Thursday, February 26, 2015

Jane Austen Days

Much of my life has been spent in the pursuit of creativity and art. Throughout my younger years, nearly every day after school was filled with theatre rehearsal, dance class, or various forms of musical education. In school, I was in band, choir, orchestra, drama club and all the rest. I went on to study theatre in school, continuing to sing, learn a bit of guitar, and head off to NYC to try my hand at performing in THE city. While none of my passion or interest has waned since then, I have never been one to have a single focus that dictates all actions in my life. In addition to the performing arts, I love writing, travel, language, and above all, people. I adore my friends and family and often get completely distracted by them as much as my own nonsense. Not to mention the fact that I am a hopeless romantic who loves to love and simultaneously a hopeless financial planner who loves to screw up a lot.

I say this all mainly as a rambling prelude to the fact that I sometimes find it hard to focus and have time and money and the right cosmic energy to really delve into my creative pursuits. Fortunately, it seems that the stars have been aligning lately and I find myself with a certain amount of flexibility and support that allows me to make the appropriate efforts while also feeling that magical inspiration that comes along every once and a while. Perhaps it's the cosmos or perhaps it's just the fact that spring is hinting its way over the horizon.

That being said, yesterday I had one of those days that truly made me feel like a Renaissance woman. I began my day at French school, a place I am not always fond of being at 9am across Paris during winter when I don't feel that I learn all that much. I had a test, however, so I took it and tried to absorb just a bit more of this crazy romance language. I then proceeded to my first dance class in what feels like decades. My American Friend and I went to try out a dance studio near Bastille, choosing a modern jazz class for our first foray. To be honest, I don't think I've ever actually taken a jazz class, nevermind modern. I was always a tap and Irish Step Dancing type of gal, with some jaunts into the land of ballet and of course whatever Broadway jazz was thrown at me in musicals. But I have been craving some full body throw yourself into a song sort of movement lately, and I wasn't disappointed. Though it was a class for "debutant" or "beginners", it's clear that you have to at least have danced a bit before in your life and have a relatively sound heartbeat to keep up. Luckily dance is one of those universal languages, so despite the fact that the eccentric and highly energetic instructor was speaking rapid French in his flamboyant and thoroughly entertaining manner, I was able to keep up both mentally and physically. Only during the middle of the class, when we were sitting on the floor and doing various leg extensions that my vehemently inflexible and surgically fused together frame was rebelling against did I want to die a little on the floor with a pillow. However, when we finally got down to an upbeat routine in the last half hour of class, I was sweating, working hard, and amazingly content. After class, I had about an hour to run home, shower, grab my guitar, and jump into my third creative pocket of the day. While my fingers rebel against bar chords as much as my legs battle against floor stretches, I am a much happier little student with my new (slash old, recently mailed from the U.S... thank you, Daddy!) guitar in my tiny little hobbit hands.

On my way home from such a cultured interval, I thought to myself about a time when women (privileged women at least) were often expected to do nothing other than the activities I engaged in all day long. French and dance and music, honing skills for entertainment and pleasure. I can't pretend that I would particularly enjoy the pitfalls that came along with that time. Lack of independence, inability to make most life decisions, and a very real necessity to live by social rules and structure. The fanciful romantic in me, however, would not remotely mind throwing on an empire-waisted dress, talking like Emma Thompson, and taking a stroll about the room with Mr. Darcy.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Tuesday Night Fever

For the past few weeks, my weekdays have somehow morphed into my weekends. This is not convenient in the slightest, as I have also begun French classes once again and am working more than I have been in quite some time. Add to that my guitar lessons, dance classes and various other creative intentions, and I can't say that being an idiot on a Tuesday night leads to anything close to the realm of productive. To be fair, I do not go out on a Tuesday night with any plan to be ridiculous bordering stupidity. In fact, I generally have very casual or even businesslike plans that would lend the belief my evening would be nice but sedate. Instead, mayhem oft pursues.

For example, this past Tuesday, a friend from Scotland was visiting town. I met him during my first romp in Paris several years ago, so we decided to meet for a drink or two in central Paris. Another one of our mutual friends was planning to join, so she and I arranged to meet a bit early for girl gab and the like. We headed to our usual haunt, the Australian bar Café Oz, where we were immediately overwhelmed by the mass crowd congregating inside. Little did we know that there was a rather important sports match of some kind about to begin. Scottish friend was running a bit late, so French friend and I settled in with some drinks, navigating around the overpopulated room, and holding court at our usual spot near the back of the bar. At first I thought perhaps it might be an interesting spot to meet a Frenchman or two, until I realized that I could have been wearing next to nothing, and the TV screen frankly still took precedence... Siiiiiigh...

