Thursday, January 29, 2009

Why music videos have never looked so good

I have already written about my reluctance and general confusion regarding memes and "tags." What generally happens is someone tags me, I don't do the meme, and then I end up feeling like an asshole who thinks she's to good to do a meme. (Do you do a meme? Is this the correct verb? Do you perform a meme? Do you tackle it? And my meme confusion continues to grow...) However, it's not out of high-and-mightiness that I tend to abstain from the meme game, but rather that a) I am lazy and b) I generally lack the neuronal connections necessary to create witty and clever responses to canned questions, which leads us to c) I am afraid people will think I am boring and dumb. I usually manage to cover this under a thin veneer of self-deprecation and the occasional big word thrown in here and there, but in the meme, this will not fly. The meme is ruthless, the meme will expose you for who you really are; the meme will bare your soul! Ahem. So when Jane tagged me, I was all prepared to feel like an asshole again, which is something I've become accustomed to, because after all, I'm the asshole that picks her unsuspecting dates apart and posts their foibles on the internet for all to see. And then ever so maturely quashes their burgeoning hopes in the time-honored fashion of never responding to their phone calls, texts, and e-mails again. But! And however! All of this is to say, of course, that I will not feel like an asshole today! Today I reform my assholish ways, or at least where memes are concerned, anyway. (Because actually telling a guy that I'm not interested in seeing him ever again? Why don't you just kill me now. Seriously, that shit is awkward). The rules of the meme of so simple that even I (hopefully) cannot mess them up: post five songs that you like. Hey! I thought to myself. I like songs! Hey! I can count to five! Plus this gives me the opportunity to introduce you to an amazing website that, if you're not already familiar with, you should definitely check out. It's called La Blogotheque, and they do something called Concerts à Emporter, or Take Away Shows, and the best part is, they have versions in French and English. Here is a description of what they are about from their about page:

The Take away shows are la Blogotheque’s first video podcasts.

Every week, we invite an artist or a band to play in the streets, in a bar, a park, or even in a flat or in an elevator, and we film the whole session. Of course, what makes the beauty of it is all the little incidents, hesitations, and crazy stuff happening unexpectingly (sic). Besides, we do not edit the videos so they look perfectly flawless, instead we keep the raw sound of the surroundings. Our goal is to try and capture instants, film the music just like it happens, without preparation, without tricks. Spontaneity is the keyword.

I can't tell you how amazing it is to see some of your favorite bands in such a raw, uncensored format, and to discover some great new bands along the way. In fact, I'll admit that most of the music I'm listening to at the moment, I discovered via this website. Plus, it doesn't hurt that most of the videos are shot in Paris, so for me there's the whole hey, I was there! aspect to it as well. So, without further ado...

Voilà, the video that started it all for me. I fell in love with the spontaneity of this video, the charming Parisian apartment courtyard, the people peeking out their windows. And no matter how many times I watch it, those crazy dancing babies make me so damn happy, every single time.

This video shot on a café terrace near Oberkampf is pure joy. Horns, strings, accordion, tambourines, and trash cans; need I say more? Plus, Zach Condon could sing the phone book and I would pay money to hear it. Watch this video and then go download their album, The Flying Club Cup. Do it now.

I love so much about this next video. The apprehensive resident they interview at the beginning, the unsuspecting man who walks in on an impromptu concert in the vestibule of his building, the group of tourists who edge suspiciously away, followed by the band, like a pied piper in reverse. If you watch towards the end, there's a woman in a pink poncho who makes a break for it, and flees the crazy, wandering musicians.

They manage to fit ten people, a guitar, two violins, a bass clarinet, and a xylophone in an elevator. Plus it's the first time I've ever seen ripped magazine pages used as percussion. So cool.

And, saving perhaps the best for last, here the Fleet Foxes play both in front of Invalides and inside the Grand Palais, which I imagine acoustics-wise must be like singing in the shower, times a million. Plus, I have a secret. You see those beskirted girls glued to the wall in the background? I kind of want to be them. Yes, some people dream of being rockstars, and others aspire to be a band girlfriend. To each her own, right?

Fleet Foxes - A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

Et voilà, c'est fait. I hope you enjoyed the show. And now, tag! You're it! Yes, you, that is, if you're up for it. If you decide to join in the fun, leave a comment here and let me know. I can't wait to check out some new music and maybe discover some new bands in the process.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Why there's only one reason I want to sweat on a date, and this isn't it

I've been e-mailing back and forth with a hot new online prospect, and it got to the point where we started to talk about meeting in person. We could go get a drink, I suggested. Ok, he replied, either that or we could go for a run. Do you like to run? I love to run, especially when I have company. I hedged, saying that while I do run on occasion, I don't tend to run much in the winter, but what I was thinking was, Are you serious? I cannot imagine a more horrifying first date experience than showing up in sweatpants, which also happen to perform double duty as my pajamas. I repeat, I would be showing up to a first date in my pajamas. Kind of like that nightmare where you're at school and realize you're in your underwear. So do you know what he countered with? Can you even guess? Swimming! New guy, you are killing me.

