Friday, October 31, 2008

Why three proper nouns does not a good movie make

There's not much good I can say about Vicky Christina Barcelona. No, that's not entirely true; it's a beautiful movie with beautiful people, and with the collective attractiveness of Scarlett Johanssen, Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, and even that random brunette chick, you could probably power a small town for at least a month. (If scientists ever manage to harness the power of white teeth, perfect skin, pouty lips and high cheekbones, that is). Other than that, though, it doesn't have much going for it: the narration is annoying, the climax disappointingly anti-climactic, and the ending suggests that the whole movie might as well never have happened. There was, however, one moment in particular that made me gnash my teeth in fury, and that was when the random brunette chick (who conveniently enough is also a member of the pouty lips/high cheekbone club) announces that she is writing her thesis on Catalan identity, and then several scenes later guilelessly admits that she doesn't speak Spanish. Oh! Well, it's ok, I'm sure all the really good source documents on Catalan identity are written in English, anyway. No problem! If only I had known, I would have done my Master's in French literature in English! Because, you know, what difference does it make? I mean, who needs to actually speak the language of the area one is studying in precise, tedious detail at a doctoral level? Pish! Oh is painfully obvious that you never accomplished much in the way of higher education. And that's ok! Obviously you've done pretty well for yourself. But you must have at least known someone at some point in your life who has done some sort of graduate work in the humanities. A friend of a friend, maybe? Maybe you read a book once, about a graduate student? No? Well let me clue you in on how it works. Trust me when I say that if one was to write a thesis on the subject of Catalan identity (which, to me, already sounds made up, and were this a real thesis would read more like The role of the medieval church in the development of modern Catalan identity, or something as equally specific in a sort of who-gives-a-shit kind of way), not only would one be fluent or nearly so in Spanish, but one would also spend one's nights poring over Spanish-Catalan dictionaries and texts until one had succeeded in teaching oneself Catalan, too. But then again, perhaps what is nice about Woody Allen's films is that they portray a simpler world, in which one is free to pursue whatever esoteric topic in acaedemia one chooses, regardless of background or qualifications, and where teeth are naturally white and impervious to the ravages of coffee, red wine, and cigarettes, all of which are consumed in copious amounts. It is, indeed, a simpler world, in which the characters' likes and dislikes are easily definable and dictated by an annoyingly-voiced narrator, and identities are worn as awkwardly as costumes. You say that you're a bohemian? Well, you've joined a ménage-à-trois and you stay up nights sipping coffee and scribbling "poetry," so you must be! Pick up a film camera and start taking photos, and voilà! You're a "photographer!" It is a world in which the over privileged and perfectly-coiffed spend an hour and a half trying to convince you that you should care about their first-world problems, and then abruptly pull the plug, saying, "Problems? What problems? I'm going to forget that any of this ever happened, and so should you." And you will, because you will have no choice, because ultimately, it is just not that memorable a movie. Vicky? Christina? Who? The strangeness of the title is the first clue, and it should thus come as no surprise that a title with no verb means a movie where nothing ever happens.

I did take one thing from this movie, however. I have two weeks of vacation coming up in February, and now I know exactly where I'm going to go. And I may not attend gallery openings or be whisked away to romantic destinations on private jets by handsome strangers, but I will drink good wine and I will eat good food, and I sure as hell will remember it once it's over.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why I wish online dating came with Spam filters

Several weeks back into the world of online dating, and I'm suddenly reminded again of how much crap you have to wade through just to get to someone remotely dateable. (Forget about all the frogs you have to kiss before you find your prince; what no one ever tells you about are all the leeches you have to first pick off your body as you slog through the swamps looking for the damn frogs). I've written about this before, and I'm sure it won't be the last time, but in the vein of full disclosure, I present to you Letters from Leeches: An Online Correspondence.

In the first category we have the foreign leeches, who actually make up roughly 95% of all leech correspondence. These leeches can generally be identified by the fulfillment of any one of the following requirements: a) their place of residence is anywhere from several hundred to several thousand miles away (and as a general rule, the farther away they live, the more excited they are to correspond with you), b) they are looking for their "soul mate," a "forever relationship," their "best friend," or some combination of the three (and apparently have lost hope of finding such a person within the narrow confines of their own city/country/continent), and c) their deplorable lack of understanding of the intricacies of the English language.

And now, some examples of what you may expect when corresponding with foreign leeches:

31 m Brazil

how are u ? nd ur beautiful family ? u know u are nice so much ?
i´d like have a contact with u , of course , if u want too .
well , i see u like soccer too , but i stay happy .
i search find an american woman , but could be u , of course , i think u´re an France woman . in the case , i admire the france , italian and , of course , the usa too .
u´re so nice , sweet nd sexy , u know that ?
can i know more about u ? if u want know more about me , but ask me i´ll go answer all . i wait a email come to u princess .

I can't decide which part of this e-mail is my favorite; whether it's i think u're an France woman (always nice to be mistaken for an France woman), or if it's u know u are nice so much? or if it's the uber-delightful nonsequitur, i see u like soccer too, but i stay happy. I kind of want to put the last two on a t-shirt.

25 m Netherlands

hi how are u i wish u are good im from egypt graduate from college live in holland now i like to talk with u and know u more im honest and serious lets talk and who is know what will happen may be we complete each other thx and sorry if i annoy

This leech at least seems marginally polite, although apparently his fear of annoyance did not prevent him from sending me the same e-mail again when his first did not elicit a response. And I understand that English is not everyone's first language, but even in Egypt they must surely have punctuation, no? Am I wrong? Although I guess he is not entirely to blame as apparently all the English he knows he learned from watching Jerry Maguire. But alas, his penchant for cheesy movie lines means that we will never know if we do, indeed, complete each other.

37 m Thailand

hi, i was searching through this site and come across ur profile and it comes to my liking then i decide to write u to let u know that i'm interested in u. i'm william from congo, but live in thailand now. i'm honest and sincere like u said. i will like to make an intimate relationship with u. meanwhile i'll be vary grateful to see ur positive reply to me.

Well, William, thank you for trying to pretend that you've actually read my profile, however I think you may have me confused with someone else. Honest and sincere? Blech, ew, who wants that? But I can see how it would be easy to confuse that with my one stated requirement of someone who lives within 25 miles of me. Thanks, but I'll pass.

31 m Côte d'Ivoire

my dear,
i hope you are having a nice day,my name is Erick,i am from westhern part of africa,Cote d have a nice profile which interests me,i believe we will be good dear can i trust you,i need some one i will trust and call him my own,i need a trust worthy person.tell me about yourself.i believe so much in honesty..i am on my serious searching for a friend, partner or lover,. i am a single forward man with full of love and romatic...reach me with my email... [redacted] i am hoping to hear from you.your friend erick

All his talk of trust (three times in once sentence) leads me to believe that his next e-mail will detail a sad story involving a large sum of money left to him by his dead grandfather that he will not be able to access unless he can deposit it directly in my account, and would I please be so kind as to forward to him my bank account, social security number, and my mother's maiden name. Thanks but no, Erick, and good luck to you in your search for a "trustworthy partner."

