Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Day Of Thanks

A day that should be filled with thankful happiness and glee,
With each and every citizen embracing land that's free.

Together we eat turkey, have some pie and drink in joy,
The worst thing on our minds the fam'ly members who annoy.

We think back to the days when pilgrims ventured cross the sea,
Exploring countryside in search of life and liberty.

They say that meals were had united with the native folk,
Who spent their time and effort helping those so sad and broke.

But other history suggests it wasn't quite so trite,
Post many years of warring for the things they had no right.

Perhaps today while being thankful for the moon and stars,
It might do well to ponder if we've really come so far.

When people in our country are subjected to despair,
While others dance in ignorance pretending it is fair.

Today when taking hands in thankfulness might I suggest,
You knock upon your neighbors door no matter what their dress.

Be thankful for United States, united from within,
For that's the only way we really have a hope to win.

A happy day to all while thinking of a life so sweet.
To love and live in happiness is really quite a treat : )

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Wine and Scorpion Bowls

What generally occurs when I get into the flow of a fantastically busy schedule is that I become more upbeat, more contented, and more inclined to stupidly socialize in ways I probably shouldn't... Hence Wednesday night when I was supposed to meet a friend for a happy hour drink and it turned into several hours of several drinks and I teetered tottered home with various nonsensical thoughts rolling around in my brain. This particular friend tends to be a terrible influence and almost every single time I think it will be a quick, casual drink before dinner. Because of this not so mystifying logic, I neglect to eat a proper dinner, assuming I can go home and ravenously satiate before floating off to bed. Instead, the metro decided to stop two stations away from our chosen location, so I took a line that brought me about 25 minutes away from my destination, causing me to be about 45 minutes late for my rendezvous. Word to the wise... I allow public transit to infuriate me sometimes, and since I am never quiet about my feelings, I admittedly arrived a whirring whizzing tornado. This of course led me to drink my first glass of wine too quickly and settle in to the slippery guidance of my companion. All I know is that while we ordered a cheese plate at some point, we also ended up with a full bottle of wine after drinking several glasses already, and nothing about my small little body and unfed little tum tum was super happy with this decision the next day. I do not say any of this to glamorize my idiocy, just to comment on the fact that you should never ever listen to a boy who can clearly drink you under the table and likes to comment on past dalliances while stealing your hat... Intrigue... Mute...

Happily, I had a slightly classier evening two days later when I met one of my American friends for cocktails in Pigalle.... the Red Light District. As we all know by now, I heart the Moulin Rouge, I adore Montmarte, and I simply relish the fact that the seediest neighborhood in Paris is intertwined throughout. I had been told a while back about a few bars in that area that make amazing cocktails, so my friend and I decided to meet at a venue called "Dirty Dick"... Yup... But even more amusing is the fact that it's actually a tikki bar, with all sorts of crazy tropical paraphernalia hanging about. One quick scan down the cocktail list and we realized at once that we had to share a Scorpion Bowl for two. They gave us comically long straws to use, I assume because people often drink these while sharing a table. Since the bar was about three inches away (we got there on the early side and actually managed to snag some seats!) they were wonderfully unnecessary. The cocktails were delicious, however, and we followed the Scorpion Bowl with two banana salted caramel drinks called the "Monkey Seed, Monkey Screwed"... Yummmz... After this we popped across the street to another place christened "Glass" and while this bar was a lot darker and more cramped, we highly enjoyed the strobe light and the fact that they had honest to goodness slushy machines.

From lushy wine drinking to classy (relatively) cocktails, it was a banner few days out on the town... And next up? Brother, sister-in-law, and best baby in the history of any world and other parallel universe slash fantasyland ever are visiting this week, wahoo!!!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Déjà Vu

As so often happens with the ways of the world, people develop patterns, situations move in cycles, and strange things occur in a manner that makes you feel fairly positive  it has all happened once before. The past few weeks have been a bit of a déjà vu for me, a phrase I feel is even more appropriate now that I live in French-speaking country. After a rowdy kickoff to the beginning of the school year, traveling to eastern Europe, figuring out my schedule, and trying to make room for a social life, I found myself ensconced in a bit of a financial catastrophe for a while. The life of a freelancer means that along with flexibility and independence, you face the inherent pitfalls of instability. Students canceling or rescheduling left and right resulted in me broker than broke. I barely made it through Barcelona and that was only because my dear Daddy would never left his beautiful blonde baby starve. Post-holiday sanctuary, I once again had to face the inevitable realities of financial despair. The problem of course is that because of my school schedule and the commitments involved with my apartment situation, it is difficult to find a job that will be flexible enough to really work. That didn't stop me from searching but it certainly added a haze of melancholy gloom to the proceedings. 

