lundi, décembre 25, 2006

Yesssss! Yesss! YESSSSS!!!!

Can I find the absolute best way to piss off my upstairs neighbor, who already rues the day I moved in?


Not content with merely annoying my downstairs neighbor by throwing a Thanksgiving party at the ungodly hour of 8:30 PM on a Saturday - whereby she started to pound on the wall at exactly 8:45 PM - Handsome and I recently brilliantly succeeded in enraging my upstairs neighbor as well.

This would not be the first time. I managed to piss her off all by myself months ago.

See, in Handsome's family, they have a tradition. They have a family song, which is used at any time to congratulate someone on a job well done. For practical purposes, I'll call it the "Chic a l'amour" song, it being the first line. One person will suggest the person to whom the song should be directed, which is everyone's cue to begin. For example, if the meal is particularly good (which it very often is) one person will say, "Chic a l'amour to Arlette, for the pot roast!" and everyone will join in. The song is accompanied by rhythmic claps and hand waving. You have to experience it to believe it. Luckily, the first time I was introduced to the family, Handsome had warned me in advance. Otherwise, I think my brain would have imploded trying to understand what the hell was going on.

But it does not end there. The Handsome family, they likes them some singing. Very often, after they have gathered around the table and eaten to their hearts' content, they designate someone at the table, and that person has to sing a song. Any song. On the spot. A cappella.

The first time this happened to me, I had brought along my friend Kitty, who has a really good set of pipes. She was sitting next to me, and sang 'Hymne a l'amour' like I wanted to. Perfectly. Bitch. So I was left scrambling for something else. I have no memory of what I eventually came up with. I've blocked it out.

But then it happened again. On a totally different occasion, in a totally different locale. We were once again all gathered around the table, someone got pointed at, and it began. Only this time, it was more like karaoke. Handsome's 11 year-old nephew had a whole DJ console installed in the kitchen, complete with a mike, CD player, keyboard, disco ball and lights. (Have I mentioned how much I love this family?) But once again, I was on the spot, with no song to sing. I passed, blushing in embarassment.

And then couldn't stop thinking about it. All night.

Surely I knew one song sort of by heart that I could share? Me, who used to spend hours in my mother's garden, singing my head off?

The evening was winding down, and people were clearing the dishes and preparing to go to bed. And I was still thinking about it.

Shyly, I pulled on Handsome's shirt and whispered that I thought I could sing that one song on the jazz CD we had listened to in the car on the way down. He nodded encouragement.

I went to get it, and came back into the kitchen, the CD clutched in my clammy hands like Oliver's bowl of gruel. Please sir, can you put this on? I almost whispered to the 11 year-old in charge.

Handsome cleared his throat to get everyone's attention. People were finishing up their last dregs of coffee and most had started to get up and stretch before going upstairs.

"Um, Penelope has a song she would like to sing for us," he announced.

Everyone looked a little surprised. but slowly sat back down. I handed the CD to the preteen DJ and told him which track to play. I gripped the microphone like my life depended on it, and weakly ambled through the jazz ballad. The original jazz ballad composed specifically for that unknown vocalist, so it's not like anyone would have recognized it even if I hadn't completely botched it. There was a modest smattering of polite applause.

And then everyone finally went to bed.

Later on, curled up in Handsome's arms, I whined,

"Nobody liked my song."

"Yes they did," he countered.

"No they didn't," I pouted. "I saw them, looking all confused, like, what the hell? It was jazz, and they don't ever listen to that. But I don't know any Claude Francois or Johnny Hallyday." I sniffled.

"But that's you," he said, "that's your contribution as an American : jazz! Don't forget, they don't speak English that well, so you can't expect them to exactly sing along."

I was mildly comforted.

But once back in Paris, I was determined never to be caught off guard again. I went through my CDs and compiled a repertoire of songs I liked and could easily learn by heart. I began to transcribe lyrics. I played and replayed them. And once I had two songs' lyrics written down, I began to practice. Again and again.

Until I heard a knock on my door.

I froze, and looked at my cell phone for the time. 2 AM. On a Tuesday. I didn't move a muscle.

A haggard voice came from behind the door,

"Could you please stop singing?"


Handsome came back at 5 AM after getting off the night shift . It was the day after my birthday.

Standing up next to the bed, he started, "Haaappy Birrrrthday to Yooouuuuu!!!"

"SSSSHHHHHH!!!!!!! No singing!!" I stage whispered, "She will KILL me!!"

"Who? What are you talking about?" He waved his arms about like a conductor and took a breath like he was going to go for the second bar.

I clamped my hand over his mouth. "I'll explain later!" I hissed.

I totally understand if she hates me.

You would think I would be extra careful after that. You would think I could not find a way to piss her off more.

You would be wrong.

I've only seen her in the flesh once. But I get the feeling she is a mite sensitive about the wreck her love life seems to be in. I make this sweeping judgement based on the shouting matches I've overheard her get into with the person I can only assume is her (not too frequent) boyfriend.

So I really should have known better.

I admit that it was late. 3AM, to be exact. I admit that I mometarily forgot we were not alone in the world. I admit that we made some noise on top of the dining room table. I was going for a second round of 'yesses' when we heard an angry thumping on the ceiling. The ceiling my head was bent up towards. The ceiling that would be her dining room floor.

I would not be surprised if she's made a voodoo doll of me. Which she regularly pricks with pins. In its vocal chords.

The next day, we came back from dinner to find this note under the door.

*Translation : Please try to be at least a little discreet in your intimate acts at 3AM.

So, Penelope? Can you try a little harder to rub it in? Can you just shoot for the jugular? Can you find the best way to make friends in the building in the snootiest neighborhood in Paris?

Oh, yesss! YESS!!! YEEESSSS!!!!! You can, Canon!

dimanche, décembre 24, 2006


I've come to realize that I have a thing for signs and advertisements. I love the Marilyn Monroe 'Lustre Cream' shampoo ad I have hanging in my bathroom, and one of most prized pieces of art is an antique Erte poster advertising a show at the Folies Bergeres.

So it should come as no surprise that while in Turkey over the summer, I was delighted to find it rich with signs that beguiled, puzzled and outright made me double over laughing.

Tourists are routinely warned about what ruses to avoid in Turkey, such as agreeing to follow someone in the Grand Bazaar market who insists he has better merchandise to show you at his cousin Mehmet's stand, which is just over here down this alley.... Another very common way to be had is to follow the recommondations of that very nice man at the train /bus station or airport who recommended you go to such and such hotel or restaurant, and - oops! The price is way more expensive for your fanny-pack wearing tourist self...

So, this little pension in Selcuk is to be commended for trying to assuage any lingering doubt:

Still, what about the trainsstation?

After you have spent the day visiting the incredible ruins at Ephesus, sweating and trying to appear intelligent by struggling to remember your Greek and Roman history, you just might want an altogether different kind of experience at the end of your tour. But you may be apprehensive about how much it's going to run you...

Only fifty cents for the magic? What's in that thing, anyway? See how the kid's hands are all bunched up in excitement? That must be one magical toilet!

Maybe you want to buy the missus a nice gift while in Turkey? How about a memento that is not only from an exotic locale, but completely oxymoronic?

A Rollex? A Piyaget? An authentic sham! Thanks, honey!

Perhaps you are hungry after walking around, and are hankering for some kind of Turkish meal? Look no further.

Okay! Well that says it! I'll have one of those!

Feel like some water sports?

Let's not Dive........ instead......

Big Mable with us! Patriot with us! Banana with us! Let's exciting! In fun with us!

After all that physical exertion, you must be hungry again. You could always grab a bite at Ali and Sahil's.

Dude makes your mouth water, eh? Is Diana Steak some kind of Turkish meal?

At the end of your trip, suppose you have some Turkish lira leftover that you'd rather spend than exchange. Let's say you had anywhere from 4 to 500 Turkish lira. What could that buy you?

Hmmm..... figs or a flatscreen TV? Flatscreen TV or some figs? Decisions! Decisions!

mardi, novembre 14, 2006

Break a Leg, Part Two

In a few minutes, I'll be going to my acting class.

I didn't get the part I really wanted : an ageing actress in a retirement home who scandalizes the other ladies by waxing nostalgic about her past love life and making fun of their fear of the outside world. She is fabulously bitchy.

The parts got chosen on a day I couldn't make it to class, so now I'm playing a teenager shocked by the murderous confessions of a crazy lady on a park bench.

I only accepted to be nice.

But I don't feel nice.

I secretly wish something would happen so I could have the part of the old bitch. I don't want anything bad to happen, of course, but you know, just a scheduling conflict where the person who got it can't make it. Something that would make her have to bow out. Then I could step in as the savior, have the part I really want, blow everyone away with my fantastic performance, all the while coming off as a team player who stepped up to bat to save the show.

Does that mean I am getting a tiny glimpse into the backstabbing, competitive and totally neurotic world of acting?