27 m England

To live a life i need heartbeat, 2 have heartbeat i need a heart, 2 have heart i need happiness, to have happiness i need a friend, and 4 a friend i need U.ALWAYS

Umm, no thanks, but if I ever need someone to sign my yearbook I'll look you up.

24 m Turkey

come on you cant be real,what a cuteness is this:)

This one at least made me smile. What a cuteness is this!

31 m France

Hi pincess

i am new in france couple with my little undrestandin,g of french and my resolve meeting the like minds i ll like to ve you has my friend

While this leech actually lives in France, I've included it in the foreign leech category for its delightfully head-scratching huh? factor.

Which brings us to our next category, the French leech. The French leech differs from the foreign leech in that his motives are geared neither towards best friendship nor soul matehood. So what are the motives of the French leech? It depends. Sometimes they are easily determined, and sometimes you have to read between the lines, and then the lines in between the lines, and then you have to get out your magnifying reading glasses and squint very hard, and even then, you're not entirely sure. But let's start with an easy one. And, as always, I hope you'll allow me the liberty of translating for you.

37 m France

i am 37 years old and i am a virgin. It has become more and more difficult as the years pass, and i dread the moment when i will have to admit to a partner who would like to do it with me. I am in a vicious cycle because i think that unconsciously i ruin the moments when i would have the chance to lose my virginity because i am so afraid of "unmasking" myself. I refuse to go see a professional, and so that is why i have decided to advertise here to fix the problem. The ideal would be someone who would take my virginity while "teaching" me how to be a good lover (or as much as that can be taught) so that i will no longer have this block the next time someone comes on to me and so i can be in a couple like everyone else.

Wait, wasn't there a movie about this? And didn't it teach us all that being a virgin is at the same time sweet and hilarious, and that the moral of the story is you just need to find the right person? Yeah, listen up: If you actually are a 37 year old virgin because you're afraid to admit you're a virgin - that's lame. And if you're actually not a virgin and are posing as one to try to get women to sleep with you out of pity and/or dominate you in bed - that's lame, creepy, and a whole host of other adjectives that still can't do justice to the slimeball that you are. One word for you - ick.

Next we have Sim, a 26 year-old male from France. Now this one gets a bit more complicated, with exchanges back and forth, as initially I found him inoffensive enough to reply to. But the motive here, that is what we are looking for. What is his motive? Let's read. He starts:

hello! i hope you are doing well. have you been on this site long? how is it going? i am just starting out. there are some interesting people but not many that I really want to talk to at the moment. good luck!

I replied that I, too, was just starting out, but in the interest of full disclosure said that I had been on the site before, when I lived in Boston. I said that I had just recently arrived in France and had exchanged a few e-mails with users on the site, but hadn't met anyone yet. Then I asked how he found the site. He replied:

yeah I don't really like online dating sites, in fact waiting patiently for the next party or going to a bar to meet girls suits me 1000 times better. i don't like sending e-mail to get to know someone, it doesn't really suit me at all. anyway, i wish you lots of happiness. bye.

Er...ok? What I want to know is who twisted his arm and uploaded his picture and filled out his profile? And anyway, why bother to send an e-mail on an online dating website just to say that you don't like sending e-mails and you don't like online dating websites? Motive, anyone? What is the motive here? It seems like he sent me an e-mail just to tell me how he's too cool to be sending me an e-mail. Why are you on here if you don't like it? I replied. Have fun at your bars.

And that's the thing about online dating: the possibility of rejection lies around every corner, even for something as inoffensive as replying to someone's e-mail.

So, as I've learned, you can change your zip code, and you can even traverse international borders, but the leeches are everywhere. If you're careful, though, and you know what you're looking for, you can get rid of them before they have a chance to latch on. So good luck, everyone, and happy frog hunting.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Why you should never text for sex

So you want to know how the rest of the date with Aidan went, do you? Yes, I suppose I did leave you hanging there. It was fine, I guess. We took a walk, and then he asked me what my timeline was for the rest of the night. I hedged, leaving myself an out. Well, I'm fairly open, but I do have this awful headache, I said, which was 100% true. But I wanted to see what he proposed. I had been feeling mildly ill all day, but I was also borderline starving, and if he had mentioned anything involving food, I would have accepted. Instead, he proposed his place, and tea. I had a vague feeling I knew what that meant, and that it didn't bode well for food anytime in the near future (and I do have my priorities, after all), and so I said, Well, I really should get home, I've had this headache all day and I'm not really feeling well. We exchanged a short and sweet kiss (or three), and off I went to take my two trains home. I picked up a kébab on the way and finally made it through my front door just in time to avoid a trembling, fainting fit of hunger. (I swear, sometimes I think I have the hunger of a pregnant woman. Also, the bladder of a pregnant woman. Lord help me if I ever actually get pregnant). All in all I'd had a fairly pleasant time, although he wasn't entirely my type, and I didn't find him that attractive, and I wasn't really sure I would want to see him again. But I suppose I might have been persuaded otherwise.

Today he sent me a text message, in French, which I hope you will allow me the liberty of translating for you. It said: How are you?

Fine, I replied. And you?

Fine, he said. Are you preparing your bags?

Er, yes? I replied, meaning that actually, I was not.

You are doing what at the present? he asked.

I sighed. I actually can't stand texting, especially when it's just meaningless chatter. I didn't mind it so much in the U.S. when I was familiar with my phone, but here, with this phone and its unfamiliar buttons, and switching between two languages, only one of which it recognizes as a sort of makes me want to tear my hair out sometimes. But I was already in too deep, and couldn't just stop texting now. I had no choice but to answer. But what to say? I certainly wasn't going to tell him that actually I was getting ready to meet a new guy for dinner in Paris. So instead I told him that I was arranging my room. Which, again, was at least sort of true.

It isn't always arranged? he asked.

Not yet, I said. And gnashed my teeth. (Bah! Meaningless! Pointless! Stop texting me!)

I am a little disorganized, he replied. Can you help me?

Perhaps, I replied, wanting to end this conversation and move on to more important things, namely, mascara application.

Maybe the next time you see me you will... and here I stumbled a little. There is this particular word in the French language that can mean either kiss or fuck, depending on whether it is used as a noun or a verb. So is he asking if I will kiss him, or if I will fuck him, I wondered? He's an American too, so maybe he is as unclear on it as I am. Or is he playing on the element of confusion? I again replied noncomitally, perhaps, hoping to end the conversation, and set off to apply my eye makeup. bothered me. I looked it up on, just to make sure. Yup, he definitely asked me if I would fuck him. Except, he spelled it wrong. So actually, he asked me if I would...lower him? That didn't make much sense, I decided. And I had already kissed him at the end of our date. I thought back to his Okcupid profile and remembered how one of the things he claims he can't live without is "a lover." So is that it, then? I thought. Is he taking applications for a new lover, now? What did I sort of just half agree to do??? My annoyance grew steadily as my phone continued beeping.

Well, I guess I'll just have to wait, he said, in English this time. I didn't reply.

Won't I? he persisted. I didn't answer. My phone beeped again.

Yup...he replied, in answer to his own question.

He sent me one more message suggesting that I pick up some Marseillaise soap during my vacation down there (I'm leaving tomorrow), and then finally, that was it.