Happily, just as happened last year when I was figuring out how on earth I would afford my trip home for the holidays, it rained and then it poured. I breathed, believed and then received. Not only was I able to land a job teaching the TOEFL exam at a school in my arrondissement, but it fits perfectly in my schedule and is a fantastic addition to my other pursuits. This of course meant that many disappearing students began reappearing immediately and my seemingly stagnant schedule is now fit to burst. The only negative aspect is that I now have no idea how to find time for my new running regime and school feels less tolerable than ever now that I would rather be doing one billion more productive things at that time. However, if you know me at all, you know full well that I thrive on being busy and active and social. I am a happier person as a result, and my energy level skyrockets. 

And if we are going for the theme of cyclical events, after going out with a bit of a Scottish douche bag in the early fall, this is just about the time I should meet a guy who seems amazing on every level, likes me a lot, and than magically disappears via distance and/or French film director tendencies to overemotionally want all of his cake and to eat it too. Oooooh the most wonderful time of the year...

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Parisian Ectoplasm

The biggest hurdle I frequently face in Paris is the weather. London may have the reputation for inclement elements, with its downpours and fog and Dickens-like dampness, but in my opinion Paris is equally as torrential if not worse. Though there are days filled with sun and light and even occasional heat in the summertime, the gloom that permeates the atmosphere when the clouds linger overhead is virtually oppressive. There is forever a dampness in the air that does nothing good for my spirits and, once cold is added into the mix, makes me want to nestle in a mountain of blankets until spring reappears. Not to mention the fact that it utterly destroys any attempt to create curls of happiness that halo my face and provide a buffer that effectively wards off evil. Instead, it adds a layer of melancholy to the already brooding French spirit that I frankly feel strangled by, especially after a night of one too many glasses of wine. Hangover plus gloom equals unnecessary angst. 

In many ways, this pervading ambiance reminds me of the river of pink slime that saturated the sewers of NYC in that classic film, Ghostbusters 2. The city and its inhabitants grew increasingly cranky, bitter, and proactively mean as the ectoplasm filled their souls with negativity. While New Yorkers are stereotypically known for a lifestyle of fast-paced egocentric haze, they are not generally known for being proactively vicious. However, who wouldn't be aversely affected by overflowing slime, even if it does happen to be the best color in the history of the world ever? At any rate, I often feel like the damp clouds hovering over the Parisian skyline affect the natives in a similar way. The French are known for a strain of melancholy and inherent need to question optimism, wearing black, protesting for the sake of it, and generally feeling disgruntled for no reason. They are not unfeeling or aggressive or even sad. But the fog of angst finds its way into the toughest skin around on those days when the sun refuses to shine. Either that, or the gloom is actually the product of the Parisian spirit, making them more akin to the paranormal beings wreaking havoc on society... But let's not go there... As November is finally in full swing, I remain thankful for my location in the world and the culture I try (sometimes fruitlessly) to immerse myself in, but I can't deny that I am quite excited for visits from home, the holidays, and possibly a future of one day living farther south.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

5K 5 Stars

Some time ago, I made the grand declaration that I would one day involve myself in a half-marathon. It's possible some scoffed, some rolled their eyes, some attempted to smile supportively while secretly suppressing their doubt... Well fine, ye of little faith. Yesterday I began my journey to prove you all wrong, as I successfully and triumphantly participated in my first 5k ever... Cheers! Fireworks! Desperate attempts not to want to kiss me on the mouth! But seriously, it was absolutely a satisfying accomplishment.

This particular event was called "Run In The Dark" and I found out about it via an Irish Meetup Group I receive emails from. I have never actually participated in one of this group's events, but it seemed the perfect time to try my hand at a 5k. I really had no idea what to expect, though a couple of days before we received an informational email that said where we had to meet and what we had to do, etc... The email made it clear that it was a relatively informal event, but I still somehow expected there to be more people than we ended up running with. The meetup point was at a drugstore on the Champs Elysées, right near the Arc de Triomphe. I met my friend near her metro stop and we walked over together. Once we arrived, it became clear that, while we were given cute running bags with the logo on it and LED strips to wear on our arms, it really was a very casual setup. There were only about 50 people in the end, many knew each other, and my friend refused to wear the Unicorn mask I gave her in honor of our team name "Unicorns in Paris". In addition, most of the participants seemed to a) have done this run at least once before and b) be actual runners who don't feel their lungs giving out after a brisk walk. Frankly, after we took a group photo and I had barely gotten my backpack placed appropriately behind, we were off without further ado! Running down the Champs Elysées with the wind in our hair, tourists whizzing by, and thankfully a clear crisp night overhead.

