Monday, December 20, 2010

I am in Travel-Hell, aka Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris

So what constitutes travel-hell, you may be wondering. Well, friend, let me tell you:
  •  One suitcase so stuffed full of Christmas presents (bottles of French wine) and books that it is heavier than you, but you try navigating its incredible girth through packed crowds, shoving it on and off buses, trains, escalators, and even worse, up and down stair cases, with your weak, trembling girl-arms, making embarrassingly vocal grunting noises, so pathetic that it might be cute—if only you weren’t so sweaty? Check. 
  • One train that arrives late, and then decides to just chill out three times on the tracks for no discernable reason, for the collected time of two and a half hours, even though you’re starving? Check.
  • Waiting outside, IN THE SNOW, FOR AN HOUR AND A HALF, waiting for a shuttle because the hotel told you it was running, until you called again irately with frozen fingers, and then they tell you it’s not running anymore? Oh yes, check.
  •   Taxi drivers discovering that the shuttles aren’t running anymore because of the snow, and realizing that they can charge you whatever they want because you have no choice? Check
  • Being charged SIXTY, YES, 60 EUROS TO BE DRIVEN 2.1 MILES, CHECK. Out of all the things that happened to me today, being wrongfully manipulated on top of being starving, freezing, and three hours late is the icing on the cake, the proverbial cake here being a mound of bullshit.

          These are things that I wrote on my first day of travel-hell. Little did I know that that would only be the light-hearted introduction to snow storms, several more days of cancelled flights, awkwardly sleeping in arm chairs, and brushing my teeth in the public restroom like a homeless person because I was stranded at the airport. The taxis refused to bring anyone to the hotels, because it was too small of a distance to make a decent profit, and the hotel shuttles never arrived “because of the snow,” but I am convinced that they actually DO NOT EXIST. 
The ever-elusive Airport shuttle, a mythical beast of legend much like the dragon or unicorn, which can only be coaxed into the open after months of patient tracking through the magical lands of Camelot or Narnia.

                One of the biggest problems about being stuck at the airport was my luggage. My suitcase is an epically huge monster of a bag. And it’s totally fine to have a heavy suitcase if your flight goes as scheduled: you check it in, you forget about it, and then you pick it up. No big deal. But when it weighs as much as you, and you have to carry it around with you everywhere you go, to eat, to the bathroom, to sleep, to try to find a hotel, across three different terminals, it becomes your Mortal Enemy. I quickly became convinced that my suitcase was intentionally malicious every time it got stuck in a crack or on a moving sidewalk, and that it was trying to kill me. 

How my suitcase is:

How my suitcase feels:

          I had to lug this bag that wanted my blood through four or five inches of snow, slipping, freezing, cursing, and shivering all the while, and making a huge display of my incompetence and general lack of upper body strength, trying to get to a hotel. First I tugged and shoved and swore it down one path, only to find after twenty minutes of extreme exertion that it was the WRONG PATH. FML. There was nothing to do but pull the abomination all the way back, and then again along the right path, which of course happened to be uphill, towards a hotel which I didn’t know was already fully booked.

          So, in case you’ve been wondering, this is why I haven’t posted. I am still, in fact, at the airport from hell, and will attempt my third flight tomorrow. For the love of God, wish me luck. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Beware of "French Weight"

Ile flottante and crème brûlèe, aka the source of my problems.
French Weight is the technical term for the unsettling phenomenon of tripling in size once you move to France, because everything tastes god-damn amazing.  French Weight may be caused by, but is not limited to: crème brûlèe, Nutella, fois gras, excessively cheap brie, pain au chocolat, chocolat chaud, croissants, beignets, tarte tatin, crepes, croque monsieurs, and the sudden addition of wine to every meal. French Weight is not affected by runs through the park, as one would hope, and persists in accumulating despite Jillian Michaels workout videos. French Weight cannot be effectively countered unless a) one develops a deathly allergy to good-tasting French food, b) Jillian Michaels herself flies to France to threaten you into shape, c) you eventually move back to America and no longer have access to patisseries or chocolateries.  French Weight may be accompanied by a sudden tendency to wear loose clothing and a healthy dose of shame. 