I think I'm just getting a lot of good practice at being a bitch.

mardi, octobre 31, 2006

PR Tag Team

The hotel where we stayed in Turkey was one of those French-speaking all-inclusive club hotels which included airfare, accommodations, food and drinks in the price we paid up front.

I was apprehensive.

I expected to get annoyed because I prefer mingling with the locals, I don't like being told what, where and how on vacation and I especially don't like group-related activities. Invaribly, it makes me feel like I've regressed to my childhood and am stuck in a Brownies troupe meeting in some dank church basement being told by someone else's mother - never as cool or glamorous as mine - that I was supposed to glue macaroni on a square of burlap and give it to my parents as a present. This never quite made sense to me.

One afternoon at the club hotel, we were finishing up lunch when a member of the group activities staff stopped at our table and interrupted us with a dry bonjour aimed somewhere above our heads. Her job was to entertain, enthuse and convince as many French speaking guests as possible to partake in the activities offered. It took me a moment to realize she was talking to us, and expected a response.

"Bonjour," we replied cautiously.

"Coffee game at ten past?" she asked, still looking above our heads and shifting her weight from one leg to the other impatiently. Enthusiasm was not her strong suit.

"Excuse me?" I said. I had no idea what she was talking about, and her French was hard for me to understand.

"Coffee game. At ten past two. At the activity pool. You coming?" This time she actually looked at me, apparently to ascertain if I looked as stupid as I sounded.

"Coffee game?" I repeated, still having no idea what she could possibly mean. I understood the word 'coffee', and I clearly heard 'game', but putting the two together meant nothing to me.

Handsome was observing the scene and trying hard not to laugh, but realized he needed to come to my rescue.

"That's right, you aren't familiar with how all this works," he said with a huge grin. He put his hand on mine and signaled to the activity girl that he would take care of it. She left with a shrug and with what I expect was an expression of sympathy for Handsome for being saddled with such a dunce.

"Coffee game? What the hell is she talking about?" I asked.

"It's a game, like trivia, where you gather around the pool and play nicely with the other guests," he explained, still grinning widely at the expression on my face. Handsome worked for Club Med for years. If there's someone who knows how things work at an all-inclusive club hotel, it's him.

"To win a coffee?" I asked incredulously. Brewed coffee was included in the all-inclusive package, but espressos were not. This could only mean that in order to encourage you to mingle with the few other French speakers, and to avoid paying a mere 2 euros for an espresso, you would go play trivia by the activity pool. And possibly win. An espresso.

I was slightly annoyed.

At dinner later on, we had made the rounds of the fresh cheeses, olives, vegetables and fresh baked pide bread and were trying to find a table on the outside terrace, our hands full with plates and glasses. The only one available was a four-top with another couple already seated and two other seats available. We decided to go for it anyway.

"Excuse us, may we?" I asked in French, gesturing at the table. It was obvious they weren't Turkish.

"Of course," the woman replied as she looked up at us and smiled. She looked like a prettier version of Marianne Pearl.

We sat down and quietly began eating and talking in low tones so as not to disturb them.

"Have you been here long?" the woman asked after a while.

"Oh, we've been here a week now," I said, "and you?"

"We got here last night," she replied. They looked a little tired, and if it had been anything like our arrival at four in the morning, I could understand why.

"Is this your first time in Turkey?" Handsome asked, looking at them both.

"Yes, but we won a free week's vacation, and this was the only club that had space during the time we could come," she said. It was obvious Turkey had not been on their top ten list.

For some reason, I was slightly annoyed.

"Well if there is one thing you absolutely have to do while you're here," Handsome volunteered, "it's to go visit Ephesus. It's amazing how well-preserved the ruins are."

They didn't seem too interested. We continued nonetheless to enthusiastically encourage them to take advantage of being in a country with such a rich history, gorgeous landscapes, friendly people and good food. At the end of the meal, we wished them a good stay and told them we'd see them around.

The next day, we went on another excursion to visit the ruins of Didyma, Priene and Millet with a small group. Luckily, they were interesting and well traveled people and did not have the ridiculous expectation that everything should be like at home. There was even a man who had taken great pains to learn some basic Turkish, which admittedly impressed me. He was nice enough to be pretend to be impressed by my similar efforts. The group spent the whole day together, and by the end of it, I was worn out by the sun and the effort of being sociable.

We returned to the hotel, and retired to an outside cafe table for a last tea before aperitifs and dinner. We spotted a couple we had met during the day's excursion who seemed to be looking for a table, so we invited them over. I liked them. She was an elegant, very attractive woman in her late 50's, and he was tall and trim and had a full head of thick snow white hair. They had never once been condescending or critical. I especially appreciated that when she asked me questions about my impressions of living in France as an American, she always looked me in the eye, and did not make me feel as though she already knew what I would say and was just trying to prove herself correct. Most importantly, she never made me feel like a Hottentot Venus.
We chatted amiably about travels and cultural differences, and eventually went our separate ways to dinner.

Afterwards, Handsome and I had planned to go into town to have after-dinner drinks and smoke a houka in a bar we had noticed. After dinner, I went up to the room to change, leaving Handsome waiting in the lobby bar.

When I came back down, he was waiting for me at the elevator.

"Um, I ran into the couple from last night," he said anxiously, "and they asked what we were doing tonight, so I told them."

"And?" I said, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"So they asked if they could come along." He smiled facetiously wide.

"And you said yes!" I said, mimicking the smile and rubbing my hands together in fake enthusiasm.

"Uh huh!" he said. He turned serious. "Do you really mind?"

"Oh what the hell," I said, "let's show those people a good time."

"That's my girl!" Handsome replied, sticking out his arm for me to take.

But I was slightly annoyed.

We walked with the other couple from the hotel to the bar, making polite chit chat along the way. Inevitably Handsome ended up walking next to the guy, while I walked next to the woman and asked her questions about herself and her husband. It turned out she had just learned she was pregnant, which was enough conversational fodder to last through almost the whole evening. The husband seemed rather lifeless and monosyllabic, and I was grateful for the gender divide. In normal circumstances, it annoys the hell out of me.

At the end of the outing, we walked them back to the hotel and said our goodbyes in the lobby, wishing them again a nice stay.

"Man," I exclaimed, slumping in one of the lobby chairs with exhaustion, "we should totally get paid for that shit!"

"We fucking rock," he agreed, shaking my hand in congratulations, "and this hotel should totally hire us to help them with their PR, entertain their guests, and bring them out of their shells."

"We are a veritable coffee game and activity girl," I replied with a smirk.

vendredi, octobre 06, 2006

Çok Güsel

Yes, I know.

I have been quite a louse and not satisfied your desire for Turkey photos and Turkey stories. This I will try to rectify.

Only, you will have to be patient, as my internet connection at home is - yet again - not working, so I must do this Blogger thing surreptitiously from work. I don't exactly want to be the next "La Petite Anglaise", so you'll just have to bear with me as I sneak in a few sentences at a time, only to quickly hide the Blogger page with an Excel spreadsheet when I hear my boss' door open. (And really, this alone should raise his suspicions, as I'm not exactly a fan of the program.)

And now, Ladies and Gentelmen, I give you Turkey!

Taa daa! That was easy!

Except we didn't go to Istanbul, and that right there is the famous Blue Mosque located smack dab in the middle of that fine city. I don't exactly have all my Turkey photos with me at work, so this will have to do for the moment.

Okay, wait. I can at least tell you a funny story.

Handsome and I were on vacation in the lovely little tourist town of Kuşadası, located on the west coast in between Izmir and Bodrum. We had decided on a package deal with a 'French speaking club hotel'- which I have to admit I was less than enthusiastic about, expecting to find myself in the middle of Turkey eating cuisse de canard and bavette à l'échalote and trying desperately to block out songs by Michel Fougain and Johnny Hallyday blasting in from the organized activity pool. (As in Water aerobics! Stretching! Water polo!)

Thankfully, the hotel turned out to cater much more to the Turkish tourists, who far outnumbered all others, and weren't exactly interested in doing aerobics to un, deux, trois. The hotel served delicious and authentic Turkish cuisine, the staff was majority Turkish, and much to my delight, most of the music blasting from the activity pool was Tarkan, Candan Ertegun and the like.

By the end of the second day, we had already established a ritual. After spending all day snorkeling, scuba diving (full post on that later) or sightseeing, we would come back to the hotel, shower, get dressed up and head out to the the bar overlooking the sea to have a rakı and watch the sunset. I love an excuse to get dressed up. Especially if it's to go to a place called "The Harem Bar".

After a long day visiting the ruins at Aphrodisias during the beginning of our first week, I noticed an angry rash on my thigh, no doubt an allergic reaction to some plant or sea thing. For days, I regularly slathered it with copious amounts of bug cream, and even borrowed Handsome's super strength Egyptian cream, which normally gets rid of the most persistent irritations. But this rash was not going down without a fight, and it stubbornly ignored my attempts to placate it. After several days of no results, I had a flash of brilliance one evening as I was getting dressed up to go to the Harem Bar.

