Thursday, March 31, 2011

List of Goals

Disclaimer: This picture is actually more a depiction of my emotional state, which is "fatty fat-fat" coupled with "remorse."
  • Work out A LOT so as not to return to the U.S. in one month as a jiggly mound of flab. (If the phrase "jiggly mount of flab" just made you shudder a little bit, it should.)
  • Try every flavor of macaroon and eclair that France has to offer before I leave.
  • Attempt to reconcile Goal #1 and Goal #2.
  • Start posting daily or at least every other day again. 
       Fortunately for you, Goal #4 is the most likely of the list, shortly followed by #2. Unfortunately, the combination of Boyfriend, work, trips to the Riviera and tons of tourism around the city to show Boyfriend the sights have left me with an incredibly happy and fulfilling life, without much time to be on the internet, or use the computer for much else besides marathons of Fringe. And yes, I just named-dropped "trips to the Riviera" like an asshole. 

          Perhaps you can forgive me for that and my recent absence if I shower you with cute animal videos?

          Is.... it.... working?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Joys of Teaching English

This post brought to you by Hipster Ariel.
          Not only do my students continue to name obscure American presidents while we play Jeopardy, having them write their own romantically-themed conversations continues to be my favorite lesson ever. There have been conversations ripe with homo-erotic sexual tension ("Loic, you make my heart beat"), a girlfriend walking in on her boyfriend with her mom ("Zees eeez disgoosteeng!"), and some cruel break ups:

          "Yes? Well I like these appetizers better than I like you."
          "Yes? Well I like your grandfather's balls!"

          Thus inciting my lecture on how we don't say "balls" in class, something I've had to repeat with a lot of my classes, as a matter of fact. Hopefully they can't tell that I'm trying not to laugh at the same time.

          But my favorite incident so far has been when I asked "How do we say 'pom-pom girls' in America?" with the correct answer being  "cheerleaders." First, one student hesitantly volunteered "Cougars? No.... wait. That's something else," before another shouted out "Bitches!!!!"

          I was tempted to give him half credit.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Things That Are Making Me Happy Right Now:

  1. My mom has responded to my request for pity a few pages back and has sent me a care package full of kettle corn, chocolate, and most importantly, GIRL SCOUT COOKIES. Hell yes.
  2. Spending an hour of my Saint Patrick's Day en France in a metro station, drinking 3 euro champagne with my friends to Jagged Edge's "Where the Party At" playing from someone's lap top, while waiting for others to meet us and ignoring the curious glances of strangers.
  3. Watching my boyfriend get increasingly invested in the show Fringe as we get farther along in the series. I should be outside, showing him the sights of Lyon. Instead, we spend hours on the couch streaming episodes online, yelling for Olivia to run faster so she doesn't get hit by the train. 
  4. Oscar Wilde, who gave us such gems as "I can resist everything but temptation." I love mass, group-effort art, and his grave at Pere Lachaise Cemetery in Paris reminds me a little bit of projects like

          The grave is not only covered in flowers, kisses and lipstick, but more interestingly, also expressions in both English and French that are by the author. 

"All art is essentially inessential."

          Even more touching than the quotes are the letters to Wilde, where people thank him, saying that his books have changed their life. They're either scrawled on the grave itself, or placed at the foot of the grave with stones on top to keep them in place.

On the lower left side: "Life imitates art more than art imitates life."
          If you've seen the film "Paris, Je T'aime," you might remember the part where a couple is in Pere Lachaise and the woman describes Oscar Wilde's last words, which are perhaps the funniest of all time. Dying in a low-end hotel in Paris, just before he drew his last breath, he said "Either this wallpaper goes, or I do." Gotta love this man.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

French Polyurethane Jackets Need to Die

          This is not the first time I've complained about some serious French fashion faux pas that I've seen while out and about. This particular incident took place during my vacation in Paris, on Quai de la Mégisserie (metro= Châtelet, Pont Neuf), informally known as the "plant store-pet store-plant store-pet store" street. It is just as awesome a concept for a street as it sounds. While the plant store provide beautiful foliage for optimal strolling ambiance, windows full of round-eyed, adorably pathetic puppies beg you to enter the stores and to never leave. 