          Feel free to use it in dialogue. For example: 

          "Isn't Melissa coming to the club tonight?"
          "No, didn't you hear? She has French Weight. Her self esteem won't let her out of doors."

Une crêpe complète, stuffed with melted cheese, creme, and ham. Le nom nom.
I know that my subconscious has been quite concerned about French Weight lately, because last night I had a nightmare where I didn’t know if I was pregnant, or just extremely obese. I’m vain enough that the idea of the latter upset me just as much as the former; either way, I was ready to have a massive panic attack. Dream-me ran to the nearest pharmacy to get a pregnancy test, but my French sucked and they couldn’t understand what I wanted. I began frantically motioning towards my gut and they offered me diet pills. I tried again, pleading and waving in the general direction of my vagina, and they offered me tampons. In desperation they finally offered me bacon (I don’t know-- it was a dream) and in a frustrated rage I cried “No—If I’m fat that WILL NOT HELP!” I woke up relieved that I was not pregnant and/or comically fat, but upset that it was 7:30 in the morning. You win some, you lose some.

Friday, December 17, 2010

How to Go Out as a Group of Girls in Lyon, Steps 1-12

1.       Arrive at the meeting place on time, to find that only one of the girls is there.
2.      General confusion and frantic texting.
3.      Realize you need to go buy alcohol.
4.      General confusion and frantic texting.
5.      Run around in high heel boots trying to find a grocery store that is still open. Have second girl, who is running late, hunt you down in grocery store, after she is generally confused and sends you some frantic texting.
6.      Set up new meeting place for the third girl.
7.       General confusion, frantic texting.
8.      Wander around the Bellecour metro stop for about twenty minutes, calling her name and making French people stare at you.

"Heather! Heeeeeather! HEATHER!"
9.       In frantic text, third girl says she’s at a different metro stop than originally agreed upon. General confusion. Meet her there instead.
10.      Where is fourth girl? General confusion and frantic texting.
11.      Wait around in final metro stop for another fifteen minutes for fourth girl. Ignore that your feet already hurt in your cute boots even though you’re not at the club yet.
12.      Try to find the house of a French friend; general confusion. Some frantic texting. 
Le confusion générale.
Once we got to the French friend’s house, the appetizers alone made it worth it: tiny, delicious pigs in a blanket, candy, dessert quiche, and jello shots to go with our drinks and our emergency-purchase of wine.

Real French Culture Fact #1: Jello is a rarity in France, and is imported in small qualities from the U.S., making it quite expensive.

Some French people have come to regard it as an odd delicacy because of the price and the strange colors it can come in. Others just think it’s another example of disgusting American food made of fake ingredients and dyes. So it was quite nice of our host to share her expensive Jello with us. We repaid her with mass amounts of bad French or “Franglais”—français (French) and anglais (English). But the more I drank, the better my French became, so it worked out alright. 
Hostess on the far left. Not pictured: her EPIC perfume collection-- we are talking at least 20 bottles.
Real French Culture Fact #2: Girls in France do not dress scantily, even when going out. If they saw how girls dressed in the U.S., they would assume we were all Grade-A Sluts.

Once we arrived at the clubs, First Revolution and Boudoir, it became immediately apparent that French girls cover up both their cleavage and their legs. They wear conservative dresses, with leggings, or the exact same outfit they would wear during the day, with heels. Now that it is freezing and snowing, I’m thankful for this bizarre trend.
But while the dress code was strikingly different from America, the club was just as strikingly the same. The clubs never change, whether they be in Germany, Greece, France, wherever. There is always something universal about the layout, the same division between indoor and outdoor space, the same American music, the same dance floor and lighting. I almost thought I was in Santa Barbara again, except for the fact that clubs in Santa Barbara don’t rain confetti on you ever hour. Tres chouette

Ooh la la.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

I Do Not Understand Snow, Therefore I Do Not Trust It

The view from my window.

