I can't tell you how many hours I've spent at Starbucks this past month, lips twisted doubtfully, writing and rewriting what I hope is fair to say about a book that makes me excited and scared at the same time.

And though I did take a quick jaunt to Prague this month, I feel much more like I got on a plane to South America at times. I spent last Saturday night with some lovable new Hispanic friends and I swear there was more Spanish immersion going on than the Middlebury Spanish summer school. I had no idea there were so many Colombians and Mexicans sharing the "foreigner" status with me in this city. Nor did I have any idea that tango and salsa are dances that come from specific countries. Spanish speaker is not equivalent to tango dancer, apparently.

Maddy and I went out the other night to a bar near the canal, which in all ways looked and acted like it should be located in Brooklyn. I didn't have cash (as usual) and asked to pay by card; the guy said the minimum was 15 euros and so I figured 2 or 3 beers should do the trick. Four beers later, he tells me I only need 3 more euros (see: one beer) to use my card. So I down a fifth and he gives us complimentary shots for being good sports. Needless to say, it has been a long time since I've been hungover on a Thursday morning, but getting wasted near a canal in a Brooklyn-ish bar with two British girls is a rare opportunity for 15 euros.

I re-watched Before Sunrise and Before Sunset the other night and I don't know if it's that or the nice couple of days we've just had here, but I guess the idea of staying another year is creeping into my head. I guess I'm just not sure if I'm ready to leave all of this; a year seems ridiculously short when you've made it halfway...