Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Film Faux Pas

Silly mistakes in a foreign country always make for great fun, especially if you are any sort of real traveler, as you feel compelled to accept the mistake and go with it rather than make a fuss. That being said, today I decided to go see the film "Frozen", or "La Reine des Neiges" en français. I purchased my ticket online and strolled down to the Champs Elysées after teaching a two hour class to a five year old. I picked up a sandwich, bought some Maltesers, and happily made my way to the theatre. Now, in this day in age, paper tickets are simply a thing of the past. You don't even need a ticket so much as a barcode on your smart phone, providing very little information, but allowing you to cruise right through the ticket line without hassle. After I made it through the ticket "ripper" and to a staircase pointing half of the theatres upstairs and half down, I realized that I had no idea which theatre I was supposed to go to. So, taking out my handy phone, I opened up the pdf ticket I was emailed and saw the number 8 emblazoned on my screen. I henceforth wandered down the staircase to theatre 8, and while I did in fact wonder for a moment why there were no signs outside any of the doors to designate which movie was playing where, when I entered the theatre, the movie hadn't started and other people were wearing 3D glasses too. Done and Done. 

As the trailers came on and the movie was about to begin (at the exact time I had been anticipating), I made myself comfortable, opened up my snacks and donned my 3D goggles. But just as I was about to relish in the technicolor animation of a modern Disney classic, the silence of space broken by the voices of George Clooney and Sandra Bullock soon intervened.... Whaaaaaaat?! I would not be listening to the vocal stylings of Idina Menzel and Jonathan Groff after all, I would instead by harnessed in the reigns of a blockbuster action flick. Let's just say it was like assuming you will be walking into Munchkinland but being swept up by the twister instead. I admit there was a hot 5 seconds where I wondered if I should high tail it out of infamous theatre "8" and find my way to the magical layer of fantasy song, but decided to embrace the error at long last. I was fearful for a few minutes that the thrilling jolts of being trapped in space would make my head explode, but in the end was entertained by a rather satisfying adventure. Since I randomly had an amazing dream about George Clooney last night, I assume it was ultimately cosmic intervention.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Happy Australia Day!

Away we go down under to the Aussie world below,
Where Big Smoke city dwellers and Banana Benders go!
From city life in Brisvegas to Sandgropers in Perth,
a Walkabout will add an air of unrelated mirth!

But beware the Darling Showers or the Joeys hopping by,
They sound quite cute but neither will bring Prezzies from the sky.
The outback may be beautiful, Fair Dinkum some might say,
Give it a Burl, but Larrikins will laugh the day away.

When Flat out Like a Lizard drinking, always do your best,
to Chuck A Sickie, grab some Mates, and have a little rest.
Enjoy some Amber Fluid at the Boozer round the bend,
Some Blokes and Sheilas Raging On till nighttime nearly ends.

A Journo asks you what to do on weekends in the Bush?
Take Heaps of Cobbers, play some Footy, Veg Out, there's no rush.
Give Pashes, say No Worries, adding spirit to the cause,
A Happy Straya Day to everyone I know in Oz!!!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Deus Ex Machina

As we are all the main characters in the plot of our lives, it is easy to compare everything we do to the story of a play, book, or film. We are the ultimate hero or heroine, always the protagonist, never the sidekick. And while we may play the part of antagonist more often than we care to admit, how could we possibly truly see ourselves as the enemy or rival to our own lives? Perhaps there are those who are honestly selfless enough not to imagine themselves in the principal role, happy to support or live vicariously through the actions of others. Or perhaps they simply don't have the imagination to paint themselves into a magical land of champion conquest. To play any other part but the lead means that you are allowing the plot to dictate your actions rather than yourself.