All last night I had the same thought looming in the back of my mind: “It’s snowing outside. Oh shit ohshitohshit. I do not want to go to work. It’s snowing!” Let me explain: I am from California. I have never seen snow. We only have two seasons there: nice, warm weather and nicer, warmer weather.
"Oh, don't you miss the seasons though?"
No, I do not. And furthermore, I think the idea of “missing the seasons” is total bull. We only have the best seasons and avoid the shitty ones—like winter. With snow. But France seems to have other ideas for me this week, and in the back of my mind is the constant wailing of “IT’S NOT FAAAAAAAIR! I’M NOT REEEEEADY…”  
Last night, I even checked my email in the vain hope that one of the other teachers would say I wasn’t needed tomorrow—I don’t even know for what reason. (“Surplus of teaching assistants, today Melissa. Don’t know why they all just showed up here. You should stay home today.”) I finally went to bed with the doom of inevitability and the weight of responsibility bogging me down. I wished I was back at school, and that it was simply a lecture I could skip. But sadly, I’m an Adult now, and I have A Job. Sigh.
          At 7 a.m. the next morning, I dragged myself out of bed, hating life. I took a shower, wet and hating life. I got ready, put on layers upon layers, sweating, hating life, and eyeing the snow out my window suspiciously, as if it wanted my blood. When I looked out the window I didn’t see any picturesque heaps of snow or Hallmark-Card-like frolicking children. It only looked cold. I told my boyfriend via skype: “I wish I could just have one good vomit.”
           "Er... what?"
          “You know, just once. So that I had a legitimate excuse not to go.” I don’t think he was sold on the idea, at all. He obviously does not understand my extreme desire to avoid responsibility.

Outside my apartment.
But as I gingerly stepped into the snow after the first snowstorm of my life, an unanticipated fit of excitement burst upon me. I wanted to jump up and down and go “SNOW! LOOK! SNOW! CAN YOU BELIEVE IT?!” but the sidewalks outside my apartment were insensitive to my needs and remained stubbornly empty. Even if I could have expressed my joy to someone, it probably would have been in awful French, ans once they did finally decipher what the odd American girl was saying, they’d only have shrugged with a “Yeah… so?” and edged away as I bent down to touch it and stomp around in it like a crazy person. It was probably good that I had to get to work, or else I might have attempted a snow angel on the spot and really weirded out the passerby.
But once I got to the bus stop, I realized the buses weren’t running! YES! I WAS FREE! I’d have jumped for joy, but I didn’t trust my newly acquired snow legs, and I was sure I’d fall on my frozen ass. So instead, I speed-shuffled as fast as my rain boots would allow back into the warmth of my apartment, made some tea, and happily watched the snow from my window, gloating and reading Wuthering Heights. Thank you, mental powers, for seemingly hating the idea of going to work SO much that you have caused this incredible storm.
    Unhappy commuters of Lyon, you’re welcome. De rien

My first snowman! Made on my kitchen counter, with snow I scooped up from outside my window. His face is made of cereal, and his arms are little pieces of All-Bran. 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What Thirteen-Year-Old Boys Want for Christmas

My mom just told me my little brother's Christmas wishlist, and here are just a few highlights:

  • calcium, on the back of an iron stick
  • copper
  • frozen nitrogen
  • an xbox
  • a hazmat suit
  • Call of Duty Black Ops for xbox
  • smoke detectors
  • and last but not least, a katana:
And he's going to do what with this?
     I have this crystal clear picture of him in my mind, sitting in the living room in front of his new xbox, in his hazmat suit, waving the smoke detector and the katana around alternately and making sound effects. 

