28 December 2013


There are two places where I find it impossible to speak French: in cafés and in the home I live in.

The first, cafés, just becomes a series of bumbling interactions but luckily it's not necessary to have a well developed conversation in order to eat food at a restaurant. Be aware that cafés or brasseries are all around confusing. A stereotype of France is that the service is terrible and while it's true, this is a country where the customer is not always right, I generally don't have a large problem with the service I meet with. After all, living in a tiny town in a rural place where all you have are small shops that are often run by seemingly (though not always truly) taciturn folk or staffed by upstart high schoolers you don't expect to be charmed every time you need to purchase something. In cafés though I am always at a loss. I step inside and shift from one foot to the other trying to decide if I'm supposed to wait to be seated or sit where I want, then the host often waves me to pick where I'd like to sit but then tells me I've picked the wrong spot so I move and then once my meal is over and I turn down dessert and coffee they do not bring your bill. You've made it clear you want no more of their food or drink and they do not bring your bill you have to ask for it. It's like they don't care if you take up space in their restaurant and have lengthy, enjoyable conversations with your dining partners! What a novel idea! But still I don't like having to catch the waiter's attention to ask for my bill because they never seem pleased to acknowledge you at that point. I've been learning that I need to memorize phrases and practice saying them charmingly so that I feel less like I've sunk into a quagmire of language vulnerability when these situations arrive.

In the second area, this home, it is half not a problem that I'm at a frenchy loss. I'm paid to speak English. Though when they have guests over and I'm supposed to keep up the work of making myself at home and being like a member of the family things start slipping and I can't keep my verbs and pronouns straight and all sense of vocabulary is fleeing down the rain soaked street.

But when strangers stop me on the street, like the old man yesterday in bright red Crocs ("Bonjour ma jolie princess!"), or when people from church invite me over for lunch and then keep me until nightfall, spending the day with their family playing games and talking and going for lovely walks, all is well. That is not to say my French comes flawlessly and fluidly pouring out of my mouth. There are still stumbles but I can get back up.

I suppose it has something to do with the social arrangement of these situations. In the successful operations, people are choosing to speak with me and give me their attention. In the former failful experiences, I am a member of a rapidly speaking group and therfore have to run, jump, and speak very loudly in order to take part in the conversation. As that's a thing I'm no great shakes at in English, small wonder it's a struggle in France. And here, so very far from things familiar like chunky peanut butter and oatmeal, this is what I have to learn: to speak up or I will never be heard.

26 December 2013

quick notes

Everyone needs to watch Muppet Christmas Carol at Christmastime, this is what makes the world work. You know what happened when I brought this up with C, the 14 year old? He told me the Muppets are too much like Teletubbies, he doesn't like them.

"Did you just compare the Muppets to Teletubbies?!?!?!!!!!"

"Yes. I did. I know this is horrifying to you."

"They are nothing like Teletubbies!!!!!!!"

We then discovered that I still know the names of all the Teletubbies. So many horrors. 

Another Christmas highlight is that time I went running for an hour and was greeted by beautiful French men upon my return to the house. Do you know what happens in France when you greet people? Cheek kissing, even when you're really really sweaty. This was probably all kinds of gross for them but they were very gracious.    

21 December 2013

I am 87 years old and refuse to admit I'm an anglophile

Tuesday I ended up at Gare du Nord too late to make it to class at a decent time no matter the combination of metro or bus I tried. It is from Gare du Nord the Eurostar departs to chunnel you over to London and how extremely tempting it was to run away. I've barely spent 50 hours in London but I've fallen in love. England in general is just a delight. Why didn't I study English?

Oh wait...

This week I finally finished the Oedipus trilogy and, in doing so, found an inspiring quote:

"Thou hast a fiery soul for numbing work"
so says Ismene to Antigone

If that doesn't save you from Thoreau's quiet lives of desperation, I don't know what will. It's what I've been telling myself when I'm about to dread another day of scrubbing sinks. "Self! Thou art a documentarian! Thou has a fiery soul for numbing work!" Works wonders, I tell you. Try it sometime.

Also, if I were ever to open a night club (hahahaha) I'd name it Box of Night after the literal translation of the French for night club, boîte de nuit. The place would be full of cushy arm chairs, books, maps, there'd be a tea room, and every night would be a different mix of Cole Porter, the Hollies, Bach, Otis Redding, TLC...you get the idea. At least once a week there'd be a competition for the best riddle and another night for puns. OH! And a "dress up as your favorite David Bowie era" night. Yeah, that would be fun.

If you had a night club, what would you name it? Do you know any good riddles? How do you feel about my new inspiring quote? Are you a closet anglophile too? What makes you want to run away? Where would you go? What books are you reading? What are your thoughts on the differences between Sophocles' Antigone and the version by Jean Anouilh? Have you read Shakespeare's Coriolanus? What movies are you dying to see right now?

18 December 2013

A note about showing up somewhere else

Surprised I was a couple of weeks ago when an old, dear friend emailed to ask me if I would agree to be interviewed for her blog. I'm a normal person guys, I don't really get asked to do interviews.

I grew up with Holly and can't remember not knowing her. We moved to North Dakota around the same time and went to church together. I've loved Holly for always, she's one of those people with whom I often identify but still find wonderfully perplexing as I try to get to know her. Now she lives in Minneapolis with her husband and she's started this great blog called Embracing Vanilla. Here's a bit of the reasoning behind the blog name:

I have had some good opportunities and experiences, and I have seen friends and acquaintances acquire even better ones. Instead of being afraid or insecure of others' successes we (I) should learn from them. This idea is a little terrifying since I'd much rather flash a weak, congratulatory smile and go wallow in my 'woe is me' thoughts than have an actual conversation with this person, but whether someone's a doctor, a marketing VP, a teacher or a taxi cab driver, I think everyone has simple vanilla days and triple chocolate mint brownie days, and we could all learn a little something from one another. People are probably more willing than we (I) think to help others out if we (I) can get over the fear of asking.

