Monday, June 30, 2014

The Red-Taped Brick Road

For the most part in France, it is necessary to assume that if paperwork has gone through too easily, it is DEFINITELY too good to be true. I have already shared anecdotes of multiple meetings at the bank before I could attain a functional bank account, and while going to the doctor turned out to be easy breezy, the French consulate gave me its own fair share of difficulty last summer before I embarked on my journey. This year, I have come across no exception. I went to the student visa office over a month ago to clarify a few matters. I had never received my "carte de séjour" in the mail, something I had to send in papers for upon arriving in Paris. I did send in the papers and was aware that it was taking awhile, but was comforted by acquaintance with the knowledge that sometimes things take forever and to just be patient. Feeling a tad concerned, however, I went to the student office to ask what I needed to do in order to renew my visa without the carte, or if I needed to visit the OFII, another office many of us foreigners encounter from time to time. After a long conversation in French with a man who told me that at this point it was NOT necessary to go there, I was given a list of paperwork that I needed and told to return to the visa office without an appointment as soon as possible.

At this point in my story, I truly wish there had been foreboding horror movie music. The kind that suggests to the audience that under no circumstances should the main character advance forward and/or galavant into the mist of psychedelic dreams. Either that, or perhaps a large cartoon anvil could have fallen from the sky and forced me to recall that while I questioned this man several times in the most basic French to make sure that what he was telling me was accurate, nothing that easy could possibly be true under the guise of French bureaucracy. Sadly, neither of these magical anomaly occurred, and I was left in full technicolor, prancing around Oz as if the Wizard had finally shown me how to use my ruby slippers.

Naaaaaaaaaay. Today I revisited the student office. I had a folder packed to the brim with originals and copies of all the appropriate documents, ranging from proof of attendance to guarantor information to translated birth certificate. I walked up to the woman at the desk, explained my situation in what I hoped was a confident tone, and awaited her response. Admittedly, I did in fact experience a mild sense of foreshadowing as I approached the office. The horror movie darkness and wraiths, the lions, tigers and bears oh my! were definitely circling my periphery. My American idealism was punched soundly in the face as I was told that I absolutely must go to the office I was told I didn't need to visit AND have a physical examination in order to receive the necessary carte, and there is no possible way to schedule a visa renewal rendez-vous before either of these activities had taken place. As I was near tears, I took the advice that I should go to the other office immediately and start there. I went, was helped rather pleasantly though told I would have to wait for my medical appointment in the mail, and thus returned to the first office in the hopes that I could at least make some headway now that the wheels were in motion. Delusions of grandeur, my friends, delusions of grandeur. Having gone back to the first office, I was told that I MUST wait for the appointment from the OFII, I MUST have a physical, and only ten days AFTER that can I schedule an appointment at the visa office. All of this must be done before August 1 and good luck to me if it's not slash too bad I was dumb enough to take the advice of a man who worked there when I came over a month ago and could have figured this all out then.

Fortunately, I have the American spirit on my side, a sometimes annoying and obnoxious quality that refuses to accept that there is only one route to any goal and an ingrained notion that all will be well in the end just as long as I do the work to get there. Dorothy certainly didn't make it home without being scared a bit my woodland monsters and flying monkeys. My yellow brick road may be covered in red tape but as our mighty heroine proclaims, "there's no place like home, there's no place like home". So say she, and so say I! Except frankly I prefer Oz as my home and I jolly well wasn't Glinda the good witch for Halloween when a pre-teen for nothing!

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Two Towers

If you have read my blog consistently, or ever had a conversation lasting longer than about ten minutes with me, you have probably discovered that I make constant references to the Lord of the Rings, and oftentimes hobbits. This is mainly because they are awesome and part of my fantasy religion of life. I have also always had the mild suspicion that I am in fact a hobbit myself, due to my shortness, the fact that I have pointy ears, and my general sense of adventure and desire to fight scary monsters to save the world. Happily, I do not have a hairy feet. Regardless, this week placed me in view of scenery that brought these musings to the forefront once again. 

The end of the school year inevitably means that goodbyes become more frequent, either just for the summer or until who knows when... My younger students will be taking a few months off, most of Paris will be running away on month or longer vacations, and some of my classmates will be returning to their home countries to continue on with whatever goals and dreams they may pursue. As a result, this week I was invited to not one but TWO farewell picnics at Champs de Mars under the Eiffel Tower. Both were for younger Swedish friends, both involved wine and dessert, though they ended up rather different affairs in the end. 

