30 November 2005

Awwww ... a puppy!

No news to report today. Didge has been under the weather, so I stayed home with him to make sure nothing new happened. In the meantime, here's a picture of a puppy!

Specifically, this is my brother's puppy, Dakota. She's hiding out in my parents' coffee table.

29 November 2005

i go to bed in my tighty whities with no shirt on

I had originally planned to blog about my wrestling match with Didge today. During our morning walk, he found yet another discarded baguette on the street, and I was bound and determined not to let him eat it. (For the record, I won.)

Fortunately, something much more important came up in the meantime.

Background: For a while now, I have been looking for a hit counter so that I could see how many people are still visiting my blog. (The comments have dropped off, so I wondered if I was just writing to entertain myself.) Thanks to fellow blogger "Jodster," I found out about Site Meter, which is a free statistics-gathering service. I uploaded it to my site late last week, and have been enjoying the results thus far.

One of the bits of data that Site Meter collects is a list of web pages that have referred people to my site. Here's where it gets interesting. Someone in West Virginia found my page by going to the Yahoo! Search Engine and looking up the following:

i go to bed in my tighty whities with no shirt on

I have sooooo many comments to make on this ... and I bet you do, too! But since it's my blog, I get to start. You know where to leave your input. :)

First off, should I be relieved or concerned that my blog showed up as a search result for this string? OK, so it came up because someone used the phrase "tighty whities" when commenting on my October 4 posting. (That's the one where we were trying to figure out what the "no" sign at the top of the Arc de Triomphe meant.) I guess knowing the reason why I came up is somewhat reassuring.

Additionally, my blog was search result number 61, so I thankfully didn't come up first in line. Of course, this instantly makes me wonder: what DID come up first? So, after duplicating the search, here are the top five:

#1 -- Marc Ecko's 1UP Blog: The Infamous Captain Underpants"
#2 -- ItaliaWrapUp.html
#3 -- Prison Pete
#4 -- dreamstarsghandi's Xanga Site
#5 -- Where the Hell Was I?

In a nutshell: other people's blogs came up! Ha ha.

Wait, maybe I should be jealous because my blog didn't beat out the others? Nah, I'm OK with being #61. Anyone who voluntarily calls himself Captain Underpants (infamous or not) deserves to show up earlier.

Now, as for the guy in Blue Jay, West Virginia who thought up and performed the search (I'm assuming that the searcher was a guy, since girls wouldn't wear tighty whities, and I like to think that it's a confession) ... hey man, that's WAY more information than I needed.

If it's not a confession, then what on earth was Mr. West Va. looking for?? Apparently, he didn't have much luck finding what he wanted, considering that he went all the way to result #61 and still clicked into my blog. Curiously, he didn't stay for any amount of time, so I'm assuming he saw my blog, thought, "Nope, that's not it," and moved on.

Hmm, the more I think about it, the happier I am that my blog, nor I, wasn't "it" for him.

Another issue ... this person was searching for this at 9:30 am on a Tuesday morning (his time, not mine). Does this person work? If so, is he performing this Yahoo! search at work? What kind of dead-end job would you need to have to be searching the web at that hour in the morning for entertainment? And if he's not at work, shouldn't he be? Or shouldn't he be looking for a job if he's got this much free time? (Yea, yea, easy to say for an unemployed woman such as myself, but you don't see me surfing the web for likeminded people who sleep in similar ensembles.)

Hey, once I post this blog, will I come up higher in the search results? Let's find out....

--2 minutes later--

Now I'm number 65 on the search results page. I went DOWN? What the heck??

Seriously, comments are welcome (and encouraged) on this one.

28 November 2005

Welcome, Asher!

My college roommate's new son. Congrats to the Harrmann family!

There's no bureaucracy like French bureaucracy...

Let's talk about bureaucracy today. I know, everyone in the US can complain about the bureaucracy there. But, at least there you can usually count on things being consistent!

For those of you considering living in France for a year, here's the 13-step process you have to look forward to. Hmmm...13 steps...does that mean it's tougher than beating alcoholism?

1) Spend two months gathering all of the documents requested (plan ahead for your FBI files).

2) Submit documents and wait up to four months for a response (make sure that August isn't one of those months, since the French government will be on vacation).

3) After arriving, show up at local commissariat with the same papers you submitted for the visa. If you're lucky, you'll only have to wait about an hour to get in, but you might have to wait for a couple hours just to get in the front door.

4) At the commissariat, the person at the welcome desk will review your paperwork. Note that you may have to wait one to two hours to talk to this person. Depending on who's working the desk that day, you may be asked for a variety of papers, come prepared with everything (including your income tax records and those of your parents for the previous year; they actually asked a friend of mine for this).

5) With the welcome desk's approval, you will be allowed to wait for an interview. This wait may take from an hour to 2 days, just depends. If they give you an appointment time for another day, realize that the day matters but not the time. You will still have to wait to get in the front door and then will have to wait an hour or more for your interview. Depending on who you meet with, you could be asked for a variety of documents (don't forget a copy of your undergraduate transcript; they actually asked a friend of mine for this, even though he was four years into a doctorate at the time). If all goes well, you will receive a blue titre provisoire (which, like your arrival visa, expires after three months) and an appointment time for your second interview.

6) The appointment time doesn't matter. Just show up at the Préfecture first thing in the morning on the appointed day. When you arrive, you show up at the welcome desk, having filled out a form that summarizes all of your important information (name, address, phone number, spouse, children, parents, next-of-kin, etc).

7) While waiting, realize that you are the bottom of the totem pole. All of the people applying for work visas will be called ahead of you (the students and researchers go elsewhere for their second appointment). After an hour or two, or maybe more, you will be called for your interview (listen closely, at least two of the interviewers seemed to have laryngitis when I went for this last Thursday). Depending on who's interviewing you, you could be asked for a variety of documents (don't forget copies of your parents' insurance cards, regardless of whether you are covered by that insurance policy; yes, they asked a friend for this, too).

8) Toward the end of the interview, you will be sent to another desk to make an appointment for your medical exam and third (final?) interview.

9) After making the appointment, you will go back to your interviewer, who will read your appointment day and time to you (never mind that the person at the other desk discussed that topic with you and then handed you a sheet with the appointment information printed on it). You will then receive a blue titre provisoire (identical to the previous one), which is valid for three months.

10) A few days after the appointment, you will receive a letter informing you that, at the medical exam, you will be expected to pay a 220 euro tax to help fund the agency that provides these exams for the government.

11) [This part is all second-hand, since my third interview isn't until December 19.] You show up at a clinic for your medical exam. They take a chest x-ray, to confirm that you don't have tuberculosis. You will be asked to show a booklet with your immunization records. Evidently, it will suffice to bring along a letter from your mommy confirming which vaccinations you have had. Or (as happened to friend of mine), the doctor might just ask, "Are you vaccinated, yes or no?" and then ask for no further details.

12) One more interview, during which a person reviews the documents that you have already shown to get your visa and to get both of your titres provisoires. Never mind that these documents have already been reviewed by no fewer than five different people.

13) Finally, you pay your 220 euro tax and receive your titre de sejour, which is valid for one year (but is renewable, so you only have to do a portion of the process over again).

[Side note from Amy: I can't WAIT until I reach step number 6 ... in January!]

26 November 2005

A "Cue the Deer" Moment

Occasionally, I see something in everyday life so amazingly picturesque that I can hardly believe it isn't a scene from a movie. They aren't major life events - say, a beautiful bride walking down the aisle - but rather just little things that happen at the perfect moment in the course of a normal day. Trying to describe these moments to other people is a waste of time, since you have to be in that exact place at that exact time for everything to align just right. I often refer to these as "cue the deer" moments, after a line in the 1988 Chevy Chase movie called Funny Farm.

If you haven't seen this movie, don't. It's not worth paying the rental fee to watch. (IMDb.com viewers rated it 5.5 out of 10, which is probably a bit generous.) I've seen it about 100 thousand times on TV, and as such, have the movie memorized. Unfortunately, this means that I often make references to lines from the movie, which no one else understands. Since I don't recommend actually paying to see the movie, I'll just explain the reference so that you know it if I make it again down the road.