That being said, when we find ourselves in undesirable circumstances, or seemingly backed into an unpoetic corner, it's ever so enthralling to envisage a miraculous saviour to fall out of the clouds... a knight in shining armor, a magical fairy godmother, or a Grecian "god from the machine". The key to the storytelling metaphor is recognizing that you are also the author, constructing the tale and building the pieces that bring it all together. In Greek tragedy, the term "deus ex machina" was created because a machine was used to bring actor's playing gods to the stage. To solve the unsolvable problem, only a great hero could save the day. This is why things like the lottery have become such a mythical image of hope. When I win the lottery I will do all of the things that I always wanted to do but could never wrap my brain around. When the man of my dreams comes riding in on a mystical dragon I will finally have the love I always imagined. When I find I am discovered by the record labels after casually singing happy birthday in full vibrato while walking down the street I will finally have my big break. 

But the very best part about the term "deus ex machina" is that you can create it. From gold or metal or magic or soul-dust, you can build your savior, earn your money, meet your soul-mate, and be a singer. Perhaps it takes time or effort, perhaps it means you have to open your heart or say and do and feel and believe. But the alchemy of your thoughts is a direct consequence of the actions of your life.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Like Frozen Tundra

January is traditionally one the hardest months of the year for me. Self-diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, I generally have a difficult time with dark, cold, and gloom. And while I completely admit that Paris is not nearly as cold as New York has been experiencing lately, I often contemplate the idea that at some point in my life I should attempt to live in a much warmer climate for a while. For me, cold is like being trapped in shackles on a frozen tundra. I'm aware that some people on earth find the cold air and snow-laced lands of winter rather invigorating, but I am not one of them. And while some people have accused me of being overly sensitive to the sensation, anyone who has held my hand in the winter months can attest that I am never ever making up how cold I get. To the point where I once got into bed with the man I was dating fully clothed in my clothes, including boots, jacket, hat, scarf, and refused to believe that it would become warm once the heat kicked into gear... or ever, for that matter...

Admittedly, I associate things like Christmas and the holidays with winter air, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I embrace the full charm of Jack Frost's pageantry parading through the streets, along with the romantic poetry of a crackling fire, mulled mead, and a snowflake sprinkled kiss. But once December has passed, I believe the sun should shine and the radiant beams of spring should immediately permeate my soul. On the contrary, not only does the bitter cold set in, but the lingering glimmer of holiday cheer has faded, the New Year's resolutions are tantalizingly (or tormentingly) irritable, and the melancholy arrives. And as a person whose fuel is the fire of passion and warmth, I find that being chilled of feeling just does not serve me well. 

I've discussed the word "melancholy" with some of my French friends in past, and I find it is very closely associated with French culture at times. In its literature and films, the French do not seem to crave a happy ending or a champion conquest. As I have tried to explain, though I am a true sucker for joy and triumph, I am equally content to ball my eyes out over tragic goodbyes or sit in shock over unfortunate calamities. The issue I take with melancholy is that it always seems so despairingly passive, wallowing around in accepted uncomfortable circumstances. Oh sure, I can obsess or pine or over analyze with the best of them.  I might even be queen!  But I think that's more to do with my penchant for the dramatic than anything else. Nothing is thoroughly meaningful without a bit of angst or a speech. But amidst the coldest months of the year when life is frequently blanketed with a fog of icy breath, I just think that a sundress and a pair of sandals would help ; )

Saturday, January 18, 2014

La Fin Du Semestre

After several months of studying French, I still have very little idea what I am saying most of the time. As I have mentioned in previous posts, Paris is a metropolis, full of foreign travelers, tourists, and natives quite keen on practicing their English. It is quite possible for me to go an entire day using only English if I choose, and though I have been accused more than once of not exercising my French skills appropriately, it remains quite tricky for someone who uses words to express a kaleidoscope of thought and feeling. Not to mention the fact that many people, upon hearing my accent or discerning a mistake in language, will switch right on over to English without a second thought. And in the age of globalization, English remains the universal tongue, a double-edged sword for someone dreaming of bilingual babies. On the other hand, I'm starting to become convinced that only a true English speaker could spend his life deciphering the expansive vocabulary I often use when frolicking about. No worries, however, as I once dreamed of having merbabies too.

