"Are you eating with us tonight?" asked my Host Dad
"No, I already ate," I lied. "But thank you anyway."
I couldn't bear to sit through another dinner entirely in French. I went back to my apartment and turned on the T.V., but it wasn't the same as being bypassed completely in conversation, straining to understand. Some days I don't mind it, but others it's all I can do to not flee from the room as soon as I am finished eating.
My family had a small dinner party last night and it was, perhaps, even more excruciating. Take the regular one hour dinner and add three courses and you've got one American girl quite exhausted by the French language. I could follow the content of the conversations for the most part, picking up a word here and there, but it didn't matter really because I couldn't involve myself anyway.
Honestly, I really thought that someone might make an effort to include me - why bother inviting me if you don't want to talk to me, you know? - but it only happened twice. Each time the conversation was about the state of our flailing country (which the French have a definite opinion on) and I was only happy that I have chosen to read the paper lately.
Not know french makes the little things currently more difficult; things I took for granted, and things that made me independent. For instance the bank card what should be a very straightforward and freeing item to have in my possession. It turns out that in France they don't give you your pin number when you receive your card and so the money I currently have is completely unavailable to me. In America I would simply call the bank and find out the problem. But as I've exhibited, I can only say things in French that do not allow for any kind of answer outside of the exact thing I am asking for.
Such as the case with my train tickets. I don't have my unlimited card yet and so I should really have some kind of a week pass. A book of ten tickets is nearly twenty euros and the amount of times I travel into Paris makes that plan fairly unaffordable. I discuss this with HM and she says "Oh, you should just be able to get a weekly pass from the train station." Simple.
But I know, by word from someone else, that the Carte L'Orange (which is the week pass) is basically not available anymore. And so I know that if I go up to the ticket window at the train station and ask for this I will get such a response which I would then have to understand and respond to. This is called a conversation, and I am not capable of it yet.
And so I bring a resident and French speaker to the station with me, because I don't know how else to find out what the hell I am supposed to do for a weekly pass.
I feel helpless. Which is ironic, because it's the very feeling I was dying to escape in Austin. It's le circle vicious - a new phrase I learned - which translates just fine into my language. I am apparently right back where I started, once again.
Sunday, September 28, 2008
"Are you eating with us tonight?" asked my Host Dad
I've been struck by the splotchy internet disease and so I feel I have to write very fast. You never know how quickly it could just drop and then my streaming audio feed will stop and my email will become unavailable rendering me incapacitated. Yes, I am an addict.
This week I found myself in the interesting situation of being socially busy. Wednesday Sarah took me along to a girly party where virtually everyone spoke english. Well, put fifteen plus women in a 15 meter square chambre de bonne and just try to get us to stop talking. Lubricate with wine and the glittering Eiffel Tower (yes, it actually sparkles at night)
and suddenly we've just made some very good friends.
Some of them had only been in Paris a few weeks like myself, and others had been here pushing ten years. Most of them seemed to be married to French men. So apparently every other person makes that comment to me ("Oh, your gonna marry a French Man...") because it seems to just be what happens. English speaking girls come to Paris, French men fall in love with them. (Yes, just like that!)
I still have not taken the time to stalk their respective blogs (Sorry girls!) but wonder of wonders - one of them is my neighbor. As in, she lives in the same town as I do. And I think: I just couldn't get an better luck.
I recovered fairly well from Wednesday, but Thursday, Thursday was not so well received by my body. It goes back to being old (and probably to drinking the night before) but I could not very well say NO to my dear friend from Houston, Delphine. We had only just begun to be good friends before I left but it was only natural I meet up with her on the last leg of her visit home to France. And she insisted that I meet her handsome, intelligent friends who could show me around Paris.
Oh, OKAY. If I HAVE TO.
And so, plied with drinks and that green stuff I mentioned previously ("That's Get 27!" said D, "The drink for winners!") we managed to stay awake till 4a.m.. My special treat for the evening was a ride home in a car, and even though it was the main reason I was up until 4 (ahem, men need GPS as badly as women, it seems) I was supremely glad to not have to figure out what train I needed to get on to get home at what time.
I had a clever post comparing French and American Parties all set for Friday and then my internet gave out completely for the whole day and so I had to leave the house. Because what did I do before internet?
Unfortunately I had to go to the bank again, so in my delicate hangover state I was not too jazzed. I was supposed to pick up my bankcard from them and I didn't know how to say that, and without my google translator I couldn't plug it in for the reasonably close suggestion. I deliberated not doing it at all, but I knew my HM would ask so it wasn't really an option. I got out my myriad of phrase books and dictionaries and came up with this phrase: Frenchies, be prepared to fall out of your chair laughing:
Je besoin se faire mon carte bancaire. C'est nouvelle compte.
For you english speakers like me that translates to something like "I need to be made my bank card. It is new counts." Or WORSE. YEAH.
And somehow I left with my bankcard. So to reward myself for doing the thing I was so afraid of doing, I bought myself a tarte chocolate.
It was perfect.
Saturday was very nearly hot (and we are promised another day like that today, I feel sure) and so I was more than happy to take another car ride with my D's Handsome, Intelligent Friend into Paris for lunch and a good solid hour in the Jardin Luxembourg watching scouts play capture the flag and practically everyone in Paris laid out at benches and tables to catch the incredible sun.
Slated for today: Lunch, movies and macaroons. La vie e'st belle. (Life is beautiful, isn't it!)
Friday, September 26, 2008
All day my stomach has been making noises like a groaning schooner, mid storm. It never made noises like this before I moved to France, and while I would conjecture that it has something to do with the quantity of cheese I consume it's oddly present when dairy is not. Everyone else can hear it, by the way, and so mid awkward French sentence I am echoed by an other worldly gurgle from beneath.
I am going to sleep right now instead of going out with some new friends because I am worried about my liver. I drank something green last night that may have been mint flavored bathtub gin. No, honestly the real problem is I'm tired. I can barely form a sentence right now and I got to stay in bed until noon.
Between my tired eyes and my chatty stomach I can only deduce that I have become and eighty year old woman...who drinks mint flavored alcohol. It's possible the stuff leaked into my brain.
Did I say I was going to post some pictures from last week? Or maybe I didn't. See? I'm getting alzheimers too.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
So it goes.