Don't worry: if you decide to ignore my advice and add Funny Farm to your Netflix queue, I won't spoil the ending in my description. The plot is: a married couple decides to move from the city to the country, and finds that it's not as picture perfect as they expected it to be. Yep, that's the whole plot. Not very creative, huh?

The line I'm referring to comes late in the movie, when the no-longer-happy couple is trying to sell their house. The potential home buyers, a young husband and wife, have just arrived and looking around excitedly at the woods, the pond, the cute farmhouse, and so forth. The scene cuts to Chevy Chase's character, who uses a walkie-talkie to say, "Cue the deer." Now, you cut to two guys who release a young doe from a cage. Shortly thereafter, the potential buyers see Bambi cross their path as the music builds to a cheesy crescendo and flourishes with a cymbal crash. Voila! You have your "cue the deer" moment. It seems totally natural and perfect to the buyers, but we all know it's scripted. (Side note: at this point in the movie, it's almost Christmas in Vermont. Why on earth would you see a *young* deer running wild in the dead of winter? Not exactly the smartest home buyers, are they?)

As you might imagine, there have been TONS of "cue the deer" moments for me here in France. For example, there was the afternoon when I was walking Didge through Parc Montsourris, and a woman was playing a barrel organ while children played nearby. The combination of "French" music and happy children literally seemed to come straight out of a movie.

To my point: while I was picking up the apartment on Friday (post Thanksgiving dinner), I opened the window so that I could shake out a sheet. Guess what? It was snowing! I couldn't believe it. It was as if the director of my own personal movie had said, "OK, Thanksgiving is over. Cue Christmas!"

We ended up with a couple of inches by the middle of the day on Saturday, though it's all gone now. But, it completely put me in the Christmas spirit, which has never been achieved so quickly. So, nice job, invisible movie director!

See, I told you that explaining "cue the deer" moments is a waste of time. You're probably thinking, "Great, Amy, it snowed. Good for you. Does this really require a blog posting of its own?" All I can say is: hey, you read this far.

Speaking of Christmas, I'll take pictures of the Parisian decorations in the next week or so, since a lot of businesses are still setting things up. (The jewelry store downstairs did a particularly nice job, I must say.)

In the meantime, you'll have to settle for the picture that I took today outside of Gare Montparnasse. These morbidly obese pigeons are sitting on top of a vent over the métro. Can you tell that it's venting warm air? I guess pigeons aren't quite as dumb as I thought they were. (Though I still maintain that they would get a lot more done if they didn't insist on bobbing their heads with every single step that they take.)

25 November 2005

A Thanksgiving Miracle ... Almost

Wow, 12 hours ago, I was listening to Adam Sandler's "The Thanksgiving Song" on my iPod while bathing a turkey in my kitchen sink. I guess the old saying is true: time flies when you're wrestling with poultry. (Or, something like that, anyway.)

At any rate, here it is:

Yes, Virginia, turkeys can be cooked in France, even in the face of great adversity. I am beginning to wonder, however, why my mom taught me how to "fold" a turkey because I have yet to put that knowledge to good use. For the third year in a row, the turkey was too big for the pan, so I had to just stuff it in with limbs splaying out all over the place and hope for the best. It's probably just as well anyway, since neither the wings or the drumsticks wanted to stay in place. (Yes, I literally wrestled the carcass for a couple of minutes before giving up.) In the end, I'm mainly relieved that the bird didn't flap its feathered wings and fly away!

For the record, I did end up using my pliers to de-plume our dinner. It was a rather surreal experience, reminiscent of plucking eyebrows. I felt like I was the turkey's stylist. "Now, Mademoiselle Turkey, do you want me to reshape, too, or just clean up your wings a bit? And shall we do your upper lip today? Oh wait, I see that you don't have a head anymore. Never mind."

Once the turkey was cooked, I had another problem: Didge. The carnivore in him came alive from the moment that turkey came out of the oven, but as many of you know, the poor guy is allergic to meat. So, he pouted and fussed all afternoon in a vain attempt to get a taste. You can see one of his many frantic attempts to hijack the turkey and eat it whole on my video website. (The web link is in the sidebar on the right, under Extras.)

Alas, the "Thanksgiving miracle" of properly cooked turkey didn't quite live up to expectations. No, it wasn't quite like the turkey carving scene from Christmas Vacation -- in this case, the breast meat was perfectly done, and there was plenty of it. Unfortunately (and oddly), the wings and drumsticks were still partially pink, so we didn't have any dark meat. So much for the convection oven's proud claims of "more even cooking" than conventional ovens! I'll be perfectly happy to go back to "convention" next year! In the meantime, if anyone from tonight's party comes down with the bird flu, you can blame the oven. I followed the instructions!

Rest assured that, in the end, we pigged out tonight. Nearly everyone went home moaning about how painfully full their stomachs were, so I consider this Thanksgiving a complete success.

Now, if I can just figure out how to explain to Didge that he can't sleep on my pillow tonight, I'll be all set. (Colin took this picture right before he went to bed. Didge hasn't moved since.)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

24 November 2005

Calling all psychoanalysts! A new contest

It's about time for another contest and I think I've beat Amy to the punch with a fun one. The prize this time is a postcard from Colin that features Salvador Dali's artwork.

The rules: I just woke up from a wacky dream (which is strange, normally my dreams are really lame and Amy's are the bizarre ones). Whoever comes up with the most entertaining analysis wins!

The Dream
I'm in Sioux Falls, SD, at my parents' old house (which they moved out of a few years ago). I have a doctor's appointment at 8:30pm at the University of Michigan Hospital. I look at my watch and decide to pick up dinner at Steak and Shake after the appointment (never mind that, to the best of my knowledge, there are none of those restaurants in Sioux Falls, much less in South Dakota).

Cut to me walking down the driveway to a car that's parked in the street. Amy yells after me telling me what she wants for dinner: some kind of burger topped with tomatoes, fries, and sour cream.

Cut to me in the garage getting into my parents' white Subaru station wagon. For some reason, the seat is really high. Since I'm a tall guy and my head is against the ceiling, I have to hunch down a little bit.

Cut to me driving the Subaru down the street I grew up on (which is one block long, with a park at the end).

Cut to me driving a bike down the sledding hill in the park at the end of my street. The bike is white and kind of looks like the motorized bicycles you see all around Paris. This one, however, doesn't seem to be motorized. Evidently, I missed the left turn at the end of the street, because when I get to the north end of the park, I head back to the street I should have been on. On my way there, an old woman walking some generic-looking drop-kick dog yells at me for driving a car in the park. [If you haven't heard the phrase "drop-kick dog" before, let's just say I could probably punt this particular one about 35 or 40 yards...]

Cut to me on the correct street (Judy Avenue), at the stop sign at the north end of that park, waiting to turn right. [For those of you who aren't familiar with Sioux Falls, this would take me the opposite direction of the hospitals.] After two cars pass, I turn onto 18th Street. I'm still on the bike and am finding pedalling to be very hard--ah, I think, I just need to downshift. But I can't find the gear-shift anywhere. I slowly pass an old man walking. I'm still looking for the gear-shift, and have found a number of buttons and dials on the side of the bike. I'm not sure what they're all for, since they seem to be the controls for some really advanced driver's seat in a luxury sedan. I get off the bike to take a closer look. There's the gear-shift, the dial that goes from 5 to 30, with little hashes that look like the millimeters on a ruler. It doesn't click between gears, however. It just turns smoothly, like the volume dial on a bass amp. The old man passes me, rather like the opening scene of Office Space. Getting back on the bike, I start pedalling and adjust to a more comfortable gear. As I pass the old man again, he shakes his head and mutters something unintelligible.

Cut to me riding the bike on a "shortcut." The setting reminds me of one of the shortcuts that my friends and I used to get to Dairy Queen when we were kids, but in the dream it's definitely supposed to be a shortcut to the hospital (remember, I'm going to my doctor's appointment). As I go over a hill and break through a line of trees, things start to get unfamiliar. I'm now heading down a long grassy slope. On the way down, I pass some dogs playing as their owners talk. At the bottom are some picnic shelters (all in use, of course) and a small Pioneer Village where kids are learning to churn butter à la Little House on the Prairie. I had been having problems with the gears again, but going downhill is obviously much easier once gravity takes over.