I didn't know it was just me or this kind of first date activity passes for normal here, so I ran it past my roommate, Fred, and his friend who was visiting for the weekend. "Yeah, so I'm supposed to meet this new guy," I said. Oh yeah? they said. "Yeah. He proposed going for un footing," I added casually, and then watched for a reaction. It didn't take long. Fred and his friend looked at each other and then fell over in uncontrollable laughter. Un footing?! they hooted. Oh yeah, can you imagine? You're huffing and puffing, you can't even have a conversation. And then you're sweating, and he's all, 'Oh, why don't you come back to my place for a shower?' Actually, this guy's got it all figured out! Yeah, he knows what he's doing. I think I'm going to try that next time! Un footing! But seriously, Fred added, where do you find these guys?

So, between the health nut fanatacism and the fact that he works nights, thus limiting the hours we can meet each other to between 7 and 9 p.m., I think I'm going to chalk this one up to the probably-not-going-to-work-out pile. And another one bites the dust.


I played a homemade version of the game Taboo with my students today, and at the end we played a lightning round with "world" as the target word. "It's bigger than a city..." I began, "it's bigger than a's bigger than a continent..."

"Love!" shouted out one of my students, and I had to laugh. And although it was due more to a linguistic misunderstanding than some sweepingly romantic worldview, it tickled me all the same.

Love, it's bigger than all the countries on all the continents in the world. Or so says the fresh-faced young sixteen-year-old. Meanwhile the jury's still out for this almost 29-year-old old maid. But it's a nice thought, nonetheless.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Why France is like a train station sandwich

I found this forgotten passage in a notebook I carried with me while I was travelling this summer, and it made me smile, a bit, remembering...

I'm in a café in the Gare d'Austerlitz, and it's like a Hitchcock film in here. Birds everywhere, and they're tenacious, anxious to get my crumbs, not even flinching when I swat at them.

Ever get the feeling that everything you do is wrong? Here was my exchange with the waiter. First I plopped my bags down at an empty table and went to the counter to inspect the offerings, where I was told sternly, "Installez-vous," it's table service. I ordered a tomato mozzarella sandwich and a Perrier. Would I like the menu? It comes with a dessert. Well, ok. Which dessert? Tartelette aux fruits. Il n'y en a plus. Ok then, poire. (And somehow I still ended up with abricot). Having set off to place my order, not seconds later back the waiter came. Actually, Perrier is not included in the menu, only Vittel. Ok, Vittel, ça va. Off he scurried, but within minutes he was back again. My sandwich, did I want it hot? No, I said, cold was fine. Was I sure? I was sure. Again he scampered away, only to be followed several minutes later by another concerned-looking member of the waitstaff. Was I sure I wanted it cold, because really, it's much better hot, he said anxiously. Ok then, fine, hot, I said.

And so I ate my hot tomato sandwich and drank my Vittel, when all I really wanted in the world was a cold sandwich and a Perrier. Oh France, you slay me. So eager to please, so close to perfect, but so not quite there. But there is still time.

Seven months later, and there is still truth in this. I have come to realize that France is and always will be maddening, beautiful, confusing, exciting, and disappointing, all at once, and I wonder if I ever will be able to truly understand it. But, for now, there is still time.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Why I think it would be awesome to make a WWFOTCD bracelet

Calling all Conchords fans! Now is the moment we have all been waiting for without even knowing it. It's your chance to ask Bret and Jemaine for answers to all your dating and relationship questions. I've already sent in two questions, and they go, Do you like tall, gawky, French-speaking girls? and, Jemaine, why were you so standoffish when my friend Tal ran into you on the street? She's only creepy and stalkerish because she loves you! Ok, no, I'm kidding. But I really did send in my dating query, and this is how it went:

My question is for Bret, the on-again, off-again keeper of a delicious-looking beard. I recently went on a first date with a fully-bearded man, and after several hours of pleasant conversation we shared an extended goodnight kiss. It was then that I noticed it--the funk. There was a noticeably funky, musky, almost sexy smell emanating from the depths of his beard. And while there are several bodily regions which could be considered acceptable emitters of sexy smells, barring any more intimate first date activities, the face is generally not one of them. I'll be honest- it was a turn-off. And what's more, this comes at a particularly delicate juncture when my decision-making faculties are ruled by first impressions, and his slightest transgression is enough to convince me to write him off forever. Assuming I do decide to go on a second date with him, how do I deal with the funk? Do I casually bring up his shower routine and ask if he uses regular soap on his beard or a beard-specific shampoo? Do I blast him with a shot of Febreze when he's not looking and then pretend it's an accident? I have to say I have dated several guys with beards before and never encountered this problem.