"Why not try toothpaste?" I thought.

The minty-ness would feel good, and it might turn out to be the miracle cure. (This probably only makes sense to me and mother, who believes aspirin, garlic and vinegar can combat just about anything that ails you.) Hey, it did a bang up job stopping up the nail holes in my former apartment, and it had even made my scuba mask stop fogging up. (An old divers' tip, apparently).

I spread the Colgate - extra whitening - on the rash, let it dry, and finished my toilette. I put on my flirty brown mini dress, dabbed on some perfume, and slipped into my high heeled strappy Brazilian sandals.

Handsome surveyed the results with a whistle of approval and held out his arm. We made our way through the hotel to the bar, keeping an eye on the time so as not to miss the setting of the sun. We waved at the hotel employees we had become friendly with, trotting out the Turkish for "Good evening!" and "How are you?" much to their delight and amusement.

We crossed the garden, passed the oxymoronically named "quiet" kiddie pool, and waved a hello to the diving instructor who was closing up shop below. We stepped up and onto the terrace of the Harem Bar, and I headed out to grab our favorite table while Handsome got the drinks.

I lowered myself into the nearly ground-level banquette as Handsome carried out the rakıs with a devlish smile. He slid in next to me on the multicolored cushions, draped his arm around my shoulders and we settled in to watch the sun set. We talked of what we had done, seen and heard that day as we marveled at the shades of red, yellow, orange and purple in the sky. We waited for the very last sliver of sun to disappear below the horizon, on alert in hopes of seeing the "le rayon vert." (He saw it, I didn't.)

We stared into each others' eyes, whispered words of love and talked of what to do the next day. The stars came out, and we stretched out on the cushions to point out the few constellations we knew between the two of us, as strains of Turkish music weaved around us.

He sat up, and I put my head in his lap, continuing to stare at the night sky.

"You know," I said, reaching up to run my fingers through his hair, "this is just what I hoped it would be."

"Mmm," he replied, and leaned down to kiss me.

"I mean, all of this: the music, the rakı, the sunset, the stars, this place.." I gestured around us and brought my hand back up to caress his face. "You, this. It's just so perfectly romantic."

"Yes, it is." he said, smiling.

"But even all this loveliness," I said, sitting up and looking him in the eye, "all this magic, cannot possibly take away the fact that at this very moment, I have toothpaste on my thigh."

We laughed so hard our stomachs ached.

And then we went to dinner.

vendredi, août 18, 2006


It's the middle of August and I'm freezing my ass off. Yes, I know I posted earlier about a heat wave, but that is long gone. And I miss it. Because now? Cold, gray, rainy. Yes, cold. I've gotten back out the blankets and coats, and haven't ordered a pastis in weeks. It's really odd. And depressing.

But cold or not, it remains August in Paris. Which means there is hardly anyone around. My entire snooty neighborhood is shuttered, closed for 'annual vacation'. Want a cashmere designer sweater? Come back after August 28th. Want to resell your Chanel ensemble? As of September 1st, please. Need a bikini wax? Any sort of medication or prescription? How about a damn baguette? Please go to another neighborhood, where they have not all left for a villa in Mauritius.

And at work? There are three of us on my floor and I'm covering for five other assistants. It didn't bother me before, and it doesn't really now, but I'm beginning to feel the pangs of needing a vacation. Last year I mostly laughed at how horrified people were that I wasn't going anywhere. I brought out the old 'we only have two weeks per year in the US' line, just to get the point across. How puritan my work ethic, how strong, how hard-working, how dedicated I must be! Ahem.

But this year, I'm getting into the local spirit. This year, I want my damn two weeks in the sun. Only I'm taking them right when everyone else comes back. Ooo, look at me rebel!

Handsome and I are going to Turkey, dammit, and I'm going to have a blast. While everyone else in Paris is working. So there.

Now we just have to learn a little Turkish. Cause I have to know how to say the basics. Of course I bought not one, but two Turkish phrasebooks. One cold and rainy night, we sat on the sofa under a blanket studying the first chapters. Handsome picked up the concept of the verb 'to be' pretty fucking quickly. And the vowel sounds are pretty much like in French. So after about five minutes, he understands how to say, 'I am tired.' ('Yorgunum') It comes out of his mouth, and it sounds so damn Turkish - and so sexy - that like Jamie Curtis' character in "A Fish Called Wanda", I got all tingly and asked him to say it again. And again. Ooooo kuzu kuzu*! Say it again!

My project for the week : learn how to say, "One more raki, please, and turn up the Tarkan!"

*little lamb, in Turkish, from a Tarkan song

vendredi, août 04, 2006

Break a Leg!

One of the nicer things about working for a large French company is the perks, and I'm not even talking about five weeks of vacation or the 35-hour work week.

I'm talking about the comité d'entreprise, or 'employee perks committee' if you will. I don't know if an equivalent term exists in English, as it feels all too '9 to 5' for me to think we have something similar.

In practical terms, having an 'employee perks committee' translates to getting reduced prices on theatre and movie tickets, having rotating on-site vendors, access to a book and CD library, and having all kinds of classes offered, from scuba diving to Cha-cha-cha. I remember a French friend in the US who, once he learned I had gotten the job in Paris, explained this concept to me as I listened mouth agape.

"So the first thing you should do," he urged, "is find out who is on the committee and get on their good side. You can totally cash in on free concert tickets and all kinds of cool stuff!"

So when I noticed signs posted up that the 'employee perks committee' was offering free trial acting classes for the summer, I jumped at the chance.

If enough people like the trial classes, they'll offer paying, intensive ones come September, with a play performed at the end. In front of the whole company. My boss is most likely cringing at the thought of what role I might be cast in.

"Who's the hooker with the loud laugh? The CFO's assistant? Really?!?"

But we are not there yet.

For the second class, we had been asked to bring in an object with strong emotional value. One girl brought in a bracelet she'd bought in New York on a day she felt particularly happy. One lady brought in a wrought iron ring that was used to shut the gate to her family's property. It was her job to open it whenever people came to visit, and she could still remember the sound of her father's voice shouting, "Annie! Open the gate!" One man brought in a single metro ticket he had been saving in his wallet for ten years. He had used it to go visit a sick friend. We never found out if the friend made it.

I brought a black and white photograph of my mother when she was in college. Her head is turned to a three quarter profile - the most flattering angle, and the one my father thought made her look like a Vermeer. Her hands are hidden in the pockets of her coat, and she looks young, shy and totally unaware of her beauty. I sat on the table in front of the rest of the class, holding the photo, and just started ad libbing.

"Daphne," I said loud and clear, sweeping my eyes over the assembled class, "a Greek name, like mine."

I'll spare you the rest, but I kind of got into it, and didn't even feel all that weird. The best part was that one of the girls in the class came up to me later to say I had made her cry.

"Wow, thanks!!" I gushed, and then realized that would only come across well in an acting class.

So I thought I had a good start.

Until the third class.

We had to memorize four or five lines from a favorite author, and out of total lack of insipiration for an author in French, I picked a passage from the French translation of "A Moveable Feast" by Hemingway.

"Il n'y a jamais de fin à Paris. Nous y sommes toujours revenus, et peu importait qui nous étions, chaque fois, ou comment il avait changé, ou avec quelles difficultés ou quelles commodités, nous pouvions nous y rendre. Paris valait toujours la peine, et vous receviez toujours quelque chose en retour de ce que vous lui donniez. Mais tel était le Paris de notre jeunesse, au temps où nous étions très pauvres, et très heureux." *

I knew the instructor was going to do something to get us out of the comfort zone of just reciting our passages. So after an interesting group exercise, we each had to get up and recite our piece. Then he would choose a way he wanted it to be interpreted. He made one guy act like a queeny fag and his passage had something to do with war. Very funny. So it gets to me. I recite my schpiel, trying to do an old tired man patronizingly describing his youth in Paris to an imaginary younger person. It didn't quite work.

"Do you know the French films of the 30's and 40's?" the instructor asked, "Can you do that voice?"

I blanched. "Um, I think I know what you mean," I said hesitantly, "but I don't think I can do it in French."

"Okay," he said, waving the idea away with his hand, "be vulgar."

"Vulgar?" I asked, my head still stuck on Michèle Morgan.

"Yeah, make it vulgar."

I tried, I really did. I tried to conjure up Mae West or Shelly Winters or even Jayne Mansfield.

Instead I came off as an aggressive lesbian.

Meryl Streep, I am not.