When I reach the bottom, I'm completely out of breath, am completely lost, and have 5 minutes until my appointment. Also, there are some little kids in the picnic shelter nearest me and their mother is yelling at me for almost running them over. All the kids at Pioneer Village have stopped churning their butter to stare at me. So, I start walking the bike back up the hill to get back to my "shortcut." On the way, three golden retreivers come racing at me in full dog-park mode. Their owners (two men and a young girl, who look straight out of some late 18th- or early 19th-century painting) come chasing after them.

Just as I was getting to the top of the hill and back to the forest, Didg woke me up so I'm not sure how this dream was supposed to finish. All I know is that as I came to, I was a bit confused to find myself in our Paris apartment and my entire body felt leaden.

So, now that you've read it, break out your copies of On the Interpretation of Dreams and get to work! What's bothering me this morning (other than Didg's barking)? I hope there are some good answers by the time I get back from my physical and interview at the Prefecture de Police (I should finally get my residency permit today!).

23 November 2005

The Nightmare Before Thanksgiving

Uh oh.

My turkey still has feathers in it.

I'm not kidding.

Here is a photo as evidence, with a red circle indicating a sample of the foul plumage.

All right, so it's not quite Little House on the Prairie, but I still wasn't 100 percent thrilled to discover a new use for the pair of pliers I bought yesterday.

By now, you're probably wondering whether or not I have ever cooked a real Thanksgiving dinner. Rest assured that I have -- twice, in fact. This is one of the reasons that Colin and I offered to host Thanksgiving at our apartment (i.e. I have experience that the other Michiganders probably don't have.) Of course, I'm used to the turkey coming frozen, pre-packaged with a pop-up timer and a rope truss. I'm also used to having my own roasting pan, a full-sized conventional oven, a big cutting board, and a good, sharp knive.

Now, on the night before Thanksgiving, I find myself faced with the following:

1. A convection oven
2. A cheap 13 x 9 aluminum pan instead of a roaster
3. No pop-up timer (though I managed without one last year)
4. No rope truss (though I thankfully have a lot of alumimum foil)
5. A dull knive
6. A cutting board that would barely hold a cornish game hen

Oh, and let's not forget:

A 13-pound (6 kilo) raw turkey in a cardboard box.

Faced with adversity, I did what any self- respecting adult would do.

I called my mommy.

Dad answered the phone, at which point we began to realize that there was a 3- to 4-second delay in our connection. So, as you read the following recreated (and only slightly abbreviated) dialogue, you must insert an uncomfortable dramatic pause between each line.





"Dad, it's Amy."

"Hello? Oh, OK, we were talking at the same time, I think."

"Dad ... Dad, my turkey still has feathers in it."

"OK, let me get your mother." [Father knows best!]




"I'm calling for moral support."


"My turkey still has feathers in it."


You can see how much sympathy I got out of her. After several minutes of thoughtful, caring, motherly speculation on how to manage my predicament, she had only one piece of advice:


"Yea, Mom?"

"Take pictures."

To be continued....

22 November 2005

Napoleon Complexes

I coaxed Colin away from his research long enough to visit a dead emperor this afternoon. Yes, at long last, I toured Les Invalides, which includes the final resting place of Napoleon himself. If nothing else, I'll say this for the guy: he sure knows how to go out in style! Of course, Colin and I couldn't help but note the irony of a crypt that measures 15 feet high [and 4 meters long, 2 meters wide] for a guy who was only about 5'6". (OK, so Wikipedia says that this wasn't short by French standards of his time, but I still say that it's pretty scrawny to warrant such a large box.) As it turns out, he's actually inside 5 separate caskets in there. I thought that seemed a bit excessive, but I guess I can't really talk until I conquer most of Europe. Heck, I'd settle for having Didge obey me the first time I give him a command.

Anyway, as I mentioned before, the late emperor has some amazing digs for his final resting place. He's under the gold dome of the church once used for war veterans (Les Invalides was a rest home of sorts for vets, which included a church among its amenities). The dome itself is spectacular. The exterior has 12 kilograms (26.4 pounds) of gold on it, and the interior is painted with extravagent murals that mix the divine (i.e. Jesus and the Virgin Mary) with the self-proclaimed divine (King Louis XIV). I'm pleased with the picture that I got of the interior of the dome, even though you can't really see details in the paintings. What was really surprising was the altar -- covered in dust! Since that picture didn't turn out, you'll have to take my word that there are four huge spiral pillars flanking the altar to this church that were literally loaded with dust. (You almost couldn't tell that the pillars were green in some spots.) You'd think that there would be enough money in the budget to get a ladder and a Swiffer, if nothing else.

We also toured the WWII museum, which was interesting albeit in desperate need of maintenance. (Lights kept going out and a lot of things appeared to be missing or broken.) Anyway, they had some cool artifacts, including a motorcycle that paratroopers used (it packed up into a portable container for the jump!) Crazy stuff. Unfortunately, we forgot to go looking for Napoleon's horse and dog, both of which are purported to be stuffed and mounted somewhere in the museum. Oh well, that sounded creepy anyway.

I once asked Colin if we could get Didge stuffed and mounted once he died, but we couldn't agree on which of his goofy poses to immortalize. Of course, I also once regretted not naming Didge "Napoleon" because I'm convinced that he has the complex of said dictator (he's quite a shorty, but thinks he rules all). Sorry, Didge, but you're not getting a 15-foot casket or a gold dome.

On our way back on the métro, Colin congratulated me for earning true Parisian status when another passenger gave me a dirty look. For the record, that guy deserved what I did to earn the look! When we were getting on the train, he shoved in front of me (between me and Colin) and cut me off so that he could board first. Then, as if that weren't enough, he stopped right in front of the closest available seat and blocked the entire aisle so that I couldn't get any further on to the train. (He wanted to make sure he got a seat -- never mind that there were plenty available if he just kept moving.) Sigh. I guess chivalry is dead after all.

OH -- even if you go all "women's lib" on me and say that the man isn't required to allow the woman to go first or to offer her the seat, all I can say is that it would have been an equally rude gesture to shove in front of a man in the same situation.

Since Colin was on the opposite side of Monsieur Rude, I pushed past in a not-so-gentle manner, electing to bump M. Rude's elbow instead of jamming a baby carriage into the stomach of a mother already on board. I heard him say, "Madame!" at me, but Colin had to tell me about the dirty look. As far as I'm concerned, he deserved having his precious little elbow bumped, and I'd do it again if I could! So there!


This blog entry is dedicated to the undisputed World's Ugliest Dog, Sam, who passed away last Friday. (I swear, this is a real dog, not something from a Stephen King movie.) For more details, here is a link from CNN.com (or click on the title of this blog posting). You can also check out his mom's blog for more pictures, if morbid curiosity gets the best of you. Rest in peace, ugly one!

21 November 2005

Dog attacks its own leg

No news today, but here's a funny video I came across on YouTube (click on the title of this post if the following link doesn't work):


The only drawback is that it has a piped-in laugh track a la America's Funniest Home Videos. At least there isn't any stupid commentary by Bob Saget!

20 November 2005

Fun with English

The first picture I offer this evening comes from the back of a box of instant chicken noodle soup. This particular brand is basically the bastard child of Campbell's soup and Ramen noodles. It consists of three teeny tiny packages of powder, which, when mixed with a thimble of hot water, produce a shot glass amount of soup. OK, maybe it makes a little bit more than that, but not much.

What caught my eye, however, was the "happy" ending to the instructions. I doubt I'll need to translate, but step one is to open and pour the contents of the packet into a cup; step two is to add 175 ml of hot water; and step three is to stir. After that, you simply smile and say "Hmmm!"

Hmmm?? Why not "Mmmm!"? Just one crunch -- er, I mean, bite -- will tell you why. (Hint: if you ever wondered why Kellogg's doesn't make a chicken soup breakfast cereal, just give this a try.)

My other picture for the day comes from just down the street from us, on the rue Sarrette. This store specializes in very large sizes, as explained in the small print under Big and Nice.

Hold on a sec. What does nice mean? Does it mean that the clothing is both large and pleasant? Does it mean that the store owner is a friendly giant who sells clothing to NBA players and the obese? Or does it mean that only large and kind people are allowed to shop here?