     Also: "calcium on the back of an iron stick"? What? If anyone has any idea what this means, for the love of God, let me know. Sometimes I worry for him. (And by sometimes, I mean most of the time.) I know that it's no frozen nitrogen, but he's just going to have to be content with astronaut ice cream from me this year. 


Clearly superior.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The French Do Not Understand Burritos, Consumer Culture

There are silly things I miss about America. It's true that I'm separated from a lot of people that I love by the Atlantic Ocean, but that falls under the category of Important Things. I mean ridiculous things-- things I should never complain about because being in France is amazing and worth it, but I can't help it. Things I miss with a longing ache deep in my expatriate soul. 
The silly things include bagels (No really. They don't have them anywhere. I've checked.), warm weather in Fall, Halloween, Thanksgiving, microwavable popcorn, black beans, and Mexican food in general. In fact, to give you an idea of how pathetic the state of Mexican food is here in France, I give you the French interpretation of a "burrito:"

What. Is. This.
This is a stale tortilla, wrapped around taco meat. There is nothing else inside. On the right there are salad greens (?) and barbecue-flavored potato chips with canned guacamole plopped on top. On the left, more taco meat with canned sour cream, in a bowl, and rice pilaf with canned salsa. This is a sad, sad state of affairs. 
Another thing I miss is Starbucks. I know, I know: I am such a product of my culture, an empty, mindless consumer, etc. I'd be way more ashamed of wanting Starbucks in the midst of all this excellent French coffee, but damn it, I really want a tall vanilla latte with soy milk. The desire is ever-present, always lurking... it only increased tenfold when someone from America informed me that there are now red cups in stock! Beautiful holiday cups of warm, delicious caffeine, sweetened with vanilla, topped with whipped cream, smelling of cinnamon... sigh.  So finally, I went to and researched if there were any in my area, already picturing reading my Mark Twain novel on a plush couch, pumpkin bread in hand. And do you know what I discovered?
There two Starbucks in the entirety of the city of Lyon. Just two. TWO. As in, the second largest urban center in France, a city of 480,660 inhabitants (thank you, Wikipedia!), and for all those people, there is ONE Starbucks for every 240,330 people to go to, if they so choose.

I am really not in Kansas anymore.

I am also hunting down a Starbucks and going there tomorrow, ASAP, to fulfill my pumpkin and vanilla flavored dreams. 

[editor's note: om nom.]

My Life in France: Plans for Colmar

When I tell friends and acquaintances "Oh, I live in France now," on Facebook chat or through some other sort of media, it's almost impossible for me not to ruin my cool, nonchalant attitude by adding "HEEEEEE" and then running around my apartment in circles squealing in joy. A lot of the time, I still can't believe I'm here.

I graduated from UC Santa Barbara in Spring, majoring in literature and minoring in French, and though I miss my friends, the beach, and being a student terribly, I'd say living in France is some major compensation. I've taken a position as a language assistant in Lyon, which means a few things:

  1. I'm trying not to get fatter, despite the dramatic increase in better quality food.
  2. My French is getting better, to the point where I can now call someone a "conard" (asshole) instead of a "canard" (duck) when they shove me on the metro.
  3. I spend 12 hours a week working with high school or middle school students to help them practice their English conversation, so I'm always looking for things I can discuss in class: consumerism, Thanksgiving, global warming, fast food, etc. 
  4. I go online to look for lesson plans, but then inevitably start looking at amazing cities to visit instead, and hatching elaborate-but-cheap travel plans.
Stumble has helped me with #4 today, by introducing me to the little town of Colmar, France, just outside of Alsace:
 By Fr Antunes
Pretty please, can I go?!
Colmar, France. By Nikkodem

Sunny micro-climate, excellent wine, canals... it's called "Little Venice." What is not to love?

The rest of my day is going to be spent figuring out how to get to Colmar, how to afford getting to Colmar, Skyping friends, family, boyfriend (even my dog), catching up on Mad Men Season 4, and browsing with Don Draper and Pete Campbell to keep me company.

