27 July 2006

Stumbling through the Big Trip, part II

[Posted by Colin]

In the previous post, I told you the story of getting to the airport. Today, our adventures at Aéroport Charles-de-Gaulle.

After getting out of the cab, we loaded up two luggage carts with all of our stuff and had Didg hop into his kennel. While the kennel was still in the apartment, Didg had been surprisingly comfortable in it. [For those who don't know, Didg was claustrophobic as a puppy and every time we tried to put him in a kennel, he screamed like a three-year-old girl throwing a tantrum.] Outside the airport, with the kennel up on the luggage cart, he wasn't terribly excited about getting in his box. That, should have been a warning to us.

As we walked into the terminal building, Didg figured out what was going on and seemed to remember his flight to France. In other words, he started crying and whimpering incessantly. He honestly sounded like some little bird shrilly squeaking as loud as possible. As he tried to bust out of the kennel, he was shaking the cart terribly and making it very hard to steer. Amy, meanwhile, was on the verge of tears since her baby was sounding so upset.

Once we got into the ticket line, things got worse—everyone else wanted to know what was making that awful racket and kept peering in to look at him. Everybody felt sorry for him and cooed at him. Now, if you see someone hauling an unhappy dog in the airport, DON'T ACKNOWLEDGE THE DOG!!!! Every time someone looked in and said something to comfort him, it only rewarded him for making all that noise and encouraged him to be louder and more incessant!

The line actually moved pretty quickly, so we got up to the desk after about 20 minutes. We walked up to the lady, handed her our paper tickets (with seats reserved in the 34th row), and I started moving luggage off of the carts. That's when she informed us that we were on the standby list. WH- WHA- WHAT??? How in the **** do you end up on standby when you have paper tickets, reserved seats, and an obnoxious dog who has a space reserved in the special, pressurized, climatized hold just for dogs?

[BTW, on a side note, if you have to fly with a dog, fly Air France.]

After pressing that lady for all the information we could and offering to pay to get onto the flight, we realized that this lady couldn't do anything for us. So, rather than killing the messenger, we set off to find who had put us on standby!

After saying goodbye to Didg and handing him off to one of the luggage handlers, it was time to pay the necessary fees for traveling with a large dog and for having an overweight suitcase. Naturally, this can't be done at the ticketing counter that actually accepts the luggage. So, we set off in search of the one counter that handles all of these fees for Air France. Once there, we paid in cash (come prepared...they wouldn't take credit cards...) and headed off for security.

[To be continued...]

23 July 2006

Stumbling through the big trip (Part I)

[Posted by Colin]

Last Wednesday, we were still in Paris. "La Canicule" (the dog days) was in full swing, with a high of 97 degrees Fahrenheit and humdity level at about the same number. I was sick with a wracking cough.

After I finally got back from running an errand at the BNF, Amy asked me to call the shuttle company to confirm our reservation for the next morning. Imagine our surprise when the girl told me that our reservation had never been processed! Since all of their shuttles were booked for the next morning, there was nothing she could do to help.

Taking the train or bus to the airport was completely out of the question. Our checked luggage included four suitcases weighing a total of 90 kilos (roughly 200 pounds), plus Didg and his kennel. Plus, there was our carry-on luggage: a small suitcase, a duffle bag, a laptop bag, and Amy's purse. So, here we are, 16 hours before our flight, way too much baggage, and now we have no shuttle.

When I picked up the "Pages Jaunes," I saw an ad for a company called AeroTaxi. At this point, that sounded perfect, so I gave them a call. Everything was going along swimmingly, until I told the dispatcher about the suitcases and the dog. She said she'd note it in our reservation and see what could be done.

Thursday morning, we got up early. Well, Amy "got up" early; I'd only managed to get an hour's sleep because of the heat and my cough. About 6:40, we started hauling suitcases down to the front door. As you may remember, we have a tiny elevator, so I think it took five trips (plus, Amy walked down the stairs with Didg and one of the carry on bags). After the second trip, I poked my head out the door, hoping to see a van parked out front with "AeroTaxi" emblazoned on the door. Instead, I noticed that there was a taxi--a spiffy little station wagon--parked around the corner. I mentioned this to Amy as I got the next load ready. She asked the driver, and sure enough, our airport shuttle to handle all of our stuff, was a European (i.e., small) station wagon.

The driver was terrific, though he definitely seemed concerned about the amount of stuff we had. He and I loaded the car, trying to stuff things this way and that. Finally, with two giant suitcases riding shotgun and blocking most of the driver's peripheral vision on the right, we had everything packed in such a way that Amy, Didg, and I could ride comfortably in the backseat!

The ride was smooth, fast, and not as expensive as I feared (the fare was 55 euros or so, even with two people and all that luggage!). We arrived at the airport by 8:00 and, having cleared that stressful hurdle, we were all set to get on back to Michigan!

(to be continued...)

Back in the BIG city!

