Sunday, April 27, 2008

I have been really bad at posting these last few weeks and I am sorry about that. The combination of family in town, trying to write and my daily required nap has left me with no time. I'm off to the desert to think about my life and try to convince to Berbers to accept me as one of their own so I won't be able to post until next week. I bought a large floppy desert hat, #50 sun-block, a suitcase full of snacks and a copy of "Camel Riding for Dummies"- I'm ready. Have a lovely week.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

This morning I was reminded that I’m going to Marrakech on Sunday for the week. I wont be able to blog. I had completely forgotten about this trip. I might have been blocking it out, but it certainly explains all the terrible desert songs in my head- sorry in advance if these tubes haunt the remainder of your day. Originally the plan was to spend some time in Marrakech and then go to the beach but the plans got all fouled up and we are now crossing the Atlas Mountains in a 4x4 and somehow ending up in the Sahara Desert on camels and sleeping in tents.

Wouldn’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakech express
Wouldn’t you know we’re riding on the Marrakech express
It’s taking me to Marrakech
All aboard the train
All aboard the train

The Moroccan company that offers this trip has a long list of items we are to bring- from the unsettling (toilette paper) to the bizarre (jogging suit). Of course, the first order of business in planning a trip is to buy a dashing new hat to protect my porcelain skin from the ravages of the sun.

I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name,
It felt good to get out of the rain
In the desert you can’t remember your name
‘cause there aint no one for to give you no pain

I have no preconceived notions about Marrakech or the route we are taking. We will be traveling over the Atlas Mountains, through the Valley of Dades, toward Tingher to Rossani, which is the start of the desert. From Rossani we will be traveling by camel through the desert and sleeping in Berber tents, presumably with their permission.

Midnight at the oasis
Sing your camel to bed
Shadows painting our faces
Traces romance in our heads

I read the description of our trek from the Moroccan company one more time- hoping it makes more sense than it did the previous reading. “In the SOUTH, it’s to learn, to meet itself one even and to keep for ever in the memory an idea of eternity.”
It doesn't. I suspect they used babel fish when preparing their english brochures.

Our first day is spent in Marrakech in an “air-conditioned room with a swimming pool*” The "*" could mean anything as there is no key to what we can expect to find. It could be * Shark infested or *It will be you job to oil the very large Turkish men on vacation.

Day 2: We cross the Atlas Mountains, according to the guide it will be “covered with snow by the collar of the TIZI NOT TICHKA, the highest collar of the realm offering magnificent resembling landscapes magnificent very colored patchworks.”

Day 3 is a little sketchy. We are driven 7 km into the desert and “acquainted with your dromedaries’ (I’ll save you the trouble; a dromedary is a camel.) We will “attend the sunset of the dunes and pursue your ballad until the environment of dunes.” We will continue to “cross the night in the oasis under the Berber tents in full desert.”

This goes on for a week. Does this sound to anyone else like we might be making a pornographic movie? Perhaps it is the nerves and excitement of a new journey but I can’t help but think I’m being lead into a poorly laid trap- a lamb to the slaughter.

Monday, April 21, 2008

It occurs to me that I hadn’t told you that I would be gone for a while. It was as though a housemate went away but never said where they were going or when they’d be back. Kelly and I decided to go to Aix-en-Provence for along weekend. Of course, had you become my Facebook friend you would have known this, but you opted to snub me.
We are on the train back- lovely first class seats with plenty of room. It’s a three-hour ride so I should have plenty of time to discuss our trip.

We arrived in Aix Friday evening. I had no perceived notions about the city; there was no planning or researching done. I thought it might be similar to Antibes, a city in southern France that I had been to a few time before- it was not.

Friday night we walked the streets of Aix in the rain, it was cold and quiet. There was no one out- the streets were deserted. If you’ve ever visited a beach community during the off-season you’ll know what I’m talking about. It feels lonely, depressing and the miniature golf parks are all closed. The chipped paint on the abandoned rides and ticket booths reveal the true age of a tired town. That’s what Aix felt like Friday night, it was depressing. Kelly and I walked back to our hotel and wondered if we hadn’t made a terrible mistake.