If French men are aggressive, I decided, at least they are not gun-jumping, presumptuous twerps who use language as a coy disguise for reprehensible behavior. And you know, maybe in other circumstances I might have ended up sleeping with him. Who knows? But this guy needs to know that if he has any hopes of going to bed with a woman, tea is not going to get her there. Maybe spring for dinner first, is all I'm saying. And text messaging as a seduction technique is certainly not winning anyone any points.

One week into the great French Online Dating Experiment, and I'm oh for three. It's funny how, though it may take place on the Champs-Elysées, or in a charming café, or on the banks of the Seine, a bad date is still a bad date, no matter where you are.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Why the past comes back to haunt you, thousands of miles away

The subject of the e-mail said C'est une coincidence, and indeed it was. His picture looked familiar, and I immediately recognized his profile from my Okcupid Boston days. We both lived in Cambridge then and had exchanged several e-mails, and then, for whatever reason, never ended up meeting. Perhaps it was because I don't tend to go for blonds, or perhaps it was because he was the kind of person to label his profile pictures with captions like, A bitter shade beneath tangible branches without leaves and an ocean resides calm nearby, and Walking along a shoreline, seagulls waiting to move (both pictures were taken indoors), and I, to put it simply, was not that kind of person. Or perhaps I already had my hands full at the time. In any case, after our few brief e-mails, I moved on, quit dating, and moved to France. And so, apparently, did he. And suddenly I showed up in his search query once again, fulfilling the necessary age and proximity requirements, and hence the e-mail. I've been a great seeker of signs lately, ever since I was annointed by guano from the heavens, and if anything was a sign, perhaps it was this, I thought. And after all, perhaps coincidence is just the universe's way of saying, Here, try again. In any case, I figured a reconnection with a fellow Cantabrigian deserved at least a coffee and a walk along the Seine.

I hedged when choosing a meeting place, my initial instinct being to meet where Corentin and I had met for the first time a few days before. But I quickly felt awkward about it, feeling somehow disloyal in a situation where actually no loyalties lay, but my decision was confirmed by the memory of too many trees and too many pigeons surrounding the Cité metro, as I had no desire to repeat the all too memorable experience of last time. And so I decided we would meet just across the river at St. Michel. But in fact, I spoke too soon, as I found myself exiting the train tonight one stop too soon and ascending at Cité all the same, the infamous site of my first encounter with Corentin, and walking across the river to St. Michel, where I had met Corentin for our second date just the night before. And I realized that it's times like this that a big city like Paris starts to feel very small, indeed.

With an eerie sense of déjà vu, I waited for Aidan in front of the fountain, wondering exactly how awkward it would be if for some reason I happened to run into Corentin. Luckily coincidences come in limited numbers, and so of course I didn't have that particular run of luck, although I did see the same street performers practicing their same, tired routines for what may as well have been the same tired group of tourists. Then, Aidan arrived, and we performed an awkwardly American version of la bise, and sat down at a café for a coffee. (Which explains my feverish typing in the wee hours of the morning, and after all, that is how this blog got its start, didn't you know?)

It turns out that Aidan is the kind of wandering Kerouac type that picks up and hitch-hikes around France, lands in the Sorbonne for language classes, retreats back to the U.S. when his visa runs out, and when that wears too heavily on him, ambles back on over to work on a farm in the south of France making cheese, and then heads back over to the Sorbonne for more language classes so that he can read French poetry. And as I have long harbored a secret pipe dream of working on a goat farm and making cheese, I grilled him on the various minutae involved in farm work, and then wagered on how long I would actually last at such an endeavour. (Two days? A week, maybe?) After I picked his brain I then told him everything I know about Paul Valéry, Stéphane Mallarmé, Marguerite Duras, and classic French cinema, which may not be much, but he listened with rapt attention and asked probing questions. The conversation turned to where we were from, and he said Boston, well, not Boston exactly, but a small town by the ocean to the north of Boston. Oh, near Gloucester? I said. Er, yes! he said. Actually. And he pulled up his sweater to show me his t-shirt underneath, and indeed, it said Gloucester. Then he pulled it up an inch further - Wingaersheek Beach, he pointed. Ah yes, I said. I know it. He expressed surprise, and I said that actually, I knew it well. There was a summer when I went there fairly often.

And suddenly the conversation was crowded with shadowy figures from years past. Him, of course; it's always him. His roommate was there, too. Sometimes he would go with us to the beach, and I never could figure out which of us was tagging along. And the man we paid to let us park in his yard after the beach parking lot filled, even he was there, called suddenly and unexpectedly into mind. This is part of the reason I left Boston, after all. James, his presence, was everywhere. In coffee shops and restaurants, in parking lots and on park benches. At times he was everywhere I turned. When I started dating again I stumbled over pronouns - We, er, I love this bar...When we, I mean I, went to the Cape...Boston closed in on me like a fist, and in the end it seemed safest to move thousands of miles away, and to hope that I could leave my memories there behind me, safe within its metropolitan borders, like a living time capsule that would only be re-opened at some point in the distant future, if I so chose. But of course memories have no boundaries, and they don't require visas; they seep across continents and are never once stopped by immigration or border control. Because he is everywhere, and he is here, too, as I realize every time I see a black BMW and my eyes automatically seek out the driver, even here, and I wonder if I will ever stop looking. His shadow is here, too, all over Paris, an imprint left from a tumultuous 16 days we spent in France together, one spring. It stalks the halls of the Musée d'Orsay, and it laughs, triumphant and wind-battered at the top of the Eiffel Tower. It focuses a lens relentlessly at bridges and streets by night and dangles legs off the edge of Ile de la Cité, and it is sailing, we are sailing down the Seine on a lumbering ship made of trees and buildings and stone. There is nowhere safe to go, and so no choice to but to keep on pushing towards the new, the unexplored, and the uninhabited, in search of a place without a past, a tabula rasa. And all I can do is hope that someday there will be enough new memories to obscure the old, and that all of this will be but a vague smudge of color, a small winking eye in a vast and multi-layered collage.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why boredom is dangerous

I recently ran across some pictures I took of myself in my childhood bedroom when I was testing out my new laptop with its built-in web cam about a month or so ago. I'm going to show them to you, but that just shows how much I trust you, Internet, how comfortable I feel around you, because believe me when I say, these are not the most flattering pictures in the world. (I mean, we're not talking post-dental work unflattering here, but still). I usually try to keep a pretty professional demeanor around here, but after the bird poop on the head incident I figured, well, you've all been witness to me at my worst, and you've stuck with me, so why hold anything back? And so, I present to you a piece I like to call...

Say Ahh...

Which shoulder is higher, I ask you? Which one???

Yes, that is a thimble collection on the wall, you wanna make something of it?

God, I'm easily amused.

Now, I believe the correct response when you come across someone in this condition is to lie them down, loosen their collar, and place a wooden spoon in their mouth until the twitching stops.

And now, Internet, you have been privy to the deepest, innermost, and tongue-iest parts of my soul. And the web cam has officially been retired.

(You're welcome).

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why I'm back in the saddle again

So, I'm back on the Internet dating bandwagon again, it seems. After a 6 month hiatus wherein I didn't have the necessary roots required to pursue relationships within an X mile radius of Y location, I have created a brand new Okcupid profile and had my first date on Sunday.