Just a quick note to my loyal readers (thanks, Mom and Dad) that we are "home" again! Our apartment is working out great, except for the fact that its loaded full of boxes and nothing is put away. Colin and I continue to marvel at how much stuff we own. We've already started a box called "Sell or Give Away" for stuff that we have no idea why we had in the first place. Funny how a few months of efficient living can change your perspective!

Speaking of perspective, we definitely had a monster case of culture shock when we first got back to the US. The main shocker is how HUGE everything is. For example, we went to Steak 'N Shake for dinner, and I was appalled by the ridiculously huge shake that the waiter brought me. Honestly, I don't know how anyone could ever consume that much shake, much less as a "drink" along with a meal. Gross.

The novelty of air conditioning wore off quickly. We turned ours off after one night because we were so cold! And, every business has its a/c cranked up so high that I end up shivering wherever we go. Don't get me wrong -- I LOVE not having a constant stream of sweat running down my neck, but the other extreme is a bit annoying, too. We do, however, love to run it in the rental van.

We had quite an adventure getting home, complete with a last-minute scramble to book a new airport shuttle and a very tense couple of hours when we were somehow flying standby. I'll relate the stories later, since I'm in a computer lab at the moment.

In other news, I've got an interview offer already. So, maybe I'll be employed sooner than I expected! Here's hoping.

So much more to come ...

19 July 2006

Our last day in Paris

[Posted by Colin]

Well, we've finally made it. We've had our share of stumbles, confusions, and moments lost in translation; but of course we've also achieved some great successes and had a lot of fun on the way. Even though Amy's planning to continue the blog at least through our re-adaptation to American life, today seems like a good day to note several "lasts."

  1. Right noz is my lqst chqnce to type on these frickinù AZERTY keyboqrds thqt qll of Frqnce seems to love1
  2. This is my last visit to the Bibliothèque Nationale (BNF) for awhile.
  3. It's also my last time dealing with the strange schedules at the BNF--can anybody explain to me why the photocopy people only works afternoons, even though the library is open from 9am to 8pm every day (except Sundays, when only part of the library is open, and Mondays, when the library opens at 2pm)? And of course, this only refers to the Tolbiac site, all the others operate on their own schedules...
  4. We just closed our French bank account, so no more Carte Bleue for us. :(
  5. Yesterday I cancelled our internet subscription...which they were remarkably prompt about shutting down. (Hence, I'm writing this at the BNF.)
  6. I just had my last meal at Quick, the Belgian chain established in response to McDonalds. And when I say "in response," I mean that whenever you stand in front of a McDo's in Paris, you can bet that there's a Quick within one or two minutes on foot.
  7. Last night was Didg's last playdate with Sophie. He was an absolute maniac, so I think he's going to miss her as much as we're going to miss all of our Parisian friends--especially Monsieur et Madame Hake.
  8. Tonight will be our last Métro ride. [Scheer, if you're reading this, I still maintain that the Métro is way better than the Tube in London!]
  9. Tomorrow will be my last visit to Charles de Gaulle Airport for quite while. Thank goodness, because in the last two weeks, I've been out there once to see Rachel off and have flown through there four times!
  10. Tonight is our last supper in Paris. The plan is a picnic dinner--we're picking up a baguette, charcuterie, cheese, fruits, a bottle of cider, and little cakes from Lenôtre.
  11. And, last but not least, tonight is our last night of romance in the City of Love. We're having our picnic on the Champ de Mars, where we'll watch the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower. And at 10 and 11pm tonight, we'll get one last chance to see the Tower sparkle like a diamond...without a doubt, that is the most beautiful sight in the City of Light.

Thanks for following us through this adventure, and we'll see y'all on the other side of the pond!

18 July 2006

Amy Goes Postal Again (or, how I stuck it to the (wo)man)

Colin and I have ended up mailing a ton of stuff back to the US - more than I expected, actually. All told, we should end up with one really large box, one VCR-sized box, and 5 extra large Collissimo boxes. How in the world did we get all of this stuff here? I'll never know.

Anyway, I ran back over to the post office right before it closed this evening because we needed two more boxes. (Note to future Frenchies: don't buy your own boxes to mail stuff overseas -- the Collissimo boxes are cheaper to buy and send than the do-it-yourself ones.) As luck (fate?) would have it, I got the Parisite. Yep, the most surly, unhelpful postal employee in all of France. OK, maybe she's not that bad, but I still hate getting waited on by her. But, I decided not to let it worry me, since I'd already been to La Poste once today and had better luck.

I tell the Parisite that I need two XL International Collissimo boxes. (For the record, all conversation is in French.) First, she looks confused, as if she doesn't understand. But, there's no way around it -- she understood me perfectly. She mumbled to herself a bit, saying something to the effect of, "The orange ones?" to which I said, "Yes, that's it." She heads off to the back to see what she can find.

