Friday, August 31, 2007

Today is the anniversary of Lady Diana’s death. I walked by the "Flame of Liberty", which has become the symbol for her death because it is located at the entrance of the underpass where she died.

I don’t mean to sound heartless but what’s all the fuss about? She and her boyfriend died speeding through the streets of Paris trying to out run photographers. While it is a shame that they died it would have been more of a tragedy if they had killed anyone who happened to be near them while they were driving like idiots. I seem to remember everyone blaming the photographers and then the driver- what a load of crap. They died because they were self-centered, selfish and felt an entitlement to speed through the streets of Paris with complete disregard for anyone but themselves. Let’s face it, we only care about Diana because she was relatively attractive(in an 80's, hair feathered way).

Next week will be the 10-year anniversary of Mother Teresa’s death. Can you imaging the mourning that would be going on if she had been a babe?

I forgot to post this picture from Brussels- It's a maze in the garden of the Van Buren house.

The trees have refused to grow properly so a crack team of pruners are taking care of business.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Back home I applied and receive my visa to travel to France. This visa was not the ultimate goal. Having the visa allows me to apply for a temporary carte de sejour.
This document allows me to stay in France for the year where as non-EU members must leave after 3 months. Getting the visa was a bear, countless documents, copies and translations of all the documents notaries etc, etc.

The carte de sejour must be applied for within your first week of arriving which I was already 3 weeks late so I figured I’d better get on it. This would be my first encounter with French Bureaucracy. I’ve heard about it, read books and blogs discussing the endless red tape involved with bureaucrats who can never be fired and feed off the weak. I’ve been told that you should assume you will have to go back at least 3 times because you wont have the proper documents or the correct photographs ( good example, you aren’t allowed to smile in your picture). Lines can be as long as 4 to 5 hours so bring a book because no one will talk to you in line. I‘ve heard the horror stories but I, for some reason, am not concerned and have opted to do this myself. I’m flying solo without a net.

I’ve got Jacque Brel “Alive and Well and Living in Paris” stuck in my head and the songs wont go away.

I took the metro to the 17th arrondisement to the Prefecture De Police. They send you to the police station for your initial interview how is that for intimidating. At this point I should probably remind you that I don’t speak French. I know I took classes but really nothing was retained. But again I’m not concerned because I memorized two phrases, which I practiced over and over again on the train.
1. Je voudre un carte de sejour- I would like a carte de sejour
2. Je ne comprends pas - I don’t understand
Like an unsuspecting lamb to the slaughter I skip to the Police station singing Jacque Brel to myself (the English version, of course).

“It was the time when Brussels could sing.
It was the time of the silent movies.”

I suspect there might be a problem after I go through the metal detector and say to the cop “Je voudre un carte de sejour” he responds by rattling off something which I can only assume to be French. After several minutes it is clear that I’m being directed to the second floor. The spring has left my step as I climb the stairs. I sing sadly.

“No love you’re not alone
It’s alright if you cry
If things don’t work out right
All we can do I try”

I walk into an unattractive room, take a number and sit toward the back- the place you go if you don’t want to get called on. There is a Japanese guy with his translator at the front desk having a run in with the receptionist. The translator is doing all the talking but the receptionist stares at the Japanese guy, she never takes his eyes off him. It is only after he shifts his gaze to his feet does she take the papers that the translator has been apparently begging her to take. They want to be permitted to go to one of the back offices where the carte de sejour are approved. I sink lower in my chair. He has a translator and they were both unmercifully beaten. What chance do I have? I’m just a small town boy with a big dream … well not really.

The receptionist cries “Next”

“Naked as sin, an army towel
Covering my belly
Some of us blush somehow
Knees turn into jelly
Next. Next.”

“NEXT!” she screams Oh shit that’s me. I jump from my chair and take the long walk to the front desk. I’m hoping that the beast has been satiated by the Japanese meal before me but she still looks hungry.