Last week was wonderful, euphoric, extatic, etc.. I wanted another solid week of it, I thought for sure I was due, but this morning I woke up in a full on Homesick kind of way.
Let me back up. I have a problem with this tradition the French have called shutters. In America we use curtains and it's swell because they don't have to black out your whole house if you don't want them. Here in France, though, almost all apartments and houses (and businesses and shops) have shutters on them. That's very quaint. For me people like me who have, in the past (and not so distant past, lest we forget), suffered from depression and are also very prone to Seasonal Effective Disorder, waking up at ten thirty and not knowing that the sun has come up is not so quaint.
Remember when I thought HD couldn't possibly be asking me to close my shutters? Well, turns out he was. And so - because "When in Rome" as they say - I began closing my doors at night. Which, okay, kept it a little bit warmer, but it also induced almost immediate morning depression.
Which brings us to current. I awoke at 8:30 but I could not drag myself out of bed. For what? I didn't have anything to do today. So I looked around the internet and said if I fall back askeep before 9 then I can pretend I never woke up. And I did. 10:30 rolls around and through the slats in my blinds I cannot decipher if it is sunny or grey which I feel certain will determine the course of my day.
All at once I tumble into the sensation of being back at home in Austin, where I lived for nearly four years before deciding to make this crazy move. My bed was comfortable, the sun was bright and the noises that annoyed me there were familiar and comforting. My cats crawled up into my face and begged for attention. I thought about rolling out of my bed and making drip coffee and pouring in silk soy creamer and checking my email as I listened to my records. A neighbor walks by, and then decides to stop for a chat.
Back in France I listened for a sound outside my door. There was nothing. There were no cats to crawl up in bed with me, no records to listen to, no neighbor to say hello. Then the worst thought occurred to me: I don't have that place to go back to. Everything in my once home has been dismantled, carelessly almost, and all that remains is stacked in a corner of my mothers apartment in Houston. Should things come to a worst case senario here, I have nothing. The man that I came here for - the one I missed so much - has little to no interest in seeing me which puts me in the interesting position of missing him all over again. I have no job in America, no education to fall back on. Even my little grey cat has gone missing, presumably for good. Things will never be the same again.
So I cried. For the first time that day. Later I made it out of the apartment to get food wherein I embarrassed myself both at the bank and the boulangerie. Back home I made an sincere attempt to get the young one to be interested in something and did not succeed. I made dinner too early and put the eggrolls in the microwave instead of the oven (which caused my HM to have a real moment of distress) and then proceeded to hold my tears for an entire meal in French.
After which I excused myself, went to my apartment and cried again.
Please don't misunderstand, I am so glad to be here and I know what an amazing family I have been blessed with and how grand an opportunity it is, but for now - for right now - I have just realized the weight of my state of being. There is so much I have to do before this will feel like home, and then what? So many questions, so many senarios that I really cannot allow myself to play out because they will stagger me and stop me dead in my tracks. I know myself, I have to feel all this with it's great intensity so that I can someday realize how far I've come; so I do and I don't beat myself up too much for having a headache from shedding so many tears.
I emote. I feel and hope for the best. And tonight I do not shut my damn shutters and I cry some more and I know tomorrow will be a better day. Because it always is, isn't it?
Sunday, September 21, 2008
"You can tell you're American!" He shouted across the living room, laughing. "No one in Paris goes to a party dressed like this!"
"Oh whatever!" I replied in dismay. If I had not been as drunk I surely would have cried. "That's bullshit!"
"No, look around," he went on. The girls behind him sniggered. "Look at how these girls are dressed, no one would ever dress like you!"
"First of all," I began, emblazoned with anger at this short man's opinion, "This is a hat party, is it not? And I this outfit goes appropriately with my hat. Secondly, this is Paris. People dress however the hell they want!"
The girls continued to laugh and clearly his point was made. I most definitely was the only person in attendance who happened to look like they accidently dropped by from the thirties. But damnit, I loved my skirt and who was he to comment?
And somehow this was the thing I took away from my first official french party. Not how nice everyone was (excepting this instance, of course) and it wasn't how much fun I had dancing (despite my decision to wear heels which caused a severe pain to radiate up through my ankles) and it wasn't how funny it was to see four french girls line dancing. No, it was this, this stupid off handed, definititely drunken comment about my outfit.
It's about keeping up with appearances. It's also about the ironic conversation I had with Sarah just a few hours before - a discussion about wearing what makes you happy because how do you really "fit in" to Paris fashion? It shouldn't be, certainly, but it's a real concern for us because already we stand out as obviously American (well, I do) and it's hard to not want to ease that awkwardness by dressing the part of a true Parisienne.
That being said fashion here is all over the map. One girl wears the flare jeans and the other the skinny. One girl wears a short skirt with high heels and bare legs and another girls wears the same skirt with bright tights and converse. One girl wears something delicate and flowy and the next has a tough rocker look. So what trend am I supposed to follow? What if I don't particular care for any of those looks? Why should I have to conform, anyway?
Conformity, there's a word I've never been too good with. Because there is little fun in being just like everyone else. But here, for now, conformity is also a word for adaptation. It's doing something so that one does not get unnecesarily roughed up on the playground by the older kids. It's not drawing attention to oneself.
I don't speak french. I don't know my way around. I do not want to be picked out of the line up for any other minor failings.
So this afternoon I hang my lovely pocketed wool skirt out in the sun to try to rid it of the cigarette smell and wonder if I'll be brave enough to wear it again.
I'll decide to revisit the issue again when the hangover is gone.
Friday, September 19, 2008
I board the Number 6 Metro to the strains of Spanish guitar. They do that here - sing on the Metros for tips. Surely the do this in New York too, but I've never seen it. The train is full and hot. I stand against a greasy pole next to a young girl who looks to have just left school for the day. I make sure that I am on the train in the right direction and count how many stops till I exit.
The man plays an upbeat version of Besame Mucho, and because I am on the other side of the car from him I don't have to feel guilty for not wanting to tip; instead I tap out a beat on the pole with my fingernails. There is no one on this train car that I would love to share "many kisses" with. It's not a terrible tragedy, but in the romance capital of the world, one is often caused to think on it. I currently feel like it might be nice to have a hand holding partner to get lost with, but there are no prospects for this character.