When she returns, she is still waiting on a colleague to bring the forms, but is ready to take my money. I hand her my American Visa card, and she asks if I have a piece of identity to go with it. Just as I did earlier today, I handed her my Michigan driver's license. She starts to shake her head and say that it won't work, to which I replied, "It worked this morning." Now, I've got her! She can't cop out on me this time! Mu-hahahaha! She tries to run my Visa card by sticking it halfway through the scanner to start ... and of course, it doesn't work. She tries this two or three more times, and then ask if I have cash. "No," I tell her, showing her that I don't have 70-plus euros in my wallet. She has to take this card.

Now, she's getting nervous. I can see her hands start to shake. She runs off to get my boxes, then returns to try again. She tries my Visa card several more times (during which time I remind her that it worked just fine this morning). Finally, feeling pity on her, I decided to see if my Carte Bleu would still work. Fortunately, it did, so we were all set. She gave me my receipts a few moments later, and said, "Au revoir."

I didn't move. She gave me a disapproving look and told me that we were finished, and that I could go. I quickly (and coolly) replied, "I still need the forms for the boxes." This sent her running to the back room again, where she (gasp!), had to open a new package of forms so that I could have two. Flustered, she runs back to the counter and hands them over to me. I smile, thank her politely, and wish her a good evening.

YEA! How ya like me now, b-yatch?!? American girl speaks French now! What you gonna do? I know, it's not very ethical or moral to gloat, but I feel vindicated from last December when she had the upper hand. So, yea for me! :)

1 day left...

17 July 2006

The dog is cleared for take-off

Now, the "fun" part begins ... wrapping up the last details before we leave the country. Didge went to the vet for his last checkup, and as indicated by the title of this post, he is healthy enough to fly. In fact, he is quite healthy: 55 pounds healthy. This is a little high for him, depending upon who you talk to. Some vets have told us that he should be around 45 pounds; the vet here said that Didge is fine right now. Personally, I have no idea how vets arrive at the magic number. Sure, I know that they feel for a rib cage and look for a waist line, but how do they know if 45 or 55 is better ... especially when you consider what a bizarro dog he is to begin with!

In general, I think Didge is starting to figure out that something's up, but he seems to be in denial. Right now, he's laying next to me on the floor, upside down, with all four legs protruding out into different directions. How that position can be comfortable, I'll never know.

We've also packed up more boxes to mail back to the US, and Colin packed two of our suitcases. I checked today to see if it would be better to mail our books or check them as excess luggage, which turned out to be more of a no-brainer than I expected. Colin and I can have two suitcases each, which must weigh no more than 23 kilograms (50.6 pounds). If we want to pay a "forfeit" of 125€, we can increase the weight of one bag to 32 kilos (70.4 pounds). After that, it's 25€ per kilogram! That final option is also the way they take excess luggage. Yikes! La Poste is looking better and better all the time.

2 days left...

16 July 2006

The Last "Pain au Chocolat" Sunday

Colin and I have developed a mini-tradition of eating pain au chocolat for breakfast on Sunday mornings. (This is basically a croissant-style bread with two sticks of chocolate in it. See picture at left, which doesn't do it justice.) I think it started because we were eating pain au chocolat everyday, and realized that - perhaps - this wasn't such a healthy habit. Today, our pain au chocolat ritual became yet another sign that our time here is almost over. Yes, folks, it's true:

We fly back to the US on Thursday.

Last night, we had a lovely going away party at Colin and Maggie's place. We got two lovely coffee table books on Paris (one in French, one in English) that will be lots of fun to read through and reminisce over. And, despite our original intent to say our final goodbyes, we found ourselves making plans with nearly every person at the party! So, in many ways, I didn't feel like that gathering was any different than the other ones we've had throughout the last several months.

Then, I ate pain au chocolat. Now, I'm all nostalgic and moody again, realizing that I only have three full days left in the City of Light. Am I ready to go home? Yes and no. I definitely love living a carefree life in Paris, but I knew it wouldn't last forever. I guess I just didn't expect July 2006 to show up so suddenly! By this time next week, I will be living in an apartment nearly 3 times the size of where I currently am, stocking up on preservative-laden frozen foods and cursing at the gas pump. And yet, I'll have 24-hour access to cheeseburgers, dental floss, and the ever-overseas-elusive Lysol spray disinfectant. What a tradeoff!

15 July 2006

A Bastille Day that didn't want to end

Yesterday was le 14 juillet, otherwise known to Americans as Bastille Day. This is more or less the French equivalent to the 4th of July, complete with a parade and fireworks. Colin and I had really been looking forward to being in Paris for the celebrations, figuring that the capital city would not disappoint. Little did I know that I would eventually become a prisoner of the city...