Our Scottish friend arrived before the game was over, carving his way through the intensely dense crowd. Luckily, the game ended rather quickly, and since none of the audience had any interest in the bar once the score was tallied, we were instantly abandoned and left in a practically empty space. This is probably where things went from mild to mayhem. The music was playing, the drinks were flowing, and my new, adorable little outfit (blue satin shorts with a gold glitter top) was aching for some attention. Since this bar is known for its weekend club-like, frat-party-esque nonsense, the tables are quite used to being turned into stages for performance. With Sia playing loudly in the background, French friend and I could not help but interpretive dance on the wooden platforms sometimes used to dine or drink on. Spontaneous absurdity is truly the foodstuff of my very soul. I can't say there was a moment I regretted other than a very real lack of props. The next morning, however, a long, languid Saturday matin would have absolutely been best.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Zombie Phoenix Rising From The Ashes

Late last summer, amidst the slow August season when almost all native Parisians flee the firey flames of the French été, I frolicked into my first Meetup Group. I chose a Brit-themed rendezvous so as to meet up with some fellow expats who spoke English but were primarily not American. It was my first time going to such an affair on my own, and it ended with gratifying results, as I walked away with a girlfriend to gab with, dinner plans with a few others to try an Indian restaurant, and a scandalous interlude with an older Scotsman. Not bad for a random Wednesday evening! Since then, I have been to the same Meetup a handful of times with varying results. The Indian Restaurant crew disbanded, the Scotsman turned douchebag, but I still have the British friend  to girlgab with.

That being said, a couple of weeks ago, I saw there was to be a Pub Quiz night hosted by the Meetup. I thought this could be a thoroughly enjoyable way to get out in the wintry cold, specifically for myself and two of my good friends from the Sorbonne last year. After a bit of facebooking, only my American compatriot could join, but we decided to go anyway and were ultimately very glad that we did. We both arrived right before the quiz commenced, and were hurriedly placed with some other latecomers, quickly forming a team. Little did we know that we would become not only a key player in the antics, but reigning champions of the night. It didn't take us long to realize that each of us had our own special area of expertise. Clearly, I was not to be relied on for questions about sports, obscure political leaders, or historical facts I have no interest in. I was, however, extremely useful with Beatles trivia, anything fantasy, musical theatre, entertainment, or French history tidbit-oriented. As time sallied forth and drinks kept on pouring, we slowly realized that we actually had a shot in hell of winning! They announced the 3rd runner up, the second, and finally shouted out the winning team's name... THE PHOENIX.

This name was the product of one of our teammates suggesting the idea of a Falcon, combined with my insistence that we had to have something much more magical as our sobriquet. We were a group heralding from various lands, backgrounds and areas of education. Happily, we all enjoyed alcohol, knowledge, and having a darn good time. As we celebrated our grand triumph, our host brought us over our team prize, pitchers of even more booze than we probably remotely needed at that point. This resulted in some amazing quotes such as "Today sex on the beach, tomorrow the world" and "Looking like winners, that's our job", all of which will certainly be emblazoned on our team t-shirts as we slowly conquer all pub quizzes across Paris.

The subplot for the evening, at least for myself, was the fact that the Scotsman made his first reappearance in months the same evening. He was safely ensconced across the room with another team for most of the night, but of course managed to track me down around the bar once or twice. While I am perfectly happy to feign politesse to men I have entangled with in past, I find it mildly fatiguing to make idle chitchat with a 48 year old acting like we're good ole buds months after making me feel that I was mainly an annoyance. Such is life, but it definitely added to the drama of the evening. Also making victory just that tiny bit sweeter.

The next day, my teammates and I shared some nostalgic emails, commiserating in our mutual hangover, and vowing to engage in a comeback tour as soon as possible. In the meantime, we all downloaded the trivia app TriviaCrack so as not to let our triviachops become weak. We certainly agreed on the appropriate moniker "The Phoenix", as one of us mentioned the feeling of rising through the ashes post-laurels... More like a zombie, less like the stunning mythical creature sweeping through the scene the night before. But just as the Phoenix is so often reborn, so shall we continue to blaze.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Distill My Hair!

For the past 6 months to a year, my hair has turned into a petulant child willfully disrupting my serenity whilst I unsuccessfully struggle to discipline and maintain. Now, it might sound narcissistic and/or materialistic to be so concerned by such a plight, but the reality is that my hair is like the crown on my princess head, giving me my power, strength, and sense of self. Just like Jack Donaghy says,  "After all, your hair is your head suit.” 