* my approximate translation, not Hemingway's original text : "There is never an end to Paris. We always came back, and it didn't matter who we were, each time, or how it had changed, or how difficult or easy it was, we could always get there. Paris was always worth it, and you always got something in return for what you gave it. But that was the Paris of our youth, when we were very poor, and very happy."

mercredi, juillet 26, 2006

Heat Wave

Thanks to - well, global warming - Paris is experiencing another heat wave. Back in 2003, the big one, people were taken a bit by surprise. In other words, most people were away on vacation and the old people left in Paris who didn't have family, or whose families couldn't be bothered to interrupt their vacation, died from dehydration and heat exhaustion. Thousands of them.

The people blamed the government for not having a 'heat wave plan.'

"I don't need the government to tell me it's fucking hot outside," griped one of my French friends, "I think I can turn on the fan and open the window all by myself."

But he's weird anyway.

So this year, the government isn't taking any chances. Instead of, oh I don't know, spending money to equip new buses and trains and other such public places with air conditioning, or for that matter, windows that actually open, the government has written a nice little script to post on information signs, the highways, and even to be read aloud to you in the metro. You know, in case reading it yourself would make you hot:

"Ladies and gentlemen, it is hot outside, so please remember to limit your exposure to direct sun, make sure to close your shutters and curtains to block the sun during the hottest hours of the day, and most of all, remember to drink plenty of water even if you are not thirsty."

Now that's real sweet and all, but honestly, talking about being hot? On the crowded metro? Hmm. Makes me hotter.

See? Still the government's fault.

Seriously, though, being from Hotlanta, it doesn't bother me too much, cause jeez, at least the 95° temperatures are not accompanied by stifling humidity. But it's true, people here aren't used to it, especially when it is still very hot at night. I do remember that was something I really liked about Europe as a teenager, that it could be hot during the day, but always nice and cool in the early morning and evening.

That has changed. But people will have to adjust. Like buying fans, for example. Just an idea.

Here at work, everyone's talking about the heat. If you ask, "How are you?" a large majority of people will respond, "Hot." Which doesn't sound so weird in English, but dust off your high school French and try this one out:

"Comment ça va?" This is said in earnest, but mostly because, hell, you have to ask even if you don't care what the answer is.

The inevitable reply is, "Chaudement," accompanied by either slumping or sighing or a slight disapproving pout, as if to say, "Really, they ought to do something about it!" All this despite the fact that the building we work in is already nicely air conditioned.

I had an exchange recently with a co-worker who complained she had trouble sleeping at night because of the heat.

"Well, do you have a fan?" I asked.

"No," she replied.

Well that might help. Just sayin'.

That is, until the government decides to finally announce the arrival of autumn.

vendredi, juillet 07, 2006

A Million Little Feces*

If I were a heroin addict, I imagine the torture of cold turkey - the nausea, the groaning, the pain, the feeling it will never end - would be much like the highly excruciating experience of reading fake addict / author James Frey's fake memoir / novel 'A Million Little Pieces.'

Full of odd Teutonic capitalizations and little or no punctuation, endless repetition of extremely annoying phrases and scenes (must we use the exact same words '[vomited] chunks of my stomach' ad nauseum? Pardon the pun.) But the most tiresome part of trying to read this book is the utter ridiculousness of the portrait he has painted. We are presented with a twenty-three year old (imaginary we all know now) version of himself as the baddest of badasses who is (most unbelievably) addicted to every narcotic substance known to man, but who is laughably sentimental about a lost college love and the crack addict prostitute he falls for in rehab. He who rejects the saccharine preachings of AA while simultaneously hugging almost every person he encounters, regurgitating tripe (sorry again) he is fed by a fellow rehab patient : 'Just Hold On', and (the ultimate thing that set off my bullshit detector) his immediate and total comprehension of, appreciation for and proselytizing of 'The Teachings of Tao'. And that's all in addition to the root canal surgery without anesthesia.

Oh barf. (Sorry, I can't seem to help it).

I am a little appalled this shit ever got past the first editor, and therefore might be suffering from a wee bit of jealousy, admittedly. And I am not done reading the thing, either. But I swear if the guy hugs one more person, I'm gonna throw (get ready for it) the book across the room.

He should have subtitled the thing 'Hugging your Way to Sobriety.'

Don't bother buying it. Because as a service to humanity - and truly talented writers everywhere - I have composed a little parody for you.

So, enjoy, kids. And get the barf bag ready.

(Real excerpt from 'A Million Little Pieces' page 171:)

"I am twenty-three years old and I've been an Alcoholic for a decade and a drug Addict and Criminal for almost as long and I'm wanted in three states and I'm in a Hospital in the middle of Minnesota and I want to drink and I want to do some drugs and I can't control myself. I'm twenty-three.

I breathe and I shake and I can feel it coming and rage and need and confusion regret horror shame and hatred fuse into a perfect Fury a great and beautiul and terrible and perfect Fury the Fury and I can't stop the Fury or conrol the Fury I can only let the Fury come come come come come. Let it motherfucking come. The Fury has come."

(from page 260:)

"At the end of the Session, Sophie asks everyone to join hands. An intimacy has developed and we do so eagerly. She has us recite a poem that she calls the Serenity Prayer. She says a line and we follow. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. She smiles and we smile everyone smiles. When we finish saying the prayer, she has us do it again. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. She has us do it again and again.

When she stands, everyone else stands. She tells us we're finished and everyone starts hugging each other. There are hugs sealing the bonds hugs healing the wounds hugs in appreciation of knowledge and insight shared hugs of understanding and hugs of compassion extended. After the hugs, Sophie opens the door and we file out smiling and laughing and in better shape than when we entered. Everyone says good-bye thank you good-bye thank you."


My turn!

"I feel the Fury come fast and swift and up from my Feet all the way into my Head until it becomes a burning white light burning white light light white burning the Fury it is burning white motherfucking burning white Fury.

I think of the Girl in College with her perfect Teeth and sweet Breath and tiny fragile Waist and I am ashamed of Everything I did to make her hate me. I am a Criminal wanted in three States and a drug Addict and an Alcoholic and I don't deserve Anyone.

I smoked my first Joint at eight and soon moved on to Acid and Ecstasy. By the time I was twelve, I had shot Heroin, smoked Crack, sniffed Cocaine, eaten Mushrooms and made it to an Opium den by the time I was fifteen and at seventeen I lost my Virginity to a Prostitute.

The Black man who shares my room in Rehab just happens to play jazz Clarinet and fuck is he good and he plays slow and soft and melancholy while I let the words of the Tao soothe my tortured Soul. Suddenly, he puts the Clarinet down and begins to cry and he cries and cries and Tears run down his face and drop on the Floor next to his Clarinet Case and I go over to him and say hey man it's going to be Alright you just have to Hold on Hold on all you have to do is just Hold on. I put my Arms around him and he is crying and I am crying and we are hugging each other in this Room in Rehab in the middle of Minnesota and it feels Good and I just hold him and cry and let him cry and we are hugging and crying."

Christ Almighty, this book sucks Ass.

*Plagiarized from my friend Kitty, who is a badass with dirty rhymes.

jeudi, juillet 06, 2006

On est en final! On est en final!


France : 1 Portugal : 0

After the game, my friend and I went out on the streets to mingle in the crowds. We got so caught up in the mood, in the movement, in the euphoria, that we walked all the way from Republique to Concorde.

That's a hike, folks.

I've never seen anything like that scene. Everyone - black, white, Middle Eastern, citizens, tourists and clandestines - everyone was waving flags, hanging out of and on top of cars, swarming the streets and sidewalks, kissing, hugging and high-fiving everyone they passed. Roller skaters grabbed onto car bumpers for a ride, people climbed atop statues, mailboxes, bus stops - even the monument at the Place de la Bastille - waving the bleu blanc rouge and singing,

"We're going to the finals... to the finals we're going...."

I tried to capture some images with my cell phone, but they didn't turn out.

So Sunday? France against Italy for the championship? I am so going out to a bar to watch it.

This time, though, I'm bringing the fucking camera.

mercredi, juillet 05, 2006

We Interrupt This Regularly Scheduled Blog

For a brief message :

Tonight at 9PM, France battles Portugal to play in the finals of the World Cup.


I'm wearing my blue, white and red babydoll T-shirt to watch the match tonight.

Here's hoping I don't run into my Portuguese concierge.

jeudi, juin 29, 2006


The first time I went to Latin America, I was so sure I would get whistled at on the street. Not that I think I am so hot I sizzle or anything, but my previous experience in France had conditioned me to being singled out as a woman in public places. Okay, so I was more of a girl at the time. Young lady. Whatever.

But once I actually got to Santiago, Chile - nada.

I remember being really surprised and disappointed. After a few days of being totally ignored, I got pissed.

"So, like, I'm not beautiful?" I whined at my Chilean boyfriend-future-ex-husband, "This ass is not whistle-worthy?" I was practically screeching. I had my big-butt-for-a-white-girl sticking out for approval.

"Don't worry, sweetie, it's just because you are with me," he replied, affectionately patting the region in question, "They're respecting that you're taken."