I arrived at 4:00 in the very center of Paris and waited for Corentin outside the Cité metro. There was an outdoor market set up, with vendors selling plants, flowers, tanks full of goldfish, and cages full of squawking birds. I admired a basket of sniffly-nosed bunny rabbits before returning to the entrance of the métro to wait. Corentin arrived several minutes later, looking not at all like his picture (but isn't that always the case?) Introductions were made, bisous exchanged, and after a brief discussion regarding should we walk this way or that, we set off, scuffing our feet through the fall leaves. And then- "Uh oh," I said.

"What?" he said.

"I think something...a bird just...on my head," I said unhappily.

"Let me see," and he turned me around for inspection. "No, I don't think so," he said.

I put my hand to my hair and pulled it away, sticky. "Um, yeah," I said. "It did."

"Oh," he said looking. "Ohhh. Well, here." And he reached into his man bag and pulled out a tissue.

I dabbed blindly and miserably at my hair, and he said "Here, let me." And not three minutes after first saying bonjour, I found myself involved in a strangely intimate grooming ritual, as my date gently removed a dripping pile of bird shit from my hair.

"You know, this is the first time this has ever happened to me," I said, trying to regain some degree of chipperness.

"Really?" he said.


It was an auspicious start to be sure, although whether it portended good or no remained to be seen...

He was assertive from the get-go, not hesitating to put an arm on my waist to steer me in the direction he wanted me to go, taking my hand to guide me through particularly dense crowds of tourists congregating on the streets along the Seine, throwing us both headlong across the street during the last few seconds before the light changed, and holding me back when it was too close. We stopped and sat on a sunny patch of grass in the Jardins des Tuileries (along with half of Paris), and it was so warm we both shrugged off layers. He told me about the semester he had spent in Austin, the fears he had initially had about going (the "little Frenchie" in Texas during the height of the Freedom Fries era), and how much fun he had ended up having. We talked about Halloween, and, bewildered and a bit amused, he told me about the kinds of things he had seen women wearing (or not wearing) in Austin on this strange holiday. I assured him that I was well aware of this phenomenon, and it wasn't just in Texas that one sees this sort of thing, but everywhere in America. His befuddlement grew. "But in Austin it's warm, at least. In most of the rest of the country, it's cold in October." I know, I said, but I guess they don't really care. And anyway, they're usually drunk...

The air had regained its chill as the sun sank lower, so we donned our jackets and continued walking until he guided me to a secluded bench, and we sat. I had a feeling that this was where he would try to kiss me, and since I didn't particularly want him to, I decided I would have to keep him talking so he wouldn't have a chance. "So where did you grow up?" I asked him.

"In the northeast part of Paris, near the Buttes de Chaumont," he said. "Near Montmartre."

"Ah," I said. And I talked and I questioned, avoiding that awkward silence at all costs. I talked until I had exhausted myself with conversation, as speaking in French requires a mental energy that speaking in English doesn't. Before long I was mentally, physically, and socially exhausted, and craving my bed and a good book. And of course, that awkward silence had to come. And so he kissed me, and if there's a polite way to say, Thank you, this has been very nice but I would like to stop making out now, I don't know what it is. Eventually we continued on our way, but as this was Paris, and he was Parisien, it did not impede the making out, as he would stop me and sweep me into his arms on the most crowded of sidewalks and we would start anew. It all might have been very romantic if...Well. If. He deftly maneuvered me to the inside of the sidewalk as we walked along the Champs-Elysées, looking for a macaron shop that he knew of, but ultimately wasn't able to find. Once again he pulled me into a passionate embrace, however this time I was saved by a camera flash going off in our faces. Startled, we opened our eyes to see who was taking pictures of us - the nerve!- only to find a crowd of tourists and their cameras, none of whom seemed particularly interested in us.

"Oh," I said turning around. "I guess that's what happens when you stand right in front of the Arc de Triomphe..." and we both laughed a little.

He proposed going for a drink, and I agreed, because even though I wasn't entirely into him, I wasn't having a bad enough time to say no, and besides, it felt kind of nice to be desired, for a change. We settled into an Australian bar (recongizable by the large crocodile on the outside of the building, and its name, Australian Bar) by Châtelet-Les Halles for a beer and a shiraz. For a while he insisted on speaking only in English, which for some reason irked me to no end, especially when the bartender told him, in English, "Seven euros, please." I hate when servers speak to me in English in restaurants, so I automatically bristled a bit. "That's just the kind of place it is," he said. "There are a lot of tourists here."

"Yes," I said, "but you're French. She should have spoken to you in French."

He shrugged. "It doesn't bother me."

I changed the subject. "So where in Paris do you live?"

He looked at me strangely. "In the northeast part, near the Buttes de Chaumont, like I was telling you?"

"Oh, so near where you grew up, then."

"No, it is where I grew up."

"Oh," I said. "Ohhh."

We had another round of drinks, and then he proposed dinner. Since I was hungry, I accepted. We went to a tapas restaurant nearby, and if it was not entirely authentic, it was more than made up for by the atmosphere, the candles on the tables, the overly-plucked gay waiters, and the constant stream of Madonna thumping through the speakers. Whenever he wanted to kiss me he would hook his finger under my chin across the table, until I would have no choice but to lean in and accept his affections. French men are aggressive, I remembered my roommate saying, and if it was true for even this most unassuming of guys, I could only imagine what might happen if I ever encountered an even more confident member of the species.

We ended up going as dutch as dutch can be, each paying for a round of drinks and then splitting dinner down the middle, which is I guess what happens when you go out with a 25 year-old student who still lives with his parents. Then, seven hours after it began, our date finally came to a close in the Gare du Nord, as he pulled me in close for a good night kiss. Thankfully I had the foresight to pull away to check the monitor to see what time my train would leave. "Three minutes!" I yelped. "I have to go!" And so I did, although not before agreeing to see him again on Thursday. The problem being, of course, that although he is an absolutely nice guy, I just didn't feel any...chemistry. And what with all that making out, shouldn't I have felt, well...something? I decided to give him a second chance, however, since I have determined that chemistry is a luxury afforded to those who haven't been single for the last year and a half, and to those who aren't watching the last years of their twenties dwindle before their eyes at an ever alarming rate.

So here's to second chances, lowered expectations, and starting over.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Why is it so hard to get someone to take your money here?

Things have been pretty light and cheery around this blog for the last few days, but lest you mistakenly believe that life around here is all pastries and rewarding moments in teaching, I thought I would bring us all back to earth with The Hassles of Living in France: an Update.