No matter, really, because I've just forked over a chunk of my free time to an English speaking non-profit organization in the hopes to meet people and keep moving forward. Soon I think I will find myself so busy that I won't have time for the afore mentioned romance.
I am tired and so I close my eyes for a minutes, mentally recomposing. When I open them we are on an elevated platform and I have a wonderful view of the seventeenth century apartments stacked on themselves. These old buildings all have ornate iron balcony railings, overflowing with heaps of pink and red flowering plants. In the tilted sunlight of a fall afternoon, these grand old ladies talk amongst themselves, shushing the hurried commuters below them. They seem to be at tea, and dislike the disturbance of such a hustle.
I change trains at the Eiffel Tower stop, and I think it's sort of funny that I've not seen the thing yet. From the platform I have the most beautiful view of the Seine, the golden slant of light shoved through an ornate Metro bridge reflected onto the stately architecture across the river. I hold my own hand and mentally kiss my cheek, for a moment like this requires a bit of tender affection, even if it's only with oneself.
I have a love affair with Martha Stewart. I know some of you don't approve but the woman (and her Omnimedia, ahem) does beautiful things that I love to replicate and has that glossy magazine with lovely photos that is good fodder for collages and debates.
She's having a contest to have your blog reviewed and featured on hers, and kids? How could I pass that up?
I simply could not.
...Might I add what a BRILLIANT way she has invented to drive traffic to her blog? Seriously, her team is wicked savvy.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
It was decidedly better today. Last night I had bizarre dreams about racing shopping carts around an American grocery store, and when I woke I felt a bit of that playfulness still. The older was home all day because he'd has his wisdom teeth removed the day prior, and so I figured I could take that opportunity to go to the Monoprix and get ingredients to make a dessert for the evening.
Wednesday, being the long day, means that I have hours to spend at home while the boys glue themselves to the T.V. and computer respectively. There is nothing I can do to pull them away and HM (for the most part) leaves directions for dinner so with no elaborate meal to concoct I have hours and hours to fill. Thus, I decided that Wednesdays would be dessert days.
What could I make for dessert, I thought, for a kid who just got his wisdom teeth out? HM had left us some strange mashed potato like substances for lunch (which I could not bring myself to eat) and I felt so bad watching them force it down that I knew I could leave the older out of dessert. My first thought was for a custard or a mousse, but HD had given the older strict orders of no dairy for the next five days. I'm not sure why really, but I feel sure it has something to do with a weird French phobia.
So no dairy, no dairy, what could I do?? Cakes were out for the chewing, as was a tart. And so I settled on this. Who can pass up chocolate? And even HD, with his lactose intolerance, could have some!
It was, of course, well received. I would have liked to have present it better because I am a geek like that, but I couldn't get it to freeze fast enough, and I had to served it out of a 8x8 pyrex plate. I did the whole thing sans ice cream machine, and so it was a bit like a cold chocolate pudding by the end. But it was definitely satisfying to watch a fifteen year old shovel it into his poor swollen mouth, a ring of dark chocolate left on his lips.
The rest of my afternoon I spent knitting. I haven't knitted anything in a good six months, but while at Aimee's shop she invited Sarah and I to join her for her knitting circle and it inspired me to start up again. The needles I bought are a bit big for the Metro (or else I need a bigger purse) but it's fun to have something to do with my hands. I still only know how to make scarves, but it's the motion that is soothing for now, more than the end product. And the younger seems to be interested as well. Twice he looked intently at my rainbow colored yarn and asked "What are you making??" I wonder if he's met many knitters in his life.
Now I am watching a German documentary on Hilter, dubbed in French. As it happens, there is nothing on T.V. in France. I wish I had a movie, but may settle with WWII and some knitting, at least until my stomach settles. Cheese for every meal has begun to take its toll already!
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
As I closed the door to my little apartment tonight, HD poked his head out of the big house.
"Oui?" I replied.
"You are closing your doors at night, right?" I assumed he meant to ask if I locked my doors, although the little house does have large shutters on the outside that I never close (I like the light in the morning).
"Oh, oui." I replied. "...I do now." I added to myself.
It certainly wouldn't have ever occurred to me before to worry about locking my doors here. In addition to being in the back yard of a house that has a locked gate, I have rarely felt more safe.
Today was long, sandwiching a wonderful afternoon out with superb homesickness. I have decided that, like the break up I am re-living, I have to allow myself to wade through this period of adjustment. I thought I would be one of those natural expats, at home wherever I landed, but anyone who knows me could have told you I would miss home. I miss fried chicken and T.V. in English and having direct access to the music I love via streaming audio. I miss talking to neighbors and strangers. If I were in any English speaking city I would wander until I met someone new. I would re-create my existance and seek out the social interaction I thrive on.
Once, in Bryant Park, NYC, a South African boy struck up a conversation with me and when I couldn't shake him I let him take me - for the very first time - on the New York Subway all the way to Central Park. We didn't become the best of friends but we spent an easy afternoon together laughing as he showed me the sights. This is not the sort of interaction I can have here, not as easily. If a young man were to approach me now I would have to hope he knew enough English to understand that I don't know enough French to understand him.
But I am the luckiest girl on the face of the planet, because I have been given the gift of being good friends with people who have done this all before. So on days like this, when I wake up in a funk that can only be cured by Christmas music, I am happy that someone already knows where to find some english speakers (and a wonderful cup of tea).
For lunch, Sarah took me to Place d'Italie to visit L'Oisive Thé. Owned by Aimee (a Kansas transplant) and her husband Julien, the tea house was exactly what my homesick heart needed. It was surreal to be greeted in english by Aimee's brother William, but in a wholey satisfying kind of way. I would not be embarrassed by this waiter for not speaking the language.
I made haste to order a big pot of Assam / Darjeeling thé,
delighting in the decor that was all at once French mixed with something that reminded me directly of my friend's homes in Austin. When we arrived every table was taken, occupied by lunching French folk.
By the time we had been served our food and veritably stuffed ourselves the clientele had been swapped out for a group of young ladies, all there to dine and visit with Aimee, who was recovering from the rush by baking a fresh batch of scones.