Tuesday evening was a continuation of the pristine weather we have been experiencing this past week. Since the sun doesn't set until after 10pm, it is the ideal season for picnicking in the evening as the sky slowly dims and the Eiffel Tower begins to shimmer quite literally in the twilight. As I was approaching the lawn, however, I received a message that the group was seated near another red tower further down the green. Written in French, I assumed that this meant some sort of obvious sign or symbol that I could use to locate them, nothing of consequence but in a color I would easily see. I did not, therefore, understand that they meant another replica of the Eiffel Tower itself, painted red, and standing polar opposite to the real landmark. I was quite bedazzled by the anomaly and I even posted a picture on facebook noting that I was picnicking between the towers. But it wasn't until a good friend messaged me alluding to the TWO TOWERS of LOTR fame that I really put two and two together. I was resting between two pillars of symbolism, frolicking in fantasy. I think for a few magical moments, I had been transported to Middle Earth.

I was sincerely hoping I could relive this experience a few days later for the second picnic. Unfortunately, the rains finally came in and we were banished to a local café. Apparently there had been a lama stationed in front to promote a new quinoa beer, though regrettably I missed this delight. We eventually braved the out of doors and sat on a patch of green stationed under some protective trees, though I was left with the feeling that the gateway to the Shire had been closed for now. Farewell my friends from all different lands, until we meet again...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Bonne Fête de Fée!

I live in lands of wonder where sweet magic oft is true. 
From fields of endless flowers to the morning's crystal dew.

That stands to reason faeries make a vast impact on life.
For truth be told I am quite sure my heritage is rife. 

The glitter veins of senior soulsprites clearly touched my tribe.
And gave to me the glitter sense to love and to imbibe

All endless tales of fantasy from Hobbits to wood nymphs,
Parading magic folklore out-magicianing the sphinx.

And masters of them all remain the faeries flying free. 
Aloft in stunning skylines raining down epiphany. 

They reign in epic splendour soon diminishing all blight.
To listen to a faerie gifts illuminating light. 

Perhaps a dance of wit and whimsy dancing through your brain, 
Accompanied in part by metamorphosis from plain.

Through spells of soulstream marshaling all faun and flora free, 
The wisdom of the faeries is the world's sweet melody. 

So don't forget the whispering of wind when it must say,
All happiness and joy to this great Happy Faerie Day!!!

Et un chanson sur les fées en français...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Mélange De La Musique

Yesterday marked the summer solstice of this fine year 2014. As I often don't pay attention to half the things that are going on around me most of the time, I didn't realize that this weekend was June 21 and that it was the solstice or that it was the longest day of the year or that in France a celebration called Fête de la Musique would be peppering the streets of Paris all day long. I had asked the American couple I'm friends with to do something fun on Saturday and it was at their suggestion that we pounded the pavement in search of musical ambience. Throughout Paris, musicians and bands were stationed at various venues and positioned along the rues. All manner of musical genre, talent, and experience. Apparently if you have the desire to perform you can apply and are assured a spot. Interesting idea for next year! We had originally intended to go see Lana Del Ray at the Olympia, but as it is a well-known concert hall with a well-known singer and was completely free, the line was simply too long and obnoxious to wait in for the chance to see a singer I'm not even sure I like. Instead, we went back to my friends' neighborhood in Saint-Michel and spent a good part of the evening wandering the banks of the Seine with water bottles full of Margaritas. 

In France, it is common to concoct your own "mélange" or mixture of a cocktail to imbibe en route to whatever bar or party you are venturing to. So we took our drinks and made our way through the crowds of people enjoying their river view and listening to music ranging from the Beach Boys to Jazz to Scotsmen playing bag pipes on a boat. The sun didn't vanish until almost 11pm and the music continued long after. Back in Saint-Michel there were bands on every corner and crowds becoming rather feisty and temperamental. At one point we felt like we were being swarmed by drunken 15 year olds and found groups of street youth climbing onto bus stops and magazine stands. We felt quite sure a riot could break out at the slightest provocation. Eventually, the husband went home and the ladies went to a couple of Irish pubs in search of tipsy fun and flirtation. We managed to have a strange Canadian man who clearly wasn't from Canada and apparently had a wife with a broken foot in a nearby hotel buy us some overly strong cocktails before we made our excuses and ended our night at Corcoran's Pub with a good ole pint. Though I had fleeting aspirations of heading home at 2am, the metro had already stopped and taxis were not to be found amidst the partying street crowd. All in all, I would say that it was a very successful night of random ridiculousness, culminating in some very stunning sunset photos below...

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Footing Fun

Yesterday, I began the epic challenge of "running" again. As in running for sport, for exercise, for good health, etc. I have decided to do this for many reasons, not least of which is to feel much more spritely in the increasingly warm summer air and be good and ready to don a swimsuit when I actually find myself on some sort of a beach. Last summer, I was incredibly lucky to spend most of the month of August in the South of France, lounging by a pool and soaking in the sunshine. Unfortunately, I don't have any friends in the South from whom I can mooch off of, so my beach days this year will not be as frequent. At the same time, France is not a culture notorious for showing off large and/or unhealthy people. And just as in NYC, any moment of light and warmth instantly sends Parisians out to the cafés and the parks for picnics and sunbathing. It is also a culture where most people engage in some sort of physical recreation (and I don't mean just the unfaithful fellas... wink wink...) Running, cycling, footballing, and all the rest are weekend traditions. The one I am always most surprised by is swimming. Public pools are commonly taken advantage of here, something that I haven't really conceived of since my youth. 