On Friday I left my house at 6:30 a.m. and stumbled my way onto a bus, and then another bus, to arrive in the town of Melun by 8:15. I made a quick stop at a café for a coffee and directions to the préfecture, and arrived there at 8:55, only to find that roughly 150 fellow foreigners had found their way there ahead of me. I joined the back of what could perhaps be loosely described as a line, although it would probably be more accurate to call it a mob. After the doors opened several minutes after 9:00, 150 people ever so slowly trickled into the building, in order to wait in another line in order to take a number that would allow them access to, that's right, yet another line. My number was 143, and at that time they were on the one hundred and some-teens. I took a seat and read a book, and waited my turn as the minutes slowly ticked by. At 11:00, I was up. This was the first checkpoint, to make sure I had all the required paperwork and necessary photocopies. I approached the window nervously; after the last time, I knew how tenuous my presence here was, and I trembled at the thought of going home empty-handed once again. But this time I passed. I was handed back a plastic sheath with my documents inside it, and yet another number that would allow me entrance into the hallowed back room. I couldn't see much from my spot in the waiting area, but I could see that this room had cubicles instead of windows, and the numbers on this counter ticked by much more slowly, advancing once only every ten minutes or so. I took a seat once again, finished my book, and sat idly, tapping my foot and trying to ignore the hunger gnawing in my stomach and the pressure increasing in my bladder. And finally, an hour and a half later, my number was called. I took a seat, passed my documents across the desk, and hoped for the best. The woman leafed idly through my papers and typed something into her computer. "Ah," she said, "you actually applied once before, in Grenoble in 2002."

"Oh, yes, that's right, I did," I said. Crap, I thought, I didn't even think about that. I said this was my première demande, and now she's probably going to tell me that I have to come back again and apply for a deuxième demande, or she'll tell me there's a whole different office for people who have already applied before. But she continued typing without seeming too concerned, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

She flipped through my paperwork, landing on an electric bill Big had given me to prove my residence chez lui. "You don't have anything more recent?" she asked.

"Um..." I said.

"Because this is from March," she said. Toast. I was toast. Goodbye and so long, carte de séjour.

"Oh," I said, "I don't know, that's what my roommate gave me. I think he had trouble finding recent ones."

"Hm," she said, and kept typing. I allowed myself the tiniest glimmer of hope. And finally, half an hour later, I walked out of that building victorious, and if I didn't have my actual carte de séjour, I had an official piece of paper stating that I had applied for one, and for the moment, that was good enough.

Or I thought it was, in any case.

I woke up bright and early on Saturday morning, as apparently my body has now become incapable of sleeping past 7:45 a.m., even on a weekend. As soon as I was showered and dressed (and after a quick run for milk for the roommate's kids staying for the weekend, and croissants for everyone), I headed straight to the Crédit Lyonnais to finally get an account so I would be able to be paid in a few weeks. The same guy was sitting at the front desk. "I was here before..." I started, but he remembered me.

"Do you have the paper now?" he asked.

"I have the paper now," I said, and I handed it to him, along with my passport.

"Let me just go talk to my supervisor," he said. He returned several minutes later. "I'm sorry," he said, "but with just the récipissé we cannot open an account."

"But," I said, stunned, but for some reason not all that surprised, "but last time you said that you could. You told me that just a few days ago."

"Yes," he said, "but actually we can't. Because you're a worker, and not a student..." He trailed off and left to the imagination the endless possibilities and perks one might enjoy, if one were only a student.

"But," I said, "I had an account here, at this bank, six years ago, and I was doing exactly the same thing."

"Yes, I can see that," he said. "In Grenoble." And then he shrugged. "I'm sorry, it's not up to me."

"Ok then," I said. "I will take my business elsewhere."

"No bank will open an account for you with just the récipissé," he mentioned, not so helpfully. "Perhaps just the post office."

"It is truly difficult here," I muttered through clenched teeth as I turned away, the simplicity of the statement belying the depth of emotion I invested in it.

Of all the things that frustrate me to no end about living in this country, this is what disgusts me perhaps the most: they are constantly changing the rules in the middle of the game. They tell you that the préfecture is open from 9:00 to 4:30, but show up at 11:30 a.m. and it's, "Actually, you're too late. Please come back at 9:00 a.m. tomorrow." They tell you that in order to open an account you need a piece of paper from the préfecture, and then when you bring it, they say, "Ha! Just kidding! Actually we're still not going to open an account for you. Please take your money and your American passport and never come back." Perhaps here this is just bureaucracy, but where I come from it's called lying.

I headed to the post office next (which is also a bank in France), not because I believed that no other bank would give me an account, but because it was nearby and I thought that maybe they would be more relaxed in their procedures. As I waited in the crazy long post office line, I realized that perhaps a downside to having an account at the post office would be that every time you wished to perform a financial transaction, you would have to wait in a crazy long post office line, a thought that pleased me not at all. I finally reached a window and indicated that I wished to open a bank account. "I will have to take down your information and have someone call you," the woman said.

"Oh, I can't do it right now?" I asked.

"No, the person in charge of that is not available now. She will call you, if not today, then on Monday." Since the post office and nearly all banks are closed on Mondays, I had my sincere doubts as to that, but I filled out the form anyway, and then left to find another bank, as I really didn't have another day to lose. I entered the CIC Bank and repeated my query, indicating that I had my récipissé.

"Oh," she said, "I'm not sure we can do it with just the récipissé."

I hung my head. "Ah," I said, "I was afraid of that."

But then she caught sight of my passport. "Oh!" she brightened. "You have your passport, too? We can do it with your passport, yes."

"Oh!" I said. "That's great!"

"Let me just see if someone is available," she said. She came back several minutes later. "You will have to arrange a rendez-vous," she said, "as no one is available right now. Can you do Tuesday?"

"Oh," I said. "No, I can't. I can't do it until Friday, and I'm afraid that will be too late. I really need to open an account as soon as possible."

"Oh," she said. "Well let me check again." She again left her desk, and came back several minutes later. "I'm sorry," she said. "It is not possible."

"Thank you anyway," I said, and left, and made my way to the next bank I saw. I entered the Crédit Agricole and performed the same routine: wait in line, repeat query. Again, she checked to see if someone was available, and when there wasn't, again she wanted me to schedule a rendez-vous for next week. "I will just have to go somewhere else," I said sadly. "I really need to open an account right away."

"Well let me just go check one more time," she said. When she returned: "Someone will see you now," she pronounced.

Well, I thought. Now we're getting somewhere.

In the end, I left 50
lighter in the pocket, and with a heavy packet full of information and the all important RIB (account number). It appears that from now on, Crédit Agricole will be enjoying my 8a month Highway Robbery Fee, so how do you like them apples, Crédit Lyonnais?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Why sometimes I love teaching

My first class sped by so quickly that I was shocked when I looked at the clock and realized it was time to go. "Oh, zut!" I said. "I had another activity I wanted to do, but we don't have enough time. Oh well, next time then."

"But, it's recess now," one of the students said. "So we could stay longer...?"

"But, really?" I said. "You want to stay?" Affirmations came from all around. "Really?" I said, a bit incredulously. "All of you?" Twelve bottoms remained firmly planted in their seats; I don't think I could have made them leave if I had tried. And in an event previously unheard of in the world of education, at least to me, twelve middle school students passed up their recess in favor of staying in class and practicing their English.
Later that afternoon I had my third of four classes of the day. The thrill was wearing off, and I was getting tired. I was ready to go home, and still had one more class to get through, somehow. "Thank you," the students sang as they filed out at the end of class.

"You're welcome," I said, trying to sound more energetic than I felt.

"Thank you," a redheaded girl said.

"You're welcome," I replied automatically.

"No, thank you," she repeated with intensity. Her face registered a mixture of gratitude, desperation, and relief all at once, as she tried to signal to me with her eyes what she couldn't find the words for in English. "That's the first time I've ever enjoyed an English class," she muttered to herself in French as she turned away.