So, Bret, how do you keep your beard fresh and sweet-smelling (as yours looks to be the kind of face one could eat dinner off of, if one were so inclined), and how do you recommend I deal with this musked avenger?

A Delicate Flower

The answers will appear in the April/May issue of Bust magazine, so until then I'm keeping my fingers (and nostrils) crossed...

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Why it's Ms. Crankypants, to you

What I saw today: a woman in the street unironically wearing a tiara

What I heard today: a prim and proper French woman call shredded cheese "raped cheese"

What I am covered in today: sand and toddler saliva (someone's a licker)

What I got chastised for by prim and proper French woman today: overly hasty tearing of tin foil-wrapped cookies makes it difficult to properly re-close; next time be more careful

Phone call I wish someone had thought to make today: the one telling me not to bother coming in to school today because the teacher was sick and they value my time too much to let me get up at 6:00 in the morning and spend over two hours on trains for nothing

Reason I am cranky today: see above

Monday, January 12, 2009

Why you're never too old to beware of strangers

On Friday I had two interviews for potential (and desperately needed) baby-sitting jobs. The first interview was chez a pleasantly scattered woman who immediately after sitting down with me hopped up to fetch us glasses of water, and then, returning to a seated position, opening her dossier, and anticipatorily clearing her throat, hopped up again to scurry around the apartment shutting off lights in a fit of energy conservation awareness. Finally settled in at last, she started in on the interview, alternating questions regarding my background and qualifications with tales of gruesome home accidents and toddler deaths; just the other month, only two streets over, a toddler and his baby-sitter were waiting to cross the street when the tot dropped his ball into traffic and darted after it. Dead, and it happened in an instant. And windows, she said, it only takes a second for a child to fall out an open window. It happens all the time. I found myself glancing worriedly towards the sunny living room window as I tsked and shook my head and raised my eyebrows high, trying for an appropriately horrified response. And I was horrified, although whether it was due more to the bone-chilling nature of the stories, or the fact that there are parents out there who invest so much time dwelling on all the possible ways their child might die, I wasn't sure. She wrapped things up and said that she had a good feeling about me, and I thanked her, but suddenly I wasn't so sure that I had a good feeling about me. My mind filled with images of horrific home accidents and their accompanying newspaper headlines: Negligent Baby-Sitter Lets Toddler Fall Down Stairs; Small Child Drowns in Bathtub; Three-Year-Old Chokes on Grape While Baby-Sitter is in Bathroom. Was I really capable of ensuring the health and well-being of one of these little creatures so apparently hell-bent on death and destruction? Of course I'm up to it! I told her with false bravado, and then I shook her hand and told her I looked forward to hearing from her.

My next interview wouldn't take place for another five hours, and so I crossed the river and ducked into a movie theater for an a.m. showing of Australia. That, plus a sandwich next door afterward filled the time quite nicely (because crikey, that movie is long). Then I jumped on the métro to meet my next interviewer further up line 13 than I really cared to go. I already had a weird feeling about this, ever since the man in question called me at 10:00 at night after I had already been in bed half an hour, nursing a migraine. I was almost asleep when he called, but I managed to drag myself out of bed, flip on the lights and rummage frantically for my phone, thinking that perhaps it was one of the teachers from school calling to tell me I didn't have to come in the next day (I hoped). I mumbled a bleary âllo, and a voice started speaking in rapid-fire French. By the time I determined it was not in fact a colleague, I had to ask him to repeat himself. Ah yes, I said, finally understanding, I did respond to an ad for baby-sitting. I also had to ask him to repeat his vague and open-ended request/demand to Tell me about yourself. I tried to pull myself together enough to formulate coherent sentences in French regarding who I was and what exactly I was doing here, until finally, blessedly, he interrupted, saying, Why don't we speak in English? Considering that both the ad and my initial voicemail to him had both been in English, I was unsure why he had begun the conversation in French in the first place, but I was more than happy to comply. After a very brief interrogation we decided on a time and place for a meeting, and I realized I knew nothing about this unidentified person with an unlisted number. Oh, wait, I said. Could I actually get your phone number, just in case? And um, what's your name? It's Sam, he told me, and gave me his number. Or at least I assumed it was a he, though it didn't seem like a question I could ask him/her to elaborate on over the phone, and so I went to our meeting place on métro line 13 not knowing if I should be looking for a man or a particularly deep-voiced woman. And so, due to the lack of details provided and this mystery person's baffling and slightly off-putting phone manner, I arrived already feeling a little strange about the situation. Perhaps already on edge from the morning's interview and its steady stream of reminders that danger lurks everywhere!, I told myself that I definitely wouldn't go to this person's house just yet; if he wanted to talk, we could do so in a café. I stood outside the métro stop where he had told me to wait, making overt and possibly overly friendly eye contact with every man, woman and child who walked by, until I realized that the reason people kept walking purposefully toward me was because I was standing directly in front of the entrance of the métro. Right. I cast my eyes downward, and waited. A few minutes later a man approached, saying, "Are you waiting for Sam?" He had a round face and wore glasses, and was otherwise so unremarkable as to warrant no further description. I removed my mitten to shake his proffered hand, and immediately regretted it as his hand flopped limply and fishily in mine. I mustered a smile and waited for him to lead the way, or perhaps ask me a question about myself. "Is it ok if we take the métro together?" he asked.