But I digress... My classes ended up being much more challenging than I had originally expected. I was placed in a level surprisingly higher than I thought I would be eligible for based on the assessment test. I was delighted to take on the challenge, but as the semester progressed, I realized how many things I had learned over ten years ago, and just didn't have the time to go back and review in preparation for building new vocabulary and more advanced grammar. In addition, my classes were at 8am, a schedule chosen by myself to accommodate the many other obligations I tried to fit into my afternoons and evenings. Word to the wise... Don't take language classes at 8am... ever... especially in winter, especially when you enjoy the occasional glass of wine, and especially when the sun doesn't come up in January until almost 9 in the morning. 

The other downside? While the Sorbonne has acclaim and clout and prestige oozing out of its namesake, their curriculum conveniently overlooks what I consider to be the most important part of learning a language... conversation. French can be a difficult lingua franca, full of pronouns, tenses, and intricate patterns of speech that are far less than intrinsic to a native English speaker. If I cannot use the things I learn, they most likely fall into one ear and come crashing out the other. And for someone who generally can't shut up to save her soul, it just becomes easier to be clear and articulate in my mother tongue most of the time. The good news is that I now have over three weeks off to sleep past 6am, review the things lost to the wilderness of my memory, and jump into the spring time semester of good cheer with a confident French grin : )

Thursday, January 16, 2014

An Extrovert in Paris

No matter how long I live abroad, how many things I wish to desecrate about America, or how many other elements I choose to embrace from various new cultures, the one attribute I shall always appreciate from my heritage is stereotypical "American Idealism". From various pieces of literature I read, to the many people I have met in France, I always get the sense that my shining star of infinite possibility is not fully grasped by my surroundings. I lay out my future plans of love and wealth and various fames to my friends in America, and I am immediately supported by the "go get em'" spirit that accompanies any conversation I usually have. In France, I am often delivered directly with a list of reasons why my ideas are, if not preposterous, at the very least complicated and convoluted. How are you going to achieve that? Do you know why that sounds completely unattainable? How are you going to break free of the societal norms that prevent such decadent schemes? My answer??? Um duh, I live in a fairy tale world where dreams come true via sheer willpower, done and done...

Being the type of person who frequently over-thinks, over-analyzes, and generally goes over the top about most things, I am not, however, entirely irrational. I fully comprehend that there is work to be done and hurdles to be overcome. In fact, I often create such a list of exhausting tasks on the road to accomplishment, that I overwhelm my grand ideals with violent pessimism. I feel, however, that this is generally a soul-sabotaging act, bent on preventing general happiness, a well-developed forte of mine. But in an ambience of consistent introversion, I am frankly quite baffled! Almost everything I think goes into one brainwave, through my vocal chords, and out my mouth at the approximate speed of light. Currently poor and conjuring amidst the winter doldrums, I have spent many days going to class or teaching English, but going home quite a bit to toil and trouble on my own. This, I have discovered, is a terrible terrible plan. Perhaps the French enjoy their introverted attitude. It creates nuance, mystique, and seductive powers of subtlety. But I am not of a subtle race. To "go with the flow" defies my very nature with anything I sincerely care about. And swimming in the currents of my brain can rarely be a positive thing for too many hours at a time. As any true extrovert would attest, the radiant vibes of humanity are fuel for life.

These facets of personality combined with the inherent language gap can cause quite an isolating effect.  Call me chatty, call me annoying, call me American... Or call me a person who heralds emotion and expression as the reason for being human and my mantra to "Love Out Loud" as the reason for living in a city where love is so often embodied. As I frolic on the soil of Parisian thought, I reject the idea that my bright ideas can be so muddled in such a shining city of light.

Monday, January 13, 2014

"A Mark, a Yen, a Buck, or a Pound"

It's a true tragedy of life, that money not only makes the world go 'round, but it can supremely affect your emotional scale. When you have money to do the things you want to do, the excuses usually lining the path to your goals are somehow miraculously clear. On the flip side, when there are excessive bills to be paid or just a lack of substantial income to play with, options tend to seem much fewer and more suffocating. In New York City, I had periods of financial security, though the vast part of my ten years there was tainted with the feeling that I was constantly barely treading water in the financial pool. As a cliché "starving artist", I was frequently at war with the desire to be financially viable whilst also clinging to the hope that art could sustain bills. Rest assured, I have not let this dream die. However, a life of living in an expensive city while often not being able to enjoy it, never sat quite right with me.

Now that I am in Paris, living essentially rent-free, I am able to subsist on a much smaller budget, though the dreams of lofty jet-setting and decadent carousing are still rather infectious. Though I believe in abundance, I have just never had consistently positive financial karma. Don't get me wrong, I find money when I need it, I get a job when I have to, and the true goals of my heart never kowtow to the demands of economy. As contrary as it may seem, I often spend more money when I'm poor, as if needing to feign affluence or just as a treat for not being rich. But in general, I rarely embrace capital as a kindred spirit. The thing that tends to most frustrate, however, is that I generally choose to spend my money on experiences rather than possessions. To be clear, I love my pretty dresses and silly knick knacks, I have my smart phone and ipad and various modern accouterment. And of course I have my moments of completely irrational purchasing, such as when I NEEDed a Nespresso machine (the second one I've bought in France) and just wouldn't let it go. But more often than not, I would rather splurge on dinner with friends, a weekend trip away, a self-produced cabaret act, or a complete change of residence to an entirely different country. This tends to leave me very few tangible proofs of my monetary worth, though my heart may yield more memories of joy and love than many others. 

And while I would not for the world exchange experiences for possessions, I often wonder about things like assets... a word used to describe the financially viable things in your life, as well as to describe the positive things about who you are as a person. I could write a novel explicitly voicing the assets I believe I possess as a human being... love, humour, creativity, smarts, beauty, ridiculousness, etc... But when it comes to listing things that could monetarily amount to wealth, security, and prosperity in my old age, I'm not sure the list has even begun. The conundrum... Can money buy happiness? Absolutely not. But it's sure as hell necessary to fund a myriad of things that bring happiness. As I constantly refer to the film "Moulin Rouge" as "the movie that describes my soul", I use it once again to compare... While I love the Bohemian ideals of Freedom, Beauty, Truth, and Love and herald them as the inherent breath of life, I know that Baz Lurhmann's budget for the film would come in quite handy if I ever actually want to live in a giant elephant... Now onto making the money I need to flourish my romantic soul...

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pastry Epiphany

Three wise men, traversing the sands of ancient times in search of  a prophet sent from the heavens to guide them into future harmony... Little did they know that in addition to crucifixion, crusades, and holly jolly Christmas, they would be leaving another legacy in their footsteps... "La Galette Des Roi" or "French King Cake"... I have never before been in France in January, so I honestly never knew about this time honored tradition. Though I was raised Catholic, I have long since discarded the shroud of hypocrisy in search of more cosmic inspirations. That does not, however, mean that I don't still find fascinating the stories of old, the Christmas carols that I grew up with, and the magic that enthralls any tale of hope. I know the story of the Three Kings, understand the Epiphany, and respectfully celebrate through my raging holiday spirit.

But this cake was something previously unheard of until a mere day ago, when I picked up one of my younger students from school and his mother proceeded to explain to me why he was wearing a paper crown on his head. Realizing that I was not familiar with the tradition, she explained that this cake is a well-known custom in France, and while available in December as well, reaches a peak during January, when every patisserie in town will have it on display. Cake shmake, I love me some pastry, but what makes this specific treat so appealing? Well, not only do you get to wear a paper crown, but you are rewarded as king upon finding "la fève" in one of the pieces cut. Originally a bean when the tradition began, "la fève"is now a porcelain or plastic toy, cherished gift identifying the king. 

Crown... Toy... Cake... Perhaps I am a mere idiot for not having been privy to this tradition before, but I do wonder how I managed to miss out on such an obvious necessity for 33 years.  Needless to say, I not only bypassed my local bakery to buy one at a grocery store because I did not see any crowns at the patisserie, but I clearly stabbed the cake several times to find my precious little talisman without having to eat every bite... Cheater shmeater, I am king!!!

(Proceed to this link if you're interested in further info/history! )

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Comparative Metropolises

Three major cities in three countries in less than two weeks is quite an accomplishment to the average American. Not that it shouldn't be to anyone in general, but Europeans tend to be a bit more blasé about country hopping. You can easily drive a few hours in any direction and if not hit a new country, at the very least hit an entirely different region of your own. In America it's much trickier to accomplish this feat. Some states are larger than several countries combined, and even in the Northeast where you can hit several different states, you haven't made your way out of the country by far. There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to both, and for the determined traveler the main difference comes down to money. $300 can take you on a 6 hour flight from NYC to California and back, while you would be lucky to cross the Atlantic for that amount, only one way. While living abroad I am doing my best to make sure that I see as much as I can, though so far I seem to have mainly hit up places that I have already been to, and even lived in.

But rather than regret the fact that I have yet to really venture too far out of places I've experienced before (save certain parts of the South of France, though utterly determined to return and even live there some day!), I will relish in their comparisons. I lived in NYC for approximately 10 years, moving at least 12 different times at last count, haunting neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan for various lengths of time. It's a large, expansive, thoroughly overwhelming city, full of opportunity, adventure, and extraordinary intensity. I have yet to experience another city that is so incredibly crowded all of the time. Funnily enough, being in London again, though much quainter, more historic, and full of so many outlets of Anglophile joy that I have always shared, I was astonished to realize that on streets and avenues of far less concentration, I was repeatedly walked into as if I just didn't exist. When I studied abroad in London over ten years ago, I honestly can't say I remember this being the case, but this time around I was repeatedly challenged by people ignoring the laws of physics who unquestionably seemed bent on walking through my physical being. Though I have already mentioned my opinions on Paris in several past diatribes, I rarely feel the same pressure to fight for my space on the sidewalks in the City of Light. Equally as historic but more aesthetically pleasing for me, perhaps I make allowances for Paris out of sheer adoration. But who doesn't gloss over defects in the things they love, even cherishing their beauty?

New York is a city of grit and intensity for me, sprinkled with pockets of amazing accomplishment, fantastic friends, and ridiculous adventures, but one which I never quite knew how to master. London is a city of learning and education, where I can dance around in the worlds of Shakespeare and Harry Potter, The Beatles and David Bowie. Paris is a city of light and love where I continue to flourish and grow, honing in on the decadence I wish to share with the world. NYC is "Gangs of New York", London "Bridget Jones", and Paris "Moulin Rouge"... Take from that what you will...

I have noticed, however, that whenever I leave an English-speaking country, I tend to long for that location for a while once left. After a bit of reflection, I have come to the conclusion that it's not the city itself so much as the people and language. I adore learning French, but being such a communicative, expressive, emotional sort, I tend to feel rather suffocated when I can't articulate what I truly want to say. The people I meet, those who tend to know and love me best are often the ones who can comprehend my essence with or without words, but at the end of the day, I do sometimes wonder if half of what I say tends to lose its meaning when lost in translation. The good news is that I don't have to give up one language to learn another. And now that I have come to terms with the fact that I want a life where I can easily travel and meet new people while also visit and see the ones I love as often as I want, the challenge is now set... Live in France, get paid for writing about my adventures, and learn to apparate, right???

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Banner New Year!

New Year's Eve in London... What could be better... Starting the next 365 days of my life in a land and culture filled with creativity and history, abounding with new friends, old friends, and unexpected surprises. I arrived at Heathrow on Tuesday morning, after a relatively quick flight from JFK. After all of the traveling, jet lag, partying, and dehydration I had been battling illness since landing in NYC over a week earlier, and was practically falling asleep with my suitcases on the Tube ride to my friend's house. Throughout the day, I never managed to rest or eat very much, so as the excitement of New Year's Eve began to build, I was tragically unaware of how little I had prepared myself for a night of raucous festivity. My good friend who lives in London is a girl I met in Paris two years ago when we both took the TEFL program together. Many of us from the same group have kept in touch since then, and I have been profoundly lucky to have seen more than one since my time back in Europe. This lady in particular became a wonderful confidante, as I practically lived with her my second month in Paris while dating her roommate at the time. The same man was somehow cosmically placed in London at the exact moment I was this week, and I saw him for the first time in two years that night as well, adding to the mix of revelry, reunion, and let's just say it... ridiculous confusion. No matter the outcome, it was admittedly an evening I cherish wholeheartedly, with adoration for the loved ones I was miraculously able to see, and hope of many sweet reunions in future.