“Next. Next”
I was still just a kid
There were a hundred like me
I followed the naked body
And naked body followed me”

“Bonjour” I quiver.
“Je voudrais un carte de sejour”

It does not sound like it did on the metro- it’s become more of a question rather than a statement of fact. The last 3 words tapered off into the realm of inaudibility. Simply put, if we were in prison I would be her bitch. (I think I’d have my hair corn rowed too but that’s neither here nor there) She says nothing- her hand has been held out for documents which I didn’t notice. I hand them off like a baton, slapping her hand too hard. The smack has unnerved her, her eyes shift off me for a second. She is unsure but only for a moment. She glances quickly through the documents, pffting and tsking. She looks me in the eye for a moment too long before speaking in French. She talks and she talks and she talks. I think she is angry and then utterly surprised then filled with contempt. She seems to be discussing the pile of papers she is looking at. She is quiet and waits for a response.

“Je ne comprends pas” I say

Her eyes got bigger, she asked another question.

“Je ne comprends pas” I repeat.

She continues to talk and I continue to shrug my shoulders and say I don’t understand.

It is quiet. She is annoyed but can’t verbally express this to me. Her weapons are her words and they don’t work against me. They mean nothing to me. She looks at the papers one last time. Slaps them on the counter before me and points me to the back room.

“Merci” I say cheerfully

“It was the time when Brussels could sing
It was the time of the silent movies”

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

We took a long walk through the 6th arrondisement. As we walked by St Germain Des Pres there was a crowed gathering and photographing this guy (in the blue sweat suit). Not to be out done I also took a picture. Anyone know who it is? It might be a soccer player- Steve O I need your help on this one.

There is a neighborhood park a short distance from our apartment called Square St. Lambert. On beautiful days, such as yesterday, it fills up with neighborhood people and their children. What a great way for neighbors to connect.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

They are dismantling the Ferris wheel at the Tuileries Gardens- a sure sign that summer is coming to a close.

Monday, August 27, 2007

I was reminded that I haven’t mentioned our house. It has not sold. This is presenting us with a problem. We are given a plethora of reason why it doesn’t sell by the realtor, “only one bathroom, the basement is “scary”, the market is horrible”. All these reasons are the same conditions that we had when we gave her the contract to sell the house. I don’t recall hearing these excuses then- in fact I hear this house would almost sell itself.

Obviously, this isn’t how I would have scripted this aspect of our move but we have to roll with it and keep good thoughts. Part of the ability to move here is reliant on the sale of the house- so there is concern. I’m also a little worried that being so far away we can’t track whether the realtor is making our house a piority.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

What a fun weekend. It’s a treat to think that we can board a train and 1-½ hours later be in a different country. I’m sure it’s easy to take this for granted at some point but we aren’t there yet.

We got in at 4:00 and were met by my brother and his daughter- they herded us back onto the commuter train, which brought us to a bus, which brought us to their house in Brussels. What a gorgeous city. We went into the old town that night and wandered the Grand Place- a beautiful square. I, unfortunately, did not bring my camera and couldn’t give you a good graphic idea about the area. My brother has an intense interest in history and the essence of a place- along with a very enthusiastic teaching style, which was mesmerizing. We also saw the Manneken Pis, which is the unofficial symbol of the city- it is a statue of an urchin boy taking a piss. It suggests a wink and a nudge attitude fro the folks in Brussels about not taking themselves to seriously.

Saturday- I did bring my camera so get ready for an over use of the media.

Flea Market on Jeude Balles- my 8-year-old nephew tried to by a sandwich bag of toy, plastic soldiers- “25 Euros!” yelled the vendor- he wouldn’t budge. This happened again to Kelly- leading my sister-in-law to wonder if perhaps their money wasn’t made selling other things- less legal.

Brussels in known for their expert chocolate- serious chocolate lovers would be in heaven. We visited one of the most re-known called Mary’s and another called Pierre Marcolini- where else can you get a $6 chocolate bar- Kelly and I bought 3, because that’s how we roll.

My niece turned 15 years old where we were there- we had a dinner feast that couldn’t be beat. Fondue meat- ever heard of it? Me neither- a small pot of boiling oils is placed on the table- squares of excellent raw meat and skewers- sounds a little odd, I know but it was excellent along with the 7 different sauces to dip in.