Eavesdropping was inevitable for me, as it's now a novelty. And naturally, because I'm truly American, I quickly found my way into the conversations. There was the German girl from down the street, clicking on her computer with a cup of coffee. There was William, taking a break from washing dishes and enjoying the company of a petite Asian girl, quizzing her on Pop Culture by playing "Blackbird" on the guitar that rested in the corner. They were joined by a delicate red haired French girl who took over the guitar and sang in the loveliest, clear voice.
I was happy to be chatting with strangers - making friends. It was the first cafe I have been one hundred percent comfortable at. It felt like I'd curled up with a good book and a handmade blanket. The fresh out of the oven scone didn't hurt, either. I have definite plans to go back, and hopefully soon.
Tonight, despite my four cups of tea from lunch, I think there is a good possibility that I will go to bed at a normal hour. This can only do good things for my emotional state. Tomorrow is the long day with the boys. I think I will bake.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
It's weird knowing that I have only been in France for a week. Being so far away from home makes it feel like eons have gone by. I mentally exist in two different time zones - here in Paris and seven hours prior in Texas, having dinner with my friends and family. I have not adjusted my body Central European Time (CET) and so I don't go to sleep until around 2a.m because I can chat with all the people I know who are still at work in the US. This makes for a long, somewhat surreal day.
Friday and Saturday were hard on me. Hurricane Ike hit Houston and so I had to wait (with a seven hour lag) to hear what would happen to my mother and friends. I could check CNN, but still not really know what would happen to the areas my loved ones were in. My mother called me to tell me that, at the last minute before the storm, my cat had run away. I didn't know what else to do except cry. The older boy came home with some kind of a flu and I baked a cake to keep my mind preoccupied,
but the day was not salvaged until Sarah invited me over for a drink and a few episodes of 'Project Runway' in English (her husband downloaded it for her).
The next day I was convinced that, to work myself out of the funk I was in, I needed familiar faces. This translated into seeing the Frenchman. I took Sarah and her husband with me and the Frenchman brought a friend of his so there was great safety in numbers, but every moment was similar to being held at knife point and asked to translate the bible into French. It was every bit as painful as I thought it might be, which begs to ask why I did it in the first place.
We wandered and ate and wandered and drank. I laughed as best I could and held back my desire to jump in the Seine, along with the desire to hold his hand and kiss his lips.
"You don't seem excited," he said, as we wandered down a charming Rue in St. Michel.
"I'm in my head right now," I said. It was starting to drizzle.
"Are you worried about your mom?"
"Yes, a bit," I lied. No, you idiot, I thought. I'm indulging in masochistic tendencies by walking here next to you. Are you really that daft?
When we parted at my train stop, we gave each other the traditional french bisous and said goodbye. It was as stale and emotionless as two once lovers could possibly get.
I cried on the ride home, wondering what the hell I was doing here after all. How could I be so stupid to think that simple proximity would change his mind?
Are you really that daft??
After witnessing an "almost knife fight" on the train between three young people ("S'il vous plait! S'il vous plait! S'il vous plait! S'il vous plait!" the girl begged her boyfriend as he held a knife to the other boy), all I wanted to do was hide in my apartment and cry. Unfortunately the whole reason I was going home early was to meet HM's family who were coming for dinner. I pulled myself together with only a few minutes to spare.
HM had prepared a lovely raclette spread
and despite myself and my self induced tortorous day I enjoyed dinner. Her family was wonderful and warm and I couldn't help but think how lucky I was. It's not a sure thing, when you take a job like this. There is much risk involved, but I have come to a very good situation with a very kind family.
This morning I woke with an emotional hangover, but the sun was shining.
"Not gonna feel like this for him anymore," I said as I dragged myself to the shower. Ca suffit. That's enough.
On the walk to the Monoprix I did not get lost, and so I wasn't too let down to find that it would be closing in five minutes. Instead of being the person who keeps the clerks after the time they should be closed, I opted to wander across the street to see if there was a nice boulanger where I could aquire the much needed baguette for the stinky cheese I planned to have for lunch. Remembering I can't speak a lick of French I bipassed the very busy shop with the delicate pastries for the Meudon Naturale across the street.
"Bonour!" said a slight woman as I entered. I was the only person there, so the conversation where I get to tell her I don't speak her language was inevitable.
"Je parle englais," I said. I realized, then, that for whatever reason I can't pronounce the word englais without sounding one hundred and fifty percent american. It came out sounding like I had just stepped off my horse in west Texas, despite the fact that I never really had an accent when I lived there. I should stick to "Je ne parle pas francais", I think.
"Oh, okay," she said in her best broken english. "I want to help you, if you need to find something."
"Okay, thanks," I said.
I looked around at the goods, very excited to find agave nectar and a heaping pile of organic avocados. I blanched at the grapes priced at 8 euros, but wasn't entirely surprised. Everybody knows that if it's "organic" you can charge whatever you want for it.
"You live in Meudon?" she asked me, clearly interested in a random American in her shop. Clearly Johnny Depp has not discovered this gem yet.
"Yes," I replied.
"Where are you from?" She seemed nervous. She was the opposite of the exotic, young women I saw trapsing around Paris the day before. Her lipstick was a bit faded, but her knee length dress was perfectly pressed. She had a tired looking scarf close to her neck, tucked neatly into her white oxford shirt.
"I grew up in Colorado, but I just moved here from Texas," I said.
"Oh, that's nice!" she fidgeted with her scarf.
Two young children rushed in jabbering in French and making circles around her. They seemed to be her children, but she tried to brush them off and remain interested in her one customer, determined to make a sale. She explained to me that she had just opened this shop. I congratulated her and praised her for it's charm.
I picked up a few things and as I paid she asked me if I would learn French.
"Oh yes! Well, I have to don't I!?" I replied.
"Well," she said, "You come back every Sunday and I check on your progress."
"I would love to take an English movie with you sometime, but I have not very much free time," she blushed, motioning to the store and her daughter who, at that moment, caused a flurry of plastic bags to take flight. She shuffled her through a locked door where I spied what I guessed were the stairs to her apartment.
"Well," I said, "I will have to visit you here, then!"
We shook hands and she gave me her card and I agreed that I would, indeed, have to meet her next Sunday.
I left her shop and stumbled glibly into the butcher next door to take a couple of bottles of wine. Again my French failed me, but I didn't much care. Outside the sun was warm enough that I could take my coat off, and it shone in a nice fall light on the old stone buildings around the RER station.