"Oh," I said confused. "Where are we going?"

"No, it's just, I think it's on your way, right?"

"Um, pardon?" I said. "I don't really understand..." My mind raced as I tried to come up with an explanation. Perhaps this wasn't Sam. After all, he hadn't identified himself, only asked if I was waiting for Sam. Perhaps he was going to take me to Sam. Or he wanted to take me to his apartment, or maybe to meet his child.

"No, it's just...Where are you going, after?" he asked.

"Uh, Gare de St. Lazare," I said, confused.

"So, yes, it's on the way," he said. "I have to go back to work. I was here, working, and now I have to go somewhere else, for my work. I travel a lot, for my work."

Questions regarding this mysterious line of work aside, I finally began to understand. "Oh," I said, "sure, no problem." I followed him down the stairs and fumbled for a new métro ticket, my internal monologue muttering that if I had known we were just going to get back on the train again, I would have met him inside the métro and not had to use another ticket. He asked me a couple questions as we waited on the platform, and I smiled politely and gave the appropriate responses. "Boston," "English assistant," "Oh yes, lots of experience with children." He then seemed to run out of things to say, and so I jumped in with some questions of my own.

"So, how old is your...child?" I asked, realizing I didn't even know if it was a boy or a girl, and hoping he would fill in the proper pronoun.

"The child is four years old," he said, "yes, a four year-old child."

Ok. I decided that two could play at this game, and so I asked, "And does the child speak English?"

"Oh yes," he mumbled, "French."

"Er..." I started, and then changed my mind and nodded instead. A train pulled up to the packed platform, and I started to wonder how we were going to continue this interview in such a crowded venue. The doors of the train opened to reveal cars packed to capacity, and no one getting off; it quickly became clear that neither of us were going to be able to make it on the train at all. I shrugged my shoulders at him and resigned myself to waiting for the next train, but he started inching away, saying, "Well, I'm going to try to get this one." Then he said "I'll call you..." over his shoulder, as he fought his way through the crowd. I stood there, stupefied, by what had to have been the shortest, least productive, and most unprofessional interview in the history of interviews. My internal monologue rolled its eyes, and I went to find a seat and wait for the next train. I idly looked around, and noticed my friend, Squirrely McLame-o, making his way down the train car by car, and unable to push his way onto any of them. Then, arriving at the car directly in front of me, he pulled a completely dick move and attempted to pry open the doors of a fully packed car, as they were all but two inches from closing. He managed to get an entire arm inside and wave it around for a while, as everyone inside the train gave him the evil eye, and everyone on the platform pointed and laughed at him. Though he struggled valiantly (and for much longer than any reasonable person would have), he was ultimately unable to wedge the rest of his body through the doors, and so after he extricated himself the train was finally able to continue on its way. I turned my head and pretended to inspect a particularly fascinating advertisement to my left, and he pretended not to notice me not noticing him and casually strolled away, as if nothing had happened. And so we both waited for the next train and ignored each other from opposite ends of the platform. And to think that I had hung around Paris wasting time for five hours, watched a two-and-a-half hour movie that was mediocre at best, and wasted a métro ticket, for this guy.