Best Friend and me on Quai de la Mégisserie last May

          Inevitably, during our vacation, Boyfriend and I ended up in the pet stores, which were packed on that Saturday afternoon. Specifically, Boyfriend turned towards the puppies, saw them, said "I bet you want to go in there," turned back around, and discovered that I was already gone, inside the store. When he couldn't pry me away from the glass, he went to go watch the kittens frolic until I was good and ready. But on our way out, to make the parting between the lovable balls of fluff and I even more painful, we saw this:

          That's right. Polyurethane, tacky, ghetto jackets, similar to the ones that are worn by every man, woman, and child in this otherwise fashionable country, but for dogs. Specifically, 65 euro ugly, horrible jackets for dogs, so that the unfortunate dogs can match their sadistic owners. 

             It's not right to do this to adorable puppies.This has got to stop.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Forgive My Tangent; I'm Frequently Distracted by Insanity

           I realize that this is not technically French, or on topic in any way, but I couldn't help but notice that lately, Charlie Sheen has become what doctors refer to as "bat-shit crazy." That is the technical term. He's been fired from his TV show, which only leaves him more time to participate in train-wreck interviews, and hang out with his beloved hookers and his other best friend, the mountain of cocaine that no doubt resides in his living room, next to the sofa. But somewhere in between his efforts to kill his career and his ex-wife, he has found the time to give us some pretty amazing sound bytes. Here are some of my personal favorites:
  • “I am on a drug – it’s called Charlie Sheen. It’s not available because if you try it, you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body.”
  • “I’m different. I have a different constitution, I have a different brain, I have a different heart. I got tiger blood, man.”
Charlie Sheen.
  • “I’m tired of pretending I’m not a total bitchin’ rock star from Mars.”
  • “We work for the pope, we murder people. We’re Vatican assassins. How complicated can it be? What they’re not ready for is guys like you and I and Nails and all the other gnarly gnarlingtons in my life, that we are high priests, Vatican assassin warlocks. Boom. Print that, people.”

Jay Alexander of America's Next Top Model does not approve, slowly edges away.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Parisian Catacombs... or Hilarious Fun

          Last week's Paris trip was not actually my first time to the City of Lights. I've actually been to most of the main tourist attractions several times now, but somehow, it's the pictures at the catacombs that always turn out the best. And by "best" here, I mean "most hilarious." 

Just wait. The funny is coming.
        Originally mines, the catacombs are tunnels under the city which were filled with the bones of about 6 million people when certain graveyards became hazardous to public health and had to be emptied out. The subterranean maze has been opened and closed multiple times since the 1800s, when it first premiered as a sort of perverse tourist attraction. Since then, it's been used by revolutionaries, gypsies, and even as an illegal underground nightclub at times. It is, in short, simultaneously a very historic, very gross, very interesting place to be. And scary if you think about what could be lurking in the parts of the tunnels that have been blocked off from the tourists. (Why has no one thought to make this scary movie yet?)
          What truly makes the pictures in the catacombs spectacular is the fact that for a while, you're pretty much in darkness. This means that when I say "picture!" everyone poses, but no one who is posing knows what the people around them are going to do. This results in pure photo magic. Case in point:

Boyfriend and me, afraid of potential evil subterranean hobos who loathe daylight and want to eat us. It was a pretty masochistic of us to think that story up while we were waiting in line to get in. 
          Perhaps my favorite trip to the catacombs was last May, when I went with my dad and my best friend, who was actually terrified to go down there. She and my dad have a fairly antagonistic back-and-forth relationship, so he wasted no time in idly noting that she could get picked off by monsters if she was the last person walking in our group, but the first to be eaten by zombies if she was in the front. So she camped out in the middle, tensely holding her umbrella as a weapon, while my dad periodically made loud noises and grabbed her shoulders while she screamed and I tried not to snort from laughter. I am a good friend. 

          Now, in order to fully appreciate these pictures of them, you have to remember that neither of them could see what the other was doing:

          If you have the chance, I sincerely suggest that you and several of your friends (preferably including one  who is easily scared) visit the catacombs while you're in Paris, and that you bring a camera. Worst case scenario, even if you do get eaten by hobos/zombies/zombie hobos, there will be photographic evidence of your struggles, and you will be proclaimed heroes, and then used as subject matter for the horror movie they will make about you. Win-win situation.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Excursions in Mustard-Ville

A street from my trip to Dijon.