All due to my superior pedagogical talents and natural charisma, I'm sure, and not at all to the fact that the bulk of my lesson plan was based around M&Ms. You see, when it comes to middle school students, I don't take any chances. And after all, I always say, If you can't beat 'em, bribe 'em.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why I want to dream America

"So tell me about your family," I said from my position at the head of the circle. (And if you think such a statement is an oxymoron, and that by definition a circle has no head, then you should see the way high schoolers form circles when asked; it's as if adulthood is a contagious disease you might catch from standing too close. And after all, maybe it is).

"I have got two older seesters and a dog named Blue-dee," she said.

"Blue-dee?" I repeated quizzically, trying to figure out what it could possibly mean in French, though it was no word I had ever heard before.

"Blue-dee," she repeated, "Blue-dee. You know, like the song," and she commenced to sing, "Sunday, blue-dee Sunday..."

"Ah," I said. "Er, wow...That's, Let's, uh...who's next?"

This serves as a shining example of how fully the French have embraced anglophone culture right down to its music, an acceptance so whole-hearted it is not even hampered by the fact that they don't understand (and pardon my French) a bloody word of it. Let this serve as a lesson to you: if you ever decide to lend your pet that certain je ne sais quoi by naming it in a foreign language, perhaps think to pick up a dictionary first, lest you, too, inadvertantly name your dog Bloody.

"Ok," I said, moving on to the next student. "Can you tell me something about yourself?"

"Yes," he said. "I want to dream America."

"Excuse me?" I said. "You want to...dream? America?"

"Yes," he repeated. "I want to dream America."

"Did anyone get that?" I asked, looking around. "Because I didn't quite..."

"Yes, I know," his friend said, jumping in to help. "He wants to be like the rappers, you know, like 50 Cent."

"Oh," I said, understanding. "The American Dream..."

So while for some people the American Dream means a home of your own, a good job, a car, and settling down for the night with a Bud Lite in front of your big-screen tv, apparently for others it represents the dream of getting shot multiple times and then making millions of dollars.

And then of course, there are those for whom the American Dream means the opportunity to leave the country of your birth and start a new life somewhere else, in a place where the healthcare is free, the national sense of humor is wry, and you always, always order dessert. Ever since I first explored this country seven years ago I have known that, ironically enough, my American Dream isn't actually American at all.

So what's your American Dream?

Monday, October 13, 2008

Why it's hard to be a stranger in a strange land

What could go wrong? I asked. And of course I had to ask, thus tempting the fates to throw their red tape-wrapped wrench in my plans. Well, let me tell you what can go wrong when one is a foreigner and attempts to open a bank account in France, or tries to obtain the proper documentation to live and work and go about one's life here, or when one tries to do anything whatsoever that involves a government agency here.

Of course the short answer to the question of what could go wrong is, "Haaaaa! You fool! You naive, pitiable amateur! Why don't you return to the States now while you still have most of your sanity, and your precious forehead is still
smooth and has not yet known the blunt force trauma that results from bashing it again and again into a hard and particularly sturdy brick wall." The long answer is this:

I went to the bank on Friday, paperwork in hand, only to be told that I would need my carte de séjour in order to open an account. "But, er, that could take months, and I need a bank account to get paid," I said. "In a few weeks." In that case, he said, I would receive a paper from the préfecture stating that I had applied and was waiting for my carte de séjour. I would be able to use that paper to open a bank account. Fair enough, I thought. I needed to go to the préfecture anyway; I just had my order of operations wrong. However, it was already too late to go to the préfecture that day, so I would have to wait until Monday. As banks are closed on Monday, that meant I would have to wait until Tuesday or Wednesday to open an account, which was already putting me dangerously close to the deadline of October 15, the date by which we are supposed to have sent in our account information in order to actually be paid in the beginning of November. But as I didn't have a choice, I passed a pleasant weekend and made plans to go to the préfecture on Monday. Which was today.

Now, I have been trying valiantly to apply for my carte de séjour ever since arriving in France about three weeks ago; it isn't as if I have been slacking or putting it off. I first tried when I was staying temporarily in Meaux. I took a number and waited in line, only to be told that I had to go to Melun. The only thing that you need to know about Melun is that it's far. In fact, were you to mention to anyone, anyone at all, that you were going to Melun, that's what they would tell you: "Ohh...that's far." And then they would tsk and shake their head sympathetically. So, Melun is far, but I hadn't yet started school at this point, and my schedule was fairly open, and so I regrouped, looked up time tables and itineraries, and made plans to go to Melun. Several days later I was at the bus station waiting for the bus to Melun, and thought that maybe I would just call the préfecture at Melun, just to make sure that was really where I needed to go, and that I wouldn't travel two hours out of my way just to be told I needed to go back to Meaux, for example. And good thing I did, because as I was on hold I half-listened to a recording of a laundry list of documents that I was required to bring with me. I quickly snapped to attention. Wow, I thought. I don't have any of those things. I could have gone a long way out of my way for nothing. Good thing I called! I then spent the next two weeks trying to procure the necessary items, namely, a) a place to live, and b) proof that I live there. Well, as we all know, I found a) about a week and a half ago, and so it came down to b), or specifically: (1) letter from Mr. Big stating that I reside chez lui, (1) copy of an electric bill in his name, and (1) copy of his identity card. (All of which I felt like a pain in the ass for asking for, but what can you do). But finally I had it nailed down; check, check, and check. I double and triple-checked my documents, just to make sure nothing could go wrong, that they would have no reason to send me back, empty-handed. But I had it all: arrêté de nomination, procès verbal d'installation, birth certificate, translated, notarized copies of birth certificate, proof of residence, four passport-sized photos.
And, oh yeah, my passport. I had it all. I checked train schedules. I got up at 7:30 this morning and got on a 9:00 train. Two hours later, I was in Melun. Half an hour after that, I was at the préfecture. I walked confidently up to the Accueil to get a number, only hoping I wouldn't have to wait in line too long. "Bonjour!" I said to the man breezily. "J'ai besoin d'une carte de séjour."

"One moment," he said, "I'll be right back." And off he scurried to some back office, taking my passport with him. He returned a few minutes later, handed me a piece of paper, and said, "Come back tomorrow at 9 a.m., and bring these documents with you."

"But, excuse me?" I said. "But I have all those documents with me now. Why do I have to come back tomorrow?"

"We can only process a limited number per day," he said, "and today we are all done. Come again at 9 a.m. We are open every day but Wednesday. Goodbye."

My eyes started filling with tears. "But," I sputtered, "but I traveled two hours to get here! You're telling me I traveled two hours for nothing?"

He shrugged. "There is nothing I can do."

Make that four hours, I thought dejectedly as I turned away to leave.

"Thank you! Have a nice day!" he said.

Nice day indeed.

Of course, I can't go back tomorrow morning, or Wednesday morning, or Thursday morning either, since I have to work. Which puts me at Friday, which means I miss my bank account deadline, which means I won't receive a paycheck until roughly somewhere in 2009. Give or take, of course.

Other than that, everything's fine.

So what's been frustrating you lately?

