Friday, February 24, 2006

Misery



Some of you have asked how my French classes are going and if I’ve met any fun people. I think Fred was hoping that my classes would be a good way for me to meet some new friends, which would help me feel more at home in France. Plus, he never really liked my friends in San Francisco. Now that we’re here I feel I can tell you the truth because you can’t have him deported. Okay, sorry, I’m lying again. Fred is sleeping and can’t defend himself; that’s when I like to attack. In reality Fred always tells me that he thinks that I have great friends and he considers all of you his friends now too. When he wakes up, I’ll break the news to him and tell him that none of you ever liked him, you were just being nice to him out of your utmost respect and deep love for me.

So far I haven’t made any great bonds with my classmates. I mean, come on, how can they compete with all of you?!? One of the problems with getting to know my classmates is that class registration is on a rolling basis. Students drift in and out. Some are there for a week, some several, and other months. I haven’t met anyone like me yet, someone who will be there forever. And I really mean forever if I keep “learning” at this pace.

The good thing about the class structure is if someone in the class is annoying it’s not like I have to spend an entire semester with them. I’m sure you’ve all experienced this situation in college, traffic school, or group therapy. There’s always one person who thinks he or she knows all the answers and is full of stupid jokes. And the longer they’ve been out of school the more annoying they are. These people need to be resocialized before being set loose in a classroom again.

Today Annie Wilks was in my class. After she interrupted me and others multiple times (including during the course of a listening exercise when we were taking dictation from a cassette, forcing the teacher to stop and rewind the tape so we could start over; and after she answered questions that were directed at me on two occasions because apparently she thought I was taking too long to collect my thoughts) I wanted to yell at her and tell her to give up French classes as she has a lucrative career waiting for her as a Kathy Bates look-a-like. Instead I repeated "excuse me" until she finally stopped. During the break she apologized to me in front of the class, which made me dislike her even more for playing to the crowd. I know this is probably unfair; she does have acting in her blood.


*The role of James Caan in this photo is being played by me.

Later we moved on to another exercise. We were to describe for the class a food specialty from our respective countries. I chose to describe typical barbeque food and further explained that in San Francisco the specialty is clam chowder served in a sourdough bowl. Kathy Bates is from Maryland. She acted very perplexed by the concept of a bowl made of bread and dedicated so much time interrogating me about it that it took all my energy not to leap across the table and choke her. Trust me. This woman has eaten her fair share of spinich dip and clearly knows what a bread bowl is. I even did some research when I got home and found that restaurants in Maryland, including the University of Maryland's catering group, serves blue crab dip in bread bowls. Particularly funny considering blue crab was the specialty that she described for the class. I think I'll print out some of my research and bring it to my next class so I can shove it down her throat the next time she opens her mouth (literally).

Next, a Taiwanese student explained food from her country. She pronounced a word that sounded close to chat (cat). The teacher corrected her and asked her to repeat it. Kathy Bates, the comedienne, said “Well, maybe it is cat. She is from Taiwan.” Now I maybe would have said this when I was in elementary school in Orange County, or alone and drunk; but no, Kathy Bates says it out loud and then laughs a raspy laugh. She is hilarious after all; just ask her, she'll tell you.

About this student from Taiwan, she is really nice but the first few times I met her she couldn’t get over the fact that I had a job. She asked me how come I only attended classes twice a week. I explained that I worked full-time and it was all that I had time for. She said, but why do you work? I chalked this absurd question up to the language barrier. But then the next class she asked me the same question phrased somewhat differently.

Apparently money grows on trees in Taiwan. In which case, I’m wondering why in the heck we didn’t move to Taiwan first. Maybe if we had I could have picked up a money tree and brought it to France with me so I wouldn’t have to work and I could go to French classes five days a week and answer more stupid questions for her. Those French online courses are looking better and better. Okay, I’m going to hell (and bed). Good night (good morning)!

P.S. I've been kind of mean lately. Fred and I are going to plan a weekend trip soon so I'll have something nice to write about, I promise!

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Check!