The day started out great. Colin and I met Isabelle and went to the Champs-Elysées to stake out a spot for the parade. We got a good spot near the métro stop Georges V, and waited for things to kick off. As it turns out, the parade is actually a military review. Unlike parades in my hometown, there were no combines or flatbed trucks loaded with kids throwing candy. This was all a show of military might. (Please, no French-military-bashing jokes here.) For the first time, Colin and I saw tanks moving at what we assumed to be full speed, and were amazed at just how fast those suckers can go! Plus, it's a little unsettling to watch anti-aircraft guns roll by. It makes you want to stand up a little bit straighter, just in case someone's looking for an excuse to push the proverbial red button. The other half of the parade was in the sky, when a ton of jets and other military aircraft flew over in formations. All in all, a very interesting morning. The only "odd" part to us was probably because we were so far from Concorde, where the actual judging was going on. As such, we tended to see a constant traffic backup instead of a steady flow.

After the parade and lunch in the Latin Quarter, Colin and I went back home to nap (he got home late the night before from his conference, so we went to bed late). By the end of the day, Colin wasn't feeling very well, so I met Isabelle on my own and we went to the 7th to watch the fireworks. Here's where things got ... interesting, I suppose? We were invited to the home of someone who lived on the Avenue Rapp (thus having two 5th floor balconies with a great view of the fireworks at the Eiffel Tower), but neither Isabelle nor I knew her. Of course, we managed to be the first ones to arrive, so I had to go through the awkward explanation that we were friends of friends. Fortunately, all worked out well and we had a great time visiting and watching the show.

The real adventure started afterward. Isabelle and I made sure to leave the party with 30 minutes to spare so that we could get back to the métro and catch the trains we needed before everything shut down for the night. Well, when we arrived at the closest métro stop (Ecole Militaire), the line was so long that people weren't even able to get down the stairs, much less through the ticket line and onto the platform. After a few minutes of map studying, we decided to walk to Alma-Marceau (probably 15-20 minutes from where we were) and race to make up for lost time.

We arrived at Alma-Marceau with time to spare ... and found the police blocking the entrance to that station. Not ready to give up yet, we decided to walk to métro Franklin Roosevelt (another 5-10 minutes away). Then, we got a break: the other entrance to Alma-Marceau was open. So, we dashed down the stairs, ran through the ticket turnstyles, and jumped on the 8 for a one-stop ride.

Yea! We made it!

Or so I thought.

We ran down the hallway at Franklin Roosevelt in an effort to squeeze onto the last train on the 1 line for the night. But, when we got to the entrance, it was blocked off by police officers. ARGH! Isabelle asked why the train wasn't running as late as usual, and one of the officers said that the time for the last train is actually the time that the last train arrives at its terminus. (Yeah, right.) Now, we had problems. Isabelle lives in the suburbs, and there was no other way to get her to the last RER A train for the evening. No problem, I said. You can just stay at my apartment tonight, and go home in the morning when you wake up. She accepted, and we moved on to our new objective: get back to the 14th arrondissement.

Easier said than done. There were no taxis anywhere. After a few phone calls to Colin, we figured out the night bus route and set out for the nearest stop. The plan was to go to Châtelet, then catch a different bus that would go past my apartment. We found the bus stop, and waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited ... with at least 100 other people who were also stranded.

Finally, we realized that there was no way that we would all get on to a bus, even assuming one was going to show up completely empty. So, we decided to get a phone number for a taxi company and call to have one sent to us. While we examined our maps to find the nearest taxi stand, some drunken reveler decided it would be great fun to set off a firework in the middle of the crowd waiting for the bus. It exploded so close to us that I temporarily lost hearing in my left ear! (Never mind the car accident it nearly caused.) Fortunately, my hearing returned about 10 seconds later, and we decided to get away from that bus stop. Our destination was the Théâtre de Rond-Point, figuring that a taxi would never find us if we just said we were at the Rond Point de Champs-Elysées.

After another 20-30 minutes, Isabelle finally got through to an operator and successfully got an order placed (the woman on the phone wouldn't accept anything other than an exact address, so she put us on hold while we looked for a street number). Finally, we had our salvation! We confirmed the addresses ... and the operator told us that there were no available taxis in Paris.

At this point, it's about 1:40 am. We're both tired and unable to walk all the way back to my apartment (I'd guess it would have been at least a 2-hour walk.) Our last ditch effort was to call Maggie and Colin, our friends that live just off the Rue de Rivoli, and hope that we could stay on their couch until the métro reopened. Finally, something worked out -- Colin answered the phone and kindly allowed us to come over. So, at around 2 am, Isabelle and I found ourselves sheepishly dragging into an apartment that Isabelle had never been to. Despite the awkwardness, we were very, very happy to be off the streets and resting.

Hopefully, Colin and Maggie are well-rested enough now that they will forgive us for the late-night intrusion. We finally managed to drag ourselves home around 9 am this morning, after which I promptly showered and went to bed. Thus endeth my first Bastille Day in Par-ee, the city that just wouldn't let me go home!

I always believed that I would be writing some poetic blog entry about my Bastille Day experiences, accompanied by some romantic photo of fireworks and/or Colin and I together near the Eiffel Tower looking all mushy. I think if I had known I was going to end up hearing impaired on the Champs-Elysées at 2 am, I would have just stayed home and lit a candle instead! But, as Isabelle pointed out many times, at least we have a memorable story to tell!