In the case of the last question, what is the criteria for this? Do you merely have to be polite and jovial upon entrance into the store? Or do you have to document your niceness to be allowed to shop here? And how nice is nice enough? I envision a conversation something like this:

"Bonjour, monsieur! I see that you are a man of considerable size. Can you provide documentation of your niceness?"

"Well, I gave some money to that homeless guy out there..."

"Hmmmm. I guess that's a start. What else do you have?"

"Ummm ... I picked up after my dog after he did his business this morning."

"Yes, but that is the law. You are expected to do that."

"Doesn't the fact that no one else in the entire country does make me a nice person?"

"No, it merely makes you a law-abiding citizen. And a bit of a goody-goody, if I might say so. What else do you have?"

"OK, OK, I have a letter from my mother that indicates my niceness in her presence."

"Let's see. [looks over letter] I'm sorry, monsieur, but there is no official stamp on this paper to indicate that your mother actually meant it. Do you have anything else?"

"No, that's all I have."

"Then I'm sorry, monsieur, but I cannot sell you my garments of unusual size. Please come back after you have saved a drowning child or resisted honking your horn while driving in Paris."

I suppose that if this scenario rings true, then the owner of Big and Nice should really invest in the "red light/green light" doorbell system that the banks use. I sure as heck wouldn't want to be the one who has to turn away a big and not nice person without some kind of bullet-proof glass between the two of us!

19 November 2005

La fête de Beaujolais Nouveau

As a child of the midwestern United States, I've definitely been to my share of fall festivals. My hometown of Mexico, MO, for example, hosts the annual Soybean Festival each fall, complete with a parade, a craft show, and various games involving soybeans. Laugh if you want, but these seemingly goofy events are what give small towns their true character. Besides, where else can you get free candy tossed at you from the top of a combine?

Paris has its own festival, though as you might expect, it's a bit more high-brow than soybeans. Instead, it celebrates the first day that the new cases of Beaujolais Nouveau wine are available. This lovely red wine has a uniquely speedy fermentation process, so the grape-to-bottle process is a mere matter of weeks. By French law, however, it is illegal to release the new batch before the third Thursday of November. As we discovered this past Thursday, the mandated release day is a cause for true celebration across the city. (If you want to read more about la fête itself, click on the title of this blog posting to open a webpage with more details.)

With Dave and Rebecca in town, Colin and I wanted to find a good French restaurant anyway -- the wine celebration was just an unplanned bonus. We selected a place in the 7th, close to their hotel near the Eiffel Tower, called Le Chevert. It serves cuisine from Franche-Comté, a region in eastern France in the Jura mountains.

Le Chevert is a teeny little restaurant that your average tourist wouldn't pick out as a unique place to go. Au contraire, mes amies -- this place is a treasure! We instantly took a liking to the place as our waiter seated us and apprehensively asked if we spoke French. (Of course we do: we have Colin!) With a look of relief, he explained the special of the evening to Colin, throwing in what little English he knew with a sheepish grin. He was delightfully pleasant and kind, and we felt right at home.

Things only improved from there, as we watched the restaurant fill to the brim with "regulars" who all exchanged bisses (kisses on the cheeks) with the staff. That's when I noticed why the waiter was in such a good mood: he was doing shots of beaujolais nouveau! The wine definitely made for a festive atmosphere, and I felt like we were actually at party at someone's home. To top off the celebratory mood, the background music was all polka. (Franche-Comté is, after all, on the Swiss border!) At one point, we nearly had Rebecca dancing with the waiter, though I think it would have taken a few more glasses of wine to convince her that this was a good idea...

Colin, Dave, and I ordered the special, which was a five-course dinner with charcuterie (an appetizer of thinly sliced meat), salad, a main dish, cheese, and dessert. OH! And of course, a bottle of beaujolais nouveau! I am quite pleased to say that it lived up to its hype. It complemented every course of our meal, from the sausage and potatos to the camembert cheese, exceedingly well. The last course was tarte aux pommes (apple pie). What more can I say? YUM!!

The only drawback to the place was that it lacked a non-smoking section. After two and a half hours, my eyes were on fire. Colin asked for the bill, and the waiter said, "Already?" seeming genuinely sad to see us go. We were sad to go, too, but given that it was nearly 11 pm on a "school night," we knew we needed to leave.

Rebecca, Dave, and I went outside while Colin stopped at the restroom. On his way out, the waiter called after him, "Monsieur, monsieur!" and asked where we were from. When Colin told him, a woman seated nearby made a noise and pointed to the waiter as if to say, "HA! I told you so!" As it turned out, the entire restaurant was making bets on where we were from!

OK, so we stuck out like sore thumbs. I still took the bet as a compliment -- at least they didn't all seem to think that we were a bunch of loud, obnoxious Americans!

18 November 2005

Meet Amy, your Parisian tour guide

We enjoyed our first guests this week! Dave and Rebecca stayed with us on Wednesday evening before checking in to their hotel. (Rebecca is a fellow musicologist in Colin's program.) I have had an absolute ball showing them around and giving French culture tips! I was also amazed at how well I knew the city when we climbed up the Arch de Triomphe on Wednesday afternoon. I could point out all kinds of landmarks and answer most of Rebecca and Dave's questions! Simply amazing. I got a cute picture of them, as seen to the left. It's only too bad that it was a super-cloudy, cold afternoon.

Fortunately, the weather has been more cooperative since their arrival. It's pretty cold, but sunny and clear. Rebecca and Colin have been in the libraries for the past two days, which left Dave and I to do some exploration on our own. On Thursday, we climbed the tower at Notre Dame, which was nice for me because I was able to go to the very top this time. Plus, it was great to know exactly where to go. There were a bunch of Americans walking all around the spot where you're supposed to form a line, but they didn't understand what to do. So, Dave and I just walked up to the entrance like pros. (As soon as we walked up, there were several "oh's!" and a line quickly formed behind us.) Climbing the stairs was MUCH easier for me this time, which totally rocked. I still had to stop and rest, but mainly because I'm still recovering from a chest cold.

As luck would have it, we went into the main part of Notre Dame during a mass, so we got to hear the organ play. Since it provided interesting background music, I shot and added two videos of Notre Dame to my video website (the link is under Extras in the right-hand sidebar).

Another first for me was our visit to the Musée d'Orsay that afternoon. You can see a shot of the main floor to the right. It's SO beautiful! (And yes, it was a train station at one time. Doesn't it looks like the main hallway of one?)

Despite the fact that I know absolutely, positively nothing about art, I did learn a few things about my personal taste.

1. I really like impressionism, especially Claude Monet. However, I only like it in person because I like to see the layers and textures on the canvas. No photo or print can do his work justice - you just have to see it in person.

2. As it turns out, I do NOT like pointillism as I once thought I did. I do, however, like Georges Seurat very much. The other artists used bigger, sloppier dots than Seurat, which I think is cheating.

3. Auguste Rodin has every right to be one of the most famous sculptors in the world. I have seen a lot of sculpture since I arrived, and none of them hold a candle to what I've seen of Rodin's work. He is, quite simply, amazing. I can't wait to go to the Rodin museum.

Despite what you might expect from item #3, the picture to the left is not a work of Rodin's. It was done in 1880 by a guy named Jean Dampt. My English translation of the title is "St. John the Baptist as a child." The face is what really struck me enough to take a photo: it is such a pure, life-like rendition of a child's face. Plus, when you know who it is supposed to be, the boy takes on a bit of a glow. Maybe that's just my interpretation, but hey, isn't that what you're supposed to do when you're in an art museum?

Colin, Rebecca, and Dave toured the Palais Garnier today. I had planned to go, but as the saying goes, the mind was willing, but the flesh was weak. I'm still fighting the remnants of my chest cold, so two days of normal activity had wiped me out. Apparently, it's an amazing place and well worth the tour, so I'll have to go back myself some time. (Joe and Kate, if you're interested, we can go when you're here!)

Colin says that puppy caught my cold because he's hacking up a lung right now. Somehow, I doubt that we're lucky enough for him to be sick (i.e. he would want to sleep all the time, and thus be low-maintenance). Regardless, he was good company last night when I was trying to get warm, as you can see to the right!