Fred and I went to a great little restaurant, Tresor (“Treasure” – which I learned from Estée Lauder, not French classes, they are going very slowly). We sat next to Boxing Helena. I swear. The woman could not do anything for herself. Her companion dressed her steak tartare with sauces, lightly salted it, and added just a dash of pepper. He then, using her utensils, massaged it into a delicate little ball for her sweet little mouth. I was waiting for him to feed her, luckily his hands got distracted giving her a thigh massage (okay, so she had thighs; but, you’d never know that she had arms by the way he prepared her food for her). The only thing sicker than watching strangers assault raw hamburger meat is watching them play out the Kama Sutra at a table within spitting distance. My attention was soon diverted from the love birds when I was presented with the dessert menu. I had a tarte tatin avec glace à la vanille, aka apple pie à la mode. I was annoyed, but not that annoyed.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

50/50

We had our first American visitor this weekend. I'm not referring to Angelina Jolie. Yes, Angelina was here, but now that she isn't drinking, she's just not as much fun to be around. I did, however, stop by her hotel to say "hello" and to drop off a gift as I won't be able to make her baby shower. I took the opportunity to ask her if she planned on keeping Maddox and Zahara now that she is having Brad's baby. She said "yes" and looked at me like I was a horrible person. I prefer the old Angie much better, the one who carried blood in a vial and made out with her brother. The globe-trotting, good-willing Angelina can't even take a joke.

The visitor to which I'm referring is my friend Alex from San Francisco. He's much more fun than all of the Jolie-Pitts rolled up in one! He was in Spain and stopped by Paris for the weekend before heading back home. Fred and I were looking forward to his visit. However, we were a little nervous considering he was our first guest and we wanted him to have a good time.

In San Francisco, we had a standard tour for visitors, e.g., our favorite restaurants, the Ferry Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Napa. We hadn't developed our Parisian tour yet and were feeling very uncool. Alex had visited France a few years back and had hit all the tourist attractions. He was very gracious and said he was up for anything; he really just wanted to hang out with us. Knowing that hanging out with me can be unbearable, Fred did the smart thing and hit the internet and restaurant guide books.

Our first stop was a brasserie for a quick drink. Alex and I decided to catch-up over happy hour while we waited for Fred to get home from work. We picked a bar at random and ordered. The barman spoke little French (or couldn't understand the little French that I spoke) and even less English. He asked if I spoke Spanish. Several years ago, I probably could have answered "un poquito" with a straight face, but now I can barely order a Dos Equis. Luckily, Alex, fresh off the plane from Spain, pulled through. My first attempt at convincing my old friend that I was a cosmopolitan Parisienne failed miserably.

A few hours later, we met up with Fred and headed to Mandalaray for pre-dinner cocktails. We weren't quite sure what to expect as the website brags about John Malkovich, Sean Penn, and Johnny Depp being part owners. I feared that I was leading us into a slightly upscale Planet Hollywood. As we entered, I saw that it was not like Planet Hollywood at all. No, it was like Ana Mandara (sans Don Johnson, of course). You be the judge:

Mandalaray
*Click on the shaded words to be directed to related websites.


Ana Mandara


It ended up being a nice place to have a drink (or two!). We went early enough so it wasn't too crowded.

After drinks, we took a short walk on the Champs-Elysee and ended up at L'Appart. We enjoyed a good basic meal in a nice atmosphere. It was along the lines of Kuleto's in San Francisco with a mix of locals and tourists.

Later that night, we met up with Alex's brother (who had been traveling in Spain with Alex) and his friends at a hotel bar, Costes. The hotel's website is far "too cool" and doesn't have any pictures or information about the hotel or bar. If you're curious, click on the official website. I spent a good 5 minutes there trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. We ended up having a good time, but this is one of those places where you have to check in with the hostess, who shuttles you to the doorman (too many gate-keepers for no good reason, other than to make them feel important). It's very much like the Clift Hotel's Redwood Room.

The following morning, late the following morning, we headed out for a little sightseeing at Montmartre. This is one of my favorite areas of Paris. At the top of the hill is a small square with street artists. On my first trip to Paris, Fred and I had our picture drawn. The artist did a fairly good job drawing me, but Fred looked like Greg Kinnear. If we had our stuff (that we shipped from San Francisco on October 26!), I would have attached a photograph of the picture.

For now, here is a photo that Alex took at the top of the hill looking out over Paris, just in front of Basilique du Sacré Coeur (Basilica of the Sacred Heart), San Francisco's Grace Cathederal.

*Click on photos to enlarge

This blog entry is getting too long, I'm sure you're all losing interest by now, assuming you made it this far. So, I'll fast forward to that evening, we ended up at Music Hall. We had a really great time there. The food was very good and the presentation was beautiful! It reminded me of The Slanted Door in San Francisco. Editor's Note: Slanted Door needs a new website!