Visited with family, learned a little history, beautiful weather for strolling and my niece’s birthday- not a bad way to spend a couple of days.

I saw my first Magpie.

We were reminded of the 70's, for some reason.

We pondered cool transportaion.

and we were reminded that advertsing can be fun.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The weather is all over the place. Some people are wearing shorts and t-shirts and others are wearing their heavy winter coats- they are both right. People 'in the know' tell me this is the kind of weather you can expect in winter, overcast, raining, cold but then the sun comes out and it becomes hot -very confusing. I went to a meeting today and the topic, again, seemed to be the difficulty in getting out of bed with weather like this. It’s funny but a lot of people seem to have a choice on whether or not they need to wake up- it’s Thursday for Christ sake- go to work (said the man without a job)

We did have a nice surprise, I thought my brother and family were coming tomorrow but instead I find they are here today. They also decided to move to Paris. They were jet lagged but we walked around the 8th arrondissement- very chic. Their children, ages 9 and 7, were excited about the move but 9 year old boy observed that the French walk very quickly and his sister chimed in that they talk too loudly. Are Parisian’s ready for this? My nephew and I discussed the fun you can have with Mentos and diet Coke, trying to figure out a park in which we could carry out our experiments. The talk got bigger and grander until it ended with us both agreeing that gunpowder makes everything better and being a good pickpocket could be advantageous when things got tight.

Tomorrow Kelly and I travel to Brussels to visit another brother and his family. I’m lucky to know how important family is- maybe not gunpowder important but important none the less

Monday, August 20, 2007

I’m making dinner tonight- Quiche Alsatian and salad will be the meal- no problem. It’s a good thing that I have all day because things seem to take longer. I gather all the ingredients at the Monoprix learning several new words.

Crème Fraische- Sour Cream (ish)
Fromage Blanc- Yogurt
Pate Brisee- Pie Crust

I pre-cook the bacon and realize that I have no measuring cups. Set the bacon aside and take the train to BHV after searching forever in my own neighborhood. I buy a whisk, two cheap measuring cups, a set of measuring spoons, a cutting board and a grater. This Quiche Alsatian is getting expensive but I don’t mind spending all this time to complete a relatively simple take- that’s part of what this year is about (I don’t know what that means either but I think its true).

Anyway here’s how it went down.

Pie Crust and bacon. Add 125g of grated Gruyen

Mix the crème Fraiche, Fromage Blanc, 6 eggs salt and pepper and pour on top.

Put in your “Easy Bake Oven” for 40 minutes at 180 C

That was my Monday.
It is unsettling to be in a culture that is different from your own. It is comforting to know that all people, regardless of culture, enjoy putting little wigs on dead, taxidermied animals.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

There is a small washing machine in our apartment. All the appliances are small- space is at a premium. The refrigerator is akin to the college fridge you had, you know the one that never held very many of those cheap beers you drank. I am intimidated by the washing machine and I’ve been putting off attempting to use it. It’s clear to me that I should have studied more in French class as I read the instructions with my inadequate, ½ price dictionary. I decide to begin with cotton whites- underwear and t-shirts, nothing that can't be replaced easily enough. (You can buy underwear at the Monoprix, along with cereal.) I feel a slight accomplishment as I figure out the proper “wringing effect” and the temperature (90- whatever that means). I chose the rapid wash.

Our apartment does not have a dryer. This, apparently, is not that uncommon. I hadn’t thought passed the washer and was left scrambling after it was complete. Since it was a sunny day I strung a line on the balcony. Sorry people of the 15th arrondissement- the view of my underwear drying n the breeze is probably not what you wanted to witness. Although it occurs to me that this might be why the French like fancy underwear. I always assumed it was for the art of seduction but now I suspect it is to keep them from being embarrassed to hang their beat-up, tightly whites in public.
Quite a day. I’m not certain how best to describe it. Perhaps with pictures would be best. Let’s try shall we?

K and I were a little tense yesterday with each other. This, of course, comes from spending every moment together for the past 1 ½ weeks. I had to pull a weapon at one point but I think we are ok. Saturday in Paris, what’s to do? We walked down to the Marais with every intention of going to a museum, but it was too lovely out.