I've found it to be really heartening to read her blog posts and take the encouragement to be more satisfied with my own life and to be more satisfied with others. One of the regular features of her blog is to interview professionals at all different levels. Which brings us back to when she asked if I would mind answering some of her questions. I'm at the strangest level of professional if ever I was one. But I was honored to be asked and it was good to reflect upon her questions. So you should check out her blog and maybe even the part where I show up. There are some recent pictures of me and that never happens! I'm like a yeti! Except not. OK, thanks guys for being my friends. I love you all dearly.

P.S. Would you rather be a daring explorer, a poltergeist, a spy, or a blacksmith? 

07 December 2013

close your eyes

woman with bandages and black lenses taped over her eyes

the beggars sing a tuneless song, "s'il vous plaît mesdames et messieurs"

homeless man with decorated shopping bag and trolley

It doesn't get easier to see. I walk past with eyes averted as if they're not human beings, as if they're not worthy of my notice and I hate that this is the only thing I know how to do. 

I can't give you money, I'm sorry. If I look at you, you'll ask me and I have nothing for you. You deserve to be greeted, to hear a friendly hello, to be smiled at, respected. But since this is the unbreakable situation of time, since there are many beggars at every turn, since none of us can give you what you really need because none of us know what that is––what would you have me do?

06 December 2013

hiking and humanity

This not being the time of year when I generally enjoy hiking in glorious mountains like THE ALPS, I've taken up hiking in the metro. There are sometimes a lot of stairs. There are also sometimes men in the metro car playing amazing accordion music that makes me want to tango even after 10 minutes of the same song being played over and over. I thought the boy standing next to me was equally into it and for a second dreamed that everyone would break out of normal behavior and we really would start dancing then I realized he had earbuds in and was bobbing his head to his own personal soundtrack. Then the doors opened and Accordion Man saw metro officials about to get on so he beat it. I spent the rest of my ride quietly watching the faces of everybody around me, just like normal.

Last week or the week before I was riding on line 2, a line I adore because for several sections it goes above ground. Above ground! With sky and things to look at and large windows! Isn't everybody so happy and smiling just to emerge from the grubby, sketchy mole tunnel? No. Just me. OK. 

Line two has newer trains with large windows and cars that are connected for the length of the train. On this particular day a woman walked through my car and as she passed me I saw she had toilet paper stuck to the bottom of her shoe. "!!!!" I thought, "I've never seen that in real life!" Then I began wondering if I should draw her attention to it, the midwesterner in me was very concerned about the situation. She was clipping along though and too far away, I'd have had to chase her down. No other passenger was saying anything to her as she passed, I could see her for a while until I lost her around a bend. I hope she has a moment to notice and discretely lose the TP.

At the next stop a Hasidic Jewish man got on at the same time as two trendy 20 something women. They caught my attention because despite the incongruity of their appearances the three had obviously just finished conversing in a friendly manner and were now taking their respective places aboard the car. Also, the man along with his black hat, forelocks twisted around his ears, black suit, and prayer shawl, had a Holiday Inn traveler's bag. I voted him favorite person of the day even though it was only 10:30am.

The man and I both got off at Stalingrad and I noticed that as he descended he said "au revoir!" to the two young women (Courtesy lives!! I thought) and further down the platform I saw TP woman get off as well with no more toilet paper stuck to her shoe. Humanity had won many small victories that morning.

03 December 2013

a fall December

This week I haven't noticed as many charming people in the metro which reminds me I haven't yet finished my sketch from last week to share with you. I ended up at Cimitière Montmartre today because that sort of thing happens... I was in the area because The Honest Pint, my poetry subscription suggested that while they were specially sending my monthly poetry related mail to France I might like to take some pictures of an Honest Pint with famous French landmarks like the Moulin Rouge.

It's more difficult than you would think to take a picture of some paper with a building in the background. Next time I will require the assistance of another person. Volunteers? Quel qu'un ? Personne ?

People here are convinced it's cold and I'm certain it's still fall. Regarde the trees lining my street on Sunday morning:

Not much has changed since then. I walk to the train through a bed of leaves every day, which is part charming, part dangerous as everybody has a dog and hardly anybody cleans up their dog's poop.

The Marché du Noël is up on the Champs-Elysée, though, and lights abound. I spent the afternoon at the Louvre on Sunday and then walked through the market in the evening on my way to a train stop. Here are more pictures as promised:

Then I got tired of taking pictures, the end.

01 December 2013

a type of list

A list like this is because I just love imagining all of the characters involved in the above films/movies/podcasts/websites/books at a dinner party with me. Oedipus would sit next to Gogol and Sophocles next to Fred Weesley. Stephen Fry and Emily Graslie I'm sure would be great friends.

Since they're blurry, going from Top Left to Bottom Right: 
Oedipus Rex (I got really into reading it this time and almost stayed up past my bedtime on Friday to finish it, isn't that wild?)
Stephen Fry reading Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Best Russian Short Stories as available in iBooks and recommended by my Dad (listening to Stephen Fry reading Eugene Onegin has resparked my love of Russian lit)
The Artist (2011) (imdb) (trailer)
The Hunger Games: l'embrasement (2013) (yes, twas at the cinema and twas in French)
Space Oddity covered by Chris Hadfield on the space station
Various LDS General Conference talks
The Brain Scoop my favorite YouTube channel ever
Harry Potter et les reliques de la mort (reading is so much easier than watching a movie)

Louvre 1 Decembre 2013

click on the picture in order to see the whole thing--it's a panorama. This is also why there are some halfway dematerialized people.