In preparation for Thanksgiving, I ordered our turkey from an American grocery in the 7th. Wow, is it EXPENSIVE. On the bright side, this grocer also sells brownie mix, cake mix, frosting, and Dr. Pepper. (Yes, there are a few things that France hasn't caught on to yet.) Actually, now that I think about it, the entire store was packed solid with junk food (Doritos and the like). I guess you can tell where the priorities of American expats lie!!

And, last but not least, I had my first madeleine this evening.

I also had my second and third madeleine shortly thereafter. Mmmm, butter.

Madeleines are little cakes with a sweet taste. They have a bump in the middle of them that makes me think of an egg yolk in shape. All I can say is that the calories I burned off climbing stairs for the past two days are all back now.

In fact, I think I'll go have my fourth madeleine, now that I'm thinking about them again. Look, I've got to have something to wash down the nasty cough medicine that I'm about to imbibe!

15 November 2005

Calling in sick

This is the first time I've called in sick to a blog! The sore throat turned into a lovely little cold that basically makes me a total pain to be around. All I want to do is sleep all day, which means I'm wide awake at night. Somehow, I doubt that Slaughter had me in mind when they penned the brilliant words "up all night, sleep all day." (That's the crappy metal band that wrote that song, right??) Anyway, my postings probably won't be daily this week, since no one wants to read the sordid details about my Kleenex usage habits.

In case you're wondering, I did try to fix my cold-induced sleeping problem. Under the "brilliant" assumption that all problems can be cured with medication, I popped an over-the-counter sleeping pill two nights ago. I thought (naively) that it would help reset my internal clock. Ha. Instead, my body rewarded this stupidity by making me nauseous and dizzy. Rather than blissfully sleeping through the night, I spent it praying to the porcelain god. (No offerings made, I'm pleased to report.) So, I swore off Simply Sleep all together and decided to simply go with whatever happens. Hey, I was only up until 3 am last night! That's progress, right? *Sigh.*

From now on, I'm sticking with my original mantra: "Ah, alcohol: the cause and solution to all of life's problems." Thank you, Homer Simpson, for reminding me that wine would have worked better, and been a heck of a lot more enjoyable. :)

13 November 2005

At least SOMEONE is getting some sleep

The sore throat lingers on today, but I'm pleased to say that I don't think I'll have any trouble sleeping tonight. Last night was terrible - I finally went to bed at 7 am. No joke.

Of course, you can always count on Didge to pinch-hit when he's needed. Colin woke up in the middle of the night to discover that someone else had decided to take advantage of the vacant side of the bed. He managed to snap a picture with the night setting on our digital camera, as seen to the left. Fortunately, Colin didn't mistake Mr. Doo for me. I suspect that he would have received a much wetter smooch than he bargained for.

There was one positive outcome to my insomnia last night: I found a free website for sharing videos. I linked my new video page under the "Extras" section on the right side of this page. There are only two videos up right now, and they are a bit dull -- but hey, who am I to deprive you of the joys of my cinematography? I'm thinking about substituting the sound in the video of Didge with "Flight of the Bumblebee" for comic effect.

It's 5 am -- do you know where your marching band is?

Thanks to a sore throat that just won't quit, I find myself wide awake at 5:15 am. Surfing for entertainment, I stumbled across the Marching Mizzou Alumni Band web page. Of all things, I found a picture of myself from the "good old days" of college! Big surprise. The photo to the left includes all of the people from my hometown of Mexico, Missouri, who went on to march for the University of Missouri-Columbia. There we are, young and carefree, next to an aircraft carrier in San Diego, California. I'm in the back row, second from the left. At first, I didn't even think I was in the picture - I look so different! (Plus, I think that's the only time I ever voluntarily wore a ball cap.)

You know, I truly had a blast in Marching Mizzou. I was ready to leave when my four years of "service" were done, but I treasure that time in my life. Looking back, I'm sure I never expected to be nostalgic about practicing the waltz step in 100 degree heat with 90 percent humidity on an asphalt "field" ... but there are few things that will bond you to 300 other people better than sweating it out together. I still laugh to think about how we absolutely INSISTED on wearing full uniforms for the first game of the season, even when it was so blistering hot that rational people would be wearing tank tops, shorts, and a lot of sunblock. I think that hot Missouri sun must have fried our brains.

Of course, I met Colin in Marching Mizzou, so I suppose you could say that there were "additional incentives" to being a part of the band bunch. (Beer olympics and dirty limericks aside, of course.) We didn't start dating until my last year in band, though, so I have plenty of non-Colin-related memories of Rally Nights, drumline cheers about OJ's mom, and blatantly phallic drill charts.

So, here's to a middle-of-the-night nostaglia session ... dance a little bit, drink a little bit, follow the band ...

12 November 2005

ABBA as a window into the soul

I downloaded ABBA: Gold – Greatest Hits from iTunes this week. Make fun of me if you want, but I am a true, dyed-in-the-wool ABBA fan. Much like Crystal Gayle, Neil Diamond, and Johnny Cash, ABBA became a part of my repertoire because I borrowed my parents’ cassette tapes a lot as a child. Don’t believe me? Just ask the DJ to play Dancing Queen at a wedding reception, and you’ll be treated to the most gawd-awful karaoke rendition of this song that you can imagine. And, thanks to the “miracle” of modern sound technology, Madonna has recently revived a sample of Gimme, Gimme, Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) to inspire a new generation of would-be ABBA fans. I tell you, if my life had a soundtrack, there would be a lot of ABBA classics sprinkled throughout the years. As an example from this week, one of their greatest hits would serve as the theme song for something disappointing that I just learned about myself.

Money, money, money,
Must be funny,
In the rich man’s world.

Money, money, money,
Always sunny,
In the rich man’s world.

Ah, all the things I could do,
If I had a little money,
It’s a rich man’s world.

I hadn’t set out looking for a moment of personal introspection on Wednesday – I was merely looking for jewelry. More specifically, I needed a necklace to go with the dress that I bought for our trips to the opera. Initially, I was giddy at the idea of having free reign to go jewelry shopping, and immediately visited all of my “usual” haunts in the 14th. No luck. Undaunted, I started researching my options. I pulled out two guidebooks that came with our apartment: Paris Pas Cher (roughly “Inexpensive Paris”) and Paris on $90 a Day. Between the two, I compiled a lengthy list of “affordable” jewelry stores that I could scout out. In particular, one of the guidebooks had recommended a chain called Bijoux Burma for locating good costume jewelry. Since this chain had five locations in Paris proper alone, I thought I had it made.

My first clue probably should have been the company that Bijoux Burma keeps. When I found the right street for the first address on my list, I was treated to glamorous views of Cartier and Tiffany and Co. Ever the optimist, I thought that Bijoux Burma might just be a quirky, hip store that could hold its own amongst the endless array of luxury stores nearby. WRONG. Let’s just say that if Bijoux Burma sells “costume jewelry,” I can’t even begin to imagine how to define fine jewelry.

At any rate, I had a lovely time salivating over the gorgeous pieces in the shop windows all along the Rue de la Paix. In fact, the longer I was there, the crazier I got. I found myself rationalizing a purchase! “How often do you get to live in Paris?” I thought. “It’s a great investment – everyone should have one fabulous diamond necklace that they can wear for years.” Or, better yet, “I have a little bit of extra money in my checking account in the states that I could use…”

That’s when it hit me: if I were rich, I would be a selfish, spoiled person! This was a truly disappointing realization. For years, I have always said that I would make a great rich person because I would continue to live normally and just give the majority of the money to charities. For example, when I volunteered at the Humane Society of Huron Valley, I would always tell myself that I would build them a new shelter if I had the money. Or, when Hurricane Katrina hit, I would have found a way to get all of those people out of the Superdome right away – or at the very least, dropped tons of water and supplies for them to ease the suffering.

Now I realize that, if I had a lot of money, I’d actually spend it on myself. I would own expensive jewelry. I would have a ton of clothes. I would have a new car (a Toyota Prius, or some similar hybrid car). I would have a house. I would fly my friends over to visit me here in Paris. I would travel all over the world and see all of the exotic places that I dream of visiting.

This is a thoroughly disappointing thing to learn. I would much rather think of myself as a selfless philanthropist. (Heck, who wouldn’t?) But while I would truly delight in donating a new building to a penniless charity, I don’t think I would have enough money left over after my personal spending spree to do it. What a bummer – I’m not a candidate for sainthood after all. (Of course, I’m also not Catholic, so that might impede the whole beatification process a bit, too.)

