Sunday, April 18, 2010
I was naive enough to expect an expression of surprise and then some sort of punishment. I won't go into all that followed but it never ceases to amaze me how out breaks like this are treated like an unfortunate upset that is more important to calm than punish. Anytime parenting decisions are made that I see as grossly mislead I become robot-like with suppressed anger. There were other events in the evening that made me more eager to leave the moment the clock struck eight.
I headed out to have an evening with a few friends. We went first to the apartment of one and then later we took the metro across town to meet some others at a bar. The heat and crowdedness of the bar caused me to take off my cardigan that had my keys and phone in it. I'm not sure exactly when and what happened but all I know is that I arrived on the very last metro at my stop with the sudden realization that my keys were no longer in my pocket. I became faint with panic. My keys were no where to be found and though the night wasn't very cold and I didn't mind walking I had no idea where or when any of the night buses ran. I made a frantic text to one of my friends and then my phone died. I hadn't had anything to drink at the bar but I was certainly a little fuzzy minded from the wine we'd had before I went. This only added to my distress as I walked slowly to the apartment going over all the options. Theoretically I could walk to Sarah's apartment but my phone was dead and she'd have no warning and there is not a building in France that doesn't have a code to get into. My only real option was to buzz my own apartment waking Anne at 2:30 to let me in. I paced around my lobby considering the knock this would be to not only my pride but my carefully maintained moral superiority(and yes, I realize how horrible that sounds). It's one thing to be put in this position by your parents(and since I don't even have a house key this hasn't been a problem), and it's another with a land lady, but an employer? I was mortified. Though we have a nice enough relationship our personalities keep it from being very candid or natural. I emptied my purse and pockets twice before pressing the buzzer. In the stillness of the apartment I heard the buzzer all the way down in the lobby. I waited about 30 seconds and then heard Annes sleepy voice on the intercom. I immediately began crying and explained that I didn't have my keys and how sorry I was. When I made up into the apartment Anne was so gracious and forgiving of the situation that I was even more humbled. I felt ashamed of my past discontent and frustration with her. Until now we've always been like two adults in the house and I've never felt like a kid for a lot of reasons. I've felt like an adult who maybe has more accountability than usual but I've always been firmly in the position of another adult. Recent events in the family have made me the constant in the household. All of this made this situation harder for me.
As I said, it's better as a story than in real life but though it's infinitely less painful in retelling I'm so far from looking back at this as some funny work story that I'm forced to examine my position here. I have a different kind of homesickness now and am more eager for it to be over than before. I feel somehow stifled and tired from being a certain kind of person here. I'm tired of not being able to leave work at work. I didn't realize how different my attitude was about being here until yesterday I walked through Place de Concorde in the midst of hordes of tourists in the blazing sun. It forcibly reminded me of my first few weeks here when I would walk in the beautiful summer sun with the crowds through that same area. At that time I looked ahead to the year as one full of opportunity. Though I've developed an affection for many things French and had countless wonderful experiences and made great friends I found my attitude completely changed. I feel as if I'm waiting it out, as if I don't belong and am ready to leave this mess that I feel I only add to. I will miss many things and I hope I've changed for the better but it will be a huge relief to be home.
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Babysitting is a pretty common experience. Most people, at least most girls, have babysat at some time or other and everyone with kids has employed a babysitter. I feel like it's one of those things that is so much more often terrible in real time and hilarious in retrospect that it lends itself pretty well to story telling and movie scenarios. Even though my days of ordinary babysitting are long long behind me I'm sometimes still plagued by memories of the terror of the parents returning home to the overwhelming smell of burnt popcorn, broken dishes, children out of bed or hurt, dead pets and other such horrors. Of course it's rarely as bad as most movies where demon children lock their babysitters out, call 911, run away, completely trash or burn down the house etc(or absolutely WORST case scenario, of Hide and Seek, the dad and/or kid is a murderous schizophrenic/demon possessed lunatic). All that to say, living as a perpetual babysitter who pretty much only associates with kids, parents, or other perpetual babysitters, I've not only lived some real doozies but I have several meetings a week with fellow martyrs where the sole activity is sharing such stories. It goes like this:
"My kids are monsters, when I ask the 14 year old how her day was she just flips me off."
