Friday, February 28, 2014

The Freelancer Dance

Being a freelancer anywhere is well... odd... frustrating... tricky at best... painful in a despairing sort of way at worst. Though of course it can also provide substantial profit when successful, in addition to very fulfilling amounts of flexibility and freedom. The sad reality is that most people have very little interest in your finances, your schedule, or your needs. And how can you really blame them? Freelancing work typically consists of jobs and services that are extras or icing on the cake. They are the first to go when money becomes an issue or timing gets in the way. With any luck, you can find prospective clients who will be respectful and courteous, giving some sort of warning when things will change, pay on time, and all that. In less desirable circumstances, you can run into people who borderline con artists and seem to be completely oblivious to other people even existing in their realm. 

However, being a freelancer in a foreign country adds an extra special amount of pitfalls. Cultures vary, people have different standards, and expect different things than you are used to. In France, I teach English as a foreign language. I learned this skill through a TEFL program I took in Paris two years ago. When I returned to NYC, I was able to make my way into the world of English language schools and ultimately private students, finding a rather large amount of fulfillment in teaching my native tongue. Though I'm not a particularly huge fan of grammatical nuance (or at least teaching it), I clearly love words, vocabulary, and creative expression. I have been very fortunate to have built a small client base of students who I have a very positive relationship with. I have learned some business skills along the way, being sure to charge in advance, implement a cancellation policy, and not lower my rates no matter how many times someone wills me to do so. 

In NYC, I had my same mix of helpful and less than compliant students. People run late without messaging, cancel last minute, disappear or ask for money back when they decide to stop taking lessons. It's the same in any field, no matter the subject. The difference in France is that you're not only dealing with the language barrier, you're also dealing with the cultural one. Vacations are law here. Kids don't study while on break, and there are a LOT of breaks. 5-30 minutes late is on time, so while I may run like a madwomen through metros to make it from one place to another, I could just as easily sit waiting for 20 minutes once I get there. Perhaps it's just the English teacher thing, but running your enterprise like a real business seems to be a bit formal for many. I check in on schedules, notify when a payment is complete via email, and I have learned the hard way that making sure things are in writing is the absolute most important way to deal with your issues.

There are many ways in which this interaction is clearly like a dance. The graceful back and forth, the give and take, the artful subtlety of painful niceties. You can get too close and take things personally, or stay too closed off and remain disconnected. In the moment, it can be intensely satisfying, making you glow with the accomplishment of a creative task. On the other hand, sometimes you feel like you've pulled a muscle after bending over backwards for those who don't particularly care. When fluid and consistent, like a graceful waltz, the world is your oyster. You have the flexibility to make your own schedule, command your own affairs, travel, see friends, live life. Other times? You feel like you've been krumping for hours with nothing to show for it and just want to take a big ole nap. The Freelancer Dance is inspiring and exhausting, uplifting and depressing, never a dull moment in a life on the dance floor.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dix Mille-Feuilles


To soul-lovers around the world, I thank you for your time.
For reading of my antics and supporting silly rhyme.

In times of epic travel one will often miss their friends, 
Though living in the moment leaves nostalgia till the end.

My thirst for love and travel will combine in art and song,
I hope my fellow creatures will not pause to come along.

Emotions and absurdity combine to form my best,
The roller coaster of enchanted brains create some zest.

From NYC to Paris, seeing London when I can,
the South of France provided so much more than just a tan.

And several times in Ireland, of magic, myth, and lore,
Oft kissed by prince and leprechauns, I hope there's always more!

And in the future craving a continued life of bliss,
I plan to stay abroad and see the world I shouldn't miss.

So thank you once again, I bid a fond merci à tous,
A perfect dix mille-feuilles requires ingredients like you. 

Monday, February 24, 2014

High School Reunion: Part Paris

And off from the emerald-encrusted slopes of Ireland to the light bejeweled metropolis of Paris... Tragically, Dancer Friend was unable to get time off from school to join us, so our merry little quartet became a slightly less exuberant, though none the less enthusiastic, little trio. I would label our next few days in my current homeland as a bit of a "Tour de Nourriture". Each day, after aggressive sight-seeing, peppered with tasty treats abound, we found ourselves indulging in the finest French cuisine. 

One of my two compatriots had never visited Paris before, so we spent our first day meeting at their adorably cute hotel in the 5th Arrondissement so that we could start our day's promenade in St-Michel. Before going too far, however, we wandered into Le Marais for a typical French lunch at a café. I realized I hadn't had any vegetables all weekend in Ireland, so I made sure to have a salad to go along with our shared plate of frites. From there, we strolled through the heart of touristy Paris, past Notre Dame, Shakespeare & Co, Rue de la Huchette, down Rue de Rivoli, past the Louvre, Pont des Artistes, through the Jardin des Tuileries, and up to the Champs Elysées. We made our way up the great avenue, popping into La Durée to view the exquisitely expensive macarons, and ended the first leg of our jaunt at the Arc de Triomphe. From there, we hopped on the metro to the Eiffel Tower, not venturing to the top due to the excessive lines, and ran over to Trocadéro for the really good pics. For whatever reason, Paris was enjoying one of its first days of consistent sunshine and we were happy to be exploring its many layers amidst the glare of afternoon warmth. Before heading out for the evening, I invited the ladies to have a glimpse into my neighborhood and surroundings. We stopped at my local patisserie, La Flûte Enchantée (the Enchanted Flute, what could be more appropriate?) and picked up a variety of caramel, chocolate, and speculoos eclairs to accompany our afternoon coffee, made of course, on my lovely little Nespresso machine.