"Like that ever mattered anywhere else!" I huffed, flipping my waist-length blond hair to the side. I thought at least the blond hair would get some reaction. Turns out Chile is full of blondes. Hmph.

"Trust me," he said, "we're just not all that hot-blooded. Have you heard our music? Pan flutes, for Christ's sake."

Responses like that were just one of the many reasons I loved him.

But blonde hair and lady bumps aside, I had many reasons to expect to be catcalled. Most notably, a surreal two-week venture in Lyon when I was sixteen, where I became convinced either I was the culmination of babe-a-licious, or the only female in the greater metropolitan area. I could go nowhere - and I mean nowhere - without being whistled at, propositioned, shouted at, pointed at, or leered at.

At first, I thought I was imagining things. My French was good, but maybe I had misunderstood what the guy had yelled out of his window at me that day. Surely I had gotten some words mixed up and only thought I heard the waiter ask for my phone number. I couldn't possibly have understood correctly when the fucking telephone operator asked me out for a drink.

I still have trouble wrapping my head around that one. Dude couldn't even see me.

It went something like this:

"Yes, hello," I said slowly, making sure of my pronunciation, "I would like to make a collect call to the United States, please."

"But of course, Mademoiselle," the male operator's voice said breathily, "to what number?"

I gave him my father's number. I wanted to tell him I was no longer staying at Pierre's place, and had checked myself into a hotel. (Another story for another day, that one). He was supposed to be my contact while my mother was out of town at a seminar.

"And who shall I say is calling?" he asked, a little playful edge to his voice.

"Penelope, his daughter," I replied.

"That's a lovely name," he cooed.

"Merci," I managed. I felt shy all of a sudden.

He couldn't reach my father, so he came back on line.

"I am not getting an answer, Mademoiselle, you'll have to try again later."

"Okay, thank you," I said. I was getting ready to hang up when he broke in again,

"So, you're American?" He was trying sound casual.

"Um, yes," I answered.

"You speak French well for an American. Are you calling from Paris?"

Why on earth would that matter? I thought, but said, "No, I'm calling from a booth in Lyon."

"Oh, that's too bad," he said, "I would have asked you out for a drink!"

At that, I took the phone from my ear and looked at it unbelievingly. The fucking phone operator just asked me out, I thought. I have no recollection of how I managed to end that call, but I'm sure I said something idiotic like, "Oh! Well! Eh-heh... Bye!"

But things did not end there.

I stepped out of the booth, one of those clear glass ones, and turned around to the sound of men hooting and clapping directly in front of me, all assembled at a cafe table on the sidewalk.

"Nice ass!" yelled one.

"What a view! Do that again!" said another.

I was confused, and turned back around to the phone booth. My heart sank when I realized I had been leaning against the glass while making the call, giving the entire cafe terrace a magnified, crystal clear, spread out view of my ass. As if they had been the lens on a photocopier I had decided to sit on. I ran away, blushing.

And promptly smashed my face into a metal telephone pole.

I should charge for entertainment that good.

A few days later, I was waiting on the subway platform when the subway conductor - as he pulled the train into the station - stuck out his tongue at me. But when he curled it up suggestively to mimick actually licking my lady parts, I thought I had a screw loose. I stood there, eyes bulging out, mouth opening and closing like a fish ripped out of the water.

Did he just do what I think he did? I thought. I looked around frantically to see if anyone else had seen it. I needed reassurance it wasn't my imagination. But how do you ask a total stranger in a foreign country, "Did you just see the subway conductor make like he wanted to lick my hoo ha?"


Besides, there were no other women around to ask.

Once I was walking down the sidewalk when a guy pulled over his car and opened the door. I froze.

"Need a lift?" he asked.

This might have been normal behavior in France-land, but to me, it screamed ohmygod serial killer I am going to die and be cut to bits and fed to the silly-looking poodles!!

I gathered my wits and began to walk away, saying, "No, thank you."

"Can I buy you a drink?" he ventured.

"No, thank you," I repeated, speeding up.

"I saw you from afar, and you're so pretty, I thought I'd try my luck."

"No, thank you, I'm fine," I repeated again, and stepped up my pace.

Would you believe me if I told you that where I ended up next, I got followed by two old men? The same day?

Well if it wasn't the same day, it was certainly not much before or after, cause Lyon, man, that place was just teeming with leery whistley oglers. I must have totally not been in the right neighborhood. So whatever day it was, I left the confines of my cheap hotel room to take a walk around. For years I could still remember the name of the street my hotel was on. It was one of those places that stay inside you. And not in a good way.

I'm casually strolling, looking in store windows, when I notice in the reflection of the glass that there are two older men right behind me, who seem to be discussing me. Or some part of my anatomy. I start walking again, this time only pretending to look in the shop windows in order to watch them behind me. A few shops later, I begin to be convinced they are following me. I decide to test them and cross the street. One of them signals goodbye to the other, and crosses the street. He continues right behind me. Great. Not so subtle, though, buddy. I'm on to you.

Suddenly, I duck down a side street, run to the first building I see, and flatten myself up against the back of it. I'm standing there in the parking lot, catching my breath, and turn my head to realize I am staring straight into the open window of a couple's bedroom. They are, thankfully, not engaged in any hanky panky, but are not fully clothed, either. It was August.

"I'm so sorry," I blurted, "but I'm hiding here because I think there is a man following me."

The man in the apartment came over to the window looking concerned.

"Are you alright?" he asked.

"Yes, I'm fine," I answered, "but if you don't mind, I'm just going to stand here for a while."

"Do you want to come inside?" he asked.

"No, I don't want to bother you," I said, trying not to look at his underwear.

"Well, we're here if you need anything," he assured me.

"Thank you, that's very kind." I turned around and looked at the parking lot. I felt rather silly just standing there trying to pretend I wasn't disturbing the half-naked couple in the apartment behind me. I almost started whistling to signify how normal this all was. Finally, I gave up and went back to the street. I took two steps and saw the man who had been following me coming towards me. I was sure he hadn't seen me, so I ducked into the apartment building's entrance and plastered myself against the wall.

Please let him just walk by, I willed. Just walk right on by, buddy.

He walked up to the entrance, and stepped inside to find me spread out against the wall like a starfish.

Suddenly, I lost all control.

"Why are you following me?" I shouted. I was angry.

He looked surprised, even offended.

"I'm not following you," he responded.

"Then why are you here?" I asked. I have no idea what I was thinking. What was I going to do? Take this middle-aged man down? I noticed he had brown stains on the front of his white undershirt. I was hoping it was tea. He looked like he drank a lot of tea. In houka bars.

"I am walking down the street," he replied, his hands spread in that what, me? way. "You have too many ideas in your head." he said. His accent was thick, but I had already heard enough.

"And you have no ideas, I suppose? That's why you followed me here? And because of your completely innocent ideas, you are standing here in front of me?" I wasn't even afraid. I was fucking pissed.

I sort of miss the sixteen year old me. She had balls.

"What do you want from me?" he said. Out of the two of us, he seemed the most scared.

"I don't want anything to do with you," I said calmly.

"I am innocent," he said, his voice rising slightly petulantly, "I just wanted to ask you to have a drink with me." He smiled sheepishly. I noticed he was missing some teeth. The ones he had were brown. Tea-stained, let's say.

I laughed. It was not a nice laugh.

"Do I look parched with thirst or something?" I was beginning to come undone. "Because the men in this fucking town keep asking me if I want a drink." I had balled my hands into fists at my side. "No," I snarled, "I. Do. Not. Want. A. Fucking. Drink. With you. Or anyone. Ever."

"You have too many ideas in your head," he repeated, as if this was going to make me change course and suddenly ask for a Black and Tan.

"I have one very good idea," I said, "and it is that you FUCK OFF." He looked genuinely shocked, and took a step backwards.

"I want you to get away from me," I said, raising my voice, "Now."

He raised his hands in defeat and backed out of the doorway and onto the street. I stayed plastered to the wall and watched him walk away. I stayed there until I was calm enough to not knock the shit out of the next man who dared to speak to me.

Then, I went calmly back to my hotel and went straight to the bar. I really needed a drink, alone. The bartender? A woman. I almost cried with relief.

Please, please just don't let her be gay.

She wasn't, and I survived that trip somehow, but I've never stepped foot in that town again. I guess I'd be afraid to be disappointed. If it turned out to be nothing like I remember. If it turned out not to be menacing, just rather banal.

If no one even bothered to say,

"Hey, sweetheart! Can I buy you a drink?"

samedi, juin 24, 2006

Six Feet Under

When I woke up late, I had a feeling it was going to be a bad day.

Rushing out of the house, I threw on some flip flops and put my high-heeled shoes in my bag to change into later.

Running down the steps to the subway platform, I tripped and nearly fell flat on my face. When I reached the bottom, I carefully took a step and tripped again. Confused I was actually that clumsy, I looked down to see that the rubber sole of one of my flip flops had started to come off. I sighed and sat down to change my shoes.