Saturday the sun shone and life was fine again. We loaded up on café crèmes and excellent croissants and fantasized about living here. We followed Cezanne’s life through the streets finishing with a walk to his studio and a view of Mont Sainte-Victoire, which he painted 39 times. There were no markers for Emile Zola and I wished that I had researched his life a bit more. The food and craft markets were in full swing and I watched a Japanese woman photograph a large loaf of bread much to the amusement of the baker. The rains came later in the evening and we hid in our hotel having learned our lesson.

On Sunday, the only placed closed was the British bookstore. All the museums were open which was great. Again it was a day of walking and pondering whether we wanted to stay here beginning next year. The sale of out house is still up in the air but in the next few weeks we will know if it’s time to go back to the states. It didn’t seem that we would be saving any money by moving to Aix as compared to staying in Paris. Here’s the real problem. After Paris, where do you go? Paris is the pinnacle- it’s the top. It is the “Citizen Cane” of cities- what could Orson Wells have possibly done after that (other than the wine commercials)? We have basically screwed ourselves for any other city.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

On the #1 metro this morning I saw a very attractive, young women get on the train. She sat down next to a young man who was standing. I watched as he looked at the woman several times out of the corner of his eye. He seemed shy and respectful of her space but he couldn’t help but, upon occasion, look at her.

She stood up to get off at the Concord stop, standing next to the young man. The train made a sudden stop, throwing her into him. They momentarily held each other to steady themselves. She was embarrassed and apologized. “No problem.” He said. The woman stepped off the train and we resumed our trip. The young man closed his eyes briefly and smiled. Sometimes it’s the small moments that can really make a day.

The cynic in me suspects she might have stolen his wallet. Oh well, it's a happier love story than the last one I posted.

Monday, April 14, 2008

I signed up for a Facebook account and I want friends. Please, please, please befriend me. We can stay up late, listening to 45’s, eating ice cream and just talking.

I'm not certain how being on Facebook is any better than emailing directly but it seems to be all the rage and I’m all about staying current, it makes me feel groovy and ‘now’. While this technology is probably old hat to you I have found myself a stranger in a strange land. For instance, I was informed, through Facebook, that a young friend and her boyfriend broke up- I know this because an icon of a broken heart that was sent to me as an update on her life and he has been removed from her Top Ten list. Later, I was "poked" by a friend of my wife and I'm not certain how I should respond to this. Back in the day getting “poked” meant something else and the best response was slipping out unnoticed. I noticed that Nicole was "gifted" some chocolate chip cookies; they aren't real cookies but rather drawing of cookies. Another person had a bad day and they are requesting that drinks be sent to them, again, pictures of drinks not real drinks. This person is looking to get their virtual buzz on. If they have too many pictures of drinks do they then put a picture of vomit on their shoes? It's all very confusing and light in calories.

I do have a Myspace Page- although there is something inherently sketchy about a 40 something man with a Myspace Page. If it should happen to come up I'm quick to add that my wife told me to get a Myspace account and that we can buy a house near the high school if we wanted to. On Myspace you will notice that I have a plethora of close friends. Leif Garrett, the 1970’s super-duper star, is a friend of mine but K-Fed (Britney's ex) would not accept the hand of friendship from me. David Sedaris became a friend with a buddy of mine but doesn't want anything to do with me. Thank God Charlotte Gainsbourg and I are still tight. Charlotte has stood by me through a lot of tough times. I’m sure she’s tired of my late night calls about David and K-fed, it certainly would explain the restraining order. But that’s ok because Regina Spektor is also a friend but not a very good one. She sends me her concert updates but then pretends to not know me when I see her on the street or need to borrow money- actually she is like many of my friends. Of course, I do the same thing to Leif Garrett when he asks me for money. Oh by the way- when you see Leif pronounce his name as “Leaf”. He will look at you as though he smells something bad and say that it’s pronounced “Life”. You can either laugh or just say “Leaf…who cares?” That’s what friends are for.