We walked to the Pompidou Center and admired the beautiful people and sculptures.

We continued our walk and watch the people along the Seine play bocci ball or maybe bowling- I don’t know which. I’m certain it isn’t cornhole. (For those not from my corner of the Midwest, don’t ask)

We went here to drink café lattes but found it wasn’t as pleasant as it looked from afar.

We listened to some street jazz and didn’t put money in the basket. Music sounds sweeter when it has been stolen.

I spotted a pirate and thought to myself “Aaaaarg there’s a scurvey fellow”

We passed Notre Dame but didn’t linger.

We looked at books but did not buy.

We went to a special meeting (no photo available- very anonymous)

We walked to the Champs Elysees and enjoyed a movie.

10 hours later we were back at home. I’ve been reading “The Name of The Rose” by Umberto Eco but fell asleep before I could finish a page.

Friday, August 17, 2007

One of my fears in quitting my job and moving to Paris was what would I do all day. I know, I know, It’s Paris but if you’re used to working and having someone else fill p your time how long would it take to get out of that habit? The answer is not very. My days are pretty full. We go to bed later than we used to and sleep until 8:00. Today we had a few errands we had to run. The fun one for me was signing up for the American Library. It costs 200 dollars (American) for a yearlong family membership. There is a huge collection of books, videos, newspapers and magazines. As importantly there are like-minded folks that speak the same language, and it isn’t French. I am very excited about this. Secondly we went to the American University where we met the woman in charge of student affairs. It’s her job to answer questions about living in France, setting up bank accounts, why do the washing machines take so long, etc. etc. She explained that if we want to get something done it was important to flirt. Kelly should deal with the males and I should interface with the females. I suspect I won’t be able to hold up my end of the bargain as my flirting skills leave a lot to be desired. What I consider a seductive, flirty smile others construe as creepy, sex offender, stalker dude. I’ll work on it.

This is a doorway we pass on our way to the library. It’s a great example of Art Nouveau architecture. It’s really amazing that I almost felt guilty carving my name in it along with my gang sign (a flower blowing in the wind while a stick figure smells it)

After our errands were complete we walked to the Place du Trocadero. It’s on the right bank across from the Eiffel Tower. I’ve passed this place many times before but I always assumed it was some non-descript government building. Since I’ve only been in Paris in the off-season I didn’t realize this is quite the hot spot. I’m sure the thousands upon thousands of tourists probably get on the nerves of Parisians but there is such an excitement in the air with all these people. It feels like a constant carnival atmosphere-, which is infectious but not in a gross STD way.

We got back to our apartment at 8:30 and cooked dinner, played with the cat and (intend) to be in bed by midnight. So this entire entry could be summed up in saying that my fears of having nothing to do are not warranted. Everyone should quit their jobs and wander around aimlessly for long periods of time. Of course, I may be singing a different tune when I beg to sleep on your couch at the end of this yearlong experiment.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Even with great hair, which I have, it’s hard to pull off bird crap on the shoulder. This is the second time in as many weeks in which I have been assaulted by our feathered friends, which is odd because I thought the birds and I had an understanding, a pact if you will, made a long time ago.

When I was a boy, a friend and I took a BB gun to the hollow behind my house. We were shooting cans but it didn’t take long before I started aiming at targets that moved. Much to my surprise, dismay and, I have to admit, pride I shot a bird. We ran over to where it fell and there lay a white dove breathing its last breath (in retrospect it must have been a white pigeon- not that that makes it ok, but it makes it…less bad). We swore then that we would never shoot another bird*- and it was then that I assumed they wouldn’t crap on me or talk bad about me behind my back. Apparently, this detente is not honored in France and so I will need to be on my guard, as will they. Birds are resentful creatures and are well aware that revenge is a dish best served cold.