I had worn the flip flops specifically for comfort and - gasp - practicality. For some reason I have yet to figure out, the paving stones on the bridge leading to work are only sealed with cement at the corners, leaving big gaps all around the sides. On any given morning you can watch the hordes of people rushing to work and, invariably, you will see every other woman in heels suddenly get stuck mid-stride, try to extract her foot, curse up a storm and carefully insepct the damage. It's a pretty effective way to ruin a good pair of shoes, which I have a knack for doing under any conditions.

I made a mental note to be careful on the bridge this time.

I changed trains at my usual stop and was just squeezing into a space inside the car where I could breathe without sucking someone's hair up my nose when the train came to a screeching halt, sending everyone flying backwards into each other. Then the lights cut off and the engine died. The passengers looked around quizzically at each other, and the conductor's voice came on over the PA system:

"May I have your attention, ladies and gentlemen," a note of stress in his voice, "We have a....problem..."

There are often "problems" on the subway lines. Usually, they are called by their wonderfully euphemistic names. A "social movement" is a strike. A "technical difficulty" is a strike. But an unnamed "problem" is kind of spooky.

People shifted uncomfortably and muttered. It was very hot, and now that the train wasn't moving, there wasn't even a breeze. I took out my fan, grateful to have remembered to bring it. The woman in front of me looked at me wistfully.

"Ladies and gentleman," came the conductor's voice again, "we have a problem, and we will be here for a while. Thank you for your patience."

They NEVER say, 'a while'. Usually it's 'a few moments.' 'A while' means hours. Cell phones got whipped out from left to right.

"Jean-Pierre? It's Benoît. Look, I'm stuck on the train. No, we're in between stations, and they say it will be a while. Yeah. Christophe is there already?!? You're kidding. I'm going to be later than Christophe?"

"Marie-Christine, it's Claudine. Yes, the meeting? Can you tell them to start without me? I'm stuck on the train - no, in between stations - I don't know, they just said ' a while.' I know. Doesn't bode well. Hey, maybe I'll make it in time for lunch?"

Surprisingly, only one lady seemed to take it personally.

"I don't know why these things always happen to me. Well, I'm calling you to let you know I'll be late, so I don't see why you have to attack me. I'm the one who's stuck. Well, I think you're wrong to come after me like that. I can't believe I take the one train that gets stopped and call you and get yelled at. You are so wrong to treat me this way...."

People moved away from her as her voice got higher. I was hoping she wouldn't totally freak out and start thrashing around. There was hardly room, and it would have just stirred up more hot air.

"Ladies and gentlemen," came the conductor's voice again, "there has been a passenger accident at the preceding station."

Metro speak for suicide. Good morning! Someone threw themselves on the tracks back there!

"We will be here for quite a while. Those of you who would like to evacuate, please proceed to the front of the train. You will walk to the next station through the tunnel. Those who would prefer to wait on the train, please make room for those evacuating."

"Oh, no fucking way!" said the impossibly hot black chick next to me into her cell phone, "There are like, mice, out there!"

Great, I thought, how the hell am I going to walk down the tracks and side step rats in the dark in these shoes?

Maybe the broken flip flop would come in handy after all. If I brandished it as a weapon.

"Shoo, vile rat!" Flappy flap flap!!! "Away with you, metro mouse!!" Floppy flip flop!!

I even briefly considered using a lighter to guide me. Better yet, I could light the broken flip flop on fire and use it alternately as a torch and flappy flame-throwing rodent killer.

I am - in a word - brilliant.

I moved to the middle of the car to make my way to the front of the train to evacuate. Did I mention I was on the next to last car? I had a very long wait ahead of me.

One guy behind me was looking rather panicked, and explained to the lady next to him,

"I have a final in an hour," he said, shaking his head in disbelief, "and the exact same thing happened to me last semester - a passenger accident. I left two hours ahead of time this morning just in case, but I still think I'm going to be late. They'll never believe me."

"Well go on ahead, young man!" the lady said, giving him a friendly shove, "tell people you need to jump ahead!" She maneuvered her way alongside him, tapping people on the shoulder to ask them to let him in front.

"If he won't say it, I will!" she said to me when I smiled at her and let them pass.

After an eternity of waiting and advancing only half a step at a time, the line to evacuate started to actually move. At that moment, the conductor came over the loudspeaker again.

"Ladies and gentlemen, good news. We will be able to leave in fifteen minutes. Please be seated."

You know the moment in musical chairs when the music stops? It was like that. But hot.

And then we waited. And waited. And waited. For more than thirty minutes.

"Like I said, we should be starting up again in just fifteen minutes," the conductor announced, sarcasm seeping out of the speakers.

At this point, people just gave up and laughed.

"Okay, ladies and gentlemen, here we go for real!" he chirped, as the lights came back on and the train began to move. "And thank you for your patience. You have been very good."

I got to work three hours late. But with the best excuse ever. And come to think of it, I'm kind of disappointed I didn't get to evacuate. I was sort of curious to see the tunnels. And when else would I get to emulate Isabelle Adjani?

vendredi, juin 02, 2006

Excuse Me, Do You Work Here?

Apparently, I look like someone who should work in a luxury hotel.

I worked a three-day IT conference in the Hôtel Normandy Barrière in Deauville recently, and the IT managers in attendance were a little confused.

My company has a bit of an unfortunate reputation for being old world and stodgy. Admittedly, the other assistant who always plans the conference is a bit - if you'll pardon me - matronly. You take one look at her and think, "I bet she makes a mean cassoulet."

But I digress.

She had asked me to come help out, which I was happy to do, as it meant getting out of the office and meeting new people in a nice setting. Oh, and it royally pissed off my snake of a co-worker. She hates it when I get to travel. Major bonus.

Most of the attendees had never met me, nor dealt with me in any way, so I didn't expect them to recognize me or anything. I just thought the company name tag would be a clue.

Throughout the conference, I tried to guess what language to speak to whom, herded participants onto buses, handed out welcome packets, explained where the cocktails and dinners were being held, bullshitted my way through answering what kind of internet connection was available in the business center, and kept guard outside the meeting room while things were in session, all in full waitress mode, asking and answering with a smile. All the while, "Penelope Reider, X Company" was clearly visible on my name tag.

Despite this, almost every other person I interacted with asked,

"Do you work for the hotel?"

At dinner on the second night, I took refuge at the Spanish and Brazilian table. IT managers are one thing, French IT managers are another. I needed some spice. I was happily chatting with various members of the table when the Catalunian asked,

"So, you work for the hotel, right?"

"You are about the tenth person to ask me that," I said, laughing.

"I'm sorry, we have a tendency to repeat ourselves," he responded.

"No, no," I replied, "it's just that it makes me think people must say to themselves, 'That girl can't possibly be from X Company.' "

The table erupted in laughter. "That's it exactly!" several of them replied in chorus.

"But what is it about me that makes people think that?" I ventured, not sure where I was treading.

The Catalunian looked at the Mexican. The Mexican nudged the Colombian, who waved him away. The older Spanish gentleman patted my arm.

"It's nice to know people like you do work for X Company," he explained.

"Don't change a thing," said the Brazilian with a devlish smile.

Somehow, I don't think they were talking about my administrative assistant skills....

mercredi, mai 17, 2006

Nice Try

Over Easter vacation, Handsome and I went on a road trip through Brittany.

Our first stop was the Paimpont Forest, where it is claimed the magician Merlin, of King Arthur fame, is buried. Handsome had warned me it was a little anti-climactic as far as monuments go. Indicated only by a tiny hand-written sign, and an illegible semi-official marker, it is - at best - underwhelming.

At first, I was almost willing to make the leap. These sort of things you want to believe, for whatever reason. You read the marker, you see the other tourists, you try to wrap your head around why on earth the Anglo-Saxon magician soothsayer of Arthurian legend would be buried in Brittany.

You take a closer look at the marker, and then you notice the quotation marks: "Merlin's Tomb."

And then it hits you. Arthurian legend.

Well, hey, you gotta work with what you've got, right? So, you have some large Druid-like stones laying around. You're in a forest, on the axis coming from Paris, and forests make you think of King Arthur and Robin Hood and whatnot. You need some extra dough. You take three rocks, stack them up, spread the word, and bingo! Instant tourist attraction.

I leave it to you to decide if they did a convincing job.

I know what you're thinking. Merlin was Jewish? Those little pieces of paper are so Wailing Wall.

But really, guys, nice try.

Baaa Waaaa!

I was listening to the radio the other morning and nearly choked on my coffee when I heard the headlines.

A mountainous region in France has voted to re-introduce bears into the wild. This, like, well, everything involving change, sparked a protest. The announcer gave details of the crowd, mostly composed of local farmers. Without a hint of irony he added, "a few hundred sheep were also in attendance."

Farm animals on strike.