So anyway- I want friends. Please befriend me. Please?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I’m not certain what the problem is but we are sleepy. There must be a slow leak in the apartment because I think I’m sleeping more than my cat Ponette. I can't blame the weather; it’s been warm and spring-like.

Today, Kelly forced me out of the house. We’ve been kicking around ways to stay in Europe- one idea involves moving to Southern France or Spain where it is, presumably, cheaper and the other idea is to give up our apartment in the tony Marais and move to another neighborhood. So, this afternoon we took the #11 metro to Belleville in the 20th arrondisement. Our visitors won’t enjoy it as much as where we are now but it will enable them to visit us again next year. It seems like a nice area, although I don’t know how much cheaper it is. We strolled around the Parc de Belleview (I wasn’t prepared for the beautiful view of the city) and enjoyed a coffee on the Place des Grandes Rigoles. Oddly, the espressos were more expensive than in the nicer cafes of the Marais. We leaned back in our chairs ,enjoyed the sunshine and watched the people wandering about. I liked the diversity in the area and there seemed to be fewer tourists- nothing against tourists but the streets seemed quieter and given more to families going to market or playing with their kids than people taking pictures of each other or pointing and giggling at dog crap.

I read a profile of this area by Catherine Sanders in the UK Guardian. Ms Sanders has become famous as a Paris blogger turned published novelist. She snagged a two- book deal for some very nice coin. I read her blog before she became a star and I’ve always enjoyed it, I hope the book does well for her. She needs to get a copy of her book to the American Library or directly to me; some of us are on a budget.

Speaking of the American Library, I ran in to one of my French friends, yes I actually have French friends… well one. He told me that a lot of the French feel that the library is a CIA front. Now I try to act suspicious when I lean against the building eating my lunch. It’s hard to appear dangerous when eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, especially when the peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth.

We were walking down the Rue du Belleville when the weather broke suddenly and a cold rain began to fall, softly at first and then harder and colder. We ran to the metro stop and made our way back to the Marais. The more I think about it, the less I am ready to give up on the dream just yet.

Friday, April 11, 2008

OK I'm recycling a post. A woman that I went to high school with has discovered my blog and now knows entirely too much about me. She has tagged me to answer 7 random things about myself. I was tagged to do this last year so I thought I'd do a little cut and paste action and call it a day. Thanks for the tag Jill- don't judge me too harshly.

I also need to tag 3 other people.
1. It's save to say that Dodging Lions is in even more need of blog ideas than me.
2. My brother Sean's Paris Blog has taken on a decidedly morbid and depressing tone- lighten up man. The deer and cow had it coming.
3. Last but not least I'm thinking of two people that sometimes leave comments on my blog but don't have blogs of their own. Mindy and a person that signs themselves as "Z". If you want to participate, and I hope you do, leave 7 random facts about yourselves in the comment section or email them to me. (Mindy left a question for "Ask a French Woman" and Z has commented on my art posts and suggested I flip apartments in Paris)

Writing 7 random things about myself is easy, in fact everything I write is on this blog is useless, random stuff about myself.

1. When I was a child my sister, little brother and I always had a contest called "Who can make the sharpest pointy” A pointy is made by using the end of your pillowcase, preferably very well starched, and folding a section, about 2 inches into a point like a paper airplane. It felt really good to run this ‘pointy’ along your arm or your upper lip- it tickled. I’m 43, I still do this in my sleep (to be truthful I also do it when I'm awake.

2. I stopped drinking at 33 and have never had an alcoholic drink since – except once, when a Thai restaurant put hard lemonade in my ice tea.- I still don’t know what hard lemonade is, but it isn't a pleasant taste.

3. My parents, to punish me for bad grades, wouldn’t let me get my license at 16. By 18 they were begging me to take the test.