Here is a picture from Music Hall:


Seated, from left: Donna (Alex's brother's girlfriend's mom); Nolan (Alex's brother's girlfriend's brother); Colin (Alex's brother); Todd (our American friend who lives in Paris).
Standing, from left: Johann (Fred's friend from Bordeaux, who we ran into by surprise at the restaurant), Laurence (Johann's wife), Alex (to the right of Fred, our friend visiting from SF).

The next day, Alex headed back to San Francisco, and two days later, FedEx showed up with this:



It was great opening the box and finding a little piece of home in there. This morning, I made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I hadn't eaten a PBJ in years, yet the taste was very familiar and comforting. Before Alex left, we talked about how great it is to travel, but there's something special about going back through U.S. Customs and having an agent stamp your passport and say "Welcome Home". I'm looking forward to our visit in September, when I hear those words again!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

On the road again . . .

By now, many of you may be asking yourself, "Is Fred a registered sex offender who is being forced to move from country to country and town to town after his neighbors recognize him on the evening news?" To which I can only say, I don't know. I try not to get caught up in the details, as long as our next place is better than the last. And this one is. (I say that now. It's quite possible that we may end-up living beneath another closet-obsessed Parisien. The man upstairs opens and shuts his closet at least 8 times per night. It starts at about midnight, his little routine. He's a very sharp dresser. I picture his meticulous self up there opening his closet, removing his tie, hanging it up, and closing his closet; opening his closet, removing his cuff-links, placing them in the crystal jewelry dish atop his dresser, closing his closet; opening his closet, unbuttoning his finely pressed shirt, removing it, hanging it up, and closing his closet. If I go on, I'll be just as annoying, but please continue in your mind until he has properly placed his perfectly polished, wing-tipped shoes in his closest and closed it for the eighth time.)

Although our place on Rue du Temple in the 4th arrondissement has been great, it was always intended to be temporary while we searched for a more suitable apartment (i.e., closer to Fred’s work, less crowded, guest room, etc.). It’s in a wonderful location, next to several shops, tourist attractions, and museums. However, it's similar to living near Union Square or Fisherman’s Wharf. Eventually the crowds get to be too much.

Our new place is located in the 15th arrondissement. This arrondissement has a reputation for being a little quieter, more family-friendly (this is not foreshadowing, just reporting what the guide books say), less touristy because there aren’t any major monuments in this district. But don't worry; if you visit, everything is 20 minutes away, or less!

Here are some photos of the new place. We move in on April 1, 2006. We sold our furniture before moving, so the apartment will be furnished as it is in the pictures. Assuming we like it, we plan on staying here at least a year while we try to find a place to buy.

*Click on photos to enlarge

The balcony with a view of the Eiffel Tower (the view is better if you move a little to the left). When the agent was showing us the apartment, she told us that the view of the firework show in July is spectacular from the balcony. I assumed she meant July 4th, obviously, not! She was referring to July 14th, Bastille Day. It's not that I'm Americentric, I just sometimes seriously forget where I am. Luckily, I didn't blurt out anything stupid about the 4th of July or ask her what she did for Thanksgiving.


I'm pretty excited about the tailor's mannequin. I don't have a full-length mirror so I plan on dressing it up in my clothing to get a sense of how my outfit looks before I wear it out. She may make a good imaginary friend too. Although, that boa seems to hint that she works evenings.


Don't worry, friend who is visiting this summer (and you know who you are), there is a T.V. It's not pictured, but it is to the right of the leather chair.


"Master" bedroom - I'm being generous. I always thought that a master bedroom meant that it had a closet in it. I have so much to learn. But, it is cute and I'm very excited about the place!


Bilbo's/Guest's Room. I'm thinking of commissioning this same artist to paint pictures of Bilbo and me in matching clown suits for Fred's birthday. What do you think? Shhhh, it's a surprise!