Only in France, kids, only in France.

lundi, avril 24, 2006

Brawl in the 16ème - Y'all!!

Sunday, I went for a brisk jog. You read that correctly. Moi, jogging. Mais oui. See, Handsome is quite the runner, and those green eyes can make me do just about anything. But I am still quite the novice. Like six minutes and 20 seconds kind of novice. On Sunday, I had just gotten back from my feeble attempt, and when I went to close my apartment door behind me, the wind from the open window slammed it shut, making a rather loud noise. Oops! I thought. Sorry, neighbors!

In one of those weird coincidence moments, at that very second, I heard someone out in the hallway, trying to slip a note under my door. I picked it up, curious. It read:

(Translation : Dear Neighbors, Pleaze [sic] be a little more discreet on Sunday mornings especially when closing your shutters and in other akts. [sic] Thaynk you. [sic])

My first reaction was that the "akts" in question were a direct reference to the kind of sport Handsome and I had been practicing before the jogging, one at which I have much more endurance - and loads more practice. But I was almost sure I had been more "discreet" than usual. I felt a slight moralistic reproach in the "on Sunday mornings", as if my use of "Oh God!" in the context in which I had uttered it had been particularly blasphemous to the ears of this mystery person. I tried to remember how loud I had been and who could have possibly heard. I felt myself blush. Then, the shutter part threw me. I never touch mine. I think they're a pain to close and open all the time, so I just leave them open. Surely this was not a note from my neighbors across the street, who had somehow gotten into my building, asking me to close the shutters the next time I felt like getting a little closer to heaven?

I read it again. I noticed the "ç" in "merci" twice, and the missing "e" in "acts". This person can't be French, I thought, and if they are, shame, shame! This is not from my neighbors across the street, I reasoned. This is not about people seeing into my window. This is not even about how best to praise the Lord on his special day. This is about noise. Shutter closing noise. Which I did not make.

Handsome came back from his hour-long run, and I showed him the note.

"Tell me I'm reading this wrong," I said, "and that this is not about us and our warm-up session this morning."

He read the note quickly and handed it back. "Don't worry," he said, "this isn't about us."

"So it's not that anyone heard us or saw us and they're complaining cause it's Sunday? This is to everybody, right?"

"Yeah," he said, "and even if it were to us, who cares? Whoever it is needs to lighten up."

"Whew!" I said, relieved. "I didn't want to make enemies with my neighbors so soon."

"Besides," he said, taking me in his arms and smiling devilishly, "you were a lot quieter than usual."

Later that evening coming back from a movie, we were tired, and contrary to our habit, decided to take the elevator to my floor. Lo and behold, taped to the wall was proof we were not the only targets of the Sunday morning note.

(Translation: Sir or Madam, This makes two times you have accused me anonymously. At least have the courage to sign your name. For your information, 1) I never close my shutters 2) I was out of town this weekend. [NOT SIGNED])

"Ooo!" I said, "things are heating up on Rue de la Pompe!!"

"Look, the fool lost his argument cause he didn't sign himself!" Handsome pointed out. "He would have won if he'd just put 'third floor, door on the right,' or whatever. Like 'come tell it to my face, fucker!' "

"Mnnhhh hhn!!" I said, sucking my teeth and swinging my neck like I was back in the ATL, "there gon' be some fur flying tonight!"

Fur coats, that is. This is the 16ème. Ahem.

jeudi, avril 06, 2006

Ten Under

Much to my annoyance, every year we have to have a physical exam. I'm pretty sure this is a no-no in the US, but here, it's part of the mentality of your company and your government "taking care" of you. French people will admit that the state has a sort of "parental" role. It gives you milk money, asks you to check in when you change addresses, and monitors if you watch TV or not. (There is a TV tax. No lie. One more reason not to own one.)

My check-up was on Monday, and I knew it would be pretty routine : blood pressure check, vision test, etc. Everything went fine with the nurses, and then I had to have a brief visit with the doctor. She called me into her office. A rather stern woman with closely cropped blond hair, she asked me to sit down and asked how I was doing. Not realizing this was part of my health test, I gave the standard chirpy 'everything's fine' answer. If only I had known, I might have amused myself by making up psychoses.

"Well, everything was fine until I started to have sexual dreams about the janitor."

Or, "I often hear voices telling me, 'Shred that piece of paper! Shred everything in sight!"

Or, "Sometimes I get the overwhelming urge to re-organize my files in reverse alphabetical order."

But I'm proud to say, I resisted the temptation to mess with the company doctor.

She finished her questions and then asked me to get undressed. There is something ever so slightly incongruous about getting undressed in what looks like a normal office except for the paper-covered examing table. I tried to act like I was used to getting undressed in people's offices all the time, but maybe that wasn't the best impression to give her. Anyway, luckily, I happened to be wearing a bra and underwear that slightly matched. If you squinted, you might have even mistaken them for a set.

I stepped on the scale, having honestly no idea where it would land. I don't have a TV because it depresses me. I don't have a scale for the same reason. Plus, kilos still don't really mean all that much to me. I looked down at the number. She came over, looked, and then went back to my file.

"Two more kilos than last year!" she announced.

I shrugged and smiled dismissively. I thought if I didn't care, she wouldn't. Plus, my underwear matched.

"And you have to lose them because you're right at the limit for your height," she pronounced.

I burst out laughing.

Fuck you, and have a nice day, I thought as I left.

I came back up to my floor and went to go see my friend.

"Well guess what," I said, "I'm supposedly 'right at the limit' in weight for my height."

"No," she said, "how tall are you?"

"Shit, in meters, I don't know."

"Because the rule is you should be ten under your height," she explained.

I gave her a blank look of incomprehension.

"For example, if you're 1 meter, 60 centimeters tall, you should weigh 50 kilos. If you're 1 meter 70 centimeters tall, you should weigh 60 kilos, and so on."

So everyone goes walking around with this information in their heads? This seems too even and neat to me. Too metric.

But if I want to be in line, if I want to be within the norm, if I want to fit neatly on the graph, I have a few kilos to lose.

Eh. I'll think about it tomorrow.

mercredi, mars 29, 2006

Mmm! Mmm!

As of last weekend, I am no longer the same person.

I didn't know at the time to what extent it would affect me, but I can now say with certainty that I no longer see the world, or myself, in the same way.

You see, on Sunday, Handsome's parents invited us to Sunday lunch. It wasn't that I was nervous about meeting them. We've met already, and they're very nice, warm people. The life-changing experience? The Sunday lunch menu.

Beef tongue.

I thought about it all week. What if I didn't like it? Would I be able to conceal it enough to get through the meal gracefully? What if I hated it? Would Handsome be disappointed? Would he eventually lose interest and dump me for a tripe-loving tramp?

Beef tongue.

I wanted to try it. But I really, really wanted to like it.

Handsome explained that the first course would be a sort of pot au feu, with bouillon and vegetables, and the second course would be the beef tongue, accompanied by garlic-mustard sauce, potatoes and salad.

We arrived a little late, oblivious to the spring time change, and made our excuses while making the obligatory cheek-kissing rounds. Handsome's father served us a generous aperitif, and this helped calm my nerves. I was comforted that at least to my untrained nose, things smelled normal.

We made our way to the table for the bouillon. It was surprisingly hearty, and served with turnips, leeks and carrots. I had two helpings, egged on by Handsome's father, who, like his good-looking son, is a hard man to refuse.

The plates were cleared, and I realized the moment of truth was upon me. I shifted uneasily in my seat and took a large gulp of wine.

"How about another glass of the red stuff?" Handsome's dad offered from the end of the table.

"Oh yes, please," I said with relief.

Handsome's mother brought in the bowl of garlic-mustard sauce. I could smell it from where I was sitting. It bode well. Then out came the potatoes and salad. Then finally, the much-awaited large plate of beef tongue. I tried not to stare at it, afraid I might recognize something akin to a taste bud. From the quick peek I took, it looked surprisingly like a sort of pot roast, cut into thick slices.

I helped myself to potatoes and passed on the plate, took a large helping of salad, and handed the bowl to Handsome. With a quick look around the table and a large what-the-fuck smile, I took the fork and helped myself to a large piece of beef tongue. I smothered it with garlic-mustard sauce, and dug in.

"Mmmmm!" I exclaimed. The garlic sauce then made contact. "Aaarrr!!" I roared, sticking out my tongue and shaking my head to make it wobble.

We all erupted in laughter and raised our glasses for a toast to a lovely Sunday afternoon.

Beef tongue. The new broker of improved Franco-American relations.

mercredi, février 15, 2006

Watch Out, Ladies and Gentlemen!

There are very few musical productions I know of that try to warn you in advance. But a few weeks ago, I got invited to see a Michel Fougain retrospective at the Folies Bergères, entitled "Watch Out, Ladies and Gentlemen!"

It just doesn't get any clearer than that.

But I was thinking more along the lines of: in company of good-looking guy, free, Folies Bergères. Can you blame me?