Paris is not known for its crazy party scene on a Monday night, but trust three ladies from Connecticut to tap into the underbelly of week day ridiculousness. I brought them over to Rue Mouffetard so we could enjoy a menu of traditional French fare and try out some escargots for those who had never indulged... The street was pretty dead, to be honest, but we chose a cosy little spot that had a few people dining and settled ourselves in with a bottle of wine. Almost immediately, the server brought over another patron who apparently goes to this restaurant weekly and is from somewhere in the midwest of the United States. In a country as huge as ours, the likelihood of knowing people just because they're from the same country is not high, but the effort is always appreciated. We all ordered duck as our main course, tried various appetizers and shared our desserts. As time was drifting on and we thought we might be overstaying our welcome, a random accordion player walked into the restaurant and proceeded to liven up the scene quite a bit. It is yet to be understood whether this particular musician is a nightly guest, but she certainly got us all in the festive mood, and my one friend and I were practically forced from our chairs to dance in a group with other guests. When the third of our trio returned from the bathroom, I received one of the best gifts ever in the form of the shocked yet amused yet well duh of course this would happen, look on her face.

Needless to say, I ended up crashing at their wildly spacious hotel that night and missing my classes the next morning, mainly because I was wearing short shorts, didn't have my books, and really wanted to avoid the college-esque "walk of shame" when it wasn't fully deserved. The plan for this day was to go to Montmarte and Sacré-Coeur, an area neither of the ladies had been to before. That tends to be a hot spot of mine when playing the tour guide, as I find it excessively charming, picturesque, and full of a truly magical energy. I am always sure to walk us through the red light district and past the Moulin Rouge first, as it is en route and certainly warrants a tip of the hat for its admirably brazen unsubtlety. We spent some time roaming the streets, the shops, and of course taking pictures of the landmark itself. As the day crept on, we had lunch at a crêperie then finished our afternoon people-watching and artist-observing over coffee at Place du Terte.

I had to jet for a few hours because I had a student to teach, but then met the ladies at a French restaurant I had tried when I was here a couple of years ago. When my father visited in the fall we tried to dine at this particular establishment, but were unceremoniously thwarted in our attempts because I hadn't realized we needed a reservation. This time, however, I was way ahead of the game, and thank goodness for that! The restaurant was hopping on a Tuesday night, and we made good friends with an older woman and her granddaughter sitting next to us, the former of which a) thought I was Canadian, b) couldn't resist giving her opinion on the restaurant and Paris in general, and c) seemed to be absolutely mortifying her granddaughter. This time we tasted such delicacies as tuna tartare, mussels, steak, lamb, and the best chocolate mousse I have ever had in my life. It seemed almost impossible that we could stay awake long enough to continue out on the town after such food coma, but we indeed prevailed. A friend of mine recommended a bar in Oberkampf that was supposed to have good live music on a Tuesday night, so that's where we went. It was pretty empty at 10:30pm, but the music was great and we were incredibly lucky to be entertained by the antics of a drunk and/or crazy man making the most of his surroundings. It was hard to tell if he was a regular, but the bartenders seemed rather tolerant and amused, so he became a colorful part of the ambience. As we said goodnight to our evening on the town, a small group of Scottish boys seemed to look at us wistfully as we exited, their chances lost... But I had already fulfilled my quota of lushy flirtation for the week, so sorry boys.

And then there were two... One of my friends was scheduled to leave the next day in the afternoon, so while I was at class they jumped over to the Louvre for the morning. I met them for some Amorino gelato before helping her get on the RER and navigate her way to Orly Airport. It was a day of classy culture or so it seemed, so my remaining friend and I spent the afternoon in Musée D'Orsay, my favorite museum by far, filled with impressionism and vibrant colors in the setting of an old train station. My friend was going to crash with me her last night, so we brought her bags to my apartment, dragged them up the 6 flights of stairs to my little studio, and figured out our final evening's plans. I ended up taking her back to the restaurant I was brought to for my birthday so many months ago. We were warned to make a reservation, but decided to take the risk because I was being petulant about using the phone, and were happily rewarded. Near République, this restaurant adjoins a wine shop, where you choose the wine you want with your meal and it is added to your tab. My friend and I ate delicious salads amidst another packed saloon and I felt rather cool and trendy to be out and about in Paris, showing a good friend such a hot spot. Several glasses later, the weight of the week was finally pressing in and my exhaustion level was wreaking a bit of havoc. At 6am the next morning when I walked my dear friend to the Metro to assist her with embarking on her journey to Charles de Gaulle airport, I was sad to bid farewell to the remaining of our jolly quartet, but also quite relieved to sleep a bit more when returning to my apartment.

It seems almost a miracle that 4 ladies having such different careers and paths in life could still be friends after 20+ years. We laughed, we ate, we drank, and we traveled almost surprisingly well together as a foursome. Now that I officially have the travel addiction, I will be planning more trips and inviting more visitors as soon as possible.