Happily, there were stoplights here and there that provided us with a very necessary respite. And since my friend suffered a small injury last week, I was required to walk with her at various points. I say this not to point the blame, but to suggest that, while my lungs were screaming I seemed numb to their plight, it was probably best I took a breather when I could. In the end, I was frankly shocked that I ran a good 90% of the way and probably could have kept going in the end if I had to. Our finish line was under the Eiffel Tower so with the lights of Paris piercing the sky and glasses of champagne divvied out, there was really no negative to the scenario. I feel incredibly proud and already a bit addicted to the idea of doing it again... That being said, I already found another race next month in which you have to wear a Santa suit. Yes, we signed up, yes it's 10k (the 6k offered doesn't involve costumes), and yes I will probably have to walk half the distance... But even so, Christmicorns here we come!!!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Buenas Noches Barcelona!

After such a full day of running around Barcelona after a late night of drinking around Barcelona, I woke up Sunday morning realizing that I had clearly not drank enough water. If you know me at all, you are aware that I have bizarro world issues with dehydration, and seem to be ultra sensitive to internal as well as external elements affecting my body. I need to drink about twice as much water as normal people to feel hydrated and therefore happy and healthy and not super cranky. I also need to eat protein and vegetables and not be left hungry for large periods of time. The worst part is that I am sometimes completely unaware of these repercussions until someone else points out just how bitchy I have become. That being said, I did not wake up in a foul mood, I just wished I could attach a banana bag to my arm and/or momentarily transfigure myself into a sponge. 

My Father had suggested we meet near their hotel circa 9:30am for a quick coffee and pastry. They had breakfast included with their hotel and would be up at around 7am anyway, so this was mainly for the purpose of feeding me and so that we could see each other before they had to make their way to the cruise ship. We had hoped to be able to meet again in the afternoon, but since the ship was docked further away than we thought and what with the hassle of boarding, etc... It wasn't going to be possible. Still, I met them at a MacDonald's of all places, partly because my Dad seems to be obsessed with the fact that their coffee really isn't bad, and partly because he knows my affinity for iced coffee, which is a hard commodity to come by in Paris. I had actually noticed when I arrived in Barcelona on Friday that Spain endorses the American chain "Dunkin' Donuts". I don't care what you have to say about America or chains or oppressive forms of globalization, I love me some Dunkin' AND some donuts. Regardless, it was lovely to see my Dad and Stepmom once more before they had to depart.

This of course left me to my own devices for the afternoon. I made my way back to the hotel to check out and decided I would first head back to La Sagrada Familia, so I could really get a better look. The line and price were a bit too much to check out the inside, but I was amazed my the exterior at any rate, and was glad for the opportunity to get up a bit closer for some pics. After that, I decided to head on back to the beach. I was unfortunately unable to have any beach time all summer, and since the weather was still sunny and fine, I thought it only fitting to spend my afternoon lounging on the sand. 

The most interesting part of the Barcelona beach is the insane amount of vendors hawking their goods along the shore. Many Asian women were offering massages for €5, men were selling tapestry blankets and even more men offering mojitos and various other beach-appropriate cocktails. I quickly learned that even saying no thank you propels them into pushing even harder, though they seem to appear again every 5 minutes whether or not you acquiesce. Now, I know as well as anyone that all of these offerings are overpriced and unnecessary, but I was also totally intrigued by the idea of enjoying the sun and breeze and warmth while sipping a crisp cocktail. Therefore, when one man came by with his tray of drinks I asked how much he was selling them for. He stated his priced was €10, which for a tiny dixie cup of liquid was just insulting. I said noooooo thank you, and he asked how much I would pay. I suggested €2 and he tried to haggle me higher until finally agreeing to €2. Of course, when I realized I only had a €20 bill at my disposal, he said that he would come back with change, and he left the drink with me. This of course seemed completely ridiculous, so I left the cup undrunk in case it became an issue or I ended up leaving before he finally returned. At long last he appeared again, still with no change, and suggesting he take my €20 bill to the bar where he could come back with the appropriate return. I said absolutely not and tried to put the untouched beverage back on his try. Finally, he got change from some of the other guys selling drinks and even then, he still tried to charge me €3 instead of €2 but I held my ground and reminded him that that was the deal. Of course when I was finally able to sip my hard earned refreshment, I realized that there was little to no alcohol in it, so I had paid €2 for a cup of lemonade more than anything else. Not a terrible price, though, all things considered. In addition, it added a bit of flavor to my afternoon story. 

Not long after this, however, I decided to choose a restaurant along the water for some lunch. Not wanting to spend lots of money or even eat anything intense, I found a place where I could get a cheap focaccia and a glass of sangria while enjoying the final glimmers of seaside sun. Eventually, I retrieved my bag from the hotel before taking the shuttle bus back to the airport and heading home.

All in all, it was a lovely first weekend in Spain and I was left feeling that while perhaps Barcelona wasn't my soul-city of inspirational splendour as others have already proved to be, I would definitely return to explore more of the architecture, lounge on the beach, and indulge in tapas tapas tapas.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Too Many Tapas... Or Not Enough!

Saturday morning in Spain began in typical hilarity because of course I overslept... I was supposed to meet my Father and Stepmother at their hotel at 9am in the morning. But let's be real, I could have predicted eons ago that this was a very bad plan after an already jam-packed day and night about town. I didn't get home until about 3am, so while I set my alarm for circa 7am, I apparently woke up, turned my alarm off, then fell back asleep. Fortunately, I woke up on my own at the time I was supposed to meet them, so I quickly texted Stepmother, hopped into the shower, and they agreed to meet me at my hotel instead. Problem solved! This was actually a positive maneuver for which I take obscene amounts of credit because they were able to wander around the Gothic District a bit as well. Tragically, I realized later in the day that it was a holiday, All Saint's Day, and many shops including the the fabulous Market were closed. This did not, however, prevent us from continually indulging in sumptuous Spanish fare. 

Before our culinary exploits could begin, however, we walked toward the beach then got on the Hop On/Hop Off Bus around town. Tickets were included as part of their cruise package deal, so they bought me a ticket too and we made the rounds. It was another beautiful weather day, so sitting on the top floor of a double decker bus with the sun shining and breeze blowing was frankly not too shabby. We saw all manner of beautiful streets and architecture, though it was such a whirlwind I frankly don't remember much of our morning route. I do, however, fully remember our lunch. We decided to travel down La Rambla and pick one of the places that had outdoor seating with affordable menus to taste a variety of food. It's always tricky to go to this sort of spot because it has the very high potential of being too touristy and not very good. Oddly, most of the little cafés had slightly varying prices, though right next to each other, and by chance we settled ourselves at the cheapest one we saw. The menus were basically falling apart and I was momentarily concerned with what the product would be. But after a nice glass of sangria and a trio of tapas to start, we had a delicious serving of traditional paella. Stepmother and I shared chicken paella since I am allergic to shrimp, but my Dad went for the classic seafood. It was filling and fantastic.

After lunch we jumped back on the bus, seeing things like La Sagrada Familia and our chosen hallmark for the afternoon, Park Guell, to see some Gaudi design. Sadly, the park had such a long wait that we ended up not having time to get tickets. However, lack of tickets don't prevent you from wandering around the park itself, so we were able to see some beautiful landscape and the architecture from afar. Eventually, we headed back to our respective hotels in order to catch a quick rest or shower and ready ourselves for some more Spanish nourishment. 

I messaged my friend in Barcelona to ask her advice on a good tapas place for the evening. She recommended a few of them and we decided to go to a restaurant called La Flauta. The family and I chose a meeting spot so we could travel most of the way together. Of course, we had forgotten that not everything was open on this day after Halloween. The place was closed, we were all starting to get a bit cranky and we ultimately decided to walk even farther to their sister location that was apparently open despite the day. Though it took a little while to arrive, once we were seated in this well-lit, festive environment we were quite happy. Another pitcher of sangria, some more delicious tapas, and all was well with the world again. We shared yummy sandwiches, a Spanish omelette, and amazing asparagus and mushrooms that I really couldn't get enough of. After another stroll back to our hotels, I completely crashed, though not before picking up a bit of gelato en route ; )