4. Everyone seems to love the “Mona Lisa” -it’s considered a masterpiece. I don’t know what makes the “Mona Lisa” any better than the painting of the dogs playing poker.

5. I fell in love (from afar) with a girl named Jackie LeBlanc in the 7th grade- she had a crooked nose. If Jackie is googling herself, "Hi Jackie"

6. I took 5 years of Latin in High School- I can’t speak Latin.

7. When I was in grade school I saw a boy in my class get hit by a car as he walked home. His mom came running down the street screaming and crying. Even though his legs were turned around backwards he said “Don’t cry, mom” I’ll never forget that.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Monday at 11:00 AM I’m waiting at the Trocadero along with several hundred others. Across the Seine, at the Eiffel Tower, the Olympic torch is about to begin its 17.4-mile run through the city of Paris. At the Trocadero there are protests against China- loud chanting, speeches from former Tibetan prisoners. I climb up the fountain to get a better vantage point despite my bad back because I care about you- the reader.

I hear that there is a pro-China rally at the bottom of the hill. I’ve never actually met someone that was pro-China so I scurry down the hill, camera in hand. There are an over-whelming number of Asian women waving the Chinese flag along with, strangely enough, flags with the Samsung logo on it. (Photo to Follow) Samsung is one of the sponsors of the 2008 Olympics and apparently handed out little flags to wave. At the bottom of the hill the crowd is more mixed- Tibetan and Chinese flag- to two opposing groups shout at each other. A Tibetan demonstrator runs in front of the Chinese flags and waves a cardboard “Free Tibet” sign- it is knocked out of his hands. That’s the only sign of violence between the two groups that I see. My hair looks great.

The French riot police arrive and form a line between the two opposing groups. I happen to be on the Tibetan side when they come. We are forcibly pushed across one street, the median and across another street. We are pushed hard. The Tibetan women yell at the CSR riot police and push back. The police keep their cool but they push us even harder until both groups are away from each other, separated by Avenue du President Kennedy, just west of the Pont d’Iena.

Security is massive for the running of the torch. I wonder how much it’s costing the French. There are 3,000 police and security forces involved in this relatively short run. Among them are 160 of Frances most feared CRS riot police; these are the guys we saw the most of. There are 100 police on rollerblades, 100 running firemen who seemed the most pissed off and 16 security vehicles following behind while helicopters patrol above and 3 patrol boats on the river Seine. As the Avenue du President Kennedy nears the Pont d’Iena the road narrows- what had been two columns of security becomes a single file line. At the Pont d’Iena is a large, unruly crowd waving their flags waiting for something, anything to pass them that represents China’s oppression of Tibet. They yell at the athletes in busses and anyone carrying a Chinese flag. People dressed in suits drive by as part of the procession, they are also booed although no one knows who they are.

The Olympic torch comes near- surrounded by police. The crowd screams in anger. The bearer of the torch is in a wheelchair- the torch has blown out he makes the international gesture for “I need a lighter.” An older man and his wife boo and shake their Tibetan sign at him. He probably was honored to have been asked but he looks uncomfortable- I wonder if he has kids in the crowd. The crowd at Pont d’Iena have been waiting for this moment- there is a rush from the crowd.

Tear gas is released by the police- people lean over the stone parapet facing the Seine to escape it. They vomit and spit, snot hangs from their noses. The protests get so bad that the torch rides the rest of the relay in a van.

I walk to Pont Alma and take the train to Hotel Deville, where the procession will pass in an hour. A crowed has already gathered there- the same speeches are being made; the same signs are being waved- I’m suddenly tired by the whole thing. I wait for awhile and admire the sign that Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe had placed on the Hotel De Ville- “Paris defends the rights of man throughout the world.” Then I go home.

Friday, April 04, 2008

There was a sudden realization today that filled me with sadness. We’ve been going back and forth on the house we own in the Midwest- the renters have decided they might want to buy it but after doing the math- selling our house, even at the amount we feel we should get, is not going to help us stay in Paris. The dollar is in such a state that it has crippled us. I should have realized this sooner but denial is strong and I’ve been knee- deep in doing the things I like that I hadn’t bothered to pay attention.