10 July 2006

A Brief Hiatus

Hey folks -- just a quick note that there probably won't be any posts for a few days. Colin is off to Nottingham, England, tomorrow morning, and the computer goes with him. (Sigh!) I'll try to keep up with e-mail with a few visits to internet cafés, but with the French keyboards, I doubt I'll feel much like blogging! Plus, it should be a quiet week.

In other news, the French soccer team came home today to a hero's welcome. The police estimate that about 10,000 people showed up at La Concorde to cheer for them. A few of the players even cried at the reception, since it was far more than they were expecting. I'm very happy for them!

As for the Zidane incident, the rumors are that the Italian player, Marco Materazzi, was taunting many of the French players with racial slurs throughout the game. It is widely believed that Materazzi made some kind of offensive statement about Zidane's family, which was the ultimate reason that the head-butt occurred. Still not excusable, but if it's true ... it sounds like the Italian guy deserved it! It's a shame that there aren't more consequences for yelling racial slurs (or anything offensive, for that matter) in a game that is supposed to unite people around the world. "Zizou" has said that he will explain why he did it in a few days. I think that's classy, since it allows the Italians to enjoy their victory untainted for a while. If Materazzi did do what everyone seems to say that he did, it should be handled seperately from everything else.

In general, many people here seem to believe that the Italian strategy was to get all of France's top players thrown out of the game (either by injuring them or provoking them into committing a yellow or red card offense), and then beat them in a shoot-out. I don't know whether this is true or not, but there certainly is a reasonable amount of circumstantial evidence to support this theory. If it's true, then the Italian players involved will have to live with the knowledge that the victory was won cheaply and unethically.

I hope this post doesn't portray me as a sore loser! After all, someone had to win, so why not Italy? I'm just sad that it had to be such an ugly, unsportsmanlike game on *both* sides. I can handle losing when my team is outplayed, but I prefer to see teams win and lose with class. I don't think that's too much to ask for, do you?

... and After

Well, what a disheartening way to end an otherwise exciting run for the World Cup championship. Unfortunately, Zidane ended his career rather ungracefully with a red card for head-butting an Italian player. (Now, no doubt, the guy probably deserved it for all of the trash talking he was doing, but it was still a blatant red card offense.) It's a shame that he couldn't keep his composure just a little bit longer -- at least long enough to participate in the shoot-out. Plus, the red card meant that he couldn't even stand on the podium at the end of the game to accept his silver medal.

Watching the game at the stadium wasn't nearly as much fun this time. The crowd was really tense and stressed out from the moment that Italy scored. Plus, there were a lot of what my dad would call "Walters," more commonly known as @$$holes, in the crowd. The less offensive of the misbehaved consisted of one or a group of people who thought it was really fun to light firecrackers and throw them into the bleachers below them. Unfortunately, they didn't get caught because the event staff and security guards were too busy dealing with gang warfare on the field. (I don't think I'm exaggerating too much here.) There was a whole group of hoodlums who were clearly at the stadium to do nothing more than get into fist fights. They basically walked back and forth around the track, constantly starting fights with event staff or fans. So stupid. On the bright side, the people we were sitting around were very angry at this group, and whistled and booed them every time they started a fight. Eventually, the group gave up and left, but there were a lot of spectators carried out on stretchers. All in all, we felt pretty lucky because we weren't sitting in the path of the firecrackers or the fight-starters.

Anyway, we did get a good night's sleep, which was nice. Our neighborhood is the quietest that it's been in quite some time, which is a little sad. Everyone is really disappointed. Honestly, I don't think it would have been so bad if Zidane hadn't left in such disgrace. I got the impression that he really let people down with his actions -- not exactly a glowing way to end your professional career. But, for us, things go back to "normal" now that the World Cup is over. And, we're still proud of "our team" for going so far. It sure was fun while it lasted!

09 July 2006

Before...

Yes, it is already a mad house around here. The honking (and air-horn-ing) is constant, and when Didge and I walked past the stadium around 4:30 pm today, there were already about 75 fans in line to get in. (The game is at 8 pm our time.) Colin and I are taking our friend Lori with us to the stadium tonight. Should be crazy!!!

Watch for an "...and After" post to come post-game tonight.

07 July 2006

Who's that girl?

OK, since I'm a big ol' copycat, I'm going to fill in the blanks that Katrina used on a recent post from her blog. The only difference is that I don't have a cute picture of myself to put up. Ah well, I'll just put up pictures of other people instead.

My favorite color: Dark blue (though it occasionally gives up its #1 spot for dark purple)

Favorite faraway place I've visited: Gee, I wonder...!

Favorite author/poet: I've read a lot lately, but I can't think of a specific author that I absolutely adore. As for poet, I guess I'd say Shel Silverstein. But, my favorite poem is by William Blake: "To see the world in a grain of sand / And heaven in a wildflower / Hold infinity in the palm of your hand / And eternity in an hour."