"I know this one au pair who's dads* best friend sends her flowers and love letters."
"I gave a six week notice and they told me they no longer trusted me with their kids and kicked me out."--this one was around Christmas, she'd been working for them for 3 months by this time.
"I had to go home Sunday afternoon to make a sandwich for my dad."
"I had to stay home from Stockholm because my parents didn't get back form their dinner until one."
"My baby sleeps in my room so I have to take care of her when she wakes up in the night."
Just so you know, those are all true.
But....uh, yeah, my life here is pretty easy. I have a room and a bathroom with a real shower and bath and most of everyday free. There are real downsides to the things but if you are going to sign yourself into partial slavery you would pick the more comfy slavery and thats what I've got.
Thursday was a pretty dreary day so I didn't go out. It rained all morning a little inthe afternoon but by 4 o'clock, it was clear and sunny so I thought we'd go to the park after school. Jade hurt her knee a couple of weeks ago so she's been on crutches. She gets tired quickly on the five block walk between the house and school so I bring her scooter and she stands on it while I pull her along and carry her crutches and back pack. Sometimes as I'm doing this I feel like the kind of mom I don't want to be, the frazzled kind.
So I went to get them, carrying the scooter and snack for them both as well as some knitting for the park. We managed to make the two extra blocks to the park and while the kids played I sat in the midst of nounous(nannies, usually a very international crowd) and au pairs and the odd parent(not many moms bring their own children to the park in the privileged suburb of Neuilly). The sun had come out but as if began to disapear the wind picked up and thought we better head home. I picked up all the snack trash and stuffed it in my bag, I got the crutches and Jade hopped on her scooter and off we went. It started to sprinkle in the robust spring fashion. By this I mean that there was thunder and the few but massive rain drops were drilled into our hair, faces an clothing by high speed wind. As we reached the block with no shops on it, the longest block, the block where we live I realized that I'd left Jades back pack in the park, a good six blocks behind us. Just then we were sprung by a sudden torrential downpour. The kids began running and screaming(this wasn't the first time i doubted the legitamacy of jades injury). I was behind them with everyones stuff, sans backack. It was about this time that I began to have a pretty serious feminine emergency. We were nearing half way point on the block when I realized the rain seemed to pack quite a like of force. It wasn't just rain, guess what they have some real hail in France. When we made it into the lobby Jade was in hysterics clutching her...forehead. The hail, rain and everything was hitting us in the face and we were all completely soaked to the bone.
When we got into the apartment Jade started hyperventilating about the backpack and said she was fainting several times. I had no real choice but to leave them both there with instructions to change tout de suite and run back to the park. By this time(approximately thirty seconds later) the sun was out and everyone on the street seemed to have time traveled past the storm because every person I past tut tutted me and my dripping hair and clothes. When I arrived at the park it was not just deserted it was backpackless. I walked around for a few minutes keenly aware of the hysterical seven year old twins I'd left alone. I asked a few concessions stands, no one had seen it. I hoped there was some name on it and walked back to the house. When I got in I followed the puddles to the kitchen where I found Noe standing in the middle of the kitchen floor with a broom and a large towel and no clothes on. "You're going to be really disappointed," he said, referring to the muddy foot prints. "Go get dressed," I said.
About five minutes later another nounou called. They'd picked up the back pack. I waited a minute for Agathe to get back before leaving, agonzing over leaving all three of them there without supervision. I walked six or so blocks to the apartment, got the backpack and took a new route ho,me in order to avoid passing the same street for the sixth time that day, especially since I was still dripping.
And as a side note, you know when you have some really cheap shoes and they stink wierd, especially when wet? The ones that are still drying on the radiator have redefined foot odor for me. This isn't foot odor, it's shoe odor but I'm really not liking it.
And uh, London was great, more on that later.