*******
Links:
Here is a map to give you a sense of where we live now (4th) and where we are moving on April 1 (15th).
Map of Paris
Here are photos of our current apartment in the 4th.
Current Apartment

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Blowing Smoke

Please trust me when I tell you that I just finished writing a very interesting blog. Unfortunately, French Windows is installed on my computer and, after two months in France, I still managed to get my "oui" and "non" confused and deleted it. It took all my creative energy and was such pure genius that I dare not try to reproduce it. Here is a bare-bones account:

- Amy and Fred go to dinner at neighborhood Thai restaurant, Chao Praya.
- They request the non-smoking section and know that said section exists upstairs because they sat there two weeks prior.
- Owner sits them at table downstairs with an ashtray on it. All surrounding tables had ashtrays on them.
- Amy restates her request twice. Owner reassures her.
- Later, more customers arrive. Some are directed upstairs, some downstairs.
- Without incident, Amy and Fred enjoy their entree [appetizer] of shrimp and chicken spring rolls. Mmmm, deep fried. Just as their plat principal [main dish] arrives, two patrons light-up.
- Amy tells Fred that Owner is greedy and sneaky and sat them downstairs because they were his first non-smoking customers of the night and he didn't want to walk his lazy ass upstairs to fill their water glasses. Amy further explains that Owner wanted to make his establishment look busy and, therefore, more attractive to passerbyers so he sat them downstairs by the window despite their desires.
- Fred looks at Amy like she might be paranoid. Amy tells Fred she has 5 years of restaurant experience and is nearly an expert.
- Fred succumbs to Amy's pestering and asks Manager why they were sat in smoking. Manager is stupid. Amy talks at Manager in English, which she knows makes her look crazy and, thus, makes her even more upset.
- Amy corners Owner and asks (in terrible French) why he claimed the table was non-smoking. He confesses, albeit late, that there is no non-smoking section. They just try to corral non-smokers together to fight over pockets of clean air.
- Amy is annoyed because, although France is lenient with smoking, if a restaurant is big enough, which this one is, then it is obligated to have a non-smoking section. Inside, Amy feels like a hypocrite because she was drunk the night before and had smoked a cigarette. But still, she can't get over the fact that Owner exposed her to second-hand smoke without her informed consent, stripping her of her right to choose whether or not she wanted to eat at an establishment that did not offer a non-smoking section.
- As Amy and Fred walk home, she wrestles with her emotions. She's upset that: (1) she had to ask Fred to do her dirty work and she felt that he wasn't dirty enough, although in retrospect and after she calmed down, she realized that his way of handling the situation was much better, it usually is; (2) she lacked the language skills to express her frustrations to Owner, namely, being the asshole lawyer who threatens to call the French authorities and report his blatant violation; (3) she couldn't just relax and enjoy her meal and the company of her loving and understanding husband; and (4) she can no longer eat at Chao Praya because the food is good (although Fred was very sweet and said that at least she was principled, she knew that inside he was equally regretful given that he loves their chicken satay).
- Amy realized that her outburst had little to do with the smoke or the unjustness of the situation and more to do with her inability to speak French and the realization that everything is more difficult.
- Fred reassures Amy that he experienced the same feelings when he moved to the U.S. Amy appreciates his kindness.
- Amy talks with her friend Todd (an American who has lived in Paris for 3 years). He assures her that her emotions are normal and that the break-downs will be fewer and farther between. This too makes Amy feel better.

Okay, there you have it. Although, I have no idea why I wrote the summary in the third person. Perhaps I'm trying to distance myself from myself (aka "Amy") because I'm ashamed of my behavior, or I'm crazy. I'll leave that for you to decide, dear readers. I do know, however, although I trust Fred and Todd, I wasn't taking any chances. I decided to go shopping to cheer myself up just for good measure.

Beginning the second week of January, French boutiques and stores have soldes [sales]. Items are marked down from 30% to 70% (see exhibits below). I've also attached photos of things that cheer me up when I'm feeling frustrated.

Exhibits (click on photos to enlarge)

Eggplant Leather Handbag (18 euro)


Black Leather Strap Boots (69 euro)
Butterscotch Leather Fitted Boots (I don't remember, I purchased them in London with pounds, it required too many conversions).


Hand-knitted (I think) Throw Blanket (32.50 euro)
*cat, not included*


Flowers from my wonderful husband!


Bilbo's Mug!

(This is what a cat looks like after having been exposed to numerous and repetitive flashes from a one-inch distance. I refused to stop until he did something that I found humorous. I know, I feel like Brooke Shield's mom.)

Addendum: Just when I was feeling like an annoying foreigner who had no right to complain, I found the following quote on Yahoo! today: "Polls indicate that 72% of the [French] population would support a complete ban on smoking in public places."
Yahoo! Article