Biggest pet peeves: Lately, it's been excessive car-horn honking. Also, I really hate the kids who ride the métro and feel the need to play their music outloud instead of using headphones. It's not really that I like or dislike their music choices -- it's more that A) the sound quality is terrible, and B) I'm usually listening to my iPod, so I don't really want more competition. Plus, I think it's really rude! Just like driving around with your windows rolled down and your music blaring. Do you really think people are happy that you are "sharing" your music with them? You don't look any cooler. If anything, you look like a fool! (Except for the guy in Switzerland who was blasting polka music - at least he gets points for creativity.)

Favorite band/song lyrics: Favorite band is probably Garbage. Not that I'm really listening to much from them lately, but I really dig their sound and the lead singer. (It's amazing to me that she has low self-esteem and thinks that she's ugly because I think she is one of the most beautiful women around. She has a really quirky, unconventional type of beauty.) As for favorite song lyrics, man, I know that I should have a million answers to that question! And yet, I'm sitting here drawing a blank. So, I'll just say, "Ain't nobody dope as me, I'm dressed so fresh and clean." (Thanks, OutKast, for basically becoming the mental soundtrack on permanent repeat that accompanies every shower I've taken since the year 2000.)

Favorite way to exercise: I dig pilates and yoga, though I haven't done either in ages. (Also, I suck at both.) I also enjoy weight-lifting (which I also suck at) because it makes me feel like a super-strong person. That, and you see results in your arms really fast when you get into the groove.

How I got my name: As I understand the story, I was supposed to be named Jill LeAnn instead of Amy LeAnn. Mom said that I "just looked like an Amy" when I was born, so they changed. (Apparently, Amy's look like red, squalling, misshapen-headed freaks.) Dad wanted to name me LeAnn because, when he was in the US Army, he babysat for someone who had a daughter with that name. He thought it was a pretty name, but Mom vetoed it to my middle name.

Actor/Actress who stars in most of the movies I own: Well, I sold almost all of my movies before I moved to Paris, so it's tough to answer this question! But, I'm a big fan of Ewan McGregor, Scarlett Johansson, Tim Robbins, Jack Black, and Jon Stewart.

Favorite food: I think it would be easier to name a food that I detest! OK, so for the sake of simplicity, let's just go with any French A.O.C. cheese and some fresh fruit. Oh yea, and a big ol' slab of coeur fondant (think death-by-chocolate cake) for dessert!

Person I'd be happy to become: I wouldn't mind looking like Jennifer Aniston or Catherine Zeta-Jones, but I wouldn't switch places with either lady! I'm pretty happy with who I am, even if I don't have an uber-glamorous life.

Person I'd most like to trip while they were running: George W. Bush. OK, and maybe Brad Pitt. Ooh, and Posh Spice. (Wait, I only get ONE answer?)

What I would have been, if I hadn't been a journalist
: Well, obviously, I'm not a journalist (though I do have a degree in it). And, though I try, I'm not really a geographer, either. I guess if I had it all to do over again, I'd go for a degree in education. I really dig the research and theories on learning.


So, all of you Conan O'Brian wannabes, take those photos and do an "if they mated" photo so that I can see what I would look like if I got everything that I wanted! (That Shel Silverstein photo is really going to be my undoing...)

06 July 2006

Excessive Celebration

Well, if you follow World Cup soccer at all, you can probably guess that we were up late last night! France beat Portugal 1-0 to advance to the championship game for the second time in team history. Needless to say, there was a lot of celebrating in the streets last night -- 2.5 hours solid of car-horn honking, to be more precise. The picture to the left (taken from the FIFA/Yahoo page) is on the Champs-Elysées after the game. At the end of this post, I've added a picture of what the same street looked like *during* the game, while everyone was glued to TV sets around the city! What a difference a game makes...

Our greatest form of entertainment ended up being a drunken guy wearing a blue clown wig ... and little else. He was shirtless, and his shorts were so baggy that we could pretty much see three quarters of his boxer briefs as he wandered through the middle of Général Leclerc. Fortunately, he was a happy drunk, so he was hugging everyone else who either happened to wander into the street or lean far enough out of their cars. I was also amazed at the sheer number of serious fireworks that got set off in the middle of the street. Crazy stuff! (And a little scary ... somehow, I don't think it's a fantastic idea to set off a bunch of noisemaking firecrackers in between cars sitting in traffic.)

Perhaps the more annoying occurrence was that the celebrations spilled into today. When I took Didge out this morning, I watched a VERY weary looking couple drive by on a motorcycle: the driver was still honking the French's Morse Code cheer (.. ... .... ..), albeit slowly, and the woman on the back weakly held up the French flag-turned-cape in the breeze. They literally looked like they had been driving around all night long celebrating, as if they had vowed to do this if France advanced to the final game.