I had never really heard of Michel Fougain, but asked around and got some vague answers about him being a singer popular in the seventies. I decided I didn't care.

Like I said, good-looking guy, free, Folies Bergères.

But taking into account the fact that I have a lot of trouble dealing with the kind of music I hear all the time here at weddings, parties, restaurants and clubs precisely because it is mostly composed of things that were popular in the seventies, it did not bode well.

I know what you're thinking. I really should have known from the poster.

I was trying to keep an open mind. I didn't know if it was going to be more of a musical or a concert, but I had no idea it was going to be a pointless two-hour long attempt at dancing to this former star's songs. The result was an endless succession of three-minute long clips of Michel Fugain's most popular has-been ditties (think Barry Manilow in French) sung and danced to by a cast of cute young adults trying really, really hard to make it in the world of showbiz. I mean teeth-clenchingly hard. You could feel just how hard they were trying. Something about it all felt eerily familiar.

The set and costumes were puzzling. The girls wore jeans and horribly early 80's tops. One girl had very badly permed hair, cropped acid-washed jeans, knee-high red patent leather boots, and a ripped tight fitting T-shirt with some fake American logo on it. I swear she looked like she'd just flown in from New Jersey. In 1982. The set had one platform in the middle, connected by two stairs on the sides. A lot of times, the kids would be milling around in their horrendous outfits, singing, propping feet up, sitting on a step with head in hand, and I got to thinking, is this supposed to look like the playground of a New Jersey high school in 1982? And then it occurred to me. Fame. Much peppy walking up and down the set stairs occured. In unison. With arms spread wide. While singing into their headset microphones, which made them look like overly-cheerful singing and dancing customer service operators. From 1982. In New Jersey. Like I said, Fame.

The combination of it all was simply absurd.

For those of you who don't know me well, let me give you an idea of how I react to absurdity. In public. When, despite everything, lots of people have worked their tucheses off to make the thing happen. Just ask my Dad about the time he made the mistake of inviting me to watch an open audition of local actors back home, attended by all the people in his field. People he probably was trying to network and close deals with. Ask him about the slightly plump lady whose unfortunate choice of monologue had her acting the parts of both a man and a woman, so that she was dressed half in a suit, half in a dress. Ask him about when she started to molest herself, and then slap her own male hand away with her gloved female one. Ask him about how I burst out laughing so hard and so loudly that he had to literally pull me by the arm and escort me out of the theatre. But he might not want to talk about it.

About six songs into the Michel Fougain musical production, three of the Fame-esque guys dressed in jeans, white wife-beaters and black leather jackets lined with quilted gold lamé are standing in front of three very large black trashcans. Singing about lord knows what, but I doubt it was about garbage collection. They remove the lids, and out pop three Fame-esque beaming young ladies, holding trash can lids. They step out, dressed in short black raincoats that look like they've been sprayed with drugstore Halloween sparkles. They are joined onstage by their overly cheerful female castmates, identically bedecked in sparkled short raincoats and dancing with trash can lids.

I stole a look at my companion. He had an odd frozen expression on his face. I pinched myself, hard. I tried to think of dead kittens. Then came the last straw. Two very young, very white men came onstage, dressed in what someone thought looked like 'urban hiphop' gear, and began to do their best imitation of some jivey urbany hip-hoppy yo-yo movements. That did it.

I remember the sensation of pounds of pressurized laugh-breath escaping my mouth as I sputtered forth, making a not unelegant arc, aiming directly for my lap. I think it sounded something like "Pfffffffffrrrrrrrgggghh!!!" And then I sat there, convulsing, doubled over, trying not to squeak, trying desperately to hide and wipe away the tears that were streaming down my face. This lasted through to the next number. My good-looking companion leaned down to ask if I was alright. Which sent me into a new round of stifled snorting.

Hysterical laughter eventually gave way to total boredom. Then morphed into scorn. We shifted in our seats. We looked at our watches. When the greaser-wannabe gold lamé jacket dudes were singing a song about how tough they were, challenging the cops to cart them off, my handsome companion muttered, "Yes, please! Lock them up!" I was tempted to add, "Throw 'em in the can!" but no one would have understood.

When I was sure it had been hours, when I began to doubt if it would ever end, I leaned over and asked, "How many songs did this dude write?" Handsome squeezed my hand in reassurance. When it was finally, blissfully over, I felt the audience clapping enthusiastically. Panicked, I grabbed him by the arms and said a little too loudly, my voice breaking in desperation, "Oh god, no, please! If there is an encore, I will die right here!"

We nearly trampled the people in our row in the struggle to leave before another song came on. We ran into the lobby, panting, feeling like we had barely escaped with our lives (and our integrity).

We looked at each other in disbelief at what we had just been through.

"Man, after that, I need a good stiff drink," I said.

"Amen," he said, and we headed straight to the nearest brasserie.

jeudi, janvier 19, 2006

Piece of the Pie

I suppose I should feel like I've really made it - arrived - as they say, now that I've moved to the snooty 16th arrondissement. But I don't. Yet.

I wouldn't have bothered moving if it hadn't been a real necessity. But with the wall holding in my shower about to collapse, and the landlords refusing to fix it, I had no choice.

I really liked my old building. I had gotten to know my downstairs neighbor, a 90-year old lady who travelled the world as a governess and who shared her stories while we nibbled chocolates together. She gave me nice hand-me-down clothes, including my first piece of couture: a black Balenciaga dress and matching bolero jacket. I had also met Emmanuelle, Claire, Marie, Erika and Sophie : all young professional women who live in the building and who all have a healthy appreciation for a nice cocktail after work.

I had even gotten to know the shopkeepers in the neighborhood : the video rental guy - who while nice, was very confused by me and just dying to ask me what planet I came from; the sweet cashier at the Shopi on the corner, his Coca-Cola bottle thick glasses magnifying his tender blue eyes by three; the pessimistic lady at the dry cleaner's who delighted in telling me there was no hope, nothing to do, too late now, but she'd try anyway to get that stain out, if only I had brought it to her sooner.

I am particularly going to miss the restaurant downstairs, called "L'Entredgeu." If you are ever in Paris, I highly recommend it. It's a tiny little place with no more than 15 tables, if that, a 28 euro fixed-price three-course menu that changes with the seasons and the whims of the chef. I had only been in the apartment for a few days, when I was waiting for some friends to come over and knew we would need a place to have dinner, so I thought I might as well try the place downstairs. I walked in and asked the girl at the counter,

"Would you have a table for three tonight around 8:30?"

"We can fit you in around 9. Under what name?" she replied.

"Penelope," I said.

She stopped writing and looked at me pointedly. "Excuse me?" She looked like she was waiting to unmask me and the trick I might be trying to pull.

"Penelope," I repeated, sure I had pronounced it correctly.

"Because your name is Penelope?" she asked.

At this point, I was getting a little annoyed. "Yes," I said firmly.

"Mine too!" she said, breaking into a smile.

"Well, look at that!" I marvelled, "two Penelope's on the same block in Paris. Who would have thought!"

Every time I went there to eat afterwards, we got a kick out of looking at each other with little smirks and saying,

"Bonsoir, Penelope!" to which one of us would reply,

"Bonsoir, Penelope!"

All of this to say, I really wasn't looking forward to leaving the neighborhood. Plus, for those who don't already know, I hate packing. And unpacking. With a passion. I put it off as long as possible - it was the holidays, I told myself - and then finally gave in. I got so nervous I wouldn't finish in time, I tore cuticles apart. Which really helped with the packing, lemme tell ya.

But it got done. Movers came, made friends with Max, and moved all my stuff into the new place. There were some adjustments that needed to be made, so an electrician came, made friends with Max, labeled all my fuses, and spent a good three hours re-wiring some antique lamps. The plumbers came, made friends with Max, and tried to figure out why the electric toilet was giving off strange stagnant water odors. Then, after not having a phone signal for a whole week and a half, the phone company came, made friends with Max, and re-intstalled the phone cable that had been ripped out and never replaced when the place had been renovated. Now I just have to get the electric company to come, make friends with Max, and up my amperage. That new electric stove uses a heck of a lot of watts.

I really can't complain. There is even another restaurant downstairs. The apartment is a bigger, sunnier, nicer place with a real separate kitchen. I have a cute little fireplace (which I'm apparently not supposed to use) in the bedroom, and a bathtub I have reveled in since the very first night.

But people, the toilet is fucking electric. Who thought that was a good idea? And, um, I can't get it to work until I try fifteen times. I push the button, nothing happens. The electrician pushes the button, it works. I push the button, total silence. The plumber pushes the button, flush-a-thon. Decidedly, I do not have the French touch. I have gotten so sick of staring at my business while trying to get the button to notice my existence that this morning as I felt the call of nature, I thought, "Oh fuck that, I'll wait til I get to work."

Something tells me I'm going to save money on my water bill.