I was very fortunate to grow up with a small park right down the street from my house, with a public swimming pool that was clean and accommodating. Though I was never into sports per se, I spent my summers reeking of chlorine and trekking about town on my bicycle. Every day I would make the rounds to the park, local shops, rolling up and down hills, never wearing a helmet and going so far as to ride no-handed. When helmets became legally required under a certain age, I was at a very petulant stage (probably still am) and rebelled against the idea of wearing what I assumed was a very negative and antiquated safety-induced chapeau upon my head. Once I passed the time that I was required to wear one, my crazy hypochondria forced me to believe that if I didn't wear a helmet I would instantly die... Conundrum... Teenage pride versus irrational (though not entirely so in this example compared to, let's say, glaucoma or nuclear disaster) fear was a raging battle of wills, eventually won out by the former. I somehow lost my cycling ways and spent my high school and college years driving a car instead. Once I chose to live in cities the dye was essentially cast because while I genuinely miss the idea of riding round town on a free-spirited cycle, I am quite sure I would in fact be instantly hit by a Parisian smartcar or motorscooter... Sigh... 

In lieu of that, I take to running... Or footing, as some may call it, though that definitely makes me think of a weird abnormally large fake foot on stilts, almost cartoon-esque... I know, I know... Regardless, I have taken to dashing about the outdoors with the wind in my hair. In reality, it's more like wheezing clumsily as I remind myself that my asthmatic, allergy-ridden lungs have never been thrilled with excessive exertion while pollen rains on my face. Along with that, the first day of any exercise regime can have the effect of making you feel like a tractor has driven over your face a few times... Or rather, tried to forklift my right thigh and disconnect it from my body. Still, I shall sally forth with my frolicking scheme to a gallant goal in sight. My cousin has convinced me to try for a half-marathon, and I proclaim this fact as a testament to my determination... And yes, just saying that out loud made my body go, ouch!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

And There Were Flutists

My year of French study is complete... Well, at least officially... Having very little hope that I would pass the overwhelmingly horrific final exam and holding timeless grudges against French pronouns, I really hadn't planned on going to the "graduation" ceremony which takes place at the end of each semester. However, since I magically conjured a passing grade and my American friend highlighted the pros of such an experience, I figured I really had no choice but to embrace the French flare for formality. Plus, how many times do you get to walk across the stage at a grand location like the Sorbonne and fully envelope yourself in spectacular pretension?

As I may have mentioned once or twice before, very few things are quick and to the point in France. Graduation ceremonies are no exception. Funnily enough, our "toge", which I had imagined to be a Grecian-style robe harkening back to the days of Socrates, was actually an American-style graduation gown, fully equipped with flat hat and tassel. I was quite happy that the color of choice was blue, a rather fetching shade to match my sapphire-like eyes. A few of my friends and I collected in the foyer to don said toga and take some traditional snapshots on the staircases and near ambiguously regal looking wall fixtures. We were not told to line up in any sort of alphabetical fashion or arrange ourself by professor, we were merely directed to sit with the other blue-robed bodies in the room and get ready to rumble. 

From what I could tell, there were a few rather humorous speakers, but since I am not remotely close to French fluency, I was only able to extract various pieces of information, like the fact that the Napoleon historian referenced the separation between church and state, and another important looking French guy compared the different meanings of the word félicitations... I know at one point he referenced American Hallmark cards. Aside from that, I admit my American friend and I turned into Regina George and Lindsay Lohan as time went on, commenting on strange-fitting togas and outlandish footwear. There were four rounds of students mounting the stage to receive their certificates, so in our defense there wasn't a whole lot else to do. The school did manage to have a rather efficient system, however, grabbing our student I.D.'s as we lined up by the stage and feverishly looking through alphabetized files to give us our diplomas before we stepped onto the stage. The girl who was about to announce my name definitely gave me a panicked look before asking me to pronounce "Lewonczyk" before she had to.

The best part was of course the fact that amidst 4 or 5 speeches and really spotty piped in boxed music playing "Pomp and Circumstance"at the beginning of the proceedings, there were two flutists providing background music throughout and offering up a totally unnecessary interlude right before the ceremony was over. Despite my mischievously mocking tone, however, I am quite glad that I attended. As I said, how many times in my life will I have "graduated" from the Sorbonne and been distinguished enough to be a part of a truly French ceremony at such an esteemed institute? Until I become the next JK Rowling and am asked to give the commencement speech at Harvard University, I'm guessing not many...