*More often than not we refer to our family as if we simultaneously filled all roles(believe me, this is not unlikely). So each of us call the children, our children, the mom, our mom, the dad, our dad, etc.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Skiing doesn't really come easy to me. Not that it's really coming easier to anyone else in my class. Just as soon as you think you're getting the hang of something you fall or lose control. On Sunday my class was all English ladies and they were all really fun and adorable. The next day we had a big dividing period where we skiid down a slope and the teachers stood at the bottom and judged. I ended up in a class with four others. One of the other students was English. The thing about these classes is that they claim to offer courses in English but then half the time they forget that they have English speakers and when they remember they just sort of say something really quickly and use a lot of words in French. They don't know any of the ski lingo in English. Most sentences are something like this:
“Quand tu travers.....eeeuuuuh, when you travers.” Or:
“Au fin de la virage tu mets des skis a parallel...euh, oh, les Anglaise...euuh, at euh, the end of the virage tu put your skis a parallel.”
This really makes almost no difference for me. French and French English sound like the same thing to me. It's only native English that sounds different. However, the only one in our class who understands no French feels as if she's on the outside of the joke all the time and even has to remind the teacher to speak in English. If I can't understand, one of the French people in our class translates. It goes something like this:
Teacher: long string of what I like to call French mumble where the mouth isn't really open and all the ubiquitous homophones of the french language turn into a labyrinth of floating letters and sounds unfamiliar to the English ear and designed to invoke tears from the intermediate French speaker.
French students: nodding “Bon, d'accord”
English student: “What did he say?”
Me: “Uh, something about putting your weight on one foot or something. I don't know.”
French student: “Euuh, he say, euh, leve your exterier foot and age a down quand you turn....euhh, and euhh, keep your euuh epaules straight.”
English student: “um, alrght then.”
Me: “She said to lift your outer foot when you turn and also to keep your shoulders facing forward.” And wondering how much was lost in that double translation.
But it's really beautiful here and the skiing has been fun. The green slope I've been going on yesterday and today has been great and all the inexplicable little blue and red portions of it have been good practice if extremely worrying every time I begin to descend.
Sunday, February 28, 2010
Well, I'm sitting on my bed in the loft of the chalet. No way they built this room with a 5'10” person in mind. Agathe and I are sharing it. Not gonna lie, this week is already the kind of adventure you enjoy remembering a lot more than you enjoy being on it.
I took the train down to Ardeche on Thursday. I love Ardeche. Anne picked me up at the station around 1:00 and after lunch an intense game of tag where I was it with the kids we went to one of the cities dating from the 1100's for a walk. The weather was in the 60's and with the sun out we got pretty hot walking around. I was given the same room with a queen sized bed. The room also entails a salle de bain.
If you don't know what a salle de bain is let me enlighten you. Before I came to Paris I knew that there was something odd about the bathrooms but I never was really clear on what until I experienced it at the house in Ardeche. At the Bonnailies there are regular bathrooms and half baths and it's all very normal. Well it's not quite like that in Ardeche. I will never understand how in the separation of bathroom elements they ended up with what they call a salle de bain and a W.C.. In the salle de bain there is everything you could want in a bathroom...except the toilet. In a W.C. there is nothing you want in a bathroom.....except a toilet. There really is nothing in this but a toilet. No mirror, no trash can, and most importantly, no sink. It's rediculous. Why would I want a sink in a bathroom solely for showering? This can only promote bad hand washing habits.
So now that I have that out of the way; I had a salle de bain and everyone sort of shares one or two toilets. It's so weird, I can't get my head around it. Usually there are more toilets than showers but that is not the case here. Anyway, we left Ardeche to drive roughly four hours to a ski resort near Briancon. Well, that four hour plan rested on a pass remaining open. Because that pass didn't stay open we went instead on a eight hour trip. The view was beautiful...especially when I was trying to maneuver the stick around the tightest mountain curvy roads I've ever seen. Yeah, I drove a couple of those hours. I hope if I'm doing any of the driving back to Paris it will be in the daylight hours.
We arrived at the chalet at around five and met the family we're staying with. I've met them before. They have four kids and are pretty cool. The thing is, that many people in a little place can get pretty hectic. My strategy is to just sit with a book and by drawing little attention I can also minimize the participation. Not that I don't participate, I just happen to be staying in the coolest room in the chalet so there is no place to go to get away from all the craziness. AND the internet is only by cable and someone else has pretty much monopolized that from the first moment. I was welcome to check my email but those keyboards are kind of terrible.