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Why I love the Seine-et-Marne

One of the things I like best about living in the département Seine-et-Marne is, well, the Seine and the Marne rivers, and the numerous little canals that are so common in the towns around here. The Marne is everywhere here, it seems, and during one 45 minute bus ride home from school, we cross it no less than three times, which seems impossible, I know, but is nonetheless true. And one of the nice things about having a relatively undemanding schedule here is the ability to take off and wander aimlessly on a nice day, with my camera in one hand and a good book in the other. Here are some of the pictures I took:

Along the Canal de l'Ourq in Meaux:

The Marne River on a cloudy day in Meaux:
Along the canal in Chelles:
The Marne in Chelles:

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Why if the commute doesn't kill me, the bloody hamburger surely will

I have completed my first week at school (otherwise known as, oh right, I'm not just here to eat croissants all day), and by week I actually mean three days, but believe me when I say it feels a lot longer than that. My grueling 12 hour a week schedule occupies me for part of each Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, leaving me otherwise unencumbered and fancy-free (and, unpaid maid duties aside, also quite bored) the rest of the time. And yet for some reason, legally I am not allowed to get another job, and so I hope to find something, as they say, sous la table.

To provide you with a quick idea of what my "week" has been like, I woke up to my alarm at the ungodly hour of 5:45 on Tuesday morning. (The life of an English assistant in France, it is not glamorous). Plus, the extra added bonus (like a Jagged Metal Krusty-O in your breakfast cereal): a debilitating migraine! I showered and then staggered around limply brushing my hair and swiping mascara at my eyes, took some Advil and then crashed back onto my child-sized bed. (Like cars, beverages, and everything else, twin beds are also smaller here). I dragged myself up 15 minutes later and managed to get myself out the door and on a train. With a good hour commute as a buffer, and after dozing off against the train window, the headache and nausea were pretty much gone by the time I arrived, and were replaced instead with a general, full-body exhaustion, leaving me craving the benefits of about a 12 hour nap. Good thing I only had to be at school for the next nine hours!! (High school ends much later in France; at 5:20, in this case). My schedule left me three completely undesired hours of breaks between classes, one in the morning and two in the afternoon, and with nothing to do and nowhere to go to pass the time. (A problem I temporarily solved with flan and sitting on a bench. [Again, with the glamourousness of my life here. I know, you can hardly stand it. Flan! Sitting on a bench! Woo!!]). Luckily I didn't have to do anything too grueling on my first day, and after a brief question and answer session (Do you like France? -yes. Is there a lot of violence in the U.S.? -it depends. Can I have your phone number? -no) I was free to zone out in the back of the classroom and "observe." (Observations: She was disappointed, not deceived, and although they are both the same word in French, in English they are two very different things, and also, you're seriously killing me with all the grammar mistakes, but I will continue to sit here quietly and not undermine your authority on my first day, but please don't mind me if I put my fingers in my ears and lalala I can't hear you!) The long day finally over, I returned to the train station and found myself in transportation limbo; what had only taken an hour that morning took much, much longer coming back, and I finally stumbled through my front door some 12-plus hours after I had left. Pretty intense for a job that's supposedly only 12 hours a week, non?

Wednesday was fine, since I only had to be there in the morning, and I sashayed right back onto a train afterwards and was home by lunchtime. Today was another story. Today was one of those days (you know the ones). The days when you probably never should have gotten out of bed in the first place. It started out well enough, since, as I didn't have to show up for the first day at my new school until 10:45, I was able to sleep in until the leisurely hour of 7:30. This late start was actually a blessing and a curse, and ended up being the cause of my undoing. The odd hour put me in yet another transportation limbo, and so I researched time tables and selected a recommended itinerary from the Ile-de-France transport website, going with a bus-train-bus combo (instead of the usual train-train). First I couldn't find the 19 bus. Great, I thought. I'm going to be late on my first day. But then I found it and all was well. Until I got to the RER station, tapped my pass at the gate, and was flatly rejected. "Pass déjà valide," it said. Ok, I did tap it in the bus, in which case it was already validated, but now in a catch-22 situation, no matter how many times I tried again, it wouldn't let me through. I scurried back and forth behind the gates like a trapped animal for a few minutes, fretting and looking for an authority figure for help, and finding none. Great, I thought. If I'm late on my first day because, though I have a pass, I'm stuck on the wrong side of this gate... I finally caught the attention of a girl around my age and asked her opinion on the situation. "I don't know," she shrugged. "Jump it?" I was mildly horrified by the suggestion, and pictured myself, in addition to merely late being arrested as well, but a quick look around proved that perhaps mine wasn't a unique situation, and so I followed the lead of some other turnstile-hoppers, and jumped it. And it was fine. But really, what if I was eighty years old? What if I was in a wheelchair? What then, France??? I made the train, and completed the second leg of my journey. Only one more bus and then I'm home free, I thought. I made my way out of the train and into the bus lot at Disney (since apparently all roads lead to Disney here), searching every dock for number 62. I glanced at my watch and thought idly, Well, they didn't give me much time to make this connection, did they? My search for the elusive 62 became slightly more frantic, as I thought, But no, surely not after all this...and looked ahead to see a familiar-looking seafoam green bus pulling away, at the very last quai. Merde. And a quick look at the schedule showed that another was not due to arrive for another hour. And so I had to call my school and explain that, although 10:45 actually seemed a very reasonable hour to be expected to show up on my first day, that I wouldn't in fact be able to make it until 11:45. Give or take. I explained the situation breathlessly and apologized over and over, and I felt so bad about the whole thing, and the lady I spoke with, whoever she was, bless her heart, was so sweet. "It's ok!" she said. "These things happen. Especially on your first day. Sit down and have a coffee, and we'll see you when you get here." And so I did just that. I sat and sulked into my café crème, staring out the window at those ubiquitous gates once again, and with the gray, overcast skies and the damp chill in the air, it felt far from the happiest place on Earth. And then, even though I wasn't really hungry, I ordered a pain aux raisins, too. Because if there's one thing I've learned here, it's that when life really gets at you, sometimes all you can do is take a seat and eat a pastry.

To make a long story short (too late), I finally did arrive, and everyone was very nice, and I was basically given my schedule and told, Ok, so we'll see you next week! Yes, seriously. Although I did get a three-course cafeteria meal for €1,53 out of the deal, and if the first courses were all gone by the time I got there, and if the main course consisted of a pink, gooey hamburger patty and a side of pureed cauliflower, it was more than made up for by the île flottante for dessert.

Eventually I did make it home, too, although the transport home is a story that will have to wait for another day, as you've been more than patient already, Internet, and I will not test your attention span further. Stay tuned for this and more, as I navigate bureaucracy and red tape and attempt, against all odds, to open a French bank account. What could possibly go wrong, you ask? Who knows!! And such is the beauty of life in the land of Gaul, where even the most basic, everyday endeavours are rendered unnecessarily complicated. It makes life interesting. It's a challenge. And, perhaps, perversely enough, it's why I keep coming back. (That and the pastries, of course).