Sometime this afternoon, there was also a large group of teenaged kids hanging out at Porte d'Orleans, cheering "Allez allez bleus!" over ... and over ... and over again. This, of course, prompted more of the Morse Code car-horn honking. Colin and I were trying to nap, since we had been kept up until 3 am-ish by all of the noises from the previous night, and then took Rachel's luggage to the airport at 10 am-ish this morning. At some point, I remember saying rather loudly, "Hey, you won LAST NIGHT! Get over it, already!"

Seriously, folks, you've got to save some energy for Sunday. I know there isn't a penalty in soccer for excessive celebrating, but I'm beginning to think that there should be a fan penalty! Thank goodness I don't have to get up and go to a job here.

Of course, there's always Sunday. We're headed to the stadium to watch the game on big screen again. Here's hoping that they upset Italy and win it all! (I have faith, anyway!)


05 July 2006

What will happen?

So, as I was awakened today by the monthly testing of the air raid sirens (yes, that means I slept until noon) I wondered what sounds I would be going to bed to tonight. Will I be up late because I choose to be, or because the constant barrage of car honks and drunken revelers is too loud for me? Last night, I feared I was in for another night of celebrations after Italy beat Germany. (There are a few Italy fans around here, apparently.) Fortunately, it quieted down fairly quickly and -- if I had wanted to -- I could have gone to sleep at a decent hour.

It rained -- nay, thunderstormed -- overnight, so the oppressive heat has toned itself down a bit. Makes me glad I saved my errands for today instead of pushing through and doing them yesterday. Plus, I might actually get Didge outside for a real walk! I hate to take him out when it's so hot and humid, but I know he's going crazy locked up in the apartment with me all day. Poor guy. It must suck to be a dog, living at the whim of what your owner is willing to let you do. And, little does he know, he's about to make his second flight across the Atlantic! This next stop will be his seventh home in his short life, if you don't count the week we lived with my parents while I waited to get into a dog-friendly apartment in Missouri. He's a real trooper, I tell you! On the bright side (I think?), five of his homes were with me, so there is some consistency.

Well, I wish everyone a pleasant day back at work. Hopefully, you got your fill of yummy grilled foods and fireworks yesterday, and feel somewhat rested enough to head back to the grind.

04 July 2006

Hey, they have the 4th of July here, too!

Allow me to vent for a moment, as I am now nursing a bruise on my back from getting caught between a shoplifter and a store security agent. I don't know whether the thief or the guard knocked me aside, but rest assured, it did not feel good. To make matters worse, the kid got away! I was so disappointed. I guess the security guard just ran out of steam because he gave up the chase fairly quickly. If it's any consolation, the shoplifter couldn't have gotten away with much, given that he was in a grocery store and the small items that he could have tucked into his pockets aren't really worth much. What was worth the risk of getting caught, I wonder? Batteries? A packet of pencils? What a waste of everyone's time, not to mention my back.

Other than that little dash of excitement, today has been a dull, albeit hot, day. I've pretty much hid indoors with the dog and tried not to move out of the fan's line of fire. Couple the weather with a headache that just won't go away, and you have a complete picture of how fantastic my 4th is going! Actually, it's not that bad. I finally broke down and bought a bottle of Coke, which I am now enjoying "on the rocks" as a way to cool down and fight the headache. Yes, I said "on the rocks" -- I made ice. There, I said it, I made ice! Call it a celebration of American civil liberties. I don't have to be an ice-hating European if I don't want to be. (Cue Stars and Stripes Forever here.) I'm also observing independence right now, since Colin is in Scotland for a conference. Lucky guy: this morning, he was lamenting the fact that he forgot to bring a jacket!

Anyway, happy birthday, USA! I'll be back to see you again in just over two weeks.

*************************************************************

Postscript -- I went hunting for something to make me laugh. Hence, I give you the quote of the day, complements of Jack Black:

"You must never underestimate the power of the eyebrow."

03 July 2006

Top 10 things I miss about the US -- Take Two

Back in November, I wrote a top ten list of things that I missed about living in the US. I haven't read through that list since I wrote it (though I remember my #1 from that list, considering that I recently referred to it). So, before I read through it again, I thought I'd write up a new list, based on things that I am looking forward to once I get back.

Strangely enough, I've been working on this entry for about a week now. I'm having a hard time coming up with 10 things that I truly miss! (Bear in mind that the original "rule" was that I couldn't include friends and family.) Anyway, here's what I've come up with after a lot of brainstorming.

#10 - Working with *one* currency

I hate wasting money on processing fees. In particular, I'm tired of paying a fee for converting dollars to euros -- come on, Mr. Banker, isn't the poor exchange rate punishment enough? It will be nice to have just one bank account again, without worring about how much I'll have to pay to get and use my money!

#9 - Peace and quiet

One of the drawbacks of living in any big city is that it's just plain noisy! Between the constant stream of emergency vehicles and the nightly drunken singing/yelling from the bar down the street (never mind what happens when France wins a World Cup game), I'm starting to look forward to the relative peace and quiet of Ann Arbor/Ypsi.