So, in the case of Madame Overprotective vs. Monsieur Squirrely McLame-o...Um, I'll take 'Plastic Bags Are Not A Toy' for $200 please, Alex? I swear, if I get this job the first thing I'm going to teach little Louise is to never, ever meet with skeezy men from the Internet, and she'll save herself a lot of time and effort. And maybe, while I'm at it, I should start following my own advice.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Why the 'Blue Poppy dance' will soon be sweeping the nation

In case you missed it, the results of the DoW 200th blog post contest are in, and the winner is the amazing, the ethereal, and the inspirational Blue Poppy. And wow, did I get off easy. Her only request was that Fred perform the "Blue Poppy dance" again. Um, he did. I saw it. Does that count? Plus, her lovely comment left me feeling like I had won a prize. Seriously, this woman is good for the self-esteem! So, Blue Poppy, I recognize that you let me off easy, but if in the future you need anything at all- an Eiffel Tower key chain, a shipment of real, French pastries (thoughI can't guarantee their freshness upon arrival), a stoppered bottle of sweet, sweet Parisian air- I am at your disposal.

Voilà! C'est tout. Happy weekend everyone!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Why I am already regretting posting this video

The results of the DoW 200th blog post contest are in! In the spirit of furthering franco-american relations, I invited my roommate, Fred, to help me choose the winner. This may or may not have been a good idea. (I apologize in advance to anyone Fred may have inadvertently offended during filming of this results clip). But, without further ado, the winner is... (!!!)


It kind of falls apart at the end there, but I think you get the general idea, non? Anyway, congratulations to the winner, and thanks to everyone for entering! (Fred sends kisses). A bientôt!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Why I will not be giving away a Wii

Today is a weird day. I waved goodbye to the last of my house guests this morning, leaving me alone for the first time in two weeks. After near fourteen days of gabbing non-stop in English, of cooking meals together, of watching youtube videos together, and of sharing late-night conversations in bed after the lights are out, the house suddenly feels a bit empty. I feel lost, like I don't remember how to entertain myself anymore, I can't remember how to speak French, and I don't know how to blog anymore. It was a good vacation, but coming down is always brutal.

On the other hand, today is a good day. It is an exciting day here at Diary of Why headquarters, and the reason for that is a number. I'll give you a hint- it's a positive integer that falls between 199 and 201 and it rhymes with 200th blog post!!!!!!!!! And in the interest of celebrating small and insignificant milestones, I thought, Hey, why not celebrate this small and insignificant milestone??? 200 posts ago today the Diary of Why was born, back when I was a lonely, single, impoverished grad student, with dreams of one day becoming a lonely, single, impoverished English language assistant glimmering distant on the horizon. Yes, in 200 posts so much can change, or nothing at all, and over here it's kind of a mixed bag, really. I'm a little older, hopefully a little wiser, I put my eye cream on every night and my moisturizer with UV protection on every morning. I'm still looking for someone, but I'm a little less hopeful about finding him. Though by now I should be immune to it, I do still get hurt, but now I'm a little less surprised when it happens. Becoming older and wiser and more life-hardened isn't all doom and gloom though
(because it really is starting to sound dire over here). On the plus side, I don't take things for granted anymore. I value the friendships I have made and maintained through the years, and I am grateful that I can live in a country that I love, for whatever length of time, that I can travel. I take pleasure in the small things, in the briefest of interactions, in that glimmer of a connection with someone else, in walking the streets in the cold air with other people who are doing the same. And, perhaps most importantly, I know what I want now. In a guy, in a relationship, for myself and for my future, for my life. And if I haven't yet the slightest clue how to go about getting these things, I have to hope that recognizing them is at least half the battle.

I hope you will join me as I alternately wallow in this post-holiday letdown and rejoice in celebration of small victories. And what better way to do that, I think, than a contest? And while I would love to offer prizes like a pair of round-trip plane tickets to France!!! or a new Wii!!!, let's be honest here; if I could afford those things I'd be at home right now hanging out with my family and friends and playing tennis on my new Wii. Instead I offer you my humble gifts, or the winner's choice of the following:

- an opportunity to guest post on the Diary of Why
- a guest post written by me, to be posted on your blog

Or in the absence of a blog or desire to do my dirty work for me, I offer the following options:
- one truth: you ask me one question which I am obligated to answer truthfully and publicly

Or, alternatively:
- one dare: you dare me to do anything you want, which I am required to follow through and report back on, with the condition that it is not illegal or permanently emotionally scarring

And who needs a Wii when my potential public humiliation is at stake, right? All you have to do to enter is leave a comment. Tell me anything: where you live, your middle name, what you had for lunch today. Enter by...oh, say, 12:00 P.M. Thursday, EST. (Though at the moment my physical presence is Central European, my blog is and always will be Eastern Standard). Winner to be chosen by random number generator, ink-a-bink, or throwing darts at the computer screen (whichever feels right at the moment).

Good luck!

Saturday, January 3, 2009