"Well, hello, Melissa. I can see that you've started a blog.  What's that? No, it's not difficult being impossibly sexy all the time. Glad you asked."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Seeing Harry Potter 7 In France

Emma Watson Emma Watson attends the Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows: Part 1 World film premiere at Odeon Leicester Square on November 11, 2010 in London, England.
Emma Watson cordially invites you to browse my brand new blog!

The Deathly Hallows Premiere in London. I am a huge fan of this dress, by Rafael Lopez for Atelier Mayer.

Last Wednesday Harry Potter "et les reliques du mort" FINALLY came out in France. It had been released in the U.S. a week earlier, and I had endured countless facebook statuses about midnight premieres, costumes, wands, and reviews about the film's quality. Writhing in jealousy, I pictured all of my friends together, arms linked and skipping down the movie theater aisles and exuding pure, light-hearted joy. (Though I realize that spatially, these dimensions don't work out right, and that all of my friends are spread all across California, the envy center of my brain does not concern itself with these petty details.) They happily toss popcorn into each other's mouths, heads thrown back in laughter, and I hoped that imaginary them would choke, or at least get imaginary heightened cholesterol from all the butter. Each "Harry Potter 7 was sooooo good OMG" was like a pin stuck into my voodoo doll as I scrolled past each tweet irately, until my eyes fell upon one incredibly cryptic and foreboding status which simply read "DOBBY." GAH. When Skyping with my friends I could only clamp my hands over my ears and shake my head frantically, crying "Don't tell me anything! Don't tell me anything!" The customary response was an infuriating look of smug, pitying knowledge. "I have surpassed your puny mortal plain," the look said. "You cannot know of it. You have not seen Harry Potter."
But Wednesday, finally, my time had come. As I got off of work that day, I was Down to Business. Jogging briskly down the steps of my high school, I called Friend in Lyon #1, Stefany:

"What are you doing right now?" I demanded. I had no time for pleasantries; there was Harry effing Potter to be seen!
"I just finished class," she responded.
"Excellent. You, me, Harry Potter, one hour from now." Urgency dictated that I had no time for trifles like complete sentence structure. As I spoke the magic words, Stefany, too, felt the magnitude of our sacred mission.
"YES! I'll be there! LET'S DO THIS THING!" This is why she is Friend in Lyon #1.

Friends in Lyon #2-5 were busy or seeing earlier showings, those traitors. I spoke with them on the bus on the way back home, and as always, using my cell on public transportation made me feel like an asshole. Once home, I walked five minutes to the closest theater. Movie time, check. Original English version, check. Stefany arrived at my apartment early, and even comparing our latest H&M purchases couldn't distract us for long: 

"What time is it?"
"Only 3:45."
"Still too early."
" you want to head over early, you know? Just to make sure we get sea--"

The movie would start in an hour and a half. We sat at the theater cafe (Much classier than American movie theater restaurants, and even offering tiny bottles of rose wine to bring with you to the movie. I love France.) and impatiently ate our snacks.

"What time is it?"
"We still have 50 minutes."
"What time is it?"
"48 minutes."

We went to the bathroom to prep our bladders for this long and magical journey. We took our seats and felt energetically charged from the mass of fellow Potter fans around us. Stefany inserted her candy vampire fangs she had just purchased. I arranged my popcorn. As the lights dimmed, we were good to go. "Suck it, American friends," I thought with great love and respect. 

     To me, Harry Potter 7 was everything that I had hoped. It gratified my two weeks of anticipation and utter geekdom. It was the best film of the series so far, and made me so unbearably excited for the sequel in July. How will I make it to July?!

My friends at home all think Ron is so hot. I don't get it. Do you think he's attractive? I'm not attracted to anyone in the HP movies, really. Except perhaps Emma Watson, which doesn't do me much good, seeing as she has a vagina and all. Who do you think is hottest in the movie?

Do you like the new Harry Potter movie?

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And here's this, for no reason: