Thursday, May 29, 2014

Post-Semester Hangover

When the school year comes to a close, some students throw their hats in the air, barely taking the time to acknowledge any of their accomplishments, practically tripping over themselves en route to parties, travel, and relaxation. Others choose the opposite path, carefully relishing in their achievements, planning their next strategic move, and mourning the lost hours spent on work, learning, and a jam-packed schedule. I myself have always landed somewhere in the middle. While I pined for adventure amidst my final days of class, tormented by the evils of French grammar, and anxious for some rest, I also know myself well enough to know that the second (And I mean the exact SECOND) I realize that I have excessive time on my hands, my brain begins to formulate all manner of fantastical notion, ranging from bright and shiny holiday splendour to down and dirty pangs of nightmare and melancholy. While no brain under the sun can ever truly rest from thought, mine is eternally embarking on some sort of race for how-many-thoughts-can-you-think-in-a-second-span-on-a-widely-emotional-range-rather-than-giving-yourself-a-neurotic-nap.

Don't get me wrong, I love my downtime and alone time just as much as the next person, but I rarely enjoy it when not the result of a busy bee mentality. I was the kid who thought, yay summer! Then quickly started yearning for fall, the change of seasons, and the beginning of a new story. I am an extrovert, an emotional loon, and a creative type who thrives on activity. So as the final days of class came to a slow and bittersweet end and I literally bathed in a few mornings of sleeping past 6 or 7am, I very quickly started wondering what I would do with those mornings now that they are free. I also “enjoyed” that not so pleasant sensation when your body realizes the shift in schedule and you feel like you have been run over by a truck slash borderline sick and/or hungover. I've never enjoyed sleeping late, I feel like I am missing out on the day, but I am also not one to wake up at the crack of dawn, announcing huzzah! Time for a spritely early morning run! I can slip into lethargy just as easily as the next person, but as anyone who has ever lived with me knows, Angela plus inactivity equals DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!

And so the summer begins, with a schedule ready to carve like little woodland creatures anxious to feather my brow, plump my ruffles, and magically manufacture a stunning gown, the stitchery worthy of Smithsonian status. And why not that exact scenario? One of my friends from summer theatre days once told me that if I had a magical power it would be the ability to shrill so loudly that I could beckon woodland creatures to my side in an army of fictional and mystical power. I have never confirmed nor denied this attribute. But in all honesty, the time has come once again to embark on a new series of events. The summer lays before me and I have many tasks at hand, but I must organize my schedule so that it all gets done amidst tons of fun! Duh... Of course I rhymed on purpose, don't you know me at all?!

And so, the kick off to this new season was a lovely dinner with my classmates this past Monday night. We had finished our written as well as oral exams, and so, desperately needed a cocktail. Per my suggestion, we all ventured down to Rue Mouffetard, which was much busier than I had experienced it this past year early in the week, I assume because the weather has finally relented, tourists abound, and it stays light in Paris until about 10pm. There were approximately ten of us gathering together, enjoying our French fare and wine, whilst talking about our past semester and future plans. It was rather an amazingly international melting pot, representatives from the U.S.A. (not just myself), Russia, Sweden, Colombia, Japan, Holland... We did our best to speak in French, though the dominating language was, as always, English... Many of us will part ways, several leaving, several staying behind, and some will continue to keep in touch as we make our way through this foreign French lifestyle... This week I am acclimating and organizing, next week, I have to memorize all I can to become a tour guide, and the following weekend I have treated myself to a nice London-bound excursion to celebrate my dear Hot Blonde Cousin's 30th birthday... I feel fairly certain my schedule will become rather full rather soon.

Monday, May 26, 2014


My dear soul-lovers, this past week I have been tragically remiss! Burdened by the weight of end-of-semester torments, I have been feigning a studious demeanor for several days. I say feigning because most of my attempts at focus and responsibility were casually thwarted by my interest in reading books, drinking wine, and general merry making. That being said, no matter what your intentions, the last week of any semester always creates a potential atmosphere of anxiety. In addition to all of my own tasks and teaching engagements, my head was full to the brim with the cruel reality that a year's worth of French classes focusing on the crippling nuance of grammatical intrigue has resulted in a Victor Hugo-length pile of notes but very few speaking skills to show for it.

As I tackled my way through this final week of 8:30am phonetics classes followed by two hours of grammar there was no room left in my brain to embrace anything new. My classmates and I had to combat the increasing desire to rip our hair out and light it on fire while simultaneously recreating the storming of the Bastille. I will be honest that my one great saviour throughout was an American phenomenon... An elixir of life that remains one of the few things that I miss from my daily existence in the States... Iced Coffee. I love Iced Coffee, possibly worship it on occasion, and find that it is truly like an early morning deus ex machina that can fly me out of any negative situation, preferably gilded in sparkles. The problem, however, is that France, while a culinary metropolis of truly decadent fare, does not endorse the Iced Coffee. Which frankly gives me no choice on the run but to dish out my patronage to none other than Starbucks... Yup, I said it... And frankly, I refuse to be ashamed because, despite its overrated subpar offerings, it is one of THE HARDEST places to stake my claim as a resident of Paris and therefore speaker of French. They hear your accent, are always anticipating tourists, and proceed to speak to you in English no matter how many times you say merci. However, amidst this week of seeing the world through Iced-Coffee-Colored-Glasses, I finally discovered the secret to my Starbucks in Paris success: Never give your name in an American accent. Simple advice when you think about it, but let's be real... How often do you feel compelled to say your name with foreign flare? It feels awkward in your mouth, and as names are names, seems to go against your inherent impulse. But as I learned every morning before class this week, if you say not Angela (with the A as in ant and the el as in ULL) but Angéla (with the A as in ON and the él as in ELLE) the result is profoundly different. After a year of French classes I can now say my name in French... The process is complete.

Or rather, the process is on its way to beginning as I am now finally starting to realize how I must go about learning the French language in reality, rather than on paper like the horrifying final exam we all took at a post-apocalyptic-looking building outside of Paris this past Saturday. No joke, it's a graffitied cement complex called “La Maison des Examens” or the House of Exams. I pretty much felt like I was being sent off to the reaping rather than taking a test. Regardless, my classmates and I basically agreed it was a torture chamber of evil and I proceeded to have a whiskey and ginger ale with my American friends right after. In the evening, I was lucky enough to meet with a couple I know from New York. We had a lovely dinner near Bastille and I was officially cleansed of the disastrous examination process. Today was my oral test, whether the words that were flowing out of my mouth created coherent sentences is still a mystery, but it is done... C'est finiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii.

Now onto the summer where I shall possibly be a tour guide, continue teaching, maybe write some songs on my guitar, renew my visa, and certainly travel. I anticipate the stories to come can only be more ridiculous and divine... Stay tuned!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Free From The Shackles

There are many things that happen in springtime, one of which is the fact that I am finally, at long last, after months of being enslaved by what some might refer to as jeans (or most pants in general), freed from the shackles that bind me in oppression for frosty months on end. I frankly just never feel myself amidst the winter months. I love the holidays, I enjoy the shimmer of snowflakes dancing in the wind for approximately a day and a half, after which time my body seems to absorb all coldness in a fifty mile radius and I spend the months of January through April in a rather melancholy state of imprisonment. When springtime arrives, however, (oh sweet decadent spring!) my entire demeanor shifts and I tend more toward the behaviour I sometimes embrace whilst intoxicated... I want to sing poetry while standing on chairs and tell everyone I love them.

This past weekend, the weather spiked up into the 70's (Fahrenheit of course) once again and I officially inaugurated my summer dresses for the season. This of course meant that I had to wander into Forever 21 and buy a new dress to commemorate the occasion after going a little overboard at Sephora. Following that, however, I had a small picnic with a couple of friends in Parc Montsouris, a place I've never been to before, a bit further down in the south of Paris. Not a massive park, but really beautiful and my friends and I responsibly practiced our French for about an hour before switching back to English, all the while eating cheeses, sipping red wine, and indulging in the petit pastries I found at a local patisserie near one of my student's apartments. I had several students over the weekend, wine with friends both Friday and Saturday nights, and was finally able to spend Sunday evening research-paper-free for the first time in several weeks.

Not only that, but this is my last week of classes, huzzah! As the infection of grammatical plague has continued to spread throughout my classmates and myself, I frankly give us all a wild amount of credit for not spontaneously combusting via pronouns or prepositions. Saturday is our big final exam, Monday our oral assessment (which is fascinating since we never practice conversation in class ever never... ever...) and then we are free...What say you?! Oh, yes... FREEEEEEEE!!! Free from yet another pair of venomous shackles, often sugarcoated in French pastried confusion because the language itself seems so beautiful on the surface until gluten intolerance makes you want to rip your stomach out during the aftermath. This is how I feel about the French language at present... Oh so twinkly and romantic when you hear it, until excessive analyzation reveals the bitchy tyrant behind the mask of song. I could continue with various metaphors until the end of time, but the point being that in just one week I will escape the grammatical Bastille and be free... Oh yup that rhymed... Poem and/or song forthcoming...

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Crown of Victory

Today, I commemorate my first attempt at going to a hair salon in France, and in French. I have already conquered the Doctor, but let's be honest, this is clearly a matter of much more gravity. Without my blonde locks, I tend to whither into oblivion, my soul wilting as humidity shackles my curls and the dead ends thanklessly trail down my back as a reminder of imminent mortality. When my hair is appropriately highlighted, however, my roots a glossy halo of hope, and structure instilled by a foreign sediment seeping through my scalp takes hold, I am reborn. I spend the rest of the day sheepishly (or more rather blatantly) stealing (that is to say staring) sidelong glances of myself in shop windows as they pass, a glimmering landscape of life and love...

Sure sure, I'm being extra special dramatic today. But truth be told, it really does make a huge difference in perspective when you don't feel like a drowned rat. As summer approaches and dress slash sandal season is tantalizingly close, I can't help but crave the appropriate crown to complete my exquisite ensemble. That being said, my adventures in foreign language continue to progress as I am constantly made aware of how much French I know, and how little French I actually know. I walked into the salon with my basic points plotted out and for the most part thought that I was expressing myself fairly well. It was only when I was caught off guard by a question I was not expecting or spoken too while a loud faucet was blasting my head that I couldn't even understand the word "temperature" and felt like a verbally challenged 4-year-old. I admit that up until my hair was being blow-dryed, I really wasn't sure if I was going to be walking away with blonde highlights or some sort of death rocker do. I'm aware that the chances of the latter were slim considering I didn't see anything resembling black or a mohawk but you just never know. And since the weather in Paris lately has been temperamental at best (fickle Mother Nature tormenting us with her trixy ways... 10 minutes sun, 10 minutes downpour, 10 minutes blazing sunshine, 10 minutes hail-bejeweled mistral), it is a dangerous game we are playing from the get-go. 

Regardless of all, I was rewarded with a an afternoon of stunningly smooth hair that withstood all manner of diabolical tempest. And upon arrival at my sweet princess tower, my new guitar awaited me in the hallway. Henceforth I can compose music to accompany my dulcet tones and sing melancholy masterpieces out my tower window... yes of course, my crown of golden tresses streaming from my head.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Goats In Trees

When looking through the meadows and the mountains ranging high,
It's possible to dream of all good fantasies to try.

Of swimming through the lakes of unrequited melody,
And bringing hope to journeys that remain as yet to be.

Then off in the bright distance shines a tree that stands alone,
And on its glossy branches are some animals who roam.

In past always quite famous for the rocky cliffs they scale,
Or eating trash from garbage cans, their prejudice is frail.

Why goats would be in woodland arches begs a shocked applause,
For them the search for food defies all nature's patent laws.

Not just in trees will they prevail, for ridges steeped in fear,
Will magnetize their energies, exquisite mountaineer.

Perhaps they have the balance of a dancer placed en pointe,
But logic will assume that magic could not disappoint. 

All creatures of mythology have attributes as such,
Abilities of sense, sensation, trickery and touch.

They manifest the triumph of all hearts that seek a goal,
Enriching patterned misery with brilliance to extol.

And as they waver softly in the world's enchanted breeze,
The magic of the world presents the gift of goats in trees.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Magical Wine Particles

I've recently (as in approximately three days ago) decided that French wine has enchanted properties that simply do not exist in other areas of the universe. I first noticed this phenomenon when I was in France two years ago. All of my friends at the time were very fully aware of the effects that wine would have on me while trotting around Paris (not that NYC Angela and friends didn't experience the same paradox). No matter how little wine I thought I was consuming, the chances were that it was always vastly more than interpreted. More often than not, this meant that I would quickly succumb to exhaustion from which there was very little hope of return. Either that, or I party hard till the break of dawn and the aftermath is perilous. The worst part, however, is that I am very rarely the one ordering, which is why it becomes so difficult to wrap my brain around just how much French elixir I have imbibed. The effects, of course, are varied, unpredictable, and typically contradictory. It's a very seductive minx which often reels me into its coiled layers of subterfuge. And I freely admit that these mystical attributes rarely happen when I'm on my own, or even gabbing with my girlfriends. Naaaaaay... 

I think the combination of wine plus boy generally creates a chemical reaction that results in me melting into a puddle of grapevine-induced delirium the next morning. Dionysus himself usually hovers over me in a cloud of glee whilst my head teeters precariously on the nape of my body, hourly threatening to detach from my frame. And of course, none of this is immediately anticipated in the moment. It's more of a Cinderella effect... The evening turns into a whirlwind of glitter heels and princess wings. Wine is the Fairy Godmother casting her spells on the Parisian night air and all is a dreamland of red and white and rosé stardust. Prince Charming inevitably appears in some form or other, providing the necessary scientific elements of manly magnetism and savoir-faire. It's not until the morning that I am left in a pile of rags and soot, possibly pecked at by chatty mice trying to revive me from the ashes. I accept this fate, as I am in the land of romance and vineyards. I know that all fairy tales must involve trial and tribulation before appropriately resolved. But in the meantime, I shall try to abstain from weaving my witchcraft-like wine-ing too too often.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Education Insurrection

As I continue my ongoing battle to scrape the bare minimum of French language skills while living In France, I have once again had to come to grips with the fact that my chosen lifestyle leaves little or no possibility for conquering this feat. There is no way that I won't gravitate towards English speaking friends because I am not a solitary or uncommunicative person. I talk too much, too loudly (as explicitly exhibited by a Librarian at the Centre Pompidou asking me to not speak so loudly today), and if I cannot express myself I usually explode on some level. I feel quite certain that most of this could be overcome if it were not for other extenuating circumstances, such as...

The fact that I teach English. The more students I have, the more money I make, the more I can travel and the longer I can stay in this foreign country. But of course, the double-edged sword of reality wields its fatal blade and with every new student there goes another hour in which my English skills are put to the test, not my French ones. Not only that, but my two hours a day (sometimes three when the evil voice of phonetics comes whispering in my ear) has slowly turned into a torture chamber of grammatical misery. This metaphor has been tragically overused, but it does in fact feel like Azkaban and the Dementors of grammatical decree are slowly sucking my soul out of my body. Since many of my native French friends have informed me that half the things I am learning are not commonly used in daily conversation, you can imagine my frustration. I had a strong urge to pull out some matches and light my grammar test on fire today... I did not have matches nor do I think this gesture would go well in my classroom or assist my visa status with the country in any way, but still... at the very least, metaphorical objects were being consistently thrown at my professor's head as we discussed the indicatif versus the subjonctif and I pondered my complete lack of comprehension when it comes to French pronouns...

Let's also add to the mix the daily happening which occurs almost every time I go to a store and attempt to use more than three words at a time... Inevitably, I will either make a mistake or my accent will be too prominent and without even asking, the vendor will switch to English. This happened to me at a Cuban restaurant last week when I tried to explain that I had called for a reservation earlier in the day, again at Starbucks (where I think they have a sixth sense and are trained to smell my American blood like drug hounds), and a third time when I went to the pharmacy and sorry, couldn't say the medicinal word "omeprezole", with a perfect French accent. Yes, I feel infantalised, to the point where yes, I would very much like to throw a toddler-like fit and sprawl on the floor in an endless and futile rage of frustration... 

Finally, I have also accidentally fallen into a bit of a side business, involving the good samaritan act of "editing" assignments for university students who "need assistance" with their research papers. Translation? I am being paid to write the research papers of various students who don't feel it's in their best interest to do it themselves. I frankly veto anyone of the opinion that this is morally wrong, as it provides me with cash and them with the ever-evolving life lesson that I am smart enough to do it and and they are rich enough to pay for it. Done and done. The only downfall for me is that I continue to spend endless hours analyzing the English language. 

I fully admit that I am in control of my own life choices and should I choose to devote more time to French, move to a small provincial town perhaps, marry a random Frenchman in exchange for fluency, forfeit my travels or ability to survive in the name of a higher education, I could freely do so. But for now, I seem to remain a wittily articulate, some might say bewitchingly beautiful,  overly English-speaking American girl in Paris.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

La Fête du Muguet

I woke up this morning, knowing full well that it was a national holiday and that most everything was going to be closed. "La Fête du Travail", or Labour Day as the case may be. I didn't have to go to school but I did have a student to meet in the morning... such is the life of a freelancer. The most fascinating thing of course is the fact that France means business when it comes to public holidays. Sure, there are touristy areas still bustling and a few cafés open in my neighborhood, but don't expect to do much grocery shopping, or any kind of shopping for that matter. In NYC, government holidays usually mean offices are closed, but for the tragic layman who works their ass off in customer service, the industry just never ever sleeps. Even though the school system just had a two week break from learning in Paris, the fact that May 1 landed on a Thursday this years means that tons of families will take another opportunity to have a long weekend, whether their child has to miss Friday classes again or not. And next week? May 8 will bring another bank holiday and another round of how fast can we flee to anywhere other than Paris for a few days.

That being said, as I walked to meet my student this morning, I was completely surprised by a wide array of small tables set up on street corners displaying small bouquets of flowers. As I walked around, I literally counted between 10-15 vendors in a two block radius, some just a girl with a small basket selling her wares (very Eliza Doolittle come to think of it) and some a complete spread of mini-clusters of fleurs placed in colorful plastic vases. My brain wasn't so behind the times that I wasn't able to put two and two together and realize that it's May 1, May Day, and that perhaps there is some specific custom here. But I honestly didn't know what the real hubbub was about and why so many people were hawking their merchandise.

Either way, I am a complete sucker for anything miniature and cute and unnecessary. Though, I would argue the last point because what better way to brighten your day than a mini-bouquet? She rhymed, oh so cleverly... The best part, however, was yet to come... After finishing with my student, I wandered to one of the tables that had caught my eye so that I might purchase a perfumey parcel. A gentleman was standing there, clearly a customer, but he pointed at the price list so I could peruse. I was about to choose a bouquet and pay the girl selling the flowers, when the man told me in French that he was waiting for change, which explained why the girl was looking confused about what to do with my €5 bill. A moment later, another lady returned from across the street with what I can only assume was more change. As the gentleman proceeded to pay, I heard him say something to the lady, but I wasn't paying attention until he gestured to me. When I looked over, he told me that he was buying the bouquet for me because of the holiday. I admit I was incredibly appreciative and floored but still had no idea the exact meaning of the day. Of course I thanked him warmly, and the man replied in kind before being on way, no ulterior motive at all.

When I arrived back in my little apartment, I immediately looked up the custom... La Fête du Muguet, basically the holiday of the Lilly of the Valley. Apparently it is the tradition to give a small bouquet of these flowers to someone you love or care about, or even to just wish someone happiness and good luck. Every year little stands and tables pop up overnight to do this honor proud, and I saw almost everyone wandering with some petit fleurs in hand. Little did I know that I would be so fortunate as to have a complete stranger shine on my morning with such a lovely token of goodness and humanity.