My first lesson was really nice. It's an English class and everyone is really English. I'm the only non-English one. It was snowing and really foggy so the long ski trail/slope down the mountain was beautiful. I'm really happy with the ski part of this trip so far. Family issues and the length of this trip have rendered other parts of it a little difficult but it will be good and when we get back things will all settle down.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Cathedrale de Notre-Dame
Sarah and I on our boat tour
For the Valentines Day weekend Sarah and I took the train to Strasbourg. It was nice to get away from Paris and see something different. Before I left Anne told me that it's really cold in Eastern France and advised me to bring this massive coat that she leant me a while ago but that I only wear on the rarest occasions. I feel like a New Yorker in a not good way when I wear this coat. It's pretty much like a sleeping bag. But I was at least happy to be warm.
We left early Saturday morning and took the train out. Lately it's been snowing fairly often in Paris but as we were leaving the city we saw that there was a light snow all the way. Fortunately Strasbourg is well suited to snow and there was lots of vin chaud to be had(pretty much mulled wine--incredibly tasty but not so good if you haven't had anything to eat). We dropped our bags at our hostel and went wandering around the cobble stone streets that were absolutely adorable. It was cold but we ducked into churches, museums, patisseries and souvenir shops to warm up.
Strasbourg is right next to the German border and is in the northern part of the French region Alsace. Alsace has hopped across the border a few times and I think was last in Germanys possession(except for a few years during WWII) before WWI. There is a dialect of German called Alsatian that is spoken there but everyone we spoke to also spoke French if only a little. Strasbourg is small and academic and full of hte most beautiful churches(Catholic and Protestant). The Cathedrale Notre-Dame was by far the most beautiful cathdrale I've seen.
The city was so small that it took no more than fifteen minutes to walk from our hostel and the trans station into the center of everything. On Saturday we went into a few churches and walked around Petite France. One of our main plans was to eat lots of hearty Alsatian dishes. We began that for lunch on Saturday. We had an onion tarte and then Sarah got Choucroute which is sausages, ham and lots of saurkraut with potatoes. I got the chicken with reisling with fried noodles. It took us about two and a half hours and we were so full that we only ate an apple for dinner. We went to an Alsatian museum after lunch tat was set up like a traditional Alsatian house and had courtyards, wne cellar, wood working shop and much more.
On Sunday we got up and walked around some more buying a couple souvenirs before taking a boat tour. We then went to a museum of mediaval art before walking around until dinner. We got the Alsatian escagot and I had tourte vigneronne.
So it was absolutely beautiful(if freezing) and we both want to go to Germany and study German and walk by Notre-Dame(strasbourg) everyday.
Monday, February 8, 2010
I went to church yesterday for the first time in three weeks. It'd been too long. Weekend traveling kind of compromises my church attendance and thus a large part of my social life. Unfortunately about half way through I developed a splitting headache. I went to late lunch with a few friends anyway and made it home and straight into bed.
Yesterday was somewhat of an emotional roller coaster. Before leaving for church I witnessed a complete breakdown that made me feel helpless and insufficiently sympathetic. I've seen enough family dramas from afar but I've never been close enough to understand whats going on and why it is. I don't know if you can be close enough to see those things but I know that being in the middle of it is heartbreaking and confusing.
One of the most difficult things is that for the msot part, outside of practicalities, whats going on in the marraige is not talked about and I haven't been given details or reasons or even seen any of the conflicts. But the control with which the situation was presented to me, the control I thought would probably last because I couldn't see them letting their personal issues interfere with the kids or with my job, is now starting to fall apart. It's alarming and difficult.
If you're wondering, I don't have any opinions about who's in the wrong or how it's being dealt with or any of that. I just want everyone to be happy and I hope that means everyone being together but I'm not sure if it does. And I find myself questioning what my role is here. I know I'm more than just someone who works here but in the end that is what I am, as I will be passing through and I'm paid for my time. But this is my family also, I live with them, I'm as much a part of their lives as they are of mine. This widening chasm in the family effects me largely even if it doesn't drastically effect my job and my duties. It also makes me wonder on a more cosmic level what my purpose is here. I've wondered this before; or more like I haven't stopped wondering that since the moment I got here. If my purpose has something to do with this circumstance I feel gravely inadequate for it.