*Strangely enough I shot Todd Mailin the same day with the BB gun but did not feel the same remorse, nor did I swear to not shoot people. This is why I have been approached by many governments to freelance as a hired gun.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

We went to meeting last night and I heard something that has been discussed on this blog before. A young Parisian woman with a very cool job, living in Paris wondered if she was spinning her wheels by being living here. She says she feels like her life is wasted in Paris and wonders if it might be more exciting and fulfilling somewhere else. That sounds familiar. Again, the old adage "Where ever you go, there you are" comes to mind.

I also met a guy last night who, 2 months ago, had his bike stolen- yesterday he saw it being sold in a park by a bike vendor. he bought it back.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Another beautiful day. We woke up relatively early had a coffee and croissant. We met Madam Chemel last night. She came up to our apartment to introduce herself. Very nice woman- She isn’t sick or a doctor so, as it turns out, we don’t really know anything about her.

We took the train to the 19th arrondissement and walked around a park called Buttes Chaumont. One of Kelly’s advisers suggested that might be a cool place to look for an apartment. The park was nice but the buildings were uninteresting, at least the ones we saw.

We walked to her second suggestion, which was in the 10th. I wrote about this area the last time were in Paris. I was much more impressed with it this time around. The St. Martin Canal is very nice and there seems to be a pretty diverse crowd.

While we had lunch on the Plaza Du Colonel Fabien between the 10th and the 19th, I saw an odd thing, which I’m hesitant to even write about because no matter how factually I state this observation I’ll come off looking like a jerk, but anyway here goes. There where hundreds of midgets walking around this Plaza. I noticed this last time. They were everywhere- little people with little, tiny legs and tiny, little sausage fingers. In truth there weren’t hundreds but there were about five and, technically, they probably aren’t considered midget-s but only technically. I’m wondering if there isn’t some kind of institute around here somewhere, which studies these little people, their habits and ways. What do these little people eat? What are their courtship rituals. Are these rituals ever videotaped and sold at a profit? This may be my calling. Perhaps it is my destiny to be the Jane Goodall of the lost Colonel Fabien little people tribe.

Monday, August 13, 2007

I have a little bit of a sore throat, but who am I going to bitch to, I’m unemployed in Paris- no one feels my pain.

This morning the electrician came to fix the little mistake that may have been caused by the iPod speakers. This “little” mistake amounted to $2,000 dollars- In keeping with the French tradition I admitted no fault.

We walked to the American University in Paris, located in the 7th arrondissement, Kelly met with admissions while I sat on a bench and read. Afterwards we walked to the nearby American Library. There is a subscription price of about 100 euros for the year to belong to this library, but books are very expensive here and they seem to have a pretty good lecture series/ collection. Unfortunately, the library was closed- we will need to investigate further tomorrow.

While walking across a busy intersection, with many others I might add, A Postal Truck became impatient and started to come into the cross walk. The driver lurched his truck close enough to me that I had to jump out of the way while smacking the front of the truck with my hand. He said something in French and I told him to “Fuck off.” I am not doing my part to aid French/ U.S. relations. I need a good retort in French for the next time this happens. I believe you can refer to someone as a “punta de merde” (whore of shit) to express the same sentiment, but that might be a little extreme and I may get beat up. Any suggestions?

The day is beautiful, cool and blue skies. This is a nice street view I took today as we strolled about enjoying the lovely weather. We happen to run into two Parisians who were enjoying the beautiful day from their windows.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Sunday morning we got up early and walked to the bird market, Marche aux Oiseaux, on the Ile de la Cite. All sorts of birdy critters were there as well as rabbits, chipmunk (perhaps the least loving pet you could own) and hamster. We also went to a pet store to check out the $1,500 kittens and $3,000 puppies. At that costs they better be able to clean up after themselves. It was an aimless stroll, the kind I like.

Everything is a little quieter and less crowded in August, many people leave the city for the month. It feels as thought there are only tourists walking the streets. Having lived in Paris for 4 days I feel I’ve earned the right to complain about the tourists. “God Damned tourists are ruining this city!” I said to Kelly just the other day as I adjusted my beret and tucked in my ‘Chat Noir’ t-shirt.

We decided to get a little dressed up for Sunday, on the off chance that we might go to church, which didn’t happen. But we did sit at Notre Dame, obviously a beautiful building, but what’s strange is that it is more enjoyable looking at the people who are looking at the church- so we did that.