By the way, I found the perfect necklace to go with my dress. It’s only 100 euros. I keep it in a store down the street from me and visit it every day. Sigh. “Ah, all the things I could do [for myself, that is] if I had a little money…”

11 November 2005

I peed on the Eiffel Tower

Let's go to the scoreboard to see how well Amy is doing with her "to-do list" of siteseeing.
  • Go to the top of the Sacré Coeur dome. Check.
  • Go to the Hôtel des Invalides to see Napolean's grave and the Army museum. Nope.
  • Go to the Centre Georges Pompidou. I'm supposed to be there right now...
OK, so I'm not quite keeping up with my schedule. I think, however, that I made up for that last night with a nighttime trip to the Eiffel Tower. My original plan was to climb the stairs up the first two levels, and then take the elevator to the top. Yet, while I wasn't exactly looking forward to the workout, I was mainly unmotivated to go the tower because I had already seen several great views of Paris from above. The views from Notre Dame, the Arch de Triomphe, and Sacré Coeur were all fantastic. Did I really want to pay to see the same thing from yet another angle?

This issue resolved itself while Colin and I were eating dinner at "our" café last night. Rachel called in search of something to do because she wasn't able to get rush tickets for a concert she wanted to go to. The solution popped into my head almost immediately: the Eiffel Tower at night! We agreed to meet up at the foot of the tower after dinner.

"Unfortunately" the stairs weren't open last night, so I had to take the elevators. Oh darn! We paid our 10 or so euros for the trip to the top, and shortly thereafter were riding a series of elevators inside the icon of Paris. I am quite pleased to say that the view did not disappoint, though most of the pictures did. I have a night setting on my camera, but since it holds the lens open longer, it's a real challenge to avoid moving the slightest bit and getting a blurry picture. A few turned out quite well, I think, including this one of Rachel to the left of the view of the river Seine. Again, it doesn't do the view justice, but at least we have a token reminder of what it was like!

It was pretty cold up at the top (we were arguing about whether we were seeing snow or mist in the spotlights' rays), but not bitterly so. I was definitely glad to have a coat, a pair of gloves, a scarf, and a Colin to keep me warm!

As for the subject of this blog, it is indeed true: I peed on the Eiffel Tower last night. Seriously! There is a little bathroom on the second level that doesn't charge an entrance fee like every other tourist site in and around Paris. The best part? This bathroom also disproves the theory of "you get what you pay for" because the toilets have seats, there is plenty of toilet paper, and the sinks even give you warm water to wash your hands!

I think my favorite part of the evening (other than the opportunity to use bathroom humor in a joke) was when the tower "sparkled" the hour. Apparently, at the top of every hour, the tower turns on all of these little white strobe lights that flash in random order, giving the tower a "sparkling" effect. Of course, the picture doesn't even remotely do it justice, but you can kind-of see the white lights on the sides. I'll have to go back some time and take a little video of it. The kleptomaniac in me came alive at that moment (I love sparkly things), though even if I had thought of a way to steal the Eiffel Tower, I'm fairly certain that the 20 or so guards armed with semi-automatic rifles would have had something to say about it. So, sorry everyone, you'll just have to come to Paris to see for yourself.

10 November 2005

The Butt Warmer

Winter is coming. Man, I hate being cold.

Let me say that again for emphasis: I hate being cold!

Call me crazy -- heck, you can call me Al as long as I can call you Betty -- but I don't buy into the philosophy that cold weather is superior to warm weather because "you can always put on more layers of clothing if you're cold." First off, you're going to hit critical mass at some point, after which you will not be able to move your joints, just like the poor kid in the snowsuit in A Christmas Story. Second, the moment you step into a building, you have to peel a bunch of those layers off, only to put them on again shortly thereafter when you leave. This is far too much work for me. In fact, the mere thought of putting on a winter coat right now is exhausting.

I personally find being cold to be a painful experience, so I try to avoid it at all costs. So, you can imagine my sense of dread when I first learned that the building we live in was built in the 1890's. In other words, this place is drafty. Really drafty. And Amy's going to be cold. Really cold. And when Amy's cold, she's not happy.

And when Amy ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.

Already, I am struggling with the cool evenings. The first night that we decided to turn the heat on, we got it way too high. Normal people wouldn't have a problem with this: they would simply sleep without the covers, or get up and turn the heater down. I am not a normal person. Despite every rational bone in my body, I am still convinced that the monsters in the closet can't get me as long as I'm under the covers, so I can't possibly throw the covers off and sleep without them. As for getting out of bed to turn off the heat - are you kidding? Me, voluntarily get out of bed when it's dark outside? I guess you could say that I got the health benefits of a sauna right in my own home that night.

Of course, the worst place to be cold is the bathroom. In true French style, our bathroom is actually two rooms: we have a toilet on one side of the apartment, and a shower and sink on the other side. Fortunately, the toilet seat hasn't quite iced over yet, so I'm doing OK on that end. (No pun intended.) Coming out of the shower, however, is another matter.

Enter the butt warmer.

This is my new nickname for the heater in our shower room. This little slice of heaven, pictured at left, isn't much to look at. You can see my toothbrush on top for scale -- the butt warmer is wedged in quite tightly between the sink and the door jamb. But wow, does this sucker pack a punch! Just flip the switch from "stop" to "marche" and voila! Heat magically comes pouring out of those wonderful little vents. And, as the nickname suggests, it's right at butt height for me. My touchie stays quite toasty while I race to get myself dried off and change into my pajamas.

So, in the style of the Bud Light "Real Men of Genius" beer commercials ...

[Real Men of Genius]
Today we salute you, Mr. Tiny Bathroom Heater Maker
[Mr. Tiny Bathroom Heater Maker]
Only you could know just how cold my posterior would get in a 19th century building
[Don't make 'em like they used to]
You dared to make a powerful, yet efficient machine that can heat a shower room in under 10 seconds
[A room of only 1 square meter]
Without you, we couldn't shower without penalty during those cold, winter months
[Gonna shower all night long now]
So stand and be recognized, Mr. Tiny Bathroom Heater Maker
[Mr. Tiny Bathroom Heater Maker]
Amy 7252, Paris, France

09 November 2005

Surfing along

Well, at long last, our internet situation seems to have finally stabilized. This morning we received the new modem--the year-old ADSL modem from Wanadoo (the internet provider that works with France Télécom) was not compatible with the new provider's technology. There were some problems with the installation, but--I'm proud to say--I called the help line and never had to ask if the operator spoke English. It wasn't an easy conversation by any means, but I survived and got everything straightened out. So, now we're surfing the internet at 100 mbps and not paying per-minute charges!

The other big piece of big news is that the riots seem to winding down. Since a state of emergency was declared yesterday, mayors were allowed to declare curfews for their communities. This seems to have had a good effect, especially in the Parisian banlieues, since there was significantly less damage done last night than the previous couple. Thankfully, our quarter and our arrondisement continue to remain largely unaffected. The Héliport de Paris is just a little ways west of us, so we have heard a lot of helicoptors flying out to the banlieues. Here's hoping that the violence ends soon and that the government finally follows through on their promises to improve conditions in the banlieues.

My research continues to come along nicely. The current focus is on René Clair's A Nous, la Liberté!--if you haven't seen this film, I highly recommend it! It is, without a doubt, one of Clair's masterpieces. If you don't take my word for it, take Charlie Chaplin's--he liked the film so much that he plagiarized it in making one of his classics, Modern Times. (For all those interested in author's rights--Clair refused to sue Chaplin, since he was so flattered that his idol would steal his ideas. The production company, then under the direction of Goebbels and the Nazi Party, had other ideas; but without Clair's support, the case came to nothing.)

A Nous, la Liberté is of interest to me for a variety of reasons, but one of the most important is the collaborative process. Auric (the central figure of my dissertation) received second billing in the film--above everyone except Clair himself, who was the director, producer, and screenwriter. It's clear all the way from Clair's first version of the scénario that music is crucial to his conception of the film. According to some sources, Auric was on set for everyday of shooting! I still have my doubts about that, but I'm not ready to rule it out (the music budget is unusually high, I can confirm that Auric was definitely on set for the first day of shooting, and "an orchestra" seems to have been on set for most days).