          I went to Dijon recently, even after several of my French coworkers gave me a blank "pourquoi?" sort of look when I said I wanted to go there. Despite their firm advice that there was nothing of interest in Dijon, turns out they couldn't have been more wrong. Apparently they underestimate the geeky stuff that I can be interested by. There were a ton of nifty, Gothic churches, a wonderful fine arts museum, picturesque half-timbered houses, secret courtyards, and a cool little trail of owls to follow on the floor that took you to all the different sites:

Hoot, hoot.
          And then, of course, there was the food. Dijon is right smack dab in the middle of the Burgundy region, so there's the wine, which everyone knows about, and the gingerbread, which no one but my guidebook knew about. I took their word for it, and got a little gingerbread owl (this town is a little obsessed), some regional cheese, and of course, a heck of a lot of mustard. The Place to Go for Mustard is called Moutarde Maille, with the original boutique in Dijon and another in Paris:

Moutarde Maille in Dijon.
          This place would have completely changed everything I thought I knew about mustard, if I had been in the habit of thinking about mustard a lot. Besides the rare impulse to add it to my sandwich, I must admit  that mustard didn't take a high priority in my mind amongst all the important things in life (Boyfriend, shoes, books, pistachio-flavored ice cream...).  But they had 118 different kinds of mustard, many of which you could sample in the store, ranging from mild to, "How can I discreetly wipe my tears away in this store-- this is embarrassing"-level spicy. I even tried chocolate-flavored mustard, which was neither good or bad, but which I hesitantly label "interesting" for lack of a better term. I ended up buying two variety packs of teeny-sized bottles, with flavors like "dried apricot and curry,' or "parmesean and basil," and saved them until Boyfriend came to visit me. 
          Yesterday we got a baguette and a rosette lyonnaise, a special salami sort of sausage typical of Lyon, to sample all the mustards with some wine recommended to us by the overzealous fellow shopper in Carrefour. He saw us deliberating in one of the numerous wine aisles in the grocery store and started giving us all sorts of advice about whites, reds, dessert wines, saying which ones were fruity, which were best with fish, which were the best value, etc. He continued, "I've tried this one, this one, this one, this one was awful, this one, this one, this one is very dry--"
          "You're an expert," I remarked, watching him point to half of the wine in the store. He shot me a look as if I were missing something obvious.
           "Well, you know" he said, "I'm French."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Nothing Like Curse Words to Put Someone Back in Their Element

Sometimes, a new country can be scary, even if the food is awesome.

          I just came back yesterday from Paris with my boyfriend, which was a real adventure for him because he speaks no French whatsoever, except for the phrase "Arretez-vous!" which he heard somewhere and enjoys shouting at inappropriate and random intervals. Because I'm so used to French, I forget how daunting it can be in a place where you don't know the language, the cultural norms, or what is written on any of the buildings around you. We were discussing it in the never-ending line for the Notre Dame bell tower, when the guy in front of us started complaining at length, in French, about how long he had been waiting. Boyfriend stared at him blankly and occasionally asked me "What's he saying? How about now? Is he still talking about it?" while nodding and smiling at the irate French man. Finally, French guy looks Boyfriend in the eye and concludes with "MERDE! La France!" and storms away. Boyfriend looks at me, smiles contentedly, as with a new-found sense of belonging, and says, "Now that I understood."

Monday, March 7, 2011

I Crack Myself Up Sometimes...

     In order to fully appreciate how stupid this joke is, first you have to see this picture:

     The first time that I saw it, I was laughing my head off for twenty minutes. My friends eyed me with concern and wondered if I was crazy. Weeks pass. I had forgotten about it for a while, until one day as I was browsing a gift store for some postcards to send to friends and family. Eventually, I came across this postcard:

     And instead of one of the many wholesome, appropriate things this image could have made me think of, the first thing that popped into my brain was "I'll get that bitch a baguette! Bitches love baguettes!"

     Maybe there's something wrong with me?

Sunday, March 6, 2011

What is Tarte Tatin?

My dessert at a cafe across from Les Halles in Lyon.
          Basically, tarte tatin is France's reply to apple pie, and it's one of my favorite things that I've tried here in Lyon, the culinary capital of the world. As Wikipedia explains, it's an upside-down tarte, but the apples have been caramelized in sugar and butter before it's baked. If you haven't tried it yet, you may not want to,  because after you do, you won't be able to stop ordering it. You can even add une boule of vanilla ice cream for optimum tastiness. 

          I just made myself hungry. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Things I Have Learned About France from Reading Twilight

       And I'm actually not kidding.