Finally, finally, I felt really happy to be here.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
It's been awhile now since I knew what it was like to have a man's arms around me. When I think about it, it makes me terribly depressed. Not for lack of man in general, of course, but that one specific man you all are sick to death of hearing about. It makes me depressed to think about it, even here in the most beautiful city on earth, so I don't think about it. Instead, I fill that side of the bed. Because who wants to stretch out anyway.
Currently, that side of the bed is occupied by my very important papers what I forgot to take to the city with me today, my journal, my notebook (which is just as valuable as the journal but currently more used) two power adapters, three maps of Paris, a "Plan de Paris 'Indispensible'" that I've been studying so I don't get lost again, my eye pillow and a pair of dirty socks. I find it comforting somehow that the other side of the bed is not empty.
I need to Feng Shui this room. It's small, my apartment, but not miniscule and there is certainly room enough to not have my toes pointing at the door while I sleep (which is VERY BAD Feng Shui). I am also considering asking HD to remove the T.V. to the cave (read: French basement) because even though I am tired of silence I don't want to watch T.V. unless it's David Letterman or Sex and the City. Also, it's old and I can't figure out how to get more than channel Deux, so why bother really?
My teeny kitchen needs cleaned and my teeny bathroom needs to some kind of hanging toiletry rack for the teeny shower. I need bookends (because apparently no girl before me brought books) and I need an area rug that is A) not the same color as the floor, and B) less likely to trip me everyday.
In short, I want to make this home. As absurd as this sounds. I highly doubt I will have the stroke of luck the previous Au Pair had and meet a nice lad who is desperately in love with me and wants me to stay at his apartment in Paris everyday. Despite the fact that many people have made the comment "You're going to meet a French man and get married!", I am not banking on this. I met a Frenchman. We are not married. See how this works? Not the same for me.
In similar news, Amazon.com today emailed me a couple of book "suggestions". They emailed me "Living Alone Creatively: How Twelve People Do It" and "On My Own: The Art of Being a Woman Alone". I want to know what the implication here is. Seriously. I mean, I may harbor my own fears about dying alone, but do I really need Amazon to confirm that?
The first week is almost over. It's not surprising that I have brought my neurosis' over here with me. Did I really think I could escape them?? Next on the agenda is to build up my leg muscles, because I'll be damned if I'm not walking like an eighty year old after wandering the streets all week. Also to do? Budget for entirely new wardrobe. I aspire to be a high-heel wearing woman of Paris by years end.
First, I must figure out how to get a good nights sleep.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
I am tired and therefore I am lonely. I am lonely, therefore my mind weaves intricate tales about reality and I get anxious so I can't sleep.
To be honest, it's too quiet here. I need some ambient noise, like a police siren or a party or a big truck engine. You will not find one of those things in my corner of suburban Paris. When I turn off the lights there is silence, only broken by the click of the little alarm clock beside me and the occasional shuffle of some animal across the roof. The night outside is pitch dark, and I am suddenly terribly lonely.
It's dinner time in the U.S., so I everyone I can chat with is away from their computers. I want a hug from someone.
So in an effort to not let it overwhelm me, I decided to share this random thing that I accidentally sent my sister in the mail. She scanned it and sent it back to me.
This is "The List". Each year in high school, as summer came upon us, my best friend Sam and I would put together a list of all the things we loved about summer and hoped to accomplish in the coming one. Reading it is just like having those summers back. Most of the items are inside jokes, but I will try to explain a few here.
6. The Pimp Wagon. My first car was actually my mothers. It was a gold Pontiac station wagon that Sam and I would take "cruising" up and down the main street in town, honking at boys. See 55. "Oh my GOD! We put 90 miles on my mom's car!"
23. "I'm staying at Julie's!" "I'm staying at Sam's" ..actually we're staying at Jason's. Jason was a boy we met cruising. He had a sweet tooth for me and convinced us to stay out all night (he was in college) but we didn't have a place to go past our curfew and so we stayed at his house. It was actually quite harmless (Sam and I slept on his couch and left before he woke up) but it would have given our respective mothers heart attacks. He had a cat and was renting a HUGE old victorian home from a crazy lady who took pictures of herself nude (with the cat). The night we all stayed out we got caught playing in the fountains and were chased into the public restrooms by the cops. See 12.
47. Julie choking on her dinner. See also 40. Spitting Pop everywhere all the time. To this day Sam is the only person I have ever known who can make me laugh so hard that I spit whatever is in my mouth out. Perhaps it was because we were together so much, or perhaps it was because we ate a lot, but either way food ended up launched from me onto the surrounding areas. Follow this by that totally silent "I can't breathe!" laughter, and you have a night with Sam and I.
38 and 39. Hot waiters at Old Chicago and 3 pitchers of diet pepsi! I gotta pee! This is how I met my first fiancee. He was a waiter and we stalked him at his restaurant. For some reason, we were deemed endearing instead of annoying. Anyone who's ever been a waiter knows that someone who only orders appetizers and soda but stays three hours is considered a horrible table. We did it anyway. I got almost got a husband out of the deal. Eventually he got tired of me squatting at his table and we called it off.
30 and 31. Skinny Dipping. and Skinny Dipping! We used to have this pond we'd go to, long after midnight while the night was still hot, where on a clear night you could see every single star reflected on the surface of the water. The water was warm from the long day's sun and we would get in and tread out as far as we could with getting scared by the darkness. We never once got caught.
Reading that makes me wish I had appreciated being sixteen. I wanted to grow up so badly: to be an adult and live on my own and be free to make all my own mistakes. I didn't appreciate the freedom I really had.
So now, now I have everything I wanted from life (almost [getting there!]). But what I wouldn't give to be with someone who could make me spit coke from my nose with laughter!
It would figure that today, of all days, my jet lag would set in. Why not? Today is only the day HM decided we would go to the prefecture (and que for three hours), and the day that the boys have a half day of school. Really on a normal day those things wouldn't be of any consequence, but - maybe it's because I walked so much yesterday, or maybe it's because I can't seem to fall asleep before 1:30 in the morning - today I feel like I could have slept ALL DAY.