The music also played a significant role in the publicity for the film. Four songs (in terms of genre, the film is somewhere between a silent film and a musical) were published in sheet music editions, and all four were also released on 78rpm discs; all of this before the film's release, mind you. A few months after the film's release, three of the songs were so popular that the editor published dance-band versions!

So...the next question I'm working out is--exactly what was Auric's role in the creation of the film?

PS. If anyone out there has copies of those 78s from A Nous, la Liberté!, let me know!

08 November 2005

Sure, I fit in! Just don't ask me to speak.

Here was my original agenda for today, as spelled out in yesterday's blog post:

"Go inside [Sacré-Coeur] and climb the stairs to the top of the dome ... After I meet my conversation partner, I'm off to shop in some inexpensive jewelry stores to see if I can find a necklace to go with my opera dress."

I'm pleased to report that I did everything I planned, though not exactly in the order I expected. Overnight, the riots had managed to seep deep enough into Colin's and my collective unconsciousness that we both woke up with every little noise, convinced that the angry mob was outside our window. (At least I think that’s why we couldn’t sleep. Either that, or we really need to cut back on our caffeine consumption.) At any rate, we both woke up bleary eyed and unrested around 10:30. To give ourselves a break, we had a leisurely breakfast, showered (separately, of course – there’s barely room for one person in there, much less two!), caught up on the news, and headed out into the world around 12:30 pm. With only 30 minutes to spare, there was no way I was going to make it to Sacré Coeur and back before meeting my new conversation partner, Isabelle.

I am pleased to say that Isabelle is fantastic! I don’t know why, but I was a little worried that I would end up with a little old lady. I’m not sure how old Isabelle is, but she’s far from little old lady status, thankfully. We agreed to switch back and forth – 30 minutes in English and 30 minutes in French – for two hours. The first 30 minutes was all French, and within the first 10 minutes of this, I was certain of two things:

1. Isabelle is a great conversation partner because she's good at correcting pronunciation, grammar, etc.


No, seriously. There is no other way to express item number two. I just freeze up when it comes to speaking French! I am a disgrace to my wonderful teachers at Michigan. I’m not afraid to talk, but I literally cannot think of a single thing to say! Poor Isabelle ended up asking me questions, which I answered in rather poor form. I cobbled together a couple of stories, but for the most part, it’s a wonder she didn’t just get up and leave in disgust.

Her English, as you can probably guess, is awesome. She’s really self-conscious of her French accent, and wants nothing more than to lose it all together when she speaks English. This is a tough thing for me to help her accomplish, but I’ll do my best! She has had conversation partners before, so she was really well prepared (which made me feel like a real schmuck). I promised her that I would brush up a bit and plan some things to talk about before we meet again. (Assuming there is a next meeting!)

Alas, I did learn one unfortunate fact from her. Pschitt is not pronounced as we originally thought. It’s actually pronounced like the sound a bottled carbonated beverage makes when you twist off the cap. (Kind of like pssst, but with a sch sound instead of just a hissing s.) I told Isabelle what it looked like to us Americans, and she was quite surprised to hear the correlation between the two words. (Yes, she knew what s—t meant without me explaining.) After more or less humiliating myself with Isabelle, we parted company amicably and I headed on to Sacré Coeur.

I quickly realized on the métro that I should have used the facilities at the café. I had to go. BAD. As soon as I reached my stop, I dashed up the stairs in search of the nearest 50-centimes refuge. On my way there, a man having a rushed conversation on a cell phone stopped me and asked very quickly, “Est-ce que vous avez un stylo?” (“Do you have a pen?”) I was so proud that I knew exactly what he said that I replied, “Oui!” and gleefully handed over my pen. As he started to write something down on his arm, it occurred to me that this might not have been the best thing for me to do. But, since it was too late to tell him that I didn’t have a pen, I decided to wait patiently until he handed it back to me.

Moments later, he thanked me and told me I was kind, and I squeaked out “de rien” (not a problem). He quickly caught on that I was not a native French speaker, but asked me (in French) if I spoke French. I said that I did a little bit, and he asked me where I was from. I’m sure he wasn’t as innocent as he looked, he seemed genuinely shocked to find out that A) he had asked an American for a pen, and B) said American understood French. He switched into English and asked if he could wait for me so that we could talk more once I came out of the bathroom! (Gulp.) Fortunately, he gave me an out: he asked if I had to be anywhere, and I literally said, “No, I have to meet … someone … somewhere.” Seriously, I could not have lied more obviously! Fortunately, he got the hint and said, “No problem, it was nice to meet you anyway,” and left me alone. So, maybe he was totally innocent, who knows? I’m not missing any valuables, so no one successfully pick-pocketed me while we were chatting. So, maybe on some level, I fit in a little bit better than the average tourist. Here’s hoping anyway.

My next encounter with “well-intentioned” English speakers came shortly thereafter. If you’ve been to Paris, you’ve probably encountered the super-aggressive beggars near Sacré Coeur, the Louvre, or other big tourist sites at least once. Their scam is simple: a man gets in the face of an unsuspecting tourist and ties a cheap bracelet around his or her wrist. Then, they coerce the victim into paying for the bracelet that is now permanently attached. I find it to be incredibly rude and inappropriate, but I guess you can’t blame them too much for sticking with something that works.

Being the savvy woman about town, I was fully prepared to run into these guys today. So, as I got close, I just stuffed my hands into the pockets of my jeans and kept my head down as if I were going to head-butt my way through. As expected, a man got right into my personal dance space and tried to get my attention. I just said, “No, merci” and kept walking. After about five or six “no merci’s” I had successfully run the gauntlet and the evil bracelet pusher left me alone. Strangely enough, it was kind-of empowering to know exactly how to get through the trap without getting caught. Girl power!

Once I had climbed the entire hill, I made a beeline for the stairs to the dome. At that point, it was just shy of 4 pm, and I was afraid that they would close for the day before I got in. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, and 5 euros later, I was on my way up the spiral staircase.

There are simply no words to describe the view! Except for the city pollution, it was a beautifully clear afternoon with hardly a cloud in the sky. I would gladly make that climb again in a heartbeat – it was 5 euros very well spent indeed. Some Irish tourists were up at the top at the same time as me, so I was able to have one of them take my picture as proof of the climb. Since I STILL can’t post pictures to Blogger.com (what’s up, guys??), I’ve added shots to http://caroust.photosite.com. C’était fantastique!

Once you get back down to the bottom of the dome’s tower, you have access to several little chapels and relics. I took a fairly quick spin through this because it was getting late and I really didn’t want to be in the 18th arrondissement after the sun went down!

On my way back down the hill, I passed a man “playing” a violin for spare change. I put “playing” in quotes because he was the WORST musician I have ever heard playing for money in Paris. It was all I could do not to burst out laughing when he squawked out “O Sole Mio!” in the most pathetic, duck-choking-esque series of notes that could possibly be played on a violin. I think people were just giving him money in the hope that it would make him stop.

Of course, I had to run into the bracelet-pushers on the way down as well. I was one firm, “NO MERCI” away from using the only French curse word I know, but the guy got the message just in time. Darn. After all, what fun is it to know how to curse in another language if you never have an occasion to use it? Right? Oh dear, here comes my mom and a bar of soap. Gotta run!

07 November 2005

I woke up in Paris

Colin asked me how I slept last night, since he didn't do so well. My response? "Well, I've never been in a coma officially, but..." In fact, I slept so hard and long that I was barely aware of Colin's departure for the library today.

Around 11:30 am (no joke), I began to regain consciousness. Didge had long since given up all hope of going outside, and as such had plastered himself to my side before falling into a mini-coma of his own. We were a rather pathetic sight, I am quite certain! By the time I got up, prepared and ate lunch, showered and dressed, it was about 1:15 pm and I had officially frittered away a half-day. I wish I could say that today was the exception to the rule, but I've enjoyed quite a few days of sheer laziness over the last couple of weeks. There has been many a late morning spent reading in bed, laying on the couch watching movies, or trying in vain to understand the French cartoons.

But, enough is enough. Do I live in Paris or not? Well then, it's time to start acting like it! After a long afternoon walk with Didge and a quick trip to the supermarket, I sat down with the book "1000 Places to See Before you Die" and looked up the suggestions for Paris. I was certain that I had done nearly all of the items on the list. Boy, was I wrong! I am shamefully deficient on the top ten list of "must sees." So, in an effort to rectify this gross oversight, I created an itinerary for myself this week.