During my first trip to Paris, I had realized that the water in this beautiful city was none too helpful in making me personally beautiful. I blamed it on the water pressure at first, spending about a month never being able to fully get the conditioner out of my hair. It was a sad time, to be sure. Try as I might, I couldn't get one single strand to keep a steady curl. I have always said that my curling iron is my magic wand. Having no curls is like having the frosting removed from an otherwise scrumptiously adorable cupcake. I eventually conquered this dilemma by rigorously brushing my hair in the shower, forcing the residue from my locks, and returning triumphantly to the land of pretty pastry. Since I was only in Paris for two months, however, it didn't dawn on me that this could actually me the root of a much greater and darker evil.

Now that I have been in this great City of Light for over a year and a half, the plaguing pestilence has resurged and grown nothing but stronger. I noticed it first when my hair, normally prone to baby-doll-like softness started to become oddly course. After dying it an especially bright blonde color one time, I assumed it was the dye that had turned my Dorothy-like tresses into the Scarecrow's wig. Not only was it impossible to sculpt or maneuver, but it began to break in the middle as I tried desperately to run my brush through its tangle of weeds. Though I had noticed the patches of white lingering on my pots and pans after cleaning on occasion, it took me a long time to realize that the water I use to lather my layers day in and day out is so saturated with calcium and minerals that it is literally corroding my sweet curls. After trying coconut oil and apple cider vinegar in addition to several different types of shampoo and conditioners to solve the problem, I finally found my answer... the miracle cure, the magical elixir of life... DISTILLED WATER.

In a stroke of sheer brilliance, I finally found the right combination of words to google and come up with the answer I had so been longing for. I went to the store, bought myself a large jug of eau déminéralisée and allowed a waterfall of hope to cleanse my tragic soul. After one wash, literally ONE! My hair regained its traditional sheen, its gossamer radiance, and I did in fact dance around my tiny little apartment in glee. Now, I can't remotely pretend that this continued effort will be practical or convenient in any way, but it is worth the effort... The weight of sticky gooey dishrag hair was literally lifted off my shoulders, the crown of freedom and glory replaced in its wake. As my hair be stilled my heart, my heart distilled my hair with the tears of purest water and all was right with the world. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Straya Day

Now that I have finished blogging about my epic two week festive stint through the US and the UK, it is time to comment on another important holiday that I celebrated just a couple of weeks ago... Australia Day. As time sallies forth, I have become more and more enamored with the Australian culture. I would say that this obsession began a few years ago when I first came to Paris and found that some of my closest friends were Australian, in addition to the man I was dating at the time. I always found it rather providential that an American girl should meet an Australian guy so far away from both their own homes. While that relationship didn't turn out the way my heart had hoped, I continued to make new friends from Down Under, and my passion was reignited during my Eastern European trip this past fall. I still have very little memory of Vienna or the AUSTRian culture because I spent most of my time there on a cycling vineyard tour, guided by an Aussie and surrounded mostly by fellow members of the land of Oz. It has fast become top on my list of travel destinations, of course pending a large bank account and even larger amount of time. Regardless, I also pretty much like any celebration where I can take full advantage of snacks, props, and costumes.

This year, I made it my mission to do the day right, going so far as to schedule an outing that day with one of my friends weeks in advance. She happens to be French, but was also close with the Aussies we were all friends with in Paris years ago, and knows the bar we went to very well... Café Oz. Before the evening approached, however, I went to the store to buy some Tim Tams, those oh so heavenly of Aussie snack, and printed out some Australian animal finger puppets I found online. I of course also reposted the perfect Aussie slang poem I wrote a couple of years ago and made sure to tag everyone I know from that crazy place on Facebook. All I'm saying is, never do anything by halves. 

Café Oz is a chain of Australian bars in France. There are a few in Paris and I believe a couple of others sprinkled in the South as well. Our friends used to work there back in the day, so I've partied there several times, and my French friend still has connections behind the bar. This meant that we didn't have to pay quite so much at what can often be a touristy, overpriced location in Chatelet. I would say the best parts of the evening were the fact that they were giving out ridiculous rancher hats, Yellow Tail key chains and t-shirts, and even serving up samples of lamingtons, a delicious tasty treat involving sponge cake, chocolate, and coconut... Yummmz. As noted before, costumes plus props plus snacks equals perfection. While I think I managed to message the cute Australian tour guide from Vienna about 25 times over the course of the day in my enthusiasm for the celebrations, I tragically did not meet any new Aussie lads to be ridiculous with. French friend and I ended up chatting with a British guy for a chunk of the evening instead. I recall him vaguely hitting on whomever might be interested, and pointing out that I apparently make very vivid facial expressions in general. Other than that, it was a relaxed but jolly Straya Day evening. We enjoyed our time celebrating a country that yes, has a pink lake, duck-billed platypuses... or platypi (which I prefer but who really knows!) and drinks lots of amber fluid.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