Allllllmost kissing the wall of a French metro station last summer. But I promise I didn't. And then I Listerined afterwards, just to be safe.
      I've recently begun reading Twilight in French, because I wanted to practice, but I knew if I bought something too hard, I would lose motivation, avoid it, and never finish. I figure that if I start with fluff, but read it in another language, it effectively cancels out the fluff-factor and gives my brain just the right amount of a challenge. My plan is to read all the Twilights (entitled Fascination, Tentation, Hésitation, and Révélation), and then move onto the Harry Potters. 

     I have found the footnotes surprisingly enlightening, especially because the English editions have no footnotes. Each of them are something about American culture that we take for granted as we read, but has to be explained to the French because in that regard, our cultures are very different. 

     Here is what some of the footnotes have explained:

  1. Who Bruce Wayne, Peter Parker, and Louise Lane are. Really, France? You don't have comic books? You've never seen George Clooney in tights, or Heath Ledger with creepy make-up on? I guess you have no geeks, either.
  2. The concept of Bella being in an "advanced" biology class. I discussed it with some of my teachers, and they confirmed that there are, in fact, no advanced classes in French high schools at all. If you're brilliant, tough luck. You have to go through physics at the regular pace, just like everyone else.
  3. Metal detectors at high schools, which, as the footnote explains, is because "American students sometimes bring weapons to school." This is, apparently, only an American thing, and only enforces the stereotype the French have about Americans as being overly violent. All they see on the news about America is when something violent happens, much the same way all we see about France on the news is when there's a strike, encourages the clichés. 

     Another particularly noteworthy moment was when they translated the expression "Don't look a gift horse in the mouth." I don't know if they have the expression in French or not, but man, it did not go well. It ended up as something like "If you get a horse as a gift, don't look in it's mouth to check its teeth or to see if you have presents, because it might be bad and they'll take the horse back and then you won't have a horse anymore." Right. 

     They might not have violence, comic book heroes, or advanced algebra, but boy, have they mastered the concept of a long-winded over-explanation. 

Friday, March 4, 2011

Nifty French Graffiti

          Here is a collection of the coolest graffiti (le graffiti, or le tagging) that I've seen in my travels around France. I am now kicking myself for not taking a picture of that chimpanzee printed on the side of a building that was thinking Einstein equations. Who could have known it would have ended up being so appropriate?

On the mountain top fortress in Grenoble
We saw at least five shady looking sheep just like this all over Grenoble. We think it must have something to do with the flock of sheep that was run off of a cliff a few hundred years before. 
A rather profound statement, in English (?), in a park in Montpellier
On the rampart walls as you enter Arles from the train station
Last but not least, this one from Aix is not exactly graffiti, but rather an old school billboard printed on the side of the building. Doesn't make it any less cool, though.
Have you seen any amazing graffiti while you've been abroad?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Shutters, or Another Reason to Love France

         There are so many different things to love about French architecture, because it can have so many different styles. There's the Haussmannization of Paris, the Rococo period, the grandiose Baroque style of Versailles, the Gothic cathedrals, and then there's the simple little touches, like shutters on the outside of an ivy-covered cottage in Provence. Shutters are one of my absolute favorite aspects of a French town, and I can't resist taking photos of them. Here are some my favorite finds that I've taken pictures of around France:

Carcassonne. This one was a bird house store.
Generally, I think shutters work best in the atmosphere of a small town. What is your favorite aspect of French architecture? Personally, I wouldn't mind one of those wrought-iron balconies, either...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Main Charm of Life in Europe: Comfort

The park below Fourviere Cathedral in Lyon
The Seine in Paris, when I was there last summer
      Here is a passage from one of my favorite pieces of travel writing, Innocents Abroad, by Mark Twain. He describes the appeal of a European lifestyle, because it is so relaxed, and much less driven by money than in America. Most importantly, he explains it much more eloquently than I could possibly describe it to you:

      “We walked up and down on of the most popular streets for some time, enjoying other people’s comfort and wishing we could export some of it to our restless, driving, vitality-consuming marts at home. Just in this one matter lies the main charm of life in Europe—comfort. In America, we hurry—which is well; but when the day’s work is done, we go on thinking of losses and gains, we plan for the morrow, we even carry our business cares to bed with us, and toss and worry over them when we out to be restoring our racked bodies and brains with sleep. We burn up our energies with these excitements, and either die early or drop into a lean or mean old age at a time of life which they call a man’s prime in Europe… When a razor has seen long service and refuses to hold an edge, the barber lays it away for a few weeks, and the edge comes back of its own accord. We bestow thoughtful care upon inanimate objects, but none upon ourselves. What a robust people, what a nation of thinkers we might be, if we would only lay ourselves on the shelf occasionally, and renew our edges!”