Kelly does the dress up better than I and is able to walk long distances in these kick ass boots.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Somehow I let the 5,000th visitor come and go without any fanfare or prizes. Remember how we celebrated the 4,000th visitor? Those were the days. I've let you all down- we will have to have an extra special prize for the 6,000th, something better than the hand lotion and paper towels that I gave away last time.
We are living in the 15th with view of the Eiffel Tower from the Balcony, which runs the length of the apartment. Ponette, the formally indoor cat, has cautiously taken to the balcony, keeping low to the ground. She has taken on the toughened attitude of an outdoor alley cat, only to dash inside when a car honks

Kelly likes things organized and neat, Madame Denise decidedly less so. Kelly kicked me out of the apartment to get a long list of cleaning supplies while she moved Madame’s things out of drawers and ours into them. Instead of going immediately to the Monoprix for supplies I went to Café Cambronne for a coffee and to read, the waiter was pleasant so I’ll probably never go to another café again. The weather is schizophrenic, it’s chilly but then it feels warm. Watching the people pass the café some are dressed in heavy coats and some are in shorts- I‘m guessing the more knowledgeable layer their clothing. I’m content with a cup of coffee and watching the people walk passed.

We are still both jetlagged and feeling very foreign in our new surroundings. Moving from a house to a 3-room apartment will take some getting used to, as will having trouble completing very ordinary tasks. I mentioned that I might have caused a little electrical problem when I plugged in the Ipod Speakers- easily enough fixed in my house but difficult in a foreign country- where is the fuse box? What do I don once I locate the fuse box. After locating it, and translating the locations of each fuse I was still unable to resolve the problem. After hours of annoyance a downstairs neighbor called an electrician for us who will resolve the issue Monday. Another neighbor told us that we could use her stove for cooking until the problem is fixed. As I’ve mentioned in past posts I’m not seeing the rudeness that Parisians are reputed to have.

Today we are going to the market to shop for today and tomorrow. There is a free, outdoor movie playing somewhere in Paris tonight and we are going to a much needed meeting.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The flight to Paris went well. How could it not? I had built up such a sting of worse case scenarios, lost luggage, thrown out backs, missing kitties, that it was almost anti-climatic. The paperwork we sweated about for Ponette, as well as the chip we had inserted in the back of her neck, was never even requested. The only memorable flight issues regarded flying out of our little corner of the Midwest. One dentally challenged security guard told us to make sure “them French don’t eat yer cat.” He was also the guy in charge of the ‘puffer.’ The puffer blows air on you and detects bomb-making ingredients. It should be mentioned that the puffer is a machine and not a person. The guard in charge of ‘puffer’ looked at Ponette and explained that he kills cats when they come on to his property to “crap.” Why he felt the need to give us this little glimpse of his off hours world is beyond me, but it has apparently not hurt his career, as he is in-charge of the ‘puffer’ machine. It must be his home version of Homeland Security Game. He did, without any segue, explain that Mexicans are hard workers….so there you have it.

Our landlady is Madam Denise, she doesn’t speak English, we don’t speak French, although Kelly did an admiral job on zero sleep, and yet we managed to spend several hours together walking through the neighborhood and learning the ins and outs of the French apartment. It was time well spent as smoke began spewing from the new JBL iPod speakers I bought after I plugged it in… and now none of the outlets work. Madam Denise kept referring to her good friend that lives in the apartment below us Madam Chemel, who is apparently either very, very sick or a Doctor, either way we are to meet her, her daughter, or her doctor in the coming weeks. It should be fun, hopefully he/ she/ they will bring fuses.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

It is quiet. What little noise exists echoes in our empty house. The bags are packed, three each, and they are bulging. The cat is hiding somewhere, which is impressive given there nothing to hide under…her world as been completely de-forested.

K and I are sitting on our luggage waiting for our ride to the airport. This morning we fly to Paris to live. We are quiet, both of us wondering to ourselves if this isn’t a huge mistake, neither of us daring to say it out loud.