#8 - Giant stores that you could live in (you know, if you had to)

After visiting three different stores the other day just to find a package of dental floss, I am more than ready to return to the land of super grocery stores. OK, I suppose I will probably walk about the same distance when you compare the size of my neighborhood to the size of one of those mega stores, but at least I know right where to find everything. Plus, things don't seem to sell out in the US like they do in Paris. (If you don't get to Champion by about 2 pm, you can't cook with chicken breasts that night ... they are long gone!)

#7 - Yellow mustard, Dr. Pepper, and root beer

It's not that I'm a die-hard fan of any of these products. But, when you suddenly realize that you can't have something as common as regular old French's mustard, guess what you want to buy more than anything else in the world?

#6 - The Dog-O-Mat (a.k.a. the self-service dog wash in Ann Arbor)

Have you ever tried to give your dog a bath in a 2-foot by 2-foot shower stall? 'Nuf said.

#5 - A regular income

It's not that I really want to go back to work, but I'm tired of coming up with creative ways to stretch a euro. (You know you're becoming a scrooge when you're trying to decide whether or not to splurge on brand name conditioner...)

#4 - No more bratty tourists

Overall, I don't really mind the tourists. It's the spoiled, bratty ones that I'm tired of. For example, we were in line at Ste. Chapelle behind a man who pitched a fit because the ticket seller asked for ID to prove that his son was 16 years old (thus getting in free). He kept saying, "I'm not a liar!" to her, and when he walked away, he muttered "bitch" under his breath! Colin and I were appalled. Plus, you know that this guy is going to go home and tell everyone that the French are rude ... hey buddy, look in a mirror! At least she has the "excuse" that she was doing her job!

#3 - Being able to read product instructions without a dictionary

This is particularly a nuisance when I'm looking for cosmetics. I love to read the backs of the beauty products to see what every little cream and potion can do to make me a better person. Much to Colin's dismay, I can easily spend 30 minutes in the hair care aisle of the grocery store back home, mulling over whether I want softer, shinier, or lighter hair (or some combination of the three). Here, I'm lucky if I can tell what body part I should use something on, much less what it's going to do for me.

#2 - Being able to read product instructions without an attack pharmacist's help

This, clearly, relates to #3. Most of the beauty products that I want to look at are sold at pharmacies. (Yes, I can get them at department stores, too, but pharmacies are closer to my apartment.) However, you aren't allowed to browse in a pharmacy. OK, it's not like there is a no-browsing policy -- but as soon as you set foot in the store, a clerk wants to help you find whatever it is that you're looking for. And, they really aren't content when you tell them that you're just looking around. If only they knew that leaving me alone could potentially boost their sales by at least 50 percent ... who knows what things I need there? I just need time to find them and realize that I need them.

#1 - A luscious, juicy, thick, greasy cheeseburger

Speaking of things that you want because you can't have them ... I cannot wait for a real American burger. Colin and I are already planning to eat at Steak 'N Shake for dinner on July 20. (OK, they don't have thick burgers, but they are still yummy.) Oh man, that means I can also get a nice, thick milkshake, too. Mmmmmmm!!


Of course, the counterpart to this list is yet to come: things I miss about France, once I'm back in the US. (Why do I have the feeling that I could make a top 20 list based on food alone?)

******************************************************************************

Postscript -- I just re-read my November list. Here are the things that I don't really miss anymore: unlimited computer access (I'm used to going in shifts now); The Weather Channel (I can get the forecast online, even though it's always wrong); leash-free dog parks (there are plenty of places for Didge to play here - it's actually better than the US); my electric blanket (this might have something to do with the fact that it is nearly 90 degrees outside and I don't have AC); a bathtub (got my fix when I was traveling with the 'rentals ... besides that, they take longer to clean than teeny little showers); businesses that are always open (I've learned to adapt, and it's no big deal now); and smiling (like an idiot) all the time for no reason.

What a difference 8 months can make!

01 July 2006

Whoa.

Ok, fine.

Colin, you better relish this moment.

You win.

Soccer is pretty cool.

By the way, we got home from the stadium safely. Now, we're listening to celebrations that are twice as crazy at the other night. And so far, no one has stolen me.

So far.

Potentially my last post...

I really don't want this to be my last post, but I fear it may be ... Colin is making me go to a nearby stadium to watch the France-Brazil game. If they lose tonight, we'll have to walk home amongst angry drunks. If they win, it's a repeat performance of the other evening when my camera got stolen. Either way, I'm convinced that tonight is going to spell doom for me. Colin, of course, is far more optimistic, i.e. "You won't have anything for anyone to steal." Oh yeah? What about ME?? What if *I* get stolen? Hmm? Colin doesn't seem to have an answer for that yet.

On the somewhat brighter side, our friends Colin and Maggie will be joining us, so at least we'll be in a "group" of sorts. Safety in numbers, right?

Please watch the blog for cries for help ... I'll try to give an indication of where the kidnappers are holding me!!

And if I don't make it back, tell my mother I love her.