I am cold here. Even though it is warm outside, the insides of the houses seem chilly to me. It's fall, you know? So warm enough during the day that you can't really turn on the heater, but cold enough in the morning that you don't want to get out of bed. And there is a serious lack of throw blankets in this house. I want to curl up on the couch and nap while the young one clicks away at his computer for a few more hours, but it's not the same without a blanket. It never occurred to me that I was spoiled by way of blankets at my mom's house. We always had two or three on hand, folded by the couch waiting for T.V. watching or book reading.
So I'm rocking the socks with loafers look. Because damnit my feet are cold! And short of knitting myself a blanket, I'll not be curling up comfortably anytime soon. Though, knitting a blanket is a tempting idea. I spotted the yarn section at the Monoprix yesterday and almost dug in. I am going to hold out though, because I'm fairly certain one of my guide books had a wonderful section about where to find textiles in Paris.
Did I mention I'll be spending some money here? Oh my god, the clothes. Not every single woman I see is dressed like a movie star, but when I do see them they are so chic I feel like I fell off a garbage truck somewhere, probably in Texas. The lovely scarves and full pleated coats with big buttons and little feminine accents make me anxious for winter. HM commented today that it doesn't get cold enough for gloves here and if I knew her better I would have laid my hand on her knee and said "No, not for the cold - for the fashion." I didn't though, because I think HM is a fairly pragmatic working mom. She's incredibly organized and focused and I don't think worrying about this seasons trends is worth her time. I don't hold this against her, but I can't help but feel she would think me a bit silly for going on like that. She simply has bigger fish to fry.
Meanwhile, pants are a real issue here. I only owned two pairs of jeans to begin with, and one of them is a pair with flare bottoms. Here, that means that unless I am rocking heels (and I'm still breaking in my heels so I'm a bit scared to try these streets in pumps.) I will be dragging the cuffs of my pants through every dirty, wet sidewalk of Paris (and the metro.). Gross! So I have to update my fashion a bit. I know I personally can't pull of the skinny jeans, but there's a tailored look that's very in and I am think it's lovely and retro.
For now, I am about to bribe the young one into taking a walk with me so I can enjoy another day of this beautiful sun. HM predicted a dreary fall, so I want to take it in while I can! Shall I use dessert or dinner to lure him?? Oh, the possibilities!
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Oh, be careful what you wish for. Especially in a city where you don't know the language and don't yet know the transit system.
Today I planned my day according to what I thought would be a balanced, well timed day. I planned it according to the way I might plan a day when I was back home, perhaps using a car.
I had another free day to fill and so, in addition to meeting Sarah for lunch, I decided that I would also pick up a few things for my little house. I needed toothpaste and hypoallergenic soap (How did so much Irish Spring end up in France?) and well, the hair dryer that's here had some dangerous electrical flaw, plus I needed coffee and cheese. So little sister decided to go to market.
Here they have a small Wal-mart "Equivalent" - with clothes and home goods and a grocery on the bottom level - called Monoprix. Also, today was marche day and I wanted the freshest cheese and the nice bread as well as some veggies to make salads for the family. I decided to wake up early and go to both, and then meet Sarah for coffee at her place before lunch in Paris, then home to make dinner.
To me, this sounded like a perfectly lovely day. The sun was out again - so warm that I left my jacket at home - and though I wasn't full of energy, I was ready to explore a bit on my own.
Then I got lost. I had been to the Monoprix with HD before but I still could not remember the way. I wandered for blocks until I accidentally stumbled onto it. I succeeded in purchasing the things I needed, took out the map HM had drawn for me and proceeded to get lost on the way to the marche.
Here I brutally embarrassed myself by my incompetence with French, the metric system and my knowledge of what each Euro coin looks like. I almost purchased twelve kilos of tomatoes (I think that's 26 pounds??) until I realized I wasn't even sure I wanted two and though I really wanted to buy some more interesting veggies, I couldn't speak with the poor attendant AT ALL. So I hung my head and shuffled out of the market with my bags full of too many vegetables.
And I got lost again. For those of you keeping score, that's three times that I was lost in one morning. I did not take this as a bad omen, and even though I was late to meet Sarah already, I decided to head out again, and promptly got on the bus going the wrong direction.
"Hmmm, we shouldn't be going through the forest", I thought. When I looked at the map detailing our route, sure enough, we were going the wrong way. No, the bus was going the right way. I was not.
Two and a half hours later I had been shuttled onto another bus and then told to get off and cross the bridge to get where I was going and I decided I was officially nowhere. Certainly not remotely close to where I needed to be. And, wonder of wonders, I had forgotten to write down Sarah's number. The only number I had with me, in fact, was the Frenchmans.
The very last thing I wanted to do was show any sign of weakness to him. But there I was, completely unable to communicate to anyone that I was totally and wholly lost and I was starving. I did my best to not cry and asked him for Sarah's number. No, you don't have it either? GREAT.
I wandered around her suburb for another ten minutes before calling him again. It seemed like eons, time passed like a snail on a log, probably because the precious minutes I used to call him were all on my American cell phone thus costing me about a million dollars for every wrong turn I made. He guided my from his laptop towards my supposed destination and I tried not to explode, or faint from hunger. I had not eaten a thing all day.
Then, the most amazing thing happened.
"Juliet!" Someone called from behind me. "Juliet! Hey!"
Someone here is calling my name?? I thought, and turned around.
There was Sarah's husband, manifested out of nowhere, stopping me as I walked. He had spoken to her and knew I hadn't shown, but both of us were terribly surprised to see eachother there on that street. He apparently rarely, if ever, is in this part of town on a weekday. Moreover, we had only met once previously, and so I was amazed that he recognized me. But there he was.
"Oh my god, it's Gui! Oh my god, he's standing right in front of me!" I shouted to the Frenchman. I was very nearly in tears and I hugged Gui fiercely.
After I hung up, one hundred percent stunned at fate, Gui guided me onto the metro to meet Sarah and I didn't even screw up the connection.
We ate falafel and wandered around La Marais before heading back to her hood where I was sent home in what had become a nice drizzle. And me without my jacket.
I guess there is some lesson here, but after walking for almost five hours today, I'm not gonna try to figure it out. Sleep will be welcome and tomorrow is the long day with the boys.
Sleep, oh yes. That's what I should be doing right now.