The options are get jobs in Paris, which doesn’t seem possible or head back to the Midwest and pick up where we left off. That seems a lot like taking many steps back. I also realize that I’m not that interested in continuing the blog. It was started to discuss the move and life in Paris and after it’s over, in several months, there doesn’t seem to be much point in continuing it.

I took a walk across Pont Louis Philippe to the Ile Saint Louis- even the crazy guy playing the flute with that weird-ass portable fountain failed to cheer me up. It’s a warm night and the streets are filled with people. I browsed through Shakespeare and Company and took the long way home. The walk, as you can imagine, did not cheer me up. This sucks.

If anyone has any suggestions let me know.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Spring is a wonderful time for bird watchers to begin spotting and checking off the list the many bird inhabitance of the metro system of Paris. So gather your book, pencil and binoculars and lets begin.

1. Ruby Throated Door Doofis: This is one of the more common and annoying birds on the metro it is also one of the easiest to spot. As you can see, he is standing in the station, positioning himself in front of the doors so he can board the train before all others. He will not step aside to allow the other birds to disembark as he might lose his valuable positioning. His goal is to get a seat no matter the cost. You can push this bird and shout out a sarcastic “Excusez-moi” He will not budge. It is suspected that this bird was permitted to nurse of its mother's teat for a bit too long. The general rule for nursing is if your chick says- “Mother, I’d prefer to eat at Quickie Burger.” Then it is time to stop nursing.

2. The White Capped Pole Leaner: Again, a common bird that is easy to spot. In the train car by the doors you will find a pole running from floor to ceiling. This pole is installed so that many birds may gather around and hold on to it for dear life as the conductor slams on and off the brakes for no particular reason. The White Capped Pole Leaner will lean against the pole with their entire sweaty body. No amount of subtle and not-so-subtle knuckle to spine punches will dislodge this tenaciously lazy bird from the pole. As the majority of the other birds know, you should never become this intimate with a pole unless someone is shoving dollar bills in your underwear.

3. The Flushed Faced Jolly Greeter: The Flushed Faced Jolly Greeter is a carefree meadowlark of a bird; with his beverage between his knees he shouts out a “Bonjour” to all who enter. Sometimes the Flushed Faced Jolly Greeter will even offer a sip of his libation to an attractive bird or a serious bird dressed in a business suit. “Lighten up world, don’t take yourself so seriously” is his call, “Look at how happy I am”. Several hours later the Flushed Faced Jolly Greeter takes on a decidedly different demeanor. His eyes half closed, he wobbles like a weeble to the train movements. No longer the jovial, mischief making Elf he vomits on the metro floor and doesn’t seem to care about his shoes at all. The young adult of this species will eventually become the more erratic Bulbous Nosed Drunken Ranter or end up in a 12 step program giving advice to people that are happier than he is.

4. Bulbous Nosed Drunken Ranter: The Bulbous Nosed Drunken Ranter should be easy to spot and check off your list. This fellow was once a carefree meadowlark of a bird but has become an angry, resentful bird. You will find them having loud arguments with anyone that is foolish enough to make eye contact with them. The best way to flush one of these fellows out is to let it be known you are an immigrant to the country, for the Bulbous Nosed Drunken Ranter is well aware that you have stolen his job, slept with his woman and have slipped pixie dust into his pockets which are causing the sores in his mouth.

5. Urine Soaked Train Sleeper: The Urine Soaked Train Sleeper uses his unusual scent to keep the other birds away from his territory. Notice in a crowded train how the entire back half of the car is empty save for the Urine Soaked Train Sleeper. While we may pity the Urine Soaked Train Sleeper notice how he is reclining across the seat sound asleep while you battle for the pole with the White Capped Pole Leaner and defend against possible blows from the Bulbous Nosed Drunken Ranter.