La Jardin des Tuileries, last summer
La Jardin des Tuileries, last summer

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Obviously, I Keep A Cool Head in Stressful Situations, Part II

Well, someone certainly took this to heart.
           Perhaps you will remember the nice coworker with the soulful eyes, who is interested in me, whose heart I am trying not to crush. As if that last time was not enough, we have had many encounters over the months, each one more awkward and cringe-worthy than the last. But all this uncomfortable pain would end if only I could name-drop the fact that I have a boyfriend! 

           My friends and I have practiced these scenarios at length over egg rolls and fried rice. (In France, our favorite restaurant to meet up is a Chinese place. I recognize the irony.) We have come up with the following sentences, each designed to bring about my liberation from this painful situation:

          "How are you?"
          "Excited that I'll see my boyfriend soon!"


         "How was your weekend?"
         "Good! Went shopping, skyped with my boyfriend...."

          or there's always:

          [says anything]
          "It's funny you should mention that! My boyfriend was just talking about the same thing!"

          And then I'm free. Simple as that.

           Except it's not that simple at all, because every time I see him, my brain goes into panic mode, which entails locking my common sense in a panic room in my brain where it has no access to the outside world and enough food and air for 72 hours. Maybe it's because we speak in French, so I'm less adept. Or maybe it's because I'm an idiot. But either way, I always get flustered, pray for it to end, suffer acute second-hand embarrassment, and completely forget to say my boyfriend lines.

           The other day, it was especially bad. I had a cancelled class and headed to the teacher's lounge, only to find him there, alone.

          "Bonjour, Melissa!"
          "Bonjour, how are you?"

           And that was when I realized that we were the only two people who didn't have classes for that hour. Alone, with awkward guy. For an entire hour. All competent thought fled like Jodie Foster in a bad thriller movie to the vault in the useless depths of my brain.

         "Oh, I'm good," he was saying. "I graded papers over the weekend, planned some lessons..."

          Remember how I said my brain shut off? Well, I smiled, probably with a terrified gleam in my eyes, waved clumsily as my goodbye, and then spun on my heel and walked straight into the women's restroom, because it was the only place in the world I knew he could never be. I stood there, mortified, for perhaps a full minute. Then I started to think. And then I started to get bored. My purse was in the teacher's lounge. So was my phone, and my money. I couldn't go buy a coffee or even text my friends to tell them what an ass I was. ("Hiding from awkward teacher in a bathroom stall 'cause I have no life skills to deal with social problems. LOL") Desperation born of boredom compelled me to run to the computer lab, which is actually only a little room with two computers and two chairs. I start typing all this out to my boyfriend in an email, and ten minutes later, the unthinkable happens.

          Awkward guy follows me into the computer lab.

          My fingers freeze on the keys and the silence is conspicuous. My eyes are focused hard on my screen as I pretend not to notice his entrance, but I would recognize that sweater-vested slump anywhere. I stare at the computer as he takes a seat, and then finally start pretending to type, just to end the silence. Finally, I gather my remaining wits to end my email with a brief "AAAHHHH WILLITNEVEREND?!" and stand up to leave.

              "Good afternoon," he says, which stops me in my tracks. First of all, we just saw each other ten minutes ago. Second of all, it's like 11. Is that really the afternoon? Third of all, what the hell kind of opening line is that? GAH.

          "Good afternoon;" I reply, and continue to walk towards the door.
       "What were you working on?" he asks casually. This is it. This is my golden opportunity. I was writing an email to my boyfriend. That is what I was actually doing. That is the most obvious answer. This is easy.

          Or it would be. If I wasn't a panic-driven moron stuck in a cycle which will never end.

          "Nothing important," I say, LIKE A MORON.
          "Ah, ok. Well goodbye then."
          "Bye!" I say, and end up where I started, back in the teacher's lounge.

        The most awkward part of my interactions with awkward guy? It's not the strained silences, or the forced cheer in my voice, or the knowledge that, or because it's true. I call him he is constantly looking for an opening as i run around the conversation closing every possible door, window, and vent. It's the fact that he always starts each interlude with "Bonjour, Melissa!" and ends with "Au revoir, Melissa!" I don't call him Awkward Guy to protect his identity or because it's true. I call him that because after all  he inflicts on me, after how much I avoid and plan around him, he is always Awkward Guy in my mind.

             Because we've been working together for five months now, and I don't know his name. And now it's inappropriately late to ask.