Monday, September 8, 2008
I did not die on my first international flight. I thought about it, my knees nearly exploded and I almost threw up around four hours in, but I did not die. As the plane touched down over Paris I held back the tears. The Eiffel Tower passed beneath us and I heaved a sigh of relief. The hard part was over.
I was picked up by my host mother (HM from now on) who patiently explained where we were in Paris and let me talk about mindless things like the size of the cars on the road. My brain was mushy and overstimulated at the same time. I wanted to form intelligent things to say to her, but no intelligent things came.
Still, after a day here, my brain struggles with words. I want to tell everything - how wonderful my family is and how they popped a bottle of champagne to welcome me and how they did not choke on my first meal - but mostly I am brimming with anticipation and glossed over with exhaustion.
Already, I am frustrated that I don't know the language. My host dad (HD) is challenging me, speaking to me half the time in French even though he knows I do not understand. It's not by way of cruelty, but to help me acclimate. I am happy for it (if terribly embarrassed) because I have quickly discovered that my base knowledge is not even enough to order a meal at a cafe.
I want to have a mastery of the trains (Metro and RER) now, so that I can come and go freely and not be afraid that I will be late for work because I've manage to end up in La Defense instead of the Val Fleury station. On the flip side of his challenges, HD reassures me saying "It's only your first day. You will not know it all yet!"
But despite my immediate anxieties, it was the perfect day to have "just arrived" in Paris. The sky was a stunning blue and the sun warmed Sarah and I as she guided me from Notre Dame to Montparnasse and back. We took a coffee our first coffee at a cafe where we were spotted directly by our table neighbor as American. He chewed grossly on a baguette and looked shocked as he said, in French "You are not fat?! I thought all Americans were fat." I laughed out loud at this because even without the translation it translated.
After we crossed the Pont Neuf, we headed for Montparnasse and the "affordable" shopping. Here we took a bite to eat and a kir, and talked for a few hours. The sun radiated in sheets of heat on our long black sleeves and I marvelled that I was really at a cafe drinking with an new old friend in Paris. Slowly, the light shifted to that golden afternoon light.
Sarah took me back to the St. Michel so I could, in theory, learn the way back to my train station without getting lost, but I've decided it's inevitable.
That's, in a way, what I am here for. To get a little bit lost in this and see where I come out on the other side. To make plans and live vibrantly and see where it takes me. Day one has successfully passed. Soon I will acclimate and the little things like taking a shower will feel normal. I will have a routine for writing and calling my friends and family back home. Soon, this will actually feel like my life.
For now, I will get lost.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Considering I my nerves I really slept fairly well. I was in the midst of a strange dream when my phone rang.
Ames (from Munich): Good morning!!
Me: Good morning!!!
Ames: Are you excited?? Today is the day that you move to my continent!
Me: I move to your continent today!!! Oh my god! Hooray!
I'm still not quite ready. Physically. More packing to do. Emotionally? Maybe. It's really, really happening. I made this happen.
Shock and disbelief ensue. Followed by massive amounts of endorphine filled excitement. Tomorrow I will write from Paris!
Friday, September 5, 2008
I didn't think I could actually do it, but I think it's truly done:
I've packed everything I intend to take with me, and my bags aren't overweight. ...At least not according to my mom's scale, which is perhaps off slightly. But I have allowed myself a little weight wiggle room and so should be able to juggle my belongings in a pinch.
I can't believe I really did it.
Oh yeah, and I guess I'm sort of amazed that I am on my way to France. This is kind of an impressive feat to pull off in the space of six months.
It's possible that my mom is near as nervous as I am. Even though she is ready for bed, she is wandering around going "Oh yeah, your vitamins. You're swimsuit! It's in the shower still."
Me, my brain is sludge. I had a nervous stomach all day. I left the house once to pick up my dry cleaning (what the cat is now getting its hair on) and weigh myself on a scale at the Bed Bath & Beyond (because my mom's scale was weighing me at 129lbs and I just knew that wasn't correct.) and during that time I realized I wasn't capable of coping with humanity in my frazzled state. I almost flipped off the woman in the car behind me who politely honked for three minutes to let me know that I had left my gas cap on the trunk of my car.
"Oh that, right. Thanks!" I waved as I cut a guy off in traffic.
I spent the rest of the day listening to French Hip Hop and walking in literal circles trying to avoid the actual act of getting my bags on the scales. How does one pack for an entire year in two bags?
Luckily, fifty pounds is a whole lot heavier than it sounds.
My two checked bags contain all of my clothing and various "American" items that I've been told to stockpile. And even though I have unreasonable fears about checking luggage (and whatever they do to them in the space of time I'm not with them [not to mention the possibilities of certain items exploding on my cloths]) I have not packed one shred of clothing in my carry on bag. No, in fact, it contains books. Books, my favorite pair of shoes, and a handful of tchotskes that are my personal talisman. Oh and my makeup.
SO, if all of my luggage is somehow destroyed in my direct flight to Paris, I will be well read and look lovely. Which is all a woman really needs, right?
For now I have one last nights sleep on my mom's futon, surrounded by cats and lulled to sleep by late night television. I have no more words to say; je suis content.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Sabrina: This is what you do on your very first day in Paris. You get yourself some rain, not a drizzle but some honest-to-goodness rain, then you find yourself someone really nice and drive her through the Bois de Boulogne in a taxi. The rain is very important because that's when Paris smells it's sweetest. It's the damp chestnut trees, you see?
When I arrive in Paris in three days, it will be fall. This is a novelty for me, as I've not seen the fall since I lived in Pennsylvania five years ago, and even then it was an Indian Summer. In Texas we don't get fall. We get winter, a few cool days, summer for six or eight months and then winter again.
The light here changes. The sky turns a different shade of blue and the sun goes down earlier, but the heat does not subside until near November - if we're lucky. I definitely remember Thanksgiving in a tank top.
Don't get me wrong, the mild "winters" and three hundred days of sun are nice. I've spent many hours by the pool this year (resulting in my first real suntan) but I miss the seasons. I grew up in Colorado where, though it wasn't the most bitter winter ever, we succeeded in having four distinct seasons complete with the turning of leaves and a drop in temperature.
What will I do with fall? And rain? A "real honest-to-goodness rain". Well, I suspect I'll buy an umbrella (even though Sabrina Fair swears there is law against them.) and I'll quite possibly get a membership at a tanning salon, just for the good UV I know I'm going to need. I'll get Sarah's recipe for lentil soup or make some of my own, and curl up on rainy days. I'll study and see art. I'll do the indoor things that people do when the weather changes. And I'll get to do them in Paris.