But to move on to other things; I mentioned my skiing trip in my last(too long ago) post. At the time I wasn't really considering skiing again anytime in the foreseeable future but recent events have landed me in the family ski trip that lasts---a whole week. I have feelings of ambivalence about this. I'm relieved to know that my lessons(daily) will now be in English. I guess the reasoning behind that was if I wanted to spend time with other skiiers they would also speak English. But then there's just the whole skiing thing which in and of itself is hard for me to have a defined opinion of. I'd like to like it and I'm not sure that I don't but I'm pretty sure I'd like it more if I were good at it. Then there's the possibility that I won't own my life at all while I'm on vacation with the family for a whole week. To be fair I've always been given a choice of what to do and as much space as possible but a whole week is a long time for a chronic hermit such as myself. Not only that but there is also the fact that another family will be with us. They have four children(in the same chalet) and only speak french. So what I mean to say is that it will be awesome and I'm going to grow a lot as a person. This is a hard thing and I'm going to do it. I like to challenge myself. I know...my life is so cushy.
In other traveling news I'm going to Strasbourg next weekend. Strasbourg is near the German border and we'll be taking the train. I love the train.
Monday, January 25, 2010
Just as I was sitting down to write this entry I remembered I'd taken some pictures and I thought I'd better upload them. I haven't uploaded any pictures since I got here so I pulled out my box of cords and things and set to looking. After ransacking every storage device in my room I died a little inside. I could not believe I'd left my camera cord at home. Of all things to leave at home. In desperation I searched all the little inputs on my computer hoping to find something memory card shaped and popped a little piece of plastic that was....just the shape of a memory card. So that's a total releif. Unfortunately I wasn't much of a photographer on this trip.
I'd been given all the tickets and instructions for taking the kids on the train from Paris to Annecy(oddly the town that I applied and was accepted to study in). Annecy is in the Alps and about 30 minutes from Geneva by car.
I wasn't super excited about the trip and had even at one point said I wasn't really interested in skiing but later took it back because if you get a chance to ski in the Alps for free you don't just say you don't really feel like it. I didn't really feel like it but that wasn't the point. I was also consumed with anxiety for not only the skiing but for the transporting of three fairly strong willed children from the apartment in Neuilly all the way to the train at Gare de Lyon. There had been some talk about taking the bus from the apartment to the metro(about a 20 minute walk) but we decided against it because the bus is slow and I'd have to buy tickets at the metro station etc. However I predicted that there would be a minor mutiny from the kids over it. I was totally right.
We made it to the metro where I bought tickets. By then it was about 4:50, the train left Gare de Lyon at 5:50 and it was all the way across town....by public transit. Four fifty on the metro is a little crowded but still manageable. Four fifty on the RER A(a faster train which I only use once in a blue moon and had no clue how to navigate)or 5:00 as it was by then, is an absolute nightmare. The upside of the RER is that it goes faster and stops less, the downside is that it's less frequent. We waited for it fifteen minutes while I pep talked the kids about RER procedure; hold on tight and don't let go no matter how much people push and pull you. The RER is not a place for kids, it's far too dangerous, crowded and fast. The only way I knew that Noe was still with us was by his tightly gripping hand and intermittent whimpers. Everytime the RER stopped and it wasn't our stop I shouted to the kids, "hold on to me and don't let people push you out!" Each stop is roughly five seconds, same as a metro stop. When we reached the Gare I tugged Noe through the crowds, carrying three bags with the girls trailing and 10 minutes to spare.We made it on with no casualties but it was close. The first words out of my mouth were, "I'm never taking you guys on the RER again". Five seconds later that was repeated par Agathe over the phone to les parents. Oh well. I sat back and dozed.
Anne picked us up at Annecy and we drove to the Chalet in La Clusaz, a small village in what was surely the nearest town to Heidi or the Abbey that Maria lived in. I remember once when I was twelve or so someone asking me where I wanted to spend my honeymoon. Maybe the oddity of the question is why I remember it but at the time I knew where I wanted to go:the Swiss Alps. Even though I had no interest in honeymoons at the time I had the idea that they were to be spent in the most idyllic place imaginable. Well, even though this was the French Alps I was right in thinking it idyllic.
It was nighttime when we arrived at the Chalet and I pretty much went to bed right away. In the morning we bundled up and headed down to the ski area. After getting my skis Anne waited with me for my instructor. When we found him Anne said, "elle parle Anglais, vous parlez Anglais?"