International House of London

The final two days of my extended holiday vacation were spent in London, basically hopping from watering hole to watering hole in search of fine cuisine and comforting libation. Dancer friend was also in London, visiting her bestie for the New Year, so we spent most of Saturday together, catching up, shopping and nourishing in general. I met her and one of her roommates in Ireland whom I had met before, around Camden Town. When I studied abroad so long ago, my school was situated just a stone's throw away from this neighborhood, but I really never spent much time there. We had some coffee and lunch at a cozy pub near the Tube stop before pounding the pavement. Unfortunately, it was pouring non-stop all day, not the best weather for perusing the stalls of goods all through the market. This did not stop us from shopping, however, and I came away with an adorable blue dress trimmed with birds, along with a fantastic houndstooth coat, very Lady Mary Crawley-esque in design. When we had had just about enough of the outdoors, we met Dancer friend's bestie for a drink at yet another pub, basically biding our time before a dinner reservation we had at 8pm. 

This reservation ended up being quite the saga because, while my cousin had made it weeks and weeks before, we ended up having more than our original number for the party. We had made a reservation for three, thinking Cousin and I would probably have a third at some point, but had decided to ask my two friends instead, assuming it wouldn't be a problem to turn a table of three into a table of four. I worked in so many restaurants over the years, I knew that generally speaking, tables for 3 and 4 are the same size. Little did I know the restaurant we were going to was not only packed every night of the week, but the table we had been assigned was possibly the only table ever designed for no more than 3 guests. I spent a lot of time on the phone trying to understand the situation and not until I actually saw the table did I fully appreciate their honesty. The restaurant we had chosen is called The Churchill Arms. While it sounds like a British pub, it's actually a delicious and affordable Thai restaurant, known as much for its cuisine as it is for the fact that it is completely bedecked in plants, both on the inside and the outside. Even the bathrooms have flower decals pasted to the walls. When we arrived, it was clear just how hot a spot it is. The bar was packed to the brim and since we still had about an hour before our reservation time, we actually went to another bar that had a bit more space for an aperitif. Of course, the only reason we were even able to take the table at all was because Cousin wasn't feeling well, so she graciously relinquished her spot. In the end, it was a lovely atmosphere and well worth the complications and after dinner, I headed home for an early night after a long, fulfilling day.

Sunday was equally rife with food and drink. Cousin and I decided to check a few trendy spots off our list of intriguing haunts. Our first stop was a small little nook called the Cereal Killer Café. They specialize in cereal, cereal and only cereal. The gimmick is that you choose a type of cereal, a kind of milk, and one of several additional toppings if you desire. You order at the bar, take your bowl, and find a spot to hunker down with your nostalgic fare. The walls of the establishment are lined with novelty and specialized cereal boxes from the past decades. While the line seemed intimidating at first, it moves along quite quickly, especially once you realize it can't take anyone all that long to consume a bowl of cereal. I ended up choosing strawberry frosted mini-wheats, something I don't believe I've ever had before. It was a nice tasty treat so I was quite satisfied with the excursion. After that, we hit another quirky little café that Cousin had heard of some time before. Dubbed Ziferblat, it is a communist-themed coffee shop where you can go and hang out for as little or as long as you like. There are chairs and tables, boardgames and wifi. You actually pay by the minute to use the communal space which is located on the second floor of a building. I admit that when we first approached and had to buzz to be let in, I was concerned that it was all some sort of weird communist ruse. It took me about twenty minutes to accept that it was literally just a space that you could come and chat, work or relax. There is also an adjoining kitchen, where you can help yourself to coffee, tea, random cookies, and the like. If you use a dish, you clean it and put it back. Truly communist in conduct. If you are looking for gourmet coffee it is not the place for you, but if you are looking for an inviting, well-layed-out, slightly unusual place to rendezvous or settle in to get some real work done, I can't say it's not an interesting or effective place to go.

By the time early evening struck, we realized that we had really barely eaten all day, so we decided to go to a tapas bar that Cousin had taken me to before for dinner. We wandered through Covent Garden for a little while then made our way to the restaurant and chose a variety of delicious plates to stuff our faces with. We felt we absolutely deserved a final feast to celebrate our grand adventures and the beginning of the new year. The next morning I had an early train back to Paris, which I fortunately did NOT almost sleep through this time around. I did, however, spend the entire day at home, recuperating, rehydrating, and reminiscing about my amazing adventures overseas.