In the meantime, I should shower because somehow I managed to go an entire day without leaving the house or getting out of my pajamas. It crosses my mind to go to the pool, but an evening at home with a movie sounds pretty good too. You know, to start the fall out right.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
I am beginning to understand that the last seven months were a bit blurry. It must have really set in when I went off my anti-depressants, because I've discovered that I took care of things I never committed to memory.
For instance my cell phone. I knew I needed to save money - to cut back - and so by suggestion of the Frenchman I chose to lower my cell phone rate plan. I did not, however take into account that I would be seriously sad / missing people / desperately needing counsel in the coming months and that 450 minutes a month were not going to cut it. Regardless, I made the change and promptly forgot what I had done, using my cell phone just like I always had (I used to have 1000 minutes a month). Imagine my surprise when I received a bill for 475 dollars!!
I smacked my head and paid what I could on it, realizing this would be just one more bill I get to say "See you next year!" to.
Yes, I'm blowing off some bills. Judge silently, because I do what I have to do. I don't feel great about it. It was a spot of real pain until I realized there was going to be no greater income than what I was able to secure and so it didn't help to get all in knots about it.
The one thing I didn't want to piss on, however, were my school loans which I may need to have in good faith if I decide to go to school in France. I don't even know if it's a realistic option, but as options go I would like to keep that one open. So, no defaulting on school loans. Period.
I opened up my loan bills today, getting ready to make the painful phone calls, and was incredibly surprised to see "Deferment Accepted" in bold letters across the top. It was an old notice, so I opened another just to be sure. It was true. I had, at some point, already deferred my school loans. And I have absolutely no recollection of doing so.
Things were fuzzy for me for months with the withdrawals. It was very truly like relearning how to be happy, but also how to make decisions, to have conversations, to deal with heavy blows. I had the Cymbalta as a sturdy crutch for years and, though I think I was ready to be off them, going off a pill is like shaking a snow globe ferociously. I had to wait for the little white bits to rest again before I could see clearly what the scenery of my brain really looked like.
The craziest part about it is that it wasn't up until about a month ago that I began to feel that the dust had settled. I had gone through two or three massively hard and deeply emotional changes while still in the throws of an anti-depressant withdrawal.
Last night before bed I remembered that it was not so long ago that I was crying myself to sleep. And now, while I do feel embarrassingly close to tears, I happen to know that it's because I'm about to start my period and not because I am enveloped by the dark "there's no way out of this cave" pit of depression.
What's more, I have actually found joy in this situation. I felt great apprehension moving back in with my mom after being on my own for so long, but somehow I was able to use this short time to enjoy her company and make wonderful new friendships that will probably give me contacts in Europe. I am proud of myself. There's still a lot of balls in the air, but for now I am not frightened about it. It's part of this beautiful adventure. Not knowing where to go next is part of the plan.
And, damnit, I'm really truly happy about it. That's no small thing.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
I have started having anxiety attacks. I've had worse, certainly, but they are there in that "my heart is racing so that I can't breathe" kind of way and I resent them. I will blame it on PMS , take a Vitamin B pill and hope that the act of marking things off my list (and a little nap) will make them subside.
What could have been a devastating hurricane passed my part of Houston without so much as a rain storm, thus I've had no disruptions in my time table or errand running. It's beautifully blue and not remarkably hot, unless I stay in la Corsicita too long. It's exhausting to drive that thing around, though. Between the heat and the engine flutter and the huge piece of plastic that drags on the ground each time I make a right turn (it sounds like the whole under carriage is ripping off), I have decided to say "SCREW IT!" to the remainder of the items I had on my shopping list. I don't care how much more expensive they are in France, I'm tired of driving in circles.
So I'm back home now, avoiding repacking and suddenly remembering two more things that need to be done which causes a little shock to my system. It's like an electrical shock - or tiny pin pricks - and my skin goes hot when triggered by the thought. I recognize the sensation from being in car accidents. As if your whole body is responding mentally to the physical pain you expect to feel.
Of course I am ridiculously excited. So much that I can hardly wrap my mind around it. It's as if I'm trying to understand the entire expanse of the universe. Humans aren't capable of that, I don't think, and similarly I am not fully capable of understanding that this move has some serious gravity. I could let it be as simple as a fun year in Europe, or I could really make a change in my life. Where do I begin?
Then there is the matter of the Frenchman. No indications here that anything will change in the status of our relationship - none, whatsoever - but the miles will close between us again. Even though I am emotionally tired of giving it my energy, even though I know it's ridiculous to hold a love for a man who does not love me, even though I have conceded to give up hope I know myself well. What emotions I think I have pushed through will resurface like freshly minted Euros, waiting to be cashed in.
I hate to admit it, but I would venture to say that 85 percent of my anxiety is held in that lovely blonde man's hands.
The other 15 percent lay the hands of a couple red haired boys in Meudon, waiting to meet their new Au Pair. In five days I will be a caretaker. Two lives (or at very least two appetites and two educations) will be my responsibility five nights a week. I am happy to be taking on this kind of challenge. Especially at this point in my life where I am beginning to question if I really want to have children of my own. Because, as I'm discovering - as my mother so delicately pointed out - it gets exponentially harder to do things like start a family the older you get.
The funniest thing is, I used to have a baby time frame for myself. Many women have this, I think. My D-date for having babies and getting married. Mine used to be 27. If I were to stick to this date I would have to work damn hard at finding a husband this year to even get close.
And truth be told this is THE VERY LAST THING I am interested in doing while I am in France. Could you imagine, given my current anxiety attacks over packing to be gone for a year, if I added the pressure of finding a husband? As if that is how it works in the first place.
Meanwhile these are the sort of inane places my brain is spending it's time, presumably to avoid all of the seven hundred commingling emotions that I have been assured are healthy and normal reactions to moving out of the country. They are not terribly conducive to buying birthday presents and electrical transformers, and they have not taken my clothes to the dry cleaners.
Which is why I will nap now. At least in dream land I only have one or two thoughts at a time (and I don't expect them to make sense)!
But in my dreams, at least I'm packed already.