"Euh, no speak English," he said turning to me.
"C'est pas grave," I responded reasuringly. Whatever, it was totally grave. Maybe I'd be able to understand him telling me to bend my knees and all that but French ski lingo isn't something I studied in school and the last thing I needed was an added confusion slash humiliation. So I said bye to Anne and began the ski lesson.
We were working on this slope with a plethora of tiny children zooming by and various non-french adults crashing hazardously all about. I won't relive the mortifying and frustrating experience of being taught to ski by retelling it at great length but I will say that falling doesn't hurt in the moment but kills later and that after falling it's super difficult to get back up so you have to sort of thrash about until your teacher comes to the rescue. This guy was long suffering, especially with my success at turning right time and again and my absolute failure to master the left turn. As I was being toted up the hill by a thing completely unlike any ski lift that I'd ever seen before, I had time to contemplate my attitude towards my own incompetence. I'm usually game to try something but if I'm not good at it right away I'm convinced that I will never be good at it. Thats probably why I don't take on too many athletic activities. The fatalistic attitude kicked in pretty quick and my frustration was apparant to my teacher as I waxed elequent in mild French and English swear words and such useful phrases as "ca marche pas!(it's not working)" and "je peux pas(I can't)". This promptend lots of "C'est normal", and in English, "relax". After my lesson I continued to go up the slope and down, finally mastering both turns, a degree of steering and a little speed until my punch card was used up around lunch time. After lunch I went back the Chalet for a nap. And let me just say that walking the slippery uphill kilometer to the chalet in ski boots carrying my skis and poles was so far beyond any exertion I'd ever put myself to that I collapsed shaking in a heap while I tried in vain to take off my boots. I now have bruises from where the boots pinched my feet and calves.
The next day I was determined to take advantage of my oppourtunity to ski in the Alps. I'd taken the lesson but hadn't done much more the day before, and on Sunday I was going to not only get better at that same slope but also go to another. Armed with the generous encouragement of the whole family I put on my skis outside the door of the chalet from which we were going to ski down the few slopes to the resort. I should have just saved myself the stress and walked but I decided to brave it. I fell three times before deciding to walk down.
The kids are all stellar skiiers and definitely at their best when teaching. They were all very helpful when I managed to lose my skis and poles in a particularly jarring plumet off a slope. Agathe helped me reattache myself and Jade carried my extra skis while Noe explained that falling was normal and that everyone learns by falling and how fun it was to see me in skis etc. I bought a morning pass for the same slope and went on it a few times with Jade who is an excellent teacher and cheered me on when I made it to the bottom with no tumbles. I skiied the rest of the morning gaining speed and confidence before going up the mountain in a real enclosed lift to a new set of slopes where we were going to have lunch with another family. This other family stayed wth us a couple months back and I really like them. They've lived in the states for about seven years and their son who I babysat is completely blingual, speaking with a perfect American accent which was disarming when he responded to my first orders of the evening with an "aww, c'mon, you seem nice, you're not going to make us work." I definitly made him work. After a long lunch of tartiflette, a potatos, bacon, and reblochon gooey mess of goodness I was presented with the full range of choices for the afternoon; stay and nap in the lawnchairs(which I'd been doing for forty-five minutes while I waited for everyone for lunch), go back to the chalet for a nap, ski on the debutante slopes, go back down and ski some more on the same slope I'd been on in the morning, etc, etc. But then Anne asked if I wanted to go on a long 'promenade' back to the chalet. I said yes but didn't really anticipate the gruelling trail of tears it would be. I didn't cry but I was close enough. I completed about thirty epic crashes, one of which involved another skiier and half of which involved losing one or both skis. All of this was distributed between kilometer long flat stretches where we pushed ourselves along at a snails pace.
Although the skiing was a trial in many respects I'm not opposed to doing some more of it, maybe with a couple more lessons. I completely adored being in the mountains. The drive back yesterday was beautiful. I was happy to be approaching our destination at a speed of 180-200 kilometers per hour but I klutched my seat in terror as we rounded mountainy bends and FX performed drums, guitar and vocals to blaring Coldplay. It was good times. I love traveling in France. Thats why I'm super excited to go the Strasbourg in a few weeks time.