A bientôt.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Why I'm going to have a housekeeper when I grow up

I spent the first two days in my new place alone, as the roommates both went out of town for the weekend. This was fine with me, as it allowed me to clean, organize, and throw away to my heart's content. Just to put things in perspective, I arrived on Friday evening, and my first order of business was to go to the store for groceries. Then I came back, unpacked, took a look around, and immediately headed back to the store for light bulbs and toilet paper. You know, frivolous little things that allow you to see in the dark and, well, you know what toilet paper is used for, although I suppose it is more necessitous for some of us than for others. I woke up bright and early on Saturday morning and have been scrubbing, rinsing, de-gunkifying and otherwise working my fingers to the bone since then. Or at least to the fingernails (and you know that's serious). I started out by boxing up and storing away piles of other people's belongings that were scattered about my room, followed by throwing away bags and bags of garbage, which were mostly other empty bags, actually. It seems Big's ex-wife had a bit of a bag problem, something I can identify with, as I used to have a bit of a bag-hoarding problem myself until I quit cold turkey about a year ago. Unfortunately the one tiny trash can outside is already full to the brim, and there are still so many bags full of other bags to be thrown away, and so will have to wait until after trash day, whenever that is. I then attacked the toilet, a sight so horrifying it was like looking into the depths of the underworld. It was a multi-step process requiring hours of elbow grease and almost an entire bottle of cleanser to dig through the layers of accumulated grime and years' worth of mineral deposits, but I'm happy to say that in the end the powers of clean triumphed over evil, and now even the most discriminating of bottoms can rest atop it in complete confidence and ease.

I dragged myself out of bed with considerably more difficulty this morning, hearing the sound of the rain pounding on the roof, and the thought of having to pick up a sponge one more time sending me diving back under my borrowed and mismatched covers. I finally did get myself up, unwillingly, to tackle this morning's main project: the bathtub. This was again an experimental process requiring many different combinations of cleansers, a lot of elbow grease, and a boatload of perseverance. At some point, while I was waiting for my third application of chemicals to work its magic, I decided to get some breakfast started in the kitchen. As there is no toaster, I placed my bread to grill in the oven, and returned to the bathroom to scrub the grout with a toothbrush while I waited. Not even 90 seconds later I was called rudely back by an acrid odor, and entered the kitchen to find clouds of billowing black smoke pouring out of the oven. Barely able to see my way to turn it off and open a window, I beat a hasty retreat and closed the door behind me to escape the noxious fumes. It was then that I realized- hey, no smoke detectors. Fun! Chalk it up to just another kooky difference between France and America. (Although, Internet, if I die, you will know what happened. Tell my story!) When it was safe to enter again, I opened the oven door and found my bread, pale and untoasted, and covered in flakes of greasy black ick, sort of like snow, if you're in the middle of nuclear fallout. I vaguely remembered Mr. Big mentioning that the oven "works fine," which sort of made me wonder when the last time anyone had tried to use it was. Ok, so next project on the agenda: clean the oven. I'd just like to mention here that I have never actually cleaned an oven in my life, preferring to leave that job to other people, and mostly, avoiding the issue by ensuring that it doesn't ever become that dirty in the first place, a process that has worked fairly well for me for the last ten years. But there's a first time for everything, and so I found the bottle of oven cleaner under the sink, followed the outlined procedure from start to finish, scrubbing away charred black filth and emptying bucket after bucket of muddy, greasy water, and when I was done, starting over and doing the whole thing again. After all is said and done, however, I am only marginally more confident that the thing won't still kill us all. Not only that, but despite a grimy toothbrush and my best intentions, I was unable to scrub the blackish mold off the grout in the tub, a failure that frustrates me to no end, as I'm sure you've been able to figure out if you know me even a little by now. Now it's only 2:00 in the afternoon and there is still so much more to clean, but I can't. I just...can't. But you know what they say: Rome wasn't conquered in a day, and slow and steady wins the race, so I think right now calls for eating some chocolate and watching The Office online, two things that always put me in a better frame of mind.

Speaking of which, Jim and Pam: thoughts, anyone? I used to be as big a Jim and Pam fan as you could find, back when they were cute and flirtatious and star-crossed, but now that they're actually together I've been finding them pretty insufferable. Is it just me and my bitter spinster side coming out, or are they actually as annoying as I think they are?

Alternatively, chocolate- it's good stuff, right? At the moment I'm munching on some store-brand milk chocolate with hazel nuts. What's your favorite kind?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Why the only thing missing is a laugh track

Internet, I have finally done it. After eight intensive and increasingly discouraging days of searching, I have finally found somewhere to live! And I can even afford it, AND it's closer to Paris. I'll actually be on the RER line, which is the metro that runs from Paris to the suburbs, instead of the regular train line. It's farther from where I'll be teaching, but for a 15 minute train ride into Paris, I will gladly make the sacrifice.

My new roommates, or colocs, as they call them here, are two men, which will surely shock and horrify my parents. (This is only an added bonus for me, as after 28 years of fairly smooth sailing, and remaining ever piercing-, tattoo-, and addiction-free, I think it's about time I did something to shock and horrify my parents). The first is a dignified gentleman in his forties, who looks not unlike Mr. Big of SATC fame, and so I think I will call him, quite unoriginally, Mr. Big. The second coloc is in his twenties, dark-haired, twinkly-eyed, and is, if it's not already apparent, quite good-looking. And as he is dark-haired and vaguely olive-toned in complexion, and as he hails from the south of France, and no television characters immediately spring to mind, I think I will call him The Mediterranean. Happily, one is too old for me, and the other too short for me, so I don't foresee any complications.

The house is...well, let's just say it's painfully obvious that it is inhabited by two single men. There are children's toys everywhere, as Mr. Big is recently divorced and his children come to visit often; there are empty fast food containers on the coffee table, which is actually the only table, since it seems the ex-wife took quite a lot of things with her when she left (including the dishwasher). The house is large and semi-furnished, the washing machine is broken, and where there should be lamps, there is quite often instead a dark, lamp-less void. (Big showed me the bedroom by opening the blind to let in light from the street). Internet, can you imagine me, perfectionist and neat freak supreme, living in such a place? And yet I find myself delirious at the prospect. I don't know if it's the exhaustion and stress of wondering if I would remain homeless forever kicking in, or the bargain basement price, but I find myself quite content with the situation. And besides, I do love me a project. I imagine myself whipping that place into shape in no time. We're already talking about taking a trip to Ikea. It's hard to describe how I feel about this place, other than to compare it to the house I visited (just down the street from it, in fact) last night. It was owned by an Asian couple in their fifties who seemed very sweet and spoke French haltingly, accompanied by a lot of nodding and smiling. The house was large and marble-floored and filled with fake flower arrangements, and accompanied by a quite impressively manicured Asian garden. It was clean and orderly, and I sat with their son at a large dining room table under a chandelier discussing leases and security deposits and my salary and social assistance until my head spun. I left with a hollow feeling, knowing I didn't want to live there, and knowing also that I might be forced to, if I didn't find anything else. I felt an approaching panic inside at the thought. Though the house was inhabited by three other people, in it I felt cold and empty and alone. But tonight, with toys and boy stuff strewn about, and a bathroom full of dirty clothes and wet towels on the floor, I felt...well, I felt at home. (Thanks, Mom and Dad, for ensuring that a messy house will always fill me with nostalgia).
But a home, I finally have a home!

Voilà. So, we have Mr. Big and The Mediterranean, and now cue The American Girl. (Does anyone else smell a sit-com in the making?) The adventure begins.