Tuesday: Go up to Sacré-Coeur (which I have done), but go inside and climb the stairs to the top of the dome (which I have not done). In fact, I'm not totally sure that I have ever been inside Sacré-Coeur, an odd omission that I will correct first thing tomorrow. After I meet my conversation partner, I'm off to shop in some inexpensive jewelry stores to see if I can find a necklace to go with my opera dress.

Wednesday: The Louvre, part one. I'll probably hit the highlights first, since it's been nearly 15 years since I have been inside. More importantly, I'll get a feel for what parts of the museum are important to me, so that I can plan future excursions. (Goodness knows I'll never see every last work of art in the Louvre!)

Thursday: Off to the Hôtel des Invalides, including the Musée d'Armes (I think that's what it's called, but I could be wrong) and Napolean's grave. I nearly headed up to do this today, but fortunately discovered before I left my apartment that this site is closed on the first Monday of every month. (Guess what today is?) After that tour, I'll go all the way up to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I'll take the stairs for the first two levels, then the elevator for the third since it's the only option. As I recall, I saw the first two levels when I was here in 1990, but not the third because my parents were out of money by the time we paid for the first two elevators. The stairs are cheaper, and better for my health anyway. (My body hurts just thinking about it!)

Friday: Off to explore the Centre Georges Pompidou, which is the contemporary art museum. Colin asked me to save this trip for Friday, since the libraries will be closed for Armistice Day. Apparently, there is an exhibit there that he wants to see, so I obliged the request. (I informed him this evening that I was tired of waiting for him to do the siteseeing things that I wanted to do, so I'm just going without him!) That night, we'll be dining with Annie and her husband, since we haven't had a chance to catch up with them in about a month. Apparently, Annie's apartment choice is turning out to be not-so-hot, but I don't know the details yet.

Saturday: Musée de Cluny, which is a medival museum and home to some former Roman baths. I don't know much about this place yet, but I'll do some reading before I go.

Sunday: Musée D'Orsay, which I have been dying to go to for quite a while now. It's generally the #2 museum mentioned as a Paris must-see, behind the Louvre, of course.

On Monday, we will have our first visitors! Rebecca and Dave are coming from U of M (Rebecca is a colleague of Colin's). Unfortunately, they're going to have to get a van or a taxi to get here because the train between Charles de Gaulle and the city goes through an area that has seen riots recently. It's a mildly risky trip under normal circumstances anyway, since pickpockets love to frequent that line.

Speaking of the riots, someone died last night as a direct result of the violence - a photojournalist met a very gruesome end when some rioters beat him to death to get his camera. Colin is watching the TV news right now, and all of the images are either fires or burned-out shells of cars. There was violence in the 4th last night, which is a bit surprising. I guess it just spilled over from the 3rd, but I don't really know. I'm surprised that the riots have continued as long as they have -- it seems like the government should have declared a curfew in the arrondissements affected by now, and arrested anyone who went out on the streets at night. I know the riot police are out every night, but it's hard to understand what they are doing beyond helping the fire fighters stay safe.

06 November 2005

News Briefs

I don't have any epic tales to tell about this weekend, so here are some short updates on what we've been doing!
  • I found empty spray bottles for sale! The one I bought is far larger than I needed, but at this point, beggars can’t be choosers. Finally, I can iron with a spray bottle ... too bad I just finished ironing a big batch of laundry on Friday.
  • Didge’s “cast” came off today, immediately after which he began incessantly licking his long-lost foot. Fortunately, there has been no new bleeding, so we shouldn't be back to see the Aussie vet for a while. Keep your fingers crossed!
  • We have high-speed internet access again! (Woo hoo!) But we can’t use it. (D’oh.) Our confirmation came in the mail, but as it turns out, the modem we have from Wanadoo isn’t compatible with our new provider’s software. Club Internet is sending us a new modem, which should show up in the mail tomorrow. Hopefully, the high-speed connection will resolve my photo uploading woes with Blogger.
  • Rioting continues in and around Paris, or so we keep reading. There were riots last night in the third, which surprised me since that arrondissement is in the heart of the city. Colin says that it is an immigrant neighborhood, so I suppose the unrest there is not quite as unexpected as I thought. We could hear the helicopters flying overhead for the past few nights as they head toward the riots to shine spotlights on the violence. Other than that, you still wouldn’t know anything was wrong unless you keep up with the news. Colin is fascinated with the coverage, so he keeps me up to date every morning. Even though we are perfectly safe as long as we don't go "adventure seeking," we both hope it ends soon. Fortunately, there haven’t been any deaths yet.
  • I found a small space heater in our apartment, comparable to the one I had at work at U of M. I am blissfully happy to have it blowing on my feet right now.
  • Stateside, my brother is FINALLY getting a puppy! Dakota should be safely at home with Scott as I type.

Last night, Colin, Rachel and I went to the church at Alésia for a free performance of Fauré’s Requiem. I haven’t been to a “concert” in quite a while, so it was a bit of a treat. Plus, I got to wear my stiletto-heeled boots AND a new scarf, so I felt très French indeed. The inside of the church is quite lovely, which we didn’t expect. It was built in the 1800’s, so it’s not “old” by Parisian standards. Still, we really liked the interior. I love how the ceilings are painted: they are much more colorful than most of the cathedrals we have been in so far. In fact, I liked this interior better than Notre Dame! It's far less dreary and cavernous.

This afternoon, Colin and I took a walk outlined in one of the guidebooks that came with our apartment. We walked around Le Marais, which used to be swampland but is now a rather posh little neighborhood. I posted a couple of pictures of our tour on my photosite in the Paris scrapbook, if you're curious.

The walk started at the Bastille, which is definitely something that I have been wanting to see for historical reasons. There is a beautiful pillar there to commemorate the French revolutions of 1830 and 1848 (not the French Revolution, the other two), since the prison itself is torn down. In its place, there is an opera house that we are going to see an opera in. If you look at the pictures on my photosite, you can see the opera house behind the picture of the pillar. (It's the building with lots of glass squares on it.)

We also toured Victor Hugo’s apartment, which is huge and quite ornate. Since I didn’t go through the obligatory “Les Mis” obsession phase that so many people of my generation did, I probably wasn’t as enthralled with the tour as other people are. (I was busy obsessing over Phantom of the Opera at that critical time in my high school career). The courtyard that Hugo's apartment is in – a former home of kings and queens – is very picturesque with the pinkish buildings framing a little park with four running fountains and two large sandboxes. I somehow felt like we had "discovered" something unique when we went into this little nook of Paris. The weather was nice today, too, so Colin and I warmed a park bench and watched the kids play in the sandboxes for a little bit.

We also walked through the Jewish Quarter, which I found to be quite pleasant despite the throngs of pedestrians. The delis smelled fantastic (I was really hungry at this point), and the whole place had a very cozy, homey feeling to it. After the Jewish Quarter, our walk went into a gay neighborhood, but I didn’t really notice anything remarkable or memorable about the area except that it was a bit of a cultural contrast to the Jewish Quarter. I thought it had somewhat of an Ann Arbor-esque feeling to it, except that the neighborhood is obviously older than A2.

At dinner, we kept rolling our eyes at the silly requests that a nearby American couple was making. OK, we were in Pizza Hut, so I guess I don’t have any room to be smug. (Hey, everyone gets greasy pizza cravings every now and then!) At least we didn't ask for a glass of ice or a straw. [Colin: Actually, Pizza Hut pizza is way different here than in the States. It's much less greasy and I like the dough and cheeses better. Plus, all the olive oil really gives their pizza a nice flavor.]

The weather is starting to turn cooler, so I suspect that I will start touring museums in the upcoming weeks. I have yet to venture into the depths of the Louvre, and of course, the Musée d’Orsay is a must-see that I haven’t done yet. On Tuesday, I’m meeting a woman to practice French and English conversation – I answered her ad in a FUSAC magazine because I really need to force myself to use French more regularly. I hope she’s cool. Coincidentally, she has the same first name as a girl that I regularly sat next to in French 231 (Isabelle), so hopefully, that’s a good omen!