The next two days continued as only my dear friend would allow them to be... full of adventure and alcohol ; ) New Year's Day was spent in the main by nursing a hangover and chatting about the previous evenings events... Who was there, who wasn't, who kissed who, who drank too much, who went home too early, etc... By dinnertime, I seemed finally able to function again, and we all ventured out for a lovely group gathering at a Greek restaurant where I had my first taste of lamb! In all my recollection, I really don't think I have ever had lamb before, and I considered it a must on my list of culinary adventures this year. Tender and succulent, accompanied with pieces of chicken as well, and over a bed of rice, I was quite pleased with the outcome. We managed to hit another bar before heading home quite early, but continuing to chat with a small group until about 4am. That unfortunately made me a bit tired for my plans to tour around London the following day, but it was valiantly accomplished come what may! 

My friend of 32 years who I visited in Ireland this fall was also in London at the same time, so we made arrangements to tour the Tower of London in the afternoon. Though I studied abroad at the British American Drama Academy over ten years ago and have seen most of London's main events both then and since, I have never actually gone into the Tower. We had a really delightful Beefeater as a tour guide, and the weather was surprisingly sunny and clear after two days of torrential downpours. We were not able to see the crowned jewels, as the line was beyond comprehension, but other than that were very happy with our experience. After that, we both realized we were in dire need of sustenance, and since I insisted on going to a traditional English pub, it took us a while to navigate to something appropriate. We also had plans to meet some of her friends as well as mine for dinner at an Indian restaurant later in the evening. I left it to my delightful host to choose a spot, so Irish Dancer friend and I had several hours to kill before dinner time. This allowed us the opportunity to shop, check out St. Paul's Cathedral, and traverse a very large stretch of Oxford Street with all of its lights and festive decadence still in tact. Dinner was a thoroughly lovely affair, great company, really excellent food, and this time I had venison meat for the first time in what was basically a spring roll. After that, my London friend and I met her boyfriend and some others in a bar in Leicester Square. We didn't stay here long, however, as we quickly realized it was a touristy mecca that felt a little too brothel-like when we saw a poor wasted girl practically falling over the guy she was with and approximately ten people watching as a total douche bag tried to take a picture while lying on the floor under her skirt.... the things people do amidst drunken debauchery... But the evening ended with my friend and I bonding once again over some herbal tea, a happy finale to a crazy couple of days...

I took the Eurostar home to Paris the following afternoon, before which I had the opportunity to pop through King's Cross Station, where my memories and fondness of Harry Potter always abound. Over ten years ago, I took pictures there while studying abroad and three of my friends from Connecticut had come to visit me. It was particularly appropriate because those three friends will always and forever share the closest bond with our mutual love of sweet sweet HP. At that time, there was no specific place allocated for HP pics, and we had our own fun pretending to walk through invisible barriers and pointing between platforms 9 and 10. Since then, King's Cross has been totally modernized and even since two years ago, when I took a picture at a small Harry Potter spot built outside the station, things have rapidly changed. Now there is a whole area and workers dedicated to a Harry Potter picture spot, long lines of fans waiting to be photographed with Harry's scarf and trunk, you have to have a train ticket to even get between platforms 9 and 10, and an entire store was built to sell Harry Potter merchandise... Though I value anything honoring the HP world, I admit I think I prefer the older more "realistic" magic of the station 10 years ago...

As I took the train from London to Paris, I was able to reflect on the past two weeks, even the past year, and 2014 resolutions... Seeing so many amazing friends and family, meeting lovely new people, and reuniting with others I had no idea I would see, is always incredibly bittersweet. I love traveling, I love being abroad, but I do wish I could collect all the people I love around me wherever I am sometimes. As one of my good friends put it, though, I have been able to create an even wider network of loved ones via my travels and I have no doubt I will continue to see them all when the time is right. Now I look to 2014 with a very clear slate ready for creativity... What to do this year, where to live, who to see, where to travel, what to create... Love continues throughout... Here's to 2014 : )