There are, of course, many other birds to be spotted but this is a good start to being able to find and identity the wonderful wildlife around you as you travel by metro in Paris. Please feel free to add to the list.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I don’t mean for this to turn into a sports blog- trust me I’m the last guy you want discussing sports but last week I saw a rugby match and this week (Saturday) I watched a soccer game, Paris versus Lens. As I mentioned, the Rugby match was violent but the fans were very demur and respectful. Soccer is a whole different makeup. The game is played by gentlemen and watched by animals. The quiet of the rugby field was in sharp contrast to the riotous chanting of the soccer (european football) fans.

Walking to the Stade de Paris from the metro I was struck by the drunken yelling of young men. Alcohol is not served in the stadium so all the best drinking is done outside. Young men screaming at the top of their lungs to other young men who, in turn, scream back a response. An impromptu song breaks out shouted by hundreds of people. This is, mind you, on the way to the stadium. The game won’t start for another 2 hours.

Our tickets are free, a gift from a major French news organization via a wonderful woman that writes at the American Library. I am with the more successful Misplaced In New Zealand. We are discussing the coup in scoring the tickets and the terrible state of our professional careers- although he is quick to remind me that he has actually published a book and won awards for his novel as well as having numerous articles published in a well-respected paper. I mention that I had 12 commenters on my Henry Miller post and that I was almost in a movie- he seems unimpressed. I bust out that I met a very famous supermodel- he agrees that I win- but suggests that I am more of a stalker than an actual friend to this woman. “Nicely played,” I concede. “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” I think to myself.

Paris Saint Germaine is playing Lens, a small commune in northern France. Lens is well represented at the stadium their orange flags out number the blue Paris flags 2 to 1. We walk to our seats and my day gets better- my seat is on the aisle- oh happy day- unfortunately the more successful Misplaced’s seat is being occupied by a large Silver Back Gorilla waving a Lens flag and chewing on a carrot. “I believe you are in his seat.” I said in English motioning to the seat number and the nervous New Zealander. I’m secure in the knowledge that if there is trouble I don’t have to outrun the gorilla just the New Zealander. They must get the Nature Channel in New Zealand because my Kiwi friend seems to know what happens to the submissive gorilla when the dominant male is challenged. He quickly employs the defense mechanism used by New Zealanders for centuries- charm. He gives the Silver Back a great big New Zealander smile and begins to speak in stilted French. It’s amazing to hear French spoken poorly in a New Zealand accent- it’s like hearing the Queen pass gas; you know it happens but you just can’t believe it when you hear it for yourself.

The gorilla is disarmed and unbalanced by the atrocious French pronunciation and scoots down a seat. Unwilling to concede complete defeat he shoves a large Lens flag into the Kiwi’s shaking hand and, thankfully, grunts instructions on how to wave it. For the remainder of the game the New Zealander, a fan of Paris but a larger fan of life, holds the flag tightly, his knuckles whitened, his Lens flag trembling. He shouts a small “hooray” when the Lens team does well. I half expect him to begin picking lice out of his new friends fur.

I have always heard that soccer was dull- I played soccer and felt it was dull. Soccer is not dull. The score is 1-1 we go into overtime. The stadium now resembles Thunderdome, red flairs are ignited in the stands, and smoke bombs go off. Security magically doubles on the field- they don’t watch the game, they watch us- I haven’t needed to be watched in a long time- it feels strangely exhilarating- it’s a prison riot waiting to happen. Good-looking guys with nice hair, like me, know to disappear during a prison riot- but I persevere. Paris scores break the tie and win the game!! New Zealand guy slyly gives me a thumbs up- but frowns sadly at the Silver Back and returns the flag to him as if to say, “well, we did all we could.” The crowd is screaming- the noise level unbearable. Disenfranchised youth with enough disposable income to buy tickets are about to explode. We hightail it out of there and meet up with our host who has wisely squirreled himself away in the press box.

We take the train home with 70,000 others enjoying the esprit de corps albeit cramped cars.